It’s Crunch Time! (now to do something about it)

It is a rare occasion when I completely break down emotionally and vomit my emotions all over everyone unlucky enough to be in range… but when it does happen, I am fortunate enough to have a loving family to set me back on track. *sigh*

Well… I had that moment last night. It was embarrassing and stupid, but I couldn’t seem to do anything about it. I have been beyond stressed these last months and rather than letting off steam during that time, I let it build up until I blew. Actually… it was probably a good thing that it happened when it did, because these types of emotional releases always get my rear in gear so I can get some work done, which probably would have gotten done sooner if I hadn’t been such a procrastinator and let it get me stressed out… I digress.

So this is what I’m doing right now:

In CADRE we implement the Five Core Propositions, as defined by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), in our classrooms. We then select three artifacts for each proposition and write a very in-depth analysis and reflection of each artifact and the proposition. These are due in, oh…. a couple of weeks. And I have 2.5 written… yeah, I know right? I’m a total procrastinator.

So, after my meltdown, which I’m sure would make any 2-year-old look like an angel, I wrote a 5 page outline for prop 2 and have the skeleton for my prop 4 outline finished. I even finished most of the research. Yay me!

Now… there was a cause to what set me off… but that shouldn’t be an excuse. I really need to learn how to break through those really tough walls that prevent me from moving on in my work… something like writer’s block, I guess. This is a recurring goal of mine… don’t procrastinate, no matter the reason.

So, what I’m trying to say is that if I really want anything in my life to change, I have to change it. It takes a dedicated and focused person to change an aspect of their personality that has been habit for so long. I’m going to try very hard to make this happen… I am focused! I will get to the end of this program, and I will be a great teacher. I just need to take the action.

Anyway, the end is in sight! … t-minus 23 days and counting until I graduate with my Master’s. Too late to mail those invites? Probably… but, I’ll do it regardless.

— Stephanie

P.S.

Thanks for listening to my rant. I think it’s good to learn from other people’s tough times. 🙂

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A little collaboration…

I am excited to attend my first ever conference that I am not required to go to!! That is kinda huge. I think it’s really important for educators to stay excited about our profession and to seek out ways in which we can get new ideas and share what is working in our own classrooms. My district offers continuous professional development opportunities for any teacher who chooses to attend, however, it seems to me that the same teachers who go, grow… and those who don’t stay miserable… they seem to have lost their passion for teaching. This is just a job for them… not a profession. Not only does this make me sad, but it is really upsetting. These kids we are teaching deserve to have professionals teach them… they should not have to suffer through another lifeless class, taught by an educator who doesn’t really want to be there anymore. At some point, teaching became less about the kids and more about the teacher. I’m ranting…

Anyways… I’m excited to see what this EdCamp collaboration is all about. In the CADRE program, we are encouraged to collaborate with other teachers, both new and experienced, to find out what is working and what isn’t. This first year of teaching has been one of learning experiences and self-discovery. I had these really fabulous ideas about how to run my classroom, before I started teaching, but after trying to incorporate them into my classroom, I discovered that my amazing ideas are oftentimes only amazing in my head. So, I go to my cohort of teachers, both at my school and in the CADRE program, and tell them what I tried and ask them what works for them. This process seems to let me practice my independence and creativity, but when something doesn’t work, I can adapt and rely on my network of professionals to find something that does.

Here is some more information about this type of educator gathering:

EdCamps have been popping up around the country lately as a way for teachers to gather together informally to discuss issues that are important to them, without the registration fees, travel expenses or corporate agendas of larger conferences. The schedule of discussions for the day is generated by the attendees on a whiteboard, and through the day people are free to move from discussion to discussion as they are interested.

Today on the Edutopia website there was an article about this new “unconference” phenomenon, and EdCamp Omaha was prominently listed as an upcoming example. A great quote from the article was:

“…something shifts when a group of motivated people get in the same room and direct their own experience: They share what’s working and what isn’t. They support each other. It’s both inspirational and incredibly practical.”

— Stephanie

P.S. Thanks to all of you who reply to my posts. I really appreciate all of your thoughts. I just hope that we can all do a little more than “get through” the day when we teach… I hope we can all change a life!

