Sunday, November 16, 2014

Social Studies in the Middle School Grades

Students will be utilizing different strategies for Social Studies and History under Common Core.

I have developed a lesson that provides a multimedia approach to the explicit instruction of terminology and processes in Social Studies for middle school grades.

Click on the link to check it out!

Middle School Mayhem Part 3: Hedge Your Bet

Sometimes I think we forget we are teaching KIDS. Teachers look at the amount of content they must cover, testing standards that are RIDICULOUS at best, and an observation system that is flawed by design and we panic. We create the same insane standards for our kids that we have thrown upon us by those making educational decisions.

Vast majorities of Middle School Kids will shut down when they feel stress and failure. They are already dealing with hormonal changes and social pressures, and the addition of schoolwork failures causes a system overload. It is easy to spot when this overload occurs. It is the student that suddenly becomes the discipline problem, or the kid that refuses to do any work, or the kid that starts missing school.

Teachers create these phenomenal lesson plans that are encompassed within even greater projects, and often we forget that we are teaching kids, not standards. When we realize students are jumping ship, we need to stop and regroup. Within that fantastic lesson and award winning project, we must foster activities that will make ALL students feel successful. It is called hedging your bet, and it means that you are giving a little in order to gain all of the rewards at the end.

We all need to feel successful throughout our journey through life's obstacles. Students place as much emphasis on their grade as we do on their test scores. What might seem like giving grades by actually counting an activity that everyone makes 100% might just be the life preserver that keeps one of your students afloat. Help your students cross the finish goal by giving them some sustenance along the path.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Middle School Mayhem Part 2: Praise

I once heard someone say "an ounce of prevention prevents a lifetime of cure." The saying was something along those lines, although I think I changed it to fit what I needed to know. Basically, it means those who take the extra effort in the beginning will reap the rewards of that action in the end.

This saying holds true with Middle School Students. (I am going to shorten the name to MSM from this point forward.) If the first interaction you have with a MSM is negative, then you have already lost the battle.

Any kid, no matter what the age, responds to positive comments. In most cases, it only takes one positive interaction in the beginning to set up a communcation highway between you and the MSM. Whether it be telling them individually that you have heard great things about them and are excited to have them in your class, to something as generic as "I think you are a neat kid", you have taken the time to acknowledge that they are SOMEBODY. So many kids today feel lost and left out. If you say something nice, and you sound like you mean it, you have validated that student's presence in your eyes.

When you know your audience, the positive interaction can be creative. For example, there are students in my school that are obsessed with creating and ordering their own unique sneaker. I stopped one in the hallway and called him over. I asked him where he got such cool looking shoes. He told me he ordered them, and I peppered him with a few more questions about the process. Did I care to know how he obtained the shoe? Not really, but I engaged him in a positive conversation about something he cares about, and he responded. I had done my homework, and I knew this student would be in one of my upcoming classes. Additionally, I knew that this student had the reputation of being quite the troublemaker for attention. I won the war.

Our second term started almost 5 weeks ago, and when I saw the roster of students scheduled for one of my classes, I literally sat down and cried. I CRIED. Working in ISS one period hearing horror stories from core teachers, combined with seeing these students in the office every single day that I went down to check my box, I knew I was going to be miserable for an entire 9 weeks. After a period of week long mourning, I decided that I had to take action before I became a statistic.

The first day of the new term brought exactly what I expected. I could hear them in the hallway, and it sounded like a riot outside my door. When they walked in my room, I made them stand at the door until I acknowledged each one by name. I then told every single student where their seat would be. They came in, and when they sat down I told them not to touch anything because we were going to have a discussion first.

I started to tell them about myself, and what my expectations were for every student in my class. As I told them about what was allowed and not allowed, I suddenly stopped mid sentence and turned to look at them. I told them that I had to go over these rules, even though I could tell they were going to be my best class and I was wasting my breath. I paused, and I could hear crickets in my head because the silence was deafening. Two kids actually looked around with the expression "is she insane?" I went on, never cracking a smile and never tipping my hand. BOOM - I had them.

I had three days before THE NIGHTMARE got off of out of school suspension and joined our class. THE NIGHTMARE had already been suspended out of school on five different occasions, and had a reputation like no other. For the three days he was out, I heaped constructive praise on the students individually, and as a group. They were like putty in my hands, which I needed in order to be able to handle the addition of THE NIGHTMARE to the class.

THE NIGHTMARE showed up exactly like I had expected. He walked in, trying to catch the eye of the other strategically placed students as he passed. None of them even blinked. I reviewed the directions, and I could tell he was already on the computer and not listening to the discussion. I did not call him out, but instead rehashed my first day presentation. As he got up to leave at the end of class, I asked him to stay for a moment so I could talk to him. He had a small smile on his face, because he was sure that I wanted to discipline him for not following directions.

