#FallisComing

736373_10152418132725160_1711287577_o

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   ~William Arthur Ward

On June 9th, 2014, I accepted my first teaching position and began putting together resources for the new school year. The start of school is now less than three weeks away and my anticipation is building with every passing moment.  I was browsing Reddit.com (as I tend to do every day) when I came across a post in a sub-Reddit specifically geared towards teachers (/r/teachers) that asked the question “How do I be an amazing teacher?”

I have often asked myself the same thing; “what things can I do to be a ‘good’ teacher?” and “what does a ‘good’ teacher look like?”  I did well enough in University so I should be fine… right? Right? This summer I read through a number of first-year teacher books in search of the answers to my questions. One of the most influential of the bunch came from Harry and Rosemary Wong, “The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher“.  This book emphasizes the importance of being prepared and gives practical examples of what being prepared looks like. So, I prepared.  I have lesson plans, unit plans, yearly plans, discipline plans, first day plans.  So… will I be an amazing teacher if I’m prepared?

One of the posts to the question on Reddit put so perfectly what I was missing.  I searched for the post today and was unable to find it so I will paraphrase to the best of my ability (the original was far better):  A great teacher is rarely remembered for their tests, assignments, lesson plans. A great teacher is remembered for their commitment to their students and for investing in their lives.  Being a constant in an inconsistent world and a building a relationship that goes beyond the subjects taught.  OK… so a great teacher has good relationships with their students. That message was made very clear throughout my time at University. Instruction is pointless without relationship.

As with most things in life, I suppose the answer really lies within both answers.  Obviously planning is important. I have been hired to instruct children and the curriculum sets out what they should learn this year. That is my job and to do my job well, I will need to be prepared.  As I think about it now, it is also apparent to me that to have good relationships with my students, I will also need to be prepared. I cannot imagine getting to know the lives of my students if my mind is consumed with all of the material we need to accomplish. Being prepared for the year allows me to spend more time with my students. As an added perk, it also allows be to spend more time with my family.

Another comment on the Reddit post struck me.  It said something to the effect of, and I paraphrase again: Good teachers come in all different packages. Some teachers are hilarious, some teachers are interesting and some teachers are inspirational. You can only be the teacher who you are. Find what works for you and how you connect with kids and run with it. It’s the same message we give to our students… be yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not. Wise words.

I am SO excited to begin my teaching career.  I have been waiting a very long time to teach my own classroom and watch my own students learn and grow. I am not naive enough to think that I will be an amazing teacher on day one.  I know that there will a lot of mistakes, opportunities to grow, and things I will need to adapt and change.  I am so thankful that I have a group of experienced teachers I can ask questions to and seek guidance from. #FallisComing and I can hardly wait another moment.

What I Learned from My Summer in Jail

10490113913_e3a697bdca_b

“When you go to jail, there’s so much simple stuff missing. You just want some good toilet paper or a real toothbrush, a real blanket and a real bed to lay in.” – Ja Rule

An excellent observation, Ja Rule.  Jail is not the Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton.  I have been lucky enough to spend a few nights at these places and jail is nothing like them.  Jail (at least the one that I’ve been in) is kind of what you would expect it to be; cold, sterile, overall uncomfortable.  I am OK with this, however.  I mean, how did you end up here? What did you do that brought you to this place? The answers to these questions are often more complicated than they appear in the big picture, but in the small picture, you did something ‘bad’ and for your own safety and the safety of others, you get to spend the night with me.  In jail.  With mediocre toilet paper, a simple blanket and a mat to sleep on.

I am currently in jail as a type this post with three friends who are all sleeping off the night before. I don’t know their stories, but I do know that they probably deserve to be here right now and it’s probably in their best interest. This summer I had the… well what’s the word I’m looking for?  Privilege? Opportunity? Let’s go with privilege.  This summer I had the privilege of working as a guard at the local jail.  As I worked, I learned and relearned a few simple truths.

Jail is a great place to focus and get work done. My job as a guard is fairly simple.  I need to check in on the prisoners regularly to ensure that they are doing OK and occasionally prepare meals for them (depending on the situation), but beyond that, my time is mostly my own.  I have found that sitting at the guard desk is a great place to ensure that I focus and get work done.  At times there is literally nothing else to do.  No distractions or other things I could be doing.  Who would have thought?

