Life in the Middle: #ProudMIeducator

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Anytime someone finds out I teach in a middle school, the responses are: “I couldn’t do that!” “You must be a saint!” or “God Bless You and thank you for what you do!”  Being a middle school teacher is a calling that many teachers fall into by chance rather than by choice. Once a teacher spends a year in the middle, they often never want to leave. Middle school students are no longer kids but not quite adults. They are eager sponges with attitudes, never afraid to ask a question in class but too timid to say hi at the grocery store. Teaching in the middle means no two days are the same. We learn to expect the unexpected.

During the past 16 years of teaching middle school, I have worked with the most giving, passionate staff. Teachers arrive early to tutor students in need. As the first bell rings teachers walk the hallways greeting students with smiles and high fives. Most middle school classrooms have wide ranges of student ability levels. Teachers tirelessly prepare to meet their students’ many needs. During lunch, students find refuge from the cafeteria in classrooms where tutoring and camaraderie are offered. When the final bell rings, the teacher’s day is not done, coaching or advising a club is on many teacher’s schedules. Then off to home to grade papers and plan for the next adventurous day in the middle. Middle school days are always full. Full of energy. Full of excitement. Full of Drama. Full of problems. Full of answers. It can be easy to get swallowed up by the middle school schedule. To be successful, a good supply of coffee and a positive support network is needed. I am a proud middle school educator.

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My students are growing physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. They don’t all grow at the same time or at the same rate. It is a daily challenge to motive a classroom of 32 students growing in 32 different ways. A lesson that works second hour often won’t work third hour. Changing plans on the fly is necessary to meet the many needs in my classroom. Last week I found myself pulling supplies out of a cabinet to do a hands-on activity after students got confused reading about diffraction. Students ended up using a metal cooking tin to make waves bend around a rock.

March is Middle Level Education Month, all middle school teachers should be proud for making a difference in students’ lives daily. It may look different in each classroom but in the end we make students smile, laugh and feel good about learning. Be a Proud Michigan Educator like me. Proud for working hard everyday for our students.

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Image from AMLE.org

#proudMIeducator is a Michigan Department of Education initiative that aims to acknowledge, elevate, and celebrate the work of great educators in the State of Michigan. This is a collaborative venture including any supporters in Michigan who want to celebrate our educators.

Celebrate Proud Michigan Educators – use #proudMIeducator to share your own stories!

Interested in writing a #proudMIeducator blog post or learning more about the campaign? Visit www.michigan.gov/proudMIeducator or contact Alaina Dague at daguea1@michigan.gov.

What would you do?

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As class starts, I notice a couple of students in the back of the room focusing their attention to a yellow piece of paper. As a 4-minute video clip plays on the screen in the front of the classroom, I circle around to see what is diverting their attention. Incomplete math homework! Hmm, what should I do? I asked myself as I walked back to front of the classroom as the video wrapped up.

When I started teaching this behavior would have invoked anger in me. I would have quickly snatched up the papers and either ripped them up or passed them on to the assigning teacher to inflict a proper punishment. After 15 years in the classroom, I have realized this does not fix the issue of students focus or homework completion. What do most teachers do in this situation? I just want to make sure students didn’t miss the lesson on the periodic table. The video was an introduction to element groups. I felt it was engaging since Gallium is a pretty cool transition metal.

 

I had to make a quick decision. I asked the student to bring me their yellow papers and set them on my desk. I quietly shared my concern about missing the science lesson to finish math work. They both wanted to share excuses: “I didn’t feel well last night!” one exclaimed. I just asked them to return and focus on the task at hand. A bit later in class as students were working independently, I looked at their yellow math pages. I quickly noticed one student had no idea what they were doing and the other hadn’t shown any work. I called each of them up individually. First asking how they arrived at their answers to the first question. Neither one of the students could explain how to do the work. Both shared how they were confused with the assignment. One explained that he was ill the previous night the other confessed that sports practice obligations were taking precedence to his school work. Know that their math class was after lunch, I offered the the opportunity to complete the work during our lunch hour. Both students welcomed the invitation.

At lunch, we talked through the math equations. It seemed that students were not recognizing how to set up the ratio equations to properly solve them. After working through a few examples I made up about sports. Each of them independently worked through the 6 question assignment from the math teacher. As I checked over their work giving them high fives for success. “I though you were going to call my dad!” one exclaimed as he thanked me at the end of the lunch period and headed to math class with work completed in hand.

