Dear Student Teacher, Thank You For Saving My Teaching Career

Dear Student Teacher,

I have never told you this, but about this time last spring I considered quitting teaching.

It had been a rough year. We had lost several students to tragedy and my heart was tired. I was drowning trying to balance being a good teacher, being a good colleague, working on graduate courses, balancing meetings, coaching slam poetry, and all other parts of “real life” outside of my job. I was completely burned out. I just felt like I couldn’t catch my breath and knew I was failing at it all.

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I had even applied for several jobs outside of teaching, assuming I needed a change. When the end of May came, I decided that I should probably at least finish my master’s program in education before completely bailing on the career. And as most teachers will relate, the summer healed some of my stress.

But with the start of the new school year, I felt the weight return to my shoulders. I tried not to show it, but I just felt like I was treading water every day. The smallest things were keeping me up at night and I just didn’t think I could handle the stress of it all. I still deeply cared about my students, but I was so preoccupied with the challenges and problems in my job that I just felt like a poser. On the outside, I tried to act confident and energized, but on the inside, I was falling apart.

In late fall, I was told you would be my student teacher from January to May. I was petrified. I thought:

“I am not the best version of myself right now. I don’t even know if I want to keep teaching and now I’m supposed to guide someone into the path that I don’t even think I can continue?!”

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I was completely terrified that I would ruin you and I had not even met you yet. I worried about this for months. I talked with colleagues who assured me that it would be a good thing, but even they were unaware of my insecurities and struggles with teaching.

And then the day came… you burst into my classroom with the most excited smile and lights behind your eyes. You had such a passionate aura and a ridiculous amount of energy. You were ready to the light the world on fire with your teaching… I could tell. I remembered when I thought I could light the world on fire.

I thought: I’m going to ruin her. I’m going to kill her spirit. She deserves someone better who knows what they are doing and feels confident about the teacher they are.

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As I began integrating you into my classroom, you asked questions. Lots of them. Some that really made me reflect and think about before answering. Even as we delivered my lessons, you jumped right in and didn’t hesitate. You were so confident in the difference you were going to make. I was floored. I remembered feeling that passion.

As you began taking over, I heard you say “I found this cool lesson idea last night, I’m going to try it today…” I remembered how I used to find that cool lesson idea and try it the next day.

As you got to know our students, you pointed out those who were really struggling and you really dedicated yourself to those students instead of letting them barely slide by… I remembered doing that.

I saw your enthusiasm and remembered why I became a teacher in the first place.

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Your energy was contagious. I loved working side by side with you in the classroom. I loved bouncing ideas off each other and working in tangent to keep all students on task and engaged. I loved how we kept each other motivated when the caffeine wore off. It was seriously awesome. You became a vital part of our classroom.

Then you took over. (And for the record, you were amazing…) You were reflective, passionate, engaging, and dedicated. You were helping students overcome challenges, taking risks with your lessons, listening to your students and building relationships in the classroom… your passion and energy were helping students succeed.

But after a few weeks of not being the teacher, I began missing it desperately. I found myself envying the work you were doing with students. I was so excited for the success you were having with even the “tough” ones and realized I missed those challenges.

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In the last few weeks, I have done some serious soul searching. In this soul searching, I’ve found myself thinking:

I miss seeing students overcome challenges.

I miss being there for them when they need someone to listen.

I miss finding an awesome new tool and trying it out in the classroom.

I miss using my energy to inspire students to succeed.

I miss students.

I miss teaching.

I want to light the world on fire again.

That short time of not teaching made me realize that I belong in the classroom. It is absolutely where I want to be. And I honestly don’t know if I would have come to that same realization without your help.

Next week you are graduating and leaving to run your own classroom. It will feel weird to look over at your desk and not have you grinning back at me. You don’t know what you have done for me, but I will never be able to repay you. I dread saying goodbye to you and I warn you I’m a bit of a crier in those situations.

However, I feel like I’ve found my teacher voice again. I can’t wait to set the world on fire again and pour the same passion I started with (in my student teaching) back into my classroom.smilie-954980_960_720

You know who you are and I can never thank you enough.

