Archive for April, 2015

I Have Summers Off Work!

Posted: April 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

Recently we have seen the hashtag #makeschooldifferent in hopes that we stop pretending about what school is believed to be like.

Many people say that teachers have the summer off of work. We’re lazy because we get 3 months off every year to sit around and do nothing.

Yes, there are some teachers out there who do just sit around and do nothing. Some though may be recovering from a surgery, which summer is a GREAT time to schedule that because then you don’t have to worry about writing sub plans.

Anyway, I am a teacher and I have the summer off from the school district . . . well, I am teaching summer school. I’m also taking part in a training that the district is offering.

Other than that I have the summer off . . . well, except for #EdcampKS that I am helping plan for the third summer in a row. But that’s a just one day.

So I have the rest of the summer off . . . although the Oklahoma State Department of Education is holding a free conference for teachers in July. I attended last summer and it was a great way to get to know about education in my new state.

Then I have . . . well, there is that one day tech conference I’ll be presenting at in Clinton, Oklahoma.

Then I have . . . ok, well, here is my schedule for the summer. Just check out all the FREE LAZY TIME I will be enjoying this summer.

Also, on June 7 at 6:30 am I will be running the Scorcher Half Marathon in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in case you want to come and cheer me on.


Stop Pretending . . . .

Posted: April 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

Over the past week I have seen #MakeSchoolDifferent on Twitter and several people writing about “We have to stop pretending”. I was tagged by David Hendershot in his post We Need To Stop Pretending. I also enjoyed reading Scott Haselwood and Scott McLeod as they shared their thoughts.

So what are my 5 thoughts that we need to stop pretending? Well, it’s not as easy as just saying them. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this.

  1. We need to stop pretending that students can do the “extra” work that we assign. Students have so many things happening in their lives, so expecting them to focus only on school is not possible. There are students who go home to broken families. There are students who go home to busy sports schedules. Very few students go home to an environment of both parents being home to help them with their homework.
  2. We need to stop pretending that the state assessments are their final. This past week my students took their state math assessment. Now, as we have five weeks left of school, they are looking at me and wondering why I don’t have movies scheduled for the rest of the year. WHAT?!?!? Our learning is not over. We can go back and review what we’ve been working on (some are still struggling with the concepts) as well as begin preparing them for next year. If I stop teaching now, then students are not just having the summer 3 month slump to lose information, I’m making it a 5 month slump! The school year does not end with state assessments.
  3. We need to stop pretending that the four walls of the school is where learning occurs. Students learn more outside of the classroom than they do inside the classroom. Sometimes what they are learning outside is going to help them more than inside, so we need to build on those strengths. However, many times what students are learning outside is not going to help them be successful. We need to help build citizens inside the classroom. We need to help them see how to be successful in life. That doesn’t always mean going to college, but many times just how to stay out of trouble and find a life they want to be proud of living.
  4. We need to stop pretending that using flashy technology is the only way to teach. Would it be exciting to teach in a 1:1 setting? Of course! I’ve been there! However, some of the more exciting times was when I made them put the computer away and actually work on paper. Students worked diligently when I had them create a scale drawing from their favorite cartoon character. Some of the work is amazing! This year I discovered that you don’t need white boards and that you can just use the desk. Students love writing on the desk! Also, it allows students to write as large or small as they want when doing their work. I can also walk around the room and see their work much easier and be able to help them more. It’s ok to put the technology away at times, the kids won’t hate you.
  5. We need to stop pretending that the schools will provide the professional development that you need as an educator. Each and everyone educator needs to seek out their own personal learning. Yes, you, the individual! Just like the students, we are all different. We need different things in order to better ourselves so we can teach. If we wait to be told what to learn, then we are behind. I seek out my own learning and I am behind so many great educators. However, don’t let that discourage you. Grab a new concept and enjoy it!

There are so many more things than five that we need to stop pretending, so go check out the hashtag. Also, because we are all in different roles, I want to challenge these five people to write their own list of what we need to stop pretending.

So here’s to Nathan Lang, Joy Hofmeister, Melonie Hau, Amanda Dykes and AJ Bianco.

Is Recess Needed?

