I’ve talked about the downsides of teen pregnancy and how upset I become when yet another one of my students announces their pregnancy. Whenever you hear “the 3 of us are sharing prenatal vitamins because those two are afraid to go to the clinic because they don’t want to get in trouble,” it’s hard to be excited about the new babies; however, once the baby of my most promising student, the one I talk about more than any other, had her baby, I felt at peace.
I don’t have children of my own (thank goodness) so I don’t know the feeling of seeing the birth of a child. Thankfully the kids these days put everything on social media so it wasn’t long before I saw the new baby. I was proud of her. I was excited for her. In that moment, all the doom and gloom I saw in her future didn’t exist. She did something magical, something I’ll never be able to do. She grew a life and delivered it safely into our world.
Did I become grumpy and pessimistic later? Absolutely, but the kid is adorable, she’s doing the best she can, and they’re both healthy. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
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Compounding Dallas Student Problems
2015 in Dallas education is ending, What now?
Top Ten Positive and Negative Moments in Dallas Education 2015
Positive 08: DISD Student Has Her Baby
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
Mental Health may as well be magic or wizardry to most people. As much science and evidence that's out there about the reality and importance of the human mind, we stilldon't take itseriously. Even when something terriblehappens, we tend to genralize and treat thsoe people as outliers, call them crazy, and move on without doing anything different.
Mental Health Week is an opportunity to realize that the mind matters. As it relates to education,it can be the difference between an A and and F for students. It can be the difference between a teacher that makes a true change in a students life and a teacher that shows up with liquor in their coffee. You have to takecare of your students and take care of yourself.
Mental Health Matters.
Student Mental Health:
Empathizing with Dallas Student Anxiety
Dallas Student Testing Anxiety
Why Dallas Student Emotions Matter
Rethink Dallas Student Failure
Rethink what success means for the benefit of Dallas students
Dallas Student Social and Emotional Health
Stop making excuses for Dallas Student Behavior
When DISD Students Breakdown
Why "Back in my day" Hurts Dallas Education
Keeping Secrets for DISD Students
Teacher Mental Health:
It's OK for DISD Teachers to Cry
DISD Teacher Tears Joy
DISD Teacher Tears Overwhelmed
DISD Teacher Tears Hopelessness
DISD Teacher Tears Frustration
Giving up on your students
Shake off those long teacher nights
Taking school home
Make time for yourself
Waking up and Dragging in
New Teacher Trashcan
In case you missed it:
DISD and Dallas Education Rundown - December Week 2
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The Dallas Education Blog Store
It's World AIDS Day and this is a golden opportunity to talk with your students about something that impacts all of our communities.
In Dallas in 2013 there were almost 800 new HIV infections and nearly 16,000 people living with the virus. Of those new infections, nearly 200 were between 13 and 24. That means high school students.
The first time one of my students a story of their cousin dying from AIDS related complications, it was shocking. Recently, my father also told me a story about a childhood friend that died in the 80s when HIV/AIDS were just beginning to be researched and understood. I understand there are some prohibitions in the Texas state laws that prohibit a full and complete discussion of HIV/AIDS and its prevention, but it is still an important discussion. Stick to the facts and you should still have a job by dinner time.
Creative ways I've seen it done?
1. Biology - A few biology teachers took a solution and gave it to every student. Each student would take a drop of their solution and put it in another student's solution. At the end of class they would introduce another substance to everyone's solution and the ones that changed color were considered infected. Using an interactive way to view transmission could have a long lasting impact on the students.
2. Math - Looking at the numbers can be very sobering. You can take the transmission rates and calculate the number of new infections based on certain behaviors in a given population. IV drug users, for example have a higher transmission rate than people that don't inject drugs and practice abstinence.
