Monthly Archives: November 2013

Look for the silver lining.

Any job has its share of good days and bad days. Teaching has a spectrum of days ranging from feeling like you’ve changed a small part of the world in the most amazing fashion, to choking back tears until a free prep appears in your schedule. Luckily I can confidently say my good days infinitely outweigh my bad days. With that said, bad days can be difficult to digest. As teachers, we are so eager to make a plan, follow through with that plan, and assess the outcome. But when a bad day affects ones ability to see a plan through at all, my next thought is “what can I do to change this situation? How can I make it so that this situation is less likely to repeat itself?” When the answer doesn’t come so simply, set in an overwhelming feeling of stress.

Teaching is emotional, intense, and in many ways spontaneous. Unexpected emotions and behaviors pop up during our days. These moments take precedence over the academic plan for our children. If one of my kids isn’t emotionally or physically regulated and ready to learn – how can I expect them to attend, participate, and be an active member of the group? Even though I planned on reviewing yesterday’s content, introducing three new vocabulary words, and having independent work time, it is okay if that plan doesn’t see itself through. Their emotional, mental, and physical needs come first before I can hold them to such a standard.

With all of these thoughts, I also selfishly consider my own patience, sanity, and overall state of mind. What can I do when I’m starting to feel like I’m losing control, not being effective, or unable to spark my kids’ interests. Well, the teacher side of me thinks, obviously I need I reevaluate the situation. I need to think about my role as the teacher and how to set up my room so that all children can be successful. Do I need to incorporate more visuals, more movement, less verbal language, more time for transitions – the list goes on.

Then the human side of me thinks, take a breath, go grab a coffee with Jess, cry if you need to, and envision the glass of wine I will most certainly be having with dinner tonight.

Surprisingly the combination of teacher and human somehow balances out, gets me through the day, and leads me to prepare for a better tomorrow.

As I write this post reflecting on an emotionally taxing day, I am realizing that even putting these feelings into words is a helpful strategy. Whether it may be to a public forum, a text message to a friend, or only for my eyes to see, writing about tough days is a way to let it out of your system. Of course I still feel drained, stressed, and like I’m ready for bed at 6pm. But with that said, I am also prepared to begin tomorrow as a fresh start, learn from my mistakes, prepare my students for a great day, and prepare myself for those unexpected moments that often lead me to think “this really is the most incredible job,” even on the tough days.

Meet Jennifer

Down the Road has a new writer joining us! Meet Jennifer:

Jennifer Reid began teaching in 2001, setting out to provide young children with a solid social, emotional, and academic foundation in their earliest years of school. Knowing that success in learning – and success in life – takes root long before a child becomes school-aged, she focuses much of her attention on the emotional development of children in the early childhood years. After teaching in independent preschools in New York City for several years, she shifted her attention to working with emotionally at-risk children at the Lucy Daniels School in Cary, North Carolina where she is currently a therapeutic teacher in the kindergarten program and the Associate Director of Education. She received her Master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education from New York University in 2003. In addition, she holds an early childhood teacher credential from the American Montessori Society and the professional credential of Certified Psychoanalytic Educator (CPE).

Keeping Organized

I’m the kind of organized person that has labeled boxes in my apartment for everything from dog supplies to checkbooks to stamps to matches. Everything has a place… and usually a color, too. My classroom was always well organized as well.

I’ve been exploring with the best ways to keep my digital life organized for myself and for the people I provide resources for. So far, I love Dropmark. It’s visual, easy to organize, quick to load, and there are different levels of privacy for each category. I’ve found it so helpful for the lessons I teach. All I need to do is send the link or link it to a QR code in order to share it with my groups.

I’ve also been collecting resources for teachers to begin to use in their classrooms and to start the flipped classroom model. The idea of the flipped classroom is to provide learning opportunities at home, too. Providing families with meaningful and safe resources for their children to explore at home will help children to see that screens can be used for more than games. It also means that the instruction in the classroom will be more rich with more knowledge about topics than a teacher could provide in a 30 minute lesson.

Here’s the beginning of my Dropmark. Check it out!

In Response…

Right now, there’s a post floating around Facebook and Twitter that caught my attention. It’s a piece by Dennis Hong of Musings on Life and Love about teaching and the view that people who don’t teach have of teachers and their jobs. It’s called The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do. I appreciated the post because when people hear what I do, they always mention how great it must be to have summers off or to be able to leave at 3 everyday (this is such a myth, by the way).

