National Champions?

Anyone who lives in Ohio knows that the Ohio State Buckeyes are well supported by outrageously loyal fans. It is a top university in many ways, academics, research, and of course, sports. Currently Urban Meyer is the head football coach. He has a proven winning track record with many outstanding accomplishments. He is a tough, confident, smart coach who is capable of great things. Now, what I was thinking is that many teachers are also spectacular at their craft. They are inspiring, dedicated, caring, and work long hours to push their students to achieve excellence. Here is my quandary. If Urban Meyer had a team of unmotivated, depressed, unskilled players, would he still reach the same level of success? If players missed practices, stayed up half the night before games, had minimal athletic ability, and felt a sense of hopelessness, would his results be the same? I would think not. He is good, but he also is working with a winning program with such superior athletes that the third string quarterback can win a national championship. (These kids are not the average players.) What does this have to do with teaching and education? Well many of our students are not self motivated and are average or below average. They miss school, stay up half the night playing games, are unsupervised, live with lack of structure & security, have parents who do not speak English, parents who haven’t finished high school, and live with financial difficulties that warrant constant stress. These students do not have nutritious diets and maybe did not receive the prenatal care that began their entire brain development. Now, with all that being said, they still make great progress and some achieve academic success that makes us proud and blows us away. However, how can you compete at the superior level if you are just trying to make it through the day? It is not because their parents don’t care, they just are so overwhelmed that there is not time, money, or accessibility to provide enriching or stimulating academic experiences. So back to Coach Meyer, he deserves recognition for his performances. My point is that a standard test that is supposed to measure excellence is not truly a measure of the teacher or student equally. I am sure there are coaches out there with players who try their hardest but just are not at the same athletic caliber as others. It is the same with education. That is why I believe teachers are so up in arms about being accessed on the students’ performance on a test. We all can pick out teachers who are boring stick-in-the-muds, but there are many who fight hard every day to make unmotivated students reach academic milestones that truly are because the teacher demanded greatness, inspired them, and showed them how to reach their goals. My reflection is just that, my reflection. I am not blaming anyone or trying to say woe-is-me, it isn’t about me, it is about the millions of students who struggle and do not even have the attention span or reading ability to take these unbelievably difficult tests, to prove they are “National Champions”.


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Middle school is a beast all of its own. This is a time of transition, not just for some, or most, but for all kids. There are those who go through incredible growth spurts and those who don’t seem to grow at all. All of a sudden girls become…well….GIRLS and boys become, let’s see, how can I put it? Well, boys become gross. The smells in the classroom take on lives of their own. No longer are teachers looking into a sea of eager faces. Educators now face morose, angry, bored, loud, injured, and over animated faces. Drama moves front and center stage and academics are shoved out of the limelight. Books can be found in every nook and cranny of a classroom. All of a sudden, everyone cleans out their folders….all over the floor, and markers, crayons, pencils, and pens become lost, take flight across the room, or somehow inexplicitly break in half. There are a few who remain dedicated to their education. These students learn to take copious notes, actually study in advance for tests, and bloom into brilliant writers. But for the teachers of middle school students, these academically minded children are few and far in between.

Somehow, some way, these children mature and sense returns. Of course this doesn’t happen until they enter high school.

I love teaching middle school. Yes, I said it. I love teaching middle school. These crazy, mixed-up kids make me laugh. They make me sad, excited, annoyed. joyful, angry, and needed, but most of all, they make me feel proud.

It’s true, all of it.

I was asked to accompany two of our eighth graders to our feeder high school to attend a mass with the bishop of our diocese. Once there, we ate lunch with some of the high school students, students and teachers from other feeder schools, and the school’s administrators. We heard small speeches made by representatives of service clubs and once more by the bishop. We had a lovely time. The students that I escorted to the high school represented our school well. We talked, laughed, and shared personal stories. I also had the opportunity to see quite a few of my past students.

I can honestly say to everyone out there who teaches middle school, that the students we teach hear what we say and the VAST majority of them overcome the difficult time of middle school to become respectful, studious and ….wait for it….. quiet students. I witnessed this today. The same students who I used to glare at during our school masses; the boys I had to reprimand and beg to be kind and considerate to their female classmates and to not wrestle one another during transitions, the girls who drove me crazy with their giggling and senseless drama, and all the young minds seemingly void of any intellectual thought surprised, thrilled, and gave me hope.

