Monday, March 31, 2014

TLConf 2014: Charlotte Danielson - Teacher Evaluation

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
March 14, 2014
Charlotte Danielson - Teacher Evaluation

This session specifically focused upon Teacher Evaluation and the Common Core with the key focus: "Accountability and the Common Core: Are they Compatible?"

This was a panel session with Ms. Danielson, principals and National Board Certified Teachers. Below are my notes from this session.
It began with a picture on the screen of two trains colliding and the key focus question. Ms. Danielson pointed out that the Common Core and Accountability/Teacher Evaluation could be seen in one of two ways:

1) A train wreck (hence the picture)
2) Two huge, parallel initiatives
Let's see them as a Merger. This involves:
  • understanding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
  • considering instructional implications
  • creating a version of the Framework for Teaching (FFT) that reflects teaching to and of the CCSS
Why assess Teacher Effectiveness?
  • ensure teacher quality
  • promote professional learning
Accountability is not enough. We have to move the curve [bell curve] of teaching so the majority are effective to highly effective. 
Evaluation system becomes a numbers game which is not what the systems were designed for.
"We have become trapped in a vortex of rating and ranking" -- Charlotte Danielson
The FFT is generic but CCSS are specific to a discipline/level
Most principals are experts at running a school but not at all pedagogical practices
Vast majority of teachers are at an acceptable level
Challenge becomes moving a few teachers from mediocre to good but moving many more from good to great--this will move the curve
Generic tool like this (the FFT) can and should be used for discharging Human Resource requirements of evaluation. We need to produce smaller, discipline specific tools for coaching rather than evaluation.  
Wyoming Accountability Act (shared by a panelist who is an NBCT)
  • Tying student achievement to Teacher of Record
  • adapted the Common Core at the same time and had to decide which was the most important to develop first
  • Teachers are stressed out wondering if their ranking will end up in the newspaper

Another NBCT on the panel proclaimed "My students are not a number. My teaching is not a number." (Amen, sista!)

What about teachers who are struggling? What about evaluators who are biased? (Sadly this has happened to teachers I know -- their administrator doesn't like them so they are basically found at fault for many things and/or given the short end of the stick. Grade Level Shuffle anyone??)

To truly change it all, we need coaches on site for all subject areas. Evaluations are, sadly, mostly punitive. 

What do we want our kids to be like when they graduate? Metacognitive and know-how in Arts/Technology 

PLC model -- you will get more out of it when you truly have some ownership in the model. We want to create reflective practitioners with reflection not tied to evaluation. 

Coaching so all teachers can see good teaching and transfer that teaching. Don't penalize teachers for trying something new that flops or doesn't go well. 

One panelist shared that  they use multiple raters (teacher colleagues) who observe, take notes, look at the evidence and then have a conversation to mutually determine the teacher's rating on that ONE lesson.

I have long said that in order for teacher evaluations to truly be meaningful, we need to let teacher's evaluate each other. I know that scares some people but think about it. I'm teaching 4th grade and have a 1st grade and 5th grade colleague come in to do my observation at the same time. They both take their own notes and after the observation they sit together and compare what they saw, the actual evidence they gathered and determine a rating for the teacher on that particular lesson only. I have always thought it was a total gyp to have my entire evaluation be based upon two measly observations. (My very first observation at my current school, when I started there 4 years ago, lasted 5 minutes. Seriously. 5 minutes. And my administrator wasn't in my room again until May when she did my last one. How do you know what I'm doing, ever, if you have no presence?)

People are afraid of this idea. I know they are...BUT I also know how much more effective it would be to truly have someone who does the same job I do all day evaluate a lesson I taught. No, maybe that 1st grade teacher wouldn't necessarily know my content or have any idea about teaching the big guys if s/he had never done it themselves, but they are in the trenches of teaching every day -- so much moreso than an administrator is -- and would be more realistic and have a better idea of current best practices. In addition that rating should ONLY reflect THAT LESSON. Because let's be real...we all have crappy days. I have had days as a teacher (even though with that coveted NBCT behind my name) where I know I wasn't at my best. I'm just a person. I'm not a miracle worker. I get worn down too. I wouldn't want an evaluation to show I was minimally effective or even ineffective because I had an off day and that's what they are getting at here. 

Honestly, while it's nice to hear something I did well during a lesson from someone else, I take the whole evaluation process with a grain of salt...because it usually has focused entirely upon rating me based upon ONE observation or TWO if I'm lucky. (Sidenote: not true this year, Mr. Principal visits our rooms quite often and leaves us notes about what he is seeing us do well or will leave a "wondering" if he isn't sure how what he saw is tied to anything meaningful. In other words, he doesn't want to walk by and see you randomly showing a movie mid-day which I wholeheartedly agree.)  I got dinged in one area on my evaluation this fall but I knew it was an area I've struggled with and I have busted my butt to improve it all year...and I did and will continue to do so. It was more because I knew that this thing was something that didn't need to be the way it was...had my admin been on my case about it, I probably would have viewed the whole thing differently. It was approached as a way for me to reflect on what I was doing and how. And I have made it a personal goal to do better there and I did. It wasn't punitive, it was a way for me to better what I'm doing for kids. That's how it should be always, everywhere but we know it isn't. (If it was, there would be no need for a session like this one.)

