Yesterday’s post, Tugging on the Common Thread, had more response that I have received in a long time. The frustration over the ever-changing landscape struck a chord with a lot of people. The idea that great teaching is great teaching and connecting with students and growth seemed to one thing that teachers can agree on. I decided to follow-up and expand on this just a bit.
This is one of those times that I am writing more than to talk to myself than to you…but feel free to listen in on my personal self conversation.
It is one thing to say that students and student growth matters most, despite what is common in education at any given time. But what does that mean. How do I cut to the core of this for me, my students, my classroom, my school, and my community?
Standards matter. We are paid to teach students what they say. The test at the end matters. Developing students to the point that they understand the standards to the level of my test is our job.
How do we focus on student growth and this at the same time? We all know that most of our students need growth and instruction that falls outside of the standards and the test.
I think the biggest key is simple in theory but difficult in practice.
Teachers, know thine students.
You have to know those little rascals in your classroom. You have to have a rapport. You have to understand what makes them tick. You have to have some knowledge of how and why they think they way that they do.
I think it is that simple. This is only way to grow student understanding and create life-long learners.
When you know students, you know their interests and deficits. You know their strengths and weaknesses. You know what they need before they know they need it. You are able to see growth where other people would see a stagnate learner.
When you know what growth looks like in a student, you can foster that growth. You can differentiate. You can push them to deeper understanding. You can scaffold. You can remove scaffolding. You can see smart and intelligence where even the student and his/her family doesn’t, and you can bring it out for everyone else to see.
This is the core of it. Knowing those young people in your room. Getting to know and understand even the ones that drive you insane. You have to know and want to know the students!
Does this mean that they will love you and students will all appreciate the work you put into this? Goodness no! But you will know what is best for them and give them what they need…even if they don’t want it!
Will this make you teacher of the year?
Maybe, but probably not. This is not being your students’ best friend. It is taking the time to get to know them, though. It is hard work, but it is worth it in the end.
Will your students see your awesome all of the time? Nope.
But will your awesome shine through in the end, no matter what the educational system is like at any given time? Yes!
This is the core. This is the common thread. Know your students and you will make them grow!
Grow those students, Teacher! I know you will! You are awesome! Keep on getting to know those kiddos and keep on teaching, Teacher!
So…this week I have been a part of writing curriculum for my district. It has been fun. Yes, I am a nerd. However, more than fun it has been a challenge and quite enlightening.
We all come from different states (and possibly countries), and every area has their own set of standards and fight with or against new standards. I don’t know how it is where you are, but the state I am from is in constant flux.
One thing is clear: nothing is clear.
We are “for” things one minute. We are “against” things the next minute. We have a plan for testing in one breath. No clear plan in the next one.
I have been in education long enough to see that the only thing you can count on is change. The change can last a while or be quick, but you can always know that things will change sooner or later.
There will be buzz words. There will be “current” research. There will be best practices. There will be education trends and fads.
There will be change.
There will be unclear goals.
There will be a test at the end.
This is clearly the only clarity we get as teachers.
And that is okay. I think.
Yes. It is okay. I know it.
You know why I know it? Because there are teachers who teach well NO MATTER WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND THEM.
True. It is not every teacher. However, we all know at least one or two of them that are spectacular no matter what the trends and legislation going on. They are consistent. They are constant. They are uncanny.
They are the great teachers.
What makes them great?
They found the common thread of teaching before it got cored. They focus on what is always, not what is now. The set their eyes on one goal. Students. Students and what it takes to help them grow.
Will the latest research and methods help them do this? Of course. Are these teachers life-long educational learners? You bet. Do they keep up with new ideas and strategies? Most certainly. Do they change and move from one generation to the next that comes through their classroom? Yes, yes, and yes!
One thing remains the same throughout the change for them. The students.
This is how you keep your sanity. This is how you stay a great teacher. This is how you stay the course even when the waters are choppy. You keep your eyes on the point of teaching…students, growth, and creating learners.
Can you do this if your state is Common Core? Yes. Can you do this if your state rejects the common? Yes. Can you do this if the test changes every year? Yes. Can you do this no matter what? YES YOU CAN!
So what does focusing on students mean to you? How can you make this your goal despite the ebb and flow of current educational mandates in your area? What changes can you make to be more and more consistent in this focus?
You are awesome, and I know that you already have this focus! You will grow every year in make student growth your goal. Think more about this as the school year looms ever closer! Keep on teaching, Teacher, and keep on focusing on what is most important!
