classroom technology fail

Professionals in all fields have to deal with technology failures now and again. It’s a fact of life that we all find ways to work around. But, the significance of a technology malfunction varies with circumstances and deadlines. If my husband’s conference call won’t connect he may blow a lucrative deal or miss a crucial deadline that throws a whole project off kilter. It’s awkward to make people wait while you try to fix a glitch. When my interactive board won’t connect I risk losing the entire learning day, if I’m not prepared.

I’m lucky enough to work in a school with a commitment to the effective use of technology in the classroom. My principal does not just want to see teachers and students using technology to complete traditional tasks, he wants to see us creating with technology. Our students participate in coding exercises, they create slide shows and webpages to share information, they program robots and design solutions for everyday problems like how to feed the fish over the weekend (we haven’t figured that one out yet).

And in our district we have a responsive IT department and a team of educators dedicated to supporting technology’s use in the classroom. I have ample opportunity to take classes and workshops on technology use and a team mate who has been patiently coaching us on projects. I recognize that I have in place what I need to enrich my classroom and stretch my learning and teaching.

But IT serves the whole district and they are not housed in our building. So, when something goes they can’t just pop on over to my room and fix it up for me. On the 2nd to last day before April vacation, my Promethean Board lost the ability to connect to, well, to anything. It was a hardware problem, something off with the cord that prevented it from staying snug. I fiddled with it for my entire prep time and still could not get it to work. At the end of the day, I submitted a ticket to IT. I hope they get to it over break so I return to a working board.

One of the simplest things I do with that board is to post the morning work. I still posted the work last Thursday, but it looked a little different. At least I could use the board for something.

IMG_4720

too late for respect?

Warning, I dressed in my judgy pants today.

There is a Mom with her toddler who, after only the mildest of temper tantrums, gave into the little girl’s begging for a donut. She started with a matter-of-fact no, quickly moved to pleading and justifications before going back to the counter to get a donut. And all I can think is, I hope that kid is never in my class.

True, I don’t know the circumstances here. Maybe that Mom is having an exhaustive week and is just desperately trying to find a few peaceful minutes. Maybe Mom remembered this was supposed to be a special day so why was she treating it like a normal “say no to donuts” day. Maybe this girl has difficulty communicating needs and feelings and Mom is trying to understand her daughter through a series of trial and error negotiations. Maybe this kid won’t grow into an entitled brat who doesn’t know how to take turns or persevere through frustrations.

As I watch this Mom scroll through her phone, going long stretches without responding to her daughter’s babble or even looking up at her, I panic. My 4th grade class is filled with 10-year old versions of this toddler, kids who have not had the attention needed to learn the skills of participating in a community. They only know how to exist in their own bubbles of needs and desires.

And we’ve recently elected just such a person to be president.

My observations of Mom and toddler ended as the little girls walked away from her mother who was picking up all their stuff. As Mom repeated the girl’s name over and over to call her back, the girl just looked at her with a face that said “Why are you wasting your breath and disrupting the peace? I’ve never listened to you before, clearly I won’t now.”

It’s a look I’ve seen in my classroom too often.

I have all sorts of ideas for that Mom to get control of her toddler, but what I really need to focus on is how I’m going to change this in my classroom. I can’t go back in time and give these kids the lessons in respect they should have had when they were four. The exhausting reality is that it is still part of my responsibility to give those lessons now. But, like that toddler, my students need the lessons to make sense in their world. I have no control over permissive or neglectful households. I can only change what happens in Room 204.

At almost day 100, it’s still not too late. I have to believe it is never to late, not for my 4th graders, not for that toddler, not for me.

on losing faith

I barely held back tears in the bus line. Only Wednesday and it had already been a horrible week. I paced back and forth to give my tears a chance to dry and then engaged with the cuties in my line, the ones who laugh and ask questions and move themselves back in line when you remind them. I strategically ignored the little one who digs in the dirt and jumps all over the place – let Ms. V. handle him today.

Teaching is emotionally exhausting, not teaching is more so. My tears were from the feeling that I had not been able to teach that day, that week. Have you had those days? I wonder, because the teaching blogs I read never seem to mention difficult behaviors. Oh, maybe they mention the kid who doesn’t like to read and staunchly sticks to National Geographic’s Weird But True series. They describe their tireless efforts to find the fiction that will engage the little rebel. They never talk about the kids who spend entire lessons walking around the room, taunting other kids and pushing them out of the way, leading an 18-kid rebellion against learning (there are always a few loyalists). In their classrooms, no one tells anyone else that they suck d**k or tries to egg someone into a fist fight in the middle of Math.

I love teaching. I am a teacher. But I’m tired. Twenty-something days into the school year and all I can think of is summer vacation. I was looking at a really good 4-day workshop at Columbia timed perfectly to fit into my winter break and when I started to explore the possibility of attending all I could think of is how tired I would be and how I couldn’t bare to give up my week to anything but sleeping in and spending days in my pajamas with coffee and fluff fiction. I was angry because I love learning but right now I hate teaching.

But I don’t. I love teaching. I hate behavior management. I hate being so helpless to change behaviors enough so that kids can learn – the little rebels as well as everyone around them. Oh my, I don’t even like using the word rebel because I am a fan of rebels in history who disrupted things to make the world a better place. These folks aren’t trying to make anything better, not even for themselves.

So, now I’m trying to figure out how to actually teach. How can I restructure my day to provide the best opportunity for learning? How can I restructure the classroom so those few I can’t reach right now don’t completely intrude on those I can? I have ideas, but no faith. I need to get my faith back, faith that I am capable, that I can do this job, that I can teach anyone put in front of me, that every child can learn and grow.

teaching off a cliff

I’m not a rock climber. Even if I weren’t afraid of heights I have no strength in my arms and hands, partly due to old injuries and new arthritis and partly because, well, you know, I was focused on building other strengths.