The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sometimes you just gotta laugh + TA

Oh my goodness. Drama, drama, drama. This week was full of ups and downs to be sure. My ups were WAY ups. They were epic, they were awesome. The downs really sucked, as they tend to do. Usually my downs coincide with things that just tick me off because they are so stupid. And the biggest down this week was no exception.

Alas, I have chosen to a) ignore it and b) laugh about it...because truly, the whole situation is ridiculous. Not to mention the aftermath is ludicrous. I won't be pulled between parties. If you think that's how I roll...well, you don't know me very well. The whole thing just makes me shake my head and go "really?" So for once I decided to just shut up and not respond (a miracle in and of itself--you have noticed I'm slightly outspoken, right?). 

It was a pretty decent week other than the stupid drama. We just started our last marking period. I had a sit down with my 4th graders on Friday because we had our first reading test of the marking period and only 7 kids passed with a 70% or higher. I reminded them that they know if they don't do well, they are going to have to do it over so why wouldn't you put in your 100% best effort the first time?? I asked them if they like doing things twice. They all responded "no" but I pointed out that they must because I had a whole stack of tests that needed corrections. I also pointed out this wasn't the first time my stack has been that big.

They grumbled about doing the corrections at recess but they did them. They know how it works. I think I am going to employ this strategy from the get-go next year. Puts the accountability back on the kids (which is where it should be) and allows them to understand and truly get the notion of effort. Sadly, effort is a commodity that many of them have chosen not to possess. I know this is because we (as a society) just pass kids whether they are ready or not. This is why we have 11th graders who can't read or think. Then they barely graduate high school and can't get a job and on the cycle goes. It kills me because while research shows that retention doesn't help, as a society, we don't put any interventions in place that actually work to help these kids. (That's next on my "save the world agenda" FYI). 

Anyway, I'm hopeful this can really make them understand that YOU are in charge of your learning...because honey I can sing and dance all day up here but if YOU don't put in some effort, it makes no difference. None at all. You can have the best teacher in the entire world and still learn nothing if YOU don't do anything. I would bet  my salary on that. 

This is all on my mind because I found out Friday evening that I am getting a teacher assistant from a local university for the fall. Our school has generally worked with my alma mater only in terms of the students that we have in place to teacher assist and/or student teach. But recently this other large university reached out to our school and asked us if we'd like students from their school as well. I am way too particular to let a student teacher in my room in the fall, no way. I've only one had before and I was very lucky that her and I see eye-to-eye on many things and we got along great. I also had her winter/spring term. My management procedures were already well ingrained in my students by then so it was fine to let her try things...but I wouldn't be that flexible in the fall. I know this so I haven't ever requested a fall student teacher. (My understanding is, however, that this university, which isn't as large as my alma mater, doesn't do fall student teaching; the students TA in the fall and ST in the spring. I might be wrong but I think this is the only way they do it.) This is the best of both worlds I think because I'll have an extra pair of hands (useful especially because we have some high needs friends coming to 4th grade next year) but also because she won't be there full-time. 

I have requested a student teacher for the 2nd semester but it won't bother  me at all if I don't get someone. It can be so touch and go with someone else in your room. Obviously I've only had Jenna and she was awesome--like my little sister, honestly. We still talk all the time and she asks for my advice with job interviews and whatnot. Unfortunately, I have witnessed (more times than I care to admit) a student teacher/cooperating teacher relationship that wasn't what it should be. Some of my colleagues (current school and former schools I've taught in) expect a student teacher to come in 100% prepared to be a teacher. Uh, you do notice the word student in their title, right?? Of course it's easy for me to judge as an outsider but I've seen things that I think are beyond inappropriate and when I got Jenna last year, I told her that I would never tell her supervisor from the college anything about her that I wouldn't say to her personally. Open and honest communication and feedback (whether it's good or bad) is vital. And you can't assume that someone knows what you want them to do, you have to tell them explicitly, just like you would any other student.

I am glad that I have a TA, I think it will be a great learning experience for both of us (especially because I learned she is a language arts major like I was and is doing a minor in TESOL which is what my master's degree is in). Apparently they only do 10 hours per week over 2 days which is so weird to me. My university they are there every day for a half day. The 10/2 is a minimum so depending upon her schedule, I may ask her if she would like to come in MWF mornings. I think that would be the most helpful for me in terms of consistency but also in allowing her to take over a subject if she'd like to so that she's more prepared for her student teaching the following semester. Obviously this has to be discussed with her but in a perfect world, that's how it would all work out.

The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, March 28, 2014

TLConf 2014: Fighting Urban and Rural Poverty

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

March 14, 2014 - Plenary Session
Fighting Urban & Rural Poverty

This session featured McDowell County, West Virginia which is the 8th poorest county in West Virginia and a program they have called "Reconnecting McDowell County". This session featured a panel that discussed the trials of the district of McDowell County and the solutions they are putting into place to combat these trials.

It was stated that every state has its own "McDowell County". Student success depends upon the right curriculum but also the resources to overcome the challenges the students face.

