Coming Soon on Ideas4Solutions. . .

For the next few weeks I must devote my total focus to preparing myself and my family for the new school year.  Here are a couple of topics I’m thinking about covering when I begin posting again:

“Dynamics of the Teacher Evaluation Dilemma”

“You Know You Work at a Low-Performing School When. . .”

Meanwhile, please follow me on Twitter. Special thanks to TeacherTime123.com for including some of my posts on their blog and to my readers and subscribers!

-Akena

9 Tips for Teaching at a Low-Performing School

A 2004 research paper published in Education Week, Low-Performing Schools, describes characteristics of work environments many U.S. teachers report to daily:

Thumbs down smiley

Image: OpenClipArt.org

The following nine tips are derived from my experiences and observations, having worked in seven low performing schools.  One school was in a suburban neighborhood.  Most of the rest were in high-crime high-poverty areas.  This is actually a list of my own New (School) Year’s resolutions.  Hopefully, it can inspire others, as well.

-Read/Re-read quality books about classroom management and discipline.

Here are my timeless favorites:

The First Days of School by Harry Wong

1-2-3 Magic for Teachers: Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K Through Grade 8 by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. Sarah Jane Schonour, M.A.

How to Talk so Kids Can Learn: At Home and in School by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

-Pack a ready-to-eat lunch.

The age of thirty-minute lunch periods is upon us.  If you are a classroom teacher, you probably won’t have time to order out or to wait in line for the teacher’s lounge microwave.  Pack a filling lunch consisting of whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables.  Throw everything into a cooler with ice packs (or use insulated containers for hot foods).  You should include a snack for the after-school staff meeting or for the trek home, too.  Just remember to take your lunch with you in the morning–don’t leave it on the kitchen counter!

Lunch idea:

soup in a thermos, mixed greens salad, cheese stick or boiled egg, air- or stove-popped popcorn, orange

Snack idea:

grapes and graham crackers

-Protect yourself and your belongings.

Secure your vehicle and store valuables out of view.  If you must park on the street, find a space in front of the main entrance.  If you are staying after hours, use the buddy system and leave together.  No lockable storage in your classroom?  Wear clothing with deep secure pockets or an apron.  Keep your wallet and car keys on your person at all times.  Avoid toting tons of paperwork back and forth, which can attract pests.  Arrive early, stay late, or work through preps and lunches to do as much as possible while at work.  Only use briefcases or purses which zip completely shut so that you don’t take any critters home.

-Practice good observation skills.

Don’t ask too many questions or reveal too much personal information.  This might draw unwanted attention.  Instead, learn the building culture.  Identify the successful people and follow their lead.  Connect and collaborate with like-minded teachers.  Avoid negative people (there will be many).  Follow the directions and guidance of your evaluators, not hearsay and gossip.  Stay positive by keeping focused on the successes happening in your classroom.

-Develop a good organization strategy.

Do whatever works for you to organize paperwork–which will be abundant.  I prefer binders and a hole punch.  Online I use Evernote and Google Apps to organize notes, documents, and bookmarks.

pen holder

Image: OpenClipArt.org

-Find quality free resources.

Post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org

Some local newspapers will donate and deliver daily hard copies for each student. NIEonline.com

Find a local museum with a free lending library program.  For example: Seattle Art Museum

There are tons of free online resources–too many to list here.  My two latest favorites are Edmodo.com and SAS Curriculum Pathways

-Develop a Poker Face.

Refrain from griping at work or at home about the madness happening at the school!  Besides wasting time, it could result in negative consequences, if something you say is communicated to the wrong person.  At home, you can alienate family and friends with your constant complaining.  Instead, keep a journal, diary, or a blog like this one (just be careful not to include identifying information if you make the blog public)!  Another option is to find a small group of trusted empathetic people who are willing to speak with you outside of work hours.

-Write detailed lesson plans, especially for the first few weeks of school.

In addition to the plans you must submit (which, unfortunately, will be lengthy) write your own plans, detailing the minute by minute flow of your day.  Carry it with you throughout the day on a clipboard.  This will help you to feel confident and keep your students on task.  It’s better to be over planned than to have awkward moments of inactivity or chaos.  Here’s an example of a middle school first day plan.  I have used the same format for the other elementary grade levels, as well.

-Make time for YOU!

