Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance

The Pantry List


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)

Dear Teacher,

So, you had a rough year last year?  I hear you.  I was there, too.  The word “challenge” barely covers it.  It was quite a mix of difficulties all wrapped up into one not-so-glorious year.

But I survived.

And you survived.

And now that we have settled into summer a bit, it is time to do one last difficult thing related to last year…reflect.

Reflection is the key to growth and change as a teacher…especially after a tough class period, day, quarter, or year.  When we reflect, we take stock of what went right and wrong, what we need to change for the better, and what we can let go of.  The process can be painstaking, but it is therapeutic…and more than that, it is vital to making next year better.

As I was working through my own mental system of reflection today, I thought of a new approach to reflecting, but before I tell you about it, I need to tell you a story from this morning.  I need to tell you about breakfast.

It all starts with muffins…

I do my wife a favor in the mornings when I can and get our boys going.  This includes breakfast.

This morning, I decided to do a secondary favor.  We had some overripe bananas and she talked about making banana bread yesterday.  I had an epiphany…I can make banana muffins for breakfast!  So, I looked up some recipes.

There was a problem, however.

As it seems, you need certain ingredients to make said banana muffins…not all of which were present in our cupboards.  We had most of the staple products, but since today was shopping day some were missing.

You don’t know me that well, but if you did you would know that once I get an idea in my head to do something I do not give up easily.  So, I pushed on.  I know some recipe replacements, and I thought I knew enough to guess some others.

It was rough, but I was able to get something together that resembled batter…and I poured into the muffin tins and baked.

I had to keep adding a few minutes of time in the oven, but eventually they looked a lot like muffins.

I took them out.  I tried one…

Honestly, they were not the worse muffins I have ever had, and if you added butter they were not too bad.  They weren’t the best, but they were my muffins…and they would pass as breakfast.

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)

So…what the heck does this have to do with teaching and reflecting?

Every year, we start of with some pretty high goals for our students and ourselves.  We know that we have the basics that we come in with as teachers, but sometimes the ingredients in our classroom are not what we expected.  We do our best with what we have and we strive towards those goals.

We have to alternate plans.

We have to do things a little different than “the norm.”

We have to compromise.

We have to make do.

But in the end, though our results may not be exactly what we hoped for, we still have results.  Sometimes “kind of” results are okay.  We did what we could with the resources at hand, our skills, and some ingenuity.

They may not be the best results, but they are our results.

As we reflect, we need to look at how everything went and see the positive in what we had at the end.  Sometimes that can be more difficult than others that like to judge education will ever know, but they were not in our classroom and do not know our students.

Sometimes edible muffins are the best you can do with baking…and sometimes students getting through the year know more than when they started and able to learn more on their own than before are giant strides for the situation you are giving.

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)

And that brings us to the looking forward side of reflection…this is where my new approach to reflection comes in…

You have got to take a good, long look at your “teaching pantry.”  Ask yourself these hard questions and make a PANTRY LIST:

  • What really went well last year that you can go into the new year armed with?
  • What are your strengths as a teacher?
  • What strategies vibe up well with your teaching personality?
  • What is the upside to that teaching personality?
  • How do you connect with students best (both inside and outside of the content)?
  • What are your best improvs as a teacher?

These are the things currently in your pantry.  This is what you bring to the table.  These are what you can bank on being a part of you.

On the other side, you need to ask some harder questions and add these to your PANTRY SHOPPING LIST:

  • What did not go well last year that shows a skill that you may be lacking?
  • What is an aspect of teaching that is a weakness that is vital that you work on?
  • What is something that you would like to learn from a teacher you think is a great teacher?
  • What are ways that you know your classroom atmosphere needs to change?
  • What are some ways that you do not connect well with students?
  • What are your worst improvs as a teacher?

These are the things that you can work on this summer.  DO NOT MAKE THE SHOPPING LIST LONG!  Small steps get you in the right direction.  Do not think of these things as what you are bad at…think of them as things you would like in your teaching pantry.  Spend some time this summer making a “supply run.”  Pick something to read a book about.  Attend a PD session over the summer.  Find a teacher good at one of these things, buy her/him lunch or coffee, and pick their brain.  Make a plan for getting some new ingredients in the cupboard.  And don’t forget to rest!

I hope that this made sense!

