I say I'm proud in my head all the time. It's rare that I say it out loud.
When students see growth, that's when the magic happens.
I love hearing teachers reflect positively on their students.
Part of my break was helping a former student set up a baby shower for his girlfriends. My emotions were very mixed.
Every year they ask the same questions when they get back from summer.
It often starts by being honest with myself.
Ever waited until midnight for a parent to pick up their kid?
One afternoon my student that recently had a baby called me and said that she had been kicked out of her home. Eighteen, unemployed, carrying a one month old is not the way you want to spend your summer.
Student homelessness is something that stays hidden and is often overlooked. We had a drop in center set up that was exceedingly helpful for students once they got over the stigma associated with it.
When I got that call, I realized how in the dark I was about services I was aware of to help my student. I didn’t know where she could stay, I didn’t know who could help, I didn’t know how she was going to be able to care for herself and her infant.
Luckily, she had the sister of her child’s father that was willing to take her in temporarily, but it was just that, luck.
How any more of our students are in the same situation but don’t get a helping hand? How many are on the streets and are cold at night? How many are missing meals, showers, and basic human affection? The answer is way too many, but until one of yours comes to you with a problem you aren’t equipped to solve, you don’t realize it.
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DISD Students that want to drop out
DISD Student Mothers
DISD Student Fathers
Taking DISD Home
When DISD Students break down
DISD Students risk not graduating
Top Ten Positive and Negative Moments in Dallas Education 2015
Positive 05: Trustees Stop By Negative 05: Student Mother Kicked Out
Positive 06: Supportive Principal Negative 06: A Bad Spot Observation
Positive 07: Department Chair Respect Negative 07: Principals Lying
Positive 08: DISD Student Has Her Baby Negative 08: Parent thinks their child is stupid
Positive 09: Thanked by a Parent Negative 09: Blamed for a DISD Student Fight
Positive 10. Alex Hales and Retired Teacher Negative 10. Promising DISD Student Gets Pregnant
It's almost time for finals. The students are entering their last weekend before end of semester tests. If they don't know what they need to know now, chances are it isn't going to happen in the limited class time you have with them today. Am I saying do nothing today? Absolutely not.
How about some unstructured review time? Let them each look at whatever it is they feel they need to study and ask you questions as they come up? How about shoing a documentary related to the content and having a discussion about it?
There's no need to burn your students out right before the exam. Ease them into it. They'll appreciate it and will perform better test day.
Give your students a rest
The final push before Dallas ISD Testing Season
Testing Anxiety in Dallas ISD Schools
There's a student I have that just NEEDS to be seen.
He is loud, disruptive, and animated. Very intelligent and capable, but more interested in the social aspect of school than the content.
Sound familiar? If so, it's probably no great surprise that his home life is less than ideal. Tons of family crammed into a small room, not a ton of resources, potentially some addiction, etc. The kid drives me nuts and is a distraction to everyone around him; however, I refuse to do what many of the other teachers and administrators do: make excuses for him.
I don't tolerate late work. I don't allow him to freely disrupt class. I don't let my knowledge of his struggles make me lazy as a teacher.
Yesterday, he really got under my skin by talking during a test. I gave him the standard "talking = a zero" or something to that effect, and that was effective, but it was clear that he was well behaved, but not on the inside. I could see the restlessness under his performance of compliance.
I had him wait after class and walked him to his next one. I told him that I can see him, that we can all sea and hear him. I told him I think he is smart and important. Sounds a little like that famous scene from The Help, but it's not Hollywood embellishment, telling kids they have value makes a difference, especially when home life isn't stable.
He seemed to really appreciate it and took me up on the offer to talk out some of what's burdening him. This was just in a 5 minute walk to class. He asked for a follow up and I told him my door was always open.
You have to care for the child and the student, not just one or the other.
Why Dallas Student Emotions Matter
Helping Dallas students understand their actions
Dallas student discipline from petty teachers
When Dallas Students Don't Listen
Why "Back in my day" Hurts Dallas Education
The diagnosis, respect, and compassion toward mental health is not the same today as it was even 10-15 years ago. As teachers, sometimes our instinct is to assume students claiming mental distress are being lazy are lying. Sure, that happens, but we and our students would be better served if we listened more than we ignored.
I've confessed here that for most of my life I thought testing anxiety was made up and never really heard about it. Part of that is due to the acknowledgement of it being a relatively new thing, but, as someone who experiences anxiety daily and has had panic attacks before, the problem was more me refusing to connect my personal life with school and my students.