In order to address multiple issues in poverty, you have to be willing to address all the issues.

It was stated multiple times: "Teachers can not do it all."

Poverty matters when it comes to student achievement. 

--AT&T provided a grant for 20 high school juniors to be mentored
--Save the Children providing monies for after school programs and early reading intervention

There is a grade wherein 40% of the students in that grade hold a current Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

Community School Model is what needs to happen for all poverty-level children. The Community School model provides multiple resources to help families living in poverty get the help they need.

During a reward lunch at school, three girls were eating with the principal having a sort of "book club lunch". These young girls enthusiastically shared about the books they were reading and then casually changed the subject, as though commenting upon the weather and began to discuss the drugs they had watched their parents do the night previously. For these girls, it was just normal. 

There was more to this session but I took a walk shortly after writing down the above information. Before the panel began, they showed this short video.

Watching the video and then hearing these stories, I had to leave the room and just take a walk for a moment. Not because I don't care of course...but because it hits home. It boggles my mind -- even though I know it is a reality in far more places than we think -- that still in today's society, your zip code matters. You can seriously LOSE the "Statisticks Lottery" simply because of where you happened to be born.

It bothers me. I know that West Virginia is not unique in this. Most of WV is very rural (even the college The Oldest goes to is still considered to be in a rural area) and they have a lot of poor families. I don't teach in a rural area but rather an urban one and sadly, our problems can mirror the situation shared by this county and the work they are doing.

All kids, regardless of where they are born and to whom they are born, deserve a rock-solid education. Unfortunately, your zip code plays a role and children from wealthier communities have better schools, more resources and thus tend to have a better life. 
I will tell you that when I left this session, I was humbled. I posted on my FaceBook and Twitter accounts that if you ever wanted to complain about your teaching job again, to please consider 40% of one grade level requiring students to have an IEP because of fetal alcohol syndrome, drug use and who knows what else. How sad for those kids. I don't have the easiest job (is any teaching job really "easy" in this day and age?) but it is nothing compared to what some of our students face and even on the worst day, I think that fact needs to be remembered. 

It could be so much worse. Thank God it isn't. 

The Caffeinated Teacher

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Paper and Praise

We have a paper issue. Apparently we use a ton of paper at my school. Yesterday, Mr. Principal gave each of us a paper that told us how many copies we'd made in the last month. I think my jaw may have hit the floor when I saw my numbers. I'm pretty judicious with what I copy (and since I no longer do the 8-station rotation we were doing before, I know I'm making about half the copies I probably was earlier in the year). 

Then I realized something....since our district did a huge overhaul on most of our curriculum this year, we have had to make WAY more copies than we ever did before. For example, we've been using Everyday Math since I started teaching in the fall of 2006. We have the journals and everything. This year they changed it up so that we are using more hands-on thinking based tasks, which is great....except it uses a TON of paper and the journals they made us order just sit around barely used. I got great results with EDM before because I supplemented it with my Calendar Board and the Spiral Homework. (In fact, my math scores last year were higher than this year using this newer method.) 

We also now have a huge end of marking period test to do in reading every quarter. It's about 14 pages long. Even when I make it double sided, it's still 7 sheets of paper per student. That's 175 pieces of paper. Add on the end of MP SS test and that's about another 175 pieces of paper. For two tests. Plus all of the daily pages I need. Ridiculous.

My theory is, if other buildings bigger (or the same size) as mine are using half the paper we are, there is no way they are following the new curriculum. It just wouldn't be possible if they're doing all of the activities and things we're doing.

I just don't get it. Why would you change the curriculum, make it SO paper based and then yell at us when we use more paper than last year? Perhaps they didn't realize how much of the curriculum changes meant we'd be making a billion copies? (Although how you wouldn't know is beyond me -- although the IT department and purchasing department probably have zero idea what goes into the curriculum so it's possible that's why there is a disconnect.)

I was talking to Mr. Principal about it because I was really upset by the whole thing. Obviously what we're doing is working because our scores are epic from the fall to the winter. After figuring some things out and where I can make changes as needed, he picked up this packet of lined paper that he had written on. They were my pop-in observation notes from last Wednesday. He says "these are my notes from your observation. See these stars? That's when you did something really good."

There were quite a few stars that I saw. :) Then he says, "I can't wait to share this all with you at the post-observation meeting." 

Can I tell you how nice it is to get praise??? Not that I need someone to stroke my ego (please, I'm good at doing that myself lol) but seriously....This is my 4th year at my school. I've spent half of my career there. I worked with Mrs. Principal for 3 years and I can tell you on one hand the number of times she ever praised me, said anything positive about what I was doing or just was generally nice. I don't know why she had such a problem with me (except for maybe that I'm loud, obnoxious, opinionated, rebellious, etc....but I get results which is what should matter). It was super nice to hear Mr. Principal tell me that he was pleased with what I have done this year. :) 

Also, he's keeping me in 4th grade! :) :) No Grade-Level-Shuffle this summer! My 4/5 split colleague will move up to 5th grade (we have a gal retiring so the 5th grade spot is open) so it'll be Mr. 4th Grade, myself and we'll probably get another teacher from within the district as a transfer for the 4/5 split. It wouldn't be my first choice to put someone I didn't know in a split but I figure Mr. Principal is a smart guy and it's really not my problem. I could obsess about it but I'm not going to.

