My Dream Teaching Job

That is one of my favorite pictures. It is me, coaching my team from Drumheller, probably the most rewarding coaching experience I ever had… so far. I look at that picture and I am immediately filled with the feeling I get when 12 pairs of eyes are looking at me and they are all ready to do whatever it takes for our team to be successful. To be honest, it is nothing less than amazing.

Coaching has always been my dream teaching job. It seems like you always have a captive audience, committed learners, collaboration, dedication, teamwork and goal setting. I am passionate about basketball, and I am a lifelong learner when it comes to the game. I desperately want success for every member of my team, and do everything I can to read my players and provide for them exactly what they need. Some I push hard with stern tones and strong motivation, some I handle with kid gloves, and use care and compassion to help them find their way. I live for coaching, and I get so much more out of it than I give.

Tomorrow is my first game as a head coach of a college team. I am nervous, like my first time in parent teacher interviews. I have been practicing with the guys for months now, but tomorrow we let everyone else in on what we have been doing. I am on, and sink or swim, its time for us to do our best to be successful. It is a preseason, exhibition game in our home tournament, so the stress level isn’t as high, the onus on winning isn’t there to the same degree, I am resting injured/ill starters and key bench players, but I still want us to do well. This is a dream realized for me, and I would obviously like it to go well.

Tonight, we finished practice with a team meeting and I talked to my players about the importance of us having each others’ backs, about contributing to the team through individualized roles, and about our understanding and exemplifying of our team identity. It made me think about how great it would be to have a similar conversation with my Gr. 8 classes. I want a classroom where everyone has each others’ backs, where students find roles they can fill and contribute in those roles, and a classroom where the identity is clearly defined and exemplified in our day to day interactions. Why not have a “team meeting” and do the same thing with my students?

I don’t know if that idea will work, but I do know that my coaching provides me with a lot of great ideas that transfer to my teaching. I remember being pleasantly surprised and a little shocked when my school division supported me in taking this coaching job and providing all the support I needed to be able to do both coaching and teaching. I mentioned it to a lot of people and more than a few times I heard people say things like “it will make you a better leader/educator for the division” or “this will only benefit the division as well”. I didn’t really see that, but I am starting to.

Tomorrow I coach Game #1 in my college head coaching career. I have no idea how successful we will be, or even how many games I’ll get to coach in my career, but I am excited. Tomorrow I truly will be working in my “Dream Teaching Job”, and I do believe it will make me a better educator in every position I have in my career.

Don’t Tell Anybody


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Zhanardi

 
I love telling people I teach Grade 8 or Grade 9. I love seeing the WIDE range of reactions that come with that news. Many feel that I am crazy to be working with students this age, “little hormone bags” was the comment. Others are intimidated by adolescents, citing “poor attitudes” and “smart mouths”. Many parents share with me that its the toughest age to deal with for them. I have of course seen my share of angry teenagers who don’t know how to deal with their anger in a healthy way. I have seen self involved students who are totally unaware of their impact on others or their environment. I have been called a few foul names and had my tough days like anyone else, but make no mistake: It’s my favorite age to work with. This week reminded me again why.

One of my favorite things about students this age is how many will put on the facade of being aloof or above whatever it is we are doing. They are way too cool to be excited about anything, especially anything happening at school. Younger kids are still openly excited about things that happen at school, and older students are comfortable enough in their own skin to be honest about how they feel about what they are doing (I generalize). In the midst of a fairly simple lab exercise, testing the solubility of some common household items (salt, sugar, baking soda) the engagement of the moment broke down many of those faux-apathetic stone faces and gave way to smiles, wide eyes and excitement. When all the groups had reported their solubility values, and we had averaged the numbers for the class it was time to reveal the expected values for the three solutes. When the students saw how close they got to the real solubility of sodium chloride (salt), glucose (sugar) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), genuine “oohs” and “aahs” and exuberant comments filled the room. They forgot about being above all of it and let down their guard.

I am someone that loves a challenge, and getting genuine reactions of any kind out of Gr. 8 and Gr. 9 students is a challenge. Trying to make them laugh (with you not at you), trying to get them to see outside of their small bubble, or trying to get them to really care about their education is tough. I prefer tough, I like having to work for student engagement or excitement.When the right learning opportunity is presented, these “tough nuts” will crack and they will get excited about their learning. They just won’t want you to tell anybody.

