Tuesday, September 30, 2014

That Horrible F-Word

We've reached the last day of September-supposedly the last day of the blogging challenge.  It hasn't been 30 days for me because I got a late start, but who cares, I gave it my best shot and it has resulted in a tremendous growth experience for me.  I've blogged on my own schedule and on my own terms.  Up until now, I pretty much kept up with the prompts for the day and followed the right order, with a couple of exceptions.  There were at least two prompts that I deviated from because I was compelled to write about something other than the topic of the day.  Just as I do everyday in my classroom, my plans changed because it was the right thing to do at that moment.  

So what does that opening paragraph have to do with having no fear you might ask?  Well, everything. So often we follow strict orders from our leaders even though our hearts are taking us in a different direction.  How often do we not huddle with co-workers, venting our frustrations rather than presenting alternatives to our administrators?  Why do we mindlessly follow when we know in our gut we should be doing something else or completing the task in a different way? Well,  it's that four letter F-word....FEAR.  

It took over a year for me to start blogging even though I always wanted to do it.  Why? Because I was afraid.  Afraid that someone would read my blog and think it was nonsense, or discover that my writing skills have a lot left to be desired.  Interestingly enough, I tell my ESL students all day long that they need to practice reading and writing so they can improve.  Do as I say, not as I do, huh?  So, last spring I finally took the plunge, inspired by Twitter and also by my struggling English learners who fearlessly publish their thoughts online not worried one bit about their language deficiencies.  When I learned about this blogging challenge, I jumped at the chance to motivate myself to blog on a regular basis. Even though I got a late start, I did it and I'm better for it.  

Well, on this last day of September, last day of the challenge, I fast forwarded and followed the prompt for Day 30.  Today's prompt was good for me for many reasons.  So, what would I do as a teacher if I was not afraid?  First and foremost, I would take more risks and encourage my students to take more risks as well.  I would follow my heart and go with my gut, and worry less about the status quo.  I would take more leaps of faith, looking straight ahead rather than to my sides.  Basically, I would operate on my own terms when I feel it is the right thing to do for my students and my career.  I'm not one to mingle much at school, but there's so much negativity in our profession these days and while we often feel that we are under attack, we need to try to develop solutions rather than become embittered and frustrated.  Our young people deserve a bright future and if teachers are not satisfied, it looks pretty dim.  

This day is not an ending but only a beginning.  There will be more blogging, more reflecting and I hope that especially after today, I will remove that horrible F-word from my vocabulary and follow my heart wherever it may lead.


Monday, September 29, 2014

We Reflect So We Can Grow

Reflections are powerful.  They help us to celebrate our successes and learn from our shortcomings. They give us direction and purpose so we can learn and grow.  As educators we are not only expected to reflect, but most of us instinctively do it and are so much better for it.   And just as it helps me learn and grow, it can also be a powerful experience for our students.

Reflection in my classes can be both intentional and unintentional.  In my ESL classes, students blog and most of their writing consists on reflecting.  My high schoolers blog daily while my middle schoolers just started blogging this year and are expected to post at least once a week.  Last year, my high schoolers blogged about good things in their life, but this year as their writing has evolved, blogging has become more of an exit ticket.  My middle schoolers are using blogging to develop their writing skills, but we try to work in a point of reflection and self-expression. All blogging in ESL is free writing,  but the reflection is certainly intentional.  There are a couple of other ways that students reflect in my classes.  As they set goals, I always have them reflect on what they have done right in the past and start their goal planning there.   This reflection is semi-intentional as they focus mostly on future. Lastly, they reflect during peer editing and review.  While their main purpose is to review/edit their peer's work, I will also ask them to think about their own work and try to learn from other's corrections. Just like real life, sometimes we learn from our own mistakes, sometimes we (thankfully) learn from others'.

What's the most powerful type of reflection?  All of them.  As long as we are reflecting, we are growing.  Looking back not to regret, but rather to build on our successes and learn from our failures, always hoping for a better tomorrow.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

I'm Like A Farmer

Even though I lived in a rural, farming community for 15 years, I'm most certainly not a farmer. I don't even have a green thumb.  Everything I've ever tried to plant without the help of my dear husband has died.  So why in the world would I think of farming when asked to create a metaphor, simile or analogy that describes my teaching philosophy?  It's because of my all-time favorite quote. "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant" (Robert Louis Stevenson).

Like a farmer, I plant and I (sometimes) reap.  Farmers deal with uncontrollable factors, namely weather, and teachers have lots beyond their control.  The strongest parallel to me is that just like farming the results take time and sometimes are never seen.  We live for the day when we see the fruits of our labor; however, when we don't, we need to be at peace if we have done everything humanly possible. And lastly, like a farmer, if we have a bad season, we pick ourselves up and sow again next season, but never lose hope.