I do have to move my classroom again...but just next door. He is going to put Mr. 4th Grade and I side-by-side (so basically our resource teacher and I will trade rooms), our 4/5 colleague will take the current 5th grade teacher's classroom and my classroom from 2010-2011/2012-2013 will be the split classroom. Makes sense because then we'll all really be right across the hall from each other. I love the idea because I can use the big open entry area outside of those classrooms again (there are tables and such next to the huge windows and I loved letting kids go out there to work -- they were still close enough by that I could monitor them but it was less crazy than in a classroom full of kids). 

This way, since I now know that I will be teaching 4th again, I can do some real planning over this summer to rework the things we did this year that weren't working for figure out how to tweak the new curriculum so I'm not using up so much paper (because honestly the way they have us doing the math really does waste a TON of a paper). 

I'm excited to have a direction for the future. And to get my hands on those current 3rd graders. Most of them are epic...a few of them are a handful...and they need someone like me, tough but loving, to put them on the path to fabulousness. One of the third graders says to me, "I want to be in your room because your kids get to play with iPods" to which I replied, "Only if they behave". It'll be a rude awakening for some of them. I don't have to yell and scream to get things done. I just take away the things they really want to do and magically, they begin to conform. (Not all of them obviously--I have a couple kids this year that need a good swat on the behind.) 

I'm really excited though. I think that the Grade Level Shuffle last year really happened to show me that this is where I belong, this is where I'm needed and God tested me...but I passed and now I am reaping that reward. And lemme tell feels awesome.

Speaking of yourself a favor and go see Divergent this weekend. I went after school yesterday and it was SO good!

The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, March 21, 2014

TLConf 2014: Teacherpreneurs

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
March 14, 2014 - Teacherpreneurs Session
 If I could have only gone to one session total during this conference, this one would have been it.  I have never felt so inspired as a teacher before. There were four people presenting the session: Barnett Barry, Ann Byrd, Lori Nazareno and Jeff Charbonneau (2013 National Teacher of the Year). [Can I just geek out and say that Lori and Jeff follow me on Twitter now...insert me squealing like a 10 year old because to me it IS a big deal.] This session was based upon the book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave which was written by Barnett Barry, Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder.

Here are some notes/insights I gained from this session:
  • Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) ( has a Collaboratory of teachers who want to lead without leaving their classrooms.
  • CTQ has grown from a "Think Tank" to an "Action Tank"
  • The concept of Teaching2030 -- what teaching will be like in the year 2030 if we make change now
  • Teacher-Led School -- Lori Nazareno is my new hero because she started one. She says, "1 in 3 teachers in America could do what I do under the right circumstances." Amen sista!
  • Teacherpreneurs are leaders who still regularly teaching children but still find time, talent and reward to lead.
  • 3 Barriers to Teaching
    • Organizational Schedules (Teachers in China teach about 9 hours per week -- which is full time -- so that they have the rest of their time for planning, collaboration and leadership)
    • Cultural Belief that all Teachers are the same
    • Political Reality that many teacher leaders aren't seen positively
  •  Jeff Charbonneau -- 2013 National Teacher of the Year
    • Adjunct professor at three institutions so all of his students can earn college credits for taking his classes in high school
    • We have to bridge barriers to lead other teachers
    • Lead by doing the work together (in other words, lead from the floor)
  • Lori Nazareno
    • Started an organization to help and support NBCTs
    • Found the opportunity to meet with like-minded people
  • Question from Audience: How can we do this at the elementary level?
    • Teacher-led school is an elementary school
    • Teacher-led school has no "formal" administrator. Teachers spread the leadership around and absorb the duties that would normally be handled by an administrator/principal. 
    • Lori says she would hire a business manager to do some of the duties that proved to be a bit too  much for the teachers (I assume this means things like payroll and whatnot).
    • PD is decided upon solely by the staff
    • It is not a charter school but an entity within a public school district
  • Think like Business People -- how can we teach "them" that what we do matters as teacherpreneurs. Adopt a "return on investment" type of model. 
  • There is a stigma holding teachers back -- we are the "humble servants"
  • Question from Audience: How do we get the administration to trust us to do this? Jeff responds: Treat them like your students. Teach them. (LOVE!)
  • How can you sustain leadership when you are full-time in the classroom?
    • We need hybrid roles wherein teachers are face to face with children regularly (ideally daily) but have release time to work on leadership roles
    • Push for a coaching role that ties specifically to a classroom and puts you in a classroom frequently
    • Building Capacity -- everyone in your building should know how to do those "extra roles" 
      • In other words, one person shouldn't be wearing all of the hats. At my school, there is a need for Social Committee chair, Safety Sponsor, Tech Coordinator, etc. Their point is that EVERYONE should know how to do these roles just in case the person who started in them leaves or is no longer available/capable of doing it.
  • Audience Question: Who comes in when a teacher leader is out of the classroom? 
    • Co-teachers may be hired to relieve each other so both teachers can pursue leadership roles
    • Release time grants may be available to allow teachers to continue to lead but also teach

Let me tell you that these people were definitely speaking my language!! I have such a desire to make changes in the educational arena (specifically K-5 education, possibly K-8) but it's so hard to do that when you teach full-time. If you also have a family of your own, you truly do become burnt out trying to do it all. One thing that Barnett Barry kept saying was that teacher leaders really need time, talent and reward to be able to spread their gifts around to others through leadership and coaching. I have to agree. When they showed us the schedule of the teacher from China (I think I was China but I could be totally wrong), I think my jaw may have hit the floor. 9 hours per week of teaching?? I do more than that in 2 days. I can only imagine how refreshed I would feel with half a workload, the same salary I currently make and the time to spread my knowledge around to others. 

