Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summer of Success

Okay, I totally stole that title from our summer school program...but teachers are known for begging, borrowing and stealing....right? :) 

Alas, as we wind down this school year (only 10 student days left, 3 of those half days), I can begin to briefly turn my thoughts to my plans for the summer. Recently a long-time volunteer at our school who mentors a student for an hour each week asked me about my summer plans. I kind of chuckled and said "you know, usually I don't do much and this summer will be incredibly busy!"

I am actually starting my summer a tad early because I was invited to travel to Maryland the last two days of school to attend JumpStart training so I can be a National Board Candidate Support Provider. So that will be an incredibly amazing kick off to the summer. One evening and two full days of incredible learning that I can bring back to my district and surrounding districts to really begin a movement toward getting more teachers on board with National Board Certification. 

Much of the rest of June and into mid-July will be working on my chapter for the #EduMatch collaborative e-book. I'm SUPER stoked to be part of this exciting project. I may actually end up co-authoring my chapter since someone else in the group and I were chatting and we have a similar idea but from different angles. Once we actually begin writing, we may decide to collaborate on one chapter instead of each writing our own. It will be so super incredibly fun.

At the end of July, I am headed to Princeton for the Gilder Lehrman seminar on the Thirteen Colonies. I get to pretend to be an Ivy League student for a week, including a stay in the dorm (something I never did as a college student). I'm beyond excited for the workshop and the field trip they are taking us on (that is a mystery!).

I'll be home for a week after that and we're hopping in a car and heading to Florida for a week at Disney World (yes, during the hottest month of the year because we're crazy). I get to spend my birthday with Mickey Mouse :) 

More or less once we get home from that fun'll be time to open up the classroom for the fall! On top of all of that exciting goodness, there is grad school and being a mom and seeing my grandson as often as possible.

I am so excited about it all....especially because most summers we don't really do much aside from heading to our cabin. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

International Exemplars

It is not a secret to most people who know me that once I traveled to Finland in March 2015, I have been more or less obsessed with the Finnish education system ever since. How do they do what they do so well? Why can't the US get it together to be more like them (specifically by dialing WAY down on the amount of testing we do)?

I get some push back sometimes...telling me how Finland is too small to be compared to the US, how it is not diverse so we can't compare it to the US in that case either. 

But I am fortunate enough that my current doctoral class is all about international schools and how we can learn from and emulate them. Of course, Finland is one of the countries we are looking at. And what is most interesting is the authors of The Global Fourth Way admit that while Finland is much smaller and less diverse than the US as a is possible to emulate some of their strategies at a state level because the entire country of Finland is very similar in size to many of the individual states in the US. (I also found it quite interesting that some of the states in the US actually have less foreign born residents than some places here aren't very diverse either!)

The pieces that resonate with me the most, however, is the commitment to equity. All students receive free universal preschool, parents can take three years of maternity leave to be at home during the most precious years and all schools are funded by the government (even the few private schools they have). Teachers are in charge of the curriculum...there is a trust there that they have prepared their teachers well and thus, the teachers can be trusted to do what they need to do. 

My favorite thing this quote "Accountability is the remainder that is left when responsibility is subtracted." 

Truer words have probably never been spoken. It is like most things....because of a few people taking advantage of the system, everyone else has to suffer. Quite honestly, I work HARDER to please MYSELF than I ever have for my bosses...because I am the one who has to sleep at night knowing whether or not I gave my students my all. I don't need some arbitrary accountability system to get me to do my job well...but others do and that's sad.

My second favorite part of this...teachers are respected. They are not scapegoats for bigger problems with the systems. They are treated as professionals and trusted as professionals. I know some absolutely amazing educators all over the US (thanks PLN!)...and I can tell you that all of them would continue to be amazing if the accountability systems we employ were to disappear. They would not stop being amazing because suddenly no one was watching them. When we lift teachers up, treat them well and pay them a living wage for their work....we might be surprised at the result we get.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Censorship & Teaching {Part 2}

On Saturday, I wrote this post about how the media often portrays teachers and how teachers might be censored from sharing their opinion about some things if it doesn't make their school and/or district look good. 