Sleep is wonderful. Now, I know this may sound silly, but I typically have endured sleep and not enjoyed it. Sleep was something I did when I was tired and something I knew I needed to do to maintain a healthy body, but not something I cared to do for any extended period of time.  I usually wake up early and am excited to start a new day.  I am that annoying morning person some of you probably hate.  Or at least I was. Working as a guard has, at times, required that I work overnight with little or no warning that I was about to.  There have been times when I have lived a full day only to get called at 11pm, 1am, or 2am and asked to guard.  Now, I’m not complaining about working crazy hours.  I signed up for it and it usually doesn’t bother me, but it has made me appreciate sleep on a whole new lever.  I don’t have any kids, but I imagine at times it is similar. Are there any parents in the world who haven’t learned to truly appreciate sleep or a good nap?

I need more friends overseas. Overnight shifts can get long and it is nice to visit with people who also happen to be awake.  I have had a few good visits with friends of mine who are up with little ones in the middle of night, but these are too few between.  Having some friends in places with a different time zone would be ideal.

We make choices and choices have consequences. Life is complicated.  Extremely complicated. The reasons behind why a person does what they do is complex and convoluted.  I chose to go to University and become a teacher.  Why did I choose to do this? I love helping people achieve at their best and pursue their goals.  Simple enough. Why do I like helping people? Complicated.  It probably has a lot to do with how and where I was raised and by whom. It probably also has to do with my personality and my interests.  Whatever the reasons, it is a lot more complicated.  Jail has reminded me that regardless of everything else in a persons life, some actions have direct, understandable and foreseeable consequences.

People make mistakes, but life goes on. Everyone messes up once in a while (Once and a while? /Once in a while? Google says once in a while so let’s go with that. I’m a teacher now so I should probably start figuring some of this stuff out…).  The trick is not letting one mistake become a pattern.  If a mistake becomes a pattern, the trick is finding ways to end the pattern.  Life will continue to move on regardless but how life looks will likely change.  I see people here who make mistakes and have to pay for them.  I also get to see them leave in the morning sunshine and hopefully make a better choice next time.

Who would have thought that jail would be such a good teacher for the guard? Today is my last shift of the summer and I will some aspects of this job, but I am very excited to meet my new class and start teaching.  Who knows what amazing and awesome things they will teach and reteach me?

 

On the Edge of Something Large

“While standing on the edge of something large
While standing here so close to You
We could be consumed
What a glorious day”
- David Crowder Band (check out this song here.)
 

I don’t believe this is the first time I have mused on the above song lyrics, but today they strike me all over again.  Imagine with me standing on the edge of a cliff.  Behind you, you can see the life you have lived for the last number of years or perhaps since birth. In front of you, you can see an endless sky, a beautiful vista, and opportunity. In order to reach what is in front, you must leave what is behind.

There have been two times in my life where I can remember thinking “after this moment, nothing will be the same.”  It is a scary place to be. Very scary actually. So why do it? Why take that step and free fall into the unknown? Maybe it will be better than what I am leaving behind, maybe it will be worse, but it will defiantly be different. I have heard the sentiment “change leads to growth” or some variation of it many times over the course of my life so far, but I have not heard it so eliquently put as it was by author and poet C. Joybell C.:

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow.
The only way that we can grow is if we change.
The only way that we can change is if we learn.
The only way we can learn is if we are exposed.
And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.
Do it. Throw yourself.”

Change leads to growth. When I first left my parents house for a new life in a new city, I was flooded with thoughts and mixed emotions.  I was excited at the prospect of starting somewhere fresh where I could redefine who I was and where no one expected me to act or behave a certain way.  I was horrified at the possibility of losing my safe haven and being “on my own.” What I discovered, however, was that in leaving my known life behind I was able to learn about who I was and determine from there who I wanted to be.  The wheels of change were set into motion and in one action the course of my life changed.

I also learned that I would never be “on my own” as I thought.  In some ways, I feel my relationship with my family has been strengthened by the distance between us. The time we get to spend together (whether on the phone, on Skype, or when we get lucky enough to be together in person) is valuable and cherished. I am so thankful for the time and effort my family makes to help me stay connected to them despite being so far away.

Today I went to a service at a new church, bought some supplies at a new SuperStore, and walked around a new city.  For the second time in my life I can say that things are different and will not be the same as they were before.  I am not afraid of change, though. I embrace it and am so excited to see how I will grow from it. Tomorrow I move into a new house in a new community (which apparently has an “amazing” soccer team) and look forward to the new challenges and new opportunities that lay ahead.

Techie Teacher Tools

Teaching is an increasingly digital job.  Every day, I see new online tools that claim to make teaching ‘easier than ever’ and will ‘give me the free time I deserve.’   Most of these are, just as I’ve stated, claims.  I have, however, found a number of excellent teacher tools that have helped me be more effective and productive as a teacher.

