Teacher Appreciation Day Post

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Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, so I’d like to identify and honor some of my former teachers/professors whose dedication to the profession made becoming an educator my career ambition. Further, I’d like to give a professional nod to all of my former colleagues at Shakamak Junior-Senior High School as well as my current colleagues at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne.

Pre-K – 6: Miss Sherry, Mrs. Vickers, Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Newton, Mrs. Brady, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Jones

Junior High (Woodrow Wilson, Terre Haute): Mr. Van Winkle, Mr. Wernz, Mr. Nearpass.

High School (Terre Haute South) – Ms. Huter, Mrs. Ligget, Mr. Arnett, Mrs. Huber

Indiana State University – Howard McMillen, Robert Perrin, Matt Brennan, Jake Jakaitis, Pete Carino, Leslie Barrett

I’ve been very lucky to have so many educators in my lifetime who created enjoyable experiences in their classrooms and have served as direct and indirect mentors to my goal of becoming an educator. I’ve likely omitted a name or two from this lengthy list, but I will always hold memories of my teachers’ positive mentality close to my heart!

If you have the opportunity, please consider acknowledging a classroom teacher or other mentor who has impacted you throughout your life! Let’s celebrate the amazing world of education today!

Lastly, special recognition goes to Robert (Bob) Fischer and Steve Humphrey, whose positive impact on my life was unparalleled, even if they didn’t realize it.

And, to my my mother Carolyn Lively, grandmother Mable Harvey, and brother Rob Lively: the three greatest teachers who never ran a classroom.

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New Gig, New Digs – Fort Wayne #2

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So, I’m already off my previously announced schedule….but I have an excuse!

Yesterday, I woke up in my new city for the first time.  I didn’t sleep all that well, but it wasn’t for a lack of physical comfort.  C and V provided a very cozy queen bed with an excessive amount of plush pillows.  I had some issues on my mind, and I was also worried I would oversleep for my first day.  Sidebar: For someone who gets up every day around 7 am, I sure do worry a lot about missing my alarm!

C was frying bacon, and V eventually offered me an egg as well.  Over medium, I think.  It’s funny—I used to sell eggs on the reg, but I really only eat them scrambled.  I waited far too long to try eggs another way…and this blog is tanking quickly.

Got to school and met a few more faculty.  Someone bumped a round folding table, causing it to tip over, which meant lots of hot coffee spread everywhere.  Thankfully, no once was seriously injured and even more importantly, no electronic devices were damaged.

It was a day full of presentations and welcome-back information.  I would wager that a small number of people can tolerate sitting in a large room listening to a guest speaker for hours on end without letting intrusive thoughts or shiny objects arrest their actual attention.  Teachers, in my opinion, are the worst at this.  We love school so much that we dedicate our lives to being in (at least, some version of) the classroom and not pursue other avenues that meet our professional interest.  However, when invited to professional development, we are often subjected to sitting for hours on end with nothing more than room-temperature water or stale tortilla chips to keep us from running outside into traffic.  That is, of course, unless the presenter is engaging.

While the speaker yesterday had many good comments and ideas, her presentation lacked something which I feel is absolutely (ironically) required:  constant (and REAL) interaction with the audience.  Her slides were projected onto two enormous screens, but this took place in a gymnasium and the people by the back doors were a good thirty yards away.  She constantly made reference to how she knew no one could read the content of her slides and said at least half a dozen times that she’d email them to us.   [Sidebar:  Many presenters do not produce printouts anymore, I feel, not just because of the cost, but also for the notion that many attendees leave them behind, discard them immediately, or (probably) file them somewhere deep in their work-space.  However, sending them via email is often an empty promise and/or might as well go straight to the SPAM folder.]

She was knowledgeable and funny at times, but it all seemed so depressingly rehearsed.  Comedians have to sell jokes to new audiences several times a week, and the really good ones have a way of making it seem like each night is the first time they’ve told those jokes.   More than once, her delivery on a pseudo-punchline reminded me of Robin Williams’ voices.  Is it odd that my focus was on her delivery and not what she was actually saying?