Upon entering the gym where the whole school mass was being held, I noticed groups of boys sitting in the bleachers. One by one they slowly made their way over to me without any prompting. They all hugged me, smiled into my eyes and told me their success stories. Most were junior or seniors (they were in a study hall) and they immediately shared with me their plans for college and beyond. Once all the other classes started entering the gym for the mass, I was flocked with boys and girls from my past. All were excited and none of them were shy to display affection and joy at seeing a teacher from middle school. As all the students settled down and took their seats, I gazed around the room looking for all my babies. I saw them one-by-one. They were quiet and reverent. Each raised their hands in a piece sign to let me know they noticed me. Girls smiled from afar and boys nodded their heads. And after mass….well….I have to say that I was truly touched by the attention, love, and gratitude that all my kids bestowed on me. I felt like a movie star.

These young adults that approached me today were growing up right before my eyes. Some had risen above very difficult circumstances. Many had extremely tough lives and parents with drug and alcohol abuse problems. Some were and still are responsible for their younger siblings when their parents work double and triple jobs, or have multiple jobs themselves. One or two have lost their parents from cancer. Some can’t afford the school lunches which are no longer given to them because their families qualify for free and reduced lunches. They share their food with one another. Many, because English is not spoken at home, have struggled with the advanced course load and high-end vocabulary and had to take countless summer remedial classes. They have to visit Charity Newsies to get uniforms that fit. But they are making it. Not one of the upper classmen I spoke to seemed adrift and without hope. Every senior had colleges in mind and some had already been accepted to prestigious universities like Notre Dame and Miami University of Ohio. They are making it.

I honestly and unabashedly admit that I take credit for their success. I know that with the amazing help of my dedicated colleagues that WE cemented in their brains the belief that they could achieve anything they set out to do. We preached college, helping your fellow man, and becoming an important citizen. We pushed them to believe in themselves when no one else would. We challenged them, argued with them, and most importantly, listened to them when they needed it most.

all the hard work I do matters. They listened.


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I Know I Taught This!

 

 

I know I taught this lesson. I remember preparing for it, searching for hours for all kinds of riveting information, making endless copies, designing well thought out notes, creating guided notes to help support any struggling students, finding corresponding videos to reinforce the visual and auditory learner, finding resource books for extension exercises, and yet…no one but me seems to remember.

Did I dream it? Was it another class? No, I remember it clearly, Jaime won a cookie for having the most correct answers during the review game, Matthias was upset because Jaime won the cookie, I know I taught this lesson and it was brilliant! Why am I the only one who remembers it?

Another teacher uses my classroom during first period. She is dynamic, humorous, and knows her material inside and out, yet the students often look at her blankly. She looked at me and said, “I know I taught this, do you remember me teaching this?”  It is nice to know it is not just me losing my mind as I deliver stupefying lessons with dead stares. Lori said it well in her latest post, Hey, Can Anyone Hear Me!


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I know as educators we have all been there. We come up with a fantastic, unbelievable, riveting lesson and are in the middle of delivering and inspiring speech….pause…. look around and see….. blank, uninterested eyes staring back at us.

This is unbelievable to us. How could they NOT be interested? How could they not be invested in this lesson that took me four hours to research and perfect? Why don’t they see the brilliance behind my delivery? Why? Why? Why?

Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to open space. I pause and await inquiries, or input from my students and instead I hear crickets. These moments make we want to scream, and honestly I have to sheepishly admint that sometimes I do. I wonder why the students can’t seem to appreciate the effort from my end. Why don’t the recognize that I stay up late at night grading, researching, downloading ideas, creating tests and other materials? Well, the answer is pretty simple….They just don’t care.

I know this sounds negative, but it’s actually not. It’s reality. Children, pre-teens, and teens are universally self- absorbed. This has nothing to do with how they are raised, it’s just a fact. They think about themselves; the drama they are experiencing, the boredom they are experiencing, the growling in their stomachs because lunch is 15 minutes away. They constantly worry if their hair looks right, if their shoes are cool enough, and who likes whom. As educators it is very difficult to get past these flowing and continuous thoughts.

