February 14, 2017

Don’t Quit (part 2)?

I wrote Don’t Quit to encourage new teachers to stay in the game. I was teaching a graduate course at the time and not yet an administrator. My perspective is different now, but not my message. Now I see young teachers in the early years of their career struggle with the daily grind of lesson planning, standards requirements, and student interaction. I see them fall and get up again and again and again. I see the wear on their faces and on their bodies. Teaching is hard work, and the reality of the classroom can be like hitting a wall.

Struggling teacher, I encourage you to look at the students in your classroom. You are their learning guide for life. More important than the content that you teach is the way you teach young people to learn and live. They are watching you struggle. They know it is difficult. They understand that you care. They want you to succeed. Yes, they will challenge you; that’s their job. You are there to meet their challenges and guide them to a place of better understanding and achievement. You are their lifeline; and they are the largest source of inspiration in your life.

So be inspired. If you give up, they will too. They don’t challenge you to trip you up; they challenge you to test your mettle. It is the greatest of honors to be their teacher in your classroom today. You are molding and shaping their lives. No, not everyone can teach – but you can! You made the decision to teach and have lasted this long. You are there on purpose. Don’t quit on the students and they will not quit on you. Trust me, I know, and so does the teacher in the classroom next door. Go ask them today.

December 31, 2016

PBL Plus?

Model:
  • Homework prepares individual students for classwork. Common primary source lecture, reading, and background research is provided online and completed by students off site.
  • Class time is focused on completing complex authentic assignments that require creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.
  • Projects are conceived with input from community and industry partners, and assessed through rubrics created by teachers and partners. Specific tasks are assigned to both individuals and groups.
  • Teachers provide daily goals and guide the process. They embed mini-lesson to support fundamentals as needed. They also assess benchmarks and checkpoints resulting in both individual and group grades.
  • Project iterations are formally presented to community and industry partners for feedback quarterly leading to a final public presentation at the end of the school year. 

Application:
Jane teaches English. A local water treatment plant asks her to help with their newsletter. The partners from the water treatment plant meet with the class and give them some direction and deadlines. Jane assigns English 11 students a specific task, and breaks them into small workgroups of 3-4. She instructs them to conduct Internet research on the water plant, and to write interview questions for key plant personnel. The students conduct interviews virtually from the classroom. A small group of students visit the plant to take some pictures. The partners submit other pictures. After two weeks the students submit a draft to the partners. A meeting is held with the class virtually to provide feedback. Students continue to build the project for two more weeks. Another draft is submitted, and a feedback meeting held. After a third round of changes are approved, the newsletter is printed to .pdf, posted on the water treatment plant’s website, and printed on high gloss cardstock. Each student is given a grade for their specific task and a group grade.

November 05, 2016

Supporting Teachers?

It is my 16th consecutive month as an assistant principal. While I haven't written much here, I have much to report. The job is hard – way hard. Much harder than I an anticipated, or could have imagined while I was teaching. I saw administrators as… well, you can read about it here and here and here. I have now apologized to my previous administrators, and I will continue to do so. In fact, I met up with my most recent past principal last week. She actually asked me, “do you see now?” Yes. I see the light in the darkness.

If the teacher I was then sat across the desk (although my office is setup with the desk behind me so we can sit next to each other – I do this so that I can work without being distracted by the many people who walk past my window). Let me start over; if the teacher I was then sat across the desk from the administrator I am now, I would see my teacher self as passionate in presentation, but myopic in view. I didn’t feel supported as a teacher. Not all the time. Sometimes. Not usually. Not from the administrators.

Not that I wasn’t appreciated, it was more like I was ignored. I wasn’t a problem. I built a great program and never wrote a discipline referral. That’s because my students were engaged. But I was hungry for approval from what I believed should be the “Super Teachers” on campus. And they left me alone. Most teachers would appreciate that, and there were times when I did. But not always. I wanted to be recognized by professionals. Sure, the kids and the parents appreciated my hard work, and told me so. But not admin. Not often enough for my ego.

Teachers have BIG egos; it drives what we do. We like to be smart and we like to know that we are helping others. We also like to be recognized as professionals, which we rarely are (recognized as professionals). Just look at competitive salaries. Look at our lunch break. Ever try to work by a bell schedule? Unfortunately, this has a counter effect motivating some teachers to choose to stop acting like professionals. This creates a vicious cycle that must be addressed by administrators. Remember, we are the Super Teachers sent to save the day and make all things right.

To that end, I read a perfect (yes perfect Danny Steele) Letter to a Tired Teacher post. Please go read it now (then come back). We administrators need to stand in the gap for our teachers. We need to encourage and defend them whenever and wherever needed. Teaching is hard work, harder than most non-educators understand. And being a great teacher requires a level of dedication and personal sacrifice that you cannot imagine until you have lived it. Sure, anyone can teach. But only a few reach the level of master teacher. All teachers must be supported by their administrators.

July 17, 2015

Last Class?

I taught my last class today at the school where I served for 18 years. It was surreal and strange. (Well, it was summer school, so that might have had something to do with it.) My run lasted longer than I expected, but then, what differences have our expectations ever made on our outcomes? My eldest daughter was born the year that I started on this campus; she graduated last month. I think the timing is rather poetic.

The first year that I worked there my classroom was down the hall from a teacher who taught the same subject in the same classroom for his entire career (35 years). I asked him if he ever felt the desire to change. He said no. He said he felt content. He liked his job, he liked his classroom, and he liked his students. So why make a change? I feel the same way about the job I just finished. So why did I make a change?

I tell people it was because of my desire to help my own children (I have six), two of which are now in college. I want to help them and my oldest son with their college debt. I also want to do a better job of preparing financially for my youngest three to attend college, many years from now. When I talk to people I share about the value of growth, and the desire to do something different, to “change it up.”

But the bottom line is that, just like Walter White, I did it for me. And I’m proud to be moving on, and moving up. My new assignment is a big step up, and will be a real challenge. I’ll still be working in public education, but at a new campus in a new town in a brand new position where I have no history of accomplishment, no familiar colleagues, and no idea what to expect. Awesome fun!

This is all happening faster than I expected it to, and not without some trials. I will be commuting about an hour each way, my days will be longer, and I will not see my children and wife nearly as much. Hopefully that will be temporary. While I could never have predicted the circumstances that brought me here, I look forward to the unpredictability of this new challenge and all of the opportunity it will provide.