Other Duties As Assigned

Image Credit: Pinned from someecards.com

It's common to see the phrase "other duties as assigned" listed at the end of a job description.  Many employers use it so they can assign extra tasks that are outside of the traditional duties of a given position, as there is no way one can list every single undertaking that's required to fulfill. Moreover, this clause is used in order to be able to add additional duties as the need arises.

Teaching is no different.  However, when those other duties begin to dominate our schedule and take us away from our essential duties, they can cause us to be stretched out too thin and therefore, become a serious challenge or burden.

So, when asked, "what do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?" - the ever-growing other duties came to mind.

Standardized testing, lack of parent involvement and support, overcrowded classrooms, gangs and violence, teacher disrespect by both students and the public at large- those are all often cited as some of the greatest challenges in education today.  However, I believe that the most challenging issue in education today is the politicization of education and with politicization comes "other duties" that can potentially cause us to steer away from our first priority.

Our primary duty as a teacher is and always has been to educate - lesson planning, testing, grading and so forth. While we all expect to wear many other hats, now that education is at the front and center of every political campaign, the decision process has moved from the educational institutions to political leaders at every level.  Moreover, decision makers are usually not educators and (in my view) don't have a clue what it takes to educate a young person. With all this politics comes not only standardized testing but also a lot of public relations.  Schools are expected to have more visibility than in yesteryear.  Technology nights,  curriculum nights, multiple open houses and so on.  We have so much to do to prove we are doing our job inside the classroom (not just producing good test scores) that our time in planning and preparation is stretched thin.  We all know that planning and grading are time-consuming tasks that are necessary, but we really need to think about that extra PR that in my opinion, is more for the stakeholders outside of education than for our students and their parents.  I think we are too concerned with what sounds good and looks good than with what is good. Add to all that the additional fundraising because of budget cuts to education and many teachers are putting in some really long hours for very little pay (especially in NC).

As a parent, I love having good communication with my kids' teachers. However, I can't help but admit that those "other duties" come with an increasing amount of exhaustion.  I recently attended curriculum nights at my children's schools and could tell that behind the friendly smiles, their teachers just couldn't wait to be done and finally go home after a long day.  It made me hope that it wasn't that obvious for me whenever we had our open houses and curriculum nights.  One of my former colleagues told me that she entered the teaching profession because she loved kids and felt that teaching was a family-friendly career.  She ended up leaving it because she was spending more time and energy helping other people's kids, leaving her with little quality time for her own.   Every case is different and I don't feel that way myself, but I do feel that there are many things we are asked to do nowadays to prove ourselves to politicians and other stakeholders leaving our focus and energies a bit divided.

Despite all this politicization,  I try to remain positive because it doesn't look like anything will change (as far as politics that is).  There will be new governors elected, new standards adopted, principals and superintendents will come and go, but I hope that every teacher, myself included, will not lose hope in our kids. Regardless of how hard we work and how unappreciated we may feel our cause is a noble one and those young people deserve our very best.

While the list of other duties may continue to  increase, the real action is in the classroom and that's where our hearts need to be.


Friday, September 26, 2014

I Just Want To Fly

I have to admit that I had a hard time composing this post.   After much thought and reflection, I was sort of stumped, so as I've done with other posts, I resorted to my friend Webster.  Whenever I can't seem to find the right words for a blog post, important email or some other significant writing, Webster is my personal superhero and saves the day.

Webster's dictionary provided the following two definitions for the word "superhero": (1) a fictional character who has amazing powers (such as the ability to fly) and (2) a very heroic person.   While I would love to have the ability to read minds or make things appear and disappear, I like Webster's example and choose the ability to fly so I can be that very heroic person.  I would like to be able to work more quickly and do everything I need to do between 7:15 and 3:00.  Rather have time fly, I want to be the one to fly.  If I could complete all my education work during those times, I would then have time to be that very heroic person to my own kids at home.  Flying would also give me an aerial view and would enable me to see further ahead.  Not only would flying allow me to move more quickly, I would be able to see more and know more.  I would be a more effective teacher because I could see how my students will respond to my lesson plans and I will anticipate their challenges.  If I can meet them at their point of need, I would then be able to be that very heroic person.   I would like to be able to save my students from those embarrassing and stressful moments when they can't understand and/or be understood.  Perhaps they've only been in this country for a year or two, or perhaps they can speak fluent social English, but just can't seem to master academic English and can't perform as well as their native English speaking peers. I want to be able to rescue them from judgement, stereotyping and racism.  Those language limitations, particularly with long term ELLs become stumbling blocks in every area of their lives not just at school.  I wish I could pick them up and bring them to that utopian place where they can fit in and shine as the stars that they really are.

