Category Archives: Reflection

Life in the Middle: #ProudMIeducator

proudmi

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.

Opportunity #Oneword2017

oneword2017

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!

 

Tying Knots- Snapshot of Learning

tying knots

“You know the bowline, please show the younger scouts” barked the scoutmaster to the patrol leaders. The younger scouts looked eager to learn holding ropes in hands. The patrol leaders had blank looks on their faces. Eyes looked up as if they were searching for directions written on the ceiling. Finally the senior patrol leader offered help. “Come on! We learned this for camping and life saving merit badges, you know it!” He then offered the common mnemonic device most people learn the bowline know: “The rabbit comes out of the hole around the tree and back into the hole.”  The rabbit’s motion describes how the rope moves to tie the knot.

For some patrol leaders light bulbs went on. Ropes started to move forming proper bowlines, modeling for the younger scouts. The other patrol leaders observed their peers, upon seeing the modeling remembered how to form the knots. One exclaimed: “I never use the bowline, totally forgot!” as he tied a perfect knot.

This small snapshot of learning that happen Wednesday night at Griffin’s scout meeting tells us three key things about learning:

  1. Learning needs to be used frequently to be recalled without prompts. The senior patrol leader had just finished his life saving merit badge that required him to tie the bowline multiple times. The other patrol leaders were more than six months removed the the last time tying the knot. When learning is distanced from assessment, results may not be accurate. Many of the patrol leaders knew how to tie the bowline but when initially assessed failed.
  2.  Prompts help recall. Once the senior patrol leader shared the rabbit mnemonic many  of the scouts who previously master the bowline, remembered how to tie the knot. Many times in our classrooms we expect students to perform without any prompts to help them recall learned skills. We all need reminder prompts, especially if we are removed from the learning. I was recently asked if I remember a person from college. Not recognizing the persons name at first, my friend show me a picture which helped my memory. Auditory or visual prompts will help students students remember skills learned. How can we incorporate them into learning and assessment processes?
  3. Modeling a process reaches most learners. The mnemonic story help some, but the modeling of tying the knot allowed all the scouts to be successful. How do we model before we assess learning? How connected is the modeling to the assessment?

When reflecting on this snapshot of learning it reinforces the negative feelings I get when administering standardized tests. Standardized tests are often distanced from learning lacking any prompts or modeling of skills. How can we create more accurate measurements of student learning?

At first glance one scout knew the bowline knot. After further examination ALL of the scouts knew the bowline. Our goal is for ALL students to be successful. Let’s make it happen!

Overcoming my prejudice 

By: T. Bloch 2016

I have always had a negative imagine of bikers and the motorcycle culture. Growing up the son of a doctor, I was alway told to stay away from motorcycles. My father shared stories from the emergency room about how dangerous cycles can be. Never having first hand connections to bikers, I assumed the movie depictions of bikers as hooligans and degenerates were accurate.

Last week Griffin’s scout troop was asked to help out with a veterans ride sponsored by Wolverine Harley-Davidson in Clinton Township Michigan. At first I was uneasy. Not many scouts were signing up to help out. Griffin, being eager to check out something new, insisted that we attend. I couldn’t say no to my son. With reservations we signed up to attend. Visiting veterans at the VA Medical Center in Detroit is a good thing to do, even if the event is being put on by a bunch of bikers.

We arrived at the Harley dealership early. Griffin was a bit nervous seeing rough bikers all decked out in leather. Smoke pluming from their mouths as they exhaled. I hid my prejudice and  walked up to meet the organizers. We were greeted with wide smiles and open arms. A couple of female bikers were eager to get pictures with Griffin all decked out in uniform. They asked how were heard about the event and were excited to have us join the ride, even from our car.

I was astonished by the organization and rules the cycle club had in place for the ride. We followed the Harley line of 84 bikes the 20 miles downtown to the VA Hospital. Nurses meet our group at the door. The event organizers restated the purpose of the ride: “To put a smile on our VETS’ faces and get them outside for some air”. He announced that the ride raised $10,000 for the veterans recreation services department, “because they need to get outside now and again!” Then each participant went to a hospital ward to deliver a bag of toilettes to every veteran in the hospital. “If they can get in a wheelchair, bring them out to check out our bikes!” Were the last words shouted out before we entered the hospital.

