To the Next Freshman: Remember to Call Mom

nature-field-summer-quantity.jpgBy Noel Hincha – A nervous student rushes into a classroom to sit down amongst a sea of others tapping their pens against fresh paper. Another student races with sandals beating against scorching pavement, trying to make it to the first education class. Now, fast forward about nine months. A sleep-deprived-coffee-high student parades out of the last final exam and into a liberating summer vacation. Another student waves goodbye as their roommate packs up the final box and waits for the congested elevator to make it to the ninth floor. The first year is done, and freshmen transform into sophomores.

Here are words of wisdom from one class to the next:

  1. Procrastinate less. Take charge and dominate the syllabus. Manage your time wisely, as in focus on school and prioritize. Visit your professor’s office hours.
  2. Stay humble. Your grades constantly ebb and flow, so try not to be overly confident with one good grade. Always study.
  3. Group projects. Whether you are a follower or a leader, eventually you will have to own up to responsibilities or crash and burn with your manufactured squad.
  4. Be involved. Join clubs and talk to the awkward guy next to you. Build yourself a network both personally and professionally – it all begins your first year. Have fun.
  5. Deep breathing. It takes time to adjust, try not to sweat it; however, always remember: mental health is just as important as physical health. Be healthy, sleep well.
  6. Stay true. Try not to compare yourself to others. The college experience is unique and, rightfully, all yours. Be yourself.
  7. Explore Milwaukee. Pop the Marquette bubble and venture out downtown, at the beach, in the bus, and around the South Side. This is your city, now.
  8. Love learning. Isn’t that why you’re here?

As Graduation Approaches, Reflect on the Many Lessons Learned

2475149762_a1aae0c22d (1).jpgBy Amanda Szramiak – One of my favorite things about education courses is that our midterms and finals usually ask us to apply what we have learned over the course of the semester to our professional development. I think this form of assessment is truly beneficial to myself as a student but also as a future educator, as it allows me to reflect on the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my teacher education training and how I can apply it as I pursue my journey into full-time teaching. Here are some of the things I have learned:

Middle School Really Isn’t So Bad
At the beginning of the class, I assumed middle school learners were difficult to deal with, easily agitated, and uninterested learners. For some reason, I had this preconceived notion that middle school learners were the hardest group of students to teach. While I had no reasoning behind these assumptions other than hearing horror stories, I was extremely skeptical about teaching in the middle school grades.

Thankfully, I have learned an immense amount of information about middle school learners and how to teach these specific learners, which has eradicated my previous thoughts about adolescent learners. All learners, at some point, are difficult to teach. Whether a student is having a bad day or they are not understanding the materials, all students struggle, not just middle school learners. This realization allowed me to see my own ignorance. Similarly, there are some days when students are more eager to learn than others, and that is okay.

When I realized this, I concluded that no matter what age I teach, I will have to make sure my students are aware that some days are going to be better than others. I am thankful for my middle school students in my field placement this semester because they have shown me the importance of treating them like young adults. Middle school learners need to know that they are not in elementary school anymore, and I must motivate them to learn and engage in school as the young adults they are.

While my middle school students did confirm that middle school learners can be difficult to deal with at times, I am no longer deterred from teaching middle school because of them. My students were eager to participate in my lessons, and I think we were all able to learn something from each other

The Importance of Social-Emotional Support in the Classroom
Based on my experiences in my classroom and my field experience, I have learned a great deal about aiding the social-emotional support. The five most important lessons, in my opinion, are as follows:

  • Because middle school learners’ brains are constantly developing and evolving, it is imperative to “design lessons that include a full range of sensory experiences, including music, smell, touch, and emotion (“The Young Adolescent Learning,” Saylers and Mckee, p. 2). By incorporating different types of sensory-based lessons, I will be able to keep my students’ engaged and interested in the learning. This technique will also allow me to differentiate for the benefit of all students in my classroom.
  • As a teacher, I aim to “provide competitive learning opportunities, even while holding to cooperating learning frameworks” to ensure the success of my students on a level that surpasses textbook learning (“10 Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively,” Gurian and Stevens). While this article predominantly addresses middle school boys, middle school girls also benefit from this type of learning because it shows students who are struggling with thinking about how learning has an impact in their outside lives, that the application of their knowledge means something beyond the classroom.
  • Because the middle school learners’ frontal lobe has not developed fully, I plan to incorporate emotion into my lessons because “emotion drives attention and attention drives learning”(“The Adolescent Brain-Learning Strategies & Teaching Tips,” p. 8). By incorporating meaningful experiences and emotions into the lessons, I will be giving my students opportunities to learn by using emotionally-charged messages and phrases to stimulate the amygdala, the storage center for emotion (p. 8).
  • In order to be the most effective teacher, I will ensure that all my students know my expectations because it is absolutely necessary for middle school learners to know exactly what is being asked of them (Taylor and Francis, 2015). Because middle school learners’ attention spans are constantly fluctuating, I plan to make all my expectations of them clear to reinforce the importance of structure in the classroom as well as in their lives outside of school.
  • Lastly, in order to facilitate the socio-emotional growth of my students, I will believe that all students in any type of school can succeed at high levels (“Characteristics of High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools,” p. 2).

