Why I'm not attending my masters graduation
I’m supposed to graduate from Johns Hopkins this Thursday (does it count as my graduation even if I’m not going?). I’m not going. There are a number of reasons for this, though I kind of regret not registering. Yes, I am still getting my diploma from Hopkins with a 4.0 GPA and my graduate degree in Urban Education. But I’ve had serious issues with the entire masters process since I started my coursework. Essentially, I didn’t work that hard. Not as hard as I would’ve liked. School work, academia, and intellectual stimulation are some of the only things in my life that have really brought me joy and illumination throughout my entire life, and having known what it was like to graduate from a school that I LOVED, that meant everything to me, the idea of sitting through a ceremony at a school I didn’t even particularly like seemed hypocritical to me. Frankly, since most my friends in the program seemed to feel the same way about it, I was surprised to figure out that I seem to be the only one not going. The program didn’t mean that much while I was doing it—I’m not going to pretend it does now.
I delivered my class’s undergraduate commencement address. I walked across that stage in front of all the people who loved me in the world (almost) and the idea of stumbling along it in robes of an unfamiliar color after listening to an irrelevant address by someone else to get a sheet of a paper that, while prestigious, doesn’t mean anything compared to one I already have, seemed silly. I spoke to my undergraduate advisor about it a few days ago and he asked me if I thought I’d look back on this and regret the choice not go, and I said no, and we both laughed. Basically, the only thing I’ll miss is the requisite instagram picture of me in another robe.
My time in TFA and at Hopkins has definitely solidified one idea for me—right along with our PK-12 education reform, we need higher ed reform just as badly. I hope to walk across a stage again in a number of years to get my ph.d, after faithfully working towards that goal.
My Final Formal Observation - Lesson Ideas
Okay, I’ve been planning my lesson and here’s what I’ve got. I will have about 45-60 mins of observation. The entire lesson will take longer than an hour, but admin will see enough to understand.
The lesson is for third grade, and we will be reading Diary of a Worm.
After reading the story and using Questioning the Author strategies throughout, students will work on a sequencing activity. At their group tables, they will be given an amount of sentence strips with the events of the stories written on them. They will need to put the strips in order. I don’t want to spend long on this, so I might make it a race amongst tables. I might scrap this part altogether.
Then, the students will begin working on their own unlikely diaries. We will discuss point of view, and review the parts of a letter. Students will have to create their own ten day diary from the point of view of an unlikely character. We will discuss how the author used facts about worms in her writing, so students will need to research facts about their creature of choice to put into their writing. I’m not sure if I will have pre-printed articles about various creatures OR if I can reserve the laptops for students to do research on. It will take extra planning for the pre-printed articles but will run smoother in class - however the laptops will give students more choices on the creature they want to research, though it will cause some “downtime” while handing out the laptops which my admin would probably comment on.
Thoughts, comments, suggestions?
I’m curious about your goals/objectives. If the sentence strips don’t fit your objective, I would definitely scrap it.
Edit - My Goals:To survive this lesson since it occurs in a TWO DAY week (Monday and Thursday are field trips, off on friday) and on tacky day. But - since my curriculum is done, I’m just reviewing things we’ve learned from the year. So, sequencing could fit in. The main focus is obviously point of view and parts of a letter for the journal aspect, with some science crossover with the research. I think I’ll have the sequence thing ready depending on how fast we get through reading the story.
Edit Edit: I’ve scrapped the sequencing, though I will have it available for early finishers. I need to create some templates (suggested by mrsjdr) for the diary for time’s sake. I’m scrapping the laptops and will have the information sheets available to students. I’ll need info on maybe 10 different creatures so students can pick. Does anyone know of kid friendly animal info sites that I could use?
I cried at prom last night
As much as these kids drive me completely crazy sometimes, I’m going to miss them. A lot. It’s finally set in I only have a month left with them.
I feel like it’s this weird parent-like instinct that’s taking over. Sure, most of them are only five years younger than I am, but they still feel like my babies. I’ve tried to explain this to my non-teacher friends and they don’t understand why I’m so upset about it. They don’t understand why I’m still giving all I have despite the fact my contract wasn’t renewed.
I could ramble on for ages about that, but ultimately, it boils down to this:
I go to school everyday with a smile and do the best I can (even though it hurts like hell) because of those kids. Right now, I don’t work for the administration. I work for my students. Period.
Google Docs Help
My students are collaboratively writing a play, and I thought to myself Google Docs would be great for this! Do you guys know of any way that students could use google docs even if they do not have an email? Isn’t there some type of loophole where you can make a class email but somehow still include the kid?
Developing Effective Study Habits
Below are some tips to help you develop the attitudes and habits which lead to success:
1. Take responsibility for yourself, and your failure or success.
2. Understand that you’ll need to priorities the way you use your time and your energy. Make your own decisions, and don’t let your friends dictate what’s important, and how much you should work.
3. Figure out when your most productive work times are, and the types of environments where you work best.
4. Try to understand the material well – don’t just memorize what the textbook says. If possible, try to explain it to a friend.
