Reflection on Shame, Social Media, and RESA

It’s an open secret that when we post online to social media, we often do so to show our lives through a rose-colored lens. Look how solid my relationship is. Have I told you how good I am at my job? Look at me, I’ve reached another milestone in the game of Life. We carefully curate our self-presentation to put our best face forward online. We want the ‘likes,’ so we post things people can feel good about liking. We’re seeking out dopamine and oxytocin. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
 
Even when we share the bad, it’s the kind of bad that happens to us, not the kind of bad we bring on ourselves. Our illnesses, our grief – we’re calling out for support, and we often receive it on this platform. I’m sorry for your loss. You’re in my thoughts and my prayers. This is also very okay.
 
One thing that we don’t post about as much are the things that make us feel ashamed. The dissolution of relationships. A venture failing. Our insecurities. We want to put our best face forward, and a head hung in shame does not make a good impression. But sometimes it’s important to share, because we all, at some time or another, feel ashamed.
 
So I’m sharing something, not because I’m seeking sympathy or support, but because I want my friends to know I struggle, and that struggle is normal. Right now I’m struggling in my career, something that I consider very much a part of my personal identity. I feel shame about it. And, frankly, it sucks.
 
I have to do a five-part summative assessment in order to transition to a more permanent teaching license in the state of Ohio. I started doing this assessment in 2015, and have since passed four out of five of the parts. I should find out today if I have passed the last part, on my third and final try. If I pass, I can apply for a new teaching license. If I fail, then I can neither renew or advance my current license. I will also not be eligible for a one-year interim license. I would perhaps be able to be a long-term sub for my own job in my district while I did remedial coursework and experience, which would be a blow financially and also to my self-esteem. I’ve spent many hours reflecting on my teaching this year; while I believe I am a good-enough teacher, I am not sure I want to be in a classroom if the state of Ohio does not believe I am a good-enough teacher.
 
Failure was not a familiar feeling to me when I was a student. It took years for me to be okay with it, for myself, as a teacher. It still doesn’t feel good. But it is more instructive for me to confront and overcome obstacles than it is to never face obstacles at all. It allows me to relate better to, and be a good role model for, my students. It challenges my subconscious beliefs on the nature of learning and cognitive processes. It forces me to acknowledge what I truly value in learning experiences. It causes me to increase, or better manage, my effort.
 
I just wish the stakes, in this case, were not so high. Failure can be a constructive and even essential aspect of learning. Dead-end failure that results in loss of opportunity, stagnation, or regression? Not so much.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Eight

This week is a normal week, all things considered, with the exception of an early dismissal on Friday. Next week is normal-ish. The next next week is AIR testing for third grade, and the week after is spring break.

1209672515466464431johnny_automatic_boys_academy-svg-medI state that outright because I think, for a couple of weeks, I forgot why I started writing weekly round-ups. I want to be more reflective about my work. It benefits me in the present, because I can tinker and improve my practice and methods each week. But I hope it will benefit me in the future, if and when I get “stuck” on a particular skill or topic or just at a certain time in the school year. I want to be able to look back on my blog and compare next year with this year. “What did my students learn? Are my expectations of them this year reasonable? Are there things we glossed over, or things we need to more deeply dive into?” And so on.

Lessons: 
I had students continue to use Khan Academy for part of the lesson time, then transition to their choice of math game website, like Sumdog or Prodigy. Before transitioning, I discussed with individual students what they were working on with Khan Academy, how much time they had spent engaged, and what exactly they were doing – practices? Mastery challenges? Vidoes? Etc. I did this less because they needed support in the moment and more to show them that the coach’s dashboard allows me to see that information, in case I need to support them (or hold them accountable).

Support: Some of the desktops in the computer lab hop on to alternate wireless networks instead of our default one. I log in as admin and I change the preferred networks but they keep reverting. It’s frustrating.

Things I Did Well: 
I think I had a good attitude this week. There were a few times we had to play “substitute shuffle,” everyone’s favorite challenge of making sure we have sufficient staffing. There was a professional development day for one whole grade level of teachers this week, plus an IEP release day, plus some illnesses are still going around (at the very least, they’re tracking cases of flu and strep in the school district). At least once I was pulled to teach a different subject than I usually do. Another time I was warned in advance that my flexibility might be needed, but it turned out I wasn’t. Still, I was ready for it. I made sure my tasks got done in a timely manner without waiting til the last minute. (For example, I’m working on getting the yearbook together now instead of waiting til almost the deadline, like last year.) I also want to have a good attitude about this kind of thing because my principal tries her best to let people know with as much of a heads-up as possible, and I want to demonstrate my appreciate for that.