When I wrote it, I hadn't intended for there to be a "part 2" but I had an email from a very long-time reader about it. She didn't comment on the blog, opting instead to send me an email because she didn't want her name associated with her comments publicly.

She said that it bothered her that teachers, who are people first and employees second, have to be scared of sharing their own personal feelings on a blog, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media because they could face sanctions from their school district. She said "what about the First Amendment? Don't we have the right to Freedom of Speech?"

It's not a question I can really answer. I'm not a lawyer so I don't know what the interpretation of the First Amendment would be in a court of law. I do know, however, that many teacher contracts have provisions about representing yourself in such a way that reflects positively on your employer. (Don't quote me on the exact wording but it's something to that effect.)

In fact, ten years ago when I was finishing my undergrad, in our classroom management course, my professor shared that when she had been an assistant principal, she and her husband had a party. They bought adult-only beverages and they were bagged by a student from her school at the store. That student shared with his parents that the AP had bought those sorts of drinks and on Monday, she was called into her superior's office and written up because of "conduct unbecoming of a school administrator"...yes, for purchasing adult-only beverages on a weekend, on her own time, for a party she was having. She shared this story with us because even back then, before social media had grown to what it is today, you could be taken-to-task for conduct your district didn't think fit your position.

The wording is intentionally vague (from what I recall my professor telling us) and therefore can cover pretty much anything. 

If I recall correctly, I do believe my own district just recently passed a social media policy. It isn't because they don't want us to talk at all (at least I don't think it is lol). I have been told the "powers that be" in my district are aware of this blog and monitor it and that's fine. I don't write anything that I don't believe to be true and I'm definitely not dumb enough to come online thinking it's in any way anonymous and spout off about things happening in my district that I might not agree with. (I wrote on this blog for almost four years completely anonymously--not even once using my own name and guess what, they still figured out it was me.)

Let's be real, there is no such thing as a utopian district where everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time; anywhere that people work is going to have some things happen that people don't like or agree with and that's fine. I don't love every policy we have (and I guarantee that sometimes they wish I would just shut up already!)....but that doesn't give me the right to go online and rant and rave like I'm the queen of the world. NO ONE CARES if I don't like or agree with a policy. It's not up to me to like or agree with it. My role is to do what they ask me to do...because teaching IS a political job and your district definitely does not want their employees out there spouting off drama.

So my very long answer to her question is, because we are public employees, because whatever we do and say that is made public could even potentially be associated with our school and/or district, yes we do have to be careful of what we say and what we share.  I know that answer is probably going to make this reader mad and I'm sorry.

The fact of the matter is, with teachers being so scrutinized by the public anyway, why would you want to behave in any way that would give the media fodder for saying "see?! Those teachers...."? Why would you want to not only add fuel to the fire but light the match as well?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day & Giveaway Winner

A truly happy Mother's Day to all of you out in the blogosphere....whether you are an actual mother, a foster mother, a stepmother or even just a surrogate mother to your students, you make a difference every day!  I hope you had a fabulous day and were pampered lots!

The Neon Kwik Stix winner is Lorena R! You will receive an email from Kendal at Pencil Grips to claim your prize. Thanks for participating!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Media, Teaching and Censorship

Recently, in a very active group I'm part of on Voxer, we were discussing how the media portrays teaching. This portrayal often has a negative slant because the sensationalism sells (or as is the case online, sensationalism garners the most clicks). Multiple sidebar discussions came from this including how "disruptor teachers" (those of us who speak up about things we don't agree with) can often be censored or told to not speak our minds because it makes other people feel uncomfortable.

