Quote of the Week

Never say you are "just" a teacher. That's like saying Clark Kent is "just" Superman.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Student Enrollment Ideas for New Foreign Languages Teachers, by Carmen Ionita, French Teacher at Wilson Central High School

In 2004, I started my French teaching career at Wilson Central High School. At that time, I had one Latin  and 2 French classes for only one semester. Since the schools was new, I did not have enough classes for both semesters, I was the only French teacher at the school. I learned quickly that if I wanted to have more students in my French classes, I needed  to have a plan for enrollment. That year I charted out a plan to increase the enrollment in my French classes. This plan can work for any new foreign language teachers.

Step 1 - Appreciate your students

This step describes what every good teacher does every day:  caring about your students, learning about their school activities, their future plans. I treated all my students with kindness and consideration.

1. I sent weekly positive emails to parents congratulating their student .

2. I displayed student's work in my classroom and in the hallway.

3. I created a "Tableau d'honneur" that is displayed in my classroom. I chose a student of the month to be honored for each level of French, I also included students' pictures.

4. At the end of each semester I will give out certificates to my students who received "A" in my French classes.

5.  I asked my students to promote French to their friends and to their younger siblings.

Step 2 - "Registration Fair"

At my  school, in January we have a "Registration Fair" for the eighth graders. This recruitment event takes place shortly before the students register for the following year. During the event I will have 2-3 students who are the type of students who are admired by the others.  They will help me passing out to parents and students a handout  "Why Learn French?" that I created before the event.

Step 3 - Collaborate

A. It is very important to talk to your guidance counselors about encouraging students to sign up for a second foreign language as an elective. I asked for their help in encouraging eighth graders to sign up for French.

B. I was surprised to find out that the culinary teacher at my school loved French  culture and she understood my interest in promoting French in my school.
I asked the culinary teacher to teach my students how to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras, while I was teaching her students the history of the King cake and Mardi Gras.

Step 4 - Recruit from foreign language department

As an European, I had to study 3 foreign languages starting with fifth grade until I graduated from high school. During our PLC meetings, I encouraged all my colleagues in the department to promote the study of more than one foreign language with their students. I emphasized all year how easy and fun the second language will be. Most students are unaware of how the first foreign language can help in learning the second foreign language. I always give my background as an example, I am a Romanian native speaker, teaching French through English.

In my French classes, I had students who took Spanish before or they were Hispanic native speakers. I gave them a lot of attention to these students asking them in class to compare and contrast the languages studied. I also told my students how much better it looks on their transcripts and college applications to have 2 foreign languages instead of some other electives.

Step 5 - Create a French atmosphere

It is very  important  to surround students with French. I filled my classroom with posters, realia and students' work. I asked the librarian to showcase my students' projects. In March, for the past 5 years, I prepared my students for the National French Contest. All the contest winners' diplomas are displayed in my classroom for students' recognition.

The Do’s and Don’ts for Preparing Students for High-Stakes Testing, by Amy Dunlap, Pre-AP 8 English Teacher, Mt. Juliet Middle School

