Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Hierarchy of Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

Ugh. Just typing those words make me cringe. I have written before about my distaste for lesson plans...but it's getting worse as the years go by.

This weekend I made a choice. I got a new student last week right before Thanksgiving break. He comes from Guatemala and doesn't speak a word of English. I have one day this weekend that isn't full of family-holiday-filled-fun. That would be today. In this time I am supposed to create all of the very specific materials that will be necessary in teaching my new child English while continuing the education and progress of my much more English-proficient students (aka the rest of them). For the first time in my life, I chucked the lesson plans and have spent the day getting materials ready. Let me tell you, I've never felt more prepared.

The lesson plans still have to get done because, in my district, we are required to turn them in at the end of the year (gross, right?) And that's where the burn-out comes in. I'll figure out how to combat that another day. For now, I choose classroom readiness ANY DAY.

Odds are, if you're a good teacher you will be following state standards in any lesson that you teach. If a teacher actually needs to waste (er...spend?) their time writing out step-by-step processes for each and every part of the day, then teaching does not come naturally to them and may not even be the best choice of career for them. All I know is that lesson plans make me feel like a robot, and I'm one of the most organized, planner-type, structure-loving people I know.

My personal hierarchy when it comes to the most important things in preparing for teaching:

1. materials and resources for the students
2. writing about teaching and receiving feedback for professional growth
3. Formal Lesson Plans *shudder*

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Choices That We Make...

"The choices that you make affect you!"

This phrase can be heard coming out of my mouth in my classroom more than once a day every day. It is usually in response to a gripe about negative consequences. It can also be my answer to a student who complains that a friend no longer likes them or that someone send something mean back to them. Something that my children are severely confused about is the fact that the things they do and choices they make affect others and therefore will come back to directly affect them.

Something that I'd like to focus on in the coming weeks is "The choices we make affect us, EVEN and especially the GOOD choices."

I wrote a while back that I have taken on the task of learning Italian. It was a choice that I made based on a series of choices I made before it (such as the choice to stay in a relationship with someone who is in the Navy and stationed in Italy for three whole years). Yesterday I fired up the Rosetta Stone and got to work after a two month hiatus. As I struggled through grammar points and new vocabulary I started to formulate connections between what I know of French and Spanish. Even with those connections, learning a language it hard and there were several times when I would have rather just turned off the computer and fired up the television (it is Thanksgiving break after all)! Instead I made another choice: to stick with it.

I was confronted with a few important points during my language learning adventure. First, the choice that I made to learn languages in middle school and high school shaped the direction that my life took in college and beyond. Then, the choice to continue to learn about languages and cultures has made me a more valuable commodity in our society, especially in regards to the job market. Finally, the choice to learn languages beyond the comfortable and safe language that helps me survive in our country every day, teaches me a tiny little bit of the frustration that my students feel on a daily basis when they arrive in this country and subsequently my classroom. Having that understanding makes me decidedly better at what I do.

A New Direction

It's possible that some of my teacher friends will be turned off by my writing taking a slightly different direction (or at least adding to my current direction), but I've started to realize that most of my passion for teaching comes from a greater passion for human rights, languages, and immigration. I think part of what truly connects me with my bilingual students and their parents is a certain level of empathy for being thrown into an entirely new and scary situation and not just surviving, but finding ways to thrive.

So as to not scare or offend, I will not be writing about immigration issues that involve who should be allowed into what country. I frankly don't have enough political knowledge (though I am always eager to learn more!) to speak from a place of great confidence. What I do know is that the immigrant families I work with every day work hard, put their children/families first, and deserve every opportunity that our monolingual students receive. I'm blessed and honored to see the world from their perspective and I learn something new from their struggles and successes every day!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Some days you are lucky enough not even to have words to express the pride you feel in being a teacher and everything that entails. Today was one of those days.

I lobbied pretty hard this year to get my bilingual students integrated with a monolingual class this year. Luckily one of the teachers on my team who is far more wise and experienced than I amazingly and graciously opened her arms to our classroom and has been collaborating with me to make these kids feel included ever since.