It's a hot button discussion for sure and one I feel very passionate about. When you're the first person to do something in your region (earn a prestigious award or certification for example), you become someone that people watch. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can and usually does, change the way you might present yourself to other people. If it doesn't change you immediately, you might be forced to change because you are asked by a representative of the district to cease and desist because your words and actions are making other people feel uncomfortable. {Note: in case you were wondering, no that has not happened to me.} 

The discussion then turns to what are we allowed to say as citizens who pay taxes who also happen to be teachers? On the one hand, teachers are people. They have feelings and emotions just as everyone else does. These feelings and emotions may or may not be tied to their school building or district. On the other hand, however, because they are associated with a school board, it can become a little dicey in voicing their opinion without making it sound as though they are discussing their school district in particular. 

Teachers are pretty active on social media. There are groups on Facebook that are for teachers to discuss book studies or just share ideas and lessons with other teachers. Teachers are on pinterest or have blogs such as this one for sharing and connecting with other teachers. There are chats on Twitter surrounding current hot button topics in education. When teachers participate in the groups or the chats, they are there as themselves, not necessarily as a representative of their district or school board. 

Part of the problem, however, is that they are part of a district. As such, the way that they present themselves in the media could reflect back onto the district in a positive or negative way, even unintentionally. It becomes somewhat of a catch-22. I don't know many teachers who don't want to be true to themselves and their opinions; we are human after all. Alas, spouting off on social media, even in response to a post written in a forum or that someone else shared could potentially bite one in the behind because others could associate that person's opinion as being one the district shares as well.

So where does the line get drawn? In recent years, teachers are increasingly more vocal about the realities of teaching as teacher morale has dropped. Teachers are more willing to share the "grunt work" that no one realizes we are doing. There have been multiple so-called "viral" posts about teachers who read their resignation letters detailing all of the things they have had to do that they don't agree with. {Side note: I suspect much of those letters are shared solely to propagate the sensationalism that people love so much.}

I'm not afraid to tell people that I am physically in my school building 15 hours per week over what I am paid for, which doesn't include any work I complete at home. Do I say that to make my district sound like they are overworking me and treating me poorly? Not at all. Let's be honest, they do not require me to be at my school all of those extra hours. I choose to arrive 90 minutes before the students. I choose to stay late some days to get things done. I make this choice because I know I would not be able to make the lessons I teach as meaningful as they are if I only worked to contract. I know that idea ruffles feathers with some teachers (not necessarily in my district but in general) but I'm good with it because it is my choice to do those things.  

If in reading the above paragraph someone was offended and complained, would I be asked to cease and desist? I would hope not....but the reality is some teachers are asked to not speak about their jobs really at all. Why? What is wrong with sharing the actual work we do? What is wrong with helping the general public see that our jobs are difficult? There is a huge difference between explaining and complaining. I don't complain about the extra hours (well maybe by Friday afternoon, I might grumble a little because I'm tired!), I just explain that is what I do. I'm not sure many people know the difference between those words: explain or complain. 

Another topic that sparked from this discussion was to do a documentary on "A Week in the Life of a Teacher" and literally show what we do behind the scenes of teaching. The vast amount of things I accomplish between 5:30-8:30 am when I get out of bed to when I greet my students on the playground. The actual work I do with children. The after school meetings along with the other things I do in my personal life for my family and doctor school. Why is this even an idea? Because the media portrays us as whiners who are "overpaid". We only work 8-3 so why are we complaining? We get paid to sit on our behinds all summer....but anyone who has taught or has friends or family who teach know better. 

We get paid over the summer because we asked our districts to hold part of our pay for us so that we could get paid in the summer. The checks I receive at the end of June, all of July and the beginning of August are for work I already did. My paychecks would be much, much bigger if I elected to not be paid in the summer. I, like most teachers I know, elect for the summer pay so we don't have to try to get a summer job. We have to pay bills too and having a steady paycheck makes budgeting easier. 

It saddens me that we even have to justify these things but it is because sensationalism sells and people only vaguely read before they speak and decide teachers are overpaid whiners. I have told people on social media they are more than welcome to shadow me for a day or a week. None of them take me up on it. Perhaps it is because they know, deep down, that my job is a difficult one. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching. I can't imagine doing anything else [people laugh when I tell them I initially went to business school after HS...they are like "what?! You?!], but that doesn't mean I don't work hard and deserve to be respected for the work I am doing. 

