Daily Slice to Keep on Slicing

Daily Slice to Keep on Slicing

Since participating this past March in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by TwoWritingTeachers, I have continued to write daily, or pretty close to it.  I think I have only missed writing a handful of days. This has been despite a busy schedule of taking graduate courses,  attending three sports for two boys (Varsity Tennis, Varsity Track, and Summer Traveling Soccer League that starts in April),  starting yard work, running garden club, leading writer’s circle,  and more. I am busy but am sure to take the time to write. It is important to me. I have found the reflection to be healthy, assisting me in processing life events.

Although continuing to write daily is key to my improvement as a blogger, sometimes, my educational posts do not fall on Tuesdays anymore. For example, this past week I wrote about summer enrichment opportunities in mathematics for students,  a poem about garden club ending, a student’s gift, the music of memorial day, and a photo journal of the island of Kauai. All of these were or are slices of my life, past and present. Admittedly, some posts are more interesting that others, both to read and to write. Still, the feedback I have received helps me to push forward, putting more and more ideas into words, and words on the page.

The school year comes to a close here this week for my boys and just as it winds down for them, another graduate course has started for me. It will be fast and furious, three credits over five weeks, with a digital media project due on July 5th. Besides the class, there will be other topics to slice about as both my boys will be pursuing some work in math, one will attend summer camp for Badger Boys State, colleges will be visited, and, jobs will be done, both at home and at places of employment. The summer will end just as fast as it starts. I hope to keep slicing through it all.

Are you a teacher?

Are you a teacher?

Today, I discovered something about myself. I have a very difficult time calling myself a teacher! While at the local copy store this morning, getting my third grade writer’s circle student newspapers made from the mock-up, the clerk said, “You must be a teacher.” She was looking at the student work on the 11 x 26 inch double-sided page I had given her in order to obtain ten copies.  It was more of a question than a statement in the way she asked me. I was taken aback by my response.

“Well, I’m really a nurse who likes to teach,”  I replied, before realizing what I was saying.

What?! My brain silently screamed, as I stood there looking back at the clerk. A nurse? You phony! You haven’t been a nurse in almost twenty years!

Then, I realized that I almost said, “I’m a wanna be teacher.”  That much at least would have been true!  I  have wanted to be a teacher as long as I can remember.  Believe it or not, there were no available teaching jobs when it was my time to go to college in the early 80’s. Tenured teachers were being laid off. Who wants to spend four years in college to not have a job when you are finished? Instead, I chose nursing; there were jobs.

But, you know, I am a teacher. I have taught hundreds of  elementary students over the last twelve years as a garden club leader. I now have thirty-six students who have participated in writer’s circle with me over the last six years. I am a teacher. Why can’t I tell a stranger that?

It must be some weird adherence to the social norm of what a “real” teacher is.  A real teacher has a license, a real teacher has a classroom, a real teacher grades student work, and a real teacher is not told they need 3 years of additional undergraduate work (on top of baccalaureate and master’s degrees in nursing and another half-finished graduate degree in environmental education) to be one.  A real teacher gets a paycheck (although, some would argue that it is not enough). No, I don’t have those things. So, I must not be a “real” teacher.  I cannot say that I am.

But, wait a minute. I have students who are not assigned to me by administration, but elect to come to my enrichment groups. I have students who do the work I ask them to do  and give it to me to receive my feedback.  I have students I care about. I have students who care about me.  I have loads of people who think of me as a teacher. Then, why can’t I say it?

My response this morning was a revelation for me. It was a kind of personal wake up call. If I do not say I am a teacher – then, I am the one thinking I am not one. This stops today.  I should not define myself by another educator introducing me as a “parent who does a lot of things.”  I should not define myself by the lack of a license.  I should not define myself by the lack of a formal classroom or title.  I know what I am; I am a teacher!  The next time some stranger asks, that is what I will reply.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet my writer’s circle students. We are celebrating the creation of their third grade newspaper and I am their teacher!


Humiliation? Never.

