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Friday, January 22, 2016

The time just flies

NOTE: For the past year and a half the film maker above  (Casey Neistat) has truly inspired me

It's been a while since I posted last.  Over a year and a half actually.  Let me go over some details of what has happened in my teaching career as of late.  Firstly, I'm still teaching 4th grade at Ellis. Last year I had a really great class.  They ended up having the best test scores in the city which was pretty awesome.  My video club won some competitions again, but I really didn't like the kids in the club. I felt like I was babysitting more than I was teaching.  Last year ended up just being a really great year. I started feeling very comfortable with teaching and what I had to do to get students to succeed.

This year things have changed.  The other fourth grade teacher that taught with me left to teach 5th grade. That meant a new teacher came in to replace her. I've never been the veteran teacher and I've had a hard time adjusting to that role. Also, I must be a really horrible person because I've made this new teacher cry several times.  I don't know how to handle people that are so emotionally fragile.

I have an intern this year which has been great. Normally I would've hated having someone in my class all year, but our district has implemented a new reading and writing program.  I'm probably its most outspoken critic, which has left a bitter taste in the eyes of the district and my principal.  I still don't understand how administrators, who don't teach, can argue that materials, that they've never used before, are going to improve our scores.  Anyway, I've given the intern all of the reading and writing stuff (ReadyGen) to teach this year.  It's prevented me from having complete mental breakdowns and quit, so there's that.

We had about 34 kids in my class this year and they are a weird bunch.  Definitely some trouble makers, but they are coming along slowly now.  It makes me really miss last year's class. The following is a list of stuff I've accomplished for memory sake:
- Made several films for the school district
- Won several video contests from and
- Won the Voya Unsung Hero grant/award for $2,000 to start a film festival
- Got some money to start a Lego Robotics league (never competed in the league....oops)
- Started making videos for several companies.
- Taught a 4-H club how to edit videos (it did not go as well as I expected)

Anyway, right now I'm walking on the aforementioned moving sidewalk.  Last year I was running on it and life was great. I'm trying to motivate myself to run on it again, but then I get tired and I just rest on it, which sends me further back than where I started last year.  The main reason for my lack of motivation is that our new Superintendent has blacklisted me from ever getting a better job in this district and my principal hates me because I make teachers cry.  It's amazing how different you can feel from one year to the next.  I must be in one of the valleys they saw on the last blog post.  I'm just trying to figure out what mountain I want to try and climb next.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nothing but Mountains!

The clip above is from the movie "Alive." It's a story about a plane that crashes in the Andes Mountains with a group of soccer players.  The story is well known because a lot of them had to resort to cannibalism to survive.  That was the one thing people always talked about with this movie, but I've always remembered this scene.  I probably saw this movie in 6th grade, far too young for an R rated film.  I think of this clip most often when I'm hiking or camping and I get to see the rolling hills of the Rockies.  When I saw this scene I thought how awful they must've felt to have finally made it to the mountain top to see where they might find a place to get help, but then only discovered more mountains. 

It's been a while since I last wrote, but a lot has happened over the last year or so of teaching.  I often compare my last year of teaching to this scene in the movie.  Last year I was able to accomplish a lot and I recognize that a lot of it wasn't necessarily deserved. I did it though, I made it to the mountain top...kind of.  Let me run down a list of some of the accomplishments from last year: won teacher of the year for my elementary school, was featured in the local newspaper several times, was featured on ABC 4 News and Fox 13 for my work in establishing a theater/video club for my school, won some international awards for some of the videos we made (Scotties Trees Rock Finalist, White House Film Festival Finalist, and Grand Prize Winner of several other competitions), and was able to get some major funds for the club through grants.

When I started teaching I set off to be the best teacher in the world.  Heck, I've even declared such a thing at the top of this blog.  Last year seemed to be a good push in that direction.  I actually hadn't planned on getting this much attention this far into my career.  I thought it would take me several more years to be recognized for anything I've done in the classroom.  When all is said and done after this last year, all I see is more mountains.  I've made it to the top of one peak and I could've quit and found another job thinking I had accomplished everything I set out to do, but there is still a lot more I need to accomplish before I feel satisfied with ending my career as a teacher.  To be completely honest the stuff I've been recognized for has been great, but I've also felt a bit empty.

