Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shmoop - a review

I was googling lesson ideas for Lord of the Flies when I came across Right away I liked the site; it just had a different, relevant, user-friendly feel to it.

A bit more interactive, and a bit more tech-savvy.

The first impression I got makes sense, after learning this online resource for teachers and students was launched by Silicon Valley investment big shot David Siminof and his wife (who was the 6th employee at Yahoo!).

Most online sites and resources produced by quick Google searches are all so mind-numbingly uniform: Have the students read, and answer these questions.

However, Shmoop's Lord of the Flies section suggested a cool lesson centered around doing Facebook status updates from the book's main characters ... a lesson I will be quick to borrow. It had several other neat lesson ideas, like movie posters (and the site included links to examples of real posters - a nice, helpful touch).

The site's business model appears to be free content up to a point, such as lesson ideas and study guides, then additional content is available a la carte or with a comprehensive pass ($6 and $100 bucks, respectively).

I'd never pay a dime for content I can think of myself, if I just stand there long enough in the shower.

But I will return to Shmoop for ideas throughout the year. 3 stars out of 4.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

iPads for Toddlers - and fallout for teachers

There's a fascinating article in the Charlotte Observer today - well it's fascinating to me anyway, as a close follower of technology and its impact on education.

Not only are parents - lots of parents - buying these $500 dollar interactive micro computers for their small children this year ... but the touch-sensitive computers are already changing the way our kids interact with technology.

Two quotes that struck me from the article:

"Technology for kids in this generation is like air, it has always been there," ... and

"Of course, the funny part is when they walk up to a regular computer, TV or car GPS and slide their fingers around on it expecting it to respond."

So not only do kids expect technology to be central to their lives - but the "old" technology like "regular" computers is already becoming lame and boring.

Something to think about as we stand at the copier, printing off those grayish brown worksheets en masse.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Online reputation management for kids

I'm beginning to understand that, while our kids respond well to Internet-based lessons, they don't necessarily understand how the Net works.

They remind me of myself and cars: I get in and drive. When that thing breaks down, I'm whipping out my Triple A card faster than a gunslinger pulls his six shooter. I take cars for granted to a degree, without stopping to think about things such as structure and mechanics.

My class website has been projected every day, all year so far, in all of my classes. As the site is projected onto the large Smartboard, a student will sometimes ask, "What's our class website?" He hasn't taken the time (.5 seconds) to glance up at the URL posted atop the web page.

When I tell the students how I can make websites appear high up in Google search rankings, they have no idea how I am pulling off such a feat. Similarly, they've given little thought to their own "brand" names, and how they appear in search rankings.

I'm taking this issue head-on in SAT Prep. We are going to take control of our online reputations, by building simple websites using Blogger (the same platform this blog is built with).

As part of a career / college success unit, students will build real, live blogs - for the purposes of marketing themselves, their work, and for showcasing their passions. In the process, they'll be manipulating search engine rankings, so their carefully planned website appears in a Google search return for their name well ahead of that not-so-flattering Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to watch YouTube at school

First, why YouTube? Well, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 Billion (with a B) for a reason other than a catchy name ... YouTube has incredible content. TeacherTube is great; however, YouTube is the undisputed king.

How To ...

First, use Firefox, not Explorer, to browse the Net.

Second, google "video download helper" and install that add-on to Firefox. Now, whenever you land on a page with videos, you can instantly and easily download the video to your home computer desktop. Click on the revolving circles (see below), and then click "download."

Then, just drag that video file onto a flash drive, and pull it onto your work desktop. Clicking on the file should open it automatically in any media player you have installed.

That's it! I make things more complicated by then embedding these videos into my classroom website. That's another can of worms, for another day.

I'm enjoying kicking off or enhancing many of my lessons with short, relevant, catchy videos - and I'm sure you and your students will as well.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An engaging guest speaker

Kids are jaded when it comes to marketing messages: They see 10,000 ads a day and know when they are being sold to. That's why I liked the approach from the presenter from The Art Institutes.

She came in and basically said, "My school isn't cheap - but you'll get hired. Here's the cool stuff we do." Her entire presentation was visual, and relevant - and the students who chatted away during her talk were discussing her material.

