Posts tagged “#substituteteaching

How we “teach” reading

I’ve been on a reading binge lately. I had gotten out of the habit, mostly because I’d be so tired that I rarely could make it through a page before my eyes began to close! Reading had become a summer activity or maybe a snow day perk! Finding myself with some extra time lately, I’ve been keeping Amazon busy delivering the books I’ve missed out on over the past several years. I’ve devoured books such as The Great Alone, An American Marriage, and Educated, just to name a few. I’ve loved the incredible amounts of historical fiction being published, and found fun and delightful authors like Liane Moriarty. I’ve rekindled my romance with reading, and I love myself more for it.

My love of books stretch back to my childhood, partly from a mother who read to us daily, and partly from the companionship of a book. Reading for pleasure was emphasized in our home with trips to the library, magazine subscriptions, and public television shows such as “Sesame Street”, “Zoom”, and “The Electric Company”.

Reading was fun. It was an escape for a quiet kid who loved being alone as much as she loved playing with friends.

As I grew older, books taught me about the world around me in new and thought-provoking ways. The first one that comes to mind is To Kill A Mockingbird. Ms. Cobb read it with us in 7th grade. It gave me a new lens in which to view the world, starting in my own backyard.

To be honest, looking back, I realize that the influence of books and my respect of fine literature has a lot to do with teachers who were passionate about them. To this day, I don’t care too much for reading Charles Dickens, but I have a great appreciation for his writing based on the way Mrs. McCarter (9th grade English) and Ms. Brickey (11th grade English literature) shared their passions for his works. Doc Gore had us read Tess of the D’Urbervilles in senior English. I was incredibly annoyed with that novel, but I can envision (30 years later) the scenery described in its pages.

I love books and reading, but my teachers showed me how to appreciate it. When I became a teacher, I wanted to share this love with my own students. I wanted them to find the comfort and escape in words that I had experienced. We read Roald Dahl and played with the language in The BFG. We explored survivalism and the outdoors in My Side of the Mountain. We had a whole day of making recipes from the book, demonstrations from a parent about how to survive in the woods, music, and we even had a parent build a classroom “tree” like the main character lived in in the book. I would bet those kids were more engaged and remember more about the adventures in that reading unit than anything else we taught that year. My team and I created incredible units that were hands-on and explored other ideas, cultures, and points of view. I loved teaching reading and I hope many of my students learned to appreciate it as well.

Sadly, this type of teaching isn’t happening in classrooms anymore. Gone are the novel studies and the units I spent hours researching and crafting. In their place are prescriptive lessons, scripted text, and informational passages crafted by some “institute” that claims fictional test-score gains on a vague group of students. Gone with it is the passion for teaching reading and the love of reading a book by many students. When I set up my classroom, I was most proud of my expansive library of fiction and non-fiction. It was my goal for students to discover where their passion for reading would be, whether fantasy, Sci-fi, historical, or realistic fiction. We made time for silent reading and read-aloud EVERY day and it showed up in their grades and their test-scores. My firm belief is that reading develops the mind, the vocabulary, and allows for better and creative problem-solving skills.

When I mention this to young teachers today, I feel old. They look at me as if this type of enjoyable teaching is ancient history or that I’m somehow making it up. The classroom 10 years ago looks nothing like the scripted texts they teach to their uninterested and bored students today! A whole book?? A two-hour literacy block? Perish the thought!

I wonder about the short attention spans of young people. I wonder about the rise of fake news, the lack of researching for the truth, the disinterest in anything real, and the fantasy world of social media. After not reading novels for a long time, I’ve had to relearn how to be still and allow the words and pictures to form in my mind. Fortunately for me, I had the advantage of teachers who were free to share this in their classroom and it was easy for me to get back in that groove. Today’s students and teachers do not. I don’t believe that books are going anywhere, but our appreciation for stories, imagination, and the word-crafting is slowly fading. I also wonder if it’s the reason some teachers aren’t staying in the classroom. By not allowing teachers that creativity and passion in their lessons, it makes the hard days even harder because there’s nothing joyful to balance it out.

This world needs more pleasure readers. We need to give our kids this avenue for thought and expression. Books have allowed me so much, even when my worse times weighed heavily. Now, more than ever, we need to teach an appreciation for reading in order to give students the freedom that goes along with it.

Lead Like You Mean It!

I love the move “Lean On Me” with Morgan Freeman. There are so many great moments where Mr. Clark does or says something to inspire his students and teachers. If you’ll remember at the beginning of the film, Mr. Clark is teaching in an active class with involved students in a beautiful high school. A board member comes in to tell him they lost the vote and Mr. Clark lost his job. He was furious. He walks out with the words, “This place will get exactly what it deserves.” Cut to the next scene. Guns and Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” is playing, spray painted walls, drugs being dealt, and a student is shoved in a locker, and all you hear in the empty hallway is the voice of the student crying for help. Same school, but when the leadership went in a different direction, so did the school.

