Archive for the 'Teaching – Reflections From the Field' Category

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: What Happens Next

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the third of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

image 1By Michelle Fedran

The name of the village I am in is Tununak (sounds like two-new-nik). If I had the money and control over nature (nature is a HUGE factor out here and I’ll never stop mentioning that haha) I would pay for anyone who held an interest to fly out here to take a look for him or herself. It’s one thing to hear about it and another to experience it upfront. We are an hour flight out from Bethel and are right on the coast of the sea, surrounded by some mountains and cliffs so the views are breathtaking. A fun thing with being on the coast, I can still say Wisconsin still wins as one of the worst places I’ve been in when winter hits! Although besides the slightly warmer temperatures, the winds up here get pretty rough sometimes, but Wisconsin Avenue definitely help put in some good training for walking against the wind. It’s especially fun when the wind picks up to 50 mph, picking up and blowing snow, and I have to climb a hill up to school because the stairs have already been covered with snow. Some people would think I’m getting ready to climb a mountain if they saw the gear I sometimes have to put on before going outside! The closest village to us is about seven miles away through the tundra, and people normally travel back and forth by snowmachine, honda (ATV), or walking. There are other surrounding villages but when I travel to them it’s usually by bush plane. Something I have found out interesting by traveling to different villages is that it almost seems like everyone knows well, everyone!

image 4.jpgBesides physical characteristics, something I really love about it out here is the simplicity of how things seem to be. Especially coming from a bustling city with a booming market of the next generation car and little devices that control things around your house, it is refreshing to experience simple living. I have met some of the nicest people out here and have been able to experience, as well as witness, genuine happiness. I often feel that people get so caught up with work or media that personal relationships sometimes fall on the back burner, but that isn’t what I see. Up here, the people I have met so far exhibit tremendous respect and care for their loved ones, and it is really refreshing to see the happiness that good company can bring. Coming out here made me realize what I need to be truly happy and that doesn’t involve the latest high-brand purse, hottest sunglasses, or super cool kicks that just came out. I have realized it’s the little, simple things that really count and that loving friends and family are all that I—and anyone—really needs to lead a happy life.

If any of you are considering making a move to teach in a remote location such as Alaska, I would suggest that if the thought is lingering in your mind, take a chance and do it. Even if it terrifies you, that’s a greater reason to do it! I remember it was about a week before I was supposed to leave my home and fly out to basically the edge of the country (no really, look up my location on Google Maps), and I began to panic. Thoughts began racing through my head and my anxiety was about to burst through the roof! However, my friends and family told me if my dreams didn’t scare me, they weren’t big enough. So, I took those words, held them close, and now I’m truly experiencing some of the happiest moments of my life. I’ve created memories and friendships I know will last a lifetime and beyond that I will forever cherish.

Nothing is forever, things can always change, and so now is the chance to take control of your life!

sunset 1

Thinking about my future and looking five years down the road from now, I see a blur. Anything is possible! I could still be up here in Alaska, or I could be in a new location whether it be state, country, who knows! I have been asked this question quite a few times and every time I like to remind people that I’m just taking life one day at a time. You never know what can happen within 24 hours. One day you could be just fine and the next your world could be flipped upside down (good or bad). So for now, I try to focus on what I have in the moment. Although right now I am truly enjoying my time up here and am excited to say I’ll be returning next year!

Lower the Stakes and Commit

This post originally appeared on Jake Dagget’s (Ed ’15) blog Prime Time Ponderings.

daggetBy Jake Dagget

A dear friend once reminded me that we can’t scratch every itch. Well, at the same time, anyway. It was in response to a struggle that I’m certain almost every human faces: We always want to be doing what we aren’t currently doing. The Uber driver who really produces a web series, the barista who actually has an album on Spotify that took years to produce, the teacher who is studying for law school. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the President who actually dreams of working for a Neilsen TV Ratings analysis team. It’s not that we want what we can’t have. In fact, I no longer believe in that saying. Instead, it’s that we want what we tell ourselves is not possible. We want what we think would seem ridiculous or out of reach. We worry how it might seem. We want more, but don’t commit.

