I’m Sorry for My Hypocrisy

A lot is going on in my head right now. It was a busy weekend, mostly due to EdcampBham Saturday. It’s my favorite weekend, but usually my most stressful. This year due to some health issues and the craziness of this past school year I vowed to not be stressed. Luckily we had new teammates as well as the team we have had in the past that pulled off an amazing event. This year, with my vote to stay worry free, I was more “present” for the day.

For the first session my friend, Tom Murray, signed us up to do a session on professional development. He had done this session in the past so he knew where to start. If you have ever met Tom, he had a huge happy personality so it only took minutes for him to take over the session so I mostly stepped back, made a few comments and let it all soak in.  We had the group discuss what is wrong with traditional PD. We got the answers we expected: sit and get and no follow through and support afterwards. They then discussed new ideas in PD and pretended to be head of a school and made a PD plan. It was a fantastic session that wasn’t a gripefest but became an ideafest. OK so hold this thought on this session because I’m coming back to it. Promise.


Also this weekend, I made a video to go with an article for THE Journal I was interviewed for. If you know me, you know that I can get up on a stage of 1000s and I don’t get nervous and love it. But me and my southern accent on video is enough to make me a wreck. But the video was on a topic I thought was pretty important, so I agreed to it. The article was on using interactive white boards in BYOD classrooms. I focused mostly on ClassFlow and it’s benefits in the BYOD classroom. I answered this question “How do you manage a classroom with all those devices and the whiteboard being used all at once?” So as I’m recording my video I’m discussing teachers rolls have to change, etc (actually recording a million times), I had a sinking feeling in my gut and started thinking about that session I did at edcamp earlier that day.

I’m a hypocrite. You see I’m the “tech rep” at my school. I’m in charge of the technology PD there. We are also a BYOD district. We were not until around  November, tech reps were to inform the teachers and send home permission slips with each student. It was a hard transition in middle of the year. But I did just that. Then wondered why not many students took advantage of this and why teachers who are constantly complaining about lack of tech did not either.

Now I know why, it is all my fault. I can make excuses, I am teaching a new PBL tech course 5 times a day to 125 kids where I’m writing the curriculum as I go, I also teach one science class everyday. I also have 2 kids of my own who have a pretty active afternoon schedule. But excuses aren’t acceptable. When student learning is at stake I can’t make them. The central office never offered us (yes us because I would attend, even if I know this stuff bc I need to pass it on) training and even if they did its hard to expect teachers to drive to the district office 30 minutes away and it’s intimidating to some. I knew this and so I should have stopped up in my building. I should have found someone to cover my classes or stayed after school and net with every single teacher. At least those who were interested in using tech in their class. I know they don’t want more PD but I could’ve done something to get them there.

Few weeks ago I wondered why my district and school was not embracing BYOD like districts I read about in blogs and articles. Well it’s my fault. No one (ME, not pointing fingers here I’m taking the blame) said hey here is where to start, here is a new, free, product that can help. I never modeled for them. Seriously even if you are a techy, the idea of sending kids loose on cell phones and tablets is pretty scary. You’re entire job changes and we (I) expect teachers to jump on that. What the heck is wrong with me? 

The problem is when you are BYOD and do it correctly, it is more student centered and students actually are more engaged. We need that. We should want that. But without walking teachers through their role changes, how can we expect that. Think about how many (usually boring sit and get) PD sessions we have just for new textbook or new standards. BYOD is a new textbook, heck it almost replaces them. Why was this over looked?

So to all of my coworkers apologize. I did you wrong. I cheated your students out of learning.  To those who attended our PD session Saturday, I apologize for being a hypocrite. I just became one of those who do PD and you think “they have no clue what is like in a real classroom.” One of those in the session is a coworker of mine, I’m surprised he didn’t call me out. I’m glad now Tom was Tom and had the room’s attention so I didn’t put my foot too far in my mouth. I apologize to y’all, my readers, because y’all know how passionate I can be about PD yet I’m apparently just fooling y’all. But thank you for taking the time to read my blog and putting up with my struggles. I do have a plan for coming next year, hope I will get to put it into place. I will make the time. I have to, learning is at stake.

It’s a Struggle

Rigor. I hate that word. Reminds me of dead bodies. It has been a pretty popular word in education lately, especially since Common Core. It is a word many aren’t sure of the meaning. It’s definition is kind of the opposite of what kids endure on a regular basis. But even as much as I hate the word, I completely agree the idea behind it not only needs to be present in every classroom, but is something we cannot have STEM or any kind of advanced learning without.


