The past two Fridays I’ve been out of pocket — two weeks ago I went to the doctor for an earache (!) and then this Friday was my younger son’s graduation. I am so proud of him I could burst–he focused on his favorite area of study and ended up with a pretty decent grade: it was all him, his diligence and focus, and he owns every point. As it should be.
All over social media my colleagues are posting beautiful albums of students, or their own children, graduating this weekend. There are even a few of our former students who are graduating from college.
On the Friday with the doc appointment, I left my students with a new idea called “Creativity Day,” and was enchanted when one girl’s assignment was ‘draw what’s in front of you,” and she drew my teaching station. I am not sure who the figure in the kitty cat ears is, but no matter. We welcome kitty cat ears, unicorn horns, beanies, earbuds when creating (not reading), eyebrows on fleek, new haircuts, miscalculated haircuts, rainbow hair, and pigtails. Whatever crown one wears and faces the sky is fine by me. And one of the best crowns is a mortarboard.
Allow me to steer this metaphor back from hats and noggins: this drawing made me very happy. She captured something I’ve tried to achieve, that it is more important to look at your own road signs than just the teacher’s. My son may experience apathy and indifference from some professors, TAs, and assistant professor, but I my wish for him is it won’t matter, that he’ll use his own gifts to see what’s ahead of him and make a path.
If you’d like to use my Creativity Day PowerPoint, it’s here:
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”–Eleanor Roosevelt
Confession: sometimes my mind, and actions, hits all three sides. Perhaps, though, there is form and function in all points: we need the ideas, we need to analyze events, and we strive to understand one another. Gossip and venting for its own sake are counterproductive, but is it a necessary evil?
First, I found an article on Psychology Today. The article acknowledged that venting had healthy properties. For instance, venting is helpful in releasing pent-up negative emotions. However, the positives are counterbalanced by a number of significant concerns:
Venting gives the venter the false sense of achieving something – it feels like problem-solving, but really isn’t
When you vent often, you get better and better at it and that will only lead to more anger in the future when encountering similar situations
The “false sense of achieving something” struck a nerve. I’m writing about this for intentionality: to keep that sense in my mind so I can grow and improve: is my conversation/exchange going to produce a positive change? Thinking before one speaks — not a novel idea, but an important one. If I can say, at the end of a reflection or introspection, I am trying to stand on top of things that drag down and don’t lift up, then I can live with my conscience. My teaching philosophy is and has been, our students are someone’s baby. We have the greatest responsibility in the world to those children. If our venting doesn’t shift to action and support, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time. And that is bordering on unforgivable.
What is far too common is the frustration I have felt when particular students come up again and again in conversation and then nothing changes – there is never a discussion of fixes or solutions. Venting needs to be coupled with problem-solving strategies to ensure that whatever situation is generating the vexation is successfully addressed. We need to move forward and get off the ceaseless treadmill of merely complaining.
This may be the singular reason why I haven’t eaten in the staff lounge for years. It only takes a few colleagues to vent not only about students, but policies, instruction and educational culture to chase me out. When I walk in the staff lounge it’s a scene from Mean Girls. One of my colleagues started a “no venting” jar like a swear jar in the staff lounge a few years ago, but alas, it didn’t change behaviors. But that’s only 20 minutes out of the day: no one can adjudicate adult behaviors. The good news is most adults act like adults, so helping model manners and belonging isn’t difficult.
Back to the focus on students: this is when teams and PLCs should perhaps consider a genuine and difficult conversation around this topic of venting about students. Often the PLCs I’ve participated in allow a 3-minute vent session, and then it’s stopped. We get onto more productive work. Perhaps a small shift would bring big changes: identify issues and work to problem solve together. I’m thinking of the student who mocked the other one before the presentations: I would greatly value hearing from trusted colleagues on how they pre-teach audience behaviors, etc. These sorts of issues are real, and with supportive exchanges can be beneficial. A cure, as it were, to the venting disease.
