I have a lot of students who worked below grade level in the elementary and middle school grades. Students would come into my classrooms with various roadblocks in attaining instant success in education. Many of the babies had language barriers that made it difficult for them to score high test scores on proficiency/achievement/standardized/high-stakes tests in English speaking schools. Although I never once blamed my students for the English language deficiency, I knew that having English as a second language negatively impacted their scores on these yearly exams.

Let me explain something…..I believed then and I believe now that all of my students were and are BRILLIANT! To have the bravery and fortitude to walk into a classroom day after day and not truly understand what is being said, is mind boggling to me. I can’t even imagine sitting in a room, watching a teacher write words (not in the language I speak at home) in cursive, saying these crazy, insane words known as content vocabulary words day after day and then be expected to complete assignments independently with no cues, expected to write paragraphs in this alien language, and solve complex mathematical problems written with the sole purpose of confusing or tricking the reader, see and recognize words like “text”, “paragraph”, “selection”, and “passage”, while realizing that they all mean the same thing. No wonder so many of our children would break down weeping or shut down after ten minutes. What an incredible JOKE! Hey, but don’t worry, these students who speak English at school…with their teachers….only….are allowed to have a dictionary and extended time. (Sarcasm) Yep, that will make the situation equal for these children. (Sarcasm) Yep, these test scores from these biased, ridiculously written tests by these companies making huge money are capable of determining which students are “at level” with a group of same aged peers.(Sarcasm) These test scores, which are not, in any way, a true measure of a child’s intelligence should determine which teacher deserves her position or a wonderful evaluation? WHAT A JOKE!!!! Yet, here we are, in 2018, still listening to these people telling educators and parents that these test scores are what matters. And I have to admit, that there have been moments when I have been sucked into the craziness. I worried about my kids’ test scores. I bragged about the students who did well, and I searched, worried and lost sleep trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. But do the test scores even matter one bit????? NO they do not.

Those students, the ones who struggled, cried, quit, and bolted from the room, those same students who were turned down by high schools because their scores weren’t good enough….well they are doing GREAT! They are excelling at other high schools by working hard, studying for tests, and listening to the words their dedicated teachers taught them. They finally realized that a number on a standardized report means absolutely nothing. They have 3.0 and much better grade point averages, they are deeply involved in their schools, they are being accepted into colleges and are excelling, they are receiving scholarships to numerous schools, and they are standing straight with pride and confidence. I am so proud of each and every single one of the students I have taught, because they are beating the system. Even when others were telling them they couldn’t do it, that they weren’t good enough, they are proving those people wrong every single day.

Those stupid, useless tests mean nothing. What matters is the love, acceptance, beliefs that teachers have in their students. What matters is a hug, a shoulder to cry on, the ability to break down concepts, the ability to create connections for understanding, and a belief that speaking another language isn’t a curse, but a truly great gift that we should foster and build. The celebrations of a student’s home culture is incredibly important because when you find joy in what they believe and how they are raised, then you, as an educator, are telling them that they are important, vital, and should be proud of where they come from. You are telling them that even though differences make school hard sometimes, they don’t make school impossible.

If only educators could focus solely on true education and the educational needs of their students. Just think of all the wasted time, tears, and frustration that could be replaced with experiences that build scheme, educational opportunities, artistic activities, and joy….Just think….


read more

I Just Need a Break

I once taught a student with a very distinctive voice. His voice was one of a kind and for some reason it was like a beacon for me. No matter where this student was; in the lunchroom, gym, back of the classroom, front of the classroom, in the room next door; my brain honed in on this voice and I could hear what this student was saying, who he was talking to, and I could determine, just by the lilt of a word, what kind of mood he was in. I could not escape this voice because this boy was the type of kid who talked constantly….even when he was by himself. I could be teaching a lesson, the class could be engaged, maybe they would be working on a project, having a discussion, or silent reading, it didn’t matter because this kid was talking. Now you have to understand that this student was pretty smart. When he was on task, he could be a great contributor, when his stories and responses were insightful, but his mouth got in the way. I can still, to this day hear myself blurting out, “Please, just stop talking for one second!” “Please!!!! I just need a break!” “Would you please, just take a breath!” He would look startled, maybe shake his head, but inevitably he would just start talking again.

