Teaching….❤️

I stood in the parking lot, buses behind me, kids coming toward me excited to hop on the bus. 

Then, to my right comes Jon. 

“Hey, Mrs. Farmer.” 

“Hey Jon, how’s it going? Thank you for the kind note you wrote me.”

“Yeah, hey, you want a Kit Kat?” 

“Sure,” I replied. 

Jon reached in his pocket and handed me a piece of candy and then went on toward the buses. 

That was it. Nothing more. 

As a teacher, those moments-spontaneously kind and unexpected-mean more than anything I can think of-because in that moment he offered what he had because, well, he felt like it. 

Last year, I played UNO with him and his classmates, just a few times (after exams) but it’s been a connecting point ever since. Jon always carries UNO cards. 

Isn’t that the funniest part-we all study how to Teach Like A PIRATE or how to Teach Like a Champion but truly- it all seems to come down to the heart. “Do you care about me?” “Do I matter to you?” “Are you willing to invest time in me and what I enjoy?” 

Maybe teaching isn’t that complicated after all. 

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Teaching: The Simple Comforts 


“I walked into my son’s room last night, and he was engrossed in a book. My heart leaped out of my chest, and in that moment I just loved him so much!” I exclaimed as I looked unto thirty sixth-graders hungry for lunch. 

I smiled, and they all started laughing. 

“What! What are you saying, Mrs. Farmer? You only love your son when he’s reading?” they all exclaimed. 

I retorted,”Now, y’all are just picking on me. I always love my son!” 

We all laughed together, and then headed out down the hall to lunch. 

Now, it was probably a bit selfish of me to be telling that story to begin with. Really–who wants to hear these boring personal stories from their teacher. Sadly, the one fun part about being a teacher is you always have an audience-may not be a captive one, but an audience just the same. Despite that, aren’t those the most treasured moments in teaching. Laughing and enjoying each other’s company. 

In the world of education there is always a new initiative, procedure, or demand for higher standards. But, truly, the joy in teaching often lies in the small moments. The moments when you catch that one student working harder than ever before, the snide joke–by the “cut-up” in class who deep down really enjoys your teaching and you know it, or the student who comes in every morning with a bright smile ready to help, whatever the task. I love those moments, and that is what I love about teaching. 

So, as we await the end of grade assessment scores, wondering, “Did I really do my job? Am I a good teacher?” I hope we can also remember that those scores will never take the place of those special moments, which make teaching so worthwhile. That our worth and the worth of our students reaches far beyond a number. The heart beat, the sweet souls who show up each day-bravely-despite failed attempts at learning and through victories, too, can come together and keep going with hope for a bright future. 

Last week, I wrote about the simple comfort of drinking coffee from my mom’s teacher mug every morning. I love holding on to that tradition! We all have teaching comforts-and it’s those small comforts like our students’ laughter that make it the best job in the world. 

I’m going to end this post with a scripture, since this is a reflective post. I hope those who read this may gain something from it as well. 

Wishing all teachers a wonderful week of small, joyful moments! 

2 Peter 1:5-7 New International Version (NIV)

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

The Simple Comforts 

I grew up as a teacher’s kid. I still remember the school my mother taught in, the musty smell of the hallways, the lockers that lined the walls of a once segregated junior high school turned elementary school. The small room my mother kept as a speech therapist tucked behind the library.  I’d pass by her room with my classmates on the way to the library. They’d exclaim, “Mrs. Respess, oh, that’s your mom! Cool!” As an elementary school student, I stood proud, happy to have my mom nearby. 

My mom, calm and quiet, went about her work in a loving and cheerful way. She enjoyed her students and her job. She also seemed composed, organized, and prepared. This created a comfortable stability in my life. One item I remember that she always kept close at hand was her coffee cup. It was white with a flower imprint on one side and a scripture written on the other. I always loved that coffee cup and would study it at times. After my first year of teaching my mom gave it to me. 

Whenever I drink from it now, walking around my classroom or greeting my students for the day ahead, I think of her and an immense comfort washes over me. Like me, she stood in the hallways, greeting students in the morning, fervently working with the same cup in her hand. That brings comfort, but more importantly strength. She did the often hard work of teaching and I can do it, too.

This may seem small or insignificant, but sometimes finding those small treasures can make all the difference in attitude and outlook for the school day ahead. 

