Twitter has saved this Spanish teacher!

Sometimes, we English teachers end up teaching other preps, subjects we like because they were our minors.  With so many English teachers on the market looking for the few teaching jobs out there, we develop our minors, teach other classes, and end up becoming jacks/jills-of-all-trades.  While it is more than understandable why an administrator would want teachers on his staff who can teach at least two different preps, especially core classes, it can be tricky for a teacher to get thrown into a new subject with little to no training and still be effective.

This has been my real challenge this year: after years of teaching English, writing, and test prep, I’m teaching Spanish I and II.  Spanish was one of my minors (I never finished my Russian minor–who would hire a Russian teacher?), and I have loved this language since I was a child.  Still, I never was trained in how to teach Spanish at all, and while my master’s in TESOL is helping me with understanding how to teach a second language, Spanish has issues all its own when taught in a foreign language context.  With anywhere from 140-160 students this year and my master’s classes, I don’t have time to read textbooks, and fitting in observations is always a tricky proposition when I often have 20 other things I have to finish on my prep hour.

Here is where Twitter comes in: Twitter is where my PLC hangs out.  The LangChat group of teachers is amazing, and I cannot sing their praises enough.  I have tweeted frustration in teaching present tense and gotten lesson plans tweeted back in an hour.  In reading other teachers’ tweets, I go to their blogs, and they have written out entire plans, activities, and more, sharing them for free.  I don’t know what I would do without teachers like Diego Ojeda (who also helped with a paper for one of my grad classes!) tweeting new ideas, activities I can use, and resources I never would have found or created on my own.

Last year, I was very book dependent and just put new ideas in bits at a time.  This year, in a new school with a new curriculum, the book is not enough, and I have struggled to find my path.  In addition to my naturally different teaching style, I just don’t have the resources the lead Spanish teacher does, and my students deserve my very best and at least a comparable education.  This is where #LangChat has saved me: I can search on just the hashtag and see what’s been posted that day, participate in the Thursday night meetings every week at 8pm, or even direct message a #LangChat teacher for help.  These teachers don’t get paid for this–they just are amazing at professional development and helping all of us get better.

If you’re new to a prep, find that group on Twitter!  They will get you caught up to speed fast, help you find materials, and be there when you just want to crawl back to your old preps where you feel more comfortable and effective.

Published in: North Branch, Self-reflection, Teacher Tools on April 17, 2014 at10:03 am Comments (1)

An epiphany, of sorts

I gave up on the 20 Day Challenge when the severe stress of my MAT class and the 2nd trimester both hit at the same time as my pain did.  Oh, yeah, I have pain.  I have for years, so it’s not like it’s anything new, but this winter, my most recent addition to the pain lineup decided it wanted to be a starting player.  It’s slowly subsiding on its own, as it does, but it definitely has had an impact on my teaching.

The epiphany isn’t about my pain or teaching through pain.  My epiphany is that teaching at Albion High School left a far greater impact on me and my teaching than I realized.  Those of us who taught there, and I barely count considering I was only there for a year and a half at the end, are all survivors.  We survived.  Some of us are still teaching while others are retired or have left education for saner, healthier jobs.  I am glad to be in my classroom here at North Branch, truly lucky to have the students I do in the community I do.  I am glad that I survived, but I also have to honor the fact that I’m scarred.

See, we teachers like to pretend that every day is a new day, that whatever happened is in the past and done.  We like to think that, if we can just get through the day, if we can just survive, we will make it to a better day tomorrow.  I love that kind of optimism and use it myself, but in blinding myself to my past as a teacher and not honoring my teaching scars, I end up disrespecting my own funds of knowledge about myself as a teacher, something I try never to do to my students.

