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Voices from the BAM Radio Community sharing their thoughts, insights and teaching strategies.

Subcategories from this category: running shoes

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Whether you are a first-year teacher or one who has been in the profession a while, a new school year is always a promise of a new beginning.  You are given a chance to reinvent yourself and the things you do for your students.  You are given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many. 

As a veteran now embarking on year thirty-six, I have learned a thing or two about being successful and being happy in the profession.  I have certainly realized that there will be many days that are difficult - so overbearing that you just don’t know how you can ever return the next morning.  But I have also learned that these moments are there to teach us about ourselves, our craft, and our students. 

Griping in the teachers’ lounge can be cathartic, but carrying the anger, despair and frustration beyond its doors will surely be detrimental to your well-being and that of your students as well. 

A few years ago, I decided that I was going to start a “Fresh Start Journal.”  I vowed that, no matter how difficult my day happened to be, I would write about something from each day that made me smile or laugh or stop and ponder about the life of one of my kids.  Some days it was very difficult – but not impossible - to find that ray of sunshine.  Other days, I had several stories to record.  The point is – for the past five years – I’ve never gone a day without finding a moment that made me grateful for being a teacher. 

After a while, I found myself actively looking for those moments – listening for the funny things kids said, watching for the kind or goofy things kids did.  I didn’t have to think so hard at night when I would turn to my journal because I was purposefully watching for “moments” during my actual time interacting with the kids.  The net result was that I was now looking for the good in my students more than for their faults. 

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The kids had only been gone for three days but, now that the Memorial Day long weekend was over, my work as an assistant principal was ready to begin again.  It was time to clear out the old year and prepare for the next one, which would begin in two months whether we were ready or not. 

Fortunately, this first day back, there were no district meetings planned, no professional development “opportunities” scheduled, and no parent conferences expected.  I began my day sitting with the principal and developing my “to-do” list from his requests and then adding a few of my own chores as well.

A few teachers had returned as they had not completely checked out for the summer break the Friday before.  I visited each in their classrooms, inspected the walls and floors for some sense of cleanliness and signed their check-out forms for the secretary.  I helped them move desks and boxes and bookcases out of the way so that the custodians could easily clean the carpet before fall. 

There were also many teachers who had been told that they would be teaching in different classrooms during the new school year.  All of their personal belongings had been boxed and labeled and placed with the furniture they owned near their classroom entrances.  For most of these individuals, long-time veterans in the field, the collection at the door was massive.  You amass a great deal over the years and, in true teacher fashion, you never throw anything away.  (Personally, I still have ditto masters and overhead transparencies in my files despite the fact that the “technology” to use both is no longer existent). 

As I moved in and out of classrooms, I ran into our day custodian, Maria, who had her own list of things to do for the day.  I had worked with this wonderful lady for several years and knew her to be an extremely hardworking individual dedicated to the staff and kids on campus.  If I even hinted that something needed done, she was on it in seconds with nary a complaint. 

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Letting go of control in your classroom is difficult.

As teachers, we sometimes have a hard time letting go of control. As we consider management issues, keeping everyone engaged, and the constant pressures of pacing guides and state testing, the easiest solution seems to be for us to take control in any and every way possible. This often leads to the development of many teacher-centered classrooms. These are classrooms that are planned, controlled, and paced around the teacher, not the students.

You Might Be Surprised.

Although it can feel counter-intuitive, one of the best ways to increase accountability, ownership, and success of students is to let them lead. Anytime you can make changes in your classroom to provide opportunities for your students to lead is a step in the right direction. When students feel that ownership, they’ll work harder for you. When you provide them with what they need, when they need it, they’ll be more engaged. And when you stop, listen, and adjust based on what does and does not work for them, they’ll be much more likely to succeed.

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Posted by on in General


I retired this year, after 39 years in the classroom. So I am now on Day Twenty-five of my retirement.

"Well, your retirement doesn't really start until September- you're just on summer vacation now."