What small comforts do you treasure as a teacher? I would love to hear your story, too. 

Wishing all teachers a wonderful Monday morning, one in which you can treasure the simple comforts.  

Never Too Old: 10 Things that Middle School Students will Always Love

  1. Smiles.
  2. Verbal Encouragement.
  3. Written Encouragement.
  4.  High Fives.
  5. Hands on learning.
  6. Make Believe.
  7. Fun.
  8. Mystery.
  9. Collaborative Group Work.
  10. Support and belief in their life dreams.

 

Middle grades teachers can often speak about the importance of “growing up”.

“You’re in middle school, now. It’s time to grow up.”

The problem lies in that they aren’t grown, and they aren’t looking to be a grown up any time soon. In fact, many students express sadness in the loneliness they feel in this high-tech generation. That it’s all a bit fake, really. They want to feel more important than a smartphone.

“Be present, adults, for real,” they say.

The quest lies then, in returning to the good ol’ days, in a sense. Utilize technology, but be conscious of its use.

How can tech be integrated, while also weaving in smiles, verbal encouragement, high fives, hands on learning, make believe, fun, mystery, collaboration, and support?

Can class work be engaging, challenging, tech-integrated, and supportive of the whole child, no matter the content?

It’s a goal worth striving for…

One of the best Twitter follows who seems to always hit the mark on this is the author of Ditch That Textbook, Mr. Matt Miller. Follow him on Twitter @jmattmiller. I always seem to find great lessons and ideas from his website, and his lessons are so easy to implement.

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7 Essential Attitudes for the Classroom Teacher

A few weeks go I was standing awkwardly in the commons area of my church. Teenagers surrounded me all of which were avoiding eye contact, absorbed into their phones. “No worries,” I thought, “It’s all good.” Then, I heard a scream, “Mrs. Farmer!” One sweet young lady grabbed a hold of me so tight I could hardly breathe, but I was so grateful. Then, I realized it was one of my students from the first full year of teaching. This young lady came from the most difficult home life, and I could hardly imagine what she went through, but no matter what–every day she came to school with a bright smile on her face. She inspired me every day as a teacher that year, and seeing her again just brightened my day. What struck me the most about our conversation was that she remembered dancing in my class and how much she loved it, and it meant so much to her. It’s truly moments like that, moments we’ve all had, that remind us why we became teachers–why it’s such a gift.

With that thought in mind I’d like to reflect and propose seven essential attitudes all classroom teachers need (starting with me) to maintain a positive and impactful year for 2016-17.

