Posted in Reflections on Teaching

In Defense of the Tired Teacher

This is a reframing speech I gave for my public speaking class this morning. I wanted to share it because it frustrates me when teachers get labeled as “bad” teachers.


I was a good teacher.

I was even voted “best teacher” by my student body one year.

But this past June, after 7 years of teaching in public high schools, I chose to walk away from the classroom forever.

Think back for a moment to a teacher you had that you loved. This teacher was probably engaging and energetic. Learning may have felt effortless and exciting. Now, think about a teacher you had that was the opposite. They likely were called boring, maybe giving out lots worksheets or lecturing. Students may have frequently fallen asleep in class or passed notes or text messages. People may have claimed this teacher just didn’t care because they weren’t putting in as much effort.

These two teachers are at two opposing ends of a spectrum, and as a society, we often place labels on each end: good and bad. These labels make instantaneous judgments based entirely from one perspective of a complex situation. But the truth is that, while there may be some truly bad teachers out there, I would argue that many of us just had tired teachers.

If you haven’t been a teacher or if you haven’t lived with a teacher, you may be wondering why teachers get tired. They have summers and weekends off. They play games with kids all day, right? The truth is that the teacher you thought about a few minutes ago… the one who was engaging and energetic … likely spent hours upon hours outside of the school day preparing and working, including putting in time over the summer.

I know I did.

The average American school day is 6.7 hours, but most teachers work an additional three to five hours every day. But the truth is I didn’t mind working 12 hour days. The incessant work was hard, but I knew I was helping students.

But sometimes that’s not enough. Sadly, these days teachers are under a growing and unfair amount of pressure from students, parents, and administrators. 46% of teachers report high daily stress, and teacher burnout is a very real, very serious problem here in the US. Between 30 and 40 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years, and turnover in teaching is about four percent higher than comparable professions. While we leave teaching for many reasons both personal and professional, one of the most common reasons cited is a general lack of respect for the profession.

To illustrate this, I’d like to tell you a personal story that took place several years ago, at parent-teacher conference night. It was set up like a job fair, with all the teachers in the gym at tables, so that parents could easily move from teacher to teacher, all in the same room. Two hours in, I smiled as another set of parents approached my table. I began to greet them, extending my hand to introduce myself, when the father interrupted me, demanding to know why their daughter had received a low grade on a project. I started to explain, but he interrupted me, unwilling to listen. They shoved copies of her junior high transcripts at me, but when I still refused to change her grade, they thrust a final stack of papers towards me and stormed off. These were articles from the internet, detailing the traits of a good teacher, and the parents had taken the liberty of highlighting various passages for me. As a wave of realization washed over me, I burst into tears right there at the table, in front of everyone. The very next day, my principal called me into his office, where he defended the parents and pressured me to change the grade.

 

This story is not easy to hear or to tell. But what happened to me is not unique. Similar things happen to colleagues all the time, and when you combine that lack of professionalism and respect with a never-ending to-do list, teachers get worn out. We get tired and, for our own mental health, we either leave the profession or develop coping mechanisms, like giving less of ourselves. Many of those teachers giving out worksheets are people who decided to stay but couldn’t continue the unsustainable workload to be considered a “good” teacher. And the thing is that these exhausted teachers need help, not a label. When someone shows decreased job performance, they don’t need judgment or people working to get them fired. They need empathy and support. Society is quick to crucify these struggling, overworked teachers, but in the end, we are really just tired of being tired.

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Posted in Reflections on Teaching

Hello again!

Maybe you’ve noticed I took a bit of a break from blogging… Or maybe you have hobbies and a life and probably didn’t notice at all.

It’s been just over a year since my last post, and a lot has changed since then. This year was a crazy-busy year behind the scenes.

