Salty Teachers Podcast Coming Soon

Caution…the following post may contain my actual writing voice instead of my academic voice and I apologize for the confusions.

Laughter, y’all.

Laughter is sometimes all I need to get through my teaching day.  The reality is that sometimes I just can’t do it anymore and the thoughts in my head just come out in a blur of inappropriate sitcom quips. Not regular tv sitcom quips but more like cable based programming.

High School is rough. Even as an educator it can take a toll on you but this past weekend was a moment where I could laugh at myself. My wonderful sister in law invited me along for a comedy show featuring Eddie B.

It is a take on what teachers really say. Although some may see it as an afront to our profession but it really is no different than other pages that vent about customer service. The reality is that most teachers are overworked and even though we do get a multitude of breaks throughout the year; it can become emotionally draining in helping prepare students for the real world.

On this night though, I laughed because I have thought some of these things before. I have been cussed out, threatened, and been degraded by studetns because the profession of teaching has been dismantled as a position of importance.

On this night, we laughed because sometimes we forget how to see the humor in our situations. Sometimes, we forget that we are guiding indivduals to become functioning members of our society.

Laughter heals everything and it is in those moments of humor that we know why we do it. We know why we teach.

Even when everyday students drop out no matter how many times you try to tell them to stay.

Even when they fail and you are there to tell them to push forward, head held high.

Even when they cuss at you.

You stay like a statue. Every day is new. Every day there is humor.

Sometimes you just need to laugh.  We are adding a Salty Teachers segment to our blog and a new podcast coming in June. This site will also be changing in the next month in order to bring you high quality instruction, workshops, laughter, and professional development.

Tell us what you think needs to be addressed in education and if you need a good laugh check out Eddie B.

 

Test Taking Culture: Updates to the 2017 STAAR EOC

We have a minor victory today, fellow Texas Teachers. I was at home watching my son when I received the news. I had been receiving messages from work all day even though technically I was out sick. Our off days are not really off days. I pushed the message icon and soon realized it was a group message for our English Team. It read “Breaking News: The short answers have been removed from the EOC STAAR test.”

My first reaction was stunned surprise and then an internal groan.

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I sent a quick message back asking if it  was for the Spring Administration. I waited anxiously for the reply. The words in the message read ” Yes, It is.”

This is a huge battle won for teachers and students alike in the arena that is Standardized Testing. The removal of the short answer responses will be replaced by more multiple choice answers and the students will still have to write an essay. Rumors swirled in December that they may remove some of the multiple choice questions but none of use were expecting for both the Single Selection Short Answer and the Cross Over Short Answer to be removed.

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TEA Link for the Official Blueprint

As an educator, I am relieved. Our students have been struggling with the short answer for some time but this may or may not be a permanent fix. Testing restructure comes in ebbs and flows in Texas so we do not know for how many test administrations the Short Answers will be omitted from but for now teachers across Texas are breathing sighs of relief while they anxiously realign their curricula.

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Test Taking Culture: The fight for Authentic Reading and Writing Opportunities

I remember taking the TAAS test in 2001, as a senior,  huddled at a brown table in the chilly, silent auditorium. The silence was only broken by the sound of turning pages and scratching pencils. Much to our surprise, it was only the beginning at that point.

My younger brother was the group who was beta testing the TAKS as a Freshman and soon after became one of the first groups required to pass in order to graduate. Since 2004, the TAKS test has seen a few changes including its name.

TAAS to TAKS to STAAR to the now endearing EOC’s which includes five tests.

Testing, to say the least, has always been a part of Texas school culture.

What I have learned is that there needs to be a balance between teaching the skills needed for the test while simultaneously teaching what they need to learn in their core areas. It is a delicate balance. One, that is hard to do when you have been away from teaching as long as I have. I was in for quite a surprise when I came back to the classroom. I didn’t realize how much emphasis was being placed on passing the test. I had heard about it but experiencing it in the trenches is eye opening.

The one thing that made me eye raise was how intense the pressure was for educators to collect quantitative data.

