Poetry at Dawn

"Your very flesh shall be a great poem." -Walt Whitman

Fail?

So, yeah. I suck. I cannot commit to a challenge and actually achieve the goal. F**k it. I don’t care enough to cry about it. 

So there. 

Instead. I’ve basically been on hiatus from the internet. 

Guess what I’ve been doing.

Reading. 

And I like it.

Better. 

So I might just keep doing it for awhile. 

Excuse my absence.

I’m busy.

Getting to know the smell of paper and ink again.


Catching up: Inspirational Colleagues

Day 7

Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

I’m actually going to cop-out on this one. Mainly because I couldn’t possibly choose one inspirational colleague. You know who I find inspirational? Every single teacher who goes to work every day and tries their hardest to help kids and ignore all the negative feedback we seem to get from the media and “others”.

Like anyone in a service industry, they are here to serve. And their service is to prepare the next generation to take over. They give their blood, sweat, and tears to their careers. They care deeply for their students. And they wish with all their might that the public and the government would trust them with that.

They are highly educated professionals who receive less pay and less respect than many who have less education and whose charge is far less precious. They ask nothing other than that they be treated as such. 

This is why my colleagues are amazing. They love kids. They love their jobs. And even on the days when they question that, they show up. They show up and they try. Again and again. 

My colleagues are walking examples of never giving up.


What does a good mentor “do”?

Day 6: Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge

Mentoring is more about allowing others to become, rather than showing or telling them how to do things.

I realize this question probably pertains to mentoring colleagues (new teachers or those new to the school/district), but the concept of mentoring is what education is all about.

It’s what I do in my classroom everyday. Sure I show and tell when it’s necessary, but the goal is to give the floor to the students and allow them to make the content their own…to put them in the driver’s seat, so to speak.

It’s the same with a colleague. I’ve mentored student teachers in my class several times. Yes, they watch me teach, and yes, I explain what I’m doing and why. But, I hand things over to them as soon as I can - often before they’re even comfortable…because, let’s face it, if we waited for comfort, we’d never get up there in front of all those expectant - sometimes judgmental - faces.

Then watch. I take notes. And the real mentoring comes in the form of feedback. Well-structured, specific, positive feedback…both written and spoken. Written feedback is important, because it can be referred to later. Spoken feedback is just as important because it sometimes makes more sense — less opportunity for misunderstanding — and can have a bigger emotional impact.

Now, there are other types of “mentors”. Some are simply there to show you the ropes…make sure you know the routine, where to find all the supplies and paperwork, who to ask when you need certain things. But, we should probably give these people a different name: contact, informer, reference?

A true mentor helps you inhabit a role, more completely, in your own way.


What I love most about teaching

Day 4 (Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge)

Respond: What do you love the most about teaching?

A long time ago, I had a teacher named Mrs. Muse. It was 5th grade, to be exact. I’d loved all of my teachers before her, but for some reason, Mrs. M just made an impact. I think it may have been because she made a special effort to connect with her kids. And I remember her stories…the ones about her childhood. She shared pieces of herself with us.

She also held her ground, however; and I remember staying in many a recess because I “couldn’t refrain from conversing with the people next to me.” She used to make us copy out of the dictionary when we were “in trouble.” Funny though…my vocabulary expanded greatly that year. And even though I was being “punished,” she never made me feel like I was a “bad kid.” In fact, she really used this time to connect with us even more.

I was positive I wanted to be a teacher by the end of 5th grade. I changed my plan briefly in high school (thought I might go in to journalism), but I came back to my initial first love by the time I went to college.

To me, teachers are born, not made. Sure we can be improved with training…but the real “art of teaching” is not something that can be taught. 

What I love most about teaching is that it feels right. It feels like the thing I was meant to do. 

Sure, I have crappy days. Sometimes I have crappy whole months or less-than-appealing years. But, all in all, at the end of the day, I couldn’t think of another thing I’d be doing.

I love the challenge, the continual renewal, the surprises, the craziness, the drama, and the opportunity to work with groups of kids…knowing that - just maybe - I might have an impact on their future success.


How Teacher Evaluations Have Changed

Day 3 prompt (Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge): Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

There’s been a lot of talk in the news the past years about teacher evaluations. Every state does it differently. Some even tie it to “merit pay”, which is terrible idea in my opinion. 

I don’t think teachers have any problem being evaluated. All employees receive evaluations that lead to stagnation or movement (and hopefully improvement) in their careers. And in lots of careers, that movement does come with more pay. You do well, you are rewarded. 

