Sunday, August 26, 2018

6 Reasons Why I Love Being a Teacher

Recently, I felt like there is a lot of negativity surrounding teaching or.. maybe it's me and I am just so super stressed that I feel like there is a ton of negativity and really, everyone is doing just fine! Whatever the case may be, I felt the need to write a list of reasons why I love teaching. I want this year of mine to be better than all the rest and this seems like a good place to start. On the night before Day 1 of Year 13.


Creativity

When I first decided to become a teacher almost many, many years ago, I made that decision based on the fact that I could be creative. I was excited to make lessons and activities that would create a fun learning environment and also be fun for me! Even when I was teaching at schools that did not allow for too much flexibility, I always found a way to bend the rules or found time to implement a fun, hands-on leaning activity for the content I needed to teach. Within a few years (and some experience under my belt), I was able to find schools that really valued my creativity and now I am at a school where I get to write my own curriculum! Teaching allows for the creativity side of me to flourish and I really love that about my job!

Make a Difference

Teaching allows me to come home everyday and know that something I did within those 7 hours made a positive difference in someone's life, even if I am unaware of it. Whether it was teaching a new concept, giving good advice or facilitating a conversation between 30 kids where they were able to learn from each other, I know something good happened and I was a part of it. I got into teaching because I wanted to be creative and I think what keeps me in the classroom is the fulfillment I get from being a positive person in the lives' of children. Last year was a really rough year. I thought since it was my 12th year in the classroom, I wouldn't have some of the same feelings I had my very first year of teaching, but I did! I was worn down by abnormal circumstances. I got down on myself because I thought I wasn't being the best teacher I could be for my kids and coming to school somedays felt like a chore rather than the privilege that it  is. I decided that at the end of the school year, I would write a letter to my students telling them about how amazing they are and what a wonderful year it was that we had together. Some of them had tears in their eyes when I read it out loud to everyone. There was a 5th grade graduation that day and the love and appreciation I felt from my students and their parents was a feeling I will never forget. Sometimes we need validation in what we are doing and that is okay. We will not always get it and that is okay, too, but we need to always remind ourselves that we are making a difference.

It's Fun!

How many people can go to work each day and say it's fun? Not many that I know of. People are always saying "Love what you do and you will not work a day in your life". Even though teaching is a TON of work, it's also something I love to do and so it does not feel like a regular job. I get to laugh with the kids and be reminded on a daily basis of what it means to be young and excited about the silliest things. There are so many examples of this in my career, and some that stand out are: when the scholastic book box was delivered and my entire class gave it a standing ovation to it (see my IG account for that one!), when I returned after being sick for a few days, I got an applause for coming back, celebrating a book character's birthday and singing the "Happy Birthday" song to a nonexistent person, traveling to Washington, DC and experiencing the memorials and museums through the eyes of 10 year olds, an applause when I finish a really amazing read aloud, fidget spinner challenges the last week of school, coloring and pasting fun activities together - and the list goes on! Being a teacher brings out the inner child in you!

Vacations

I read a Facebook post from a friend and I absolutely loved it. She was talking with someone and the person was going on and on about how unfair it is that teachers only work part of the year, have summers off and all these breaks, great hours, etc. She turned to him and said, "Yeah, it is. Sucks you didn't choose a profession with the same benefits." Another teacher had a similar conversation and simply stated that he was collecting overtime throughout the summer. We work hard throughout the school year and only a teacher can really understand the absolute need for a spring break and summer break. The kids need a break from us and each other! And to our benefit, we still get to collect a check while sleeping in, reading our favorite novel, basking in the sun, traveling around the world, or walking around the malls when the crowds are all at their jobs. Heck, I even get excited about being able to schedule a dentist appointment! So as much as we get crap for this, I LOVE that we get so much time off. For a long time, I spent it making more money and adding to my income. And granted, for the first 8-10 years, I put in my time and worked in my classroom during most breaks, but now, I am living it up! This summer I traveled throughout Asia, I am going to Colombia to practice Spanish during Thanksgiving and next summer I hope to plan a cycling trip through France and visit a friend in England. Because I am a teacher, I am doing all of this on a teacher's budget, but that is what adds to the adventures. We put in our time to enjoy our summers off and holiday breaks. I will never let anyone make me feel guilty for that. When people tell me how great it is that teachers get so many days off, I smile and say, "I know!"