She had the formula for connecting with kids down cold: Be honest, visual, relevant and real. Nicely done!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Poverty simulation day

My school just had a faculty wide poverty simulation: It was very well thought out, and pulled off with the help of key school and community staff and experts.

It was intense. The simulation was designed to create frustration; my role was a 40-something single father, and I quickly realized my resources, and what was coming "in" was substantially outweighed by my obligations and all that was going "out."

So still in character, I turned to dealing drugs. Some teachers thought I was being funny or just weird, but I was falling back on what I know - as a drug and alcohol treatment center employee. Working in the heart of Akron, Ohio, I know that any poverty situation is radically compounded by the variable of addiction.

I can spend hours honing my teaching craft, and becoming proficient at preparing dazzling, tech-centered lessons. But life is more than smartboards, high speed Internet and perfect lesson plans.

This simulation drilled home the reason I became a teacher: To make positive connections - and hopefully instill positive changes - in our young people. And, I get to grow as well in this process. What a gift - this job, this career, this chance to make a difference. What a gift.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Internet - simply ingrained in our youth

I was doing research this weekend and came across an article listing the top 100 most useful websites. The article, published online in 2008, mentioned casually how much has changed in the 15 years they've (PC World) been making this list.

Fifteen years. That made me stop and think. My students have never not had the Internet. I polled a few of them today, and some vaguely remember the funny noise the dial up connections made ... and how you couldn't be on the phone and the Net at the same time.

But it's always been a part of their experience. During any given session online, the average person must click dozens - or even hundreds - of times. Is it any wonder our worksheets bore them, and our lectures almost confuse them? "What, I'm supposed to just sit here and keep listening to you - for several minutes? Why would I do that ... that's so long!" To today's teen, ten minutes is enough time to get and receive 20 texts, download three songs, watch two YouTube videos, and "like" about a dozen friends' posts on Facebook.

Shakespeare must seem the very definition of irrelevant to many of today's students. I am having success with Macbeth, thus far, by 1. kicking off our lessons with videos, 2. summarizing the action before we read, 3. reading / listening along, 4. summing up what we just read once more, and then finally, 5. recapping the action with a final activity.

Five steps. But then I think about my college professor's style: 1. Go read this. 2. Now I tell you what you just read. I'm not sure if I'm holding their hands too much, or if my college prof held our hands too little. I'm not sure I care - because I'm after results. It worked for Beowulf, and I have every reason to believe it will work for Macbeth.

If it doesn't, I'll honestly reflect, adjust, and probably update my Facebook page ... noting my frustration!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We all got smart boards!

People think I'm tech savvy, but I'm not. I am baffled by things like connecting VCRs, or programming remote controls. Everything I learned about the Internet and websites I learned because I had to - my job switched from PR to Online PR overnight.

I went from writing press releases for news editors, to writing them to be found, or "indexed" by Google. And I taught myself the old fashioned way ... lots of time, banging my head against the computer, and using not so great language.

So I'm not sweating these smart boards. Here's my advice for people like me: In other words, non-techies who want to learn this thing in order to be at their best in the classroom.

1. No one said we have to learn this thing overnight. If we learn one new thing a week, and try putting it to use in a live classroom - that's awesome.

2. There's that whole Internet thing. I googled "smartboard tutorial" and got 50,000 results. Googling "smartboard lesson" produced 200,000 results.

I heard a teacher got a smart board for dummies book ... that's what I normally do - turn to the dummies series. But I figure the web is free.

3. Turn it on! Then click stuff. You can't break it. I set aside 5 minutes a day to make sure I'm playing with the board, outside of class. Some of these mini sessions are fruitless ... I click aimlessly and then turn off the board. Sometimes I find a cool trick - and yes I absolutely show it off the next day to the kids!

4. Ask our tech guy Jason M! He's awesome.

5. I'm finding once the ball gets rolling, it picks up momentum fast. If you learn one thing (Hey, I can pull up a website - and draw on it!) ... that quickly leads to other tricks and features to be uncovered.

My main point is I had to learn to tie my shoes by the bunny ear method ... the other way still confuses me. I do NOT have a logical, science / math-type mind. I can barely turn a screw driver, or set my car stereo.