Things I Will Do Better: Nothing! I’m perfect! Mwahahaha!

Nope, that’s not quite right. It was really noticeable to me this week how I tend to peter out on Fridays, especially Friday afternoons. What can I do to support myself being equally present for my students at 2:30pm on a Friday as I am at any other time of the week?


Cold Prickly: 
The sicks are still going around.

Warm Fuzzy: This thing that happened.

The One Right Way to Do Things

12401606561545148102anonymous_no_u-turn_sign-svg-hi

I was grading some papers, and a student wrote about how computers “get infermation quiqlly.” I can’t get past the spelling. Sure, it wasn’t right, but it communicated the point.

I ate lunch with first graders today. The lunch lady, for dessert, gave them frozen peach cups that were tricky to open – the condensation made the plastic seal slippery. Kids stabbed through the top with the end of their spoon; kids yanked the corner up with their teeth; kids flipped it upside down and pressed from the bottom, shoving the slushy mass through the top like a push pop.

In the computer lab, I watched as students went through many of the same routines, with variations. To do a typing activity, some students discussed with one another what they wanted to write. One started at the “last” question and worked his way up. Another bypassed the keyboard by turning on Voice Typing in the Google Doc. Some logged out of the computers by clicking on the start menu and scrolling down until they found the log out command. Others used keyboard shortcuts.

I emailed the other technology resource teachers in the district to ask how they handle a certain challenge (where tech skills meet classroom management). They had several strategies, some building-wide, some on case by case basis, and some methods that fell between those extremes. There was no one-size-fits-all solution.

What I’m trying to say is, I get really frustrated when adults act like there’s only one right or best way to do things. Yeah, some ways will be faster, some more efficient, some more comfortable, some less expensive. But that doesn’t mean other ways are inherently wrong or bad. And yeah, there is probably one best way to do certain things, but I like to let kids try those out and realize why other ways don’t work as well. They shouldn’t have to take my word for it.

“Boring but Important,” Plus Additional Thoughts on Engagement

Today a blog post from The Confident Teacher entitled “Boring but Important” popped up in my Twitter feed. In this post, Alex Quigley reflects on teaching when the subject is indeed important, but perhaps not as fun or engaging as other topics.

I am not advocating intentionally being more boring that we otherwise may be, but we should be wary of the notion that engagement should be the daily pursuit of teachers. We should think a little differently. Instead of trying to eliminate boredom – pretty much an impossibility in the real world – we should consider how we help our students manage it…

His point is that information is not proportionately interesting based on its importance. (Hence the popularity of trivia as a hobby – it is literally the stuff that is interesting and yet not important, unless it’s a question at the pub quiz.)

I am inclined to agree, from both a teacher perspective and from a student one. So the point of the post is that we should equip students to handle boredom, which I feel is a very good idea. I frequently need such strategies, even as an adult.

I would also add that, when you are fully engaged with material, it can be exhausting. So I’m not sure it’s a reasonable expectation, especially at the elementary level, for all students to be fully engaged in class content at a given time. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation to have of children; they need breaks. That’s the case for whether they’re naturally engaged, or not. If they’re really engaged, they may not ask for a bathroom break they need; they might be thinking about one topic when they need to re-focus on another; they may not make the best choices on how to manage their time when it involves something they’re hyper-focused on. So, in addition to teaching strategies to deal with boredom, it might be good to nurture methods for moderation as well.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Five

Lessons: I left school early one day this week to go to immediate care. A colleague took over one of my classes. I thought it would be fine, since it was one of the routine AIR test preps we do. But, I guess there are things that are normal in the computer lab that I take for granted, that really throw off other people. My colleague thought things went terribly! She told me she felt like a failure! Sure, she didn’t do things the way I do them, but she isn’t me. But wow. Really reminds me of how much I take for granted, that comes easily to me, but not to others.

