Tag Archives: learning

Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone! Confessions of a Wanna Be…

For years I’ve thought of myself as a master teacher (that right there is what we call foreshadowing, and it usually portends some bad juju). I’m always going around dispensing teaching advice and solving the world’s education problems in two hour conversations over coffee or five hour conversations with roommates on UIL trips or in blog posts here or all over the Internet on twitter and Facebook and the Diane Ravitch blog…

So when my principal and assistant principal asked if I would be willing to take over our new AD’s 7th period senior English class with nine weeks left of school I said, “Yeah! It’ll be fun!!!!” (No really, all those !!! belong there. No, really, I said fun. With a bubbly smile and perky personality. And all the hubris of a 20-year veteran teacher–with all the answers–who’s had a blast the last 15 years teaching classrooms filled with kids who apply to take her class for the most part.)

The last time I taught English I was in my 20s. I could wear high heels and did, often…weird, weird, weird. My daughter was in early elementary school. Obviously, I’d forgotten the realities of teaching a required core subject. I longed for the days of literature circles and vocab tests and essays over real life issues.

And that hubris…well, it came back to bite me in the backside big time.

Those kids…

The worst class I ever taught was my first year. I taught all juniors except one group of freshmen. There were around 30 kids in last period, six girls, the rest boys. I had no freaking idea what I was doing and discipline was just not even on my radar. But I was also 25. And by the end of the first semester I loved that class and most of them liked me and we had a lot of fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids, so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

The second worse class I taught was a couple years later. I’d volunteered to take on the juniors in “regular” classes. Classes that were supposed to be smaller for more individual time with students who struggled. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Those classes were huge. And their real purpose was because Honors English was too tough and they wanted a second tier option so kids wouldn’t be held back by the others or bothered by discipline issues. That quickly became apparent. My friends saw my roll sheets before school started and said they’d pray for me.

I LOVED those kids (for the most part) from day one. We had fun. I was still in my 20s and discipline still wasn’t all that great. Once I sat on the floor with a poster that said I AM CRAZY on it and held it in front of me until they shut up and let me talk. One boy said, “Miss, why you got that poster?” And another answered, “Because she wants us to know she might go nuts in here.”

Actually, what I wanted was for them to think I might just throw someone out the window. Not really, but maybe if they thought it was a possibility….

A fellow teacher and I had a stalker from one of those classes that year. One of the kids ate pages from my personal copy of The Last Picture Show.

And I still had fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids (not the stalker or the book eater), so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

Fun kind of drives my education car. If you were in the MSU education department in the early 90s, you understand that. If not, well, just accept it as a fact.

Flash forward to two weeks ago and that hubris I mentioned earlier.

Day one was awesome. I was a rockstar. (Again with the foreshadowing and bad juju)

Day two was a disaster. But they were still along for the ride.

Day three was OHMYGODYOU’VEGOTTOBEKIDDINGMEWHOARETHESEPEOPLE(SPAWNSOFSATAN)ANDWHYAMIHERESOMEONECALLWALMARTINEEDANEWJOB.

I. Cried. In. Front. Of. The. Class.

Oh, teacher with all the answers….ha! ha! ha!

Day four I looked in the mirror and told myself to get over my whiny self. Fun was not driving my car. And I was done going to them. They came to my class.

Day five one of the kids who’s in an earlier media class with me said, “Yesterday was good.” He was talking about English. I was a little surprised. And I almost got a little cocky about my awesomeness. But then day five happened. I didn’t cry, but yeah….There’s probably a youtube video out there. If there is, please don’t tell me. It won’t be the first time, though. The first time was when one of my students (one of my now Facebook friends) and his cohort in crime decided to do their project on how to get D-Hall in 60 seconds or less. It worked.

When I got home last Friday I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and maybe eat some ice cream. And Cake. And Peeps…because, you know, they have all those new flavors.

I couldn’t have a margarita or 10 because I have a no drinking when you’re super stressed policy. Those kids were not only keeping me from fun and my dream of awesome English teaching and my self-actualized reality of awesomeness, they were keeping me from tequila. This was not okay.

Monday of this week something in me changed. When they walked into my room, I greeted every student the way Spanish teacher Lisa Williams taught us at inservice once. And as the kids walked in my room I saw them as people–who were stripped of a teacher they liked because he got an awesome promotion–getting ready to face the realities of a world that kind of sucks on a regular basis these days. I mean we’re on the brink of a new Cold War and there’s all this hate and it costs a freaking fortune to go to school and we’re 36+ inches behind on rain and the wealth gap is growing at astronomical rates. But these kids…they’re excited and probably a little afraid and it doesn’t really matter if they get satire or not but it does matter that they know they matter and who cares if fun drives my car and I thought teaching English would be fun?

