Saturday, December 12, 2009

Students - The Best Part of Our Jobs

I love hearing when people complain about their jobs. It is really funny some times. Maybe it is funny because you can laugh when you have a great job that you really love. I have often thought, now that I am a few months into having my own classroom and a “real” job in the “real” world, what the best part of my job is. Is it the fact that I am surrounded by an awesome staff? Well that is great, but not it. Is it the fact that I get to work with a bunch of technology on a regular basis? Well, that too is great, but not the best part. Is it the fact that I get to work in a school that is constantly pushing the idea of education in the 21st Century? That too is an awesome aspect. However, I think hands down the best part of my job is the students.

We would not be there if it were not for the students. At the same time, the students make the job so much of not a job it is amazing. I just blogged about how they are different every day. Yes, they are, but that is the exciting and amazing part of this job. The best part about the students that I can articulate so far in my teaching career is helping them understand something “stupid,” watching them grow from a struggling student to one leading the class, being there through the low points, and watching them be passionate about something because of a connection you personally made with them.

Helping them understand something “stupid” - Hamlet, by many students’ first impression, is just that - “stupid.” However, after spending two hours yesterday morning (my students were on a field trip) with one group of eleventh grade students who previously thought that idea, they understood the material. They were excited about the material. They actually left with smiles and were excited about Monday.

Watching them grow from a struggling student to one leading the class - I have a student in one of my classes that has an IEP and does struggle through a lot of material, especially in my class. However, with Hamlet he has latched on and gone to town. I provided him, with the assistance of our special education coordinator, a variety of resources including the “No Fear Version” of Hamlet and he has gone to town. He understands the material very well. He is passionate about it. So much so that this week I had him sit down with a group of usually high achieving students and explain to them, in his words and using the text, what was happening. It was an amazing flip of a student from the bottom of the class academically and engagement wise. Now he is my go-to student (we all have these - right?) for Hamlet. He understands it and I have even given him the task of writing out some of the notes on the SMART Board. I am excited about his future in my class and I am trying to figure out how to achieve this same result in the next unit.

Being there through the low points - One of my high achieving students came to me after class on Thursday and wanted to talk. She sought me out and I listened to her issue. I tried to comfort her in the best ways that I could. It just amazes me the amazing difference of being there with these students. Some days I think it would be a whole lot easier to be a full time technology guy, but you cannot trade a conversation like that for anything. It is just, as the Master Card commercial states - Priceless. It was amazing to see her yesterday and her how thankful she was of the time that I spent talking to her and the huge difference that made for her that day.

Watching them be passionate about something because of a connection you personally made with them - It is stressed by college teachers everywhere to make connections with your students. Marc Prensky would take that a step further and say find out what their passions are. I, taking from both of these ideas, would say not only find out their passions and make the connections, but participate in their passion with them.

This week was the first annual “Spirit Week” at our school. It ended with a dance last night that I was planning on chaperoning. Why? I don’t really know, but I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. It came to be Thursday afternoon and the organizer of the dance came up to me and asked for a huge favor...she asked me to DJ the dance. Now, bare in mind that I have been around sound equipment for a fair amount of my life, enjoy listing to music and hanging out with high school students, but I have never DJ’d a dance - until last night.

Yesterday in class I mentioned to one of my students, who I knew from previous interactions has a passion for music, that I was going to be the DJ for the dance. She kind of shrugged and said “OK.” The rest of the day went by and I started the dance off and it was kind of lame. An interesting thing happened. Did you know that black and white people generally have their own favorite styles of music? So I was playing all this typical “white kid music,” as one student phrased it, and no one was dancing. Then my student from the ninth grade showed up. She was fired up and wanted to help out with the DJ gig. She respected my role as the DJ, but offered her own opinions. She made that dance what it was - an awesome party. She pulled out some of her music and we had a great time.

Her passion - music.
My passion - connecting with students.

Both of those passions were intermingled last night.

I could have shut her down and told her "No" and not taken any suggestions from students, but I didn’t. In fact, I set-up a Poll Everywhere poll for song suggestions. I screened them on one computer and played them on another computer. We had an awesome night because I allowed it to be about the students and connecting with them - in particular this one student. My relationship with her has increased exponentially. Plus, we had one heck of an awesome dance.

In conclusion, the best part of my job is hands-down the students.