Last week I had a meeting and in that meeting it was brought up that a complaint (which I have had a lot of this year and it’s something I’m not used to) a parent had about my class is that the student was struggling and the parent did not want the kid to struggle. It has really stuck in my mind and I had been researching (because that is all I have done this year), thinking, and trying to play out in my head about learning and struggles.

I have written before about failure and it’s importance when learning, but the struggles are not something I have evert stopped and thought about.

I feel like I need to point this out to give you a background on my class –

1. I teach technology elective and there has been a lot of discourse over whether an elective should be an easy A class. I wish I did not have to give grades here so we could focus on the learning.
2. My class is really not that hard. Yes the technology is mostly something new, but it is not hard stuff. I have actually made sure that I could find 2nd and 3rd graders who have done the same.
3. This is my first year teaching the class. I had 2 weeks to prepare for it. I have had to write my curriculum as I teach it. I have re-written this said curriculum as I have seen what works and/or researched methods, which is probably at 100 times now.
4. This class is 90% PBL using authentic assessment.
5. Classwork grades are mostly based on kids successfully completing small portions of the projects by deadlines (give or take a few days). Classwork must be 20% of grade says my district higher ups.
6. Finished projects are graded on a huge spectrum from the research to the correct use of tech, not on just being pretty. This assessment grade is 70% of the grade.
7. This is the first time my students have had any experience with PBL.

Ok back to the post. Struggle. I love science and math. Struggle comes with science and math. The entire scientific method has to have struggle to even work. There must be variables, testing, and going back to test again. That is not a do ‘without thinking’ task. But are struggle and rigor the same thing? When I look up rigor is almost always defined as the depth of understanding, questioning, and application. So maybe these words are not synonymous. But I can’t help but think that you can’t have rigor if something is simple. It takes searching and testing for answers or to see if it works. To me that is a struggle. It is not something that is easy.  If you can do something the first time, did you really learn from it? If you can memorize it, are you learning it?

I read this article a while back and it has stuck with me. The title alone is “The More You Struggle with New Information, the More Likely You Are to Learn It.” It goes on the say that struggle is an essential part of learning. If that is correct, when we teach students to learn through rote memorization, are we helping or hurting? While searching for answers on this I came across this article from NPR about struggle in a Chinese classroom. It talks about a student who does not understand a math activity and the teacher makes him go to the board and do it in front of the classroom, and then talks about the class cheering for the student when he gets it right. No I would never do that in my classroom and I worry often if classrooms from the East are lacking in creativity but it has a point. The student had determination and then had a huge sense of accomplishment when he was done.

Look at sports. I love sports. I love watching. I was a cheerleading coach for years (yes it is a sport). My 8 year old daughter spends 5 hours a week in gymnastics class.  If she didn’t struggle, then she would not have to go but for an hour a week. I still know every motion to the “UCA All Star” cheerleading dance I learned in 10th grade. It was so hard and I was 2 years younger than the other girls trying out, I practiced more for that dance because I could not get it. (I did eventually and I made All Stars that camp.) But because of that struggle, it stuck with me. I was a better cheerleader for it. I’m a Bama football fan, if you know who Nick Saban is, I really don’t need to draw a parallel here.

But with all of this said, struggle cannot be the only factor and rigor does not mean hard. You can’t give extra work and make it harder and call it rigor. Struggle needs to just be a part of it. There needs to be fun. There needs to be student centered motivation. There needs to be the problem solving aspect. There needs to be some passion. It is just a part of the whole. Just like the PBL lesson it self, there has to be many parts to make a whole in the end. Without each part, the learning goals are not really met. I don’t know if I am hitting each part with every lesson. I try.

This school year I’m learning. I’m struggling. I have never struggled with curriculum before. I’ve never struggled with teaching the way I have this year. BUT I know I have learned so much. I know what works with PBL and middle school kids. I know what does not work as well. I hope my sharing with y’all these “struggles” I am learning from are helping y’all in some way. Someone called me an “expert” in PBL the other day and I laughed because I have had as many failures as successes this year. You should see my private journal! Ouch! But I looked back on a PD session I was asked to give last summer on PBL, if I gave it again tomorrow, not much would be the same. There is a huge difference between having that text book knowledge of something you did 2 or 3 times a quarter and something you do everyday. I knew what PBL was, how to do it, etc, but now my knowledge is so much deeper and clearer.