We chose the subject area of social studies because we felt that it would leave lots of opportunities for collaborative projects and give the students with more background knowledge a chance to impart what they know. For the past month my children have been joining with their buddies to research and create a PowerPoint based on one of the original thirteen colonies. Throughout these meetings I have had the brief opportunity here and there to look around and see just how amazingly accepting this particular group of fifth graders have really been. Everywhere you looked you could find small people huddled together over a book or computer asking and sharing and TRULY working together.

Today was the culminating activity where my fantastic co-teacher popped popcorn, I brought the 100% juice, and our kids sat back to watch the final presentations. It takes all of my students (and all students in general) a certain amount of courage to stand up in front of a room of 40 people. But when I lost it (and I mean really lost it with tears and everything) was after my newcomer stood up after having lived only 3 months in the United States and delivered a presentation IN English under the encouragement of his partner. We clapped for the group but then I called out my students name and the students clapped again wildly while cheering their support at the amazingly brave accomplishment. Another of my students followed a few presentations later. He was new at the end of last year and has been in the United States for only 8 months. Even more, he spent his entire young life in an abusive family situation and has spent months in my class learning basic appropriate responses and classroom behavior. He stood up in front of everyone, struggled through every single word in English, and did not give up or get defeated once. My entire class stood up after his presentation in support of the difficulty that we had all just watched him face.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Have You Filled A Bucket Today?

I'm not sure how I manage to be the only teacher I know whose teaching experience gets MORE stressful year after year, but it may have something to do with never having had the same job description twice.

That said, it may also have something to do with the insane behavior problems that my current group of miscreants display on a regular basis. This week I received an e-mail from my assistant principal asking to meet after school about some of the "disturbing interactions" that have been occurring between my 5th graders and the 2nd graders during recess.

I will not defend my children this year (though why they are placed in the same place at the same time and given the opportunity to influence 2nd graders, I'll never understand). As a whole, they can act mean to the point of malicious, snotty, and spoiled. Every day is an exercise in trying out parenting the way that I hope to do it someday. It is about character development around the clock in our classroom and it is and uphill battle.

So, I'm not going to defend my students...but I do feel like they are in a crap situation. Because of our bilingual reading schedule my 5th graders eat lunch with 2nd and 4th graders. Their classroom is in the 3rd grade hallway. There is not a single second of the day when they are not the oldest students around (and therefor responsible for being a positive influence ALL the time.) Our classroom motto this year: "Be the example."

My students have demonstrated to me time and time again that that is a task that is far to daunting for them. So, thanks to a great suggestion from one of our 1st grade teachers, I decided to break it down for them. Every week we have a classroom C.A.R.E. meeting. I always open it up as a time for students to share their concerns and celebrate their successes. This week, however, after the amount of time I wasted meeting about their behavior and worrying about it int he evenings while they were happily oblivious at home with their families, I decided it was my turn to talk and let them know exactly how things are going to be from now on.

I read the book "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?" to my students. It is a VERY primary book about how each person carries an invisible bucket that is filled by positive comments and good feelings and emptied when someone tears you down and tries to take away your self esteem. It is a VERY good book, but I purposefully made my students feel less-than-cool about the fact that I had to read it to them because they've basically been acting like kindergartners and I was making a point by bringing things down to their level.

I then went about stripping them of their current behavior plan. Rewards in my class will no longer be earned by how smart you are or how much you try academically or how quiet you are in the halls. The only thing that matters is the kind of person you are and how you make other people feel. So I told my children that THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR FILLING THE BUCKET. The choice is theirs. If I hear that they are building people up at recess and being generally good citizens, it will make me feel happy and proud...and we'll put some marbles in the bucket. If they go the extra mile and help teach someone else, translate for a newcomer, or share something...I'll notice and the bucket will get fuller. When they've filled the entire bucket, only then will they have something to celebrate.

But the book warns about "bucket dippers" as well. Those are the people who try to tear someone else down to make themselves feel better. Their buckets are empty and so too with our classroom bucket be. It's time for my students to step up and take responsibility for their actions. There are two signs up on the walls, one as the students enter the classroom each day and the other sitting above the bucket. They say simply "Have you filled a bucket today?"

We'll see how this goes.