I’m scarred because it is difficult for me to see the normal, everyday politics at NBHS as normal sometimes.  My initial reaction is either to think it’s like AHS all over again and quietly freak out inside my head or to compare it to AHS and think that it can’t even be important because it’s not as bad.   Neither reaction is good or healthy.  Those of us who have survived these kinds of unhealthy teaching jobs tend to either overreact or underreact, and I am sure our colleagues deserve better than that from us.   It’s just that we’re scarred, limping along some days, and just trying to survive today to get to a better tomorrow.

NBHS is a good school.  We have a lot of room for growth which is exciting, and I can’t help but be excited to be a part of such a dynamic, interesting school.  NBHS is not Albion, and I need to keep working through those scars one by one so that my colleagues here don’t have to deal with my scars.

Published in: Albion, North Branch, Self-reflection on February 26, 2014 at8:01 pm Comments (0)

20 Day Challenge, Day 3: Moodle

I know there are rabid Edmodo fans out there (and even seriously calm but very happy fans), but I’m a Moodle gal.  Sure, it’s clunky sometimes, and yeah, it’s “new stuff goes at the bottom so everyone has to do the ‘scroll o’ death’” thing can be annoying, but all in all, it’s a great site to manage my class content online.   Moodle can organize content, host class forums, give students a place to practice or write their reactions, and it can even grade tests or quizzes (except for the essays).

Now, I will say this: Moodle is far more effective if you have enough computers or tablets in your school.  In my old school, I was able to commandeer the laptop carts much of the time, enough that I could do quizzes on Moodle, have my students write journals and respond to each other, and even use the forum feature as a back-channel while we were working in class on projects.  In my new school, well, we have one paltry laptop cart with several that don’t work at any given time and two labs that aren’t big enough for several of my classes (not to mention, it’s almost impossible to get lab time given how many of us need it).

I just wish the Moodle app worked to the point that the LCISD would approve it and let us all use it.  That would work with the BYOD program we’re moving toward, but as it stands, my students have to try to read my class pages in tiny print on their phones.  Not cool.  There are some other teachers at my school who use it, but we all agree that it is less than perfect and that it is difficult for us to fully utilize everything that it can do with the situation the way it is.  If you have devices at your school, I recommend Moodle.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 11, 2014 at11:53 pm Comments (2)

Day 2: Organizational tip

Yesterday’s post really was about organization, but I thought I would add another one that I use for organizing my lesson plans: Evernote.  The more I use Evernote, the more I love it.  I swear it was made for teachers.  In Evernote, I can put notes on students, put my lesson plans so I never lose any ever again as well as post them for anyone to read, even take pictures of PD handouts so I cut down on paper.  I use it for my master’s classes’ notes, taking pictures of class notes and posting the link on my class Moodle pages, you name it.  I don’t know where I’d be without Evernote, and I’ve only been using it for a year.

Here’s the link to the lesson plan template I use (obviously, I teach Spanish).  It’s based on a template we had to use at my school last year but is modified to be more useful to me.  In the middle column, I put the intended plan.  Under “practice” (what we do most of the time), I start with Bellwork, go through what we’re doing (numbering the steps), and then end with a Summarizer.  I suppose I could make separate boxes for those, but that feels cluttered.  It’s the far-right column that makes it all worth it: any changes go in there in red.  It takes me just a couple of minutes, and I can do it from my phone, my tablet, my laptop at home, or my desktop at work.  If a plan changed, something got cut, or I had an idea I couldn’t put off, I put that change in the plan in red so that I can keep track of planning better and so can my students or their parents.  I just post the link to my plans on my classroom website as well as my Moodle pages.

The beauty of posting my lesson plans is that now no one has any excuse for not knowing what we did in class.  Add in all of the materials I can add to the note either through hyperlinks or uploading files, and this way, there’s transparency.  Now, my students rarely take advantage of that, but it sure changes those parent conversations when they tell me their student didn’t know about something.  My boss is also a fan now, especially when I could e-mail him all of my trimester’s lesson plans in one fell swoop.  Took me just a few minutes.

