Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"We Are Your Symphony"

Today was the first day of in-service and I am not sure where to begin. The day was filled with inspiring, motivational, and encouraging words from professionals who, in my opinion, are oozing with the passion of teaching and learning. There is so much to reflect on and so much to share. Education is somewhat rocky right now. Type "articles about education" in google and see what pops up.
When I look at the top articles I see words like "madness", "blast away", "scandal", "data revolution", and "failure".  As a teacher, it can be very difficult to stay positive about what you have chosen to dedicate your life to. Not ONE...I repeat.....not ONE of the titles mentions the word "STUDENT". How do we stay motivated and eager as educators?  The answer is very simple....students. It is the thank you from a student, it is the smile from a student, it is the tears from a student, it is the high-five from a student that motivates us to grow, learn, love, and share. 

I haven't seen my students since June. But today, during the first in-service of the school year, I felt motivated and inspired because of other professionals. 

Have you every seen Mr. Hollands Opus?  Gosh, I saw this movie a long time ago when it first came out in 1995. "Glenn Holland is a passionate musician who dreams of composing one truly memorable piece of music. But reality intrudes when he reluctantly accepts a "day job" as a high school music teacher to support his family. In time, however, Mr. Holland realizes that his real passion is teaching, and his legacy is the generations of young people he inspires." -Amazon.com 

At the end of the movie, Holland is cleaning out his classroom after retiring. His wife and son surprise him with a large gathering of students both past and present. They celebrate the wonderfully amazing career he has had. The clip was shown to the staff today. It solidifies how many lives a teacher may touch without truly knowing the impact he/she has in the moment. Here is the clip:

WARNING: It may cause tears (I struggled to hold them back today. I didn't want to have my mascara running down my face on my very first day with the new staff).  

As we approach a new school year, challenge yourself to think what will your legacy be as a teacher? What will you do this year to build your legacy?  What do you want your students to remember about you as an educator?  

Good luck!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stages of Teaching.....No more floating!

So another year begins. Tomorrow is the first day of in-service for the school year. As I sit here and think about the upcoming year, a storm of emotions come over me. Tomorrow begins my 9th year as a teacher. I struggle wrapping my brain around this. I don't think I am considered a "new" teacher any more. I'm now a veteran.

What makes a teacher a "veteran"?  Years of service?  Number of graduate credits? Grade level taught?  Money made? Promotions given?

This year, I will begin my 4th placement in the educational field. I have taught 1st, third, ESL and now Read 180 and System 44 for 5th and 6th grade. I have worked under 5 principals and numerous vice principals and interim principals. I have decorated and made six different classrooms in five different buildings feel like home to students. I have worked in two different districts. Every experience I have had in each of these settings has been amazing. With each experience, I gain more tools in my backpack that help me be a better teacher for my students.

With all this being said, I think back to my 8 completed years of teaching and realize I am not even close to being a veteran.  I'll explain in a moment. This is how I would describe or categorize the teaching stage I was in.

Year 1 - Floating Stage.....Basically, my backpack was empty. I went into the classroom with this ideal picture in my mind of what teaching was and what Miss Ely's classroom would look like. That picture in my mind was based on what I was taught in college and my experiences as a student teacher. The children sat and listened. They raised their hands. They were all reading on grade level. It was perfect. In reality, my first year was far from perfect. My students did none of the things I pictured. Students ran my classroom. I was exhausted. I spent many late nights in the classroom. I rearranged my room a hundred times. I called on colleagues to help me manage the room. I had bronchitis and laryngitis twice. I refused to take off because that meant I had to plan for a sub.  I was sinking quickly that first year. I did whatever I could do to stay above the water.....I was in the floating stage.

Year 2-3 - Experimental Stage - These are the two years that I walked into my classroom and refused to let my first year happen all over again. I would implement a teaching strategy, realize it didn't work, drop it, and implement something else. I continued to spend late nights in the classroom. But I wasn't floating anymore. Students were responding to what I was implementing. But I knew it wasn't enough. I had to do more. These were the two years when I became brave enough to try new things. Some failed, some didn't. But I was willing to experiment.

Years 4-8 - Evolving Stage - I have gained confidence at this point in my career. While I have had many changes in leadership, schools, and positions, I have spent and will spend many years in this stage perfecting and revising the craft I love so much. My learning does not stop here. Every year is different, therefore, I have to modify how I teach. I do not pull out my lesson plans from the year before. I create new lesson plans each year. I might do the same activities, but I may change the way I use them. I may develop a better way that challenges the students more than before.  I continue to evolve as a teacher.

What stage comes next? I have no idea. I hope that I stay in this stage for a little while. Evolving means that I am changing with the times, the new initiatives, the new students, and the new communities. I am changing as my environment changes. That's a good thing in my opinion.

As for being a "veteran" teacher?  I hope I can call myself a veteran as I sit down to retire in 30 years, and use what I have learned and know to teacher other inspiring, young teachers.

Here is a picture of my new "evolving" classroom in my new building. It will continue to change throughout the year to meet the students needs, just as I will.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Getting Literacy into the Home

Back in college, I learned about something called Literacy Bags. These themed bags were a way to get books and activities into the homes of students. I spent many hours putting my Literacy Bag together for an "A" in the class. At the end of the semester, I put it away and never thought of it again until.......

this past school year. I always wanted to do Literacy Bags but as you know, time slips away. I start every year with great, inspiring ideas. Then, before I know it, the year is over and if I am lucky, I implemented one new thing into my classroom. Literacy Bags just never got off the ground. 

My colleague, Mrs. C, and I worked on a version of the Literacy Bag for our ESL students. We called them Learning Suitcases. I think when we hear the word "literacy" we think reading. However, literacy is so much more than that. Yes, literacy is the the ability to read and write. However, it is also the competence or knowledge in a specified area. Mrs. C and I wanted to include reading, math, science, and social studies activities. This is why we called them Learning Suitcases. 

Now I am not going to preach about the importance of learning in the home. We all know this. What I am doing is suggesting a practical way to get it done!  

I don't have pictures of the actual product, but try to follow along. Basically, I ordered these amazing plastic briefcases from Amazon. Then, I created activities in reading, math, science, and social studies around a specific theme. I focused on Weather since it was a Kindergarten and First Grade unit of study. Some of the activities were letter matching games, sight word games, number recognition activities, etc. I also included books that went along with the theme. Everything I designed was appropriate for grades K-2.  

Each week, one student took the Learning Suitcase home. The parent letter explained what the Suitcase was and how it was to be used. I also explained it to the students. They were super excited to share the Suitcase with their families. Here is what the families gained from the Learning Suitcase:
  1. Parents and children engage in meaningful, vocabulary rich conversations.
  2. Students practice and build mathematics and reading skills.
  3. Siblings interact with each other.
  4. Families have fun TOGETHER.
  5. Students gain ownership as they are responsible for the materials.

Also, thanks to the wonderful paraprofessional, Mrs. L, I was able to have all the directions translated in Spanish.