I've been a bit selfish and some of this stuff I've wanted to do for myself, to make me look good.  I've climbed many peaks in my life, but most of my students have never felt that type of success before.  A teacher's journey to the top of the mountain is a wasted journey if they leave their students behind.  That's why I've made it a point to put the children in the spotlight from now on. The kids enjoyed watching and making the movies we created, but the happiest I ever saw them was when they were creating stuff they had done all by themselves.  This year I'm trying to change the way I do things by putting students in control.  After all, did I get into teaching to help others succeed, or myself?

The great thing about being a teacher is the fact that there are so many mountain peaks you can climb.  You'll never get bored with this job because each year brings with it a new set of students which means a new set of learning behaviors and styles.  I get to climb a new mountain every year with my students and I get to show them the other mountain peaks at the top.  It's up to them to decide which peak they want to travel to next.  This journey is long and slow, but the reward comes in looking back and seeing where both yourself and your students have come from.  I usually don't see that until the start of the next year when I have to teach and train my students on the most simple of things that I take for granted with my students from the previous year. The new year has just begun and I'm excited for what challenges this year's mountain brings me because I know at the end of my journey I won't be at the top alone. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Those that can, Teach.

I laughed really hard at this clip in the movie "School of Rock" the first time I heard it. Now there is a new saying that is pretty similar that made me chuckle a bit.  Not because it wasn't funny, but because it is sadly true.  Those that can, teach. Those that can't, make the rules for teachers.

There has been a lot of uproar over the new Common Core Standards that most of the states have decided to use as their curriculum guide.  I went to a meeting last year where a person from the Utah State Board of Education came to talk to teachers about a new style of test that we will start using for our end of level tests.  They showed us a lot of great features that it has and they tried to sell us on the idea that this way of testing will help us get a better sense of what the student understands more so than a multiple choice standardized test.

After the presentation there were a lot of parents in the crowd that started to ask questions about the Common Core and the role of certain people in the testing application we were implementing.  They were concerned that it was a government conspiracy to pry into their child's lives and keep tabs on them.  I know some kids have to tape the cameras on their computers because they think other people are going to hack into their computer and spy on them.  I left the meeting after the 3rd comment because I realized the direction the conversation was going.  I heard later that i was correct and that I should've stayed because it was quite entertaining.

The truth of the matter is that these people are looking for conspiracies that don't exist (hopefully) and aren't looking at the real problem here.  The people that are creating the standards and the people telling teachers how to teach, what to teach, and when to teach it have very little experience in the education field.  When I say education field, I mean teaching.  This does not include Teach for America nor does it include summer camps or after school clubs.  I've seen how these operate and they are simply a daycare service/day camp for kids who don't have a place to go after school.  I love these programs, but teaching in a regular classroom is completely different than the sort of job I just described.

I've recently learned about a man named David Coleman who was the mastermind behind the Common Core.  He's a very educated man with degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale. Did I mention he is a Rhodes Scholar? Well I've seen a couple of his interviews and I'm not impressed with the man.  He seems like an elitist that comes across as a man who is always right.  I get the impression that he feels teachers are not doing a good job and that if we taught like him then the world would be a utopian society where everyone attended an Ivy League school.

Attached is a blurb about his thoughts on what students commonly write about.  In essence he says that the type of thing I'm doing right now, expressing my opinion, is of little worth.  I would not expect this from someone who speaks to large groups about his personal opinions on education. I disagree with this man on so many levels that I find the pill I'm forced to swallow next year as we implement the Language Arts portion of the Common Core.  Why is it that a man with no teaching experience is telling us what makes good teachers? For your viewing pleasure, two videos of the man himself. Click HERE to view video.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Really...I mean, REALLY?

I really feel for the spelling bee announcer in this video.  I mean really, she isn't that hard to understand.  She speaks perfectly clear a few dozen times.  Seriously, what is the deal kid?  Clean the gunk out of your ears and listen.  At first I thought he was kidding.  Maybe it was an Onion video that made fun of situations like this, but nope, it was real.  You can see the relief in his eyes when he finally realizes what word it was that he was to spell.  He spells it easily and then sits back down.  That feeling and look he has at the end is what teachers commonly refer to as an "ah-ha" moment.  That moment where after a certain amount of time a child finally "gets it."  You hear about this moment when you go through school and you are told that it is the greatest feeling you can have as a teacher.  That feeling you have that after so many hours of planning and working (sometimes with just this student in mind or at hand) you get when everything comes together in the child's mind and then they understand everything.  That is the coveted and prized award that teachers get for working harder than they are paid for.  "That's why we do it" I've heard, "That's when everything you sacrificed becomes worth it."

