Lori is Right

IMG_0275[1] Lori is a nut. She constantly is reading educational literature, I do too, but being rather  forgetful I do not remember facts like she does. She is amazing; I am good for a laugh.  However, her last post makes me think about my teaching and she is right, if you are always  trying to be someone else or trying the latest strategy, you will never become totally  proficient. Now, I am NOT saying to do things how you have always done them….NO WAY, I  am saying be creative, innovative, progressive, but in the way that works best for you. That is  when your best teaching is done.



I tried to be like my former partner Kim; she is linear, organized, precise, and amazing. I am the total opposite of that; I am not saying I am not a good teacher, just nothing like her. I am loud, disorganized, and all over the place, but together we were amazing. We joked that we made one complete superteacher, but we built on each other’s strengths, we didn’t try to compete or tear down each other. Of course she moved to Oregon so I am stuck figuring it all out alone again.

I have been thinking about the best teaching days I have had lately, well before the snow storm and subzero weather. They are the days I am relaxed, enjoying what I am teaching, am open to ideas, and am learning right alongside my students. We are all engaged and working together. We all laugh, create, research, and learn. We create an experience, a real memorable, experience. It is like when you have had a great time with friends or family and you talk about it later, the memories flow so much easier. That is how I like to teach, and that is the way my students become involved.  I teach the struggling students. They are ESL, they have IEP’s, and they come from poverty, these factors cause a lack of motivation and many legitimate obstacles for each one of them. If I didn’t get them engaged and push them they would not learn, and they would despise school.

I did read an article about Experiential Learning. Experiential learning brings into play multiple intelligences and can help to provide a positive emotional platform which may lead to more confident future learning by students. Ironically, I realized that was my style of teaching but I didn’t know it had a specific name. This model suggests that to be successful you must do first, then review, then develop ideas for improvement and implement them, select and apply solutions, challenge students understanding and thinking, and facilitate rather than lecture. I love this, aren’t we creating deep reflective thinking this way?  I think teachers get stuck; luckily I am able to teach my head off and am not questioned, even when there is glue everywhere, sand on the floor, tissue paper all over the place, and fake moss sticking out of lockers. Many teachers are not allowed this luxury. (Aren’t these bolded words educational terms that we try to do, even with Common Core?)

I think that teaching is the best profession ever, if teachers are allowed to teach and be who they are. I have to say again, Lori hit the nail on the head with her post. We will continue to push and fight and be who we are, we just can’t be any other way.

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What Works for You

I just read a short, but interesting article from Educational Leadership written by Robert J. Marzano. There is a quote from the article I wanted to share. “No strategy is foolproof. No strategy is proven. You have to see how it works in your particular setting.” (Marzano, 2009) I thought this quote is quite apropos in light of all the educational policies making headlines. I think it is very important for everyone to understand that teaching is a very personal experience and endeavor. Although education tends to constantly change, it’s important to realize that new ideas and new teaching strategies only work for those teachers that are truly invested. Educators must believe in the strategy, and the strategy must fit the teaching style of the educator. This is not to say that educators should get stuck in a rut or close their minds to new ideas. It is always a great idea to be open minded, to stay abreast of new ideas, and to read up on new research. It’s important as a teacher to stay fresh and energized. What I’m saying once again is that one style, one idea, one technique or strategy does not fit all. Not for the students and not for teachers either.

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I’ve been doing a lot of research lately. I have been looking for answers. I’m looking for reasons why our students struggle so much with standardized tests, why our ESL students struggle for so long in our classrooms, why students cannot seem to acquire the academic vocabulary as fast as the standards say they should, and finally if whether I’ve been looking at all of these frustrations in the wrong light.

Like me, many teachers in my school are frustrated for many different reasons. Those of us in the upper school (grades 6-8) are frustrated that some of our children were not accepted into our feeder high school. The lower school (grades k-2) are frustrated that many of our students come to us with little or no emergent literacy skills, and our middle grades (3-5) are frustrated with standardized test scores and the possibility of the third grade guarantee.  I’m starting to see some patterns and I’m becoming concerned.