3. Social Studies - Unpack the history. If you need it, World History TEKS dealing with the spread of infectious disease include but aren't limited to: 1A 1D 1E 6B 28B. I read a few articles over the year that attempt to trace the virus back to the Belgian controlled Congo during the reign of King Leopold II. The relationship between imperialism, industrialization, and the spread of disease is interesting in and of itself, but using this as an opportunity to debunk some of the myths surrounding the virus can also be helpful for your students.
The reality is that there is no cure, it's spread by certain bodily fluids, and it disproportionately impacts men who have sex with men and the black community but exists in all communities. Sometimes there are no symptoms and many people that are infected have no idea. Talking about it is the first step to preventing new infections. You don't have to tell your kids to get tested, and you don't have to tell them to use contraception; however, many of our kids are sexually active and don't know how their bodies work. I known plenty of kids over the years that think holding a baby makes you more fertile or that condoms are reusable. With that kind of nonsense clanging around in their heads, I'd say a little knowledge would go a long way.
Do what you feel comfortable with, but conversations like this are where teachers really can save lives.
HIV/AIDS Statistics in Dallas (2013)
HIV/AIDS Myths Debunked - CNN
Connection between Belgian Imperialism and HIV/AIDS - Dr. Lawrence Brown
Dallas Teachers talking about Paris Terrorist Attacks
Dallas Teachers talking about 9/11
Talking about civil rights and social movements in Dallas schools
These are words you shouldn't and don't have to say to a student EVER.
Yesterday we talked about Dallas teachers crying. It happens because we are emotionally invested in our work and our kids. Many have a less than ideal an sometimes chaotic homelife and school is one of the only things that provides a sense of stability and safety. The challenging side of that is when relationships grow strong enough between teacher and student, they start to unload things on you that you just aren't qualified or capable of dealing with.
When I was a first year teacher, I saw one of my favorite students get attacked by her boyfriend. He walked into her classroom and started to choke and throw her around. I got invovled and got them separated. I talked to an administrator and her mother. The follow up conversation with the student was where it gets tricky. She wanted to break down the whole history of why things are this way. From domestic abuse to pregnancy to low self esteem, she shared it all. That same week another student told me about her pregnancy her 8th grade year and how that was causing problems between her and her family. She asked me not to tell anyone and I told her that I couldn't make that promise because some of the things she was telling me I had to let someone more qalified handle.
I put them in touch with an admin, school psychologist, CPS, and the nurse. Why? Because some of these problems are above me.
Whenever my teacher friends tell me things like "my student said their boyfriend/dad/brother is beating them up at night" I always tell them the same thing, "tell an admin immediately." Yes, that seems extreme, but the handbook pretty much tells you to go further than that and call CPS.
The usual response is something along the lines of "I don't want to betray their trust, I told them I wouldn't tell. That would ruin our relationship."
Well good luck. You're going to jail. Enjoy that.
Here are the problems with that logic:
1. You're already telling by talking to me about it, so the "betrayal" already happened. I just can't do anything to help.
2. You don't actually need a relationship with a child, especially one that you aren't related to.
3. It's better for them to be safe and angry than dead.
These are conversations you don't imagine yourself having when you decide to teach. I never thought I'd have to tell other teachers "you need to call someone in case that child gets murdered tonight." Turns out that's teaching. Sometimes it seems like the SMALLEST part of the job is instruction and content.
Be a shoulder to cry on. Be an ear to listen. The most important thing you need to be, however, is an adult. Put their safety first no matter what. They'll thank you when they keep living. Maybe not, but you'll thank you. Sometimes that's worth it.
DISD Student safety
DISD Student Violence
When DISD Students Breakdown
Dallas Student Emotional Health
The seasons are changing and kids are starting to leak various fluids all over the classroom. That's one of those things people overlook about high school, the exposure to anything and everything that comes out of kids noses and mouths. They like to touch everything. Some of them don't have all their shots. Last year, I even had a kid out with worms.
I took Monday off because of illness and about last period yesterday I lost my voice. Those kids sure were lucky too because they bombed their quiz and would have been in for quite a lecturing. Instead, we used one of the lectures I prerecorded and some guided notes.