As he stood at my podium, I turned so the other kids could not hear what I was going to say to him. It was then that I told him I was so excited he was back to school, and that when I saw his name on my class roster, it made my day. I let him know that I KNEW he was going to be the best kid in the class, and that if he proved me right, I was going to need his help on special projects. He shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the class.

I was not sure my strategy had worked. The next day, THE NIGHTMARE walked into my classroom and sat right down. He logged in and was waiting for instruction, and I kid you not, he WAS being the best kid in the class. He immediately went from being THE NIGHTMARE to MY FAVORITE. MY FAVORITE made me cry a few weeks later, but not for the reason you would expect. That will be in a later post.

Every kid needs some positive light in their life. Be the one place where a kid feels loved.

Middle School Mayhem: Part 1 - Front Street

I have always gotten along with kids. Whether it be working for a daycare, Upward Bound in college, or leading children's musicals at church, I tend to bond well with kids. Someone once told me I had the Santa Claus effect after I sat down in public and two little kids just came over and started standing with me. I had not noticed until she pointed it out, and it has resonated with me ever since. I guess you can call me "The Kid Whisperer."

I have been at my current school for three years, although the first year I was only there part time working with the teachers as a TIS. I was scared stiff the first day I actually took over as the Computer Tech teacher, because the word cloud describing Middle School kept me on my toes. My bag of tricks worked, and I had 100% participation in my classes. Although student behavior was excellent, I WORKED HARD AT MAINTAINING it.

My first tip towards mastering classroom management is something I like to call "Not Putting Kids On Front Street." Middle School Kids are driven mostly by peer pressure and acceptance. In elementary school, kids are in highly controlled environments where they spend the majority of their day with the same group of students. High school students start developing their individual personalities, and it is generally accepted that there are different groups of kid within the same building. Middle school is the toughest age, because elementary school kids are now moving and existing in a mixture of new faces and social settings. Throw in the imbalance of hormones, and you have a recipe for disaster. Think about a time when you walked into a room of people you did not know. Did you walk right into the center of the room confidently? Did you quickly scan the room for familiar faces and make a beeline towards someone you felt comfortable with? Did you slide into the room and awkwardly try to establish a rapport with someone you were drawn to? Did you even walk in at all?

My job is to be teacher, mediator, and moderator. I am the "Julie" of this vessel. (Julie - quick reference to The Love Boat. Activities Director) I am the match directly in the middle of kindling. I am the one that can ignite a huge wildfire if I am not careful. If I call out to a student in front of all of their peers to admonish their behavior, I am putting the kid on Front Street. I have now taken this poor soul, who has worked tirelessly to evade public humiliation at the hands of the other kids, and put a spotlight on their every imperfection. Cue the Fight or Flight response. I must find a way to redirect their behavior without putting a target on their back. Unless this student is causing physical danger to themselves or another student, I will lose the trust of the student if I make a spectacle of whatever they are doing. If I get into a confrontation with a student, it is a lose-lose battle.

A good teacher will call the student aside to address their behavior. A great teacher will have set up protocols before the first behavior has ever taken place to ensure the ability to address future behaviors without disrupting their teaching flow. These protocols are easy to establish, and I will be discussing a few in my next Middle School Mayhem segment.

Don't put kids on Front Street!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Middle School Mayhem: Introduction

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would enjoy teaching middle school kids.

If I had created a Word Cloud back then, the different phrases I could picture were impulsive, mouthy, hormonal, unruly, immature, hormonal, extreme, uncontrollable, hormonal, disrespectful, hormonal, and hormonal.

Did I mention hormonal?

Fast forward a year and half after taking the Computer Technology position at a middle school. I am brutally honest to a fault, and I must declare that I LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOL KIDS.

Scratching your heads, right? So was I. About six months ago, I was not so sure I was cut out for my position. However after tweaking some classroom activities mid term last nine weeks, I have created an environment that I truly enjoy. Well, almost. If I only had to deal with kids in my classroom, it would be perfect.

I have advice for anyone that will be, or is currently, responsible for middle school students. I am not a master of anything, but I do have some things under control after 20 years. Watch for my Middle School Mayhem tips to see what I have found to be successful and UNSUCCESSFUL.

Old Teachers and Zumba

(published on the Staff Spotlight of our Tiger's Telegraph website)

I took an interview with Ms. Mutterback.  She is the Computer Tech teacher here at Princeton Middle School.  She is one of the best teachers here in my opinion.  She always has a smile on her face and she is always nice to everyone.

Q: How did you meet my parents?
A: I met your parents when you and my son played on the same soccer team.  I really liked your mom and dad, and I remember thinking that your mom was hilarious.

Q:How long have you know us?
A: I think I have known your family since 2006.  That is a rough estimate

Q: Do you remember when me and Bryce played soccer together?
A:  I remember very well when you and Bryce played soccer. What I remember about you was your mom telling you to stick your tongue back in your mouth because she was afraid you were going to bite it off.  You would run and have your tongue stuck out.  She cracked me up!  I think you were faster when you stuck out your tongue.

