Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reality check.

Sometimes, being a teacher is scary.  I was reminded today that the 1 year anniversary of the Newtown shooting is only 10 days away. 

I'd be a liar if I didn't confess that sometimes, the reality of what can and does happen in school leaves me literally shaking with fear.  As a a mom...

And fear is big.  Fear is a monster.  Fear is the devil.

Sitting at my desk this morning, with this massive monster sitting on my chest, making it hard to breath, I reach out to my Savior with the most powerful weapons in my life...prayer, and music.  I pour out my heart to Him, turn my thoughts to His word, and turn on some praise music with hopes that He will speak to me.  He does not disappoint.  He speaks straight to my heart through the tiny speaker on my lie, these are some of the lyrics of the songs that order...

"The Earth is Yours" by Gungor

Your voice it thunders
The oaks start twisting
The forest sounds with cedars breaking
The waters see You and start their writhing
From the depths a song is rising

Now it’s rising from the ground

Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy Lord the earth is Yours and singing
Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy Lord
The earth is Yours

"Your Hands" by JJ Heller

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands

When you walked upon the earth
You healed the broken, lost and hurt
I know you hate to see me cry
One day you will set all things right
Yeah, one day you will set all things right

"Your Great Name" by Natalie Grant

Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name

Jesus, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us, Son of God and Man
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name

"Come on my Soul" by Rend Collective Experiment

Come on my soul
Come on my soul
Let down the walls
And sing my soul

Come on,
 It's time to look up

Sometimes, the world is scary.  I won't pretend that it isn't.  But...God speaks, y'all.  And the power in His voice is so great that it sounds like many waters and scripture says that it breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  That's big power.  But it's nothing compared to the power that is in His heart, beating for us.  The power in His voice is a gentle breeze compared to the full force of His overwhelming love.  And the Earth is His...and one day, He will set all things right...and at the name of Jesus, the enemy has to come on, my soul, my friends.  Let's sing.  It's time to look up.  Not because we're not afraid, but because of the incredible God who goes before, surrounds on every side, and covers us in every way with love that is stronger and more powerful than any fear.  Fear has no place.  His perfect love has cast it out.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows every day! Not.

Here's the thing.  Growth happens through difficult, dark, confusing, sometimes painful situations.  I'm in a growth spurt as a teacher, I think.  I choose to look at it that way so I don't get overwhelmed and I don't want to quit.  Whatever amazing thing is about to blossom in my teacher-life...this is the part where the seed for that amazing thing has been buried deep in the dirt.  It's dark, cold, soggy, lonely, and just plain boring.

I have this class that I love.  I mean really love.  I love their faces, I love their personalities, I love their sense of's a great class.  They are great people.

But they really struggle as STUDENTS sometimes and it make me absolutely crazy.

The material we're going through...they aren't getting it.  I haven't figured out how to make the material fun and engaging, given my time and resources.  I refuse to say that I don't have the time and resources, but that's what it feels like.  I'm sure I just haven't figured it out yet.

So I'm doing the best I can as a teacher and it's falling on deaf ears, blind eyes, and completely disinterested brains.

What I WANT to do is throw up my hands and say "Oh well.  Fine.  I'll teach it, you'll write it, we'll take a test and let's all just HOPE that you don't fail."  But I know that if I do that, it'll be me who fails.  Not the kids.  Me.  I'm the grown up.  I'm the professional.  I'm the responsible one.

And I'm totally spent. 

Haven't I done enough?  Is THIS the point where I get to say "enough is enough" and let the ball lie dormant "in their court"?  Because I've done all that I know how to do and it's not working.  And I really want to believe that yes, I did all that I could and some kids just aren't reachable.  That means it's not my fault.  It's not theirs either, it's just the way of the world. 

I have to chuckle as I re-read that paragraph.  Hopeless indifference.  That's what I'm wrestling with.  And it's probably the exact same thing that makes these kids struggle as students.  The feeling that they've tried all they can and they still  have a low C and their parents are still frustrated that they're not doing better so maybe this war just isn't winnable this time.  Who cares about slope and rate of change, Mrs. Chieffe?  Let's just hang out and be happy for a little while.

........I'm angry, I guess.  Angry that I'm chasing my tail trying to figure out how to make this work and they've already given up.  So I want to give up too. 