  1. Be Intentional: Summer is an awesome time to rest and reflect. It serves as a time to research and work to stay ahead of the curve in our practice. My goal is to be intentional with home life and work life. Keep each in their place and give each a sacred space of time. With a full first half of the school year ahead of me, like most busy moms who love both their jobs, being intentional with each lesson plan, each student interaction, each family outing, and each good night story will be essential for success at work and at home. How do you plan on being intentional this year?f38174ac7a690838bde395b6b95335f0
  2. Be Present: Dave Burgess discusses this as immersion, which is vital to the classroom and needed more now than ever. This past week, I visited the Gulf with my family. The waves crashing on the sand, the bright sun overhead, making sandcastles and dinosaurs out of sand, and yet…most families sat on the side staring at their phones. Stare….stare….stare. Ignore…ignore…ignore. Silence. If the ocean doesn’t engage a person, I’m not sure that anything I do in the classroom stands a chance. So, here’s the deal. I’m leaving my phone in my car. I’ve pulled out my digital camera, and I’m going to assign a student to take a few shots when the opportunity arises. I do love pictures of the kids and looking back over the year. It truly tells a wonderful story. The vibe of a phone in the classroom kills it, though. Students just change. I don’t want that in my classroom this year. No phones. Just be present. How is being present vital to your classroom?zen-present-moment-eckart-tolle-V1u7Ve-quote
  3. Be Patient: Patience is a virtue, and I believe this happens more easily with less technology, and more of a balance between handwriting, keyboarding, readers theatre, and presenting. Creativity and use of the imagination does so much for our students’ development of life long learning. There is a large emphasis on constructed responses and non-fiction texts, which hinders their love of literature. As a side note-if the state needs help rewriting the ELA standards, I would be happy to help. In the meantime, I will be patient and teach the best for students to promote a love for literature and writing as well work to be successful on the Milestones exam. Also, we must be patient with our students, knowing someone was once patient with us. Grace is an amazing gift, and we often take it for granted until someone offers it to us. All great things happen with a patient heart. What does patience look like in your classroom?When-youre-tempted-to1
  4. Be Content: Many times, as humans, we are always pushing toward the next, great thing or we are always pushing to press past the present moment. In the summer, we can’t wait until the cold, wintry months. In the winter months, we’re begging for the blistery heat of summer. Are we ever just content? As they say, don’t count the days…make the days count. My plan is to take John Wooden’s advice– make each day your masterpiece. Be thankful enough in that. How will you be more content this school year?quote-Benjamin-Franklin-content-makes-poor-men-rich-discontent-makes-102938
  5. Be Respectful: Many times, as teachers, we demand respect from our students. We become frustrated when they don’t seem to respect us. There are times when students are disrespectful for whatever reason, but often there is a reason, and we can’t just sit back and blame the parents for a poor upbringing. Classroom design is one key–the teacher must plan out how the students will react to the lessons that are planned. One college writing professor I met this summer from Emory University stated that she does not have her students write heavily on a daily basis. The students rebel. She integrates technology, where students dissect their heavier writing papers into infographics as part of the assignment. The design of the lessons reduces disrespect in the classroom, because the students are engaged in the work. In addition, I believe being present is the other component. If the teacher is circulating and working hands on with students in a lesson that matters, then less problems will occur. Therefore, multitasking shouldn’t exist in the classroom, although there is great pressure to answer e-mails, grade papers, and just juggle everything at the same time. However, this will only provide a disservice to students. Thankfully, with all the new Google technologies and digital rubrics, grading and feedback can be offered faster than ever, we must just remember kids know when we’re not present. They will resent not having all of us present with them. How do you believe respect is essential to the classroom environment? Life-Love-Quotes-Respect-Give-It
  6. Be Engaging: As Dave Burgess exclaims, “Don’t throw that cold piece of raw steak at students and expect them just to grab it up, eat it, and be thankful afterwards.” It’s not going to happen. The older I get, with pre-teens and soon to be teen (in one month) of my own, I start feeling that I’m losing touch with the pre-teen mentality. Sometimes, I want to exclaim–like with my own kids–“So sorry, you don’t like this lesson?–Well–get over it, kid.” But, then, I remember these aren’t my kids. So….it’s a great idea to volunteer in areas with students outside of the school. For me, it’s working with the youth of my church, but it may also be working for the Boys and Girls Club, local drama club, the library, coaching a team..whatever it may be. Sometimes, we need to work outside of the realms of the classroom to view students from a different perspective so that we know how to be more effective in the classroom. Engagement in reality is heavily based on relationships. When teachers know their students, they know how to adapt their lessons for maximum engagement and ultimate success as learners. How does engagement play a role in your lesson design?art of teaching
  7. Be Consistent: One of the greatest habits that I strive for in the classroom is consistency. Students should not have to worry about what teacher they will have that day, teachers aren’t allowed to have moods. That may seem like a lot to ask, but it comes back to putting ourselves in their shoes. How can students trust a teacher who is not consistent in their moods, appearance, or classroom expectations? Consistency creates security, which is essential to a positive learning environment. How has consistency played a role in your teaching?f7f8eb12e0f61a9321597157c0d61791

I’ve mentioned seven attitudes which I believe are essential to the classroom. These are attitudes that I am always working on and striving to maintain. What would you add to this list? I know there are many more, and I’d love to learn from you. Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best as an educator as we all strive to be our best in the classroom and in our daily lives. inspirational-quotes-for-teachers1

 

 

Three Words We Should Remove From Our Teacher Vocabulary

sarcasm

  1. Seriously.
  2. Hello?!?
  3. Really?

When I was a squad leader years ago in my high school marching band, there was another squad leader who always yelled at her squad, “Move over…face forward…yah…heellllloooo??” Then, she would roll her eyes and make a frustrated noise. Her squad begrudgingly obeyed but did they enjoy the experience? I’ve always wondered.

All three of these words used in that way ensure sarcasm exists in the classroom. As a middle school teacher, I know our students love using these words. However, does it mean adults need to or should them with their students? Doesn’t that put us on the same playing field? How do we rise above sarcasm?