Opinions


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Ivana Vasilj

I have always been someone who had an opinion. I also probably shared my opinions far too often when I was young. I don’t remember being stifled too often, but it happened. I remember asking my Dad why one political party didn’t have someone from another political party in their cabinet. I figured if you wanted to help opposing parties to work together, let one of their best people be a cabinet minister (I am from Canada, we have cabinet ministers instead of secretaries – Minister of Finance vs. Secretary of Defense). He laughed at me, not in a mean way, and explained that this would never happen. The fact I remember that conversation shows you it had an impact on me. While 99.9% of the time my Dad supported my opinionated nature, that one time he didn’t really stuck with me.

Allowing our students to voice their opinions is an important part of the education process. When we value someone’s opinion we show them that we value them, and respect their ideas. We might not agree with what they are saying, but it is important we show them we value both their opinion and their willingness to share it.

In my school we have a big push for Inquiry, and for helping foster creativity and innovation in our students. For the first few weeks of this year my teaching partner and I have done a lot of work to have students share their opinions, their thoughts and their feelings through classroom conversations, through classroom activities and through reflective journaling. Yesterday, as I read through my student journals I found this:

“You know what? This is the only place in the world that everyone keeps asking me the same question – What’s your opinion? I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but I just find it kinda weird that’s all.”

It was this quote that inspired this post. I am glad that this student feels like we are looking for her opinion. It validates a lot of what we have done in the first few weeks. What I really took from this writing though was that the student felt it was weird that we were asking for her opinion.

I see a genuine connection between creativity/innovation and confidence. By hearing, valuing and validating our students opinions we send a message to them that we want to know what they have to say. We want them to voice their opinions, and we want them to feel ok when they find their opinion is unique or not supported by the masses. Creativity and innovation require people to put forth ideas, inquiry requires people who aren’t afraid to ask questions. This all starts with an environment that support students speaking up and being heard.

There is a lot of power in asking “What do YOU think?”, and a lot of the skills we want students to develop in the 21st century require us to foster their willingness to tell us.

Next Play


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by americanistadechiapas

George was right. He told me I was crazy to think that I could write a blog post for everyday I taught. I should just know that he will be right when it comes to anything related to social media/twitter/technology. Last night was an especially busy night for me with my coaching commitments having me at the University from 5:30pm-11:15pm and teaching from 8:30am – 3:30pm. When I got home I was exhausted, and just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and reflect. The tank was empty, and I surrendered to the comfort of my bed.

Now this isn’t the end of the world, and I know that, but it did bother me. It was a lofty goal and I wasn’t able to achieve it, so part of me was upset. After 10 years in the classroom, the other part of me knew this was ok. Setting lofty goals and striving to achieve them is a great practice that benefits us even when we are unsuccessful. This is an important lesson for our students, and our newer teachers too.

Things are not always going to go well for us in what we do, but that doesn’t mean we should simply stop trying to achieve anything. As a new teacher, it is great to try new things, put together exciting and interesting lessons and to strive to be an amazing educator. In your first few years, in the midst of all that energy, enthusiasm and excitement, there will be lessons, projects or even entire days that don’t go as planned. So what do you do? Go to the safe and easy lesson, and give your students the same vanilla education that has been delivered for years? No, of course not, because you know what is right and you need to do what ever you can to provide your students with the best learning experiences you can create for them.

On our basketball team, we have a new motto for this season. “Next Play” is something we stole from a successful NCAA coach and its about what you do when you experience difficulty, or even failure. He preaches that his team’s focus must always be on the next play, and not whatever has just occurred. Because of this motto that his teams live every practice and game, you rarely see one of his players argue a call with a referee, or hang their head when they miss a shot. They know that the right thing to do for them and their teammates is to worry about the next play, and whatever they can do to help the team be successful in that next play.

So new teacher, or experienced teacher, we should always be focused on the “Next Lesson” when our plans end up falling flat. We should focus on the “Next Project” when the one we thought would inspire, bored our students into a near catatonic state. We should focus on the “Next Day” when we have rough day with our students, and need to come back strong for them and us. For me, I was focused on the “Next Blog Post”…and there it is.

5 Minutes Of Learning

Today in my science class, I wanted to get kids thinking about the different states of matter but in a different context then water vapour – water – ice. It just seems like that is their “go-to” example, and it is hard to get them to think about changing states of matter in any other context.

I found a video that shows glass artists melting glass in extreme heat and shaping their pieces of art. That alone might have made this video effective, because it provided great visual displays of what melting glass looks like, and how knowledge of changing the state or matter is necessary for all of these glass artists. The artists had to carefully cool their finished work to avoid the glass breaking, because of what is occurring with the particles in the glass. It was a real world example of what I was trying to teach.  What made this video even better was that it was interactive, in that it cued students with questions that made them think and gave them a visual countdown of how long they had to decide their answer. They weren’t always great examples of inquiry, but they definitely got students interested in what the answer was, and it also surprised them with the results. Glass was being melted at an insane 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. A 1 pound ball of melted glass was stretched to a distance of 40 feet on the screen. After the first couple of questions, I started to hear discussions at tables, reactions to right and wrong answers and genuine engagement from most, if not all, in the room. Check it out:

Video is a great learning tool, we all know that, but it can result in students tuning out. I think I know what videos will grab students’ attention and keep them involved, but I am sometimes wrong. This video, because of the way it had students thinking and answering thought provoking questions, made for 5 minutes of learning instead of 5 minutes of zoning out.

