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Teaching is the Hardest Job I’ve Ever Had

Something has been weighing on my mind lately. After chatting with a former coworker yesterday and participating in an inspiring #miched chat about teachers as writers, I felt the need to share. I have a confession to make. I left the classroom… again. And I’m not proud of it. 

The decision was one for my family, and I don’t regret it because my stress level is near none-existent and I get to be “mom” when I’m home. But I still feel guilty. Guilty about the class I left behind (though I know they are in good hands!). Guilty about the classes I would have had in the next couple years, where I might have had some students I taught previously in 2nd grade. Guilty for leaving my teammates to train a new coworker in the middle of the school year when they are already overloaded with responsibilities.

And guilty for the teachers still in the classrooms across the country. Not because they want to leave, but because I know how hard they work, and the lack of respect and understanding they get weighs on me. I see how they keep getting more work piled on each year, how the expectations they are expected to reach are near impossible. I know they love teaching and most do not want to leave, but I see and hear the stress in the stories they share. I left the classroom once before, spending four years in the private sector. My new job (which I love) is a state grant funded position through my local ISD. And I can easily say that TEACHING IS THE HARDEST JOB I’VE EVER HAD!
When you become a teacher, you don’t do it for the money, the prestige, definitely not the paycheck. You do it because it’s a calling. Something inside you pulls you to become a teacher, to help the next generation, to make a difference in a child’s life. Yes, there are teachers out there that are in it for the wrong reasons, but I’ve spent a lot of time around a lot of teachers and they are few and far between. Yet public opinion seems to tell us otherwise. But I want to let all the teachers out there know what I think of them because I know it was something I needed to hear.

You are amazing! You are stronger and more resilient than I am – you stayed in the classroom where the kids need you the most. You may be frustrated with the politics and naysayers, but you stay for the students. You come back day after day with a smile on your face, ready to meet whatever challenges the day might bring. And I have more respect for you than you will know!

And although I am happy for the opportunity that I have right now, I hope that my time as a teacher isn’t over yet. I hope that someday I find myself back in the classroom doing what my heart loves. I just hope outsiders haven’t completely destroyed public education by that time that day comes ūüėē.

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Sometimes the Best Homework Assignments are the Ones We Don’t Give

I¬†got an email this afternoon from one of my students. He had¬†shared a Google Slides presentation with a comment asking for our principal’s email address. He had read a Newsela¬†article about a gaga ball pit. He was so interested in the concept that he created a persuasive presentation asking her to get one for the school playground. It came complete with pictures, supporting facts, and cited sources. The best part – his email came after school today, which means he went home and chose to do this completely on his own!

We have been working on persuasive letters in writing, and I love how he put the learning to use. These surprises are one of my favorite parts of teaching – watching a student take something you taught them and use it for an authentic purpose! Now I need to find a way to make this happen for him. To be continued…

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Close Reading with A Song

I have been meaning to start incorporating songs into my reading instruction for a while, but haven’t found the time until this week. Songs offer so many possibilities – talking about theme, author’s purpose, point of view, similes and metaphors, and many other skills related to the common core standards. They are a great resource to engage students in something that most already enjoy. I used this Scholastic resource as inspiration in planning the lessons.

Today, I introduced close reading with songs using  “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. We are beginning to learn about theme, and I thought this was a great song to help students think about the message behind the words. I am also working in some character education, as we have recently had some friendship drama and I feel like our class needs a boost of positive energy. We just practiced our listening comprehension today as we created and filled out a table for I Hear, I Think, and I Wonder. Tomorrow, we dig deeper as we read the lyrics and search for evidence to support our ideas around the theme.
My favorite part of the lesson today was how engaged the class was in listening to the lyrics. They were focused on the learning target and were busy jotting down notes to support their thinking. I enjoyed listening to them share their thoughts and see the lightbulbs go off when they made connections between the title and the theme. I look forward to our discussion tomorrow about the lyrics.

My hope is to do a new song each week. I told the class today that I am happy to pick songs for us, but that I would love to have them find songs they feel are worthy of a closer listen and reading. I hope this will encourage some more enthusiasm about reading at home!

