School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Two

Three day week last week, five day week this week. My body feels the difference.

Lessons: We worked on our test prep lesson again this week. Four down, two to go, and then for third graders: the actual test. Reflecting on it, I realize that, yes, so much of what had to be done was to help kids with time management; composing paragraphs on a computer; typing; and so on. But there were emotional skills at work too, I realized. The task required a certain kind of endurance that we’ve had to build up over time. And it was a little hard to see the difference month by month, but easy to see the difference when you compared the first time with the fourth time. Students are just more able to work on a task for a long period of time. There are fewer complaints and requests for the restroom or water fountain. They just… got more used to it with practice. (And do not think for a second this is the computer lab alone. So much of the credit goes to third grade teachers, who have kids writing each and every day.)

I think about it like basketball practice. You start by practicing things that are not in and of themselves basketball, like running up and down the court, like passing and shooting and dribbling the ball, like pivoting in certain ways. Then you start putting those things together when they start to feel more automatic to you. You practice dribbling and running. You practice passing and shooting. Then, you actually start playing basketball. You scrimmage, you keep score. Finally, you’re ready for the game. And yes, it is nice to win the game. But I was never good enough at basketball to make a difference in the score. For me, the victory was that I was able to do something that I wasn’t able to do before – play basketball. It didn’t really matter how I did compared to my teammates or other teams, because I was able to do it, so I got to wear a uniform and be on the court for a few minutes.

Anyway, that’s also how I’ve been explaining it to students who ask, “Why are we doing this?” when we practice with prompts. So I’ve put a lot of thought into my metaphor.

Support: First, I appreciate when my colleagues come up with work-arounds for the problems that just continue to dog them. But, those often feel like an inconvenience or annoyance, especially over time. So it is extremely satisfying to find a better fix for that kind of issue. That happened on Wednesday. A first grade teacher had developed a work-around for the fact that a very specific program did not interact well with her Smart Board. Every other thing she did on the Smart Board worked as expected, but this one program with our reading curriculum would not respond to touch. It would still respond on the laptop, though. The issue was, the laptop and Smart Board are so far away from each other in her room, she had to have a student sit at her desk and click the right thing on cue. And it was workable, but she started to feel like the clicking student was missing lesson content, or at least wasn’t experiencing the lesson content the way the other students were. So in I came. We tried a couple different things like updating firmware before I actually read into the particular program’s running requirements. It mentioned which versions of Safari and Firefox you needed… we had been using Google Chrome. And, Google Chrome continues to be the most-often-used browser (we use G Suite for Education, after all). But, we tried everything all over again with Safari and it worked without a hitch.

Things I Did Well:
I had a couple of days where my schedule just… fell in together nicely. One task or commitment wrapped up just in time for another to begin. It happened so conveniently that I should probably not take credit for it. Unless I did something to curry the favor of the schedule gods. Please keep loving me, schedule gods.

Things I Will Do Better: I do not understand why I love my bed so much, and yet I procrastinate so much before going to it. More sleep please.

Cold Prickly: I have a chronic illness. It is one that is extremely manageable, to the point of being almost forgotten about. But, my body will remind me when I start to stretch myself a little thin. Outside of school, I made a lot of commitments over the past ten or so days. I traveled out of state, marched in D.C., slept on a floor during my stay; I also hosted extra trivia nights to cover for other local hosts who couldn’t. So I was dragging a little bit this week. I still haven’t had to take more than one-half day of unplanned absences this year. (Yes, I’ve taken some time for appointments, and a personal day, but those were all planned ahead of time so I could make sure I rolled out the red carpet for my sub.) So I’m going to recharge my batteries this weekend and hopefully keep anything creeping up at bay.

Warm FuzzyA kid farted in class the other day, and her classmates laughed, but more importantly, she laughed to. “It happens a lot,” she explained. “She does this all the time!” one classmate said. I felt such a kinship with all of them in that moment, because deep down, we were celebrating one of the fundamental truths of life:

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Why Elementary Teachers Need to Be Intersectional Feminists

I am not the best at this kind of thing, that I will state off the bat. I am trying to be better. Please do not be afraid to confront me.

Feminism is simply the idea that people of different sexes are equal. Intersectionality is an overlapping, or intersecting, of social identities, creating a whole person (or community) different from its components. Someone’s experience is shaped by many things, such as:

  • race
  • gender
  • social class
  • nationality
  • sexual orientation
  • religion
  • age
  • mental disability
  • physical disability
  • mental illness
  • physical illness
  • incarceration
  • immigrant status

And probably more that I am not aware of yet.