I would never go back to paper plans.  While I print out a copy of my plans every week so I have the paper sitting out and easy to read fast, it’s Evernote that’s changed the way I plan for the better.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 8, 2014 at11:57 pm Comments (0)

Trying the 20 Day Blog Challenge

In trying to do more self-reflection about my job, I’ve decided to do the 20 Day blog challenge.  It’s a challenge for edubloggers to help us get back into blogging and having a chance to really reflect on our teaching practice.



When it comes to books, most of what I read is for my master’s program.  The best textbook we’ve had so far has been Teaching in Action: Case Studies from Second Language Classrooms, edited by Jack C. Richards.  Most education textbooks are full of theory, but this one is full of great advice, the kind I find myself underlining and marking up and trying to put into practice in my Spanish classroom.

One thing in particular that I can’t wait to implement this week came from our readings on how to handle big classes.  I have several classes at and over 30 students, and my Achilles heel this year has been handing papers back and managing the paperwork.  Nancy Mutoh (1998) in her article, “Management of Large Classes” (pp. 35-37), shared a brilliant idea that should go along really nicely with my large table groups already set up in class: file managers.  Each group appoints a file manager.  Each group has a hanging file in an organizer (I made sure to get ones with lids that are easy to carry) where the file manager gets papers to pass back and takes care of that for me.  File managers also will collect papers and let me know who’s absent in their group.  In exchange for being the group file manager, they will be exempt from any onerous group duty like presenter or recorder unless they choose not to be.

The file boxes and everything are in the trunk of my car (out in the frozen barn we call a garage), but since we have another snow day tomorrow, that will give me time to get everything set up to just carry in.  I’m also planning on keeping their “I can” statement organizers in file in each group’s hanging file so they don’t lose them.

Something that Mutoh added was putting a group picture on each hanging file along with names and also an attendance checklist so that she didn’t have to take attendance at the beginning of class.  I can’t really do attendance that way in a high school, and I think the group naming process will work enough without pictures, but they’re also food for thought if you have a big class.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 7, 2014 at10:20 pm Comments (0)

New Year’s Resolutions

When I had a knitblog, I had an annual tradition of posting my New Year’s resolutions for knitting and spinning, and I had forgotten about that tradition until recently when I went back and re-read some of those blog posts.  In recent years, my New Year’s resolutions have revolved around just surviving, getting a solid teaching job, and losing weight, but this year, I’ve been really pondering what changes I want to see in my classroom as well as in my life.  With so many changes in my job this year, it’s time to spend time reflecting and coming up with a purposeful path for the rest of the school year and for the calendar year to come.

Resolution #1: Get my grading turn-around time down.

I’m working on it, but honestly, I take too long to get my grading done.  I need to stick to a week or less not just as a goal but as a hard and fast rule.  My students deserve that, and I deserve to get more sleep at the end of the trimester.  Now that I’ve got a better system at home and so much work for my one master’s class that needs better time management as well, I think I can meet this one.

Resolution #2: Do a better job of navigating the social side of teaching.

I’m a nerd, and part of being a nerd is not always reading social situations well, especially when I have an opinion or an idea that might help in that situation.  NBHS is not like any school I have ever taught in, and I keep running into situations where what I know and what has worked before doesn’t work at all.  I need to just keep my head down and my mouth shut.  In this staff, anyone new has to be here for years before they have any right to speak or have an opinion, and it’s not like I’ll be able to change that kind of thinking on my own.  My resolution for the rest of the year is to keep my mouth shut, keep my head down, and do a better job of silently observing.

Resolution #3: Apply at least one thing from my master’s program every month.

I had been trying to apply something every week in my lesson plans, but honestly, with the fast pace of the USC Rossier MAT program, I need more time to reflect and make sure that what I’m doing makes sense.  I’m still processing last term’s classes while in the midst of work for this term’s class, and there’s only so much I can implement effectively without proper reflection.  I’m also expanding my definition of “thing” to include anything I use in my class as well, like when I used VoiceThread last year with my Spanish students.

Resolution #4: Find a way to better implement blended learning in a school without enough devices.

