27 September 2013

Why Are the Reading and Writing Scores So Much Better?

Educators often feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, especially at this time of year when state test scores are being released.  As it is each year at this time, it's my hope that we will remember what's important in our profession.

Walking through the hallway with my principal one afternoon several years ago after our state test scores were released, my principal asked me "Why are the reading and writing scores so much better?  What is your department doing?" 

As an educator who has long been an opponent of the "teach to the test" approach to teaching and learning, I was, honestly, not incredibly happy to hear this question asked of me.  My reply-- "we taught our hearts out."  She probed for more information--"surely you had a technique or strategy that helped the scores be better?" 

Perhaps we did, but that strategy was not test prep! Our department utilized Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to plan instruction, study student work, and make adjustments to our approach so we could keep teenagers engaged and interested in learning.  We had a system of grade level teams and each team focused on the needs and interests of the students on those teams.  We also had many young and new teachers who kept all of us on our toes and learning new and relevant strategies.  A nice balance of classic and contemporary print and non-print texts were key; we typically paired texts. Text based discussions were integral to helping students write better.  When we taught writing, we focused on real audiences and specific instructional strategies we knew would help our students think more and write better.

We taught the standards and we used the formative assessment process to make adjustments, but we always focused on issues, ideas and humanity in the informational texts, literature, music and film that our students enjoyed.

In Kentucky today, educators, parents, community members, and members of the media are discussing the release of state test scores.  For the second time, students in our state were assessed over the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics.  It is my deep hope that if administrators ask teachers today what they did to impact test scores (shudder at this question--but know it's a reality), teachers will feel confident in saying "we taught our hearts out."  And that the test prep we all hate so much will not be a stronger focus in schools where the test results are not what people want them to be.  Because, didn't we all get into this profession to impact lives, to have discussions about issues, ideas, the world and humanity?

16 September 2013

It's Hard to Learn When You're Hungry

As a person who benefited from free lunch programs at various points during my childhood, and having spent every year of my teaching career in schools with high poverty levels, I feel strongly about the importance of ensuring kids aren't hungry because it's hard to learn when you're hungry.   (NOTE: I never went hungry) 100% of my students on the reservation in North Carolina were offered free lunch and breakfast daily, and 53 % of my students in an urban school in Kentucky qualified for free or reduced lunch.  As a teacher of these varied groups of teenagers, I can remember plenty of times when the granola bars or crackers in my desk drawer were gratefully consumed. 

This past July I had the opportunity to hear Billy Shore speak at a conference in Seattle.  His message was moving because his organization, No Kid Hungry, has data to back its programming, and it's not just a tug on your heart strings approach to gaining donors.

When I learned September is Hunger Action Month, I felt compelled to take action by
educating readers of my blog about childhood hunger, by twEATing, and by eating out at restaurants that are donating money to the No Kid Hungry campaign this month.

Hunger  programs abound to target worldwide hunger and the startling statistics and reality that hunger kills more people per year than AIDS, malaria, and tubercluosis combined.  More than 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat.
Indeed the statistics in developing countries are worse than those in America, and most certainly they need our attention.  By the same token, we must remember and address the fact that 1 in 6 people in America are hungry.  The documentary A Place at the Table explores and investigates the story of hunger in America.

No Kid Hungry's approach involves connecting kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals.  The campaign also engages the public to support public programs that address childhood hunger. 

Parents, educators, and citizens of the Unites States, you can learn more about how to help a school participate in addressing hunger.  Fellow educators can check out this infographic with ideas about how we can help.  

11 September 2013

Pausing to Remember

 Before beginning my work day today, an email reminder of September 11 appeared in my inbox.  One of my former students (and now a friend) blogs regularly, and since I subscribe to her blog, I was alerted of her new post.   She took some time this morning to remember her 7th grade English class on September 11th, 2001 and she asked her readers what they remember from that day. I wonder if any of my students from that year remember English class that day?  (It was three years after 9/11 before I became Amanda's English teacher.)

A few hours after reading Amanda's post, I received a text message from my husband.

