Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thirty-four years. Thirty-four Christmases. Same house.

Waking up on Christmas morning and seeing all the presents under the tree, must be one of the single most exciting moments in a child's life. Well, that is if you are fortunate enough to have presents under the tree, a bed in which to wake up, or even a house in which to live. I, myself, have been blessed with that precious gift of a home, presents, and a family, all surrounding me on Christmas morning. I believe this has helped to shape the person I am today, and the thoughts that bounce around my head. This experience has made me a stronger teacher!

You see, during this Christmas Season I am probably experiencing something extremely rare in the world today. I'm getting ready to celebrate my thirty-fourth Christmas in-a-row at the same house in which I grew up. This indeed is a special experience for me, especially since the house in which I grew up is around 600 miles from my current home. It's like instant time travel. The bedroom. The bathroom. The living room. The basement (which isn't as scary now as I used to think it was). Of course, the icing on the cake would have to be the fact that both of my parents, after 45 years being together, are inside the house to help make it warm and inviting.

So what does this have to do with my teaching? Everything. I've finally realized that my parents have built a foundation for me that has kept me strong and encouraged. All the memories in this house - the good ones and the bad ones - have played a role in shaping me into the person I am today. I was recently named Teacher of the Year, and my mom flew from Erie, Pennsylvania to Atlanta, Ga to join me at the dinner in which I was invited. Having her there with me made sense. It was because of her, along with my father, and the rest of my loving family, that I could even be a teacher in the first place. They all have equally contributed to my success.

When I wake up in the morning on Christmas day, at about the same time I'm thanking the Lord for the true gift He has given us, I will also be thanking Him for my loving parents and family. I will be thanking Him for the wisdom and understanding He has bestowed upon me during this Christmas Season reflection - a time in which I am truly understanding the importance of a family, and the successes that result from one!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leadership Articles

I've been reading leadership articles for over a year now, and though these articles are basically intended for more of a business audience, I've found them to be quite useful and applicable to the teaching profession. The art of teaching can be broken down in the same way the art of leadership can be. A great leader has to possess the same qualities in which a great teacher does. The inspiration to look outside the teaching profession and education world for tips on becoming a better teacher and leader came to me about a year ago. Unfortunately, I don't have an exciting story that goes with this.

It wasn't like some great event caused my curiosity. I simply wanted to get better, and thought perhaps I could find some untapped resource that would assist me. Now when I say untapped, I mean with regards to the teaching profession and education world. Naturally, the articles I have been reading are well-known by business leaders around the world, but I wonder how many teachers are reading them. I almost feel like I'm doing something sneaky. I feel like I'm searching for a treasure that others don't even know about yet. I basically feel innovative. And in the teaching profession, whenever you feel innovative, it's a good thing!

When I'm done reading each article, I usually record the most useful information on a separate document. From time to time, I like to read back over what I have copied, and see how I can apply it to my teaching. I can proucdly say my teaching has gotten much stronger because of these articles. Hopefully I will be able to encourage other teachers to consider these articles as a resource. Maybe if I do a good enough job, they will want to know what my secret is. Then I will tell them...leaderhip articles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A True Test in Persuasion

I recently assigned a letter-writing task to my students. We were discussing persuasive writing and it just made sense to me to create an assignment that actually requred my students to be persuasive. Real-world applications are the new rage today (if you ask me). I mean, what sense does it make to create a writing assignment that is only shared between the student and me and noone else? No sense at all! So, in an attempt to truly challenge them, I presented the following task. They had to first find a picture of themselves with a family member when they were younger. Next they had to mail it to that family member and persuade them to write about their memory of that particular moment in time. Finally, they had to convince this family member to send the original letter, the picture, and what they wrote, to me, through the mail. This all had to be done by a designated time. I gave them an entire month to complete this assignment keeping in mind how long it takes to mail a letter and then have someone else turn around and mail it again.

Sound interesting yet? Wait, it gets better. Here is my favorite part. The student's entire grade relies solely on the response that I get in the mail. If the letter doesn't make it to me - they fail. If the letter doesn't have all of the contents inside - they lose points. If the letter is not descriptive enough - their grade will suffer. "That's not fair!" Was the typical reponse from my students. I had to reassure them that if I didn't get the letter in time it was their fault because they weren't persuasive enough to convince their family member to respond in a timely manner!

