Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Tenets of Good Professional Development

Unbelievably, I'm going into my sixth year of teaching. That means I have been to a LOT of professional development. Most of it has been a useless waste of time. However! I remain hopeful that it can be done well, and that it can be of use to teachers like it's meant to. Here is my Official Guide to PD. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Workshops should last no more than 1 1/2 hours. Furthermore, teachers should not be sitting in the same room all day long. Parse the PD into different rooms. Once the bum goes numb, so does the brain.

2. When planning PD (as a supervisor or as a presenter), ask yourself the Golden Question: Is this DIRECTLY relevant to classroom teaching? This cannot be emphasized enough. Teachers should be able to think about bringing your content into their practices. Now, whether or not they decide to is another issue, but it should be easy to connect PD workshops to everyday teaching.

3. Encourage participation. It breaks up monotony and keeps people awake. It keeps them accountable for the information, it helps teachers get to know one another, and best of all, that's good teaching. Remember, professional development is supposed to help teachers get even better at their jobs. Modeling is an important skill not just for classroom teachers!

3b. That said, limit role play; adults will feel silly and roll their eyes and/or refuse to participate.

4. Give time for discussion and planning--teachers want that time to figure out how to use the information in their teaching, because remember, it needs to be RELEVANT.

5. Think about the timing of the PD--what do teachers need most? The week before school starts is *not* the time to discuss child psychology or fancypants theories--teachers are anxious to get working on specifics for the students that will be arriving all too soon.

6. When possible, use faculty members to lead PD. Good teachers want to learn from each other. Do panel discussions, brainstorms, small groups, etc. (Hm, doesn't this also sound like something teachers are expected to do in the classroom? Just because you're working with grown-ups doesn't mean you abandon good teaching strategies!)

6b. Make sure that presenters is not only qualified to lead a workshop, but that he/she is also a good speaker, and (here's that word again) RELEVANT.

6c. Please ensure that PowerPoints are spell-checked!

7. Ask teachers for their input and feedback--what are they most interested in? what do they think would be most useful? what new things do they want to learn about or explore? Then, if possible, have options to choose from.

8. Make sure the workshop is something new, or new enough, to be worthy of the time. For example, using technology in the classroom could be really useful, but if the school doesn't have technological resources, or if it's about things like overhead projectors, that's a waste of time. An old idea like, I don't know, group work, that's a no. (I hope this makes sense.)

9. Evaluations must ask about the RELEVANCE of the workshop and how effective the presenter was. Again, good PD should be good teaching!

Educators: What do you think? What did I miss? What would you add/change/delete?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I clicked on a link from Mental Floss to the hilarious Safety Graphics blog and saw this very funny graphic from yet another new favorite site, GraphJam!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


That's the eternal debate, isn't it? I didn't get it when I worked in a public school. Maybe I didn't work hard enough or something. Although I remember the despair my first year, when there was just so much to do and no time to do it. I faithfully brought home piles of paper every night for grading or organizing...and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Each day was so intense that I was just too fried.

Charter schools are a whole other monster, though. There's somehow more to do and even less time to do it. Plus extra things--duties, meetings, extra activities--take up the little "prep" time during the day. (Forget about lunch; that was scarfed with one hand while frantically typing, grading, or copying.)

And this year I'll have all four subjects! I'm not shy about admitting how terrified I am about that. Fortunately, there are packaged curricula for each. We haven't had time to work with it yet, so I'm not sure exactly how they work and how easy or hard it will be to implement them each and every single day. I'm hoping it will be a good way to ease into the work and then as I get used to it, I'll be able to work some creativity into the lessons and units. Because somehow it sounds like we are also expected to create interdisciplinary, multiple-intelligence units. Not sure how those two things happen at the same time...but I suppose it's good that the school trusts us and wants us not to just be parrots of the chosen textbook.

It's really something I can't get my mind around. For five years I had to create everything I did. So naturally that's the way that teaching happens in my head. And holy crap! Four subjects! Every day! Yikes!

But shhh, no, there will be brand new materials! Books, teacher guides (GASP!!! those were like GOLD at Original Middle School, because having one was so rare), workbooks, all kinds of stuff. I have to say, I love that charter schools take away the worry and tension and excuse of broken, old, or non-existent materials.