If life is easy, we do not learn from experience. We would not be able to take that experience when harder things come our way. We have to find a way to give our students these experiences. We have to find a way to do it while encouraging as well. We have to celebrate the successes that come from that struggle. I think that part is forgotten. I have had so many successes in my classroom this year, but no one calls the principal about those or send me an email about how awesome their child’s website is. I know how that feels, so I know I have the goal of always pointing out the success that comes from the struggle with my students. Just like the story of the classroom in China, they celebrated when he got it. A “good job on ___” can go such a long way. The struggle cannot be the finish, just the path to get there. That means I have a finish line this year, right?

More links I like about rigor and learning through struggle:
Rigor: What Does It Really Mean?
Thoughts on the Meaning of Rigor
We Learn and Grow Through Struggle
Rigor Redefined

What is a Great Teacher?

So this question has been plaguing me over the last few months. We all strive to be the best at what we do. But what I get stuck on is what is the best?  What makes a teacher successful/great/etc?

Are the most successful teachers ones who’s kids make A’s and B’s?  Grades suck.  I hate them. I wish I could just write a letter saying “Your kid did all that was asked, followed the criteria, and understood the material” or “You child never turned in any work or attempted to do anything other than argue in class. He seemed to understand the concepts but I have no way to prove it.” But like them or not I have to give them. So are those teachers whose majority of students make perfect grades better than those who have grades across the spectrum? Is a whole class of A’s good or too easy and not pushing the students?  We learn more through struggle, right?  So is this good? Or on the flip side, if kids have low grades because of lack effort, is that a reflection of the teacher?  What if the district has a grading scale that puts too much emphasis on assessments or benchmarks? I bet if I gave worksheets, had kids read from book and gave tests on it, my kids would make A’s. You wanted your kid in that class?

Are they the teachers who are nominated for awards? Or national board certified?  Do these things make you a better teacher. Maybe at some point. I just know people who I think “Why are you here? You hate kids.” but they have that certification. Does that teacher in your school who gets nominated every year as TOTY that much better than you?  And if so are they helping others to be as great as they seemed to be?

Are they the ones who are good at self promotion online? Those social media “stars” (insert sarcasm there) that tweet in every chat available. Those that tell everyone they are the best. Are they better?  Are they any different than teachers not online everyday who seem to rock?

How do we measure if we rock or suck?  By parent emails?  What those parents are saying about the teacher at the ballpark? By behavior of students that we have no control of 23 hours of the day?  By how much time they put into what they do?  Is it pedagogy?  Because if you are doing blooms correctly and hitting higher learning skills, kids aren’t going to always make A’s. Is it how much their students actually learn, not based on grades?  I read something the other day that when summed up said that as long as you care for the kids and loved them, it didn’t matter if they learned content. Does that really make you a better teacher? That’s kind of a scary thought. Is it the teacher always using technology with students VS the teacher who only turns on computer to check email and post grades? Is one better because preparing kids for their world or is one better because kids still learn the content?

I have no idea the answer to this. It is been driving me crazy. I just want to be the best at my job but I’m none of those. My kids don’t have all A’s. I just want them to finish something and turn it in so I can grade it some days. I just want them to learn, and OMG at what they have learned this year, but that isn’t good enough, to be great, is it? I don’t have any awards. I’m not a national board certified teacher. I tweet out my blog post but I get very embarrassed when I need to self promote, I have a panic attack writing bios and resumes because feel weird bragging. If parent emails suggest, I suck. Behavior has driven me nuts this year. Not usually an issue for me. Disrespect when you try to show respect us hard. Pedagogy is a strong point for me. But being PBL class this year has caused most of the hate mail and kids never experiencing it not to make A’s. So I know I am using really good pedagogy, but I’m so close to just giving them all A’s and letting them play games all class so I won’t be measured as a failure. I used tech, but who knows. And I really do care for my kids, even that 1% I smile when they aren’t there because I know no one will hijack my class.

So what makes a good teacher?  What makes a sucky teacher? I wish I knew. I’m kind of good at doing what I’m supposed to, but I don’t know what that is anymore. I just want my kids to learn. And learn stuff they can use for a life time. But that may not be successful. What do you think? How would you classify great teachers?