Field Experience as Professional Development
One particular course and field placement experience have allowed me to grow as a professional and as a person. The first example of my professional development occurred during my direct instruction lesson plan in which I taught my students how to properly site different types of sources. First, I modeled the examples of different types of citations, and then we began to engage in guided practice. I soon realized that a fair number of students were not completely grasping the differences in citations and were not able use in-text citations.

Since “instruction is modified to accommodate each student’s rate of learning,” I paused. I told my students to continue on with the following citations if they were understanding the material (“Basic Philosophy of Direct Instruction,” p. 2). I re-explained how to properly take information from a sentence and turn it into a citation. This was one of the first instances in which I had to quickly adjust my explanations as well as the lessons, and I think these adjustments enhanced my professional development.

Similarly, in my EdTPA direct instruction lesson plan, I explicitly taught my students the vocabulary words from the two stories we were reading that week. I was intentional in choosing direct instruction because almost ninety percent of my class was receiving basic or minimal scores on all of their vocabulary tests. While direct instruction may not be my favorite type of lesson, I recognized my students’ need for explicit teaching, which highlights my professional growth.

While I think I will forever be improving my classroom management skills, I have been able to develop certain skills over this semester. Fortunately, classroom management has never been an issue in my previous field placements, as my students would simply listen to me. I considered myself lucky for this; however, I knew I needed to develop more classroom management skills to ensure I was a well-rounded and prepared teacher. I was worried about my cooperative learning lesson because my students were easily side tracked when they were able to engage in conversation.

Because of this concern, I made sure to stress the importance for providing individual accountability by telling my students they were each going to submit the worksheet they were completing, even if they were working on it with another student (“What is Cooperative Learning?”). This preplanned classroom management set the tone for the room because it made my students realize that they were all going to have to turn in a completed worksheet rather than just having one student finish all the work.

Throughout all my lessons, I did struggle to keep my students’ attention on me, and I think the classroom management tactic of remaining calm and composed while simultaneously being a good actress allowed me to develop a firmer presence in the classroom (“Seven Things Effective Teachers Do EVERY Day”). In allowing awkward wait times while maintaining a serious disposition, I think my teacher voice grew immensely during my field experience.

 

As I embark on a new journey next fall, I will carry the lessons I’ve learned throughout my teacher education training at Marquette, and will be forever grateful for the professors, cooperating teachers, colleagues, and students who helped shape me into the teacher I am today.

Having a Crush or Being Crushing?

red-love-heart-valentines.jpgBy Sabrina Bartels – When I was in elementary school, one of the boys in my class shoved me to the ground during a routine game of tag. As my friend took me to the office for my skinned knee, she smiled and whispered, “I think he likes you. My mom said that when a boy is mean to you, that’s him showing that he likes you.” I was skeptical of her viewpoint. But three days later, that same boy who is the reason I have a scar on my right knee passed me a note that said I was pretty.

That was my first experience with a boy being mean as a way to show affection. And it wasn’t just physical things either. As I got into middle school, I would watch boys tease girls or make fun of them in class, only to have them turn around a few days later and tell the girls that they had a crush on them. I remember one boy shouting at a girl in class that she was one of the dumbest people he knew, but then asked her out a week later. It was confusing, but something that I eventually grew to accept. It must be “a boy thing.”

Now that I’m working in a middle school, I find myself hearing a lot about boys who are mean to girls. There are boys who shove girls in gym class, insult them in front of the entire class, take their phones, or French-lock their lockers (turn their locks the wrong way, making it near impossible to get into their lockers). Many times, groups of girls congregate in my office, asking why boys are so stupid and do the things they do. And almost every time, their friends or I will suggest that it’s the boy’s way of expressing their crush.

