No Longer About Wall Space

20170210_131014Like many of my fellow educators, I’m a control freak. Therefore, I hate the time between Christmas and February vacations, since winter weather frequently denies me control over day-to-day life, especially in my classroom. Even in this (relatively) mild winter, a new presidential administration with a particularly concerning pick to lead the Department of Education has made it feel like the ground is moving a little too quickly underfoot. By the time we get to March, the longer days make it possible to see the light at the end of June, but despite the fact that every resource on teaching will tell you that disillusionment is supposed to hit sometime around Halloween, for me it’s always hit right about now.

 

This feeling of disillusionment peaked for me during my second year of teaching, in the winter of 2015. You might remember that winter as the one that broke Boston’s snowfall record. Constant anxiety about whether or not school would be cancelled, paired with the daily fight to keep my students engaged despite interruptions to the schedule meant that I was frustrated regardless of whether or not school was in session, and it took a real toll on me mentally.

 

One morning, feeling particularly adrift after a two-hour delay forced me to scrap another day’s worth of lesson plans, I felt like I had to take control of something. Looking around my classroom, it occurred to me that part of the problem was that I wasn’t excited to spend time there, and if I didn’t feel excited here, how could I expect students to feel any differently?

 

I hadn’t felt this way my first year, so what was different? The answer was written on the walls–or would have been, if anything had been on the walls. When did my room become such a cold, sterile, boring place? Even as a student teacher, I had always used my wallspace as a resource, but this was the first year of my school’s 1:1 initiative, and I had, like any good second-year teacher, adopted every new strategy, app, or gimmick that I’d come across. Why make a reference poster when I could make a slide or an infographic? Why make an anchor chart, when I can just share the graphic organizer on Google Classroom? In my effort to keep my district happy, I had inadvertently given other people control over the day-to-day choices in my classroom, and I’d consequently lost the bright, colorful and engaging classroom space that I had loved. By the end of the day I had used my Amazon Prime account to buy a giant roll of butcher paper (800 feet for about $40…I’m still using the same roll two years later) and replenish my marker supply, and I haven’t looked back since.

 

Using wall space as a learning space isn’t exactly cutting-edge, but as the anchor charts slowly started to return to my walls, my class dynamic changed for the better. I’ve always struggled to feel comfortable giving verbal praise in class, but displaying a student’s work sends a clear message that I’m proud of them. When a student insists that we’ve never discussed themes in The Odyssey, I can point at the list we’ve been building every day over the course of the last six weeks. Most importantly, the classroom itself becomes an artifact of the progress that students have made over the course of the year, and seeing our progress empowers me and my students to keep working toward tomorrow.

 

We work in a profession where between winter weather, flu season, district initiatives, national politics and a host of other factors, it’s easy to feel powerless. For those of us with the majority of our careers ahead of us, that feeling of powerless can be magnified, especially if we’re still working toward professional teacher status. However, when that feeling of powerlessness sets it (and it will set in), it’s also important to remember that, in the words of fellow NMC member Gene Reiber, you are the most important thing in your classroom. You have control over how you make students feel, the values you choose to emphasize in your class, and the outlook you bring to school every day, and no administrator, district initiative or Secretary of Education can take those things away from you. Once I figured out how I expressed those three constants, I felt a little more comfortable drawing a line in the sand and reclaiming who I was as a teacher, and hopefully you will too.

 

If not, keep at it! Summer is coming…

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Post written by Emma Hensler, a MTA New Member Committee Member.

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!

Difficult Colleague? No Sweat.

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Pessimistic. Obstinate. These are just two of the many adjectives one might use to characterize a difficult colleague. And we all have at least one. No building is immune to such a person. So how do we collaborate with these individuals without allowing them to compromise our beliefs about our own professional work? Below are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years about different types of difficult colleagues.

  1. The Negative Neighbor: As painful as this may seem, pause and listen to this person. Whether or not you feel her complaints warrant any legitimacy, I generally find that people just want to be heard. Perhaps suggest to this person that she should bring her concerns to the building rep. Or, if you disagree with her point of view, then take courage- honestly and politely disagree. At the end of the day, transparency is always best, and if your view differs from hers, she’ll be less likely to share her negative thoughts with you in the future.
  2. The Stubborn Department Member: It’s common planning time (wait, is there such a thing?) and you have this awesome idea! Everyone is on board except this person. Like your neighbor above, he is negative and resistant to try anything new because 182 days of textbook work hasn’t failed him yet. Consider for a moment that perhaps this colleague is afraid of failure. I know, I know. We’re educators! We tell our students all the time that they shouldn’t fear failure, because their failures turn out to be their most valuable learning experiences. But realize, too, your co-worker is human. If everyone else is on board, then don’t worry about your inflexible outlier. Hopefully, he’ll see and hear about the success your idea has brought to your fellow teammates, and will, on his own, gradually come around.
  3. The Staffer with No Regard for School Rules: At last week’s staff meeting, the principal requested that there be more adult presence in the halls during transition times. It’s been a week since this meeting, and this person has yet to share in the responsibility. However, this isn’t the only time he’s “forgotten” to pitch in. Oh! And that time in your class when you told Elijah to put away his chips and his ear buds, his response was, “Why? Mr. So-and-so let’s me!” I get it. It’s enough to make you want to march down the hall and yell at Mr. So-and-so for undermining your authority and for not being a team player! But you shouldn’t do that, at least not the yelling at him in front of his students part, and neither should you gripe about him behind his back, because then you’d be no better than your negative neighbor. Rather, have a private conversation with him. Confrontation tends to have a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Again, transparency is always best. Try phrasing your complaints as concerns. Tell him you need his help in the hallway. As for Elijah’s food and music, let your colleague know what your classroom rules are, and ask him to please remind his students that his rules apply to his classroom, and not every teacher’s classroom.

