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My Novel Resolution

6718320547_315a1ae173_oBy Kay Howell – Over the holiday break, I rediscovered a lost love: reading.

As a child, I was the quintessential bookworm, including the giant spectacles and a ruthless avoidance of social interaction. Every Tuesday afternoon, my mom took me and my sister to our local public library. This was, without a doubt, the highlight of my week. My mom insisted that we check out more than just The Baby-Sitters Club novels, so I had a steady and varied literary diet. Tuesday afternoons were full of promise, and Tuesday night was the best time of week: I had an armful of new books, just waiting to be opened.

Fast-forward to fall semester: I went to the library almost every day. But rather than bursting through the doors with expectation and exuberance, mine was the slow march of the reluctant student about the spend eight hours doing homework on an otherwise perfectly lovely Saturday. When I finally had some time away from my textbooks, the last thing I wanted to do was spend even one minute more in the company of the written word. Needless to say, my Netflix account got a good deal of use—while my library card stayed shoved in the back of my wallet. Yet despite reading every day for my classes, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my head that something was just missing from my life.

The day after I submitted my final paper, I trekked over to the new East Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library with a mission: check out a book, any book, and read it just for kicks. I won’t disclose what I settled on, but the first book I read over break had cover art featuring a very large red cherry. It definitely met the requirement of completely enjoyable brain candy, and I absolutely loved every page of it. Over the next few weeks, I made my way through several other novels, and rediscovered the joy and relaxation of simply reading for fun.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I lack willpower and stamina. But this year, I made myself a promise for the spring semester: pick up a new novel at the library every few weeks, and read purely for pleasure. Of course, I’ll still spend my Saturdays in the library studying, and my Netflix account will still get more use than I would ever admit to my mother, but I know that reading for fun is something I need in my life. So if you see me in the library this semester, check and see what book I’m reading—you just may be surprised!

Lessons in a 4-Inch Box

By Claudia Felske – You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. It’s Christmas Vacation as I write this, and I have students-on-the-brain.

Case in point: I’m watching my son enjoy his favorite Christmas present, and it’s got me thinking about teaching again.

It’s the loop pedal’s fault. I didn’t even know what a loop pedal was until I gave Eliot’s Christmas list its due attention. And now, not only do I think it’s the best present we could have bought him, but I think it’s a master teacher.    

loop

Huh? How can this little contraption (“THIS was $99?” I exclaimed, unimpressed, upon its arrival) be so miraculous?  What, even, is it? The loop pedal is a gadget that allows Eliot to make short recordings with his guitar and then play over those recordings, creating loops or layers of music. And because it’s a pedal, the recording part is “hands-free,” making the process of playing, recording, listening, re-recording and layering seamless.

But is this teacher sacrilege? How can I give an inanimate object teaching kudos, especially since singing the praises of  Eliot’s real-life guitar teacher, Craig Friemoth? It was just two Christmases ago, when I wrote about Eliot’s gift to me: he had taken my favorite song at the time and created and played an extended, remixed version of it for me on his guitar. I called it “the best present I’d ever received.” It affected me deeply as a mother and as a teacher as I witnessed Eliot’s growth as a musician and I pondered how to elicit such creativity and engagement in my classroom.

The continuing influence of Craig’s teaching on Eliot’s love of music and growth as a musician can’t be overstated. How, then, can I now bow down to the almighty loop pedal as the ultimate teacher?

Here’s how. This is what he’s doing:

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Eliot & loop pedal at play

  • He’s examining the process of music making and the parts of a song.
  • He’s perfecting his craft. In any process, there are “cheats” and shortcuts. But a loop recording exposes and amplifies the smallest error. So now there’s an organic motivation for perfection which is fueling extra practice.
  • His creativity has exploded. His love of playing classic rock riffs continues, but now it’s mixed with loads of experimentation.
  • His “aha” moments are many.  After he plays a loop, adds another and another, I hear all sorts of “ah,” “no” “okay…”wait”… as he’s discovering the interplay of these sounds and then tweaking them for various effects.
  • He’s learning the thickness of music. By that I mean he’s experiencing the richness of music as the sum of its parts by deconstructing it and then reconstructing it. It’s like playing in a band while being all the band members.
  • Perhaps most importantly, he’s getting that all-important feedback loop that we know is critical to learning. The loop pedal doesn’t lie. It plays back what it hears, making him painfully or ecstatically (whichever the case may be) aware of his abilities, providing feedback and motivation for correction.