10 months ago, I dropped everything I ever worked for in a matter of 9 days. Beautiful and loyal friends, a dream job, a quaint and endearing town. In the true Shonda Rhimes “Year of Yes” spirit, I hauled everything I’ve ever owned and left a little room in the suitcase for ambition and celebrated fear. This is not the point of this post, however, so I’m going to quickly move along. It takes a lot for us to do what our idols and role models tell us as they give their acceptance speech or accept their Olympic medal: “Follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone tear them away.” You see, this is all good advice. However, what happens when we aren’t sure it is our dream? What happens when we really think it is, but other itches, other desires, make us overthink? What happens when we have multiple dreams?

And here is where I make my point — where I “land the plane”, as my good friend likes to say. We have to lower the stakes. Because at the end of the day, it is your journey. YOU are the one impacted by these risks, these desires, these failures, and these lessons. I remember always wondering: How will it look, running across the country to try this? What will people think? I’m taking all my things, is that silly? Should I just sublet and try it out for 5 months? All of this went through my head. For some reason, it became this huge situation. But I knew I couldn’t sublet. I was not going to scratch an itch HALF-WAY. I was going to go, commit, and realize that everyone else would continue living their own lives, worrying about their own worries. Thus, I lowered the stakes.

Once you the lower the stakes, you can commit to scratching one of your itches. Now you have reminded yourself that it truly matters not if things do not happen as planned. You come to understand that the only negative feedback you might receive will come from people you aren’t actually keen to impress. In that case, DECIDE. Decide, lower the stakes, and commit. No one else is influenced by these risks but yourself. What will people say? What will people think? The fact of that matter is that life will go on for those people in your life. They will continue to go to work, come home, heat up a frozen lasagna, and continue Season 2 of Stranger Things. They will continue to remodel their backyard, visit Grandma on Saturdays, or go on weekend hikes and take selfies while wearing sunglasses. The stakes are NOT HIGH.

In August of this year, I will make a return to the school at which I found a home only 15 months ago. A school run and staffed with beautifully dedicated teachers, some of my dearest friends, and filled with families that want a future for their children. I have accepted a position on an amazing First Grade team, and better yet, I’ll be teaching Theatre (cue the puppet voices, stat!). Is this what I thought would happen a year ago? Not at all, but I scratched the itch. I lowered the stakes again. I’m moving back so soon, what will people say? They always say to give it a year…what will people say at 10 months? I don’t have to worry, however, because this is an individual journey. And itch I will continue to scratch, but on my own terms.

Julia Child once said: “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” For me, that is teaching young people how to read. Did I need to scratch a few itches to discover that? Absolutely. Has anyone’s life really been affected but my own? Nope. Therefore, I commit. I decide, and I open another door.

So, trust yourself. Try things. Find clarity. Sometimes we follow dreams that no longer become dreams. And in that moment, in the present, we find an infinite gamut of choices.

 

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: Preparation vs. Reality

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the second of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

flyingBy Michelle Fedran

I feel that my time at Marquette did a good job on preparing me for what I’m going through now in terms of teaching. I honestly see myself using pieces I have learned from all the different classes I took. So current students who might be reading this, you may be frustrated over taking a class that “means nothing to you or your major” and I totally understand that; I was a student too. Listen and trust me when I say this, you need every tool, idea, ounce of imagination possible ready and equipped when you walk into that classroom. So hold your chin up, turn your phone off (even on your Mac), that class you may be silently meal-prepping in will give you a skill you will one day use that will save your classroom from turning inside out.

Of course, with this being my first year (and I’m sure many can relate no matter what field they are in) adjusting to a new job is going to be tough. You’re going to be asking yourself if you’ve made the right decision, and I definitely do from time to time. However, something Marquette also prepared me for is how to handle that first-year mentality many people seem to adopt. It’s easy to throw your hands up and quit, but something I felt that I learned from Marquette is to never give up and to keep pushing forward when things get tough. From day one of my freshman year, Marquette told us to “Be the Difference” and that’s what I aim to be and live up to. Blending into the background and falling victim to society norms will only pull you backwards rather than pushing you forward into succeeding in a new position.

image 3I would say my biggest challenge was getting the year started, setting a rhythm for my classroom, and deciding how I want it to play out for the year. Speaking as a first-year teacher—and some may disagree—this can be pretty challenging. I feel something that may have contributed to this minor struggle would be that I, along with many classmates, completed the student teaching rotation in the springtime. I remember talking with others about how we didn’t really get to experience and observe the initiation of the classroom atmosphere that happens at the beginning of the school year.  In spite of that, one of the beauties of being a first-year teacher is the amount of support you get. This year I’ve been to several professional development trainings and have been offered help from instructional coaches, state mentors, and coworkers who understood things I may be facing my first year. I am forever grateful to them for helping this year go smoother than I would have imagined. Something I have mentioned before and tell my students is that mistakes happen but are good because they help us learn.