Support: I’m going to start at the end: the people who are designated Google admin for our district can shut down the ability to install extensions on Chrome for student accounts. Okay, now the beginning. I have several students who had repeated issues on Chromebooks: they were slow as molasses. Turned out, they had installed several untrustworthy Chrome extensions. Some were intentionally, for changing the theme on Chrome. Others were pop-up ad extensions that probably gave themselves permission to install when students unwisely searched for Five Nights at Freddy’s or something like that.

Things I Did Well:
 Better time management.

Things I Will Do Better: Even better time management!

Uncomfortable Emotions: Instead of Cold Prickly/Warm Fuzzy this week, I am just… having emotions I wish I wasn’t. First, there’s a paragraph on page 1056 in HB 49 that is getting shared a lot between educators on social media. I called my Ohio state senator’s office, and chatted with someone named Anna about it. Thanks, Anna! She told me that it probably won’t make it to the Senate until April, and that it will likely change a lot before then, but their office will keep an eye on it. Then I called my house representative’s office. Well, actually I accidentally re-dialed my senator’s office – sorry Erica! Then I actually did call my house rep, and left a voicemail. They didn’t get back to me. I called again today… and left another voicemail. I have questions and I would like to hear what my rep has to say to them. I am grateful for Anna and Erica in my senator’s office, though.

Also, this week (especially as it was an AIR test-style prompt week in the computer lab) the topic of assessing writing on standardized tests was much talked about this week. There are so many things to consider and to balance – did the student answer a question correctly? Did they cite evidence? Did they write a decent answer, but it doesn’t answer the question? And then, while in the waiting room for immediate care… I happened to catch a particular press conference. I am so disappointed that we seem to be holding eight-year-olds to higher standards of clarity and communications than we do our highest elected official. I hate this.

Our district had a chat earlier this week (optional); the topic was “love of teaching” (get it? because Valentine’s Day?). The second or third question was, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I stopped participating because I’m really struggling with that question right now. Gosh, I can’t even see five years into the future. I love the parts of teaching that I love, and I hate the parts of teaching that I hate (the parts that don’t feel as much like teaching). And I know this is a problem I would face in any other career, really. I think it’s a pretty normal struggle to have, actually, in a lot of aspects of life. In the short term, it’s time to re-listen to an episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast. In the medium term, I will be making time for reflection and productive reaction. And in the long term? Time will tell.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/507930318/507930414

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?

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.

Little Grownups

They aren’t, but sometimes it helps me to think of my students as little grownups. Specifically, I think of them as coworkers.

It has nothing to do with them, themselves, and everything to do with how I perceive and treat them.

I wouldn’t want my coworkers to ask me if they needed a tissue.

I wouldn’t force my coworkers to sit still for twenty minute stretches (or longer!).

I wouldn’t want my coworkers to be accustomed to my policing their bathroom use.

I would have a hard time justifying a task to another adult if they didn’t want to do it and I didn’t see the point in doing it myself.

Kids aren’t adults. But they will be one day. So, yes, they need basic social skills, and they have to go through motions like waiting in lines because those things won’t go away when they grow up. But there are some things I can justify to students: “We walk this way in the hall because another group of students is going the opposite direction, and we don’t want to have a traffic jam.” And there are some things that I can’t: “You don’t have to ask me if you need a tissue” is probably the biggest of those. (I did once have a coworker say to me, “That student just got up and got a tissue without asking? Who does she think she is?!” and I was just like, “Uh, someone with a runny nose?”)

I have fallen into the trap before, where I get so used to dealing with so many kids that I stop treating them with mutual humanity, and the relationship becomes more like one between a border collie and a flock of sheep instead. Have you ever watched a border collie in action? I don’t have that kind of energy! I prefer to remind myself that I am human, and so are my students. They can sometimes be little grownups in my eyes, and I can be a giant kid in theirs; it doesn’t mean we have any less to learn from each other. And if I really need to bend them to my will, I don’t need to force it. I can treat them as equals, and ask.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twelve

Week 12, what a week of ups and downs.

Lessons: We tried our first HyperDoc in second grade. They understood pretty quickly how it worked, but their feelings on it are lukewarm. This is probably largely because it’s not the world’s most incredible HyperDoc; it’s very training-wheels-style. That says more about me than it does about them, I think. But since we have so many devices in our school now, I think other teachers could start to incorporate HyperDocs as a tool more and more in other subjects. Plus, it seems like a good idea to have a library of HyperDocs on a variety of topics, to pull out when needed. I might even make a couple to post on Google Classroom in case I have any unexpected absences; if kids understand HyperDocs pretty well on their own, then they can probably walk a tech-challenged substitute through it.