My thoughts…

  • Patience.
  • Ask what happened.
  • Redirect.
  • Take students aside to talk with them individually.
  • Research positive strategies to gain attention of classmates.
  • Vow to never use sarcasm knowing that–although kids might laugh it off–they are crying on the inside. Because what do these words imply- “What are you dumb or something?”

This post isn’t meant to be a deep theoretical post. I’m putting the thought out there. Can we remove these words from the classroom and will that create a better classroom environment?

I think so…what do you think? What are alternatives to sarcasm in the classroom? How do we communicate in positive ways to our students even when we are frustrated?

This is a nice article on how sarcasm can be hurtful in the classroom. Why Sarcasm is No Laughing Matter with Kids

 

 

 

 

John Wooden: 5 Insights of a Great Man

Okay. First, I’d like to say that I’m kind of an obsessive person. If I land on something great I will see it all the way through. This summer it’s been the late, great basketball coach John Wooden. I love to attempt multitasking, but the only way I do it successfully is to listen and clean at the same time. That’s a great cleaning tip! Clean and learn by listening to TED Talks, podcasts, etc.

I want to write a few different insights I’ve gained from Wooden–not the typical ones you find in the videos or blog posts.

  1. Love your students. 

Wooden describes how important love was in teaching his students and his players. He truly had their best interest at heart. His players spoke of how he watched them intently; praising them for their good plays, redirecting them in the right ways, and always demonstrating to them how they were important, but also in what ways they were vital to the team. Basically, he made sure that each team member felt significant. Isn’t that what the human soul longs for–belonging, acceptance, significance. Wooden built that into each one of his players. One team member stated, “Wooden focused on making us great individuals, and then showed us how that worked in the context of the team.” Wooden was fully vested into his team, but more importantly in each team member.

One favorite poem that Wooden recited spoke straight to my heart.

wooden

2. Be a Storyteller. 

Wooden in all of talks recited poetry, even in his late 90’s! His ability totally captivated me. Can you imagine standing in front of your students offering a lesson and then just offering the perfect poem to include in the discussion and knowing it by heart. To me that demonstrates a true commitment to the craft and love of learning. Wooden challenged me to put to memory some of my own favorite verses.

Check out this Ted Talk by Wooden.

John Wooden Ted Talk

3. Have High Standards. 

Wooden held high expectations for his players. He wanted his players hair cut a certain way, clean shaven, suit and tie. He believed in coming to practice on time and ending on time. However, he was calm. Firm but calm. The consequences were clear and the students knew it. Wooden was so vested in each of his players, they didn’t want to let him down. They never pushed the boundaries too far. Check out this one video as Wooden navigated through the sixties with his players.

Coach Wooden and Players Hair Struggles

Coach Wooden built the relationships through excellence. He loved them, but also had firm expectations of them. As a result, the kids soared.

4. Wooden’s  Pyramid of Success Didn’t Happen Overnight

It took Wooden fourteen years to build his pyramid of success. He was looking for a visual to illustrate what he wanted to communicate to his students in order for them to be successful. Who waits fourteen years these days? Did you know that most humans have the attention span of a goldfish? Sounds crazy, but true! Check out this article from Time Magazine You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. Wooden, born in 1910 grew up poor on a small farm. His father read poetry to him nightly, and he worked daily in his studies and on the farm. This lifestyle developed will power to be patient and he knew great things take time. Greatness doesn’t happen overnight. All great things take time. Be patient and have faith.

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Now, there are two scriptures that I keep in my desk. In my lowest moments, I’ve personally failed in these areas, but as Wooden states, “I’m not what I outta be, I’m not what I should be, but I may be better than I would have been if I didn’t know these bits of wisdom.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Place those two scriptures together and that equates to character and integrity, which is reflected in Wooden’s pyramid. Something we can all strive for on a daily basis.

5. Make Each Day Your Masterpiece.

When I was a teenager, I always began the year with such big expectations. I had my perfectly organized Trapper Keeper. Yeah, I’d tell myself, this year it’s going to be different. This year I will be on it! Well, as you can guess by week three I started sticking my Social Studies papers in my English notebook and my math papers…well..who knows. Then, I  actually ran across my childhood diary the other day. I opened to a random page, I was starting ninth grade, and all I wrote was…”School starts tomorrow–barf.” As you can see I was destined to be an English teacher. My point is it took me until college to really enjoy school and excel. I let my expectations and goals overwhelm me into ambiguity. Just take it one day at a time. In fact, take it one hour at a time. Set short goals, and keep accomplishing them for that day. Doesn’t that remind you of another scripture:  Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your lifeAnd why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” In the end, do the best with what you have, build each day with excellence and soon you will be living the life that you desire or at least be closer. Best of all, you will feel peace. 

