Saturday, September 26, 2015

So.. why not teach?

Shopping for a family of 7 presents many challenges. There's of course the financial aspect of it all:
7 mouths to feed + 5 of the 7 are growing kids + keeping it healthy = big % of paycheck bye-bye
And then there is the logistics of finding the time to do the shopping when I teach, wifey owns a business... oh, and that little fact that we have 5 kids under the age of 10!  
2 working parents + 5 kids + 1 store = extra vino in the cart

Pretty much me.. sans the earbuds! ha!
The final answer to our shopping insanity is to do it late at night after the kids are asleep. This actually isn't too bad for me. Since I do the cooking, it's easy for me to then do the shopping. My wonderful wife gets time to work in her office, or relax, while I load up a podcast and do some shopping! I look at it as great me time. 

I get to meet and/or see a lot of interesting people shopping late at night. Typically, the stores are pretty quiet too, so the people working at the check-out are really bored. Since I always pop my ear buds out when I'm in line, conversation naturally happens. I always ask about school, where they went, what they liked about it, who was their favorite teacher and why? 

This past week, on my run to the store, I found myself in conversation with a college aged kiddo. When it came up that I was a teacher, she smiled and said, "I think I really want to be a 1st grade teacher, but I don't know... Everything about teaching seems so crazy anymore."

And it's true. There are teacher shortages, strikes, student test performance linked evaluations, and the dreaded common core <said in spookiest tone>. All of these are true, actual things that are happening in the world of public education. I hear many teachers having a hard time encouraging others to become teachers. That under the current demands, teaching just isn't a profession that they would recommend to people. I get it. And in that moment when she told me that, I could have said all of those things. 

But, the look in her eye when she said that she wanted to be a teacher stopped me. Because there was that look of passion that only a TRUE teacher has when talking about the profession. I could see that she would be an excellent teacher for a group of 1st graders. That she would be the type that would do what was best for the kids, and eventually get past the worry of all of the above mentioned strains. I saw a person who would truly LOVE the job. 

Don't all kid deserve a teacher
that loves teaching?
Ultimately, being a teacher is about loving the job. It's about surrounding yourself with people that support you in having a positive and lasting impact on the lives of others. I couldn't do this job without the support of my wife. I couldn't do this job if I hadn't learned from my teaching mentors that all of the common core mumbo jumbo is just another fad that will dwindle away into something new. And that the key to me being successful as a teacher has to do with my passion for being a role model for my students. 

So, I did for her what she needed. I told her to do it. That I could tell she would be a great teacher, and that I believed in her. And as I walked away to load my car with groceries, I could still feel her smiling behind me. I truly hope she becomes a teacher. And any of you that want to do it, that want to make the jump into teaching, go for it. It will only help us current teachers to have more passionate, hard working, kid centered teachers around us. It makes the profession look that much better! And as a father of 5, I WANT those teachers for my kids. I want the ones that LOVE the job, and have the passion I saw in that young adult! So, why not teach?! Sure there are all of the glass half empty reasons to keep you away, and if those are the ones you see.. go find another profession! Stay away from mine. But if you see the glory of what teaching kids can bring to your everyday, then PLEASE step up and be a part of team! 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Charter schools.. they're not bad

I'm a teacher and I like charter schools. I know that I'm often in the minority regarding this feeling, especially in my new home here in Washington. Recently, the state supreme court declared that charter schools are unconstitutional. This headline surprised and concerned me... at first.

Having recently moved here from Alaska, I'm kinda new to the local ed world. Up in the AK, our district included 6 alternative learning schools. Some were charter schools, some were magnet schools, and others still just fell in the "alternative" learning category. Our kids went to a charter school that focused on place based education. Specifically, the teachers created a curriculum that used the surrounding watershed as a source of educational enhancement. The school was very hand's on, and great for the active learner.

In all, there are 3 elementary options and 3 high school options beyond that of the traditional model of public school. These options are super popular, highly sought after, and completely funded by public school dollars. How is that? Well, all of these schools fall under the school district umbrella. They may have their own board of parents, but THE school board had to approve the charter and set the guidelines. They are public schools just without the "brick and mortar" feel of what a public school is typically like.