What is in your teacher pantry?  What do you need to go shopping for?  Share here and perhaps we can all help you find some resources,

Teacher, you are amazingly awesome!  I bet you already reflect on this level and I am preaching to the choir.  If not, please don’t give up.  Your students and all of the other teachers need you!  You are amazing.  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

 

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Posted in Hope for Teachers, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance, Reason for Teaching, Reflection

It’s Grow Time


Dear Teacher,

Happy New Year!  And so a new one begins, huh?  I am not sure what this school year has been like for you so far, but you have a fresh start to the second half.  What are you going to do with it?

Image: Wikipedia

I can’t help but think of a new year as a seed.  It is something that is up to you on how it will grow.  Like I teach my students whenever I teach my unit on plants, seeds stay dormant until they have the right conditions to grow.

I moved into my current classroom and curriculum three years ago.  In one of the drawers, I have many as a science teacher, I found a bag of beans.  I had no idea how old they were and decided not to use them….until this year.

Image: Wikipedia

This year, I went a little “grow crazy” during the plant unit and tried to plant as much as I can using the big grow light set-up we have.  I remembered those seeds.  I did the germination in a damp paper towel thing, and despite the age of the seeds, they still germinated!

I planted them, watered them, and let time and nature do the rest.  As I said, I grew several things all at the same time.  I was disappointed that, though many things flowered, nothing came to fruit…or so I thought.

Another teacher came to observe in my room and we got talking about my plants and how the plants flowered by nothing else.  He knows a lot more about growing than I do, and he started looking through them.  And he found something…on the bean plants.  He found little bean pods.  Not only did they grow, they produced more seeds!  I was disappointed in the size until some students and I started looking through the plants and we found large bean pods!  It was a cool moment for this science teacher who is bad at growing stuff!

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

Though the beans were who-knows-how-old, they were still dormant and waiting for the right conditions to grow.

Why did I share this story?

Teacher, you may have had a rough school year.  Not much may seem to have happened for you or your students.  You may have seen nothing but seedlings so far…or worse, you just see empty soil.

Do not give up!

You have a fresh start coming up!

Your seeds may still just be dormant.

You just need the right conditions for growth!

I do not know what growth or the right conditions look like for you, but you do.  What will it take to make that happen?  What do you need?  What do you need to focus on?

Stop whining about what is going wrong this year and work on what is going right!  Give yourself and your students the light, water, and nutrients needed for growth!  Reflect, regroup, and regrow!

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

You can do it!

You know what it takes!

You have what it takes!

It time to get growing!

It is grow time, Teacher!

You are awesome and I know you have what it takes to get things growing this year.  You are an amazing teacher.  You are making a difference.  Don’t give up!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

 

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk, Poster/Graphic, Quotes to Inspire

Baby Steps away from Insanity


Einstein

Dear Teacher,

As you reflect and start thinking about next year, what is it that you need to change and do differently?

Classroom management?

Teaching/Learning paradigms?

Use more technology?

Use less technology?

Brain-based strategies?

What is the area of your teaching that you feel like you get the same results every year?

It is easy to get beat up by these things.  Don’t beat yourself up.

In the coming weeks, choose one thing to work on…and then work on it.  Come up with ideas.  Make a plan.  Find a way to be, act, and react differently.  Just one.

Oh, and I don’t mean pick one thing like “classroom management.”  We all know that is not one thing.  That is about a million things.  Pick one aspect of the area you need to work on most.  For instance, if classroom management is the area you have to work on, pick something like how you react to students blurting out and/or disrupting class.  One thing.

When you work on one thing at a time, you take baby steps towards the goal of ending Einstein’s definition of insanity in your teaching life and classroom.

Baby steps.

One at a time.

Little movements away from insanity.

Summer is a great time to think and work on your baby steps…so get stepping, Teacher!

You are awesome!  I hope that you are enjoying your summer.  Keep recharging your batteries, but don’t forget to think about the little things you can try to change.  Keep stepping and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Note to Teachers, Reflection, Weekend Note

As You Look Back…


Dear Teacher,

How was your week?  Was it a rough one?  Was it a “blah” one?  Was it the best week ever?

Looking back is a part of our job.  It is a part of what we do.  It is a part of who we are.  It is a vital function to the process of teaching.  We have to do it.  Good or bad, we have to analyze the week.  What went wrong?  What went right?  What worked?  What didn’t?  Where did you thrive?  Where did you fall on your face?

Reflection can be hard.  It is hard to relive the week, sometimes.  But we need to do it.  We have to.  As painful as it can be, we have to go through it day by day.  This is the only way to become a better teacher and let your awesome shine in the weeks to come.

As you look back, though, focus.  What matters most?  What are the most important things that you need to do in your role as a teacher at your school (and any other roles that you might have)?  What do your students need most?  What do they need to learn?  What do they need to learn about learning for themselves?  What do your students need outside of learning?  What do they need to become better, independent Earth dwellers one day?

