Top 12 Global teacher Blogger Discussion: May

What are the quick ways to combat teacher stress in a classroom?

The problem with classroom stress is that it rarely comes from being in the classroom with the students. If teachers are experiencing stress with students, those teachers might need to rethink what they have chosen as a profession. I get rejuvenated in the classroom; interacting with my students gives me energy and reminds me why I have chosen to dedicate my life to education. I know there are those few students who can get under our skin and make teaching a little difficult, but that should be the exception, not the rule. With those few students, a respectful conversation will usually be all that is needed to turn the behavior around.

Stress normally comes from outside the classroom. Government mandates, state evaluations based on standardized tests, administrators putting pressure on teachers to teach to the test, parents being unreasonable, other teachers creating unnecessary drama, no support from parents and administrators for a disciplinary issue, overloaded classes, which makes grading papers and tests that much more difficult–these contribute to professional stress.

In order to combat these issues and for teachers to have peak performance, teachers need to have some sort of exercise regimen. A daily walk before, during, or after school can do wonders to relieve stress and pinpoint the elements creating stress. Running, weight lifting, yoga, and kickboxing can also release the stress built up throughout the day. I received great advice as a new mother: The best thing I can do for my child is to take care of his or her mother–me. This applies to teachers as well. The best way to be fully engaged in the classroom is to take care of the teacher; we need to make sure we are healthy and balancing work, play, and exercise.

The other important activity is to talk to a trusted colleague about the issues that are creating stress. I don’t recommend telling anyone who will listen, but teachers need to have at least one person to vent to, which is sometimes all that is needed, or brainstorm ideas with to solve problems. Teachers who complain too much or to the wrong people just end up creating more stress for themselves and for other colleagues.

Teachers also need to plan fun days for students. Letting students be creative individually or in groups can relieve stress for everyone. Let them draw, write skits, create musical numbers, or make a video that pertains to the lesson or unit they are working on; it will always bring laughter and joy (two proven stress relievers) to the classroom.

Finally, regardless of the teacher’s expertise, writing about the problems can help as well. I often don’t know what is at the heart of my stress until I unpack my feelings on a piece of paper or at the computer. Once the issues are laid out in front of me, I can better plan out my next steps.

 

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Uncommon Core: Book Review by Dennis McCarthy

 In Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System, Pauline Hawkins shares stories from her 11 years of experiences as a high school English teacher to help parents and students prepare for the American school system.  The tales range from the touching and uplifting to the surprisingly poignant, and they encompass the full spectrum of teen-age students:  the bullies and bullied, the confident and shy, the producers and drifters.  Hawkins forcefully connects with the reader—as she did her students — by laying herself bare, showing her vulnerability, honestly recounting her experiences, good or bad, and imparting what she has learned in the process.

All throughout Uncommon Core, Hawkins astutely takes a holistic approach to education, attempting to nourish each student’s particular abilities, pushing some, comforting others, and always with an eye toward creating fully functional, stable, independent, educated adults.  Many chapters show how difficult a task that can be.  High school teachers must do their best to enlighten while constantly facing the stormy dramas of teen-agers – trying to instruct in a hurricane of angst, passion, defiance, boredom, depression, fear, and bewilderment.  Hawkins’ mission, indeed that of all teachers and parents, is complex and delicate, requiring patience, kindness and psychological insight.  As Hawkins shows so clearly, it is so much more than rote-memorization lesson plans for standardized tests.

Soulful and wise, Uncommon Core is an important read for all parents or teachers who want to prepare themselves or their children for the current public school experience.

Dennis McCarthy, author of Here Be Dragons: How the study of animal and plant distributions revolutionized our views of life and Earth (2011) and Thomas North and the Shakespeare Canon (2015/2016)

      

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: April

“How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?”

Guest blogger: Karyn McWhirter

As a teacher of Advanced Placement students and students preparing to be in Advance Placement classes, I may have a different relationship with high stakes testing than many other educators. Since a central goal for my AP students is that they acquire the tools to pass the AP test at the end of the year and get college credit, much of my classroom time is dedicated to preparing them to meet that goal. However, I would not invest my time or theirs completing practice essays and evaluating them if I did not think that those writing tasks and the ones they will encounter on the national exam were not authentic, valuable thinking and writing tasks. I never feel as though I am balancing preparation for the test with teaching and learning; they are one in the same. I am not teaching to the test; I am teaching analysis, argumentation, and communication, and the test asks students to demonstrate those things.