Make no mistake: without the guidance of Craig, Eliot wouldn’t be ready for any of this. A master teacher enables a student to become his own teacher and prepares him for other “teachers” (human and non-human varieties) he’ll meet along the way.  

And so, I end with three pats on the back and a question:

First the back pats:

  1. One to Mike and I for heeding the Christmas list.
  2. One to Eliot for creating it.
  3. One to Craig for making him ready for it.  

And now, for the perpetual question:

How can we as educators do this? How can we provide for our students the foundation for life-long learning, the readiness to recognize and leverage all the potential teachers they will encounter in life?  

New Year, New Role

13965306323_217afc85c3_oBy Shannon Bentley –  Happy belated holidays, readers, and Happy New Years!

It has been a long time since I have written a blog and, trust me, I have missed the tiny steps and taps of the black and white keyboard. Since the end of November, I have been diligently working as the new 10th grade English teacher at Washington High School. The transition has been a bumpy road, but I am surviving the teenage battlefields of hormones, cliques, dominance, and identities. I am embarking on an endless journey trying to discover my own teaching techniques and my identity as a teacher. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the students.

Final exams are coming, which means that the first semester is almost over! My workload consists of figuring out how to motivate my students in their learning experiences. They’re currently reading the novel “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and the book caught some of the students’ interests, but left a drag in the rest. The students cannot identify themselves with “Night.” Even though the Holocaust did create cruel outcomes for millions of Jewish people, the students chose to ignore the cruel outcomes. My co-teacher and I tried to give mini explanations on Syria and countries in Africa. Unfortunately, the students have a strong belief that the Holocaust will never affect them.

Therefore, my co-teacher and I began to orchestrate a number of possibilities that we could turn in to empowering unit plans. We took in to account our students identities. The first key to creating unit plans is knowing what your students might be interested in learning. The past three weeks that I have been with my students, I have come to understand that they are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, most of the students know someone who has died through violence and/or went to jail, the students love to create raps, and they also love to talk about sports. We took those interests and created ideas.

We came up with unit plans as monthly themes so that the students are not stuck on one topic for more than 4 weeks. These topics consist of research on their identity as black youth such as the Black Lives Matter movement, black women’s hair, sports, employment, education, etc. We also thought of doing slam poetry, teaching Shakespeare’s Othello, along with a follow-up unit of film adaptations of the classical play. Will these ideas interest all of the students? Probably not. However, as a teacher, you have to start somewhere, especially when you want your students to learn the necessary reading and writing skills.

It is important to always reach the students based on their interests. We have seen classrooms on the news more successful in that aspect. My co-teacher and I will test our ideas and put them to work, along with changing our techniques when teaching the information to the students.  It is a bumpy road, but I am willing to learn and be dedicated. It is like one of my education professors at Marquette said: “If you quit after your first year, how do you know that you learned?”

In Lieu of Resolutions… A Do More and Do Less List for 2016

new-years-eve-936219_960_720By Amanda Szramiak – Happy New Year! There are a lot of exciting (and scary) things happening in my life in 2016. I finally graduate! After a long, invaluable one hundred and forty plus credits of classes, my undergraduate career is coming to an end. While I will be student teaching in the fall, my last semester of course work is here. I am not a huge fan of resolutions, but I will be sharing my To Do More and To Do Less lists again.

To Do More:

Reading: This was on my list last year. Over the summer of 2015, I read five different books! It was great, but I still struggled with reading during the school year. I really hope to read for pleasure throughout the semester. My list of books I need to read before I become a teacher is getting frighteningly long, so I really need to read more!

Yoga:  If I go to the gym, I usually prefer to do some cardio and weight training. I rarely stretch, and I am so not flexible that it’s truly pathetic. I am in utter awe when I see Instagram yoga accounts of Yogis standing on their heads and bending in incredible positions. While I don’t think I will be able to stand on my head anytime soon, I really want to try to become a member of the yoga world.

Visiting Office Hours: I usually only visit my professors during office hours when they require it. I either wait until the last minute to work on a paper or feel embarrassed talking to my professor the day before something is due. I always forget that my professors are just as – if not even more – passionate about the subject they are teaching as I am. When I do visit my professors, our conversations are incredible and I want to soak in all the knowledge I can from them.