You can do it!
You are awesome. I know that I say this a lot, but that does not make it any less true. I say you are awesome because you are awesome. You need to hear it more often than you do, so I will keep saying it.
So. You are awesome, Teacher!
One of the reasons that you are awesome is because of the difference you make for others. You change lives. You make things better. You put yourself on the line for the sake and betterment of those around you.
I am not talking about students this time. I am not talking about their families. I am not even talking about the community or society at large.
No, I am talking about us. The teachers. Those you work with. Those that you meet. Those that just hear about you.
You make a difference for other teachers.
You know what we do. We watch each other. We look and see what other teachers are doing, saying, and how they are acting and reacting. The good and the bad, we watch to see it all. We make choices based on what we see. We change what we do based on what we observe.
You know the old saying, “Great teachers beg, borrow, and steal.” Or something like that. We all do it, in some way, shape, or form. We look around to see what the other teachers are doing and make adjustments in ourselves.
From one teacher to another, thank you for being a teacher worth watching and modeling after!
I saw you, you made a note about something for your class based on what you saw or did on vacation. Thank you!
You bought some supplies with money from your own pocket because your students needed it and it was on sale. Thanks!
You went to a seminar and/or workshop while on summer break. Thank you so much!
You made time for planning even though you are not “on the clock.” Thanks, again!
You kept your teacher brain on even though school is not in session. I needed to see that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
You do a thousand little things day by day, in school and out of school, all of the time that we all see. These things make you a great teacher, and they are making all of us better teachers.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You are awesome, Teacher. Education is better because of you! Keep on doing what you do and keep on teaching!
As you reflect and start thinking about next year, what is it that you need to change and do differently?
Use more technology?
Use less technology?
What is the area of your teaching that you feel like you get the same results every year?
It is easy to get beat up by these things. Don’t beat yourself up.
In the coming weeks, choose one thing to work on…and then work on it. Come up with ideas. Make a plan. Find a way to be, act, and react differently. Just one.
Oh, and I don’t mean pick one thing like “classroom management.” We all know that is not one thing. That is about a million things. Pick one aspect of the area you need to work on most. For instance, if classroom management is the area you have to work on, pick something like how you react to students blurting out and/or disrupting class. One thing.
When you work on one thing at a time, you take baby steps towards the goal of ending Einstein’s definition of insanity in your teaching life and classroom.
One at a time.
Little movements away from insanity.
Summer is a great time to think and work on your baby steps…so get stepping, Teacher!
You are awesome! I hope that you are enjoying your summer. Keep recharging your batteries, but don’t forget to think about the little things you can try to change. Keep stepping and keep on teaching, Teacher!
Welcome to a new week. For the N. Hemisphere, the summer is about half over (or getting there). The new school year is looming ever closer…and the great teachers are slowly starting to gear up for it.
For this reason, I decided that it is time to dust off the old favorite of my posting genres and put up a theme song for the week post. I went looking for a song, and did I ever find one. I think this song (and video—sans the product placements) is one of the best teacher theme songs ever. I may adopt is as my theme song for the new year! We’ll see.
For those new to this blog, click play and read on. When you are done reading, you may want to go back and watch the video. It is pretty cool if you think about it in light of our role as teachers.
Teacher, your job is hard.
Few people, besides fellow teachers, understand what it is like.
What we do is taxing all on its own.
Teaching and teaching how to learn while balancing the needs of individual students and their families is not a simple task, but it is one of the most important in the world.
We have a lot to think about.
We love a challenge, and our profession is full of them.
On top of this, though, we are also beat up and blamed for many of the woes of society. People that do not understand what it is that we do make the choices about how we are to do it. When things don’t work out, who gets credit for what is wrong? Yup. Us.
Yes, Teacher, your job is hard.
But you wouldn’t trade it for the world…most of the time.
Even when you are going through the toughest time in your teaching life and everything inside of you is telling you to quit…except that one small voice that tells you to go on.
Teaching is your blood and you know it is what you were made to do.
That one small voice is a powerful one.
The cool thing is that there is not just one small voice.
All great teachers have that small voice that urges us to go on.
The voice screams and reminds us why we do what we do.
Our students…the children…the young adults…the future.
When we see the faces, when we remember the challenges that will face those faces one day, we have the small spark to get our fire going.
And you are surrounded by other teachers with that same voice and that same spark.
Teachers like us are all around.
And when the fire that burns in all of us burns together…we are a force to be reckoned with.
I am not talking about the world and legislation and banding together over that…that is another story for another blog.