Humiliation? Never.

Recently, my social media feed offered a repost of an edutopia blog article I had read last year. It is one of those articles worthy of re-reading, re-posting, and re-sharing. Previously, I had shared the article with an administrator in our school district.  The reason being is that we experienced some long-lasting effects of student humiliation.  A humiliating incident in a math class last year, early in the semester, in which a teacher called my son “stupid” in front of his peers basically caused him to “shut down”.  Consequently, he did not get much out of the class he was taking, had no interest in going to this very sarcastic teacher for help, and resulted in a year-long bout of lowered self-confidence, periodic anger, and self-doubt.

Last month, I thought we were “over the hurdle” as it had been almost a year since the incident and my son seemed to be “holding his own” in his subsequent, but now current, math class. However, after having to speak to the guidance counselor about changing  an elective, the past experience with this teacher was broached again, bringing about more tears, and a renewed sense of anxiety.  I think my son was thinking, “will they ever remember me for anything other than what happened last year?” Well, the  answer to that is they have and they will, as some other very nice opportunities have been sent his way by the same guidance office. In addition, the teacher he has for this year’s class in the same subject area projects a much different attitude, has gotten to know my son, and has taken steps to individualize his instruction. It appears he is a conceptual learner and approaches new information from a big picture vantage point, rather than spiraling up with details to understand the concept in the way most students learn. It is unusual, but can be worked with by a compassionate, knowledgeable educator.

So, why do I write about this today? There are several reasons. First, it needs to be said that as parents, we are very supportive of our childrens’ education. Academics come first in our house and our boys know that. However, with that said, we also believe that our teachers must get to know their students.  This was one of the most grevous errors leading to the experience of last year. Assumptions about our student were made. They were incorrect. This particular teacher taught one way, in a manner that was not conducive to our son’s learning style. However, instead of finding ways that might help him, she used sarcasm and humiliation. This was not acceptable. I do believe she might have been willing to help him by reinforcing what she had gone over in class, but would have not done so by using a different demeanor or by approaching him without sarcasm.  He was unwilling to approach her for help because of the way he had been treated in class – with humiliation.  It is due to the inappropriate use of humiliation in the classroom that I write about this subject today.

Finally, I will leave you with a few thoughts to consider as you teach.

  1. Do not humiliate your students, for any reason.
  2. Use a variety of teaching models/styles in your presentation of material.
  3. Connect with your students. Get to know them.
  4. Think about whether your teaching style is meeting the learning styles of your students. Work to reach as many students as you can using various models.
  5. As a parent, speak up if you find something does not seem right, using the chain of command, if at all possible.
  6. Do not be afraid to remove your student from a situation in which he/she is not learning, if you feel that would be best. We did not do this, as my son did not want to be removed from this class. In hind sight, we should have, as we have seen that he did not absorb much because he could not get past his feelings toward this teacher and her classroom style. However, our district policies state the a student will receive an “F” if the class is dropped after the first two days of the term. This was also a consideration in our decision.
  7. Work to change district policy to enable fair and reasonable choices for students, not only teachers, regarding course changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to share blog posts on Slice of Life Tuesday: TwoWritingTeachers!

Grades: Do they measure learning?

Grades: Do they measure learning?

via Daily Prompt: Measure

Having students who work hard and do well in school, I always bought into the premise that grades measure learning. With years of experience in education, and the advent of digital grading systems, where every little grade book entry can be seen 24/7, now I am not so sure.

Lately, I have given much thought on how we measure growth in our students. In an earlier post, I described how our school district went to an 80/20 summative/formative grading system this fall. Each teacher had to enter grades in the digital grade book in one of these two categories, with these weights. As the year has progressed, I have noticed that many of the teachers have taken to using the “multiplier” next to the grade value to change its weight. Wow! This makes it really confusing! It also led me to wonder if the students realize some assignments are being given different weights. From what I saw in a couple of classes last term, there is a lot of play here. Some teachers are not changing the weight at all – with everything being weighted with a multiplier of 1.0 for 80% or 20% depending on whether it is a summative or formative assessment. Some, like one class my freshman is taking, had weights in the summative varying from 1.0 to 2.67! What? 2.67? Why use those numbers to measure the worth of an assignment? It seems subjective and highly variable.