I scanned through the comments on the post, and one got me thinking. The commenter suggested that teachers don’t need advanced degrees to be able to teach because teaching is intuitive and most of what needs to be learned about teaching can be learned in a two-week crash course. There’s a point the writer had me thinking about– whether it was intended or not: so much of teaching comes from within: the willingness to understand, the mindfulness, the choice to put in the time, etc. But where I disagree with the comment is the suggestion there is no need for an in-depth understanding developing brains and emotional development.  The words I speak to children and lessons I teach are formed by my background knowledge learned in graduate school, through working with other professionals, and by the constant research I do on my own; all of these pieces come together, in addition to my classroom experiences, to drive my instruction.

As a teacher, I spend my days (and nights and weekends) figuring out the children I work with, finding creative ways to reach them, reading about new ways of teaching, and working on materials to engage and motivate them; they’re walking puzzles to be solved. Good teachers work so hard to see the child’s perspective, to reflect what might be hard for that child, and to apply their knowledge of child development to form lessons that teach the skills children need. The suggestion that all those skills could be packed into two weeks is a bit of a stretch.

Someone once told me that it takes 10,000 hours to be a master of a craft. I have devoted more than that to teaching when I add up the planning, reading, reflecting, professional development, and classroom hours accumulated over the last seven years, and I feel that I am nowhere close to being a master. The art of teaching well requires constant mindfulness and willingness to accept and change. There are a million ways to make learning better, and that’s a teacher’s quest.

Related: Teacher Rant

Math Project

In addition to my responsibilities as Technology Coordinator, I teach a reading and math group. Teaching reading has always been one of my strengths, but I haven’t felt the same way about math. What I love about math does not come in textbooks; it never did. What I really enjoy is making meaning of math and solving puzzles.

This year, I’ve made a shift in my teaching, but it’s been really challenging. I have a fourth grade math group. For the most part, the group needs support in problem-solving and application of the algorithms they’ve learned so well. To teach the group elapsed time, money, multiplication, addition, subtraction, decimals, and general planning skills, I’ve created a project to plan a vacation for a fictional family. I’ve created an outline for them, which takes the stress off of knowing where to start and what information to gather. We’ve used a calendar to decide when the family should travel and made decisions about where to travel and what mode of transportation to take based on the amount of time it takes to travel to the destination, which we researched online using flight calculators and Google Maps. Next steps will be researching the destination, selecting activities, and creating a presentation with bar graphs and schedules for the family.

The challenge here is that I know I am facilitating the learning of more meaningful math, yet I can’t as easily check the skills off a list of organized goals– it seems disorganized and random; some of the goals are literacy goals, executive functioning goals, and technology goals. There are times we spend the bulk of an instructional block problem-solving how to navigate the iPad or computer for research. These goals are life skills that are being taught in my math group, but it can feel like a waste of time when I consider my list of math goals– even though I know it’s not.

Is this perception a result of the standards being used to drive accountability? Have I been taking them too literally all these years? Is it the fault of the assessment structure?

Seeing the level of excitement, engagement, motivation, and understanding surrounding the higher-level thinking and language of the project is what reminds me that this is the way we should be teaching math. Working with children with speech and language impairments has really challenged the idea of teaching a skill and then teaching its application through a made up situation (at least for me). People don’t learn through rote memorization and meaningless context, but our math standards and available programs suggest that it’s the way we should teach.

The Slump is Here

Every year of teaching, November comes, and the slump begins. Conferences are coming up with reports around the corner. There’s tension in the air at school and nothing ever seems to be done. The to-do list grows faster than I can even begin to tackle the items. The crazy thing is that it happens every year- you’d think that after being a teacher for a while, that we would find ways to even out the slump, but that’s just not the case. As a classroom teacher, this was always the time of year I’d ask myself why I teach… then it would get better.  
One of the ways I incidentally combated the slump this year was setting up the iPad Program and disbursing the iPads. This project was huge to set up, and it’s only growing! I read so much about setting them up, observed at another school, wrote policies, gave teachers introductions to the system, and nervously put them into teachers’ hands. Seeing the excitement on their faces when they got the devices was definitely worth the work I put into it, and it’s given me fuel to keep going. I hope it helped with their slumps.
Even this blog post is therapeutic—I’m following through with my resolution to write once a week, and it feels great to get it done. I suppose taking the time to do things for myself is really what I need to keep in mind during these next few weeks.