In light of that, I would say my biggest success would be finally finding that groove I was looking for in my classroom. After the first full week when things seem to go right and students start adopting routines and strategies you have been trying so hard to implement through countless practices… that feeling is GREAT!  Another success I see as I write this (we are beginning our final quarter of the school year) is realizing I survived and I’m really beginning to see the growth my students have made. During the year, things can get crazy, and I mean CRAZY. It’s so easy to lose yourself, visions, and the goals you had at the beginning of the year. Overall, things get tough but when that final lap of the school year rolls around and you are able to take a breath and reflect on the year, realizing the gains your students have made thus far in their learning is a winning feeling.

Read the rest of Michelle’s three-part series on her first year teaching!

 

Five Writers’ Markets For Your Students

fountain_pen_ink_pen_business_document_writing_office_signature-673659By Elizabeth Jorgensen

  1. The WSST Science Essay Contest. See this file for more information: science matters essay contest.docx
  2. The 2018 Autism Essay Contest through the Autism Society of Wisconsin. See this link for additional information.
  3. John Stossel’s price-gouging during natural disasters essay contest. See this link for more information.
  4. Canvas Teen Literary Journal is published quarterly in print, ebook, web video and audio formats. You can find out how students can submit here.
  5. Teen Ink is a national teen magazine featuring student writing, art and photos. Learn more here.

 

 

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: A Bird’s Eye View

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the first of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

view from bush plane

view from the bush plane

By Michelle Fedran

When I first heard about this job opportunity, I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime not only from the location and cultural aspects of the position, but also from the personal adjustment I would have to make for myself. As I slowly learned more details about this opportunity, I went from a state of wonder to a fit of laughter. Sure, Alaska has always been on my list of places to travel to, but I never would have imagined throwing myself into rural Alaska to live and begin my career three months after graduation. Going from being one of the quietest girls in class since kindergarten, never winning that Presidential participation award in gym for completing 10 full push-ups, forcing myself not to cry as my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm room even though they lived a short 20-minute drive away, I thought there was no way I would be able to survive so far away by myself. Now, I’m a five-plane ride, 24+ hour, six-hour layover (if we land in Seattle) trip away from my family. To make it even more challenging, I now live in a village that I’m sure most people never heard of: Tununak, Alaska.

Thinking back to where this started, I never would have been introduced to this job opportunity had it not been for my fellow Golden Eagle friend Danny Smith who already worked for the Lower Kukokwim school district in Alaska. Once he and I began talking about my potentially seeking a job with the district, he eventually became my go-to person for questions. I picked his brain, and he did a wonderful job of preparing me for what I was about to experience. Honestly speaking, if it weren’t for him, my expectations probably would have been silly and slightly embarrassing. For example, a lot of my friends joked that I would be living in an igloo. My expectations weren’t as silly as that; however, they may have been involved riding with sled dogs across the tundra. For those curious, I’ve only used snow machines or hondas (not the car, what they call ATVs) when there is no snow.

igloo

Coming into this, I expected to change some of my simple living habits. I remember my friend telling me one of the scariest moments is when the bush plane first drops you off in the village and leaves, and you realize you are stuck there until another bush plane comes back out for you — weather permitting. Going from the luxury of hopping into a car and going anywhere I wanted, you can probably imagine this was a bit soul-gripping realization and something hard to swallow. In addition to accepting the fact that my traveling relied heavily on nature and was not up to me, I had to be prepared to live conservatively. I would no longer be able to drive to Target 10 minutes away from where I lived to pick up shampoo or crackers. Where I live in the village, there are two small stores we can go to should we need anything. However, it comes at a high price – $18 for a case of soda, $8 for lunch cheese…  Our other option is purchasing from Amazon or waiting until we fly into Bethel, the closest main city, to do our shopping. Still, things are pretty pricey there as well and even flying to Bethel would cost me $400 round-trip. As you can imagine, most of the time I find myself making a lot of purchases on Amazon seeing that is usually the cheapest option. And as funny as it is, even though Amazon prime promises 2-3 day shipping, I’m lucky if I get my package within a month of my order placement date. To sum it up: changed expectations and simple living is key out here. Knowing and being well aware of this while preparing for my move, I understood it was crucial for me to pack necessities I would need right away upon arrival.

