Tagged: teaching

 /  By  / comments 2 comments. Add yours!

TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #11

“All parents love their children.”

favicon Wednesday, 9/16 – 8:30 pm
Having dinner with a friend and fellow teacher. We are complaining about our jobs, as we are wont to do when we get together. I bemoan how much work it takes to get my students to do anything, how being in a room with them is like herding cats. I can’t tell them, “Everyone needs to work on their EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) essays. Get to work!” because they aren’t at all self-sufficient. I go on and on about how exhausting it is to spend a mere hour and a half with them twice a week. I describe it as a game of whack-a-mole, where I’m helping one student fill out a college application online (“What does ‘D.O.B.’ mean?”), begging another to please PLEASE register for the next SAT (“I’ll do it later,” he tells me for the fifth week in a row, as he thumbs through a copy of Watchmen), and lecturing three others about making up their lost homework/missing quiz/failed test. Random students from other advisories walk in and out of the room for no apparent reason. And all the while, I’m flapping around with my whacker, trying to solve problems and whack moles and help them see their future.

I am frazzled just describing this scene to my friend, and I realize I’m slipping into the “teacher-as-martyr” mode that happens so often when teachers talk to each other. I finish the tirade with my usual gush: “They drive me crazy, but I love them so much!” And I mean it. My love for them is the only thing that keeps me sane.

My friend, who works at a private school, wants to know more about the craziness.

“Why are they like this?” she asks. “Do their parents just not care?”

This is a common refrain in our culture: Where are the parents? When young people behave badly, or fail out of school, or don’t behave, many of us are quick to look to the parents. When my students are not doing as well as they should be, I call the parents. Of course!

I’ve met with many parents in my 15 years of teaching. I’ve met with doting parents, overbearing parents, and seemingly clueless parents. I’ve seen parents get angry at me, at the school, at the principal, at their kid’s friends. I’ve seen plenty of parents get mad at their own kid. I’ve seen parents cheer, yell, cry, and shrug their shoulders. I’ve seen lots of responses from parents.

I’ve never met a parent who didn’t care about his or her child.

M’s parents struggle because her family is still reeling from her mother’s stroke a few years ago. Mental illness runs in their family, and right now, the whole family is trying to keep its head above water. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about her and want what’s best for her. It means that they struggle. A lot.

K’s mom works all day cleaning houses. E’s mom is supporting the entire family, including her sister’s new baby. A’s mom goes to visit her husband in jail when she’s not at City College, working toward a certificate in child development. D’s mom is flying back and forth between San Francisco and her hometown, so she can take care of her own, elderly parents. All parents have a lot on their plates; some parents have more than others.

But all of them love their children. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

 /  By  / comments 17 comments. Add yours!

Goodbye, teaching (at least for now)

 I got my first teaching position when I was 5. My bedroom was my classroom. My parents furnished a blackboard and some chalk. My grandmother was my first student. I taught her about George Washington and about how the sun rises and sets every day.

More than 30 years later, I said goodbye to teaching, at least for now, when I congratulated my students at their graduation last month.

A few days before that was my last English class, a perfect 85 minutes of publication, reflection, celebration — and an excerpt from Frankenstein, one of my favorites.

I’ve been a teacher all my life, and it’s been my only job the past 15 years. Although teaching has never come easily for me, I’ll miss my 1,000+ students, and I’ll miss the bustle of the classroom. There are few jobs as fun and as important.

Next year, my focus will be on reading and helping teachers focus on literacy. Ninth grade will be the heart. As an instructional coach, I’ll still be in classrooms and work with students, but they won’t be mine.

Still, I’m looking forward to a year of deep thinking about a topic so critical to urban high school teachers. Without the constant pressures of the classroom, my vision for reading (and my crazy projects!) may develop more quickly. Plus, it’ll be fun to bounce ideas off other teachers, as I’ve done at my last great school; the best professional development, after all, comes with collegiality.

Yes, I’m a bit scared that I’ll lose my teaching edge. But I’m confident that I’ll be back in the classroom soon enough, ready for Round Two.

And please don’t worry, loyal readers: Iserotope will live on. 

 /  By  / comments 5 comments. Add yours!

“I’m still here.”

favicon I don’t believe in teacher movies. You know them: Dead Poets Society, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Freedom Writers, and Stand and Deliver, to name a few.

Even when they’re accurate (which is almost never), these movies send the wrong message: that if you’re a (usually white) teacher who really cares, you can get your students to do extraordinary things (while being a martyr, too).

We all know things don’t quite work that way.

Progress is slow. Growth takes time. Breakthroughs are few and far between.

Most of the time, we see success only after the fact — at a graduation ceremony, or when students visit us many years after taking our class. Feel-good, movie-worthy moments rarely happen in real time.

That’s why the other day was special. A student texted me for help on her essay. She was stuck on understanding the passage’s syntax and didn’t know how to find solid evidence.

For the first hour, we texted back and forth. Texting, of course, is not the best medium for deep teaching and learning. But I was surprised how horribly we communicated with each other. I didn’t understand what she was trying to say. She thought I was being snarky. At one point, the exchange even got testy.

But I knew that I had to stay in, that I couldn’t let my student go. So I gave up on my frustration and tried a different tack. We agreed to cool off and try again later on Google Docs. (Believe me, at this point, talking on the phone likely would have made things worse.)

Once on Google Docs, we quickly got some momentum. The interface offers three discourse spaces at once: informal conversation in the chat window, academic dialogue in the comments, and student work in the essay window.

We had a good flow going for more than an hour. My student had persevered and gotten past the most challenging parts of her essay. The road looked clear. And then it happened.

