Getting Back on Your Teaching Feet…


Dear Teacher,

It has been a little while.  Last you heard from me was a few weeks ago.  I told you about my computer issues (which still aren’t over), but that is not the only reason.  The other reason you haven’t heard much from me is because life is busy, difficult, and demanding.  But that is not news for you – you are a teacher!

The holidays are usually fun and somewhat relaxing…but they also remind us that the teaching life is not easy.  We are reminded of the other things in life that we neglect for the sake of our students (which is a noble act, don’t get me wrong).  It is great to live our “normal life” for a couple of weeks!  But then we have to get back to our other world, and that can be a difficult transition.

That is part of what has happened for me with the blog.  I took a break because of the computer issues and the holidays…and it now has taken me a while to get back on my Dear Teacher feet.  It is a time and energy commitment to blog here and try to say something to help your day better as a teacher.  It is a sacrifice that I willingly make because you are worth it and deserve it, but it takes a while to get back into the swing of it.  Today is my attempt.  I am sorry if this is lackluster…but I am trying.

And that is the key for us after a break, bad day, or difficulties in or out of school…we just have to get on our feet and try.

We don’t need to worry about being awesome (though, you always are)…we just have to move and focus on our students.  We don’t have to have the most amazing lesson.  We don’t need to make amazing Dead Poet’s Society inspirational speeches.  We don’t have to add Pinterest-ing features to our classrooms.  We don’t even have to be completely “all there” yet.  We just need to be there and make an attempt.  The more we try to do the things we know are important, the more that we start being the amazing selves that we are.

IMG_0438

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

This is what it takes to make a difference for our students and change their futures.

All it takes is you being you and being there trying.  Day in and day out.  Some days will be great.  Some days will be the opposite.  And most days will just be somewhere in the middle.  But it the sum of these days that matter.  You just have to get up, get going, and try.

What is great about you is that you know this, and you do this.

This is why you are AWESOME and you are making a difference.

Please know that even when you don’t hear from me, I truly believe in you and am always in your corner.  You are amazing and you totally rock!  Thanks for all you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!

 

 

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The Secret Ingredient to Being a Great Teacher…


Dear Teacher,

We live in an interesting time to be in the field of education, do we not?  This is not a set up to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher or administrator in this day-and-age, though there are a lot of difficult and harsh realities for us right now.  There is another side to being an educator right now…

Resources.

We have some of the most amazing resources available to us.  Some teachers have more than others, but we all have more than teachers had at any time in the past.  We have the internet (if not readily accessible to student, you have access to it for planning…you are reading a blog right now, aren’t you?).  We have technology (very few teachers do not have the availability of some kind of tech).  We have each other (we can connect with educators around the world and collaborate and learn from each other).  The list is endless.

We have so much.

Yet, do we have more great teachers than ever before?  I am not sure about that.  It seems like we should, but there is probably the same average amount of great teachers as there ever has been (which is a large number…I am not saying this to knock education).  Great teachers will always be great teachers…no matter the resources.

So how do great teachers become and stay great teachers?

There are A LOT of factors here…

  • Studying education and the latest research
  • Workshops and staying in touch with other great teachers
  • Focusing on students more than content
  • Knowing when to teach more and when to teach less
  • Mastering the art of facilitation
  • And so many other things…

But there is one secret ingredient that I think matters the most and is common among most of the great teachers in history, and it is amazingly simple.

The secret to you being a great teacher is you.

What?

Great teachers know themselves.  They know their strengths and weaknesses.  They work on the weaknesses and play to their strengths.  They do not deny who they are as people, and this lets their passions for teaching and for life play themselves out in the classroom.  Their zeal for what drives them pushes students to strive harder and become interested and engaged.  Because great teachers are keyed into who they are, their dreams are big and they fight to achieve them.  They also know what they need and go after those things…for this reason fund-raising seems easy for them and  “personal PD” is not a new idea because it has been a theme of their lives!

Great teachers are aware of themselves and this makes the more aware of their students and what needs to happen  in their classroom.

