Just a Drop in the Bucket

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As my former students stood on the stage, singing and dancing their way through a great production.  My heart burst with pride and astonishment.  There was no way I could predict that they would go on and be in a musical in high school.  Sure I know and preach to them that they have crazy amounts of potential to do anything they want.  I believe it, but I probably didn’t think that they would end up on a stage.

Every year, I go attend the plays and sporting events at the high school to remind myself that the 7th and 8th grade years are not the final image of who they are as people.  We are their growth years, elementary school were their growth years.  Even high school are their growth years.

The year that I had these students in class was just a drop in the bucket of life.  Sure I like to think very highly of myself, but in truth, they might go on to forget about me, just as I have done with my own teachers.

However, I might be THAT teacher for them that speaks a truth that sticks, that teaches a life changing lesson.  My own soapbox rants about good character and how to treat people, might seemed always seem to go in one ear and out the other, but maybe a bit of it planted a seed in their life.

I write these words to be encouraging because I know that there are days that you wonder, “Did they learn anything?”  There are days when you repeated yourself 10 thousand times for them to stop talking or stop tapping their pencil.  There are days when it seems like you might be speaking a foreign language, but just talking about mathematical proportions. (In fairness, I was that student that considered math to be its own language.)  There are  days when they refuse, are defiant, and make poor choices.

It seems on those days that you have made a poor life choice to spend your time toiling away in this classroom, where it seems progress and success might be slow. Being a teacher can be the hardest, most difficult, terrible suffering that you put yourself through, but is probably the most rewarding and joyful thing you could do with your years.

It could be the moment when a student comes to class and smiles back at you after not smiling all week.

Or the greeting you receive when you return to school after an absence.

Or the silent looks one student gives you when they are clearly annoyed with the less mature students in class.

Or when suddenly your students seem to be understanding 1 step equations, when you taught it 3 weeks ago.

Or it could be when you see the student who was defiant and unstable the year before take on a leadership role and step up into someone to depend on and lead the school play.

If you don’t believe in magic, set foot into a classroom, watch students grow, watch learning to take place.  In schools, every day, across this nation, teachers are performing magic, teaching, guiding, challenging, and pushing students, towards something more than they are today.

That magic doesn’t take place every moment of every day with every student.  There could be days, years of drought when nothing seems to work, but then one day the heavens open up and choirs of angels are singing, because Billy finally understands the idea of metaphor.  However, what we don’t see in that moment is all the other teachers that put drops in Billy’s bucket before that day.

For some students we are just drops in the bucket, others we are the match that light the flame, and others are their to add the fuel.

Never fear teacher friends, continue to add to the buckets, your labor is not in vain, and these students are not finished yet.

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If not us, then who?

photo credit: UF HHP Classroom Plastic Wooden Desks Desk via photopin (license)
photo credit: UF HHP Classroom Plastic Wooden Desks Desk via photopin (license)

“They are worth it.  These kids are worth the long days, the hard decisions, the stress and sometimes tears.  They are worth it.  Because if not us, then who?”

I sent these words to a colleague recently.  Through a lot of changes and new staff and new students, we have had some long, stressful days.  The staff is overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done and the things that are seemingly out of their control.

Education is hard work.  We deal with human lives, children, who come to school with their own baggage, things out of their control.  Teenagers who have feelings they don’t understand. Shaped from the early years by environments at home good and bad.  So many aspects of education are out of the hands of a classroom teacher, administrator, or school counselor.  It is not just numbers and machines or business decisions, but human lives that we shape every day.

These are young people who are trying to figure out who they are, all the while being told that they need to pick a career to head towards, set goals that they can reach, work hard, ignore the decisions their peers make, pick their own path, make the right decision, think ahead, follow the rules, follow directions, do what the teacher tells you, but pick the right answer on that test. That is a lot for a teenager whose brain is still developing, and this isn’t even considering the other messages they get from home.

At the end of the day, it may seem like nothing changed for a majority of the students.  Many times as a classroom teacher, I would wonder if they learned anything at all.  I dealt with behavior after behavior and wondered if they all actually answered the exit ticket truthfully, read any of the assignment, or would be ready for that quiz tomorrow.  Some days they would, some days they wouldn’t.

But what brought me back the next day is that one kid who did learn something, that what I said had made a difference. For that smile or grin that I got from the kid in the back of the class that patiently waited for me to deal with a unruly student.  What brought me back was the random emails from past students inviting me to their Quinceanera or graduation.  What brought me back was the pestering emails from students about when I was going to grade their essays or we were going to the library soon.