We Get 2 New Years

The start of every school year is a new beginning and I love it because it's a new opportunity for me to plan fresh goals and check in on ones I made January 1st. Tomorrow is my first day of school and I have my outfit laid out, fresh, healthy food in the fridge, a morning workout planned and workout clothes ready to go for 5am. I have my planner ready for Day 1 written with a fresh set of flair pens and it's a new start for 27 kids that are entering our classroom tomorrow. There is something invigorating about fresh starts! I love that I get to also start over as a teacher again! I get to do what I didn't do so well last year better this year! I get to reinvent ideas that I was not so excited about and I get to look forward to the ones that were super fun! I get to also look forward to rereading my favorite books to the class and wait to see their responses, I get to share thoughtful quotes with them and teach them all the important things I taught previous classes and witness their attitudes and opinions. I get to be a part of a whole new group of kids' learning and achievements. With every new school year, I am given the opportunity to become a better teacher than I was the previous year and I am given the time before school starts to plan and prepare for how that is going to happen.


I Get to Live Out My Passion

Very often, I speak with people who are trying to fulfill a passion after work or when they have time. Their jobs are not fulfilling and sadly, they know it. As teachers, we are so incredibly lucky to be able to know what our purpose is in life and go for it. I don't think many teachers realize how few people get to spend their entire day living out a passion. There are plenty of reassuring moments. When a student ran out of the room crying because a handful of kids laughed at her and I stopped the math lesson to discuss why that is not an acceptable way to behave in our classroom or in society and 20 minutes later, long after I have stopped talking and the kids are having their own conversation about it, I can tell that they get it. And then months later, I stopped and realized that they had all shown compassion, empathy and consideration towards that student since the conversation and tears were brought to my eyes, I knew that this is where I am supposed to be and without a question, this is what I am supposed to be doing. I am so sure that all of you have had plenty of moments like this one I describe. It's what our job is about. We can teach the standards, we can teach the math facts, we can teach kids how to read, but it's in the moments where we teach them how to be good people that the true hard work has been accomplished.

In conclusion, if you are ever down about teaching and aren't sure why you got into the profession in the first place and your hundredth Google search of "What else can you do with a teaching degree besides teach" comes up dry, or, if you are being inundated with negativity about the profession, please stop and think about why you love what you do. And if anything on my list rings true to you, stop by and have another read. Here's to you and me and our next new school year together!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Value of Experience in Vietnam


Having now arrived to my third and final country this summer, I am noticing a pattern of how each of these explorations begin. At first, there is trepidation because I have no clue about the area, where to go or what to do, but as soon as I immerse myself into it (which is always just to hit the streets and start walking), that wall crumbles and I feel completely confident in becoming a part of the community in my own, small way. There is no judgment as to what I choose to do because I am alone and no one around me really cares what I am doing. I also make sure to embrace the opportunities as they offer themselves to me. Today, I was walking down a street and saw a sign for art classes. The owner of the art studio came outside and we spoke briefly. He asked if I would like to learn how to paint and of course, I said YES! Tomorrow I have my first lesson.

Suddenly, I started to feel more connected with people and places as I am striving to get that feeling of overwhelming beauty or awe (my ultimate goal every time I go somewhere). Walking around, talking with people, or just observing what is happening around me, I begin to tap into the ideas within me that aren't yet  fully formulated, but soon construct themselves through exploration, questioning and thinking. The more I expose myself to the new people and places, the more I feel like I am not only learning about them, but I am also learning more about myself.
The challenges where I know I am in charge of building my own safety net in the midst of it all happening are the kinds of situations I sometimes hate while they are happening, but when I look back on them, I am so incredibly grateful. I continue to learn that the second I say I am ready to quit, if I just keep going, what's on the other side is beautiful, beneficial and worth more than I could have ever imagined.