Resources are not what make great teachers great…great teachers make all resources great because they are keenly aware of how to use them.  The type of resource or school “realities” are not limitations…they do not really know limitations!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Great teachers know who they are and do not hide it.

Great teachers share their passions and interests and make them a part of their instruction.

Great teachers have a sense of what they need and this gives them a sense of student needs.

You are a great teacher…you just have to get to know yourself to bring the great teacher out!

You are the key to you being a great teacher!

You are a much greater teacher than you think  you are!  We can all be greater…so lets work on it.  You are amazing!  I know you are a great teacher!  You are making a difference because you are completely awesome!  Keep working at your greatness and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

The Only Thing That Matters Today


Dear Teacher,

I do not know the timing of school where you are from, but for me and my American teacher friends, it is pretty close to the first day of school.  That first day is for me today.  When is/was it for you?

We have so much to think about to get ready for the first days and weeks of school.  Sometimes it gets hard to manage all of the minutia of what needs to happen and get put together.  We juggle responsibilities.  We rearrange our rooms 17,000 times.  We work.  We sweat.  And we continue this up until the minute we get our fresh crop of students to help nurture and grow.

You may or may not be still in those preparation stages, but great job!  It is all worth it.  Never forget that the work you put in does pay dividends later as you work with your students.  All of the little things that seem important as you get ready really are important.  And you own them like a boss!  Great job!  Keep going if you haven’t had your first day yet!

However…

Sometimes the mountain of “stuff” we need to do cause us to lose focus…especially the closer that the day comes that those new faces will be grace the threshold of your classroom.  We can often get so bogged down by the things that we just have to get done that we forget who we are doing those things for.  I know that I get caught up in doing that almost every year.

This year I am making a concerted effort not to do that…and it is hard.  I still have things to do and the students are coming today!

This is why I am writing instead of working on any of those things here in the wee hours of the morning.

I want to remind myself of what is most important.

Two things: My students and today.

I am here for my students.  That is it.  Yes, I have stuff to teach them.  But I need to teach them because it is important for them to learn for success in the future.  My focus should always be framed by them.  My students.  They are what matters most.  And what matters most is that I connect with them and get to know them.  If I focus on that then they may just remember what it is that I have to teach them.

I must connect and built relationships with my students, especially here in the beginning of the year.  This is key.  This is what matters.  This is what is important.

And the other thing I have to remember is that I only have today to do.  Everyday all that I have is today.  I need to work on building those relationships every day and day by day.  That is what matters most.

I can’t waste a day.  I can’t waste a minute.  I must always be working on focusing on the students as I teach them and connecting with them as I do.

It is cliche, but it is really true that “students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I need to care for my kiddos, get to know them, and always focus on what is best for them inside my classroom.

This is vital.  This is key.  This is what matters most!

How are you doing with this, Teacher?  Are you struggling to maintain focus on what matters, like me?   Don’t give up!  You are awesome!  I know that in the end your focus is on your students and what they need most from you.

I mean it when I say you are awesome, Teacher.  You truly, truly are!  You know your students are the most important part of what you do…and that you only have today to work on what is important.  Keep on doing what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!  Have a great start to your year!

Love, Teacher

PS…Sorry about the editing issues.  I can’t figure them out, and I do have other things to do today.  🙂

(you’re gonna hear me) Roar


Wake up and roar!  (c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Wake up and roar! (c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Dear Teacher,

Monday again.  Get pumped up.  You’ve got this.  Today is yours.  This week is yours.  You are a teacher…Mondays are your day to shine!

For that reason, you need a theme song.  You need to let this week know that you are coming.  It is time for the “You” show.  This theme is your song and your introduction to the week.

I have your theme ready, but this week is going to be a little different.  Before I let you click play, I have something for you to read first.

I knew what song I wanted to feature this morning, but when I went on a video search I came across a cover of this song, and an amazing, heart-breaking, and inspiring story.  I decided that even though the music side of this version is not as powerful, the story behind this one makes this version a thousand times more inspiring,  I think as teachers, this one is going to make us face the week even more courageous than we would have without reading, seeing, and hearing it.