Today is a different challenge because I'm starting with no voice. Perhaps the time to get some reading practice has finally come? Stay tuned, it's time to get creative. Maybe I'll just type everything I want to say on the smart board.
Dallas Students and Teachers are always sick
Struggling as a teacher
Long Nights in Dallas education
Teacher sickness in the summer
My dog threw up at about 3am.
Those fo you with pets know that sound they make when they're about to vomit. It's disgusting and more than enough to bring you out of a light sleep, especially if you only went down about an hour before. Then you have to get up and clean in the early hours of the morning and after that going back to sleep is more of a dream than what you were having before you woke up.
Here's the thing, I wasn't even up late doing work. Ever have one of those days where your thoughts keep you awake? Lessons didn't go well, kids aren't learning what they need to know, you're angry. I should have tried to be productive but both before and after my dog incident, I was so angry at not being asleep it was my sole focus.
Teachers stroll into work across the city every day falling down from lack of sleep. Stop it. There's no reward for your suffering and it's not better for the kids to have a half dead teacher with an awesome worksheet nodding off at their desk or so hopped up on coffee that they're reacting violently to tiny sounds nobody else hears. Take care of you so you can take care of the kids. If you're pulling all nighters every day of the week, something is wrong. If you disagree, come on the show and we can debate it out.
That goes double the hungover teachers out there. The kids know and so do your coworkers.
Dallas education can't thrive without rested and ready educators. If sleep is important for our students, it's important for you 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
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.
I was planning to throw this on the blog Friday, but I figured that'd be cheating. Why? The weekend is when I consume the MOST calories. I figured I'd weigh in every Monday morning and let everyone know how it's going. If I weigh in after every weekend, I think that will help me stay on track. How'd I do? Minus 3lbs! I don't look any different. I FEEL like I gained weight because I put on a pair of pants this morning that was tight 15lbs ago, but the scale don't lie.
Also, I ate a coffee mug full of cookie dough last night watching the Cowboys/Eagles game. Yes, I said that right. No I didn't mean to say cookie dough ICE CREAM. It was straight up cookie dough. Yes, I know. I need to not do that if i'm on a diet. Baby steps.
Teacherbesity score card:
Week 1: -3
I was one of these kids. Any of my morning teachers from high school will tell you that I was the one sleeping by the window. They kind of left me alone because I completed all my work on time, but my grades were suffering because I was never awake. I had a long commute and bad sleep habits. This combined with a subject or two that weren't my favorite bought me a one way ticket on the dreamland express every single day.
What changed for me? My teachers talked to me. They asked me why I was so tired. They took that information to help me find better ways to be successful in my classes other thank "wake up or fail you stupid kid." It made a difference.
I notice tired kids in my class and I've tried to follow the example my teachers set for me. I keep a box of play-doh and stress balls in the back so my students can help themselves stay awake by keeping their hands busy and I also allow them to stand if they are really struggling. I also explained up front the importance of staying awake and shared my own story as a student. It's working for most of them.
The extreme example - I have a few kids working themselves so hard they aren't sleeping. Kids pull all nighters 3 weeks into school. Some of it is being assigned a lot of work in several classes, but the other part is not understanding how to prioritize their work and complete it efficiently. We've talked through that. I've also helped my kids figure out the best way to bring this up to their teachers. I'm helping my kids advocate for themselves.
I'm already seeing the positive changes in my classroom, but more important than that is the health of my students. I'm not making class any easier and neither are their other classes, but they are becoming better students and are happier for it. They are learning to manage and talk about their stress.
There are a pair of editorials retweeted by Sharon Grigsby from the past week or so about needing to relax and put less pressure on our students. I get it. Testing, grades, numbers, data, extracurricular activities, and everything in between are huge concerns for our students. The testimonial comes from a Southlake columnist and has quite a few persuasive arguments.