Whew! We 3rd -  8th grade teachers have helped our students through the first round of TN Ready Testing… a new test, an unexpected printed format, continuously-changing testing date ranges, yikes! The students deserve a pat on the back for their effort, and we teachers deserve medals for our flexibility! Standardized testing in all its forms is a reality in our world, and there are ways to support students through the process while reducing the pressure “nightmares.”
            Larry Ferlazzo, a high-school teacher and author of Self-Driven Learning: Teaching Strategies for Student Motivation, suggests that teachers must “do no harm to our students, while at the same time assisting them to bring their best efforts to the task—and, perhaps, learn a few strategies that might help them successfully prepare for other challenging situations in their lives.” Giving students a healthy perspective about the tests seems to be the key.  Each high-stakes assessment is a chance to show their knowledge and skills, but their score does not define who they are. 
Mr. Ferlazzo suggests three ideas to motivate students in an ethical way. The first is to invoke a success mindset prior to testing.  He asks his students to write about a success one of their ancestors had in life and share this with a partner.  Research has shown that thinking about problems someone we are genetically connected to has overcome reminds us that we have similar qualities. Second, he divides the class into pairs and has them discuss a social issue for 10 minutes before testing.  This builds social capital through conversation and increases mental processing speed and working memory. A third idea Mr. Ferlazzo shares in his book is to provide his students with peppermints to enjoy before testing. He states, “It is thought that they both provide glucose for the brain that can enhance memory and that their odor somehow increases student attention. “
            I have found that one of the biggest factors in decreasing student test-taking anxiety is to prepare them well.  Throughout the year we focus on the English skills they need for testing and beyond. I also expose students to the format of the test to be sure they are comfortable with what they are being asked to do.  One mistake I have learned not to do is create testing tune-out from doing too much format practice. We practice in in small spurts throughout the year so they can recognize patterns and analyze questions.  I also suggest to students that the voice in their heads as they test should be a positive cheerleader instead of a negative nitpicker. 
            Finally, reminding my adolescents of all the things they are able control can help their confidence in any stressful situation they encounter.  A list like the following, found in “Combating Test Anxiety” by Dawn Marie Barhyte, can be helpful for students:
Test prep do’s and don’ts
    Do expect some anxiety. It’s normal, and sometimes an elevated stress level can drive you to do better!
    Don’t spend too much time on one question. If it’s confusing or time consuming, move on and return to it later if you can.
    Do read the directions carefully and read the entire question before answering.
    Don’t leave answers blank or guess randomly. Eliminate choices you know are incorrect to make an educated guess.
    Do pace yourself.
    Don’t change an answer unless you’re certain that you have misread or misinterpreted the question—your first answer is usually right!
    Do review your answers if you finish early, and make sure you have answered all the questions.
    Don’t panic if your classmates finish before you. Stay focused, concentrate on your test, and keep working.
    Do remember to do the simple things: get a good night’s sleep, eat breakfast, and pack the things you need for the test (like a calculator and extra pencils) the night before.

    High-stakes testing  is a stressful part of each school year, but it is my job as a teacher to prepare my kids with knowledge and strategies to help them succeed. It is also my job to be sure my students know they are not just a test score but are amazing human beings with many different types of strengths. We can succeed on TN Ready, or the ACTs, or any other big test, together. Whew…the next round of testing is not too far away!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Generation Y: Incorporating Work-Based Skills into the Classroom, by Nicole Roning, Culinary Arts Teacher at Wilson Central High School

High school graduates have been raised by “helicopter parents”-the parents that hover and protect their child from every little ounce of criticism. These are the young adults that feel that they deserve something regardless of whether they earned it or not and feel everyone gets a trophy regardless of who makes it to the final round. Many of the Generation Y people will go into the workforce with the same mentality. A recent study from TIME magazine shows that only 9% of this generation believes they should receive promotions when it is warranted by their job performance.

Career and Technical education strives to prepare students for life after high-school, whether it peaks their interest into a specific profession or giving them the workplace readiness skills that industries are asking for. CTE courses are what keep many students attending school due to their involvement in Career Technical Student Organizations (CTSO’s). These organizations build the student to be the best leader, team player and individual that they can be through competitions and professional development.

CTE classes offer students an insight into the workforce; a direct observation into a specific career choice to help guide them toward a successful future. Many Health Science students choose to work in a clinical setting, which gives them the chance to explore their career options while in high school. Honors Nursing Education students participate in active patient care at a nursing home and at the end of the course, they are able to take the state’s CNA exam and become certified nursing assistants.  In Culinary Arts, students are treated as if they are working in the industry. Upper level students are required to be in a clean chef uniform and show up to “work” on time. Being on time ensures they know the importance of how timeliness affects others in the workplace. They lose points in class where in the real-world they may even get fired for being late multiple times. Teamwork and attitude come into play showing them what it takes to complete tasks and that rewards are not always given but earned.

