Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Make the Work Worth It

The month of October has been super busy! I apologize to my small but loyal crew of readers for the lack of blog posts. I swear it's not for lack of material at the middle school. It just feels like the past three weeks have flown past us.  First quarter ended this week, and I couldn't believe it.  Where does the time go? I think there's a general consensus among teachers today that time flies all the time.  There are countless articles and blog posts written for teachers and by teachers that bemoan the lack of hours in a day or promote handy dandy ways to maximize the use of time in your classroom.  The graduate students I'm teaching this semester cite time as the biggest roadblock to using student-centered and student-led methods of instruction.  Today I was talking to one of my principals during homeroom, and he said, "It wasn't like this when I started teaching. There just weren't as many things to fit into a teacher's day."  Another teacher chimed in and said that even when she had to handwrite and calculate her whole gradebook, she still worked less hours than she works in 2014.  Crazy, right?

While I haven't been in the classroom long enough to see that many big pendulum swings in policy, I can say I've stayed later and worked more hours this year than I've ever worked, even as a first year teacher.  Part of that is related to changes in curriculum, some of it is related to policies and programs that are newly in place, and most of it has to do with the fact that I'd rather spend my day with students, teaching and learning, than doing administrative tasks like grading and filling out paperwork.  And both of those things have to be done, so there's that.

I looked back at some posts from September of this year and reflected back on frustrated conversations I had at the start of this school year, and I realized that I was not in a good mind space at all.  I was overwhelmed and struggling in a paralyzing, unproductive way.  However, October has felt different.  October has felt like a positive, exciting, optimistic month.  I've seen my students make some pretty awesome connections between pieces of literature, and I've guided them through research writing and analytical writing. I've read some absolutely fantastic narratives, and I even heard a students say, "You know, I really like that Gary Soto" to his mom. I'd say that's an English teacher win for sure!

So if you're a teacher and you're reading this, I just hope you know that you are awesome.  And that the number of responsibilities you are juggling every day is, indeed, ridiculous.  But you know what? You're making it work, and that's the only thing that matters.  Here's to a positive end to the week and to a renewed sense of spirit in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I Love Edcamp

Sometimes, I find myself in a teaching slump.  I catch myself slogging through the tedium of giving a test or grading essays or narratives, and I forget how much I love being a teacher because I've zeroed in on just how much I dislike a particular task.  Most of these tasks involve paper-pushing that just has to be done.  If only every teacher had their own secretary to do things like enter grades and alphabetize papers and fill out paperwork, then we'd really get to focus all our energy on our interactions with students.  How great would that be?! 

Anyway, toward the end of last week, I was really starting to feel sorry for myself as I surveyed the ever-multiplying stacks of paper on my desk and the increasingly long to-do list staring me down from next to my computer keyboard.  I left on Friday feeling like I was headed toward a very long Sunday of grading papers. And, to be perfectly honest, that is what I had to do on Sunday.  But before that, Saturday arrived, and I attended my first Edcamp.

Edcamp is an "unconference," meaning that participants set the schedule when they arrive in the morning.  Instead of having presenters who prep beforehand, you get a schedule of events made up of authentic dialogue among teachers about topics that everyone wants to learn more about.  Here's what the schedule ended up looking like at Edcamp Arkansas last Saturday:

While I went to some awesome sessions and got some great new ideas for my classroom.  That wasn't even my favorite part of the day.  The best thing about Edcamp was meeting and talking to pre-service teachers.  Remember like three paragraphs ago, when I said I had let myself get into a slump? Thankfully, these pre-service teachers snapped me out of it.  I had an awesome conversation at lunch with some soon-to-be-teachers about how to move toward a paperless classroom.  We also talked about how to stay positive when there's so many things that teachers are asked to do in a day.  We talked about helping students become writers and not just kids who write because we force them to do so, and we talked about how young educators can create change in their school buildings and impact school culture.  

Ya'll, UCA is putting out some great teachers.  I seriously cannot wait to see what these ladies and gentlemen do when they start teaching in their own classrooms.  They are so excited to work with kids and to make their future schools even more awesome than they already are.  I left Edcamp on Saturday so inspired, and I walked into work on Monday determined to be a positive beacon of light in my classroom.  My mantra this week is "think like a pre-service teacher."  I needed to renew a little bit of my idealistic nature, and Edcamp did that for me.  It's Wednesday now, and I'm happy to say that I'm still smiling and working really hard to be the positive beacon of light that I know I can be.  I'm so thankful for an ever-growing community of educators who challenge me to be my best for kids everyday.  And today I'm especially thankful that I remembered how important it is to maintain the balance of idealism and reality in my classroom.  I can't kill myself trying to be everyone's "yes man," but if I'm going to set the bar high for my students, I need to set it even higher for myself.

Here's to setting the bar high, guys.