5. Try something else if revision doesn’t help. Don’t just keep reading the same things again.
6. Then, if you still don’t understand then ask for some help. It’s not going to magically fall into place.
7. Study with a friend, and share ideas, and test each other on what you’re meant to know.
8. Keep working and revising throughout the term so the material stays fresh and is easy to retrieve.
Elementary Reading Instruction
I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching reading. My school uses Houghton Mifflin readers (big textbook of random “samples” of books, all whole-class instruction), which I honestly think is pretty terrible. Luckily, we’re given some freedom in how we implement it.
In the last few weeks of school, I haven’t been using the curriculum and have been experimenting with rotation “centers” and reading groups instead. Each reading group is reading a non-fiction text about California Missions, since that’s our Social Studies/Project Based Learning unit. My kids are SO MUCH more into reading/writing/word-work this way. I want to do something similar from the start next year, but don’t know much about rotations. Does anyone have any recommendations or resources? I’ve read Daily 5 and was thinking of doing a modified version of that…anyone tried it before?
So Close to the Wire
At my district, seniors were done with exams on May 10 and the graduation ceremony is tomorrow, the 19th. The days in between are either a vacation or a last-ditch effort to finish credits and retake exams so that graduating really happens. The deadline for proving completion is the Wednesday before The Big Day.
But this year, there was a senior pulled into the counseling office on May 6 and shown that he was still a whole credit shy. There would be no way to complete two entire courses in the days remaining, so although it was tough to break the news to the boy, the counselor told him the awful truth. Understandably, he cried.
Earlier in the year, this student with a profound learning disability had known he was 2 credits shy, so he had worked steadfastly in the afterschool program all year to complete two classes beyond his normal course load. Either he misunderstood or nobody explained to him that 2 credits is not the same thing as 2 courses—they are half a credit each. He was devastated to learn his walking in the ceremony would not happen.
The counselor defended her ruling. She had informed him early in the year and had sent letters home throughout, letting them know about the deficit. The thing is, it turns out, the boy is homeless and couch surfing, so the letters disappeared into the ether and never made it to the boy or his family.
His SpEd caseworker stepped in and got administration to extend the deadline for him so he could at least try to finish two more classes before graduation day. He did some of one class in the afterschool program but that wasn’t turning out to be enough. I came in to work two hours early each day for a week and we worked 8 or 9 hours a day learning basic consumer ed. When he reached 70% completed by Thursday night, I agreed to come in on my day off Friday to teach him the rest and it was the bright spot of my week to witness his passing the final exam at the end of the day, demonstrating a depth of understanding about economic principles that most adults aren’t expected to understand as they sign mortgage agreements or decide whether to buy or lease that BMW.
His caseworker took on the task of guiding him through the other half-credit he needed and I understand they finished that one as well. She sent me an email this morning to thank me for doing more than I needed to so that the boy could walk with his class.
I suspect she did more than she needed to as well. When I checked the reports of his online progress and graded his assignments for the other class, I could see that he was logged on and working in the class at some of the same times he was sitting in my office, with me, learning about interest rates and insurance premiums. Talented boy, breaking the laws of physics and all, being in two places at once.
"You can't get so attached to your students every year."
I had a (non-teacher) friend say that to me a few weeks ago. It’s been sitting in my mind, teeming, festering, and growing.
I’ve seen a few different ideas on this and perhaps it changes depending on your teaching style and the grades that you teach but I can’t imagine teaching without getting attached to my students. Nor can I imagine a reason why I shouldn’t get so attached to my students. Sure it sucks to leave them (but after student teaching, it’s a more natural conclusion at the end of the year). It’s definitely sad and it feels like a piece of your heart is going off with them. I think that’s the point though! I’m sending my students off with a piece of me (the things I’ve taught them about English, literature, and life) to grow with, to grow into, to spread, and to share. That’s my goal.
If I’m not attached to my students, I feel like I’m doing it wrong. It’s like that post I’ve seen around about how many teachers call their students their “kids.” In the way that these students become such an integral part of my day, life, and heart that they will forever be “my kids.”
I don’t think that’s wrong. Do you?
An Autodidact on the Open Road
When I was a kid, I wanted to spend all of my time building umbrellas out of old wire hangers, duct tape and garbage bags; I wanted to take my bike, my notebook and my PB&J sandwich and be on the road all day long. I observed insects, drew their pictures and named them; I learned the names of the local rivers and made my own routes; I saved baby birds from the mouths of cats and learned how to care for them by talking with neighbors and going to the library. I once kept a baby Goldfinch in my room for nearly two weeks; every morning, I woke with the sun to bring it outside where its mother taught it how to fly until it flew away one day. I have to admit, though, that some tears were shed that day. Tweeters was indeed missed.
I felt more invigorated and more alive in these moments than I ever did in school. I found school to be a place where kids were mean, or they didn’t care about all the cool stuff I was doing. I remember longingly gazing out the windows, wanting so badly to be on my bike with my notebook and with other kids who were as into adventure as I was. The smell of textbooks made me ill; homework was a death march. I dreaded being squeezed into the school cafeteria with all of those smells - nervous sweat, Tetherball sweat; the odor of cheese zombies (think lots of butter, slabs of white bread and Velveeta cheese - all smashed flat by sweaty, miserable cafeteria cooks).