But the image of rock climbing kept popping us as I thought about the start of this school year.

I was ready for a hike as I set off in a new school. There’s a lot to know about STEM education and I braced for a steep learning curve. I was ready for the challenge. But I quickly felt the curve bending in a new way and the work started to feel like this

smith-rock-940x595

It seemed like all of the hard work of the last few years to improve my practice fell out of my pockets as I tried to ascend the cliff. By day 12 of the school year, I knew I was a bad teacher, wondered if I had made a mistake transferring schools, considered maybe changing careers to something in retail.

Deep breath.

With the help of my teammates and the calm encouraging voice of my husband, I’m rappelling back down to a level spot to rest and regroup and pick up all my dropped supplies. I’m spending my weekend planning time looking at the big picture we worked on together as a team and mapping out each step we need to take to get there. It’s not starting over, it’s pausing to look around to see where the next foothold is and how we can reach it, using all I learned from the ascent so far to help me choose the best moves to bring me forward.

The learning curve is still steep, sort of inverted, and I suspect I’ll feel like I’m dangling dangerously by my fingertips at times. But I’ve got a strong team to belay me and some ledges on which to rest and regroup.

Here we go.

A new start, a new balance

classroom-doorThrough this door is my next challenge.

Once I can figure out my end of summer schedule, which is mostly working out how to get the girls where they need to go, I will move in to this empty classroom in my new school. It’s there, waiting for me, calling to me at all hours to leave my reading (I’ve read so many great books this summer!) and the work for my online course (I’m nearly finished!) and the yard work (it’s too hot to work in the yard anyway) and the family history project (that I didn’t actually start yet). But I’ve continued reading, and working through the lessons for that course, and fighting the humidity for 20 minute work bursts in the yard, and tidying up the home office so at least I would have space to work on that family history project. And, I have not gone to my classroom.

I am thrilled to start this new job. I spend time every week sorting through ideas and writing up lesson plans. And I have met with my new team a few times since school let out. I’m nervous, but ready for this challenge. At the same time, I recognize that I need to start out this new position with an eye to balance. I can’t give myself completely over to the job. Teenagers actually want their mother around (they won’t readily admit that, but there are clues) and I want to be around them. I adore my husband and want to say “yes” way more often when he suggests a night out or a weekend walk. I just signed up for a Zentangle class with my sisters because I want to spend time with family and friends.

I love my job and I love my life. A lot of times, the two overlap. I enjoy reading the young reader novels that I’ll suggest to my students. I eat up professional development books and gladly pack one for my cafe reading (if you don’t know the joys of sitting in a cafe for hours reading and writing, try it). When I work in my garden, I’m also thinking of ways to create an observation garden for school. When I go for a power walk to improve my health, I can distract myself from the tedium by mentally planning a writing unit or a get-to-know-you activity. My girls gladly help me dig down to the bottom of the box to find 30 orange notebooks so we all have the same color for Word Study. I can bring my laptop to my porch or patio and write up lesson plans or update my webpage, readily available to chat with the girls or pause and drive them somewhere or mind the chili as it simmers in the crockpot.

It would be a lot easier to go to school and get everything in order now. I could focus for longer stretches on planning if I got away from the house. But, starting at a new school is a great time for me to start on a new schedule. I don’t want to live at school. I miss too much and I’m not willing to miss it.

My new assignment is a wonderful challenge that will stretch my teaching skills and demand a lot of focused time. It would be easy to get wrapped up in it to the exclusion of all else. The challenge I am setting myself is not to.

losing my cool

So I kept it together all morning, through students making messes and straying off track and asking what they were supposed to do after I just gave the directions for the second time. And I didn’t yell once when they were throwing stuffed animals instead of reading, or when I checked the notebooks to find that only 4 out of my 21 students finished their writing, or even when one student returned from the dentist sobbing because the dentist did not give her a sticker. I kept an even tone when the boys climbed up the basketball net at recess and when they pushed into each other in line and even when they complained about having to do Math.

When did I yell?

When the principal was walking by, of course.

And all I could think was, at least my evaluation was already posted.

 

Here’s to April Vacation and the refresh I need.

Image

Our messy but quiet classroom when the kids were at Specials today.

February Vacation

The only time I don’t like Friday is at the end of vacation week. Can it really be Friday? Did I sufficiently relax?

One thing I did get done this week which will make my classroom life a little easier was to sort through boxes of papers that have been accumulating around my desk at school. You know how that gets, right? The office hands you notices, colleagues make copies for you of something interesting they found, you make copies of student papers that you never quite get to because the 8 year olds in your class acted like 8 year olds and messed up the timing of your lessons, portfolio pieces stack up without making it into portfolios. I sorted through boatloads of paper, and still have a bag full to go. But, I did organize and fill student portfolio files with papers from those stacks and am developing some lessons that will help students organize and reflect upon their work. I wrote the first week of lessons for our next Math Unit that revolves around student exploration and conversation to support the work we’ve been doing around “accountable talk”.  I sorted through the Math box and organized materials for Math Centers that will, if all goes well, better support student practice in the areas where they need more practice. Today’s goal is to organize a way to wrap up the literacy unit so we can jump into poetry. Oh yeah, and I have to upload evidence of my fabulous teaching so my supervisors can justify my salary to the press.

I do all this during February “vacation” because the school day does not allot the time and my family schedule demands I come home after school.

I do this during my off hours because it will make my on hours easier.

I do this now because I plan to actually take an April vacation – somewhere without stacks of paper.

I hope all my teacher friends are enjoying winter breaks.Image