Friday, June 27, 2014

"Old Ain't Dead": Thoughts on Teaching Experience & Teaching Artisans

This week I saw narratives that have provoked me to reflect in this space on being an old a veteran an experienced a seasoned a teacher in a world that often devalues and marginalizes the expertise lifers such as myself bring to the classroom. 

See my dilemma? I don't even know what moniker to attach to myself and to my un-novice colleagues. The word veteran also bothers me because it, too, can imply that such a person no longer belongs in the classroom. Consider that we refer to retired military and those no longer on active duty as veterans

Writing in The Huffington Post, Nancy Barile addresses a common lie purported about teachers with longevity: We lack energy and enthusiasm for our work. Barile quotes a guest presenter at her school as saying, "the faculty is young and vibrant. It's such a breath of fresh air." In my own school, it's often veteran teachers who volunteer to work sporting meets, for example. We're the ones who typically understand how to find unique professional development opportunities and who seek out national conferences. Schools also need experienced teachers to help the newbies navigate the schools culture and traditions. 

I'm the oldest and most experienced in my department, and a veteran colleague and I are the ones who actively seek opportunities to present at conferences. Additionally, I had already taught more than 20 years when I decided to navigate the rigorous NBCT certification process. Another colleague, with over 15 years experience, and I are plotting a major project that we see as a way to challenge ourselves and energize our practice while contributing to the professional conversation among ELA teachers navigating the changes and challenges we all face.  
Me w/ Story, a veteran English teacher and expert on teaching Native American
students. Story teaches at Shoban High School on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
As Barile argues in addressing another lie associated with being an experienced teacher, the ability to use technology effectively in the classroom isn't the exclusive domain of new teachers. Indeed, I've had to teach several student teachers how to use technology in the classroom. Many of the more seasoned teachers I know are the most adept at using technology. This past year I had to remediate my college level speech class after allowing a new person to teach them how to research for their speeches, and this is someone who should have known the skills at least as well as do I. 

Youth does not guarantee technological prowess because often young people use technology more as a social medium than as one for learning. Rarely do I see students in my classroom who understand technology as well as I do. I teach them how to use Google docs, how to create Pecha Kucha presentations, how to blog and include links and embedding in their posts, how to annotate YouTube videos, how to research using databases, how to annotate online, how to use Evernote, etc. 

I follow the Free Technology for Teachers Blog and learn about new tech tools from both experienced teachers who have vetted the tools in their classrooms. That said, I also look to tech savvy young teachers for lesson ideas, such as the infographic lesson I found via Chris Kervina's blog. 

However, the most savvy tech folks I know are teachers with more than ten years teaching experience. Often I share my knowledge with veteran and novice teachers. At a conference earlier this summer, I was one of the few attendees who used Twitter and tweeted during the conference; yet I was one of the oldest teachers attending the conference. This past school year, I shared my knowledge of Diigo in a session of my district's technology integration classes. 

I just finished my 33 year teaching and began using technology very early in my career. The first big tech project I taught was how to create a filmstrip, a lesson I found in an issue of Notes Plus, a NCTE publication. My favorite uses of technology in the classroom marry close reading with artistic expression. Many platforms, including screencasts, Prezi, YouTube, Toon Doo, Animoto, etc. offer me a way to teach students how to create artistic analysis of texts. 

Being around young teachers and teachers new to my building energizes me and motivates me to continue honing my craft. Drue, my superb student teacher this past year, taught me "find someone and ask" and how to make my delivery of instructions more visually appealing. Her eagerness to learn infused me with hope. She offered me collegiality, and we soon developed a fabulous synergy to our relationship. We experienced a valuable mentoring relationship. I nicknamed her mini-me after she told a colleague (and students) that we finish one another's thoughts and that we are really in sync with one another. We decided that we're interchangeable. So in sync were we that it's hard to explain the exact nature of our mutual mentoring of one another. 
Drue: She's in the back seat during a lunch
break to Sonic because she's young! 
There's a sinister undercurrent at work in efforts to abolish teachers' due process rights (a.k.a. tenure) and in rhetoric that attributes a school's improvement to ignoring seniority. Students recognize that experienced teachers often have more stable classroom environments than do novices. On many occasions my students have shared their desire to avoid both student teachers and new teachers in the building. They perceive teachers with whom they're family has had experience as offering a sense of comfort and belonging. 
All in the Family: Kadee, E.J. mom and colleague Angie, and Steeli.
I taught all three kids, two in more than one class.
Celebrating Steeli's graduation from college. 
This past year I taught several students whose siblings had been in my class as well as students who had me for speech or Communication 1101. I've often had parents of special service students request me as their child's teacher because they know I'll work diligently for their kids and implement the accommodations in an IEP or 504 plan, something many new teachers struggle with. As has been noted by others, familiar teacher faces in a building bring stability to a school. 