Griffin meet Mr. Z and World War 2 veteran. He was excited to just see a young man’s face. We took Mr. Z outside. He marveled at the wondrous machines parked at the front of the hospital. Griffin listen as Mr. Z shared advice and stories of his experience. All the bikers were interacting with Mr Z ad thanking him for his service. Mr. Z was sad when we had to leave 2 hours latter. He just enjoyed talking to those that would listen.

My perceptions were changed this day. No longer will I prejudge a group based on stereotypes. Thanks to Griffin’s desire to go, I learned that this group of bikers are passionate about helping and serving others. I am sure many road clubs do similar things. My lack of experience led me down a road of prejudice. As learners we need to take on new experience with open minds. We can’t let our fears of the unknown hinder our lives.

As summer’s end creeps upon us, I will need to remember to overcome my prejudices during the up coming school year. Judging students by their daily actions and not lumping them into a stereotype.

Griffin and Mr Z by Tbloch 2016
by Tbloch2016

Oops! My bad

oops

I published a blog post with grammatical errors. I have to admit it wasn’t the first time or will it be the last time. I make mistakes. Writing has been a life long struggle for me. I seem to do a much better with my words when I speak than when I actually slow down to capture them on my blog. My mind seems to flow faster than my fingers can type the words down. I often make mistakes. Frequently my mistakes come in the form of word replacement: such as typing “so” when I mean “some”.

My wife frequently asks if I proof read my work?  Of course I do re-read my work. My brain still contains the original wording. Often during a quick re-read my mind skips over the errors inserting correct word, missing the error. My proof reading improves if I set the writing aside for a day or two and re-visit it with a mind free from the original writing process. I should take a pause in the writing process and give my work more time. Errors still occur but I usually catch the glaring issues.

I blog to take ideas and put them to paper. I don’t blog to be perfect. The great thing about modern technology, when I find mistakes I can correct them even after publish a post. Recently some readers have commented on my errors. I appreciate their corrections, I strive to do my best. What disturbs me is that some value perfect writing over quality ideas. When I read ideas take center stage. I frequently notice minor error in what I read. I don’t let it distract me from the overall purpose of the writing. Ideas drive the world not perfect writing. Writing errors surround us in all formats of writing. Authors don’t intend to make the errors they just happen. In my writing I attempt to be timely and respond to events in the world around us. This means I don’t often take the time needed to make it error free.

In my classroom I want to be a model for my students. Someone who has flaws but constantly tries his best to work through them. In the past I have focused too much on students’ grammar and not enough of the ideas presented in their writing. The “red” ink seems to discourage students from writing or even sharing ideas. Teachers need to encourage more writing, errors and all. When we read our primary focus should be on the ideas presented. Grammar is important, especially in published works, but should be secondary focus behind ideas.

I was personally discouraged from writing for many developing years due to my grammatical errors. Every paper was returned with so much red ink, I barely noticed the comments about the quality of my ideas. As educators we need to encourage writers sharing feedback that focused on the strengths of ones writing with side notes on the weaknesses.

We all make mistakes

We all make mistakes, don’t shut learners down by being too critical of them. Thank you for excepting me errors and all!

Sadly, Another one bites the dust!

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At 13 years old all she wanted to be was a teacher! She sat in the front of my classroom, paid attention and excelled at all she did. As she advanced through high school she would return to teachers’ classrooms to assist and learn the craft. In college she remained in constant contact with her former teachers for advice and wisdom. After graduating with honors, she worked as a guest teacher in hopes of fulfilling her life long dream of being a classroom teacher. All her hard work paid off, two years ago she secured a teaching job in a district neighboring the one she attended. Her teachers could not have been more proud, she has the skills, passion and patience to be one of the best teachers. We all saw it in her when she was 13.