First, THIS happened…

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I may have shrieked and thrown my phone when I read those first few words, and there were so, so many happy tears shed that day…

In full honesty, I applied and thought I realistically had a fair chance. I have reasonable GRE scores (I studied my butt off) and had wonderful people write recommendations for me (each one of them has an eternal IOU from me). So I knew it really all came down to my Statement of Purpose, which I spent weeks and weeks writing, tearing up, re-writing, and revising. I asked many, many people to read it for me and shamelessly begged them for harsh/critical feedback. I submitted my application on the day it was due and felt really, really good about it… for about 10 hours. Then, the next day, I realized I used the wrong affect/effect. The general rule of thumb is Affect is an action and Effect is a noun, but it turns out that when you want to pair that with the word “change”, you Effect change. I went through all the stages of grief (just ask my husband) and finally landed on the strong feeling that if they didn’t take me just because of that small error, then I didn’t want to go anyway. (very mature, you can see).

Side note: If you’d like to see my Statement of Purpose and the reasons why I chose this program, I’ve posted it as a separate entry HERE. (no pressure)

But getting accepted meant beginning the long, arduous process of making preparations to move literally all the way across the country. And after months of preparing, worrying, and psyching myself up, then THIS happened…

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A car even honked at me! (to congratulate me, obviously…)

My dad kindly helped me drive across the country (with two cats), and he begrudgingly took this photo for me.

I arrived in Boston almost two whole months before the program started, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the city and trying new places/foods. I’ve made many new friends and seen a lot of cool stuff!

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This is outside Gutman, the heart of HGSE.

But now we’re HERE, and the real work is just beginning. I’ve been spending the last week in Orientation, learning all about the immense number resources and opportunities available here and getting to know my fellow TIE cohort members. Classes start tomorrow! (and I have homework already)

HGSE’s motto is “Learn to Change the World”, and one of my cohort members asked a group of us (over tacos) a powerful question that is still rattling around in my brain… “Do you think it means ‘learn (how) to change the world’ or ‘learn (in order) to change the world’?” I love this for so many reasons, but I’m really hoping to do both here. This is the adventure of a lifetime, and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity. I hope to utilize the connections I make here with others and with available resources to change the current model for technology coaching in schools so that teachers see technology as a vehicle to aid learning and feel more supported in their classrooms. I want to learn (how) to make a difference by learning about resources and tools, but I also want to learn (in order) to make a difference because teachers need an experienced ally to stand with them and fight for the rights and needs of ALL students.

Posted in Reflections on Teaching

My HGSE Statement of Purpose

That’s what a hashtag is for?” Seated beside an incredulous Mandarin teacher, I nodded excitedly. “Yes, it’s a way to categorize posts and ideas to make them easier to find later on.” I had just finished presenting my first technology workshop at the California Language Teacher Association conference, and the middle-aged woman had stuck around with questions about using Twitter with her classes. “But you said I can create my own hashtag… How do I do that?” I felt a fulfilled smile spread across my face as I leaned in towards the screen. Twenty minutes and three tweets later, she skipped out of the room, overjoyed with new ideas and possibilities.

Technology, by definition, is an improvement. It should, therefore, improve and enhance the way we teach and the way our students access curriculum, not just be a box to check off or a routine line item in the yearly budget. Technology can empower teaching and learning, but that requires pairing up teachers and students with the proper tools. Training and support need to meet busy educators where they are. Otherwise, utilizing a new tool becomes just one thing too many on a never-ending “to-do” list. There are so many incredible tools available, but without practical, useful training and support, these tools can easily go most of the year unused.

Throughout my years of classroom experience in different schools and in different states, I see a growing divide between teachers who regularly employ effective technology tools and teachers who do not. On one side, you have educators like myself, who are passionate about finding tools that empower and enhance learning opportunities. I have lost count of the number of nights I stayed up way too late, hunting for and fiddling with my next favorite tool. I leap at the opportunity to try out a new idea in class just to see what happens because teaching is just one big experiment anyway. My eyes grow wide and my heart begins to race when I come across new possibilities to connect students’ learning to the world. Matching technology to my students’ needs not only fosters learning in ways that could not have been accomplished otherwise, but it also truly brings me joy.

