From Galveston with Love

20150407-112649.jpgOne of my seniors visited her family in Galveston, Texas during Easter break and returned to El Paso with a gift for me–a hand-carved lion pen. Wow … how thoughtful!!! Although I truly loved receiving this gift, it means so much more to know that my students are thinking of me even when they are so far away from school. 🙂

 

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

 

 

 

We Came; We Saw; We Slaughtered.

20150407-171133.jpgI am so proud of my Lit. Critters (also known as my University Interscholastic League Literary Criticism Team). While I have only coached them for two months, they did an outstanding job at the district UIL competition and won 1st place.  Hopefully, our team will be as successful at the state competition in a few weeks. Wish us luck!!!

PS. Although we definitely believe in good sportspersonship, “We came; we saw; we slaughtered” has become my Lit. Critters team mantra. It is a modern spin off derived from Julius Caesar’s “Veni, vidi, vici” which is Latin for “I came; I saw; I conquered.” And yes, we’re nerdy like that. LOL. 🙂

 

Started From the Bottom … Now We’re Here…

OMG!!! I’m so excited. Our iPads finally got a much needed upgrade from being charged on rigged up dish racks. 

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Now we have have a re-purposed C.O.W. (computers on wheels) laptop cart that we can use to charge, store, and transport our iPad minis.IMG_0040

 I’m so grateful and appreciative to finally have a secure storage solution in my classroom for our iPads. 🙂IMG_0042

 

Happy Friends

happy friends2It’s that dreaded time of year…test season. I’ve been in and out of the classroom helping with our End of Course ELA Pullout Program for our senior re-testers and guess what? My students actually missed me. I returned late in afternoon, to the English wing, and unexpectedly found a present waiting for me–a chalk drawing with my signature catchphrase for my students (fondly known in my classroom as “happy friends”).

This chalk drawing spanned from the front of the English wing until the edge of the railings near our Fine Arts building.

Honestly, I can’t remember when I’ve smiled so much and been so genuinely surprised. I showed every teacher and administrator in my path pictures of one of the most heartfelt gifts of my career. It’s days like this that make teaching worth it. 🙂

Happy Friends

 

Teach Like Me

Gandhi so aptly said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” As teachers, we use this quote nearly to the point of cliché. However, how often do we apply this concept beyond working with our students?

Given the critical nature of the press and public towards teaching, maybe it’s time we do more than transform our classroom. Maybe it’s time we also transform the public perception of our profession.

One of the ways we can begin this process is by participating in a positive PR campaign like “Teach Like Me.” A friend sent me an invite through Facebook and I liked it enough to share with you. 1

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This spring, “Teach Like Me” will launch its 2nd annual campaign to publicize and increase public awareness of the positive contributions teachers make. On May 5, 2015, “Teach Like Me” asks educators and supporters to change their profile pictures on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to one of their custom Teach Like Me logos (available here). Then use social media with the hashtag #TeachLikeMe to share/tweet/post what you teach and why you love teaching. However parents, students and other members of the public can also use the hashtag to show their support, appreciation, and encouragement of teachers. For more information on “Teach Like Me,” please visit http://www.teachlikeme.org.

I am excited about participating and I hope you are too! 🙂

  1. I am not an official ambassador or an affiliate of “Teach Like Me,” but I like their idea.

Know Who You Are and Use It!!!

“Sometimes I feel
So misunderstood
The whole world looks at me like I’m crazy…”
-Collin Raye

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In the hustle and bustle of the classroom, it’s so easy to lose track of who you are or to allow yourself to be defined by others’ false perceptions of you as a teacher. Especially as a new teacher, you’re juggling many new responsibilities and receiving numerous critiques about your teaching that can be quite confusing and seemingly contradictory. So in the scramble, you try to become the teacher you think you administration wants. However, being someone you’re not is exhausting. Yet, how do you become successful in the classroom? How do you balance the expectations of administrators, students, and parents without becoming a morphed version of your former self?