In terms of my first-year teaching in general, I expected it to be difficult no matter where I went. I actually felt this job opportunity was quite similar to my experience at Marquette given the vast differences there were. For example, in Milwaukee, I was placed in schools with a number of bilingual students who primarily spoke Spanish and English. Up here, I work with Alaskan Natives immersed in the Yup’ik culture. The two languages spoken here are English and Yugtun. The school where I work is a dual-language school in which my students learn different subjects in either English or Yugtun. My students learn Math and English Language Arts with me in English, then they learn Social Studies, Science, and Yugtun Language Arts in Yugtun with my partner teacher, who is an Alaskan Native. I felt my experiences at Marquette helped prepare me to have the mindset of working with bilingual students and what to be mindful of when working with these students. The biggest thing I can say is time and patience are two important skills I believe every teacher should adopt no matter with whom you work.

rock formationWhen it comes to thinking of what I have learned so far, the list is LONG.  I was able to learn so many things not only with the general work of being a teacher, but I was also able to learn more about the culture here. It truly is a unique experience I’m forever grateful for. Looking at the teaching side of things some advice I would give all new teachers is that some days will be rough, but you need to brush the dirt off and keep pushing forward. With this, I encourage new teachers to take advantage of all resources, whether that would be supplies, coworkers, or anything thrown at you. It is important to have an open mind and use every moment as a learning experience. I constantly find myself making daily adjustments on Mondays to improve the flow of things on Tuesdays and the cycle sometimes repeats itself throughout the week. Overall, a lot of my first year felt more like an exploration, and from this year alone I have learned so much that I plan to do differently next year. It’s so easy to get down on yourself, and this is something I have experienced my first-year; you need to remind yourself that you are also still learning (even though yes, you have graduated college and you have a fancy paper to show it). Mentors I have worked with each shared the same piece of advice that I know will stick with me: “if ever in your teaching career should you feel that you are done learning from others, then it is time to leave the profession.” As a student we were learning, as a teacher we are now teaching AND learning. You never stop learning and should never cut yourself off from learning – especially when it comes to improvements you can make in your own practice. So, use what is around you and never be afraid to ask for help! In your classroom, you may be “king” or “queen” but in the school and district, you’re a team player. Teamwork and support are huge pieces that I see in what makes a school successful, and I’m grateful to be working in a school with a staff that demonstrates those qualities.

 

Who Cares About the Oxford Comma?

2000px-Virgola.svgBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

My high school administration, in the midst of crafting a new vision and mission, asked for teacher input during an in-service day. We sat at cafeteria tables, divided by birthday months. My table represented the music, math, science and English departments.

Before providing feedback, we read the proposed new vision, mission and enduring goals. But grammatical inconsistencies clouded my focus and I couldn’t analyze how the vision “embraced the opportunities of tomorrow” or “created paths for students.” The Oxford comma glared at me.

To our group-assigned recorder, I said, “Write down ‘grammatical inconsistencies.’”

“Which?” the math teacher asked.

“The Oxford comma. Here…” I pointed to the vision. “They’re using it sometimes but not others.”

“The what?”

“It’s the comma—the series comma—that separates the last two items in a list.”

“But is it right or is it wrong?” the math teacher asked.

Who says we should use the Oxford comma? APA, MLA, Chicago Style and AMA. Who says forget it? The New York Times, The Economist, The AP Stylebook and European writers.

Look at what you’re reading in magazines, newspapers, blogs and emails. You’re probably not seeing the Oxford comma. As a journalism major, my writing avoids it. I tell my students the Oxford comma has disappeared—just like two spaces after a period. (What? You didn’t know about that? More to come in a future blog.) I tell my students modern writing demands brevity and consistency.

