What are your three favorite go-to sites for helps/tips/resources in your teaching?
(It's our Homecoming tonight and instead of playing an easy team, we're going up against #1 in our conference, so I'm going to keep this brief. Yes, me, brief.)
This site is a joint venture by NCTE and the IRA (the reading IRA). I like the search feature where I can put in keywords and see lesson plan ideas that pop up or just search by grade level. I usually check readwritethink.org for supplements to see if anyone has posted anything interesting related to units I'm currently planning.
I think webenglishteacher.com was the first site I really "discovered" in my first year of teaching. I stumbled upon via random Google search (and I'm still a big fan of those, by the way) and I check in every once in a while to see what's new. I love that it compiles links to various sites and resources by topic.
Is it cliche that I use Pinterest for school ideas? Do I care if it is? There's a reason this site is so popular and that's because it's a great database for a little bit of everything. I've stumbled on a lot of eclectic writing ideas by connecting with blogs through Pinterest that would have been impossible for me to find otherwise.
Three sites I need to use more often:
Sorry to say, it wasn't until finding out about this blogging challenge that I realized some of the awesome content teachthought.com provides for educators. An entire section on their page for iPads in the classroom? Why am I not broadcasting this to every teacher in my building? I need more time with this one for sure.
Kevin was our beginning of the school year PD speaker this year, and he's awesome. His site is chaotic, but there's a lot of great tools there if you take the time to navigate through (which I've only just begun to do). I'm especially attracted to the "Free Tools You Can Use Tomorrow" link from his main page because a) teachers love free stuff, and b) I'm impatient and like to put new ideas to use right away.
Yes, I am embarrassingly late and reluctant to use the Twitter thing, but I know that's where voices in education are sharing and linking ideas in real time. I'm just not sure how to incorporate it as a useful tool without being another time suck in my daily life.
So there they are. Any others I should add to my never-ending list? Now, if only I had some extra time to take full advantage of the potential of each of these sites...
What does your PLN look like, and what does it do for your teaching?
What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?
How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?
I can't begin to answer this question without looking back at the past five years to see how much I've changed in that relatively short period of time. So for today, a brief timeline of the last five years.
2009: My fourth year as teacher. No longer making the horrendous, embarrassing, borderline negligent mistakes of the first year, but not necessarily a better teacher yet, either. I knew I was more comfortable with basics, like classroom management (an absolute necessity at the middle school level), but not enough knowledge or experience to get too far outside of my comfort zone. At the time, I was probably content with what I was doing, but I wasn't creating better writers yet. I especially regret my feedback to student writers from that time: full of nit-picking comments, most not necessarily helpful. One of my teaching ghosts is that I probably (unintentionally) created a hatred for writing in quite a few students back then.
2010: A rough year. It's funny to consider that I can't even remember now what had me so upset, but I remember my fifth year being tumultuous for our entire faculty for some reason. I was unhappy and I remember coming to the realization that something needed to change: either leaving my district or leaving the profession (I did neither).
2011: That drastic change was finding the MA:TESS program through UNI. From the time when I was a kid and originally realized people could become a "master" of my favorite subject, I'd always dreamed of earning my MA in English someday (without ever considering what it would entail besides more reading and writing and talking with other people who do those things). When I randomly saw the brochure for an English program specifically tailored to working English teachers, I was sold. The summer of 2011 was when I took IWP Level 1 in Charles City with Kirstey Ewald and Brad Weidenaar as facilitators, and as I've mentioned before, it was revolutionary and integral to the teacher I am today. The changes were immediate and this was the turning point. Instead of doing what other teachers in my building and district did just because that's what we do, I started delving into professional literature, seeking out English organizations, and reaching a wider network of other teachers since my location allowed me to isolate myself too much. IWP humbled me, and if more teachers confronted their weaknesses in this kind of thoughtful, gentle environment, we would have a stronger teaching force across the board. But I get it. It's difficult to admit (or even recognize) that you're a sub-par teacher if you don't know any different. I knew I wasn't satisfied in many ways those first few years, but I didn't realize how much I needed to learn until IWP. I'm grateful I took the class so early in my teaching career so I could start on the path I'm on now.