If I could have one superpower to use in the classroom, it would be the ability to fly, to pick up speed and be ahead of the game and most of all, to come to the aid of my students at their time of need and make their world a safer, happier place.   I just want to fly.


My Calling Found Me

Prior to entering the teaching profession, I was an Account Representative for a health insurance company and felt sure that I was meant to be in a sales and marketing role. I am creative, energetic, outgoing and most of all, I like to be happy and make people happy.   Little did I know that I would find my calling-or my calling would find me-in rural Alleghany County, North Carolina.  The strengths that I felt were ideal in the sales and marketing field are actually what makes me an effective teacher.  As an educator, I have many strengths, and quite a few weaknesses, but today I will write about the top three strengths I have as an educator, particularly in reaching English Language Learners.

1.  Personality & Temperament
Back when I was in college, I took a temperament test and the results were not surprising at all.  The results indicated that I am strongly sanguine (social and pleasure seeking), with choleric (ambitious and leader-like) coming in at a close second.  I think I am a sanguine through and through and that can be both a benefit as well as a detriment as a teacher.  However, that choleric part(even though I personally don't think it's very strong) helps keep me in check and helps me stay focused on my goals and objectives.  While I don't seek to be liked by my students, it does help to be likeable. I have the ability to capture their hearts and minds.  And being a people person definitely helps in relating to parents as well as fellow educators.

What You See Is What You Get.  There is no pretense here.  I am positive, but I tell it like it is and don't beat around the bush.  Most importantly, kids know that I care about their best interest, not just how well they do in my class.  I don't teach curriculum, I teach students and I teach the "whole student".   Even though it's been years since I was a teenager, I haven't forgotten the struggles and challenges that come during those years and especially if they are immigrants and don't communicate well in English.  Bottom line, students, parents and administrators know that I'm not perfect, but I am real and it helps me connect with the students.

3.  Flexible and Adaptable.
I will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  I love the organization that comes with teaching because as a sanguine I need those boundaries, however, I easily adapt to change.  Curve balls don't usually freak me out too much and there are lots of those in education.  I'm really good about finding a plan B, even in the worst of times.

I really could go on and on.  Education is a good fit for me, especially the ESL field.  I love the multiculturalism that it brings to my classes.  Lastly, I love teens.  Can you believe this?  Sometimes I can't either, but I do. I love advocating for them, especially for the least of these.  Like any occupation, there are aspects of my job that I dislike and find overwhelming, but overall I feel that I have lots to offer my ESL students and the school district as a whole.

I think this post will be good to read on days when I'm feeling discouraged and second guessing myself.  I have lots of growing to do, but overall I think I'm exactly where I need to be.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Food for Thought

Webster defines feedback as "helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc."  I prefer to call it food for thought.  Whenever I grade an assignment or assessment, I always try to provide feedback, not just merely a grade.   In my view, a grade is feedback that should help you to improve your performance, just as Webster's definition suggests.  I don't want my students to stop at the number or letter grade, but to review what they submitted and correct, or at least learn from, their mistakes. What good does the mark do if they don't know how they can grow?

I've also evolved my grading in that I don't state how many they missed, but rather how many they got right.  Whenever possible, I also point out what they did right, not just what they need to improve on.  I want them to begin with the positive and build on their strengths.  Let's face it when we feel positive, we tend to be more confident moving forward.

I've always believed that school is preparation for life.  Once we enter the workforce, we are expected to give an optimal performance.  If a mechanic doesn't fix my car, I will take it back and make sure he gets it done right.  I don't just give him a rating and drive a broken car.  If my doctor misdiagnoses me, I will go back until she gets it right.  We don't stop until the final product or result meets our expectation. Well, neither should students.  While we don't always have time to allow students to reattempt the assessments until they get 100%, we often do have the opportunity for some do-overs. And even when those redos aren't possible, at a minimum, we should provide feedback that will tell them what can be done to improve their performance beginning what they are doing right.  In my words, food for thought.

Slow but surely, still aiming for 30 days of blogging.  #BestYearEver

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

And The Winner Is...Google

There are lots and lots of cool educational tools that enhance learning, but in my opinion, nothing beats Google.  I love edtech gadgets and I spend lots of time searching, playing and experimenting with new things.  But no matter how hard I search, I always come back to Google.  Google drive is absolutely the most effective for teaching and learning, and for administrative purposes as well.   Here's my list of cool and effective tools that I use in my ESL classes on a regular basis.