I can't.  I know that.  Until these kids move on to the next teacher, my heart's desire is to reach them at all cost.  (cursed heart)  And every time I fail, I have to try again and again and again and again.  If they are still with me, enough is not enough.  I can't quit.  If I do, we all fail, but me most of all because I should've been the one to keep going.

Which all sounds great and heroic and ra-ra and all that, but the reality is that I don't know what comes next.'s the dark, lonely, confusing, depressing stage of the growth spurt.  I'll stay here a while and just BE.  I'll just wait.  And think.  And one day, just when I'm extra sure that it's hopeless, a tiny shoot will push through the dark dirt and something amazing will begin to grow.

One day... 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Learning From Failure

*Warning:  This is a long post.  I get that.  But keep in mind, this is my way of reflecting for my own professional growth too and sometimes, there's just a lot of stuff to think through and remember.*

Tuesday was a total flop.  I gave a test in 3 of my classes and they all did SO badly.  There are a lot of teachers who would just chalk it up to "oh well, guess they didn't study hard enough" or "that'll teach them to sleep through my class".  I, on the other hand, believe that the average grade on a test is MY grade.  If the average grade for 19 kids who took a test on a chapter is 58%, then that's MY teaching grade.  Kinda depressing when I look at it that way, but I think it's the only way that I can keep myself on my toes and always wanting my kids to do better.

So, as I was grading the stack of tests in an empty room, I had "conversations" with the kids.  You know how it goes...

"WHAT?!  Why would you do that?  We talked about this a million times in class!"
"UGH!  I told you to be careful of this..."
"Forgot to reduce here - how long have you been taking math classes?!"

Those were my outer conversations.  They dealt mostly with the students' failures.  My inner conversations focused on my own failures and went more like this:

"Okay so obviously the foldable we did for these wasn't very memorable...need to rethink it."
"UGH!  How can I get more practice in for that..."
"What crazy thing can I do to help you remember this step that you forget EVERY time???"

By the end of it, I knew the lesson I had planned for the next day was simply not going to work.  I couldn't just pass back a bunch of failed tests, shrug my shoulders, and wish them better luck next time.  I knew I couldn't do that, but honestly...I wasn't sure what else to do.  I knew I'd taught the material once already.  I didn't have time to reteach it, but it obviously didn't stick.  Going over the test as a whole group would probably but the students AND ME to sleep and they wouldn't hear most of it anyway...

I just kept wondering "how can I quickly review this material in a way that they can learn from their mistakes and not be falling asleep in class while we do it?"

So like any decent scholar, I googled it.  Straight up.  "What to do when almost the entire class fails a test."  Check my browser history.

After reading some really great advice (and some really dumb advice), I had a plan.

I strategically paired the students based on their scores.  I printed up blank tests.  For the next class period, they could use our small whiteboards, their partners, their books, and their notebooks to learn from their mistakes.  They had to write what mistake they'd made on the old test, and show the correction on the new test.  For their efforts, every correction would earn them back 1/2 a point. 

Here's WHY I did it this way:
           - Strategic pairs:  The higher performers could teach the lower instead of staying clumped up with the people they always work with.  Also,when you work with the same people all of the time, you communicate the same way all of the time because your little group "gets" you.  I wanted them to be stretched to really think through and communicate what they were doing on a deeper level.
           - Whiteboards:  Students love writing on whiteboards.  It's a fact of the universe.  Also, it allows them to make and fix mistakes quickly.  It also allows them to "duke it out" when they disagree about an answer or a method.  It can be fast and messy - at the same speed as their thoughts - and can be quickly erased if needed.  It lowers the risk factor tremendously.
           - Books and notes:  Students needed to PRACTICE looking into their resources when they got stuck.  They kept wanting to just stop when they got stuck.  I wouldn't let them.  Having a partner was nice with this step too, because they could look things up together which is faster and it's easier to stay focused when working with someone else to find information in a book.
           - Writing the mistake:  It wasn't enough to just make the correction.  That had to identify the mistake so they would be less likely to make that mistake moving forward.
           - Correct it:  Practice makes permanent.  They did it wrong once and I want to give the correct way (at least) as much attention as the wrong way, so once they identified the error, they had to do it correctly.
           - 1/2 credit back:  I want there to be some record of the fact that they struggled because it gives them a starting point from which to grow.  That's why I only give 1/2 back for just making corrections.  Plus, if they could always just make corrections for 100%, they would lose the motivation to try in the first place. 
          -  In class:  Submitting test corrections for 1/2 credit back is something I allow for the entire year, but in order for that to work for them, they need to buy in to the idea that this is a beneficial way to spend their very limited time.  Doing this in class with a partner for the first time shows them a few things - a)it's not super hard to figure out what you did wrong, b) most of the ones you missed were simple mistakes that are easily avoidable if you know what they are, c) it doesn't take as long as you might think, d) it really does help your grade quite a bit.  Once they walk through this process, they believe these things and are more likely to do the corrections on their own next time, but if I just TOLD them about it, most would never try it.