Our school has been blessed with a very dedicated staff. Our principal has compiled a group of people who truly want the children who attend our school to succeed. Because we accept so many EdChoice students, our school is required to take the states high-stakes assessments. If you have been reading my latest posts, you are aware of my beliefs that these tests are not true measures of my students’ abilities and gifts. You know I have been stressed about the upcoming tests, and you know that I disagree with the whole idea of “Standardized Testing”. If you have read my most recent posts, you are also probably interested in education as an institution so you already know that the majority of individuals involved in education feel a lot like me. So this new post probably comes as no surprise.

As I look at and examine my school’s frustrations, I can’t help but realize that our angst stems from state and federal policies that have basically stated in no uncertain terms that all children must learn the same information at the same pace, and understand that information in the same ways. These mandates go against the most basic beliefs of most educators so of course they ignite frustrations in even the most dedicated and generous educator.

Years and years ago when I was filling out teacher applications I knew school officials wanted to hear key terminology like, “create life-long learners”, “create a love of learning”, “create independent learners and researchers”, “create a multi-cultural classroom that illustrates the diversity in the classroom”, “formative assessments”, “differentiated instruction”, addressing different modalities”, and “creating a classroom culture of acceptance”. Times have changed. Now school districts want teachers to increase the test scores, teach test vocabulary, stay on target with the Common Core Standards, and teach closed reading techniques. Really look at the change in key words. This shift in pedagogy is in direct contrast to the belief system of the majority of seasoned teachers. We have been told to teach to the whole and not to the individual. The words, “standardized tests” are in themselves telling educators to ignore the individual student and to group all of the scores together. Because after all, every child has to learn the same exact way, in the same exact amount of time, and be able to pass the same exact tests.

I am not like every other person. I can’t draw. I can’t sing, but I can keep a beat. I can speak in front of people with no trouble at all, but I have a very hard time walking into a room with a group of people I don’t know and make small talk. I write very neatly and I love to do research. I can do a lot of math, but do not ask me to do trig or calculus. I’ve always liked essay tests, but have blown my share of multiple choice tests. In order to complete a class test, I have to start from the end of the test and work my way to the beginning. I can match definitions, but I do not like fill ins. I love history classes taught by Dr. Rhodes at YSU, but dislike Mr. Connors class because he just drones on and on. I love acting out skits and taking part in debates, but dread speeches and group projects. My preferences are not the same as every other student. I do not, nor have I ever learned like every other student. My sister was a straight A student who could memorize entire pages of notes, but cried every Sunday night. I on the other hand was fine earning C’s and B’s, but I loved school! I loved being with my friends, laughing with my teachers, learning material, and feeling smart. I loved presenting projects, although I hated doing them. I did all of my homework and studied for all of my tests. I had supportive parents who pushed the importance of education. I scored average on standardized tests. I was an average student.

Just as I am different from even my own sister, each child sitting in a classroom is different from the student sitting next to them.  We have a lot more diversity in both ethnicity and socio-economic levels within the walls of our schools. Ability levels are all over the place and one-parent homes are just as common if not more than a two-parent home. These differences affect the classroom environment. Children are not the same. Classroom populations have changed and for a while educators changed with them, but something happened. We began blending all of our children into one huge lump. Every child is not meant to be a high-level engineer, brain surgeon, or college professor in mathematics. But every child does possess skills that will make him/her a success in some area if we allow each child to pursue his/her creativity, talents, and area of interest.

Our society needs strong citizens to fill all of its occupations. We need great mechanics, graphic artists, honest politicians, and loving child care workers. We have to have strong police officers, brave firemen, and heroes to become dedicated men and women in the military. We need people to invent and to create, to play sports, and to dance. We need all kinds of people to make our country strong and vital. Why can’t we see our children as potential surgeons, city workers, bus drivers, and painters? Why do we have to lump them all together and expect all the same things from each and every one of them? Why can’t we instead see them for the wonderful individuals that they are and who they can become?