"Okay everybody, how are you feeling? Are you done?" The tour guide asked us this question after we cycled about 20km in a heat index that was well over 110 degrees. I looked him dead in the eyes."Yeah, I am done." I said it, but I must not have actually meant it because I kept going. My head was spinning, I was well past a "runners high", my water was empty and I barely remember that stretch of ride. Even in the shade, I felt like there was no escape. At that point, I wantedto give up but, not enough, because I didn't. The energy from the group and the fact that I would have been the only one who actually stopped, helped me to keep going. And I am so glad that I did because if I had given up, I would not have experienced sitting in a basket boat on a river with an old Vietnamese tour guide making rings for me out of palm leaves and I wouldn't have experienced listening to CCR on the ride back through the rice paddies thinking about what it  was like for the people of Vietnam in the 1960's.

If I had given up after an 11 hour train ride, 3 hour bus ride in (still) 100-something degree weather with a stomach ache, no sleep and no food and no traditional bathroom to use, I would not have experienced the life of people in a village where the first hospital was built in 2015 and they were given electricity in 1995. I would have missed out on looking up at a house built on stilts and seeing two children screaming "hello!" and waving frantically at me. If I had given up after finally rinsing the sweat off while standing next to a toilet only to be covered in mosquitoes and more sweat, I would have missed the home cooked meal the family was so proud to make and serve for us. I wouldn't have experienced freshly squeezed sugarcane juice or learned how 4 generations of families live in a one-room home. I would have missed out on the first hand experience of seeing how happiness can come from simplicity at its most basic definition. 

There are so many things I learned while spending time in Vietnam, but one for sure, is to never give up when times get tough. These are just some fun examples and don't compare at all to life's most toughest of times, but today they are serving me as a good reminder.

Life can suck, but if we give up or take the easy road, what are we missing? If you stop when it gets difficult, you know what the ending will be and it involves you surrendering. But if you keep going, the possibilities are endless and who doesn't like a good surprise?!

Below are some of the highlights of the trek through Vietnam. I hope you enjoy!


Art combined with nature

His motor bike wasn't making it, so another man helped him over the bridge.

Woman making rice paper

Pagoda

Year of the Monkey

Hand stitching with silk

Boats on the river in Hoi An

Many couples come to this setting to get pictures taken the day before the wedding.

Ride up the mountain

Mom making sticky rice

Sisters enjoy a game together

Rice Fields against Beautiful Mountains


You haven't had an adventure until you tried riding a bike through traffic in Vietnam![/caption]

I learned how to make rice noodles! A great cause that teaches kids English and hospitality. (Planterra)[/caption]

Monday, July 30, 2018

Silence as the Educator, my time in Tokyo

The eyes behind silence get a glimpse into the realities of the unknown 

- me  

As I was thinking about how to describe my (too short of a) time in Tokyo, I decided on peaceful observations. I feel it's quite fitting as I did not have much to say (giant language barrier) and the calm and mellowness of the people was contagious. I felt like I was walking on clouds the whole time without a care in the world. Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), few people in Tokyo speak English. And, there is something to be said about keeping your mouth shut and simply taking in your surroundings. So not being able to communicate was not really that terrible. The city and metro is easiest enough to navigate and pictures really do speak a thousand words!

If you are in Tokyo anytime soon, you might want to check out the MORI Building Digital Art Exhibit. Definitely a little mind-blowing!

For me, being in Tokyo was like being in another world which is a feeling I haven't experienced before when traveling abroad. While in Costa Rica or Panama, for example, things were different, but I had a reference to the language and I could figure out menus, street signs, etc due to the fact that they use the same letters as English and a lot of the words are similar enough to figure things out. Generally, the people act the same as I am used to. You can look at a person and guess how s/he is feeling. In Tokyo, I had no clue what people were thinking or feeling. Pretty much everyone had no expression on their faces, were reserved and kept to themselves. However, they all were friendly, patient and helpful. As soon as someone realized I was trying to communicate with them, they were more than willing to try and work with me. They waited while I pulled out my phone to type in my translator app and then answered as best they could or took out their phone to let me read the Japanese they translated. Staying in a hotel that was outside of the traditional tourist areas was also a great (unplanned) idea. Where I was staying was the only hotel around. (I found it on Airbnb, but booked it through booking.com). I definitely was an outsider and could feel that with the curious stares both from adults and children. Except, I didn't feel that being an outsider was anything bad. People were just wondering what I was doing there.