While accepting constructive feedback from parents, administrators and students is important in the process of becoming a successful teacher, I can also testify that the greatest struggle I ever had in the classroom was when I tried to be someone I’m not. Although I have always been professional, I’m naturally quite expressive. I have a little urban edge and my “Detroit” shows up in my expressions. However, when I first began teaching, I thought I had to become a subdued Little House on the Prairie schoolmarm in front of administrators. Trust me, my early years as a teacher were a struggle and I’m pretty sure students were confused by my Jekyll and Hyde routine during evaluations.

While I frequently used my “Detroit” as a way to relate to the students and convey the content in a more interesting way in the classroom, I was always afraid to be myself when I was being evaluated. As the only African American teacher on staff, I hid my “Detroit” from my administrators during evaluations because I was afraid of how I would be perceived. Somehow, I thought my colloquialisms and unique expressions wouldn’t be as valued and it would be just another way that I would be seen as “different” or even worse viewed as less educated.

Then one year, I simply could not hide.  That school year I received, as did the rest of my school, nearly 40 walk-throughs. 1 My administrators went from being random strangers to common fixtures in my classroom. As I became more accustomed to their presence, I slowly began to relax. Then one day I received a really wonderful compliment when my “Detroit” escaped while I was explaining a really difficult content concept to the class. My administrator also noted that she didn’t realize I could make class so much fun since I seemed so serious during my other walk-throughs. After hearing this, I finally felt I could breathe. And although it was not an overnight transformation, my administrator’s comments resonated with me. Steadily I brought more of my authentic self to my classroom and my teacher evaluations have flourished. During this process, I learned that my authenticity was not only accepted, but welcomed.

So, if you would like to be more successful in the classroom, know who you are and use it!!! It is important to slow down, re-center, and bring your authentic self to class everyday regardless of parents, students, or administrators. However, the key is to find a way to actively combine constructive feedback with your own unique flair.  I bet you’ll be happier and your students will be too.

“This above all to thy own self be true.” –William Shakespeare

 

 

 

  1. Walk-throughs are unannounced informal teacher observations of usually 2-5 minutes where school administration capture a “snapshot” of your classroom.

Teacher Tutorial: Creating an Extra Duty Timesheet Using Google Forms


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When I shared how I use Google Forms to track the extra hours I work at school, a few teachers were interested in seeing a tutorial, so I created the tutorial below using Screencast-O-Matic. I hope this Google Forms tutorial is helpful. 

Before you get started, here are a few teacher tips that can help you use the Extra Duty Timesheet tool more effectively.

Teacher Tips:

  • Creating this time tracking form is not about clock-watching. I will not use it to document fairly quick tasks. However, if a school related task warrants more than 10-15 minutes of personal time then I will definitely record it. Often, teachers are the victims of our own success. We spend countless hours working on school projects without recognizing how that may cause imbalance in other aspects of our lives. Therefore, this time tracking tool not only records our additional contributions and dedication to our profession, but it also creates self awareness. This time tracking tool is about building personal and professional accountability for our time. 
  • If you are looking for a better work/life balance this time tracking tool may show you how you are utilizing portions of your personal time.
  • Also, this time tracking tool may also be a great documentation to take into your teacher evaluation. Unless you have a very visible role in such as an athletic coach, it might be difficult for your administration to see all of the valuable contributions you have made during the school year.

Please let me know in the comment section if there is anything I could explain better or if you have additional questions/comments about the tutorial. 🙂

 

5 Simple Rules for iPads in My Classroom

Between a combination of iPad2s and iPad minis, my classroom finally has a 1-to-1 iPad ratio. I am beyond ecstatic, but to whom much is given much is required. While I am worried about the well being and upkeep of $10,000 worth of iPads in my classroom, I try to keep the rules for their use as simple as possible for my early college high school students. 

I have used iPads in the classroom for less than a year, but was unable to find blogs or websites that listed student friendly iPad rules. Most of what I found were rollout manuals with lengthy dos and don’ts. So if you’re new to using iPads in the classroom as well, I thought I’d share my (5) basic rules that I use with my early college high school students.