1.  Google Drive
Documents and Presentations are used almost daily.  From simple tasks to elaborate projects, they are user-friendly, convenient and free.  Best of all, because they can be easily shared, they enable collaboration and communication between students in different classes.  Therefore, group projects aren't limited to students in the same class period.  They can also work on the projects at home and showcase them to their families. This year, I want to spend more time on spreadsheets and forms, but until now, I've only used them for gathering data and feedback, but have not had students use them in class.

2.  Blogger 
Another great Google product, blogging is a perfect free writing exercise for all students, but especially the ESL students.  My high schoolers blog daily while my middle schoolers blog at least once a week.

3.  Google Translator
For my beginners, Google translator is their lifesaver.  It helps them understand and be understood. Students use it to compose their writing, translate their classwork and also to communicate with their teachers.  Furthermore, not all students share the same native language so it helps them in communicating with their peers as well.

4.  Google Images.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  When definitions and translations don't help, images come to the rescue.  For SIFE students who have little or no literacy in their first language, pictures are the translator.  But we must beware, software filter doesn't work on images so check the pictures before you show them to your students-and warn the kids about this as well.

5.  Learner's Dictionary.  This is not a Google product, but it is invaluable to ELLs. Learnersdictionary.com is a Webster dictionary for ELLs.  It provides definitions in very simple language.  

6.  Evernote.  This tool I use only for lesson planning and reflection.  I found it as I was searching for a tool that would let my students create a digital interactive notebook.  While it probably could be used that way, I've only used it for my lesson plan template. It's also a good tool for teaching, reviewing and practicing academic vocabulary.

There are many other tools that are widely used in my district and from time to time, I will use them in lessons and activities.  But other than the first five, nothing else seems to stick.  Incidentally, today my Advanced ESL 8th graders were starting a collaborative project for Hispanic Heritage Month.  I gave them several choices in both content and technology.   They deliberated on the content for a while, but when it came down to choosing the edtech tool, Google presentation was the unanimous choice.  Its simplicity and ease made it a clear selection for the students so they could focus on their research and delivery.  And I have to agree with them.  As much as I seek and search for something new, I always come back to Google because it simply gets the job done and it's always a winner for me.

Until next time.....#BestYearEver

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Change Is the Only Constant

I'm proud to be a faculty member of one of the best school districts in the nation.  Although NC educators are going through some tough times right now, at our district we are driven to empower excellence in our students and colleagues every day.  We strive to capture kids' hearts and minds as we develop them into 21st century learners and leaders.  We are also a 1:1 district where technology is seamlessly infused into our instructional and administrative practices.  We pride ourselves in being instructional technology leaders and with all the technology, comes constant change.  We are always moving, always growing, always evolving.

Before I was an ESL teacher, I was a Business Education teacher and taught computer-related courses from MS Office applications to Web Design to Digital Graphics.  I never taught the exact same course twice.  Some days I longed to be a Spanish or History teacher so I could plan a course and be able to teach it several years in a row.  After all, verbs don't change very much and once a war has been fought and won, it's over.  All this change was exciting, but I hated feeling that I was never caught up.

Fast forward 11 years and I am now an ESL teacher at a 1:1 district.  Sure, my subject area is relatively constant, but nothing else is.  And I love it!!!  I love the exciting, dynamic culture of my school district and while I still have that feeling of not being caught up, I love the growth and development.   I love to teach, but I love to learn even more and I especially love that technology prevents me from becoming complacent and stagnant.  Furthermore, technology enables us to grow alongside our students and helps me connect with them. I also love that my student population and demographics are always changing. There's always a new nationality and culture to learn about and they inevitably impact my teaching style and methods.   For me, all these changes are humbling and they keep me on my toes.

So what's my teaching going to be like in five years? I hope that in five years, I'm still a part of this amazing and innovative district, but no matter where life takes me, in my world change is the only constant.   I have professional and personal goals that may take me to another district, another field or another grade level.  Regardless of whether I remain in my current position or I move on to something else, one thing's for sure, my teaching will change because I'm always changing.   If I don't change, I don't grow.  And if I don't grow, I'm done.   Will I ever be caught up? No way.  Once I feel as if I am, it's over.


Monday, September 22, 2014

New Beginnings

If you ask me what my favorite time of the day is, I will always say mornings.  My husband and kids
might be shocked at that answer because they know how much I love to stay up late and sleep in.  Yet I love mornings because they are so refreshing, so peaceful, so inspiring.  Mornings remind me of second chances, of do-overs and an opportunity to start anew.  One of my favorite Bible verses is Lamentations 3:23, "God's mercies are new every morning." Evenings are great too because we can look back and reflect on what we did right and how we will do things differently the second go round, but mornings are the times when we actually get to redo it.