If you go to Tokyo, I highly suggest getting some nail art. I also got hummingbirds on my toes! So fun and I met the nicest people![/caption]

Me and Mee! She was my toe nail artist!

One of my favorite things to do at the end of a long day and after the sun had fully set, was take the metro to Shinjuku station and then walk 45 minutes home. I loved it so much because this was when the streets became even more quieter than during the day. The weather was perfect and I could only hear my footsteps, the humming of a bicycle quietly riding by me or an elderly lady watering her plants. If any cars came down the street, they drove very slowly and cautiously around me. Occasionally, I would see a mom pushing her child in a stroller heading home or with her child strapped to the back of her bike. Every night, people were making their way home in a place that felt like the perfect world. Everyone follows the rules, is conscientious of each other and respectful of their environment. I have always been a rule-breaker of sorts and actually, when someone tells me notto do something, that's what I end up wanting to do most even if the thought never crossed my mind before. So I was surprised at how much I appreciated this aspect of the country. I guess I never really considered what it would be like to live in a place where the rules weren't questioned or generally broken because I grew up questioning all the rules and that was perfectly acceptable in a lot of ways. Hell, I teach my students to question everything though I like to call it critical thinking ;-) The last book I read with my class this school year wasA Wrinkle in Time, and I swear, this place felt like Camazotz (an awesome debate my students had was whether Camazotz is, in fact, the perfect place or not). Later in my trip, when I was at the home of a lady named Yuka, she was explaining to me that Airbnb had been outlawed in Japan starting June 15 and everyone was informed on June 1. She told me she  wondered why they didn't give more notice and then said to me "It's the rule so we have to follow it" and then shrugged her shoulders. 

Yuka taught me to play the Koto. She also lent me a kimono that her grandmother handmade. That's her awesome dog, Pooh!

Now she is applying for a license and putting her Airbnb overnight host plans on hold. There was no protest or outrage from the country. They were told that was the new law and complied.
I don't want to forget the relaxed, contented and calmness I felt the entire time I was there. I learned a lot in the short time and hope to make it back soon to do all the things I now have placed on my Tokyo To-Do list. 

Next is Vietnam! Something tells me it will be very different...

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Follow Me through Tokyo, Vietnam & Bali!


This past September, I decided to plan an experience of culture, landscape and adventure. For the next 5 or so weeks, I will be  on a journey through three countries: Tokyo, Japan, south Vietnam up to the northern city of Hanoi and Bali, Indonesia. This plan is Part 2 of infinite parts ;-)

Part 1 happened last summer when I was driving across the country alone over the course of 12 days. I had the opportunity to reflect on what I want my life to be and it's a road I continue to travel down. I definitely don’t have all of my answers yet and I know that my answers are not necessarily yours, but I did realize/finally face that teaching and working had taken over in many ways and as a teacher, I am pretty sure you have felt this before. Even though I have been able to experience a lot of really great things, there still felt like something was missing. I needed more excitement and I truly believe that this new path which involves stepping away from the job more will actually make me a better teacher (See? That’s still the focus in many ways, so it’s all good).

Discovering what makes us feel alive and taking part in it is essential if teaching is your chosen career. As teachers, there is way too much time and energy spent on providing an education and safe space for others that we often forget about ourselves or think that we don’t matter as much (we do!). For years, my life literally revolved around teaching and in some ways that will never change just because that is the nature of the job. However, teaching doesn’t have to deprive us of things we are worth having. Heading into my 13thyear, I look back and realize that I felt like without me the world for my students/our classroom would fall apart. I am much less egotistical now and I am working to break free of this notion. Giving up our lives for others is not necessarily the best thing for everyone.

To read the rest of this blog post, please find my new site here!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Last Day of School Plans!



Hi! Thank you so much for following my classroom tales! I have recently updated my blog onto a new site called Teachers On Point! Please find this blog post there and sign up for a FREE, EXCLUSIVE teaching resource while you're there! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Let's Talk During Read Aloud!