I want you to read this before playing the song.  It is the description from YouTube.  It tells the story of Olivia Wise.  It tells why this song was recorded and presented on YouTube.  Please read and be inspired.

Olivia Wise has Brain Cancer. She came into a recording studio for her first time and recorded the Katy Perry song Roar. She couldn’t walk or stand, she didn’t have her full breath or the energy she used to, and she was managing her new pains and new limitations. While her physical condition was rapidly fading, her spirit remained untouched.

Olivia is a fighter and has gone through the fire, in fact, she was going through the fire while she recorded this song, but you wouldn’t know it, because she was dancing right through it. She is an inspiration, a champion, and my hero. This is her Roar.

To donate to the Liv Wise Fund: http://www.livwisefund.com
To donate to the Liv Wise Fund:http://my.sickkidsdonations.com/perso…
or Phone 416-813-5320

Here is a CNN story about her and her recording of the song.

I am not sure what I can say after this story.  I am not sure if I need to say anything.

What worries you?

What stresses are you dreading this week?

What pressures are you feeling?

What makes you anxious?

Do these things matter in the grand scheme of things?  Do they need to own your energy and patience?  Do they need to master you?  Do they need to break you this week?

What is most important?  What matters most?  What deserves your time and energy?  What deserves you and your life?

Focus on what really matters.  Focus on your students.  Focus on your fellow teachers.  Focus on your family.  Focus on what helps you be there for others.  Focus on you (in a good way).

After hearing what others are going through and fighting through, it really gives us perspective on ourselves.  Really, what is it that truly matters?

What is the big picture?  What, if we think about it, won’t matter later?  Can we let those things go?  Can we at least put them on the back burner?

I want to challenge you this week to let some of the stress go.  I want you to think of what your students need, need of you, and need you to be.  Put your energy there.  Spend your time there.  Let those things take your attention.  If other things go, or at least make them wait.  You will never regret putting your students and their learning first.

I think you will do more than not regret it, you will thank yourself for it later.  So will your students.  So will the future.

Focus on people this week.  Be there for students, teachers, friends, and family.

Don’t let the weekly pressures choke out the space you need to have for others.

Have the eye of the tiger.  Be louder than the lion.  Stand firm.  Let this week and the stress that comes with it hear you roar as you keep your priorities straight and you make a difference.

You are a champion.  Prove it.  Show it.  Roar!

You are amazingly awesome!  You are capable of not letting this week rule over you.  You won’t let it.  You will let your focus lie where it should.  You are going to roar!  I know you will!  You are a great teacher, so of course you will!  Be great and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

One Thing


Dear Teacher,

As I talked about yesterday, we have so much to do, think, and and be throughout our each day.  I am feeling the weight of the pull of the thousand things that are tugging at me today.

I am trying to take my own advice and try to make sure that my focus is on the students and what they need.  The hard part is deciding what those things are!  Even if I move my focus to students and their needs, there are still so many things to choose from.  Picking a direction and running at it is important, but knowing which direction is best each day can be a challenge.

The idea of just finding “one thing” comes to mind.  One thing, one focus, one direction is all that we need.  We just have to make a decision.  How do you do that?

Reflect.

Where did you get to yesterday in your content?  What do your students seem to be lacking from prior content?  What are the learning/thinking skills that they need most?  What strategies are they responding to the most?

Get all of this into your mind.  What is the one thing that stands out the most?  What is the biggest student need across the board?  What is the one area that needs to most work or most support?

That is your “one thing,”

Make this deficit area, thinking/processing sill, or content topic your goal and focus today.  Make everything else revolve around it.  Let the noise of all of the other thousand things be in the background as you work through this one thing that students need most.

Will you have to answer to why you made this choice?  Sure.  Might it cause conflict?  Yes.  But no matter what you choose to focus on will cause other things to fall to the wayside and cause the same kind of drama.  You just have to make sure the thing you choose is student-focused.  That is all that really matters.