About mid-November we begin the Race for Test Results, we test..test…test. There are  Summatives, Formatives, and Benchmarks all in hopes that we can have that edge when it comes to the “real thing in April”. We put the students into inaccurate testing models and then are expected to use the data collected to formulate our lessons. We do mini-review sessions hoping to cram just a little bit more into their minds.

Just a little bit more so we can keep our funding.

Just a little bit more so we can keep our schools open.

It is always just a little bit more.

The fight for our classrooms is very real and it can be daunting to those who are just starting in the field. As newbies, we want to be perfect so we continue to teach the way they “want us to” sometimes forgoing best practices in order to reach the prescribed goals set for us.

I am here to tell you not all is lost.

We can still make a difference. We have our guiding TEKS and they are open ended enough that we still have ample opportunities to create authentic learning. We can still have the freedom to teach.

We just have to keep pushing forward to create authentic writing and reading opportunities for our students. But, we have to be cautious that we are not regurgitating outdated teaching in a bright, shiny new package because believe me even I love a pretty handout.

As I end my first year back in the classroom, I’ve learned that the C-Scope packaged curriculum is my guide (my framework) but I can fill it in with whatever I choose. It allows me to manipulate my TEKS in a manageable way.

In my classroom, we have created procedural texts, done a shark tank style presentation,wrote a 1500 fiction piece, created a power point presentation, used google docs, did journaling, and even interviewed teachers. What I floundered in was using anchor texts to help me teach literary elements except poetry.

I killed the poetry unit.

I will be honest it isn’t easy to get back your classroom. It is a fight. You have to be able to prove that your lessons are adequately teaching the TEKS needed in our curriculum units. Keep book lists, prove that you (the professional) knows current pedagogy, and always be ready to elevator pitch your ideas to your administrator.

We can teach, inspire, and lead but apathy has no room in the equation. We must constantly be willing to change, to learn, to adapt to the ever changing landscape of our classrooms.

This is just step one of creating authentic writing and reading opportunities. My next post will focus on Creating Reasons to Write in the secondary classroom.

End of the Year Blues

Dealing with the End of the YearBlues (1)

 

It is official.

My students have reached the point of no return. The epic dark side moments of secondary education where they are just done.

Ugh, heck, even I am a little bit done if I am being totally honest with myself.

How do we continue to motivate and inspire?

It can be tempting as an educator to just give up and show movies, play games. or just sit there. We have 11 more days till the school year is up.

Admittedly, I feel as though I am giving in slowly…inch by inch. The apathy wears on you and creates a moment of weakness. A feeling of you know what fine, don’t do anything.

I give the speeches.

“I am disappointed”

“I want to see you be excellent”

Even the angry tirade of

“I’m here because I care”

Today, wore on me until a colleague said “You know this group never worked at all last year with the other teacher”

“I guess I should be proud they worked most of the year with me”

“You should be” she responded and walked out the door back to her classroom.

I should be proud of their accomplishments. I should be proud that 80% of my students have been busting their behind for me day in and day out since August 25th.

It’s just that the pressure I put on myself can be unbearable. The pressure to be the picture perfect teacher.

The question I should be asking is “Did they learn?” If I can answer, “Yes” then my job is done.

Revel in your victories and always teach your students to “Step up their Educational Game”.

Hang in there, y’all!

 

 

Classroom Management: How to Honestly Assess Yourself

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It is the start of the second six weeks and honestly it has been a whirlwind of grades, papers, and classroom management issues. In all honesty, I will always be a TINA (Teacher in Need of Assistance) and it isn’t because I am not competent but rather because I love to grow as an educator.

I am constantly changing and adjusting myself and my classroom. I like order in as far as classroom structure but my organization (paperwork) is lacking. It is honestly my weakest point as a teacher.

High school classroom management differs from school to school and from class to class. There are so many teachers that feel overwhelmed and they give up during that first week of school. In fact, for me, lack of adequate classroom management skills are what made me leave the profession the first time.

You, as a teacher, have to first identify that you are not a victim. If your management is lacking in the classroom, it may be time reassess what is not working. There are times that we need to realize that the problem may be us. It may be that we are still teaching whole group lessons instead of teaching micro-lessons.

