With so many new initiatives and mandates, teaching and learning is beginning to feel more high-stakes than ever. From Common Core to Charlotte Danielson’s framework, the checklist of things in my “Gotta Do” file seems to include everything except for ensuring that students love learning and that they do it consistently.
It’s been a short autumn, but already the weight of the academic year is beginning to get a bit uncomfortable. I’ve been all over the country and in many parts of the world this season, and people keep asking:
“In all of this, how do I keep the focus on student learning?” Bigger still, as we learn more about students and their diverse needs, how can we teach in a way that is inclusive and in a manner that provides as many different pathways as possible to academic and life success?
There are no easy answers, but there is community.
On Wednesday November 6 I’ll be leading a Twitter Chat among teachers, parents, community leaders, and students to discuss creating multiple pathways to student learning. The hour-long chat starts at 7:30 PM EST. (Apologies to Singapore and Shanghai. I owe you all breakfast next time I’m in town.) You can join by searching and using the hashtag #TCRWP. I hope to “see” you there. You can also follow me @MisterMinor
For those of you who are in NYC and want to continue the conversation in person, I’m co-leading an inquiry group with the Inclusive Classrooms Project at Teachers College. You can register for free here.
If you are in NYC, school is about to start. If you are in other parts of the world, you are probably 6 periods deep into your 2nd, 7th 0r 12th day of school (Salute, you intrepid pioneers)! I wanted to put together a series of posts to ease you into your first month or so of school. This first topic – Teacher Tech – was inspired, in part, by my colleague, LeAnne from San Francisco.
There are far too many amazing apps, programs, and websites out there to keep up with (Peep my twitter @MisterMinor to stay in the know). All that is compounded with the hundreds of ways to actually use each one! As a result, staying sharp on the latest teaching innovations can begin to feel like a second job.
The arduous nature of that task does not diminish the reality that teachers MUST embrace new technologies. Failure to do so in our classrooms can have a murderously negative impact on your students ability to earn over a lifetime of work. If we believe, as Jefferson did, that public education’s role is to unshackle our nation from poverty, then dismissing technology as an unnecessary frill is treasonous to the profession.
So then, how do we keep up with technology AND the 4,080 other things on our teacher to-do lists? The answer lies in another time-honored American institution:
Child labor. (Wry smile.)
Seriously. Let kids help you. Some of the best professional development that I have had in my life has been facilitated by 13-year-olds. Here is how you should work your tech hustle this year:
Form a SWAT Team (Students Who Assist with Technology). This is who needs to be on it –
- The Enthusiast: this is the kid that is already in love will all things gadgety. Look up from your teaching right now (s)he is probably playing a video game or posting to twitter right now. If properly empowered & outfitted, this kid will save your career.
- The Boss (Bo$$ or Bawse, if you teach 7th grade — It’s a Miami thing.): This is the kid that is in everyone’s business. This kid knows the who, what, when, and where of your classroom better than you do.
- The Early Riser: All of us have that kid that shows up for class at 7:40 even though class does not start until 8:10. This kid has the extra time to do your bidding.
- The Expert: This kid knows everything about something… Cars, Pro Wrestling, Parachutes — whatever. This kid, somewhat organically, has the serious research muscle that you will need.
These kids can do everything for you. Invest 14 minutes a week in your professional learning by working with them…
- Once a week for seven minutes, take two of them. Hand over all you gadgets and ask them to show you something impressive. Then have them coach you as you do it. This is how I learned to code. Seriously.
- Once a week for the remaining seven minutes, tell the other two an app or program you want to learn, have them go away, tinker, and teach you all about it next week.
- You can also have the Early Riser collect digital texts for you (from online or from databases) — (s)he can save them to Google Drive or to Dropbox. The rest of your team can comb through them for formatting, save them into organized folders, and email them out to other students.
Hope this gets you off to a decent start!
Every year, teachers are awarded with a supposed summer of grandeur. Or, if you live in New York City, an 8 week intermission sans students. Most of us continue to brush up on our educational selves, attending some sorts of professional development weeks, going to a few planning sessions with our fellow teachers, or dun dun dunnhhhhh….teaching summer school. I like to think that we are kind of like NBA players, training and doing all kinds of weird sprints on beaches and tours in foreign countries all for the love of the game.
This summer will be the first summer I did not do anything for the love of the game. Zero sand sprints, no ice, no meetings in China with the sports ambassador. I am like Raymond Felton the summer he got fat and the Knicks traded him. Really, aside from a couple of meetings about the teacher rating systems, I checked out of school, and completely checked in to other aspects of my life.
It took seven summers for me to get to a place where I felt okay checking out of Bloomberg Ed policy, deleting my Gotham Schools email, ignoring the new Diane Ravitch blog, and reading novels instead of new curriculum. Basically, I temporarily deactivated my educator self.
For many of us, this is no easy task. Teaching is not just what we do, it is who we are.We eat, breathe, and sleep thinking about our students. They are the topic of our dinner conversation, the subject of our dreams. Watching Breaking Bad on Sundays is never done without some lesson planning accompaniment.
So, what happens when you turn all this off? What part of your self is left?
Good question. After pouring so much of ourselves into our school communities, we often forget to build communities within other parts of our lives. Our individual selves, once molded and guided by our separate and distinct interests are replaced by the desire to give whatever it takes for our students to do well. NYC.gov reports that in NYC, 25% of teachers will quit within the first two years of teaching. All those Saturday field trips, after school tutoring sessions, even materials acquisition alone eat up the other components of our lives that would otherwise make us balanced human beings.
This is why teaching, especially in high need urban schools, has one of the highest burn out rates amongst all careers. The difference between teachers who teach 5+ years and the teachers who teach for two years are many, but namely-the teachers who have any chance at longevity or those who act on a life beyond their students.
For me, this means getting out the sewing machine, calling up old friends, and going to museums with Soleil without thinking about the field trip potential. So, do yourself a favor and dust of the Xbox. Throw that plan book underneath your bed. Clear out your iPad, and relax. Our kiddos will be fine without us, and will be better off with a more balanced human being in front of them when September 9 rolls around.