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Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Add Ethnic Studies as a Grad. Requirement?

One interesting, education-related development in all this civil unrest has been the potential addition of Ethnic Studies curriculum to CA public schools. Though I am not considered an ethnic minority, I made the choice to major in Ethnic Studies as an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. To this day, people look at me crooked when I try to explain that choice. Perhaps now more people will be able to stretch their imaginations to understand what I was seeking to understand: What is racism? How/why am I/am I not racist? How can I help to fix things?

My choice of major ended up leading me down a path to a career in public education, where I felt I could make a huge difference in the world. And I would like to note that even though I studied these issues in college, I don’t really consider myself the number one choice of staff member to teach a hypothetical Ethnic Studies course. In my opinion, it is a subject best led by an instructor who has a lived experience that informs their knowledge of what is, ultimately, an “alternative” history class. I am half Yemini, which I do feel allows me to reflect and relate to certain issues on a deeper level. But since I am not part of a colonized group, my family has not been discriminated against and held back in the same way as the groups that Ethnic Studies focuses on.

For me, the Ethnic Studies major was majorly eye opening on a lot of issues. Issues that extended beyond social studies/colonialism and into questions about what literature we study and consider “classic” in English class. Questions of what kind of information is presented throughout the curriculum. Where does it come from? What other voices and perspectives are out there, not being heard?

I think I could write a short pamphlet on this, but to sum it all up:

An Ethnic Studies class for all public school students is definitely a GOOD idea. It would help people understand how we got “here.”

And while we’re at it, lets make Ethnic Studies training mandatory for all staff, who didn’t get to benefit from this requirement while they were still in school.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Modeling Self-Respect

I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a chid’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.

-Dr. Haim Ginott

This quote, from Ginott’s 1976 book Teacher and Child, is posted on many classroom walls and school entryways. There are some immediately obvious reasons for its popularity, and some other reasons that may take longer to uncover.

The most basic idea here is respect, starting with self-respect. You must respect yourself to accept that your actions have an effect on others. You must respect yourself to really know that others listen when you speak. As a teacher, you must also extend that respect to your students and consider their full humanity (“humanize or de-humanize”) in the rules you make and the ways you respond to them.

Ultimately, I think the beauty of Ginott’s quote is the acceptance that — in the words of Peter Parker — with great power comes great responsibility. A strong teacher takes responsibility for their effect on students’ mood, behavior, and learning. When the teacher is willing to think about how they are affecting their students — really reflect, and then adjust instruction as appropriate — how can a class not succeed? 

Simultaneously, we can’t forget that the teacher is always modeling positive, responsible behavior for her students. So, along with their coursework, students in this teacher’s class learn to self-reflect; to be responsible for their actions and aware of their effects on the whole group. This teacher might use small group instruction regularly to reinforce these ideas. Classroom norms, rules, and expectations would also reflect a sense of shared responsibility: ‘we sink or swim together.’ The teacher might bring in SEL themes about the power of choice (“I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal”) to reinforce students’ awareness that their choices are important. 

I’d like to close with two final reflections on the quote:

  1. Teachers must respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect students and others around them.
  2. Students should learn to respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect everyone around them. 

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Classroom Cleanup

I went to campus today for the first time since March 10th! I went to clean out my classroom. Teachers I’d conferenced with who went earlier in the week said it was eerie, the school frozen in time, with students’ materials left behind and work samples still on the walls. I braced myself.

I found my room in a state of disarray. Clearly everyone had left in a rush, grabbing what they could, cleaning desks methodically and arranging as much as many things as possible before they left. I was absent for the last two days of school because I was sick with what my doctor diagnosed over the phone as “a virus” and was advised to stay home until I did not show symptoms.

Pulling my students work off the walls was difficult. I thought of their proud faces as they examined the evidence of their accomplishments when I first posted it on the wall. We worked painstakingly hard on a phonics and spelling program from September through March. My students learned to mark the phonetic sounds of words with symbols and codes, much like what you would find in a dictionary. I found the detail and dedication in their work extraordinary.

The last thing I did was take down the whiteboard covered in letters and sounds which is pictured above. This was my main teaching tool all year. Again, it was painful to pluck the magnets off the wall and store them back in their box. Those magnetic cards became an extension of my vocabulary, and it was a shared vocabulary between me and my first class of students. I will miss those students very much.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Teaching in the 21st Century

I am amazed by the sheer power students hold in their hands today with the devices and connections available to them. I am even more amazed at how little they do with that power.