Oh! Another thing that I have to keep reminding myself is that even grading and homework and stuff won't be such a huge chore--twenty-five things to deal with is infinitely easier than a hundred. Right? And elementary schools seem to not assign homework every day in every subject (even charter schools fall prey to the Magical Packet Assignment), so at most I figure I'd have one set per day. Psh, that's cake!

The last, biggest part of this is work/life balance. It was a huge struggle last fall. I got up before dawn, worked my ass off for ten to twelve hours, and trudged home, spaced out in front of the tv and/or computer, and had to go to bed. The weekends were an all-too-short respite from the grind; just as I felt a bit of myself recovering, it was Sunday night and time to worry about the week again.

I really need to not do that again. It took a huge toll on me--I lost weight, I couldn't sleep, I barely saw my boyfriend, I never saw my friends, not to mention all the crying. I had no time to read or do anything for fun, there was no room in my mind or my life for anything other than school.

The sad thing is, there were so many people working harder and longer than I was!

Anyway, so this year I plan to be strict with myself about going home by a certain time. I figure one hour after school per day will be enough. I joined a gym last week, and went twice last week. Yesterday I dragged myself out the door in the humidity, but I was really glad. It felt good to sweat and let my mind be blank for an hour. So I plan to go at least one time during the week and once on the weekend. The BF and I are hoping to set aside one night a week to spend some time together, either at home or maybe going out for dinner. I'd like to have some friend time at least every few weeks too. I'm crossing my fingers that my so-far friendly colleagues will become friends or at least invite me out to happy hour every once in a while. :)

Because god knows I'll be needing a drink!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back Into the Fire

I am a teacher once again.

I accepted an elementary position at a charter school in June. It was a difficult decision. My mindset this summer is a polar opposite from last summer. I'm nervous about teaching a different grade level, about having one group of kids, about surviving in another charter school, about maintaining patience and a personal life.

I think that being a little anxious will help me a bit. Don't they say that pride goeth before a fall? Last summer when I got that other job I was thrilled and thought it would be fantastic. Ha ha. Well, I fell damn near every week, some weeks every stupid day.

You'd think I would learn, eh?

At Original Middle School, I learned how to be a teacher. I learned that pre-teens can easily run a teacher's pride and/or dignity into the ground in about five minutes. I learned that pre-teens still love stickers and silly songs. I learned how to speak firmly and loudly without being mean. I learned how to entertain myself and my students with my lame dry jokes. I learned that I can't stand disruptions in my classroom--which includes mistakes by inept administrators. I learned that I could mold my classroom and make it a pretty great place to be. I learned that I like to learn and try new things and come up with new ideas. I also learned that I have a tendency to take on more than I can chew and have trouble following through with all my awesome ideas. I learned that kids sometimes actually like me. I learned that I will always have an insane parent. I learned that I can be successful and have fun in the classroom.

At First Charter School, I learned how to be humble again. I learned that it's really fucking hard to teach a brand-new subject. I learned how very important it is to have a place to send disobedient students (because I didn't have one). I learned that my awesome management was no good at a new school. I learned that I flounder easily without enough knowledge or support. I learned again that administration makes or breaks a school. I learned that I can't always be successful in the classroom. Part of me felt like I would never be and had never been successful in the classroom.

At Subbing Charter School, I learned that environment matters. I learned again that if there are no consequences, the students will run wild. I learned that I don't like hearing yelling at a school--from students, from teachers, from my own self. I learned that it's not worth it and I don't have to take that kind of crap.

Today was my first day working with New Charter School. I met a few people and took some notes about what I want to do. I didn't learn anything new about teaching or learning or being a charter school. But it was a good reminder of the important things--finding ways to reach the kids and teach them stuff.

I've learned that nothing is a sure thing. I think I can do this.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

FAQ: Obama's health care reform plan

I know that the new health care reform is controversial. I am all for attempting to fix a very broken system. This article gave me some specific details about what it is and what it isn't.

Taken from the Baltimore Sun, Aug. 12

This summer the top conversational piece on the tip of everyone's tongue revolves around health care reform. The debate rages on through a series of Town Hall-style meetings taking place around the country with President Obama.

When cutting to the heart of all the hoopla, specific questions emerge. Here's a quick glance at Obama's answers to the most common inquiries voiced by folks just like you:
•What if I already have health insurance and am satisfied with my coverage?
Simply put, things won't change much for those content with their existing, employer-provided health insurance coverage. Obama guarantees that you will be able to keep your doctor and your plan. Read the full transcript of Obama's town hall meeting in Washington.

