HEY! Parents…Leave Them Teachers Alone!

If you read the title of this blog as a Pink Floyd song, you did it right. Well done! If you’re wondering who Pink Floyd is, thank you for reading, youngster. To be honest, I’ve never seen the video until I went to YouTube today (below).

Image from Pink Floyd's music video "Another Brick in the Wall" showing students sitting at moving desks on an assembly line.

Courtesy: YouTube

I’ll admit I was only 3-4 years old when “Another Brick in the Wall” was released, but that also means “I wasn’t born yesterday.” I have noticed too many humans on this planet who are not only not supporting educators, but they’re actively bashing them on social media. That’s completely crazy to me (but also slightly entertaining.) Here’s why…THEY HAVE NO CLUE WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT!!! Was that loud enough? Are there educators taking it easy during remote learning? Yes. I am sure they are out there. Hello, McFly?!?! They have always have been out there! Remember that kid in 5th grade who failed to do their half of your group project and it ruined your life? Slackers are everywhere and some of them are adults now, if you can believe that, and some are even teaching. Here’s the thing, though: most teachers are fighting so hard to keep this train rolling along smoothly and it is not easy under normal conditions, let alone during a pandemic.

The backstory

A couple of months prior to this post, our new pet bird flew out of our house, after my daughter opened the front door with him nearby. I was in the middle of meeting with a student about her test results. I had to (begrudgingly) ask her to allow me to finish up with her at another time, which I did. I also had to ask my students the rest of the afternoon to complete their work asynchronously until further notice, which they did. Basically, I was AFK for one class that, earlier that day, expected to be synchronously learning. Why? My 6th grade daughter would have been absolutely broken if she was the one responsible for losing the bird, not to mention it was just weeks before Christmas. There are other things that exacerbate the reasons why I had to play hero dad that day, but those will remain my family’s personal business.

I missed the rest of the afternoon, but we found the bird and I took a “retro” sick day to make up for the lost time during damage control. Are there some teachers that might not take a retro sick day and try to get away with pulling a sudden async? Yeah, but not me. I came to find out that the announcement to my students about the async time that day went on FB (I refuse to use the whole word) and people started their word vomit. I was pleased to hear how many teachers/parents would have done the same thing I did that day, but many people were bothered . Would this have never happened if “teachers would just go back to school and do their jobs,” yes, but it would also have never happened if we weren’t teaching during a pandemic either. What would you have done? Leave a comment if you’d like.

Fast forward to a few days prior to this post. I spent time during my day OUTSIDE OF CLASS TIME to bowl with my son for his async PE time for 12-13 minutes in our hallway (below). I posted that as part of my experience that day on Twitter and, again, that post found its way to FB for people to bash teachers, even though they had NO EARTHLY CLUE of the context of the post (time period, length of time, etc.)…nothing.

So began a movement

I got on Twitter and created the hashtag #FaMATs (Facebook Moms Against Teachers) to show that I was not going to let a few bad apples (that probably didn’t fall far from the tree) be the louder voices. I have lots of friends who are educators. I consider many of my coworkers as friends. I have made friends on Twitter with educators across the country. Many of whom will not get involved in social media attacks. I will not let people attack me, (certainly not) my family, or my friends. It quickly became #FaPATs as to be more inclusive (P for parents), after getting a funny reply from a supportive parent. I even started mocking the suggestions of teachers being glorified lazy baby sitters. After the FB post about me bowling with my son, I went off and created THIS Google Slides presentation because they chose the wrong educator to bring into their drama. The presentation provides numerous examples of how much extra work I am doing to make remote learning the best for my students and many more because I share my work with other teachers. However, I maintain my rock star dad status (avoiding doing too much extra work while my offspring might need me) by waiting to continue my school work after they go to sleep.

I know, from my own experiences, that I am putting in more time beyond the extra time I normally put in to make the best experience for my students. My wife is doing the same for her 4th grade students. Teachers everywhere are doing more than the “normal more” to make sure their students are getting the best education possible every single day. Teacher life is a stressful one at times, but certainly more so during a pandemic. I’ve publicly challenged people to spend a week in my shoes at any time. I don’t expect anyone to take me up on it, but I am 100% serious. I don’t think many people could do it. Some of them wouldn’t last one day.