Life is full of second chances. As long as we have breath, there's always another opportunity be what you might have been. As a teacher and as a parent, mornings offer another chance at positively impacting that young life that seemed so lost the day before.  So what if we messed up today, it's never too late to go back and try again.  Some of us get it, the first time around, but others need two or three tries. And if we did well, mornings give us a chance to improve, to grow, to shine brighter. As long as we don't give up, there's always hope for a better tomorrow.

So if your lesson bombed and your students didn't respond as expected, whether or not, it's your fault, morning is just around the corner and you'll have a chance to try it again.   If everything went well, you will have the chance to be even better.

As tired as I am in the morning, I'm always thankful for a new day, a new beginning, another chance to leave a mark in this great world.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Today Is A Gift

On a busy morning in April 2008 as I juggled all the endless duties and errands of a stay at home mom, I received a call that stopped my world and changed my life and perspective forever.  My father, a young and healthy 76 year-old, who worked out at the gym every day, had passed away.  This was difficult, not only because he was my dad, but he was so full of life.  Together with my mom, he had a rich social and spiritual life that took them on an outing every single night of the week.  My father had developed a cold which turned to pneumonia, went to the ER and was admitted.  He was pretty sick, but none of us were overly concerned and thought he would be discharged in a couple of days. However, at one point while a nurse was taking his vitals, he simply rolled his eyes back and was not able to be resuscitated.  An autopsy later revealed he died of an aortic aneurism, totally unrelated to the pneumonia.  This event was not only the most overwhelmingly painful and difficult moment of my life, but it was a rite of passage.  My “daddy”, as I always called him even into adulthood, was a my rock and my protector.  Although at that point I was married with kids, he was still my sounding board and the one I could depend on even though he lived 800 miles away.  In the twinkling of an eye that protection was gone and while it may sound crazy, it felt as if at that point I had finally entered adulthood. Thankfully, my mom is still alive and going strong. She’s an amazing woman who at 83 can run circles around me. That experience drew her and I closer and through the healing we learned to seize the day. 

All my life I’ve been a dreamer, a planner, a goal setter.  I always had a 5-year plan, a 10-year plan, a bucket list.  I always knew where I was headed and I usually got there.  I’m also pretty good about learning from the past and moving on, rather than dwelling on mistakes and failures.  I’m a hopeless optimist and can always find something good even in the worst times.  Yet, prior to my daddy’s passing, I was never real good about enjoying the moment. As I look back at my life, I have to say that I have been blessed.  I’ve had great experiences and great people to share them with, but I’m often so concerned about what I need to do next or reflecting about yesterday, that I don’t truly enjoy today.  Even though, it’s been six years, I’m still struggling to enjoy the moment.  As a mom, I’m so concerned about college that I’m not treasuring the moments in elementary and middle school.  As teachers, we get so concerned about EOGs, EOCs and ACCESS scores that we don't savor the magic of every day.  We plan and prepare, even for the unexpected, but how about those moments in between - those teachable moments that are not quantifiable on a standardized test.  

While I still have goals and dreams, my number one aspiration right now is to develop the ability to enjoy every second of every day.  As a wife, mom and educator, it’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the planning and scheduling to make sure we meet our goals, that we just don’t sit back and enjoy the ride.  Time flies, our students will graduate, our kids will leave home and we will retire.  I want to cherish every moment so that when I look back, it’s not all a blur, but rather a beautiful collage of happy times.

I’ll end this with another one of my favorite quotes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present” (author unknown). 


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Who Cares? I do.

The question for Day 9 of the blogging challenge is “Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care)?”  At first, I thought it would be hard to come up with one.  After all, I’ve come along way as an educator from my early days as a business teacher, followed by an 8-year hiatus when I stayed home with my kids and then back to the classroom.  When I returned to teaching I felt like I had never taught a day in my life.  The profession seemed to have changed dramatically from when I left in 2003, even though during the last two years of it I did some tutoring and subbing.  I also went from teaching in a small, rural town to a much larger, suburban town.  Talk about taking off running, I had some catching up to do in very little time.  Thankfully, I survived and still going strong.

However, that’s not my biggest accomplishment. At this point, I feel my biggest accomplishment that most people don’t know about and probably wouldn’t care is this blog right here.  While most of my colleagues probably reflect on their teaching practice in some fashion, I would not be surprised if they think it’s a waste of time to blog about it, much less take the time to read it.  

But, whether my blog has an audience of 1,000 or just me, the fact remains that this blog is for me.  I’m not exactly a prolific writer but I’ve always wanted to blog.  I put it off because I felt I had nothing to write about, but last year when I implemented blogging as part of free writing exercises in my ESL classes, I felt compelled to join them and so I did.  At the end of last year, I finally created one and am now taking reflection to a whole new level.  I’m proud of what I’m doing and I’m finding it a tremendous growth experience, although a very time consuming one as well.  The next challenge of course will be to keep it up after the 30 days have passed, but I think I will.  If nothing else, my students‘ blogging will serve as an intrinsic motivator  and I believe that they should do as I do, not as I say.

