Hello, and thank you for visiting! You are welcome to explore this website, but I have moved on to bigger and better things at mshayes.org. I hope to see you there!
I’m in beautiful Florida this week for spring break, and it is obviously very different from New Mexico. First of all, there is water everywhere! And what is up with all of the green stuff growing from the ground? Where is all of the dirt?
Oh. Right. On the beach.
On the flight out here, I was finally able to finish reading Divergent by Veronica Roth. It was an excellent read about a dystopian society in what used to be Chicago. I was quite tickled during our first flight because we had a layover in Chicago and I was reading a story that takes place in Chicago, and because I’m a huge nerd who finds joy in small coincidences.
I travel a lot, and this isn’t my first trip to Florida, but I can’t help but think about my students. I know! It’s spring break! I’m not supposed to think about work while on vacation, right?
But here’s the thing: many of my students have never left New Mexico. Some of my students have never even left their hometown! When reading Divergent, I was able to connect my prior experiences visiting Chicago to the setting of the book, which might be why Roth decided to set the story in dystopian Chicago instead of a dystopian made-up city. It helped me to comprehend and connect to the story, and isn’t that what we want our students to do when they read, too? Connect to the story?
Now, back to Florida. Kinda. Imagine you grew up in a small town where the only naturally occurring body of water is the mostly dried up Rio Grande River. You need sprinklers to keep your grass alive, so most homes have yards full of beautiful rock gardens and a few drought-resistant plants. When reading a story that takes place in Florida, you’ll read about yachts, waterways, drawbridges, and hibiscus flowers. I can tell you right now, most of my students will not know what a yacht is.
Something language arts teachers love to do is give students books that they can relate too. We live in New Mexico, so we just read The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little which takes place at Acoma Pueblo during the time of Oñate. Now that we’ve finished the book, the students are going on a field trip to Acoma with the social studies department. It’ll be a great learning experience for them.
As expert readers, we know that the beauty and joy of reading comes from experiencing new places and experiencing new things without ever leaving home, but that’s because we have either the prior knowledge necessary to connect to the story, or we have the skills necessary to seek out those connections. Heck, for avid readers, prior knowledge was often acquired from something we read before!
So, my point: how can we hook students into the cycle of reading for learning and building to more reading for learning and building at a young age? It reminds me of something I read by Kelly Gallagher in his bookDeeper Reading (and I don’t have the book with me, so forgive me for any errors). He says that as readers, we have many reading branches that continually grow into new branches over time. For example, as a student, I grew a branch for books about magic after reading the Harry Potter series, which led to other YA series such as Hunger Games, which led to dystopian books such as Divergent. After reading and enjoying Kite Runner, I developed a branch for books that take place in Afghanistan, which lead to me reading more books about Afghanistan, but it also led me to reading books about different cultures, such as Ceremony. This led to more Native American literature, but it also led me to historical fiction as well. Each branch leads to more branches of your “reading tree.”
Having my students read a story that takes place near their hometown is a great way to hook them into reading, but now I have to help them develop new branches on their reading tree.
Exposing them to different genres is helpful, but we must also nurture the need for prior knowledge. Reading a book about Florida? Take a trip to Florida with the whole class using Google Earth. Give the students the information they need in order to feel connected to the reading. Then expose them books that might start new branches on their reading tree.
They may not be able to physically visit Florida, but they can read about it. And that’s almost the same thing.
*Disclaimer: I typed this entire post on my phone. It was hard. Please forgive any typos and mistakes.
Hot diggity, the Diction Door was a success! Here’s some proof:
Student A: “Geez, class is already over? It feels like it just started!”
Student B: “This was fun, Miss! Can we do it again?”
Student C: “Aw man! I wanted to define Aesthetics!”
Student D: “Miss, it says that bantam is a chicken! Are they saying that Kit Carson was a chicken?!”
Student E (in response to Student D): “Ooh! That’s a metaphor!”