She asked me what I thought about a specific piece of evidence she’d selected. Although it wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t too strong, so I told her so. I wasn’t even mean about it.

But my criticism set her off. In the chat window, she wrote that she was giving up, that there was no point to all this work, and that every time she worked hard, I shot her down.

I could have gotten defensive. I could have told her she was acting irrational.

Instead, I took a deep breath. And then I wrote, “I’m still here.”

There was a very long pause. Yes, I felt like I was in my own movie. I half expected Google Docs to tell me my student had signed off.

But instead — luckily, I think — my student responded, “OK, let’s go.”

And then we spent another finishing up her piece.

In her reflection afterward, my student wrote: “In the end, I finally pulled through. I think that I need to fix how I give up so easily when things don’t go my way. I just need to fight through.” favicon

 /  By  / comments 3 comments. Add yours!

Fall Semester Reflection #3: Accomplishments

favicon Although I want to improve as a teacher (and I will!), it’s also important to acknowledge some of my accomplishments this semester.

Here are a few of them:

1. I have rediscovered my joy and passion for teaching. I’ve always known, despite years of struggle, that teaching is at my center. It’s what I do. This semester, teaching has begun to be fun again.

2. I have regained my confidence. It’s important to remember that I’m good at this job. There is much to improve, of course, but it’s also clear that what I do helps students.

3. All my students passed. I gave out no failing grades. This has never happened before. I’m proud of the support I provided, and I’m happy that my students saw me as a coach. It wasn’t easy, but I made significant progress in providing academic intervention.

4. My class website, iseroma.com, has become an interactive learning space. Students take pride in posting their work. They write comments to each other. The dialogue continues outside of the classroom.

5. I have written regularly on this blog. Writing has helped me reflect and make changes more quickly than talking (which sometimes becomes venting). My favorite part, though, has been seeing comments to my posts. My teaching improves because of your insight.

6. I have taught a meaningful and rigorous AP English course. I’m making several improvements next semester (stay tuned!), but I’m happy to say that I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far.

Next semester, I hope to focus on reading, my #1 passion — in my class, in my Advisory, in my school. Let me know your ideas! favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Why are teachers scared of technology?

faviconToday, I went back to school for professional development.

It was great to see my colleagues again, but I have to say, I wasn’t looking forward to hearing them yell, “My computer’s not hooked up!”

Yes, this happens every year. The custodians wax the floors during the summer, which means the computers get moved, wires get mixed up, and teachers go a little crazy.

Because our school is small, and because we don’t have a full-time tech person, I’m the guy who ends up trying to allay my colleagues’ fears.

But I just don’t get it. Most of my colleagues are in their 20s and 30s, live in the Bay area, change their Facebook statuses regularly, and use their iPhone to text their students. Can’t they hook up a desktop computer?

Apparently, not all of them can. There’s a difference between using a computer and setting one up, and hardware gets adults nervous. In fact, last year, I did a workshop called “Computer Troubleshooting 101.” It was fun seeing how my colleagues interacted with the machines. It reminded me of the time in second grade when I inadvertently pressed the Break button on the school’s Apple IIe and thought I had destroyed the computer.

Another problem is that technology is still not an integral part of the classroom. It doesn’t help that we just got rid of our Pentium IIs. Students still use pencils and markers, and teachers get praise when they assign a PowerPoint project.

So it’s going to take a while. It reminds me that focusing on getting the students excited about technology won’t do it all. We have to have teachers willing to try, too. Wish me luck on my presentation next Monday, when I challenge my colleagues to do at least one project this year that involves technology. Is it possible? I hope so. favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Why teachers like me like Diigo

faviconDiigo may be hard to pronounce, but pretty soon, everyone will be using it.

If you haven’t heard of Diigo (DEE-go), it’s an application that mixes web highlighting with social bookmarking.

Yeah, I know: That’s still confusing. Let me try again.

Have you ever wanted to show your students a great website and then highlight crucial parts? With Diigo, you can do that. Better yet, you can share your thoughts with your students and have them respond, all on the same website. It’s like a chat room based in online text. That’s the web highlighting part of Diigo.

How about this: Have you ever wanted to share with your students a collection of online resources for their research? How about asking your students to keep track of their own research and be able to cite their sources? Yep, that’s Diigo, too, the social bookmarking part.

I won’t lie, it seems confusing, but let me tell you, it’s worth it. Here’s a video that might help:

I plan on piloting Diigo with my students this year, and I can’t wait for the possibilities. Here are a couple ideas I have for early in the year:

  • Interactive assignment sheet. When my students get a new assignment sheet and rubric, I rarely know if they understand what’s expected. After all, they don’t always take notes or ask questions. But what if students had to share their thoughts and concerns about an assignment? With an assignment online via Google Docs, I’ll make my students identify important or confusing passages from the assignment sheet and to add sticky notes with comments and questions. My hope is that the online conversation will lead to better understanding.
  • Interactive Reading Assignment. All reading teachers say that we must do a better of teaching students to interact with what they’re reading. I already teach my ninth graders concrete ways they can mark up their texts, but because there’s no Elmo in my classroom, there’s not an easy way to display my students’ thinking. So I plan on uploading a reading to Google Docs and having students make annotations online. It’ll be great to see how different students tackled the reading and what different interpretations materalized.

Yes, I’m pretty excited. No, Diigo is not perfect — the user interface is not pretty as, say, SimplyBox, but it’s a powerful resource. I’ll keep you updated about Diigo as the year progresses. I hope it all works out. favicon