As a father of 5, I see first hand how incredibly different my kids are from each other. They have different interests, sensitivities, and learning styles. My oldest thrives in a traditional education setting. He needs the structure, but has the self drive to make it work. Our second in command needs more freedom. She's our artist with a strong hint of stubborn that won't just sit there and do a worksheet. She would thrive in a less traditional model, something that a charter school offers.

In our new district, there are no alternative learning systems (aka schools of choice or charter schools) in place for elementary and only 1 for secondary students. I know that at least one of my kiddos would benefit from something different, so it's frustrating knowing that option just isn't there. Thankfully, the district is building a team to discuss a new magnet/school of choice to be build for high school students.. and yes, I'm doing all I can to be a part of that team.

So now back to the headline. When I read deep into what the vote was about, I realized that what was unconstitutional were private charter schools. Schools that were not under a district umbrella, but self regulating, and set up by board members not voted on by the public or community. This ruling was not about my understanding of charter schools from my Fairbanks time, but was about the issue of public dollars going to a private school (albeit not a religion based school entity). This is about the constitutionality of vouchers, and a family being able to use public dollars to go to a non-public school. You can read my feelings on vouchers here, hint: I again side skew of my teaching peers.

The take-away of all this, is that charter schools or schools of choice give kids options beyond that of the traditional school setting. School was such a boring place for me to be. I did well only because I hated letting people down, and I hated feeling stupid. These schools are so important to the ever changing learners that we have, and allow for creative collaboration that most people need anymore. Please take the time to watch the video below. It about an amazing school that I wish was available to my oldest daughter. She would thrive in an environment like this!

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

They deserve to be Safe and Sound

Schools are tricky places. Some are super small, and all the kids know each other. Others have hundreds to thousands of kids trying to make it through each day. All schools in turn need teachers. We're kind of an important part of the whole process, right? :)

So, when you send your kiddo off to be at school you are truly relying on the teacher to be the adult, the safety to your child. The teacher becomes the "go-to" for making sure your kiddo feels safe, happy, and
ready to learn. As a teacher and a dad, I try to bring that feeling to my classroom. I want my students to know that they are safe, not only from harm, but they are also safe to learn.

The reason I'm bringing this up has to do with a moment my oldest son experienced last week at his elementary school open house. These events are managed chaos. You have kids and their parents going every which way. Some open houses have a scavenger hunt activity to make sure you go to all the necessary places (pick up binder go here, PE outfit go there, don't forget the lunchroom!) and others are just free-for-alls. Through the hoopla, one of his teachers from last year saw him from across the way, and came over to give him a hug. That's right.. she went out of her way to come see him, give him a hug, and talk to him about his summer.

It was that moment that defined his academic experience last year. What made things great for him, is that the teacher cared for him each day. My wife and I knew she cared from the very first conference we had with her, because she was able to tell us who he is as a person, and learner. She knew his sensitivities, she knew his struggles, and she was able to tell us how she was going to help. As a teacher, that is what I try to do with all 110+ students I have each year. When a parent calls or writes, I want them to see that I know their kiddo. That I'm on their team. That I'm a trusted adult to their student.

This need for care was further supported this week when I was talking to our babysitter. She was telling me about a teacher she had when she was in high school. He was the state teacher of the year. I asked what made him so great? Was it dynamic lessons? Was it his amazing use of classroom technology?

Her response was that he was simply a nice guy. He made everyone want to learn, because it was clear he wanted them all to succeed. She admitted that it sounded crazy, and that there must have been more to it.
But I get it. His relationship to the students was so strong, that they loved learning in his room. They wanted to be there. He made that feeling happen for them.

And THAT, that right there is what all kiddos deserve from school. They deserve a safe, caring place where they can spread their wings and soar. A place where they can feel valued, so that learning can happen. It is near impossible to teach that to people. You either care for the kiddos in your room, or you don't.

So parents, trust your instincts when it comes to teachers. You can tell within a few minutes of conversation just what type of teacher you're dealing with. You should be able to tell when a person is authentic and real with your kiddo. You can hear when the teacher truly understands what makes your kiddo tick. And if you're not sure, your kiddo will be able to tell you for sure! So ask and listen. If your student is talking about how great his/her teacher is, than that's a good sign! Roll with it. Or send an email just asking how things are going. The response should show insight into who your kiddo is as a person and student. You should know that in the teacher's room your child is safe and sound. Hmm.. reminds me of a song :)

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