But we were simply not engaged.  And that’s a major problem.

Why?

Because we became the students.  More precisely, we were teachers who were put in to role of students.  A large, echoing room.  An intelligent presenter.  Visual aides.  Several questions posed by said presenter.  An offer or two to answer any questions.

But it wasn’t engaging.  We had very little time to interact with one another.  It would be uncouth to have a conversation with a colleague while the presentation went on.

This is not the first time I’ve attended such an in-service.    What I find the most alarming about all of this is that teachers can often times be the worst “students”.  We ask so much of those who attend our classes, yet so many of us shy away from initiating dialogue and meeting new professionals at these types of engagements.  Every time I go to one of these seminars, presentations, conferences, etc. I see the same thing:  Teachers who are over-the-top with enthusiasm (a very small percentage), some who have come with an enormous amount of other stressors and use that event to unload a lot of their pent-up anger, and the ones who attend with the least possible amount of interest.

The last category is the most worrisome to me.

I have had the luxury to attend those that identify this setup as severely problematic.  After seeing it done this way (providing a fluid combination of humor, interaction, and information with the obvious goal of keeping us attentive and involved), I’ve realized how absolutely vital that is to education.

Teachers should know that students learn in different ways.  We should know that presenting in the “classic” lecture style is really only beneficial to a small percentage of students.  We should know when our students are bored or disengaged and we should work to fix that.

That’s it for today.  I’m at my in-laws with my family for the weekend.  Look for the next entry in a couple days.  Soon, I’ll write something about how if blog posts, articles, etc. go beyond a certain word count that very few will read it to the end.

Here We Go Again…

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Each year, I ask my advanced juniors to write a short essay entitled “My Writing Experience”, the thesis of which is for them to list evidence that supports their current perspective of writing.  They tend to identify moments of encouragement and transition that have led them to feel confident.  

Often, however, something else is revealed.  This year, it happened in the FIRST paper I read.  

Inshort, this student clearly remembered a teacher who assigned sentence writing as a PUNISHMENT.  Regardless of the crime, how can anyone still think that this type of punishment will not adversely affect a student’s attitude toward writing? I have the occassional discipline problem in my HS English classes.  However, I do not make them memorize the period chart of elements because they’ve been bad.  I do not demean them by sending them to the board to explain the Pythagorean Theorem.  That seem a tad nonsensical. 

So STOP!  Find another way todiscipline them!  Sentence writing or copying a dictionary page is RIDICULOUS!!

Day 11 – 1100+ words on an inspirational teacher

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Teachers became teachers because they had inspirational teachers.  It’s part of how this world works.  Same thing applies to auto mechanics, clothing design, professional skating–someone kept them interested and intrigued them so much about the job/lifestyle that the subject just had to do it too.  It’s like that feeling you get when you watch a movie like The Paper and think, sure!  I should become a New York journalist!  That job sounds awesome!

You don’t have to believe me, but I pretty much decided to become a teacher in the third grade.  Our teacher’s name was Mrs. Brady, and while I can’t pinpoint a single event that altered the course of my life, I do recall admiring her from my cold, metallic desk a dozen feet away as she read to us.

The teachers under whose tutelage I’d been the previous three years were outstanding in their own right, but Mrs. Brady put me over the edge.  I was lucky enough to have several amazing and inspirational teachers–mostly women, mind you–but it started for me at my last single digit year of life.

The first item to address about Mrs. Brady was her wide smile.  A toothy, perhaps cheesy smile that greeted us each morning.  Even now, I cannot believe it was fake or forced.  Genuine.  Mrs. Brady was a school favorite.  My small elementary school had an average of two groups of students per grade level, but my class was significantly smaller and we generally were all together each year.  She was a favorite partially because of her outward enthusiasm exemplified in that initial greeting.  Our school was organized in a way where the hallway afforded places to keep our coats, backpacks, etc. Upon finishing launching my jacket or winter coat toward one of the top hooks, I would turn toward the door, only to be greeted by my third grade teacher’s welcoming smile.

