I have been working on this letter to you in my head for over a week. I just haven’t been sure what to say. Today I decided the best way to start is just begin. Pretty easy, really.
So I have a pretty big podcast addiction. I love listening to them. I really like shows that cause me to think. And because of this, last week I heard something that has inspired me.
There is a choral composer/conductor, Eric Whitacre, who had an idea. He put one of his songs out on the internet and gave a call on Youtube for people to sing their parts on video and send them to him. With this, he posted a silent video of him conducting the song. He had a huge response and put together a video of his “Virtual Choir.” This is the first video…
There has been subsequent “Virtual Choir Concerts,” and with each one the response is bigger and bigger. The latest have had thousands of singers from around the world.
Think about that. Thousands of people from around the planet singing one song together.
And it is beautiful.
And I am not just talking about the songs. They are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but the most beautiful thing about this is the thought. People with a shared passion from different countries, different cultures, and different views all joining together for one song. One thought. One idea. Beautiful.
This got me thinking. Is there an application to this idea in education? Can educators from around the country and even around the world come together and have one voice? One message about something? One heart and one passion? And how would we share it?
The more I think about it, the more ideas I have, but it keeps coming back to the question, “What is our one thing as educators?”
And it hit me…we do have something beautiful to share.
This something is so beautiful that it might just change what people think about education…and maybe the way that the education system is viewed and legislated.
That beautiful thing is our students growth and change throughout the year. It is our stories of the magic that happens in the classroom. It is the knowledge of the changes that happen in the lives of our school kids when teaching and learning happens through hard work and relationships. It is in sharing those amazing things that we see happen between day one and the last day of a school year.
We need to share these things. We need to talk about them. The world needs to hear them.
These are the things that cannot be standardized. They do not show up on a test. They cannot be measured. They can not be quantified.
This is our song.
Let’s sing it together!
I want to start collecting stories. I want to hear your voice and share it with the world. Will you help me?
For now, I am going to collect the stories in written form via the contact form at the bottom of the post. I may eventually move to video and/or audio format…but baby steps. Lets start here.
What do you think? Are you in?
So here is all you need to do. I want to hear one of your magical classroom stories about student change and growth. You know, those stories that you hold dear and that keep you going. Tell the story how ever you would like. Just remember to change names to protect privacy. I will share the stories here. Just let me know if you want to be kept anonymous or if I can share your name. The contact form is at the bottom of the post.
Oh, you can share as many stories as you’d like…and please share this post far and wide so I can get as many stories as I can!
This is going to be awesome! You are awesome. I can’t wait to hear your stories! You are an amazing teacher and I know that there are some beautiful things that have happened in your classroom. Keep making those beautiful things happen and keep on teaching, Teacher!
Trial run…leave a story via Google Voicemail: (864) 660-3858).
As a former student, I thank you for the time you took to plan. I thank you for the hours you put into your lessons, but also your willingness to let that time go when opportunities happened in the classroom for deeper learning and you scrapped your plans to teach where we, the students, were are the time.
Thank you for the time you took to set up your classroom. Thank you for the posters and funny jokes about math. Thank you for giving me something to look at in the moments of distraction that helped my mind get back to learning. Thank you for the seating charts and seating changes that helped me learn better, even if I or other students fought them.
Thank you for the care you showed. Day after day, I could never doubt that you cared about me. Though I may not have loved your class, your subject, or thought you were cool, I did ALWAYS know that you cared about me. That really did make me care about what you were trying to teach. I definitely cannot deny it.
Thank you for going the extra mile for me. Thank you for being a great teacher. Thank you for trying new strategies. Thank you for staying after school. Thank you for quick turnaround in grading. Thank you for…well…everything.
Thank you, Teacher!
I am a better teacher because I have your shoulders to stand on. I am better for my students because you were a better teacher than I am. But I am learning. You set a high bar, but I hope to one day reach that goal. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Did I mention, “Thank you”?