Maybe all the play in the variability of grading has always been there, but with the advent of digital grading, it is there for all to see and examine on a daily basis. It has had the undesired effect of making me mis-trust and question the system. When a measure of learning is decided upon, I do not think it should be “played with”, at least not mid-school year, as is what is occurring with the multipliers. Are we really measuring student learning or something else? Are you getting the impression I am not a fan of digital grade books? You are right! I am not.

Then, there are the mis-entries. Why are there so many mistakes with the digital grading systems? At least 3-4 times a term, or half-semester, my boys have an anxiety provoking experience upon seeing a grade wrongly entered on their infinite campus gradebook page. Just last week, my freshman went to school to find out if he really got 54/80 (67%) on an exam last week or it if was an error. By mid-morning it was corrected to his reveal his actual grade of 78.5/80 or 98.1 percent. Relief! I could almost hear and feel his emotional response from him at school, 2 miles down the road!

He had been doing well all semester so it seemed like the grade we saw the day before was an error. When questioned, he expressed surprise, having thought he did well on the assessment. It was just a mistake. That’s all. Easily corrected with the touch of a few buttons on a keyboard. And, I agree that students can learn from mistakes, even grading mistakes.

But, here’s the thing. While I know teachers are human and make mistakes just like everyone else, these mistakes seem more and more common. It makes me wonder how much thought or examination is put into entering the grades. Wasn’t it suspicious that a student doing well should all of a sudden have such a poor grade? I think that might have been looked at and seen better using an old-fashioned book and pencil entry system.

These thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg in my head forming over grading policies, change in policies, how we teach, and how we measure student learning. There will be more to come. Stay tuned.

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Measure

But, I didn’t have enough time!

But, I didn’t have enough time!

If there is one thing I could impart to students to not say, this is it!

Earlier this week, I held my Tuesday Writer’s Circle meeting with six third graders that I have been meeting with weekly since January.  This is the sixth year I have voluntarily led such a group. It’s always been once a week, with six students – two from each third grade class, picked by their classroom teacher either because they were “good” at writing or liked to write. Honestly, I love having the group. Generally, the students really do some quality, fairly independent work, and are motivated to attend. In other words, we tell them it is a privilege to be part of this small group of “special” writers.  And what do you do when you have a privilege?  You work to protect it. Usually.

So, a few years ago, we started having a problem with a few of the writer’s circle students coming to group without their work done.  Since our group time is very short, usually just enough time to do a “mini-lesson” on the type of writing we are currently exploring, there are weeks that the students have some homework from me.  And no, it is not worksheet homework on parts of speech or how dialogue works, it is creative writing homework.  Usually, the homework would involve finishing a piece they had started. Certainly, it involved no more than a half hour’s worth of work to complete before our next meeting – a week away, on the following Tuesday.  It was, and is, a reasonable expectation.  Still, students appeared without the work done. This led to a “new” rule that the teachers & I set in place to deal with the students who would not do the “extra” work for writer’s circle. Essentially, they are told that if their homework is not done, they will have to return to class and not attend writer’s circle that week.  Occasionally, this is not enough to phase the students and they just calmly return to class. Usually, the potential embarrassment of having to return to class before group is over has had the desired effect of students finishing their writer’s circle homework before our group meeting.


Tuesday, I had a student who appeared upset as we were gathering in the hall prior to entering our designated space for this activity. I knew immediately what was causing the problem as I watched her eyes start to glisten with tears. She had not done her homework, which was finishing the color poems they had started last week.  When asked, she confirmed that this was, in fact, the case.  When I told her she had to return to her class instead of coming to group, the tears flowed freely. I felt bad but I stuck to my “rule”.