Outside Having an Impact Inside

Some days are good. Some days are exactly the opposite of good. Sometimes we have high expectations and we are rewarded. Some days we have high expectations and our students do not come through. More often than not I have noticed the extreme impact that things outside the classroom have on what actually happens inside the classroom.

Just last week there were a lot of instances of this idea. We had a day where it snowed a lot and when class started there were only five students - in a class of twenty-two. There was a post on Facebook by a fellow student (Yes, Facebook is unlocked in our school and used throughout the day by our students. It has to do with the Administration's decision because the school itself has a Facebook page and is used as a method of communication with our parents/guardians) that distracted the rest of the class for the remainder of the period. There was a field trip that took one entire grade out for their morning classes. The list continues...students breaking up, a close friend leaving town, and a school pep fest.

What I have realized is how often I have a plan with my lesson and how it rarely goes according to that plan. Usually I want to do this, then this, and now this, but more often then not this “perfect lesson plan” that I have created never happens. In fact, I can count the number of times on one hand that things have gone exactly how I planed them. It is not that my students have not understood the material, participated in class, and applied the material to their lives. I remember in college being taught to write a lesson plan with objectives, activities, checking for understanding and all these “required” parts of a lesson. The idea was that if you have this amazingly planned lesson planned that it will work out perfectly. Well that is not what happens, at least not in my class.

I think it was great to understand the basic structure of a lesson in college, because that is how class period is generally structured. However, I have found that teaching is more about adapting and rolling with the ebb and flow of the class than sticking to a rigid plan. If one strategy does not work, then you try a different one. If that doesn’t work then you have a student describe it. You use a picture, a movie, a physical diagram, and you try anything to make the idea or concept make sense to your students. If you are supposed to teach a lesson and it involves small groups, but the period before you noticed that the same group of students was very loud and noisy. Do you put them into small groups in your class period? That is what happened to me yesterday. I chose to have them complete their reading alone and the result: a perfectly silent classroom. I am not saying that I am some amazing teacher, but it is absolutely amazing to see the changes in students from period to period and from day to day. Something might have worked the previous day, but for whatever reason it will not work the next one.

My thought here is that I have found that teaching is all about having clear objectives for the day and a variety of strategies in your back pocket to get there. Then all the other elements, like checking for understanding, get sprinkled in throughout. If one “cool” idea flops on the first try what do you try next? We need to make sure that we are pushing the students in our teacher education programs to think outside of the “perfect lesson plan” to consider multiple other strategies that they could quickly switch to if the first one does not work - for whatever reason. Teachers need to be adaptable and be able to do that without effort or any preparation.

Your students don’t get it. Do you have something in your back pocket to switch to so that comprehension can happen?

“Fifty-Nine Minutes” Wins Another Award

I have always considered what I write in this blog to be a personal reflection of my growth as an educator. When I started writing though, my intent was never to cause any outside reflection from others or even to have other people read this on a daily basis. I have been amazed of the impact of “Fifty-Nine Minutes” has had on my own teaching as a place I can go to reflect on a daily basis. As I am always in the back of my head working on ideas and posts that if I do not have time to write during the week that I can type out the idea on my iPod on the bus on the way home and then on the weekend I can type out the full blog. Apparently, though, other people have found this blog to be something special, as it just won another award.

Mr. Cusher from Reach Network, Inc. informed me a few days ago that “Fifty-Nine Minutes” was placed in the Top 200 Education Blogs list by the Guide to Online Schools. In their preface to the list they write: “All those interested in education—we've got you covered. From humor blogs on college life to one stop shops for school athletics to blogs all about education policy and new technologies, if there's a good education blog out there, you can bet it made our list.”

It is an honor to be recognized by Mr. Cusher and to be part of this list. “Fifty-Nine Minutes” can be found under the “Learning” portion of this list.
Here is what they wrote about “Fifty-Nine Minutes”: “We’ve gone through and created a list of our favorite education blogs and the incredible insight and unique editorial voice you’ve presented on your blog made it one of our favorites.”

Thank you for the recognition. I am truly honored.

Giving Feedback

Last week I really enjoyed getting back into the habit of posting blogs and really more so blogging in general. I thank all of you that continue to read, comment, and give me feedback on my posts. It has been an awesome week to step back and consider the blessing that having this blog has been in my life, but rather to consider the transformative way that a public forum of comments can have on your ideas and your teaching - both the good and the bad. Thank you for being part of the process of learning and growing with me in this journey called teaching.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What’s the Point?