2012: Much like 2011, a year of learning and applying and reflecting. Between the TESS program and IWP, my classroom began it's evolution into an experimental zone. I got comfortable with being uncomfortable during my teaching in order to see what works best for me and my students. Continuing the realization that no lessons or assignments or units are ever "perfect" and set in stone.
2013: Between exams, research, and writing to finish up the program, I was already stressed. But then other factors added to it: an anonymous parent "reporting" to my school that I should be fired due to a beautiful (and yes, "artistic") photo a friend took of me with my husband and my bare shoulders, and another anonymous complaint that someone had seen a photo of me drinking a (gasp!) beer (not wildly partying; just a 31 year old woman drinking a beer). I was sickened and fed up: it didn't matter how much I did for the kids each day, how hard I worked and how much they learned. If I didn't fit the plastic, saintly, irreproachable version of a "perfect" teacher at all times, then no one in the community would ever care, so why should I? In the midst of all of my hard work and some really kick @$$ improvements in my classroom, I was ready to quit this profession forever because it wasn't worth it to feel personally attacked. I stewed about it for months, looking for different jobs, thinking about what it would be like to join the corporate world. And then I didn't. School has a way of sucking you back in, and regardless of those two complaints, I was doing amazing things in my classroom. I was putting my new research on response to student writing into practice every single day, analyzing what worked and what didn't and celebrating the growth that I could see over such short periods of time. How could any other job compare to the kind of magic I get to work on a regular basis? I'm still saddened that people felt the need to report me as some kind of dangerous influence what with all the husband adoring and age appropriate beer drinking, but I can't control what other people think. Maybe it was one person who had a vendetta. Maybe there's a super awesome secret society devoted to hating me because I'm tough on their kids. I don't know, but I can't let it affect me to the point where it makes me hate my job and question what I do best.
And here were are now, in 2014. Wild ride those past five years, huh? So when this blog challenge asks me to envision how my teaching will change in the next five years, I can't. My teaching is always changing; it's what I do. Yes, I have certain units and stories and themes that I always gravitate back to, but I've never taught them the same way twice. I tweak, I add, I subtract, and I love to experiment. Sometimes it's fireworks and sometimes it's duds, but it's always different and always evolving. In the next five years, I think (hope) I'll change by developing thicker skin, and not allowing minor distractions to upset me so much. I hope I keep my love for change and learning constant. In five years, I still want to be on the incredible journey that started in 2011 with IWP, ICTE/NCTE, and TESS.
Edit: I realized after writing this that maybe some would be curious about the picture I got reported for, so I thought I'd include it. Maybe some would agree that it's inappropriate for a teacher and you'll stop reading this blog, but it's one of my favorite photos ever taken. My best friend took this photo of my husband and me in a ditch across the road from our farm house. The love on both sides of the camera that day was palpable. Please also know that I never placed this photo in my classroom or where kids would see it attached to me; the offended person actively searched for it on my friend's professional photography website (which you can find at facebook.com/iwritelight).
Today's prompt: What does a good mentor "do"?
This might be the hardest question I've had to face in this blogging challenge (so far). I respect the idea of mentors and I think we all need them in various aspects of our lives, but I'm wary of what I see as forced mentorship, which I think happens all too frequently. Mentors are a powerful influence, but they are relationship that needs to form organically rather than as a mandate.
In my first two years of teaching (as with all Iowa teachers) I was assigned a mentor. I had no opportunity to meet this person beforehand, and the pairing was made solely because she was the person who had previously held my position. I don't want this to sound like I had a disastrous experience; she was a lovely person and kind to me in many ways during those first two years. The problem was, we had nothing in common. Her teaching background was at the Elementary level, moved up to middle school English to cover an empty position. We had a 30+ year difference in age, and virtually no chemistry or common ground. We were always polite and friendly, but I never felt comfortable confiding in her, and spent most of those years as alone and lost as I would have been had I not had a mentor. Looking back, it was more my fault than hers, but it was obvious the relationship was not real since as soon as the required state paperwork was filed at the end of the two year period, we never had a meaningful conversation again. It wasn't until a few years later, when I took my first Iowa Writing Project class that I found true mentorship.