Posted: April 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

Over the past few weeks I’ve read some articles about recess at school. The local news reported on recess after a recent study and it’s always great to read about the Finland model of school recess.

In our great nation, P.E. and the arts has been taken away to help improve test scores and budgets. Now as scores are not improving or as budgets are lowering even more, schools are opting to cut recess. Is this the answer though?

What is the definition of recess? According to dictionary.comtemporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work or activity.

How many students already take this break? Or rather, try to take the break. “May I go to the restroom?” is often heard. Yes, sometimes students need to go, but sometimes they just need a small break.

In fact, look at adults. How many just sit at a desk all day long and work? There may be a few, but there are many adults who walk over to a coworker and chat for a bit, there are many who change websites and play a small game, there are some who lay a mat on the floor and take a small nap! We all need breaks at times.

So why is it in schools we force students to sit in a desk for 6-7 hours and work, work, work?

This past week I sent out a survey about recess. The first question was to find who was taking the survey.

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After answering that question, I had the survey go based off of their answer. Let’s look at some administrator responses first.

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This shows that the older you get, the less scheduled free time they receive. In fact, often times teachers are told to teach bell to bell. Some may say that students get a break between classes. Often times that break is 4-5 minutes long and they are busy getting from class to class, getting a drink and using the restroom. That’s not a break, that’s a race!

After looking at that information, check out this response from a student in the 11th grade who feels older students should not have recess.

Recess should occur through elementary school, so about fifth grade. These kids need a chance to get rid of excess energy. By high school, students don’t have as much energy due to stress.

Why do they have stress? Is it induced by teachers and schools? The following are some statements from administrators about students and recess.