I remember all too well sitting down in English class in my high school years, and even into my college years, and being told that we are going to read and study {fill-in-the-blank here}. That was not appealing to me. That did not have a point to me. That did not make sense to me. That was not relevant to my life. Why would I want to read something that I did not know why I was reading it in the first place?

That assignment, to just read something, has puzzled me ever since. Why? What truly is the point of reading this text?

This constant battle, if you will, to have students read material and my struggle to get them to accomplish this feat - whether it is Shakespeare, currently, or something else in the future - led me to an important revelation that began back in my teacher education program.

As teachers, we learn that we need to scaffold learning and that assigning any type of work or material to our students needs to clearly serve a purpose. The only problem and difference between knowing that and our students is that our students have no clue why they are doing the work. That lack of communication between the why of the teacher and the why of the student created the problem when I was in school.

At Arapahoe I began, with Anne and Kristin’s help, to begin to formulate lessons, activities, and homework that truly was meaningful. That truly was relevant. That truly did make an impact on the student’s lives.


Because I explained to the students exactly why they were doing what they were doing and shared with them the benefits and reasons for that assignment/activity/homework that they were about to accomplish. I tried at least to do this on a regular basis.

Now at the FAIR School Downtown I have once again ran into some trouble in terms of reading material. Take for instance, Shakespeare and Hamlet in particular. Why oh why would 9-11th grade students want to read this play? I thought about it for a while and then with the help of my good partner in the English department, Ben Jarman, we came up with a few ideas. Hamlet has in it themes about: not trusting your parents, death, a ghost, lots of fighting, love, and a search for identity. Clearly some of those themes can be debated and looked at from a variety of different angles, but Ben and I decided first to look at those. Next was the idea and task to get students, before we even picked up the text, excited about learning and reading this amazing work of literature (Ok, maybe that is an English teacher talking, but that is what I think. Others are entitled to their own opinion). Now Ben wanted to, as he called it, “Get the Hamlet fire burning” and really get students excited about what they are learning from the beginning. I agreed with him that this was important, but struggled with exactly how to reach our students. Ben had some great ideas and he thought about really just talking to the students about the material and trying to “light the fire” that way. I thought that was good, but then I tried to consider what else would make this exciting to a student in today’s world. So I considered some sort of exciting Keynote presentation, but then I realized that even that, however cool it may be that it would not be the most exciting thing I could produce. I looked to a resource that I used a few times while student teaching - Animoto.

What I produced was this video: Hamlet Introduction Video

To me this was something that I used to engage the students. They thought that it was really cool and engaging. It was great to bring in the images from the SparkNotes Comic Book version of Hamlet. The use of that in class has really allowed the students to get past the hard part of Shakespeare - the language - and really focus on the content, which is what we want them to understand anyway. In all reality I think it was the combination of the words, the pictures, the text, the music, and the fast pace of the movie that made it exciting to the students. They enjoyed it and one student even commented, “[The video] made me excited to read Hamlet.” Cross that off the list - the students were excited about what they are reading and we were able to accomplish that in an exciting and applicable way for the students.

However, since then the “fire of Hamlet” has began to burn low. We started off on this high point and now we are chugging along - probably because we are close to the end and excited about the final projects. When I look back on the unit though, there have been many times that I think the fire could have just gone out. One thing that Ben and I have done is make sure that there is a guiding, focusing question up on the SMART Board for every reading, every group activity, and for the entire unit. Those reasons, in conjunction with our introduction video, have really made the “fire of Hamlet” sustain throughout the unit and allowed it to really take a place within students’ minds.

Now I am not here to say that I don’t get the “this is stupid” or “I hate Hamlet” comments every once in a while, but I will say that even though some students struggle with completing the actual assignment they at least do not have that “Why are we doing this and what’s the point” feeling that I had growing up.

I also look forward to bringing this video back into class next week as we wrap up the unit and have the students relate to and make connections with it and their own lives. Ben and I have made connections throughout this unit with the students, these themes, and their lives, but it will be great to bring it back in again. Then I cannot wait to see the individual connections that students will be able to make as we finish this unit. As they really take the text of Hamlet and make it their own through a group video project. As they really take this text and make it into something that has a point - a point to each of them personally.