So before I can say what a good mentor does, I think the first step is that a mentor-mentee relationship needs to be a natural thing, formed only after two people have found someone they can connect to (this is starting to sound like dating). Young teachers naturally gravitate toward experienced people they respect and relate to, and those mentors-in-waiting are good at spotting the diamonds in the rough they'd like to work with. For a successful partnership, they need to be allowed to find each other instead of forced together by a mandated checklist.
After that relationship is formed, a good mentor shows rather than tells. Guidance comes through seeing someone put theory into practice and make it real, shows the mentee how to do by example. The mentor also reminds the mentee of the why behind the work we do. The mentee's responsibility is just as great in this scenario: she has to observe, reflect, ask questions, and grow as a teacher.
A mentor stresses the importance of reflection on practice, the (sometimes difficult) admission that teaching is never perfected, only refined through trial and error and dedication. Mentors and mentees need to have enough trust and comfort to be honest about these faults and how to best improve them. Ego is not part of the growth collaboration.
A successful mentor shares his thoughts, beliefs, and ideas with his mentee while still allowing her to forge her own path. A good mentor encourages opportunities for growth and extension beyond just the partnership of two. The mentor also realizes when she can learn something from her mentee, because the relationship should be beneficial to both involved.
Most importantly, a mentor reminds the mentee why we need others in this business: we can't do it better alone. We learn from each other- young, old, new, experienced; we all have something to bring to the table. These partnerships remind us that the sharing of ideas make for better practice across a wider spectrum, and when the benefits of that pass from teachers to students, that's the impact of a true, successful mentor.
I'm starting this blog as a part of the Te@chThought Reflecting Teaching Blog Challenge (http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/reflective-teaching-30-day-blogging-challenge-teachers/). Starting a blog is something I've considered in the past, but between full-time teaching and working on my MA in English for the past three years, I couldn't find the time. Or I wouldn't make the time. I earned my degree in May and took the summer to travel, relax, and refresh. Now that my energy isn't devoted entirely to homework, research, and panic, it seemed like the right time to start blogging, continuing the journey of reflection that came to the forefront during my grad program.
Day One: Write About Your Goals for the School Year
#1:This blog is one of those goals. As someone who has the tendency to isolate herself for various reasons (awkwardness, introversion, general dislike of social situations), it probably doesn't help that I teach and live in rural Iowa. Living on a farm is glorious, but it only reinforces my isolationist nature. I need to connect with other teachers of English on a regular basis, more than just checking NCTE emails and websites. I need to put my thoughts out to a different audience, even if the only benefit is that I've cleared my head after a rough day of teaching. I hope to keep up with the 30 day challenge and beyond.
#2: Stay positive. I have a lot of positivity in my personal life, but there are many times when the school year drags me down. Sometimes it's one too many negative conversations in the teacher's work room; sometimes it's the 7th grade boy who's decide to hate me for no discernible reason; sometimes it's a mistake that I made that I can't stop kicking myself over. Teaching is a profession where the unexpected can crop up at any time; it's one of the things I love most about what I do. But it also means that I need to control my reactions to unpleasant situations better. As I've gotten older, I've matured in my immediate response to these types of things, but I still haven't been able to shut out the negative, obsessive voice in my head. I need to work on that so I don't start to burn out.
#3: Keep (re)searching for answers. One of the biggest takeaways from the years I spent working on my MA was the importance of basing instruction on research. This might sound obvious, but I am genuinely surprised at how much of my teaching before the program (and the teaching I see from colleagues) has very little to do with concrete research about our subject matter. It is not enough to instate the lessons from district-provided professional development; I have to keep seeking out research and ideas aligned with the skills I teach. I am not an expert in every area of language arts, and I need to look to other sources (professional articles, books, and blogs) to fill in the gaps in my own knowledge. I can't let the quest for knowledge end just because it's no longer required for a grade or a degree; I have to keep myself accountable for being a lifelong learner under my own supervision.
These are three goals that I will never simply accomplish and check off the list; they will exist for my entire teaching career. The only failure is when I stop acknowledging their necessity in my life.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.