5 Things Teachers Should Probably NOT Let Get Under Their Skin:

skinAs teachers, we fight so many important battles to help students become socially, academically, and emotionally ready for adulthood. Many times we act as educator, parent, social worker, and mediator.  As hard as we work to help every student succeed, there are a couple of things I think we need to let go of.  In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t waste our energy on small, annoying little bits that cloud our busy days with negativity.  Below are a list of things I think we need to NOT let get under our skin.  I’d love to hear your opinions or additions to this list in the comment section below.

1.  Electronics during non-instructional time: The local schools in my area have a very strict electronics ban at school. I could be wrong, but I think busting kids for texting between classes or checking instagram at lunch adds another impossible task to our already over burdened to-do list.  Students must learn to use electronics responsibly and attend class without distraction, but to me, it’s time to give a little electronic freedom back to students during non-instructional times.  We have a lot more credibility when we try to control only that which can be controlled.

2. Bad “reviews”. If you hear around campus that you are known as the uncool, hard teacher, take that as a compliment.  We should be kind and fair, but we are not called on to be easy or cool.  We are called on to teach.

3. Dress Code: There are some dress code violations that are very distracting and potentially unsafe (e.g. in a science lab).  Those issues should be addressed.  Minor dress code infractions should not take up space in our minds or minutes in our classrooms.  If anything, refer it to the proper administrator and keep teaching!

4. Minor Attendance Issues: Major attendance issues must be dealt with according to the situation, but we can’t drive ourselves crazy tracking down minor attendance problems.  Let the attendance office handle it and move on.

5. Change: Everything changes.  Whether it be curriculum, policies, hairstyles, language, or any other cultural or academic change, try not to get so caught up in the old way of doing things that you can’t adapt.

Do you agree? What would you add to this list?

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Positive Discipline in the High School Classroom

 

As a mother of a three year old and a high school teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how positive discipline works in very similar ways in both contexts. We all know that discipline is key to effective learning environments, but sometimes we lose sight of the thin line between discipline and punishment. Now that most of us have settled into the summer, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some positive discipline concepts that work in high school. I’d love to hear your questions or technique suggestions in the comment section below!

1. Mutual respect is paramount. I doubt that many good teachers get into the profession for the power, but it is still easy for all of us to get swept away in the authority figure role.  The best way to truly command respect from a student it to give it back in spades.  Even in the most frustrating, immature situations, we have to maintain perspective to show students respect and dignity.  The route of public humiliation and not smiling until Christmas is a rough road to pave and will probably not lead you to real meaningful respect and teaching.

2. Behavior modification should focus on solutions rather than consequences. Instead of focusing on the write-up, detention, or other consequence, focus on the solution needed to change the behavior in the first place.  Because of personal strategies or school policies, we may still need to give out the consequence, but the rhetoric from us should be about solutions.  Instead of giving the chronically tardy student mindless detention after detention, let’s not forget to have a conversation about the issue and help brainstorm solutions.  It may be that there are home situations outside of the student’s control. It may also be that the student didn’t really care about the class, but after a conversation with us in which we express our concerns and really listen to student situations, we may change the heart of even the most apathetic of teenagers.

3. Keep calm and don’t take it personally. Classroom disruptions and other behavior issues are almost never personal to the teacher.  I know how hard it is to keep our cool when we’ve spent hours preparing a lecture and learning activity that is disrupted by an unruly student.  Staying calm and refusing to take it personally will help us focus on the solutions.

4. Have a sense of humor. Sometimes the class clown is actually funny.  Sometimes things go haywire in our plans.  We have to maintain a sense of humor for those times that laughing it off is the only sane option.

5.  Let go of total control. We’d love to believe that we are in total control of teenagers, but of course, we are not.  Trying to micromanage and completely control them is frustrating and futile.  We must always remind ourselves that our classrooms are created with mutual energy and mutual control.

What tips would you add to the list?  Any special situations you’d like to discuss with other educators?  Comment below!

positive discipline

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Summer Goal: Social Learning Networks for the Classroom

I hope that your summer is off to a fantastic start!  I’m teaching a series of college application bootcamps so it seems that mine hasn’t quite started yet, but this week I want to share one of my major summer goals. If you haven’t made summer goals yet, I’m inviting you to take this journey with me and if you already have some expertise in this area, I’d seriously love your two cents!  This summer I want to learn how to effectively use a social learning network in my classroom.  I used collaborize classroom last year and I absolutely loved it (click here for a tutorial). However, some of my colleagues have decided to take up Edmodo or Schoology and it makes sense for us to have some constancy across the curriculum.

If you are new to the world of Edmodo, Schoology, and the other social learning networks, I’ll give you a brief definition.  Basically, these websites (and apps) allow teachers to create safe Facebook-like social networks where they can post information, assignments, quizzes, calendars, videos, and other content.  Students can also use the sites/apps to turn in work, which teachers can view, annotate and grade paperlessly.

Both platforms look amazing, but from what I can tell, Schoology’s iPad app beats out Edmodo’s app by far and Edmodo’s established user base and resources exceed those of Schoology.  Schoology also has a pay-for-service LMS side,which I will not need as my school uses a different LMS so I am just comparing the two free services. I went ahead and signed up for both accounts so I can play around with them this summer, but I think I will start the school year with Schoology because we are going toward a one-to-one iPad program and Schoology plays nicely with Turnitin.com, which is my lifesaver as an English teacher!

Here is a look at the Schoology iPad App from Jennie Magiera’s Technology in Education Blog (if you are into classroom tech, you should definitely follow her!):

Here’s an intro to Edmodo for teachers from @MissJill:

Ready, set, go!  I’m off to the races with these social learning networks!  I’ll check back in with this in the fall to let you know all the tips and tricks that I’ve worked out.  Thank you so much for stopping by and don’t forget to leave questions, comments or suggestions below!

