Monthly Archives: August 2017

What to Really Do for the First Day Of School: a List for the Practical Teacher

IMG_20161213_155131 - CopyEvery teacher I know is playing their first day out- whether with the experience of last year fresh in mind or the optimism of the very first year ahead.   I quite enjoy the anticipation; it forces me to reflect on last year’s good intentions, last year’s “what worked and what did not work” so to speak.  I’m also a goal-orientated educator; articulating objectives or reflecting on past practices helps set the tone for the year ahead.  And, since I have a captive audience, I’m adding my list to the millions of other posted lists about the first days of school.  Only this list is the real list; the list of things you most need to do.  After twelve years of teaching, this is the list that works for me.  

  1. Eat breakfast. Even a small one.  This may sound like practical advice more than teaching advice.  Eat breakfast.  I spent many a school year running out the door without something in my stomach.  I spent many a school year wondering why my mornings just didn’t run as smoothly as my afternoons.  The one thing I did last year that change everything: breakfast.  Even if it was on the go, I had something prepared in my stomach every day.  Soon, I was up early so I could eat breakfast which means I was in my room a little bit earlier and I was in a great mood to attack the day.  It’s the same for students as it is for teachers- a little breakfast goes a long way.  Before I knew it, I was a morning person.  This year, I was gifted a kerig machine for my classroom and I’m tempted.  Very skeptical, but tempted; after I do number 3, I may add it to my classroom tech arsenal.
  2. Have templates, will use.   My teacher mentor from years ago gave me one of the best gifts: a collection of templates.  Have a student who has been absent and needs a reminder to check in? I have a template for that email.  Need to contact a parent about a student update? I have a template for that email. Need to update class on snow day make up work? I even have a template for that email.  Figure out what you need for the year and create those before the first day.  Leave room to make them personal (I do not make templates for feedback or comments in a gradebook) but efficient. I have a template for the first email to all parents that I modify depending on the year.  I use my absent student one all the time. Keep these electronically; mine live in my OneNote Teacher notebook in word doc form.
  3. Clean your room.  I sound like my mother who insisted that you really couldn’t do anything in a messy environment.  She’s right; last year I opted to clean my room before leaving for the summer.  I really spent time thinking about how the space was used (turns out I don’t need an extra bookcase for supplies) and how I want it to be used (I moved the lending library near the door- students grab and go with ease).  I eliminated the need for a desk two years ago; it just seemed to be a collection of things I didn’t want anyway.  Now heading back, I’ve got some leftover supplies from my summer class that need a home.  I’m excited to clean the department supply cart (a solution we came up with after declaring that no one wanted to keep the same supplies in every room), and I’m using washi tape to re-organize my dry erase boards.  I’m also re-examining how to better situate technology in my very old classroom; the document camera needs a new space and I’m hoping to convince technology to re-wire my projector.  And I clean.  With Clorox. Everywhere.
  4. IMG_20170602_102404 - Copy

    Part of the Core: Teachers who Started the Same Year As Me

    Establish your core.  I’m not talking about exercise, at least not physical exercise.  I mean your support group, your colleague core.  If you are new to your school, reach out to the person you will most work with and establish some mutual grounds.  Email your librarian, your IT department, and your department head.  Ask questions, schedule a time to meet before the school year gets started.  I reach out to the librarians with my course syllabus; the IT department and I meet to discuss the new technology I’m implementing.  I usually lunch with a few teachers in my discipline and invite new ones.  It’s important to feel connected to a sense of community, whether that be big or small.  Teaching very much takes a village and realizing how each of us connect is a big part of student success.  Any teacher who feels like an island is never well placed for a good year; if you aren’t a fan of big groups in the lunchroom, invite others for a coffee break.  While it takes time to develop a professional learning community, it takes one coffee break to feel connected. And that’s a start, for both you and your students.