So, who cares about this accomplishment?  I do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bottom Line, It’s All Good

As an itinerant teacher, I have two classrooms and therefore two desks.  The contents of my drawers are similar, but one is more cluttered than the other.  The desk drawer at the middle school has fewer items in it, but it does have everything I need.  It is not super organized but not too scary either.  The high school desk drawer, on the other hand, to put it mildly is just rather full and things are a bit, well, cluttered.  
Image source: Quotemaster.org

I teach at the high school in the morning and head over to the middle school at mid-morning, ending my day there.  I never leave the high school unless I have cleaned up the “top” of my desk and since I’m usually in a rush to make my scheduled class at the middle school, I quickly put away my stuff and hide it nowhere else than in my desk drawer.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I care about the appearance of my desk, but I just hate arriving at school the next morning and finding a messy desk.  Although I don’t love opening the drawers, I quickly get over it because no matter how organizationally challenged I may appear, I always find everything I need.  

So what do my drawers say about me and my teaching?  The first thing I can think of is that when you walk into my classroom, it may be hard to figure out exactly what’s going on. With multiple levels of language proficiency in one session, it’s common to have five kids in one class period working on five different assignments. Because listening and speaking are an integral part of the ESL program, you will hear lots of noise and chatter, maybe even giggling.  We may be playing games and there may be some talking out of turn. You may not always hear the students using their manners, especially when some of them can't understand why we say “yes ma’am” to a woman instead of a man.  Some may speak rather loudly while others refuse to look you in the eye. I’m constantly being interrupted with questions that are totally irrelevant to what I’m explaining to the entire class because as much as I want them to learn academic vocabulary, these kids just need to figure out how to submit last night’s homework to their History teacher. You will see kids watching videos, listening to music or looking at pictures and wonder why they are off task.  To an outsider, my classroom and my teaching style may look like nothing short of a hot mess. There’s just lots going on at all times.

But....there is a method to my madness.  Students are learning, they are engaged and they are motivated.  They collaborate on projects and that collaboration leads to social interaction outside of class which enhances their school experience. Those relationships make them look forward to coming to school and prevents most from dropping out. For many of them, ESL class is the highlight of their day.  A place where they can let their guard down and not worry about people judging them based on the way they speak or dress.

So what do my desk drawers say about me?  Just like my teaching, I have everything I need to meet goals and achieve objectives. Regardless of what it may look like at first glance, when you get in and dig deep, it’s all good. 

Still the #BestYearEver

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Lighting of a Fire

Image credit: Pixabay.com
When asked who was or is my most inspirational colleague, and why? I immediately thought of the quote by William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  Honestly, it would be hard to single out one person as being the most inspirational, as there have been many that have inspired me on my journey as an educator.  So instead of identifying one person, I will identify the one quality that inspired me at the start and continues to inspire me today.  

To inspire means to make someone want to do something or to cause a certain feeling or emotion which often compels you to do something.  Like the quote, it lights a fire.  As an educator, the most inspiring colleagues have been, and continue to be, those teachers that are close to or eligible for retirement but still have the passion and drive of a new teacher, only more experienced and knowledgeable.  No sign of burnout there. Those teachers make students look forward to school and motivate them to work to potential.  On colleagues, the effect is the same.  They make you want to grow professionally and you look forward to collaborating with them.  

I hope that as I go about my day, I inspire my students and colleagues as much as others have inspired me.


Monday, September 15, 2014

A Good Mentor

Image credit: Accidental Creative
What does a good mentor “do”?  This question prompted me to reflect back to the very beginning of my teaching career at Alleghany High School in Sparta, NC.  Straight out of corporate America, AHS hired me as a lateral entry business teacher right smack in the middle of the school year.  My predecessor retired just before Thanksgiving, and I came in as a sub to finish the semester, starting my permanent position in January.  At that point, I had only substitute taught four times at a local K-8 school and had not taken a single course in education, but my Business Administration degree qualified me for the lateral entry job.  I knew very little about teaching and absolutely nothing about teaching high school, but I was excited about teaching Computer Applications to high schoolers.   I was so oblivious that I wasn't scared or worried.  My substitute teaching in the lower grades had gone very well, and so I was optimistic.  I’m creative, energetic and pretty decent at public speaking, so my business and marketing skills transferred well into my teaching position, and overall I must say that I not only survived but thrived.  