The challenge is to promote constructive dialogue about students in order to advocate for them. I reviewed this post with my husband, and he thought the article held truth, too. This isn’t meant to shame anyone except myself, and take myself to task, these are only my own thoughts and reflection on this issue. Perhaps this is how good teachers don’t burn out: I wonder if venting without solutions makes one cranky.
And last confession: I like that time during lunch. A few students who enjoy the quiet, removed from the chaos of the lunchroom sometimes join me, and it’s quite pleasant indeed. Everyone needs a place to vent safely, and finding those compadres and spaces are important to our mental health, too.
All right, darn it, I didn’t get to the Genius Hour stuff this year as I wished. But I think with the help of my teammates we can pull it off for next year. In fact, there are quite a few things that fell by the wayside. But according to my student survey, there was a lot that got done, too! Their pleas of NO MORE CORNELL NOTES cracked me up –their informative reading test scores were through the roof, so like Flintstone vitamins and flossing their teeth, things that are good for them may not seem obvious in the moment.
Big Calendar of Awesome –so I don’t miss stuff like I did this year (still kicking myself). Earlier this year I worked with the registrar/grading point person on developing a calendar of when not only grading windows/quarters/semesters end but those mid-quarter progress report times that in some ways are more critical for academic recovery and ‘sail adjustment.’
Most school districts are out for the summer. Do you know why we have summer break? The myth is because we were once an agrarian society, but alas, it is more akin to our consumer society, (myself included), and schools are just too dang hot in the summer months. A few weekends ago my areas saw temperatures in the 90s, although this weekend it’s back to cool and cloudy. Just in time to sit in a breezy amphitheatre to watch graduation ceremonies.
So–my post may be a little late. This is one of those end-of-school-year projects (and I use the word project loosely) you may want to tuck away from next year, including the beginning of the year as an ice breaker. It’s not original, and depending on your class structure and community, may fly or flop. That’s immaterial, however. It’s the “Demonstration” project.
This took over three block classes:
Students brainstorm what they are good at and could demonstrate
Students could have an ‘assistant’ but not a partner– individual grades. Their assistants were just that — an extra pair of hands, etc.
Some students used their time to research quick and easy things to demonstrate.
Rehearsal, filming, backdrops, screencastings
Students produced a wide variety of demonstrations: everything from card tricks, ‘how to draw’ certain things, how to hack a game (with screencastings).
Make sure they use a time device to track to ensure 2 minutes in length.
Finally: presentation day!
All backdrops and videos are ready to go
Students named are called in order
What goes wrong:
Namely, student egos.
I have one student who is unaware of how much he mocks others. He made one comment before a student showed his demonstration, and the presenter came up to me and asked if he could drop out seconds before, all because of this one comment. This is one of those things where no matter how much you prep students, “tell” them what to do or not to do as audience members, there is always one who doesn’t get it. I even had one student who packed up early because another teacher has put the fear of being tardy so deep in their psyches, (and this colleague does not support one or two minutes of being late if something runs long) she packed up before the last presenter got to present.
Timing, too: it was clear students did not use any timing device to time their presentations, so some didn’t get a chance. That was a relief for some, but quite frankly, when those who are hesitant to present see that others jump right in, it bolsters all.
One schadenfreude moment for me came when one student had clear instructions for a fortune teller paper-folding demonstration, and the audience was quite squirrely. This young lady has, on occasion, disrupted the class herself with her dabbing at Youtube videos. It’s the thing this year, suddenly seeing children tucking their faces in their arms, whilst throwing the other one to the sky, like a choreographed sneeze. I looked at her and asked, “It’s not that easy, is it?” She nodded.
What goes right:
Far more than what goes wrong. Students participated, threw paper airplanes, danced, clapped along, etc. The card and magic tricks still have me mystified (but then again it doesn’t take much). One student demonstrated how to push a needle through a balloon without popping it. One boy demonstrated lacrosse, while another hockey stick handling. Yes, I even had the inevitable ‘how to tie shoes’ but hey, if that can be a TedTalk, it’s certainly appropriate for seventh-grade students.