That’s probably why the general public can’t figure out why teachers are so against it. 

Well…it has to do with trust. And equality. 

If I have an honors class that performs well on the state test (they probably could have passed it their first day…without my instruction)…I come out looking good. My evaluations are good. I make more money. Yippee!

If I have a regular class and work hard with them…75% of them pass…I look okay. I might make a few extra dollars for having scores that surpass the state. No one bothers to look and see that 5 of those students missed more than 50 days of the school year each. But, I’m being held responsible for their learning, so if they don’t show up, I’d better work harder when they ARE there. Also, no one bothers to see that I’m willing to take the mainstreamed special ed kiddos who are working as hard as they can. They have improved, but they still can’t bring their 4th grade level reading to 7th grade standards. Even with accommodations, only 1 of them passes. I’ve spent lunch hours tutoring them, hours in meetings with their case-workers and parents, hours reading books or going to professional workshops trying to figure out ways to help them do the impossible. No matter what…even though I’ve worked my hardest…75% just doesn’t match the teacher with the honors class who makes 100% without even trying.

So, this evaluation/merit pay thing isn’t about good teaching. It’s about good scores. Or at least that’s what teachers fear it will be. And the problem with that is it will lead to competition, distrust, and inequality. Why wouldn’t I want to fight for the honors classes and avoid teaching those with special needs? If I’m liable to have my name printed in the local paper as a “failing” teacher (because they do that, you know) if my scores aren’t up to par, I’m going to do everything I can to stack my class with kids who are going to PASS. 

That is bad juju for education. 

Instead, evaluations (and, yes…merit pay, if you must - I’m not against a little extra cash!) should measure progress and improvement. That way, any teacher, with any population of students, can achieve their goals. My 7th graders with 4th grade reading ability? If they can make at least 1-1.5 grades’ worth of improvement, that should be celebrated. No, they are not likely to pass the state test, but they HAVE learned. And this is evidence of good teaching. That means data collection and portfolios have to be a part of the package, not just test scores. 

I get the point of standardized tests. But we put far too much importance on them. When one test, taken once a year, determines our whole next year’s funding and whether or not we are labeled a failing school…somewhere we have gone terribly wrong. That’s like Julia Child having one ugly batch of cookies and being put on probation in the kitchen for a year until she could get that same batch of cookies to look better (we aren’t concerned with what’s inside the cookies or what made the batch bad in the first place…we only care what they look like on the day of the test). 

Our school is in that position. We’ve received the Washington State Achievement Award 4 years running. Our scores bypass the state’s every year. By a lot. People actually move to our city for the special education program. We have amazing teachers who work hard. And, yet, last year, under the new guidelines, our school was labeled “emerging” because one group of kids didn’t meet standard. We still go the achievement award. We still outscored the state, and here we were - in the paper, labeled as a failing school. Really?

Here’s the article…

And this year, we had to send out a notice to all families telling them so.. making sure they knew they could send their kids to any other area school if they didn’t want to ruin their kids by sending them to us.

Wow.

Luckily, a significant portion of our population actually have brains and can see past the bureaucracy. Notice how the article mentions that 100% requirement. Anyone with a brain will understand that 100% is impossible, when we are talking about kids. Too many other factors get in the way of that number…

I’m not saying we shouldn’t TRY for 100%. But, I think it’s safe to say, we’ll never actually meet it, unless we stop educating EVERYONE - only let in kids who can achieve the standard, start punishing parents who don’t get their kids to school (seriously…when you let kids miss 20 days in a row without medical reason…it’s neglect, people!), and keep them the whole year (boarding school?) where we can control their out-of-school activities.

With that in mind, I’m currently considering my evaluation goals. Yay! 

Actually, I’m blessed to be in a school and district that “gets it.” Our state chose the Danielson Model (teacher-speak for “really complex way of defining good teaching and a really good way for one lady to make a boat-load of cash packaging a program to sell to states across the nation”). There were two other choices for states to consider.

As if that weren’t comprehensive enough, Washington also added its own criteria called the State 8 (cute, eh?).

Every 4 years, teachers have to be evaluated on all 8 criteria. In the other years, they choose one focus area. I can’t imagine having an administrator who had to evaluate all of his/her staff on all 8 criteria every year. Not that principals shouldn’t be evaluating their staff. But, seriously…they have dozens of other jobs to do, too. And the data collection, pre-conferences, post-conferences, observations, paperwork…it takes a lot of time. 

