Finding the "it" Factor in Teaching

There's something going on in education.  

I mean there is always something going on in education... new swings in curriculum and instructions are par for the course and to be expected.  With research and study, changes will be made to make things better.  No one in any profession is ever finished learning right?  Think of all moms and dads learn everyday about how to do our most important jobs at home better :)   

But lately - there is something else going on... and I haven't be able to put my finger on it until now.

Go back to school with me will you?

Imagine your favorite teacher, the one you learned the most from, the best teacher you ever had.

Did you know that teacher was good at his/her job on the first day of school?  The second?

My guess is you did.  

When you walk into the room of a teacher who has "it" you just know. 

You know it's going to be a good year.  
You know you're going to learn and that your interests will be valued.  
You know they are going to be a mix of strict but totally fair.  
You know they will care about you outside the classroom and inside the classroom as a student, but more importantly as a person.  

You know the teacher gets "it".

Policy makers today, not educators, are trying to quantify, duplicate, publish, and sell - "it".


What is "it"?

It's a long list... but think of your best teachers - you could make a list of what made them great right?

Good teaching
Good curriculum
Good instruction
Good communication
Good collaboration
Good sense of humor
Good classroom decorating
Ability to differentiate instruction 
Ability to come in before and after school for help
Ability to teach students hard things over the course of time

... could you add 50 more things? 40?  30?  Could you make a rubric or a checklist for how to do each one of those things?

You had teachers who had "it" but could you quantify "it"?  All of "it"? 
Measure "it"?  
Teach "it"?  
Collect data on "it"?  
Fit "it" into an evaluation rubric?

I totally get it.  I get why we try to quantify "it".

Are there bad teachers? Absolutely.

Are there good teachers that could be better? Absolutely.

Are there good teachers that over time get worse? Absolutely.

But in other fields, measurement of how well a job is done is much more easily quantified.  I bet you can still recognize "it" like you can in teaching - but you can also back it up with how much product you produce, or customer evaluations, or in most cases profits.  

In teaching... you have 25 different variables in the room every 45 minutes.  And these, I promise, are the very best kind of variables.  The ones who challenge you, teach you, show you how to be better... but they are variables.

So... with good intentions (I hope) people with lots more power than teachers (congressmen, senators, curriculum development companies, millionaires, presidents) have tried to quantify what a good teacher is.  

After quantifying it... they want to print it, duplicate it, sell it, mandate it... so that even teachers without "it" can do it.

They do this with similar curriculum, scripts, tests, and lots of measures to show students are learning.

I get it I do... there is pressure to PROVE students are learning.

Big pressure.
Pressure that comes with tons of $$ for schools who show it.
Pressure from rightfully concerned parents and community members.
Pressure from students who are in a global community of learners, competing for college spots, and jobs with students from all over.
Pressure from administrators trying to keep up with what their districts are doing... who are trying to keep up with what their states are doing... 

But... in the end... I just think we are trying desperately to quantify something that changes with our students every 45 minutes.

What is "it" for one group... might be totally different for another group.

So... what's to be done to improve my profession?  How can I get better at what I do?  How can I make sure I BRING "IT" every single day?! 

What makes ANYONE better at what they do?

Teamwork... with colleagues, administrators, and community members.  We have a common goal and common concerns right... success for students?

Collaboration with other teachers.  

Providing teachers who have "it" a seat at the table... or at a lot of tables actually... tables where curriculum is being developed, tests are being made, standards are being developed, evaluations are being produced.  Get good teachers there.  Ask them what works.  Ask them what doesn't.  Trust them.

Trust people who are focused on students.  Our trust should go first to groups whose interests center around supporting student learning.  Unfortunately... students aren't money makers... curriculum, testing, books... those are moneymakers.  If those are the endgame... perhaps they aren't the right people to trust with what makes good teachers for students.

Encourage teachers who have "it" to share "it" - to run professional development on their best practices, to observe colleagues and provide suggestions, to open up their own room to observations from others, to write articles on their best lessons and activities.

Keep focused on what is important, and try, really try, to let the rest go.  Education ebbs and flows... changes with administrations, budgets, natural disasters, research.  

Know that what is important, NEVER changes, students.  

They are here, everyday, so BRING "IT" teachers, if you lose "it", seek it out from your colleagues, brush up in a night class, observe your peers, and BRING "IT" BACK.  

And try to let the rest of it go.

Sight Word Helicopters

So D is in kindergarten, and in addition to his homework (which incidentally he LOVES #sorrynotsorry) we have to "study" his sight words... 

