Category Archives: Renew through Perseverance

The Halfway Mark, or 2015-16 is Lurking

Maybe I subconsciously realized the today was the halfway mark for the summer 2015 break. Five weeks have passed; five weeks remain. I know it’s the downward slope because my older son returns from Europe in four days (and this helicopter mom is excited!), but the unexpected happen today. My younger son wanted to know how to find a copy of his freshman college fall schedule so that he could put his classes into his calendar app. And I didn’t even have to prod! (Well, I have prodded many other days.) he may have been inspired because I was entering my teaching calendar, my grad school calendar, his college calendar, and his brother’s college calendar into both my Google calendar (love that it syncs with the calendar app) and my 15-16 planner. Now that I’m looking towards the school year, what else can I or you do to ease the return?

Revisit last year

Remember those notes you made in last year’s planner about what worked? What text to try instead? What writing prompt absolutely flopped? Now may be the time to look back over the first few weeks of school. I have the English 3 curriculum maps with me in preparation for an exciting opportunity next weekend; I was reading through first semester’s and discovered that we had included “A Rose for Emily” in the individualism unit! Really?!?! How did I not remember that? I love teaching “Emily”! I really enjoy listening to the students entering class the next day as they “ew” over her lying next to a dead body. Just that realization on my part–that we had not dropped “Emily”– has given me a reason to look forward to teaching second quarter. And I know that if I feel reinvigorated, it will show in my teaching. I also know that no matter how much I swore last school year that I would NEVER forget the change I wanted to make, I have buried it in my long-term memory or possibly even dumped it into my forgotten abyss (yes, I saw “Inside Out” with a group of teachers).

Try something new

I am fortunate that I spend every summer coaching a National Writing Project site–Eastern Illinois Writing Project. I don’t have to scroll through numerous Googke searches looking for a new idea; the twelve or so teachers involved each share a demonstration, plus we quickly bond and share more than any of us ever thought we would learn in a four-week course. For me, this year I shared my Literary 3×3 (that I wrote about back in April), and I learned about Six Word Memoirs. Okay, I already knew about them. I bought the book years ago (I think at Walmart), and I follow their Twitter. I’ve even posted a few of my own. But I never thought about using it in my teaching. Not just an icebreaker; not just for a personal narrative. I could use teach this to students to use for characters and character development; its also a great ideas for creating chapter titles. A new tool in my teaching arsenal.

Do you have to scroll through endless Google searches? You could if you wanted to, but you could try a few of these suggestions. Web English Teacher (www.webenglishteacher.com) is always updating the links on their website. You could follow a Twitter chat. I am devoted to #aplitchat even thought I don’t teach AP English; they have become a very supportive community even though I’ve never meant them in person. I have so many new ideas from their weekly chats. If you need a different chat, look at Cybrary Man’s list of educational hashtags;mo had no Ida that there were hundreds of them. And then a shameless plug–I have a PowerPoint on my presentations page titled “Resources for Primary Sources and Informational Texts, which I update when I find new resources. The presentation us intended to promote literacy but across the curriculum; there are resources for most subjects, including electives.

Rejuvenate

I’m not very good at this. I worry, and I plan, and I change. And sometimes it’s an unhealthy cycle. I have not read this summer like I usually do. I haven’t even read thirty minutes before going to sleep like I tried to do every night during the school year. And I have not gotten back into a running routine. It happens. But it’s the halfway mark–I will read and run and sleep. I have “Go Set a Watchman” ordered, plus a lot of books in my literal to-be-read piles (yes, plural). I will be a better teacher when I am relaxed.

I know some of you are starting school now (for my friends in Arizona–I still think July 13th is early for a balanced cakendar), but it’s not too late to look for something new and rejuvenating should never be saved for just summer. For those of us who still have a few weeks, I’d love to hear what you are planning to do that’s new. And for everyone, what are you reading? I’m always looking for recommendations!

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Circadian Rhythms of Teachers #SOL

About a week before the end of the school year, a state government employee, who only works 4 days/week, tried to tell me how easy teachers had it with summers off. I politely bit my tongue, although I did try to point out that I would spend much of my summer either in classes or planning for next school year and that the school district doesn’t pay me to work in the summer. She wouldn’t listen.

What I really wanted to tell her was that if she had to work with students day-in-and-day-out, then she would understand why every teacher looks forward to each break just as eagerly as the students. It’s difficult to convince a student of any age to focus and learn new material when they are busy watching the first snow of the season, or planning a Halloween costume, or looking forward to the first day that the pool will be open. And I know that I’m fortunate to be in a school with central air conditioning and a wonderful custodial staff that answers the phone every time I call to report that my classroom is too hot or too cold. Not every teacher is so lucky.

