Politics & the Classroom

One lesson I remember distinctly from my last teacher education course before graduation was the discussion on our role as a teacher, and the legal and ethical boundaries that are necessary to maintain as a professional.

In light of the SCOTUS decisions today and the media frenzy that naturally surrounds controversial events, I am reminded of the day I was told that when I am teaching, I am an agent of the state. This means I have a professional obligation to keep my own biases off the table while teaching. If I am doing my job well, I ought to be able to discuss events (such as elections, news, religion, politics) without endorsing one side or the other. This can be difficult, but also rewarding.

From an English teacher’s perspective, it’s an excellent opportunity to teach students how to see both sides of an argument, understand the reasoning from both sides, and then make an informed decision that can be supported by facts, rather than unfounded gut instinct (which can often be intelligently defended if considered before expressing). In any setting, I think this is an invaluable skill. My bottom line for teaching is passing on critical thinking skills. I want a generation of well-grounded young adults who can both express and support their opinions clearly, as well as be comfortable enough with their opinion to listen to others who may violently disagree.

Do I, as an individual, have opinions about current events? Certainly. Do I have convictions about life, truth, and what I believe? Absolutely. However, being in a position of authority, I feel as though it is my ethical obligation not to abuse my power by pressing my opinions on young minds. What I can do is encourage students to think. I can tell them what I believe through my actions, and I can be very assertive in drawing boundaries for what are appropriate actions and attitudes towards others. Respect, and not necessarily approval, is key. You can respect someone while disagreeing, and that is what we need more of in this world.

If students are adamant about knowing my personal views, I usually just tell them it’s not appropriate to discuss in class, but if we were ever not at school or they were graduated, I would be happy to discuss my opinions. One of the easiest ways to slip in maintaining a professional image is to become relaxed and too open with students in the name of friendliness. Being BFF’s with your students is a mistake (even if it’s really fun to have the approval and popularity among teenagers).

I could go on and on about situations in which I’ve experienced teachers alienating me or my classmates by being careless with their speech or forgetting that they are the adult held responsible for the events of class, but I don’t think I have to. If you are a teacher or other authority figure, consider the boundaries you have set for yourself, and the consequences of speaking too freely.

This weighs heavily on my heart as someone who occasionally ad libs to keep classes going. If any of you have good tips or advice from personal experience, I’d really love to listen! Please comment or message me.

Educational Applications of Google.

I have always loved google docs (okay, now called Google Drive). In high school, it saved me from unreliable computers and storage devices. In college, my university began using Gmail for their email provider during my senior year. It was amazing! Some of my education classes began discussing using Google docs for collaboration, and my peers and I used it frequently for group projects.

In fact, the school district I student taught and long-term subbed for began implementing google accounts for all students, 6th-12th grade last year. It was nice because accounts were assigned (students did not make their own), and the school could oversee the accounts to minimize abuse. However, abuse did happen. Some middle schoolers decided to use shared power points as an avenue for bullying each other. Luckily, their teacher was well-versed in how the google suite works and was able to see what happened via draft versions.

In looking through others’ ideas and how I have used it so far, the following is a list of uses for the google suite for an English context, although many could be used in other content areas:

  • Google drive for class idea sharing on a single document (small groups add to the class list or individuals post ideas)
  • Sharing Google power points with classes (whether it’s other students projects or a reference guide distributed by the teacher)
  • Google drive for looking at versions of drafts while teaching the writing process
  • Google sites for class websites
  • Google calendar sharing; teacher can use it to update class calendars as changes occur. Also can embed in class google site for easy reference!
  • Google scholar for research papers
  • Google books for an excellent way to read a book to the class using a projector (think children’s books for mini-lesson skills. This is especially great for ESL so they can all see the words and pictures.
  • Google news for teaching students news bias, multiple perspectives on the same event, and evaluating sources.
  • Google login for Blogger– another option for student blogs/class blogs. Have to be careful about student blogs though because you can’t control their content yet are responsible for what they post. I like collaborative blogs or having students email me and I post material.
  • Google login for YouTube is wonderful if it is through a school Gmail account. These are also great opportunities to teach students about online presence, being careful about privacy settings and what they post/share with others, and how to become fluent with technology (showing them how to troubleshoot as it happens rather than fixing it without showing them).
  • Google mobile so students can access their things on all their devices and don’t have to worry about leaving flash drives , etc. at school.

How do you use the Google suite in your classroom?

Lesson Plan Formats

The manner in which teachers record and prepare lessons can express volumes about their goals and priorities as teachers. Having already experienced a year and a half of substitute teaching, I have observed a variety of methods. Although plans tend to be “simplified” for substitute teachers, I have seen enough plan books and heard enough remarks during curriculum mapping to know that not every teacher creates lesson plans for each day.

I think this is perfectly acceptable for the veteran teacher who can recall all the finer points of a lesson from memory, but I think even then, it is helpful to have a record of how you teach what you teach in order to reflect and even share that knowledge with others.

As a less than veteran teacher, it is my goal to have lesson plans for every day that are detailed to the extent that anyone could pick it up and understand how to implement the lesson. This method was admittedly pressed upon me by my amazing college professors, but as I grow, I am shocked at how much more can learn from my teaching experiences if I am taking time to fine-tune my lessons or recognize what changes from paper to implementation.