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Emergency in the Classroom…

You know how at the beginning of the school year you are given each of your students’ IEPs, 504s, medical information, etc.? You remember how you read through all of it and wondered how on earth you would ever remember everything? And you prayed that those few students who do have serious medical conditions will never have an episode in your class, because you may forget what you were supposed to do and how to handle the situation? Well, it happened to me… a medical crisis in my classroom.

The 26th of January was when it happened. It was 1st hour and we were preparing for the state writing assessment. I had an IEP meeting right before school and was rushing around trying to make sure I had my handouts ready and my practice prompt on the board before school started.

After the bell rang, I was standing in the front of the room explaining the optional graphic organizers and the prompt. As I was looking around the room I noticed one boy who looked like he was falling asleep. I said, “let’s keep our heads off the desks please. This is English class, not sleeping class.” He raised his head back up and looked like he was trying to stay awake. Soon after, his head began to slowly go back down. I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal in a few seconds because they would be getting up to get their handouts and then actively writing their essays.

So, I told the kids that if they would like to make use of the graphic organizers they could come up and grab the one they preferred. What happened next was a bit of a blur, but the boy did get up to get an organizer. I was standing near his desk talking to another student when I saw him fall and knock over two desks. I instinctively grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back up. We set the desks back up and I made him sit in his desk. I saw that he was trying to get his belongings off the floor but was having difficulties. He kept repeating over and over that this sometimes happens when he gets really tired. Now, the instant that he fell, those notifications I read at the beginning of the year flashed in my mind. I remembered that he had a seizure disorder. However, I also remembered that he and his parents requested that we do nothing when he has one because they usually only last a few seconds and then pass. Looking back over the year, I remember seeing him kind of go to another world and look forward with glassy eyes, but I knew this was different.

After I got the kid back in his desk, he started to try to write his essay. His handwriting was very erratic. I immediately went to the room next door and called the office for help. The nurse wasn’t at school yet, but one of the secretaries came down. I asked him to stand up and walk out to the hall with me, but once he stood up he said he couldn’t walk alone. I had another boy help him into the hall, but on the way he was walking like he was drunk. He was bumping into desks and tripping over his own feet. I was scared he was going to hurt himself, which almost became reality. As soon as he got to the hall, he stumbled and fell to the floor. We had him stay there and one of the counselors brought him a wheelchair and took him to the nurse’s office.

I went back to my class and tried to restore order. I found out that the boy’s parents came to get him and take him home. Apparently his seizures have been occurring more frequently lately. I sure do with I had known that! Amazingly, the boy came back to school later that day and appeared to be completely fine.

I can say for certain that I had one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life, and that I need to find out everything I can about all of my students’ medical issues and what I should do if there is an emergency. I really don’t understand why this is not part of our teacher preparation. So, I have linked a document that discusses seizures and what to do when an emergency does happen. I hope that my experience has convinced anyone reading this that we should all be as informed as possible regarding our student’s health problems.

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When I reflect, I don’t always like what I see…

Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed. ~Marva Collins

I have 38 students who are failing my class. Out of 122 students, that is a 31% failure rate. This is for a 6-week time-frame, which is a relatively short amount of time. After a lot of reflection, I know that the reason this has happened is due to my lack of follow through regarding the completion of my students’ assignments, or lack thereof. I don’t know if there is an acceptable excuse for this, so I will just state the facts and what I plan to do to change this.

My students were working on their research papers, which were due at the beginning of November. I tried very hard to get these graded in a timely manner, as per Marzano’s strategy, but I began to feel bogged down for a few reasons. First, I had a rubric that I was using to grade the papers, but I wonder if it was too in-depth. I graded them based on all of the 6+1 Traits for Writing with only 2-3 criteria under each trait. Second, I felt that since my students spent a lot of time writing their papers, I should spend quality time grading them. I began to realize that spending 1 hour on 1 paper was not going to be very effective. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to grade the papers the way that I thought they should be graded, I began to avoid them altogether. I did eventually get them done, but it took me way longer than it should have. This leads me to where I am now.I have a lot of upset parents who are not happy with the grades their students earned on their papers. Then there are the parents who are not happy that I failed to call them to let them know that their student did not turn in their paper at all.