School needs to be a safe place! Even for those that make mistakes, forget to do their homework or are just plain lazy. Teachers need to focus on the individual students needs giving them time if needed to finish. Sure it is frustrating to have students focused on other classes in mine. I bubble of anger rises in my chest when I see students who seem to waste their time and never seem to have work completed. Does expressing this anger help these students? Not usually. Next time you encounter a similar situation, think about how you would like to be treated!

Opportunity #Oneword2017

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Definition:
op·por·tu·ni·ty
noun
  1. a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.
    “we may see increased opportunities for export”

(from: Google)

As I sit down this evening before returning to the classroom for the new year one word weights heavily in my mind: Opportunity. In my 45 years of life numerous opportunities have presented themselves. At 12 I attended Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama. A few years later, I attended a boarding school in Connecticut. Opportunities have presented themselves in many ways. Travel, connections and experiences. As I shopped for Christmas gifts for my 3 children: Opportunity was in mind. Opportunities to spend time with family, to travel and experience life. During break as Griffin and I spent quality time together scouting out locations for his upcoming 13th birthday, he stated that he felt lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with me. As the conversation progressed Griffin shared that his friends did not spend time with their fathers and mostly sat at home watching TV and playing video games. Sad, that their circumstances don’t make it possible for them to do ‘something”!

Do my students have similar opportunities? Over the years of asking “What did you do over break?” I know the most frequent answer is “Nothing” or “Sleep!” Sure breaks are a time for rest but also an opportunity for more. Students might have opportunities in their lives but choose not to take advantage of them. As a teacher I need to model how to see opportunities and create a mindset that makes students comfortable in taking the risk of following opportunities.

I hope to spend 2017 exposing my students to as many opportunities as I can. Opportunities to: Grow, Explore, Discover, Create, Connect and Learn. I vow not to restrict my students’ opportunities and to create as many for them as possible!

 

Legislators hear our voices!

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Education is a hot topic in politics. Legislators run on platforms that promise improving schools and educational outcomes. Often these platforms go against the experts in the fields opinions. The teacher’s unions have long been the voice of teachers, but lately unions have lost the ability to be seen as non-partisan.  Legislators feel unions work solely for their own benefit not for the best interests of students. This is an attack on teacher’s voices. Classroom teachers’ voices need to be heard by legislative bodies.

Does the legislature make changes to insurance programs without testimony from insurance providers? Do they consider changes to medical laws without consulting doctors? Highway funding proposals without listening to engineers? The answers is a resounding NO to these questions. WHY then does our legislative body act on educational policy without hearing teachers’ voices?

It is almost structurally impossible for teachers to testify on educational policy let alone be heard. The legislature bodies are in session only during the school year. Meeting Tuesday to Thursday while school is in session. All school holidays seem to match up with legislative recesses. State boards of education typically only meet during the day while schools are in session too. SO, if a teacher was to take a day off to possibly share their expertise by testifying on legislation about their chosen profession, the first concern from most legislators is “Why aren’t you in your classroom?”

Instead of listening to teachers, the ones who are on the front line of education everyday, the bulk of testimony on education legislation is from “Think Tanks”. Think Tanks might have great ideas in theory but educators can testify how they might see theory put into practice. No wonder teachers feel disgruntled with their profession. A first step might be treating teachers like professionals, listening to their voices and showing them their value.

All states need legislation that mandates classroom teacher testimony on all legislation that impacts the classrooms. The teacher’s voice should be equal to if not greater than that from those not in the classrooms. All educational policies need to have hearings where classroom educators can attend without taking their day off from work. This would make the education committees meet during nights, weekends and summers. I hope to see draft legislation soon in Michigan that allows teachers equal voice.

Dear President Trump

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Dear President Trump-

Your slogan is “Make America Great Again!” The word again implies a return to practices that worked in the United States. Your choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, shows you don’t value past success but feel you know more about education than the experts. Mrs. DeVos has no public education experience. She never attended public schools. She didn’t send her children to public school. She holds no degrees in education or educational policy. Her only experience in the name of education has been funding of vouchers and school of choice policies across this country. Her proposals have steered public tax dollars away from public schools into the hands of private corporations. Would you hire someone with no business or real estate background to run your empire?