I entered into the teaching profession as a “digital immigrant,” not born into the world of technology that my students take for granted. Let’s put it this way: We got a dial up connection my freshman year of high school and I didn’t have a cell phone until I graduated from college. I’m comfortable online, but I don’t live my life here. I went to meet the so-called iGen, a generation “born with an iphone already in their hands.” It followed, I thought, that they would be hyper-advanced at using their tech devices.

Not so. After 3 years in the classroom, I can report that most students do little more than 1) make phone calls, 2) check instagram, and 3) play video games. Wait — that’s what I do! In fact, I do more: I blog, I can design websites, I videoconference… and, and, and. What gives?

I think the answer is, they’re still kids, and they don’t know any better than we do what they are supposed to do with all of this new “stuff.” But it’s such a shame to waste it!

Last semester, I gave my advisory students a fun homework assignment: Over the weekend, learn how to do one new thing on your phone. They looked at me like I was not a “serious” teacher and on Monday, no one wanted to report back. Apparently, they did not believe this was a “real” education. Phones are bad; books are good. But as a culture, we need to fully accept that phones are books — they are libraries, in fact.

If the COVID-19 crisis has made anything in my life palpable, it has been the need to transition to a high-tech lifestyle. The time is now. We have all the tools, and we have the ability. Even children have the tools and the ability. As a society we are ready.

A 21st Century education MUST include instruction on:

1) How to write an email without typing the entire message in the subject line.
2) How to create a personal website (with a blog.)
3) Digital citizenship and what it means to participate with integrity, even though you may feel invisible/invincible when online
4) How to manage your digital footprint: Students need to understand that anything they post can and will follow them, forever.
5) Coding.

These are just the basics, and I believe they are things every student has a right to know. Schools that don’t incorporate these skills will leave their students without essential knowledge they need for college, career, and life. I don’t think we can afford to be late to getting on board with this.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Updated Class Library and #ProjectLit

I still owe my wonderful family and friends a big public thanks for helping me raise funds for an updated class library last fall!

Room 202 got a new bookshelf from Amazon, and that’s not the best part! We were able to buy the entire collection of #ProjectLit 2019-20 Middle Grades Book Selections!!

I knew my students would be excited, but actually, they were thrilled. Everyone wanted to take a book home and I had to beg them to bring the books back so others could enjoy them.

I will definitely stick with #ProjectLit in the future as these titles offer high-interest, culturally relevant reading for secondary students. I was excited to read many of the books myself!

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Closing with a Smile: Class Superlatives

This school year is ending in such a strange way, with very little closure for any of us. I want to make sure my students know they are missed and and thought about, so I decided to create this customizable postcard using a found image and mail it to every single one of them at the beginning of June!

I made a list of superlaties for every period in Google Sheets. It took about two days to receive the postcards from the manufacturer, and two days after that I am halfway through “naming” them. Basically, I have the rest of the month to write 65 addresses by hand!

I had a special message printed on the back that will be the same for every student. I tried to be encouraging and show my support. I also wanted them to know that the work they put in from August through March was not for nothing! Since my classes got discontinued during distance learning, it was very anticlimactic for everyone.

I hope these bring a smile to each of their faces so they can close the year with warm memories.

Posted in Portfolio

Class Reset for November – Seventh Grade

  1. Do not let students in right away! Tell them to line up outside the door. 
  2. Have differentiated questions ready for them in order to walk in! (Group by level)
  3. Choose a “secret agent” every day.
  4. Think Now:  State directions clearly every day. Sit down and take out your materials. Hang your backpack. You should have pen to paper before the bell rings. 
  5. End of period: Everyone must be in their seats for the class to be dismissed. Dismiss by table or by student.* Reward positive behavior by being first to be dismissed. 

#35: Reward quiet students
Praise quiet students throughout the lesson. Make a list of these students and let them go slightly earlier than other students. Don’t make a fuss, just let them go early while those who were talking are kept back for a minute or two. A sanction doesn’t have to be particularly harsh in order for it to be effective. In this case, two minutes stood behind a desk while their peers trot out to the bus will be excruciating for some students. You will only have to do it a few times for the message to get through – good behaviour is rewarded.

#39: Secret Agent
Tell the class at the start of the lesson that you are going to secretly pick one student at random to be the Secret Agent (you can put names in a hat or, to save time, just by picking a number from the class list/register). Important: none of the students must know the identity of the Secret Agent. Tell the class that as long as this student has a good lesson (you can formalise this by giving them a behaviour or work target of some sort), the ENTIRE class will receive a reward.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Ali Standish: Middle School Virtual Author Visit!

