BulgingButtons

Not bad for a fat girl


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Student Success Strategy

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in a virtual staff training. Here we were, a staff of mostly white, mostly female educators trying to improve our practice. We worked with a trainer who has spent her career researching and applying methods to bring EVERYONE to the table in terms of education. From early childhood to graduate studies there are obstacles that many of our learners and their families face that take them further and further away from receiving the quality education they deserve.

There was a lot to learn, think about, and digest, but for me there was one nugget that stood out. Here it is: Every Decision Made Must Be For The Benefit Of The Students. It seems both obvious and simple, but when I think about day to day practice in schools (not just my own), there’s plenty of work to be done. Think about it. Every decision. Wow. Let me just throw out a few, some from the workshop, and some from my reflection.

  • curriculum (yes, that’s HUGE)
  • class size
  • class make-up
  • teacher hiring
  • teacher preparation
  • lesson plans
  • assessment
  • discipline plans
  • schedules
  • school assemblies
  • morning announcements
  • visitor policies
  • teacher evaluation process
  • building conditions
  • athletics
  • cafeteria set up
  • instructional team decisions
  • furniture placement
  • performances
  • family communication plans
  • rewards and incentives
  • technology use
  • competitions
  • lighting
  • heating/air conditioning
  • wall/hallway displays
  • playground design
  • supervision of unstructured times

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within each of those individual bullet points there are dozens of factors to take into consideration, but the most important one must always be the best outcome for the student.

The reality is that we know there are things that could and should be better if only we had bigger budgets. Smaller class sizes, more access to high quality instructional materials and equipment, the ability to bring in experts to share their knowledge and love of their field to spark kids’ interests; all of these would be wonderful. However, we must work with what we have and find ways to make it better.

There are dozens of times a day during teaching when I make decisions on the fly. If the class seems to be drifting off, we switch gears or take a break. If the work turned in is poor, I analyze the weakness in my instruction, and have another go at it taking a different approach. If part of a lesson has taken longer than expected, I modify the assignment to reflect the shorter amount of time for students to work on it. These are things that teachers do all the time, and the more experienced they are the better they get at it. But experience can also bring an attitude of “this way works for me, so I’m going with it.” This is where the Benefit Of The Students can come crashing down.

Here’s what I mean. In my teaching I have always read aloud to my students. I have taught kids from preschool to grade six, and I have read to them all. Over time I’ve found many books that I love, and in my heart I would like everyone else to love them as well, but I know better. My reality as a white woman born in the suburbs more than 50 years ago is quite different from that of ANY child born in the last ten years. Now add in family structure, race, gender identity, home language, disability, living conditions, access to adequate food, housing, and healthcare, economic situation, issues of safety in the home, and more, and you see that my reality and my students’ realities may be worlds apart.

What speaks to me, inspires me, motivates me, and enthralls me may do none of those things for my students. If I were to share some of my old favorites, it would become a lesson in drudgery for many of my kids: just a boring old lady reading a boring old book. That is NOT how you share a love of literature. Thank goodness for Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, Kwame Alexander, Kate DiCamillo, Varian Johnson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Linda Sue Park, Tedd Arnold, Jason Chin, Dusti Bowling, Erin Entrada Kelly, Dav Pilkey, Jeff Kinney, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Pena, Katherine Applegate, Dan Santat, and so many others for giving voice to the children of today. Of course many old favorites have stood the test of time, too.

A mixture of older and newer titles.

While I’m feeling pretty good about the literature I share with me students, I do sometimes make decisions that I know aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the students. Is every lesson as engaging as it could be? No. Time constraints are a big factor on this one. Planning, executing, and assessing these top tier learning opportunities take a good deal of time and effort. Every teacher I know has limited time, and most of us are knocking ourselves out in the effort department, just trying to keep our heads above water.

Here’s the thing: when you know better you can do better. Can I completely reinvent what I teach and the way I teach it? Not completely, no. But can I make adjustments that benefit kids? Absolutely. After all, doing what’s best for kids is why I became a teacher in the first place.


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Technical Difficulties

It’s no secret that the online world has exploded as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re doing so much more via the internet than ever before. In the time since shifting from in person fourth grade to online fourth grade, I’ve had to use no fewer than 30 different programs, websites, and apps to do my job. Some of these I’ve navigated for years, like the online gradebook and attendance system our district uses. Some of them are new to me, since going virtual, like the Ladibug software that allows my document camera to play nicely with my laptop, only sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what trips me up.

I can handle seeing my kids through a screen. I can figure out ways to connect to them and to teach them the things I’m tasked with teaching. I can talk with them, laugh with them, and encourage them. I can do all these things when the technology I’m using works.