So, my experience as a white woman has definitely shaped me. There have been times in my life where my gender has made me feel like a target, where I felt vulnerable or even scared. But, there have been other times when I have consciously used my white femininity as a shield in ways that I don’t think a black, Latina, or Asian female could have. So on one hand, I am part of a historically oppressed group, but on the other, I am also a member of a historically privileged group. This is completely by accident of birth, and not something I can change about myself; the least I can do is acknowledge it.


Having privilege has allowed me to “not see” some of the things that other people go through. It’s not that I’m completely blind, it’s just that I take for granted how different others experiences are. For example, I am a white person who was raised in a large Christian family. People demonstrated curiosity or confusion towards us sometimes, but I wouldn’t characterize that as negative. It didn’t occur to me until high school or college that my family would probably be perceived and treated very differently if you changed just one variable about us. What if we’d been a large black family? Or a large Muslim family? I can only imagine some of the things people might say, only because I have heard some of the things people say about black people and Muslims. What I can’t imagine is how it must feel to live through that every single day of my life.

My career — specifically, where I work now — has challenged me to be more observant of others’ lived experiences, especially in regards to children.

Children occupy a strange place in our society and culture. They are disenfranchised: they have no right to vote, and minimal other rights compared to adults. They are often ignored, forgotten, even dehumanized by many of the moving parts in our various systems. When they come up in discussions, we always want to do what’s best for them, but seldom consult them ourselves. There are reasons for that, sure, but I think it’s wrong for us to talk about them and over them with little talking with them (with genuine, actual listening).

My students are living a different experience than I am, day in and day out. Part of that is generational context; just thinking about the differences in technology makes my head spin. But it comes from other areas, as well. I have students who speak a different language at home than they do at school. I have students who live with a disability, or have family members with disabilities. I have students who are different races and nationalities. The teachers in my district used to be among some of the lowest paid teachers in the county, and yet our salaries as teachers were above the median income for families in our city. I have students who are affected by the incarceration of a parent, which is sometimes an extended or repeated experience. Some of my students challenge ideas about gender. I have had former students come out outside of the classroom, identifying as LGBTQ.

I am no good to my students if I cannot see past myself and empathize with their lives, however different from mine they might be. Children do not choose the circumstances of their birth, the color of their skin, the language they first learn, how much money their parents make, and on and on and on. There is so much out of their control. It is unfair for me to force them to pivot to me. And I have to accept that, while I am an authority in the context of my classroom, I am not the authority. There are things I do not know and will get wrong, and it is my responsibility to educate myself and do better. I have the maturity and the experience and the duty and obligation to pivot myself to students.

In the bridge of the song “Cold War,” Janelle Monáe sings, “Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strong.” As a teacher, I am a strong person in the educational setting; I have authority, and I have responsibility. I need the grace to supporrt my students through their challenges, wherever those challenges come from. I also need grace to accept and act on the criticism I need to be a better person. More importantly, I need to bring wings to my students, children. I need to empower them by sharing knowledge, developing their skills, and building them up. Once they have their wings, they will be able to fly on their own.

Electric Ladies, Will You Sleep?

I went to the Women’s March on Washington yesterday. I have every intention of reflecting more on the experience, but at the moment, I’m a bit tired, and I have to prioritize work-related tasks, and sleep.

But if you were wondering why I marched? The shortest possible answer: because Janelle Monáe challenged me to.

I asked a question like this
Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.

Mixing masterminds like your name Bernie Grundman.
Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman
You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly
And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie
Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs
I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”
March to the streets ’cause I’m willing and I’m able
Categorize me, I defy every label
And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope
We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
Will you be electric sheep?
Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?

Teacher FOMO, or Why Taking Days Off Kind of Stinks

Yesterday was the first day, other than a snow day, when I missed a whole day of school.

When it’s a snow day, everyone is out. You aren’t missing anything by boppin’ around at home. But when you take a sick day or a personal day, the school goes on without you.

FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” It’s when you become anxious that you’re missing something cool or interesting, exacerbated by seeing posts about it on social media. And, let’s be clear, I am experiencing some FOMO: I scheduled this personal day long before I knew our school had booked COSI on Wheels.So I definitely am missing something cool.

But, I think for teachers like me, it’s more of a fear of… not having control. Don’t get me wrong, I want everything to go smoothly for my sub, my students, and my coworkers. But I’ve got my classroom running just how I like it, normally. Will my sub know what to do if the computers don’t cooperate? Will the students behave for the sub? Will my colleagues be able to print the one set of reports I apparently forgot to print? (That last one is still a little fresh.)