My reflection has revealed the following mistakes and the solutions I plan to employ to ensure I don’t make them again:

1. I realized after I graded the papers that I should have checked off the names of those papers turned in and those that were still missing. I didn’t attempt to gather missing papers until after I entered grades and saw whose papers were still outstanding. This is a simple solution… check off the names BEFORE I start grading.

2. I need to set a time limit for grading each paper. Also, I cannot avoid grading the papers because I have backed myself into a corner. The solution to these problems is to schedule a specific time to grade papers and then set a timer for each paper so I can pace myself.

3. Most importantly and probably my biggest mistake, I need to contact parents to let them know about the status of their student’s grades. My solution is to schedule a time each week to check for failing grades and make those necessary phone calls. When I finally did this after the research paper debacle, the number one complaint was that I should have called them sooner so they could be proactive with their child. I agree. I should have done this sooner. I also need to keep a log of when I do interact with a parent, so when I am called into my principal’s office to account for my actions, I will have some sort of time line of events, if needed.

This is what I have done so far to try to rectify and improve upon this critical error:

1. I have begun a binder/journal with a designated page for each student. I plan to log all parent interactions, student progress, behavioral issues, and important student interactions.

2. I have scheduled blocks of time specifically for grading and parent contacts. I think that I need the added structure of an appointment to help me become more accountable to these important issues.

I’d appreciate any feedback on what you do to keep from letting things get out of control…

– Stephanie

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School Shooting… too close to home.

I always knew that school violence existed and could affect me, but I honestly never thought that there would be a school shooting just a couple miles from my own school. Unfortunately, this dark and scary scenario did become reality this past Wednesday, January 5th, 2011, my district’s first day back after winter break.

Robert Butler, Jr., the son of an Omaha police officer, entered Millard South High School and decided to take the life of Vice Principal Dr. Vicki Kaspar and seriously injuring Principal Curtis Case. He then drove a short distance away and took his own life.I cannot imagine what it was like for the administrators and students who were in the office when the shooting occurred, but I can tell you what it was like for me and my students at the time.

My students and I were in our school library when our principal came over the intercom telling us that we were in a code red. Prior to this, we had practiced code yellow and code red three times, so I knew exactly what to do. I gathered my students and ushered them into the aisles of books in the library. The doors were locked and the lights were turned off and I instructed my students to remain still and quiet. I knew right away that this was a real code red and not just a drill, because we did not practice a code yellow right before. I was concerned but not overly fearful at first. But as we sat there for what seemed like forever, I started to become more scared. The administrators announced that we could check our emails for updates regarding the situation, however, I did not have my laptop and was unable to find out what was going on. The principal finally came over the intercom, after about 40 minutes, to let us know that there was an incident at another school but that we were completely safe. We remained in a code red for about another 15 minutes and then went into a code yellow until school let out at 2:45.

When I found out, at about 2 pm,  what had happened, I was in total shock. This was literally a couple miles from my school! I attended all of the Millard North football home games at the Millard South stadium, all of my new teacher training was at Millard South, and my CADRE mentor was a teacher there for a long time. I know that this seems like a flimsy connection, but it feels personal. I can’t help but imagine what was going on in that school or how I would have reacted. Would I have been able to think rationally enough to follow procedure? I hope so. I know the administrators, teachers, and office personnel at Millard South did. They did a fabulous job keeping the students safe and getting help to the school quickly.

When you talk to a student about his/her grade or behavior, do you think about how they are going to react? Does it ever occur to you that the consequences they earn for their behavior will be taken out on you? I never did before the 5th. I am a teacher, someone who holds pieces of my students’ futures in my hands. If I screw up or upset a student, especially one who may be unstable, I could be putting myself at risk. But, my job requires me to be the best teacher I can be and to follow the district and school policies regarding discipline. What if a student blames me for THEIR consequences? That’s what happened to Dr. Kaspar and she lost her life. I think that I will have these thoughts for a little while, but I don’t think they will get in the way of what I’ve always done. However,  I feel like my innocence as a teacher has been taken away… but I’m not entirely sure that is a bad thing. I just wish that it didn’t happen as the result of such a horrible incident.