So if I can do this, so can you. The one thing the smart board doesn't realize is I'm brutally persistent. Like a stubborn bulldog that won't stay down, or like Rocky - a little punchy but not willing to quit.

If you have any questions please come find me in room 205 and we can bang our heads against your machine together - until we figure it out. Here's a video I just found ... not awesome, at a glance kind of useful, and free!

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Observing master teachers

Yesterday I observed a master teacher in my field. I'm still not sure what a master teacher is, but that is a very cool title. It would look great on a business card. Anyway ...

I think the biggest difference I observed between the two of us was her content knowledge. We are both teaching Macbeth, and theme. She simply displayed a true, effortless mastery of this stuff ... I got the feeling she could float up to college and teach, or drop down to middle school ... without missing a beat.

I feel the same way when talking to my mentor, and especially when talking to the head of our mentorship program. These ladies know English content at an advanced level, and the kids pick up on the depth of their knowledge.

I can study theme and Shakespeare all I want: There appears no substitute for teaching a subject ten times to ten different classes. Lessons naturally become more sophisticated, layered, and nuanced.

This in itself is an argument for automatic pay increases every year, if I may return to one of my favorite themes (see what I did there?) ... teachers advocating for themselves.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Mr. Bank, what are we doing?"

I love this daily question.

"Are you referring to, dear student, the assignment I have projected on the board - the assignment I also just explained verbally ... clearly, loudly and slowly ... four times in a row?"

I asked a veteran teacher if she thinks our students are becoming progressively worse at listening to, and processing, instructions. She said she believes yes, they are; however, she offered me advice:

Don't enable them. Don't keep repeating myself. Push them to grasp the lesson's instructions the first time it's stated. Or to look up, read the board, and absorb the meaning of the words they see.

I do wonder if this information age, with rapid pieces of information flying at our kids all day long from all media angles, is affecting their ability to grasp instructions?

Oh, my second favorite question: Is this all we are doing in here today? (Typically asked 20 minutes into class). If I had a dollar ...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Meeting madness

I know good teachers can get frustrated by meeting overload; it's natural for teachers to want to spend their time either in class or preparing for class. I know I personally can feel a bit out of sorts when I rush from a before-school meeting to my first period class.

I wanted to share a series of emails / assignments between myself and an ad agency I help out a bit.

At four p.m. last Saturday, the firm CEO emailed me an assignment. I replied before dinner - then actually found time to do the assignment, and dash it off, at 10 p.m. Saturday evening.

By 6 a.m. Sunday, the firm's creative director had written me back, then the CEO wrote us again at 7 a.m. In the Blackberry, ever-connected, never shut off world, this is normal!

My point is I feel so grateful for being in this profession. Sure we have a lot of meetings - I sometimes feel being a new teacher is in large part an overall endurance test. But it sure beats the alternative ... teaching is a true joy and it beats the business world by miles and miles.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Schoolhouse still Rocks!

As I began reviewing the basics of adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. with my seniors, it felt like I literally ran into a wall of apathy about three feet thick.

Wham! (To use an interjection) ... I bounced off, regrouped, and thought twice about my initial approach: A lecture and worksheet - with a hint of smart board tossed in.

So after thinking it over, I went straight for the classics: The next day I had my class website loaded with four videos from the Schoolhouse Rocks! series.

These short, animated videos were produced between 1973 and 1999 - so I wondered if they'd seem dreadfully outdated to my seniors.

However ... both classes, even the very "energetic" third period, sat transfixed and silent as they absorbed these cartoon classics. Once the visual & mental stimulation pump was primed, my students became far more receptive to everything else we did, grammar-wise.

I'm continuing to find that kicking off topics of study (basically all topics) with visual, audio and graphic interaction lays the groundwork for deeper, lasting comprehension with this generation of kids.

For those of you who'd like to reminisce a bit, here's a favorite from the Schoolhouse series:

Conjunction Junction

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Sunday, October 10, 2010

History Channel dumbing down content?

Quick disclaimer - or maybe more like a confession? I love the History Channel. I love shows on conspiracies, and Bigfoot, and aliens, and the history behind how Twinkies are made!

But seriously, this graph is disturbing. I remember not long ago (just a few years?) the channel seemed to have actual historical content, not just shows on ghostly phenomena.