I created this assignment last year and decided to try it again this year in the hopes that it would help my students see how powerful their words are. You know just as much as I do, that people just don't write letters anymore. And the generation that misses it the most would be the grandmas and grandpas out there. That's why I recommended that my students write to their grandparents. I new it would mean so much to them to get an actual letter in the mail from their grandchild! Something even more special actually happened though during this assignment. As I read each letter, I learned more and more about experiences my students had during their younger years. Teachers only get to spend one year with their students, and often don't get the opportunity to hear about stories from their past. Each memory shared by an aunt or uncle, or grandma or grandpa, was heartfelt and quite sweet. The words on the pages ocassionally triggered my own personal memories of times spent with family when I was younger. And I'm proud to say that I even got emotional while reading many of the letters.

Yes, words are powerful indeed. And if you want to teach your students or children real-world lessons, give them real-world challenges. Trust me, they will rise to the challenge and learn something valuable at the same time!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unexpected Surprises

My Saturdays often consist of the usual things: errands, lunch dates, tennis, naps, laundry, grading papers, planning, working out, and much more. And though I try to somewhat organize and plan my days accordingly, I'm usually open to being sidetracked or deterred. Actually, my days turn out best when unexpected things happen.

It's funny how certain events in your life are a result of a chain reaction. Yesterday, what was supposed to be short visit with a friend, turned into an evening full of adventure and many laughs. And while my story could just end with that, because it was that good, there happens to be more. Let me explain.

I unexpectedly went out for dinner to a place in which I have never been before. And as I went to the restroom to wash my hands - not an unexpected surprise by the way - I bumped into a former student of mine. She is in her senior year of high school, and I taught her seven years ago in fifth grade. It's hard to truly explain what it's like bumping into a former student. I guess, if you're not a teacher, the best analogy would be the feeling you get bumping into an old, wonderful friend you did a favor for some time agao, and you haven't seen them since.

We shared some short conversation, and before I left she told me about a senior project she's working on, naturally I offered my assistance. A decision was also made - I could help her with the essays she will need to write for her college admissions, as well as any letters of recommendations she may need. This is why I love my job! These unexpected moments - more like surprises - motivate, inspire, and encourage me. They reassure me that I really can be a teacher for life for my students. I mean, how cool is it, that seven years after a student has sat in my class, I can still be a part of her life.

Being reunited with my former student was made possible because a short visit turned into an unexpected adventure. My day was simply awesome, and I have no doubt there will be many more to come. I can't wait to see what unexpected surprises await me today!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Teacher of the year...kind of like getting a hole-in-one!

I was recently selected to be my school's teacher of the year. And though I will make an honest effort to fully articulate and capture exactly what this means to me, I fear my words won't do my real feelings any justice. I suppose the best way to attempt this explanation would be by making an analogy.

My father, who is an awesome dad by the way, recently got a hole-in-one on a par three at a golf course where he has played for years. He was so excited! When we talked about it, we discussed how a hole-in-one is quite unique, and that most golfers will go an entire lifetime without ever experiencing one! Nonetheless, getting a hole-in-one is not impossible! I feel the same would hold true with being teacher of the year. It isn't impossible, yet many people will never experience it in their lifetime. Other professions don't really have this kind of recognition for their employees. I'm so proud to be the representative for all of the teachers at my school! I guess that's what I believe the role of teacher of the year is. I'm not the best teacher in the school; I'm just a strong representative for all the others.

How can I justify being selected for this great honor? (For myself, not for others) When I reflect back on my previous eleven years of teaching, I can honestly say I have enjoyed each and every moment. It may surprise many when I say there hasn't been a Monday when I didn't want to report to work. Sure, I've been tired and didn't necessarily want to get out of bed, but I've never dreaded coming in. Earlier in my career, more experienced teachers (old and washed up - just kidding) assured me that I would eventually get over my feelings of joy as I progressed in my career. Luckily, I've proven them wrong. Now, I do have a slight advantage. I'm single, have no children, no pets, and only have a plant to take care of at home, but I am involved in many things such as: teaching at my church, being a board member at a local theatre, performing improv at a local theatre, volunteering to do extra things at school, and other miscellaneous things. Most of my time does revolve around teaching in some way!