Once I got home, I joined the Teacher Collaboratory at CTQ and bought the e-book version of Teacherpreneurs. I'm excited to jump in and see where this takes me because truly it is everything I would want -- to still be able to teach children every day but also have release time to work with other teachers and/or fulfill policy/leadership roles in education elsewhere.

The Caffeinated Teacher

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Teaching with Anxiety

When I started this blog almost four years ago, it was because I had left an absolutely horrible teaching situation (which I don't believe for a moment is the norm really anywhere) and was feeling like maybe, despite everything I had worked for, that teaching wasn't for me. This was a place to kind of work through that--to reflect, to think, to see if I really was crazy and teaching wasn't for me after all.

In a short time, the blog became so much more than that. Recently I learned that someone in my district (I don't know who) discovered my little blog here. Four years ago that would have made me panic and I probably would have taken the blog down. But today, I don't mind. (I mean, it is weird to know that my boss or someone at central office might read what I say but it won't stop me from writing.) I think that when I look back on everything I've ever said or done on this blog, most people who know me in the real world would realize that I would say those things out loud to your face also. I'm not shy about voicing my opinion (you're shocked, aren't you? *wink*). I just think that there are better and easier ways to do it. Sometimes I write here because it allows me to be a little upset if something got my goat without being unintentionally belligerent to the person/situation in question. It helps.

Alas, I have to admit that I also started this blog way back when because I was dealing with anxiety about teaching. When I left my 4th grade class in February 2010, I was having panic attacks almost on a daily basis. I was so stressed out from too much put on me (many "other" jobs on top of my classroom teaching responsibilities) and I had a really rough group of kiddos that year. Very immature and sadly, there wasn't much support from the administration at that time (I will say my admin was awesome and she did support me -- she went out on a medical leave and her replacement was not as supportive...I suspect because he was "old school" and thought I should be able to wave my magic wand and change things, I don't know.)  I used this blog as an outlet--to literally work through everything by writing it down, analyzing it and reflecting.

I learned very quickly all those years ago that once anxiety is born in you--truly born in you to the effect that you are having panic attacks that frequently--it doesn't just go away. It lives inside of you and just waits for you to be having an epic moment and then WHAM, it hits you and you feel helpless again. I know that sounds dramatic....but I also know that I am not the only person who has ever dealt with this. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. You probably think I'm exaggerating. I will pray for you that it doesn't happen to you because I'd rather you NOT know how it really feels...because it sucks.

I've done very well most of the time. I went on meds back in 2010 to help deal with what I was going through. Two years ago when the bottom dropped out on my life, it was so hard. I had anxiety attacks a lot but not because of my school or students--that was all personal. The hardest part was smiling every day and acting like I was perfectly fine when inside, I was dying a little more each day. Do you realize how  much it sucks to be "on" 6 hours per day in front of 2nd graders when you want nothing more than to rip out your own hair and crawl out of your skin because you hate yourself? You don't? Good. Because that sucks too.

The reason I bring this up today is because I had an anxiety attack yesterday for the first time in a long time. I had a mild one in January when I was helping put the intervention stuff together at school. That one happened because I was overwhelmed. I cried for about 2 hours that night at home and I was fine after that. Yesterday's was different somehow. You just know they are different when they come on. About two weeks after that incident in January I had a med check appointment with my doctor and said I wanted to go OFF my meds....I needed to see if I could survive without them. He told me to gradually go off but I just stopped taking them. I know I'm okay without them because it took nearly two months to have an attack again. (If I really needed that daily dose again, I'd have had one within a few days to a week.)

I was gone last week Thursday-Sunday for my DC trip. School Monday started with a data meeting, school ended with a data meeting and then we had PLC after school. That was all fine and good. I am good at the data thing and our grade got a lot of compliments from our boss and his mentor (who ironically was the principal who hired me into my first contract 7 years ago). That was fine. Trying to catch up on grading what the kids did when I was out, on top of what we were doing this week and report cards due with no records time provided to do it (which is SO weird -- we usually have a half day in March for records and we didn't get one this time) and a big PD on Friday turned out to not be fine. I was sitting at my desk at about 6 p.m. last night and just freaked out. I was grading (and grading....and grading...) and it hit me. No thank you. I called my student teacher from last year, who lives about 2 miles from my school to see if she was free. She was. So I quickly put together a sub plan, made copies, packed my grading and to-do stuff into my bags and left.

