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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Multiplication is For White People: Chapter 1

Once in a while you come across a book and think, "I just HAVE to read that."  When I came across Lessons With Coffee's proposed book club, I jumped right on it!  As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a teacher in downtown Detroit and my student body is a little different than the sunshine and rainbows you see plastered all over back to school advertisements.  The book we're reading is called "Multiplication is for White People" Raising Expectations for Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit.  After reading up on it, it seemed like a book that could easily benefit me in the teaching position I'm in.  One of my biggest complaints about my college experience is the lack of preparation there is for teaching students in urban environments.  It needs to be addressed - but that could be an entirely separate post.  ANYWAY...

The first chapter was an incredibly easy read and is now filled with plenty of my annotations and side notes.  I am big on "talking to your text" with my students, so it only makes sense to practice some of it myself, right?  Plus, it makes referencing back super easy - which I will be doing a lot of here.

There was a portion of the chapter that was filled with quotes (some old and some very recent) and they were all linked with a common theme - that African American's are inferior to others.  One of the most recent quotes, by the former secretary of education, William Bennet, went horrifically like this - "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in the country and your crime rate would go down."  Even typing that out made my stomach turn.  I will not be displaying an image of my annotations on that page and I am sure you can imagine why.  

A lot of the chapter discussed how society has set up our young black students to fail and that we as educators are often not hitting the mark where we should be in order for them to succeed.  I am such a liberal you guys and I just want equality in such an imbalanced and disgusting society.  Each year that I teach, I talk with my kids about their future and, I mean it when I say it, I am genuinely concerned about where the road of life will take them.  Doesn't any decent teacher feel that way?  Knowing the odds are stacked against them can keep me awake at night.  I am that type of person.  The fixer.  The one who cares so much that I want to solve all the problems.  Can I?  No, but if more people had that mentality, could we?  I think so.  

For this chapter, we had a scenario posed to us...
Imagine a little black boy, like millions around the country, who goes to the community center after school to shoot hoops. The first time he shoots 20 times and misses 20 times. Still, he comes back every day. The next week he might make a few baskets. After a few months of daily attempts, some days he makes 7 or even 10 out of 20 attempts. Other days he makes only 3. After a year or so, he makes more shots than he misses. Despite week after week of relative failure, he continues to try, until he eventually finds success.
The first thing to think about is why the boy doesn't give up - but why would he?  It's a sport he loves and kids love to get it right.  That is until an outside force says "no you can't!"  Then the road is split - the boy could prove them wrong or he could give up all together.  Too many times we see kids give up because society has taught them that there is no point in trying.  People have created the harsh environment in which people live in - do you think people really wish to be that way?  Think about it.

If we want students who engage in the practice necessary to achieve, if we want students who persist in the face of failure, if we want students who want to come to school, then how do we need to change the way we teach in order to get kids to view school failures the same as basketball failures?
- newmediaandmarketing.com

I don't know who told me this, but I know it came from the time I was in high school, but someone told me that the most important thing you can do is know your audience.  It doesn't matter if they are friends, colleagues, buyers, or anything else - just know your audience.  I know that with the beginning of each school year I question how I can become a better educator for my kids.  How can I get them where they need to be?  What steps do I need to take to make sure that I am doing the absolute best of my ability?  KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!  If you don't start at day one and get to know your kids, all of them, then there is no possible way you can cater to all of their individual needs.  It's just not possible.  Someone will fall at the wayside and that is doing them a disservice.  I talk to my students a lot about my personal live and in turn they love to share any bit and detail about their personal life in return.  We have conversations.  I'm not the boss and I never refer to myself as anything like that (okay maybe we do a class example of branches of government I may have once..).  We are a community of learners together and I am learning from them while they are learning from me.  