The goal of my iPad rules were to keep them easy to remember and as student friendly as possible. Please let me know what you think of these rules and feel free to share the rules you use in the classroom with your students. I’d love to tweak my current rules for next school year. [Yes, I am already thinking about and planning for next school year! Lol! :-)]

 

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WHY YOU NEED TO HAVE REAL WORLD TALKS WITH YOUR KIDS (PART II)

A few weeks ago, I  shared with you the importance of having “Real World” talks with your students. Here is the hyperlink, if you would like to read part one of Why You Need To Have Real World Talks With Your Kids.

If you have already read the first part, here is the process for setting up your own “Real World” talks with your students.

“Real World” Talks (The Process)

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Materials:

  • Slips of paper or Post-it notes (*Although I tend to use Post-it notes, I recommend slips of paper because Post-it notes are expensive.)
  • A large container. (I prefer a bowl or shoe box.)
  • Timer
  • One clear topic to discuss.
  • 15-20 minutes (for the first “Real World” talk. After the initial one, you can limit “Real World” talks to 5-10 minutes a session.

Process:

  • Have students pick up slips of paper at the beginning of class.
  • Explain the “Real World” talks process, i.e. your norms, expectations, time limits, and purpose. 
  • Briefly explain the general topic that you would like to discuss with your class. 
  • Give students 2-5 minutes to write out at least one question on the topic. Please adjust your time to make it appropriate for your students. It is easier to add time than take it away, so I would start with the smallest amount and add if necessary. Your first talk will likely take the longest to set up.
  • Have a set designation for the bowl in direct eye sight, so that students can deposit their questions.
  • Select a question out of the bowl and preview it for appropriateness. Then answer it as honestly as you can. You don’t need to be a know it all. If there is a question I am unsure of how to answer, I say so. I  ask for clarification and then I either promise to research it or give the question (as appropriate) as an extra credit opportunity for the class and we discuss it later. 
  • This is mostly a question and answer kind of process that lends itself towards personal narrative.  The storytelling element usually evolves into a discussion. I make sure to invite students to ask clarifying questions to learn more or to redirect me if I am misunderstanding the intent of their questions. The goal is to make the talk lively, fun, and informative.

Tips for Success:

  • Students of all ages can benefit from a “Real World” talk. It’s a matter of adapting the talk to your students by carefully selecting the topic, making sure the proper scaffolding is in place where it will be successful, and making the topic age/cognitivity appropriate.
  • Teach your students how to write clear questions and appropriate questions. I recommend modeling this and showcasing questions that are effectively written. Understanding how to to write clear questions will minimize confusion in your response, reduce the time needed to start the activity, and prevent disruptive 
  • Have the slips of paper at the door waiting for students to pick one up, so that you do not need to take extra time to pass them out.
  • The first “Real World” talks will take the longest because establishing the rapport, process, and expectations.
  • Wait a few weeks into the school year so that rapport is properly developed with your students.
  • Set a specific time limit on how long your “Real World” talks will last. 
  • Have students write their name on the bottom of the slip of paper or sticky note that they used. This is used for clarity, accountability, and classroom discipline purposes. If you misunderstand the question, you can ask the student author to clarify what they mean. Use of the question writer’s identity also helps deter students from writing inappropriate questions that may disrupt the class and not taking the discussion seriously.
  • I know you may be tempted to skip the paper slips and bowl, but I do not recommend it. These are the kinds of talks when I want all my students to ask the questions they are often to afraid to ask. While there are times, I want students to tough it out and speak out, this is not that kind of session. Since these talks deal with “real life” and some students may be too shy to ask a question out loud, the fish bowl technique ensures that their question receives an answer with a certain level of anonymity. 
  • After modeling the first “Real World” talks, you can ask students to bring a written out question for the talk as a homework assignment. This will help you save time with starting the talk.
  • During the “Real World” talks, I discretely share my successes and failures during my schooling process. These kinds of talks are not about being Mr. or Ms. Perfect; students need you to be “real” about your schooling experience. Transparency is important. However, please use discretion in what you share with your students.
  • You can adapt “Real World” talks for many age groups. Possible topics could include:
    • How to succeed in middle school, high school, or college.
    • How do you select a college?
    • How to receive a scholarship.
    • How to pick the best first job.
  • Once you have the “Real World” talks working well in your classroom, you could adapt this process to use with guest speakers or even build a panel for a topic your class would like to discuss. 

