Becoming un-Difficult

A parent recently texted me about their child. To be clear, parents don’t usually communicate with me via this method. I just happen to know this parent outside of school, and honestly, it was quite nice to hear positive feedback. She wanted to let me know that her son had been raving about me all weekend. One of his comments to his mother was the most striking to me: “She never gets mad at me. I don’t get in trouble in her class.” When his mom asked how that was possible (he is notoriously ALWAYS in trouble), he replied, “She used to teach special ed.” That last comment made me chuckle, but his first comment made me think. Why is it that a student can be “difficult” for one teacher, but completely NOT difficult for another. In truth, I don’t have a coherent answer for that one just yet, but I do have a few ideas.

First, I believe in building relationships with my students. I am fortunate enough to teach in a small school (small in comparison to a public school). I have fewer students than a public school teacher. I have times in which I can engage with students outside of the classroom whether that is at my door before class, in the halls between class times, during sporting events, or in the lunchroom. I make it my business to know my students. I observe them. I listen to them.

Continue reading “Becoming un-Difficult”

Grading tools and feedback

Working in a 1:1 laptop school has its advantages and disadvantages. Of course, one of the biggest issues is how technology changes so quickly. Also, there are a lot of tech that is gimmicky. It might be flashy or fun, but it rarely moves learning forward in a meaningful way.

But, I love when I find a tool that is useful and practical. An add-on to Google Drive called Doctopus is very helpful. It allows you to distribute files to students, automatically shared with you and the student(s), organized into folders. With another add-on called Goobric, you can attach a rubric of your creation or one made through rubistar. This tool can be used on any platform as long as you are using Google Drive.

Continue reading “Grading tools and feedback”

Teaming without a Team

One of the challenges we face at my school is that our teachers crossover grade levels and teach multiple preps. I personally enjoy teaching two grade levels because I get to see children at different developmental levels. Sometimes, I am able to teach kids two years in a row, which allows me to develop great long-term relationships with my students. So, while teaching this way is personally rewarding, it can make it difficult to lead a “team”.

Currently, we have 23 teachers who teach seventh grade. That becomes an unwieldy number when trying to plan and work together. It is no surprise that we seemed to have many obstacles to creating a team approach, but with careful planning, it wasn’t impossible. Here are a few things I learned in developing a team without an actual team:

  1. Using the word “team”. We tell our students that words have power. It is no different for adults. One of the biggest obstacles to creating a team was overcoming the inertia of teacher autonomy. Many teachers become teachers because they really enjoy working with kids, not necessarily adults. When I first started working in an independent school, teachers often bragged about their degree of autonomy. By using the term “team”, we created an environment where faculty feel as if they are all in the same boat, and we entered into a more collegial relationship with one another.
  2. Do what you can. This may seem obvious, but when we first began implementing a “team” approach, we couldn’t start too big. The first thing that we could do was create a time and space for faculty to be together. Since our schedule couldn’t be adjusted to accommodate shared planning, we had to make the time. A core group of teachers committed to meeting after school one day a week in the beginning. Our focus was always on how we could improve our teaching for our students. We evaluated what we could and could not do with the time we had, within our current curricular standards, and with the busy schedule of our students. We started with the simplest tasks first such as just sharing what we were doing in our classes. Eventually, we were able to create a daily schedule that allowed us to meet during the school day.
  3. Set goals and expectations. We set two goals right away in our work: 1. Create a student community, 2. Generate themes that can be woven into all of our curricula. By setting goals early on, we were able to always have a focus when designing curriculum. Often, we focused primarily on core content first–math, English, social studies, and science. Whenever we had a new idea, we used those two goals as our “litmus” tests. If it didn’t fall under those criteria, we were able to make a quick decision to either table the idea, or expand our goals.

These simple ideas are not all that different from what teachers do in a traditional team setting. However, we had to take these baby steps in order to create a more team-like approach with such a large team. Every year it gets a little bit easier.

Overcoming burnout

Embed from Getty Images

I remember very clearly a conversation that I had with my school’s former Headmaster. He asked me, “What do you think would surprise most people about teaching?” Without blinking an eye, I responded, “The level of energy it requires.”

When that conversation occurred several years ago, I was at the height of my game. My classes were fun, exciting, innovative. I spent a considerable amount of time revamping every lesson. I tweaked everything. I added meaningful uses of new technology as they became available. I attended training classes to learn new skills. I led training classes for other teachers to hone their skills. I led clubs and activities. I gave presentations. I organized field trips. I graded papers quickly, efficiently, yet with thoughtful feedback included on every page. I did it all with a smile. I was on fire.

I also went home everyday exhausted. Sometimes, I came home and continued to work. Lessons were always in need of tweaking. Papers were always needing to be graded. Often, that meant late nights for me. Despite the exhaustion, I loved my job. I woke up ready to face every new school day. I felt like I was living up to my calling. I was giving my all to my students.

Unfortunately, this kind of energy is not sustainable. I had little to give my family in the evenings. I also began to resent the amount of time it took to tweak and grade. Over time, my health began to suffer. However, it wasn’t until this last school year when I experienced some very significant medical issues that I realized I was burned out.

Continue reading “Overcoming burnout”