So the desire is there for everything to run smoothly. And yet, I still have… an issue. What if everything goes too smoothly without me? What if they realize that they don’t need me to do all the things I do? What if they realize they don’t need anyone doing my job at all? (Why doesn’t impostor syndrome leave me alone already?)

There are countless memes about why it stinks to take a sick day when you’re a teacher: more work to make lesson plans, or more paperwork when you come back. Personal days feel more selfish, but at least you’re not trying to explain your blended classroom to a possible stranger through a pounding headache, or other symptoms.

So yeah, does anyone else get a bad case of Teacher FOMO?

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-One

Today I am actually taking a personal day, so I only made it through three days of a four day week. It feels like I’m taking a shortcut with this round-up.

Lessons: Third grade tried their hands at some simple animation using Google Slides this week. I left the assignment very open-ended; I did an example of a rain cloud but I made it clear that they could do whatever subject they wanted. The only real rule was that they couldn’t use Google Image Search.

I was blown away by their creativity.

Many students spent ages trying to make the screen manifest what they saw in their minds. Sometimes they asked me for help, and I couldn’t help them, sometimes because they couldn’t communicate their idea, sometimes because I didn’t know how to get them closer to their goal. They had to try new things; the situation necessitated it. For example, students couldn’t just grab Minecraft screenshots from Google Image search, so they tried creating their own Minecraft-style characters by manipulating shapes.

 

 

Other students happily rushed through, making simple animations, which was also perfectly serviceable. They understood the concept and fulfilled the prompt nicely; I had a sponge menu ready for them to choose an activity to soak up their extra time.

Support: Report cards go home today, so because I’m not there, I needed to print them by Thursday at the latest. It took entirely too long for the printer to cough them out. I restarted it once and it went a bit faster for a little while, but it soon slowed back down to a crawl. It really through off my other plans for my time, and I stayed quite late to get it done. Ugh.

Things I Did Well: 
I think this week’s lessons were more engaging for me and for students alike. Hard to teach a lesson when you yourself find it boring…

Things I Will Do Better: Oh my gosh. I print so rarely that I take it for granted what a pain it is. I appreciate that more about my colleagues after today, how one printer not working or going slowly can throw you totally off your timetable. So, short term, try to keep printers up and running. But long term? There’s gotta be something I can do to bring about the end of our tree-killing culture.

Cold Prickly: I didn’t actually walk to school at all this week. One day was really rainy, which is more bothersome to me than snow and ice because my boots soak up the wet. The next day, I had a midday meeting in another building I needed to be able to drive to. And Thursday, I simply did not get ready with enough time to walk, so I am pretty disappointed in myself for that.

Warm FuzzyPersonal day! A little more time to myself, and I have to admit, my bed feels extra comfy lately… zzzzz…..

On Blogging as a Teacher

I have had some sort of blog, off and on, since high school, when I had a Xanga but coveted getting a code to start a Livejournal. I spent a lot of time navel gazing, deep in the grip of  adolescent crises. Writing about my problems helped me work through them; writing publicly about my problems sometimes created more of them.

I write now, mostly related to my job, because I find it does help me reflect on my practice. I understand that I will not always have the most polished, pretty products to present to my audience; that’s actually very important to me. Part of my audience is me from the future. I want to be able to, when facing new challenges, revisit old posts to help me illuminate my possible paths.

Back when I was student teaching, my budding professional life sometimes found its way into entries. At least once, I had to edit or take down some information because it came too close to violating my students’ rights to privacy. Besides, the audience of my personal life blog? A few friends, none of whom were also studying education. Any feedback they might have provided would have been emotionally supportive but otherwise lacking insight.

My first year teaching in my current position, I was paired with an experienced teacher who mentored me. Our content areas were not quite the same, more like an overlapping Venn diagram; our schedules coincided even less so. But, we use Google Drive at school; it became very easy to keep a Google Doc journal and share it with my mentor. This was several years ago, so I would write in one font; he would leave feedback in a different color and font. I didn’t need a wide audience; in fact I’m relieved I didn’t have one. Much of what I wrote was, well, self-indulgent or downright gossipy. But, it was a phase I needed to work through, a phase where I was resisting genuine reflection and genuinely needed to be coached through it. As Descartes wrote in Meditations on First Philosophy:

I am like a prisoner who is enjoying an imaginary freedom while asleep; as he begins to suspect that he is asleep, he dreads being woken up, and goes along with the pleasant illusion as long as he can. In the same way, I happily slide back into my old opinions and dread being shaken out of them, for fear that my peaceful sleep may be followed by hard labour when I wake, and that I shall have to toil not in the light, but amid the inextricable darkness of the problems I have now raised.