It’s time to put these ridiculous high-stakes tests aside and to refocus our energy on truly educating our youth. Let’s rewind a little and recapture what true education is all about.

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Lori and I have been stressed and overwhelmed with life lately.49 and holdingLuckily, I had a weekend get-away that recharged me to the core. I was so fortunate to have spent time with 7 of my best friends from grade school and high school. It was like we just picked up where we left off. Some of us have family issues; there are divorces, addictions, depression, and financial struggles. No one was judgmental and we all empathized with each other immediately. It was so nice to know that after 35 plus years of friendship we all still have each other’s backs. We laughed and joked about weight gain, not being able to see, and the how gravity is not our friend. Sometimes laughter and friendship is all you need. I don’t think this type of closeness exists in our world today. People move often, change schools, jobs, towns, etc…most of our parents still live in the houses we grew up in. Our moral compass of being raised in the same small town with similar values brought us together in a way that today’s fast paced, dysfunctional society does not have. We all have lost a parent or both of them, we all know how hard it is to watch our children struggle with something, and we all are just human beings who are trying to do the right thing every day. What an invigorating breath of fresh air, I told Lori she needs to get away for one weekend and quit worrying so much. The best part is my students immediately asked how my weekend was and wanted to see pictures. They are part of my life and I am part of theirs, it is what we keep preaching, relationships truly matter! I want to thank the 7 best people I know, besides Lori, Vicki, Susie, Elisa, Cheryl ,Elana, Mike, Yvonne, Angel, Teresa, Suzanne, Danielle, Carmen, Kim, etc… oh my, I know a lot of fabulous people!

Here’s to Lisa M, Susan, Lisa K, Tina, Nancy, Lisa S, and Trish! Love you all!            

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I’ve been a bit stressed lately. I can’t attribute it solely to the upcoming PAARC tests. I can’t even blame the kids’ crazy behavior. My stressors have been adding up both in my professional life and my family life. My children (at home) have entered very busy times. My oldest, a senior, is busy filling out applications, submitting taxes for the first time, is involved in a school play, and has a social life. My second is finishing up basketball cheer, has started tumbling, and stresses herself over her grades. My youngest hates homework and it takes about four hours each night to get her to complete her assignments, not because she can’t, but because she’s too busy complaining, procrastinating, playing with our dogs, looking at the IPad, or staring off into space. My husband is incredibly busy at work and his stress bleeds into mine. And me, well….my body craves stress almost as much as it craves potato chips….almost.

Our company is on the ground floor and although this time is exciting with a lot of firsts, it demands a lot of work in my “off” hours. My day job is exhausting both physically and emotionally. To find time to unwind is a little bit impossible right now. I want to relax, I just don’t have the time. I have recurring pericarditis and it is back in all its painful glory. This is nothing to worry about, but it does keep me away from the gym and the pool. So that means, no exercise. I don’t like looking in the mirror and seeing grey roots. I wish my pants fit looser, and I wish my face had less lines. I wish our children’s book would receive some positive feedback. There’s a lot.

I’ve decided to take a deep breath (if I am able) and just calm down. Nothing has changed. No problems have been solved. I’m still 46, I still have wrinkles, and I am still tired. But…..my husband loves me. This is the anniversary of the day we met. My children adore me. My students are funny and sweet, and annoying, but they are my students. My business is growing slowly but it is growing. Amy is a fantastic, fun partner and she is trapped with me for life now. I have fantastic supportive friends who help me laugh. And finally I have come to the realization that the PAARC tests and others like them mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. No matter what their scores, my children are still brilliant, they still have incredible potential, and they are still the most caring children on the face of the planet. So, I will take a breath, I will spend time with my family and friends, I will laugh as much as humanly possible, and I will love my jobs. I will.

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