Two of our favorite podcasts this year were with Teach for America Executive Director Alex Hales and Talk DISD commenter RetiredTeacher. The biggest thing I took away from both of these interviews are that whether you are pro "reform" or not, there are people, human beings, on both sides that are trying to do what is right for our kids. While, I'm sure that RetiredTeacher wouldn't appreciate sharing a post with Teach for America or Alex Hales, I see them as two sides of the same coin. That coin is caring about children and education in Dallas.
I was inspired by her passion, dedication to our students, and fierce loyalty to teachers. She gave me a run for my money and challenged quite a few things that I believe in. I left the experience richer for it. While I don't agree with her on everything, I consider myself one of many people that listen to and respect what she has to say. The invitation still stands for her to return and I hope she takes me up on it in the new year. Please listen above.
Equally as mysterious, DFW TFA Executive Director Alex Hales prefers to let the work of Teach for America speak for itself rather than being the public face of the organization. A former teacher herself, Alex leads one of the largest pipelines for new teachers in the city. I have great respect for her, and I have learned quite a bit from her over the years.
Dallas Education Podcast - Alex Hales Part 1
Dallas Education Podcast - Alex Hales Part 2
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Top Ten Positive and Negative Moments in Dallas Education 2015
Positive 10. Alex Hales and Retired Teacher
2015 in Dallas education is ending, What now?
I've been grumpy lately about things like principals lying to teachers, students having tough lives, incompetent administrators, etc. All of that stuff is still happening and very real, but there's some very positive and exciting things happening in Dallas ISD specifically and Dallas education generally.
This Thursday in the DISD Board of Trustees meeting, there will be discussions about full day Pre-K, recess for students, and social and emotional health. They are all related and I'm excited that we are now shifting our focus more directly to our students than we have been the past few months.
Full day Pre-K: Great idea. We have a high number of parents with jobs that simply don't allow the flexibility to pick up and stay with their young children all day; furthermore, we have a statistically significant number of young children with children that are young and still have to go to school in the Dallas area. Full day Pre-K allows students to have a safe place to learn and their parents the ability to provide for those children. What happens otherwise? You have kids unattended or taken care of themselves or in the care of a slightly bigger child that also doesn't know what's going on. It doesn't guarantee that one or all of those kids end up damaged in some way, but the probability that things can go wrong is definitely higher when you have a 10 year old picking up and caring for a 4 year old.
Recess for Elementary School: Kids learn through play. PE is not the same as unstructured time for kids to test limits and explore. Kids have to be able to socialize to develop not only their relationships with people, but to strengthen their problem solving and decision making as well.
Social and Emotional Health: There is a need for resources and time specifically dedicated to addressing the mental health of our students. People are generally more volatile at a young age because they are in formation. The above two initiatives are part of establishing a healthy mind early on, but we can't forget our students that have already been through those years and are now paying the price. Mentally healthy students generally do better in the classroom.
Thank you, Dan Micciche, for pushing for ideas that could impact the next decade or more of students coming through DISD. If these pass, I'm sure they'll be right up with with breakfast for our students on your list of accomplishments.
Student Mental Health matter
Making excuses for Dallas Students - When social emotional health talk goes too far
Using the past to fight Social and Emotional Health hurts Dallas students
Crying isn't all doom and gloom. I've cried when my students surpassed my expectations and/or achieved their goals.
I had two girls in one of my classes that spoke almost no English. I spoke to them in broken Spanish most days to try and make sure they were getting most of the content. My bilingual students refused to help them and translate for me and I didn't have an inclusion teachers. This class had more than 30 students and for most of the year, only 29 desks. These two girls, twins, only had a 2nd grade education in Mexico and now they were sitting in my 10th grade history class. Bananas.
The amount of growth they showed over the course of that year was enough to make me burst into tears one night. We were playing a game where they had a description of a world leader on a flashcard and they had to find out who they were then using other people's clues, find out who they were. I was walking around checking on everyone's progress and one of the twins screamed "MISTER" at the top of her lungs. I ran over and she asked if she was John F. Kennedy?
Not only was she right, that was the first time all year she said a sentence completely in English. Even the grammar was correct. I'm lucky class was over about 3 minutes later. I closed my door and just cried. Crazy, happy, sobbing tears. Ever seen someone cry and smile at the same time? Nightmare inducing. I know I looked like a lunatic, but nobody was around so I didn't scare anyone.
DISD ELL Students
Dallas ISD Teacher Frustration Tears
Dallas ISD Teacher Hopelessness Tears
Dallas ISD Teacher Overwhelmed Tears
Sometimes parents are so beat down by the time they get to you that they are ready to rip your head off if you say one negative word about their child. That's not your fault. Some kids are a terror for all of their teachers and have been for years. The parents know that when they get to conferences it's going to be one insult of their kid/parenting after the other. What do I love about Parent teacher conferences? Taking that parent and putting a smile on their face.
Last conference of the night I had a parent come in exhausted, dejected, and angry. He was surprised to learn that his child was not only doing well in my class, but participating and asking questions when he needed help. Apparently I'm the only class he's doing well in and his parent was not expecting to get a good report, especially since all the previous reports were so negative.