I don’t know what else to say. My prayers go out to all of the victims of this tragedy.

School Shooting in the News

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Conferences: the student-led kind

At my school, we hold student-led conferences, in which, the students invite their parents to view their portfolio and discuss their progress in school. I have never heard of student-led conferences before and imagined something a little different. What I want to do in this post is describe how our conferences were conducted and discuss how I think a few minor changes could improve their effectiveness.

First, our students are provided a binder with their name on the spine and dividers within. Each teacher is to provide direction on what should be included under their content area’s section. Now, I have no clue what the other members of my team had their students include or how they went about that process, but I asked each of my kids to include four pieces of poetry from their poetry portfolios that we had just finished. I gave each kid ten different reflection slips they could fill out and staple to the top of the pieces they chose. My only input on this was that they needed to include at least one piece that had a rough draft and a final draft with visible revisions, the other three pieces were their choice.

I really liked the pieces that my students chose and their reasons for choosing those pieces. I was quite impressed by their reflection and how in-depth they went both in the reflections and the poems. The only think I will change for next year will have to do with the poetry portfolio, not the reflections and decision-making process.

On the nights of conferences, we opened up the divider between two classrooms and set up the desks into four seat pods. The students would then grab their binder and take their parent/guardian to a pod and discuss each section of the conference binder. What was supposed to happen was that the students would discuss each portion of the binder, and the parents would then ask questions if there was a pressing concern. Otherwise, the student was supposed to be the leader of the conference process and once they were finished, they would leave.

This is what really happened: the student retrieved his/her binder and took their parents to a pod. They would discuss briefly the binder and its contents. Then the parents would wait until every teacher made his/her way to their pod to discuss that student. So, with maybe ten-ish pods full at the busiest times, each teacher was trying to make his/her way to all parents and discuss the student. Imagine how long that took… and guess what? Most of the parents would wait, and wait, and wait for you. *sigh* It was a long night.

SO, how do I think we could improve student-led conferences? Well, for one, I think the students need to have a script or schedule of items they should discuss with their parents. I think that many of them showed their work and then MAYBE talked a little about it, but that was about it. These kids can’t remember what they need to say or how to say it. So what if this is their second or third year of doing this… they just can’t remember. Maybe even have a little diddy on the cover of the binder about how a student-led conference should flow?

Second, I think that the student should have the choice in what is included in their binders with minor coaching from the teacher. Maybe a few requirements, such as your favorite piece or the work you improved the most on, etc. Like I said before, I don’t know what the other teachers required of their students, but I know it helped my students focus on why they chose what they chose.

Third, I think that each student should have included a SMART goal or something that they could work on academically to improve. Then, each teacher should reflect on that goal and describe what we will do to help the student reach that goal… and most importantly… actually follow-up. After the student and teacher have fulfilled their portion of the goal section, the parent should discuss how he/she will help the student reach their goal.

Anyways, these are my thoughts… for what they are worth. I enjoyed meeting the parents of my student and seeing how they behave in front of adults they are most comfortable with. It was very enlightening! 🙂

— Stephanie

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Field Trip…

I’m about to head off on my first full day field trip as a teacher. We are going to the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. I remember going there when I was a middle schooler; It was one of my fondest memories from middle school.

I have a bunch of kids from my rowdy 5th hour class in my group. I’m pretty nervous about that, but I think that it will be fun regardless. I just hope I can keep up!! I’m so tired right now that I considered laying on my classroom beanbag chairs to “relax” for a bit, but I think that will just make me want to sleep more.

This field trip will hopefully be a nice break from the chaos and stress I’ve been trying to cope with for the last couple weeks. I had to turn in grades last night, which was the most stressful undertaking in my life. I’d rather give birth again than have to post grades. But, ’tis the job and I need to get a better grading system to help make posting grades less stressful.

Well, wish me luck! We are leaving in 30 minutes. I can’t wait to get a nice caramel apple to bring home with me… I love Autumn! 🙂

— Steph

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