We do not hear it enough, and because of that sometimes we lose focus. We are affecting our students, though. This was a heartfelt letter to teachers from my past. We do make a difference. We do. Let us remember why we do what we do and put up with what we put up with. It is for the students. Who knows, you might be teaching the next great teacher! Keep your focus and do what you know to do, and do it well. You are awesome so I know that you will.
How the heck are you this morning/afternoon/evening (circle the correct choice)? Okay, I thought that would be funny because Tilted Windmills: Part I was about my change in feelings about the results of tests. 🙂 I do hope that this reading finds you well, though. By the way, if you haven’t read Part I, please go read that one first. This post won’t make much sense without it! If you read it the other day, you may want to skim it to get a refresher.
Are you back, now? Okay, lets move on!
However, before I move further we need to talk about Don Quixote. You know, the Man of LaMancha. If you are not familiar with Don Quixote, you should be! It is a great story of humanity and among the classics! The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Manchawas written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The story is about a man who leaves his normal life to take on a life of chivalry and eventually live in a fantasy world of knights, nobility, giants, etc…
The reason that I bring up Don Quixote is that that I am reminded about a part of his story. As he and his “squire,” a farmer named Sancho Panza, were out on their adventures, there is a time when Quixote sees windmills along the side of the road and he takes off after them. He “tilts” at them with a spear (tilting is a jousting term…go watch A Knight’s Tale for more on that) because he thinks it is an army of giants. “Tilting at windmills” has become synonymous with the idea of going off after an imaginary enemy or fighting a battle that does not have to be fought.
Okay, enough with the literary lesson. Back to school stuff.
So, I told you the story about the devastating emotional consequences of grading my first test as a first year teacher (on a Friday). Then I followed that with what happened a week ago when I graded my latest test (on a Friday). How did, in eight years, did I get from poor results shaking me up to poor results leaving me content?
Because the test data was not much different, obviously it is not because I am a spectacular teacher that can get students to learn and understand everything the first time through. It is also not because I got so good at helping the students learn problem solving skills and test-taking strategies that ace every test that I give. No, the test data was pretty much the same. The change was not in that, and the change was not in the students.
I will be honest, the change happened slowly. As a matter of fact, it has only been in the last two years, or so, that I have started to view test results differently. Actually, this was the first year that I have really felt almost completely at-ease about how a test went when it did not go well.
Wait, you never said what the change is!
I am getting there. I just need to give a little more back story. Give me a minute!
You are welcome.
I used to view testing in a few different ways. Tests allowed me to assess student learning (well-trained answer there, huh?). Tests allowed me to assess how the students received and applied what I taught them. Tests allowed me to see how well students might do on the State Tests. Tests gave me some insight on the test-taking strategies that students have and use. Tests gave me a stopping point to which I can move on to new content and material. Tests judged how well my students and I did during the unit and what I probably ought to find some time to reteach.
Tests played a lot of roles in my teaching life, didn’t they?
Over time, testing became something that was make or break for me. Therefore, test results became this harbinger of how the students were going to do during State Testing, and something that must be revered and feared for this reason. Test data was disheartening. It showed me the failures of my teaching and the failures in student learning. It became even more disparaging and depressing for me as the years passed that it was that first year.
Over time I started to dread testing.
Then came school benchmarks.
My school started doing quarterly benchmarks in the core classes. These results were as bad or worse than my unit tests. They were rigorous and difficult, just like the State Tests. The students hated them. They seldom did well on them. Because they were quarterly, and happened in every class, I started to only give these and stopped using unit tests. The students were up to their eyeballs in tests, so I helped where I could and gave other types of unit assessments (mostly writing prompts for essay-type assessments). Another side effect of the quarterly benchmarks is that, because of lack of time, they were results that I could not use because I could not go back and reteach anything.
I think I got “tested out.”
However, there was a positive result of those benchmarks. My essay assessments gave me real insight on student learning. I was able to really see what students knew, kind of knew, only knew by memory, and what they really understood. I was able to truly differentiate and help scaffold students up to the understanding that they needed because I knew where they were with the content. They did not have it always at the point of multiple choice questioning, and they was some of the problem on the tests. I helped move students as far as I could in the curriculum based on what I found out from the writing.