Not every day will we hook every single one of our students.  I mean come on, we are merely human ourselves and we are doing the best we can, with what we have been given.  But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

We come back, we continue to show up to work every day.  We come back, we don’t give up because these kids aren’t finished yet.  They have their whole lives ahead of them and don’t need another person to give up on them.

Because if not us, then who?

Some of these students are waiting for another adult to give up on them.  They are waiting for someone to throw in the towel and confirm that voice in their head that is saying that they are worthless and not worth helping.

As educators, we know that they are, we know that their lives are infinitely worth it.  We know that they have a infinite amount of potential and talent.  Sure it might not be in the classroom or on the football field, but maybe on the computer or in a sketch book.  It is our job to help them see that their potential is possible, that anything is possible.  If we don’t do that, then who will?

They Deserve Our Hope

photo credit: via photopin (license)
photo credit: via photopin (license)

If you have been in education long, you know that it is a hard gig.  Long days, thankless tasks, and a clientele that probably won’t ever express their gratitude.  (Especially in the middle years!)

We have limited resources and never enough time to accomplish all the things that we should.  And it doesn’t get easier each year.  But most return every year because they feel called and know that the job they do is important.

Some are at the end of their tether, with the bureaucracy of education pushing them further and further into burn out.  Year after year, more things get added to their plate without anything taken off.

What we do is definitely not easy.  Sure we get summers “off” and have winter break.  But when you have been going full speed for 9 months, that 3 months (if you are lucky and don’t teach summer school) just doesn’t seem long enough to return to work and do it all over again.

As we step into the new school year, I charge you with this:

It is easy in the midst of all the hard things that we deal with to be cynical and bitter about our jobs…

But our students deserve our hope.  

Some of our students are blessed and come from homes that spent the summer at camps, swimming at the local pool, trips to the library, family game night and vacations. But others didn’t. School is their refuge and they have been waiting 3 months for this first day.

Some of them don’t know what hope is, so we have to show them.  Isn’t that why we are educators, that we believe education can change lives and transform the world into a better place.  We know that knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving can be powerful.  We see it all the time through innovation, powerful writing, world changers.

We are here because we believe and know that people can change, and people can change the world. We know that our students have the greatest amount of potential and we are here to show them that it is possible to reach that potential.

Reaching that potential might seem like swimming upstream at times, or climbing a wall with no equipment.  However, even after they leave your classroom, their story is not over, you have planted seeds, you have instilled a bit or more of hope in them.

They deserve those planted seeds, they deserve for us to be hopeful about their lives.

More than that, they deserve for us to show up and do our jobs well.

They deserve our best ideas, our greatest lessons, our best material.  They deserve for us to find the most efficient and productive use of resources and time.  They deserve for us to find ways to make something out of the little we have.

Our job is hard, so hard, emotionally, physically, mentally.  But what we do has the greatest importance.  We are impacting the world, the future.

So friends, no matter your place in education, classroom, office, building, or even kitchen table, have hope, give hope, teach hope.  They need it, we need it, and the world certainly needs it.

Have a wonderful school year!

Genius Hour Week #2- Brainstorming

After some of the doubt that was expressed by my kids the first week, I decided to press on and plan for our brainstorming.

I knew that several students were very doubtful of being able to find a topic or create an essential question. For this, I knew that many students already knew what their topic was going to be, but some of the kids were somewhat lost.

So I set up some stations for the different range of kids.  For this class, brainstorming and getting started is always the hardest thing to do.

Station #1- For those kids that were ready to write-up their proposals and needed to think about what they needed.

Station #2- For those kids that had ideas, but needed help narrowing down. I set up some mind mapping options, with an example that I have done.

Station #3- For those that had no idea.  I had examples of essential questions, links to videos, a “Things that Bug you” board. I thought for sure that there would be more students on Station #2, but I actually had kids at either end of the spectrum.

I had more kids that had no idea, and for a little while when we got started, I was afraid that some kids would just sit there and not do anything for the hour. However, what I didn’t count on was those kids that are loving the Genius Hour concept to promote and help those kids that were somewhat negative.

Once many of them had an idea, they were able to quickly fill out the approval sheet.  Many of them got started, but didn’t finish.  I am realizing that 45 minutes every other week, never seems like enough time.