Tuesday of this week was ok. Sort of.

Wednesday of this week was ok.

Today was ok.

Tomorrow’s going to be ok.

Will it be awesome, amazing, wonderful, terrific? Probably not. They’re seniors in their last six weeks of school with a new teacher they didn’t want.

Is that okay?

Yeah.

Will I show up in that classroom ready to teach to the very best of my ability?

Yeah.

Have I learned a bajillion and twelve lessons in the last nine days?

Oh yeah.

And all those answers….it’s easy to have them when you live in a glass house.

The newsroom is a glass house in a lot of ways. I mean we have deadlines, but we also have people who WANT TO BE THERE and usually love us.

Confession: for years my friends have said, “You have no idea,” and I’ve said “I know,” but on the inside I’ve smugly thought they were wrong. I totally knew.

Well, I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

And the truth is I will never really know and that’s okay because the not knowing is what makes us seek answers and seeking answers is what really makes us grow as teachers and for years I thought I knew, which means in a lot of ways I was stagnant, and that’s a scary bad place to be as a teacher. Whatever else happens, I’m no longer stagnant. And that’s something I can’t thank these kids for enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awesome #Newsroom = #Education Rockstar

Today I was looking through the district’s website making sure what we’re doing in the newsroom lines up with the goals set forward by our upper admin and school board. I knew what I believed about my program, but I learned in leadership cohort, which I did twice–once as a participant, once as the  teacher leader–that your personal beliefs aren’t worth much in real educational discussions if they can’t be backed up with data.

What I found thrilled me! If you’re a J-teacher or if you’ve ever been a J-student, I bet you’ll agree.

Goal 1: Develop a culture of continuous improvement and accountability that fosters student success.

Objective A deals with STAAR. I’m not a fan of testing when it alone drives curriculum, but I tutored kids who failed the writing test this year and learned I actually like the STAAR writing test. I’m not sure about its grading, but the test itself is solid. Students have to learn several forms of writing, so no form is left out for years and years. At the heart of all quality student media is story. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an in-depth investigative piece on the average experience level of teachers in your district this year compared to five years ago and how those results affect student performance OR writing twelve full captions for a yearbook layout OR writing a teaser for a broadcast piece on teachers carrying weapons OR writing your intro and close for your advertising sales pitch. The newsroom’s first order of business is quality writing of ALL types. Nice.

Objective D is the best, though: Identify effective applications of instructional technology and develop a plan for acquisition, training and implementation. I realize the plan is talking about for teachers, but honestly, the kids are the ones who need to be learning true technology integration NOT just PowerPoint and Word. The newsroom kids learn the ins and outs of the entire Adobe Publishing Suite. Our yearbook rep spends hours training students. We go to camps. We study trends. My kids can earn freelance design money right away. They earn scholarships for their work. They get real world jobs right out of high school. And they are accepted to their collegiate programs where they can earn money for the work they do.

Goal 2: Produce students that are globally competitive. B and C deal with CTE. While we are definitely a tech heavy program, yearbook and newspaper don’t qualify as CTE classes. That’s a state issue I find weird, but I can’t fight that battle. D says the district strives to ensure a seamless transition for graduates pursuing post-secondary education. Most college professors are vocal about the fact that students are leaving high school ready for a test but not for college, so this is an absolute must for the district. Fortunately, there’s a plethora of data showing Journalism Kids Do Better.

The final goal on our strategic plan deals with fiscal responsibility. The fiscal part of the newsroom can be the most challenging and the most rewarding. We are constantly monitoring our numbers. Checking to see if we’re on par to sell the number of books we sold last year. Developing marketing plans and advertising goals. Today I met with my editorial board and rep, and we looked through the past couple year’s trends, projected sales, started a marketing plant to meet that sales goal and fine-tuned our advertising goals. When school starts every student in the program will learn about business plans, marketing plans, professional social media use and how to sell advertising space in a student produced, student led product. We do all this because we get a $0 budget, so the only way we can produce the books and papers we do is to develop these plans. It’s stressful, but it’s also the ONLY PLACE on campus students learn these skills with real world application. Two years ago at the end of my former marketing manager’s freshman year at Tech, she beat out people with marketing and advertising degrees for a paid internship with a major non-profit. They were blown away by her marketing and sales portfolio. She attended summer camp offered by the yearbook company two years in a row and developed an amazing plan. She won awards with the plan. She worked the plan, and it paid off for me and the Rider program, but more importantly, for her.

I love that after all these years–I started teaching in 94, started yearbook in 98–I can see the evidence of a quality program in so many former students. I love that the yearbook companies help yearbook and newspaper stay on the cutting edge as far as software, design trends and curriculum go. I love that I still learn something new every year AND that what we do changes…just like in the real world.