For some mysterious reason, the technology hasn’t been working well recently, at least not from my home. This is not just baffling, but it’s terribly concerning. First, the confusion part. You see, in March, when we starting distance learning, everything more or less worked. I set up my Google classroom, opened up my Google meets, and shared documents through my Google drive. It worked. Then we started a new school year, online. Everything still worked. Then, during our Fall Break, my name was finally called to trade in my old laptop for a new one. Fine. After Fall Break I was still doing virtual teaching, but I was teaching from my classroom (because I required to). Still no major problems, until things changed and I tried to teach from home. UGH.

At my home, my Google classroom sometimes loads with no problem, and other times it decides that it would just rather not. Sometimes my Google meets run smoothly, and other times they freeze repeatedly, kick me out multiple times, and then decide to just not work at all. It’s impossible to teach that way.

I know there’s nothing wrong with my wifi. I’m not the only one who uses it, and my live-in tech guru has assured me that our internet is fine. The only change is in the laptop. It just doesn’t want to let me teach from my home. I’ve called for help and the patient IT person worked with me to try a few different things. They didn’t fix the problem. The worst part about the situation is that ten minutes before class starts everything looks fine, but twenty minutes later I’m no longer able to deliver my lesson to my students.

I’ve hastily packed up my things midmorning and driven into school on more than one occasion so that I can teach, but this pandemic is getting worse, and I don’t want to leave my home if I don’t have to. I have the option of teaching from home, at least for the next couple of weeks, and I would like to use that option. With my current tech situation, though, I’m worried I won’t be able to.

I need a solution, and right now there’s nobody to talk to about fixing this. Maybe I’ll be able to get some help on Monday, but I’m a little skeptical. Nobody else seems to be having any trouble connecting (and staying connected) with their new computers. Why is mine the exception? Goes to show you, newer isn’t always better. I just want my old laptop back, so I can teach.


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Staying Home

I was supposed to on vacation this week. Well, maybe I should say “vacation.” It would have involved a quarantine for the entire duration of my trip, which didn’t seem terribly productive or fun. Or safe. I also didn’t want to go to the airport and get on a plane. I didn’t even want to ride to the airport. And what about my luggage? Who was handling it? What if they sneezed on it and got me sick? Paranoid? Maybe, but I just don’t want to take any chances.

I’ve tried to avoid talking about this pandemic thing, because I know it’s polarizing. There are those that believe in science, and those that believe in conspiracies. Maybe there’s something in the middle, but I don’t know what that would be. In case you weren’t sure, I’m firmly in the science camp.

I wear my masks when I leave my property, even if it’s just to walk to the mailbox around the corner. I’m beginning to assemble a nice little wardrobe of masks. The other day I added a fabulous Ruth Bader Ginsburg mask to my collection, thanks to my crafty and generous friend. Now that was a good mail day.

I’m not going anywhere this summer. Not on vacation, not to the mall, not to restaurants, not anywhere. Wait, I take that back. I did make one quick trip to Target last week. It was a coordinated strike, with an action plan in place to get in, get the goods, and get out. Every person in the store was wearing a mask, which frankly surprised me, given where I live. My nerves were on edge the entire time I was in the store.

You see, I’m one of those “high risk” people when it comes to this disease. From the point of view of the disease, I’m an easy target. From the point of view of health care providers, who are currently stressed to the max from too many sick people and not enough resources, I’m not a great bet. I get it, which is why it’s up to me to make sure I stay well. So no, no trip for me.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been gobbling up professional development opportunities like crazy. I’ve spent hours and hours learning new approaches to teaching, and I’ve earned a few college credits along the way. I’ve been home since March, and this is a way for me to feel productive. Yes, I enjoy my hobbies, but I also love my profession, and I want to be prepared to move forward when the time comes.

The discussion around school reopening has been one that I’ve been following closely. As of a few days ago, the governor of our state pushed back school opening to August 17. We generally start the first week in August. Now what will actually happen on August 17 is still unknown. The last I heard, our district will open providing 3 choices for families: all in person instruction, all online instruction, or a hybrid model that places kids in school for 3 hours each day. I know, I don’t really get the logic of that last one either. As we approach August 17, there may be a change to that plan. Several districts in our state have already come out and said they are only offering online instruction the first quarter. Personally, I think that’s wise from both a public health standpoint, and a consistency standpoint for students.

Let’s face it, there’s no good solution. No matter what happens, education has been impacted in a huge way, and there’s no easy fix.

I want to teach kids. I want to be in school. I also want all of us to stay healthy. I want this horrible pandemic to go away. But as my father used to tell me, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Wishing it won’t make it so. I, for one, will stay home as long as I can to help stop the spread of this disease.