Healthcare workers have been among those who took their own lives during the COVID pandemic. Many of them were young, with children and a bright future. I’m not suggesting that healthcare workers and teachers are in the same boat, but our teaching is certainly more stressful during a pandemic and the public bashing of educators must stop, whether we are in a pandemic or not, if we are to avoid the same fate for educators. Unfortunately, I will not be surprised when I see a teacher taking their own life because of similar reasons. Educators are trying to build a brighter future and doing it during a pretty ugly time, in my opinion. We are trying to do everything we can to make an underfunded educational system work best for our students, your children. More stress on top of that is very much not appreciated.

The #FaPATs and #FaMATs hashtags will be discontinued. Instead, the spirit will live on in a more positive light: thanking those who support teachers and reminding everyone of the reasons they support us. Welcome, #PaSuTs (Parents Supporting Teachers), where I will be posting my love of teacher support and reminders/evidence for why so many parents support us. I, too, am a supporter. I am all about supporting my friends and building a brighter future, no matter how small my impact may be.

Thank you, to all those who are educator supporters, whether you are a student, a fellow educator, or you are a #PaSuTs. Please feel free to leave your support by commenting to this post for other educators to see.

Let’s Be Better, Teachers

Every year students are assessed in order for teachers to measure their growth and determine what more can be done to help them. Like most teachers, I assess my students on a regular basis and provide feedback as often as I can, the more immediate the better. I assess my students through formative quizzes that are worth minimal points. I assess my students through conversation and 1:1 review sessions. I also assess my students every couple weeks (on average) through a summative test and/or project. Through all of these, I can tell a student is making progress (more so in conversation) as they work through the material at their own pace, getting digital instruction from me whenever they need it and face to face assistance pretty much any time during the school day. It’s a system that works and I’ve got the evidence to back it up.

Now for the system that does NOT work. Every year, teachers put on a show in front of an administrator to show off their skills or pretend as if they’ve been on point all year. Teachers are given weeks or even months to prepare for their one shining moment with little to no feedback along the way. It’s the total opposite of what we expect from our students. It can be the downfall of passionate teachers that need some assistance to reach a level they are capable of. It also allows less than average teachers to appear adequate or even great (shudder). What’s worse is I’ve asked and students notice the difference when their teacher is being observed. It’s not much different than the kid who has the Chromebook open, but when you go over, the screen is black or they’re working on absolutely nothing until you’re watching them. Let’s be better, teachers.

3…2…1…STOP!!!

It’s that time of year again – for some educators to begin their countdowns. How many calendar days left before summer? How many actual school days left? Please stop. Let me explain my perspective…

Countdowns are great for things like the vertical takeoff of a 115,000 lb. rocket traveling into outer space, taking the last second shot before the game clock expires and hearing the scream of the crowd (or imagining it in your head while playing in a driveway) when the shot goes in at the buzzer, the number of days until the next big birthday, wedding, graduation, vacation, birth of a child…some sort of positive event. When most of my students leave, it’s the last time I ever see most of them again because they graduate and, to be honest, the teacher part of me gets pretty sad about that.

Since the first day I started teaching years ago, my number one priority has always been (and always will be) my students and their future. It has never been and never will be about the curriculum, standardized tests, parents, administration, teacher evaluations, etc. I spend an entire school year (roughly 180 days for those of us that prefer to count up instead of down) building relationships and providing an education that I can only hope extends beyond 180 days. If I never see them again, I hope the relationships that we built offer some guidance or assistance at some random point later in their lives. Although many of them come back to visit and I cherish those days, it’s not the same when they’re all grown up and not “my kids” any more.

Of course there are days when my students drive me nuts (like the end of the quarter), but like my own children (as in biological offspring), those are expected bumps in the road. My students driving me nuts for a couple days is never enough for me to start a countdown to never seeing them again. I get it…you’re excited to escape the paperwork, emails, testing, the institutionalization of bells, schedules, and holding your pee, perhaps even to go on vacation. I am too. However, if you are an educator who publicizes a countdown, you are essentially professing  your excitement to not be an educator – even if it’s just for a few months. Regardless, at that point, maybe it’s time you question your motivation for working in education…honestly. Is it for getting summers off or for your students? Think about it. If you’re like me, the most important part of your job is the students. We’re building relationships and guiding and educating young people, none one of which should ever end and especially not with a countdown.