If teachers feel that they are wasting time preparing students for high stakes tests, then the assessments themselves are probably to blame. Authentic assessments engage students in critical thinking and communicating. They incorporate performance tasks and have relevance to what students learn in class and to the world. If an assessment is not a quality thinking/communicating task, then giving it to students is a waste of time. When teachers are forced to use class time teaching test material and formatting that is not educationally authentic to protect their jobs, the purpose of assessment has been lost.

The reality of education at all levels is that many high stakes tests matter to students and to professionals. How do students get accepted into undergraduate and graduate programs? SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT. How do professionals obtain licenses to practice? Professionals of all kinds (lawyers, medical professionals of all kinds, teachers, technicians, and engineers to name a few) take certification and licensure exams. If we do not prepare young students to face high stakes exams with confidence and skills, then we are doing them a disservice. Are we over-testing most students these days? Certainly; but by swinging the pendulum in the other direction and abandoning tests and test preparation in the classroom, we leave students unprepared for some challenges they will face.

Many educators feel enormous pressure surrounding the high stakes of some standardized assessments because the results affect teachers and schools but do not always affect students. Truthfully, all learning is high stakes. What our children learn in their K-12 classrooms and beyond shapes them and ensures their futures (and ours). We need to spend classroom time engaging students in learning and activities that prepare them for the multitude of experiences they will have academically, professionally, and personally. We need to spend our classroom time shaping students into productive, happy contributors to society and future world leaders. Our assessments need to match these needs and support our teaching. If they do, there will be no balancing act to speak of.

For more on this topic, go to CMRubinWorld or Huffington Post

Karyn McWhirter has worked as an English teacher and yearbook sponsor at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, CO for fourteen years. She has taught all levels of students and courses from basic skills classes to Advanced Placement. She has served on traditional and online curriculum design teams, technology integration committees, and participated in, as well as taught, professional development related to inclusion and co-teaching of students with special needs.  She was selected Liberty High School’s educator of the year in 2008-09. She holds a BA in English with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she also obtained her teacher education. She earned her MAT in Humanities from Colorado College.

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How to Put Yourself First and Still Love Someone

By guest blogger: Thomas Fitzgerald

F.L.Y.I will start with two truths: You will never be able to meet all of the needs of a single person, and no single person will be able to meet all of your needs. You should not view these statements in the negative; they are only meant to make you pause and reflect.

The information I present to you was learned the hard way. I am by no means a relationship expert. In my twenties, I dated a woman who was obsessed with proving herself to her friend. She spent so much time and energy doing things for her friend, but her efforts went unreciprocated. She told me that, one day, her friend would realize everything she had done and they would have the friendship she felt she deserved. This never happened. The notion that a person would toil away in obscurity to finally have her efforts recognized is romantic, but foolish. It would be wonderful to have someone sweep into our lives understanding everything we needed and, fulfill those needs, someone who just “gets us.” Sometimes we meet these people, but you could spend a lifetime waiting for them to come.

I was no better. In this same relationship, I did everything I could to make my girlfriend happy. Whenever there was a problem, I tried to fix it. I went so far as to propose to her because I thought that would make things better. Even after our engagement, I still could not seem to make her happy. My female friends told me what a great boyfriend I was and how much they wished they had one like me. If that were true, why was I unable to make the woman I loved happy? In my mind, that was my job. You work to make the person you love happy, and she will do the same for you. That is how it works, right? It was years after the relationship ended that I realized I was wrong. You cannot make someone else happy, nor can someone else make you happy. Others can only help us be happy. The weight of the responsibility for happiness rests on the shoulders of each individual. As much as I tried, there was no way to make my girlfriend happy unless she wanted to be happy. I had been so consumed with this Sisyphean task that I had completely neglected my own needs.

In all relationships (with friends, family and romantic partners), there is normally a natural ebb and flow of time and energy satisfying the needs of each person in the relationship. A problem arises when this give and take becomes unbalanced. This may happen abruptly or slowly over time and is not inherently malicious. Life is a process of constant change, and humans, over time, change behavior from conscious to unconscious. The things we do for others start to become automatic. Behaviors that once required our full attention to perform require less conscious effort and become routine, similar to the way our drive to and from work becomes automatic; you may find yourself in your driveway at home with no memory of the time after you left work. In a relationship, the comfort we find in the unconscious routine we have developed can be taken for granted. Our unconscious behaviors stay constant without the conscious thought required to take notice of them or change them, while life does not. When the things we have come to expect are no longer available, we may not immediately detect their absence. This leads to a feeling of being unfulfilled, and the source may not be obvious to us. The obligations of life take precedence in our conscious mind: You are aware of what needs to be done at work and home and of the needs of others because they are being constantly communicated to you. Your needs and desires may become drowned out in the cacophony of everything in life that seems to demand your attention. Eventually you may find a gap between what you give to the needs of others and the attention being given to your own needs, which creates a deficit in your mental, emotional, and/or physical energy. Like a battery, if we expend our energy without being recharged, we become drained. You need to receive as much as you give. The deficit between give and take can be tolerated, but not indefinitely. You must find a way to recharge and ensure your needs are being met and will continue to do so. This is not a guide to becoming egocentric and selfish; it is a method to obtain self-awareness and to stop being selfless in an unhealthy way.