Sincerest Thank You,

Sam

 

Read more about having a student teacher:

Keep the conversation going…

  • What have been your student teaching experiences?
  • What experiences have you had as a cooperating teacher?
  • What fears may occur during the student teaching period for both the student teacher and the cooperating teacher?

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Senior Year: Strategies for Success

Teaching seniors can be so rewarding!

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Graduation day approaches…

However, senior students present many challenges…

On any given day of the school year, seniors may be:

excited to be the upperclassmen

invincible in their final endeavors

anxious to graduate (aka senioritis)

sad to leave the security of a school

concerned about becoming adults

frustrated by being confined to rules

nervous about the future

unsure of what comes next

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That is a lot of emotion for one human… one might think students could explode from all that… and sometimes they do have an occasional explosion of emotion. 

But senior year is so many things for so many different students…

  • It can be the last chance to bump up that GPA for college.
  • It can be the last sentimental year for activities.
  • It can be the last chance to make up credits needed for graduation.
  • It can be the last opportunity to build those lasting connections with classmates.
  • It can be the longest-shortest 10 months of their life.

In supporting them through this roller coaster of feelings, teachers have the opportunity to be part of the final influence and push into adult life. We get to challenge them in coursework, discuss future plans, help them with college and job applications, give them a preview of what college and adulthood will look like, and help them to reflect on the years they have spent in school.

Getting to be a part of this monumental year helps me to remember the true rewards of teaching and value being a part of my amazing students’ lives.

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The roller coaster of senior year

My favorite lessons with seniors:

1. Life Infographic 

We live in a very digital world and as an audience for this world, we really have short attention spans. Infographic use is becoming more and more popular as a way to communicate information.

In this activity, students create an infographic on a real world process of something they will need to know how to do in their future… perhaps something they have not yet learned about.

Resources Used: a) Piktochart–for creating b) Blogger–for sharing c) Google –for research

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Infographic by student on “Job Interviews”

2. Vacation Research Project

In this activity, students work cooperatively to research a country’s history, culture, and tourism; then they plan a vacation to visit. They need to use internet research skills, organizational skills, and budgeting skills.

Students were engaged in learning about the history and culture of other places and had some quality discussion on how they should budget their money and what they should do on the vacation. Finally, students presented their vacation to classmates in an effort to persuade them to participate in the vacation.

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for creating/orgainizing b) Google –for research c) Google Slides –for presenting 

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Students work in groups to research and plan a vacation to a far off destination!

3. Student-Choice Research Paper

While the “senior paper” has in the past been dreaded and overwhelming for students, I’ve found that really preparing students with the essential research and writing skills, in small doses prior to assigning it, helps the paper run more smoothly for students. But the most important concept that helps students to engage is by allowing them some choice in the subject of the writing and research. Allowing this choice also makes it more authentic and relevant for students. Read more about student choice…

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for creating/orgainizing b) Google & Google Scholar–for research c) Purdue OWL–for formating and style d) Turn It In–for submission & revision

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Research topics can vary for students’ interest!

4. Where Have I Been: TimeLine Project

My favorite part of teaching seniors is giving them the opportunity to reflect on their past, present, and future. While they do not yet fully realize it, they are about to enter the next part of their lives and it will be VERY different from their life so far. As a final project, students create a timeline of their lives. This is often a project that brings students and parents together to remember the years that have passed and to discuss the years that are to come. It is amazing to hear some of the reflection that occurs on the last day of class, as students walk around and remember times they’ve had with family and classmates and reflect on their life experiences thus far. (I tend to play really cheesy reflection music to enhance the mood.)

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for planning/orgainizing b) Google –for research c) posters and other supplies

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Students often have a true sense of pride when these projects are complete.

And finally…. when senior year comes to an end… there I am in the audience at graduation with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. The roller-coaster of senior year has ended and it is time to get off and head to the next ride. All I can hope is that they are ready for it!

 

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Thumbs up for senior year! 