So my summer break is not a vacation (we travel over spring break for that). Until this summer, most of my days were spent at a sports field–some soccer, but mostly baseball. Lots and lots of baseball. I was very busy as a mom, and as a teacher-mom who wasn’t going to work every day in the summer, I volunteered to drive other players to games for parents who couldn’t get off work that early. I was keenly aware of my luxury of free time. My sons are now out of high school; it’s taking some getting used to not cheering on a team all summer long.

And like most of the prior 25 summers, I will be doing whatever I can to improve my teaching. I firmly believe that change is good. This summer is especially busy. I am participating in an online book club that I found out about through a Twitter chat that I follow most Sundays (shout out to Talks with Teachers and #aplitchat). Currently, we are reading Ken Robinson’s¬†The Element, a¬†nonfiction book that I probably would not have chosen to read on my own. It’s very positive, and I’ve already figured out how to use part of chapter 2 for a writing prompt next school year.

I have already gone through Level 3 training/Coaches Academy training for EIU TPS. That training started literally the day after the teacher institute day. I am now using that training to revamp my go-to informational texts resources presentation since I am giving that in two weeks. at an EIU Writing Project professional development day. I need it to be fresh for both me and my audience. When I give that presentation, I will also be giving a brand new presentation that I need to create. So it’s a working break, just different employers.

I am also attending a professional development afternoon this week (I am incredibly fortunate to live in a town with an education-oriented university); coaching for the EIU Writing Project; attending the annual ILA conference in St. Louis; and planning to teach two new-to-me courses that will start on August 18th. To be honest, I am really looking forward to each of those activities.

I know that sounds like I am either bragging or complaining, but I don’t intend to be doing either. I’m trying to be factual. Will I have a lot of time to do what I want and when I want to do it? Of course! I will get up and run some mornings; I will paint the interior of my house; I will sleep in or stay up late; I will not grade a single essay; and I will read a LOT of books. After 25 years teaching, I don’t know how to live my life any other way.

The circadian rhythms of a teacher are just different from the so-called norm.

Professional Networking #pln #aplitchat

I have just finished the most inspirational hour of my professional life–I look forward to it every Sunday. Tonight I found myself excited to see that some of the people I corresponded with last week were back tonight; so much so that I wanted to do a little girly squeal, but they wouldn’t have heard me. Every Sunday I “talk” with teachers across North America (I know at least one is Canadian) on Twitter using a shard hashtag #aplitchat to follow the conversation. And every Sunday, most of us are astonished at how fast the hour has flown by.

I had heard for years that I could use Twitter to create a professional learning network; Tom Grissom, the edtech guru at EIU had told me so. But I didn’t get it. I searched for English teachers to follow, and I followed professional organizations. But the results were hit-or-miss, usually depending on whether I was online to see a comment float by. Tweets could be helpful but not always. Then last summer I attened an AP literaure training and tried to find various resources online; I’m guessing that’s when I found the Talks with Teachers website/podcast/#aplitchat.

I attended conversations sporadically. And one time, people responded to me. They liked what I had to say; they encouraged me; they asked me to share more. This week one of the regulars posted during the week using the hashtag; since I follow the hashtag on my Tweetdeck, the post didn’t float by. Rather, it was waiting for me. And I asked him for more info that he gladly shared. I realized that his 3×3 technique would be a great way to scaffold teaching students (Ss in twitter speak) how to write literay analysis thesis statements. So I then shared his tweets with another person I had met because we had discussed how to teach thesis statements on Sunday. We also learned about Thunderdome thesis statement contests! I cannot wait to try that!

I have in-person PLN’s also but those only meet in the summer and occasionally at locally-sponsored conferences. A small group of us are taking graduate classes together; I think the more time we spend together in person will help us maintain communication when the degrees are finished. And Facebook helps foster that connection. But with those networks, I have to reach out when I have a question or need a suggestion; while I’m willing to do that (I actually created my own PLN in the fall by reaching out to professors that I know to ask about a course I was creating; it’s hard to say “I need help” but very rewarding), having a specific time, place, and length makes the #aplitchat PLN very doable.

I’m not saying this hashtag conversation is the right fit for everyone, but I would strongly recommend that you find one to join. It may at a time that better suits you, or a topic that better fits your needs (but don’t be afraid of a hashtag–I’m not teaching AP literature, yet this exchanges of ideas meets my classroom needs). I see the #litleads and the comments from those people that I follow; it looks promising, but it’s Thursday evenings, which doesn’t work for me.

Ultimately my point is this: admitting that you don’t know it all, or that you need help with or need to change your curriculum is difficult. I understand. But once you do, and you open yourself up to a professional learning network, you will be amazed at the support, encouragement, and ideas you will receive!