Youth Center Activity

 

While I won’t be writing a full post, I wanted to stick to my plan of posting something reflective everyday I teach. I know this is probably a lofty goal but its worth a try.

Today my Gr. 8 Math classes worked through an activity that was designed to provide a real world context for their current Math studies. We are currently working through Surface Area, and measuring two dimensional shapes. I thought it would be fun to allow them to design their own youth center. With our continuing theme of dreaming big, they were allowed to put anything in it they wanted as long as they fit a few basic criteria of including a square dance floor made of checkered tile, a linoleum area for food and drink, and a carpeted area for couches and chairs. By putting in the criteria, we were certain that they would need to lay out shapes and measure their area. By having the fun and real world context I thought the students might enjoy the learning. What I didn’t realize was this provided a time to shine for some of our students. For a few, drawing and creating is what they do best, and I found some engaged and smiling faces that weren’t so happy when we were doing pencil and paper math.

Its nice when a lesson provides some added benefits that we didn’t predict, but what the lesson really did was remind me of the benefit of varied learning activities. This activity gave some students a chance to shine, students that may not always be eager to share in a math classroom.

I snapped a few pictures with my iPhone, check out some of the work turned in by some shining stars!

 

No Iron Fist Necessary


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by leunix

 

People give new teachers all kinds of advice. In one of my practicums I remember being told not to say “please” or “sorry” to my students because it gives them too much power. I don’t know if it comes from a need to protect the newbies, or maybe from memories of things that went wrong in the beginning of their careers, whatever it is, new teachers can be sometimes steered down the wrong road by us old vets. Especially if it goes against the personality and style that is comfortable for that new teacher.

 

If there is one line of advice I find myself disagreeing with the most its the idea that you need to “rule with an iron fist” often followed by “at least until Christmas”. This would have NEVER worked for me. It doesn’t fit with my style of teaching or my personality. I think it is the worry about the quality of classroom management new teachers are able to bring to the table that causes people to always give them this pearl of wisdom. I get that, it is hard in the beginning, and a lot of new teachers struggle. What I don’t get is why this is the answer? Is this how we hope teachers will develop good classroom management? By being strict, inflexible and controlling?

 

The big start-of-the-year push now is for expectations developed BY our students, WITH our students and focused on what we hope to see, not what we don’t want to see. This is all about showing the students that we trust them to be altruistic and cooperative. That we believe they are intelligent enough to be part of this process. We hope to connect with our kids and show them that its about learning with us not from us. If we believe in this idea of developing a classroom culture, then we must also believe in the idea that we want our teachers to develop rapport with their students, to be respectful and understanding of the differences each student brings to our buildings and to see the grey instead of just black and white. If this is what we want our teachers to do when it comes to classroom management, why would we advise them to start their careers by utilizing strategies that are in direct conflict with this idea?

If I want a student to improve at a skill, I want them to practice that skill, exactly how they should perform it, the right way, from the beginning. I think this should also be true for us as teachers. We don’t have new teachers come in and teach easier curriculum until they are ready, or give them half as many kids until they are ready, we treat them as the professionals they are and have trained to be. If fostering a more respectful environment is our goal, then there should be no message that contradicts this, especially when working with new teachers.

My advice?

Relax. As a new teacher, you are going to be eager, and probably a little on edge. Just try to relax. Give the kids time to think, time to work, and time to be kids. Take the time to get to know them, learn something unique about each one, and try to find something you share in common, so that you can always have a conversation that has nothing to do with school. Let students make mistakes, they are supposed to, they’re kids. Help them learn from the mistakes, they are great moments for teaching. Laugh about anything and everything. If they spill their drink, forget a pencil, or if they do something stupid, laugh about it with them. It shows them you are human and not a tyrant and that you can have fun as well.

When it comes to expectations, it is good to be clear about them and consistent in the follow up. What you don’t have to do is crush them when they don’t meet the expectations. Talk to them, and teach them, with a caring and open heart, a sense of humour and respectful manner. No iron fist is necessary when you care about your students. Good luck this year to any new teachers, I hope you enjoy every moment of the ride!