I believe recess is a necessary and valuable part of the elementary school day. Students learn social skills through playing together. It is an opportunity for students to expend energy built up while sitting in class or re-energize to return to classroom learning.
Kids need recess for multiple reasons. It benefits the educational process and success.
it is essential for children to have opportunities to play – to support emotional/social development, problem solving, etc. Some children now have very few opportunities for free play after school, weekends, etc.
It is much needed, for kids and teachers
It is necessary, just read research about the brain. Eric Jensen is a perfect place to stop for reliable information.
So now you’re thinking that if administration is thinking that recess is important, what do teachers think? You know, the ones who actually have to monitor (most of the time) the free time.
As a 6th grade teacher, I believe that recess is beneficial, as it gives the students an opportunity to “burn off some energy.” It also allows us as teachers to see the students in a different light and get to know them in a different way, outside of the classroom setting.
Students need time to release their energy and get moving. Also fosters friendships and provides opportunities for teamwork (i.e. recess leagues for football, basketball or baseball depending on the time of year).
Children need time to play. The lack of recess is robbing them not only of the ability to learn more, but also of social skills necessary to survive in the adult world. Primary students should have three unstructured breaks a day, minimum. Intermediate students could do with two longer breaks.
I believe that if we expect students to be attentive and engaged from bell to bell in all their secondary classes, they need some down time to socialize and relax mentally and emotionally. Fun is healthy and can make us more productive later.
Recess is an important time for students to develop their gross motor, social, and emotional skills. Students learn through play and recess is an excellent opportunity for children to learn about themselves, their peers, and the environment. Students are not merely “taking a break”. They are always learning, always playing, and always doing.
It is needed at every grade. Adults have the opportunity to walk away from their desk, why do we limit that for our children?
It is a crying shame that recess time has been cut, and even omitted, in many public schools. Children need to balance activity with sitting-down, passive study/learning. The research will support this premise, as will experienced physical therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, child psychologists, and teachers. I taught middle school for eight years, and I saw firsthand how well-timed recess and PE classes helped kids to later settle down and focus. Bring recess back!
I find this it sometimes interrupts the flow of learning (as observed with classroom teacher), but I do believe regular breaks are needed! Sometimes I see Intermediate students just stay in and finish work, or just chill with a few friends in class.
I believe everyone needs time during their day to relax and communicate with peers. The younger the student, the more that communication needs to be via play. At the age I teach (and with the overwhelming number of struggling learners we have) I feel the students should be allowed more time to move — and I don’t mean passing between classes.
Kids need more time to play. Doctors are noticing that kids don’t have balance or coordination anymore. Those things come from playing outside. Kids don’t play group games anymore, because no one teaches them. They need time to just be kids.
It is much needed! Our kids need to be up moving around, but it also allows students an opportunity to work on their problem solving skills with peers. I’d say that fits under a 21st Century skill!
8th and 9th graders are given the remaining time of their lunch to play if they want to. The idea is in the right place to let them play, and I believe play is very important for students in elementary school, yet as our students come back in to class it is very evident for the first 15min+ who just had lunch/ yard time. This is something our building can look at; is the play time adequate for students needs or do we need to have a better plan in place for transitioning these students back into the classroom to reduce the disruption to instructional time.
However, not every teacher has the belief that recess is necessary.
While it is nice for the students to have time during the day to unwind and get out some energy, it can be challenging to get them focused again the first class following recess. Also, given that it is middle school, recess provides an opportunity for drama that often spills into the first class following recess including having the principal call students out of class to investigate what took place during recess. Overall, I do not find the benefits to outweigh the detriments.
So what about students? Do they feel that they should have recess? First, these are the results of what ages filled out the survey.
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What do they do during recess?
Talking with my friends, and getting free time.
Not being stuck in a building learning things.
Having a break from classes and freely talking with my friends.
Playing basketball, hanging with friends, and being outside.
Nothing, it’s boring.
Getting my work done or hang out with friends.
Taking a break from school work and being able to play basketball and have fun. I like hanging out with my friends and talk about things that aren’t educational.
To talk to my friends and listening to music while I dance with my friends.
A break from school.
This makes sense. In class they hear, “stop talking”, so recess gives them time to sit and talk with their friends. It allows them to be kids. Everyone is social, so why not allow the time?
Now, what do parents think?
Everyone needs breaks and downtime at all ages.
It should be much longer and more frequent.
Kids need time during the school day to move and time to give their brain a break no matter what age.
Recess should be required and NEVER taken unless a child was unsafe during recess.
There should be a lot of it, and kids should go outside and move even in cold or wet weather.
Everyone needs some down time mentally.
I believe children need time during their day to relax, run around, and play. Too much sitting at a desk and not enough moving makes it harder for them to pay attention in class.
This last one shows some great insight. I know that not all parents talk with their children about play time, but reading helps show why free time is important.
Kids (and teachers) need a mental break and it’s a good way to practice social skills. Even if there aren’t the nicest kids on the playground, it helps some kids learn to fend for themselves in our helicopter parenting age. When my son has trouble, he talks to me about it, we problem solve, then I contact the school to ask people to keep an eye out when needed. He needs to learn to stand up for himself and to learn who the kids are he doesn’t need to waste his time and at the same time he needs to be able to figure it out on his own too. We support him at home and have open communication to help when needed but to really help the whole child develop and grow schools should allow for the intellectual and emotional piece but recess supports the social and moral parts of being human. Not to mention PE is only offered once a week and Illinois says that’s all they need if they get recess (even though if it is too cold or raining they can’t play outside and therefore don’t get the physical activity, but that’s another topic for another day.)
So what are your thoughts? Do you feel it’s important?
Disclaimer: My survey is in no way official, but it does give some insight thoughts about recess.

My Forever Mentor

Posted: April 7, 2015 in Uncategorized
Suellyn leading the band on my last day of high school

Suellyn leading the band on my last day of high school

In the summer of 1995, I got a phone call from someone with the high school band asking me why I chose not to be in band. I was leaving the middle school, where I had been in band all three years, and headed off to high school. Since the band director had taken another job, I didn’t want to be in band in high school because I didn’t know the new teacher. They talked me into coming in for an evening with a few others and play on the bass drums.

The new band director, Suellyn Stenger, was there along with a couple of guys who helped with the band. Since I was the tallest, I was on the largest of four bass drums. Jamie, Jennifer, Jared and I had a good time playing and getting to know each other. We then sat on the floor and listened to the music of the show (Beethoven songs) and looking at our parts. They had me hooked.

Little did I know that if I would have not been in band, I wouldn’t have one of the greatest people in my life.

Suellyn Stenger has been there for me many times in the past 20 years. (Did I just say that?) Why is she so great?