Generation Y students need Career and Technical Education to give them things that help them succeed in the workforce. These students, who are used to constant and immediate feedback, will feel successful with our standards. When taught, applied, and mastered these standards will give them the feedback they need to succeed and move on to another, possibly higher level of competency. Just as the world has changed, so has the Generation Y population. They have learned that nothing is constant and due to this will hold many jobs throughout their lifetime. We, as educators, need to help instill the message that Performance is still an indication for promotion and will always matter. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Keeping Positive in a Negative World, by Tracy Maness, 4th Grade Teacher, Lakeview Elementary School

Doesn’t it seem like yesterday you were in college with the hopes, dreams, and excitement of someday having your own classroom? You were surrounded by your fellow education students who were just as excited as you about entering the world of education.  You loved to go to teacher stores to look at all the teaching materials, wondered what grade/subject you would be teaching, and you could not wait to begin student teaching so you could get in a real classroom with real students! You survived writing the tediously long lesson plans you knew you would never use in real life, you made a Pinterest-worthy student teaching portfolio, and you graduated with nothing but hopes and dreams of landing the perfect first teaching job. Then, finally, you were hired and could not wait to get your keys and start decorating your first classroom! All was right with the world!
You walk in to your new school, ready to change the lives of tomorrow’s future, and no one is going to extinguish the fire of your enthusiasm! Everyone seems pretty excited and happy about the beginning of a new year, but after a few weeks pass, you begin to notice that teaching is not as perfect as you had imagined. It seems like state testing and student data are the only things anyone cares about. You are already out of money to buy more classroom supplies, and you are working until 5:00 every night trying to plan lessons and grade that mountain of papers on your desk. You are constantly worried about that unannounced observation that could happen any day now, and you want to make sure you have the world’s greatest lesson plan ready each and every day. You notice your enthusiasm is beginning to be replaced with exhaustion, and to make matters worse, you work with certain teachers who do nothing but complain about everything, all the time, every day, and they start to drag you down the tunnel of doom with them. You begin to question why you entered this profession in the first place! You could have made a great nurse, business manager, or even a lawyer! At least then you wouldn’t have to buy your own printer and ink!
Okay, STOP! This is where you have to make a choice. You can either let your Debbie Downer co-workers steal all your joy, or you can decide that you are not going to let someone else’s negativity affect your attitude. If you are finding your attitude about teaching becoming negative because there may be a lot of negativity around you, you need to find some teacher friends who have a good sense of humor to make teaching fun again. Teaching can be stressful, but being able to laugh at some of the craziness that teachers deal with every day will make your life so much better. Try to turn negative conversations around. Tell something funny that happened in your class that day, talk about your latest Netflix addiction, or maybe make a dinner date with your co-workers to unwind after a long week at school!
It is completely normal to sometimes feel negative, and you will want to join in on the complaining wagon. Do not feel guilty if you do not love your job every minute of every day. Teachers are human too and will have good days and bad days. The important thing to remember is never to let that negativity control you. Yes, you may have a bad day, or even a bad week, but only you can choose what kind of attitude you will have. You will enjoy teaching (and life!) so much more if you avoid negative people, choose positive people as your friends, and remember the real reason you wanted to be a teacher: the kids. Each morning, when you enter your classroom, remember that you may be the only smile and hug that child gets that day. You may be the teacher who sparks the love of science, math, history, English, music, or art that will someday affect what a child decides to do with his or her life. Remember, even on your bad days, those kids are looking up to you, and your attitude in the classroom can determine whether or not your students love learning, or whether they dread coming to school. So the next time you have early morning bus duty, an IEP meeting during your planning period, an unannounced observation, and a faculty meeting after school, just remember that YOU, and only you, can decide to have a great attitude and enjoy life, and do not let anyone or any circumstance steal that joy!

Using Humor in the Classroom, by Darlene West, 6th Grade World History Teacher, Watertown Middle School

Everyone likes to laugh. It’s a good way to break the ice in a new classroom setting, start the day and if sharing a fun anecdote about yourself, allows your students to learn something new about you. Many speakers often start their speeches with a joke to get the groups attention.

“We’re finding humor actually lights up more of the brain than many other functions in a classroom,” says Mary Kay Morrison, author of Using Humor to Maximize Learning. “In other words, if you’re listening just auditorily in a classroom, one small part of the brain lights up, but humor maximizes learning and strengthens memories.”