As adults we forget that we've made mistakes and are hard on kids because we wish we were harder on ourselves. We want to try and prevent the missteps we made growing up. Here's the problem and the main, most persuasive, argument against both of these articles: The world won't go easy. Life is hard and it won't get easier by doing and demanding less. Going easy on our kids by giving them fewer chores, encouraging them to do fewer activities, and downplaying the importance of grades and scores may be a short term way of easing stress, but we have to make sure we don't sacrifice the future of our students in favor making them smile a little more in their formative years.
The use of stress related suicide in Palo Alto, CA as an example of where it can all go wrong is heart wrenching, but I think it hides the real core of the issue. The dichotomy isn't between pressure and being completely lax on our kids. The problem is that we don't talk to our students. This is all very adult focused.
We need to help our kids understand how to manage stress and responsibilities. How many times have you had more bills than money so you picked one to let roll over to the next check when you could afford it? Our kids need help seeing the big picture. How do GPA and grading categories work? Which extracurricular activities to colleges actually care about / how do you make your passion marketable? When is it ok to let a few activities go and how do you do that? Why is deciding to focus on one activity isn't the same as being a quitter?
Yes, admitting you were young and made mistakes is a good first step, but it can't stop there. Let them breathe but don't let them fail themselves. It would also be helpful to help them figure out for themselves what success really means.
Talking to Dallas Students
Breaking down cheating in Dallas Schools
DMN Let kids breathe
Gillian Barth - Take it easy on kids
Last night, I sat awake in my bed thinking about my students who refused to work on their project. They understood the instructions, the asked questions, and they still did nothing. In a class of 30, I had several other groups to check in on so I couldn't sit there and force them to work. How could I have gotten them engaged? This is the question that kept me up. It's not always the non workers. Sometimes it's the "good kids." Other times it's the struggling students. It could be any group of students that keeps my mind active while I'm resting, but the point is, I'm always thinking about my students. The best advice I got from a veteran teacher my first year was "don't take this shit home with you, it'll drive you crazy." They were right, but when you're a young, energetic teacher that dove in head first, that's a lot to ask. Carve time out for yourself and just escape. There are nights where the students wake you up at 3am by weighing heavily on your heart and soul. If you let the students of yesterday steal your rest, the students of tomorrow will suffer for it, especially if they are the same student. Leave the day's negativity in the parking lot on your way our and remember that every day is a new day.
Yesterday, I was not enjoying my morning. I woke up ready to turn in my gun and my badge and leave my classroom all together. Some days you just wake up not in the mood. That's not specific to teachers, but any job out there. I gave myself the pep talk and let all 25 of you reading this watch me do it. Let me tell you, it paid off. I had a great day like I hoped I would. Why? More after the jump.
The Dallas Morning News - A woman returned to her Dallas home Monday morning and found the baby girl she was caring for had been drowned and her 14-year-old daughter was in police custody.
The drowning was reported about 6 a.m. at the Rosemont at Hickory Trace apartments on South Westmoreland Road in Red Bird.
The 2-month-old, Justice Hull, was dead when police and paramedics arrived, police Maj. Rob Sherwin said. She would have been 3 months old Wednesday...“There’s very little doubt that this investigation has revealed that this is an intentional act,” Sherwin said.
Terrible tragedies like these are incredibly difficult to stomach. Why did it happen? How could this have been avoided? We may never know the answers.
Ensuring these tragedies don't happen again must be our priority going forward. Increasingly younger kids are being left in control of young siblings and relatives without any experience or training. How can we prepare our young care givers and parents?
One option is to include proper childcare as a more prominent part of health class for all of our students and a supplementary class for young and expecting student parents. Students should be equipped with emergency supplies and plans as well as frustration management techniques to help our students become capable and trustworthy caregivers.
I'm going to leave the guilt or innocence of this teen up to the jury, but blame lies also with the circumstances surrounding this tragedy which created the conditions that made it possible in the first place.