Final thoughts?  It was glorious.  All of the failure that I'd felt on Tuesday as I graded the tests melted away as I spent the class period on Wednesday going from table to table, listening to 19 juniors and seniors talk, argue, teach each other, encourage each other, and "get" math.  I got to teach several different mini-lessons at each table targeting the specific needs of the small groups when they got really deadlocked about something.  During the last 10 minutes, as they were turning in their corrections, I'd ask "so how do you feel about this test now?"  The responses were like candy for my soul!

"Oh man, Mrs. C.  I totally could have done so much better.  My mistakes were all dumb little things that I KNEW but just overlooked."

"I feel so much better about this test.  I thought I just didn't get it, but it makes so much more sense to me now."

"I feel way more confident.  I know this stuff..."

"I totally didn't realize I was doing the order of operations wrong.  Now, I know I won't make those mistakes again."

In giving them an opportunity to learn from their failures and redeem themselves, I learned from mine and was able to redeem myself as well. 

I seriously have the best. Job. Ever.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Five for Friday

5 Things I want to remember from this week:

1) I am the most stressed on Mondays.  There, I said it.  I work really hard all weekend making sure that I have all of my ducks in a row.  Then, on Monday morning, I stress all morning that I forgot something or that something won't go well.  Of course, because life is messy, Monday isn't perfect and I come home stressed, feeling that all of my hard weekend work was wasted.  The reason I want to remember this is so that going forward, I won't freak out about the stress.  Monday WON'T go as planned.  I can't do a job that involves 60-something teenagers and math and expect things to end up neatly wrapped with a bow.  I'll be totally comfortable by Tuesday afternoon - happens every week.

2) Chapel is amazing.  I missed chapel last week because I was stressing and tying up some last-minute details.  This week, in spite of any stress, I made myself drop what I was doing and go to chapel.  Wow, what a difference.  I was blessed, encouraged, my gracious heavenly Father actually spoke to me, softened my heart and set me straight about some things and the rest of the day/week was spent setting my mind on eternity instead of letting myself get caught in the mire of the moment.  There is no greater fuel for a teacher than this eternity mindset.  I won't miss chapel again.

3) I love having teacher friends to talk to.  To me, hashing out ideas and plans and activities is at least AS good as shopping with a best friend.  Try an idea here and an idea there and eventually, you feel like a million bucks when you find the one that fits "just right".  But you would only feel like around $564,000 if you weren't with a best friend.  It's the friend that makes it.  So I'm very happy to be surrounded by people who love Jesus, kids, and teaching.  Remember that scene in Christmas Vacation where he gets all of the lights on the house to light up.  Yeah.  That's pretty much me every day.

4) Bad days don't last.  I don't even WANT to elaborate on this one.  Just know that, Amber.  The bad ones fade away.  Promise.

5) Sometimes, the best learning will just happen without me.  Now, don't get me  wrong here.  One of my favorite feelings is being pleasantly surprised by a group of kids.  I have a class that is particularly hard to reach.  I try games and activities to keep them moving in hopes that they'll buy in, but so far, they've been just as underwhelmed by around-the-world as they are about sitting and taking notes from the overhead.  Actually, they might prefer the overhead notes but I'm fairly certain it's just because it requires less energy and effort than around-the-world.  Today, however, this group of kids totally blew my mind.  I had planned a game where they had to pick a seat that had a whiteboard and marker.  It was for the game, but before we started, I decided on a whim to have them take out the chapter review they did for homework the night before and check answers with the person sitting next to them first.  The next thing I know, as I'm walking around the room checking on them, I realize that they're ALL having full blown discussions about the math problems and they are using the whiteboards to teach each other and to try different methods to solve when they didn't have the same answer!!!  That's right - I used a bigger font AND italics to show how excited I was.  It was THAT cool.  Forget the game is what I did.  I let them use the entire class period to review every one of the 36 review questions on the chapter review and they were engaged and learning and "oh!"ing all over the place.   We may have played the game for 10 minutes at the end of class because they had gotten through all of the math problems and were comfortable with them so they were ready to move on to something else, but it surely wasn't the highlight of our class. 