“If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.” ~Barbara De Angelis

Perspective

The first thing you will need is distance from the constant needs that are draining you of your energy. This can be as literal as removing yourself from the people making demands on you or as simple as finding some time to quietly be by yourself. You need perspective. The old saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees applies to an inability to understand a situation that you are in the middle of. To be understood, a situation requires an objective viewpoint and enough distance and time away from the situation so that you are not influenced by its circumstances. You need to be able to view yourself without the influences of others. Often we become what we do. People view us by what we provide to them and others. You need to be free of this influence so you can see yourself, unbiased.

Introspection

Next you will need understanding of your personal situation. In this time of distance, you must reflect on what you give, what you receive, what you want, and what you need. The definition of the words “Want” and “Need” are specific to each individual. I will define “Need” as something that you must have and “Want” as something that you would like, but it is not essential to your peace and happiness. It may seem like looking for the missing piece of a puzzle without knowing what the picture even looks like. Take your time and be patient with yourself. Self-awareness is not immediate and may take more time if you are usually more concerned with the world outside of yourself. The key to unlocking the door of self-awareness is introspection, looking inward. There are many processes of introspection, but they do not have to involve meditation or guided questions to greater self-understanding, just take time to think. In an environment without distraction, reflect on how you feel, without guilt. What you feel is honest. Don’t be concerned with being angry with someone you love. You feel that way for a reason. Your emotions are legitimate; leave yourself open to them because they are trying to tell you something. Once you have allowed yourself to feel, think about why you feel that way.  This is the point at which you may start to understand which needs are no longer being met, and how they came to be unfulfilled. If you are feeling lonely, maybe an intimacy in one of your relationships has dwindled or may even seem non-existent. Friends or family may no longer be nearby, or you or your significant other may have become busy with new obligations and have less time to spend together. Even after you feel you have come to understand your need, keep digging. Continue to think about how you are feeling and why. Think about what changes might fulfill your need. You may even come to understand that what was making you feel a certain way was not as important as you believed, or something you thought was inconsequential is critical to your peace of mind. Two points to remember: Emotions are not rational and reason has no empathy. Consider that what you feel is a symptom of an underlying malady, and reason is the method to diagnose the cause of what afflicts you. The problem is that reason and emotion come from two different places and both are necessary to understand ourselves. Self-awareness requires repeated introspection; a process of feel then think, feel then think, until you reach a point where you recognize an emotional response without being overwhelmed by it. Then you can investigate the root cause of a feeling with both reason and emotion.

Communication

After coming to understand what it is that you need, you must communicate that need to yourself and others. If you do not ask for something, you have no right to expect it. You must first be honest with yourself. You have at this point come to an understanding that something that you need is missing. Now believe it. Don’t tell yourself, “It’s not a big deal” if it is, in fact, a big deal. It has bothered you enough to get this far in the process. It matters. Next communicate your needs to others. Tell your friends that you want to hang out more. Tell your family that you can’t make it to a holiday gathering because you have something else that requires your time, even if that something is you. If all of the overtime at work is taking away from your time with your family, talk to your boss. You don’t have to be demanding, but you may be surprised at how understanding he or she may be. Your boss might not give you time off but, he or she may have a greater appreciation of the time you are giving to your job. Make sure you use tact when you communicate your needs, help them understand what you think and how you feel, and listen to their feedback. If you are calm and clear when you communicate your needs, you have no need to feel guilty for asking. It will not always be about asking others to fulfill your needs. Communicating your needs to others (and yourself) can just be informing them that you need something and your plan to meet that need. Know, however, that you may be the person who has to meet your own needs.

A single cycle of these steps may not be enough to ensure that your needs will be met. More than likely it will be repeated multiple times, and it should.  Your life and needs will change as will the lives of those around you. Something we want may fade with time or become a need we cannot be without. Without stopping to assess your needs regularly, you may find yourself with another deficit that requires balancing. Spend as much time considering your own needs as you spend on the needs of others. Putting yourself first ensures your needs are met, that you are healthy of body, mind, and spirit.  When your needs are being met, you will be better equipped to meet the needs of others.