Nonetheless, I needed a mentor badly. The other business teacher was very kind and offered to help whenever I needed, but I was so clueless that I had no idea what to ask.  My principal assigned one of the English teachers as my mentor.  Even though my mentor was out of my field, she can be credited with my success as an educator, especially that first year, not so much because she told me what I needed to know but because she asked me all the right questions.  She didn’t just give me information (well maybe a little), but she empowered me to seek answers that I needed to successfully teach the curriculum to my student population.  She challenged me mentally and enabled my professional growth.  She also grew alongside me.  As a business teacher, I shared my technology skills with her, and it became a mutually beneficial experience for both of us.  

So, back to the original question.  What does a good mentor “do”?  Webster defines the word mentor as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.”  That almost sounds like my role as a teacher, even though mentoring is not in the official job description.  Furthermore, the word mentor reminds me of the Spanish word “mente” which means “mind.”  A mentor should, as my mentor did with me, do more asking than telling and stretch the mentee’s “mente” (mind).   A good mentor will most certainly empower their mentees, but most importantly grow alongside with them and not be afraid to let their mentees surpass them.  

After answering this question, I’ve come to realize that more than an ESL teacher, I’m a mentor to those students entrusted to my instruction who are, as Webster defines, less experienced and younger. 

Until next time....#BestYearEver

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Awesome Moments

Recently my daughter’s teacher let me borrow The Book of Awesome.  As a hopeless optimist, I found it a very entertaining read.  If you've never read it, the book is an adaptation of the author’s blog about the little, ordinary joys of life that we take for granted.  So after going through all those “awesome” entries, I was prompted to think about all those little pleasures in my own life as a wife, mom and educator.  Here are a few in random order:
  • Reading aloud with my 6th grader.  Regardless of who's reading, it just brings me back to when she was a sweet little kindergartener.  
  • A student's aha moment.  It's a way of being thanked for all I do.
  • My ESL students exiting LEP status.  While I love having them in my class, the huge smile on their face when they learn they have achieved proficiency scores on their ACCESS test is truly awesome.  
  • An administrator drops in at the best possible moment when your lesson is going exactly as planned and students are responding beautifully.  
  • A Friday afternoon when you can leave school with all planning, grading and copies done for the following week, leaving you free to enjoy the weekend with family and friends.  Rare but totally awesome.
  • Receiving positive news about my own children.  Whether it’s about behavior or academics, a teacher always wants her own children to be the "good" students.
  • A parent’s reaction when you make a positive call home, especially when they don't usually hear good things about their child from teachers.  
  • A cancelled faculty meeting.  It’s awesome to have some extra time to get work done in your classroom.
  • Finding clothes in your closet that you forgot you had, still fit and are still in style.  It’s like having gone shopping but not spending a dime.  For a teacher on a budget, this is really awesome.
  • Date night with my hubby on a Friday night, after a long, stressful week. Totally awesome!
  • Social media notifications. Let’s admit it, it’s nice to know that someone is reading our posts and likes them, shares them, retweets them or marks them as a favorite. 
I’m sure I can come up with many more.  The book is going back to its owner tomorrow morning, but it made me reflect on all those little moments that add up and make my life truly AWESOME! 


Friday, September 12, 2014

How Do I Love Teaching....Let Me Count the Ways

There are many reasons to love teaching, so here's a top 10 list- a la David Letterman style.  

10...I love having summers off.  The only reason this made the list is because I really love having that time with my own kiddos, but working 10 months means I only get paid for 10 months of work, so it’s not exactly a paid vacation.

9...My days just seem to fly. While I don't love the paperwork and bureaucracy, I do like being busy and like the fact that my days go by really quickly. Staying caught up is also a struggle, but I do like the fact that I’m never bored. Which brings me to number 8.

8...There’s never a dull moment. As much as we plan and prepare, my days are full of surprises. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned, so part of the plan is to prepare for the unexpected and remain calm when those surprises can be a little stressful.

7...I’m a lifelong learnerFrom innovative strategies to emerging technologies, I’m continuously learning and growing. And I learn a great deal from my students as well.

6...It keeps me young.  Being surrounded by young people in the energetic environment of a school keeps my outlook youthful and keeps me grounded.

5...Been there, done that.  As a former English Language Learner myself, I have experienced firsthand the hurdles and frustrations that many of my students and their families are facing.

4...love the cultural and linguistic diversity I’m exposed to. No, not all my kids are Mexican, or even Hispanic for that matter. They come from all over the world and they all have great stories to tell about their native countries and their cultures. 

3...I love teaching ESL. Unlike Geometry or English Literature, the skills they are learning in my class are relevant to every moment of every day. From social language to academic vocabulary, the connection is immediate and most of my students appreciate my instruction. 