To answer the math teacher, I said, “If your writing is clear without the Oxford comma, why use it? Why waste the space or time…yours or your reader’s? But if you’re writing for a publication that requires MLA or APA—or if your list would be unclear or have a different meaning without it—use it.”

The math teacher scrunched his forehead. “This is why I teach math. One plus one is always two.”

The science teacher, equally as confused, said, “Why would there be two ways to do one thing?”

“English is an art. There isn’t always one right or wrong way. And English is evolving. Take ginormous. It wasn’t a word a few years, but now it is in the Webster Dictionary. Writing is about clarity and about making purposeful choices.”

“So should I use the Oxford comma or not?”

“I would say it’s up to you. But whatever you decide, be consistent.”

 

Mail Call—an update to “Students Practice Gratitude”

pexels-photo-209641(an update toStudents Practice Gratitude”) By Elizabeth Jorgensen

My second semester students just finished writing letters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Mail Call project. In this assignment, students thanked a veteran going on an upcoming Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.

In preparation for this project, students watched videos about the Honor Flight and shared stories about family in the military. To learn more about this assignment, you can check out my previous blog post titled “Students Practice Gratitude, Write Letters to Veterans.”

Once second semester letters were complete, I asked students to reflect on this project. Here is what they said:

“This project was a completely new perspective and a unique opportunity for me to write to a veteran on the Honor Flight. I love how it gave me the chance to thank a veteran for his/her service. I was able to learn a lot more (in addition to writing a meaningful letter) about the Honor Flight and what the Mail Call letters mean to the veterans. I appreciate writing a letter to a veteran because they are such an honorable person that risked their life to serve their country. It is so hard for me to express how amazing it is to have the chance to write to such a brave, experienced, and noble veteran!”

Mail Call“I liked that I truly got to thank a veteran. When I see a veteran in public, I say thank you for your service, but that’s all. When writing this letter, I was able to tell them more and let them know how truly thankful I am for them.”

“I appreciated the opportunity to make an impact in a veteran’s life. Personally, I don’t write letters of thankfulness often, and even less often to strangers, but I’m happy that I was able to write something for an important event like the Honor Flight.”

“I love that we are impacting other people’s lives. This project is so much more than just another writing piece, and I think this is a great project because veterans should know how much we appreciate their time served.”

“It was cool to get to watch the Honor Flight movie and to hear all these different stories and watch these videos on other people. It makes writing the letter that much more personal and it is fun to write the letters because I feel special making someone else feel special.”

“At first, I was honestly less than enthralled by the idea of writing letters since I’m not a huge fan of writing essays, structured articles, or letters. However, the more we proceeded with this project, and the more we were shown the impact of the letters, the happier I became with the idea of writing a letter to a veteran. Overall, I’m happy with how my own letter came out, and I’m even happier to know it’s going to make an impact on someone else.”

“I still talk to one of my old middle school teachers. He was my social studies teacher, so I figured it would be a good idea to let him know about this opportunity. He said he’s going to work with one of our middle school English teachers on having the kids write letters and submit to the program! He was very thankful I let him know about this and he can’t wait to have the kids start writing!”

Then, I heard from Karyn Roelke, Vice President of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. She said, “The Journal Sentinel Mail Call letters have just made their way to me, and naturally I dove right in, looking for the letters from your students. I have only read about 20 so far, but I am floored and overwhelmed by how wonderful they are. I did pick out one in particular, which I shared on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Facebook page. That student only shared his first name, Michael, but please tell him how perfectly he grasped EXACTLY what will mean the most to our Vietnam War veterans. His understanding of their situation and mindset really blew me away. Please encourage him (and your other students) to keep an eye on our Facebook page over the next few days. I suspect the comments that will be posted about his letter will be nothing short of fantastic. Please tell your students how much we appreciate the time, thoughtfulness and care that they used in crafting those letters. They are beautiful, and they will mean so much. Our veterans will read them over and over, and will treasure them…please assure your students that veterans DO read these letters and save them to re-read over and over. We have been told that some veterans have asked to be buried with their mail, it means so much. For our Vietnam veterans, letters like Michael’s can do so much to combat the PTSD and heartache that they have carried with them for 50+ years. The effect is real and profound. Thanks again for your hard work and compassion for our vets.”

I, like my students, encourage you and your students to participate in Mail Call.

 


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