Let me break it down. I semi regularly talk to a New York based psychologist (not as a patient) about the human mind and she has helped me clear up a good deal of my unorganized thoughts about human behavior and the influences on it. Brilliant woman. Anxiety has triggers. While not exactly like PTSD, it can happen anywhere at any time to varying degrees of severity.
The first time a student told me they weren't "good at tests," my knee jerk reaction was to tell them they were wrong and that they needed to just believe in themselves. What a cop out of an answer. One of my best lazy teacher canned response moments. Embarrassing.
She presumably tried my horrible suggestions, but still failed. Here's where the tears started. I asked her to step outside and talked with her. This student, boasting a solid A in my class and many of her others, explained how she felt on test days. She said her stomach hurt and her heart raced. When she saw the test, she started sweat and envision a big red 63 her paper. Why that number? No idea, but it was real to her and she could see it. Before even picking up the pencil she knew she would fail and often she would.
Why? She knew the stuff. I watched her know it every single day. She sat front and center, she took notes, she participated, and she completed all her work on time, but she would fail every test.
When she described her experience on test days, it resonated with me. I don't have a fear of tests, but I do have a complicated relationship with illness and my own mortality. This is something that anxiety free people have a hard time understanding.
I experience anxiety at night most severely. Have you ever been 100% positive you were going to die? Not in the future, but before Christmas? I've been convinced with absolute certainty that I had cancer, West Nile Virus, SARS, Swine Flu, Strep Throat, and several other rare and hard to pronounce ailments. I claw at my own throat while I'm awake and apparently while I sleep to feel for inconsistencies in my glands that weren't there yesterday. Many nights I have a hard time sleeping or staying asleep and on rare occasions it's been extreme enough that I thought I was having a heart attack and went to the emergency room. At times, I've resigned myself to being a functioning lunatic.
Anxiety is like having a poorly trained talking bear in your bed. It never sleeps and always tells you what you're afraid of. When you go out into your daily life it follows you. You can SOMETIMES get it to calm down and reason with it. "This test will go alright because I studied." "Men in their mid 20s don't get osteoporosis." No matter what the mantra or how crazy your fears are, sometimes you can't make them go away and they overtake you, crippling you.
That's what I imagine my student experienced on test days. It wasn't until I saw myself in her shoes that I began to understand and was able to talk her through it. Not completely, but to the point where she could show everyone else the brilliance I see on a daily basis. She passed her ACP. What's most important is that, for even a moment, she was able to succeed in spite of her fears.
Dallas Student Testing Anxiety
Why Dallas Student Emotions Matter
Why "Back in my day" Hurts Dallas Education
I've had no shortage of aspiring musicians in my classes. I've had even more that have been interested enough in forming a bond with me that they share their music and ask me to listen.
Regardless of what generation you grew up on or what your music preferences are, there's value in being curious enough to take a listen.
The kids don't need you to like their music, but they do want you to have an opinion. Tell them it's not for you. Tell them you don't like it. Offer them a song in return. They love musical trades. This is also a great way to solve a common problem among many teachers, headphones in class.
We all know the policy. We all know it drives us nuts. The kids love to try and sneak an earbud in every now and again, but a great way to avoid escalating something small into a huge deal that involves security and admins is to ask to listen to what they're listening to, give an opinion, then tell them to put it away until all the work is completed. I've found that I get much more positive and compliant responses to that than walking up and yanking things out of their ears.
It takes the same amount of time, but it has a very different tone.
Eat student food
Not everyone on campus does things exactly the way we want. Earlier today I talked about know nothing admins that cause extra work and frustration to teachers. So while it's true that many of us in the classroom have an idea of how we think admins should be doing their jobs, most of us KNOW how kids should be doing their job (learning).
I've seen teachers burst into tears talking about their students' achievement. Whether it's low test scores, their daily progress, engagement in class activities, or even the prediction of future failures, when our kids aren't doing well, neither are we. Most teachers want so badly for their students to grasp the material, perform well on assessments, and achieve some measure of success in the future.
The reality many of us face is watching kids fail to meet our expectations every single day. Not all of them, but the few that chronically under perform are the ones that distract and monopolize your attention and emotions. Those are the ones that keep you up at night trying to figure out how to help them. You plan lessons, you bring food, you have one on one conversations, you call the parents, you talk to the coach, and none of that helps. The kid doesn't want it. You start to feel like giving up on that kid. You start to getting angry at that kid for not seeing things the way you do and sharing your perspective and priorities. You start to wish ill on that kid. You start to feel like all of your students are just like this one and nothing will ever change or get better.