Back to this year. The essays taught me something. Assessment is not about results, it is about data. I had the two confused. Data is knowledge, results are trying to judge success or failure. Assessment should not be a goal, assessment should be a tool. Assessment should tell us what students know, not know, and truly understand. Assessment should give us clues about teaching strategies that worked and didn’t work. Assessment should assist us in making a plan for moving on. Assessment should be what helps keeps us motivated to keep teaching. We know where students are, now we can keep them moving!
The change was with how I viewed assessments and the resulting data. They are not something to be feared. They should be embraced. I need to look at results more in the “why did this happen” mindset more than the “why did this happen to me” state of mind.
When I looked at my test data last Friday, it told me what I needed to know. I knew what I needed to work on and with who. I was able to start formulating plans for that work. I had information. I could use that information to push my students further on and further in to what they need to learn. Why would this information make me happy?
Tests and test data used to make me feel bad. But I was tilting at windmills. I was looking at something that was mundane (I say this lightly…not that tests and data is mundane…but they are normal parts of the teaching life and not out of the ordinary) as something to cower and fear. Data is not that. Data is data. It is information. It is not a giant to fight, but it is something that can give me energy to keep on teaching and teaching better and better.
Are you tilting at any teaching windmills? Are there things that you view as scary and as enemies that might just be the normal parts of the teaching life that can spur you on to being a better teacher? What are they? Tests? Test data? Observations? Evaluations? Parent contacts? Any other menacing parts of the teaching life? How can you change your mindset about them? How can you use them to move on and be better without them destroying your teaching heart?
You are not alone! We are all with you! Other teachers do understand! We really do! Seek out a teacher to help you turn your giants back into windmills! Can you help someone else do the same, too? We are in this together and we need to help each other!
You are awesome! You are amazing! I know that you will stop fighting windmills and fight the real battles that we need to fight! You can do it! You are doing it and you are making a difference! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
PS…I feel like I need to say this. This post is not a commentary on State Tests. It is about the every day teaching life. Please do not read in to what I have said! State Assessments serve their own purpose for who get the results. I am not making a statement for or against State Assessments. Sorry, but I did feel like that should be said! 🙂 Lets avoid doing this in the comments, too! Thanks! There are a lot of places for that debate. Let’s keep it out of this place for encouragement.
I remember it vividly. My first year teaching, and I gave my first major test. It was a Friday. I was excited.
I knew that I taught well. I knew that my students learned. I knew the test was good. I helped come up with a test with questions in the same vein as the State Assessment. The results were going to show that I had my students on the right track. The fact that they were Title I students at a school with a reputation for never making AYP meant nothing. They could learn and they did.
I was so excited to see the results that I decided to stay later on a Friday. I made my way to the Scantron machine (for the younger teachers, we used to use these to score tests for us…this was before the Interwebs made testing easier). I remember turning on the machine and hearing it warm up. I got the scan sheets together by class periods.
I just knew I was going to hear more “buzz” than “clunk” (younger teachers, these are the sounds that this machine made…the clunkier sounds were the machine marking questions as incorrect). I started running the tests…
By the time I finished my last class period, I was quite aware that I would probably have nightmares in which I was being chased by a clunking Scantron machine! I don’t think there was one test with more buzz than clunk. The results were dismal. They were disheartening. They will downright depressing. I went home with my head hung low. This was not the way to start a weekend. This was definitely not the way to start a long weekend (which it was).
I vowed never to grade tests on a Friday again. A promise I would keep for many years.
(Younger teachers, back when we had VCRs that used video tapes and cassette players with cassette tapes, we used to be able to advance them forward using the fast-forward button…it had “>>” on it.)
I gave the second test of the school year. This time I used a web-based testing site called Quia (which I highly recommend…it is not super user-friendly, but (great once you learn how to use it)
(Oh, and for you older teachers, we can give tests on the Interwebs now, they give us automatic reports and we can set them to pull from a question bank and everything…find a younger teacher to tell you about them and show you how to use them).