Basically, I use a modified Madeline Hunter lesson plan design. This is what my supervising professor required during my student teaching, and I find it insures that my lessons are focused, productive, and organized. Here is a model for what I use:

Date or Day # in Unit

Novel Title: Lesson Title

Objectives:

  • Students will or will be able to…
  • Students will or will be able to…

Motivation/Intro activitiy (5 minutes or less): Connect it to what they learned yesterday so they are ready to learn.

Materials:

  • Often things like student texts
  • Classroom technology
  • Any other materials you need to remember to have or subs. need to locate

Activities:

Activity 1(blank minutes):

  • Include specific directions of what to do
  • Include specific questions if you have discussion

Activity 2(blank minutes):

  • More directions
  • Try to think of details such as whether or not they will hand things in
  • If it’s an independent activity think of a way to extend the question or pose another question to keep your advanced students engaged

Activity 3 [if necessary] (blank minutes):

  • Be sure not to try and cram too many activities into your class.
  • If it’s a new skill, be sure to include modeling, guided practice, independent practice time.

Closing (2-5 minutes): Summarize what students were supposed to learn today, ask a question about prediction in the book or about their new skill, remind them again of the assignment, commend them for what they did well!

Assessment: How will you know if your students have accomplished the objectives? Have you included informal assessment during class? Will the homework serve as a formal/written assessment? Do you have an “exit ticket” or other small informal check for understanding?

Problems forseen: This is where you state everything you think that could potentially go wrong: technology failing, students balking at participation, students finishing early needing extra work, etc. Solution: How will you solve these problems? Say how or give particular instruction.

If any of you have specific formats you find helpful, I’d love to hear about them! I understand that they vary based on location, curriculum, and content, but I would be interested to see other methods.

In short, I think that structured lesson plans aid teachers in considering the message they are sending students, the manner in which they do so, and in making the most of class time! Good classes are cohesive experiences that keep students engaged and involved in learning.

As a side note, I would add that I like to write the schedule for class each day so students know what we’re doing as well as what I expect them to know. Multiple modes of communication never hurt anyone!

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%

This is a great (albeit lengthy) article about a new method of classroom management that focuses on helping students who have problems at home that often boil over into school. The entire blog is dedicated to the study of the ACE method. I highly recommend reading their “about” to become more familiar with it.

ACEs Too High

THE FIRST TIME THAT principal Jim Sporleder tried the New Approach to Student Discipline at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, he was blown away. Because it worked.

In fact, it worked so well that he never went back to the Old Approach to Student Discipline.

This is how it went down: A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension.

Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly: “Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”

The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face….”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”…and for the big boot…

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Five Years Ago

“Teaching English is not for everyone.”

That laden phrase, passed casually over the desk of the English Education Academic Advisor, in a crowded 4th floor office in what had to be the ugliest English building in the country, did not settle well with me.

I was tired, beaten, and absolutely sure that I could in fact teach English. The dream had passed, the art was not to be, and here I was; relinquishing my winning streak for piles of books (which would eventually turn into back problems). English was my rock. I was good at it. I was the kind of reader and writer who performed papers and speeches for sport.

What I had not anticipated was adversity; even in college, I would meet lots of educators unwilling to help me. Perhaps they underhandedly helped me by revealing that I needed to “put on my big girl pants” and get things done. This moment in that old office will always be in my memory. It was the first time my plans were met with resistance. Now, I could have gone back and changed my major again to something like journalism or horticulture, but I was resolute.

I dug my heels in and happily took grammar with my new advisor. After that, she believed me when I said I could do something. After that, I met people who made me understand why that was her initial reaction.

Someday I’ll fill in all the blanks for you, but for now all you need to know is that I am facing another “not for everyone” turning point in my life: I’m attempting to break into my career.

I have about as much experience as one can have without having contracted teaching experience. Camp counseling, tutoring both in college and after, classroom observation, student teaching, substitute teaching, long-term substitution, and more substitute teaching. The thing is, I chose family first, got married, and am starting over in a new state so my husband can attend graduate school.

Do I regret that? No, I’m always a passionate and decided person when it comes to big life decisions, but this choice has not been effortless in moving 2 states away from where I grew up and had established a network of contacts and experience. What scares me now (as it did 5 years ago in that office) is not being allowed to do what I feel is my purpose.

Like many other life cliches I heard from other people, initially dismissed, and later ate my words, I have found a career that I am willing to stake all of my time and effort on. With age comes momentum and gravity in our decisions, and I have decided that I cannot turn away. I will be a teacher.

It might take me longer than I’d like (which is usually instantaneous as soon as I’ve made up my mind), but I will still substitute teach until people get tired of seeing me in a ridiculous number of classrooms at the school and decide I should be on payroll.

I wasn’t planning on it, but this is my introduction to my blog, Mrs. Meyer Teaches. My name is Rachel, and someday soon I will be an English teacher.

Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer

Finally, some compelling evidence that teaching literature, especially teaching students the importance of experiencing literature, is completely worthwhile! In fact, I mentioned in an interview today that learning to develop perspective through reading literature develops empathy and a greater understanding of how they fit in to society. I know experiencing literature often gets trampled in the name of getting “valuable skills” across to students, but what could be more valuable than a society of empathetic individuals who want to understand one another?

Ideas

Gregory Currie, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, recently argued in the New York Times that we ought not to claim that literature improves us as people, because there is no “compelling evidence that suggests that people are morally or socially better for reading Tolstoy” or other great books.

Actually, there is such evidence. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories…

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