 

While I could go on in identifying difficult colleague archetypes, it’s not really necessary. If your teach-mates have gotten under your skin, then it’s because you’ve allowed them to. Remember that your colleagues are worthy of respectful and honest conversations, and if they are resistant to your feedback, then don’t waste your time on them. Chances are they are in the minority and not worth the energy you could be spending on important things, like standardized testing (wink, wink).

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Post written by New Member Committee Member Miriam Kranz, Middle School Drama Teacher in Southbridge, MA

You can follow Miriam on Twitter @mimik82

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!

 

Why Won’t You Go to Just for New Teachers This Year?

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So you just got a flyer for the MTA’s Just For New Teachers Conference on November 19 hosted by the New Member Committee. Now what? Why won’t you go?!

Are you concerned about the content of the workshops offered?

Don’t be! There is a plethora of workshops to choose from for all new educators. You can choose to attend a workshop on anything from technology to classroom management to dealing with students with trauma. The workshops also range in content area and level. In addition, we are putting on an entertaining panel discussion full of teachers who will be talking about their experiences in education.

 

Are you concern about the cost?

It’s actually only $65 and that covers breakfast snacks, lunch, and all the workshops! That’s a bargain when it comes to full day conferences! Still concerned? Remember that $65 is like a mediocre dinner for two or a pair of sneakers you’ll never wear or something else not worth the $65 you spent on it. So put your money to better use by coming to this conference. Still concerned? Since this conference covers part of your district’s responsibility to provide new teachers with 50 hours of mentoring beyond the induction year, you could even ask around at your local and they might reimburse you for the cost. Give it a try! No promises, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Even better, JFNT is free if you are a member of SEAM!

 

Are you concern that it’s on a Saturday?

We used to hold this conference on a Friday, but many new teachers don’t like missing a day of school. So now you don’t have to worry about leaving sub plans! Also, you can bring a bunch of your new educator friends from all over the state since you know they’ll be available. Everyone in their first 5 years of teaching will be able take something away from this conference.

 

It’s easy to get to since JFNT is at Worcester Technical High School this year. Worcester is a nice central location. Well it’s definitely easier to get to than having to drive to Western MA from the Boston area (or the other way around which I am VERY familiar with…).

 

As an added bonus, we are putting on a book swap! Bring your books related to professional practice and you can pick up a new book.

 

Going to the Just For New Teachers conference is a great way to connect with other new educators just like you around the state. I always appreciated the reassurance that I am not alone in the overwhelming tornado that is being a new teacher.

 

Here is the link to register right now: http://www.cvent.com/events/2016-mta-just-for-new-teachers-conference/event-summary-e0eca911a83c416aa70fede2e33ccfcc.aspx

 

So, why won’t you go to JFNT? What’s your excuse now?

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Post written by NMC member Kathryn Procter

You can follow Kathryn on Twitter: @señoraprocter

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!

Another Snow Day?: A Middle School Teacher’s Reflections on Lesson Planning and the Effects on Students

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“Hello, this is the superintendent’s office of the Malden public schools.  There will be no school tomorrow, Tuesday, February…”  Wait… is this a broken record?  Didn’t I just get this phone call yesterday?  And last week – twice?  And the week before last for four days in a row?

This year has been incredible for snow days.

Truth is, though, I absolutely love snow.  I still get giddy with excitement when there is the prediction of a big snow storm coming, and I look forward to watching through my windows as the snow falls, to going out to take walks and pictures in the snow. So, despite the number of days off and the sheer volume of snow, I have been rather content.

Then I think of the impact it all has on my professional life.

Of course, a few days of extra time off can be great for catching up on grading or lesson planning.  However…

The school where I teach runs on a 4-day rotation schedule.  Every odd-numbered day has 65-minute core class blocks, while even-numbered days have 55 minute blocks.  So every time we miss school, I have to go back to my plan book to figure out how my lessons can be adapted to different class lengths.  Sometimes this is easy – the 10-minute quiz that would have been given at the end of class on Tuesday can instead be tacked onto the end of Wednesday’s class.  Sometimes it is really tricky.  I like to schedule laboratory activities to fit into the longer blocks to allow as much time as possible for exploration and inquiry.  When snow days interrupt the schedule it interferes with this timing and I have to get creative to figure out how to fit the activities into shorter amounts of time without throwing off the rest of my planning (I like to plan two to three weeks in advance).

Another complicating factor is the amount of review that must be done to help kids remember the foundational knowledge they have built, especially after a long string of time off as we had last week.  Ultimately, it is not difficult to ask a few questions to help kids remember what we worked on before the disruption, but the time for these questions must be carved out of a lesson that I have already planned down to the minute; I have to prioritize and decide what can be cut to make space.

Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, is to think about how the weather impacts my students.  Two of my students did not come to school Wednesday and Thursday of last week; we got a message from the assistant principal informing us that their parents said that they could not walk through the snow to school because of a lack of proper footwear.  So they missed even more time due to the weather.  I know, also, how many of the students look forward to and appreciate coming to school because of the safety and security they feel from the daily routine, the adults with whom they interact, and from their friends.  I know that for many of them the additional time away from school can be emotionally stressful.

In the end, I do enjoy snow and snow days – I really can’t see that ever changing.  But, I temper my happiness some in consideration of the full picture of what they mean.  I am not sure what the solution is to these problems – after all, it is winter in New England and there will be snow.  However, it is a subject that demands consideration, especially with the prospect of climate change increasing the strength of snowstorms going forward (I had to drop that in!  Science teacher obligation).

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Post written by Laura Vago, a New Member Committee Member and 7th grade Science teacher in Malden, MA.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LRVago