BUT…..we do.

Our students may not absorb every single thing we say, they may not appreciate all of the work we do, but they hear us. In parenting it’s the same way. We preach and preach and preach and although our children seem to be ignoring us, they are hearing us. This simple fact is what keeps me going. This is what energizes me day after frustrating day. This is what drives me to try my best to pass onto my students the knowledge they will need to lead successful lives both as professionals and as human beings.

So be strong! They are hearing you. They are listening to you. And, hopefully one day in the future when they are making an extremely important decision they will hear our voices in their minds, they will remember our words, and they will choose the right path.

I saw this video from 95.7 KJR this morning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg7cTj9_Tz0. Watch it and remember that someone is hearing you….And laugh because after all, our kids and moments in our lives with them are hilarious!


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It’s Time to Push

It’s cold, wet, bleak, and depressing out. It’s hard to stay positive, excited and motivated. Unfortunately, as teachers it’s our job not only to stay positive, excited, and motivated ourselves, but to spread this good cheer to our students even when we don’t actually feel like it.

If you use the “teacher” calendar like I do, then January is the time we start to go round the bend. The beginning of the year is officially over. I should know my students inside and out. I should know what makes them tick, how they learn best, the kind of jokes they enjoy the most, and how hard I should push them to try their best. In other words, it’s time to get down to business.

In my classes we don’t train for a test. I don’t teach to one, and I don’t preach about them. I believe these practices instill fear and self-doubt. I see it in my children at home and I will not subject my students to the same treatment. I will do what’s best for them. So instead of starting the PUSH to ace the state tests, I begin to push and expect independent learning, immaculate writing skills, searching and experimenting with answers, and demanding a lot of work to be completed in the limited time we’re given. I give homework every single night, but I work very hard not to overwhelm my students. I want them to not only learn, but to develop a deep love of learning.

  • The beginning of the year, I focused on knowing where my students learning levels were. I did exhaustive evaluations and small assessments to measure learning, memory skills, study skills, and true comprehension of material.
  • For my math classes, which cater to students who are well below grade level, I work extremely hard to instill a sense of emergency. I state goals constantly, we review material repeatedly, and I explain and explain until I just can’t explain no more. These students know that they will not receive “brain breaks” in my class. This is a state of emergency, and they will learn and stay focused for the entire time in my classroom. I train them to have all of their work completed to the best of their abilities and I develop true trust.
  • For my high language arts class, it’s all about discovery and pushing them to be their very best. Although they have fantastic comprehension and their work ethic is out of this world, they still need massive vocabulary development. (One girl asked what a b-o-u-l-d-e-r was, so I told her. More than half of my class admitted to having a problem with the same word.) In this class, I pummel them with informative literature, historical fiction, and any other interesting books I can find. I have them write, and write, and write. We do research projects and give demonstrations. I create an academically challenging and competitive environment for these children. I state the word “phenomenal” in my work expectations constantly.
  • Reaching all children; now this is the challenge. Although my classes are grouped, there are still many ability levels in my groups. I have to find a balance between breaking down information enough for my lower students to understand and pace my class quick enough to challenge and keep interest up for my higher kids.
  • Now that we are “round the bend”, it’s time to look closely at the growth in my students thus far. I have to look at monthly assessments, listen to their answers during discussions, and pay attention to the way they are completing assessments and daily assignments. I also have to be honest with myself. I have to look at what I have been doing. Are my kids getting it? Do they show growth? When I look at their work, writing, and assessment results to I feel myself getting defensive and looking for excuses and scapegoats, or do I feel good about what’s going on? Do I feel they are growing enough, or should I focus on different goals? Are there IMG_0037holes in their knowledge?

This is it. This is the time of year to go for it. So, even though it’s dark out when I wake up and when I pull in my driveway after an exhausting day, this is the time of the school year that counts. I have to be on. I have to be up and ready to inspire even the most negative students. I can’t rest. I have to figure out and solve the mysteries of my students. I have to make them succeed.


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