Are You a Headwind or a Tailwind?

airplane-wallpaper-2By Peggy Wuenstel – I wrote my final post for the blogging season last year about why teaching is like air travel.

Despite the fact that I have no plans, again, to get on an airplane for our summer vacation, I find myself returning to the topic. My husband is a very reluctant flier, not because of any fear, but because of a genuine dislike for enclosed cabins, long lines, cranky passengers, and being told what to do. Nobody likes to be told what to do, but air travel takes it to new heights. And we are expected to believe that this is all for our own safety and the efficiency of the industry. It sure feels a lot like teaching school these days.

I will confess to having a limited understanding of the forces that keep planes in the air and ships afloat. The fact that huge metal tubes loaded with passengers and luggage do not fall out of the sky demands an understanding of physics that I do not possess. A balance of lift, thrust, drag, and gravity is also necessary for us to keep kids flying or afloat in the classroom. There are forces acting upon them that we cannot control, but also those that we can impact.

I’ve decided this year, spurred by good mentoring and continuing education, to be more conscious of my influence in acting upon my students. I was in a very real sense determining if I was a headwind or a tailwind for the kids I serve. Some of these kids live in a whirlwind and their greatest needs are stability and a clear itinerary.

Things that were in this year’s flight plan:

  • Keeping track of the percentage of my interactions with children that are criticisms or directions (the latter of which are just a “light” version of the former): There is lots of research out there that indicates it takes multiple positive messages to override a single negative one.
  • Taking student “pushback” less personally: We are genetically programmed to question authority. We know how kids react to being told what to do; yet we do it anyway, even when they hate it. I have found it so much more effective to guide students, and let them believe the discoveries were their very own.
  • Refusing to engage in “awfulizing,” predicting the collapse of everything including a child’s future if we don’t manage children’s behavior swiftly, sternly, and completely: I don’t see lessons as the potential for “crashing and burning.” I don’t allow them to see their challenges or setbacks that way either. I’m not a “zero-tolerance” kind of teacher and never will be.
  • Understanding that passive resistance is the last refuge of the powerless: When you can’t stop, you can slow down. When students feel like they can’t succeed, they won’t try, and that’s when planes fall out of the sky. The primary task of discipline is not shaping behavior by tight controls because it more often than not produces oppositional children who grow into oppositional adults.
  • Remembering that lecturing, punishment, and tighter controls do not work: Lack of understanding is not the problem, but the lack of a strong student-teacher relationship may be. When kids feel they are not being heard, their behavior often reflects this fear and frustration.
  • When things aren’t going smoothly, when there is turbulence or a headwind, our reaction should not be to change the destination or the ETA: We need to change the way in which we present information, reinforce effort, and engage learners. Withhold the excess directions and the criticism urging us to change the pattern.
  • Believing that it is possible to assure kids that they are loved, safe, and that it is possible to be happy in an uncertain world: We teach this happiness through our example. If we live as if life is a competition that we can only win if everyone else loses, we lose our opportunity to be the best kind of tailwind — the one that supports, propels, and keeps aloft while maintaining the possibility for students to be in the pilot’s seat.
  • Venturing into the air only when you have a full range of equipment: Know your subject have a detailed flight plan, travel with people you trust. If the only tool that you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.
  • Enjoying the scenery outside your window, and appreciate the perspective that is afforded you in the clouds: Try to learn something new from every trip you take.

A Manifesto and Mission for Writing

Blog Picture Amanda SzramiakBy Amanda Szramiak – Happy Summer!

In my last blog post, I talked about my semester of work in the writing center. For our final project, we had to create a “Manifesto” describing our writing center philosophy in a creative way. I mentioned my writing center values in my previous post, but I wanted to share more of my philosophy.

In my personal manifesto artwork, I created four different canvases to represent my tutoring philosophy. Although my strongest values of creating a comforting and collaborative environment may not be known to the naked eye, I hope to explain my vision.

The two canvases with the silver centers represent my value of creating a comforting and reassuring environment. C. S. Lewis states, “You can make anything by writing.” In order for students to realize they are in a safe and welcoming environment, I aim to reassure them that they can create anything by writing. This quote represents creating a comforting environment because it shows the writer any type of writing is welcomed and accepted in a writing center session with me.

Joseph Heller states, “Every writer I know has trouble writing,” so I aim to give the writers I see a personal example of a time I struggled with the same thing they are currently struggling with. By showing them this quotation, I reassure the writer that all writers, no matter their expertise, struggle from time to time and make certain they feel that they are not alone in the writing session but, more importantly, in the writing process.