Last week she quit, making a tough life decision to end her dream job for greener pastures in the mortgage industry. I cried when I read her Facebook post. Having observed her in action as a guest teacher in our building, she was great in front of students. She described the decision as one of the hardest in her young life. The decision was not a financial one. “No matter how hard I tried, how much time I committed I never felt like a was successful and feel I always needed to do more.” She was clearly sad to leave the profession but stated “the stress has been causing health problems”. The comments below her Facebook post were supportive. Other teachers shared their job stresses, many expressed their desires to leave the classroom to find a “more supportive career.

Sadly this story is all to common in 2016. While politicians use education as a key talking point on the campaign trail, fewer students are going into the education field. Current teachers feel they are being forced out by job stress and testing. The research based practices teachers learned about in college give way to budget cuts and time constraints. Most districts around the country struggle to find guest teachers, leaving classroom teachers to lose their valuable prep time to cover other classes. In most fields if these situations were occurring, pay would go up to improve them. Instead most teachers have seen their take home pay slowly go down, with increases in insurance costs and pension contributions.

It is time to make education and educators a priority! Otherwise education will continue to loose the best and the brightest! I am greatly saddened to see so many flocking away from this great profession!

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Inflexible Profession?

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Schools are seeing teachers leave the profession in record numbers. When teachers are sick districts struggle to find guest teachers to cover all of the classes. Many states feel that they way to address the shortage of teachers in the classroom is to hire non-certified teachers. This will not solve the problem, it will only continue to devalue our trained educators and destroy our education system.

To address the shortages the issue needs to be examined by comparing teaching to other jobs that require similar educational backgrounds and skills. The once rigid corporate structures in the business world have transformed to  more relaxed corporate culture. Perspective teachers notice that schools have not kept pace with the transformations that have occurred in the business world around them.

Here are a few items that teachers notice which others might take for granted.

  • It is a 9-4 world: Most appointments for doctors, dentists, banks, or anything really occur during the regular school day. Teachers have to take time off work to make any of them. Other professionals flex their schedule to go to these important meetings. In most cases it requires 1/2 day off for teachers to attend.
  • GO at Lunch is not an option: Teachers usually have around 30 minutes for lunch. Not time to do much but for teachers it is packed with phone calls, helping students and trying to get a bite. Other professions just take an extended lunch.
  • Bathroom Breaks: Teachers have to schedule bathroom visits to fit their class schedule, many times going 3 hours holding it. Lunch and prep time are greatly valued just to get to the bathroom.
  • Meetings: Most employees expect meetings during their work day. In educations most staff and committee meeting are help before or after work. Teachers aren’t typically paid extra to attend. In other professions these meeting ONLY occur during the work day. Many of these professions also celebrate their successes during their work hours as well, going on corporate outings etc. Again in education this doesn’t happen.
  • Being accountable for time off: It takes teachers up to an hour to get ready for a day off. Creating lesson plans and getting supplies ready. Most jobs, a day off is a causal phone call and no more thought. Teachers usually come to work sick because the plan for the day requires them.
  • Changing on the fly: Most jobs have a regular pattern and plan. If something is changing plenty of notice is given. In schools the days plan can change in a moments notice. On the day you have a technology infuse lesson the internet goes down. In other jobs this is frustrating but employees often go home to wait for the system to get back online. Teachers still have their class to lead in a lesson.
  • Constant scrutiny:  Beside politicians, what other profession is under more scrutiny? Teachers here the constant bashing our profession takes in the media and by the water cooler. Who wants all this blame?
  • Attend children’s school functions: Teachers value education but so often they miss their own child’s milestones. Most celebrations overlap and occur at beginning and end of year when teachers are limited in ability to be absence for personal business. Other professions flex their work schedule to make it fit.

Educators are asked to be flexible to make learning happen for their students. Their work environment needs to catch up and be just as flexible. Can education become a more desired career if it can be more flexible?

To some these observations may seem petty or part of the JOB! But when the Profession is finding it hard to attract the brightest and best it might be time to look at how it compares to other fields.

Teachers teach because it is their calling! Many are being called but not picking up the phone! It is time to raise our profession!