Finally, Coach Wooden has inspired for me to choose love as my one word for the year. Over the past two years I chose steadfastness and consistency, which are great words for achievement. But, I’ve learned to that it’s not all about achievement, at least not in that way. Relationships built on love, patience, kindness build the foundation for all real lasting achievement to take place whether it’s with your spouse, children, siblings, friends, colleagues, or students.

I added this video of Wooden in a previous post, but I’m going to add it again. I encourage you to learn about this wonderful man whose wisdom brought peace to my heart at the end of the school year. I hope you find encouragement from him, too.

Values, Victory, and Peace of Mind

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The 4 C’s To Building Confidence with Parents

competency

As teachers, one our largest stakeholders are parents. As a mom of three, I know. Moms have a lot on our shoulders, and our time is limited.  We need answers and fast.

This fact has brought four C’s to the front of my mind as I prepare for the upcoming school year as a teacher. What do moms want?

#1 Competency:  This word came to mind as I sat in line at my daughter’s ballet studio waiting for answers for an upcoming recital. As I asked the questions, the administrator shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and stated, “I don’t know. I’m new here, and I’m learning along with you.” I took a breathe and thought, “Really?” I am the one paying the tuition. This is a business, and you should know what you are doing. I’m the parent, you are the employee.” We all know these stories, and have a few ourselves. Bottom line, parents trust and want to trust that teachers know what they are doing. With all the changes in technology and Google taking a hold in all that we do as teachers, we must ensure that we are prepared and demonstrating our own competency. Currently, I’m trying to get Google Certified, but funny enough, I’m tied up right now with a technical problem, and waiting for Google to respond to my e-mail. However, going through the tutorials is a great place to start, also following Alice Keeler on Twitter @alicekeeler, setting up your Google Classroom this summer, building your own Google website, go to county trainings, and just go for it. Learning builds competency and confidence for you, as a teacher, and effectiveness with parents.

#2 Communication:  Effective communication cannot be underestimated. It’s just good business and it makes things happen. Recently, I worked to secure some fantastic guest hosts for #CowetaEdChat next year, but this could not have happened without both ends working together to make it happen. Communication takes two. We all mess up at times, but we must strive to keep this at the forefront and find ways to simplify so we can be successful. With all the parents I speak with, they say, “Pick one.” Meaning too many teachers pick several ways to communicate, and parents have to sift through too many avenues. This past year I used Remind to post anything related to the classroom and assignments. I posted my weekly newsletters, test reminders, announcements all to Remind, and that seemed to work the best. I used Twitter as a bonus, but not my main form of communication. So, pick one and be consistent.

#3 Consistency:  Next to competency, consistency is a big one. Most people do not like change. Develop systems over the summer that can be used successfully throughout the school year, and stick with it. After a while, habits will develop such as where to write down homework, or how to best communicate (Remind), rules and guidelines for the classroom. I still love rereading the First Days of School by Wong every summer. The emphasis on procedures is the truth. Take the guessing out of being a teacher. Be consistent in all that you do.

#4 Caring: Years ago, as a parent I was speaking with a my child’s teacher and she exclaimed how tired she was of being at school after 4:00, because she needed to get to her daughter’s practices. Her job was just taking too much of her time. At the time, I stood there a bit and thought, “You know I’m a parent, right?” We all have those moments, but I would advise not expressing those thoughts to the parents of the children you teach. Go above and beyond to demonstrate that you care for each and every child coming through the doors of your classroom. Parents are entrusting their most precious treasures to us, we must demonstrate that there is no other place we would rather be than teaching the children in front of us.

Final Thoughts: Think of yourself as a business. How can you create a better experience for parents and students? The awesome part of teaching is that you are the leader of your classroom. What are you going to create? Have fun with it, but know that parents will trust those who demonstrate competency, communication, consistency, and caring.