Reflecting is difficult, multi-step work, and I was always that kid who loved finding and taking shortcuts because I thought that meant I was clever. And the learning process for it was not a good look, just like being woken up when you want to sleep in is not a good look. I needed some time to make myself somewhat presentable before I shared more of myself with the world, imperfect as I (still) am.

Now I use my blog for longer form reflection, and the principal audience is still mainly me. When I crave participation and feedback, it’s much more instantly gratifying to hop into a Twitter chat. But I am a little older now, and I’d hope a little wiser — and much more comfortable in my skin, blemishes and all.

Hidden Figures Is Incredible, You Should Go See It

Spoilers ahead.

Hidden Figures is a film about three women “computers” — people who worked doing math calculations for NASA in the time leading up to manned orbital flights. Katherine Goble (later Johnson) is an actual math genius, who, due to her hard work and unmatched talent, pushed her way up to the Space Task Group, where her knowledge of analytical geometry earned her respect. Mary Jackson, with the encouragement of her supervisors, goes to court to secure her right to continue her education at an all-white high school, so that she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. And Dorothy Vaughan, frustrated by doing the work of a supervisor with neither the title nor pay that comes with it, sees an opportunity in the IBM computer; she teaches herself and those she leads to program the monstrous machine and make themselves indispensable.

It is an excellent movie. It is a movie about scientific progress, and the risks and rewards that come with it. It is also a movie about civil rights. It is a movie that demonstrates the important lesson that progress depends on progress.

There are no bad guys in this movie. I haven’t seen every movie ever, but I’ve become inured to the trope: when a movie is about racism, there is usually a big ol’ racist jerk, like an inverse white savior; for example, Hilly Holbrook in The Help. It’s a character who conveniently embodies prejudice and discrimination, and in defeating them, protagonists symbolically defeat racism. In Hidden Figures, racism is not so much a part of characterization as it is a part of the setting. White people are dismissive or ignorant, but never overtly, intentionally cruel. Racism is something that the white people in the story are simply not sensitive to until confronted with it. Kevin Costner’s character is confronted with it when he realizes that Katherine, who he relies on, has to take forty minute bathroom breaks because the nearest “colored” women’s restroom is a half a mile away. Like a good manager, realizing that the rule helps no one and hurts his team, he abolishes the rule. I think perhaps the most powerful interaction of this vein occurs in a women’s restroom between Octavia Spencer’s and Kirsten Dunst’s characters; the scene is so thoughtful and polite and well-acted that I audibly gasped.

I liked how the cinematography used color to draw attention to our leads, especially Taraji P. Henson’s character. In a room filled with white men in white shirts and black ties, where the only other woman is wearing neutral tones, Katherine Goble is wearing turquoise as brilliant as her mind. Her mug is the one brown one among alabaster ceramic. She is special, and it’s not hard to see if you’re willing to look; her rise feels hard-won yet also inevitable.

These were important stories to tell, and I’m glad to be an audience for them. I highly recommend this film.

On Reading the Directions

I have started frequently using videos to deliver directions to students. On Google Classroom, it is easy to write a couple of sentences, then attach a video as well as whatever assignment I’m asking students to do.

Before I started blending my classroom, I would stand by the SmartBoard and demonstrate to students step-by-step what I wanted them to do before sending them to their seats. Or, I would stand by the SmartBoard and try to make the kids go step-by-step with me as they followed along from their seats. Both delivery methods left a lot to be desired — kids would forget steps if you told them too many to start with; or computers wouldn’t cooperate and the entire class would get held up because someone needed help troubleshooting. Eventually, I switched to emailing directions (with links) to students, but that wasn’t a perfect system either. Kids would get lost or distracted in their email; directions would get lose effectiveness as they got longer and longer.

Now, with Google Classroom, I am able to give students everything I want them to do… and it’s up to them to use it. They can read the directions, watch the whole video, then start on the assignment if they want to. They can read some of the directions, watch part of the video, then check out the assignment — then go back to the directions or video if they need clarification. They can also dive straight into the assignment, because sometimes you need to become aware of what you don’t already know before you can learn a new thing.