This has been a thorn in my side all year so far, but I need to figure out better ways to implement student self-reflective blogs, online assessments I used to use last year that I haven’t figured out how to use here yet, and other blended learning techniques that helped me be a more effective teacher.  Waiting for the new school website and calendar isn’t going to work and no one’s going to magically put a class set of devices in my room, so I need to do a better job of managing the resources that our school does have for my students as well as using student devices already in my classroom.

Resolution #5: Knit more.  Exercise more.  Clean more.  Crash less.

This one’s just for me, but I have found that spending too much time with a screen in front of me makes me more stressed and on edge than usual.  I have to build in knitting time for my own sanity’s sake, let alone exercise time and cleaning time.  I’ve been so tired so far this year that I have been crashing when I get home instead of sticking to my 15 minutes rule (do this for 15 minutes, do that for 15 minutes–break all jobs down to 15 minute increments a la Flylady), but I don’t think that’s been healthy for me.  My weight’s up, my stress load’s up, and I haven’t finished many knitting projects or entirely unpacked yet.  It’s time to manage my time better and take care of myself at the same time.

If I can keep these resolutions, I should finish this school year much happier and healthier with better student outcomes.  They might even learn some Spanish!  All of these ultimately are about helping my students learn Spanish better, from getting better and more frequent feedback on their learning to having a happier teacher whose enthusiasm for the subject helps them find their own.  These are my personal professional goals in addition to whatever I wrote down for the Marzano evaluation rubric (that’s a mess of a rubric, by the way, and very confusing to actually use), so I’m more likely to actually follow through on these.

Published in: North Branch, Self-reflection on January 1, 2014 at10:54 pm Comments (0)

What do you do when you don’t fit in?

This is my seventh year of teaching and my seventh school I have taught in for ten weeks or longer, and honestly, this is the toughest school I have dealt with yet when it comes to breaking into a staff and making a place for myself.  Apparently, some important people with a lot of social power did not want me hired, did not like me in the interview, and in all reality, have never given me much of a chance at all to prove myself or become a part of this staff.  While most teachers here have been very nice, and a few even have been supportive and caring, I deal with the effects of that interview and situation pretty much every day.

So, I find myself again on the outside looking in.  Other teachers have shared how they went through similar problems, how it took them five years or longer to become a real part of this staff, how they became the targets of some bullies on staff and had to fight demoralization and alienation.  While it is easy to dismiss this problem as something that does not affect our teaching, the reality is, that social situation has a larger impact on our teaching than one might think.

Micropolitics in a school have a large impact on student achievement and on teacher morale and ultimately teacher turnover.  Blase (1991) defined a school’s micropolitics as “the formal and informal use of legitimate and illegitimate power by the principal and teachers to further individual or group goals” (p. 11).  Teacher wield a lot of social power among their peers, and this micropolitical climate can be very difficult to maneuver.  Meyer and MacMillan (2011) got it right when they described the different social groups and their impact in the schools they studied undergoing principal transitions.  I particularly liked their description of the power of the “old boys’ network” and how women create their own groups in answer to that network that mirror the same behavior (p. 18).  As Meyer and MacMillan (2001) put it, “The difficulty with these groups was their degree of entrenchment and their sense of entitlement” (p. 18).  It is the entrenchment that is the real issue here.

In this school, we have had very few new teachers hired in the last several years.  Instead, we have lost many teachers due to budget cuts and other factors, and so we have entrenched groups with varying degrees of power who then have the added concern of losing their jobs.  That makes it difficult for any new teacher to come in and join any of the in-groups, especially if that teacher does not have a colleague acting as a passport into a group or has colleagues joining together to keep that teacher on the outside.

My mother, a high school art teacher of 35 years, always says that we teachers become like the students we teach.  The cliques in any school’s staff are just as powerful and myriad as they are in school’s student body, and it is highly frustrating to deal with student bullies and then turn around and deal with staff bullies or feel like one is back in high school again, trying to find a place to sit at lunch.