Unfortunately, not all my colleagues feel this way. Many teachers worry that a new method simply will not be as effective as an established one. They may feel helplessly overwhelmed when faced with a constantly-growing number of options, not knowing which one will be the most beneficial. Some may feel under-qualified to try out a new tool on their own or perhaps even feel betrayed by technology in past experiences. For many educators, a fifteen-minute overview at a staff meeting followed by a pat on the back simply is not enough to feel comfortable with and invested in the latest technology tool.

I want to help more educators view technology as a simple support to their already-stellar instruction. Thus far, as a Spanish teacher, my primary focus was finding technology tools to address the needs of world language teachers, sharing them with language colleagues both individually and at conferences. However, there is a myriad of tools available for other subjects, and it would be a powerful experience to work with other equally passionate professionals in a close-knit group to share our experiences and learn from one another. With my classroom experience, I bring a lot to my HGSE cohort. From a school where my classroom did not even have Wi-Fi to my current assignment where we are 1:1 with Chromebooks, I have experienced the full spectrum of school technology. I truly understand the importance of a practical and realistic approach to its daily use in the classroom. Nonetheless, I know I hold only one small piece of the puzzle. There are many stakeholders at the table when it comes to making changes in public education, and learning from others with differing perspectives and experiences will reveal much more of the situation as a whole. With a better understanding of the mindset of all the players, I will be able to create approaches for teachers that are both constructive and meaningful.

Furthermore, to truly help teachers find and use tools that match their needs, I need to learn more about the link between technology and learning. The HGSE Technology, Innovation, & Education program is a perfect fit because it centers itself on both teaching and learning, with technology playing the role of the support vehicle. While other programs wave around an app or website as the pinnacle achievement of their graduate students’ studies, the TIE program concentrates on finding the best tool for the users and their needs. Coding a flashy, one-size-fits-all response that fits in a pocket is not necessarily the same thing as solving the problem. This is an important distinction, and the TIE program understands that a solution needs to actually solve the problem, not just have great animations and sound effects. Additionally, to make a difference in educational technology training and support, I need to learn how to address the issues from many different angles. To truly affect change, I need a program that offers access to many courses and experts across disciplines, from educational policy to computer science, not one that whittles down my options to one prescribed set of courses.  On top of learning from many different people in the TIE cohort and working with HGSE alumni, access to a wide range of academically and intellectually challenging courses and experts from all across Harvard is another opportunity for me to learn as much as I can from others.

Ultimately, my favorite part of teaching is the positive effect I have on students’ lives. They enter my classroom knowing they are each valued as a person and that learning in Señora’s Spanish class is both fun and inescapable. I leave my room at the end of the day feeling fulfilled and needed. But what I did not know seven years ago on my first day of school was that I would find another niche where I am needed even more. Stepping back behind the scenes means that I can empower and uplift teachers to be the best educators they can be. Technology is so incredibly compelling, opening a world of possibilities for our students. All students should have these influential opportunities; I want to help teachers unlock the immeasurable possibilities and to free them up to do what they do best: inspire our students.

Posted in Authentic Resources, Reflections on Teaching, Target Language, Tech Tip Tuesday

3 Confessions, 2 Reflections, & 1 Tech Tool

‘Tis the season! August is always a confounding time for me… I’m excited for school, ecstatic about perusing the endless aisles of school supplies, and filled with wonder at all the possibilities a new school year brings. But I’m also struggling to adapt my eating/sleeping/bathroom habits back to a bell schedule, anxious to meet my students, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by all that possibility that lies in front of me. It always feels like it should be an organized time of the year, but it’s inherently messy.

So here you have it, a peek into my August thoughts with 3 confessions, 2 things rolling around in my head, and 1 (AWESOME+EASY) tech tool to help you start the year off right!

Continue reading “3 Confessions, 2 Reflections, & 1 Tech Tool”

Posted in Reflections on Teaching

Project Based Language Learning

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Do you remember these?!

