Tuesday, September 1, 2015

5 Lessons learned in 10 years teaching

Yesterday marked the first day of school on my 10th year of teaching. As yesterday went on, I reflected on lessons that I have learned through my decade career so far.
1.  Get excited - Every new school year is like a blank slate with unlimited possibilities. Each year has students who are nervous and excited for school. Show them that having a passion for education is cool.
2.  Surround yourself with positive people - We all know that the teaching profession can feel like a grueling and unappreciated profession at times, which is why we need to stay positive. You red to have a group of peers that will help keep you positive and focus on your goals.
3.  Start small - I can tend to get caught up in the excitement of trying new things and I make a big wish list of things I want to accomplish. Then my wish list gets to be overwhelming and I don't know where to start. In these last 10 years I have learned to pick one or two things to put into practice. That way it is more manageable.
4.  Listen to the kids - Our students speak volumes even when they don't say anything at all. I have a student who has it tough outside of school and I realized this student made very subtle comments to start a conversation with me. This was great because this student usually puts up some pretty high walls up to keep people out. You need to listen to what students say and what they do.
5.  Be open to change - Education is always changing and so are the students we have. Have an open mind to new ideas. Remember that you learn the most from your failures so don't be afraid to fail.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First Parent-Teacher Conference with SBG


I had my first parent-teacher conferences with using SBG. Before these conferences I was so nervous. I know that people tend to have a hard time with change. I also know that this way of grading is not what they are used to seeing. I was prepared to explain all night that a 4 was not equivalent to an A or that if their student was not getting all 4's then they are not doing well in class. I think I thought of every possible argument that might come up during these conversations with parents.

We had 3 hours of conferences that night and it set records in attendance by parents. It was great to see everyone and to my surprise the parents were not all hung up over the new grading system. They just wanted to know how their students was doing. I had two that wanted me to explain the new grading system and they asked me if I believed in it. I was too happy to share my support for SBG and I think I helped a few parents understand why. Overall it wasn't a them vs. me battle, but instead it was about the learning of the students which is exactly what it should be.

Monday, October 21, 2013

First Few Steps in my SBG Journey

Step #1: Creating the Standards - I spent a couple days this past summer with the two other social studies teachers in my school to create our standards and begin work on the rubrics for these standards. My school has really tried to align our standards with the Common Core Standards, but those standards for social studies has not come out. We tried to think of the skills that we would like to see in our geography and U.S. history classes.

  • Hardest Part: trying to think about skills instead of content that we wanted kids to know
  • Advice: read Fair isn't Always Equal and research what other schools use for their standards
Step #2: Creating the Rubrics - This was my first mistake... the school year started and the rubrics where not finalized. My department went through so many drafts and we were so hung up on trying to make the wording perfect. I swear we could have revised these rubrics for years, but as most of you teachers probably already know you just need to start using a rubric to see what you need to change about it.

  • Hardest Part: finding that fine line between being too specific and too broad 
  • Advice: make sure that you have this in place before the school year begins so that you can spend the first few days helping the kids to really understand the rubric
Step #3: Using SBG in the curriculum - I have heard this phrase a lot, but I didn't understand it fully until this year... "let the standards guide the curriculum". I am realizing that I cannot use all of my assignments and projects as they are from years past. I had to look at these and see if they are focused on our standards and if they didn't then we aren't doing them this year.

  • Hardest Part: realizing that some of the things you have had students do in the past are not what is important now
  • Advice: look at everything that you are planning to do in class and ask "what standard does this relate to?"... you might even want to write the standard that it addresses at the top of each assignment/project

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Beginning to my SBG Journey

Another school year is upon us and this year I am determined to get back into the swing of blogging. I have a lot to talk about. This year is the first year that I am using Standards Based Grading in my social studies classes. I am very excited about this because I fully support the idea of Standards Based Grading and I think it will be beneficial to my students. When I give out a B or a C+ it is not always transparent as to what that grade actually means what the student understands. With SBG it will be more clear what the student is proficient in and what they still need help with to master. I am on board with the philosophy, but now I have to actually use it.

At the end of the last school year, my social studies department created standards for two courses (World Geography and US History). It was tough to come up with the "right" ones or the ones we thought were "right" at the time. Now I am working on creating a rubric for these standards. This is the tough part. I have done six drafts of the World Geography one alone. First I started way too general that I couldn't see myself actually using. Then I went in the opposite direction and became too specific that it started looking like a checklist instead of a rubric. I am still working on these because creating a rubric is hard and all of my research has proven that there are a ton of really vague rubrics in the world.

I will keep you posted on my SBG journey and I will try to attach any resources that I find helpful along the way. I wonder how many other educators are on this journey either on the path ahead of me or maybe some are still at the beginning. Either way it is great to feel connected.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Constantly improving is the name of the game...

Lately, I am analyzing how I teach my social studies classes and what I can do to make it better... actually I am ALWAYS doing that but this time it is on a much bigger scale. I am looking into how to make my classes to be more personalized for each student. Why does everyone have to learn the same exact thing for the same exact length of time? What if the idea of units were not based on certain weeks, but more on the time it takes each individual to understand the learning targets? There are many questions that go along with these ideas... what does that look like, how is that managed, how do you know students are learning, what motivates the students? I believe this is what teachers do... we constantly look for ways to improve lessons, our curriculum, and our teaching strategies to help students' learn.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Confession: Why I stopped blogging

It has taken me a long time to write this post. In the beginning I was very excited to start blogging and share my experience with other educators. Unexpectedly and noticeably, the blog started to become something else. The focus started to be about view counts and comments. I started to feel like I wasn't this great teacher that I thought I was and I was scared to write about my ups and downs. What would people think if they knew that I found changes and improvements to the units I was teaching?  Would anyone want to read what I was saying if all I had were questions instead of knowing all of the answers? This anxiety got the best of me for a very long time. This is why I stopped blogging. I was scared to show myself, except I started to realize that I got into blogging to show myself... all of it. I am not the most amazing teacher (...yet), but I am a teacher that is constantly learning and evolving. I am a teacher that wants to be honest with my peers so that I can learn from them. Funny thing is that I named this blog "Learning to Teach" which means that I am not perfect, but that I am learning to continually be better. From now on I will start blogging more about my journey and I will hide my view count. I truly believe you can learn a lot from reflecting.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What makes a good teacher?

I know I have been on hiatus from my blog for the past few months and I apologize for that. I always forget how starting the school year is so time consuming (no matter how many times you have done it in the past). Lately I have been thinking about what makes a good teacher. In Wisconsin I hear a lot teacher backlash and I found myself more and more sad about this take on teachers. I have heard things like "teaching USED to be a profession and now it is just lazy people who want to get paid more for doing less" or "teachers are sleeping through their classes and don't care about my child... tax dollars should not go toward education". I highly disagree with both of these statements, but I can see how easy it is to judge someone or something that you don't know that much about. I teach my 7th graders about stereotyping and how they can't judge a whole group on the actions of a certain few... I wish some adults could learn about this too.

Back to my question; what makes a good teacher?
I believe that I work with some very good teachers who strive to do the best in education. These people are forward thinkers and they care deeply about the students they teach. Here is what I believe these teachers have in common:
  • a drive for innovation
  • ability to change and adapt for the improvement of learning
  • a positive outlook on education
  • the belief that every student can learn
  • the mentality of being a "life long learner"
  • the openness to share and collaborate with their fellow educators

I wish the rest of the world got to see these qualities of educators more often. Then maybe they wouldn't believe that "all teachers are just out for a paycheck".