Saturday, November 14, 2015

The State of Affairs..

Wow.  It is November.  I am a teacher with 24 years experience, and I have returned to a regular public school classroom. I began my teaching career in 1991.  It is now 2015.  

I am just coming up for air.  We have been in school nearly 3 months.  I am surviving.....just surviving.  For the last 20 years, I have been in gifted education, and it has been my passion.  But, last spring,  I felt that I needed to grow, and part of that growth was returning to a regular classroom.  I wanted to see what was going on, how things have changed, and I wanted to demonstrate to myself that I could go back and take a group of students from September to June and be a strong influence on their learning.  I wanted to embrace the new BC Curriculum.  I wanted to round out my professional skills and have the concepts I've worked with in gifted education,  work with all my students.

I thought:

1.  What is good for the gifted is good for all students!
2.  I could work in a near paperless environment and have the students engaged in higher level thinking skills and use technology with ease!
3.  I could reach all learners!

Here is what actually happened:

1.  I have stopped using ideas from gifted education because when I tried, the students were so unable to follow along, so out of their comfort zone, that it was disastrous.  I felt like a first year teacher, with mayhem on my hands.  Goodbye gifted!

2.  I have used more paper and photocopied everything that the idea of going paperless makes me laugh.  I am back to fill-in-the-blank sheets.  Have I ever used fill in the blank sheets in the last 20 or so years? Now, the photocopier is my best friend.  Technology....I try but it is challenging when the internet doesn't work and you have 28 kids starting to loose it and your presentation is too wordy.  Use wikispaces for assignments?  Not all the students have access to computers after school!  Use iPads in the class...yes when I can sign them out and they are not being used by other classes. A Bring Your Own Device classroom is a great idea in theory, but most of my class would not be able to bring in their own device because they do no have said devices.  Technology has not come gracefully to my class!

3.  I haven't been able to reach all learners.  Right now, I am thinking may 10 out of my class of 28. 

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy teaching and working with students.  I am not a complainer.   But, the game has changed.  The nature of the profession has changed.  And, the state of affairs in my classroom is a day by day adventure.
I now know why teachers are so stressed.  I also know that this profession is so underfunded and undervalued.  We've heard this all before!  I can now attest to it.  Most surprisingly, I now understand why people take their children out of the public system.  There are way too many needs.  I can no longer fix them all.   I can only do so much.

So what have I done to survive?  I've changed my game plan.  I've had to relearn what it is to be a teacher in the 21st Century.  I am still promoting academic excellence, but it is categorically different for each student.  For some, that may be writing a sentence, or finding the right word, or being able to concentrate for more than 2 minutes on a particular assignment.  For others, it might be facing the day without a meltdown.  

And yet, through it all, when I am feeling like I have not reached one single student, and that I am still operated in "gifted la-la-land", I will have a few of my students enthusiastically great me and share with me their little surprises, or their ideas, or something related to a lesson I have taught.  They are there, and they are learning, and they are moving forward!

It will be okay.  Now onto report cards!  Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Eight Years and New Memories: setting up the classroom

I spent 8 years teaching at Brock Elementary, running the VSB Challenge Centre Program.  It was a special 8 years, seeing my two sons enter kindergarten and preschool, and then exiting the elementary system.  

I needed to take these photos as memory of my time there.  Although most of my teaching materials have been removed, I wanted to cherish these memories of Brock Elementary.

And now, onto a new chapter in my life:  going back to teaching my own class at Cunningham Elementary.  Here are some more pictures of the progress I have made setting up my class.  Below is the library area.

Although I have set up a system for my library, I know it will change once the students are here.

 This will be the conference area for small group work.

This is the view from the back door that looks onto the courtyard.  I imagine the students working there in the fall, spring, and summer - drawing or writing poetry!
 This is where I will have class meetings every morning.  I need to work on this area  and make it more appealing.