At about 10 minutes until the end of class, I had them write a reflection about the brainstorming.

Here are some thoughts from the kids:

“At first I thought it was frustrating feeling like you were going to fail on something so simple but when you find your question you actually like genius hour. I was confused at first but then I started searching and I found my question. And I’m going to learn how to make a website full of DIY’s.”

“I think genius hour is kinda boring and confusing because I can’t process my thoughts properly sometimes. I know I want to ask how do psychiatric patients feel about being in the psych ward but I just don’t know what to ask in google. “

“I have mixed feelings about genius hour. I feel like it is a good opportunity for us to learn how to problem solve, but I also don’t like it. It is hard for me to come up with solutions to certain problems. A lot of kids have trouble with coming up with problems. I like how it has 3 stations to fit with where you’re at.”

“I really like Genius Hour. I think that Genius Hour is a really cool idea, giving students the chance to sort of study what they actually want to study. It is frustrating though, I know what my passion is but I don’t know how to word it to where it makes for a good idea for genius hour. I really enjoy filming and that’s where my heart is, but I’m still confused on how to word it to make it fit for Genius Hour. “

This was the most honest that I have ever seen in some of these kids, and I told them that was what I wanted.  I just hope that it can continue. I love that they are frustrated and confused and don’t know what to ask Google.  I think many of them are afraid to ask questions that are hard to answer.  

As I tell people about what I am doing, I get more excited.  My students are burnt out from school; they dread it. They just see it as another difficult thing that doesn’t seem rewarding to them at all.  Learning isn’t fun anymore.  How can going on to high school or college seem appealing to them at all if we have stamped out their love of learning and just made it about achievement.

Achievement isn’t everything! We should be pushing our kids to follow passions and drive themselves to be the answers to the problems they see.  They are capable of more than they believe, so let’s treat them like that.  

Okay, I will step off my soapbox and sign off for now.

Genius Hour Intro Day

Genius Hour is a buzzword I had heard about through Twitter chats and teacher blogs, but I thought there would be no way to implement it in my classroom. We only have 45 minute class periods and we have a lot of standards to master in the ELA classroom.  However, after attending #EdCampKC in November and hearing about how other teachers have done it, I decided that I needed to figure out if it was possible to do.

I decided that my Advanced class was the only sort of class that could handle it because of the time and the flexibility I have with their schedule.  I collaborate daily with the other grade level ELA teacher, which means that our classes are doing the same thing at the same time, most days.  This being my 6th year in the classroom, I am ready to takes some risks and try new things, other teachers do not feel the same way.

Through this blog, I will be writing about my Genius Hour experience.

DAY 1:

I was really excited to start Genius Hour with my Advanced 8th Grade ELA class.  They are a group of kids that loves projects and gets excited about doing things on the iPad.  This year has been a struggle for them because we have done a lot of big writing assignments and they are tired of doing “boring” things.  (That is their word, I think all English things are exciting!!)

I had introduced the idea last semester to them and to get them thinking about it and get their feedback on whether it might be something they were interested in.  About 80% of them were excited about.  One kid said, “It sounds like a lot of work.”

So over Winter break, I did more research, reached out to my Tweeples and came up with a plan.

Genius Hour would be every other Friday during the spring semester.  Our goal would be to have something ready to share with the world/school/class by May.  I told them I would like for it to be in the auditorium and we could invite whoever wanted to come.  They were super intimidated by that.  (I think they are more than capable!!)  But we will get there.

On my intro day, I showed videos, explained the concept, and showed examples.  They still seemed confused and almost negative about it, which was very discouraging.

They were really cynical and bitter about finding anything they were passionate about.  They expressed that it seemed impossible to do anything fun.  I walked away really deflated and frustrated.  I didn’t feel like I could back out of it, but I also felt like if they weren’t going to be on board, what was the point?

I almost wanted to give up, but then I thought, “Isn’t this the sort of reason, I should press on and do Genius Hour? To help them find something they are passionate about, they are too young to be cynical and jaded about the world.”

If anything, we need to be building passionate learners, not just ones that can answer the right questions and say the right words.  We need creatives and problem solvers; the geniuses that can’t be assess with tests.  I am doing my students a disservice if I give up, like they might do if the answer isn’t right there.  So the excitement wasn’t right there, but I am going to press on to find the excitement and passion of the these learners that is hiding behind years of testing and scripted learning.