Those who privilege youth and inexperience over age and experience seek to create a schism among teachers. It's incumbent upon us to protect our profession from efforts to divide and conqueror. Novice teachers need to recognize and acknowledge that a lack of experience necessitates they open themselves to learning from those who have amassed a repertoire of expertise. We who have taught for many years can learn from the newbies, but I won't go so far as to say they bring more to the table than do the veterans. Nor will I concede that they are equal in terms of their contribution to a school's culture. Our respective contributions are different and valuable.
Celebrating Gina's hooding. She'll be working on a PhD. in speech pathology at the
University of California in Merced this fall. I taught her brother Billy this past year.
I am not an athlete whose ability to perform peaked in my 30's. In contrast, a teacher's cognitive skills increase over time, with experience, and through continuous study and reflection; we hone our craft as we nurture both it and our careers. Indeed, we are like artisans because teaching is both art and craft, and like artists whose styles evolve, we too change and refine ourselves throughout our practice. 

The teacher as artisan may be old, but we're not dead. We are masters who have created classrooms that serve students in unique and inspiring ways as they craft their futures. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Own Private P.D: Ways I Teach Myself During the Summer

Over the years I've accumulated a nice little professional library. I purchase books by classroom teachers and dive into them, knowing I'll learn much from my colleagues from around the country. Typically, I mine these books for teaching ideas and inspirations.

More often than not, the books turn into reference manuals rather than texts I read from cover to cover. Consequently, I have many wonderful books in my professional library that I've read in part but not in whole.

Now that I've finished my work with the NEA BL Master Teacher Project, I'm looking forward to revisiting and finishing some of the professional literature I've purchased. I'll scope out the books for inspiration and guidance for the upcoming year.

In no particular order, I present my own private P.D. plan for Summer 2014 and what I expect to glean from these treasure troves:

Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools...Now and in the Future by Barnett Berry and the TeacherSolutions 2030 Team (Teachers College Press 2011).
I received this book as a gift from the Better Lesson team, but it has been on my TBR list for a while. It's a group of teachers' responses to the concerns that confront our schools and our profession. After addressing topics such as who our students are and who the teachers are, the world of virtual learning, the limits of standardized tests, the role of differentiation, a brief history of teaching, and the topic of teacherpreneurism, the authors end with a chapter about public policy in education and how teachers should respond. I'm looking forward to learning about what teachers have to say about teaching as I've had quite enough commentary from the lay sector and those who fancy themselves experts on education without having ever taught.

Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire by Tom Romano (Heinemann 2013).

When it comes to freshening up the tired, old, traditional research paper and other writing modes, nobody does it better than Tom. I've already used Tom's ideas for "Where I'm From" (101) poems and have seen students blossom when working on multigenre projects. What I really like about Tom's latest book is the writing prompts that help direct students as they work on their projects. In chapter 27 Tom discusses effective repetition using images, etc. I wish I had read that section before teaching multigenre writing this past year!

Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami (Heinemann 2014).
Not until my copy of Meenoo's book arrived did I notice the parenthesis around (Re), suggseting that the ideas Meenoo offers both offer a path for initial invigorating of one's teaching and finding new ways to invigorate one's teaching. I particularly like Meenoo's thinking about mentoring as a reciprocal relationship among young teachers and those more seasoned such as myself, across geographical boundaries, as organic, and as necessary. Simply, we need one another and can create meaningful relationships regardless of our experience and the subjects we teach.

Although I have not yet finished reading Thrive, a quick perusal through it took me back to early in my career when I taught sophomores and ended the year with a magazine-writing group project. Meenoo describes her online student magazine in chapter 5: "Empowering Your Students." Indeed, something magical happens when students see their writing as having an audience beyond the classroom. This was certainly my experience this past year as my students' parents permitted me to use their work, videos, and images of them as part of the NEA BL MTP. That they were providing teachers across the country valuable help motivated them offer up their talents and work to others.

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst. (Heinemann 2012).
I actually won a copy of Notice & Note at NCTE 2012 during the secondary opening mixer. I have read the book, but I have not found a way to use the strategies in a way that feels natural to seniors. I don't want to turn the sign-posts into hoops kids jump through, so I'm wandering what I missed in my first reading and plan to dig into the book again this summer to see if I can help students make the techniques a natural part of their reading lives.