Does the American school system need some work? For sure, but handing it over to someone whose life’s work is to dismantle public education is not going to make it better. The school of choice reform movement is selling false dreams to divert public funds to private corporations. Their plan for education is for all public schools to compete for students. They argue when schools compete everyone wins. Last time I check competitions have winners and losers. Our students and public school systems will be the losers as funds are diverted to private entities. Would you build a Trump Hotel across the street from your current hotels? No, but that is what your Education Secretary is proposing.

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The key to making our educational system great again is COLLABORATION, not competition. If a publicly funded school has systems and structures in place that create success it needs to be shared to give ALL our students the opportunity for success. Students need to be offered “Real Choices”  in education. Not the pseudo choices that has been failing our students for the past three decades. Please rethink your choice here. There are many great educational minds that want to make our educational system great, not just great for their own pocketbooks.

Thanks for listening.

Sincerely a Michigan Teacher

 

Outdated Schedules…

scheduleBrowsing twitter the other day and I noticed a Think Progress article on Outdated School Schedules. Are school schedules outdated? YES! Casey Quinlan makes a glaring mistake at the start of her opinion piece.

“The vast majority of parents — 70 percent — work full-time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the median closing time for a school is 2:30 p.m. On top of that, schools are closed 80 percent longer than the typical worker receives in paid holidays and vacation time, which works out to 13 more days off than parents have, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress.”

Schools do have schedules that do not mirror our workers, should they? Absolutely not, a work day is longer than a school day should be, it is not age appropriate to have students at school in a rigorous academic program for 9 hours. By starting her opinion with this fact Quinlan is continuing the  American assumption that schools should be the child care provider. Schools have become the dumping grounds for every social ill in the United States. Bullying is a problem? Schools need to address. Drugs? Address in schools. Social Media skills? Lets educate students in schools. Now the issue is child care costs and the needs of our working class. Instead of paying employees enough to pay for childcare or having work provided childcare options, it becomes a school issue.

Our society isn’t worried about doctors and dentists offices that only have appointment hours during the school day! Or the fact that many families choose to pull students out for family vacations or to help out with daycare. So the question arises how can we make a flexible school that assists families with their busy lives, honors the educational process and is respectful to teachers.

Why not build a school with no defined hours? Have it open from 7 am till 7 pm. Teachers can build their schedules with in those hours. Parents then can design their students schedules (and at the upper levels students can). This model would make all school look more like college. The school could utilize a blended instructional model. Students find quiet spots to work, when needed teachers find them to hone their skills. Student experiences would be scheduled but optional to all. ALL students could take the classes they desired as long as they kept up. (Instead of now having pre-selected elective classes where class choice eliminates other classes.)

Schools need to build more flexible learning models for students and teachers alike. Let’s work at building a model that values student learning not parents child care needs!

Overloaded

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Image From: BoredPanda.com

Nine o’clock  Sunday morning a notification goes off on my cell phone.  Amy, my wife, picks up my phone to see what the buzz was about while I was readying breakfast for our 3 children. Was it an emergency? Was it an invite for an outing during the day? Was it Grandma asking us to attend church with here?  NO,  a work colleague had sent our building staff a survey to take by Wednesday to plan a parent engagement night for our school.  Amy threw my phone down on the table with disgust:”Why is your work ALWAYS budding into family time?”  A teacher working at 9 AM on a Sunday morning? Yes, this is the teacher’s life. So much work that even the day of rest gets compromised to check things off the to do list.

Teachers are overload with work, left with little time to check things off their “to do” lists. Often when teachers find time they use it for much needed unwinding and family time than to dive into new needed tasks. Teachers show up for their days early and work late into the evenings focusing on lessons plans and feedback. We worry about our students and spend time focused on relationships. Our jobs are full of activity and stress. Kaye Wiggins writes that teaching is one of the top three stressful careers.

There is this SUPERTEACHER myth advocated by education reformers that many believe. If teachers just gave more time, students will achieve. How much time can educators give? Most educators have families that they need to have time to support.  Educators are overloaded! It would be great if education was like many other professions, where time was flexible and work stayed at work.

To reform education, one might start by unloading the teachers, so they can FOCUS on their jobs of educating students.

Working hard to make sure teachers are inspiring the youth of tomorrow.