Here’s how it all went down
When the students walked into class, their desks were already arranged into groups so they could work in their literature circles. Since we’ve been reading the first four pages of Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, I had each literature circle pick one difficult word from the text to contribute to the Diction Door. They were not allowed to choose a word that was already on the door.
Once they picked their word, I passed out the Diction Door Templates (one of each color per class), a black Crayola marker, and a pair of scissors. I told the students that they were to write down the definition and the original sentence that used the word, and that they needed to create a new sentence using the word. Finally, I gave each group four small pieces of paper that matched the color of their template, which they used for synonyms.
After that, I simply walked around the room and listened to the students work and talk to each other. Once they finished, I taped their word and synonyms onto the door.
But not all went as planned…in a good way
I’ll admit, I was a little stressed out about it during 1st period. Originally, I thought that it would take the students about 10-15 minutes. I was wrong. Like, WAY wrong. It ended up taking the entire class period, which surprised because I expected the students to just look up the word and then write down the definition. Instead, they looked up the word, didn’t understand the definition, looked up more words in the definition, and then rephrased the original definition so that it made sense to them!
The Diction Door also provided many teachable moments that I hadn’t originally anticipated. For example, one group of students realized that the word “deliberate” could be an adjective or a verb. Then they had to decide if it was being used as an adjective or a verb in the passage. Not only did this help them understand the word, but it also helped them understand the difference between verbs and adjectives!
With the word “Womanize,” the students found the dictionary.com synonyms first. They used words and phrases like “flirt,” “fool around,” “stud,” and “ladies man” as their synonyms. I explained that these words were too positive, and that womanizing isn’t a good thing. I told them that “objectify” would be a good synonym for womanize, but I couldn’t think of any others and the students were struggling to find appropriate synonyms online. I sent them across the hall to ask their social studies teacher. He started rattling off words like “chauvinistic” and “sexist.” Perhaps the feminist side of me kicked in during this exchange, but I’m totally okay with that.
Originally, I just wanted to have a Diction Door because I didn’t think I would have enough space for a word wall, but I actually ran out of space on the door. I had to extend it a bit and now the word wall is covering a white board that I don’t use very often. I made a sign for the word wall, and I still have a sign for the diction door up, but I decided to make a poster to maintain the diction door theme. It says: Deliberate diction unlocks the door to success! We navigate our whole lives using words. Change and improve the words and I believe we can change and improve life.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with my diction door/word wall. The students had a blast with it, and I added a word to the wall today: allusion. I also referred to a couple of the words on the wall while talking to the students about avoiding redundancies in their writing. Next year, I’ll have to rearrange my classroom so that the word wall has room to grow. I’m sure it’ll end up spilling out into the hall outside of my room like this teacher’s word wall.
Oh, and for the record, my diction door/word wall is very aesthetically pleasing! Too bad I’ll have to cover it up when we have NMSBA testing in a couple of weeks.
‘Twas the eve of the Diction Door
and all through the school,
every student was wondering
how it would be used.
But nobody knew –
except for Ms. Bloom –
who smiled mysteriously
at every question anew.
She said, “Tune in tomorrow,
it’ll be quite a show!
Just come prepared
to learn the lingo!”
And as she walked off,
the students replied,
“That Ms. Bloom
OH EM GEEEE! I won something! Thanks for nominating me, Mary!
So, according to the person who nominated my nominator, “The Liebster Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. So, what is a Liebster? It is a German word and it simply means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.”
Official rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:
- Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
- You must answer the 10 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you.
- Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.
- Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
Here are the questions Mary had for me:
1) Describe, in detail, your favorite beverage.
Lately, my favorite beverage is beer! Ha! I really like Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, but I’m also a big fan of some local breweries that I’m not going to name for the sake of anonymity. I can tell you about a brewery I really enjoyed last time we drove down to Denver, Colorado, though. Wynkoop Brewing Company has a delicious beer called Rail Yard. It had hints of caramel and vanilla, and it’s kind of like drinking a cookie. Yum! I just wish it was closer to home.
