Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Friday, July 23, 2010

A new abroad adventure awaits!

I still cannot believe it is towards the end of July already! Wow. Where has the summer gone??! The heat here in Washington, DC has been unbearable, but I've been trying to make the most of it. Unfortunately, the idea of running long in 105 degree heat and humidity is usually not my top choice for a leisure activity. Hello, cross training!

Tomorrow, I leave for my two-week adventure in South Korea! I will be teaching and volunteering at a work camp/school on Jejudo Island, about an hour off the coast of Seoul. This island is supposed to be the "Hawaii of Korea," a place where I am bound to run into many Korean honeymooners, all wearing matching outfits! The island is supposed to be beautiful, so I am beyond excited!

Now is about the time where I usually freak out on what needs to get packed and done before leaving the States tomorrow. I am not a procrastinator by any means, but packing for abroad trips is often an overwhelming experience I try to avoid when possible. I have my packing list made and know what exactly I need to take with me. Now it's just a matter of getting it done!!

Many people have asked me why I would want to go on this journey alone. Why not travel with a colleague or friend? Originally, one of my colleagues was supposed to join me, but she had to back out due to financial constraints. Boo! Knowing me, though, I will hopefully meet some other great volunteers from multiple countries. I am extremely independent, self-sufficient, and open-minded, traits that will probably come in handy in Korea. Seeing as the age range for this volunteer experience in 18-35, I could very well be the "grandma" of the group. Fingers crossed that this is not the case!

South Korea is a beautiful country, and I am thrilled to finally have a chance to experience its culture, language, and people. Half my time there will be spent with younger Korean children, and the other half will be with the adolescents. It is our job to help lead lessons/activities, introduce our respective country's culture and language to them, and essentially, as a recent informational email called it, "be their friend." This is essentially the opposite of how I'm used to acting around students, so this should be interesting! We were asked to bring gifts for the children, a used item for our second-hand "peace sale," favorite recipes, and an ingredient for one of those recipes. Very cool!

So, here I go on a new abroad adventure that is bound to be full of fun, laughs, learning, and an all around memorable experience. I'll be sure to document everything carefully via camera and journal. Talk to you in August!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Caught in the Middle -- and Loving It

Many people burst out laughing when I tell them I teach middle schoolers. "Why on earth would you want to teach those animals?" they ask. My reply, "They are the ones who need good teachers the most."

I remember hating middle school and feeling very uncomfortable with myself as a young adolescent. I struggled with my body image, self-esteem, self-worth, and desire to fit in and be accepted by my peers, as so many teens today do. I have always believed that the middle school years are among the most important and formative for students, as they are so impressionable and vulnerable at this age.

Consequently, I was not the least bit surprised to find a well-written article entitled "Caught in the Middle" in the Education Update newsletter I received in the mail from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a professional organization I belong to. Arguing that the middle grades seek a bigger stake in school reform debate, the author explains how grades 5-9 are among the most pivotal in students' academic careers. Thus, they must be a key element of school reform. I could not agree more.

Unfortunately, in recent years, middle school reform has not received the kind of attention it deserves; the funding and focus often went to the early elementary grades or high school reform efforts. Middle schoolers truly are caught in the middle. According to the June 2009 National Middle School Association report "Putting Middle Grade Students on the Graduation Path," a sixth grade student who fails to pass language arts or math, attend school at least 80 percent of the time, or have good behavior will have only a 10-20 percent change of graduating high school on time. Wow. So many of my own students' faces describe these statistics perfectly, too many in fact.

Advocates of middle school reform want policy makers to recognize how vital and critical middle schools are in preparing and motivating students for high school work and graduation. These young adolescents have very specific emotional and academic needs, and any effort to improve student performance must include targeted measures for meeting their learning and developmental needs during this crucial time in their lives. Focus areas at this level, educators argue, should include academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, and social equity. We must have high expectations for ALL of our middle school students while treating students fairly and consistently, which is no easy task.