Suellyn marching with my high school band in McPherson's All School's Day Parade my senior year.

Suellyn marching with my high school band in McPherson’s All School’s Day Parade my senior year.

  • She encouraged me to step back into band and give it a chance when I was ready to give up.
  • She gave me rides home on evenings I didn’t have a ride.
  • She gave me a ride back to the high school after helping with the middle school students after my car broke down.
  • She paid for my lunch several times (even though I had money) when taking me back to the high school.
  • She was the person I turned to when my grandmother passed suddenly the summer before my junior year.

That is just a few reasons why she’s so great. Why is she my mentor?

When I went off to college as a music education major, she was excited for me. My freshman year of college when I went back to visit her, I called her Ms. Stenger. She looks at me at says, “I’m not your teacher, call me Suellyn.” Since then, when I try to say Ms. Stenger, she will not respond to me. She taught me the respect of being an adult.

Suellyn's school picture from this year.

Suellyn’s school picture from this year.

When Suellyn left my hometown, I kept in touch with her. I watched as she took a small town’s band program and made it amazing, the same she had done with my hometown band program. Then when she became a counselor, I laughed because she was always our counselor at my high school. She was the one the band students turned to.

Since I have graduated college and became a teacher, Suellyn has inspired me. When I’m having a down day, I can talk to her and she cheers me up. She continues to show me the bright side to teaching and why I go into my classroom each day.

Suellyn is who I talk to about my career decisions. She is the one who encourages me to do what I can do. She is just amazing!

Words cannot describe the love that I have for Suellyn Stenger. Each time I am near Hays, Kansas (how lucky is that high school?) I try to stop and have lunch with her. She is an inspiration.

Thank you, Suellyn, for all you have done for me and will continue to do.

King of #oklaed

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

There was a blog challenge recently about what you would do it you were king of the education system in Oklahoma. It’s taken me awhile to finally sit down and write it. So here ya go . . . .

I don’t want that job. I don’t want to be king. I enjoy the conversations that I have with Joy Hofmeister about education. I love how she takes times to attend edcamps and to listen to her teachers. She wants to make a difference.

However, this post isn’t about her leading the education in our state. This post is about what I would do as king.

As I stated before, I don’t want that job. No matter what you do, everyone will criticize what you do. Thank you Joy for being able to listen to everyone and know how to help as much as possible.

Again, it’s not about her, it’s about me. I guess as king, you don’t have a choice. As king, you are not voted into the position, you’re born into it. . . so I guess I should say what I would do . . .

  1. The competition between schools has to go away. If you’re school is doing really well and students are producing great things, then I’m going to take teachers from you building and have them go to other schools (in and out of your district) to share what you are doing. Not only will you talk about it, but you will also be responsible to keeping in contact with that other school and help lead them to be higher achievers and do great things. Oh, you don’t want to share what you’re doing because you want to keep it a secret? That’s fine, we don’t need you in education then. We need to give all students the same opportunity and promote learning everywhere, not just brag how your students are the best.
  2. School districts will utilize faculty in different ways. Yes, you will have your teachers assigned to building and teaching like we do now. However, if there are teachers doing amazing things, they need to be shared throughout the district. Not just speaking during professional days, but allowed to go in and lead and co-teach with teachers. Again, every student has the right to an equal learning opportunity.
  3. Every school will after school activities. They will be set up in a way to help each school. They will not be required, but they will be fun and not just homework help. They will be ways to learn in a different environment. Why would kids want to stay after school? Well, for starters the school day will only be 5 hours long, so staying another 2 hours won’t be tiring, but rather learning out of the seat.

There are many things that I would like to do as king, but this would be the start. How about you? What would you like to change?

What Are You Waiting For?

Posted: April 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

Copyright: Busy Vegetarian Mom

It’s after spring break, which means. . . . .waiting for summer?

I remember when I was younger, I would count down the school days until summer. . . .because I wanted freedom!

I remember when I first started teaching, I would put on the board the number of school days until summer.

What are we waiting for? With a countdown to summer, you’re so focused on summer, that you sometimes forget the purpose of what you are to be doing now.