I’ll admit, since we started this…my evaluation conferences have been more productive and focused. But the accompanying paperwork and evidence collection DOES take a lot of time away from my normal planning and teaching. And it does make sure that my state test scores are NOT the measure of my teaching ability…or the abilities of the students. I do think, after a few years of implementing this, I’ll find that I’m spending far less time preparing for it. It helps me to actually PROVE that I’m doing my job…well. I’m not just saying it. I have evidence to back it up.

With ALL OF THAT in mind…I’m on the comprehensive plan this year (by choice…I wanted to get it out of the way). So these are my goals, in summation:

Criteria 1 - Classroom Environment & Instruction: This year, I’m trying student data folders. I’ve also stream-lined my website and am incorporating a weekly homework packet with a newsletter home, rather than having sporadic/intermittent homework. The concept here is routine and habit with clear expectations. Also, I will continue to focus on pace and variety in lesson plans (multiple intelligences, brain-based instruction, gifted & talented, differentiation).

Criteria 2 - Demonstrating Effective Teaching Practices: Basically, the focus here is questioning and discussion techniques. As I team pretty closely with the science teacher, I’ll be working with the same Next Generation Science discussion norms. Also, my goal is to have the kids designing and controlling more of their learning.

Criteria 3 and 6 - Recognizing Individual Student Needs & Developing Strategies to Address those Needs/Using Multiple Student Data Elements to Modify Instruction & Improvement Student Learning: That’s really just reading records, pre-assessing, and then instructing at differentiated levels…then using formative assessments (observations/assignments) to guide re-instruction. It might also mean grouping students in particular ways, providing alternate materials, and being sensitive to student interests (surveys). This is also where the student data folders with come into play…with student reflection based on goals set by the kids (with help from me). I usually keep spreadsheets of data.

Criteria 4 - Providing Clear & Intentional on Subject Matter Content & Curriculum: Lesson planning, my friends. Knowing what you want them to learn and then designing the units backwards from there, with the goal in mind. It’s simple UBD (understanding by design). This takes a clear understanding of CCSS (common core state standards). I even gave the kids their own CCSS checklist this year, just like the one I use to track my own progress in teaching the concepts.

Criteria 5 - Fostering a Safe, Positive Learning Environment: I try to keep the room clean and interesting, with clear expectations for sharing, risk-taking, and making mistakes. From the posters on the wall, to classroom discussion and group work norms, my intention is to make sure all students feel like they are part of the classroom family. This means trying to talk to each student (one-on-one) each week - about personal things rather than school things. I have to be approachable…and make sure that all the students know that my expectation is that the be tolerant.

Criteria 7 - Communicating & Collaborating with Parents and Community: Weekly newsletter and classroom website.

Criteria 8 - Exhibiting Collaborative & Collegial Practices Focused on Improving Instructional Practice and Student Learning: Working with my team…designing shared assignments and rubrics with Science, attending committee meetings and sharing with department.

Interestingly enough…I’m supposed to have my TPEP (teacher/principal evaluation project) paperwork/goals done by next week. So, all I have to do is transfer this into the form. 

Goals? Check.



Day 5: Reflective Teaching blog Challenge

(Yes…I’m behind…and I WILL go back and tackle days 3 and 4 this weekend!)

This is the classroom as it stands right now. I hate having desks in rows, but kids seem to feel more comfortable at first not having to be forced into groups with people they don’t know. Plus, it allows me to seat them in alphabetical order, with all of them facing forward - nametag in front of them, so I can memorize their names quickly. By week three, we’ll be in pods…or I will have them facing each other from two sides of the room as we moving into argumentative writing and debate.


The Upper Dungeness River Trail (and Camp Handy)

A quick “throwback” post from last year…we’ll be back to your “regularly scheduled programming” with a “new season” of writing after this set of “re-runs”. For those of you who hate re-runs…get out there and enjoy the great outdoors! August, for me and mine, is going to be a month of outdoor adventures…great opportunities for photography and lots of writing inspiration.

Looking for a fairly easy day hike?  Maybe a quick overnight with the kids (and dogs)?  This may be just the place.

The Upper Dungeness River Trail is a tree covered trail that follows the river the entire way to Camp Handy.  We took our 5-year-old son on this trail for his first overnight backpacking trip.  It’s short enough, and the inclines/declines are gradual enough that packing more than you might usually carry is do-able.  That means you don’t have to say no to luxuries like hot dogs, marshmallows, bigger sleeping pads, etc.  And when camping with a young child, these things can be rather important.

