Posted in In The Classroom

Making This Thing Work

I’m taking the time this summer to work on professional self-growth before starting to teach again in the fall. If I’m honest, I feel like there were some major victories but I also feel like my failures in the classroom out-weighed them all. With my confidence brought low, I feel it’s wiser to work with just one group of younger students until I learn exactly what kind of classroom I want to have.

Now, there are a lot of things for ME to do. Classroom management, curriculum choices… I could drown in all the thinking I need to do to prepare for next fall.

But the truth is, to make this thing work… The parent has some work to do as well.

My biggest struggle was dealing with unmotivated, disruptive learners. If I taught at a public school setting I think I would be more prepared to handle this but it caught me off guard – specially coming not only from homeschoolers (who, because of my bias, I hold to higher standards) but also from older teens that I expected more maturity out of. This was my lesson to learn.

I can’t help but wonder, though, what parents are expecting out of this system. Why are parents homeschooling in the first place? I had some who did so because their children had learning disabilities. I had some who did so because their children were very gifted. Some did so to protect the innocence of their children and others did so because it was a little too late and their child was on the “high way to hell” after their public school experience.

I’m not invalidating any of these reasons at all. I just want to take a moment to empower the parents for a bit – YOU are in charge of homeschooling your family. I know that feels like I’m dumping a burden on you (sorry to bust your bubble but that burden is already there) but I’m saying this to give you the courage and strength to make this work! Part-time classroom learning is meant to be the best of both worlds; distributing the weight of the education evenly between you and educational support, both you and me in partnership with your contact teacher from your charter school program (if any), so that the student gets a great school experience and a great HOME experience.

The HOME experience falls entirely on you. At a minimum, I need parents to state the expectations for homework and enforce them. At most, our children would thrive if you captured our classroom experience and built on it.

We only meet two days a week for one hour and fifteen minutes (per subject). It is not a sufficient year-round school program without homework. Beyond the homework there is so much you can do that only you can do: Read alouds. Field trips. Movies or documentaries. Cooking projects. Interviews. Once your child is home, how well this takes off is up to you!

You are also empowered to request changes to better suit your kids. I will work with a 504 plan or IEP, but I will also work with a parent without one. I’m willing to work with anyone through anything except a bad attitude! So don’t be afraid to take charge. If there’s too much writing, use “talk to text” and type up the homework assignments. Ask if the child can do half the problems if it’s taking them longer than expected to complete at home. Draw instead of write if inspiration hits that way. And if you want your child to do extra credit, assign it yourself! At home, you’re the teacher. That’s what you agreed to do when you decided to homeschool, and that’s what we want to empower you to do!

Posted in In The Classroom

My Report Card

I just finished grades for all of my students. And I asked my older students to grade me in return. After all, this was my first year teaching in this capacity! I want to do the students justice.

I taught Ancient History for kids from 5th through 8th grade. Started the year with 60 students, ended the year with about 55 – many students drop out half way through the year, specially if they do winter sports. My 7th and 8th grade classes together had 30 students strong all year round.

This is what they said:

These were the topics I covered through out the school year. And Australia.

I had fun teaching about the Romans because you can do so much! We did a day in the life of a Roman and really dove in to the different Roman classes… and played Mafia.

And well, for Vikings I dressed up, and we did lap books and Kahoots, so they liked that.

It’s hard to allow for conversations and keep the conversations on-topic. Rabbit trails are a struggle!

Actually, Kahoots was the biggest hit in my class with a 91% approval rate. By the students, at least. I’m not entirely sure the other teachers were happy with the amount of cheering and hollering that happened in this friendly competition. Another thing that had high approval was what I called “laugh therapy”, where I showed a funny video the first 10 minutes of class (helping with transition). My Role-Playing-Game (which I made up all by myself and brought dice and everything, playing out an Ancient Greece scenario), Florence CSI (I borrowed this from Mr. Roughton because I came across it just before teaching about the Renaissance, and it was brilliant!), and Extra History videos were a hit too.

No one hated what they were learning in my class, so I think this was good!

But not everything was roses. I had a lot of disciplinary struggles too. I have a hard time balancing the classroom, and I mentioned some of my thoughts on this “Unsent letter” to the class.

I don’t handle conflict very well and I honestly don’t know what to do with students who don’t want to participate in my class. I work for homeschoolers so the classes are ultimately, completely voluntary. That’s the reason why I don’t work for the public school system. My erroneous expectation was that every student was going to be there, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to learn. I never imagined I’d have students absolutely refusing to cooperate, participate, or heck even stay in the classroom during class hours. And then what do I do? Chase them down? Beg? Threaten? Bribe? How is it my responsibility to make kids care about their grade?

Obviously the kids who struggled with classroom behavior did not complete my report card.

Well, I’m trying not to take that to heart. I’m looking at resources to read over the summer in hopes that it improves next school year. My old biology teacher when I was in High School shared the same frustration with students in a High School HONORS class – and he’s got decades of experience! So if it happens to the best of teachers, I’m sure it happens to teachers like me.

Overall, it was all good notes, and lots of heart-warming comments I’m holding close to the chest. Next school year is bringing a world of changes, but it will all be for the best!

Posted in In The Classroom

An Unsent Letter To My Students

Things I’ve wanted to tell my students, but I bit my tongue instead:

I have never been so amazed at the wonders of God seeing sooo many unique individuals – even among families! Every individual child brings something new to the classroom and is irreplaceable.

A Greek Temple made out of Legos, recreating the scene from Hercules. By an 8th grader.

Your brain works in ways I couldn’t ever predict – and it’s brilliant!

I consider it a privilege to teach the smart kids in my class. I don’t take credit for their intelligence or pat myself on the back when they do a good job. I feel honored to have had their attention and their efforts instead.

I go home and cry when I’m blown off. I take it personally even when I know better! I know that a teacher can only do so much and a student’s behavior is a reflection of their attitude… And yet, I can’t help but beat myself up for not doing better.

If I did my job better would you be a better student?

I despise homework and busy work. I wish my classroom could be a Socratic environment where we all learn from discussion, sitting there talking about big ideas. However, without assignments many might like being in my class was a waste of their time. And they wouldn’t have work samples to turn in to their contact teachers.

Most of the time, I’m just happy you are here! My satisfaction comes from seeing the gears in your head turning as you learn something new.

Some of my 7th Graders

I love how opinionated you are. And passionate. It’s a breath of fresh air to see you have such big thoughts about our world, and it’s welcome in my classroom.

I think you are too young for social media, and trust me – you don’t need that kind of negativity and comparison trap in your life.

I don’t really care how well you read or write. I do care whether or not you put any effort into my class. If you show me you care, you will not fail my class. No way, no how.

I make a lot of mistakes. I have struggled with ADHD and Dyscalculia all of my life. I forget things, confuse things, mix up things quite often. And I freeze under any kind of confrontation. But because I care about you, I stay up often hoping I didn’t let you down.

Some students have to work twice as hard to produce the same results as others.

I hope I made a positive impact in your life some how. That you will move on to High School and then as an adult, remember your middle school years and remember me with good memories.

Posted in In The Classroom

Dress Up is The New Cosplay

Every time our organization does a costume themed day, I always challenge my students to take it one step further and make it a HISTORY day.

6th Grade

That’s right. Cosplay is no longer reserved for geeks at Comicon. I think this is a creative and expressive way to learn material! And in some places it’s the fabric of their culture. In Virginia there are civil war battlefields that do cosplay re-enactments with brilliant actors. In Hawai’i, the Polynesian Cultural Center is basically 80 Islands coming together to cosplay for tourists, using the funds to help foreign exchange students get a college education.

So the first day we had was “Dress Like a Book Character Day” in October, and all my students participated though not all were historical characters (although the T-Rex certainly argued that he was!). I had been teaching a lot about Egypt so I dressed as an Egyptian goddess and so did my daughter, but we never agreed on exactly which one we were dressed as. My oldest son was a Roman soldier and my youngest was a WWII Infantry soldier.

My Oldest, Anakin

Then we had crazy hair day in February. This was a chance to do cosplay only from the neck up. I had the 5th and 6th graders create laurels to wear for Ancient Greek Olympics Day which happened to coincide with Crazy Hair Day. End result is we wore laurels over our crazy hair while playing olympic games (the original pentathlon) and performing puppet Greek Drama.

Funny story: I decided to go “Viking” because that’s what we were learning in our 7-8th grade classes and I did my hair very braided and blonde (I was a brunette at the start of the school year)… And then felt like I couldn’t stop. Maybe I had seen enough of Lagertha on the History Channel to feel all brave and what not, but I decided to see what all I could do with black and gray smokey eye shadow, red lip stain, and my imagination. I did the fiercest warrior face and then completed it with bruising and bleeding because no legit shield maiden would look “pretty” after battle.

Well, can’t say I look a LOT better on regular days…

Problem was I scared a lot of younger students. Poor kids. And some parents were concerned about what kind of institution their kids were going to.

My class had fun with it. The older kids definitely got it.

Next problem was that I was so tired by the end of class I forgot what my face looked like. Ran to McDonald’s to buy something quick to drink, and then decided to be all healthy and ran to Carr’s for ingredients for dinner (instead of making McD’s dinner). I thought I was looked at a little weird by the people at the cash registers, but didn’t even realize what I had done until AFTER I got home, started my instant pot, took a nap, and woke up to a truckload of make up on my pillow.

And all the while, my children giggled hysterically.