Support: “It’s like this week is the week where all my technology just decided to go crazy.” A first grade teacher made that remark to me as I was re-setting up her SmartBoard after she decided to switch from pairing it with a desktop to pairing it with her laptop. It was funny to me because technology does sometimes seem to have moods and issues that can’t be explained logically. Really, there probably are logical explanations, we just aren’t fully aware of them.

I’m also a little nervous about students taking the AIR test on Chromebooks next week. I hope we have few issues. I need to re-read a lot of the directions, to feel better about it.

Things I Did Well: This week the principal came and observed one of my classes. And… I got probably the best evaluation I’ve had in a long time, possibly the best since I’ve come to this district, possibly the best of my career. Did I do a perfect job? No. Not by a long shot. But my principal had reasonable, achievable feedback for bringing up the parts that were weaker for me. And, not that her feedback has to meet this particular metric, her ideas for improvement were ideas I got excited about.

Things I Will Do Better: Well, I’ll start with incorporating my principal’s ideas into my lessons and professional practice! She also had good ideas for better harnessing my strengths, too. For example, she acknowledged risks while agreeing that backchanneling can be a powerful tool, and had some ideas on how to sharpen students’ focus while using it.

Cold Prickly: I am having a difficult time dealing with election results, and the domino effect they have had. I am not referring only to the presidential election, I am referring to elections on my state and local level too. Out of every candidate, all the way down the ballot, only three I voted for won their race; out of those three, one ran unopposed, and one’s headed for a recount. I also had two issues on my ballot, and only one ended in the result I voted for. So, I definitely feel like I was on the losing team this time around. But I still have every intention of holding my elected officials accountable, whether or not I voted for them.

More than that, I feel heartbreak over reports of hate crimes. For example, my sister and her husband saw a swastika and “kill [slur]s” spray painted on the grass on the bike trail they used to get to their polling place. They contacted authorities immediately. They live in a community where that is less of a threat against a minority, and more of a call-to-action aimed at people who agree with the sentiment; so while I worry over who might have seen it, it’s not because I think someone’s feelings may have been hurt. It’s more because it emboldens people who think that idea is okay. 

I have also read stories shared by teachers on social media about assuaging students’ fears. My heart goes out to these school families.

clasped-hands-541849_640
Additionally, I’m reading some of the president-elect’s actions as counter to some of the things he said on the campaign trail. For example, “drain the swamp” was a repeated chant at many of his rallies, symbolizing the removal of “insiders” from Washington, D.C. Yet his transition team seems filled with many such insiders. My concern there is for his supporters, who voted for him as the change candidate, believing that it was time for someone with an apolitical background to be in charge. What I see is someone who was not a politician very quickly becoming a politician. Obviously that was going to happen to some degree; but I wonder where the line is for supporters. We are all of us willing to forgive in our own candidate what we condemn in the other, but I wonder what will be the point where supporters do decide to hold their candidate accountable to things said while campaigning. For example, I am very skeptical of there ever being a physical wall on the Mexican border that Mexico pays for. If that wall does not materialize, what will the peoples’ reaction be?

A resource I’ve enjoyed is this NPR critique of Donald Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office. It’s a helpful reminder of the limits of presidential power. Some of these things cannot and will not get done unless others go along with them; the suggestion of congressional term limits stands out as an example.

Warm Fuzzy: This week I am thankful for my supportive husband. For example, this week a local church group provided dinner for teachers at our parent-teacher conferences. But, by the time I got to eat, the options were rather limited. I remarked to another teacher that I was okay with it, because I could simply text my husband and he would have dinosaur-shaped macaroni and cheese waiting for me when I got home. Well, I forgot to text him… but he still had dinosaur-shaped macaroni and cheese waiting for me when I got home! That was just one of several examples of why I love him this week. He is such a great helpmate and I love him so very, very much. </mushy stuff>

School Week Round-Up: Week Eleven

Week one-million! Okay, I’m exaggerating, it’s only week eleven. But this is one of those weeks where it feels like forever.