Thomas is a current student and future writer (if he listens to my advice, that is). His process analysis essay on putting yourself first was so well done that I had to share it on my blog (with his permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

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Uncommon Core: book review by Karyn McWhirter

not final cover“Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed In a Cookie Cutter Educational System is a down to earth guide to helping young people develop the life skills they need for success in school, the work place, and in their personal relationships. As a high school teacher, I see the impact of students’ communication skills every day. Through her recollections, Pauline Hawkins fills in the spaces between how parents experience their children and how their teachers do. Her stories are personal yet so common that every teacher I know can relate to them and share many of their own very similar experiences. She reminds us that no amount of curriculum design, dynamic teaching, student practice, studying, or extra tutoring will substitute for teaching children about listening and communicating effectively and respectfully,  valuing themselves and others, practicing patience, compassion, and honesty, or taking responsibility when it comes to growing up to be happy and successful. Teachers and parents alike have a responsibility to shape children into effective people, not just straight A students, and this book provides some very practical ways we can do just that.  We must never forget that children learn wherever they are, and Pauline translates the wisdom she acquired in the classroom and as a mother into practical advice for parents, teachers, and students themselves.”

Karyn McWhirter is a high-school English teacher and yearbook sponsor. During her 14 years in the classroom, she has taught all levels of students and courses from basic skills classes to Advanced Placement.

 

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Anxiety’s Guide to Public Speaking

By guest blogger: Mirade Leigh

Public Speaking          Some people have no problem speaking publicly. They can get up in front of a group of people, large or small, with confidence, without breaking a sweat; their hands do not shake; their face will not flush; they do not so much as stutter. If you are one of these people who can confidently breeze through any kind of presentation, performance, recitation, or speech, then this essay is not for you. I am not one of those people and can only write about what I know: fear, humiliation, and crippling anxiety.

Opportunity. Your teacher or professor has assigned a presentation. It could be anything from a personal narrative, an informative speech, a persuasive speech, to a PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of what your assignment is, you must stand up in front of a group of people, and that is terrifying. For me, it started in senior English. One innocent afternoon when I thought the world was working in my favor, I walked into class to hear my teacher assign a poem recitation. This was a class I did not so much as whisper in. I could not speak in this class without fear ripping any tiny amount confidence I had to shreds. Now, I was being asked to stand up, all eyes on me, and recite poetry? With no dramatics, I believed this to be the worst news I had ever received; this assignment would be the end of me. If you have had this “opportunity” in your life, then you know what I am talking about.

Denial. The “opportunity” has now forcibly made its way into your life and you will create any excuse possible not to participate in this assignment. There may be many absences involved. You might even flat out tell your teacher you are not doing it–that you cannot do it. The word “cannot” will not benefit you and will only get you into trouble. It is important to understand in the early stages of the public speaking journey that you are not unable. If you can walk, talk, crawl, or mumble, you are in fact able. Questioning your ability will only set you up for failure. Now, with all that said, you will still attempt to tell your teacher or professor that you cannot do it. You might say it through stifled tears, avoiding eye contact. You might be wearing the saddest puppy dogface this world has ever seen, but I am telling you with 100% certainty that they will respond with, “Yes you can.” This will feel like a punch in the gut. You will leave feeling defeated and misunderstood with no compassion or sympathy within miles of you, that the world is out to get you and nobody seems to care. Push aside all feelings of self-pity. I understand being nervous and I understand fear, but you will not move forward until you give up this idea that you are unable to do something. Remove the word “cannot” from your vocabulary, immediately.

Acceptance. Sometime after your somewhat emotional breakdown, you will realize the assignment is necessary, you will not be taking a zero, and you must go through with it. I would like to tell you that your nerves will soon settle, but that would make me a liar. The fear you were experiencing when you first heard of the assignment is most likely the same, if not worse. This time there is no avoiding involved. Instead, day-by-day your anxiety will build. The only way it will stop is when you say that last word in front of your class and step down from the humiliation. You might as well take your coat off and stay a while because you have a ways to go.

Thoughtful decisionmaking. Before you can begin the actual presentation process, you must have the written piece you plan to present. Whether it is a speech or poem, your specific assignment might require it to be a personal piece you have written or plan to write. For my poem recitation, I had to choose from a variety of poems written by others. Regardless, if it is your writing or someone else’s, the subject you choose to go with must be something you are passionate about. You cannot expect to speak about just anything in a monotone voice with no feelings toward the subject at all; if you do not enjoy it, neither will your audience. What you say has to mean something to you, make you feel something, so in turn you can make your audience feel something. Anybody can say an assortment of words in front of a group of people and consider it public speaking; however, it is not public speaking done well.