2) What’s your pet peeve?
Spelling “a lot” as one word. Allie explains this pet peeve perfectly in her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven’t already, check it out. It’s hilarious.
3) Tell us the book that has most impacted what matters most in your life.
Ummm…this is an impossible question. Picking one book is like picking children! I love anything by John Steinbeck for his excellent analysis on human nature. I also like all of Khaled Hosseini’s books and his incredible talent for writing about ugly truths in a beautiful way. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, of course, will always be a favorite for obvious reasons. There are many, many more, but I’m short on time so I need to move on to the next question.
4) How do you take care of your soul?
Walking, blogging, and drinking beer with close friends.
5) Favorite quote or Scripture?
6) What’s your favorite post you’ve written and why? Include a link.
A Trip to the Principal’s Office: Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes because it is a big reason why I decided to start blogging again. I’ve blogged before, but I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for an audience. It didn’t work out. I got bored and lost interest after only a few months. After that experience with my principal however, I realized that I had stopped focusing on my passion, and started focusing on politics. In typing that post, I felt like the fog had lifted and I was able to enjoy my job again.
7) What’s your favorite post of mine and why? Include a link.
When Saying No is Saying Yes, because it is so, absolutely true! As a young teacher, it is WAY to easy for me to take on more than I can chew. The problem is, I can do everything and be mediocre, or only take on a couple of extra responsibilities and be spectacular. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and an even more difficult thing for my boss to accept.
8) What is the greatest joy of blogging?
Discovering new ideas through reading others’ blogs and reflecting my own practice!
9) What is the greatest anxiety of blogging?
Honestly? That my secret identity will be revealed!
10) Which blog speaks most poignantly to you? Why? Include a link.
Becky Says Things. I love laughing, especially as a way to lighten up some of the uglier things in life. She’s awesome!
11) Bonus question, if you’re so inclined: give my some feedback on my blog.
You have some great posts! Since you have a static homepage, use your Top Posts widget to direct your readers to the posts you would most like them to see.
Introducing Harriet’s Liebster Nominees…drum roll please….
- Magpie That
- My Strange Brain
- Teacher Versus Mum
- Unsolicited Tidbits
- Teaching +
- Norah Colvin
- Cathy Miyata’s Blog
- Joystick Learning
Congratulations! You now have homework. Please answer the following questions:
- Congratulations! You just won the Liebster Award! What are you going to do next?
- Describe yourself in three words.
- Describe your thoughts on your very first job.
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
- I like food. What is your favorite recipe?
- Give a short summary of the book you are currently reading.
- What inspired you to start blogging?
- How did you come up with the name for your blog?
- What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
- Which post are you most proud of and why? Provide a link.
I have an announcement to make: I’ve decided to make a word wall in my classroom.
To some, this may not seem like a big deal or like a difficult task, but for me, this is a new, scary, unpredictable adventure. I’ve always been intimidated by word walls; mostly because I’ve never really understood their role in the classroom. I do know that they are considered a best practice, and I know that when used properly, word walls can have a major impact on students’ vocabulary.
But I’m still intimidated.
I decided to bite the bullet and implement a word wall the other day when my students were struggling through the first four pages of Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. With words like caromed, bantam, bumpkin, terrestrial, fastidious, and cadence, I realized that I can’t possibly expect my students to use context clues for every difficult word. Plus, in an effort to create a more student-centered classroom (and to not spend an entire day on vocabulary), I figured a word wall would be the most effective way to tackle the difficult vocabulary in the excerpt over an extended period of time.
Now, the question is, how does one use a word wall?
Questions to Consider…
Where will I put it? I don’t have a lot of free space on my walls. Plus, since my walls are concrete, the only way to hang something is by hot gluing it to the wall (tape doesn’t work on the paint on my walls for some reason). I do have a closet door at the front of the room…perhaps I’ll have a Diction Door instead!