Hot shower, dinner and early to bed. I got Middle Child off on the bus this morning and hopped back in bed. The Husband wasn't sure what was going on with me. (We've had like zero chance to talk, let alone see each other since I went back to work after our trip.) He text me this morning and asked me if I was okay. I had to be honest. I'm fine but not fine. I'll get through it, I just need time to do that. 
I could have gone to work today but I wasn't going to risk freaking out in front of my students and scaring them to death. (Watching your teacher have a mini-breakdown is something no 9-10 year old should ever see. It would have been irresponsible of me to go to work today knowing that the breakdown as a big possibility.) 

I would bet my next paycheck that by tomorrow AM I'll be perfectly fine. That you'd never know anything had been wrong if I didn't tell you. You learn to fake being happy when you're anxious. You learn to smile and nod and say, "I'm fine." Because no one really wants to hear that you're not, probably because they won't know what to do to help. And let's face it, teachers are problem solvers.

So I write today to tell you that if this is your situation--you are stronger than you think. You are. Don't give in but don't suppress it either. Sometimes you have to let it come out. Cry, yell, shout (just not at your students or boss--that wouldn't be a good plan). Do something to help you. I sometimes go to the gym when I feel really anxious, it destresses me oddly enough.  You're not alone. I'm there too. Most people have absolutely no idea that crap I have been dealt in life...because a) its not something you just publicly announce and b) because it hasn't stopped me from trying to do the best I can do for myself, my own kids and my students. You have to just get up every day and put one foot in front of the other.

One of my colleagues, when I taught 2nd grade, told me that we had to really learn (as a teaching community in general) to hold hands and cross the street together because we're all in this together. And I would agree. I'm in this with you. Whether or not I want to be, I'm there.

Bottom line is really that I'm grateful I have learned what these episodes are like and what they mean so that I can appropriately deal with them. I'll be fine once this week is behind me and I can start anew on Monday with a new marking period and spring (hopefully) truly on its way.

Stay strong friends. You really are stronger than you think. Never give up. I promise I won't.

The Caffeinated Teacher

Monday, March 17, 2014

TLConf 2014: Holocaust Museum Pre-Conference Workshop

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
March 13, 2014 ~ Holocaust Museum Pre-Conference Workshop
I chose this workshop, out of many available, because I had never been to Washington DC and knew this was a museum that I likely wouldn't be able to visit if I didn't "double dip". Our workshop consisted of the exhibit "Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust". 

We began our session in a small classroom area in the lower level of the museum. Our facilitator was a wonderful lady named Christina Chavarria. She taught for many years and now works full time in the Education Division at the museum. She presented a short introduction to the exhibit we were going to tour and then led us into the exhibit area. We were then free to wander and roam as we saw fit to gather back in the classroom area for a debriefing.

I'm especially sensitive to any form of racism or discrimination being that I was raised by an extremely belligerent man who was also very racist. (Honestly, people often wonder how I turned out so "normal" when raised by someone who was such a prejudice jerk...and that's being nice.) It was one reason why I also knew I had to see this museum. It was important for who I used to be, who I have become and who I want to be in my future.

Following are some notes I took while touring this exhibit. This exhibit focuses upon whether or not certain people were complicit in the Holocaust by what they did (or didn't) do. (Note: these are truly notes I took by hand as I toured this exhibit, knowing that I wouldn't possibly remember everything I saw. They may seem scattered for this reason.)

  • Did individuals have choices in the Holocaust? YES.
  • Many Germans didn't "support" Nazi policies but complied by following along anyway to benefiting from following.
  • "Nobody did anything about it" -- Saying from a Witness
  • School groups, accompanied by teachers, were willing (or unwilling?) witnesses to bonfires
  • Propaganda "toys" were created to inculcate pro-Nazi attitudes
  • "Brownshirts" (Jews) found little support
  • When one is banned from a public place -- are people who go to that public place, such as a swimming pool, complicit in the discrimination?
  • Sign above a store front reads, "This Market cleansed of Jews"
  • Man was imprisoned for "laziness" because of his religion (Jewish)
  • A video was shown of a woman and a man, one Jewish the other not, being publicly humiliated for having an intimate relationship. They were made to wear brown sacks for clothes, had a sign around their neck proclaiming their "crime" and had their hair shaved off in public
  • Principal distributed sweets to children to publicly taunt Jews
  • State organized and legalized the looting and theft of Jewish owned stores
  • Property Taxes simply for being Jewish (first 20%, then 25%)
  • Local German police officers complied with their orders--they didn't intervene in beatings or thefts
  • As Jewish people were deported, people looked on. What were they thinking? Are they accomplices because they didn't intervene?
  • Jews were marked with armbands and moved to areas called ghettos
  • Many people relied upon extortion techniques to make life miserable for the Jews
  • A quote written on a wall from a Dutch Shopkeeper in September 1942 ~ "Try not to think about it too much, because it only makes you miserable. At the moment, a human life does not account for much, especially if it is a Jewish life."  <---- :="" ever="" have="" i="" li="" read="" saddest="" thing="">

While this exhibit showcases a very serious and horrible thing (that sadly still happens today whether or not we want to believe and acknowledge it), it was a great way to begin this really awesome conference. You can't go into an exhibit like this and come out the same person you were when you went in. It's just not possible.