That day I was with my high school English students in Cherokee, North Carolina; we spent the day talking about the unfolding events, trying to understand what was happening.  We contemplated life, death, love, family, and friends.  In the midst of being a teacher and talking with teenagers, I was torn with thoughts of my 7-month old baby boy at home with my husband.  I remember wondering what kind of world he would be growing up in.
Twelve years later I know how fortunate we are for our peaceful life free from daily violence and torment.  I have a lovely life with my husband, 12 year old son, 10 year old son, and dog in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. 

12 y/o son looking at 9/11 remembrance sculpture University of Kentucky Art Museum

03 September 2013

Pre-service Teachers Share Top 3 Fears & Exciting Thoughts

 Exciting news in my life-- I am teaching again!  This time, it's a course at our local university.  My students are pre-service middle school teachers, and our course is a study of English Language Arts methods.  I invited my class to guest blog today.  Collaboratively, they created this blog post as a practice run for their individual posts they will write each week over the next seven weeks. Their individual posts will not appear here, but we thought a guest post written together for an established blog would be a great start.  Please share your thoughts, comments, and ideas with us.

We the people of EDC 447 have chosen to use this blog as an outlet for sharing our fears and excitement about our upcoming endeavors in the world of teaching. We have spent countless hours in the library studying to become educators, and our time as students is dwindling.  Soon, we will be in classrooms, not sitting in desks, but standing before countless wondering eyes. The last four or five years of our lives have been solely dedicated to earning a piece of paper that will solidify our right to mold the young minds of our students. Without further ado, here is what scares us to death and excites us the most about what lies ahead in our futures.

Top 3 Fears
Students won’t take us seriously. 
We (obviously) started with our fears for teaching.  One of the main fears we have, as young and inexperienced teachers, is that our students won’t take us seriously.  We all know we had teachers that were young and we thought we could get away with so much more simply because they lacked the experience our older teachers had.  As new teachers, we are nervous for how to approach this.  We are eager to learn ways to relate to our students but to also establish the line between students and teacher. 
This is a big responsibility!
It is scary to think that what we teach (or don’t teach) our students will have an impact on their entire lives. We don’t want any of our students to go to class the year after we have them and say, “We never learned that last year.” We don’t want them to get to college or their careers and think, “Why didn’t I learn this in 7th grade?” From where we sit right now, this responsibility seems pretty daunting.
What if we wasted money on teaching degree/will grow to hate teaching?

The cost of a bachelor's degree continues to grow, and nationally 17% of teachers quit every year.  It is only natural then that as teachers-to-be we should fear throwing away all of our money for a temporary infatuation with teaching as a career. If there's anything we learned from Kim Kardsashian's failed marriage, it's that if we're going to spend this much money, it better last.

Top 3 exciting thoughts
Paid job, sense of accomplishment
Throughout our college career, we have developed an appreciation for the full-time, salary-making teacher. As we all worked our way through college, whether it was in retail, food service, or just tutoring students to gain experience with kids, a full-time teaching job is looking like heaven by now. Let’s be honest, we’ve all had to wear a permanent smile on our faces to provide excellent customer service to the public, but that isn’t true self-fulfillment. We are anxiously waiting for the day to step into our very own classroom in hope to make a difference in our students’ lives. Once we fulfill this goal, we will then truly feel a sense of accomplishment and remember why we went to school for four (or five) years to become a teacher.

 Opportunity to collaborate with other teachers
So far in our small teacher education world we have had limited access to school communities.  The longest any of us have spent in one class room is two weeks. While that gave us access to real students, teachers and some parents it was not enough experience to gage what it is like to be a real teacher. Soon we will be students teachers and with this opportunity we will get a deeper experience of collaborating with teachers and getting to know parents and students. As rich as an experience as students teaching while be it is no comparison to being able to say teach at this school, these our my fellow teachers and these a my students.

The power  (and responsibility) is in our hands

For the first time we will get to make the decisions about how our classroom looks and operates.  We are excited about running the classroom the way WE want and getting to develop our identity as teachers for the first time.  It is definitely an exciting responsibility to take everything we have learned over the years and make it our own!

As we come closer to graduation and being hired (fingers crossed) these anxieties and exciting thoughts will only increase.  A little fear never hurt anyone, right?  Until then, we will continue to learn, motivate ourselves, and encourage one another to be the best middle school teachers we can be. Hopefully on that first day, excitement will outweigh fear, and we will rest easy, knowing we can do this.