Musings and Strategies From the Teachers Next Door

Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

You Are the Missing Link

Silver chain in circle with an outstanding golden link - 3d render

You’re a teacher.  It’s summer.  What are you doing?  If you’re like me, as you clean all the parts of your house you neglected during the school year, you find yourself reflecting  and thinking about what’s next.

WHAT IS next in education?  There are problems.  We see it.  We are frustrated.  Most see their voice as too small to matter, but I think our voice is where the solution lies.

Sure, I’ve got my list of things that need to be at the top of education reform, and the crazy thing is, it’s not curriculum.

We the teachers are a collective army of people that care enough about the future of our world to give up our dreams of wealth in order to give our lives for the education of others. So let me ask you, if we are willing to invest ourselves in such an admirable way, why are we settling and waiting for others to jump in and rescue us.  Nothing will change until we look long and hard to see how we have contributed to the problem and how we hold the answers to the future.

I am in no way slamming teachers.  I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you.  You are creators, innovators, encouragers, cheerleaders….did that just describe you? What about this one… You are tired, negative, frustrated?  I’m learning that they way we choose to speak about what we do, creates our experiences.

So let’s start here.  What if, for the rest of your summer, you spoke about teaching, every single day, as if it were THE BEST JOB EVER.  If you did that for 30 days, without fail, then your brain would actually change the way it thinks and the way you associate with your job.  You would become creative, innovative, passionate, encouraging people.  Imagine how your class would change.  Imagine how your school would change.  Imagine the collective force we would become.  Who’s with me?

More to come on reforming education, but let’s start with ourselves.




You Know What They Say About Assuming…

As a teacher, I have always known that connecting the curriculum to “the real world” is important, but I am just now beginning to understand what a HUGE difference it can make.  I have begun incorporating 3 Act Tasks and other similar activities in my classroom – and I have found that they not only reveal rather large gaps in student learning of the general content, but also in thinking.  Today fascinated me.  I chose to do Robert Kaplinsky’s task “How Much is a 1/3 a Cup of Butter.”  We had great discussion about how 1/4c could be right in the middle of the stick of butter. We modeled how you could take 2 sticks of butter and line them up, so that it would be easy to see that the 1/2c is at the end of one stick, we took time to point out 1/4c, we talked about what we knew about fractions, and we even took time to discuss what we noticed when we looked at the 2 sticks.

Let me stop here and tell you that I really thought I had blown the whole lesson.  I was thinking to myself that I taught them too much and now it would be way to easy.  After all, these kids are gifted…young, but gifted nonetheless.  So imagine my surprise when one student labelled 1/3 cup right after the 3 Tbsp. mark and then justified her answer by saying, “Well, I see 1/4 cup and if you take away one Tbsp. then you have 1/3 cup.  I  asked if anyone agreed with her answer and every kid raised their hand.  So next I had the student point to where 1/2 cup is.  (Remember, it’s labelled at the end and we already had a rather lengthy conversation about it.)  They agreed it should go after the 2Tbsp. mark.

I kept going with their line of reasoning, but I told them I was confused because we now had two different places labelled 1/2 cup.  I then asked which was bigger 1/2 or 1/4.  One girl immediately said 1/2 is bigger, then she drew 2 rectangles and showed 1/2 on one and 1/4 on the other.  When I asked her how she knew, she said her teacher told her last year.

That was a TREMENDOUS moment in our classroom.   I realized how students can know how to solve a problem on paper, but have no idea how it connects to real life.    See, I assumed that if they could determine what fraction was larger – that they would be able to solve this task.  Little did I realize, that their understanding had not progressed beyond solving naked math problems.  That’s a good place to be for a time, and there was even a time in my career when I would have thought that was perfect. But the reality is….they can solve our traditional problems while lacking understanding.  It’s our job to take them from doing math to understanding math.  It’s our job to provide rich opportunities, expose gaps and not merely assume they get it.  It’s an exciting time to be in education.

We’re All In This Together

I spent the day planning with some wonderful ladies. I’m always amazed by how much my enthusiasm grows when I’m surrounded by passionate people. Two heads are better than one and thankfully, the culture has changed and sharing the status quo.

Remember the days where teachers were afraid to share?

Teaching is so much fun when you realize it takes a village.

Here’s to those hard working teachers that are planning during summer, sharing their best ideas, and pursuing excellence. Bravo!

Do You Add Value?

Many years ago, I taught second grade with the most needy group of kids….I think only 2 of my students lived with both parents and 5 students had a parent in jail that year.  I had students that loved to fight, thought nothing of yelling at one another, and were high energy.  As a new teacher, it was tough.  But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

I was thinking about one of those students this week.  He was rough.  He had been hurt.  He was angry.  The closer we got to the end of school, the angrier he seemed and the more out of control he was.  You know why?  School was ending.  Structure was ending.  Meals were ending.  Friends were leaving.  I wouldn’t be there.  See…we are more than teachers.  We are influencers.  We shape dreams.  We cast visions for who they can be…not just who they are.

I’m challenging myself this year…instead of talking about how excited I am for summer, I’m going to focus on telling kids how much I will miss them.  Children need to know they are valued…you may be the only one who tells them.



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