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Free Download: End of the Year Teacher Survey!

Survey

I remember the terror of handing out my first end of the year survey to my students.  I was thoroughly convinced that they would come back completely extolling all my virtues or completely destroying the last shred of dignity that I had as a young teacher in May.  To my utter shock, I have uniformly had the opposite situation.  Students have been incredibly honest and fair with me. Some things they love, some things they hate, some things just needed a little tweak.  Since I have found student surveys so beneficial to honing my craft, today I want to share with you my simple survey along with the reasons why I suggest you give a similar one.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to Give an End of the Year Survey: 

  • Learn what to edit out or change. We all have these grand plans that sometimes fizzle out.  No matter how amazing the assignments, projects, or methods sounded in our head, the bottom-line must be student learning.  I don’t think that we have to make everything a carnival ride, but we should know if some assignments are doing more harm than good.
  • Learn what necessities need to become more palatable.   Every student on my survey can write about the challenge of the research paper or the unsatisfactory ending of The Great Gatsby, but that certainly does not mean I will edit them out of my class.  What I can tweak based on student feedback, is the presentation and timeline of events.  Again, it is all about student learning.
  • Create continued equity. I want to know if students don’t think I’m not fair or if I get positive reviews only from girls with As.  Equity in education is paramount.
  • Validate the good. I’m not going to lie.  I love reading my glowing reviews.  In my humble opinion, teaching is one of the hardest careers and it can really wear a person out.  Sometimes we need confirmation of the good we suspect we are doing.
  • Consider other perspectives.  Of course students cannot dictate curriculum with their surveys because they come from a limited perspective.  By the same token, we  will be much more effective educators if we take the chance to walk a mile in our students’ moccasins.

Tips for Proctoring the Survey:

  •  Make a list of the class readings and major assignments/procedures/methods and write them on the board during the survey so students can remember what has been covered and how.
  • Consider using Google Forms so you can easily see the data and run some analytics. (More on Google Forms in the classroom here!)

Click here for the FREE DOWNLOAD of my simple survey that you can make your own!  Feel free to leave questions, comments or concerns in the comment box below and check back every week for more teacher tutorials, tips, and tirades!

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Tips for Getting the Work You Want From Students


Questions about Lit

Have you checked out Secondary Solutions reading guides recently? They offer some amazing, insightful, standards based, questions and you can check them out here. These resources can save teachers a ton of time in planning, but we still have to teach the students to engage and respond well.  If we want a quality product, we need to spell out our expectations. Today, I want to share with you some of my rules for answering questions about literature.  Please leave a comment with any additions or questions you have!  Together we can make a master list and raise the bar in classrooms around the country! (PS The word document version is attached to the bottom of this post so you can print and edit for classroom use.)

How to Answer Questions about Literature in This Class:

  • Always use complete sentences.  In addition to the typical grammar rules, this means always using proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Answer the question.  This sounds obvious, but when we get in a hurry or forget to pay careful attention, we can easily answer the question we want to answer instead of the one being asked.
  • Beware of sentences that begin with the following words: because, that, and so.  Only yield those powers if you can control them.
  • Generally, authors should be referred to by last name. You may not refer to them by first name only and you should avoid Mr. and Ms.
  • Know your audience.  If you are not directly speaking to me, avoid use of second person (you).  If you are referring to a play or speech, you probably want to discuss the audience.  If you are referring to a book or story, you may mean the reader or another character.
  • When discussing poetry, do not confuse the author and the speaker.
  • Always use precise vocabulary.  Instead of saying that something is good, try to say that it is significant or ethical or delicious.
  • Remove slang, clichés, and emoticons.
  • Use strong verbs. Avoid words like said, quoted, or this also shows…
  • Pay special attention to parallelism.
  • Avoid unnecessary cheerleading.  I know Harper Lee is awesome, but let’s stick to a more sophisticated analysis of her work.
  • When quoting, be sure select quotes that actually prove your point.
  • When quoting, select short phrases and smoothly embed them in your sentences. Generally avoid long or stand alone quotes.
  • When quoting, use an ellipsis (…) to omit words from the middle of a quote.
  • When quoting, use [brackets] to add words that clarify within the quote.
  • Generally, literature is referred to in the present tense.  It is important that tense stays consistent in your work.
  • English/Humanities courses abide by MLA format.  When in doubt, check The Owl @ Purdue.

Sample Question and Answers:

Sample Question:

How does Robert Browning use language to set a tone in his dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover”? Be sure to name that tone.

Strong Answers:

  • Browning creates a foreboding tone by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • Note the smoothly embedded quotes, strong verb and precise language. 
  • Browning sets an ominous tone as he describes the speaker’s “heart fit to break” and Porphyria’s struggle with “pride and vainer ties” (Browning 42).
    • Note the attention to the speaker and parallel construction.

Weak Answers:

  • Robert says, “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • Do not refer to an author by first name.  Also, “says” in this case is a weak verb and the embedding is not smooth.
  • Browning sets a bad tone.
    • This answer lacks evidence and uses imprecise language. 
  • Browning gives you scary tone with “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • “Gives” is a weak verb.  Take out you.  Embed quotes more smoothly.
  • Browning writes a beautiful poem by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • The cheerleading does not answer the question. 
  • Browning sets an ominous tone when “she put my arm about her waist” (Browning 42).
    • The embedded quote does not support the answer and if it did, it sill needs some work with brackets to clarify and smooth out the sentence. 

Click here for a word document with this info that you can modify to suit your classroom! (It should save to your downloads folder) Don’t forget to leave your 2 cents in the comment box below and check back every week for more!

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