I have no answers for this problem, and it seems to be getting worse.  While I am sure that I bear a good bit of the responsibility for the problem, I am at a loss on how to do more than I already have or what to do now.


Blase, J. (1991). The politics of life in schools. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Meyer, M. J., & MacMillan, R. B. (2011). Principal succession and the micropolitics of educators in schools: Some incidental results from a larger study. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, (117), Retrieved from

Published in: North Branch, Self-reflection on December 17, 2013 at11:47 am Comments (0)

Chain letters notwithstanding, it’s time to pause and reflect again.

It’s been a rough week.  It started out rough on Monday, worse news awaited me on Wednesday, and boy, there are times when it’s hard not to wonder why I do this job.  Part of the problem with teaching is that it is very hard to make perfect decisions 100% of the time, though that really is the expectation underneath it all, and part of the problem is that it is very difficult to meet our own personal needs in addition to meeting everyone else’s needs.

In my 562 class Thursday night, I kept thinking of the term “balance” as we talked about what makes for good teaching, and I realized, yet again in now my seventh year of teaching, that I’m out of balance. In applying the reflection cycle (Rogers, 2002), it’s time for me to step back, reflect on my practice, and find that place of balance as my master’s work starts up again and ramps up in difficulty and amount, my new students this trimester start challenging me in new ways, and my piles of grading start getting bigger.  To that end, I will actually comply with Todd Bloch’s assignment, something I usually smile at and then ignore on Facebook or other social media but think it’s time to actually go along with.  I follow Todd on Twitter and learn so much from him, so I trust that his assignment will help me through this rough patch in helping me to pause and reflect.

11 Random Facts about Me:

1. I actually don’t think of myself as much of a techie despite typing this on my touch-screen laptop (hey, I got it on amazing sale last year) with my Evernote notebook, my smartphone, and my new tablet all on the arms of the chair I’m sitting in.

2. I named our dog after a character from the first play my ex-husband and I acted in together, Charley’s Aunt.  That play was just about the most fun I ever had in college, and it was a natural name for him.

3. I’m Eastern Orthodox Christian but didn’t grow up that way, instead converting after college.  Most Orthodox in the US are ethnic Orthodox, growing up in the church because they’re Russian or Serbian or Greek or whatever.  It makes for interesting conversations sometimes.  In fact, in the church the ex-husband and I converted in, I got so tired of trying to explain to people that I wasn’t Greek, that, when they asked me yet again which island I was from, I started answering, “The Hebrides,” and then waited for them to get it.

4. I’m a Level II Certified Knitting Teacher through the Craft Yarn Council of America, a certification I’m rather proud of and worked hard for.  I’ve taught pretty much every level of knitting, from beginning to advanced techniques.

5. I almost had a book published.  Interweave, one of the big craft publishers, agreed to publish a knitting textbook I was writing only to back out the very next day before they’d sent out the contract.  It’s a long story, and I’m still a bit bitter about it.  Someday, I’m finishing that book and getting it published, gosh darnit.

6. I cuss.  A lot.  I can’t at school, though I have been known to switch to Russian when I really need to swear because no one at my school knows what I’m saying, though I also occasionally forget myself and don’t switch out of Spanish.  Good thing the other Spanish teacher understands and rarely is around when I forget myself.  With my students, I use “old lady” expressions like “dagnabit” and “gosh darnit” and geeky ones like “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!”  My students seem to understand that I’m weird.

7. I hate coffee, though I love the smell.  I’m a pop and tea person, and yes, I know they’re bad for me.  I don’t care.

8. I lost my right kidney just over seven years ago to a malignant tumor that was later found to probably not be cancer in that it probably won’t metastasize.  The doctors think I’m cured but always add the caveat that they’re not sure.  It was a massive, life-changing event in many, many ways, and I still deal with it all these years later.  I mostly ignore it, but it does explain why I sometimes roll my eyes at my students and even my own children when they start complaining about pain.