Opening Scene “Lean On Me”

We spend a lot of space, on tv and written, talking about leaders. We hear about the world leaders. We analyze the comings and goings of any person who might be in charge of something. This would include elected officials, CEOs, board members, bosses from any company, and even our own households. Our kids have leaders among them. They form clubs, organize games, and figure out whose house will be best for the next sleepover. Leadership is partly inherent and partly developed. I believe almost anyone can be a leader with the right focus in the right areas. However, leaders can also destroy. They can take their powerful position to serve selfishly and create fear among the people who depend on them.

I spent every school year focusing on bringing out the leaders among our students. We spent the beginning of the year focusing on the qualities of leaders, what a leader does, and who inspires them. I always heard the typical names of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, the President, and even people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. What I was always inspired by though, was when the students would write and tell me about a personal leader in their life. A parent, an aunt, an older sibling, a church leader, and even sometimes a teacher! I often times think kids know a whole lot more about life than we give them credit for!

Great leaders are followers of other great leaders. They study what others have done and try to emulate the qualities they value and develop those qualities into their own style. Unfortunately, Instagram has hijacked the term “follower.” When you see someone you like, or someone who has great clothes, or advice, you click on “follow” so that you can see their posts in your feed. Gathering followers is a multi-million dollar business. Gather enough followers and companies begin to ask you to feature their products and you get advertising revenue. So our “leaders” are people pushing products that they might or might not use.

“Leader” is now becoming less and less about behavior and more and more about image.

I have a Master’s Degree in Leadership. I attended Trevecca Nazarene University for many Saturdays and summer days to obtain my degree. Going to school with other teachers who wanted to become administrators was so empowering. Many of us were in Nashville, but there were also people from the surrounding counties. I enjoyed the camaraderie and the challenges that this program brought to me. Mostly, I enjoyed the leadership development that took me to the “next level.” Not as a principal (although that was the original goal), but as a leader among my peers.

I always felt it was my responsibility to give back. In my job, in my community, to my family. I was so fortunate to have the support of so many as I was coming up through the ranks, it never occurred to me to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. So I led committees, clubs, teams, and whatever else needed someone to take charge.

While I don’t intend to be an administrator, I never pass up on an offer to help someone with their instruction and management systems. Leaders make themselves available to support or find the truth in a situation.

I have been talking/texting with a former student teacher. She’s at an elementary school and struggling, mostly with what all first year teachers struggle with, classroom management and planning. We talked earlier in the school year and I encouraged her to persevere, to take a great classroom management class offered by the district, and to reach out to her instructional leaders. That’s their job as leaders. They are to work with and encourage teachers who are struggling, especially one in her first year. I was heartbroken when she texted this week and told me she had decided to resign. That she never left school feeling like she had done a good job.

Then it got worse.

Her principal, the instructional leader in her school, the person who she should be able to turn to for support, berated her and suggested she look for another career. The final nail: she told her that she had no plans to rehire her.

It’s only December.

Why would we take a person who wants to learn and do a good job, and make them feel like a failure? An educational leader, should set the example and offer support, not tear someone down. Would she have said that to a student? You aren’t being successful, so maybe you should just go ahead and quit school? You’d never talk to a student that way, so why would it be ok to talk to a teacher with only 4 months of experience that way? My heart went out to her. At a time when good teachers are leaving in droves, the school leaders take the ones who are left and are trying to get rid of them too!

I put her in contact with our union leaders to help her find some support, and hopefully she will stay in teaching. That principal should be ashamed. Unfortunately, this is happening with a lot of teachers, with a range of experience.

Leaders, at least good ones, will take the time to help and support the people around them. A leader shouldn’t say “good job” because it’s on their to-do list, but because they value people and want to support them. A leader’s job is to enhance self-esteem, to guide, direct, and even sometimes redirect others. They believe in their profession and choose to help novices, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s never about one person, it’s about moving forward as one.

Leadership can also turn toxic. I have watched as good schools turned into bad schools with toxic leadership. Leaders with their own agenda and out-of-control checks and balances can topple a school. That negativity spreads like wildfire, amongst the students, the staff, and the administration. The students get out of control, teachers find other positions, and test scores plummet. I’ve lived through one of these and watched as our former principal revived it to glory. It was my life’s work and I’m proud to have been part of it. A great leader can lead others to their vision and rally them to greatness. Everyone knows it isn’t easy, but with the right vision and with buy-in, a leader can revitalize even the most struggling schools.

I share all of this because everyone who reads this has the capability to lead. The world, whether you’re in education or a student or an athlete, needs people to lead and inspire others. It isn’t easy to put yourself out there. Sometimes you’re out there in the wind all alone, but by rising up and speaking up for what’s right, you make it ok for others to do the same.

Adventures in Babysitting

I’m a bit excited and a bit nervous!