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I downloaded four YA books at the beginning of the year. I read two of the four YA books I downloaded. They were amazing. One of them, “The Ethan I was Before,” I actually checked out of the LA Library App as an audiobook and played for my reading intervention classes as a cool down on crazy days or as a reward. Now that we are distance learning, I had the thought that perhaps the  book’s author, Ali Standish, would pay a visit to our virtual classroom. So, I found her website, emailed her, and she was happy to comply! This week Ms. Standish send me a 30 minute “Video Visit” just for my reading intervention classes, in which she lead an imagination exercise, gave us some writing tips, spent 20 minutes answering every single student question (I had the students fill out a google form in preparation for this) and she even read to us from her newest book, called “How to Disappear Completely.” We are so, so lucky! Thank you Ali Standish!!

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Lucky to Do What I Do

Boy, do I feel lucky to have a job these days! I ALWAYS feel lucky to be a teacher. But to be one of the few people working in a time of 20 percent unemployment, with people all around me having to stay home in uncertainty, I feel doubly grateful. Maybe even more than that, because I feel less alone with all my staff meetings and wonderful co-workers who I connect with weekly, and the amazing students who are so glad to say “hi miss!” and “hope you are doing well” and “I miss you!” every now and again. My reading intervention classes are not in session during distance learning, because the method of instruction is too difficult to perform on an online platform. My school also wanted to cut the students schedule down to four classes to make the transition to online learning easier. Hopefully they will find their work more manageable this way. My role now is support for ELA. I hold office hours four times per week to answer questions and guide students in doing their English Language Arts assignments. I also participate, along  with the other two seventh grade English teachers, in a weekly discussion group for all seventh graders. Mainly I am so happy to see everybody and I find that no matter how slow I am moving at home, the moment those faces pop onto my screen I switch right into teacher mode and get to work! Having meaningful work to do during the quarantine is absolutely saving me from many, many pitfalls that so many people are experiencing. It is enabling me to be a strong support for my family and friends. It is a lifeline, as I know I am a lifeline for those students. We sink or swim together. 

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Looking Back on Year 20-21

The year flew by and I’m back here to catch up anyone who is interested in the so many fabulous things that have happened! One of the first things I couldn’t wait to do was set up a GoFundMe page for my classroom. I raised about $600 in two weeks in the fall and spruced up the room with a brand new library, including a stylish bookshelf and the complete set of YA and Middle Grades recommendations from Project Lit’s 2019 collection! My students were so excited about the books, they took them all home and within two weeks the library was back to the same dusty old books that were there before. I realized I should have not trusted them to bring the books back, and had a check-out system in place for accountability. Still, part of me feels good to have given these kids the gift of books they will love, treasure, and use to start a collection perhaps. 

I also spent an inordinate amount of time decorating my classroom. It ended up being a very colorful, cheerful room that made people happy. It was full of systems and routines for everything, like finding a half-sheet of paper for the Do Now and Exit Tickets to sharpening a pencil, etc. I turned out to be a very organized teacher!

I also set up a multi-modal positive reward system: 1) We had a marble jar which worked across periods. It was a round, plastic fishbowl which I added marbles to as a reward for various positive behaviors in all of my classes. I promised the students that when the bowl was full, all classes would get a mega-reward. Of all the reward systems, the students were MOST excited about the marble jar. They were dreaming about their reward all year — then coronavirus hit, school ended, and they never got their reward! But not to fear: I send out a Google form this week asking for suggestions on how we should celebrate the filled marble jar virtually! So far I have one response: “I really don’t know.” 🙂

2) I passed out yellow raffle tickets quietly to students who were on-task, working hard, or came up with an especially great question or answer to a question. Students could collect tickets for as long as they wanted. Every Friday, they could trade their tickets for prizes. It got a little crazy on Fridays and I was working to manage the controlled chaos the prized created, but it was worth it to see how excited the students got about what they had earned, or how motivating it was for students who had not earned tickets that week. Again, there were students who had saved up something like 20 tickets and never got a prize! I am still thinking about how to address this.

3) The students got really excited about the “Secret Agent.” I meant to do the secret agent every day, but on many days I would forget. Still, it worked well. At the beginning of the period, I would whisper to a student that they were the secret agent privately. They were responsible for noticing the classes behavior for the whole period. Right before the bell rung at the end, I would ask the secret agent to reveal themselves. Everyone was excited to see who it was. Then I would ask them three questions: 1) Were you able to hear the whole lesson? 2) Where you able to speak without interruption? 3) Were you socially distracted or bullied? If they gave positive responses to all three questions, the whole class got candy or a ticket. It was fun to see how PROUD the class was of themselves when they passed the secret agent test!

The most wonderful thing was I felt I got to know every single student in all my classes, and that was truly a gift. I only wish I got to have more time with them, my first classes!