I know that I want the students to select the words to go on the wall, and I know that I want them to look up the definition for the word, write an original sentence or two using the new word, and list synonyms for the word. I’ll need some sort of template for the students to use.
I also know this is something I will leave up for all of my classes, so I need to develop a system where each class will contribute different words to the wall. But how should I organize it? Should the words be in alphabetical order? Or should they just go up in a random order?
The perfectionist side of me is kicking in too. I want everything to be uniform, so I want all of the words to be typed, using the same size font. I know I want the definitions to be typed too, but getting the students to type and add the definitions to the wall will take away from the seamlessness of the strategy…so what’s more important? A messy, student-driven word wall, or a neat, teacher driven-word wall?
…Learning is messy. I suppose an organic word wall is a messy word wall.
I’ll cut out a bunch of multi-colored strips of paper. The students will use these strips of paper for the words and definitions. I’ll also cut out smaller pieces of paper for synonyms. These will surround the original word. I’ll give each group a few markers so the words are easy to see from the back of the classroom.
Since I already sorted the students into mixed-ability literature circles, I’ll just have each literature circle select one word from the text to add to the wall. Then, as a group, they will find the definition, write a new sentence using that word, and find as many synonyms as possible. They will write these things down on the strips of paper, and then I will tape them up on the sheet of butcher paper taped to the door at the front of the classroom (A.K.A. Diction Door!) Each class will add new words, but they can also add synonyms to existing words.
The whole thing should only take about ten minutes per class.
I’ll keep you posted on the results. In the meantime, check out these word walls that other K-12 teachers have in their classrooms…
I hope my word wall Diction Door is pretty too.
Wish me luck.
Well, here we are, Sunday morning, the day before grades are due, and I have a lot of catching up to do. So, naturally, I have take a picture of the overwhelmingly large stack of papers in front of me and post it as a way to postpone the inevitable just a little bit longer.
I heard somewhere that if you do not assess and act on formative assessment data within two days, then it’s really a summative assessment.
I better get started.
A couple of weeks ago the principal unexpectedly called me into her office. As I sat down at her desk, she pushed a data sheet towards me and said in an accusatory tone, “Can you explain this to me?”
I felt my face grow hot as I looked down at the sheet, praying it wasn’t bright red. I had never seen this data report before in my life, so I nervously said, “Um, I don’t know what I’m looking at. Can you explain this to me?” As it turns out, it was a simple report that gave a side-by-side comparison of the amount of seventh grade students with scores in each proficiency level on our first and second benchmark assessments. Apparently, we had more kids score in the beginning steps and nearing proficiency levels on the second test than we had on the first test, which is, as I like to say, bad-new-bears.
My principal wanted to know why the students weren’t showing growth. Well, that’s valid. I was asking myself the same question.
Now, I won’t go into detail describing my explanation to the principal. That’s boring and unimportant, particularly because I just pulled something out of my ass in an attempt to defend the scores.
The reason I’m writing about this interaction is because I believe it epitomizes exactly the wrong attitude about how to address and analyze data from standardized tests. As I drove home after the meeting, I came to several conclusions, which I’ve listed below:
My administrator had some valid concerns, but the way she aired those concerns was confrontational and immediately put me on the defensive, which was not at all productive. What she should have said was this:
“Harriet, I was looking at the department’s most recent data reports for the benchmark assessment, and I have some concerns. Here’s the report. Take some time to dive into the data, talk to the teachers in your department, and let’s schedule a meeting to discuss it in a few days.”
We’ve adopted a completely new benchmark assessment this year, so we don’t know what to expect in terms of student achievement trends. To put a teacher on the spot like that is unfair and unprofessional. Furthermore, this is just one way of looking at the data from the two assessments. There are dozens of different types of reports on this data. To make assumptions based on one report is equal parts ignorance and laziness.
I’m tired. My instruction has suffered because I have too much on my plate. I just want to eliminate the other responsibilities and focus on my teaching.
So, why am I writing about this? What’s the big deal?
I need to focus on my teaching.
