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!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It Would be Easier if a Recipe Existed

As a teacher I often end up working with students who have a variety of emotional baggage. It's important to always remember that most of them have nothing to do with their baggage - they have simply inherited it. Sometimes the baggage is a loss of a parent, divorce, poverty, abuse, neglect, a criminal past, and much more.

With each of the previously mentioned negative influences, different styles and methods are necessary in order to help and work with the student. I recognize that I need to be compassionate and understanding, and I need to "pick my battles," and though I'm aware of how the rules often need to be bent or "weakly" enforced, I fear that my other students aren't quite mature enough to recognize how the process works. For example, if I have a student who has a troubled past, and I see him with his head down, I may be a little less strict on him then I would with another student. Though I know much more about that student than the others do, what they see is either a student "getting away with breaking the rules", or even worse, a student who is being ignored by the teacher.

They don't quite prepare you in college for these experiences. And even if they did, I don't think young college kids could really appreciate and fully comprehend what is being shared. It would be much easier if a recipe existed! A cup of compassion, 1/4 cup of discipline, 1/2 cup of understanding, a pinch of humor, a dash of mentoring - mix it all together, and you have the recipe for success. You and I both know such a recipe doesn't exist, and I suppose, even if it did, like any other recipe, it wouldn't always turn out the same!

So I guess for now I will just do my best and always error on swalling my pride. I think most of the time it is a teacher's pride that gets in the way and causes confusion. I will do my best to show that I care (by actually caring of course) and letting them know that they have value, and that they matter. I will be quick to listen, slow to anger, and slow to speak. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

First Impressions

A new year has begun! With new students comes new worries, new joys, new stories, new emotions, new lessons, new ideas...and just about anything else you can imagine. It's amazing how quickly you learn their names and how quickly they become like family. They have so much to offer and so much energy bottled up inside just waiting to explode. I have found that most kids want discipline coupled with a challenge. They also want to be entertained and valued - both not easy to pull off.

The first week of a new school year is full of first impressions. You look the students over and observe their every move - the way they dress, the way they speak, the way they respond, they way they interact with others, and they way the listen. You can learn a lot by simply observing them. For example, I allowed the students to work in groups if they'd like and was immediately able to recognize who had friends in the class and who didn't. Greeting the kids at the door when they enter the classroom is another way to observe them. Some respond politely, while others simply ignore me. On a rare occasion I even have students who greet me before I have a chance to greet them. These moments are quite enjoyable.

First impressions can often be deceiving though. It doesn't take long to figure that out either. Like I always tell my students, make decisions about people based on what you see them doing, more than what you hear them saying. Empty promises are shared daily between people, and there is just no room for them in my classroom. I tell my students that I care about them and want this year to be like no other year they have ever had before. I follow that statement with a promise that I intend to show them throughout the year that this statement is true.

It will probably take a couple more weeks for me to have a chance to interact with all of my students in some way. Therefore I will be forming some more first impressions. I'm excited, and encouraged, and I hope to always remember that all kids share a common goal - wanting to feel valued and cared for. With this in mind, I don't think I can fail, and even better than that, I know I can make a difference.