Read more about teaching seniors:

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you engage seniors in your classroom?
  • What do you do to help prepare seniors for college or adult life?
  • What challenges do you find in engaging seniors in the classroom?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

 

Take Ownership of Your Professional Development

When many teachers visualize “professional development” they likely envision a regularly scheduled event that shows a group of teachers being guided through the implementation of a specific initiative, strategy, or framework.

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This may also include small group meetings like PLCs where teachers are scheduled a time to collaboratively analyze data and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction in their classroom.

This type of professional development certainly has its place in schools. However, it is often criticized for not meeting the individual needs of teachers.

As educators, we recognize the importance of differentiating in our classrooms, but we also know how challenging this can be.  Consider the challenge it is for an administrative team to lead an organized professional development that addresses the needs of every staff member in its building.

While participating in building and district professional development is important, as educators, we should consider additional ways to take ownership of our own professional development to create relevant and useful learning opportunities.

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This does NOT mean a teacher should plan to spend every waking hour researching the newest strategy or looking for the latest technology app… a healthy balance of professional and personal life is very necessary. Be sure to find the balance.

I am fortunate to work in a district that gives its teachers many opportunities to pursue the learning they want or need and to develop these professional skills through conferences, books studies, and district organized courses (Read more about this: CBU allows teachers to sharpens skills).

However, there are many opportunities for teachers to seek personalized professional development that meets their needs.

Whether you can dedicate 1 hour a week or 15 minutes a day, there is a way to take ownership of your professional development.

1. Create a Personal Learning Community using Social Media 

Connecting with other educators on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or other platforms can give you an opportunity to learn from others who are faced with the same challenges as you on a daily basis. While you are catching up on the latest pictures posted by your friends and family, you might also come across a shared blog post about a great classroom management strategy. Delve into the article right then or save it for later when you have some downtime or are ready to try it! 

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Recently, I’ve really enjoyed reading articles by Edutopia on Facebook and have been finding lots of great things through #edtech and #edchat on Twitter.

2. Attend Education Conferences

Need some new ideas or inspiration? Conferences can be the best place to listen to what is working for other educators and consider ways to make it happen in your classroom! Even if your school doesn’t have a budget to send you across the country, search for local conferences on whatever interests you… technology? content? educational leadership? Conferences can be an awesome place to connect with others and get a new perspective! 

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I have had great experiences at NCTE and ISTE conferences!

3. Find a Book

Sometimes reading a new perspective (or being reminded of great ideas from the past) can be the inspiration a teacher needs to recharge. Ask your colleagues or administration for a reading suggestion and challenge yourself to take something away from the book. It can be even more powerful to read it with colleagues and collaborate on how to integrate it into your instruction. (Recently, I gained many ideas and insights from Making Thinking Visible & Guided Instruction.)

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I like to browse the ASCD Reading List to find a new resource or idea!

4. Find Free Online Training

You can find free inspiration, courses, and materials all over the internet. Follow some education blogs, search for free materials, or find some tutorials on YouTube. 

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Right now I am loving the Google for Education Training that I am working on!

Think of your professional development as a state of mind, not an event. 

 

Read more about taking ownership of your professional development:

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you take ownership of your own professional development?
  • What hashtags do you follow to stay recharged and fresh in the classroom?
  • What challenges are there when managing your own professional development?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

6 Strategies for Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

When you walk into a classroom, often the first thing you notice is the “feel” of the room. That is the classroom culture.

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Teachers know that creating a positive classroom culture is vital to having a safe space for students to learn.

Students need a classroom where:

  • they feel safe to express their ideas.
  • they know it is okay to make mistakes.
  • they are invited to ask questions.
  • they are able to take ownership of the culture and their learning.
  • they know their teacher and classmates care about them.

AKA… a positive classroom culture.

Teachers also know that a positive classroom culture does not always occur naturally. We have to make intentional decisions about how to create a positive learning environment for students.

Here are 6 strategies for creating a positive classroom culture:

1. Greet Students at the Door

Greeting students at the door every day is key to welcoming them to a safe learning environment and positive classroom culture. Whether you greet them with a handshake, smile, or friendly “hello” you should use their name–reminding them they are an important part of the class. When your students enter your classroom they should know that you are glad to see them.