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Are You Teaching for Tomorrow? Our Voice Matters

Today, six fifth graders from my homeroom shared their voices with a group of teachers at our district’s first ever edcamp. They were given a chance to talk about things that they are proud of in their learning and things that they wish we, as teachers, would change. ¬†They titled their session, “Are You Teaching for Tomorrow? Our Voice Matters.” I wish I would have recorded the entire session to share with the world because I was so proud of what they shared. You can view their Google Slides presentation here:

I attended a workshop about a month ago where Pernille Ripp was the keynote speaker. She talked about empowering our students and her presentation really hit a nerve with me. After leaving her session in the afternoon, I was determined to give my students more voice in the classroom. To give up some control and see what they are capable of when they have a say in how they learn and how they show evidence of their learning. To stop talking so much as teachers and start listening more to our students. I highly recommend checking out her blog,¬†Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, and her book,¬†Passionate Learners ‚Äď How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Her ideas have truly made a difference in my teaching and the learning¬†that is happening¬†in our classroom.

There have been times this year that I question what I am doing. Are my students learning enough? Am I preparing them¬†for the state and district assessments that they will have now and in the future?¬†With so much of our evaluation as teachers dependent on student data, how will I be judged as a teacher? I must admit, I have never been as stressed as a teacher as I have felt this school year. I am sure part of the stress is adjusting to a new grade level, but I know a huge part is worrying about trying something that isn’t traditional, that is a little noisy and messy. That isn’t as easy to evaluate¬†as a multiple-choice assessment or to enter into the grade book for parents to see how their child is doing. I wonder each day if I am doing what is right by my students, are the things that I am teaching them going to help them tomorrow – especially when so many of those things won’t show up on a standardized test?

Listening to my students speak today gave me the strength and the confidence to continue on our path together. While nervous at first, I feel like they did a wonderful job finding their voice and sharing their message. ¬†And I hope they also got a chance to see another side of their teachers. Towards the end of the session, they asked the teachers to share one thing that they wish their student knew. What a powerful moment for the teachers to let them know how many of us feel about the tests, all of the data. That we see them as more than a number. The teachers gave them a standing ovation at the end, and I have to admit that I blinked back a tear or two. While we may not be changing the whole education system, maybe we can make a small change in one or two classrooms by sharing our voice. As I spoke with my students after, I had to thank them from the bottom of my heart because none of this would be possible without their hard work to show that learning doesn’t have to be boring. Learning doesn’t have to be one-size fits all. The final quote from my students today sums it up. I challenge any teacher reading this to think about what you are doing to prepare our students for the world of tomorrow. To go outside your comfort zone just a little and do what your heart tells you is right and have the confidence to know that you are doing what is right for your students!


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Today I Talked Too Much!

I have been talking a lot with my students about helping to create a more student centered classroom and building growth mindsets, and as I reflect on my day I realized that I did too much talking and not enough listening. I get so energized when I think about my “ideal classroom” that sometimes my passion and ideas take over and I just want to share, share, share! So as I work with my students on setting goals to become better readers and writers, I also need to work on my goals of constantly trying to be a better teacher. ¬†My goal for the rest of the week is to stop doing so much talking and start handing control of the conversation back to my students.

Some of my best experiences so far this year have been when I have stopped talking and started listening. It can be difficult to give up control in the classroom, especially when teachers are being evaluated on student performance on standardized tests. But I don’t want to be held back by testing when it goes against what I know in my head and my heart to be best for my students. So tomorrow, I will continue pushing myself to be a better teacher. Instead of talking about giving students a voice in the classroom, I will take a step back and start listening.

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Building Student Ownership Through Self Assessment

I have set a standard with my students this year that I will complete the same assignments that I ask of them. We have a classroom Kidblog account where each student is expected to post about their reading each week. So in an effort to keep my promise, I need to do the same. This helps me be a role model for my students as a reader and a writer and also helps me realize the amount of work I am asking of my students and how engaging the work truly is.

One of my goals on our teacher evaluation system this year is to help build student ownership of learning. I was happy to see this was an option because it was something that I already wanted to focus on in my growth as an educator. I have been talking with my students a lot this year about how I make instructional decisions based on evidence and research, so I have spent some time reading articles on student feedback, self-assessment, and student choice and motivation.

In the articles, Assessment, Choice, and the Learning Brain, the authors suggest that students should be given more choice in how they are assessed. Instead of multiple-choice questions that require recall of information that is quickly lost after the test is finished, we need to include more alternative assessments that require students to actively reconstruct what they know. They suggest using Tic-Tac-Toe assessments (sometimes called Choice Boards) that give students some choice in how they show their learning. You can find some examples here.

