What I Like About Being a Teacher

I feel like, since I use this blog to reflect on myself, it tends to come across as a little negative. When things are going well, I don’t feel the need to reflect as extensively. So overall it might seem that I come across as a little bit down on myself and down on my career. This isn’t an accurate depiction of my attitude. So I thought I would make a list of what I like about being a teacher.

  1. Other teachers. I like being in a career where everyone is supportive of the success of others.
  2. Students. Oh yeah, speaking of being supportive of the success of others…
  3. A regular schedule. Sure, it’s not exactly a 9 to 5, but it is nice to have a pretty set schedule. (And a regular paycheck!) And yet…
  4. Every day is different. Classes rotate, lesson plans change, and every now and then — birthday treats! It just doesn’t get boring. If you have a bad day, at least you can count on the next day being different!
  5. Teaching. Last but not certainly not least, I sincerely enjoy the work that I do.

I could go into more detail about any of these list items, and perhaps I will. But for now, ta-ta!
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Supporting Students by Supporting Teachers

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I attended a chorale concert yesterday. My mother-in-law performs twice a year with a chorale associated with a local university. Excitingly, they also invited the local high school chorale to perform with them. I sat next to a stranger and I chattered with her happily about how cool it was that our district’s students had the chance to perform for a new audience.

At some transitional point between songs, this person passed me their phone, on which they had typed up a note. I don’t remember it word for word, but the gist was that, as a teacher, I had the ability (and responsibility) to positively impact students’ lives. I do remember the last sentence: “You may be just what they need.”

I took this as both a reminder of my responsibility as an educator, and as encouragement. It was a reminder because this stranger did not have a child or even a relative going through public schools, but as part of the community she is just as invested in local public education as anybody else. After all, shouldn’t she care that the students we graduate are ready to be good citizens? Shouldn’t she care that they engage in their community? Shouldn’t she care that they are prepared for jobs in and around our area, especially if they end up doing a job that she relies on them to be good at?

I also took it as encouragement, which is I think the spirit in which the message was intended. And that’s fine, because I think teachers need encouragement and support in order to do our jobs effectively. So much of teaching is giving encouragement and support to students. We have a phrase, “running out of patience,” that acknowledges that the intangible quality of patience is one that may come in limited stores. I think other intangible qualities — compassion and understanding, for example — may also come in limited stores. So when I need to use up all my patience for a particular student, it helps when someone else shows me patience in return, to help restore my own capacity for patience.

The last couple of staff meetings we’ve had at our school have largely been about the topic of leadership, but with the underlying message of the importance of our relationships. We talked about how having positive relationships with students correlates to positive impacts on grades, and potentially over other indicators of well-being. Having good relationships between teachers and students positively impacts school culture as well, since it helps students develop socially as well.

Students do better when they feel supported by their teachers. And teachers? Teachers do better when we feel supported by our communities.

Non-Social Snapchat (and MSQRD)

So recently I wondered how I could use Snapchat in my classroom.

It didn’t take me long to figure something out!

So, Snapchat has a bit of a bad reputation because of its “volatile” messaging system. Basically, one sends or receives messages that, once viewed, disappear. There a couple of fears for this. First, a student may receive a message which contains inappropriate content — but then it disappears, so the sender escapes consequences. I could see a message recipient become the target of harassment or bullying this way. But the recipient could also be an accomplice; perhaps the inappropriate message was wanted, asked for, or some kind of furtive communication. There is also an issue where the sender assumes that their message is ephemeral and will disappear, but the recipient may screenshot it and share it out with others, which could be a privacy concern.

And all that stuff is way over my head in an elementary classroom anyway! I don’t want to begin to worry about it! Ugh!

Then again, Snapchat selfie filters are fabulously fun. I figured out a way I wanted to use them, too — to feature our students of the month. But I didn’t want to accidentally send or receive any messages on Snapchat during the making-of process. So this is what I did:

I went to the App Store on my iPad and searched for Snapchat. I changed the search parameter for “iPhone only.” See, Snapchat needs a phone number associated with it to send and receive messages and find your friends through your contacts. But it didn’t prevent me from downloading the app to the iPad and creating an account using my school email address. When prompted for a phone number, I simply continued without inputing one. Very soon I had access to the app, just not to the part where you can send and receive messages. I also realized that I could save the images and videos I was taking to the iPad itself by pressing the “save” icon. I’m used to seeing save icons that look like floppy disks, but Snapchat’s save icon is an arrow pointing downwards into a tray close to the bottom left corner of the screen.

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You could also just screenshot them, but I find that difficult on a cumbersome, covered iPad. It’s easier on my phone, but I also don’t need all the icons clogging up the view. Plus, I was taking video, not photos.

So using this app I created another student of the month slideshow, which is good because I am several months behind in those. Next week I will continue playing catch-up and also test drive an app that is supposed to be pretty similar to SnapChat: MSQRD, or Masquerade. This app, recently acquired by Facebook, has more regularly available selfie filters. But instead of having its own messaging system, it encourages you to upload your selfies to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It also saves automatically to the camera roll.