What does your school need from you most?  What do your colleagues need from you?  What does your family need from you?  What do you need from you?  I mean truly need.  

What matters most?

Let what matters most be the mirror that you judge yourself by.  There are so many little things, the minutia of teaching, that can get us wrapped around the axle of the teacher’s life.  These things can stress us out.  These are the things that wipe us out.  These are the things that can lead to burnout quickest.  These are the things that don’t lead to what matters most.

Fun=House Mirror

Don’t reflect by these muddle puddles.  They are fun-house mirrors.  They are not a real reflection of you as a teacher.  They do not show you who you really are.  They are a false reflection.  Don’t judge yourself by these things!  Easier said than done, but you are going to have to let those things go.

Let them go. 

Let them go.

Let them go.

Focus.

What matters most?

Use the “matters most” for reflection.  How was your week when you look at those things?  What do you need to change?  What are you doing well?  How will you make the “matters most” matter more next week?

Mirror – Ikea

Look back, Teacher.  How are you doing?  How was this week?

You are awesome!  You know what matters most.  You know how to let the other stuff go.  You are making a difference…what matters most is your goal.  This makes you amazing!  Keep on focusing and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Note to Teachers, Picture Note, Poster/Graphic, Reflection

Well Done!


Dear Teacher,

Same message as yesterday and last weekend…don’t forget to see the good and positive along with the “needs work” areas as you reflect on the week.  You had some awesome in you this week and do did your students.  Don’t forget to celebrate and take a little bow.  You deserve to and have earned it!  You rock because you are awesome!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Share this encouragement with another teacher.  He or she deserves it, too!

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)
(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
Posted in General Inspiration, Reason for Teaching, Reflection, Teacher Testimony

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.

Posted in Challenge, Reflection, Teacher

Closing Time…(you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here)


Image found at http://joscafe.com/2012/07/08/closing/closed-sign.

Dear Teacher,

Today is my last day of the school year.  It is a teacher work day.  It is the day that I close the door on the school year.  I can call this one done and look forward to the next.

Part of me wants to say it is bittersweet, but it isn’t.  It is just sweet.  This has been a good year.  As a matter of fact, I can honestly say it has been the best since I have started this crazy teacher ride several years ago.  I choose to look back and only see the positives.   I can not let the stumbles and falls this year get me down.  I need to learn from them and keep running!

As a matter of fact, this new positive attitude is one of the reasons that this has been such a great year.  I have learned some vital things throughout the year that I think are necessary to be a teacher for the long haul…and that is what I intend to be.  I am sure you have heard these before, but so did I.  I think they just have to sink in.  Here is another chance for you to see them…maybe they sunk in for you this year like they did for me.

The Stuff I Learned That I Should Have Known:

  • It is not a sign of weakness to choose to be positive.
  • Staying positive can be a catalyst to changing the environment among students in my classroom…they learn by watching me…and THEY ARE WATCHING!
  • Everyone needs encouragement, especially teachers, and even if I am not getting encouragement I can always give it!
  • Say thank you more often…a thank you can change someone’s day, week, year, or even life!
  • Never give up doing what is right for others, I never know how far my impact will go.
  • I need to be the hope that others do not have…my hope can spread to others that then spreads to others…and so on…and so on.
  • No matter what happens today or happened yesterday, the next day (or next minute) is a new chance to start fresh.
  • Building relationships with students and fellow teachers is non-negotiable…I can not reach students without having a relationship with them, and I can not do this alone…I need other teachers!
  • Students can and need to be challenged…and they will rise to my expectations if I let them!

I will probably think of a thousand more things once I click publish, but this is probably enough!  Today, as I go in to shut the classroom down for the summer, I need to remember a couple of things.  I need to look at the year and choose to celebrate it.  I need to see the difference I made and be proud of myself.  However, I can not get comfortable.  I can not stay in the past.  I do not quite have to move on yet…I have the summer for that…but I do need to take stock of what went well and figure out how I am going to move on and move further using the lessons that I learned.

If you are at the end of the year, I hope that you are able to pack up what you have learned and then unpack it to use it to move even further next year!  The year is over and it is closing time.  You don’t have to stop being nostalgic (and “go home”), but you can’t stay in the memories.  Use them to make you even awesomer next year!

You are awesome!  I hope your day and weekend are wonderful!  You have done a great job this year!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

For more hope and encouragement: @DearTeacherLT (Twitter) and Dear Teacher/Love Teacher Facebook Page.