Recently on Facebook, videos and posts have been circulating about the harsh physicality that boys show to girls when they have a crush. One particular post made me pause. It said “Don’t tell your daughter that when a boy is mean or rude to her it’s because he has a crush on her. Don’t teach her that abuse is a sign of love.” A person then responded, “A million times YES. Do not spread that bull. There is NO love in abuse.”

Reading that post really hit me.

Every time I tell one of my girls that a boy did something mean because he has a crush on her, I am validating the boy’s behavior. I’m saying it’s okay. I’m saying that it’s “a boy thing” and that they will eventually grow out of it. But that’s the thing: Not every boy grows out of it. A lot of them do, I’m sure, but some don’t. Some take that belief of “it’s okay to be mean because that’s how I should be showing a girl I like her.” And then there are some girls who go through life thinking that “it’s okay if he’s mean to me; that’s just how boys are.”

I always thought by telling these girls that a boy is acting that way because he likes her, she will be flattered. She will look at boys’ behaviors differently. I never thought that I would unconsciously be implying that boys can treat girls poorly, and it’s okay.

I think about the people that I know who have been in physically or emotionally abusive relationships. So many times, I have heard people say that they “deserved” the abuse; they antagonized their significant other or “nagged” them after a bad day. Some people say that they took someone for better or worse, and that the “worse” part is now. Others say that this is just the way their significant other is.

Would I be able to look at them and say “Oh, it’s just his way of showing that he loves you?” Or “Don’t mind her, she’s just being a typical girl?’

Of course not.

But here I am, talking to my middle school students, excusing people’s behavior because it may be the way they show affection.

That post on Facebook was a huge wake-up call for me. It showed me the power that my words can have, and how carefully I need to choose my words. It also emphasized the point that cruelty to anyone is wrong, whether it is a joke or not. And I, as an educator and an adult, need to stop excusing it. Boy or girl, no one should be mean to show affection. No one should be mean to others, period.

So the next time that student comes into my office, wondering why another is acting rude to them, I will not tell them that it’s just that person’s way of showing affection. I will not brush it off. I will have a talk with my students about appropriate ways to show affection. I will not allow them to be mean, and dismiss their behavior by saying it’s just a phase, and that it’s okay.

Hopefully, this will help the next generation recognize their worth, their importance, and the kindness and gentleness of love.

How good am I at answering student questions?

network-782707_960_720.pngBy Nick McDaniels – Today, as often occurs, an interaction with my daughter, Charlie, led to some reflection about my teaching practice.

Charlie and I were on the road when she, holding my iPod (yes, I still have an iPod because I don’t have a smartphone), frustrated that she could no longer use the internet because we were away from the wifi at home, asked me, “Daddy, what is the Internet?”

Yikes! “Well…” I said, buying time, “it’s complicated… you see… there is a network of wires, kind of like a web…”  In my head I am thinking, “my goodness, WHAT IS THE INTERNET???”  But, Charlie cut me off.  She said, “Daddy, there are no wires with this iPod.”

She had me there.  I backpedaled more: “Well, you see, now signals travel through the air, not with wires…”  She was lost.  I was lost. When I finished describing what my imagination believes the internet looks like, I asked her if she understood.  “Not really,” she said.

This made me reflect about two things: 1) What the heck is the Internet?; and 2) When a student asks me a challenging question, am I always this bad at coming up with an answer that is understandable?

You see, these are the things  upon which we as teachers rarely receive valid feedback.  I am sure I often give unclear explanations to students and, unless the student asks for clarity, I simply move on.

This is where checking for understanding becomes an extremely valuable habit for a teacher.  If the only person who is capable of telling me I gave a bad explanation is a student, I must habitually create time and space for students to let me know I need to try again. Perhaps, I don’t focus on this enough, but I will now, thanks to Charlie and the Internet.

It’s Not the Skill Set, It’s the Mind Set

mindset-743163_960_720.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – I’ve had a lot of professional development in my career. I am always looking for the newest technique, the best materials, and the most streamlined method of achieving positive results for students. While I have always known there is no magic bullet, it hasn’t stopped me from looking for it. The reflective aspect of teaching requires us to look back on what we are doing and the results that we are obtaining with some regularity. The hope is, of course, that we will find that connective thread that tells us how we can duplicate the positive outcomes and enhance the growth of lower performers. It is almost never that simple.