Many students hate summer. They won’t see their friends. They won’t get 3 meals a day (low income or busy parents sometimes means no food at home). They won’t be with someone who recognizes who they are and helps them to become a better person. Summer can be very scary for some students.

Do I count down the days until summer now? Well, in a way. I count down the days so that I know how many more days I have to reach my current students. In fact, we haven’t taken state assessments yet. My countdown is currently knowing how many days I have to help them do well on the test, not summer.

I have taught in a school that had block scheduling. That means if we had 50 days left of school, I had 25 class periods left. Then I would have state assessments and other testing, which would more than likely take it down to 20 class periods. When I started thinking about that, it helped me know what I needed to focus on NOW to reach and teach students.

Telling students how many days you have left could be telling them something that you may not want them to think about.

  • 25 days until I don’t have you as a student anymore (good or bad)
  • 14 days until I don’t have to work
  • 3 days until I pass you on to the next teacher

Each of those statements can be devastating to a student. Each of those statements can be telling the student that you don’t care about them. Each of those statements could be telling the students that you have better things to do with your time instead of working.

I myself care about each of my students. I want them to be the best student they can be until the last day of school. I want them to keep working (and learning) even after the school year is over. I feel that a countdown is telling students many things that may not be the best for learning.

Do you have a countdown in your classroom? What is the purpose of your countdown? What can we do to help students stay focused on learning and helping themselves become better?

Fooling the Kids

Posted: April 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

As you know, today was April Fool’s Day.

A few weeks ago our sixth grade teachers decided to trade classes and confuse the students for the day. So we set up a schedule and then agreed to write sub plans for each other to follow.

I started the day trading Advisory classes with my neighbor teacher. We were standing outside each other’s door to greet students as they entered the building. Some were confused, some laughed because they knew what day it was. When the bell rang and I entered my new classroom, students were then confused. They didn’t know what to do.

After Advisory, I then moved on to Reading. They have been looking at poetry and discussing parts of poetry.

I then moved onto a Language Arts class where students are starting to work on writing a personal narrative. It was great to be able to work with students and read what they were going to be writing about and get to know them a little more.

The next class was my plan period. We still had our plan periods so that we could have the time to still get things done in our own classrooms.

Next was lunch followed by Math class. This was nice to be in because this class used to be with my 4th hour, but at semester when we were able to hire another math teacher, we split the class in two. I really enjoyed having the chance to teach the students I used to have.

After this I went to Language Arts. This class was working on poetry and I even got to write my own poem! Check it out!

fresh, colorful
eaten, held, cut
seed, tree, bread, knife
served, spread, eaten
nutty, brown
peanut butter

I then moved onto Geography where they were starting their unit on South America. It was great to be able to talk to students about when I went to Peru. I also had a great discussion about how knowing where different countries are located helps you understand the world a little more.

My last class of the day was Science. They took a quiz over cells and then we had a chance to look at different apps on the iPad. Overall, the day was great!

Throughout the day I was thinking about how great it was for students to see their teachers teach something different than their normal subject. I hear from students all the time in class, “but this isn’t Language Arts” or “what does Geography have to do with Math?” This was our chance to show students that all subjects work together.

It was also great to see how your own students interact with other students in other classes. It gave me a chance to talk with students who I hear cause some troubles in other classes and ask them why they act differently in that class. I was able to talk with them about how they should be focused on learning and bettering themselves.

Talking with other teachers, everyone had a great time remembering all the things that we have learned in the past. It also gave us a taste of other subjects that we often forget about when in our own classrooms. It also helped us to think about how we can tie subjects together.

We all know that we have our own standards to teach, but we can mix subjects together. How can we start bringing classes together to share and learn together and not separate the subjects constantly?

Have you ever done an activity like this before at your schools?

To leave today I do have to share how I was made a fool. . . .

Right before school began a couple of good, trustworthy students came up to me and told me that they saw a couple of 8th grade students slash my tires and run. I asked them who they were and they couldn’t remember.

Now see, a couple of months ago I spent $500 on brand new tires and the fact that I live an hour from school, I was so ticked off and thinking about going and writing a police report and how the day was going to not be fun anymore and  . . .

Then I see the paper on my tires. Yes, there were pictures of Slash on my tires. They got me. I should have seen it coming.