Have Fun Teaching (YouTube)

We like to take dance breaks in my classroom and sometimes I like it to have an educational swing to it (don't think we don't GoNoodle a ton, we DO!) and skip counting is always a task for my kids.  In my first year, I found the silliest songs and my kids wanted no part of it.  When we started to use the skip count set from Have Fun Teaching on youtube, skip counting became a lot easier!  It's not a baby song, it has a beat they can move to and it's right in their interest level.  In this case, knowing my audience was the biggest piece of the success puzzle.  I knew what kinds of music my kids liked, what they needed to work on, how long their attention span would hold, and how visual they are.  This will be my third year using these videos and we start from the beginning of the year and go all the way until the end of the year.  They always get better at it and they've never grown sick of it.  They have always jumped and screamed when I put it on - which I don't mind because their excitement is important to me.

In the end it's society that creates the achievement gap and as educators, we have to stop letting that happen.  Can I do it by myself?  I don't know, probably not, but for the sake of optimism on a Saturday night...  However, can we make that change?  Absolutely.  Make what they're learning about what they love or already know and I promise you things will get easier.  It's a constant cycle and I know I have to continue on it, but I will continue to you do it because I have to know my audience.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Inner-City Teaching

Talking about this has been a long time coming and it’s something that I have been questioned about many times over the last year – especially when interacting with so many teachers/bloggers/creators.  First of all, I am an elementary teacher at a charter school in downtown Detroit, MI.  Saying I teach IN Detroit often leaves a certain kind of look on someone’s face, but before we make any judgments, let me explain.  I love my job!  Is it stressful?  Yeah, I’m a teacher!  Am I faced with circumstances that are unique or different from those outside of inner-city teaching?  Absolutely.  However, none of these things have ever made me consider leaving my job.  I am going into my third year at the school I am at and I am excited to start the new school year and meet my new kids!’

Teaching inner-city is not for everyone and I know that.  I can’t say that I ever imagined myself teaching downtown, but I always knew the demographics I wanted to work in.  Poverty and inequality have always plagued my mind.  Even as a child, I didn’t understand why these things existed or why they still have to.  That feeling, or that spark, is part of what drove me into the desire for teaching students that come from low-income communities.  I could get into statistics and numbers about what the outcomes typically are for these kids, but this isn’t a college course and I’ve already written that paper.  

I'm sure we've all heard the popular Gandhi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  It's always been a favorite of mine - I even had this phrase on a pair of TOMS at one point in time.  Such a simple concept pushed me to where I am today.  I don't like the idea of knowing something exists and not doing anything about it. It's a constant internal battle not to speak my mind sometimes!  While in college though, I really started thinking about kids who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the statistics in the paper I previously mentioned.  I couldn't help but ask myself, "How do I see change if I'm not part of making the change?"  It's as simple as that.  If I want these kids to have a better future or outcome, I want to be a part of getting them there.

My students come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Believe me, they aren't all bad!  However, with inner-city teaching, there are students who don't have a consistent place where they feel safe, secure, welcomed, and sometimes even loved.  One of the best parts of my job is that I get to be a part of that place for my students.  Sometimes students see a loved one get killed, sometimes students are homeless, or sometimes students are just struggling with a million little things at home and I can make our room the place where all of that goes away.  Is that an easy task?  Nope!  However, it's part of the challenge and struggle (see below).

I have taught in the suburbs and it was great and fun, but it was just different.  Was it easier?  Oh yeah.  The kids are different in inner-city areas.  They have a spark and personality like none I've ever seen.  There are times it can drive you crazy, but more times than less, it's the greatest thing in the world to me.  They have an appreciation for opportunities and being exposed to things for the first time that I've never seen in other kids.  Many of my students are mini-adults and have adult personalities.  Pulling them from that cloud and back down to kid land is tough, but so rewarding when they get there.  Are my kids a little wild?  Yeah, but they aren't bad kids.  Most don't have the fun play dates in the park or sidewalks to run down and play tag on.  That desire and energy for play has to go somewhere.  Is my classroom loud?  Almost always.  And almost always it's perfectly fine with me.