Once that spin starts, it gets faster and faster until BOOM: water works.
When you realize you've lost hope that hurts. Not just because you're sad for that kid, but because you realized that you've done something you got into this line of work to fight against, giving up on a child.
DISD Teacher Frustration Tears
Giving up on Dallas ISD students
Hush child, yes you are.
Sometimes my kids from my first year text me for attention and reassurance, this wasn't quite one of those times. One of my teen moms has had a challenging last few months. She just had a baby so obviously it's not going to be easy for her being a mom and a student, but here's the problem. The schedule at her school has changed and is starting earlier than it had in the past. She was having trouble getting to school on time because she had to wait for someone to come take care of her child during the day so she could continue her education.
A few texts from me to the powers that be over there helped get it all sorted out, but the bigger problem is that she is still having trouble advocating for herself. I'm no longer there and I can't be as helpful as I used to be. Instead of dropping everything and going over there on a planning period, I told her who on campus to seek out to explain her situation and ask how this can be resolved in a way where she could graduate without having so many tardies and absences that it becomes impossible.
Of course I let all those people know in advance that she would be coming by and what her situation was, but she didn't know that and she did the heavy lifting herself. She's the one who took charge and created a more workable situation for herself. I'm proud of her. I'm excited that she still hasn't strayed from the college path she has created for herself. I get nervous sometimes, but I can't way to see her achieve her goals for her and her new child.
DISD Students that want to drop out
DISD Student Mothers
DISD Student Fathers
Taking DISD Home
When DISD Students break down
Coming off a sick day and finally finished grading papers, so I'm a bit off balance.
While I was recovering I got a text from a student I had my first year teaching. She said that she didn't want to go to college anymore because she was "scared" and "tired of all these kids that are trying to go to the same place." There's a few things right away that I explained to her that hopefully helped her realize that those reasons, while valid, are not worth avoiding college.
First, fear is natural. When you are the first person in your family to go to college, there aren't as many people that are close to you who can tell you that everything be OK from a place of knowledge. There aren't as many people that can give you a realistic picture because they haven't experienced it so college seems like the great unknown. This isn't me trying to hop inside the mind of someone who is a first generation college student, these are the thoughts that she expressed as a result of our conversation. That process in itself, the process of helping her talk out her feelings, is something she appreciated.
Second, deciding to go or avoid college for other people is, generally speaking, a bad idea. I explained that the college she has been looking forward to attending is much bigger than high school. I told her she didn't have to see and hang out with anyone she didn't want to and that her future and learning were much more important that a few people from high school. The opportunities are worth the risk of running into someone she's not a fan of.
The last thing I offered to do was connect her with college graduates that can answer her questions and concerns about college to make it scary. Not just black females like herself, but graduates of all backgrounds so that she could get multiple perspectives on what her future may look like. She demanded that I follow through with that offer, and I have. Let's see if that makes a difference.
I've never been so angry and proud of a student at the same time.
I've talked about my frustration with grading essays. They take a long time, I struggle with how much to put, and they are generally a pain when they aren't that good. Are they supposed to be? Not necessarily. They are learning. I get that. It doesn't make them any more enjoyable to read for all of my limited free time at night/during the day.
They got done and passed back. One kid came to me and asked for more detail. "Go away," I thought to myself and no doubt displayed on my face. Is this kid serious? He got the check marks, he received an A because it actually wasn't so bad and according to the rubric, he earned his 90. Why is he bothering me?
The kid said he wanted more detail because he didn't understand why he didn't get 100. Instead of blowing him off and saying "because nobody is perfect," I took my general grumpiness to the paper with a marker and gave him the feedback he wanted. More than that, I gave him the feedback he deserved. He eagerly took it and asked if I'd be open to reading a revision.
OF COURSE! His effort disarmed me. Yes, he's making more work for me, but he's improving himself which makes me proud. What makes me even more excited is that he had a goal, advocated for himself, and is now putting in the work to achieve that goal. Good for you annoying but driven child. Don't stop being you. I'm annoyed because of me not because of you. You're doing everything right. I was getting angry at positive behavior because of adult selfishness.