My room is a mess and I'm bringing work home with me this long weekend.  I'll probably come up here on Saturday to clean up a bit and get some things done, but when I love what I do to this degree, it's totally ok.  What an adventure.  What an unpredictable, highs-and-lows, make-your-stomach-do-summersaults kind of an adventure I'm living!  Hope you are too!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Finding balance.

Finding balance as a teacher is tough...and necessary.

My routine is that on Thursday, during my 90 minute planning block, I begin planning lessons for the next week and get a general idea where I'm headed. Then, on Friday, I fine-tune my plan and make any resources or ISN pages that I've planned.

In a perfect world, this plan works great!

In my real world, I've worked both Saturdays since school started.

Don't get me wrong, I don't MIND working Saturdays. Teaching is more of a life-love than a job for me so I settle into my classroom, put on some music and plan/create away. My first working Saturday of the year was an 8 hour shift and I was had a blast.

Yesterday, however, something was different. I left the house around 9. The kids were with dad and perfectly happy. It didn't strike them as odd that I was leaving for work on a Saturday. THAT struck ME as odd. They both know, at 6 and 3 years old, that I love what I do and I work a lot. It's our normal. I'm always so proud of them for being flexible and I want them to know that teachers love what they do and I want them to never be afraid of working hard. Most of the time, I'm happy to set an example for them in these areas. But I also know, and want them to know, that life is about balance.

I still worked 5 hours yesterday, but when I left the school, while I'd planned the rest of the week for my 6 classes, I'd written only 4 of the 6 quizzes I need for Monday, and I just made a post it note of what copies I'd need to make on Monday. I have a couple of lessons that aren't 100% ironed out as far as what foldable i'll use and simple stuff like that.

Now, please understand, I'm a ducks-in-a-row kinda gal. I don't like to spend my weekend knowing that my upcoming week isn't totally prepped and ready to go.

But also understand that while I believe that teaching is what God has gifted me to do and I always want to teach well for His glory, before He made me a teacher, He made me a wife and mom. I never want my kids to think I'm a teacher first. If there was ever a situation where I had to choose between taking care of my classes or taking care of them, I'd never want them to wonder which I'd choose.

I know some weeks will require more time than others, but in the interest of balance, this week, I left my classes at about 90% prepped and came home to be mom. I was rewarded with some relaxing time with the love of my life as we watched our minis play in a massive rainstorm, followed by a mother-daughter run and some much needed cuddle time on the couch. I'll finish up my quizzes and foldable planning tonight after they go to bed and everything will be just fine.

Stress will come. That is inevitable. My prayer is that God will always give me wisdom to keep my priorities straight and that He'll give me the courage I need to walk away from work when He tells me to. I know I made the right choice this weekend and I know that He will equip me to meet the demands of the upcoming week at school. I have unspeakable peace in those two facts.

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you have going on, you will lean on Him as well, and in so doing, find peace and balance.




Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Day Two

I love teaching.  I do.  There is no other job as fun and diverse as mine.  Today was another awesome day.  I'm just as exhausted and overwhelmed as I was yesterday, but I'd rather be overwhelmed by a challenge than bored without one.  So here are my thoughts for the day:

The plan: Frog-in-a-well brainteaser for bell-work, graphing Multiple Intelligence and Learning Styles results, discussion about learning strategies and activities that are specific to the different intelligences and styles in our class.

I'm really enjoying doing the learning styles and multiple intelligence stuff so far.  I'm learning a lot about my students that a math pre-test just wouldn't tell me.  I teach the lowest math classes at each level so every class I have is full of the kids who really struggle with math.  Knowing how they think and how they learn is going to be a cornerstone of our success this year.  Without this info, I'd just do what I'm comfortable with and just hope that they get it...and most probably wouldn't. 