What happens when they don't get it though?  What if you work harder than you ever had, sacrificing your time to make an impact on students, and then nothing happens?  What is the opposite feeling of relief and success?  Let me tell you, because I've been feeling it for the last month. A few feelings come to mind, but these are the ones that I feel the deepest: depression, sadness, and failure.  They don't tell you about that in school.  Let me tell you why I've been feeling this lately. 

For the last month and a half I've been spending an hour after school tutoring my really low kids in math.  Once a week I have my class take a skills test on math concepts we've already learned this year and then I take the lowest scoring students and then break them into 2 groups that I meet with after school for a half hour each.  I originally thought I was going to cure their math woes because I had more time to help them.  I spent the first week with them and felt that they understood everything.  I gave them the same test and then I compared the scores.  To my surprise, to my utter astonishment, most of them did a point or two better, a couple really aced it, and then a couple did worse.  WORSE! How does this happen?  They were fine when we talked about each skill individually, but put it all onto one test and they act like they've never seen it before.  I mean...REALLY!?

Well, I'm sure the month of March has something to do with these feelings I've been having.  March is the longest month of the school year because we get no breaks and the month right before we really gear up for end of level tests.  Really, it's the last month that we can teach everything that needs to be taught before we start testing and preparing for the tests.  When I try to help my students and I see that anything I try to do so they can get help and get better isn't working, I tend to feel bad.  I feel incompetent as a teacher.  Even more so, I feel bad for the students that continually lag behind in every subject even after teachers have put in extra time with them.  When will they get it? Will they ever get it? How will this effect their life? Well, I'm not going to worry about that right now because SPRING BREAK HAS ARRIVED!  I really need this because as the song says, "You'll lose the blues in CHICAGO."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Now is the winter of (my) discontent"

I wish I felt like this everyday.  I think I saw my brother like this just the other day which I'll talk about later.

The first few months of teaching are done and as I use this time to reflect on my life and on teaching I think to myself, "What have I accomplished?" Well, I started my Master's program and am happy to say that I have successfully completed my first term with straight A's.  I was lucky to have met and worked with some great people who really helped me during finals.  I couldn't have done it without them. I have been able to take my kids to a few different plays including The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, and the Pickleville Playhouse Christmas play.  They've really enjoyed each of the events and it's really made me wish I did my theater club with the kids.  There are some talented actresses in my class.

The first part of December I started working on a movie project for the school.  Our music teacher quit unexpectedly and our Christmas program was in disarray so I volunteered my video skills to make a video involving the whole school.  I pretty much ripped off my brothers movie he did 6 years ago, but it worked out.  We showed it on Friday and we got some good reviews so I'm happy about that.  Turns out when you're teaching full-time, going to school full-time, and making a movie with any spare time you start to get tired and don't have time for much else.  Well, I actually had a little time to think about my career and where I want to go from here.

A major event happened in my brother's life that got me thinking about my life.  He started getting very frustrated with his 4th grade teaching job and was committed to finding another job by the end of the year.  He applied for a job at the hospital in November and he got the job on the 19th of December.  He told his kids and the district two days before school got out for winter break that he was done.  He had to pay a thousand dollars because he broke his contract agreement, but he didn't mind that.  He was happier than I had ever seen him.

Here is a man that taught computers for 10 years, was named district employee of the year once and school employee of the year twice.  He started a lot of great activities and programs in the school that we still use today and he's helped me be a better teacher as well.  He left teaching for a few years to go back to school and became a full time teacher.  It only took him a year and a half to say, "I'm done."   During his teaching years he has gained over a hundred pounds, been put on 3 different anxiety medicines, gone in debt several times, and now has diabetes.  He was in good shape before he started teaching (and I don't blame all of this on teaching, but I'm sure it contributes.) 

I looked at myself and saw that I was heading in the same direction.  I know every job has its stressful situations, but I feel teaching is multiplied by the number of students you have.  This year I have 35, so everything I've dealt with before is now doubled compared to previous years.  I wanted to get into teaching so I could teach and inspire my students, but more often than not I'm spending my time with behavior management and grading.  I love teaching, but I hate that stuff.  As I reflect on the toll that teaching has taken on me I can think of a few things that have happened recently in life. Firstly, I've gained about 25 pounds since teaching full-time.  That's about 10 pounds a year (catching up to my brother).  I haven't started any anxiety medication, but I'm sure I could use it.  I'm not completely in debt, but I've spent a lot of money on my classroom doing things that I wanted to do like taking kids to plays, doing auctions with our money system, and buying books and other things for the classroom.