Where are our kids getting their serious topics of learning from, outside of the classroom? I think the answer appears to often be ... nowhere. But seriously, I love that channel!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The changing meaning of words

We read words ...

... Our kids click them.

I'm amazed when I project an assignment on the board, then step back and stay silent.

The students stare at the screen, many of them with blank looks on their faces. Finally someone will say, "So what do we do?" At that point, I remind them that words have meaning ... they must be absorbed, and mentally chewed over.

This might be a hint we've been spoon-feeding students directions, keeping them in a tight instructional box at the expense of critical thinking skills.

But I'm pretty sure it's deeper than that: The very definition of a word is becoming altered - from something read to gain understanding, to something clicked - in pursuit of more items to click / interact with.

I'm not judging this impact technology has had on our kids - it simply is. So I see my job as meeting these kids where they are at - by constantly jumping into their interactive world with them. It's fun, it keeps me on my toes, and it keeps me connected to the students.

Gotta go - I have to update Facebook before I tweet this blog post and then get on YouTube!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Banning banned books

With Banned Books Week coming to a close, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on why book bans are not only impractical, but potentially dangerous.

First, they are ineffective in terms of shielding our kids. With our Internet culture there's a landslide of obscene material just one click away - and our kids know it.

Also, teaching a book is hardly endorsing it (or the behaviors, themes etc. in it). I just taught Beowulf, and am pretty sure I didn't encourage the kids to actually go slaughter anything with clubs and broadswords.

My third reason is far more serious: Whenever free speech is attacked it makes me nervous. Whether it's our president dismissing Fox while he fields press conference questions from the Huffington Post ...

Let's keep the free exchange of ideas just that - free, open, flowing and vibrant.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guided discussions

I've heard teachers express hesitation over group work and a lot of open discussions ... they feel they are apt to lose control (I hate that feeling too).

One technique I'm using with success so far is a graded discussion - I walk around with a legal pad as we talk and students get full points for participating; half points for paying attention but remaining quiet; and zero points for disruptions.

Tossing around a soft ball from student to student is how we know who has the floor. It's working well so far!

I know some students prefer a silent, distraction-free classroom, but my thought is that life is not a library. The workplace has 35 things going on at once; silence is a rarity, not the rule - so I think it's a good thing that quiet kids are forced to stretch a bit ... and experience different classroom environments.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My first parent call

It was last Saturday morning, 8 am, to be exact.

The student made an inappropriate joke in class - directed toward me - and I thought I'd surprise him (and his mom) by calling.

The call was great actually; his mother was a very bright, astute woman and I think we both ended up enjoying the conversation.

I have to say the student in question was very much on task the following Monday as well. In all, it was a good experience - though I realize not all calls will be so smooth.

Parent calls and discussions with coaches - two arrows I'm keeping in my discipline quiver to be sure.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Seniors - a different species altogether

I assigned a group project to my seniors in British Lit, put them in groups, put the objectives on the board, and spun them loose.

Surely, this was enough direction for young adults; they'd divvy up roles and tasks and get to work. Not so much.

I'd say 90% of students were on task, albeit at a slow pace. At one point, I asked a chatty student which group he was in, and what project he was working on. He wasn't entirely sure. Another young lady told me her group was clueless and needed help. I looked over at her group (she was sitting on the floor quite a distance from them) and in fact they were on task and doing quite well.

It's a confusing age to me, at this point in my early teaching career - these kids are old enough to take a bullet for their country. Yet they often lack the maturity and focus to handle a simple group project. They regularly tell me work is too simple, and frankly beneath them, but then fail to follow through on the next basic piece of work I give them.

So what I'll do differently next time for this project: Set a tight time limit, and assign roles in the groups for them (Jim, you draw, Tina, you are the recorder, etc.).

My classes, at this point, are like dress shirts. I'm continuing to button them up, slowly but surely. I may never (or at least rarely) button the very top button - but I am working with focus toward at least having our classroom shirt cleaned, pressed and cuffed nicely at the sleeves.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Airborne ... product review

I heard new teachers get sick and stay sick all year - so when I started getting sick a week ago I grabbed a box of this stuff during a trip to the drugstore.

The ingredients are pretty straight-forward, and include glutamine ... an amino acid known for rebuilding muscle - but also good for immune support. I'm not sure there's anything in here a good multivitamin doesn't have ... but I didn't want to take any chances.