I felt bad until she turned to me and said, “But, Mrs. L., I didn’t have time to finish it.”

We have discussed “not having time” is not an excuse to be used. These are 8 and 9 year olds.  They have an entire week to do something that requires less than 30 minutes of time, at the most, during the week between our meetings.  I get it. We are all busy.  But, part of being allowed a privilege is the responsibility that comes with it.  I wish I could make the students understand that when they tell me they didn’t have time to complete something for our group (and it is not every week), they are telling me they really didn’t care enough to do it. Given their age, I also sense that this is an excuse that they have heard given, and accepted, either at home, in the community, or maybe even at school. Most of all, hearing a student tell me this makes me sad. I’d much rather have them tell me the honest reason they did not complete their homework. They forgot. They didn’t think it was important.  They didn’t think I would enforce the “rule”.

Whatever the excuse, my reply is:

“You have the time. Use it well.” And, “If it is important enough to you to be part of this group,  you will remember to do the small amount of homework that is occasionally asked of you”.

Writer’s Circle is not only about learning to write, it is about learning responsibility.

After the events unfolded, we had a refresher about the writer’s circle rule this week.

We will see if everyone has their final copy of their color poem done next week.

I hope so. It is hard to be a “tough guy”.


Creating Opportunities

Creating Opportunities


I just got through writing an online response to a discussion question for a graduate course I am taking on the Models of Teaching and Learning.  It was on developing self-concepts through orientations towards the environment. Basically, the chapter in the text explored  students becoming self-actualized or exhibiting high states of growth through surveying the environment and taking advantage of what exists, or not. Part of my response included my belief in imparting to students the need to seek out, ask for, and create opportunities for themselves.  In other words, I want my students to know that opportunities do not always come to you; you must create some for yourself. I have a long history of doing this. From starting a craft time a our local Children’s Museum, to my long running after school garden club, and everything in between (which includes a book club, writer’s circle, TAG Parent Support group, and more), these are opportunities created for myself as a teacher-leader and for students through interacting with my local community and environment. I want students to know, sometimes you need to ask. Do not wait for the opportunity to come to you. Ask. Question. Seek Involvement.

For me, it has been a weird cycle of events. The more one asks to participate in the local community or create opportunities for others, the more you are asked to be involved.

Students need to know they matter and I think I have shown this by creating opportunities for them.  But, it doesn’t stop there.  I also want students to know that they need to show initiative and create opportunities for themselves because chances are, the chance will not always come to them. Individually, students can and should create their own opportunities. In doing so, they will move toward self-actualization and a high state of growth.

Hey! You’re saying that word wrong!

Hey! You’re saying that word wrong!

Last month when we explored bees and their role in pollination, my garden club students made fun of my pronunciation of the word almonds! I’m okay with being made fun of on occasion so this really didn’t  bother me. But, what ensued was a rather humorous five minutes of me responding with, “What?, I’m pronouncing it right!” and “How do you say almonds?” Of course, this led to twenty students all telling me how they pronounce the word at the same time. All of which sounded like what I was saying!  Finally, I gave in and just said, “Okay.  I must be saying it wrong, but it is the way I’ve always said it.” Which then led to, “You know, I’m not from here, originally.  I grew up in New York State and I’ve been told many times before that I talk funny.”  Saying that seemed to satisfy the snickering students, like I admitted to their superiority of being able to correctly pronounce almonds.

We returned to our lesson, noting that we wouldn’t have almonds if it weren’t for honeybees, which are the only insect that pollinate those particular nut trees.

Upon arriving home, I asked my husband how he said almonds and told him the story, getting a good laugh while doing so.  But, since I like to be thorough with my lessons, I also went on Merriam-Webster.com  to check the pronunciation of almond. And guess, what I found? There are 3 accepted pronunciations of the word almond! Almond, Almond, and Almond! Check it for yourself!  Almond Pronunciations.

I knew I said it right! It was just New York, right and not Mid-Western, right! Almond.

I’ve got it now. Thanks, students!