The first six weeks has been gone for sometime now and report cards have been handed back. Monday, many campuses had their parent teacher conferences in DISD. When the parents actually show up, it can be a great opportunity to not only share what their child is doing, but also hear their aspirations for their kids. It's great when they have well developed visions of their students' futures. It's heart warming to hear that they "just want them to be happy." Sometimes it's just heart breaking.
There's one parent that comes to mind from this year's conferences that was positive their child wasn't smart. "Academics aren't his thing." "Sometimes I just don't think his brain works." "He doesn't get a lot of things."
Now I get it. Now I see why this child is so down on himself when he makes small mistakes. He isn't believed in by one of the people he loves and trusts the most. What I explained to that parent was that there is a difference between not being able to identify the most important information from a reading and not being smart. His grades show that he's improving. I'm proud of him and so should both her and her student be. She left relieved. That's a good thing to see in a parent. It should be a positive experience, not negative.
Yesterday was a blast. I spent all day wishing Monday wouldn't come, squeezing every last ounce of weekend out of the one day I had. Part of yesterday was spent doing "homework." Work in preparation for an extracurricular event this weekend, work in preparation for my students the coming Monday, and grading that I didn't finish last Friday that is adding to my overall workload. I wanted to blow it all off and watch football. Last night was The Walking Dead season premiere, so obviously I couldn't work through that right? I wondered out loud if my principal would accept "mister this is too much" as a reason why I wouldn't be ready to teach today. Probably not.
I woke up this morning and realized we'd have a special guest coming and talking to all of our classes. Not only does that give me a small reprieve from work, but I get to sit and learn just like my students. Yes, I stayed up and finished what I needed to get done, but now I'm so tired I don't even feel like teaching. I know it's important and I know my kids depend on me. That's why I came to work. I just happened to get lucky today. Now I get to learn too.
An article I was reading in Mother Jones got me thinking about my day. The claim "I don't test well" isn't something I heard until I started teaching. I remember growing up and tests being an accepted part of my school routine; however, I do understand that the number of tests students are required to take has exploded in the past few years, especially when you compare urban and suburban schools. Some places, the numbers can be as extreme as urban students (9-12) taking well over 200% more standardized tests compared to their suburban peers.
Here's my question: With social emotional health becoming a more popular topic, how do I respond to testing anxiety?
For example, today I had a child ask if he could take today's test tomorrow or next week because he had been absent and didn't study as well as he would have liked. He felt unprepared and afraid of doing poorly on the test. I made him take it. I told him I understood not feeling prepared and know he missed a day, but I also explained that the test is the culmination of the last 3 weeks, that he knew the test would be today in advance, and that he had access to pre-recorded lectures from me + a study guide before he was absent. The summary? If he's not prepared, it's on him because he has had every opportunity to be. How did it go? He did well.
Last year I had a girl that would say that she hated tests and didn't test well. She would regularly perform well below her potential on our in class assessments. I continued to positively reinforce that I thought she was smart and all of her classwork proved that she knew the material on the test. She passed her ACP.
What is the right move then? Is their success based on being told they can do it and to deal with it because tests are a part of life, or is the proper response to remove tests because they cause undue stress on the students? I routinely go with the former, but with the opt out movement still going strong, should I allow my kids to say "no" or demand alternative assignments? A question for the education philosophers I suppose.
Student Emotions Matter
Grading Dallas Students on Mastery
Is Standardized Testing in DISD Schools Hurting DISD Students
Social and Emotional Health in Dallas Schools
Students Opt Out - Mother Jones
I got to listen to a teacher take a kid to the cleaners in a one on one discussion about a paper this morning. It was unreal.
The kid is sitting there with that dead look they get in their eyes sometimes while she is asking him why, despite the explicit instructions, did he write the one paragraph the instructions said not to write. I could tell both of them were deep in confusion about the entire thing.
Understanding why students get things wrong or don't follow instructions is something that, if it could be figured out completely, would make someone a billionaire. Frustration runs high in those situations. You get upset and feel like you clearly explained everything. When that's how you feel, it almost seems like the kid is doing it on purpose just to mess with you. It helps to keep in mind that, in addition to any mental or psychological things the kid might be dealing with, that they have 5+ classes other than yours. You get to focus on one subject and they have to split their attention between all of those and whatever they do outside of school.
Is that an excuse? No. I agree they should be responsible for their work and effort, but they are also kids and kids mess up. They're entitled to that just like we're entitled to being unhappy when they do. I liked that she was asking why instead of laying into the kid with the "I can't believe you could do something so stupid" talk.