This was elementary school; prepubescent frustration with school led to downright rebellion in middle and high school. That’s a story for another venue.
So here I am, recalling the memories and details of what I remember from ages eight to twelve; what I learned from my own education during those years far surpasses what I learned in school - other than the terrible smells and anxiety of worksheets and text books. I don’t remember anything from all of those lessons, save for a few ridiculously awesome field trips and outdoor school.
If I would have had a few adults in my life who realized that school was actually choking me, and who would have allowed me to stay on the path I was on while coaching me along the way, I might not have dropped out of high school to play Hacky Sack with all of the stoner kids. In fact, I might have been coached into designing a really cool school club, where all the Hacky Sackers could go to kick sack and discuss politics or science; we could have had our own newsletter for the school to read and showed them that we were sharp. Since we weren’t seen as smart, but rather as slackers, it was all too easy for many of my friends to believe that. I believed it, too, for quite some time.
As the story goes, I now have my own self-directed learner, Zoe. She’s 16. She has struggled with school (academically) since the beginning. I’ll never forget - when she was in the 2nd grade, one of her assignments was to color in her hand turkey (you know, when you trace your hand and make your thumb into the turkey’s head; then all your fingers become feathers.); she had very little interest in doing this assignment. I remember thinking to myself: Why wouldn’t she be into this? What’s so hard about coloring in a cute little turkey? She didn’t see the value in it. She wasn’t interested in doing that. What she was interested in doing was spending hours and hours building an elaborate and well-designed (functional) palace for her hamster, or in running around outside and climbing trees. She was also really into fashion and dance. She was putting outfits together that Versace could learn from in the 4th grade.
I was a young mother, in college, studying to become a teacher. I knew that my daughter was the kind of kid my mother wished on me - she was like me. To this day, she hasn’t seen the value in cramming for tests, writing essays that fit into a rubric or learning about the threat and danger of suicide in health class for weeks on end. Inside, I agreed with her; I was right there with her when I was a kid in school, and my own values surrounding education contradicted every punitive action I took when it came to bad grades. But I couldn’t tell her these things - it would just fuel the “eh, who cares about homework” even more.
The ego can sometimes be mistaken for love.
As a parent and an English instructor, I was torn. My kid had to do well in school. She’s a representation of me. My ego and my genuine concern for my daughter were playing chess - one of those painfully long games, too, where an important move is so important that it takes years to make. I made her education about that for too long. I didn’t want either of us to be just another statistic of a single mother whose child flunks out of school. And if I am such a good instructor, then why is my own kid flunking out of school? Okay, I can understand why she’s failing math - but there’s no way she should be failing English!
Ninth grade was the last year I struggled with this whole debacle. My daughter goes to a good school, but it’s not good for her. She was on the varsity dance team with girls whose parents earned more money in a year than I will in my lifetime. She wasn’t one of them, and it was painfully obvious. I volunteered as a food mom, and during competitions, she often sat alone. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that fees for dance team were well over $2K for the year and they offered no scholarships. I was barely able to come up with this kind of money, but to keep her involved in what she’s passionate about was important to me. And because she failed a few classes, she wasn’t able to dance for the final competition. And that broke my heart. I needed to make that chess move before my opponent forgot how to play chess.
I wanted my child to do well in school, or so I thought. When I let my love for her take over, and not my ego, I came up with a new question.
Do I want her to do well in school, or do I want her to do well in life?
This is right about the time I was introduced to Alan Burnce, founder of a new program here in Portland called Open Road Learning Community for Teens. I met with him; we talked as teachers together in this, and we talked from my position as a parent. This is the answer to my problems. My daughter met with him, we all talked together. It was unlike any other conversation I’d had before because we didn’t have to talk about forecasting, grades, classes that need to be repeated, test scores or whether or not we live in the district. My daughter is a dancer, she’s an amazing cook - totally into healthy designer food; she is an artist, and comes to many great conclusions and finds new interests through that art.
The dress my daughter is wearing in this photo was taken last year at summer camp. She was given a room filled with supplies, a sewing machine, a mentor and the time to make anything she wanted to make. She came up with this design years ago - a flapper dress is something she always wanted to make. There you have it. She made it. It took her hours and hours to glue those crayons onto that dress; and to this day, she is proud of her creation and dedication to her vision. This one dress boosted her confidence in ways I seldom see happen in school.
Knowing that Open Road can guide her through her passions and talents, connect her with people from the community who will work with her on turning those talents into real world opportunities puts my mind at ease. Without programs like these, too many creative and innovative kids get lost in the cracks of subject matter and tests.
I look forward to watching Zoe become confident and proud of doing what she does, and does well. This entire experience - parenthood - is a healthy and humbling beast. My grownup ego and hypocrisy have been sufficiently squashed. Zoe is her own force; she’s on her own path just as I was.
Open Road is building something special for teens like Zoe. If this concept moves you, visit their campaign on IncitED and share their work with your friends.
— Kevilina Burbank