This is the most important advice for surviving within a low-performing school environment.  Thoroughly enjoy your time away from work–continue nourishing your hobbies, exercise for thirty minutes at least three times per week, spend quality time with family and friends, have a daily cup of tea, don’t miss your favorite tv shows, set aside regular time for brainstorming about shaping your future.  Remember: Everything is temporary.  There is always potential for change.  Seek professional help if you ever begin feeling hopeless, anxious, or depressed.  Model and share these behaviors with your students–these skills will benefit them throughout their lives.

 

-Akena

Learning Hurts!

Man with a headache

Image: NIH via SearchUSA.gov

The last few days have involved a whirlwind of learning new technologies, setting and forgetting usernames and passwords, researching and troubleshooting, and acquiring new vocabulary (such as trackback and pingback [thank you, Teli Adlam]).  I’ve set up a new Twitter account and am following lots of education-focused individuals and organizations.  I struggled with adding links and html to this Edublog, but I’m feeling more and more comfortable.  It’s wonderful to know that these hours spent are an investment in my job.  The more I learn, the more I can support my students in the learning process!

After taking a much needed break for the last few weeks, I am back in learning mode–and feeling a bit distressed.   The realization that I was not as tech-savvy as I believed and needed to search for new information initially caused confusion, doubt, and threats to my confidence.  Renowned psychologist and educator George Kelly said, “Almost everything new starts with confusion.”  According to Carol Kuhlthau, anxiety and tension are natural and essential aspects of the learning process.  Among my biggest challenges this school year is to actively prepare my students and guide them through this very uncomfortable stage.

Many become discouraged and either shut down or abandon higher-order thinking for spitting out facts.  Teachers constantly hear that all we must do to reach students is make our lessons more engaging, more relevant, and to use more technology.  But I’ve noticed that, proportionally, there are as many students as teachers who embrace the comforts of rote learning.  Parents are also prone to uneasiness with progressive education.  For some, alpha-numeric grades are more digestible than anecdotal records and rubrics.  Project Based Learning (PBL) and the opportunity to exercise choice and express voice can be overwhelming, especially when students are faced with contradictions to preconceived notions.

Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky and many other constructivists reasoned that true learning occurs when one takes what s/he already knows, encounters new information, “unlearns” what s/he had wrong, and reshapes his/her perspective to fit a newly discovered world.  It is my job to make students aware of the learning process, accept their apprehensions and objections without judgement, model appropriate responses to how it looks and feels, and relentlessly offer support and encouragement–all while re-framing my own way of thinking.

Whew!

-Akena

A New Beginning. . .Again

My new teaching job begins in late August.  For the eighth time in my fifteen-year teaching career, I will join a new faculty.  There have been personal moments when I’ve actually broken down, weeping uncontrollably, as I considered many colleagues who began teaching the same time as me–or even afterwards–earning higher salaries, having the opportunity to hone specific teaching skills, and serving as recognized grade level/subject area leaders (a couple have received Teacher of the Year awards).   My fate has been to never spend more than two years in a single classroom; three years maximum in any particular school building.

Being a spiritual person, I usually seek to identify reasons and blessings.  What was I supposed to gain by spending hundreds of hours lesson planning, clearing out closets and file cabinets, purchasing supplies, and experimenting with new strategies and procedures only to be uprooted and forced to start from square one–multiple times–and usually with very little warning?  I have enthusiastically taught every elementary grade, except for eighth.  Each year I make a conscious effort to improve upon myself and keep abreast of research and best practices.  When I take the time to carefully examine my crazy phenomenon, I do realize what I have gained.

I have gained exposure to education realities–the good, the bad, and the downright ugly–in four separate school districts.  I now have the unique ability to relate on a concrete level to students and teachers of varying grade levels and subjects.  Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to share new teaching ideas and inventions with several diverse learning communities.  I believe these blessings have strengthened my teaching toolkit, causing me to stand out among candidates and secure a recent position as teacher mentor.  My latest position will allow me the best of both worlds, working primarily with students and serving as consultant to teachers and administrators.

While I can’t argue the invaluable fortunes my jack-of-all-trades situation has yielded, every now and then I catch a case of the “What if. . .?”s.    What if I had taught only first grade for the last fifteen-years?  What if I had completed a masters in Literacy?  What if I hadn’t given up tenure or taken that pay cut?  Who knows where I would be right now, if things had played out differently.  Yet, there is one thing of which I am pretty sure:  if I had experienced a more stable and traditional career path, chances are I wouldn’t have been compelled to start this blog!

-Akena