The best part is that if you can't get to DC anytime soon but want to know/see more about this exhibit, you can do so for free at the Holocaust Museum's website. Click here for information about the exhibit and to find the online exhibition.
The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, March 16, 2014

TLConf 2014 + Epic March (continued)

Just before I became a National Board Certified Teacher, I began to get a slew of emails regarding many different topics. One of those topics was the Teaching and Learning Conference to be held in Washington DC. Having never been to DC, I knew that I had to go. I didn't know at that time that this was actually the inaugural conference.

My district paid me a (very modest) stipend when I earned the letters NBCT behind my name and I was determined to use that stipend to fund this trip. Basically the second that I found out I had certified on my 2nd try, I signed up for the conference (with the special NBCT rate) and booked my hotel and flight. (Let me mention here that I'd never flown before. Ever.)  About a month after I did all of this, The Husband was kind of in a bit of a tizzy and finally I asked him what his problem was. He was jealous and wanted to come too. (Sidenote: The Mister is so non-committal about pretty much everything so I didn't bother to ask because I never get a straight "yes" or "no" until its usually too late.)

Multiple events began to pile up for March and thus I coined the phrase "Epic March". And let me tell you, so far this month has been truly EPIC. 

Skillet Concert on March 6 which really was the most EPIC event of my life...and probably will always be. Teaching and Learning Conference this past weekend. I have never in my life felt so energized and so renewed as a teacher. 

I'm a bit of a rebel. (I know, you're shocked.) I tend to push buttons. I tend to lead with my passion and apologize later. And this conference gave me SO MUCH validation that I am on the track I need to be on.

I tweeted many of my sessions (you can follow me on twitter here) as I was in them. Alas, I will be sharing my notes on the most important sessions I attended (I did skip some to sight see and walk barefoot in the grass because let's face it--it's DC and it was 64 degrees there on Saturday....when I left Michigan, it was 4 degrees.)

Over the next week or so, I will blog about my experiences in DC, most likely one session/event per post because it just wouldn't do them justice to try to cram more than one awesome thing into a post. 

I shall leave you with my feet in the grass....which I haven't seen in Michigan since November. It was kind of exciting people!

The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Data + Relentless + Creepy Weirdo = Results!

Some people would probably call me a freak if they knew how much I like playing with data numbers. I really just embrace being able to see where my students have made gains and where I need to help them make bigger progress. 

There are actually several of us at my school that love playing with our data. As you may recall from my rant not so long ago that I feel VERY strongly that if you aren't going to embrace what is coming down the Educational Pipeline, that you probably should find another career. I don't mean to blindly go along with things that aren't good for kids. If you think for a second that I love testing my kids to death, you haven't been paying attention. I HATE the testing as much as the next person. I know at the drop of a hat where my kids are because I am constantly observing them, making mental notes (I'm REALLY bad about writing them down) and keeping them filed away in my head for future reference. I don't need a test to tell me if my kids are really getting what I'm testing.

I don't mind the MAP testing because it shows me from Fall to Winter to Spring where my kids are, where they're going and where I need to get them. The other testing can kiss it for all I care. But I don't sit around and gripe about something that isn't going to go away. Kaitlynn, from Smiles and Sunshine, pointed out in a comment on that rant that Lucy Calkins says we can either look at it with a curmudgeon attitude or as if this is the best thing since sliced bread (Ms. Calkins clearly states this in the introduction section of Pathways to the Common Core -- a great read btw). I would have to agree. I think its all about your mindset. You don't have to LOVE everything that comes down the pipe but you DO have to teach it and make it engaging for your students. Period. Bottom line is, if you can't do that...Adios.

It probably won't surprise you to know that I am relentless. RE-LENT-LESS. Always. To my myself, my own children, my boss, my students, my colleagues, everyone. I will fight for what I believe in. To the point, that I have pushed back to my principal this year MULTIPLE times. Most people probably wouldn't dare. It's not that I'm rude. I just have a ton of passion for what I believe in. Thankfully, my boss this year totally sees that and forgives me when I come on strongly. I have no problem telling you when I think -- and especially when I know -- that you are wrong. Not really going to bother me if you come out of that conversation thinking I'm a jerk either. I just have steadfast beliefs and my number one job is to educate my students, not be friends with you or my colleagues. Harsh? Perhaps...but you probably have come to expect this if you've read my blog for any length of time.

I am beyond relentless with my students. I truly do not know what happened to them in 3rd grade. My third grade colleagues are all great teachers--truly, they are amazing, passionate and know their stuff. So why are these kids SO far behind?? It's honestly because I think that 3rd grade is when we separate the ones who have the cognitive power to persevere and those who don't...and those who don't continue to fall behind and begin to act up and not care about school. Well, not in my world honey. Not going to happen.

