A Call for Help – Let’s Raise Our Teacher Voices


Dear Teacher,

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.

Very 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?

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

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!

Love, Teacher

Trial run…leave a story via Google Voicemail: (864) 660-3858).

 

 

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What You Deserve, Teacher…


Dear Teacher,

You do so much.  I don’t mean that as a meaningless platitude because it is Teacher Appreciation Week.  I mean that as someone who knows.  Someone who has and is living the life of a teacher.  You do so very much!

It is almost inconceivable how much that you do for your students, your students’ families, your coworkers, your administration, your family, your friends, and…sometimes, every once in a while, on the rare occasion…for yourself…though, that is seriously not as often as it should be.  You live and breathe for others.  And you do it because you have a heart for others, especially your students.

You do so much!

And there is not much that you get in return; at least not tangible things.  This is something you are okay with.  You are because you are doing what you do for something bigger.  You are working for the lives and future of your students…which is what matters most to you.

You do deserve more, though.

In all honesty, you do deserve more money for all that you do.  You deserve more respect from others.  You deserve more recognition for the extra miles that you go.  You deserve more freedom and autonomy within the system because you do know what you are doing most of the time.  With that, you deserve the trust that you can make good decisions for the sake of your students.  And the list could go on and on.

You are a great teacher and you deserve more than you get!  

You deserve more and you know it…but this is not what is important to you.  What is important is that you impact your students lives and help them become the amazing people that they can be one day.  This is what makes you awesome.  You know you deserve more, but that is not what drives you.  Your students drive you.  And this is one of the many reasons you deserve more.

We both know that the “more” may never come.  But there is one thing that I can offer you.  I can offer you a thank you.

Really, really, really, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, Teacher.

I thank you for all that you do.  I thank you for the things that you do that you don’t have to.  I thank you for your heart.  Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use this picture if you link back to this blog.)

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use this picture if you link back to this blog.)

I thank you as a fellow teacher who you serve as an example for.  I thank you as a parent who has teachers that are like you and are influenced by you.  And I thank you as a citizen of the world because you really are making the future better.

Teacher, I can not give you all that you deserve, and for this I am sorry.  But I do promise to always try to thank you…even when it is not Teacher Appreciation Week.  A thank you is something you deserve every day!  I will do my best to try.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

You are an amazingly awesome teacher!  Thank you for teaching on even though you do not get everything you deserve!  You are making a difference and changing lives.  Keep going and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Assesments, You, & Your Students


Dear Teacher,

It is here: Testing, Assessment, and Evaluation Season.

It comes around every year.  No one loves it, but it is a harsh reality that will probably not go away any time soon.

Students must be tested.  Learning must be assessed.  Teaching must be evaluated.  How else will accountability happen in education?  Right?

Why do I hear crickets after asking the question?

Oh yeah, no one wants to talk about it.  Okay, so I won’t either.  I just want to remind you about something.

You and your students are way more than just an assessment or evaluation result.  The learning and growing that happens in your classroom can’t be measured by a standardized test and/or rubric.

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DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

The true measurement of what happened in the classroom can only be experienced.  You have to know where the students were when they came to you in the beginning of the year…not just academically and according to standards, but also socially, emotionally, and ownership of learning.  These things are hard to standardize…no, they are impossible to standardize.

So…DON’T LOSE HEART ABOUT TESTING AND EVALUATIONS!

I know there is a lot tied to them…but breathe.  Relax.  Remember that the true worth in what happens in your classroom is in the results of the growth that is clear in the students that leave your classroom at the end of the year.

You can’t control the assessment process, but you can control how you react to it.

Don’t put all of your stock in the assessments and evaluations.  Instead, take stock of what has happened and the change you have seen in your students…even if it is just a little bit of change in some students, you can celebrate it!  A win is a win.

Reflect on what you have seen in each student.  Write it down.  Point it out to them.  Let them see the growth as you take time to see it, too.  Make sure they know that this is the true measurement of learning in your class.  This will help you and your students find a bit of joy here in the stressful season at the end of the year.

What have you seen and can celebrate? 

  • A student who asks questions more?
  • Someone who follows instructions more often?
  • Homework being done a little more often?
  • Effort being put in where it wasn’t before?
  • Finishing work and not giving up?
  • An increase in success for some students?
  • Waiting more often and taking turns?
  • Someone who has stopped being mean to others?
  • The list could go on and on, but I think you get it.

You are an excellent and amazing teacher.  I have no doubt you know how to measure the learning and change in your classroom.  This is just a little nudge to get back to what you know and to find joy at the end of what has been a trying and tough year.