Memorization. It is not only important if it is required for your assignment, but memorization helps calm your nerves. Do not focus on how you present until you understand and have memorized what you are presenting. You may or may not have a paper template with you for your presentation. If you are presenting a speech, of course you will have it in front of you for your presentation. This does not mean you should not have almost every word memorized. You should have read through it enough times that each sentence comes out with ease and flows so you can make eye contact with your audience rather than looking down at a piece of paper reading word for word. You will only have it with you as a guide. Your assignment may also require complete memorization, with no paper template, for example, a poem recitation. Do not become overwhelmed by this. Memorize line by line. Read each line repeatedly. When you have it down, add the next line, and recite them together. Repeat for each paragraph or stanza until you no longer have to read; you can just recite. From the moment you know what you are reciting until you step up on stage, you should be, either aloud or in your head, reciting every chance you get. Knowing that you have every single word memorized can take away the anxiety of forgetting a line while you are presenting.

Expression. When it comes to what and how, sometimes the how can be more important than the what. This is where the present in presentation comes in; it is how you express, articulate, and gesture. When speaking publicly, your hand gestures, your articulation of words, and your expressions not only help your audience understand what you are talking about but also make them feel what it is you are talking about. Get rid of this preconceived idea that judgment will follow your expression. This is how good public speakers get their message across. The reality is that those who do not care, will not remember your presentation even an hour later, and those who do care, will remember the positive influence it had on them and how you made them feel. Twenty years from now, people are not going to be ranting about how much they disliked your presentation and how they still experience second-hand embarrassment. Once you stop flattering yourself with the fear that people care that much about what you do and how you do it, you ease the fear of judgment. You will be practicing a lot in front of the mirror. You might even have to research certain things to understand fully the meaning, so you can present it with confidence. Good presentations do not come easy; they take time.

Final Product. The day is here. You are up on stage with the lights beating down on you. You might be sweating; you are probably shaking; and you still are not sure if you can do this. I would suggest you just go through with it because running off stage will cause you far more humiliation than a couple of stuttered paragraphs. You might become so overwhelmed that right smack in the middle you forget the next line. Do not sigh. Do not roll your eyes. Do not make an awkward comment followed by an awkward laugh. Pause. Your mouth is working faster than your brain can form coherent thoughts; you know this inside and out. Continue. Nobody noticed; it was just a dramatic pause. Also, talk slower. Look out at the audience. Notice people nodding, closing their eyes with their heads raised, soaking in every word. Right at the end of my poem recitation I noticed one of the judges reciting the poem with me, nodding, absorbing the meaning. Look for those people; the reassurance will calm you. When you are done, take a deep breath. It is over; you did it.

Your first mistake on this journey was seeing public speaking as a dreaded task instead of an opportunity. Any chance given to you to face a fear is not one you want to give up. After my poem recitation, I ended up going to the school wide competition. I placed second. For the first time in my life, I could see my fears sprawled out on the road ahead of me, and excelled despite it. You do not have to perfect the art of public speaking. You do not have to become a professional public speaker. You do not even have to overcome the fear. Just be afraid, and do it anyway.

 

Mirade is a current student and rising star. Her process analysis essay about public speaking shared such great advice about life in general, that I had to share it on my blog (with her permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you are fearful about anything, follow Mirade’s advice: Be afraid, and do it anyway.

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Opt-out Letter 2015

March 23, 2015

Dear New Hampshire School District,

I am refusing to allow my child, Ian Hawkins, to take Smarter Balanced assessment, the Science NECAP, or any other state standardized tests. I believe that my child’s educational progress can best be measured using his daily school work and regular classroom testing.

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, we are protected by our rights in regard to parental control over one’s child. Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35)

I believe that a single “snapshot” test, such as Smarter Balanced, cannot adequately assess Ian’s skills. I also believe this testing creates undue stress and anxiety for him. The elementary school has been wonderful in assuring Ian’s educational progress this year; it is because of this growth that I am also frustrated that instruction time is being taken away from him in order to administer these tests. Neither the school district nor his teachers will have access to the results of these tests until the next school year, which will not help anyone improve my son’s education now.

Ethically, I cannot support a test that is taking away time, money, and resources that should be used for my son’s edification.

It is for these reasons that Ian will not be taking any of the state tests this school year. I respectfully request that Ian’s class grades, class placement, and eligibility for future endeavors not be affected by refusal of this test. Please contact me so we can discuss alternative class work and/or activities for Ian while his fellow students are testing. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

Pauline Hawkins

 

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