Remember, when you are asked, “Why are you doing _______________?”  Your answer better have “students” at its core!

Students are our goal and focus.  Don’t be afraid to make a stand for them.  It will all come out in the end.  Students and their needs…their one thing each day…will never disappoint or let you down.  The short-run may hold conflict, but that conflict won’t outlast the joy of students learning and learning how to learn in your classroom.  That trumps all and will win the day in the end!

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

You are awesome and amazing!  I know you know how to make “one thing” choices…don’t be afraid to!  I have your back and so do all of the other teachers out there.  Student learning is never a bad focus.  Stand firm and take a stand today with it!  Never fear it!  Keep on finding those “one things” and teach on, Teachers!

Love, Teacher

Tilted Windmills: Part II


(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Dear Teacher,

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 Mancha was 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.

That only leaves one thing.  The change was in me.

What was that change and when did it happen?

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!

Okay.

Thanks.

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!

Love, 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.

Stronger (what doesn’t kill you)


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

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

Dear Teacher,

Sorry for the tardiness of the weekly theme song, but I was running late this morning.  Fortunately, my lateness helped me finally decide on the song…I debated a few.  I usually write my posts in the morning, but I did not get to do so today and a lot has happened in the meantime!  I was able to find out the results of the state tests this year for my students…and the scores did not quite meet up to my expectations…so I definitely need today’s song.  As a matter of fact, the song has been in my head ever since I read the scores.  This week we are going to focus on the fact that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!

You know the drill.  Play the song and then continue reading.

You are teacher.  You have high expectations.  You have high expectations for your students.  You have high expectations for yourself. You have high expectations for the year.

Sometimes the expectations are realistic and easily attainable.  Sometimes the expectations are lofty and nearly impossible.  Both types of expectations are valid and important.  Attainable goals help give you benchmarks to reach throughout the year.  Nearly impossible goals give you a target to aim towards a trajectory to head out on.

Unfortunately, when all is said and done you have to measure up to the expectations.  Often, the realistic goals are reached, but sometimes the aren’t.  Seldom are the lofty goals met, but sometimes they actually are.  Either way, there is usually a mix of celebrations and letdowns at the end when you start to reflect.  Sometimes the celebrations are huge…but sometimes the letdowns are even bigger.

It is important to take a good look at the failures you have regarding your expectations (both realistic and lofty ones).  I mean, take a good long look at them.  They are a mirror.  You will be tempted to point fingers as to why this happened, but that is not the way to get better in light of the letdowns.  You need to use them as a mirror to let you see where to improve.  You and look and see what you can do differently.  What you can change.  You can see where you need help.  You can use it to identify your deficits and look for resources to help you with them.  Failure is a chance to rebuild.  It is a chance to start over.  It is a chance to start the changes in others by focusing on the changes you need to make in yourself.

What doesn’t kill you, as a teacher, does make you stronger.  It makes you a better teacher, if you will let it.

  • Not meet your goals for state tests?  How will you change and do things differently to change this next year?
  • Have difficult situations to face at your school?  How will you be different and rise above these challenges and push through them in order to be a better teacher for you students?
  • Have students that you did not handle well last year?  What will you work on to help you do change the dynamic with similar students in the years to come?
  • Was classroom management an issue?  What are you learning, reading, or working on to help you change this?  You set the tone and the attitude in your classroom.  How are you going to do this differently from now on?
  • Have issues with coworkers or other people in the learning community?  What are you going to do to make a difference in these relationships?  What can you do?  Who can you go to for help?

Unmet goals and difficult circumstances will not kill you.  If you let them, they will make you a leaner and meaner (figuratively speaking) teacher from this point on.  Hold up the mirror to yourself and start making the changes you can make.  I know that you can.  I know that you will.

You are awesome!  Keep surviving.  Keep letting each new challenge make you better than before.  You are amazing!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

PS…The picture at the top of the page  is of the Survivor Tree at Ground Zero (World Trade Center) in New York.  This tree was the only thing left standing in the aftermath…and it is thriving today.