You have done a great job this year!  Your students are changing.  They are different students than came to you at the beginning.  You are the one to thank for that!  You have stuck it out with them.  You have put in the effort and tears.  You have done whatever it takes to see that change.  Celebrate it.  You really are an awesome teacher!

Don’t let the testing and evaluations get you bogged down.  You and your students are more than scores.  You are learners and learning HAS happened this year .  You are the reason that it has…and this means that you rock!

Thank you for all you do!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

 

 

The 800 Lbs Gorilla in Your Classroom


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Dear Teacher,

I so try to avoid this issue here.  It is something that we all deal with.  It’s something I think most of us feel the same way about.  It is a reality of teaching that we all just kind of “deal” with and try not to let it get us too down.

However, this time of year it is hard to avoid, and I think it is getting to a point that we won’t have any choice but to really talk about it.

Testing.

Standardized testing…state testing…MAP testing…testing to prepare for testing…benchmarks to help us test to prepare for testing…quizzing to help us no where students are before benchmarking progress towards testing…

Testing, testing, testing.

It is an unfortunate requirement of the teaching life in the system we are currently in.

I will probably one day have no choice but to write some of my opinions on all of this, but that is not my goal for the day.

No, my goal is you.

Testing season is one of the most trying times of the year for teachers…know that you are not alone in how you feel right now.  And, it is not because it is hard to test students or difficult to keep their attention during reviews (which it can be).  Testing season is tough because we have to separate our teaching mind from our teaching heart.

I heard someone say or read something someone said recently (I don’t remember which), “Why do we work so hard to differentiate instruction for each student just to prepare them for standardized tests?”  I think they were being tongue-in-cheek and making a joke, but it really is a good question!

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher) ... oh, and this was made using www.piktochart.com, check them out if you want to make cool infograpics!

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher) … oh, and this was made using http://www.piktochart.com, check them out if you want to make cool infograpics!

If research shows that differentiated instruction leads to deeper learning, understanding, and memory, wouldn’t follow through that testing should be differentiated so students can show what they have really learned?

There is so much I could say here about this, but I will save it for another time.  I think you see what I mean.  There is this part of us that really wants to see our students succeed.  It is this drive that pushes us to find ways that help each student learn.  This is our heart.  We want our students to become the people we know that they can be.

Then there is this other side of us that wants (or is forced to need by the system) evidence to prove how much our students are learning.  This is where standardized testing fits in.  It is the way that we have been given to provide that evidence.  If they can answer questions the same way other students do, then they have learned…or so we are told.

Image: flickr.com

Because this is the measure we are using (whether we like it or not), we want to see our students do well on the tests…and this is where the problem lies…

In order for us to prepare our students for the tests so they can do well, we need them to take tests like the one they will take.  Some students do this better than others, so we scaffold and differentiate instruction in test taking.  We need to prepare for all variances in vocabulary on the test, so we drill, drill, drill.  We need to make sure that students know how to find wrong answers, too, so they can eliminate them.  So we practice, practice, practice.  Also, we need to see real results on how students are progressing toward the test, so we test, test, test…and so the cycle goes on…and on…and on.

All of this takes time.  We have to cut out some of the time we want to take for teaching content.  We have to cut corners and cut back.  We have to teach content in limited ways to buy time.  Differentiation of instruction becomes more and more standardized…

And this breaks our teaching heart when we realize this is what we are doing…but not doing this means that some students may not do as well on the tests…and we are torn.

I don’t have an answer for this.  I just want to let you know that you really are not alone in this.  We are all feeling this tension.  It is hard.  It make teaching less of a passion and more of a job…and our heart breaks more for this.

Don’t give up, Teacher!  Trust your teaching heart.  Do what is right for your students!  This is the only advice I know to give right now.  You can never go wrong in trusting what you know about your students and letting that drive your decisions.  Students first!

Motivational/Growth Mindset ABCs https://goo.gl/wU4BW9

Motivational/Growth Mindset ABCs
https://goo.gl/wU4BW9

You know what your students need because you know them and have been fighting hard to differentiate for each one all year – don’t start doubting yourself now!

I know that you try to do what is best for those souls in your room everyday.  This is what makes you a great teacher!  You are doing a great job!  Keep on doing what you feel is what is needed.  Don’t doubt yourself!  You are amazing and doing an amazing job!  Keep going and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Thank you for all that you do!  You are awesome and you rock!

Love, Teacher

Teacher, I See Your True Colors


Dear Teacher,

I really wanted to write to you this morning.  I know that this has been a difficult and trying time for you.  This time of the year usually is.  I have been thinking and trying to come up with some way to remind you how awesome you are and encourage you to keep going and keep fighting…and I did.