This student had ADHD. He was not my first student to have ADHD, but was memorable because for me, his diagnosis proved to be a great challenge in my classroom, not only for him, but for me. If you have ever worked in a typical classroom, you know that within every group of students there are those that stand out, that are loud, that never stop fidgeting, that can’t stay organized to save their lives, and those that have no power whatsoever to stay focused. If you’ve been in education for awhile, I bet you have noticed that the number of these special students have multiplied. There are no longer one or two, but now you have five, six, ten. I like to tell parents who have these little guys and gals that they are not alone, these students are the norm rather than the exception and fellow educators, I want to tell you that we have to adjust, we have to embrace their learning differences, and we have to accommodate….in the typical classroom.

If you stay abreast of the latest research and if you are acquainted with all the new methods, theories, and strategies out there, this is old news. Classroom dynamics are changing all across America and we can no longer look to the intervention specialist to absolve us from our struggles. So I guess I’m proposing that if we want to make a difference, if we want our students to achieve in our classrooms, if we want students to leave our classrooms knowing that they had a teacher that truly cared about them, then we have to adapt our typical classroom to fit the needs of our atypical students.

Everyone learns differently. All teachers were taught about the various “modalities”. We know that there are tactile learners, visual learners, auditory learners and more. We know this, yet are we using this knowledge to redevelop lessons, to redefine the way we teach curriculum, to breakdown concepts so that all in our classrooms will learn? Students with ADHD need structure and routine. They need multiple breaks and work well with hands-on tasks. These children need all the help they can get with developing executive functioning skills so colored folders work, writing assignments on the board works, creating checklists and keeping all of their passwords handy works. Chunking information, tasks, assessments, and only requiring necessary assignments for practice works. Guided notes, developing short term goals, and limiting free time works. Do your homework, keep your records, and brainstorm with past teachers to see what is best for the child now sitting in your room. These children are told “No” and “Stop” and “Settle down” so much. Remember to praise, high five, give them a sticker for accomplishments. Make them feel loved, accepted, and cherished inside the walls of your classroom. Find what they are good at and let them fly!

That boy, the one with the voice, well I ended up teaching him for four years, and although there were times when I just needed a break, I realized that he had those moments too. We got to know one another and I realized that he was a great big brother and friend. He made great strides in reading and did really well on oral assessments and tests with multiple choice and short answer. His math skills improved with practice and little by little he began to believe in himself. I do not believe that all ADHD children should be on medication, but I do believe that some children thrive on the right meds, but with this kid, it didn’t matter. His parents couldn’t afford it so I was made or forced to try other techniques for him. He made me work hard and frankly there was no way I could push him off to the side and ignore him. I had to find what worked for him and I can honestly say that when he left my school I truly missed him. I’m happy to say that he’s doing great and I’m glad when I run into him. I can feel confident knowing that I did everything I could to make him succeed and this is good because knowing this allows me to sleep at night.


read more

We’re Growing Up

My second daughter is going off to college next year. Yep, I will now have two daughters in college (out of the house) and one finishing up middle school. Our house will be much quieter, especially since our middle schooler spends most of her time in her room watching Logan Paul videos and talking with her friends – NO, not in person – don’t be ridiculous. Things will be changing around the Smith house, and although at first it will be weird, it will be okay. We will get used to the change in dynamics at the kitchen table and in the car.

All school and classrooms are different. Each room of students has its own dynamic. Certain kids can sit by one another, a couple have all the answers, and some students claim they just can’t do it. A teacher is the hub of the classroom. No matter the mix of the students, it’s the teacher that has to make sure that the entire room runs smoothly. If a teacher is afraid to face the changes each year, then he/she will have a tough year and so will the children. Teaching is not stagnant, it shifts with the research and the needs of the students as society changes.

As a teacher, as an administrator, and as a mother I have seen some commonalities. I see teachers that feel comfortable with what they are doing and are reluctant to make changes. Some educators use what they learned in their undergraduate studies and don’t move on. When a class struggles with material that these educators have used year in and year out, they blame the students. I have seen tests with dates on them from ten years prior. These same teachers refuse to listen to their students when they ask for additional help or extra time. The ignore the needs of English Language Learners and specifications stated on IEP’s. They don’t want to “dumb down” their curriculum to accommodate students that need a simpler language and longer time and practice retaining subject vocabulary. These teachers are convinced that they are doing right by their students. Tough love in the classroom. The students have to adjust or fail. “It’s my way or the highway.”

How antiquated and closed minded.