9. I can’t take any opiates or painkillers based on opium, which is pretty much everything except for ibuprofen.  They don’t block the pain pathways in me, just give me the side effects.  So, yes, when I woke up from my kidney tumor surgery, I had zero pain control.  Yes, I still remember that.

10. If I could, I’d put a reading nook in my classroom complete with couch, beanbag chairs, lamp with good light, and bookshelves filled with all kinds of books.  In my first few years of teaching, I had something like that (without the couch or lamp), and it changes the entire feel of a classroom.

11. I started out as a Catholic high school teacher.  My mother’s a retired public high school art teacher of 35 years, my stepmom was a public high school home economics/journalism teacher, her mother was a kindergarten teacher in a public school.  My first three years of teaching were in the Catholic schools, and I’ve taught in another since.  They are different from publics, though kids are kids, and there are things I wish we could borrow from them (Moms and Dads clubs, uniforms, having a way to incorporate the spiritual side of kids).  Sometimes, I really miss it.

Todd’s 11 Questions for Me:

1. Why do you teach?

  • I teach because I can’t not teach.  I tried.  I even almost opened up a yarn shop (twice–long story), but I still kept finding ways to teach.  Somehow, it’s in my blood.

2. What was your favorite book as a child?

  • Whatever I was reading at the time.  I was (and am) a voracious reader and at one point, had read over half of the fiction books in my middle school library (which was bigger than NBHS’s library, just saying).  I remember loving Island of the Blue Dolphins, pretty much every horse book except Black Beauty, Witch on Blackbird Pond, and everything Madelyn L’Engle.

3. If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go? and why?

  • I’d grab my kids, magically have passports and money all set (hey, it’s my dream and my blog), and I’d go back to Nizhni Novgorod, Russia where I studied in college.  I loved that city and would love to show my kids just why I fell in love with Russia and see if it works the same magic on them.

4. Favorite dessert?

  • Chocolate whatever, though I am a huge fan of pie.

5. Describe the inside of your car?

  • I drive a mom car, which means it’s usually trashed inside.  Trash, random kid stuff, random school stuff, ice scrapers, first aid kits, a blanket–we could survive out of my car, just sayin’.

6. Where were you on 9/11?

  • I was at home getting my daughter ready for the day while my ex-husband got ready (he was running late to work).  I will never forget watching those brave first responders run into the building only to have it come down on them a short time later and how I sat holding my baby girl tightly while rocking back and forth and crying.  We have friends who lost loved ones in the attack, and we spent much of the next couple of days trying to track down my ex’s brother (who was supposed to be at the WTC that day for a meeting but was running late and riding the ferry when he saw the first plane hit).

7. How many states have you traveled to?

  • I live in one, have been to 34, and I’ve flown through Puerto Rico.

8. What was your first blog post about?

  • I had a knitting blog years and years ago (knitters, oddly enough, are a huge percentage of bloggers and were early on), and my first post was July 23rd, 2005, and I wrote 768 posts on that blog before having to shut it down due to the custody case.  My first post was about updating message board friends about my yarn shop plans and my pain issues creating trouble with those plans.

9. What was your Best Christmas gift ever received?

  • A complete set of Brittany birch double point knitting needles my mom got me one year when I was in high school.  I got that small box, a book, and I think one other thing.  Mom was so apologetic that I had so little under the tree that year, but I was over the moon!

10. Describe you standard work attire?

  • Sweater (sometimes with a shawl), pants, comfy shoes.

11. Favorite store to shop in?

  • My favorite store doesn’t exist anymore, Threadbear Fiber Arts (it was such a happy, safe place before all the nastiness and they shut down).  For usual stuff, Nordstrom Rack.

11 Bloggers I Read, Respect, and Try to Follow:

(If you’ve already gotten this, please feel free to ignore the homework, etc.)