It is time for something I haven’t done in a while – a theme song post.  If you have never read one of my theme song posts, all you have to do is click play on the video and read.  If you can’t read with music on, listen to the song and then read.  Got it?  Good!  Let’s go!

Teacher…no one really knows but us what it is like.  Teaching is one of the roughest roads that someone can choose to go down.  It has a bright destination, but it sure can be a dark path sometimes.  There is no sugar-coating it.  Teaching is tough.

As teachers, we are fighting for the lives and futures of our students.  That is no small thing.  With just that, we are battling some pretty scary and menacing enemies.

Image Source: Wikipedia

On top of that, add the fact that we have “friendly enemies.”  Well meaning people who are trying to make education better are making it quite difficult to do what we need to do to reach those minds in our classrooms.

And then there is the standardize testing…and I will just leave that without comment.  Too much to say…

It can feel like the job of teacher is an impossible task…and it is…it is for anyone besides you.

Listen, Teacher, you were and are cut out for this.  You are amazing!

In everything mentioned above, you keep going.  You keep trying.  You keep fighting.  Because in your heart of hearts you know that you were made for this.

You are a fighter and this is your battle.

It can be a long, grueling skirmish…the enemies surround you…you feel alone in the fight…

But something clicks in for you.  You remember who you are fighting for…and it is not for you.  It is for people, young people, who can’t fight for themselves.  This sparks something deep inside of you and gives you the will and strength to forge ahead.

This is who you are.  These are your true colors.

Not everyone can see them, but I do.  They are shining through…and they are shining brightest in the lives of your students now and tomorrow.

Those true colors are beautiful.  Like a rainbow.

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Image: Wikipedia Commons

You are making a difference, Teacher!  The stands you make are worth it.  The time, energy, and tears are planting seeds in the minds of your students.  And those seeds are growing!

Don’t lose heart, Teacher.  Don’t give up.  You are fighting a good fight.  Keep on fighting and keep on teaching!  You rock!

Love, Teacher

What Great Teachers Do Everyday


Dear Teacher,

So I have told you much about my new position as a teacher this year.  This post is not about that, but I currently work at my district’s science center as a STEM teacher.  In this job I get to come into contact with many of the students in the district and areas near by, but more than that I get to see many, many teachers in action with students.  I get to talk to them and find out how things are going and what is working for them.  This is one of my favorite things about my job.

Let me just say, I have been able to meet and interact with some great teachers.  Some really, really excellent teachers.  And I have been impressed and humbled by them.  I do not know if I was in the same league as some of them when I was still in the classroom.  Seriously.

They all have many different traits, but I have been able to observe some commonalities between them.  It seems like there is a “formula” to being a great teacher.  However, I do not know how much it can be learned versus natural ability and personality.  They are not the kind of things that fit on a lesson plan, but, even so, some things are worth practicing and trying!

The number one thing that I noticed among the great teachers I have met is that they know each of their students and have individual ways of interacting with each.  I don’t know if this makes sense.  What I mean is that their way of talking with and helping each student seems to be differentiated to the personality of each student.  This does not come easy.  This means knowing each student as an individual and know how to bring the best out of each.  This is an amazing feat and trait.  There is a video being passed around Facebook of a basketball coach and his team that shows this better than I can explain.

I love this video.  I have probably watched it at least 20 times.  The time it took him to know his players and develop these handshakes was probably enormous, but the relationship building that happened was priceless.  This is the kind of individualizing and differentiation I see among the great teachers.  Not necessarily with handshakes, but with the way that they approach each student.

The second common trait of great teachers I have seen is a willingness to put students first, even over schedules and non-essential policies.  Great teachers see what students need and bend the rigidness of their structure (or schedule) to make sure that learning happens or needs are met.  This is hard to explain much further because it depends on the situation on what this means, but I can give an example.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

When I see classes of students, it is usually in the form of a field trip to the science center.  There is a pretty tight schedule between arrival, labs, lunch, and departure.  Most teachers try to stick to that schedule, and rightfully so.  However, some of the great teachers work around the schedule a bit when their students are on the edge of making some real connections with content or concepts.  Some teachers will sacrifice a few minutes of lunch or be willing to take the fall for making the bus wait for them for a few minutes.  They know that what the students are doing at the center is worthwhile, and they are willing to take flack for the sake of their kids.  And I am sure this applies to situations in their classrooms, as well.