This is my favorite part!  I was a social studies major in college and I am still fascinated with history, geography, cultures...you name it!  I'm in!  I love studying people and the ways they do things.  Working in an urban environment provides me with the chances to learn so much about so many different cultures.  I have always been fortunate this way though.  Living in the Detroit area provides the opportunity to be exposed in a cultural melting pot.  It's great and I embrace learning more about anyone or anything I can.  We even study local cultures and beyond in my classroom - that's how important celebrating diversity it is to me!  Intolerance often comes from a lack of understanding and exposure.

I'm sure some people love that easy breezy lifestyle, but it's just not for me.  I like to be challenged and I'm the kind of person that when told "I can't," I am determined to prove that "I can!"  Each day in my classroom is a challenge.  I don't think that's a bad thing though.  I face struggles that most teachers do, but there are added bits and pieces of interesting moments that always make me say "Wait...what?"  I had another teacher (from another state) say, "Oh, don't do that, have parent volunteers do it!"  I instantly wanted to reply with the laughing/cry face emoji because I do not know what that is.  I've never had that happen.  If I can get a working phone number, I'm pretty excited about it.  If I can get 25% of the class to bring in their school supplies, I'm pretty excited about it - that means I only have to buy for the rest of them and not the WHOLE class.  The struggle is VERY real.  Should I have to buy supplies, shoes, clothes, etc. for my students?  Maybe not, but sometimes they need it and when it comes to items that go home with kids - I always check with parents first.  I don't want to overstep boundaries, but ultimately I am there to help my students in every way I possibly can.


See?  It's not so bad!  It's actually really wonderful!  I don't have to worry about being laid off at the end of every year and I'm not told at the end of the summer I'm going to be teaching a different grade.  I don't have the stresses that many teachers do because their administration doesn't engage that conversation first. I LOVE that and I love my administration for that.  I have a principal who is so easy to talk to about anything.  She's wonderful and she supports her teachers. Do I love everything in my school?  No, but who does?  Do I agree with everything in my curriculum?  No, but who does?

A college professor once told me that teaching one year inner-city is like five years in the suburbs.  Maybe she was right, but I don't feel like I've been teaching that long.  It's hard work, but for those people who really want to be the change, I highly recommend you try it.  

A couple great articles on inner-city teaching to get you thinking!

Survive and Thrive: Why Some Inner-City Teachers Don't Leave

A Day in the Life of an Inner-City School Teacher

Monday, August 3, 2015

August Pick 3 Link Up!

Welcome to the August Pick 3 Pinterest Picks!  I am so excited to be linking up with some really incredible blogs (that all of you should follow) and I hope we're all getting a little bit of information that will help us with the back to school madness.  I don't know where everyone starts, but in my school, teachers report back for two weeks of PD starting on August 24th.  In other words, I have 3 weeks to live it up!  (By live it up, I obviously mean set my new classroom up and move tons of furniture haha!)

Every year I'm looking for something new to make my life a little easier and a little more organized at the beginning of the year.  This year, I found a few hot ideas that I think are going to be worth my while and hopefully yours, too!

 This year I am handing out flip books to parents with tons of classroom info that they will likely ask throughout the year.  I usually send home tons of paperwork and hand outs, but think seems a lot easier because it puts it all in one place.  
Click the picture to link back to Pinterest!
There are tons of variations of these flap books out there and al over Pinterest  but I am a teacher and I know how it goes, sometimes we are on the hunt for a good freebie!  This lovely at Mrs. D's Corner linked this beautiful (and editable) flap book for FREE!  Since it's editable, you can really make it your own and apply it to your classroom the way that you need it to work!  
All I have to do is cut and staple?  I can handle that any day of the week!  Plus, the brightly colored papers make it fun and friendly.  It's a different way to get all the B2S stuff in without it being a boring packet of white papers.  