For example, my LOWEST intelligence is bodily-kinesthetic.  I'm just not a mover.  Don't get me wrong, I like to dance and I like to run, but moving isn't part of my learning life.  I'm perfectly happy to sit still and read, take great color-coded notes, and present whatever I've learned.  

So, that being said, am I terrified that my last class period is eight 9th graders who are ALL kinesthetic?  Absolutely.  In 2 days, these kids have moved more and talked more and, quite honestly, failed more than any of my other classes.  People talk about kids who "break the mold"...these kids are coming to me with the powder of the demolished mold stuffed into a Ziploc bag stashed in the bottom of their backpacks.

They feel like failures.  They say "I can't" and "it's too hard" about things like adding and drawing which tells me that it's not that they get overwhelmed by a difficult challenge, they just feel it.  In their bones.  Failure.  So they don't even think about trying.

My job this year with them is to grab their attention, restore their belief in themselves, and stuff them full of as much Algebra as I can, using games and movement and...I don't even know what else because it's not my thing...before our time runs out.

My new favorite verse?
   I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
  Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.
I will wait for the Lord to lead.  And I will be strong and I will try to have courage, because I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in this land of kids who think they are "dead in the water" when it comes to math.  I know they're not.  They're alive.  This is the land of the living.  I just know it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Not what I expected

That's how I'd describe my first day back to classroom teaching.  What I THOUGHT would happen couldn't have been further from what actually happened.  I was so afraid of the first classes of the day.  With higher numbers and older students, I thought for sure they'd eat me alive.  My later classes in the day would be a cake walk, I thought.  Nice small numbers and they're 8th and 9th graders!  What could go wrong in there?

For now, Math Analysis, my biggest and oldest class of the day is my favorite.  They are fun and excited, but respectful and hard working.  They worked together like champs and seemed to be excited by their success today.  As they played 31derful, an amazing game idea I got from HERE, I heard one girl say to her group "I like games like this - they make me think!" (...and her team wasn't even "winning").

Oddly, enough, my Algebra 1a and 1b classes were the toughest of the day.  One is right before lunch and one is right after so they were tired at that point and totally not interested in a "fun" group game, even if all they had to do was add.  Questions I asked to keep things moving along were met with big-eyed stares and shrugged shoulders.  Their groups were awkward and uncomfortable to say the least.  There was 1 in almost every group who totally dominated - and not in a good way - and as a group, they kept trying to give up (again, even though they were only adding).

My hope is that it was just first day weirdness that will settle down.  I want to get into the curriculum quicker than I originally planned, but with block periods on Wednesday and Thursday, I just don't see how I can get the ISN set up and ready to go so I'll just have to be patient.  Maybe I'll plan a math review for Friday just to whet their appetites.

All in all, today was an awesome day.  I enjoyed every class, even if they weren't what I expected.  I have a handful of kids who will keep me on my toes, but I'm pretty sure I can handle it.   

Friday, July 12, 2013

Follow, follow, follow, follow...follow the yellow brick road!

Before we get going, let me just say, I'm certain that the world doesn't need another teaching blog.  I know. 

But...ya know what? I do. 

Reflection is so important when you're growing as a learner so I need a place to process and sort through all of my teaching thoughts with a bit of the rest of my life thrown in too. My husband isn't a teacher and I don't have many teacher friends yet're it, bloggosphere. You're my teacher friend. I'll throw my ideas around with you - the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we'll pretend that no one is listening or reading, or whatever. 

Now, let's have a chat about this title, shall we? Learning and growing is a journey. I think it's an exciting journey which therefore qualifies it as a bonafide adventure. As I set out on this adventure, in search of a magical wizard, I'm fairly certain I'll simply find other ordinary teachers like me. All that I need to become a master teacher is within me - I just need to enjoy the journey to discover what I already possess. My heart is filled with anticipation and anxiety mingled together as I try to wrap my brain around the vast unknown that lies before me. 
 High school and meetings and gradebooks - OH MY! 
 I know (because I've seen the movie) that the yellow brick road leads through the wonderful and the treacherous, but if I stay committed, gather some friends along the way, and if we work together, amazing things can be accomplished and life will never be the same. 

 So...without further adieu...let the adventure begin!