So I encourage you, even we as teachers know what the point is in completing an assignment and how it should relate to our students’ lives, we need to share that with our students time and time and time again. Because that sharing, that has made a huge difference in reducing the amount of push back I get on assignments, provided an increase in the level of completion on assignments, and has increased the satisfaction level with my students with their homework, daily work, and group work.

Do your students know what the point is?

I encourage you to tell them...or better yet, let them figure it out with your guidance!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Partnering, Sharing, and Hamlet

Marc Prensky is a good friend of mine and is probably best known for coining the terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant. Lately he has been working on his newest book called “Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning.” I got a chance to preview a copy last month. This book, when it comes out this spring, will really turn the tide towards what is truly important in education - partnering with our students instead of direct instruction, where we are the only ones doing the instruction. In Marc’s partnering model, which really isn’t that new or different from anyone - what is different is the terms that he has put around this idea and the multitude of resources he provides in this book to reach the Digital Natives in your classroom. It was a great read and one that I can’t wait to pick-up at the bookstore this spring.

One idea that I really pulled out of there is the idea of sharing and working collaboratively with one another - the students mainly - but in all reality I wanted to work a bit more with the other English teacher in our high school Ben Jarman. He and I team teach one section of 9th grade and then I have my own section of 9th grade. He also teaches two sections of 11th grade and the 12th grade English classes. While I take over and teach the 10th grade. We work very well together and going into the year Ben has been a lot of help as my mentor checking in with me, helping me deal with student issues, and really more than anything being there as a sounding board. A few months ago we both started to think about the next unit that we were planning in our classes. Ben wanted to cover Hamlet in 9th grade and then in 11th grade he wanted to cover Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was looking at going through The Crucible with my 10th graders...and then we started to think about there any way that we can take Marc’s idea of partnering and apply it to what we are doing in our classroom? Well, we looked at a few different things, like our ideas for the semester and the guiding question for the unit and the focus on the arts school. We decided to do something radical, something that I have never done before: We are teaching Hamlet in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. Obviously we have differentiation with each grade level and we are covering with a bit different emphasis in each grade level, but the interaction between each grade level has been amazing. As we were thinking about this proposal and sending text messages back and forth - how about that for planning time - Ben’s reaction when it really started to hit us about how immensely powerful it would be to have all three grade levels together covering the same material was priceless. Ben texted me: “Mind Blowing.”

That is exactly what this has been from the beginning. The interaction between Ben and I has been absolutely amazing. We have been able to partner with one another each afternoon and really plan out exactly what we want to cover and some really creative ways to do it. One of the reasons that we decided to cover Hamlet with all three grade levels is that we wanted everyone on the same page, because this being the first year of the arts magnet and really being at the groundbreaking level of crafting and making this high school what we want it to be, we thought it would be good to cover this play. In addition, this way the students have not ever covered any Shakespeare in any other classes before encountering Hamlet and so they are all getting the base foundation with this play. There is no way to teach a play without acting it out, but in English class we really wanted to focus on less of the acting part because we wanted to leave that up to our acting teacher so that in his acting classes, which are primarily 9-11th grade, they can cover the acting stuff. Plus, that cross-curricular support has been an amazing blessing and has made the content come more alive for the students in those acting classes. Then our focus in English class became to understand the content within Hamlet and to really focus on appreciating the art that Shakespeare created. Through this unit we have really encouraged and pushed students to work with one another across the grade levels. It has been totally awesome to see the 11th graders working alongside the 9th graders to help each other out with their homework. This part has been absolutely amazing, but I think hands-down the most beneficial part of this unit has been partnering with Ben throughout the whole process.

Now this is not exactly the way that Marc wrote for the term to be used, as he defines and looks more at partnering in the classroom with teachers and students, but I think that it also applies to teacher to teacher work. Ben and I, because we have been intentional about this unit and planning, have met every afternoon to plan the week, to look ahead, bounce cool ideas, and lessons off one another. Then we divide the work and really knock the teaching out of the park. It has been such a “Mind Blowing” experience because we each bring really unique and amazing passions and gifts to the table and putting both of our heads together has produced some pretty amazing lessons. It has helped both of us become better teachers and has drawn us together in amazing and wonderful ways. It has also given me a great idea of what partnering in the classroom, as how Marc defines the term, could and does work given the right parameters.