Our job as educators is to TEACH the material. Our job is to CREATE life-long learners. Our job is to EXCITE students into wanting to learn required information. These are our jobs as teachers. We have to stay current, make adjustments, and continue to learn what works best for the students in our classrooms. Although some think our job is easy…they have no clue, our job isn’t. But nor is it mired in sameness. No teacher should be relying on what they have done year after year because although lessons may have been great at one time and with one class, it is not great with every class and with every student. Ask around and every teacher can share an experience where they had a lesson that killed on year yet bombed the next. Reflection is the key. Why didn’t it work? What do I have to do to tweak it for this class? How can I break down the material so Tommy can get it? What lab or project can I add to give the students who test poorly a different way to demonstrate their understanding? Why did he fail the test? What did I do right and what did I do wrong? These are the questions that great educators ask themselves.

Do you ask yourself these questions?


read more

Whole New World

I do a lot of educational reading and this summer has been no exception. The only difference being, that I’m not doing it for a class…finally, so I can read whatever I want. It’s clear by the literature that’s out there that teaching/education is changing. It’s not even close to what it used to be back in the olden days; you know, like when I went to school. The invention of the internet, social media, blogs (like ours), live streaming, and apps takes education to a whole new level. If this observation is true, and I know it is because I have read, seen, and experienced things that prove it, then educators who have been around for a while have to come to terms with the fact that it’s a whole new world out there and this should be represented in our classrooms and schools.

The word “change” should be interchangeable with the word “education”. Education in America and across the world is constantly morphing and shifting to represent the times. The unfortunate fact is that although education changes, many teachers do not. You’ve heard me say that education is an incredibly personal craft, therefore it becomes very difficult to admit to some that what they have done well and successfully in the past may not work today. That’s hard to hear and frankly once educators realize this and accept it, they know that they have a whole lot of work to do. Creating a working curriculum is hard to do. It’s more than taking the standards written by the states, breaking them down into doable lessons, then implementing the lessons. It’s so much more than that. If you are a teacher that responds to the gifts, talents, and needs of your students, then one lesson does not fit all. Add that fact with the realization that kids today learn differently, need newer instructional goals, and thrive in an environment of discovery, well then you’ve just opened Pandora’s box. Nothing you used to do is usable. It’s time to scrap your old plans and devise new ones to meet all the goals in today’s classrooms.

A new school year is about to begin. Take a good, hard look at what you’ve been doing and look around. Is it time to rethink, take stock, and imagine what more is out there. This self-assessment is important because reflection and change is what keeps us fresh and motivated and educators. Use the new tools out there to open a world of knowledge and discovery for your students. Test yourself, try new methods, new ideas, and new creative means to get the concepts across to your children. Each teacher is the ruler of his/her classroom. It is up to you to make it whatever you want. Why not make it a whole new world.


read more

Inspiration

Inspiration can be found in many places. Depending on the person and what they truly have a passion for, inspiration can be found anywhere, but for teachers….well…that’s something different. Teachers, or rather educators should find their inspiration in the children that they teach. This is a fact and if it’s not true for an educator, then that person is in the wrong profession. I must sound a little harsh. I mean, some people may say that the people who work around them inspire them, and, I guess that can be true to some extent. A little competition never hurt anyone, but in order to be your absolute best in education, it just has to be all about the kids.

Some may say that working in a school is an environment ripe with drama…well actually, I say that. In buildings full of women (yes, I said women because we make up around three-fourths of schools’ workforce) there is bound to be some drama – I know, controversial, yet true. Drama must be placed on the backburner and sometimes this is very hard to do. Women are emotional beings and there is nothing more emotional than teaching. Teaching can be compared to parenting. It is also a craft, much like art. We educators take things to heart and we all try our hardest, or at least we think we do, but sometimes even the best intentioned teacher becomes stagnant or something in one’s personal life spills over to one’s professional life. Unfortunately, this can be detrimental to the students in the classroom. Teachers not only effect the students while they are in their classrooms, but for years later. This is why the children have to be the center of a teacher’s mind, thus being the inspiration for what they do in the classroom.

There is no place in education for teachers that are bored. You can’t take it easy, even for one year. The students are what matter; not the test scores or the parental feedback…the students. If all educators realize that the reason they are in school is to have a positive impact on a child’s life, well then that’s inspirational. If that doesn’t do it for you…well then go find something that does.


read more