Seemed too boring for me.

SO.... we grabbed some cool paper and made helicopters.

On each side (that the helicopter could land on) we put one of the sight words... 

He drops the whole bunch from standing on top of a chair and then runs along them and tells which word he sees! 

WAY more fun than "studying" except... the same :) 

Here are some instructions for making helicopters.


The Blind Read

I know people are all... 
teachers are out to get my kid 
and they love the common core 
and are in the job for the fat paychecks 
and they want to destroy the love of learning
and they love tests and all... but despite the negative press... lots of us aren't... I promise!! 

Here is an example of a way to make paper writing silly, fun, and FAIR.

It's easy.

Instead of names... assign (or let them pick out of basket) aliases... 

Comic book villains
Pizza toppings 
Types of cars
Bruce Willis movies
Farm Animals...

The possibilities are endless :) 

Have the kids sign in on a class roster, and just put it in a folder until you're finished grading... 

Best part... writing your feedback to The Riddler ;) 
Happy Teaching! 


Organic, Homemixed, Non-Toxic, Pest Control

So in addition to planting my veggies among my pretty petunias, marigolds, and stinky herbs that bugs hate - I have needed an additional bug repellent this year.  My plants were covered in bugs, eating up the leaves and leaving my plants looking so sad.  Neem oil was recommended to me - and here is what I did! 

This was SO easy - and SO SO effective!  It is totally non-toxic and organic (depending on the products you choose).

I used:
1 and 1/2 tsp of Extra Virgin Neem Oil
1/4 tsp of soap (any soap you use is fine - you just need a tiny amount - I used some organic Ava hand soap)
24 oz of warm water
24 oz spray bottle 

You will need to shake it each time you use it, but spray your plants late in the evening or in the morning, leaves, stems, etc.  I did it right after a rain to ensure the oil wouldn't be immediately washed away... and have done it about once every 2 weeks since.  The neem oil smells a little like old potatoes and onions, but doesn't affect the produce.  Neem oil has lots of other uses too - so check out what else you can use it for!! 



A Word on Riding the School Bus

So... it's no secret.  My D is heading to kindergarten in the fall.  I am FREAKING out.  Will he make friends?  Will he like his school and teachers?  Will he end the year as eager to learn as he begins it?  Will he be crushed that it's not Farm School?  Will he be able to open a thermos by himself?  A granola bar wrapper?

As I sat in kindergarten orientation - all of these things rushed through my mind.

Something I didn't think about at all was taking the bus.  D has been excited to get on the bus since he could say the word - no bus-related anxiety here!  But, sitting there with 40 other parents, that was really everyone's biggest concern.  Sure there were questions about peanuts, and student teacher ratios, but most of the parental anxiety at kindergarten orientation was bus related.  The principal and assistant principal, in their kindest kindergarten voices, addressed each question with love and concern. They tried to ease the fears of all of the parents who are sending their babies on this 15 minute ride of terror in the fall.  Here is what I learned:
  • They physically put each kindergartener on the bus
  • They physically take each kindergartener off the bus and bring them to their classroom
  • Kindergarteners have all kinds of tags that they wear with all of their information: bus, address, blood type, etc ;)
  • Kindergarteners sit in a special area of the bus
  • NO ONE in elementary school can get off the bus if an adult isn't waiting for them (at the end of their driveway).
Phew.  All my fears were put to rest.

But I got to thinking... not that I am in the habit of leaving my kids (5 and 2) home alone... but might I be out back gardening? Upstairs changing a diaper?  In the bathroom?  Making cookies?  Trying to stay out of the rain?

NO ONE will be allowed off the bus without a parent at the end of the driveway.  No one.  They will bring those forgotten students back to school and call you to come and get them, supervised all the while.

What exactly is the fear?

Someone is going to kidnap this 5 year old (or 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year old... the rule is good for the whole bus).

Isn't it more likely (just using facts and statistics here) - that a child is kidnapped/abused/etc by someone they know, a parent, you know, the type of person waiting at the end of the driveway... rather than some random person following the bus scooping up every drivewayparentless, latch key, 5 year old newbie? 

Just something to consider I guess.

PS - I loved being a latch key kid.  I walked from the bus stop to my house ALL the way down the road.  When there was no adult there waiting... the bus dropped us FARTHER from home (so they didn't have to make an extra turn.  When I was in high school, my bus dropped me off over a mile from my house.  One time, I forgot my house key, and my parents worked more than an hour away from home, and it was raining, so I broke a window to get in.  #nocellphones #neglected.



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