A few months back, one of my Teacher of the Year colleagues, Jane McMahon, used a phrase in a meeting that stopped me in my tracks, and changed the way I have thought about this thing we call intervention ever since. She said, “Nine times out of ten, it’s the mindset, not the skill set.” I am not, and she was not, in anyway minimizing the need for good quality basic skills instruction. She is a middle level educator and I work with elementary school children. We know they need foundational skills to decode, to understand and to extend their thinking. But they also need a set of attitudes and dispositions that set them up for success. To that end, I would like to share three stories in how this has surfaced in my classroom this spring.

You can worry too much about being age/grade appropriate.
Our current educational climate requires us to measure, track and analyze everything. We monitor progress, contrast performance with grade level benchmarks, and make sure that the materials we put in kids’ hands are at appropriate instructional levels. We provide opportunities for challenge, but also for the ease and fluency that can help to create a lifelong love of books. But we often get too worried about the “levels” of things and forget about the loving of things. A kindergartner that I support recently had an interesting conversation with her classroom teacher. While enjoying and apple-filled churro from the breakfast line, she noticed the filling and mistook it for eggs. She turned to her teacher and said, “Look, this churro has eggs, it’s oviparous (an egg laying animal).” Although she got the biology wrong, she got the vocabulary right. Her mindset, the one that tells her there are few words that are not acceptable for kindergartners to use, will keep her adding to her cache of words and her world view.

If I think I am, I probably can be.
I love this time of the school year, because kids begin to redefine themselves. Middle schoolers on the cusp of high school sit a little taller in their seats. Elementary school students start to refer to themselves as “almost fourth graders.” With our help, they look back over what they have accomplished in the last eight months. They look at writing samples from the beginning of the year and cringe, knowing how far they’ve come. My youngest students start to refer to themselves as readers and writers, a message I have been delivering all year. Praise is often accompanied by the phrase, “That’s what good readers do.” The most heartbreaking cases are those kids who are unable to see themselves as capable; whose voices drop to inaudible when called on, who attempt as little as possible so that they will not be found wanting. Sometimes they come from homes filled with trauma. Sometimes they have extraordinarily talented siblings, and their strengths have yet to be uncovered. In all cases they have a mindset that limits not only how far they have come, but how far they can go.

Wanting more for yourself is not selfish.
I am blessed to have a spring birthday, and I got a terrific present from a young lady who fits squarely in several of the categories I delineated above. She gives herself permission to do less well than she is capable of because “mom said school was hard for her, too.” A conversation with her mother at spring conferences has paid some very big dividends. This student had no higher aspirations than staying at home with her parents for the rest of her life. When asked about her potential plans after her aging parents were gone, she reported that she would find a friend who needed someone to clean their house and move in with them. We decided that we all needed to work together to make this third grader want more for herself, and to see herself as capable of achieving it. In a recent lesson, the follow-up writing prompt asked students to elaborate on what “first” they would like to achieve. (The story was a fantasy about a youngster who was the first girl on the moon.) I told this student, after 6 weeks of concentrated efforts to increase her confidence and aspiration level, that one of the best birthday presents I received was her response to that question. I want to be the first person in my family to graduate from college represents a significant mindset shift that has paid off in reading results as well.

This talk of skill set has made its way into the political furor that surrounds schools today. We hear that jobs go unfilled because workers are unprepared. The assertion that our public school system can take on the responsibility of making every graduate ready to walk into jobs that require specialized training is ludicrous.

Perhaps the mindset shift that is needed here is that companies that benefit from trained workers would value it enough to invest in their workers and that they would compensate these jobs with salaries that would encourage workers to apply rather than complaining that skill sets do not meet their expectations. Success for all requires investment by all. Then, we can all reap the rewards.

A Teacher’s Reflection on Mother’s Day

By Claudia Felske – Today was a bizarre day for me – my first Mother’s Day as a mother without my son around. No, he’s not studying abroad; no he doesn’t have a career halfway across the country. Lucky for me, he’s still a teenager and still a member of our household, but he’s on a class trip this week, and Mother’s Day feels more than a bit strange without him. No breakfast-in-bed, no handmade card.

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I missed breakfast in bed this year!

And my Mother’s Day malaise is doubled this year with my husband one day out of ankle surgery, non-ambulatory and sleeping most of the day.

I remember feeling this way at an earlier time in my life: mid-to-late June during my first few years of teaching. After school let out, a certain melancholy took over – life was a little too quiet, too calm, to unharried. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the feeling of not having stacks of essays, tests, and lesson plans looming, but I missed my students: their energy, their goofiness, their joie de vivre.