I spent two days this past week at a Common Core Mentor Training put on by Solution Tree. I was sent to this training as the language arts department head, but instead of looking for things to bring back to my department, I mostly focused on how the training could inform my teaching. Luckily, I came across two awesome-possum strategies that I plan on using in my classroom as a way to spice up my instructional repertoire.
Strategy #1: Sock Toss
The workshop facilitator used this strategy as both an ice-breaker and as a demonstration on the importance of collaboration and creative problem solving.
Setup: Before you start, you will three clean socks for each group. The goofier the socks, the better.
Step 1: Project a word or short writing prompt on the board to get the students thinking about the target concept. The students will write a response in their notebooks, or discuss the word or prompt with an elbow partner. Our facilitator projected the word “Efficacy” on the board and had us discuss what that word means to us as educational leaders.
Step 2: Regroup students into circles of 8-10 (if being used as a way to learn each other’s names, do this as a whole class). Give only one student in each group a clean, balled up sock.
Step 3: Have the students introduce themselves. They will then create a “toss pattern” by saying the name of a person across the table and tossing the sock to them. They may only toss the sock to a person who has not already received it. While each group creates their toss pattern, the teacher should be loudly counting off the seconds. Once the sock is tossed back to the original person, the group will write down how long in seconds it took them to complete the pattern.
Step 4: Have the groups do it again, using the same pattern, but this time they will repeat the pattern twice. Once again, they will record their time in seconds when they complete the pattern.
Step 5: Tell the students to do it again (twice again), but this time they will try to beat their previous time.
Step 6: Give the students another sock. Tell them they are to repeat the pattern again, but they are still expected to beat their previous score.
Step 7: Continue with this process until the students start thinking outside the box and breaking the rules. At some point, give the students a third sock.
Step 8: Finally, have the students reflect on the process within their group. The focus of the discussion should be about how the groups adapted, what they learned, and what the experience suggests about collaboration. Finally, discuss how it might relate to learning.
When participating in this exercise during the workshop, my group decided to “bend” the rules first by reorganizing ourselves in the circle, so that the person I first tossed the sock to was standing right next to me. That way, we just had to pass the sock around the circle instead of tossing it around the circle. When a third sock was introduced, we tightened our circle so that we were standing shoulder to shoulder, and (after the facilitator said that every person needed to “touch” the socks) stuffed all of the socks in a cup so that they were all sticking out top. I held the cup in the center of the circle, and then each person just had to briefly tap their hand on top of the cup (thus quickly touching all three socks).
During the reflective discussion at the end of the activity, our group emphasized the point that efficacy is best obtained through collaboration and creative risk-taking.
This lesson could easily be adapted to target learning standards centered around cause and effect, or perhaps as a timeline or sequencing activity. For example: I might use it in my classroom as a review for plot structure by separating the students into groups of six, and then giving one student from each group a necklace sign (a piece of paper attached to a string so that a student can wear it around his neck). Each sign would have one of the terms from the plot structure diagram on it, and the students would then have to toss the sock to each other in the correct plot structure diagram order.
Strategy #2: World Café Conversations
Our facilitator used this activity to encourage discussion about Common Core instruction and assessment. What makes it effective is that for every discussion “round,” the students have to rearrange themselves into different groups at different tables. The image below is a visual representation of the World Café Conversations process. I’ve explained the process below as well.
Setup: Before you start, you will need to have the desks arranged into several groups of four. Eight groups of four would be ideal for a class of 32 students, because it’ll give the students plenty of opportunities to interact with new people during each round. Each group should have a sheet of large, sticky chart paper and plenty of colorful markers.
Step 1: Project the following image onto the board. Explain to the students that they can do any or all of the things in the image while participating in the discussion, but they should pick one specific thing to focus on during the discussion. I decided to focus on the play, draw, doodle option. Who doesn’t love doodling?