The two canvases with the gold centers represent my vision of creating a collaborative environment. Doris Lessing states, “You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.” To me, this quote embodies the importance of creating a collaborative and productive environment. In order become a better writer, you must actually write, and I hope to make all the writers aware of this simple concept. Although some believe they are simply bad writers, I hope to make it extremely clear that the only way they will improve their writing is by actually writing, and when they are reluctant to actually write, I let them know I will be there to work collaboratively with them during their writing processes.

Similarly, Ray Bradbury states, “You only fail when you stop writing.” In addition to explaining the importance of actually writing, I want to make all the writers I see aware that failure in writing only comes about when you stop writing. I understand that some may not want to write or even care about writing, I nevertheless urge that ceasing writing entirely will not solve any problems.

For artistic appeal, I used gold and silver to differentiate between the values. I chose to have gold represent my value of creating a collaborative and productive environment because I believe if I achieve that, I receive a gold metal. Although I believe creating a comforting environment is absolutely essential in my tutoring practice, I believe having the writer leave with their expectations being accomplished is slightly more important. I chose the light and dark blues for the aesthetic appeal with the gold and silver.

The different shapes created from the lines represent my relationship with the writers, and although the lines all make up different shapes and triangles, they are all connected. This symbolizes how writing is the connection that brings the writer and myself together. Even though all the lines and shapes are different (similar to the writers and their writing being different), I remain connected to all writers because of their single guaranteed commonality: writing.

After a semester of hard work and dedication to the writing center, I am happy to announce I did get the job as a tutor! Next semester, make sure to come and visit me!

Staying Sharp This Summer

Bokeh-Bible-6-900By Aubrey Murtha – Friends, it’s summertime!

The painful Wisconsin winter is over, and we survived to tell the tale. Sophomore year at Marquette was a great one, but I will enjoy these few months off. As tempting as it is to host a massive bonfire and burn all of my school papers from the past year, I realize that summer isn’t about ditching all things academic.

It is typical Aubrey Murtha fashion to finish up the school year strong and then completely check out from anything intellectually stimulating for three months. This year, though, I am trying a few things to be sure that I exercise my brain throughout the long months of summer.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list?

  1. Painting: Okay, so it’s not really academic, but painting is a mentally stimulating activity. Not only does it give me a chance to utilize my creative abilities, but it also keeps me away from screens and focused on making something beautiful.
  2. Reading: I’m not the best at joy reading because, sadly, reading often feels like a chore. I do SO much reading for my classes during the school year that I usually feel the urge to abandon books for the summer. However, this summer I am making it a goal to befriend books. After all, I am going to be an English teacher, and I really should embrace the same passion for reading that I hope to instill in my students.
  3. Writing: This summer I am working on two ongoing writing projects. The first of these is my blogging position for the MU Educator. The second is an article that I am composing with one of my professors and several peers (we are hoping to eventually submit it to a journal for publication!). These writing projects are the perfect way to stay sharp throughout the summer, especially because the process mirrors my academic writing process. Thus, summer projects make writing my first paper in the fall a bit easier because I haven’t forgotten my routine.

So how about you?  How will you keep your brain active and your mind ticking throughout the summer?

Five tips to get you (and your school!) through the Badger Exam

recording_badgerBy Sabrina Bong – If you are in the field of education, you’ve probably become very acquainted with the term “Badger Exam.”

Right now, that is all my middle school, and surrounding middle schools, are talking about: how the test is going, how we as teachers and counselors can prepare for it, and how we can prepare our students for it. There was actually an email chain among several of the middle school counselors in the area, asking about the possibility of technology glitches and how to overcome them.

Secretly, a part of me is glad that we have moved away from the thick WKCE booklets, which were not only exhausting to count, alphabetize, and label, but also brought back nightmares from my own testing days. To this day, whenever someone mentions the WKCE or the Iowa Basics, I have a flashback to filling in bubble after bubble on a never ending Scantron sheet.

Regardless of whether it is the Badger Exam, Iowa Basics, or another form of standardized testing, I think we can all agree that testing is tedious for everyone involved. Students are stressed about doing well. Teachers are stressed because the anxiety level in their classroom is heightened. Parents are stressed because their students are panicking about the test. And, as a counselor, I am stressed for my students. Recently, my office has become a flocking ground for students who are burnt out from testing, exhausted, or nervous about how this exam will impact the rest of their lives.

Is there a way to cope with all this anxiety? Based on what some of my friends and I have tried at various schools, here are five ways to help your school survive testing season!