Word of warning! When apps like these feature a sponsored filter, it may or may not be one you want to share with your students. For example, on April 20, Snapchat featured a filter sponsored by a Comedy Central stoner comedy that featured the word “bong.” The next day it switched to a fast food sandwich, and today there are no sponsored filters among the featured ones at all. So maybe check it each day before handing it off to students, I guess.

Google “Fun Fact”/”I’m Feeling Curious”

If you enter the search term “fun fact” into Google, it responds with a random fact mined from generally reliable sources, such as PBS.org and the Encyclopedia Britannica or Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. If you refresh the search page, you get a new bit of trivia. You can also Google the phrase “I’m feeling curious” and click on the blue ASK ANOTHER QUESTION instead of refresh. We accidentally discovered this this morning when trying to find a fun fact to include in our morning announcements broadcast.

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Why My Students Shouldn’t Friend Me on Social Media

I just started using Snapchat in earnest this past weekend. My 14-year-old sister just left for her eighth grade class trip to our nation’s capital this morning, and I wanted to make sure I would be able to receive the Snapchat messages she would send out to family members. Currently I am more than a little enthralled by the filters available, particularly the “face swap” option. So far, though, most of the Snapchats (snaps?) I have sent were pleas for help from my sister: “HOW DO I SEND A VIDEO? HOW DO I MAKE SEVERAL IN A ROW? HOW DO I SAVE WHAT YOU SEND ME?”

I can see how this app appeals to the younger set. It’s immediately gratifying with decreased risk of longterm consequences. There’s a lot of creative elements to it. And it’s fun!

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In fact, I feel that way about a lot of social media — that there’s a lot of positive things about it. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with people you know, personally or otherwise. You can interact with businesses and other institutions. You can spread good news or ask for help. Sure, there is potential for negative interactions, but that’s a risk you take every time you leave your home.

So I can see why kids younger than thirteen want to use social media.

However, in the United States at least, there exists a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This law does not state that kids under thirteen may not use social media websites and apps. However, the law does detail what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online. These responsibilities are numerous and burdensome enough that many social media operators simply opt out by officially disallowing kids under thirteen from using their services.

I am not sure how I feel about this law. I can definitely understand why it would be created, and I do feel some protections are necessary, especially for children. On the other hand, I believe children need to be mentored through the online world and start developing some sense of digital citizenship pretty early. It’s one of the reasons I am glad our school uses Google Apps, especially Gmail and Google Classroom. (“Most recognized non-profit organizations are exempt from most of the requirements of COPPA,” according to the Wikipedia article.) I have also read that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t agree with this law (though I suspect his reasons may have more to do with profit than with education).

However, no matter how I feel about this law, I will comply with it, for the sake of my job. If a student connects with me on social media, and I know that they are under the age of thirteen, not only will I refuse their connection, I will report their account to whatever website or app we are using. (Whether I accept the connections of former students over thirteen is a separate issue, as is whether or not I accept connections from students’ family members.)

This is an interesting topic to me and I think I might like to use it to power a discussion with my third graders on Google Classroom. After all, they are affected by this law more directly than I am, and more directly than the people who made the law. It would be interesting to learn their perspectives. So if anyone can point me to any writing on the subject that is around a third-grade reading level (or could be adjusted to a third grade reading level) I would appreciate it!

(Also, I am curious as to whether there are any educational ways to use Snapchat, even if I can’t use Snapchat that way myself.)

Update: I saw on Twitter this morning that a local university has a Snapchat schedule, where different student groups “take over” the university Snapchat account. It’s a way to bring awareness of niche interests to a wider audience of students. I imagine such an idea could be tooled for an elementary setting. It could be a classroom job the way we have line leaders, paper collectors, and so on – “social media manager.” A student or two could take over the classroom’s social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook page, Snapchat) to send content out to parents throughout a given week. The accounts would still be managed mainly by an adult, but students could share responsibility for content and delivery.

Update Again: One of our first grade teachers used Snapchat to take photos of students using the “dog face” filter, then printed them out. Students used the photos to decorate their writing prompts, “If I Were a Dog.”

Teacher Time Machine (April Fool’s)

I am an elementary school teacher… who happens to have a twin sister. So I built a “time machine” in my classroom. (Mostly after school! A little during a prep period when I was waiting to use a printer. But mostly after school!) All week students asked me about it. Most of my explanations sounded a bit like this:

But what I really enjoyed was when students gave me suggestions. First graders debated amongst themselves whether a time machine could be battery powered, and third graders thought metal might make a better base material than cardboard. Some students did not think it would ever work, but phrased their misgivings to me in a way clearly meant to be gentle and mindful of my feelings. And not a single kid touched it during class time! I never even said, “Don’t touch the time machine.” I was very impressed and appreciative!

Then on Friday I moved the time machine to the cafeteria. I told students it was interfering with the technology in the computer lab and that I was going to take it home after school.