What would I do differently:
Start earlier in the year.
Intersperse humorous ‘how to-s’ throughout the year.
Have a rubric.
Have them brainstorm a list of ideas for the whole class.
PRACTICE NOT BEING A JERK. (You know who you are.)
Possibly put the best ones on a classroom blog….hmmm…..gives me an idea!
Well, onward. We have until next Friday, and I’m taking discretionary days for my son’s graduation.
PS The above illustration was a result of how to make a face from words, in this case the word “boy.”
PPS The best performance? A very wonderful young lady who has a soul and heart as open as the sky, who performed, in costume, the fluffy pink unicorn dance.
I wish I had it in me to write that “top ten things to do by the end of the year” or “keep middle school students engaged” post. I’m not burnt out or even remotely sad or irritated by my students this year — they’ve been consistently awesome, and renewed my love of teaching. With them, I felt capable. And at one point I was called the ‘rock star teacher,’ and though that moniker has gone to younger, more agile teachers I wasn’t no slouch. But this year: they truly bolstered me.
What’s getting to me is a few things, things I can’t express on social media outlets, and am not even sure I can or should here.
Two big things are happening this week, completely unrelated, and the way my brain works is I can’t keep them in their corners. This happened last time, too, when my older son was graduating, so I know it’s only a response to launching children. I am not sure what the concern or secondary worry was three years ago, but for the life of me, I just can’t seem to be NORMAL and feel normal mom things and go on Pinterest and look up fruit plate ideas, or stop by the party store and pick up graduation decorations. I need that occupational therapy now. The busy-ness.
So let wrap myself in a big, soft blanket of enlightened, silver-lining downy soft bullet-points and try to keep safe from the storm.
Here’s what I learned about school from my younger son:
Schools will ignore most or all 504 plans, and some IEPs.
Teachers don’t know how to successfully navigate ‘extra time,’ and will fail a student even if they have these protections in place.
Teachers are sometimes unimaginative. If there are too many unimaginative teachers in place, it’s potentially catastrophic for those who don’t color in the lines.
Schools will not provide any or much actual real world experience — the field trip, the excursion, the trying on roles or identities. There are no possibilities touted except “college.”
Schools are a business. They produce products. Their products are graduates.
The best teachers will always be beloved by their students, and will always be the ones who do everything different from the rest.
Students who have other supports will survive. And kids grow up anyway.
So to take my mind off of the onslaught of mixed emotions: one arm around hugging while the other one pushes him out the door, I do the stupid thing and follow politics. I just can’t go vacuum something or cut melon balls? What the heck is wrong with me?!
Here’s what I’ve learned about politics from the current election:
My beloved news agencies will report with bias. I never noticed bias before when I felt they were on ‘my side’ but now that they’re not, it’s so clear. Painfully and emotionally clear. Now I know what others feel–that self-righteous indignation, that ‘take my ball and go home’ feeling, rusting empathy and decaying social justice. Loss of hope. Cynical lenses of others humanity, or lack thereof.
People follow their fears. Including me. They follow authority, wealth, justice, revenge, redemption, identities and allegiances. We may not be aware of our deep-seated fears. That those fears to someone else are laughable, weak or misguided.
I really want Bill Clinton to shut up.
My mom’s philosophy is to never apologize, never explain. I can’t say I’m sorry, and I can’t explain what’s going on with, save to say it’s a chemical imbalance, stress, and apparently too much Pinterest and NPR. There will be happy posts about the graduate later this week when all is pomped and circumstanced. I am incredibly proud of that kid, and all I can do is be a better teacher for the students I have. As far as politics go, well, I’ve done all I can do for now.
But seriously Bill Clinton should just shut up.
*My son went out and bought a lengthy plastic pipe and makes himself didgeridoos. And plays them pretty damn well, I might add.