2...I love kids and I especially like teaching teenagers. This is such a critical time in their lives and I’m happy to have the chance to make an impact on them as they are making some very important choices.

1...I’m planting seeds all day long. While I may not reap the harvest, I know that I am impacting young lives and planting seeds of confidence and hope as they develop and improve their communication skills in English.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Do As I Do, Not As I Say

A couple of days ago, one of our APs dropped in on my Beginner ESL class for a snapshot observation.  Thankfully, the observation went well and his report was mostly favorable.   He observed me as I was explaining the details of an upcoming project.  Overall, he was very complimentary, but he commented that a rubric would have been helpful to clearly describe my expectations.  While I do use rubrics quite often, there’s nothing that works better than modeling.  
In my experience, there’s no better scaffolding than classroom modeling.  Showing students what I expect rather than just providing a checklist or rubric has proven to be so much more effective, particularly for Beginner English Learners.  Regardless of what the end result is, a sample of the final product is the perfect visual. Better yet, if they can watch you create the product, you will be able to address issues they will encounter along the way.  After presenting the final product, then review the checklist or rubric.

If I could rewind to yesterday and have my observation again, I would have liked for him to have observed more modeling.  He would see how I demonstrate the steps and let my students see what the end result should look like, as well as a review of the rubric and goals for a perfect score.

So rather than asking students to “do as I say” or do as I write on a rubric, I will have my students to “do as I do” and hopefully next time an administrator stops by he or she will see that in action.

I’m still a work-in-progress and I’m thankful for second chances!  #BestYearEver

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Good Ol' Google

As a 1:1 district, technology is seamless and we are constantly striving to be on the cutting edge.  We are always looking for the latest “cool tool” that will help our students gain 21st century skills.  One particular tool that I am seeking, not necessarily found yet, is one that will help students master academic vocabulary.  There are lots of gadgets and neat websites, but I’m not looking for the wow-factor. I’m looking for a gadget that will sharpen critical thinking skills, enable effective collaboration and above all, make them assimilate material much better than they’ve ever done before.  

Thus far, Google docs seem to deliver most of what I need.  It may not be jazzy or extremely cool, but it’s FREE, practical and easy to use.  As an ESL teacher, I need to be careful not to focus so much on the “cool tools”  that the content and language end up watered down.  If I do it right, content and language will be absorbed more quickly.  

So whether it’s a form for collecting student feedback or parent contact information, or a simple document to enable peer editing or a presentation that’s easily shared with their peers, Google has come through and done the job.  For now, that’s cool enough for me.

Until next time, let’s keep aiming for the #BestYearEver.

Monday, September 8, 2014

30-Day Blogging Challenge

I must admit that reflection is something that comes natural to me.  While reflection is expected of all teachers, for me it’s as natural as breathing.  Sometimes, I just reflect in my head, but I try to do it after every lesson and have incorporated it into my lesson plan template.  This year, reflection is taking on a new dimension.  Not only will reflection be part of my lesson plans, but I will also be part of my blogging.  

I recently read on Twitter that Teach Thought created a 30-Day Blogging Challenge.  Teachers who accept the challenge are asked to blog every day, even if just a paragraph.  They said it’s not about blogging but about reflection.  However, in my case, it’s not about the reflection it’s about the blogging.  I have been intending to blog since last year.  Finally at the end of the year, I created a blog and my goal was to blog at least once a week.  Well, I did it for the first three weeks, which were the last three weeks of school, but come summer, I no longer blogged.  Now that school is back in session, things are crazy busy, but I still want to blog, so this challenge was perfect for me.  

Aside from the blogging challenge, I also joined the #GoodCallsHome movement - something else I learned about on Twitter.  In an effort to increase parental involvement and communication, I am joining other educators in committing to making at least two positive calls home per week.  As an ESL teacher, parental involvement is essential, but unfortunately is rare, especially at the secondary level.  My goal in this challenge is that as I increase the number of positive phone calls, my students will be encouraged, parents will feel proud of their kids and motivate their children to do well, which will in turn serve to motivate me as well. My focus, especially at first, will be to focus on my most difficult students - those who usually don’t get those positive calls from school.  I really believe this will positively affect my relationships with students and parents for the good and it will certainly be covered in my blog posts. 

If you’re interested, check out the 30-Day Blogging Challenge.  Please know that I may not follow the prompts listed on the Teach Thought website, but I will blog and reflect on my positive phone calls and everything else that's going on in my ESL world.  I hope you’ll join me, not so much in following my blog, but in reflecting and blogging about your educational experiences.  

Until next time....keep reaching for the stars and let’s keep believing it will the #BestYearEver!