There has been so much of this blase attitude lately that I have implemented a policy wherein if they don't earn a 70% on a big assignment (any test or quiz basically), they will do it over until they DO get a 70%. It's not to be a jerk. It's because damn it, I am NOT going to be the only person in my classroom working as hard as possible. If nothing else, these kids will learn the value of hard work from me and that may be what they need. They don't like I having to lose Fun Friday time to make up work they didn't do their best on in the first place (and believe me -- I know who got a 30% that tried their very best and who got a 30% because they just don't care...there is a HUGE difference. I have six resource friends in my class--soon to be 7--and I know what their best work is, even if that really is a 25% or a 40% and they get some slack on that but the others who are capable of so much more don't).

Some of you might be thinking "Geez, how could ANY kid want to be in this chick's class? She's MEAN." Actually, I have kids asking me if I will be teaching 5th grade next year so they can have me AGAIN (and for some of them that would mean having me 3 times because I had them in 2nd grade). They WANT my relentlessness. They do. Most of them really rise up to it and I have seen better scores out of these kids than I have all year. It's truly remarkable.

Want to know my secret? I'm not only relentless but I'm also a Creepy Weirdo (this is our new term in class--anytime anyone is doing something really silly, either I or one of the kids will say "uh oh, another Creepy Weirdo has entered the class!" It's all in good fun, I don't advocate for name calling or bullying). Really, I am BE-YOND silly. It's not that I sing and dance to entertain my kids but I do provide real life silly examples to help my kids gain understanding. For example, when I'm teaching writing, I often insert something completely ridiculous to help them get the point when I'm modeling. Once they can point out that I'm not doing it right, I can say, "well what if I told you that sometimes YOU guys do this?" and they are collectively offended but then learn to REALLY look at their own work and realize that they do this without even knowing they are doing it! It's really cool.

And guess what? I am a COMMON CORE TEACHER. I teach the Common Core just like you do. I have embraced it and I still find ways to make it fun.

So to break it down ...... Data + Relentless + Creepy Weirdo = Results! It really does. You might be going "wait, she's crazy, she hasn't given any data"....Gotta save the best for last.

We use the MAP test three times per year. This year they are using the Conditional Growth Index scores to evaluate our ability to show student growth. This is because those are statistical numbers and someone decided to get their statistical geek on this year :) (Like I can judge...I get geeked about these numbers too!)

My principal shared with us that in order to be highly effective your growth has to be greater than 0.3 (yes only 3 tenths!).

My results are as follows:
Reading = 1.22
Math = 1.35

Ahem. Embracing the Common Core has its perks. Being a Relentless, Creepy Weirdo also obviously has its perks.

My Grade Level (2 full 4th grades and 1 half 4th grade):
Reading = 0.37
Math = 0.95

So my scores are WELL above both averages when you put my numbers and my colleague's numbers together. Because I just do whatever I need to do in order to help my class learn. If that  means turning on my silly, you better believe I'm gonna do it.

The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, March 7, 2014


Pretty sure my Thursday night was a million times better than yours! :)

And yes, despite getting home at 11:45 p.m. on a school night, I still got up at 5:30 a.m. and went to work. Thankfully I dodged my informal observation because the kids were taking a math test. Whew! :) 

I have never screamed so much in my life. All of the bands there were awesome and I had so much fun even though I went alone.
The Caffeinated Teacher

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Epic March Take 1

Not long ago I mentioned how very EPIC I knew my March was going to be. There is a ton going on, spring (should be) on its way and the sun has actually been blindingly bright twice this week. Awesome.

I had my first Thirty-One party of the month on Sunday and it went well. Yay!

The most exciting thing happening this month is NOT my observation that could happen anytime...but rather my Skillet concert that is TOMORROW! *insert me squealing like an 11 year old girl at a One Direction concert*

I bought myself the ticket for Christmas. Second row seat. That in and of itself was enough for me. I have long since thought that John Cooper (lead singer/songwriter) invades my brain when he writes his songs because almost every song on the RISE album (except Circus for a Psycho which is really the only one I'm not a fan of) speak to some part of my life. It's kind of crazy actually.  I have been anticipating this concert for so long and it's finally here...

And then I get an email thanking me for my VIP ticket purchase and to arrive by 5 to get my VIP passes and stuff and for the meet and greet.




As in MEET THE BAND?! Oh my word!!! I may wet my pants! The Oldest says "oh my God mom, stop being a teenage girl!" (to which I replied "stop being such an old lady!"). 

My Epic March just got even MORE Epic!!! I am going to not only get to meet them, but I will get a professional picture with them AND an autographed picture and lanyard. 

Holy crap! I truly had no idea that I was buying those perks.

But I'm glad I did....I don't know if I will sleep tonight! I'm SO excited!

The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nothing to Say.....

I'm still around here....sometimes. Not much to say lately I guess. Which is a miracle since I'm quite opinionated! :) 

I dunno. Just not feeling the need to blog lately. Probably because from Feb 15 onward, the month pretty much stunk and I'm not in the mood to relive it.

March will be so much better. I know it. I have at least 4 Thirty-One parties, The Oldest is coming home for Spring Break, I have a Skillet concert on Thursday, Washington DC the 13th-16th and Bryan Adams on March 30.

With all of that goodness, even a "pop-in" observation isn't going to get me down. (I only know about it because my principal emailed me the post-observation meeting time and thus for the next month I get to wonder when he's coming in...)

The Caffeinated Teacher