  5. Harpers_Ferry_Fall_Foliage_by_Terry_Tabb_(770px).jpgPlan your next break.  I know, school hasn’t even started and I’m suggesting planning your next break!  I learned this years ago, when teacher burnout really threatened to end my career.  Before school starts, I plan the first vacation break in the new school year.  It can be as big as a week long diving trip (oh March, you can’t come soon enough) or a small weekend get away.  Have one in mind; better yet have one planned.  You will not have time to do this during the first months of school.  It will motivate you, re-invigorate you, and absolutely sustain you.  My first trip involves Harper’s Ferry, a convenient hour away.  I have a cute bed and breakfast planned right in the middle of October when the leaves are at their best. I may bring grading along, but I will at least be resting as the first two months of school are marked down on the books.
  6. Get a haircut. Maybe a manicure.  Okay, this one is maybe not a hard fast rule, but a spirited one.  Make yourself physically ready to greet the first day.  Find a first day outfit, get a first day haircut, or treat yourself to a manicure.  When you feel your best, you will be at your best. Maybe rock that brand new purse handbag patagonia messenger.  Do something that signifies a new start.  After all, that’s exactly what a first day is, no matter how many years of teaching: a new start. This year I may do all three.
  7.  Start mapping your collaborations or projects now.  Most teachers spend a lot of their summer re-inventing their curriculum, excited about how to make it new.  I will be honest: I spend most my summer trying not to think about my curriculum.  It rarely works in entirety; by this time I have an idea about new things I’m willing to do or new projects I’d like to try.  My first project is relatively easy to start: I’m re-doing the vintage game Guess Who? for the literary classroom.  (More on that soon.)  I’m also re-thinking the science fiction elective and hoping for a buy in from the science department.  Newspaper will utilize Microsoft’s Teams this year and this week I’ve started to establish their group site.  (Remember that utilizing a new technology can sometimes be a project itself.)  I’m also re-doing a play I wrote because a student  asked to produce it this year and wondering how to package the script.  All of this really gets my brain thinking and excited for the first day!
  8. IMG_20170705_130536 - Copy.jpgBring your kitten to work.  I’m just kidding.  Probably not an advisable thing, even if your kitten is just as cute as mine.  Instead, bring a happy photo for your classroom.  Just one or two; your students don’t need your life story in pictures.  Have one photo that makes you smile on those days you may need one.  I rotate mine out- sometimes it is my mom, sometimes its a kitty picture, and sometimes it’s just pictures of cupcakes.  (I’m not kidding.)
  9. Invest in a good planner and then use it.  I’m a moleskine devotee; my planner is a red 5 by 7 moleskine notebook.  I fill it in well before the first day, even taking an hour to double check my school email for events I might have missed.  I also utilize Microsoft Outlook on my laptop as well as Google cal for my phone.  Even so, the red moleskin is my dedicated school planner.  And I love the size- I can fit it into a bag with ease, the color is quick to spot, and the binding doesn’t catch on fabric.  I take notes right next to the calendar grid which is essential in faculty staff meetings.  Trust me, if you are navigating both a calendar and a notebook during a quick meeting, you will miss things.  I highly suggest a planner that leaves you room for both.  I have my planner with me through everything but lunch.
  10. Leave room to have room.  There is such a thing as the overplanned, overscheduled teacher who has a spot for everything.  That is just not me, and I find that often times it leaves little room for collaboration or those wonderful spontaneous moments when a project just clicks with the class.  Prepare, but don’t over prepare so much that you leave no room for the grinds to grease.  Let your students help guide your curriculum; leave room for them to explore.  I’m teaching Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and intentionally leaving some room in the course schedule for discussion.  And in the event there is no discussion, it will be okay. I’m going to let them guide me that week.

Now I’m feeling like I need cupcakes, a kitten, and my course schedule completed.  Happy first day to all my teacher friends, and be sure to add to my list.  What did I miss?

 

 

 

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Notes from ISTE 2017 (or why an English Teacher Should go to a Tech Conference)

​​ISTE, or the International Society for Technology in Education is held every year nationally and this year was hosted in San Antonio, Texas. It is part conference, part massive share session, part exposition, and all teacher-student focused.  And while this is my second year in attending, every humanities teacher should attend at least one ISTE.  I was thinking about the “why” behind that statement very much during this year’s conference; how exactly does English (or humanities for that matter) fit into a growing STEM curriculum?

I’ve got five reasons in no particular order.

1. Sometimes a new idea is best found outside your comfort zone.  ​This was a good part of keynote speaker Jad Abumrad, co-creator of Radio Lab.  (And yes, I was completely fangirl about his speech!) He spoke of the need for teachers to re-think, re-know, and re-create.  And the more I think about it, some of my last year successes came from last year’s ISTE.  Some of this year’s new ideas came from this year’s ISTE.  Especially from….