Because we live in a time when people are SO connected with their phones, I try to always find the best ways to keep parents informed on what we're doing in our room.  Sometimes parents need reminders about upcoming tests or events going on in the school that they may have forgotten about.  This is where Remind 101 comes in!
Click the picture to link back to Pinterest!
I have used Remind 101 in my classroom before and I LOVE it!  You can even create printouts for parents that let them know exactly how to sign up.  It's Thursday night and we have a test the next day, and I'm sure ALL of my students will remember to remind their parents they need to review, but in case they don't, I have Remind 101.  It's great to set up on Back 2 School nights or to send home with the beginning of the year items.  I like to keep in touch with parents as much as possible.  It's quick, it's easy, it keeps your personal number private, and it's so beneficial!

Okay, so heres's the thing.  I LOVE taking pictures.  It doesn't matter where or when or why or how - I just love doing it!  I have always taken pictures on the first and *close to last* day of school.  I say close to last because where I'm teaching doesn't allow me to run to a one hour photo place on my lunch break to let kids take their pictures home.

This year I am really pushing myself to expand my use of portfolios in my classroom.  I want this to be a way to showcase how much my students have grown throughout the year, but I also want it to be something that they can take with them when they're done.  We've done memory books in the past, but with their portfolio, we can see just how much they've grown academically and even physically with the added photos.

Click the picture to link back to Pinterest!
The amazing Jennifer White over at First Grade Blue Skies comes up with some of the CUTEST things I've ever seen.  She's absolutely amazing and if you aren't following her yet, do it!  I love that she has this cute bulletin board up that works perfectly as the backdrop for a first day of school photo.  Seriously, SO CUTE!  I like the lake of color because it makes the student pop out in the picture.  Sometimes when it's too colorful or busy, the eye misses the subject of the photo - our kiddos!

There are so many inspiring things we can find on Pinterest, I know that we could go all day, but there's lots left to explore, so make sure to link up!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

First Grade: Unit 3 - Where I Am

Here it is!  Finally!  It seems like I started working on it such a long time ago, but it’s finally done and I’m very happy with the way it turned out.  After I completed my second grade social studies units last year, I decided to take on the task of tackling first grade social studies.  It has taken some time (oh hello, grad school), but I’m getting there!  Now that Unit 3 is complete, you know that means Unit 4 is just around the corner – always looking for the steps ahead.  Enough with the chit chat…
Like previous units, this unit includes all of the vocabulary cards that are used within the unit.  The vocabulary for this unit includes aerial view, map, globe, land mass, bodies of water, location, address, direction, direction words, relative location, region place, natural characteristics, human characteristics, human & environmental interaction, adapt, and seasons.  There are 12 different activities in this unit and even a few poster printables that I know all of us teacher’s love.  There are also page size directional arrows that can be printed out (left, right, up, and down).  I may teach 2nd grade, but I printed them out to go with my NSEW arrows.
First and foremost, I wanted to give you guys a little preview of some of the activities in the unit. If you'd like to see any of the rest, feel free to check out the preview in my store.  The first activity is really fun (I think)!  It shows students the difference between an aerial view and an eye level view.  What a great way to introduce the concept of maps by including some serious vocabulary words!  I decided to do a glass of water in my example - it was on my desk at the time!
I am such a huge fan of flap books.  I love them.  My students love them.  Plus, anything to assist in those fine motor skills is a major help in my classroom!  One of the best parts of this unit happens to be the discussion about positive and negative consequences to our environment when human interaction takes place.  I am always so surprised how thoughtful kids are when it comes to the environment when we just take the time to ask them and talk about it.