The next thing that seems to be a commonality between great teachers is that they do not waste one teachable moment.  The greatest teachers always have a way of making learning happen everywhere.  No situation is without something to spark curiosity, review concepts, or teach about life in general.  Learning is a way of life for those teachers, and so is teaching.  And it happens in every moment of the day is some little way.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Great teachers also always make great strides in making sure that everything connects.  Just like learning happens everywhere for these teachers, learning is also connected to other things and never stands alone.  You have to make every minute count, and that means that students need to see that content and concepts are connected.  Math relates to science which relates to social studies which relates to ELA…or any combination of this…and all of it connects to students lives and the world at-large.  This come back to making every moment a teachable moment.  If there is a connection that can be made between things that students need to learn, great teachers make sure that they try to help their kids connect those dots.

Last, but definitely not least, great teachers all tend to make sure that students see the impossible as being possible.  I am not talking things that are physically impossible like putting on a cape and flying, but the things that students see as impossible that are actually quite possible.  Students that struggle in reading can be great readers.  Students who don’t know their multiplication facts yet can be great math students.  Students who see school as a place where they can’t live up to the expectation can survive, thrive, and love learning.  Great teachers help students see what is impossible to them as possible and help them do the work to make the impossible possible.  Great teachers help students past their failures and through the work it takes to be a success.  It takes time, effort, and determination, but these teachers stop at nothing to make it happen.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

There are many other aspects of great teachers and great teaching, but I think these five are very attainable by all of us.  Does it take hard work?  Yes.  Are we going to have to make decisions that are “off plan?”  Sure we will.  Will we take flack for the choices we make?  You better believe it.  Will it be worth it for the lives and futures of our students?  More than we will ever know!

So, as you write your lesson plans, remember the things that don’t quite fit on the plans.  The needs, personalities, and futures of your students.  Remember what comes first.  Don’t be afraid to leave the lesson plans and fly without a net from time to time.  It’s what great teachers do…and I have a feeling you are one of those great teachers!  Do remember, though, that the impact you make by doing these things may not be something you see for quite a while…but you will be making a lasting impact.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

You are an amazing teacher!  I know that you put students first.  Know that this is what makes you a great teacher!  Keep doing what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

PS… A quick update.  After I wrote this yesterday, I saw this video posted on Facebook.  This is a great teacher.  She gets it.  Students are more than can be measured (especially measured by a test and a formula of how much computer time they “need”).  She is a great teacher…we can talk later about how so many of the great teachers seem on the verge of giving up.

Attention All Teachers…


Dear Teacher,

You have had a tough couple of days (or weeks…or months…or whole school year).  I get it.  Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world…and people who have never been in the classroom (or haven’t been recently) do not understand that.  On top of that, some years are worse than others.  It just so happens that this year is one of those years.

You are tired.  You are exhausted.  You are burned out or right on the edge of burnout.

You are starting to lose your edge.  You are starting to lose heart.  You are starting to wonder what other careers might fit your skill set.

Trust me, I have been there.  It sucks.  It really does.

But there is one thing that you can do about all of it.  It is not a magic key to unlock teaching happiness, but it is something.

You can ask yourself one question.

What are you going to do about it?

You can’t really change your circumstances.  You can’t make your students be different.  You can’t control all of your classroom dynamics.  You can’t force your administration to be different and you can’t stop the system from being what it is.

You can change one thing.

You can change you.

I wish I had the words to explain what I mean by that, but I would rather quote Maya Angelou who said it better than I ever could.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

We can control how we are affected by our situation.  We can adjust the way we react to things.  We can check our feelings before we make a decision.  We can change the way that we let things affect us.

I think the best way to do this is to refocus on why we are teaching in the first place.  We need to remember why we started this journey we call the teacher life.  What brought us here?  What brought you to teaching may be what helps you stay with it.

I do believe that answer is probably close to the same for all of us.  It is all about students and trying to make the world a better place for them.

I know that reality has made that difficult to keep a view of, but you can start over every day and find that target again.  We can ask ourselves, “How will I make today better for my students (even the tough ones)?”

I am not saying that we forget about standards and curriculum, but I do think it will help if we double-down on putting students and what they need in front of those things.

I don’t know.  Am I making sense here?

Anyway, the best way to survive is looking at ourselves and how things are changing us as teachers.  Are we doing what we are doing for the sake of students or for some other reason?  If it not for students how can we change our practices (within the system) to make sure that they are the priority.  When you and I can do this, I think how the toughness of any given day or year affects us will change.

I will close with another quote.  This is from Jaime Escalante (a teacher hero of mine who I think lived out what I am saying here).

You don’t count how many times you are on the floor. You count how many times you get up.

Rough days and years come and go.  What matters is what you do about it.  How will you learn and move on?

Get Up Quote

Get back up, Teacher.  You are great teacher.  You are getting through to your students.  You are making a difference.  I think you are pretty awesome!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher