How do you keep teachers?

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What is the reason that teachers stay?

Seriously.  I am curious.  Is it the summers?  Is it the feeling we find when a light bulb goes off for a student?  Is it the “maybe next year it’ll work” mentality?

I don’t know if it is the case in other professions, but teachers complain. A LOT.  We complain about the number of hours we work, we complain about the salaries we deserve, we complain about lazy students not doing their job, we complain about administration not being there for us, and we complain about the whole education system going to hell in a hand basket.

Many, if not all, are totally justified, but …then what?  Where do we go from there?

People on the outside see this complaining and have plenty of other things to say about teachers; administration could look at it and make arguments about the budget or bring in professional development to “help” manage time and teach new strategies.  These too are also well founded and have their importance.

 

What I Enjoy About Teaching

1) Teaching is creative

If I was stuck in a cubicle all day doing the same thing each and every day I would die.  The chaos of teaching, I think, is also one of its greatest strengths.  There is no “one way” to teach a child or share an idea.  Instead we struggle each and every day to find a new, creative way to get little Johnny to class on time, Sarah to share her thoughts on the civil rights movement, and Shauna to argue her reasoning about a mathematical formula.

2) Teaching is collaborative

…or at least it should be.  In my job I collaborate with other teachers all of the time.  We compare results, we develop curriculum, and we share assessments.  The most important aspect of our collaboration is our professional growth.  Collaborative conversations force us to be reflective and we stretch our thinking by combining the thoughts of two to four minds that all see a situation through a different lens.

3) There is room to grow and pave new paths

Any teacher can tell you that you they are always learning – about content, ways to teach content, methods to deal with behavior, or even ways to communicate with peers.  The real exciting part, though, is that 21st century learning is basically untamed and WE are the ones that will shape what the next 50 to 100 years of teaching and learning will look like.  This is what motivates me each day and excites me as I fall asleep at night.

 

So that brings me to the question…how do we keep teachers?  There are definitely some awesome things taking place in education, but at a certain point the stress outways the perceived benefits.

 

Reasons I Can’t Make Teaching A Life-Long Career

1) I think I can make a bigger difference doing something else (administration, research, non-profits, private sector)

As a teacher I affect 150 or so kids that are in my classroom throughout the year.  Add that up and over a career of over 30 years that means I will have had 4500 or so kids that crossed paths with me and I was able to affect hopefully for the better.  Tally in extracurriculars and other staff, maybe somewhere around 6000 people.  The thought always bounces around in my head, how can you do more?  A principal affects an entire school and hundreds of teachers during their tenure.  Researchers and new ideas can radically change the course of education, and outside groups often have more money and freedom to work on projects devoted to any passion ready to be pursued.

2) Which direction is up? – Money

I do nearly the same job as other teachers in the school and just because I have been teaching less years I get paid thousands of dollars less?  I totally understand paying teachers for experience and the wisdom/ leadership they bring to the school, but as a young teacher “trapped” in some pay scale based on years teaching and possibly if I received a masters (which is a whole different blog), I have no reason to be motivated and no stars to shoot for.  Luckily, money is not the reason most people get into teaching.

3) Which direction is up? –  Leadership

There is a ceiling in teaching when it comes to leadership.  As a young teacher, I try to be like a sponge, absorbing as much information and many good practices as I can from experienced educators in my building and through blogs/ twitter.  Eventually I can be more of a leader, possibly a mentor some day, and even end up as a curriculum/ department chair if I play my cards right somewhere down the line.

What doesn’t sit well with me is that all of these jobs are really the same thing!  The next 30 years of my life and career would be devoted to…the same thing with a few things added here and there – all of which are added on top of the regularly expected hours of teaching.

 

So then, why do teachers stay?  Or even better, how to we get more teachers to stay, while at the same time attracting more teachers to the profession?  I will offer my thoughts and encourage you to do the same by commenting or sharing your thoughts via twitter.

Educators do not equal teachers.

My thought is simple to write and tough to do.

When I am hired and employed by a school district, I am expected to teach children.  I am expected to make sure that kids take tests and that they pass.  There is a lot that goes into it including caring about kids, conversations about them and with them, evaluations of our own, and forms to fill out for the state.

Almost never, though, do people expect teachers to receive a paycheck for learning or for sharing their work with others.  Stay in your classrooms, society says, and teach our children.  That is what we pay you to do.

If ambitious teachers are expected to stay in education it is absolutely necessary that they have the room to grow.  I’m not talking about slow change, the kind that takes 30 years; I am talking about the kind of “I have a dream to change the realm of education” growth.  We need to be given the tools to be able to test out our ideas, fail, and learn, all the while knowing that we are supported.  When we have ideas that work we need time to share them with people – I mean actually share them at a deep level and have time to meaningfully see the ideas through.

  • pay teachers to watch other teachers teach (within and outside of the district)
  • pay teachers to research best practices (twitter, blogs, provide them with research & guidance)
  • pay teachers to help other teachers learn
  • make time for teachers to share their ideas to other staff members
  • make time for teachers to share ideas to other districts

Some of this districts do, but it is usually on top of a regular work day.  I teach six classes and I’m not about to be taking on more.  Instead, we need to count research/ learning/ sharing as part of the work day.  If you want good teachers to be good you need to give them time to learn, practice, and most importantly share what they do.

These are just a few of my thoughts.  I would love to have a conversation with anyone about these ideas.  Let’s figure this out.  What does it take to keep a teacher?

Using Blogs and Snapchat in Math Class

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One of the things that are most difficult as a math teacher is breaking the mold of the same old same old.  I want desperately to be the type of teacher that uses innovative methods to help propel students to higher levels of success.  Still, I find myself teaching in quite the traditional manner.

Therefore, I want to share a day that I was able to break the mold.  I gave students a protractor, ruler, and asked them to measure the height of our school.  The results were pretty awesome.  This is one student who shared her thoughts: Student Blog

The coolest part of that blog is the fact that she used Snapchat to take a picture and measure the angle.  If it wasn’t clear in the student’s blog they took a picture of a student standing a certain distance away, drew a line connecting the student’s feet to the top of the building, then laid a protractor on top to measure the angle.

Teachers spend so much time searching for apps that will make lessons better, but we seldom think about the things we have right in front of us.  Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, 2048, and the many others that students use every day.  The challenge I have for myself is to find more uses of these in the classroom. It will save the time needed to teach students how to use the app and as an added benefit most of these are social apps and it is easy to share work.

2015, the year of snapchat in the classroom?

A Stressful Moment

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Today was stressful.

It wasn’t really any more stressful than an average day of teaching, but somehow the culmination of a bad unit and reaching the point cluelessness in a new curriculum put me over the edge.  All of the stars of negativity aligned and I left school defeated and thinking about all of the other things I could be doing with my life.

Teaching does not equal learning.

In my Algebra 2 class, we have been learning about “Rules of Exponents”(RoE).  Let me rephrase that – I have been teaching my students about “Rules of Exponents”.  To gain perspective, these students are mostly sophomores and juniors.  They are introduced RoE in Algebra 1 and it is recovered in Geometry.  By the time they get to me one would think that they have a decent foundation of understanding.  To quote another teacher at my school “assume they know nothing”.  Sad quote, but when it comes to understanding  the material it is spot on.  They may recall a few of the tricks, but understanding?  Not even close.

In Algebra 1 students are thrown all of the rules in the first few days and asked to learn and understand them.  The tricks are taught, “anything to the zero is one!” is thrown about, about day 3 or 4 negative exponents are introduced and BOOM show us what you understand…sorry.  I keep writing the word understand like there is even a chance of that happening in six days.  By day 6 we ask students to show us what procedures they were able to memorize.  In geometry, the process is the same, and after looking at assessments might be a scaled back version of Algebra 1 (wtf?).

Anywho…now they come in to Algebra 2.  Day 1 – You know how to do RoE, right?  Day 2- Hope you’re good because here comes simplifying radicals (they have pretty much never seen), multiplying and adding radicals, rational exponents, and exponential functions.  This is my life.  We have been learning these skills for close to two weeks.  Each night I rack my brain for a creative method for students to latch on to these ideas and each day I come to school thinking that they are understanding.  A majority of the students are trying, asking questions of each other and of me, and I am doing my best to help motivate the students that are difficult to motivate.  This chaos and disorder is part of the job and as a teacher you get used to it, but checking in with students today – two days before test day – it seems like the entire class needs to go back to square one.  “So you’re telling me you can’t simplify the square root of 48?  You realize we spent like…3 days just on that?” Talk about defeating for a teacher.

Students laziness is not an excuse for bad teaching – call it what it is.

The next piece of stress came when I tried to share my frustration with other teachers.  Explaining the situation to them, I received the same response: “The kids are being lazy.  None of them do their homework, so you can’t expect them to understand it if they don’t try”.  The reason this angered me was simple: I didn’t believe it.  I have awesome students and I feel like everyone of them wants to learn the material.  There are definitely some that do not realize the benefit of homework as much as they should, but that is not the sole reason they struggle.  Teachers use the myth that students are lazy to shield them from the fact that how they are teaching may not be what is best for learning.

It is uncomfortable and it would be much easier to shift all of the blame to students, but I realize whatever methods I chose to help students learn did not work out as planned.  I see myself as an innovator and a teacher that listens to student input and tries to change my lessons accordingly, but time and again  my results are the same as every other teacher.  I am left wondering if anything I do really makes a difference in student understanding.

A downer for sure, but I am proud of the fact that I am upset.  It means I care about how students learn best and I want all of my students to be successful.  If I chalked all of my shortcomings up to lazy students I would be a much happier teacher, but a teacher that never grew or challenged myself.  I hope that out of this ordeal our department is able to have good discussions about the skills taught in each sequence of courses, and who knows…the kids could still ace the test on Friday. : /

Pre-Thanksgiving Thoughts for Post-Thanksgiving

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Recently I attended the Midwest Google Summit and was inspired by the energy, creativity, and truly innovative thinking that defined the conference.  Back in the classroom for a week, I am frustrated that I cannot instantly reach the level of so many of those innovators.  Nonetheless, I aspire to use technology to make learning as effective and engaging as possible.  I sit here days before Thanksgiving and I have thoughts jumbled in my head about how I can revamp my teaching upon return.  Here are my thoughts:

Have students reflect on their learning openly and online

Why?
I want students to reflect on their learning as I reflect on my practice.  I want students to understand, like teaching, learning is a continuous process that changes over time.  To steal a quote from the conference “education’s biggest measure of success is change”.  We look for student progress but never ask them to reflect on the process.

How?
I am considering the students begin a blog or a website.  I want students to share their learning openly to a community outside of themselves.  This way students are not only being reflective, but they are able to receive and learn to deal with feedback from others.

Post & Organize Course Material Effectively Online

Why?

I am not the most organized person.  It just happens to be a fact and there are plenty of people that can vouch for that.  If I can find an effective way to manage and post course material for students I believe they will benefit greatly.

How?

 The first change I am making is turning all of my notes into a google presentation.  I previously used Smart Notebook but now realize that without using all of the interactive gadgets it really is not any more special than power point.  The added benefit google presentation offers is the ease in sharing it with students.  No more printing off notes of the lecture.  No more “slow down” or “can you go back?”.  If students are gone… the notes are there!

The second change is that I want to utilize my google site in a more effective way.  I want to make sure that the day’s lesson is clear and obvious for students, and if they need past material it is simple enough to find.  Finding the right pieces to the site is essential moving forward.

Moving forward…

Those are two of the biggies that are on my mind.  Other concepts that I have thought about and need more insight on are:

1. How can I use google forms on a more consistent basis to help our class reach the learning goal?

2. How can I post our class progress that will be beneficial to student learning?

3) How do I create a website that parents feel comfortable using?

4) At what point am I just trying to hard… just shut up and teach math…

Midwest Google Summit 2014 Reflections and New Apps

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Sitting here at 6PM after the first day of the google summit for education my brain is overloaded.  Not the normal exhaustion that a school day brings, but a plethora of ideas and tools that I am excited to learn.  Here I offer a few of my reflections and key take-aways as well as a list of the apps that are either completely new to me or I am excited to explore more.  If you have other thoughts or other useful apps that you know about or learned this week please share them in the comments below.

Start, stop, share.  I love this phrase because it is simple.  For change to happen on a large scale it needs to start small and have a clear direction.  This simple phrase has given me that direction.  It is clear attending this conference that people are excited to start the journey that we all need to take to define 21st century learning.  People are open to sharing ideas and failure is encouraged in every session I attend.  We, like our students, are life long learners and I cannot wait to begin modeling that with my students and encouraging the explore because learning truly is an adventure!