1. My Spanish I students (I’ll be posting this as an optional blog post on the class blog.)

2. My Spanish II students

3. Ben Rimes (though he’s more of a Google+ man)

4. Nicholas Provenzano

5. Larry Ferlazzo

6. Susan Ohanian

7. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (she’s a knitter, but she’s awesome, so there!)

8. Franklin Habit

9. Diane Ravitch

10. Peter Greene

11. George Couros

11 Questions for my Bloggers (who choose to participate, that is):

1. What was it that got you to start with this whole blog thing anyway?

2. What is the best meal you have ever eaten in your life?

3. What is your favorite fiber to wear (for those who have noticed this sort of thing)?

4. How did you get your current job?

5. If you had to give up all technological devices except for one, what would you keep?

6. Describe your perfect evening.

7. What is on your couch right now that you’d get up and put away but just don’t care quite enough?  If your couch is all cleaned off, then look at a surface that irks you (i.e., desk, coffee table, kitchen counter, etc.) and use that for your answer.

8. What was the last poem you read?  Last book?

9. Coffee, tea, or hot cocoa–which do you pick if you’re out with your boss at an impromptu meeting at a conference in January?  Why?

10. What were your high school’s colors and mascot?

If you wish to participate, here are the rules:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this.


Rodgers, C. (2002). Seeing Student Learning: Teacher Change and the Role of Reflection.  Harvard Educational Review72(2), 230-253.

Published in: Self-reflection on December 14, 2013 at11:33 pm Comments (0)

Reflections on the year so far

The Richards and Rogers framework that we use at USC suggests that the best practice we teachers can implement is one of reflection and deliberation, something that can be difficult to implement on the fly when teaching.  Several things have been winging through my brain lately, though, so it’s time to get some reflections down.

1. This job is exhausting.

Though I cannot entirely blame the job when I’m taking two grad-level classes in my master’s program, I find myself getting less and less sleep as time goes on.  I’m perpetually exhausted, which means that I often feel like I’m fighting off a virus or whatever.  The stupid thing is, I’m behind on my work.  Seriously behind.  Crazy behind.  Yet, I keep doing my course homework, grading and planning, and I’m still behind on unpacking and housework, let alone coursework and grading.  When I do get a bit of time, I tend to crash and crash hard, and I’d fight it more, but I’m already exhausted and borderline ill and figure those crash periods are keeping me from really crashing and burning.

2. My colleagues need to read Ruby Payne and related research on the effects of poverty and its attendant issues.

While I am quite aware of the many arguments against Ruby Payne’s work, I think just even thinking about it and discussing it as a staff would help.  I think of some of the things I have been told by those with power, even just some power, and the things I have had to listen to in the teachers’ lunch room, and I really think that the deficit, blame-the-victim mindset is rampant amongst my colleagues, particularly when it comes to our lower SES students.  That needs to change, and even just reading the book as a staff and talking about it can help raise consciousness and change minds.

3. I see the results of the deficit mindset every day in my classroom.

My students often reveal just what they think of themselves in my Spanish classes.  Learning a new language is frustrating as all get-out, so it makes sense that their affective filters would be high and they’d reveal just what they think about their abilities and lack thereof.  It’s the lacking part that worries me the most.  So many come to my room already socialize to believe that they’re failures or will probably be failures, and frankly, I’m at a loss on how to really fight that other than to keep telling them that I believe in them and give them opportunities to see it, too.  While I’m no fan of giving everyone gold stars or overusing praise, many of my students need someone who believes in them.  There’s just so much negativity, and there’s no reason for it.

It’s like the deficit mindset is a cancer.  It starts with one administrator or one influential teacher, and it spreads from there.  Next thing you know, you have teacher e-mail chains detailing a student’s every failure or teachers in a lunch room all dogpiling on when a student’s name is mentioned.  Then, those attitudes come across in the classroom, hallway, offices, and students start to internalize them.  Self-fulfilling prophecy is one of the most powerful forces in education, and that deficit mindset is a perfect example of how damaging negative thinking can be.