A lot of learning happens during read aloud and I think there is a misconception that read aloud should be a time of only quiet listening. While listening obviously is important during this time of day, talking is equally valuable to students' learning. When I was teaching third grade and did guided reading groups, I would often refer to the strategies students displayed during read aloud and connect it to what was being practiced in the small group. It was really helpful for kids to be able to have that model to think back and refer to. In fifth grade, I teach kids through modeling how to participate during read aloud.   

There are two skills that can be practiced during read aloud and those are SPEAKING and READING COMPREHENSION

Speaking

"We are here to listen to the story and share our thoughts about the characters and what is happening to them. What we do in literature circle, we will also be doing during read aloud."

Listening, Speaking, Reading then Writing. Those are the levels of understanding that we work hard to achieve in our classrooms. After spending 5 years teaching fifth graders, I learned that children this age still have difficulty explaining their thinking in a concise and organized way. Although we know that kids love to talk, few know that they actually need practice speaking so that they convey what they are thinking.

Reiterating and Questioning: When I hear a child having difficulty explaining their thinking, I tend to reiterate what I think they are trying to say. It's important for children to have a model example of how to speak especially when in a situation where there is a group conversation and others want to express their thoughts, too. Unfortunately, we don't have all day and it's important to get it out quick and easy! Do not be afraid to tell your students that this is a time where you will be helping them to practice speaking.


Reading Comprehension 

"Remember boys and girls, the reading strategies we talk about and practice during read aloud are the same strategies we should be using when we read books on our own." 

Questioning and Using Text Evidence: When I first started teaching, I was afraid to call a student out for sharing a prediction that made absolutely no sense with what was happening in the story. I thought, well how can a prediction be criticized since everyone knows it will soon be confirmed or denied anyway. Also, I felt bad telling a kid their prediction was definitely not going to happen. Later in my career, I realized that I was doing children a disservice by always "agreeing" that their prediction could possibly take place in the story. So I began asking kids to give me evidence from the story that would support their prediction. If they had trouble coming up with evidence, I then suggested they revise their prediction. Oftentimes, just by asking for evidence students will revise their predictions right away. Also, if I don't respond at all, other students will chime in and explain how that probably wouldn't happen because of xyz in the story.

Thinking Aloud: Even if I had read the book before, I am, of course, always thinking about the reading. I find it extremely beneficial to share with students what goes on in my mind during read aloud. This can start conversation or, at the very least, make the kids aware that I am actually thinking while reading. I make connections with other texts, share what I am visualizing, discuss things that happened earlier in the story or anything that comes to mind really. It is a great example to show children that we don't just absentmindedly read through stories! Sometimes I will even ask the students what they were thinking during a certain part of the story just because I am curious.

Just letting kids be aware that read aloud is a time for thinking and discussing gives them the opportunity to check their understanding and be more engaged in the reading. What are some strategies you use in your classroom during read aloud?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Scaffolded Reading Comprehension - From Answering Direct Comprehension Questions to Socratic Seminars



Students love to talk. We know this. That is why I love the fact that I can run classroom discussions throughout my teaching day. There are lots of moments throughout the day where my students have the opportunity to talk and discuss their opinions, thoughts and questions. One of those moments is during Reading Workshop.

I structured Reading Workshop in a way to build more rigor as students work through each novel throughout the school year. I teach 3 novels per trimester.

Trimester 1

During the first trimester, I kept things simple. Students read the chapters at night, took specific notes and then came to the carpet as a whole class the next day and discussed the reading. This was the trimester where I directly taught them how to have a whole class conversation and we practiced it  everyday. After the conversation, students would answer written comprehension questions. 

Books: Blubber by Judy Blume, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Trimester 2 

During the second trimester, the students read the first book and discussed it with the whole class while I facilitated the conversation. Students are always responsible for reading the night before and taking notes in a way that I assign. For the first book, they were assigned to take 3 notes (I.e. a question, a prediction and a favorite part). Then we would come together and conversations would be guided by using their notes. After the conversation, students would answer written comprehension questions. The second book, students were given notes to take that directly related to the chapters they were reading. They were assigned to small groups and there was a discussion director each week that facilitated the conversation by coming to the group with open-ended questions about the reading. After the conversation, students would answer written comprehension questions. For the last book, I split the class into two groups (15 kids each) and the students facilitated the conversations. Teachers monitored and were a part of the conversation. Students were taught and practiced writing summaries after each conversation. This was their comprehension check.