  1. Remind your students to R-E-L-A-X. My students know that I am a big fan of Aaron Rodgers, so they either roll their eyes or laugh whenever I quote his infamous saying. Here is the thing I always tell my kids: This is one test. Yes, it is a very important test, but it is also one brief snapshot of your intelligence. Thinking of the Badger Exam as this “end all, be all” test will only cause anxiety to heighten, which may lead to poor test performance. Tell your students to take a deep breath, count to ten, and remember they are very capable of doing well.
  1. Be patient with everyone. There is a funny sign that I saw on Pinterest that said “I’m sorry for the things I said when I was hungry.” I believe this sign could be appropriately switched to “I’m sorry for the things I said when I was testing.” With all the anxiety running rampant through the school because of testing, people’s emotions are heightened. Students may be taking their nervousness and stress out on their peers, parents, teachers, and possibly even you! (I have had more students yell at me these past few weeks than I have in two years.) My best advice? Remember that this too shall pass. Roll with the punches and offer a sympathetic ear to anyone who needs to vent. And try not to take it personally; most likely, everything will return to “normal” post-testing.
  1. Be prepared. No matter how hard you try, it is very possible that someone will have a meltdown in the middle of testing. Whether it’s the student you see every day, or the student who you see once in a blue moon, things may fall apart the minute they start testing. I always have granola bars in my office for my students who get hungry (and cranky), as well as any number of stress balls for students to use to calm down. While I can’t necessarily pull them from testing, they definitely help when students leave the classroom and come marching to me!
  1. Have rewards for your students. One year, I brought Smarties in for my “smarties.” The students loved the treat and thought it was really cool that I remembered (and acknowledged) that they were testing. Sometimes, they need a sweet treat at the end of the test to let them know that they made it through.
  1. Have rewards for your teachers. They are in the front lines, dealing with technology glitches, cranky kids, and tests that just don’t want to work, and somehow, they still have smiles on their faces at the end of the day. It doesn’t have to be something big; one of my friends gave each of her teachers a water bottle with a granola bar and a mini pack of M&M’s attached to it, with a note that said, “Here is a little energy boost to get you through testing. You can do it!” The teachers will appreciate that you acknowledged their hard work!

“Teaching” the Baltimore Uprising

baltimore-protestersBy Nick McDaniels – I’ve missed a few regular blog posts.  To my tens of regular readers, sorry.

To my students though, who got more unadulterated attention during this time period, you’re welcome. It would be a neglect of my educational blogger duty to be this blog’s only contributor from Baltimore and not comment on how I handled the Baltimore uprising (what you may know from the media as #BaltimoreRiots) as a teacher.

The truth is: I didn’t handle it. I didn’t teach it. I didn’t “seize” a teachable moment. I made myself a part of the experience on exactly the same level as my students. I gave them space to express themselves. They gave me space to express myself. I listened. They listened. And we didn’t have to wait for schools to reopen for that.

The day after the uprising, when schools were closed, I spent most of the day calling, texting, and emailing students, checking on their well-being, on their emotions, on their opinions. This wasn’t my idea, of course. After many students contacted me to check on my family, I was inspired to reach out to the others I had not heard from. As usual, I do my best work as a teacher when I take cues from my students.

On the day schools reopened, I structured space and time for students to talk about their experiences during the uprising, about the Freddie Gray’s death, about the protests, about police. And I learned an incredible amount. Teenagers, as I’ve come to know, are extremely sophisticated and complex. They often have more insight to offer in challenging situations than adults. If only we would get out of their way.

Many teachers I know wisely scrapped their lesson plan to do the same thing. The importance of school being open for students to have a place to share is undeniable. Students were impacted by the events in varying degrees, and students showed a great deal of respect in understanding the opinions and situations of others. Older students led discussions with younger students. Teachers organized panel-discussions. All of this helped students process an incredibly divisive set of events, from Freddie Gray’s arrest to the announcement of charges against six officers.

But this is not over. Our government arrested protesters and instituted a curfew. The National Guard patrolled our streets. The officers still await trial. None of this is over. So what do we do from here as teachers? We have given students safe space to express themselves. How can we help students move this discussion forward?

We need to give the students the language and tools to help push solutions forward. We need to help students understand the issues. Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Assembly. Habeas Corpus. Use of Force. Criminal Procedure. We need to continue to give students space to express themselves and give them the language with which to do so, because it is our young people who will be charged with fixing our system that has allowed and perpetuated systemic injustice.

Our best work, particularly as teachers, is to get out of their way while they go about this work.

Shaking Off My Summertime Sadness

summer-timeBy Taylor Gall – For the first time in my school career, I am sad for school to be over.

It’s crazy, I know, but I wish with every fiber of my being that this year wasn’t coming to a close. Of course I’m excited to be done with my finals and to put all of the stressors of school behind me, but this has hands down been the best year of my life, and I don’t want it to ever end.