•What if I don't have health insurance?
For the staggering 46 million Americans lacking healthcare coverage, the uninsured will have the opportunity to select a plan from a menu of private and public options --similar to the way members of Congress choose their coverage. Obama's team is working on the creation of the Health Insurance Exchange, which will give people a one-stop shop for a health care plan where they can compare benefits and prices and choose the plan best suited for them. Every plan would include an affordable, benefits package. Obama also promises to provide assistance to those unable to afford one of the plans. Read the full transcript of Obama's town hall meeting in Wisconsin.

•Can I still obtain health insurance with a preexisting medical condition?
Yes! Obama often recounts his mother fighting with insurance companies over medical bills after her cancer diagnosis when they suggested it was a preexisting medical condition. Obama vows to put an end to this practice in addition to stopping insurance companies from dropping people if they "get too sick." Read the full transcript of Obama's town hall meeting in Washington.

•How will my Medicare benefits be affected?
Obama denies any reduction in Medicare benefits. What will change is the wasteful spending associated with Medicare such as the $100 billion in subsidies that go to insurance companies without improving care for seniors. In addition, Obama says the pharmaceutical industry agreed to $80 billion in spending reductions to help close the "doughnut hole" for seniors falling under Medicaid's prescription drug plan. The "doughnut hole" refers to the gap in drug reimbursement seniors face that can accrue into thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses. Read the full transcript from Obama's town hall meeting in Ohio.

•How will we pay for this sweeping health care reform?
Obama says his plan will cost $950 billion over a ten-year period. Two-thirds of the cost of reform will come from reallocating money, paid for by taxpayers, already in the system that isn't being spent wisely. One-third of that price-tag will be covered by increased revenues, such as capping itemized deductions the wealthiest Americans use on their income tax returns. Read the full transcript of Obama's town hall meeting in Virginia.
9AM You Know the Economy's Bad When History Professors Work at Rite Aid

Woman in line: I want to go somewhere foreign this summer. How about Guam?
Cashier: Actually, Guam is part of the United States.
Woman in line: Ugh, these things change so often. We must have gotten it, like, a year ago, right?
Cashier: Actually, we've owned Guam since the 1800s. It sends a non-voting member to Congress, but they have no elector, so they don't matter for presidential elections.
Woman in line: Oh, thank god.

Rite Aid
Doylestown, Pennsylvania

via Overheard in the Office, Jul 20, 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

more link and list love

Mrs Bees at Full of Bees has a great post up about a ticket reward system that I really like. She also posted a list of the top YA books according to the ALA. Now, I love me some YA, because, err, it's my job, right? Yeah, that's it. :) Anyway, so here is The Ultimate Young Adult Bookshelf.

I will bold the ones I have read. A lot I haven't heard of before, so I plan to keep an eye out for them!

Acceleration by Graham McNamee
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Beauty by Robin McKinley (I found it when I was 12 or 13, reread it recently and still loved it about the same)
Black and White by Paul Volponi
Blizzard! The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy
Bone series by Jeff Smith
The Book Thief by Mark Zusak
Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (a-maz-ing, moving book.)
The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Fruits Basket series by Natsuki Takaya
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (been meaning to read this series)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Guinness Book of World Records
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan (Does seeing the movie count? :D)
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin
Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen (I've read a bunch of her other stuff and really liked it.)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (I just finished this today. Really good. Very emotional.)
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (classic, obviously)
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar
Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (nope nope nope, not gonna read it!)
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Game Pro
Rolling Stone
Shonen Jump (I always used to have kids order that from the book order!)
Mad (do they really still make that magazine??)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Recorded Books) (I just read this last week and LOVED it.)
Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer (Listen and Live)
The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin (Brilliance)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Caedmon)
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (HarperAudio)

Bonus lists! "The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." Check out each year's list! They all sound really interesting.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bookmark this

Mister Teacher at Learn Me Good posted a great guest post, filled with useful resource websites for teachers. Go there and bookmark for later use, like I did!

And, in the spirit of oh-my-god-i-can't-believe-school-is-sneaking-up-so-quickly-help, take a few moments to forget about that and laugh at this kitty traveler!