Some ways that I use humor in the classroom that my students love are each day I change my wallpaper on my computer to some funny history fact. I joke with my students often and let’s face it; you cannot teach and not have a sense of humor. We are working with children and they always have funny stories to share.

Below is a list of guidelines I found on line. I think they are a good set of rule to live by.

•Avoid hurtful humor: Don’t be hostile toward, or demeaning of, others
•Let common sense guide your subject selection, tone and intent
•Know your student/teacher dynamics and judge the joke climate carefully
•Lose your fear of embarrassment. It’s okay to make a fool of yourself in the interest of drawing shyer students out of their shells
•Make humor relevant: Deliver timely, content-oriented material
•Don’t be afraid to “Act Out” concepts and content
•Use funny movie and TV clips to make a point
•Do a little dance when the ring of a musical cell phone disrupts the class
•Use humor in test and quiz questions. It will help lift the veil of test-anxiety
•When appropriate, use funny life stories: Both yours—and with permission—your students

The goal is to laugh and enjoy time with your students. Some of my best memories are when students shared stories, lessons went wrong and I just took a few minutes to enjoy listening to what was happening in my student’s lives. Take a few minutes to laugh.

Managing Your Classroom When Spring Fever Hits, by Wendy Pillow, 1st Grade Teacher at Rutland Elementary

The sun is shining. Temperatures are rising. Late nights at the ballpark and the end in sight. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a little “spring fever”! Well, teachers aren’t the only ones. Every year, about this time, I feel like my classroom management is starting to unravel. As a novice, this sent me into a tail spin. I would get that panicked feeling like when your principal walks in for an evaluation. What have I done wrong? Why are they no longer listening to me? Why are they acting like I have taught them nothing?

However, it didn’t take me long to learn that spring fever affects everyone and especially my students! New teachers often say that they love teaching, adore the students, and have mastered the content. It’s the classroom management that keeps them up at night, especially when spring begins. While there are many theories and plans out there, classroom management remains a challenge for new and experienced teachers alike. It just may be the toughest as the school year begins to wind down.  Through trial and error, I have found a few things to help keep my students engaged and motivated until the last bell rings.

1.   It may be time for a little house cleaning! Over the years, I have found that a well-organized, clean, and inviting classroom, helps my classroom manage itself. Before heading to the beach for Spring Break, take a few minutes with your students to clean up the classroom. Put things where they belong and relocate things that need to be more accessible. Reorganizing your desks or tables could be beneficial as well. Returning to school, after break, to an organized classroom and a new seat, just might be the key to classroom management.
2.  The first day after Spring Break might be a lot like the first day of school. It may be time for a little review. I have found that taking some time to review our classroom rules, expectations, and routines, helps keep my kids on track for the rest of the school year. Your classroom management plan, which should include three to five rules, positive feedback or supportive rewards, and consequences, should have been in place since the first day of school. However, in many classrooms, the management plan becomes a poster on the wall and not a usable plan. This is a good time to update the rules and to involve students in a discussion of the rules and consequences. It just might be time to revisit the rules and discuss necessary changes with students!
3.  Throughout the year, you have been giving students verbal affirmations, sending notes or emails home, and reinforcing their good behavior in other ways. Spring might be a good time to take these up a notch. What better time to earn a little extra recess? After all, wouldn’t everyone rather be outside this time of the year?
4.  Speaking of outside…..how about getting a little Vitamin D while learning? I once observed an educator teaching her reading lesson outside. Wow! What a great idea! Children love to read outside. Of course, reading is not the only subject that can be effective outside. If you have a well-managed class, your students will learn. Take it outside!
5.  Finally, Teaching is too important and too difficult of a job to do alone. Reach out and work with your colleagues on classroom management issues. Find the strategies that work best for the students in your room. With good management, you can accomplish your goals and so will your students!

I do not manage my classroom the exact same way that I did fourteen years ago. I can only assume that I will continue to learn new strategies and make adjustments. Every year you will be blessed with a new group of students. They will have their own unique personalities, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. What worked today may not work tomorrow or ever again. As a teacher, the most important thing that I have learned is to not be afraid of CHANGE! Sometimes it’s necessary in order for my class to be managed well and for me to be a successful teacher.