Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reach out and touch somebody's hand, make this world a better can!

In the aftermath of the unspeakable horror and unfathomable sadness of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we are asking, what can we do? What indeed? Part of me just wants to curl up in a ball and cry for days. But I can't do that. I have kids who need to see me in the classroom tomorrow morning, who need to know that I am there for them.

Last night, I heard the song, If I Could Have a Beer with Jesus, and I wondered what would He say about this? Is it really possible to turn the other cheek?  It is easy to blame the lack of gun control or mental illness, but what can we as a society and as individuals, do to change it?

We can help make it safe to reach out. On Tamara Fisher's blog, Unwrapping The Gifted , she writes "To a Bright Kid With Troubles" "Somewhere in your life you crossed paths with someone who got you even a tiny bit. Maybe it was a teacher from ten years ago. Or a friend from your grade school playground... or mom or dad or a sibling or a neighbor or that teacher who laughed at your joke in the hallway but you don't know his name. A school counselor, a principal, an older cousin, or grandma and grandpa... Yes, you've thought of it. That's the one. That's the person to reach out to. ..." And when they reach out, we need to be there for them.  When someone we know needs help, we shouldn't wait until they are in crisis to reach out and truly make a difference. A friend of mine once told me her advice, "Don't just say, 'how can I help?' Actually show me that you will help by showing up. Do something!"

As a teacher, my heart aches for my students, wondering how afraid they might be to come to school tomorrow. Monday will be difficult for many of our children and staff. I take it as a sacred trust to take care of these children, MY kids. As Angela Maiers states there is no lesson plan for tragedy. My intent is to let the children guide the discussion. I understand that their parents may have shared a little or as much of the tragedy as is appropriate in their home. I will not let my kids discuss the shootings, but I will reassure them that they are safe and loved in my classroom. I will let them know, They Matter.

Jackie Gerstein offers some real, concrete suggestions for teachers on her blog, and says honestly, As horrible as they are, they become teachable moments for students to feel that they count and can make a difference. Activities such as the ones described can help students heal and give students the opportunity to help heal the world. If you are a teacher, I urge you to consider her suggestions.  The one I hope to start my day with is a Sharing Circle: Have a morning circle or group to offer students the opportunity to discuss how they feel about the event. This is not a forum to discussed the details of what happened.  The news does enough of this.  The focus is on feelings.

As my 80 year old mother said to me Friday night, "I am glad that you have a plan, but I am sad that you have to have a plan."

If I could, I would probably teach for free, yet no amount of money they'd ever pay me could cover the value of what we do for our students. It is an awesome responsibility and a great honor. My heart goes out to the staff and families at Sandy Hook.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Student PSAs with iMovie

Over the past few weeks our students have been researching, writing, filming and editing Public Service Announcements (PSA) about issues that concern them. Our principal wrote about students using this platform to address positive behavior. One of my students suffered a concussion during some early morning playground horseplay. He learned about the seriousness of brain injuries and wanted others to know about the risks so he made this movie, Playground Safety. Some students used their iPads and some used our small Sony cameras. All of them used iMovie to edit and produce their projects.

I am constantly amazed by my students creativity, initiative and productivity using 21st century tools!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bar Exam for Teachers

Francesca Duffy of Education Week posted about the American Federation of Teachers ( but their links are all down as i write this) recently released a report that calls for the implementation of a bar-like exam, which new teachers would have to pass to enter the profession. AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that "it's time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession—whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim."

When I decided to become a teacher I had to take the CBEST, CSET, RICA and frankly can't remember what all alphabet soup of tests I had to take just to get into the classroom. I think it is good that I had to take these to be sure I had the textbook knowledge of how to teach and what to teach. But none of these tests measured how I would end up teaching in the classroom with real children. Could I handle a kid throwing up on my shoes? What would I do when I had a range of learners in my 4th grade classroom, one who can't read and one who was reading at a 12th grade level? The test couldn't tell whether I would love teaching or just do it for the glamour, high pay and three month summer vacations. Would I be able to adapt my practice to the changing needs of my students?

Do I agree that a "bar exam," on top of state certification and academic degrees, would ensure that more teachers are better prepared for classroom instruction? No I do not, any more than I think a bar exam ensures we only have good lawyers. We don't need another hoop to jump over to get into the profession. There are enough barriers to entry as it is. What we need is to ensure support for our new teachers as they are entering the field to help them as they navigate the real issues that some up in the classroom. BTSA programs are a good start, in theory. I had a great coach, others I know we're buried in seemingly meaningless paperwork. New teachers need good coaches for more than 2 years. In my 7 years in the classroom I have taught at three different schools in 5 different grade levels. Perhaps instead of laying off new teachers every year we could provide them with the solid opportunity to establish their practice. The principal could fill the coaching role, but there is a wide ability level there, as well as the fact that most of them are swamped with other administrative duties. As a student teacher, my principal only observed me the requisite two times in the entire 7 months I was in the classroom without a full credential!

The new teachers I know enthusiastically embrace best practices and are flexible and passionate. Sometimes more so than the veterans who have 'always done it this way'. I support meaningful evaluation of all teachers. We are charged with a solemn responsibility to prepare the next generation to be lifelong learners and contributing citizens. We should all be up for the task or find something else to do.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad