Day 30: No Fear! @teachthought #reflectiveteacher #reflectiveteaching

Day 30

What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

I am having a tough time answering this question because it makes the assumption that all teachers are afraid. I had a wonderful discourse with my American Literature students a few years ago. I proposed the theory that everything we do as human beings is out of fear; that all decisions we make can be traced to a fear of something. It was a wonderful argument that left several students disliking me for the remainder of the semester.

I am playing devil’s advocate here because I suppose one could argue that everyone is afraid of something, but I do not like being told that I am afraid without justification.

So what am I afraid of as a teacher? Obviously, my greatest fear is losing my job. However, based on past experiences, that isn’t even true. You would think that my fear of getting fired would override all other instincts, and if I were a logical, reasonable person, I suppose it would. But it doesn’t.

My biggest fear is losing myself in my job. What I mean by that is that I don’t ever want to become an automaton of the system that I am in. I do not want to lose my perspective because I fear losing my job and therefore am willing to give up my core beliefs. For the most part, this hasn’t happened in my teaching experience, but I read about it happening all the time in other schools. I would give up my job rather than give up my core principals.

With that said then, it is hard for me to pinpoint something I want to do as a teacher that I am afraid to do right now. Maybe I’ve conquered my fear. Maybe I just do not want to admit that I am afraid. Maybe I’m just too stupid to realize that I should be afraid. Whatever the case may be, I take risks in my classroom. I speak out when I feel that there need to be changes made. I never want to let my fear of losing my job or getting in trouble outweigh my personal ethics and values.

I think I get too into teaching Emerson and Thoreau and I start to take their essays to heart.

But here is one that my siblings talk about (they are also teachers)…. having one day of amnesty when teachers can tell all students exactly how they feel about them. That would make for an interesting school day. So I guess I could say that I do fear hurting my student’s feelings. I don’t want to be that teacher they remember ten years from now who made them miserable. I’m not sure how that fear makes me a better or worse teacher, but it does play into the equation.

Addendum… I want to thank the powers that be for giving me the prompt to write all of these blog posts this month. Very empowering and enriching.

I also want to add that since I graduated from college, I have been thinking about redoing school entirely. I don’t know how we got caught up in this factory-model of education, but it doesn’t work very well for quite a few kids and it causes major issues that we ignore or sweep under the rug.

If I had no fear, I would start my own school system with my siblings and other Free Thinkers™ to develop a system of education that embraced the power of thought with much less emphasis on the overlords of standards and testing. We would embrace the strength of human curiosity and intelligent discourse. There would be no grade-levels or grading or 40 minute classes. Students would be allowed to discuss and learn and grow from one another and their teachers in a much more thoughtful, mindful way.

Today, I was working on our study area and several students were sitting together helping a freshman girl write an essay. One of the other teachers came over to tell them to be quiet. I was sitting there, so she apologized. But she would have yelled at them and told them to get to work. They were working. They were doing honest collaboration. But they did not fit into the “sit and be quiet” model that we have embraced in this bizzaro-world of education.

I am not quiet. Most people are not silent. We do not learn in silence and in perfect order. Learning can be fun and chaotic and noisy. In fact, I think it should be. If things get broken, and people get a little out of control, and risks are taken and boundaries are pushed, and new worlds are explored and thoughts are exploited and enjoyed, then we learn. We learn and the world learns. And we become happier, healthier people through our mutual distaste for order.

Rock on! Keep on Rockin!

Socrates is my hero.

Punk rock education



Day 29: How have I changed? Let me count the ways @teachthought #reflectiveteacher #reflectiveteaching

Day 29

How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

This one could take a month to really respond to, but who has that kind of time. Now and then, I like to read from my original philosophy of education to see what I was thinking as I graduated from college with all the enthusiasm, immaturity, and complete lack of awareness of a first-year teacher.

Unfortunately, I think that original document resides buried somewhere in boxes of notes and memorabilia in the basement somewhere, so I can only imagine what I had written. I know that I rewrote my philosophy in 2010, and I have updated it a few times since then.

I will say that my basic reason for becoming a teacher has stayed the same. I believe that teachers have the ability to truly shape the world one student at a time. If this power is used for good, we can help to produce and forget a wonderful citizenship filled with intellectuals who love to learn.

Naive, right? But I’m sticking to that because if I lose hope in that, then I don’t know what I’m doing this for.

Here are some basic changes I see, however, despite the core principal remaining the same:

My pessimism has risen. I see that the forces working against a thoughtful, intelligent populace are powerful, and it is a constant struggle to remain focused.

I watched a seminar when I first started teaching about how we shouldn’t shoot skinny rabbits (metaphorically speaking) and I see way too many of my colleagues wasting so much of their time shooting skinny rabbits instead of focusing on the big picture.

I used to shoot skinny rabbits. I used to try to discipline and force students into this mold. I thought I could change them. One hour a day in my classroom is not enough to shape behavior, so I have molded my classroom into a space where the onus is on them and not me. I still get frustrated from time to time when students don’t do their work, but I’m much more chill about it than I used to be. I talk to some students individually. I work hard on not blaming everyone for isolated problems. I try not to be a hypocrite.

StuhrMuseum2The biggest change that I always point to as pivotal in my teaching career is the Nebraska Writing Project.  As a young teacher, taking my first summer institute taught me some basic tenets about being an educator that have transformed me. First of all, the best teachers of writing are writers themselves. I am still disappointed to this day at how few of my English teacher colleagues write. I learned so much by writing with my students and completing the same assignments that I give them. It was a paradigm shift to see that prompts and topics that I would give were very difficult to write about.

I also learned that teachers are professionals and we have authority over our teaching. Prior to this, I was a lowly classroom servant of the administration and curriculum. After taking the writing project, I became an advocate for teachers teaching. We are the professionals. We have a duty to stand up for ourselves and the choices we make. I became a different person as a teacher because of this.

High School Senior. Clueless.


Then: Third year teaching:

3rd year of Teaching in Humboldt with my son


Me and My Cousin summer 2014


Day 28: Technology Driving Curriculums? @teachthought #reflectiveteaching #reflectiveteacher

Day 28

Respond: Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

I think that we are in a tender trap of educational technology right now. Too many administrators are piling on and thinking, “What can we do to be on the cutting edge?” Without stopping to think, “Why do we want to be on the cutting edge?”

Our elementary schools recently bought iPads for each and every elementary student and teacher in the district. We already offer laptops to all students 7-12. We have technology busting the seams of our schools.

However, I do not think that these decisions were mindful. Teachers haven’t been well-trained on how to incorporate technology into the classroom. Students are not mindful about how they use technology.

When I walk through the halls of the school, I see maybe 1/3 of our students using their computers for something “constructive” or “educational.” Most of what I see are shoe advertisements, video games, and youtube videos. And while they are on the laptops, they are also texting and chatting on their phones.

So my answer is that curriculum should drive technology. If we start forcing ourselves to teach to technology rather than asking mindful questions about why? and how? then we run into the trap that we seem to be in now… let’s just pile on technology for the sake of saying we are using technology.

I think that we need to slow down and take a step back. All too often, when technology fails in my classroom (and it always does), I have students take out a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil (also technology) to listen, write and talk. I think that they can learn just as much through this as they can through creating things on their computers.

I know I sound like  curmudgeon luddite, but this year has been an eye-opener for me.

Day 26: Go-To Sites @teachthought #reflectiveteaching #reflectiveteacher

Day 26

What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

I have to admit that this is one area in which I feel a bit inadequate. I feel like my colleagues who are technology driven are much better at collecting and identifying valuable educational website. I have a tough time buying into anything new that feels trendy and shiny. I like to use what works well, is reliable, and is a seamless part of my curriculum. I look forward to seeing what other teachers share here.

My three websites: The only problem with this website is that your institution has to pay for it, but if it does, then you have so many great writing tools at your disposal. I keep touting turnitin as a resource not for finding plagiarism in a “gotcha” way, but for reading and responding to student writing in what is still the best online space that I have found. It also offers a fantastic peer review option that far too few teachers use. If you haven’t seen all that turnitin offers, you should take a look. You can even shut off the plagiarism catcher if it bothers you or your students. This is a great website for creating a back channel in the classroom. The interface is so simple and easy to use. Kids enjoy it. And it is free. I still don’t know who runs it, but it’s a great place to have students perform online discussions. I don’t use this website enough with my students, but for me, it’s a nice space to just type in my thoughts on a daily basis without publishing them or worrying about what anyone thinks. It’s a Zen zone for keeping my ideas straight for me and only me. I allow my days to slide, but when I get in a groove, it is a nice place to write. The newest website that is becoming my favorite go-to classroom site is Google Classroom. My school subscribes to Blackboard, but I see that going the way of the Dodo as Google continues to provide free tools for education. Google scares me, but they offer such amazing online collaboration tools that I can’t help but use them.


Day 25: Ideal Collaboration @teachthtought #reflectiveteaching #reflectiveteacher

Day 25

The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?

I want to start answering this question by thinking about what the ideal collaboration between anyone might look like. I have collaborated with lots of colleagues in the past, and this is an interesting reflection to think about what was right and good with collaboration versus what failed.

Collaboration requires a common outcome that is understood by all parties involved. In order to collaborate well, the individuals must have a very clear understanding of how and why they are working together. All too often, I have found myself lumped in a group with no clear focus or understanding of the purpose. Sometimes, it seems that teachers will make students work in groups just to say they made students work in groups.

The closest to an “ideal” collaboration that I have had in my classroom is in my Creative Writing class. I use the National Writing Project model of response groups. Students share their writing in these collaborative groups, pushing one another week in and week out to write better. The collaboration in these groups is honest and authentic. I don’t have to force an objective and make up tasks for each person the group to accomplish. The best of these groups understand that they are there for one another, and they perform for the group not for the teacher.



Day 24: Learning Trends @teachthought #reflectiveteaching #reflectiveteacher

Day 24

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.)

The trend that I really want to get into is Badges. I haven’t done it yet, but I have had a plan to turn my classroom into a game-based environment where students earn “levels” since I started teaching.

I was an avid RPG gamer long before computer games tapped into the idea of “leveling up.” I envisioned a classroom where students would be allowed to progress indefinitely at their own pace… moving up “levels” and earning badges along the way.

I think this would be a terrific way to run a classroom, especially with self-motivated students. Why read one story together in an English classroom if I have a student who can and wants to read ten stories? Why read one novel when a student might want to read several?

I remember this SRA series we had in elementary school ($300 wow!). I would avidly take my free time to move up levels. It was awesome because it was self-paced learning and I felt rewarded each time I read and understood a new story. Maybe I was a “different” kind of kid, but that learning really tripped my trigger.

I started out the year writing up skill sets that I expected my Oral Communication students to master. I just don’t know how to test and badge them. My goal is to try to get my Creative Writing and Oral Communication classes up and running with a badge system next year. I am not sure if I can do this with my core class because I teach on a team… I also don’t know what Humanities badges would look like.

Day 23: Community in the Classroom @teachthought #reflectiveteaching

Day 23
Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I like this topic because it offers me the option of admitting that I don’t do enough and then gives me a chance to redeem myself by suggesting a way that I can get started.

My first question, however, is does the community WANT to be involved in my classroom? As a parent and teacher, I get the impression that many parents would simply like to get their kids to school and let them do what they do without any involvement.

I am not sure how I can make a move to “meaningfully” involve the community. Last year, this was easy because I taught our senior project class and for the final, students give speeches to members of the community.

This year I teach Creative Writing, American Literature, Humanities and Oral Communication. I am sitting here trying to think of ways to get out into the community or to bring the community into the classroom. I’m open to suggestions. The hardest hump for me to get over is that initial contact. How do we get the word out to people in the community and get them to care and become engaged?

So I just sent an email to a local business trying to create a partnership in which my Oral Comm. kids will make a commercial for a local business. We’ll see what happens. Thanks for the push!

Day 22: PLN @teachthought #reflectiveteaching #PLN

Day 22
What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

I learned another new Acronym Today. PLN=Personal Learning Network. I do not have an “official” PLN; at least I’ve never referred to it as a PLN.

Right now, I am a member of the Nebraska Writing Project. I am the Technology Liaison for our group. I attend monthly meetings and have chats and emails with members of NeWP. This is a huge inspiration for me as a reflective teacher.

At Westside High school, we have weekly PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), and all of our work is done in teams. So there is a built in PLN here where I work. I am constantly communicating with members of my team and we construct ways to improve our teaching.

Outside of that, I suppose there is this Twitter feed and the people from NWP and DigitalIs. I learn through those communities… constant Facebook posts and feeds from all over with articles and ideas about education.

And finally there is the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA), acronyms abound! I have been to that conference multiple times and we are starting up a partnership between NeWP and NETA that will further develop that network.

Day 21: Hobbies @teachthought #reflectiveteacher

Day 21
Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

recordplayerI collect vinyl records. I have a couple of record players at home, and two years ago, I bought one on Craigslist just to take to school. I got some free speakers, a cheap amplifier, and now I keep the record player and some of my less important vinyl selections in my room.

I teach Humanities, and I have records with Medieval music and Renaissance music on them. Stuff I do not have in digital format. So when students are studying those eras, I will play those records for them. Sometimes, inevitably, they ask me about the records and record player, and there are always kids whose parents still have records.

My other passion is Scrabble, but I still have yet to find a way to share my love for that game with my students. I have an eventual plan to get them all on Wordbiz, but it hasn’t happened yet.