Traveling: Everyone keeps telling me to travel now because when I start my career, my time for leisurely vacations will diminish. While it’s tough to travel on my college budget, I started saving for a trip to Thailand in the early summer. My boyfriend and a few friends are planning on doing a United States road trip later in the summer. I also plan to visit Rhode Island a couple times during the semester.

Saving: Directly correlated to traveling, I hope to save as much money as I can. I am hoping to cut down eating out as much as possible. I also hope to put at least half of every paycheck I get into savings. That may be a little unrealistic and difficult, but having that in mind will definitely help.

To Do Less:

Swearing: I didn’t cut down on my swearing as I intended to last year, so it’s back on the list.

Allowing Student Voice: Understanding 2015 as a Teacher in Baltimore

Baltimore_riot_police_VOA (1)By Nick McDaniels- Happy New Year Marquette Educator Readers!  For this post in the past, I have professed some teaching resolutions.  And often, just like that extra 10 pounds I hoped to lose, or the student loan debt I hoped to pay down, those resolutions have been quickly forgotten.  I often use class time on the first day back from winter break to give a rousing “new year, new you” speech and ask for academic resolution from students.  This year, I did none of that.  Not because it usually is an ineffective practice at improvement, but because mainly, after a year like we had in Baltimore, it goes without saying that this year must be different and that last year has shaped us.

2015 was marked by one major event in Baltimore that has made us all forget American Pharaoh’s win at the Preakness, and, thankfully, the Ravens 2015 season.  In April of 2015, Freddie Gray, a young man living in West Baltimore, died after an interaction with police.  His death sparked what has been called an uprising, unrest, and riots.  Schools were temporarily closed.  The international news media made a trip to Charm City.  The National Guard occupied our streets.  The violence in the city then erupted, leading Baltimore to a nearly murder-a-day rate for 2015 and a record setting per-capita murder rate.  Quite simply, it was a difficult year to be a student in Baltimore.

So I told my students, just as my teacher told me on September 11, 2001, that, at least in Baltimore, people, their children perhaps, will want to know someday where you were and what you were doing during that time in late April of 2015.  The events impacted the lives of everyone in the city and the fallout continues to do so.  Trials for the officers charged in the death of Mr. Gray continue.  This is not, and may never be, behind us.

What we must remember now, in 2016, if there was a resolution to be made, it is that student voice in times of crisis and tragedy is extremely important.  So as the trials and the protests and the violence continue, we must allow space for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the events that are impacting their lives. We can hope that such events will never happen again, but, as we know, they can.  As such, we must charge ourselves as teachers to not look back on a year of tragedy and crisis having not given our students a chance to lift their own voices in response.

A Shooting at Parent-Teacher Conferences

containing-144103_960_720By Bill Waychunas – It all started as a pretty typical report card pick up. Beginning at 4:00pm, there were parents who were eagerly waiting to find out how their students were doing in classes as their children stood nervously, hoping that the outcomes of that night wouldn’t result in them losing their phones or some similar punishment. They had no idea that this quarter’s Report Card Pick-Up night would be unlike any other.

I teach 9th grade civics at a charter high school on Chicago’s far south side. Despite all of the images and pre-conceived notions which that statement may conjure in one’s mind, especially considering the title of this post, we are proud to say that we are among the best schools in the city. Although more than 95% of our students are low-income and come to us several grade levels behind in their academic and social-emotional skills, we have had some of the top results in terms of growth within the city of Chicago. Part of our focus to improve student gains has been to emphasize parent involvement and communication, including setting the goal of 90% attendance for parent-teacher conferences.

So, here we were. I had already met with the grandmother and father of one of my advisory (homeroom) students. They were always the first ones at Report Card Pick Up and within 15 minutes, they were on their way to meet with other teachers. Next in my classroom was a student who had recently transferred into our school. She came into my classroom with her mother and younger brother. She had asked me a question as I had gone to my desk to retrieve something for our conference when it happened.

BLAM

BLAM

BLAM

BLAM

BLAM

BLAM

BLAM

The noise came from outside the school; it sounded like from the park across the street. Shamefully, I will admit that my first reaction was to turn to the family in my room and ask, “Were those fireworks?” I quickly stepped out into the hallway and what happened next was simply a whirlwind. A shooting had happened right outside of our building as students and their families were streaming in and out to meet with teachers and get their student’s report cards. Now, we needed to quickly get everyone into lockdown.

The staff heroically sprang into action and began ushering students and families towards the middle of the building and into our library as quickly and calmly as possible. As I waved parents into the library and looked down the hallway towards the entrance at the far corner, I could see that there were dozens of students in their navy blue uniforms streaming into the building.