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Then, during lunch duty, I pretended that students were getting too noisy and I announced that I was going to cancel recess as a result. (Actually one group was too well-behaved for that threat to be reasonable, so I pretended like they had to spend more time learning other table manners…) As I ranted, I slyly played a sound effect over a speaker — a robotic voice counted down as air swooshed, and the time machine shook. Finally, there was a crash, and a time traveler stumbled out! It was… me?! From a dystopian future where recess was cancelled! She (or… I?) warned me against canceling recess, then ran towards the teacher’s lounge to call the president and warn him, too.

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My future and present versions, side by side. Time travel: not even once!

Of course, the time traveler was my twin sister. We wore the same clothes, but her versions were torn and dirtied as though she’d survived a disaster. (Canceling recess is clearly catastrophic!) We played up the difference in our hairstyles — she even purpled up her mohawk! Hey, that could be a side effect of time travel. But, after our little skit, she came out and introduced herself. She even helped students with ketchup and salad dressing, because it was important to me that students felt like they were let in on the joke, rather than the butt of the joke. But each grade level agreed to leave the cafeteria as clean as possible so we could prank the next set of kids who came in!

At the end of the day, the prank took a lot more time setting up than to actually play out, but it was very fun. I don’t think any kids actually believed my time machine (which was made of literal garbage) really worked. But I think many kids wanted it to be

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Bitmoji gets it.

true — several of them went back to class and told them a time traveler had come to visit! And I plan to ask the older students next week to tell me what they would do if they had a time machine as a writing prompt in class. (Students are currently really enjoying using Google Classroom to answer prompts, and comment on other students’ work. And it gets them using their keyboarding and word processing skills, so that keeps me happy as the technology teacher!)

Here is a video I made of the prank with all grade levels incorporated, because they will want to see how other students reacted.

The Positive Side of a Negative School-Related Youtube Experience

2406468228So, at my school, I have a team of third grade students who are responsible for the morning announcements for our school. They are responsible for writing and recording all the news that’s fit to share in our elementary building. They use the Youtube account affiliated with my school email address. I set up a specific computer to keep my password saved if you use a specific login. Other than that, they largely do this themselves at this point. The teachers in the building either check the Youtube website, or subscribe to it in order to share the announcements with their classes. (We use live streaming to record the announcements, but rarely does anyone tune in live, because we are not super consistent when it comes to starting at the same time every day. Plus, teachers share the announcements when it works for them — first grade classes have different morning routines than the second or third grades, for instance.)

I’m very proud of them for this. So I thought some of them could handle an April Fool’s prank version of the announcements. I sought help from friends on Facebook and rewrote our morning announcements in Japanese. (I used to teach in Japan, so I have more contacts who speak Japanese and a better handle on it myself than other non-English languages.) Then, I wrote it out phonetically in the English alphabet. Students took it home and practiced in advance. We still had some pronunciation issues when it came time to record — students pronounced “kyou” as “key-yo” for example — but overall I thought we did quite well. In fact, let me share it here:

We did two different takes, and I spliced them together to make one video, thinking it would be more convenient to the other teachers. I had it up around 8:30am on April 1st, then sent an explanatory email around 8:40am in case anyone was truly confused.

Then, at 9:39am, I received an email notifying me that the video had been removed from Youtube for violating the community guidelines.

This was frustrating, firstly because I simply did not agree that the video violated Youtube’s community guidelines. I assume, even now, that someone flagged it in error. However, the email included this sentence: “After reviewing the content, we’ve determined that the videos violate our Community Guidelines. ” Ugh! No reasonable human reviewed that content and genuinely determined it inappropriate. I expect Youtube runs algorithms to do some sort of initial sorting. I’m annoyed that the algorithm was so far off, yet reassured that the machines are not yet ready to take over.

A bigger issue than that would have been that my account would be “in bad standing,” which locks up some of Youtube’s features for channels. In this case, it would have lasted six months, and I would have had to find some way other than live streaming to do morning announcements. Finding a new way to do morning announcements would not have been the biggest challenge; the biggest challenge would have been re-training my news teams when it’s the last quarter of the school year and they have standardized testing coming up. They don’t need that extra stress!

Luckily, Youtube has an appeal process, which I made use of immediately. It took almost a whole day, but the video was ultimately reinstated and my account is back in good standing.

Am I happy that happened? No, but I am grateful for it. Social media, including Youtube, is, well, social. And not every social interaction, on or offline, goes the way I want it to every time. Sometimes that means I have to revise my expectations. Sometimes that means I have to reflect on what I say, what I do, how I say it, or how I do it, and make a change. Sometimes I have to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t want to just opt out at this point. I might be able to live the rest of my own life off of social media… but will my students? If I back away after I get an email that makes me feel sad, I may not be qualified to mentor my students in the digital era. I can not promise to make the online world completely 100% safe for them and their feelings anymore than I can promise that they’ll never fall off the monkey bars on the playground. But I can show them what to do and how to manage their reactions when they come up against an obstacle.

UPDATED TO ADD: I feel better about my experience with (likely automated) censorship when I read about the lady whose photo of a cake got her Instagram account suspended.