The exciting thing for me, and this is also something from Marc that I remember reading a few years ago, is that Ben and I are trying to figure out how to share this unit with other teachers everywhere. I look forward to spending part of Winter Break doing this. Marc wrote an article in 2007 titled: “If We Share, We’re Halfway There.” In this article Marc talks a lot about the need for teachers to share the things that are working in their classrooms on the web so that other teachers can find out what is going on. He writes in this article: “The fastest route to engaging our students (and our teachers) is re-using, in our own way, those things that are already working. But we can’t do that until we know about them! Technology can be our savior here.” This idea also came up in Marc’s new book in which he wrote: “Until this posting and sharing begins to happen in a regular and systematic way by partnering teachers, we are, sadly, re-creating almost everything on our own, time after time, which is a terribly inefficient way to do things and a huge waste of partnering teachers’ time and effort. So please, as you succeed in partnering, be a sharer!”

Ben and I before were creating everything from the ground up for every day by ourselves, but now we are partnering and creating much better and more effective lessons for our students. We have shared this idea and partnership with other teachers within our building, which in turn has inspired them to partner also - not only two teachers with one another, but across disciplines. Now as a high school we are looking at creative ways to work together in the 3rd quarter - English, Civics, Science, and Math. It has been immensely powerful to work together. The future for partnering, both between teachers, but more so in my classroom on a daily basis between students is looking very promising.

I look forward to sharing all that Ben and I have created through this Hamlet unit in a few weeks. Anyone have a creative way to share lessons - one that has worked before? I was thinking about creating either a Wiki or a Google Site, but I didn’t know if anyone else had a better idea.

To borrow the words from Marc, when we share, we truly are halfway there. Halfway there to creating powerful, engaging, content-driven, and amazing lessons in which partnering can thrive - both for the instructors and the students.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

1-1 Program: The First Months

The West Metro Education Program’s Mission Statement reads: “We are committed to equity and excellence for all students, eliminating disparities in achievement and opportunity, and preparing all learners to thrive in a diverse world.”

As an effort to continue completing this mission statement the FAIR School Downtown began it’s 1-1 Program by handing out new Apple MacBooks to all 46 ninth grade students. The decision to go with Apple Inc. was due to the video and creative elements that are necessary for an arts magnet school such as our own, not to mention the amazing track record with these machines. In addition there is a similar 1-1 program going on at our sister school, the FAIR School Crystal, since last year. All student MacBooks are set-up with iLife 09’, iWork 09’, Final Cut Pro, Logger, Adobe Photoshop, Firefox, Safari, and access to the Apple Server that we have set-up specifically for the students. The computers sync with the server every fifteen minutes and back up all documents in the “Documents” folder. Unlike other schools that I know of, we do not back up all the documents, videos, music, and other material on the computers, only the materials in the “Documents” folder. All students and their parents/guardians came to the school and filled out paperwork, provided a check for the insurance on the computer, and went through a basic Apple MacBook orientation. The students, in addition to following the rules and expectations for use of the laptop in the school building, are required to bring their computer to school charged every single day. We encourage them to leave their power cords at home, because the MacBook batteries should last the morning periods when they will need their computers the most. In the afternoon all students in the high school have arts periods and generally do not use their laptops in those classes. All in all, it was a very successful evening of handing out laptops to students.

Some of the laptops in their cases ready to hand out to the students

Now...a month and a half into the 1:1 Program here are the early results:

The biggest and most impressive change I have noticed is that students are more engaged in the classroom in all areas and throughout the entire hour. It literally was like night and day between the students having the laptops and then not having the laptops. Students enjoy coming to class, they work together in groups a lot more, and are truly engaged in their curriculum and material throughout the entire hour.

Students have been able to create more exciting projects that are more in tune with their creative desires. For example, sometimes I will give an assignment that requires the students to answer a question, but we allow them to complete it with any application/program that they desire. The projects we get back are nothing short of amazing. In the future I hope to share some of these projects here.

Choosing to continue with the Apple MacBooks was a great decision because the students are so creative on them and the durability and lack of problems has been impressive. In fact, to date I have had to send in or repair one computer due to a manufacture problem, non-student related.