The Common Core Companion: The Standards Decoded by Jim Burke (Corwin Literacy 2013).
Regardless on what one thinks about the CCSS, Jim's helpful manual offers excellent ideas for teaching writing and literature across the curriculum, particularly in social studies, science and technical subjects. I like the way Jim has organized the book so that users see examples of "what the teacher does" and "what the student does."

Earlier today I read an essay about college students not knowing how to write and comments on facebook that lead me to think many teachers, including English teachers, need ideas about how to teach writing more successfully. Jim offers many ideas for becoming a more successful writing teacher.

Poetry of Place: Helping Students Write Their Worlds by Terry Hermsen (NCTE 2009).
I've used only one idea from Professor Hermsen's excellent book: Lesson 3: Reading the Window. It's an excellent lesson in metaphor that asks students to take a "creative position." Lately I've been thinking about the ways poetry can help my students gain control of narrative and descriptive essay writing. How can surrealistic art be transformed into poetry? What lines do we ear in an ink blot? How can local history be translated into poetry? Poetry of Place offers answers to these questions and will surely offer many fresh learning experiences for my students next year.

Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives: Comprehending, Analyzing, and Discussing Text by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Diane Lapp (Solution Tree Press 2012).
As part of the MTP, I used the "X-Raying the Book to Find Its Argumentation Bones" (29) technique this past school year and found it an interesting metaphor for helping students think about support for their claims and those advanced in other texts. But the strategy I really like from this wonderful book is GIST (116-118). The GIST technique is an excellent way to teach students to summarize a text by chunking it into segments and constructing 20-word summaries for each section. Students then compose a summary based on the mini-summaries. I adapted the technique to audio and video presentations too. In this way it becomes a great way to build listening skills. Now it's time to dig deeper into the book and find more ways to teach deep reading and critical thinking.

Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises 20 by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford (NCTE 1992).
Don't be fooled by the publication date. This classic text offers excellent ideas for teaching poetry. and it's extremely helpful to teachers such as myself who don't consider ourselves poets. I first discovered many of the methods years ago when a colleague loaned the book to me. I decided to purchase a copy this year and realize I've missed many of the wonderful ideas. For example, I think monologue poems might be a fabulous way for students to respond as characters in a book. Maybe I'll use this as a free-choice reading response. 

Teaching Argument Writing: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning by Georg Hillocks, Jr. (Heinemann 2011).
Sometimes I purchase a book to see whether or not a writer thinks the way I do about a topic. This is the position from which I'll examine Teaching Argument Writing. Although teaching students to construct sound arguments is an area of strength for me, I like getting the perspective of others and look for ways to freshen up what I'm already using. I like the way George Hillocks, Jr. incorporates images into the teaching of argument. As one who sees the world as a rhetorical place, I believe helping students understand how images, architecture, film, etc. articulate opinions is an important component of teaching argument. 

Hillocks, Jr. also offers ideas for analyzing literature using some unique questions. For example, when teaching Romeo and Juliet, students can formulate arguments based on the question "How can we explain Romeo's forgetting Rosalind so quickly?" Perhaps I'll ask students to think about Lady Macbeth based on the question, "How can we explain Lady Macbeth's willingness to sacrifice her own child for Macbeth to be king?" Such questions that lead students to formulate arguments will surely be a welcome change in our discussions. 

Two books on my TBR list this summer that don't fall into the professional PD category are Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Workman Publishing 2014) and Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about being Creative (Workman Publishing 2012), both by Austin Kleon. 


I've recently become a recruit to the Austin Kleon fan club. He's the creator of Newspaper Blackout Poetry, which I featured recently in this space. I just purchased these two books and have not had time to learn from them yet, but I'm eager to see how reading obituaries and becoming a documentarian of my life will foster creativity.

Just a quick glance at Steal Like an Artist makes me think I'm on the right path. I'm a teacher who is not about "borrowing" ideas from other folks ("Start Copying" 33) and willing to do what Austin Kleon suggests when he says "School Yourself" (19).

I have quite the summer lineup of PD, and I'll also be joining Kate Messner's Teacher's Write workshop online this summer. Of course, I need some vacation PD and will be visiting Alaska for the first time. I'm sure I'll get ideas from my trip that will find their way into my classroom.

Additionally, I have a huge stack of novels to read, so don't be surprised if I need to pause my PD before fall creeps in once again. As both the designer and only attendee of my own private PD, I can add or cancel sessions just the way I want!