Kids will seek out the information they want. This is not a new concept. Think of Minecraft: it’s a game many play and many more will try, and it comes with no instruction booklet. You learn by doing; or you learn by asking someone else what to do; or you looked it up online; or you saw someone else do it; or you got a book at the book fair. I think the designer may have done this on purpose. It’s not an intimidating game, visually; you certainly feel comfortable exploring before really knowing what you’re doing. But there are so many little things you can’t know unless you look them up, like how to craft a door for your hut, or how best to defend yourself against monsters, or all the steps it takes to grow crops and make food. And this isn’t new to Minecraft. I still dive into video games without more than a glance at any instructions, and that glance has more to do with awesome artwork than learning mechanics.

Kids will seek out the information they want, so I just have to make them want it.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty

So, this was a choppy week. Today was a teacher work day, so no students; earlier this week we had a snow day. So it was a three day week for kids, and those three days were not consecutive. Always a treat.

20170112_183237Lessons: Because of the choppiness of the week, lessons went a little funky monkey. I think I did different things with every second and third grade class. But, I did hit on a first grade lesson that went so well, I’m pretty sure it’s what I would leave for a sub in the future. I picked three videos from Art For Kids Hub on Youtube, and posted them in Google Classroom. I provided students with pencils and papers, and they chose a video to watch and draw along. After they were done, they could color their picture (I provided crayons). Then they could add more detail, or try another picture, or move onto a menu of sponge activities to soak up the rest of class time. I wanted to make sure students knew how to pause a video, replay a video, move forward or backward in a video, and so on. I also wanted to use the crayons that never seem to get used in a computer lab. Kids “got” it with minimal fuss or directions, and it wasn’t so tech-heavy that a sub would be totally lost. I used the cartoon butterfly, cartoon octopus, and cartoon pegasus videos. Butterfly was easy to do, octopus was medium (more detailed), and pegasus was most challenging (no symmetry). I also chose those three because they could be any color kids wanted; I expected there’d be fights over yellow crayons if I’d posted the cartoon banana. I’m curious about their easy origami videos too.

Support: I got a Donors Choose project funded (my first!) so this week I was able to distribute 6-port desktop chargers plus lightning cables to teachers who got hand-me-down iPads to use in their classrooms, but not enough chargers to go with them. Plus, the multi-port chargers are going to be so much more convenient for teachers and students, since they don’t have to choose between which devices to charge.

Things I Did Well: 
I have been fine-tuning my last RESA task that I need to pass. It’s not due anytime soon, but I don’t want to leave it til later and stress about it. I feel like I’ve worked really hard on it. If I manage to fail at it this last time, then perhaps this just isn’t where I should be right now in my life.

Things I Will Do Better: I feel like this week was a little experimental, lessons wise. I kind of put out some ideas and strategies to kids without being fully invested in all of them. I wanted to pay attention to how things played out. I know some elements need to be tweaked, and one of them is my own engagement with the students and the content.

Cold Prickly: I’m glad it’s a three day weekend, because I think I’ve got a cold coming on.

Warm FuzzyIs it wrong to admit how excited I am about the Nintendo Switch?

How Can I Better My Local Community?

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A Facebook friend, discussing her yard work, meant to write, “Mostly I want to water where I’ve planted.”

What she actually wrote was, “Mostly I want to water where I’m planted.”

I live and work in the same city where I teach; I moved here after I was hired, right before starting the school year. I felt it was important to be an invested person in my community, because I believe public education belongs to the public, not just teachers, students, and parents.

There are some struggles coming up for this city. A local factory is idling around the end of the month, and that means a loss of over four hundred jobs. The only grocery store left in the northern part of town stopped stocking fresh meat and produce, sparking rumors of an imminent closing. And those rumors aren’t unreasonable, either: another store in the same chain on the east side of town shuttered suddenly just over a year ago, and its space remains empty to this day. If this other store also closes, the northern part of town will become more of a food desert than it already is. And, anecdotally, the biggest barrier for people in that part of town to getting groceries is actually transportation. Having to travel farther is not going to help people. In fact, I can’t even think of any drugstores up around there where people could even just get snowstorm basics like milk, bread, and eggs.

So, as a teacher, how can I help solve these problems in my local community? I can care for, nurture, and educate children, sure. But I want to do more than just help them get through every day. I want to be a force for positive change for their families and their neighborhoods, too.

How can I do that? I have thoughts on where to start, but other ideas and resources are welcome.

I want to water where I’m planted.