Think about it from a student perspective too. They certainly get it. They’re counting down the days until summer, too. However, if any focus or the slightest tidbit of value from coming to your class everyday is to see a countdown, you’ve reduced the value of the relationship and education you are employed to provide for them. Plus, their positive event is a graduation or advancement to the next year in the educational career.

Educators, I’m not suggesting you don’t talk with your students about your excitement for summer break. Please do. That’s called “being human.” Maybe you’re taking a fun vacation or getting some awesome professional development so next year can be even better. I’m not even saying you can’t have a countdown. I’m just asking, politely, that you keep it to yourself because to me, a countdown is simply how many days I have left with my students and that’s certainly not something for which I want a constant reminder.

Flipped Grading

It is common practice for teachers to get evaluated by an administrator. They come in one or twice, jot down some notes and evaluate everything you do for an entire year based on a couple observations. The whole practice is busted. It is the exact opposite of what we’re told to do with our students. It allows teachers to be considered excellent if they can put on a good show once or twice. The opposite is true for my evaluations. I invite my evaluator on the hardest lessons with the most difficult class. However, there is still no formal student input. I’m not saying the busted system that is in place needs to resort to 100% student feedback, but when students have 6-8 teachers a day, there’s a good chance they actually might know what they’re talking about.
So my grading hack is student feedback –  them grading me, anonymously of course. It gives me the immediate proper feedback I need to help my students be successful. It’s not based on teaching methods from 1987.
I surveyed my students last weekend and have already made adjustments for the next week that I know will benefit them because they told me.
I have always gathered feedback from my students, but I’m getting good at it and the use of Google Forms has allowed me to mass-survey very conveniently – for me and them.
Besides, if someone observed my room for an entire week of flipped mastery, I don’t think they’d know where to begin with how awesome it is going on the bogus evaluation forms that are provided.

Another School Year

School starting tomorrow means lots of things, but a few important ones for me.
1. Meeting new people. I will meet over one hundred new students and a dozen or so new staff members. Meeting new people and getting to know them can be fun. I love developing strong relationships with my students that could potentially last for years to come. I have a whole year with them, but I try to melt (and completely annihilate) any awkward “ice” that seems to need breaking right away so we can get straight to learning and having fun as soon as possible.
2. Seeing familiar faces. Yeah, those relationships I mentioned in #1 began with my students from last year (that weren’t seniors) and I enjoy seeing them again. Whether it’s just a smile, “Hey,” nod, high five, or being a little too obnoxious in the hallway, it’s fun to see those bright smiling faces again.
3. Losing weight. Huh? Yeah, every summer, I put on a good 10-15 pounds because I have lots of food at my disposal at all times and I enjoy eating. Quite the opposite is true during the school year. I go to the teacher’s lounge roughly five or six times a year and 2-3 of them are because there’s free food. It’s not that I’m antisocial or anything, I just get a lot done during that time. With the beginning of the year, comes volleyball season, so there are entire days the only times I get to see my own children are while they’re sleeping. Any time that I can save at school helps. Meeting with students, doing school work, even an occasional nap at the beginning of the year are all more important than hanging out with teachers that are sometimes just complaining about everything anyways. There are lots of days I don’t eat anything. My wife asks how I survive without eating. After a summer of gorging and grazing, I’m not sure how I do it either. Additionally, some teachers get together early in the morning twice a week to play basketball. Some get together for volleyball. I don’t play every time, but I do enjoy starting my school day with some exercise. Heck, with the new fieldhouse, maybe I’ll even start running again. All these things get me back on track, not just for maintaining a healthy weight, but for maintaining a healthy lifestyle that I enjoy or at least try to as much as possible.

Hint to New Teachers: It Works

Hint to new teachers: people complain too much. Why is it that so many teachers just whine about how summer is almost over and they have to go back to work? Yes, people have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when the seasons change (especially to cold), but is there such a thing as Late Summer Affective Disorder (LSAD) strictly for teachers and students? I enjoy spending time with family, going places, and relaxing too, but that life is really for the rich and famous. Perhaps getting a glimpse of that life every summer alters people’s perceptions of reality. Perhaps we really do need to get off the farming schedule of schooling around the summer.