1. GoAnimateI have used this tool in two different ways; as an engage tool at the beginning of a new unit or topic and as a tool for students to present.  In this tool, users create simple video’s using ‘comic book’ style characters. Once the character animations are set, you are able to add voice overs with your own voice or a computerized voice that is provided on the site.  There are free and paid options available but I find the free option more than enough for classroom use.

2. PowToonAlong the same lines as GoAnimate, PowToon allows users to create quick and easy presentations that look amazing.  PowToon utilizes a simple ‘stick-man’ style that comes across as clean and is very engaging.  I have had one of my students create a PowToon and it helped to elevate his presentation from a simple PowerPoint to something stylized and beautiful.

3. PollEverywhereAn old University favourite, I have used PollEverywhere to help gauge students prior knowledge before starting a new topic.  PollEverywhere allows you to ask multiple choice questions and get quick responses from your students from computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices that connect to the internet.  I have also used it as a ‘no-pressure’ math pre-assessment that lets me quickly see what areas need more attention without singling out students who are struggling.

4. TodaysMeet – It is amazing what can happen when you allow students to communicate with each other over the internet.  TodaysMeet allows you to create a close chatroom for your class.  Students who never raise their hand or seem to have nothing to say during classroom discussions come alive online.  The best part is that you can print a transcript of the chat session, giving you a lot of data for formative or summative assessments.  I find this tool works the best when I ask a large group question and wait to see every students response. I then allow students to respond to what other students have written and a dialogue occurs. 

5. Planboard - Planboard is a tool I use everyday.  I have been trying to find an online Day Planner since my first moment in the classroom and have finally found one that work like it should and makes my job easier.   The ability to add classes on a rotation, move lessons to the next day with one click and add standards make this online planner stand out.   The ability to add and track standards take things to the next level.  On top of all this, the support is available all the time and I have literally received an answer to a question seconds after asking it.   This is one tool you definitely need to try out.

6. CCPensieveA pensieve is an ongoing record of what a student is doing.  The online version found at CCPensieve makes recording anecdotal records easier than ever.  This tool is designed to be used with the Daily 5 instructional strategy in literacy, but is also easily used in all other subject areas.  If you want to take your formative assessment to the next level, you need to check this one out.  Just a warning that it does cost $24 – $39 per year but this tool is more than worth the cost.

7. KeepVid - Tired of having videos buffer halfway through showing them to your class?  Worried about showing video and the potentially inappropriate ones sites suggest you watch afterwards? If yes, KeepVid is for you.  This tool allows you to download videos from popular streaming sites allowing you to show video to class without worrying.  I love being able to download my videos before a lesson and having full confidence that the video will play as intended.

There you have it; my list of must have Techie Teacher Tools.  The tools listed here have made teaching easier for me and have made me a more effective educator.  If you have any other sites you thinks are a ‘must’ for teachers, please add them in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!!

Classroom Blogging

This semester, I am doing a three-week interning block in a Grade 7/8 split class.  Coming into the classroom in the middle of the school year has been challenging and learning who the students are in a hurry was one of my top priorities. My teaching partner and I attempted to do an activity that introduced us to the students and them to us.  It was interesting and informative, but quick.  Thinking back now, I do not really remember much of what the students told me and they probably remember less about me.

The idea of Classroom Blogging was first introduced to me in my ECMP355 – Introduction to Computers in Education class at the University of Regina.  I decided that I would give Classroom Blogging a chance and set out to set one up for my class.  The first website I tried to use was edublogs.org and at first glance it appeared perfect.  Unfortunately, as I dug deeper into the site, I realized that many of the features were disabled until you ‘upgraded’ to a better version.  I was only teaching this class for three weeks and decided that it would be worth it to ‘upgrade’.

The next site I found was KidBlog.org. This site was perfect.  It allowed me to set up a classroom blog, monitor the posts and comments done by students, restrict access to the site (which I would use until I had the chance to teach my students about protecting themselves online) and it was all so easy to manage.

During class, I had my students sign in and read their first task (a post which I had written earlier). It instructed students to write their own ‘About Me’ page (the typical ‘starting point’ of any blog).  This was originally meant to simply give students a chance to try blogging, feel out the site and try some different things.  What I didn’t expect was to get such and in-depth look into the lives of my students.  Each ‘About Me’ post was filled with interesting facts about my students and I was able to learn so much more about them then I had in the week that I had already spent with them.