I dropped a fizzy tablet in water twice a day, and never did get fully sick ... I fought off the cold. Of course, I have absolutely no idea if this product helped or not - but I'd buy it again given I didn't get sick. Hey give me a break, I'm an English teacher, not a science guy.

(Didn't know about the law suit when I bought it, but still glad I did.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Combatting teacher tech overload ...

So my school is getting smart boards - by that I mean we all are getting them. (I already have one in my room).

Today I took a course on Prezi; last week I took a course on Castle Learning, and in between that I set up a blogging account for all of my students. This is all in addition to the classroom blog / website I use every day as my road map / lesson plans.

I can only imagine how overwhelmed my peers feel ... I stare at the smart board and all the features, and can feel a bit shell-shocked.

My advice to other teachers (and to myself) is to take it slowly. Learn a trick or tip, and incorporate it. Just one new trick a week will equal a powerful smart board user by the year's end.

My other thought is these tools only supplement solid instruction; they can't replace it, or fix weak lessons.

I'm sure the veteran teachers in my school will be fine, if they approach this technology with an open mind and easy going attitude. And I'll certainly continue to lean on them for help with teaching fundamentals.

I look forward to us all learning together.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hey, I'll just wing it! And other bad ideas ...

Every day I do something I wish I didn't do. These are small things, but they drive me crazy.

What's worse, as we wrap up the third week of school, is I seem to have a sick inner need to fall on my face in order to learn a lesson. I need to experience the pain of the tumble in order to avoid doing it again.

Case in point: We went to the computer lab for an SAT Prep course. Being a bit tech savvy I figured we'd all create accounts for an online course together, and I'd figure out what we'd all do next on the fly. I also didn't stop to think about rules in advance ... listening to music, visiting other sites, food in the lab, etc.

Veteran teachers are smiling at how naive this sounds, I'm sure. In the end nothing went horribly wrong - we did all jump into a lesson and had a productive class. But I was annoyed at the kids for visiting other sites, and having their little games minimized all sneaky-ish when I walk by. So ultimately I reacted to a situation ... versus planning for it and controlling it from the outset.

Classroom management seems part art, part science. I'm off to see how I'll color outside the lines today, or spill paint, or burn myself mixing chemicals in that lab we call a classroom!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reflections on week one

Did anyone catch a glimpse of that train that just ran me over? Actually my first week wasn't that bad ... but I can say teaching is easily the most demanding, intense undertaking of my professional career.

No one ever approaches a PR pro and says, "Wow, this is your first week - are you surviving?!"

Doesn't happen. The biggest surprise to me is the absolute physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that sets in when you are focused, for example, on making sure every kid in the room is understanding your writing lesson.

This profession is tough, and we all know that. My first priority is being the absolute best teacher I can be. But not too far down on my to-do list is becoming a champion for our profession. A lot of us are in it for the right reasons, and frankly we stink at public relations.

We're one of the only professions that's given complete control to other people - to politicians who probably couldn't manage a classroom to save their lives. This has to change ... but as my principal says, we eat elephants one bite at a time.

In the meantime I'm sincerely and deeply grateful for the privilege and honor of being a teacher.

(Note: This post is being published on 9/11 - may we never forget and God bless America).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

212 Degrees: Time to kick it up a notch

This blog is shifting fundamentally; moving from a tool designed to help me get hired - to a more involved voice in the educational conversation. Less about me, more about kids.

It's time to take it up a notch - or several notches as Emeril would say - and work to position myself to best effect change, and produce results. The water's simmering ... time to start a rolling boil.

This blog will soon be back with a new name, and a new focus, as I continue to combine tradition with tech, and innovation with proven best practices. Thanks to all who have helped me get to this point, I'm forever grateful to the family, friends, mentors, professors and teachers who've helped me turn on the heat ... as I reach 212 degrees.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The zeitgeist of Charlotte

There's a really neat feature on Google allowing you to peek into the collective mind of regions and cities: Google's Zeitgeist shows the top ten unique search results for several worldwide locations. So what's Charlotte searching for?