Other key middle school practices such as teacher teaming tend to strengthen these adolescents' learning and personal development. Students can also benefit from having the same guidance counselor all three years of middle school, a practice we feel strongly about at my school.

No matter what specific teaching strategies or school-wide practices are apparent at a given middle school, one thing is certain -- an emphasis on high-quality, rigorous instruction that expects all students to produce high-quality work will help create high-achieving middle schools whose graduates are fully prepared for the volume and diversity of work to come in high school, college, and beyond.

The full article is available at 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where does the summer go?

I recognize it has been longer than usual since my last post, and for that, I apologize. Every year, I am mind-boggled at how quickly and swiftly the summer seems to fly by. Many of my non-teaching friends will lightheartedly harass me at having the entire summer off, but this summer is far from relaxing, boring, or ordinary for me.

Since closing out the final marking period and boxing up my classroom on June 17, I have been very busy and have accomplished quite a bit, both personally and professionally. I immediately completed a rigorous three-day course to earn Confidence Course certification, which will allow me to lead the Confidence Course workshops with the Grade 6 Outdoor Education program this fall (and in future years!). This program builds trust, confidence, creativity, cooperation, discipline, and teamwork among the sixth grade students, a process I am honored and excited to be a part of.

I have also spent several summer days in my school building beginning to prepare for the new school year. Many changes will be present this fall, including a new co-team leader, new assistant principal, several new staff members, the loss of former treasured colleagues, and the beginnings of an enormous three-year building renovation. Change is never easy, but I am trying to keep the most positive attitude and open mind possible about what lies ahead.

The last weekend in June, I ran my seventh marathon of the year with a colleague, whom I have lured into running marathons with me (!), in Charlevoix, Michigan. My goal is 12 marathons in 12 months this year, and hey, I am already over half of the way there! We enjoyed driving through most of the state of Michigan, a place much more beautiful and friendly than anticipated.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a process management conference, which proposed a new way to problem solve and collaborate in a professional learning community. I look forward to seeing how my school's leadership team implements such processes with our decision making sessions this coming school year.

With other secondary English teachers in the county, I also had the opportunity to participate in two days of range-finding. In these sessions, we examined, scored, and discussed numerous eighth grade student writing samples to determine holistic rubric scores (out of a possible 5 points). I discovered that I tend to be a tougher grader of students' writing, which I am proud of. I want to hold all of my students to high standards and expect to see their best work on paper with each assignments.

Last week, I had the chance to visit my family up north and spend some quality time with my mother, who is a true inspiration for me. I enjoyed trading teaching stories with my uncle, who has been teaching high school social studies for over 30 years. While his population is far more "White" than mine, we still deal with many of the same challenges and frustrations on a daily basis. My family really wanted me to open up about my students and what it is like to teach crazy middle schoolers; I was more than happy to oblige.

This week, my school's leadership team is meeting all day every day to prepare for the year ahead. Thus far, the experience has been much more meaningful, beneficial, collaborative, and honest than in prior summers. Since my principal received essentially a vote of "no confidence" from the majority of her staff by the end of last year, she knew things needed to change, as did her immediate supervisors and our building's union representative. To her credit, she had the courage and bravery to bring in two consultants from the county to listen to us vent ALL of our concerns about what is happening in our school in the room without administration present.

Today, we came back altogether to review what these concerns are and participate in a wide variety of team building activities that revealed our true selves, backgrounds, and authentic experiences with race, equity, and learning. The result? We found ourselves learning a great deal about everyone else and realizing that everyone's "truth" is valuable and real, however different it may be from our own reality.

Truthfully, I am now more hopeful than ever that positive change is possible in our school and that our principal is willing to do whatever it takes to regain and rebuild our trust in her. This will not be an easy road, but no difficult process ever is. We will be tested as leaders of our school who represent the best interests of our students and teams of teachers. We will be asked to step outside our comfort zones and have the courageous conversations we would much rather NOT have. And most importantly, we will be charged with modeling the kind of teaching and leading we value and deem important for others to use in their classrooms.

Are we ready for this challenge? I certainly hope so.