What is cool about this site is that you can, in a way, watch the results in real time (if you keep hitting the “refresh” button, which I do). I saw how the students were doing on the test as they worked on it. I love doing this.
The first test of the year went better than usual. This test, however, was quite similar to the test I told the first story about. I had high expectations, but the results were a bit of a let down. There were far more “inccorects” than “corrects.” Grade were not stellar. They weren’t even atmospheric. They were barely above ground-level. This, like I said, was a lot like that first test grading experience I told you about.
There was a difference this time, though. I did not go home let down. I was, in a way, happy about the results. Maybe happy is not the right word…but I definitely was not in a state of depression. I was fine going into my weekend knowing what the test told me about the students and what they learned.
Why this change? Why did I go from being destroyed by test results to being okay with them? How did I get to the point that disappointing scores did not leave me very disappointed? Why was I able to leave for the weekend borderline happy after a test not going well?
For that, you will need to “tune in” tomorrow for Tilted Windmills: Part 2 (younger teachers, we used to have to literally tune in TV and radio stations with a dial and antenna).
You are awesome and amazing! I bet you probably see where this is going. Even if you don’t, you are interested and want to know more. This is why you are a great teacher. You want to learn from the failures and successes of others. This will make you grow as a teacher and make you the best teacher that you can be for you students! Thank you for being this way. I thank you for your students and I thank you for the future that your students will make better because of you. Keep on teaching and growing, Teacher!
PS… Pinterest contest ends next week! Don’t forget about it if you have been putting it off!
Yesterday I talked about how I was feeling overwhelmed when I looked at my goals and expectations for the new year (and all the work it will take to get there). This morning I am feeling overwhelmed in a different way…a good way. First of all, just a quick follow-up from yesterday. I took my own advise and just worked in the areas I knew that I could get some stuff done pretty easily. Throughout the day, those little things built on each other and I was able to make some great strides in climbing that mountain of preparation for the new year! I had a few people cheering me on, and that helped!
This is not why I am overwhelmed this morning, though. I am overwhelmed because of you! I had more people respond to yesterday’s post than any other. Most of the feedback came through Edmodo and the Facebook Page, and it just kept coming. Many people shared about how yesterday’s post encouraged them and helped them to keep moving even when the task was daunting. Along with this, many of the messages also shared what this blog means to them and how the encouragement, hope, and challenges help them to feel like they are not alone. Knowing you are not the only one feeling what you feel and that other people are going through the same things that you are going through goes along way to renew you teacher’s heart.
These messages make me want to share, again, why I started this blog and what I hope to spark with it…and I think the sparks are flying. But before I do, I am going to veer a little off of the new normal here and have a song to listen to while you read on a Thursday (two songs in one week! Woo hoo! 🙂 ). Play the song and then read on.
Teacher, I am just like you. I teach because I love it. I teach because I want to make a difference. I teach because I do not think I could not teach. Teaching is in my heart, blood, and soul. I am a teacher, just like you.
I am also a teacher just like you in that I get stressed by the expectations from others. I love my students, but sometimes teaching them can be difficult. Sometimes the weight of all the little things that come along with teaching weigh me down. Sometimes those things can bowl me over and run me down. I get tired. I get beat up. I get worn down. I see the ebb and flow of the year that always wants to push me closer and closer to burnout. I fight it off…but it is hard. I know what you go through in a year, Teacher. I am just like you. I am a teacher.
Every school year I get to that point right on the precipice of burnout. I can see and smell it. I don’t get to the point of burnout every year, but I usually get close. Really close. Last year was different, though. I saw burnout on the horizon, but I never really got that close to it. It stayed in the distance, far away.
Why? What was different last year.
I can actually point to a number of things that helped make that happen, but I want to focus on one. Hope. The power of hope. The funny part is, it wasn’t hope for me. It was hope for others.