2. ​The Playground is more than swings in the 21st Century.  ​Our students are living in a world where the playground is virtual or at least a mix of both the virtual and the real.  ISTE acknowledges that the best learning is understanding how they work together; the best teaching involves lessons that give students both theory and application.  And instead of listening to some amazing educators, you can go to the ISTE Playground and interact with educators, students, and even “play” with some of the new technology and curriculum developed in different schools.  My favorite “playground” this year is a three way tie. Technically, one is in the exhibition hall, which I’ll get to in number 3.  The other two share a space: Microbit and Code Academy.  Microbit is a new toy​ obsession​ microprocessor from BBC that introduces both a way to code from your phone (via their app) and coding in general across multiple platforms.  It works with Python, Java, ​Scratch and others.  And if you are new to code and want to learn, Code Academy was right next door to demonstrate their free coding classes.  I’m on my fourth one.  I’m addicted.  Grab me and I’ll tell you all about how I re-ignited my love of html (oh my angst high school blog…how I miss you and your html) and started learning CSS.  I’ve started Java, and Python is on the docket.  (And if you like learning languages or graphing sentences #nerdhere, then you will love this.)

3. The Swag to Meet all Swags: The Exhibition hall at ISTE is a claustrophic nightmare, but a great way to really get your hands on something.  Literally- exhibitionists (I couldn’t stop myself…)bring their wares/technology/software/etc to the massive room and set up shop.  This year, I studied the map before entering so I knew what vendors or peeps I wanted to meet.  It’s also a great way to get some amazing swag: I came home with a free microbit from BBC, four cool tshirts, entry access to a couple new software programs, and a hot wheels car.  Which brings me to Microsoft, my third favorite “playground.”  This year, #hackMicrosoft used their exhibition space to create a hotwheels STEM playground.  Using the retro toy ( I was totally a hotwheels girl- my parents found it a bit unnerving), they set up a station where a hotwheels car, a paperclip, a micro processor, Microsoft excel, and a race track helped you understand and measure the velocity, speed, and friction of an object in motion.  I have pictures. I am happy to share.  It was amazing.  They even had a station set up where you wrote about your experience (more on this in #5).  If you could tear yourself away from the cars (it took me 45minutes), around the corner was the nextgen of OneNote and the premiere of Microsoft teams. I’m using both in my classroom next year.

4. Who run the world? Educators​.  Last year was a bit of hit or miss for me when it came to the sessions.  This year? I couldn’t find enough time or clone myself to attend all the ones I wanted.  Every one I went to was a great way to dialogue with other educators, a way to learn how to look at curriculum a bit differently, or just a really amazing idea I’d like to adopt.  I even met one of the authors of a book I purchased in the ISTE bookstore and had an incredible conversation about the changing nature of English education and the importance of preservation.  I met librarians, English teachers, theater directors, ESL teachers, and even a few high school students who presented their digital partnership with a school in Africa. If nothing else, ISTE is an invigorating reaffirmation in the power of education and the incredible resilence of teachers.

5. How does this relate to English? At the end of the day, it’s not technology that connects us to the world or each other.  It’s not even the experience itself; it’s how we communicate our experiences, how we express our solutions, our innovations, our passions.  And where can you find that curriculum in abundance? The humanities.  Every tech/science/math teacher I met at ISTE argued that the humanities have never been more needed.  Every Microsoft developer I spoke with (and there are surprising quite a few at ISTE) emphasized how important communication, critical thinking, divergent thinking, and even empathy were core values to their company.  I’m not just learning to code because it’s fun; I’m learning a different way to communicate albeit with a program.  And then, I’m writing about that experience to a very human audience.  Yet, our students have trouble transfering their very applicable English skills to the STEM classroom.  My theory? If we don’t see STEM/STEAM as an interdisciplanary collaboration with the humanities, if we don’t practice and work in tangent with other departments, then how can we expect them to do the same?  My own ruminations on this have motivated me to re-invent my science fiction course.  Even more so, I would love to see every school embrace a creative non-fiction class where students would learn how to respond, react, and even collaborate with a very interdisciplinary reality. And that is really the new reality.

So yea.  Go to ISTE.

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