Entrance to the classroom:  on the left is the students' mailboxes.  I am hoping to use these for notices, reminders, bucket fillers, homework, etc.  I haven't fully figured it out yet.

Cloak room area:  at the end I placed a table with a few stools and will use this as the quiet area - when a student needs to work quietly away from the rest of the group.  The door is entrance into the storage closet - one of my favourite places!

This is the inside of the storage closet.  It is a place for curriculum resources, units that I am developing, and science and math manipulatives.  The blue bins above are each labeled with a subject area, and in each I will place lesson plans, units, supplies for that unit. This is so that I don't make a mess with this in the classroom.  You know when you have photocopies a bunch of resources for say, spelling?  I have a place to put them now!

The red bins contain science materials, plastic baggies, lego and other building materials.

 The magazine holders carry purchased teacher resources.  I used to have about 3 shelves of teacher resources, but I have whittled this down to one shelf and I don't ever want to have any more.  During the year I will probably get rid of some of these.

Last but not least, my nespresso machine.  I will find a place for this!

My last dilemma:  whether or not to get rid of my desk!  I don't have room for it and I would like to have a small student desk in the centre of the room by the projector, where I keep supplies.  I know that a lot of teachers are getting rid of their desk and I think it is a great idea.  I find that desks collect junk and are a place to hide behind and take a break, rather than engage with students.  

Finally, I am taking a break from the class for a few weeks, but will be back in August to update the classroom set up.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Classroom Set Up: the challenge begins

This week I am trying to get the physical layout of the classroom organized so that I can have a summer vacation and spend time with my family.

Here are the scroll up bulletin boards that cover the windows...I love this design feature.

I created the desk arrangement in order to see how the classroom flows.  I put the students in groups of 4. Right now, I have 7 groups as I believe I have 28 students coming!

Here is the library area.  I bought red bins for the books, and I haven't organized the library yet ( that will take some time).  I brought with me straw baskets from my old room and I am not sure how to integrate them appropriately, but I don't want to get rid of them as they are great for holding larger picture books.  This is definitely a work in progress.

Here is the teacher corner or teacher station:  desk in corner!  In the past, I have always decorated my room with primary colours:  red, blue, and yellow.  It has always worked for me and I love the strong colours together.   I am continuing to use that colour theme when possible this year.  As well, I usually strip every bulletin board and begin again, spending a great deal of money on "non fade" paper.  However, this time, I like the red and white paper already in place and it goes with my theme, so I left the paper up as it was in relatively good condition.  

I will need to get these chalkboards replaced with white boards this year.  Students will need a place to write and be creative and express themselves.

I will have a projector, a screen, and apple TV, however, I will eventually have a better white board, and hopefully a projector mounted on the wall. 

This corner needs lots of work...I will remove the blue paper, and I am trying to figure out whether or not to use these mailboxes for notices and letters for the students, or whether this will be a crowded corner that doesn't work.    I need to keep the area open as this is the entrance to the room.   Also, I  dislike the colour of the cubbies...I will need to either paint or find a solution to this yellow/mustard disaster..who ever thought this colour worked?

I will replace the blue paper on these roll down bulletin boards...I think I will match it up with the darker blue and trim with yellow boarders and apples.

New School, New Adventures

Here is a picture of my desk at Learning Services, as the Gifted Mentor Teacher, a position I held from October 2014 to June 2015.  Although an extremely challenging job, it was rewarding on so many levels, but ultimately, it made me realize how much I needed to change my professional focus in education.  To briefly state, I needed to leave gifted education - more on that later in other posts.  

Below is my new classroom:

I had a choice of two rooms, and although the other room had wonderful white boards, I chose this room because of the natural light, the trees outside the window, and the door that opens onto a courtyard with benches and grass. Furthermore, the other classroom was painted a moss green colour and it just didn't work with me - I needed a white background!  