 

 

Trading Passion for Love in Education

passion

I told myself, a few others, and wrote my last blog post promising not to tweet or write about education for one month. Guess what? I failed.

I will say this though, I have given myself some time to reflect. I’ve determined I no longer desire to be a defined as a passionate educator. No, that doesn’t mean I’m quitting. Many in education exclaim for the desire for schools to be filled with passionate teachers, but lately I’ve wondered what that really means? According to Webster’s dictionary the word ‘passion’ is defined as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something” or “a strong feeling (such as anger) that causes you to act in a dangerous way.” Passion, in other words is a temporary emotion, even a dangerous one. In the end, passion within the constraints of the definition doesn’t last.

A passionate teacher is at the whimsy of his or her feelings. One day, feeling on top of the world, and the next, weary and withdrawn. What does this leave for students and others? Confusion. What does this word, if a teacher has been labeled as ‘passionate’ mean for his or her long term health–disappointment. No one can maintain something that by its very definition is meant to be short term.

Therefore, I am urging that we exchange ‘passion’ for ‘love’. A loving teacher or teacher who loves his calling is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “an unselfish loyalty and benevolent concern for the good of another; a brotherly concern.” Much of what we do in education requires service to others (unselfishness). It also requires loyalty (consistent dedication). There are days in the field that are awesome and clicking just right, and there are others that are difficult and frustrating. However–with love as our guide, we know this and have patience with the process. We stay true to our work, ourselves, and our colleagues because love is enduring through the storms and the celebrations. In our love for education we watch out for one another with brotherly concern. This means it’s not all about us. It’s about all of us working toward unified goals, together for the benefit of the students in our charge.

Maybe it’s less about the passion for our content, and more about the love for our students. By striving for love we live out spiritual fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are elements of love that last and make a true impact in the classroom.

I’ve also spent about three weeks studying Coach John Wooden, who passed in 2010. His words of wisdom on teaching and coaching has brought peace to my heart and inspiration for the upcoming year. I would highly recommend listening to him, and gaining confidence from his experiences.

Teaching will always be a work of the heart. It’s important to love and care for ourselves, our family, our students, and each other. In the end, it’s about love.

JOHN WOODEN – VALUES, VICTORY AND PEACE OF MIND

love

Learning and Middle Schoolers: A Reflection

Well, it’s here. Post planning is ending tomorrow, and I’m reflecting on the year. Although, I’m busting with ideas for instruction next year, I promised myself to take June off with the exception of the grant I’m writing and some instructional strategies I want to research. All the extras (Twitter for #edu, Blogging) must end for at least one month.

The following are a few things I want to remind myself of as I plan for next year:

The Realities of Teaching Middle Schoolers

  1. Every group of students is different, and the thought of strategically planning out every moment of instruction during the summer is a farce. Get real and understand this–kids and then curriculum. You can’t reach kids you don’t know no matter how amazing you think your instruction is–focus on team building activities, learning surveys–read and respond to them within the first week, and research each child before they step a foot into your classroom (know their strengths and weaknesses, background, preferred name).
  2. Think in Levels. In other words, differentiate. My goal for the upcoming year is two fold– engagement and growth. I never want to beat learning into kids. However, the climate, expectations, and goals must be top notch–to the sky–why settle for less? Middle school learners need different approaches depending on their learning styles and needs.
    1. (Level 1) For the strugglers, I’m thinking a heavy focus on writing/grammar/spelling/vocabulary, but also close reading with current events, as well as personal reading goals. Focus on making it more of a newsy class–keep it snazzy, but focused on the essentials (non-fiction texts) and remediation to create the growth needed.
    2. (Level 2/3) Focus heavily on writing/grammar/vocabulary, but add in a variety of back-up projects that enrich to support those who have shown mastery, so there is never the question of what happens next?  Find ways to move those level 3’s to 4’s. Differentiate the novel choices and products for the novels. Create student led goals that students must be accountable for weekly.
    3. (Level 3/4) Focus heavily on writing/vocabulary/challenging texts. Novel choices are differentiated. Add in projects with current events that equate to real world experiences through writing, podcasting, blogging. List out all writing contests and have students enter at least two a year.

These are just a few ideas. One size will never fit all for maximum growth and potential for every student. Choice must be offered, but help and remediation must be given as well. There is always that balance of science and art that equates to achievement, and a teacher willing to offer it.