The screams. That’s what I remember next.

“He’s been shot!”

A crowd of boys rushed in from the outside, carrying another student between their shoulders. They collapsed on the floor and there was screaming and crying all around me. The front office staff and the disciplinarians surrounded him. My stomach sank as the teachers in the hallway rounded up the last few families from the hallway and took them into the library.

The range of reactions within that library was absolutely astounding. The staff mostly was in shock; walking around the room with a look of horror and tears on their faces. Parents were mostly calm, with looks of deep sadness which come from years of being in too many oh-so-similar situations. Some even complained or argued with staff about why they had to stay in this hot room.

As expected there was a lot of crying. At this point, we didn’t know details of what had happened or who was involved or what the condition of the victim was. Some students had been separated from their parents who were in different parts of the building or knew that their families were on their way to conferences. Fear overcame many as they worried about their family’s safety. I snapped out of my trance and started handing my cell phone to students to make phone calls home. After asking several other teachers to do the same, most students had made phone calls and at the very least notified their family of their own safety within a few minutes.

The reactions of other students caught me off-guard. I understand that people cope with trauma in different ways, but I was shocked by the number of students that continued to hang out or joke with friends, one group even going so far as to have a mini-dance competition in the midst of so much sadness and fear. That’s when I realized something that makes my heart ache to this day: for too many of our kids, this was just another Thursday night. Violence and tragedy are so common in their lives that it had become normalized, which is, in part, why so many acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Eventually, we found out that the person shot was a 9th grader at our school. Police were in the building and we could hear the sirens and helicopters outside. We had to keep all of the students and families in the library until we were given the all clear by the police.

At one point, I stood at the doorway, holding it open to get some cool air to circulate into the room. As I held the door open slightly, I looked down that same long hallway towards the far corner and school entrance. This was the same hallway I looked down each and every day from my classroom at the other corner when I first arrived, between classes, during hallway duty, and at the end of the day. If any hallway in the school was “mine,” it was this one.

The school logo and mission were painted sharply in white paint on the blue wall next to the entrance. Today, my view was different. Yellow police tape was stretched and wrapped across the hallway and door; inside this box of police tape was a small pool of blood on the ground and two police officers talking seriously into walkie-talkies and staring at notepads.

After teaching in urban schools for a number of years, I’ve heard plenty about the horrible obstacles and heartbreaking tragedies which too many of our students face in their everyday lives, but this was different. Up until then, student’s lives had been compartmentalized in my reality: “home lives” vs “school lives.” Sure, bad things happened outside of school, but within the walls of the school building and classroom, we had control and created a bubble where those terrible things didn’t happen, or hardly mattered. Now something terrible from the world I had tried so hard to keep away had invaded my world at school and burst that bubble. I’m teaching at this school to make sure that students had opportunities to avoid or change their worlds and prevent violence like this from happening.

And here it was. In my hallway.

Thankfully, the shooting was not fatal and the student has been going through the recovery process. The police also arrested and charged the alleged shooter. For all of the bad things that have been said about Chicago police lately, I have to say that the officers at school that night were fantastic, even escorting staff, students, and families to their cars once the lockdown ended.

Instead of shaking your head after reading this article and saying, “what a shame,” I instead ask you to use it to truly think about the role of schools in the lives of our nation’s poor and disadvantaged.

For me, this tragedy reaffirmed my reasons for teaching at a school in the city. Sadly, for many children living in poverty, school is the safest place for them to be. Urban schools need to be places where students feel safe and have real opportunities to think and learn. Without schools that can provide our students from the most challenging of backgrounds with excellent support and opportunities to learn, they will be doomed to repeat and struggle in worlds of poverty and violence which have plagued many urban communities for generations.

This is why I hope that you don’t dismiss this as another story about a shooting on the south side of Chicago. Poverty and violence are not inevitable. Something can be done and schools are a part of that complex solution. Real students and their families are relying on amazing teachers, staff, and administrators to give them the education needed to do something about it.

So, next time you run into a person who teaches at a “bad” urban school, don’t ask them about if they feel safe at school, how disrespectful the students are, or why they would want to teach in that school. Simply thank them. They are impacting the lives of others in ways that most could never imagine.

P.S. – For more details on the shooting, click here.

Happy New Year, COED-ers!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year – 

Here’s to making sure everything you do 

Comes from a deep purpose within your soul:

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