Are Dallas Students responsible for their own learning
Ask why Dallas students make mistakes
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
Get ready for some scientific talk. What may be nonsense jargon to some is fact for others. The Momentous Institute does quite a bit of research and training around turning this science into more effective teaching practices and relationships. Maybe there's some truth to it. I know a few that swear by using science to help their kids.
Earlier today, I wrote about social and emotional health in Dallas students, specifically how I've tried to address it in my classroom. Kids that are hungry, tired, emotionally distressed, or mentally unhealthy don't come to class prepared to learn compared to their peers who don't fall into those descriptions. Why should we concern ourselves with that instead of just focusing on our content and the tests?
TEACHERS AREN'T THERAPISTS. They shouldn't be expected to be. What teachers can do is be part of the solution process though. We can mitigate the damage that is done elsewhere even if it's just a little bit.
***Now for the science***
Research shows that our brains are wired for social connection. We're creatures of feeling rather that thinking. Emotion rather than cold rationality. Studies have proven that physical pain and social rejection activate the same part of the brain. The prefrontal lobe, where planning and problem solving come from, are less active when we experience social rejection. It does double duty between emotional response and decision making. If this is true, which it seems to be, I can understand how constant negative emotional stimulus can begin and sustain a slippery slope to academic failure.
The bright side is that, while we experience negativity more frequently, we also rebound from negative emotions quicker as well. If that is scientifically supported, that also means that a single positive interaction could turn around a kid that is used to negativity and experiences it all day everyday.
How can we help? Stop shaming kids. Sometimes our sarcasm, preferential treatment, and even banishment of kids have a severe impact on their academic success. We help them become the embodiment of everything we think a student shouldn't be. Then it becomes a cycle of walk in, get into it, kick the kid out that some teachers never break the whole year. I know I had a student or two I loved when they were absent or sent to the library more times that probably made sense. The class was better without them, but that hurt them. Are we called to do the most for the highest number of kids or help every student that crosses our threshold? I believe it is the latter, but the former strikes me as the most realistic. I'm working on it.
Dallas Teacher Sarcasm
Dallas Student Social and Emotional Health
According to the CDC, roughly 20% of kids experience some kind of emotional or behavioral "event" in a given year. This could range anywhere from anxiety to full blown depression. Yes, this is vague, and being that it is a national average, we can also assume some variance in validity as you go from affluent suburbs where mental health may be more closely monitored and reported to a less wealthy urban district where behavior may be more likely to be reported sans explanation or investigation.
Regardless of the integrity of the 20% figure, it does show that many young people have needs that aren't being met in terms of their mental health. How does this play out in the classroom? You don't need a doctorate to see that kids with a chaotic internal life often times struggle in the classroom. We all see it. Why? Kids are less likely to take risks or even try when they don't feel confident, safe, and capable.
How can we make our classrooms those places? It's not the decorations. Sure, those may help some kids, but it's about letting kids know it's ok to mess up but not ok to keep messing up. Instead of throwing that zero on them, ask why they haven't done their work and talk through some strategies for dealing with the hardships in their life. If they still don't, THEN throw the zero on them. Kids crave structure and consequences too.
I'm no Cesar Milan. I don't have all the answers. The veterans on my campus told me to talk to my students and not take things personal. That's what I did. That's what I do. That's showing results for me. Now, there are some that won't improve no matter what, but the other piece of advice I received is to control what I can control. I never give up on any of them, but some just can't have all my attention. It's not fair to the rest of the class and it's not fair to that child to think they can always have 100% of the attention of someone else.
Yesterday I sprung a quiz on them. There was much wailing and rending of clothes over an unexpected quiz over a reading they should have done anyway. We were all yelling, laughing, preparing for the quiz, talking football, etc. This is the first five minutes of class and I tend to enjoy a bit of ordered chaos. Then in walks my principal. Smiles are on faces, except his of course.
Here's the problem. Our fun was disrupting everyone around us. It was my fault. I got us all in trouble. They looked like they just got yelled at. They didn't, my principal was nothing but professional. He didn't reprimand me in front of the kids or "usurp my authority" or anything like that; however, he did remind all of us that we weren't the only ones in the school and that we could be heard down the hall.
Fair. Sorry class. Sorry other teachers. I apologize for being disruptive. I don't apologize for the enjoyment of the students though, just to be clear.