As I sit on my “built-with-my-bare-hands” patio,

My view in the shade of the morning on my patio.

My view in the morning shade from my patio.

listening to some birds, thinking about the start of the new school year, I wonder if I’m the only one excited to meet a whole new group of students that I can share my excitement about science, technology, and learning with. More than half the teachers I’ve talked to recently weren’t even sure the day we begin school. Hint to new teachers: don’t miss the first day of school.

Then I think about the students that enter “those teachers'” classrooms on AUGUST 26TH!!! Those poor kids are going to get syllabussed to death or PowerPointed to tears about rules and classroom expectations. Hint to new teachers: everyone’s expectations are very similar and your students have heard it all before, “Come prepared and ready to learn. Pay attention. Be respectful…blah, blah, blah.” They certainly don’t want to hear it 6 times in one day. Hint to new teachers: don’t be ordinary.

That’s right, after 80+ days of enjoying the sunshine, maybe a beach, perhaps vacationing, sleeping until 10am, making money, spending money, hanging out with friends until 1am, kids are just dying to come to school the first day to hear about rules and expectations…at 7:30 am. Our students take everything at face value. If, on day 1, you destroy their hopes and dreams for any shred of excitement they had for school starting, then you’ve already lost them. You lose. Don’t inadvertently take out your frustration of “summer being over” out on your students. Hint to new teachers: summer break ends every year with the start of a new school year.

I remember the excitement I had about starting my very first school year. I renew that excitement every year, but in different ways. How do some people lose it? How does it just become “a job” after maybe only a few years? I can definitely partially blame the system. I can also definitely partially blame people who don’t bother trying new things or connecting with other educators. Perhaps some schools have really lack-luster administration who they, themselves, don’t seem excited to begin the school year or do so by PowerPointing their staff to tears with rules and expectations.

How am I renewing excitement for this school year?
1. “Renovating” a course I’ve been teaching for years (Human Anatomy & Physiology).
2. To begin this year, my students and I will be playing Battledecks, where each participant presents a set number of the same random PPT slides (mostly just pictures) to the class that they’ve never seen before using a theme. We’re going with “excitement for the new school year,” of course. We will alter the format to include different pictures for each participant so that nobody is waiting alone in the hallway while others present the same slides they are about to present. I saw this game played at a conference this summer (FlipCon15). It was hilarious inspiration. We’ll also be playing some epic background music, so I guess we’ll be playing Epic Battledecks. “Two Steps From Hell” on Pandora is what I use for epic music. It is fun for student presentations as well. I ask them if they want to make an epic presentation or a regular one. Hint for new teachers: make class fun.

It’s been said a million times, “be the teacher whose class you’d want to be in (or you’d want your children to be in).” I keep it that simple. Hint to new teachers: it works.

For Me, It Is – A Labor of Love (#FlashBlog 2)

I think I heard it a dozen times at FlipCon this year that “It’s not about the videos.” I have to disagree…strongly, actually. For me, it is.
I’m not sure if that is one of those sayings for people who are not good at making engaging, educational videos or if they really believe it.
If I could have an hour of their time, I think I could get them to “flip” to my side of the argument.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw-63DCRF5wMVVI4NUltZVZEeWM/view?usp=docslist_api
Is it just my crazy, obsessive behavior that pushes me to spend so much time creating and editing videos for school or do students actually appreciate it?
When I started creating Edutainment Videos a few years ago and a student used the word “legit,” I was hooked. How many students actively watch and engage in flipped videos? I can assure you it is way than how many should. Why? There’s way more entertaining media online, for one. If you’re posting videos on YouTube I can almost guarantee that your students are clicking on the next interesting video that flashes up on the screen when they’re done with their school video and some are doing it even before they finish.
We can’t even keep some of them interested when we have them trapped in the building, for Pete’s sake.

image

I am trying to create a culture…hell, a movement, that encourages teachers to put more effort into making their content more interesting whether that’s online or face to face. Whatever that may mean. Whatever that may take.
I obsess over perfect videos now and wouldn’t ever go back. Why spend all that time?
I love it.
I know it’s good for my students.
I have a labor of love that keeps me up late…too late.
The good news is that my videos can be used for years to come and they keep getting better.