John Hattie’s work around influences on student achievement seems to show up each time I search for articles on student motivation and grading. While his work is not without criticism (see this post with links at the bottom), I do feel like his research can help guide us. At the top of his list of practices that positively influence student achievement is self-reported grading. This is something that I have been contemplating for the past several months. Do I have time to teach students how to be reflective about their own progress? Will this be beneficial for them in the long run? While it may take some time right now to set up the process, I do think this is something that will help my students become reflective learners and move them towards a growth mindset.

I started last week by having my students grade their own blog post using a rubric. It turns out that they do a pretty good job of evaluating their own work. Of my 25 students, I had less than a handful that were too easy on themselves. Most of them were spot-on or graded themselves harder than I would have. The best part was they could look at their own work and use the rubric to find areas to improve. While looking over their posts, they could see if they left something out or if they needed to provide more detail and support. An important part of the process for me is allowing them to go back and fix their mistakes so that they see their grades not as simply an endpoint, but as a way to see where they can continue to grow as learners.

I am still working out some kinks in how I am going to use self assessment this year. I stumbled upon this post, Feedback, Driven by Students, where Leo Blundell from Lansing, Michigan, is using Google Docs and Forms with his 3rd grade students to have them self-assess on a weekly basis. I would love to incorporate some version of this into my classroom ‚Äď both with my homeroom students in their reading instruction and with my four writing classes. I developed a Google Form this weekend, and am considering starting it this week with my 5th graders using the form below for writing.

self assessment google forms

My students have to end their weekly blog posts with a ‚Äúthick‚ÄĚ reflection question related to their weekly reading. So the questions I pose to my readers are:

  1. Do you think self assessment can help increase student achievement? Why or why not?
  2. How do you use self assessment in your classroom?
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Evolution of My Reading Instruction

I have moved into teaching 5th grade this year after many years teaching the primary grades. In trying to move away from using reading comprehension worksheets and Accelerated Reader quizzes during reading instruction, I have been putting a lot of thought into how to structure reading instruction and assess student performance as readers. As I continue to evolve as a reading teacher, I have been doing a lot of reading about reading instruction. Many of the articles that I have found have prompted me to make the changes that I am trying in my classroom, including these resources from Richard Allington (and here), and this wonderful website, Daily CAFE from the Two Sisters.

My goals as a reading teacher this year are to:

  1. Make sure my students continue to (or learn to) love reading.
  2. Help my students learn their strengths and weaknesses as readers so they can set appropriate and attainable goals.
  3. Provide instruction, support, and feedback to help my students reach these goals.
  4. Encourage discussion about reading among my students, both in writing and orally.
  5. Help extend these discussions about reading outside of our classroom through the use of technology so that my students are exposed to diverse perspectives about the texts they are reading.

To accomplish these goals, here are some of the things that I am trying this year:

  1. I am continually working to expand my classroom library by involving my students in the book selection process. My newest idea is to teach them how to use the Scholastic website to find books from their book clubs that I can purchase with bonus points the next time I place an order. If they find a book they like, they can add the information into a shared Google Sheet that I will use when ordering books.
  2. I am trying to have individual conferences weekly with each student to discuss what they are reading. We will use this time to look at reading goals and discuss any successes or struggles the students are having. I am hoping that other “requirements” don’t get in the way and that I can continue to fit this into my reading schedule.
  3. Using information from the one-on-one conferences and other observations, I will do strategy groups with my students to provide instruction where needed. I will also use the information gained to help shape the concepts and skills covered during my whole-group mini lessons.
  4. Students are required to post a weekly blog post on our classroom Kidblog to respond to what they are reading. I developed a rubric that I will be using to evaluate their posts which will also give them a grade. I linked the rubric to 5th grade Common Core standards so we can make sure that we are staying accountable to district and state requirements. You can find the rubric here.
  5. We will begin connecting with other classrooms using Kidblog to share our responses to reading, starting with¬†The Global Read Aloud. I think that it is important that students are exposed to other viewpoints outside of the brick and mortar walls of their home school. We live in a globally connected world, and our students can’t wait until they are older to learn how to effectively communicate and collaborate with people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences.

I am sure that I will continue to evolve my classroom, as this is only my second month in 5th grade. I just hope that¬†time restraints, politics, and standardized test pressures don’t interfere with what I think are best practices for building a classroom of successful readers!

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