When I start my full-internship next Fall, I plan to use a Classroom Blog from the first day.  Blogging allows students who are quiet in person the opportunity to speak-up through their words. I also love the commenting abilities of a Classroom Blog.  Not only does this allow my as the teacher to provide formative feedback to my students, but also allows them to give constructive feedback to their peers.

If you haven’t tried blogging with your class yet, I highly recommend it.

Happy Blogging!

Upcycle Me

I read a blog post the other day (here) that blew my mind. In it, the blogger, Sophie, give a couple of examples of objects she has ‘upcycled’. Upcycling, according to Wikipedia, is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new products or products of better quality. I really like the thought of this, but ever since I read the blog I’ve wondered, how can I make this a reality in my life.

I asked my wife on our ride home from our jobs what she thought of upcycling.  She thought it would be something neat to try, but that we needed to be careful to only create things that had a use or that looked amazing.  We didn’t want to just have a house full of upcycled junk.  This would mostly defeat the purpose of upcycling in the first place.

She also reminded me of the barbeque that is at my parent’s cottage on Lake Manitoba.  My grandpa, the previous owner of the cottage, had joined the barbeque to an old lawnmower.  This gave it a base that also happened to have wheels making it easy to move.

Looks Cool + Functionality = Worthwhile Upcycling Project.

Another example I can think of is a set of garden lights that my sister-in-law made for us.  They are housed in old, glass jars and have a solar light in the middle.  I pretty sure she got the idea from Pinterest. The look great, serve a purpose and prevented one more glass jar from going to the dump or needing to be processed in a recycling plant.

When I was in elementary school, they pounded the ‘3 R’s’ into my brain on a regular basis.  They are:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Though there are three ‘R’s’, the majority of time was spend on recycling and very little was spent on reusing and reducing.  Maybe this was because our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never thought they would need to teach reusing.  Think about it.  How much old stuff  was repurposed for another use?  I think we have lost this in modern society.  We have been told that it is easier to throw our old stuff away and buy something new than to repair or repurpose it.   And it is.  I just wonder what happens to all the garbage I have thrown out that could have been reused. How much of it is in the landfill here in Regina, SK?  How much has polluted the streets of the city of live in?  How much has made its way into the streams and rivers of the natural environment I love?

So… what can I make? Where do I start? I’m not especially handy. I’m also not a craft-making type of person. Handiness and craftiness would make me an excellent upcycler, but since I don’t have either of those skills in any abundance, I will rely on my creativity and passion for making the world just a little bit better. I think my plan is to take a second glance at everything I throw out. Maybe that egg-carton could have been used to, oh I don’t know, grow some indoor plants. Wait a second… I think I just did something there. See? It’s not that hard.  If I happen to come across a worthwhile upcycling project, I’ll be sure to take some pictures and post what I have done.

Dieting Sucks

“I went on a diet, swore off drinking and heavy eating, and in fourteen days I lost two weeks.”

- Joe E. Lewis

Corporations, doctor’s, fitness trainers, and scientists advertise products and programs that, they say, will change our lives forever. In just “4 short weeks” or “with just minutes a day”, they will be able to take our fat bodies and turn them into something majestic. These claims are attractive because they are quick, easy, and seemingly painless. In my opinion, dieting sucks. Diets seem to all suggest that you do activity ‘x’ for ‘y’ number of days and then you will be healthy. Very few of them advise how to live after the diet is over and do very little to treat the reasons why a person may have become obese in the first place.

I was obese because I didn’t understand food and because I had a very negative self-image. Diets have the potential to teach you something about food like how many grams of carbs a healthy diet requires or what an appropriate portion size is, but it is the fact that they are making such rapid changes to have you live that concerns me. Every time I’ve dieted, I’ve craved the foods that I have cut out and would eventually crack and binge on them. This would lead to an eventual meltdown of the entire diet and I would usually end up heavier then when I had started.

What I think makes more sense is to make small, subtle changes that you are OK maintaining for the rest of your life. Making sustainable changes will lead to an overall healthier lifestyle and overtime can lead to massive weightloss that STAYS OFF. When changes do start to occur (and they will… it took one month of simply walking for me to see some), you begin to believe that you might actually succeed at losing weight. Once your mind is in, you’re set. I have seen no diet do what healthy living has done for me. I have been slowly losing weight over the past four years and I know that it will never come back. Diets suck because they are not sustainable. So, lose the diet, decide to make some small changes and cut the string of that yo-yo life you’ve been living.

Happy Weightloss!!