I'm sharing all of this with you because it supports my dedication to the profession. I hope to eventually teach teachers, and I really believe teaching is a beautiful mission in life.

I've had such joy in my heart knowing my peers have recognized my efforts, and this new title brings with it a drive to be better. Being teacher of the year is probably the second greatest honor I have ever experienced. The first one will always be the opportunity to change lives as a teacher.

So to close, I'll continue with the hole-in-one analogy by thanking all of the people who have helped me perfect my swing (teaching). Though I may never hit a hole-in-one again, I plan on swinging for the flag everytime. There's nothing wrong with even par!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Planning extra opportunity to show your students you care.

If you're a teacher, you are well aware of the value of your time. The average school day is packed with routines and unexpected, yet expected interruptions. In an attempt to keep teachers as sane as possible - a difficult feat in and of itself - we are awarded a well-deserved "break time". Technically the "break time" is referred to as "planning time". This "ideally" (I apologize for the repetitious use of quotation marks but feel they are necessary) is time used for planning instruction. What it ends up becoming is time for conferences with parents, meeting with the team about mandated information, going to the bathroom, dealing with a discipline issue that happened earlier, and the list goes on.

Now, I'm speaking based on my opinion, and I'm not exactly the most organized person in the world, but I think this holds true for most teachers. Though, as much as I could complain about not having enough time to plan, when I do have the time, the last thing I want to do is sit in my classroom and actually plan. Let me explain. In my school this time is called "connections" for the students. They go to Art, P.E., Band, Chorus, Health, and much more. Our connections teachers are awesome! They really challenge the students and create interesting projects for them to work on. I've found this out by poking my head in from time to time to see what they are doing. And because they are always doing cool things, I'm curious, and thus often spend more time observing.

What I've found happens in that time is quite extraordinary, yet very simple. The kids always seem to be proud to show me what they are working on, and, to be honest, so are the teachers! I even like to pitch in and help out when I visit. Recently, I spent my entire planning time visiting the different connections. I enjoyed short conversations with my fellow teachers and the students, and feel as though I built stronger relationships with both during the process.

When I returned to my classroom to prepare for my fifth period class that day, for a moment I felt as though I wasted my entire planning time. I then quickly reflected on my experience, which in turn put a smile on my face and a pleasant mood in my heart. And when my students filed in for class, I was motivated and inspired to provide them with an excellent experience. I guess I accomplished much more than I orginally thought! My planning time was spent showing my students I care, and in return, I reassured myself that I do!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Value in Spending Time with a Colleague

As a male teacher it is usually rare that you get to work with another male teacher on the same team. The teaching profession is, undoubtedly, inundated with females. Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad thing at all, but it does need to be mentioned to help my point. I'm lucky enough to work with another guy on my team, and if you ask me, that really makes a difference.  It's not like we are trash-talking others, being loud, and talkin' 'bout the ladies, it's more like we are able to share a similar perspective on teaching, and on life in general. The conversations we have are quite valuable, and there's a sense of unspoken accountability in the air.

In my school, there happens to be quite a few male teachers. We have a special bond, I would say, and that makes our working environment quite unique. Whenever the school talent show rolls around, you will surely see us spending more time together preparing for our skits. Though, that only happens once a year, and bumping into my fellow "male" teachers is sporadic at best - mostly consisting of a "hello" while passing by one another in the halls. Of course, I get to hang with my teammate daily, but I really do value the opportunity to hang with one of my colleagues after school.

I recently had that chance last week. Another colleague and I were able to meet for a coffee after school. This wasn't a collaborative meeting, a workshop, or a school-mandated function, it was just a couple of buddies chatting about life. And it may sound strange, but I feel like that time was more valuable to me, as an educator, than most workshops I attend. There is a special power, or value, in spending time with a colleague. There is so much gained when there are no expectations or formalities. I encourage more teachers to make the time to hang with their colleagues after work. It's amazing what can be accomplished!