As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, I feel it is important that we consider our stance in society. Share the good, amazing things that are happening in education. Let's turn that sensationalism into a showcase for the positive things teachers do every day. When we complain, it only perpetuates the problem of the media and society at large thinking we are overpaid babysitters who whine. Let's explain and showcase instead. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Neon Kwik Stix Review {Giveaway}

At the end of March, I did a review of Kwik Stix here on the blog. Afterward, I was asked if I'd like to try the new neon stix. Yes, please!

It was so much fun to bring both of my sets of Kwik Stix to school and enjoy some fun painting with my students for Fun Friday. I have to tell you that these third graders absolutely marveled at how these things that looked glue sticks were actually paint. The girls loved how fast they dried too. So if you have any budding artists in your life, these are a great buy. They are definitely on my back-to-school supply list for next year :)

{Note: I just found this wicked 96 pack on Amazon which would be awesome as a starter set for your classroom!}

This friend absolutely loved these paints! She was so diligent about using each of the neon colors in  her picture. (I have absolutely no idea what was happening with her multi-colored sky and I don't think she did either but who cares? :) It was cute!)

See what I mean about her sky? hehe I think in the end she just wanted to use all of the colors and this is how she decided to do it. She loved that as soon as she was done with one color, it was dry so she could put her hand down without getting paint on herself (I would imagine her mother appreciated that too!).

This friend used the neons for her clouds and part of her dog (the pink tummy!). Her favorite part of using these paints was "how smooth the paint feels." She said it was so easy to use them because it was just like using a glue stick but "much more colorful" :)

This friend decided to butter me up a little with her message :) She used the neon blue for her house color and used the traditional set for her other colors. I think she would have painted every single inch of that paper if she hadn't been in a hurry to finish her picture to show it to me. 

Aside from the fun the students had with them, I have found a new favorite use for these Kwik Stix in my classroom. In the fall, I purchased an interactive chart set on Teachers Pay Teachers. You print and cut to fit the pieces and can use markers to add some flair and color. As I was preparing a chart for an upcoming project, I decided to use the Kwik Stix instead. It turned out absolutely beautiful.
 I know that once this chart is actually laminated those paints are going to pop and be so fun and colorful which makes this interactive and reusable chart even more fun.

Enter below to win your very own set of Neon Kwik Stix!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

{Currently....May 2016}

Well what a bummer to see that this month's currently will be the LAST one :( Sometimes Currently is the only thing that keeps me blogging each month! Ah well...all good things come to an end, right?

At least I'll have my classroom currently to keep me going....

Listening: Over winter break I became absolutely addicted to the walkie-talkie app Voxer...and joined some amazing groups. One is so busy though that it gets backed up fast. Thus when I'm doing plans or blogging, I catch up on all of the great discussions.

Loving: I've been absolutely loving snuggles with my grandson! I spent two whole weeks helping his momma and snuggling him lots and then didn't get to see him for several days because I had to go back to work and it was SO incredibly busy! But I got to see him on Friday and today. Love!

Thinking: I really need to finish my lesson plans for this coming week! They are 98% written but I have to get them finished and printed so I can get things set for this week as we finish standardized testing.

Wanting: I love my job and I love my kids....but I am ready for these last few weeks to fly by. I'm ready for summer, lazier days and time to just get all of the other things going that I am trying to do (JumpStart training, my Princeton trip, road trip this summer). It's been a crazy year and while I'll miss my kiddos, I'm ready for the end (and quite honestly, I am sure they are ready too!).

Needing: Originally we planned to road trip it West but discovered renting an RV that long would cost us our entire budget, without being able to actually do anything. So we scrapped that plan....and decided to head to Disney World instead. :) We need to finalize plans since we are going to drive instead of fly and we want to make sure we spend our time there wisely. Exciting!

Truth: I am just I like exercise and it makes me feel good but trying to actually find time to get on my bike has been really tough. I have so many other things going on all the time that I just don't make time for it. It's now May 1st and I've said I'll start on the 1st for five months now....and nope :(