A year later, our teacher wanted us to conduct an interview.  The only stipulation I can recall was that the person had to be someone other than our immediate family members.  Many members of the class wanted to interview Mrs. Brady, but only one could.  So as not to keep you in suspense any longer, I’ll now reveal that I won the “Brady Lottery.”  I have often thought about that assignment.  The nature of it, I’m sure, was to teach us how to prepare appropriate interview questions and report back what we learned.  I, however, remember having great difficulty coming up with the required number of questions.  I distinctly recall sitting at my childhood home’s dining table and constructing inquiries.  The obvious questions about family, hobbies, favorites, came pouring out.  Unfortunately, my ideas were exhausted with room to spare.  Thus, I looked up from my paper and gazed around my house…for inspiration.

 Me:  Mrs. Brady, how many windows do you have in your house?

 And there was that smile again.  Understandably so, though, wouldn’t you say?  Imagine fielding a sequence of questions about why you love teaching, what you like to do in the summers, what your favorite book was…only to be followed by a bizarre immediate concern for an accurate count of your residence’s storm windows.

 Needless to say, my imagination was still in its developmental stage when I was ten.

I had begun playing piano and chess at around the same age.  I had separated myself with this skill set, but it also became a bit of a hindrance.  Any success I had at tournaments or if the school somehow caught wind of a new piece I’d been preparing with my teacher or at home, I was put on mini-display.  I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I would wager Mrs. Brady was behind promoting my abilities above the other teachers I had in those days.

Mr. Morris, our principal, was the kind of guy who…well, here’s what he did once.  With absolutely zero preparation or any warning whatsoever, he knocked on our classroom door and wheeled in a TV/VCR set up.  He pushed the cart to a place where all the children could see the screen.  He popped a tape in and found one of those tiny elementary school classroom chairs on which to sit.  The man was fairly fit, but he also had a proclivity to become very red-faced if he was angry or excited about something.  The video began, and some of us immediately recognized the prepared scene as the final fight from the original The Karate Kid.  As Ralph Macchio appeared to be on the brink of complete and utter failure in the coliseum, Mr. Miagi takes him back to conduct some impromptu healing.  It was at this moment that Mr. Morris slapped his own hands together and began rubbing them violently.  This, of course, is what Pat Morita does on screen as well.  Mr. Morris’s face, blood-red, also expresses his anticipation for the climactic payback kick-to-the-face element that all of us practiced in- and out of doors for the next several years.

A bit of a tangent, but Mr. Morris and Mrs. Brady were behind the idea of sending me to multiple classrooms throughout the year to play the piano.  I look back at those moments with some pride now, but at the time I was rather embarrassed.  I didn’t want to mess up–especially in front of younger students–but I also relished the small applause I received upon finishing.

In short, Mrs. Brady did what extraordinary teachers do.  They overlook the immediate effects or outcomes an idea she has for the students may be and focuses on the long-term impact.  I would have started her class thirty years ago.  Three full decades.  And I can still remember what she did for me.  That’s true teaching, gang.  That’s having an impact on a young person’s life.  Unfortunately, all of the people who go into teaching with that same level of enthusiasm and desiring to be a part of the solution simply get tired.  Or perhaps bored.  Or frustrated.  Frustrated with students from time to time.  Frustrated with parents a little less infrequently.  Frustrated with education trends and politics.  It wears them down.  Oozes out of them that passion for learning and teaching that was once such a huge part of their lives.  I’m not here to offer answers to the problems in education.  In my youth, I was lucky to have several teachers who did not let the pressures of the job interfere with their love for children.  As a veteran teacher now, I’m starting to really see why so many teachers leave the profession after such a short stint.  It may have to do with the pay, but I think it also has to do with the stress.  Again, nothing good comes easy.  No book you read, blog you scan, seminar you visit will have the magic formula.

But I would like to remind the readers of the power of a simple smile.