4. I’m not really sure what the point of mentors is.

To say things have been a bit rough with my mentor is putting it mildly.  I’ve never had one, so I often forget I can go to her and ask for advice, but in reality, there’s more to it than that.  I’m not sure how to fix it or if I even can at this point.  I might have to seriously involve the principal, but I would rather not.

5. I’m starting to feel isolated.

I’ve been through this before–not getting e-mails about colleagues and finding out after the fact, having people appear to be nice to my face but quickly stop talking when I walk up or get weird about sitting with me at lunch.  That doesn’t make this any easier, though.  I know that, if I just keep on keeping on, it will all eventually come around, but before, I always had a close teacher friend who helped.  This time, I’m really on my own, and it is a lot harder this way.  This is what makes me miss Albion more than anything else, barring my students: I had friends there, and we all helped each other through.  Here, most never come to the lunch room to eat, and there’s definitely an old boys’ network thing going here.


I’m off to take a nap and then grade some more.  In all reality, I don’t see any realistic ways out of these problems and would like any and all advice.

Published in: North Branch, Self-reflection on November 17, 2013 at12:24 am Comments (2)

New School, Old Problem

One of the things I have learned in my years of bouncing from school to school is that we all have similar goals but are on different paths to get there.  Trying to merge those paths can get tricky, especially with some school cultures that encourage paranoia and a fear of judgment by colleagues.  I find myself dealing with this issue yet again now that I’m in a school that is just starting to deal with some of their bigger issues.

See, in many schools in Michigan, they always got good enough test scores.  The majority of their students was socialized by their parents to be successful in school no matter what, so the teaching could be okay, sometimes less than great, mediocre.  The stakes just weren’t all that high–they had a population that was loyal to the school, enough students who scored high enough, and a positive school climate in which most stakeholders were heard.  It was good enough.  North Branch appears to be such a school district, one that did well enough for long enough.

Now that the Republicans in Lansing are playing for keeps with the Michigan public schools and upping the ante each round, good enough isn’t good enough anymore.  The teachers in North Branch have not had the training that most in the rest of the state, or at least the teachers in turn-around districts have had, and that’s not fair to them.  There is so much I run into every day that the students don’t know, my colleagues have never heard of, and I end up explaining to everyone, everything from basic Kagan strategies to Reading Apprenticeship and AVID.  Just today, my students had no idea how to do a gallery walk, a Kagan strategy we used all the time at Albion, Pennfield, Calhoun Community High School, and in many of the schools I subbed in back in Calhoun county.  I often have to explain Kagan terms to them and repeat directions for strategies that they should be more than familiar with–and I don’t think they’re messing with me when it’s student after student, class after class.

It’s not that North Branch is backward: they have done well with what they have had to work with.  It’s that they have not had the training they have needed and not been pushed to challenge their own preconceptions or the ways they’ve always done things.  Many of the teachers realize this and are doing what they can to get their own training and create a strong PLC, a sign that we have a strong future as a district.

The old problem I face, though, is being the one with more training who can help.  It’s a fine line to walk: do I push for Reading Apprenticeship or even an AVID program and help train anyone and everyone I can but run the risk of offending people and getting ostracized, or do I take a more subtle approach and wait to build rapport and support in the staff first, a process that can take years.  At this point, I’m leaning toward the former, but experience tells me to do the latter.  The last thing I need is to end up on the outside of a small town all because I pushed for change when people weren’t ready for it.

We need a district-wide literacy program.  We would be a great candidate for AVID and probably could get amazing results if we implemented it 7-12 or even 5-12.  We have students who cannot decode texts or read with fluency and who struggle with writing; these issues will only get worse as cut scores rise and the state starts to watch more closely.  All of this is possible and even desirable, and many teachers have said to me that they are interested, as is our administration.  We have a great future ahead of us, if only we work toward it.

Published in: North Branch, Self-reflection on September 24, 2013 at8:51 pm Comments (0)