Books: Weedflower, by Cynthia Kodohata, The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Trimester 3

We are now into the third trimester and final trimester before 6th grade, and students are working on advanced comprehension skills. I am running Socratic Seminars. When students come to the circle (15 in each group), they discuss what happened in the reading. The book lends itself well to conversation, so I usually have to tell them to end the discussion about the book and answer my central question (not a bad problem to have). Examples of Central Questions: How does self-confidence play a role in being successful? Is it important to be an individual, why or why not? The students discuss these questions and then are asked to write their answer to the question while also using evidence from the text to support their answers. This is a very advanced skill, but some of my students are able to do it! I am confident that by the end of the school year, I will have almost all of them able to share their opinion and use evidence from the text to back it up. This will be the structure for the rest of the school year. Students seem to be enjoying it and are practicing so many important LIFE skills at the same time: listening to others' opinions, formulating their own opinion and articulating it so that others understand, considering important questions that will help shape who they become, and finally, connecting their reading to their own beliefs and experiences.

Books: The Wave, by Todd Strasser, Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington

Thursday, March 1, 2018

WWII Multimedia Timeline in 5th Grade

This trimester, students studied WWII events. I modeled for them the steps of research with the topic of Japanese Internment Camps and they researched a WWII event of their own that they chose. In small groups, they were assigned and given a syllabus to complete a multimedia timeline that depicts 10 important events of WWII. Students mostly used recycled materials they found throughout the school and at home. They decided on the events and how they would depict them. Below are some examples of their hard work. I am so proud!











Thursday, January 4, 2018

Teaching Kids how to do Research in 6 Easy Steps

I remember when I first decided that I wanted to teach my 5th graders how to conduct research in order to write a 5 paragraph essay. I was overwhelmed with where to even start! I know that kids are highly motivated when they have choice and are excited about their learning, and so I knew it    would be important for each child to choose their own topic of study. Even though I would be modeling each step along the way, I did not want to assign them their topic. To guide students in choosing a topic, I always tell them a subject to choose a topic from. For example, for years, I had students choose a state they wanted to research while I modeled researching Alaska. For the first time this school year, I asked students to choose a topic related to WWII while I model with Japanese Internment Camps. It    gives them a sense of interest and independence when they are able to choose for themselves what topic they will be spending their time digging through books and talking to experts about. 

When creating a process for conducting research, I also wanted to provide students with a list of steps that they could use later on in middle, high school and even college. The steps had to be simple enough to work for any topic and any level of topic. So I knew they had to be simple, but also have potential to incite lots of information.



If you would like to purchase the unit of study that I created for writing a Research Essay, click here

Below are the 6 Steps to Research  

1. Decide on a Topic 

Teacher provides structure of choice by assigning a subject such as a state or topic related to a time period in history such as WWII. This is helpful for when you are modeling steps 2 and 3. 

2. List the Questions you want to answer about your topic. 

I usually tell the students to come up with at least 20 questions. The more questions they have, the easier it    will be to write the 5 paragraph essay. Also, I remind students to ask open-ended questions and to start with who, what, why, when, and how. 

3. Categorize Your Questions.

This step can be a little bit more difficult for students if their questions are very basic or if they have less than 20. I sometimes will support students by discussing with them which categories they want to include (tell them to choose at least 4) and then list the questions, Reversing steps 2 and 3 helps those who are stuck on creating questions that will provide a decent amount of information.



4. Answer all of the questions. 

At this step, I have students create Research Collection Folders in order to ORGANIZE all of this information. Each file folder uses library card pockets to hold the color-coded index cards. Each pocket is a category and on each separate index card, students write their questions on one side. Afterwards, students write the information they find that pertains to the questions they asked. 





5. Add New Information to the Categories. 

I suggest for students to choose the categories that are most interesting to them and read about it    in their books then jot down any interesting new facts they learned. 



6. Review Your Notes (index cards) and Decide on Which Categories will make Content-Rich Body Paragraphs in Your Research Essay

Students should choose 3 topics for the body portion of their essay. After this step is completed, students are ready to draft their research essay! 

If you would like to purchase the unit of study that I created for writing a Research Essay, click here


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