I am talking about being a force against the challenges of being a great teacher for our students, no matter what is said or done on the red tape side of teaching and the hardships that we face.
Teacher, no matter what you have gone through as a teacher, you can get back up!
You are surrounded by teachers like you to help you up.
The small voice inside of you is a crowd and a mob that is all around you.
Just look up.
Just keep going.
Teachers like us will make a difference.
Teachers like us will change the future for our students.
Teachers like us will keep going and keep our students going.
Teachers like you are all around.
Keep going, Teacher!
Keep that fire going!
Do it for you.
Do it for your students.
Do it for and with teachers like you!
You are awesome! Keep going, Teacher, and keep on teaching!
I know that you haven’t heard from me in quite some time. I am sorry for that. Know that I am still here and that you are still awesome! I haven’t given up on you and I haven’t given up on me. Time away was needed, but now I am back.
I know that it is summer (for my Northern Hemisphere teacher friends), but I also know that you are a great teacher. You are already thinking about next year. You have had a few weeks of a break and now you are thinking about the students that will be sitting in the desks that sit in your classroom. This is what makes you great.
You can’t stop your “teaching brain,” and this is a good thing.
The other night, I was playing Jenga with my son. We had some nice rounds of moving the blocks, but in the end the tower always tumbled.
When I looked at the pieces after one long match, it hit me that no matter how the game went it always ended but no matter how it ended we can always rebuild and start again.
Isn’t that the same with life?
No matter how things go, things always end. No matter how things end, we can always start again.
This applies even more so with teaching. Jenga is a pretty great analogy to our profession, if you think about it.
We start the year as a strong tower, ready to go. Through the year we go through times of being taken apart and put back together. In the end, no matter what, we feel like a puddle of bricks (in some way or another) ready for a reboot. We take the summer and rebuild so that we can start again.
Teacher, I don’t know how last year ended for you. I don’t know what kind of mess your bricks are in. I don’t know how worn your blocks are. But you can rebuild. You can start again. You will start again.
Take the rest of the summer and try to build your tower stronger. Relax. Reflect. Rebuild. Think about what went right and what went wrong. Look for what you could do better. Research a little. Read a lot. Find new ways to do the old stuff. Be a better tower…even if you know it will just be blocks and bricks at the end of the next year.
This is what you do. This is who you are. And you are AWESOME at it. Keep going and never give up!
Build, Teacher. Build.
Your are awesome! I totally believe in you! Have a great rest of the summer and build that tower better than ever! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
I am not sure where you are in your school year, but if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, you are probably past halfway. For me, I am in the last quarter of the year. Getting towards the end.
I find that this part of the year can be the hardest.
I am tired.
I am stressed.
I have state testing coming.
The students are getting spring and summer fever.
I have lost most of the excitement of the year.
Everything starts feeling stale.
I think I go through this every year at this point.
I think this year can be different. I think.
I can choose to feel differently.
I do not have to feel like the year is getting old. I do not have to be stressed. I can manage and prioritize so I don’t feel so tired. I can look for the excitement that I had earlier in the year.
I can choose to act differently.
Einstein said something to the effect that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different result. I need to do things differently than I have in the past this time of year. I need to find a way to build excitement in me and the students. I need to move them towards state tests without it feeling like a grind. I need to remember what worked earlier in the year and get back to those things. I can do this. I will do this.
I can choose to focus differently.
What if I changed gears to confidence building instead of focus on the end-of-year, pre-state-test push? I don’t mean hearts, rainbows, and feelings circles kind of confidence building, but content based confidence building. I can scaffold those that need it to feeling like they really have learned some of what they need to…they have learned, even if not completely to the level I need them yet. Confidence breeds confidence. Maybe if I build momentum I can get them over the hills they are getting stuck on. The same for my kiddos that fall towards the middle. With my higher students, I can challenge them move past my content into higher levels of thinking. Make them feel and know that they will blow the state tests away. Confidence. What if I changed to that?
I can choose to be different.
I can do the things above. I can change the way I do things. I can do this. I will do this!
I can change. I will change.
What about you? Are you feeling the Past-Halfway-Grind? Can you make some adjustments? Can you change? Can you refocus? Can you be different?
You are awesome, so maybe you don’t feel this way at the end of the year. If you do, though, you are amazing enough to make those changes. You know your students need you to, so you will do the work to get it done. You make a difference every day. I believe you can make this year different. I know you will make it better. You can do this! You are a teacher! Keep on teaching, Teacher!