Q: Why doesn’t he play any sports anymore?
A: My son doesn’t play sports because he really loves being in band. He stays after school almost every day for band practice, and he has learned how to play so many instruments I have lost count. He is going into a musical professional, so I am happy to stay after school and take him home.

Q: Do you want him to play sports again?
A: I want my son to do what makes him happy. I am not sad about his preference of music over sports. I just want him to go into a profession where he makes lots of money, so he can take care of me and I won’t have to work when I am old. If that means doing something with music, then I support it fully. I am kidding about the taking care of me financially when he grows up. If ANYBODY wants to support me financially in the future, then that is fine with me! (JUST KIDDING!!!!)

Q: What is your favorite thing about your work?
A: My favorite thing about work is all of the kids that I get to see. I think there are some fantastic kids at Princeton Middle, and I feel lucky that I get paid to come and work with you.

Q: What made you want to do this?
A: I have been around kids my whole life, and going into teaching was a no-brainer.

Q: How long have you been in your career?
A:  I am on my 20th year in teaching. Six of those years I worked as a Technology Integration Specialist, which allowed me to help teachers use technology with students.

Q: What is your least favorite thing about work?
A: The least favorite thing about my job is when I have to work in ISS. I cover it the last period of the day, and I would prefer teaching last period so that I could end my day on a positive note.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do?
A: My favorite thing to do is to go to the gym and take classes with my friends. Did you know old teachers like me take Zumba? There are many old teachers that go to Zumba. Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Sink, and Mrs. Gross from the high school go to Zumba with me! Do not tell them that I said they were old. They may get angry.

It was so amusing I had to share.

Advice from the Elderly

As I sit and lament on my 20 years in education, I marvel at how things have changed. Even more unbelievable is the fact that so many things have stayed the same.

When I emerged from Concord College (now University), I was bright-eyed and buried deep in the educational utopia that I was convinced I would find. I had created my Education 360 units, survived my student teaching placements, and earned the golden seal of approval, signaling that I was a well-equipped teacher.

I moved out of state because I already had a Special Education job filled with my name. There were only two of us that graduated knowing we had a job: myself and a young, African American named Paul. Jobs were hard to come by in the mid 90's.

Within three years, I was able to come back home and teach. My parents had suffered health set-backs, and I needed to be near them. When I ran into old college professors, I adamantly expressed the need to have introductory Special Education courses be a required part of any general education degree. Mainstreaming was quickly taking hold, and the rising college graduates did not have Special Education training unless that was their major. Shortly thereafter, Special Education courses were part of the catalog for education curriculum.

I have held every job that you can imagine.  I was certified in Mild/Moderate Impairments along with my Multi-Subject K - 8 degree. I was employed in Special Education at the start, and truly loved my job.  However, money became the name of the game, and states started realizing the money they could save by lumping students with mental disabilities in with students recognized with behavior disorders. Each impairment had a max number of students that could be housed in a room by one teacher. For example, a teacher could have up to 8  Mildly Impaired self contained, or 4 Moderately/Profoundly self contained, or 4 Behavior Disordered self contained students. After the max number was reached, an aide would be assigned to the class. The state quickly realized that as long as the max number was not reached in any given category, a teacher could have a roomful of students at the same time without an aide. My last year of Special Education was when a BD student was thrown in to an already impossible teaching load of Mild Impairments/Learning Disabled students. That story is a whole other post.

I have held a multitude of teaching jobs over my 20 years. I went to college with the idea that I wanted to have a cookie cutter elementary classroom. I attained a Master's Degree in Reading Education K-12, and after becoming certified as a Reading Specialist, I entered into the Title 1 world. From Title 1, I was employed as one of the first Technology Integration Specialists in the State of WV, and for six years I worked with teachers. I have landed as a middle school Computer Technology teacher presently. Looking back, I could have never predicted that my true love would be teaching middle school students. My only regret is not becoming certified to teach anything at the high school level.

I just got home from the funeral of my aunt. While there, I spoke to two relatives that were in college to become teachers. Both stated that their goal was to become elementary school teachers, just as I had envisioned so many years ago. My advice to them was heartfelt, and I hope that they are forward-thinking enough to heed my words of wisdom. My advice was to get certified in their first love, but to also look at subjects and grade levels that only required one or two additional classes to complete. Often, your general education classes are the same, but the specialization requires just a few more classes for endorsement. As they grow and mature in their career, their tastes may change, just as mine. While an undergraduate, you can take additional classes without paying more tuition once you're full time. Once you get your Bachelor's Degree, you pay for coursework by the hour. Take any extra classes that might garner you an endorsement in another classification now, so that you have the flexibility to move around in the school system later.

When I think about 20 years of teaching, it makes me feel old. Can I retire yet?