Turning in assignments electronically through our drop boxes has been a wonderful tool. All of the teachers in the high school have an electronic drop box that students can turn assignments in to. From there instructors are able to pull the assignments out, grade them, give feedback, and then return the assignments back to each student’s individual computer. In addition, all high school teachers also have a share folder where handouts or materials for that unit or class period are kept. Students can also share class related or small group files through this folder. With the addition of this electronic file transfer and sharing there has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of paper and ink used within the school. We are excited to be saving the environment and I am excited about being able to read all the assignments electronically.

The addition of the laptops has changed how I teach. Right now I am doing much what I did at Arapahoe, where only some (actually two-thirds) of my classes are using the laptops. When I am teaching the classes with the laptops I have noticed a significant shift in how I actually teach. I feel that I can do so much more with these students, especially because they have access to so many materials right there at their fingertips. I can do a lot less direct instruction and a lot more partnering or pairing with my students so that they look up the information and teach the rest of the class. They interact with the SMART Board, they plug their computers into it and show the rest of the class what they are doing and they help one another figure out what is exactly going on in the passage or text. In fact, having the laptops has also though made teaching a bit more difficult because sometimes I have to compete with the laptop. Not in a ineffective way, because if the students are on their laptops and talking then I will have them close the lids and one of the beauties of a Mac is how fast it starts back up again. But I really feel that I compete with the class in different ways. I have to be as engaging, as exciting, as fast paced, and as engaging as their computer is. At times I feel that I have to be that much like that computer, but at other times I really focus on being different. I am not, nor am I going to be that computer, but I do try to take some of the elements of their computers - the ones that they enjoy and that are engaging to them - and bring those into the classroom. In addition, it has been so much fun to have a SMART Board at the front of my classroom and a classroom full of motivated students with laptops. I am excited about the future and when all students in the high school, in four years, will have laptops.

Finally, the most exciting thing about having the laptops is that we are truly preparing students for success in the 21st Century. They are being creative producers. They are engaging with their texts and with their world. They are learning to type better. They are learning what is good content and what is bad content. They are learning what is appropriate to put up on the Internet and what is not. They are learning how to be and are better artists than they were two months ago. However, in all reality we are not educating only these students, but we are educating entire families. In some situations the laptops that we have provided for these students is the only computer that has ever been in their homes. That is exciting. We are also creating equality across the board because all the students have the same materials, the same computers, and the same access to resources now. It is not a money thing, Minneapolis and suburb thing, a race thing or a S.E.S. Thing - it is a FAIR School Downtown 9th grader thing.

With great thanks to the support of the district, administration, school board, parents, students, staff, and all others that have been involved in this program we have truly created equity and are receiving excellent work from all our students by eliminating disparities in achievement and opportunity by providing all our ninth grade students with an Apple MacBook that is preparing them to thrive in the diverse world which they live and interact in today.

I look forward to the adventures and achievements of our students in the coming months and years as the use of the laptops and the 1:1 Program continues to grow.

Remembering Day One

I wrote this blog on September 8, 2009 - The first day of school - and it never got posted.

How do you judge a first day? Is it on effectiveness? Is it on how many students you met? Or is it on how good you started the class? I think, for me at least, this first day was one of stress, new beginnings, and a great opportunity.

First, stress. My job at the FAIR Downtown School combines my love of teaching with the joy of being able to help other teachers integrate technology into the curriculum. Together, at times, it feels like I am doing two completely full time jobs, and today it did feel like that at times. However, at other times it feels like I have the best job in the whole world because I get to play with technology and then help others implement it in their classrooms and into my own. So there are clearly positives and negatives about the arrangement. So far it has been a great time doing all the technology stuff at school, because it seems like everywhere I go there is a need for this or that (which is good job security if you ask me), but that does not always allow me to get my own classroom stuff set-up and ready to go. For instance, getting ready for class, my own stuff, has only really happened on the weekend or when I go home at night. I realize that I am a first year teacher and I am blending the boundaries a little bit, but at the same time I need to do two things better: One, use the time I have at school in a more effective way (i.e. say to people, “too bad you decided that you wanted to print your syllabus fifteen minutes before school starts, we will deal with it another day,” which I have a really hard time doing and would rather break my schedule and leave what I am doing so that they can have the right materials and equipment to start class). Basically I need to learn to say no. Second, I need to take time for my self. I realize that my sister calls me a “workaholic” and for the past few weeks I have been. Still, it was nice to take a little break this last weekend and get some sun and enjoy some time water skiing with friends. I need to take that time, to step back, relax, and really enjoy life. You work to live or do you live to work? I think it seems that at times it is both, but for me lately it has been the second one too often. I enjoy what I do, but I also need to take that time to step back and recharge the batteries. In part I was really looking forward to this first day because I think it will really allow me to get into a routine with working out, spending time with family and friends, and really enjoying life.