Step 2: Project the discussion questions for Round 1 onto the board. Give the students 10-15 minutes (or a different time limit appropriate to topic and grade level) to discuss the questions. Throughout the discussion, the students should be jotting down or doodling their key ideas, words, or phrases onto the chart paper.
Our facilitator used the questions below for round one of our discussion.
Round 1: Connect ideas and images with words and lines
- How does instruction and assessment change with our Common Core implementation?
- Describe what’s happening in the classroom with deep implementation.
- How would you describe the current state of your instruction and assessment work?
Step 3: When the time is up, tell the students to move to a different table with different people for the second round. They will leave their chart paper and markers at the table. Encourage students to avoid staying with the same group from the first table. The point is to interact with as many different people as possible.
Step 4: Project the questions for the second round onto the board. The students will discuss the new questions, and they will continue to write or doodle their ideas onto the chart paper. Repeat this process at least four times.
Step 5: Have the students return to their original group. Then, project the directions for Round 5 onto the board:
Round 5 is for Reflection
- Review the notes and drawings on your table.
- As a group, write two sentences to sum it up.
- What insights might inform your next steps?
Step 6: Once the students have finished writing their two sentences onto the chart paper (you may need to give them sticky notes if there is no more room to write on the chart paper), one representative from the group will bring their paper up to the front of the room to share their two sentences with the class.
I plan on using this lesson to facilitate discussion about a short story or novel we read in class. For example, one round could be on how the author uses characterization, another round could be on how the author uses theme, another round could be on the author’s use of language, and a fourth round might require the students to analyze significant quotes.
*Edit 3/2/14: At the end of the activity, have the students reflect on what they learned as a blog post. Not only will this document their learning and exercise metacognitive skills, but it will also give absent students a chance to catch up on what they missed by reading their peers’ blog posts. For more ideas on how to blog with students, check out this awesome post.
Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes
This post started with a negative experience in my principal’s office, but I’ve realized that sometimes negative experiences are necessary. Over the past few months, I’ve felt drained and disillusioned. I’ve been spending so much of my time and energy thinking about the big goals for the school, that I lost focus of why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.
Being called into the principal’s office to speak on behalf of the department served as a wake-up call. While I am not solely responsible for those scores, I am responsible for the department. How can I expect the department to amp up their instructional practices if I do not do it myself?
Since that interaction with my principal, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the professional development opportunities provided by our district. It’s true that our district offers many more seminars and workshops than other, larger districts in the state; but the focus of these workshops is on creating effective assessments and on analyzing data from those assessments. That’s fine and dandy, but teachers need to know what to do when the data demands that we reteach a standard. This brings me to…
Data-driven instruction cannot be effective without strong instruction, and strong instruction cannot exist without opportunities for teachers to discover and adopt new strategies.
The purpose of the Common Core Mentor Training workshop wasn’t to help teachers discover new instructional strategies; it was to help teachers develop rigorous assessments aligned to the PARCC assessment.
My small act of defiance against the constant state of assessment in education was this: ignore the intended purpose of the workshop, and focus instead on ways to improve the instruction taking place in my classroom prior to the assessment.
I’m such a rebel.
I don’t know who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, but I do know that if you’re willing to spend your precious time reading my words, I like you. You, dear reader, will help me to remember and appreciate my craft as an educator. So, thank you.
I teach seventh grade language arts at a Title I school in central New Mexico. If you are unfamiliar with the lingo, Title I basically means that a large percentage of our students come from low-income families. Overall, I love my job and I love my students. Middle school students have a bad reputation for being obnoxious and directionless, but that’s what makes middle schoolers so much fun. They are at a stage in their lives where they are testing the boundaries to figure out who they are as individuals (this is what makes them obnoxious), and they are in this weird transitional period where they want to enjoy both the privileges of grown-ups and the freedoms of childhood (this is why they’re directionless).
But hey, don’t we all want that sometimes?