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2. Create a Social Contract (with students)

Instead of handing students a list of classroom rules, invite them to join in the conversation about how to make the classroom a positive place for learning to occur. This can be done in many ways depending on what you think will best work for your students. You could start the conversation by defining respect. (What does it mean to be respected by a teacher? To respect our peers? To respect our teacher?) Have students discuss examples and non-examples of behaviors in a safe or positive classroom environment.

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3. Have Procedures

Procedures are different than rules. Procedures should be information for students about how to do things in order to succeed in the environment. These are things like how restroom passes work, where they can find materials, what they should do if they are absent, etc. Having a system in place for these day-to-day events gives students a sense of security because they already know what to do in those situations when they come up. It is also good to practice and review these procedures throughout the year. Note: When a procedure is not followed, it is important to address it without getting angry… adults make mistakes and so do students.

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4. Share “Good News” Every Day

Take the first 2-3 minutes of class to ask students to share some good news. This is something that can start every class period on a positive note. Asking for students to share good news from their academic or personal life sets the stage for positive interaction and lets you learn about your students’ lives. It is a good idea to begin by first sharing good news in your life and showing that this can be something small (you had an awesome coffee for breakfast) or something big (you won an award).
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5. Model Positive Behavior

In order to keep the positive classroom culture going throughout the year, it is important to continue to model positive behavior for your students. Let them see you have positive interactions, conversations, and relationships with students and your colleagues. Use positive and caring tones in your voice when you are talking to your class. Hold yourself accountable in the same way you expect your students to hold themselves accountable. Don’t be afraid to admit when you make a mistake and be sure to apologize when needed.

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6. Make Every Day a New Day

Bad days will happen. They will happen with a class or an individual student. The worst thing you can do is carry your frustration over to the next day. Address the issue (with the class or student) and then remind them that every day is a new day. Learn from it and start on a positive note the following day.

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Creating a positive classroom culture is the first step to setting up a quality learning environment for your students. Discover what works for you!

Read more about creating a positive classroom culture: 

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you create a positive culture in your room?
  • What strategies have worked or not worked?
  • What advice do you have for new teachers on establishing a positive classroom culture?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

 

Keeping the Conversation Going: The Learning in Teaching Blog

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I can’t believe it has been nearly two years since I’ve written about beginning the journey
of graduate work through Morningside College. It has truly been a challenging and rewarding experience.

The work I have done in my master’s program has provided me with skills that have proven to be invaluable in my teaching career. By learning more about collaboration and leadership, I have been able to transform my role as a teacher-leader in my building and district. 

This program has taught me to be a more reflective, purposeful, and focused teacher. It has helped me to encompass the growth mindset both when considering my students as learners and myself as an educator. I am able to model for my students the mindset that I wish them to approach learning with. With this mindset, comes the insatiable hunger to learn more and continue to improve as a teacher.

While I expected to learn an extensive amount about myself as a teacher and a learner, I was surprised to find that my master’s program taught me a lot about myself as a person. My confidence and self-worth have been highly impacted by the work I have done in this program. While the idea of a growth mindset has carried into the lessons I teach my students, it has so strongly centered itself in the way I live my life. As my study in this program is coming to a close, for the first time in my life I have found myself thinking: What else am I capable of?

Where I am going… Where WE are going…

The work from my master’s program has instilled in my mind so many ideas, concerns,
and questions about education. While I have to admit I am looking forward to a little more free time, I do not want the conversations about education to end! The most powerful learning occurred for me when communicating and collaborating with my classmates …which brings me to the Learning in Teaching blog.

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My hope for this blog is that it will keep the conversation going. I want this blog to create more of these conversations through my ideas, concerns, and questions to an audience of brilliant people and educators that have ideas, concerns and questions of their own. We are all in this together and in a time where collaboration and communication are vital… we must make that happen. The power of collaborative educators is a force to be reckoned with… let the voices be heard!