Arrive a stranger. Depart a friend.

When I was younger, my mom used to take my brother and I on vacation every year to a ranch in Colorado where we would get away from everything besides horseback riding, nature, and good company. Have you ever gone on a vacation where you’re with a group of people in the same spot so that you actually get to know them? It’s so much fun and it was like that every year. I remember a sign they had in the lodge that read, “Arrive a stranger. Depart a friend.” There are no better six words to describe that place. Leaving there was hard every year. My mom cried every time. Heck, she would probably tear up right now just thinking of that giant bell they’d ring as you drove out their very long, dusty driveway. Some people returned the same week for multiple years, but there were always new people to meet – really good people. You’d get to know them, but then the week was over and many times you never saw them again.

The same pretty much holds true for the relationships with my seniors – minus the tears and giant bell, of course. I spend a year getting to know them, then…poof.

They’re gone.

And most of them never return. What’s even worse about having seniors, is they disappear a week or two before everyone else.

How do we develop those relationships faster? How do we avoid the “one week vacation blues?”

Last year, we completely ditched the curriculum for a day in Anatomy & Physiology (sorry, D158) and I presented all my seniors with “Life 101,” a picture-story of my life and the decisions (many I made, some made for me) that got me to where I am today. Life 101The idea actually spurred from some great discussion we’d recently had one day during 2nd semester in one of my classes about choosing a college. Life 101 was presented to my seniors because I felt the need to share with them the experiences I’ve had in an attempt to help them with the decisions they’d soon be making. Many of my students related to the things I went through, but strangely, all of them seemed to hang onto every word. Maybe it’s because it was the “non-teacher” me. Maybe because they could see themselves in my experiences. Maybe I’m a good story teller. Maybe they just enjoyed not doing science for a day. Whatever the case was, I could sense and see their engaged minds as if I were the big screen at the theater displaying a new movie. I even noticed one girl cry.

I learned some important lessons from my students that day. I learned that mature, college-bound seniors appreciated learning about who I was (we didn’t finish that day and they asked if we could). That’s not to say I otherwise put on an act for them – far from it. I’ve always been myself with my students: usually strange and awkwardly passionate about science, technology, and learning. However, on that day I did something I’ve never done before and something I refuse to leave out ever again. I also learned that I had found a great way to instantly break down barriers that exist naturally between teacher and student, but the type of barriers that don’t need to exist.

I’ve always made a conscious effort to allow my students to not only feel comfortable in my class, but extremely welcome to the point where they might even be excited to come – or at least I hope.IMAG0892 Every year, I leave my seniors with my personal email address and a one page letter, thanking them for their dedication to our class and their school and for allowing me to share so many fun times with them.

How do we develop those relationships faster? For me, it’s Life 101, which I will now share with my seniors at the beginning of every year.

Upon looking back, there’s one more thing I just realized: that the mantra for my classroom is essentially the same as the sign in that lodge –
Arrive a stranger. Depart a friend.

Community Outside the Classroom

My first #flashblog about finding community outside my school can only be referring to Twitter. For me, Twitter has been an epic journey in which I have gained knowledge about so many school related topics and meet so many awesome people.
For the first time, I recently met many of those people at #FlipCon15. Well, maybe not THE first time. That would be at the NSTA conference in Chicago (which sucked) where I met two science teachers I’d had numerous conversations with through Twitter edchats. It was weird, but like meeting someone I’d been friends with for years.
Back to East Lansing, where I met so many awesome people at #FlipCon15. Only this time I recognized over a dozen people. The difference this time was that there were more of them and most of them knew each other too, so it was more like family at Thanksgiving.
In both scenarios, social media allowed there to be no proverbial “ice” to break.  We all just showed up with it already broken.
When Facebook (which I’m not on) and Twitter first came out, I would have NEVER thought either could be so instrumental in my life. Needless to say, I’m glad I joined Twitter.
Actually, I’m so glad I joined Twitter, I actually felt bad for the teachers who I could tell weren’t on Twitter or were not active on their account. So being me, I made sure to say Hi to them and remember all of their names. I can’t wait for the day I “run into” them on Twitter because, well…everyone does it, right?