Charlotte, NC

  1. parent assistant cms
  2. charlotte restaurant week
  3. mez charlotte
  4. epicenter charlotte
  5. cms schools
  6. cms intranet
  7. mecklenburg county sheriff
  8. ymca charlotte
  10. birkdale movies
Sure, with a massive public school system like CMS, it makes sense that the top searches reflect an interest in education. Still, it's clear when taking the search engine pulse of this city, that Charlotte is an education driven, child-centered community.

As a new educator who's also new to the area, this is a very exciting and encouraging prospect indeed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Data-driven instruction

In the world of Public Relations, accountability has often been a loosely defined concept. "Hey Mr. CEO, I got your face on the cover of X magazine. That press release is being picked up by the media too - score!" Then clients started asking a pesky question: What is that publicity placement actually worth to me?

Suddenly "trust me, your campaign is doing great!" didn't cut it; the industry was pushed into operating under real accountability.

When I helped launch an Internet-based PR department at a Cleveland marketing firm, we were faced with a new question: What is a mention of a client in a blog post actually worth, in real dollars? What if that blog includes a hyperlink back to our client's website - what then is the value?

We created a metric, the first of its kind in the nation, to measure the value of online PR placements. The purpose was two-fold: We could share actual value with clients, but we could also meet as a team and carefully analyze our PR campaigns ... turning on a dime and pushing off in a new direction if that's what the data suggested. The use of metrics is now often the difference between floundering campaigns and those employing responsive, successful tactics.

What are the parallels to education?

Again the disclaimer: I'm new to education. I've had a lot of schooling and a rich student-teaching experience but I won't have my own classroom until fall. But the parallels between business and teaching appear strong.

What if testing were frequent, the results transparent, and quick action teams were in place to analyze data and act upon it?

I've seen assessment used primarily to validate what's been done - versus what should be done next. At Walsh we had the concept of metacognition drilled into us - thinking about one's own thinking. We learned to analyze how we can improve our lessons, and do better when covering that material or concept again. We weren't pushed to change what we are going to do next. The next day - the following week. Lesson plans aren't written in concrete slabs, and the great teachers I've seen thinkfast on their feet.

I concede all this testing is time taken away from teaching. But I still think short, frequent assessments for the purpose of driving instruction, are an idea whose time has come.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What PR can teach education

When I embarked upon the journey to become a teacher a few years ago, I was initially almost offended at the number of courses I had to take. After all, I was an accomplished Public Relations (PR) and business pro with degrees in History and Communications.

Besides, anyone can teach, right?

Almost three years, dozens of courses, and thousands of classroom hours later, I realize just how wrong - radically wrong - I was.

Hands down, teaching is far more challenging mentally, physically and emotionally than any business endeavor I've undertaken. And without any question at all, teachers are the hardest working professionals I've met, period.

The problem: Much of the public shares my initial thoughts and perception about teaching.

Compounding this problem of perception is the consistent and steady dumping of blame on teachers when something goes wrong - while teachers are rarely praised for all they do right.

So many myths abound in this profession, and we've all heard them: We protect under-achieving teachers; we are scared of accountability; we are afraid of standards and are really just in this for the summers off and "cushy" benefits packages.

The plan: I have a lot to learn about teaching, and I can't wait to get myself hooked up with a mentor and a great district and begin the process of becoming an excellent educator.

However, I am pretty darned good at PR, if I do say so myself. I think changing the tide in what is essentially a battle of messaging begins with educators themselves. When we hear a stereotype repeated, it's our duty to step in and correct it.

This is a hard profession, and we need to interject ourselves into conversations where anything else is being claimed.

We need to empower ourselves and better shape our own collective professional destiny. Again, this begins with an attitude we express to each other, to friends and family, and to our communities.

Next come tools including community outreach, and I believe social media will prove a very effective compliment to traditional media outreach.

But it all starts with our attitudes, and with the way we carry ourselves as professionals. I am so proud to be a teacher, and so honored to enter this noble profession and maintain its high standards of ethics and results.

And I can't wait to share this enthusiasm with anyone who cares to listen.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A shocking experience

Yesterday I had a bit of an off day during my student-teaching experience. While trying to cram the metal prongs from a CD player's cord into a floor socket, I suddenly found shocked myself with several volts of unwelcome electricity. Not sure how many volts, but I am confident using the technical term "a lot."