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Graduate School: A Rewarding Challenge

As posted on Teaching and Learning blog on November 1, 2014

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After three years of teaching at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, IA, I decided to accept the challenge to further my education. Last spring, I began the online Professional Educator’s Graduate Program through Morningside College. I believe I made this decision rather lightly as I did not realize the monumental challenges and rewards that would come with participating in education as a genuine learner once again.

The Challenges:

TIME: I completely underestimated the amount of time that I would need to dedicate to my work as a graduate student. This became most stressful during the school year, particularly during the current fall semester. As I tried to manage both learning and teaching, I sometimes felt like I was not able to give my highest priority to either. Additionally, with the time commitment to both teaching and learning, I struggled to incorporate the necessary time to enjoy my friends, family, and enjoyment of life.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: Other times, I struggled with specific course requirements that frustrated me. I became irritated when I had to work in groups with educators I did not know (communicating usually only via technology) to complete specific projects and assignments. As I hold myself to very high expectations, I did not like that my performance evaluation would be impacted by the work of others.

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Particularly this semester, I really struggled with some of the academic reading about educational issues that I had never considered before. I have spent the majority of my teaching career only considering the problems and successes of my district, my school, and primarily my classroom because these are the only educational worlds I really knew and felt I could impact. I became frustrated having to read about topics like vouchers, private schools, mandated pre-school, state mandates, etc. I would often ask myself: How can this possibly help me to become a better educator in my 12th grade English class in Council Bluffs, IA?

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The Rewards: 

TIME: While some weeks the challenge of managing the piling up of 90 papers from my 12th-grade students and the 15-page paper that I need to write on the Common Core feels impossible, I have found that somehow it all works out. More importantly, I am able to remember that students are struggling with this same type of time managing with their schoolwork, part-time jobs, activities, friends, and families. I’ve discovered though, that not only am I able to discuss my own struggles with time managing to students, but I am able to offer real strategies that I use to juggle my life with those students that are approaching adulthood themselves. I find myself often tweeting out (to my many student followers) when I am finding time and strategies to study… followed by #ILearnToo.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: While initially my frustrations and emotions were high when having to work with other educators in the program, I’ve found that so many things evolve from these relationships that I am building. I have begun forming an extended world of educators who support my ideas and have ideas of their own. I’m networking with teachers in schools all across the Midwest and hearing about how things are different and similar to what is happening in my school. I’ve been able to offer my input and get advice on things like 1:1 initiatives, the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, and the Common Core Standards. I will shamefully admit that I originally underestimated the brilliance and input of my fellow educators… I’m excited that I now get to really enjoy these challenging conversations and collaboration projects. (Although I’ll admit the conversations are more intriguing to me than the actual project completion now.)

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Specifically after the last two months, while enrolled in an Issues in Education Course in my graduate program, I am starting to see the big picture. I have never been a “big picture” person… quite the opposite of many of my friends and colleagues. However, I feel that I have made monumental progress in having to stretch my mind to address and discuss big questions like:

  • How can transformation in education create greater cohesion in our society and globally?
  • How do you define an exemplary teacher and how do we ensure all teachers are performing at the highest competency levels?
  • How “democratic” are student-centered classrooms? Can an inclusive classroom be democratic?
  • How do we leverage the immense power and potential of the Internet, digital tools and social media to enable learners and teachers to connect in purposeful ways across borders and boundaries to contribute to making the world a safer, saner and more just place?

Two months ago, just reading these question made my brain feel like it was going to explode. However, the more I read about education problems, policies, and theories, the more confident I feel synthesizing this information into having plans and ideas of my own that address these big pictures.

I have really come to a very basic conclusion: If it affects education then it affects me and I need to know about it. 

While the challenges of graduate school are great, so are the rewards. I feel in the last year of participating in learning and teaching, I’ve grown in so many ways. I value time and am able to better balance my duty to my students, my duty to myself as a learner, and my duty to my colleagues. I value interacting, communicating, and collaborating with educators from all across the profession. Most importantly, I am able to see how all of these things amount to a bigger picture… improving education for my students, my colleagues’ students, and all students.

Keep learning in teaching!