Although I would have loved to be at a new school set up for 21st Century learning,  I find the new classrooms that are being designed are extremely small and really not as functional as the ones from early eras.  New classrooms are built around common learning areas,  but often the actual room, where instruction takes place, are too small.  

I have to admit that I love classrooms from the 1960's, as they are quite large, have wonderful storage areas (I have my own storage closet), a great use of windows, and reflect the mid century modern design that I love so much.  I was so excited that my room reflected this design aesthetic.

I am going to leave the cloak room very clean and not fill it with "teacher junk".    Teacher junk is a term I give to the old resources, paper, boxes, and general stuff teachers haul around with them thinking "I might use this in the future".

Coming back to the classroom, I am acutely aware of the amount of paper and resources that I hauled with me from class to class.  I am very conscious of using less paper and having only essential resources that I currently use.   

My desk will go in this corner.  Or do I call it "Teacher Station"?  

Classroom library will go here: 

In the next post, I will show the progression of putting the classroom together.  Are classrooms still called that...or should I reference it as the "Learning Studio"?  So much has changed since I began teaching in 1991 - 24 years ago! I can't believe I've been in the field that long, and I am returning to a classroom with much delight.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back in the Swing of Things

I am excited to announce that I am going back to the classroom as a Grade 4/5 Teacher!  I will be working Tuesday-Friday in a school close to home.  I don't think that I could be more happy to finally be working with students again.

I have changed the URL of this blog from "teaching" to "  I didn't want to abandon the blog, but move it in a new direction, towards a focus on all learners, not just the gifted.

I have struggled with the current apathy in gifted education.  In the 1990's, when I began my teaching career, there were so many gifted programs, and support, and over the course of the last 25 years, I have seen a gradual decline in servicing gifted students, apathy with the term "gifted", and a general attitude that what is "good for the gifted is good for all students".    The longer I stayed in gifted, the more if felt like a dinosaur...not relevant.  Our ways of thinking about learning, about talent, about neuro-plasticity and the brain have changed our views on how we construct learning.  Students are not longer "gifted" or "not".  Our views on human development are so much broader (not that I don't support gifted - my passion will always be with the advanced learner)!

In my last job as the mentor teacher in gifted, I felt even more removed from what was happening at the school level.  I felt that unless I jumped ship, and returned to the classroom, I would never be able to go back and I would be too far removed from integrating technology in education, to working with 21st century learning skills.  

However, the irony is that the skills I have developed in working with gifted students over the course of the last 24 years is relevant to 21st century learning and the new BC Education Plan- a huge part of the document is taken from what we in gifted education have been doing for the last 50 years in education:  inquiry based learning, self-direction, using higher level thinking skills and critical thinking, and finally, using creativity to direct our instruction.  I feel so excited to be teaching the way I have always been teaching and to inspire children!

So, I will continue using this blog as a platform for teachers, parents, and students to get ideas and inspiration, and to show my trials and tribulations as I move forward with 21st Century Learning.  Welcome Back!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Break and New Directions

As we head back to school in a few days, I have had to think about the direction this blog, and ultimately, the direction I am taking in my career.

In the fall, I left the Challenge Centre position I had held for 8 years, taking on a new role with the Vancouver School Board, as the District Mentor Teacher for Gifted Education.  Although this job has been a wonderful learning opportunity for myself, I have missed teaching students.  I have missed being in the classroom, and I have missed creating lesson plans, interacting with students, and being part of a school setting.  

So, I have decided to return to the classroom to be a teacher.  I don't know where, what grade, or how I will be using my skills, however, I am so excited to actually have a class full of learners and to have a journey to embark upon.

Although I have amassed a lifetime of knowledge and understanding about gifted students, I am honoured to now share this expertise with all learners.   Even though I don't yet know where I will be, I am beginning to think of interesting ways to engage learners, organize my room, and be creative with students.

So, I will continue to update this blog with what is going on with gifted learners until June.  Although I do not know what the future will bring, I will keep you posted.