One of my favorite things about my job is designing and implementing lessons that are both challenging and engaging. It may sound cliché, but I love seeing a student’s face light up when they finally “get it.” My favorite sound is that long, drawn out “ooooohh,” that students make when they finally make the connection. I am addicted to the feeling that teachers get after a successful lesson; to those days that end with the uncontrollable urge to brag about your students to everyone you know, but you just can’t seem to communicate the magic of the situation, no matter how hard you try.
I’m sure that’s what it feels like to be a parent too, but I’m not quite ready to procreate yet.
When I first started teaching, I was that eager-beaver new teacher that couldn’t wait to change the world. I said yes to everything. EVERYTHING. Before I even knew all of my students’ names, I was a member of the Renaissance committee, the AVID site team, and I had taken on the stipend position of Gym Master. Yup. I was Master of the Gym. I felt important. I felt valued. And I had gate keys! I could access the school on the weekends! I was drunk with power.
I would happily arrive at school between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning, and I wouldn’t leave until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. I was honored when my principal asked me to go to a Solution Tree conference in Phoenix. I felt so grown-up and mature, going on my very first business trip.
I eagerly experimented with new technology tools and resources our district had just adopted, including My Big Campus, which is kind of like a cross between Facebook and Blackboard, and begged my principal to let me lead an hour-long workshop on how to use the program at our next staff meeting. They agreed. The staff humored me during the workshop, but they didn’t use the program in their own classrooms. I didn’t understand their resistance. I was naive.
At the very beginning of my second year, the Language Arts department head position became available, and nobody else in my department volunteered for the position. Naturally, I took on the position. I couldn’t believe my administrators allowed me, a second year teacher, to become head of the department.
I struggled with my role as leader that first semester. Even though I had learned about the PLC (professional learning community) process in college and at the Solution Tree training the year before, I wasn’t sure how to guide a team of teachers, more experienced than myself, through the process of identifying essential standards, aligning curriculum, giving common formative and summative assessments, comparing data, and sharing best practices, when they were accustomed to using PLC time as a social hour. I didn’t feel comfortable asking a woman who had been teaching fourteen years longer than I had to stay focused and stick to the agenda.
I finally adjusted to my role as department head after attending a leadership training in Phoenix with the social studies department head and my administrators. While there, I shared my feelings of inadequacy with them, and the social studies department head aired similar concerns about herself, even though she had many more years teaching than I had. I returned from that conference feeling refreshed and prepared for the challenges ahead.
The rest of that year and the following summer were very productive. As a department, we identified our essential Common Core State Standards, organized those standards into a new curriculum map, created standards based Z-Objectives for each unit, and created a handful of common formative assessments. We also created a new, standards based grade scale that would both expedite the grading process while also keeping the focus of the assessment to mastery of the standards instead of ability to follow directions or write legibly (while those things are important, they have nothing to do with whether a student is proficient or not).
This is my third year in the classroom. I started the year with positive expectations. Our old principal left to become the superintendent of another district, and our assistant principal was promoted to principal. I sat on the hiring committee for our new assistant principal, and was thrilled with the woman we decided to hire. This is the first year we are teaching to the Common Core State Standards, and in August I was confident that the work the department did over the summer would eliminate the discomfort of change.
I was wrong.
Moral at the school is at an all-time low. The focus of both district and school administrators is on data and test scores rather than on students and learning. With the new teacher-evaluation system, the pressure to show growth on the SBA is overwhelming.
I feel as if teaching has become a secondary responsibility. Between complying with the demands of the new evaluation system, analyzing data, and my department head responsibilities, I don’t have time to plan creative lessons or give meaningful grades.
I feel my passion for teaching crumbling under the pressure more and more every day. I look back on the eager-beaver new teacher I was two years ago, and I miss her.
I’ve started this blog out of desperation. I need a place to reflect on what I see and experience in my classroom every day. I need to find a way to recharge and revive that fiery passion that energized my lessons my first year.
This blog will not be a place to vent, but rather a place to reflect, learn, and grow. I may share lessons, theories, and experiences, but no matter how negative the experience, the takeaways will remain positive. I’ll do my best, at least.