Last week, I went for my orientation to substitute teach in the St. Petersburg Public School system. I was pleased and surprisingly excited. It’s never been my intention to leave the classroom. Only to transition between what I’ve been doing and whatever comes next! As much as I love the flexibility of my days, I am really looking forward to having more of a schedule!

First, I was incredibly impressed with how PROFESSIONAL I was treated. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with how sub training works, in most systems the minimum requirement of a sub is 2 years of college (60 hours). Other subs might have a college degree, but no classroom experience. I was trained with a group of licensed teachers who were there for a variety of reasons. Some, like me, are new to the area and not ready for a full-time classroom while they are trying to figure out how to adjust to the area. It’s Florida after all! A lot of people move here in search of the “beach life” and milder winters. (Tom and I are in the “life’s too short to always wish we were at the beach” category). Then, there were the “retired teachers” who were looking to supplement their pension. I actually was sitting with a lady who retired from MNPS in May and had moved here with her spouse. Small world… The last group was of young teachers who had moved here and not yet secured a job in the system for various reasons. So, there we were! All of us interested in staying in the field of teaching, but not committed to one classroom!

Teachers are, across the country and in my experience in Nashville, too-often talked down to and treated as less than experts in their field. Our district administrators bring in outside experts for trainings that many of us could lead ourselves; our school administrators micro-manage our lives and classrooms as to what we “should” be doing; parents attempt to control our classroom environments as if their child is the first (and only) one we’ve taught; communities seem to think we are all burned-out and out to “get” the black/Hispanic/immigrant/smart/disabled/rich/poor/gay/trans/etc. student. While my experience in this system is limited, I didn’t get that feeling in this training. However, out in the schools it may tell a different story.

First, this was unlike any “training” I had received before! We were told that we were professionals, and how much the staff and the district appreciated us being there. Every bit of the training was planned out and organized, but never trivialized or minimized. Meaning, I was never read to or treated like anyone less than what my college degree dictated. I felt respected and my time was respected. In fact, it was understood that the biggest reason we were there was procedural and to learn the substitute website! Honestly, I never take a pass on software training!

The biggest eye-opener and learning curve came about 30 minutes into our day. A school-resource officer gave us a great training on what to do in an active-assailant situation. I’ve had several of these over the years. With every scary school shooting situation, another round of training came to our staff. It’s the most horrific situation that a teacher could find themselves in, yet they return to the schools and classrooms each day despite what the media continues to glamorize. Stoneman Douglas is locate southeast of here, and Orlando is only down the road to the east. The police and the people here have first-hand knowledge of what works and how to prepare teachers and staff members to be aware without distracting them from educating and putting students first. Again, it was organized and informative without being alarmist or treating us as less than professional. Unfortunately, I have sat through many trainings with different “experts” and each one has given us different information and expectations. While I feel fortunate that I don’t have a first-hand account of this situation, the best people to learn from would be those who have. I would highly recommend the school safety departments from other districts to visit here and talk about the procedures that they have in place. I’ll address some of these ideas and concepts in a later post.

The rest of the day consisted of procedures and what we could expect as a substitute teacher in this school system. We did take a quick 30 minute lunch break. There was a cafeteria that had a grill cook and many in-house made salads, snacks, sandwiches, and baked goods for a very reasonable price. The day wrapped up with a demonstration of how the district’s sub system operates and the nuances we can use to tailor it to our own needs.

The day was scheduled to end at 3, and we completed our tasks a little after 1. So, instead of giving us filler material to keep us there to fill a time commitment on their part, they respected our time and let us go home. Not something I have experienced in many other trainings.

As far as trainings go, it was straightforward. The presenter (and head of the department) spent many years as a teacher and school leader. She was well-prepared, well-spoken, funny at times, and could answer all of the questions with confidence. I felt at-ease and well-prepared for what comes next, and I knew who to contact with my questions. Mostly, I felt respected for my knowledge, my experience in the classroom, and for the years I spent learning my profession earning the two degrees that I hold licenses for in Tennessee, and soon in the state of Florida.

I walked away and couldn’t help but compare the day to what I had experienced in my previous school system. I even questioned whether it was because I was completely new and in a new environment, but I carefully went through what had transpired over the previous hours. As objectively as I could, I looked at the materials I received, each interaction with a person from “central office,” and each email where information about been shared. Of course, this is all first-impression and I’m not a teacher in a day to day situation, but it does pique my interest. I’ll be interested in speaking with other teachers in the district to learn about how this all translates to them.

I am still undecided about returning to the classroom full-time. I just read a list of the worst states to teach in across the country. Tennessee was listed amongst them, Florida was not. Most of the states that were listed are in what Alabama’s governor labeled a “teacher-shortage crisis.” While I do believe there is a shortage of teachers nationwide, there are things that school systems can do to RETAIN the teachers that already are in the classroom. By first giving their trust and respect back their classroom professionals (the teachers), I think that these states could move off of that “worst” list. By treating their teachers as college-educated professionals worthy of praise and support instead of with empty promises and apologies.