It's funny how kids know the right thing to do with our environment sometimes, but adults can't seem to figure it out beyond the dollars and cents.  The bonus with flap books - you aren't limited to only the answers I provide!  You don't even have to use them at all!  If your students come up with great ideas, use them, add them to what I have, make an anchor chart and get the discussion moving!  Those discussions become really inspiring lessons.  I think a great book to tag along with this lesson and a great intro to human and environmental interaction would be City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan.  I read this book to my students every year and they LOVE it! The fact that I teach in a big city helps, too.
I am a fan of comparing and contrasting, but I don't always use the venn to do so (although there is one in this unit).  This could be used to review after the flap book or even before - that's up to you!  You can always do three for each together as a class and have students come up with more ideas on the back.  I plan to use this with my students this year, because we do cover this a little further in 2nd grade, and I think it would be a great warm up to get their ideas moving.
As you can see by my drawing, this is why I am not the artist behind any clipart.  Drawing is not my super skill, but I do my best and my students think I'm the best artist they've ever seen!
Okay, so this little book discussing the importance of preparing your body for different seasons.  Here in Michigan, it's a little different, because that winter coat is always in the closet just in case and you never let a pair of shorts go too far.  You just never know!  I went over this with my niece the other day, who is starting 1st grade this year (ahhhhh!), and she read through it and was really into talking about why it's important to wear different types of clothes in different seasons.
I mean, if that's not an awesome drawing, I don't know what is (hahaha!).  If you want kids to just draw clothes, or them in clothes, or write descriptions, the page is left blank for you to decide.  I will probably have my kids draw themselves in seasonal appropriate clothes after we've discussed and made a four square chart for each of the seasons.  This is a great chance for students to draw and label or draw and write captions!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Wow, I can’t believe that I have neglected this pretty little blog for three months!  How did time go by so fast?  Before I get to the real meat and potatoes of this update (I love that ridiculous phrase), let me just update you on the craziness that is JAG!  My school year ended about three weeks ago and I’m missing my kiddos already (I always say I won’t, but then I do).  Immediately after the school year ended I went into my summer internship as a part of my grad school program to become a certified reading specialist. I worked one-to-one with a little boy who was repeating first grade, but couldn’t identify all of his letters and very few sounds.  In three weeks, we made a LOT of progress and we finished our time together with him at a DRA level 2.  I’m crossing my fingers and toes that he will continue to grow over the summer.  

Speaking of grad school, I am nearing the end of my summer session (2 weeks left, yes!) and then I have 2 courses in the fall and it’s graduation time in December!  I’m already thinking of another MA program I’d like to challenge (I have a strong love and minor dislike for continuing education).  When I'm in school, I'm so busy trying to keep ahead and on top of things, but when I'm out of school, I miss the craziness and the process of it all.  I literally could make college a career - except not not he professor end.  I don't think that's for me.  I love being a student.  

On the creative side, I still have a million little projects I’m working on and I’m growing used to my big girl computer upgrade.  I have used a Macbook for the last seven years and it’s just slowing down. I took the plunge and bought a pretty new iMac that is bigger and better than my Macbook.  On my Macbook I had always used powerpoint, but I’m going to give things a go this time around using Pages/Keynote.  Essentially the iMac was a business purchase because my little Macbook couldn’t keep up with my demands.  I need to look up some tips and tricks and finish transferring the mass amount of graphics I have.  

So to sum up my excuses for being a slacker…
  1. Grad school is kicking my behind in the “keeping me busy” category
  2. The end of the school year was a bigger challenge than I had anticipated
  3. New computer, new programs
  4. It’s summer.  I can’t help it.
  5. No really, it’s mostly grad school.  It’s life at this point.

Lastly, can you guys believe that the TPT Conference in Vegas is just a few days away!?!?  I am leaving on Wednesday, the 8th, and arriving fairly early.  I am SO excited and nervous at the same time.  I can’t wait to meet everyone and make some new teacher friends!  (Does anyone else get excited for teacher friends???)  I am traveling with my grandma (my favorite person ever) and her four daughters (one of them is my mom).  One of my aunts lives in New Mexico, so they thought it would be a great family trip together.  Should be interesting! 

I have a big long post coming up about why I teach where I teach.  I’ve had this on my mind for months because I’ve had so many people tell me “you’ve got to get out of there” in regards to where I’m teaching.  Maybe a few readers will have a change of heart after I dig into the real reasons of why I choose where I teach.