Now, advanced classrooms such as Pre-AP/AP/Dual Credit Courses are an entirely different set of students in my honest opinion. I teach in the trenches with the students who struggle on our mandated tests and are repeating several sections of English 2.

I will admit though that I am caught up in the whirlwind of data collection, micro-managed lesson plans, and forced “Learning Communities”. But, I refuse to complain about being a victim. I will do my job but I need to look into my short comings.

My shortcomings are:

  1. I need to stop nagging and learn proper redirection.
  2. Tone down the sarcasm
  3. Separate groups if I need to
  4. Prepare lessons and calendars ahead of time.
  5. Manage my after school activities and do not allow them to become #1 priority. Equally important and getting a stipend but the work there should not overlap into my actual job.

In order for us to grow as educators, we need to openly admit our faults because we all have them even those of us who have been teaching for several years..Once we identify them it is time to learn and relearn what makes us great teachers, what strategies work for our students, and what can we do to become better facilitators of knowledge.

Fight the good fight and enjoy your year.

Surviving the first week as a New or New-ish Teacher

Surviving The First Week

The First Week of School

As a first year teacher in a new school district, it feels like my first year of teaching. Ten years ago, I walked into a classroom of 7th graders in a rough, barely funded school and walked out a fervent educator with a desire to teach the “unteachable”.

I took a few years off from teaching because I thought I was done until I went through a divorce. I jumped two feet back into the teaching field through the substitute pool. I remembered why I wanted to teach.

I saw these students who were hungry to learn, hungry to improve, hungry to be someone and to live a life different from what they were living now.

I abandoned my post, my students, and mostly myself. Teaching is very stressful and at times it feels like it is a never-ending tug of war. Those moments of teaching as a substitute again reminded why I had become a teacher in the first place. It was because I wanted to inspire, motivate, and mold the minds of the students in my rural area.

Here is what I learned my years of teaching that I hope will help newbie teachers.

Ten Steps to Surviving the First Week as a New Teacher

Create a Lesson Plan template right now or find one on Teachers Pay Teachers (you will see it as TpT).

Find a great mentor.

I cannot reiterate enough how a great mentor helps you stay in the education game.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Ask your administrators if you are not sure how to  proceed on anything from a book choice to an  unruly student. Also an admin isn’t always your principle but it can be your Dean of Instruction or Department Head as well.

Monitor your classroom at all times.

Put the phone away so that students will see that you are serious about the “No Cell Phone” zone. Walk around, check for understanding, etc. I do it even in high heels.

Set the tone for YOUR classroom!

It isn’t neighbor down the hall, the dean or the principle that cultivates the environment for learning. We are all different and that is what works and you will find your teaching style.

My personal teaching style is a little edgier and not as purist as some other English teachers but personality wise I am not as friendly to students. My students used to tease me about wanting to be “Substitute Teacher of the Year”.

This is time to set up your class rules, expectations, and other management issues that they would need to learn. As a secondary teacher, an icebreaker is helpful but I would rather do an activity that allows them to get out of their comfort zone. Remember, 7 other teachers are possibly doing the same thing.

Don’t eat in the Teacher Lounge.

I eat in my classroom usually but the few times I venture to the teacher’s lounge it is to use the bathroom or to see if there is free food. Education is just like any job. Step away from the water cooler.

Don’t let others label students for you.

Students are people also. Each one reacts differently to all teachers. Some like you, some despise you, while others are indifferent. Don’t take it personally. Just because a student is difficult in one class doesn’t mean they will be like that in all classes. Don’t allow yourself to judge them before you have even had an opportunity to teach them.

Try and Be Organized.

This is so important but it is one of those things I am still working on. Slow and Steady.

Modify and Adapt

My favorite education catch phrase. This is a solid teaching strategy. That lesson suddenly too short or too long, that student who is disrupting class, or a random fire drill/announcement. Modify lessons

Have fun!

You will have blunders but have fun. Enjoy creating the future generations of citizens. Be present.

Have a fabulous first week, fellow educators!