Example from My Classroom:

My terrorists (also known as my seniors) graduated high school as few weeks ago and here are a few questions they asked about transitioning from high school to college.

  • What is your best advice for college?
  • How do you eat for cheap on campus?
  • Is college easier than this class?
  • Is it easier to have a job and go to school or just to go to school?
  • What is a good price for an apartment?
  • Is it better to live on campus or off campus?
  • How do you buy a house?
  • How do you learn to balance time between school and work?
  • How should you manage your money?
  • Is it better to work on campus or off?

 

Please let me know what you think of this idea. Is this something you would use in your classroom? If so, how would you tweak “Real World” talks for your classroom? 

Happy talking! 🙂

 

Why You Need to Have Real World Talks with Your Kids (Part I)

Are you talking with your kids?  No, not your children at home–though I would hope you’re having these kinds of conversations with them as well. However, I want to know if you’re having conversations with your students? And by conversations, I mean are you discussing topics and real life situations that your students may encounter beyond the state/district mandated curriculum?

 

 

I teach 11th and 12th grade at a public high school and I know the difficulty of trying to find time for one more thing on an already overcrowded agenda. However, having “real world” talks are something every secondary teacher should have in their classroom.

I don’t know about you, but more than 90% percent of my students will be first generation college attendees. And quite frankly, they are not having the necessary conversations they need in preparation for college and careers at home or school. 1 If it’s anything like my school, each counselor has a student load of more than 400+ students to work with and  there is only one dedicated college/career counselor for nearly 900 students. In competition with family crises, academic scheduling, academic testing, and a whole host of socio/emotional problems, one-on-one college counseling often takes a back seat despite the best of efforts. On the other hand, however, these “real world” conversations often do not occur at home because many parents of first generation college students simply cannot discuss experiences they have not had. 

Before I continue further, let me first define “real world” talks. “Real world” talks are about college, careers, and practical skills like organization and basic money management. “Real world” talks are not about politics, religion, sexuality, or any other topic that could potentially veer into an inappropriate zone. In many ways, “real world” talks are about you sharing your knowledge and experiences with college, career, and life with your students. You don’t have to be an expert. Sometimes, tactfully sharing your mistakes can be as useful for students to know as your successes.

For many first generation college students, graduating college seems like a fairy tale ambition. For as long as they can remember, their parents and teachers have told them to “go” to college, but don’t explain how to thrive and be successful there beyond the academics. However, many of us can attest that successfully completing college is more than merely showing up and managing good grades.

Unfortunately, the road from the first day of college to graduation requires a great deal of practical problem solving skills (soft skills) of which many high schools rarely prepare students.  In particular, many first generation college students need conversations which discuss how to:

  1. balance work and college
  2. build and manage good credit,
  3. network,
  4. find the best campus jobs,
  5. deal with financial aid difficulties,
  6. respond to potential parental conflicts, i.e. “college is easier than a real job”
  7. decide on whether to live  during college, i.e. on campus, off campus, or at home.

Ideally, the goal of having “real world” talks in the classroom is to make the transition to college and real life as transparent as professionally possible for students.  I struggled a great deal as an undergraduate and I have shared my first generation college struggles with my students. I have shared the difficulty of working too many hours and how it negatively impacted my college grades. I have shared how I managed tough and indifferent professors as well as the importance of speaking up and asking questions in class. In addition, I have also shared how I learned to better manage my finances and how I successfully found help when I ran into obstacles in college. 

However, first generation students need varied perspectives on how to successfully complete college. And since teachers are the most readily available resource for first generation students, who better to share these kinds of stories? I cannot speak on what it is like to have generations of successful college graduates in my family, but some of my colleagues can. 

So, if you’re interested in how I set up my “real world” conversations in class and some possible suggestions for your classroom please stay tuned for Part II of “Why You Need to Have Real World Talks with Your Kids.”

 

  1. According to the 2012 statistics of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), high school students on average receive 38 Minutes of personal advising on College Admission over the span of their entire high school career.