Feeling Loopy

The upcoming months are sure to be exciting and stressful for me.  I will be working full-time on the research phase of my Kenan Fellowship for the duration of my three-week track-out break.  At the same time, however, I will be preparing for the new year-round school year which begins with workdays after Independence Day, and with students less than a week later.  This year will be a new challenge: I am moving back to the eighth grade and joining a new team.

Because I am moving up a grade on my same track for the first time in my career, I will be teaching the same students this coming year as I have for the past 12 months.  In education lingo, this is often called “looping” when (often elementary school) teachers move up with their students and return to a lower grade with a new group in a subsequent year.  While I have no intention of joining my students in high school after this coming school year, it will still be the first time that I have spend this much time with a group of students.

Some of the advantages of being “promoted” with my current cohort of kids are fairly obvious.  I won’t have to spend much time at the start of the year getting to know them or learning their strengths and weaknesses.  I’ll already have a close relationship with most of them and a good understanding of their home lives and personal struggles.  They are already familiar with my grading and discipline systems, which should make it easier for us to jump right in and get started in July.

Many of the disadvantages are not so clear.  For example, there is a dark side to my students already knowing my discipline system: if I want to change (or just “reboot”) the system, I have to battle their entrenched habits.  I am starting to realize that I must make any changes early in the year or there won’t be enough time to practice and reinforce them.

Another downside of looping up to the next grade with my students is the extra time with those teenagers whom I would just as soon say goodbye to.  Every teacher has had a child or two each year who she couldn’t quite connect with or who refused to engage with what was being done in the classroom.  Now imagine spending another 180 days with that student.

My status as an eternal (and somewhat naive) optimist leads me to think more about the pluses than the minuses.  It pushes me to think about how I am going to change that negative relationship with that student who I dreaded teaching again.  It forces me to plan frequent classroom management “refreshers” throughout the year to combat the “been there, done that” attitude that some students will bring with them.

Beyond these, however, what do you see as the biggest pros and cons of teaching the same group of students for two consecutive years?  Are their pitfalls I should avoid?


The Deep End of the Pool

This past summer, I enjoyed watching my 6-year-old explore the community swimming pool. When he was younger, he wouldn’t leave the 2-foot-deep section because he couldn’t touch the bottom, but last year he finally gained the confidence to float and swim in the area where he can’t stand up.  It was a significant moment for him, and for me.  He traded safety and familiarity for freedom and exploration, and I saw in him my own goals as a teacher.

Despite frequent opportunities and the inherent rewards associated with it, very few of my fellow teachers are willing to leave the shallow end of the pool when it comes to their profession.  Too many are accustomed to the comfort of staying within their classroom, continuing to teach the way that they always have, and communicating only with other like-minded teachers.  For those who work at this level, the world is small and everyone is a master teacher; and our vocation will not move forward until we can convince many more teachers to “cross the rope” and explore the rest of the pool. Continue reading


The rumors of my demise…

boomerangIt has been a long couple of months, and I apologize for my absence from this space.  The reasons for my hiatus are simple:


  1. My aforementioned change of teaching venue became several orders of magnitude more complicated when two of my three teammates were forced to stay home for the second quarter of the academic year to deal with personal crises.  My team leader and I stepped up to the challenge of maintaining order in the face of shuffling substitute teachers and the student behaviors that come with this condition.  She and I now have a closer working relationship than we ever would have formed, and we are now coasting into our last week before a month of track-out/holiday break.  This has led to a nice post on the perfect substitute teacher, which should be up in the next few days–barring any excessive tryptophan-induced slumber.
  2. My work for the soon-to-be-live TeachHub website has kept my “free time” to a minimum, not that a full-time teacher/department chair and father of two small children has much of that to go around anyway.  I expect some of my writing to be available there as soon as the first of the year, but be sure to follow the progress here.

Regardless of the cause, the effect has been a sense of detachment and a longing to be back “in the loop”.  So, stay tuned for several new posts in the next few days.  I’m bringing the Spontaneity back!


Evernote: My Outboard Brain

I play with a lot of digital tools, including some that are not for use in my classroom but instead enhance my ability to stay organized and do my job better.  Ever since I synched my first PDA, a Handspring Visor, in 1999, I have slowly begun to outsource my memory.  Little by little, one appointment/contact/to-do item at a time, I have been utilizing the marvels of technology to take the place of actually remembering anything.