Lessons: First graders are using Google Drive this week for the first time with me, particularly Google Slides. I showed them how to add shapes and change their size and color. Many of them figured out how to add text on their own, and that knowledge spread. That kind of thing is so interesting to observe, since it gives me an idea on what I can expect out of them in the future.

Support: So our school district got more bandwidth, and it’s such a relief. Things are just going more smoothly as a result.

Things I Did Well: This week I felt good in my own skin, which is not really a professional victory, but it is professional-adjacent. I am very aware of how enclothed cognition impacts my attitude. In fact, when I’m feeling my worst, I’m usually dressing my best. My “best” might not be the most professional clothes I own, but clothes that make me feel good about myself.

Things I Will Do Better: I definitely felt a bit grumpy and short-tempered this week. One of the things I’m very aware of as a teacher is how my reactions to things often have a lot less to do with students, and more to do with me myself. For example, one day I might be absolutely fine with a lot of noise. But maybe the next day I’ve got a headache and would really prefer it more quiet. But those kinds of things are not things kids can know about me, especially since those are often things I’m only aware of in myself if I’m paying attention. It would be unfair to punish students one day for behavior that was acceptable the day before. So I try to pay attention to myself; accept support when it comes (like relying on other teachers to step up during bus dismissal); and, when reasonable, communicate directly with students about what I might be feeling without making them responsible for my feelings.

To be perfectly honest, this is one of the reasons I find a class pet to be useful. It’s not really appropriate to say to kids, “Hey, I need you to chill today, because I’m PMSing really bad.” Somehow, though, it seems okay (if still manipulative) to put that on the lizard. “Hey, Qwerty seems to be really grouchy today, so maybe we should try to be extra-quiet?” It works the other way too. Sometimes when I notice a student having an off day, I tell them Qwerty is having an off day, could they please give him a pep talk? Obviously he listens (what choice does he have) but really they’re giving the pep talk to themselves. It’s not a foolproof plan, but it gives kids the chance to put their feelings into words, identify with their feelings, and decide what to do with or about those feelings.

Cold Prickly: Diffusion of responsibility. Our dismissal duties are shared among a wide pool of people, largely to make sure there’s always someone there. But sometimes it feels like there are more people than needed to accomplish a task. For example, for car rider dismissal, there are four or five teachers who man the walkie-talkies and communicate about the specific kids to send out, and when. But there’s only four walkie-talkies, so the other teachers at that duty mind the children as they’re called. As time has gone by, children became accustomed to the routine and are pretty chill now. So, from the outside looking in, it appears as though the child-minding teachers are socializing with each other at least as much as they’re actually minding the children. I don’t begrudge them this, because they also rotate in and out with the walkie-talkie teachers.

In fact, I don’t even have car rider duty. I have a bus duty, where we gather two busloads of students in the cafeteria and dismiss them from there. I took this duty because I had a better ability than other teachers to get there in a timely manner, otherwise groups of students were reaching the cafeteria before teachers were and were unsupervised until an adult arrived. This week, there was a combination of circumstances where I was the only teacher in there for far too long. I could tell it was too long because our buses were waiting outside, but I couldn’t actually take the children to the bus without leaving the other busload of children unsupervised. I had to call the office and ask them to use the announcements system to summon others to the cafeteria.

Now, I don’t know why the other teachers didn’t show, or showed so late. Maybe some were on their way when I had the announcement made. But it seemed to me to be a problem with the diffusion of responsibility. I was raised in a large family; often there would be an important chore that needed done. But you would look at the stack of dishes in the sink, calculate how many other people lived in the house, and think to yourself, “There are x number of people who can and probably will do that; therefore I do not have to.” I think bus duty has become the same way. The people who take on the most active roles are the ones most consistently there. Others feel that, since those other people are there to get things done, they’re less necessary and it won’t be a huge loss if they don’t show. I think this is fine for individuals to experience on occasion, but when many or even most people experience it on the same day, it can lead to big problems.

14915488_10100951951144339_9029868100715612317_n

Warm Fuzzy: My poop emoji hairstyle I wore on October 31st. I sat in a meeting for 30 minutes before any other adults noticed it, and the one who did thought it was a little monster. But kids recognized what it was instantly.

Ain’t I a stinker?