He left with a ray of hope and said that while he was planning on taking his child to task for his behavior/performance in the other classes, he was going to praise him for his work in mine. No interaction should be 100% negative. This is often why I'd think the parents that you REALLY need to see don't come, don't take calls, and don't show in interest. Who would want to be told they are a bad parent all the time? Who wants to sit and listen to people tell you that your kid is stupid and ill behaved? Nobody. Even if you have 90% bad things to say, there's something good you can say even if it's "well, she shows up...not every kid does that." Is that good? Not really, but it's a start. We can build from there.
Dallas Parent Teacher Conferences Part 1
It doesn't happen everyday, but sometimes the kids really surprise you.
Yesterday, a teacher came and found me to stay that he ran into a student over the weekend who asked if he knew me. He didn't have this student and the answer was obvious since we teach at the same school, but just in case he also saw me over the weekend, the student wanted that teacher to tell me that she was thankful and thought I was a good teacher.
This student in particular was a huge pain but very smart. I enjoyed having her in class despite all the drama she caused. Does she know if I'm a good teacher or not though? Is her opinion valid? That's a question for the SLO people, but if she enjoyed my class, that's a good place to start. If she learned something, that's even better. If she's still using and building on that knowledge, that's the best outcome I could imagine and what I want for all my students.
That was a great way to end my day yesterday and I'm still riding that positive feeling today. Thanks student, I learned from you too. Even when I wanted you to go away for the rest of the week and was unhappy to see that you would be in class that day.. Especially then, as a matter of fact. You probably taught me way more than I taught you.
Letting students surprise you
When students say the things you need to hear
TEI Student Evaluations
For many who have left DISD, those that have considered it, and/or those that are perpetually dissatisfied often say the same things about why they feel the way. Some complain about the kids. Others about the parents. Many more complain about the administration. You even find a few who weep for the state of education in general.
The common complaint I have heard that, in my opinion, binds all of these teachers together is the feeling that they aren't appreciated by the people that should be thankful for the hard work they put in day in day out. Even amongst the teachers who say things like "I don't need convocation to pump me up. My light bill is my motivation." Still have an idea of how they should be celebrated as teachers.
I invited my content leader into my classroom today to observe what I was doing. Not only did I get quality feedback. He praised me on things I didn't even fully realize I was doing and provided me tips on how to be more effective. What else? A personalized letter thanking me for the invitation complete with praise and ways to polish my instruction. It felt good. It made me want to do better. It made me happy to be a teacher.
Generally speaking I'm not as upbeat and hopeful when it comes to education. I don't quite feel like myself these days. Perhaps I can encourage a kid to fight another kid or throw something during class? Maybe that would recenter me and we can all get back to "normal."
I love it when a plan comes together.
Day 1 is in the books and everything went much better than expected. My best laid plan went off without a hitch and I even got to try a few things I hadn't planned for, but came up with on the fly in response to my students. Will everyday be this way? Probably not, but it's a fine way to start a new year. Couldn't have asked for a better one. Good day? Bad Day? Share out!
Also, why not unwind with a new Dallas education podcast featuring our special guest special guest, Trustee Joyce Foreman? Subscribe on iTunes or follow on Soundcloud so you'll never miss out!
When everything clicks in a DISD classroom
Making time for yourself as a DISD Teacher
Getting better as a DISD Teacher
Positive Dallas ISD Teacher Student Relationships
When students make your day
When Students surprise Teachers
Find your own style as a teacher
We've been focusing on the negative lately, so I want to get positive for a second. Here's a story from my day that made me smile.
“Mister, yesterday I read something in the news-“
“You read the news!?”
“Yeah, there was something about a problem we are having with China…Do you think there will be a World War III?”
“No probably not…I’m so proud of you!”
“You hadn’t heard that huh? You should really read the news more often.”
I love it when a plan comes together, said the wise and crafty John “Hannibal” Smith of The A-Team. Truer words have never been spoken. I’ve been preaching all year the importance of current events and how history flows constantly into the present. This girl got it. She blindsided me with her progress and gave me the energy to get through the day, hell maybe the rest of the year. I’m so happy I could explode. Good for her. Even though it makes me really happy, this shows me that she could really be learning and internalizing some of the things I’ve been trying to teach. I’m happy for her.
"Mister, you look nice today."
"Yeah, because usually you're wearing a sweatshirt and you look homeless."
"You could have left that part out."
"Why? Also, you looked like you've been gaining a lot of weight but you're skinny today."
"I'm real and I'm honest!"
"You sure are..."
Sometimes the kids tell you just what you needed to warm your heart. Then they freeze it and shatter it into a million pieces. Still glad I have them in my life though. Hopefully this crushed soul heals over night.
President Obama had a great call to action in his State of the Union address by advocating for free community college for EVERYONE! The idea of a low to no cost college education is HUGE. I'm not even talking about our national or international competitiveness. The opportunities this presents for our students is AMAZING and maybe college can really become something ALL of our kids start believing is attainable. Something I think is missing. If this is going to work we have to be honest about how our current no cost educational institutions work. We need to look at the shining lights on the hill and the hovels in the valleys of education to really make this bold vision work. If we don't take care, our community colleges will end up just like our public high schools. Click "read more" in the bottom right corner to see what I mean.
In a profession that gets so bogged down by observations, data, paperwork, compliance and meetings, we often forget why we signed up to be a teacher. Every once in awhile we get a thank you note from a student, an improved score, or a great day that reminds us. We do this because of the kids and for the kids. Incase it's a struggle to remember why your here today, check out a video from a DISD HS teacher who clearly remembered to stop and have fun.