Some may argue that this move, which seems to be growing more common, will be the downfall of Homo sapiens.  I disagree.  I honestly feel happier and less tense knowing that I don’t have to remember to pick up bread after work or recall my mother’s telephone number.  My peace of mind stems largely from the emergence of “cloud” storage that has allowed me to keep my information in numerous, highly accessible places that are secure.

Evernote's interface for creating notes
Evernote's interface for new notes

My latest and most successful venture into Web 2.0 information management is the Evernote application and web service.  It is a remarkable set of tools that essentially capture all the important things that I come across in an average day and render them accessible and searchable.  Through the use of a web client, desktop application (Mac & PC), Windows Mobile program, and (best of all) iPhone app, I am able to store audio, photos, webpages, PDFs, text files, passwords, serial numbers, and countless other little bits.  They are encrypted and kept synchronized between applications.  There are dozens of ways that other people have been using it, but here are my five favorites:

  1. Capturing/storing notes from parents.  When a parent sends in a note asking for a conference or a phone call, it is often put in the child’s agenda book and I can not easily make a copy.  Now, I simply take a quick photo using my iPhone and store it in Evernote.  Within minutes, the servers have grabbed a copy, recognized the handwritten text in the note (mindblowing!), and synched that info back to my iPhone.  I can then search for the parent’s name or any other word in the note (or any tags that I gave it) to find it when I need it.
  2. Finding recipes and shopping for them.  I come across a lot of interesting recipes on line, and I can store them in Evernote as PDF files or by simply dragging the URL onto the Evernote icon in my Dock on my MacBook.  Then, in the grocery store, I can look up the ingredients that I need (and the quantities).
  3. Lesson ideas from everywhere.  I set up notebooks in Evernote for each major unit that I teach, and then I dump every lesson idea that I find in there.  This might be PDFs from other teachers or URLs from websites.  If I can’t get a digital copy, I just snap a photo and then try to create it myself.
  4. Sharing with students.  It is easy to create shared notebooks in Evernote that can be embedded on webpages.  I share funny stuff with my students via a shared notebook.  It includes photos from class, funny websites I come across, and even audio/photos of lessons that the can access from any internet-connected computer.
  5. Blog ideas.  Let’s face it: ideas for blog posts often come when you are least prepared to write them.  I store them in Evernote and then dip in there to find things to write about.  It might be a photo of something interesting that I have seen or a webpage that made me think.

The best part is that a limited version of Evernote is available for free.  There is a monthly upload limit that is probably sufficient for most casual users.  That is, those of you who still use your biological brain for remembering things.

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The Only Constant

As several Scripted Spontaneity readers have noted, I have been less than diligent about posting over the past few months.  While I have found Twitter to be a great resource for sharing small bits of news (and for building my PLN), there is really no substitute for a good old-fashioned blog entry.

One of the biggest reasons for my inconsistency is that my teaching position was uncertain up until a few weeks ago.  I knew that I had a spot at my current school (who would fire a ToY Boy, right?), but I also knew that my current track and grade would not have room for me.  Due to a frustrating convergence of factors that included the normal delay in determining next year’s enrollment exacerbated by an ongoing court case against my district, my principal could not tell me anything until late May.  Now, this may sound like plenty of time to adjust and plan for the school year, but on the year-round schedule we begin in early July.  I knew that I needed to spend my last track-out break of this year planning for the first nine weeks of next year.

It might help at this point to explain that I entered this esteemed vocation via a state-supported lateral entry program, and was hired in July 2001 at my current school.  I have been teaching eighth grade Science on my current track (with the same two teachers as teammates) for the past seven years.  My career thus far consists of one track, one grade, and one subject (sometimes supplemented for one or two periods per day of another) at one school in one state.  While this has allowed me to hone my lessons and tweak my pacing year after year, it also limits my perspective and restricts my ability to see the “Big Picture”.

Most of that will not shift for me this coming year, but a good chunk of it will.  Any change can bring that strange mix of fear and anticipation that makes one simultaneously want to dance and vomit, but even more so when the very presence of change represents something new in itself.  I know now that I will be on a different track with a different schedule, working with new teammates, and teaching a new science curriculum.  There will be challenges and there will be moments of complete failure.  I know this.  But, I also know that I will learn things about myself and my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher that I would not otherwise.  I welcome the feedback and advice of my many friends here in the blogosphere.

And, above all, there will be plenty to blog about. 

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