BulgingButtons

Not bad for a fat girl


Leave a comment

Going Hybrid

Tomorrow starts the beginning of a new phase of the school year. Tomorrow is the day when I begin to teach kids online and in person simultaneously. For many teachers this has been their reality all year, but for me, it’s brand new. As more kids are returning to school, the in-person classes were getting too big, and the online only classes were shrinking. Most grade levels didn’t really have an issue with this, but our grade level was set up a little differently, so we had to make some adjustments.

Rereading my previous blog post at this time was a good reminder of why we do the things we do. Am I stressed out about this new way of teaching? You bet. But do I think it will be in the best interest of the most kids? Yes, I do. I’m sure I’m going to fumble around a little at first. I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes. I’m sure there will be times when things don’t go according to plan. But I’m also sure that I can figure it out, with the help of my students, teammates, and colleagues. If a teacher can’t embrace learning something new, it would be hypocritical of them to expect their students to rise to new challenges.

I will rise. I will do my best. I will model how to handle coping with things that may be confusing or frustrating. I will muddle through. And through it all, I will be delighted to have actual human children right there in the room with me, as well as those tiny digital people online cheering me on. Here’s to a new challenge for this old teacher. It’s going to be great.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.