Second, new beginnings. Being in front of the class all by myself for the first time was amazing. It was freeing, scary, incredible, fun, and hard all at the same time. I did not have that safety net to throw my class to when they were a little out of line. I did not have that extra person to look over my notes and tell me that they were ok. Instead, I have amazing colleagues that support me, my search to be a great teacher, and help me to succeed in any way possible. Nonetheless, I still had an amazing time of starting off a class for the first time. The students filed in one-by-one and I greeted them at the door. Did a little introduction activity with them, which went over ok. I struggle with getting the names of each of the students down from the beginning. I need to have the students in some sort of order with a seating chart, at least to begin the period with. My original intention was to have the students sit wherever they want for comfortability and flexibility sake. However, that turned out to be a farsighted aspiration. Instead, some of the students I did not get a handle on their names, like I would have if there was a seating chart. So next year, and the next time I see these students, there will be a seating chart. However, it will be one that the students start with and then I will get them up and move around. After the opening activity then we went into a little piece about classroom rules. I told the students to remember one rule for these few days, as we will be going through the rest of the rules early next week. So the one rule I told them about - Respect. Yes, pretty easy, but one that they clearly were lacking and taking an advantage of as the class began. We then discussed the schedule, because it has changed radically from previous years, which it was good to do. I am always more comfortable in a situation when I know what is happening and when. So I tried to create that environment for the students in my classroom.

Overall, it was a good first day. A day that I will remember for a long time...a day of new beginnings and new opportunities. It was great.

Ninety-Seven Days

Ninety-seven days ago from today I was sitting in the first staff meeting at the FAIR School Downtown. A lot has changed since then, but one thing remains - I am still very excited about what I get to do every day: teach students and integrate technology effectively.

Throughout that staff meeting I had a whole lot of emotions. Everything from excitement to nervousness to a real worry if I was going to fit in with these teachers. Well, ninety-seven days later I am reminded by a few words that our principal said to us on that afternoon of September 3, 2009. He said, “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

Those words have been inspiring me since that day to continually reach higher, to continually push my students and myself to be better for them. They deserve the best and it is my job, our jobs, to give that to them. If we are not going to start giving them the best, most prepared, well equipped education for the 21st Century right now, then when will it happen? If we are not going to do it, then who will? If we are not going to start reaching out to our students and really start educating students to be successful in the future, and not only on the state and federally mandated tests, then what are we doing?

Over the past ninety-seven days I have learned a lot. I have gotten through my first few teaching units in both classes - the 9th grade and 10th grade English. In 9th grade we looked at To Kill a Mockingbird and then spent a month working on Five Paragraph Essay writing. It helped immensely that at Arapahoe High School this is one of the units that I designed and taught. This time though, we were not two weeks behind schedule. One of the things that you do learn is to stay a bit more with the schedule. In English 10 we covered Of Mice and Men and then spent time on two of the Six Traits of Writing.

I have learned many things about students and about how a classroom works. The best part of this job is not teaching the content or playing with all the cool technology - both very enjoyable parts - the best part is actually interacting with my amazing and wonderful students on a daily basis. To figure out their passions, to push them each individually to succeed and then helping each of them achieve their goals on a regular and long term basis has been a big focus of these first two quarters. Whether that is understanding why Hamlet is acting crazy and who the ghost is, which we have been looking at recently, or trying to figure out how to pass the state writing test, later next month so that they can graduate, the students have been the best part of the whole job. Just yesterday I spent a large part of my preparation period helping one student, who was kicked out of another class, complete her missing assignments for my class. In doing that I was able to support her, get her to do something productive, and help her understand the material in a greater way. She left not feeling upset because she was kicked out of her class, which she probably should have been, but instead she was confident and excited that she was caught up and understood the material. In looking at all the things that I did yesterday, that one act of giving up my prep period to help another student out, get on her level, and really make that material come alive was the most rewarding, but also the most important thing that I did.

It is through interactions like yesterday that I realize the words of my principal continue to ring true: “If not now, when? If not us, who?”
We need to be better.
We can be better.
We will be better.
That is our challenge.

That is my challenge.