I've heard this one often since my retirement officially began fourteen days ago, and to some extent I agree that retirement does not hit now with the same force that it will when the school buses are running and I'm not walking the school doors at 7 AM.

But still.

Every summer in my career, I had a big fat To Do List. Usually it involved re-reading works of literature from my course curriculum. The list also included designing and developing unit ideas, or tweaking and re-configuring materials I already had. I've never taught exactly the same stuff the same way in any two years, and a big part of keeping fresh and refreshed and on top of my game was that summer prep. To be certain, these past several years a lot of the planning has centered on how to do more with less, which corners to cut to accommodate the most recent cuts in the year and the day. But there was always a stack of things I had to do for the fall; like most teachers, I had summer vacations that were not entirely vacations at all.

So yes, my retirement has started as witnessed by the fact that a week or so ago, I was finishing up Lego Batman II story mode and not rereading Light in August. A god working teacher's summer vacation is not entirely vacation.

But even I have been surprised to notice that it's even more than that. I hadn't really appreciated how much of my summer has always been taken up with teacher brain.

Teacher brain is the part of a teacher's brain that never turns off, and it is relentless. It's the part of your brain that is always alert to learning aspects of your students' world. Maybe I'll sample this podcast that my students were talking about all year. I think I'll try to use my snapchat account for a week so that I get my students' references to that app. I have watched The Hill and read Twilight because at the time, my students talked about these things incessantly, and I couldn't put them in context without knowing what they were.

It is also the part of your brain that looks at every single experience from a classroom point of view. In summers when I work a part time job, I didn't just work the job-- I made mental notes of what the job was like and what the work involved and consider that as part of the bigger questions of what I should be teaching these days, or even being able to convincingly and accurately complete the sentence, "You know, when some of you guys get a job, you may well find...." Watching a movie? I'd be thinking about how it might be connected to some of the themes and works I usually teach. Read a book? Every book is not just read, but considered as a possible a recommendation to students. I scanned constantly for real-live examples of various writing and usage issues that come up in the year.Every fall I would go back with my box full of tools, and all year, but especially in the summer while I had the time, I considered every bit of the world I encountered as a possible tool. My Uncle Frank, a history teacher for 50 years in Connecticut, traveled all over creating in his "vacation" time-- and he brought back photographs he took of all the places he went to use in his classroom (and for several years to line the halls of his school). Even when teachers vacation, they don't really vacation. The teacher brain is hard to get to rest. (Are there teachers who don't experience teacher brain? Sure-- the lack of teacher brain is a distinguishing characteristic of most bad and many mediocre teachers.)

I knew I did this, but I didn't appreciate just how much I did it. I bring it up not to convince civilians that honest teachers really do work hard in the summer, because honestly, people either believe teachers spend the summer eating bon-bons while they play the slots in Vegas, or they understand that teachers still work, and I'm not sure minds can be changed.

No, I send this observation out to teachers themselves. Note to you-- you work way harder in the summer than you even realize. More than that, you don't stop viewing the world like a teacher rather than a civilian. Your teacher brain is always running, and your so used to it permeating your entire life that you don't even realize it's happening. Yes, teacher summer vacation is far cushier than what many other folks get, but at the same time, there are so many jobs that do not permeate someone's life 24/7/365. Give yourself credit for that, and maybe figure out how to turn it off now and then before you retire.

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"Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, commited citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead.

Well, it's official, I graduated. Preschoolers are now ready for Kindergarten in the fall. Last night I happened to see one of the littles with his family at a Mexican restaurant. He looked at me, like Teacher Rita what are you doing here?

Maybe it's because teachers are always teaching, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, too. We are all teachers, whether in the schoolhouse, at home or out and about. There is always a lesson in there somewhere. And we instinctively know how to teach.

With world events swirling around us, seems like focusing on health and life's simple pleasures makes sense. Savoring a flower petal, river rapids, hearing wind chimes becomes more important than ever.

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