It’s the last day of a four-day-workshop on Project Based Language Learning (PBLL), and to be honest, I’m sold. I love the ideas behind it, and I love the idea of giving students more motivation than “you’ll need this for the test”. Not all students are motivated by points, and that’s not what I want anyway! I don’t want little point DustBusters, sucking up all the available points in the local vicinity. Project Based Learning feels like A Gift From Above to both myself and to students. *cue the “Hallelujah” chorus*

So this is awesome, right?

But I’m an all-or-nothing person. It bugs me on a deep level to feel like I’m doing something poorly or haphazardly. Basically, I’m the human version of the Hokey Pokey. Either my hand is in or it’s out. I don’t do things halfway, casually, or hastily.

And if I’ve learned anything this week, it’s clear that Project Based Learning is a massive undertaking to start and has a steep learning curve. The presenter has reminded us many times that starting with one or two projects a year is plenty. It requires a major restructuring of how a traditional course is taught, and, despite being a self-described over-achiever, it may not be humanly possible to “go all in” and maintain it throughout the year.

So how do I do enough to keep myself happy (not feeling like a cop-out) but also avoid getting overwhelmed?

Continue reading “Project Based Language Learning”

Posted in Assessment, Reflections on Teaching, Target Language

6 Good Decisions From This Year

It’s so easy to write about something that went poorly that we are eager to fix and now know how to do better next time. I think it makes us feel better because we can almost explain it away and move on, knowing it will not be nearly as bad next time.

But a lot of my reflection (’tis the season!) is not only what I want to change but what went well so that I can keep the “good” and fix the “bad”/”ugly”. Here are 6 things I have NO regrets about:

#1: Started a blog.
blogI started a blog to have a place to collect my own thoughts and reflections. A lot of my posts were written just for me, just as a place to decompress and talk myself through things. I am a “percolator”. I have to mull over something for awhile before making full sense of it and deciding how I wish to continue forward. My blog helped me in many respects to make sense of what I value as a world language educator and to digest all of the thoughts we have running around in our heads all the time. It’s kinda like my own little Fortress of Solitude, and, hey, if any of my ramblings also benefit someone else, well that’s just icing on the cake.

#2: Let them color.
colored pencilsStudents are full of anxiety these days. I went from 0 students my first year to 7 students this year who have documented anxiety disorders. The pressures to get into college or to get perfect grades is higher than ever. Peer pressure hasn’t abated since we were in school, and now with students’ lives being shared digitally with everyone in the world, our students have a lot of pressures built on top of normal teen pressures. But we tend to forget that they are still just KIDS. After quizzes or tests, I offered a new option this year: coloring. I printed off a few different coloring sheets and gave the students the option to color while we waited for our classmates to finish. Some chose to work on other homework instead. Others laid their heads down. But a surprising number chose to color and asked if they could hang it up around the room. And let me tell you: when I said “Sí” to that simple request, their faces LIT UP. It told them that I value them as a person and see them as a contributor. They were so proud to hang it up! Coloring has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and it helped build relationships. Did it help with language proficiency? Heck no. But I don’t just teach Spanish — I teach students.

Continue reading “6 Good Decisions From This Year”

Posted in Reflections on Teaching

Why I’m wearing a Flash shirt today

I am very nervous today. My students take our department’s proficiency test today and tomorrow, and I am so nervous how they will stack up to the others. I know I’m a good teacher, and I know I’ve done my best for them this year. But will my students’ score as well as other students? Have I done enough? Will this test accurately show what they know and can do? I’m worried that the answer to all these questions is a big fat “no”…

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Dun dun dun… Test day.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea of holding all students in the same level to the same standards! I think comparing data will be a great opportunity to discuss best practices and grow together as a department. I am eagerly looking forward to the conversations we will have when this is all said and done! I do wish the test was more proficiency-based, but no common test is ever ideal. Continue reading “Why I’m wearing a Flash shirt today”