This year, I have turned 21, bonded with my students, and finally settled into the true role of being “Miss Gall.” I’ve made so many new friends, I’ve joined clubs and committees, I’ve made change on my campus, and I have truly fallen in love with Marquette.

As a freshman in college, I attended a small Catholic college near Green Bay, and at the end of that year, I felt an immense sense of relief as I drove away from its small campus for the last time. I had been anxiously awaiting the summer that was ahead of me: three months of working in a small garden center near my home, hanging out with my high school friends, and lounging on my back porch. I wasn’t going to miss the campus or my friends, and, quite frankly, I was excited to never go back.

Two years and one school transfer later, I can’t believe I ever felt that way. Even though I’m spending my summer living on Marquette’s campus and planning many Milwaukee-centered adventures, I am so sad for school to be ending. I have grown to love my new home and my new community, and it is difficult to imagine a time in my life when I wasn’t a golden eagle.

I’m sad to say goodbye to my professors, to lose the hustle and bustle that comes along with school time at Marquette. I’ll miss my friends that are going home for the summer, and I am admittedly terrified to openly acknowledge that I am entering into my SENIOR year of college.

Yet, despite my case of summertime sadness, I know that I have plenty of great times to come in this upcoming academic year. Senior year, just like my junior year, will be filled with lots of “firsts,” as well as a few “lasts” (to imagine that a year from now I will have finished my last undergraduate classes is INSANE), and plenty of wonderful moments and people to share them with.

Summer, I am ready for you.

10 Teachers Par Excellence: A Belated Appreciation

teacher-appreciationYes, Teacher Appreciation Week was LAST week. But perhaps this lateness is appropriate. Most appreciation of teachers is, after all, LATE.

How many of us start appreciating teachers 5, 10, 20 years after leaving their classrooms?

That said, here’s my late but sincere appreciation of just a few of my teachers par excellence—ten magnificent human beings who decided (and demonstrated) that teaching is a worthy way to spend one’s life:

Thank you to:

  1. Mrs. Leetz, my 3rd grade teacher, for her Writing Stations. She had brightly-papered boxes stuffed with story starters. Priscilla and I (Priscilla being the protagonist in all of my stories) couldn’t get enough. Perhaps those were the seeds that led me to my degree in creative writing and that novel still in the works.
  2. Mr. Bergner, my 6th grade teacher, who organized an enormous community plant sale in order to take his classroom of dressed-up 10 year-olds to Mader’s German restaurant for a gourmet meal after teaching us table manners. How cool was that?
  3. Mr. Gaulden, my 8th grade science teacher for cumulus stratus and cirrus, which I identify often. He taught me the kinds of clouds, what they do, and why I should care (the same can be said for so many natural phenomena).
  4. Mrs. Gorton, my 7th grade math teacher, for naming our polynomials ACDC, REO, and other cool names and for reading us mystery stories aloud when our assignments were done, because she wanted us to be careful thinkers.
  5. Mr. Yach, my 9th grade English teacher, who one morning introduced us to his “illustrious” wife and thanked her “profusely” for bringing him the V8 he forgot at home. First, I thought it was amazing to catch any glimpse of a teacher’s outside life; second, I wanted to use words like that, and eventually I did.
  6. Mrs. Tanzer, my 11th and 12th grade English teacher, for her tangents—anecdotes so fascinating that they made me want to be a reader and a writer and a teacher; and for the attention she paid to my words—lively and lengthy commentary down the margins of my papers, not just pointing out my errors, but celebrating my ideas.
  7. Mr. Neau, my band teacher, who infuriated me by making me master a crazy hard fingering pattern on my oboe in one breath—because, he said, I could do it and anything less from me wasn’t “A” work. He was right.
  8. Dr. Boly, my uber cerebral English Lit professor, who one unsuspecting day my Junior year, declared me “brilliant” in class when we were analyzing “Musee de Beaux Arts” and I thought, hey maybe I am.
  9. Dr. Maguire, my controversial theology professor, who I saw as the true intersection of intellect, pragmatism and morality; who helped me articulate why I think the way I do; who made me realize that one person’s common sense is another’s controversy, a lesson I’ve repeatedly experienced and embraced, knowing that I’m in good company.
  10. Dr. Jay, my multicultural literature professor who tipped my thinking on its side, challenging me to examine my eurocentric education, teaching me about cultural identity, and profoundly influencing my thinking and teaching.

Here lie just a fraction of the educators who greatly impacted my formative years, who have had a lasting influence into my adulthood, and who have made me revere teaching as the noble profession it is.

Thank you, all teachers, for lives well spent.

And now, dear readers, your turn. Let’s name names: what teachers have influenced you?

The comments board is open…


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