I love that the J-programs line up perfectly with the District Strategic Plan 2012-2017, and I’m looking forward to sharing that message.

Adventures in Self-Publishing #amwriting #MyWANA

I have four rules when I travel with students. The rules aren’t original to me, but I adopted them early on. After 18 years of taking 10-20 (or more) kids to journalism conventions, academic meets and educational trips to NYC, Boston, the UK and Europe, I can say with absolute certainty that the four rules work.      1. Be Nice 2. Stay Together 3. Have Fun 4. Don’t Freak Out.

My adventures in self-publishing started without any rules. I chose to publish my master’s thesis, Honor and Lies a YA historical, last summer with no real idea what I was doing. I followed that with Prodigal (now Grace is Enough) an inspirational women’s fiction. No idea what I was doing is kind of an understatement: as was evident in the formatting issues that plagued Grace. That was last summer.

Flash forward to this summer. It’s been a year, and I’m still not real sure what I’m doing. I’m writing like never before, and I’m having fun. But I’ve hit a few speed bumps, too.

Speed Bump 1: Formatting. Formatting an ebook is tough. I found a solution this week, at least for the .mobi platform: Scrivener. I’ve used Scrivener to organize and compose my books for over a year.  I had no idea how easily it compiled a book for .mobi until this week. Problem solved…I hope.

Speed Bump 2: Too Much Information. I’m inundated with ideas for marketing my books, and all of them seem like good ideas.  Scheduling tweets doesn’t work well for me, at least not the way I’ve tried. I love working with tweet deck in my dock so I can take breaks throughout the day, use the hashtags #amwriting #MyWANA and connect with other people out there doing the same thing I’m doing. It makes my day when someone I don’t know responds to one of those tweets and we can have a random conversation about writing. We share our struggles and our triumphs and the funny moments (like when I cut my toe on my flip flop tripping over the laptop cord). Problem solved for me, at least for now: use tweet deck and have fun.

Speed Bump 3: SELF DISCIPLINE. This is the biggest speed bump for me. I’ve learned this month that I MUST SLOW DOWN and pay attention to the details. And an absolute for me: just because I’m awake at 2 a.m. and feeling the euphoria of finishing an awesome scene, chapter or book doesn’t mean I’m fit to make publishing decisions. For me that means holding the book at least one more week and reviewing it again before posting, making a schedule and sticking to it, double checking every business post I make.

I still have a million questions about what to do and how to proceed. Paper or ebook only? Professional covers or my own PhotoShop skills? Linking my twitter to Facebook…the list goes on and on. I have books to read on the subject, and I belong to two self pub/indie loops, but so far what I’ve learned there is that for every right answer you think you’ve found, someone else has a different answer.

I’m going to focus on the writing. Is that a mistake? I don’t know. But for now, it feels like the right thing to do. And those rules I have for taking students on trips? They work for my adventures in self publishing, too. I need to remember that.

Current Book (click title to go to Amazon page): Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee: Sharlene Gallagher, teen scream movie queen, was the biggest thing to happen to Primrose, Texas. Until she died. 
Now Sharlene’s back as a guardian angel life coach. Only her real objective is a bit more intense. Her charge: figure out the identity of her murderer before high school junior Addison Karchusky falls prey to the killer. Enlisting Addison’s help without letting her know her life’s in danger? No problem…she hopes.
High school’s never been easy. Now it just might be murder.

Where’s the magic?

Sometimes I sit at the computer and it’s almost magical. The words flow, the story unwinds, the people feel absolutely real. It’s the most amazing feeling int he world.
And then there’s nights like tonight. Where did those people go? What happened to my incredible plot and my sizzling tension? And hel-lo why can’t I seem to use the English language in all its greatness. Why did an Internet search of a dead person take on the feel of a call to grandma to see how cookie making’s coming along. UGH!
Usually a great episode of Alias inspires me beyond belief. Maybe if I would’ve started writing then instead of watching L&O. (It was so NOT good, I can’t even go into how bad it was!)
Oh well. I finally admitted defeat, webbed some ideas for how to get where I’m going and made a few notes about stuff I know I want to add. Maybe it’s that I was writing to the first major turning point and I got in too much of a hurry. I don’t know.
I think I will go back and really punch up this first part of my new book. Make it shine, check my clues, add some characterization. I write in thirds, so this is Act 1. I’ll have to look at this revision as a fun puzzle to solve. Maybe then I can be as excited about it as I am about writing new words when the magic’s there.
I guess we’ll see. Tomorrow. Tonight I’m going to sleep. And I’m NOT watching any more TV!