Here are a few key questions and comments that made me deeply think about myself as an educator and is interesting food for thought.

  • What form of literacy will students need in the 21st century?  Is posting/ commenting on facebook/ twitter the new look of civic engagement?
  • communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking => are students doing this EVERY day?
  • there is a massive teacher gap, technology is pushing us to innovate and sometimes fail, but it is an adventure
  • We work in an industry whose greatest measure of success is change
  • before students are asked to present to the whole class, have them present to small groups
  • assessing students on collaboration and other 21st century skills needed => goes on report cards but not transcipts
  • a teacher asked students to find an oceanographer on twitter and ask them to help with a project
  • scheduling times with students to take reasessments on google calendar
  • teachers need to demonstrate what getting frustrated looks like so that students can see the proper way to deal with it
  • “Students should have their own personal (public) twitter.  It will be on their resume some day”
  • “I prefer google community (with reminder texts) because I get a notification on my phone – planners take up too much space”

A list of apps that I learned about today

Apps I LOVE

g(math) – google add-on; I love this because it allows me to write formulas, expressions, and equations into google docs and forms.  Really excited about the graphs that I can make in forms.

Google Calendar  – I already use this, but like the idea of setting appointments with students.  Especially with math reassessments needed to demonstrate proficiency

Google Keep – keep.google.com – A student found this and shared it as away to make awesome checklists.  I haven’t had a chance to explore it, but I remember being very excited about it.

TLDR – cool app; not sure if I’ll use it as a math teacher.  Shortens articles so students can see if an article is right for their paper.  Stands for “too long didn’t read”.

Twitter Bingo – okay, this is more of idea, but I loved it!  Used on a field trip or possibly for opening inservice to make an experience more interactive!

Tweet Deck – check it out if you love twitter.

Screencastify – easy way to record whatever is on the screen

Apps/ Websites I Plan on Exploring More

code.org, madewithcode.org, blackgirlscode.org  – using code to bring equality to classrooms; teaching a 21st century skill to all students

Google Draw – this looks like an awesome way for students to organize ideas; if you have ways you have used it please share!

Move it – chrome extension that gives students a mental break

Skype Qik – I was told it is like snapchat, but can be 42 seconds long..intriguing.  Did you just get the snapchat notification about “snap pay”?  My mind can’t even begin to handle this.

 

Mostly there are tons of things, but I am hungry.  Who is going to party tonight?!  I’m happy to learn of awesome things you have done and share my seemingly small resources compared to the giant known as google.  Please comment.  I’m all about learning more!  @mr_ulrich_uw

*not proofread and I’m a math teacher so get over any grammar/ spelling issues…*

 

Keeping The End In Mind

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Being 24 years old, the world is my oyster.  I could literally do anything with my life.  Where do I go tomorrow, what will I be doing in a year, where will I be when I am 30?  So many paths to choose and I am left paralyzed.  Instead, I try to focus on what I want out of life: to leave my mark on the world and to help people be successful through meaningful relationships.  Even though what I want out of life is still a little fuzzy, focusing on the end calms my nerves and allows me not to worry about how I will get there.

Today I came across a book titled Beginning Javascript (or something like that).  Learning how to code has been on my mind for some time, and my mind instantly thought about the reading required to master the first skill, then the next, then the next.  I turned to my roommate who is good with computers (to say the least) and asked “Where do I even start? What do I need?”  His response was simple.  “What do you want to make?”

This blew my mind.

We take take a similar approach to learning in education, worrying about all of the different ways to teach students and never take the time to ask the question – what do we want our students to be able to make/ create?  We plan the skills we will teach, but not the problems they will help solve.  I think that it is time we stop looking at learning as a set of unconnected and truncated skills and start asking students what they want to create. Our job changes from giving directions to giving support and allows students to figure out what learning means to their lives.

When students look at school through the lens that learning is a list of things teachers ask them to remember they are overloaded and paralyzed at the amount of work that is before them.  They realize only after notes, homework, tests, and papers will they have the opportunity to create and do something meaningful.  If instead we ask them what they want out of life and help them fill in the pieces, I believe we will have motivated students eager to ask for our help.  The importance lies not in how to get there but having the end in mind.  If we want students who think, we have to let them.