This is a well-maintained trail, easy to navigate and appropriate for a wide variety of skill levels.

Yes, you can bring your dogs.  Just make sure to follow the rules concerning them, and realize that dogs can cause problems with local wildlife.  Ours didn’t even hear the bear growl at us, so I’m guessing she wouldn’t have cared much if she’d seen it, either.  Though, she may be the reason it was bothered in the first place.  Horses also use this trail, so be sure your dog is good with this.  There isn’t much room for sharing the trail, so there is always the possibility of close encounters with others.  I’ve run across several people with loose dogs, even though they are supposed to be leashed at all times.

Hot cocoa by the campfire.

Fires are allowed at lower elevations.

Obviously, putting your food and other scented items up is a must!

The Dungeness River

Once you reach Camp Handy, there are several camp sites, including a well-maintained shelter with an established fire pit.  Because of it’s low elevation, fires are allowed here.  The camp sites are very close to the river (in fact, a few are right ON the river).

Bear activity in this area is reportedly moderate to high, depending on the season.  During our last trip there, on our way out, we were warned to exit the vicinity as quickly as possible by a very angry growl about 20 feet off the trail.  We never saw the bear.  We didn’t stick around long enough.  But, it made for an exciting first expedition with the kiddo.

The Upper Dungeness River Trail continues into the Buckhorn Wilderness.

Driving Directions:

Off of HWY 101, turn onto Louella Road. In 1 mile turn left on Palo Alto Road, continuing for 6 miles. Bear right at a junction onto Forest Road 2880. The road descends and crosses the Dungeness River, coming to another junction in 1.7 miles, where you turn left on FR 2870. In 2.6 miles bear right at a junction to continue on FR 2870 (formerly called FR 2860). Continue 6.5 miles to the large parking area just past the Dungeness River Bridge. Privy available.


Technology in the classroom

Day Two: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you’re hoping to see out of this ed. tech. integration.

Quite honestly, there’s no way out of using technology these days. I’m not saying there should be, but…well…I miss the days of books. You know…when kids actually looked forward to library day and read alouds rather than downloaded a new e-book or listening to an audiobook. Don’t get me wrong - I do both of those things, too. It’s hard not to in this day and age. And I get the psychology of reading on an e-reader (my kids read faster and actually read more on those little screens). I also get the psychology of writing on a computer (when you see how short your 5 sentence “essay” looks on the screen, you are much more likely to add to it than you are when it appears to be plenty of writing on a piece of paper…of course, you are also much more likely to figure out how to manipulate the document to make it look like more…but then I suppose that’s “ingenuity,” right?).

There’s also the benefit of having less paper hanging around. Which is good for the planet and just makes the classroom (and my desk - though not my computer "desktop”) look cleaner.

I have two technology goals this year: to have my honors class start their own blogs (using edublogs - which is where my classroom website is) and to write a grant for tablets (at least 8) and/or Chromebooks in my classroom.

I don’t have a lot of room in my classroom, so trying to build a lab just isn’t feasible or advisable (we already feel like sardines). But having access to the internet for research is a must at all times. 

I like the idea of using tablets for this, because students won’t be able to copy and paste text or print dozens of articles they haven’t really previewed, then highlight and plagiarize the heck out of them. Having screen access only will “encourage” them to search, read, and write down facts in their own hand-writing - you know…actually “think” about what is important and how they might put it in their own words. I hope.

I also, this year, have a student Skyping into my classroom. So that’s new. And he’s receiving most of his assignments from me via my website or a shared drive in which I place copies for him to print. It’s making me much more cognizant of my lesson plans because, even though I tend to be a day-to-day planner, for him I have to have at least some sort of plan well in advance so I can get materials to his specialists so they can be modified as necessary. 

Every year, I do just a bit more with technology. I figure, with the blogs and trying to get that grant, I’ve got plenty on my tech to-do list (what with being on the “focused” teacher evaluation plan this year - that means being evaluated in all 8 areas designated by the state as “evaluating criteria”…we have to do it every 4 years).


winter

Winter slips her noose around the sun

and drags him behind the curtain.

The already tired orb gives in easily;

ready for sleep, he closes his eyes.

The long night stretches out

further than he can see.

The horizon is silent.


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