I read through the book Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen near the end of the school year (great book whether or not you teach at a Title I school or not), and I got to a section that talked about the power that hope has on the brain and learning. This opened my eyes. I needed to help give my students hope and encouragement more intentionally and make it a priority. I took on the task of handwriting personal notes to all 80 of my students. The response was amazing! I will write more about this another day, but the students loved getting these…I had some students hound me about it until they got theirs. They started asking the other teachers when they would be writing notes! Sorry teammates! 🙂
As I wrote these letters, I got to thinking how much some simple words of real encouragement (based on positive truth..the only kind of encouragement I know how to give) would make me feel and spur me on to bigger and greater things. I went looking online for some kind of source of this kind of encouragement for teachers. It wasn’t there. I could not find anything like that. I wanted something for teachers by teachers to give hope and encouragement. I just couldn’t find it. So I decided to create it myself! Thus Dear Teacher/Love Teacher was born!
The purpose of Dear Teacher/Love Teacher is give hope, encouragement, inspiration, and challenges to you, Teacher, from another or other teachers (me and my Substitute Teachers). More than giving you hope, though, the other purpose, or the sparks, is that I want to push you on to do the same for other teachers and for your students. I want you to be a conduit of hope and inspiration. There is so much negativity in education right now…I want to start an Encouragement Revolution. That starts with me and starts with you.
Going back to the beginning when I talked about burnout, I think that hope giving and spreading is one of the big reason that burnout stayed away from me this year. Encouraging others encouraged me and kept me going!
The reason that I believe encouragement is so important to give out, is that it is a part of our job as teachers…or should be. I had you play this song, not so you could think about the people who “raise [you] up” but to start thinking about yourself as someone that others could sing this song to. I want you to be a person that raises people (both other teachers and your students) up to more than they could be.
How can you…
lift some burdens from some of your fellow teachers?
sit a while with someone who feels alone and help them feel less lonely?
fill your students with wonder?
help students and other teachers feel like they can climb impossible mountains?
walk with a teacher over a stormy sea?
make a student or a younger teacher stronger by being on your shoulders?
push those around you to be more than they could be without you?
Teacher, if you are here reading this. You understand the importance of hope. You get the need for encouragement. You want to be inspired and challenged. I am glad you came. I am glad you are finding that here. Now go and give what you have gotten here out to others! If you just keep it to yourself it isn’t worth as much! If you give away all the good that you have and run out…come back here for a refill. That is what I am here for!
You are so awesome! I know that you will leave a trail of that awesome behind where ever you go! You are amazing and you are making a difference! Keep going and keep on teaching, Teacher!
Today I want to build on my posts from a couple of weeks ago (It’s Not Me, It’s You; The Power of Real Encouragement; and Apple Influence) and talk a little more about change and the drive to change ourselves in order to spark change in others (namely, our students). To do this, I want to focus in on someone I would definitely call a Teacher Rockstar: Jaime Escalante.
If you are not familiar with Mr. Escalante, he is the teacher portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver(if you haven’t seen the movie, you need to…great inspiration for teachers!). He taught at a high poverty high school in a Latino community in Los Angeles in the late 70’s through the early 90’s. At a failing school that focused on remedial and low level math, he pushed students to take AP Calculus. The students, starting in small groups and growing in the large groups (in the hundreds), succeeded in his class and passed the AP exam. There is much more to the story, but you can go to Wikipedia for that. 🙂
What makes Mr. Escalante a Rockstar Teacher is not his accomplishments. The results of his teaching strategies and methods were amazing, but they are not what makes him one of the great teachers of all time. What makes him special is his drive. It was his willingness to stand up and do more, to be more, to expect more. One of my favorite scenes in Stand and Deliver illustrates this drive perfectly. It shows in what he is willing to say (and backup with action) at a department meeting.
In a school of under-resourced, overworked, beat-up, worn-out, and burned up teachers with students that have a history of being under-performing students with the threat of losing district accreditation looming on the horizon, he stepped up and said, “I can teach more.” He volunteered to do more. To take on more students. To be more. I love what he said, “The students will rise to the level of expectations.” He looked resolutely at administration and expected more of himself and of the students.
His response to the question of what he needs in order to do more really shows his drive and why he had unbelievable success with students. “Ganas. All we need is ganas.” Ganas was the key for Mr. Escalante. Ganas made the difference.