I think the thing that teaching has had the biggest impact on is my social life.  I don't do much after school except lesson plans, napping, or exercising.  I'm so drained everyday it's hard for me to come home and have enough energy to hang out with friends.  I just want to come home and relax.  More so, I think my dating life has really suffered.  Usually I'll ask a girl out and not be able to ask her out for another month.  By the time I ask her out again, she might be engaged.  Seriously, this has happened.  This last year I really liked a girl, but the only problem was she lived in Salt Lake City.  I'd try to travel down on the weekends and do something with her, but schedules never completely aligned.  She is a teacher too and was in charge of putting on theater and choir productions which required a lot of time.

I enjoyed my time with her, but we never had time for each other because we were too focused on our careers.  I even applied for some jobs in SLC and was offered one, but decided not to take it because the school environment was completely different from the school I came from.  I know that when you switch jobs there is always going to be a lot of change, but you usually don't have to think of the demographics of the people you're working for, or their parents.  You usually don't have to worry about supplies like computers or iPads for your class as well.  It was just impossible for me to take the job knowing I wasn't going to be as effective as I had been in Logan.  Maybe I over think things, but switching jobs for me isn't an easy decision, even if there is a wonderful girl involved.  I think about that situation often and try to rework it in my head to think of what I could do to make it work out, but the answer that comes back again and again is that it won't work out as long as I teach.  At least that's what I tell myself. 

The hardest news to take is that I actually applied for the same job as my brother, but didn't notice the email they had sent me asking me to call them until two weeks after.  When he got the job I started thinking about my life and how different it would be if I had been given the job.  Maybe things could still work out with the girl.  How nice it would be to come home and not have to worry about lesson plans, grading papers, or meeting with parents.  The joy of taking a sick day and not have to plan a lesson at 4 in the morning.  Also, how nice would it be to be able to take care of a family and actually be able to spend time with them.  Teaching comes with a hefty price tag. How much more am I willing to pay for it?  Just ramblings for my online journal.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"What makes you itch?"

Watch the video...nuff said.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Three is the Magic Number

Well....I'm now starting my 3rd year.  Who would've thought that I'd be in this position? The old me wouldn't question this, but the current me almost quit 1 week before school started.  Let me tell you why that almost happened.  I got hired back on at the same school and am now teaching 4th grade again.  I was excited for the move back to fourth grade and was excited for the class I was getting.  I really do have a great group of kids for the most part.  There will always be those students that make things difficult or make you wish corporal punishment was reinstated in the schools, but I'm content with the the class I have.  Here's why I wanted to get out of teaching.

Firstly, I'm now teaching 35 kids in my class.  I know that may not seem like many compared to the upper grades, but it is 11 more than I've ever had and it is a hard adjustment.  I'm finding out very quickly that I have had to change quite a bit about how my class operates.  I was also looking for work elsewhere because I felt like I needed a move.  The only problem is that I love my school, my classroom, and the area in which I teach.  The hard part is finding a place that compares and has the same types of programs I'm used to using.  This made it hard for me to accept in job in SLC this summer that sounded okay, but in the end I didn't want to give up everything I have here.  On top of all of that I decided to go back to school to get my Master's in Instructional Technology. 

I feel overwhelmed to say the least and it's going far.  My biggest regret is not having enough time to direct my theater club.  I have a lot of great kids this year that I think would be awesome and really benefit from it.  Last year I saw two students really come out of their shells as they started to perform.  One of them turned out to be one of my favorites.  The bonus to teaching this year (besides the fact that we have changed most of our curriculum, including our 3rd math program in 3 years) is I feel more comfortable with knowing what I have to teach.  I understand what needs to be taught and how it needs to be taught for the most part. 

It seems like I really enjoy teaching and I'm feeling more comfortable with it, but the question remains "Why do I still want to change jobs?"  My brother is in his second year and he wants to quit too.  I've come up with a few reasons and those will come in due time.  Right now I'm listening to the Education Nation on NBC and a lot of thoughts are going through my head and I'll probably get on my soapbox about them later.  They are discussing a lot of things that I disagree with and I'm starting to get sick and tired of the rhetoric.  When and how are we going to make real change in education happen?  This whole post has been nonsense...oh well.