I can practically hear the response of some reading this (“Are you SERIOUS?! Summer means you survived! It’s the game-winning shot, the final touch down, the hole-in-one!”) But yes I am serious, which I suppose, makes me one of two things: a loser (“Get a Life!”) or a person whose identity is deeply tied to teaching, not unlike motherhood to a mother.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Mother’s Day comes at the tail end of Teacher Appreciation Week as now that I think about it, motherhood and teaching have much in common:

Love.  Sit down with a teacher and ask them why they teach. Knowing the formidable challenges in education today, this is a fair question. If it were for money, benefits, status, or respect, we’d have left the profession years ago (and some have). The only logical reason to stay is that we love our students, not unlike the unconditional love celebrated on Mother’s Day. When everything else is stripped away, love of students and love of teaching are what remain.  

Heartache.  The flip side of love is heartache, and any educator worth his/her salt feels it. I don’t know of any teacher who hasn’t lost sleep worrying about students—their home lives, their challenges, their choices. That sick-to-your-stomach feeling you have at 3 a.m. as a mother? Imagine having 125 kids and you’ll have a sense of how difficult it is to “leave-it-at-work.”

Commitment.  No such thing as part-time parenting, right? Welcome to teaching. Students spend more of their waking hours at school than any other place, and so do teachers. We invest our lives in the lives of our students. This commitment bleeds into our nights and weekends. And the commitment of teachers who also advise and coach is exponential as they help students develop a positive future. Sound a bit like parenthood?

Identity: I’ve been asked why I haven’t become an administrator, and the answer is easy, I’m a teacher. As sure as I’m a daughter, sister, wife, and mother, I’m a teacher. And just as I couldn’t drop any of those other titles, I couldn’t simply drop my identity as a teacher. Unthinkable.  

Value: We know what happens to kids when parents check out. We know what happens to classrooms when teachers check out. Likewise, we know what happens to kids when parents and teachers and schools are fully invested them. It is an awesome responsibility and honor to play that role in students’ lives.  

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Interesting that since becoming a mother, my June blues have faded – that withdrawal I felt when school let out? My summers as a mother have enough teaching in them to quell the melancholy.

And when Eliot leaves for college in 5 years, I suspect the reverse will also happen and the fact that I’m still teaching will mitigate my empty nesthood. For what teacher’s nest is ever truly empty?

Henceforth, I shall celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day together, a natural pairing.  

Being a teacher has made me a better mother, and being a mother has made me a better teacher.

And both have made me a better person and brought value to my life.

Double bonus. Lucky me.  

Five Tips for Staying Sane During Finals

bcfc3ce617889bb6b270f675ba618301.jpgBy Amanda Szramiak – This time of the semester is always hectic. I find myself trying to balance school and work life while simultaneously trying to live a healthy lifestyle by eating, working out, and most importantly, sleeping. For me, no matter how much I prepare or how much I anticipate the angst of finals week, I always seems to be crashing into the last few weeks of the semester. I thought I would share my tips of being an organized mess as I try to figure out my own plan of attack.

  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The writing center during finals is extremely chaotic, and we are given the option to work or not work during the week. I had emailed my assistant director my hours for finals week saying I would be willing to work up to fifteen hours next week. Ambitious? No. Definitely a dumb idea. I was thanked for my optimistic schedule but was only given eight hours to work. I appreciate having bosses that recognize my efforts but take into account the realities of the final days of the semester.
  • This time of the semester I usually organize my schedule in order of due date. Unfortunately, this is the only logical way to plan out my library hours because I procrastinate. Today’s to-do list consists of my assignment due tomorrow rather than focusing on lengthier papers due later in the week. Looking at my assignment notebook day-by-day is really all I can handle at this point.
  • Wake up early. I admit I rolled my eyes when I received an email saying a student set up a writing appointment with me for 8:00a.m. But, I changed my mindset when I realized I would be up early, close to the gym after the meeting, and have plenty of time to get a work out in before going to class. For me, I find it rewarding to take a trip to the gym if I finish an assignment and have an hour for a break. I also feel productive knowing I have already worked and worked out before class begins.
  • Take Breaks. I firmly believe doing anything (other than sleeping) for more than an hour straight is not healthy or productive. Studying for hours on hours without taking a break is psychologically unhealthy, so make sure to utilize breaks. Whether it be a quick walk for more coffee or a chat with a friend on the bridge, make sure to take breaks.
  • A good night’s sleep is absolutely essential to doing well on an exam or simply making it through the day. Make sure to unwind and sleep, even if it means not crossing something off your to-do list for the day.

I hope these tips help you get through the last couple of weeks of the semester.


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