According to Urban Dictionary, “ganas” is a slang word for desire or urge that is most likely based on the Spanish word “ganar,” which means to gain or win. Ganas is desire. For Escalante, it was a little more than that though. It was desire backed by the willingness to go after what you desired, no matter how hard you have to work to get to it.
He talks about it again in another quote from the movie, and this time he is speaking to his students:
You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is ganas. Desire… If you don’t have the ganas, I will give it to you, because I’m an expert.
He desired for his students to learn, achieve, and truly be successful. He expected his students to have that same drive for themselves. He did what he could to inspire that in his students. He worked hard at it. Year after year he took a look at his students and himself, and then pushed harder the next year to improve. He took a lot of flak. He arguably made a lot of risky choices and decisions, but it was his “ganas” that gave him the ability to focus on his students and their future success. That is what was in his blood. He passed this on to his students. So many of them went on to lead successful lives because of what he instilled in them.
I wrote a good bit and shared a lot from the movie about Jaime Escalante. Let me let him speak for himself. This was an interview he did while he was still teaching. It is so inspiring to me! I hope you feel the same way!
Now that you have learned more about this teaching rockstar, what can you learn from his example? Can you be one of the teachers in your school, in the midst of all of the finger pointing on what is wrong in education, to stand up and say, “I can do more,” and back that up with action? Is your teaching and relationships with students marked by “ganas” about their achievement and success? What can you do to be different and make an even bigger difference than you already do?
You are awesome! I know that you probably already think a lot like Mr. Escalante. Your students and their learning and success is of utmost importance to you. You do so much already and make a big difference! But can you do more? I know that I can!
You are amazing, and never forget it! Find the more that you can do, and do it! I know that you can! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
Wow, I picked a timely issue when I decided to write today’s post. I have been sitting on this idea for almost a month, and I thought today would be a great day to write it. When I looked up red pandas to get a little more background information, this news story about a Red Panda that escaped from the National Zoo that was found today!
Anyway, the Red Panda.
I have been interested in red pandas ever since I was a kid and heard about them and saw one for the first time at, of all places, the National Zoo in Washington, DC. I really wanted to see the giant pandas that day, but Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling were in their buildings and did not come out that day. My attention was brought to the red pandas. I first I thought that they might be related to the panda bears, so I was excited. That excitement waned when my dad read that they were not even bears but were actually more like the Chinese raccoon (because they are related to the raccoon and found primarily in China).
I was disappointed, but the red panda has stuck with me since that day. I, like a lot of people, first heard the name red panda and thought it was a panda bear. It turns out, according to Wikipedia, that the “panda” in the red panda’s name is from the word in the language of Nepal for “eater of bamboo.” In terms of word meanings, the giant panda and red panda are related, but not else. I was confused and let down by the red panda because of this.
In the years since, I have grown to become affectionate for red pandas. I have learned more about them and I have come to see that they are amazing animals. They are beautiful, rare, and kind of fun to watch (when they are not sleeping…which the ones at the zoo where I live do a lot of). They have an interesting history and background, and they are a just cool animal…even if their name is misleading.
I share all of this, because we teachers are red pandas. So many people confuse and misunderstand what we do and who we are. People here the name “teacher,” and they immediately think of teachers they have had in the past or the picture of teachers on TV, in movies, or on the news. None of these media sources, or even memories of school years past, are an accurate picture of who we are today and what we do (and have to put up with). It is hard to truly understand teachers and teaching until you walk a few thousand miles in our shoes.
Teacher, you are the Red Panda. People may not understand you, but that is okay with you. You are still an amazing and special creature. You do what you do, and you do it well, no matter what other people think! You are the Red Panda of the human world, and you wear that with pride.
Teacher Red Panda, be proud of who you are. Be proud of what you do. Don’t take the misunderstanding of teaching to heart. Help people understand. They will come to see how awesome you are!
You are awesome! So awesome! You are believed in and you are special. You make a difference and you are changing the future! Keep on teaching, Teacher!