It was such an odd sensation and so unexpected, that the jolt really threw me from my game plan. I collected myself and carried on ... then later in the day I found myself reading a fantastic music review/opinion I'd assigned as part of a media lesson.

"This is beautiful writing," I thought, "Here's a girl who is passionate about music, and her work is really, finally taking off now that she can express that passion."

... And I read on, and re-read, and then thought some more. I knew in my heart there was no way these words (which I wished I had written) came from her mind through her fingertips.

I dropped a few words from her paper into Google and quickly located her source, which she had used verbatim. We had an awkward but necessary talk about plagiarism, an issue about which I am ultra-sensitive having been twice wrongly accused by teachers in grade school. (Don't get me started).

In all, it was a strange day filled with small setbacks, where I learned to hold it together despite feeling everything was going wrong.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Semantics, technology, and differentiating instruction

I recently had a fascinating discussion with a veteran educator and principal about metrics, data-driven instruction, and coaxing teachers out of their comfort zones.

At the end of the day, it's about how students learn, not about how we prefer to teach, she explained. I couldn't agree more. That's why I incorporate technology so heavily into my lessons: Students are wired to learn differently than in the past.

The reality of learning is changing, like it or not. Even the meaning of words themselves is evolving: For our kids, words are something to click in order to reach more content - not necessarily something to be read and ingested to absorb meaning. This shift in semantics is profound, and needs to be understood by educators if we are to remain effective.

I'm not using technology because of the bells and whistles; I'm incorporating tech to provide more effective teaching, foster better communication with parents, and forge stronger collaboration among peers.

My formal, academic-ish philosophy of education can be found here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Managing class size

A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that "Fiscal Woes Push Up Class Size."

The article quotes a parent who claims we teachers are more often than not in the business of managing kids, not teaching them.

Hmm. My personal experience teaching diverse classes, and all grade levels, across the high school English spectrum is that yes - smaller class sizes are more manageable. But that's just common sense; kind of like my senior Lit class is easier to manage than my Freshman Language Arts class.

A good teacher doesn't sit back and complain about class size; rather, he or she faces reality and adapts. To parents concerned about managers versus educators, I'd suggest that's a false choice. The good teachers I'm fortunate to be training under effectively teach and manage their kids every single day.

Here's a lesson I taught yesterday, that kept my Freshman class of 30 kids busy, bell to bell.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Managing crisis situations

When I returned to school and began a career change from public relations to education, I found a challenging, life-changing job at the Interval Brotherhood Home - a substance abuse rehab center in downtown Akron, Ohio.

My position as a residential supervisor provided many opportunities to interact with a challenging clientele: IBH residents often find their way to the facility either before or after sentences in correctional facilities, mental health facilities, or stints on the tough streets of Akron.

One evening when I was working by myself, a very rare event, a client turned irrational and violent. I soon found myself managing the situation through interactions with center management, medical professionals, community mental health agencies and law enforcement - all while keeping a house of 30 men safe and calm.

Thankfully the incident was resolved without injury to any of the IBH residents including the struggling client, and I came away from the situation with a deepened appreciation for those on the front lines of crisis situations.

Reading List from the LEAD program

Here is a selection of authors and works I've read, written about and/or taught since undertaking the intensive LEAD program at Walsh University.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Business experience: A launchpad for success

Recently I was chatting with fellow clinical-stage education students, as we reflected on our classroom successes and challenges thus far. As I've done so many times throughout this education licensure process, I again gave thanks for my career in business.

The time I've spent as a recruiter, journalist and public relations professional has given me both general and specific tools for success: I've sharpened specific skills such as using technology for effective communication, and gained a better grip on the written word.

Generally speaking, I've honed many abilities central to success in both business and teaching:
Meeting deadlines, planning, communication, team building, leadership, and presence are all gifts from my time spent in corporate America.

I plan to put these skills to good use in education, as I remain committed to studying my new craft and calling with all of the energy I can generate.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Media studies

One of my favorite topics to teach is media studies: Currently I'm guiding a class of sophomores and juniors through a media analysis unit - fostering critical thinking about the media they consume.

A few areas of study for our thematic unit include:
  • analyzing cable and local news for quality of content and bias
  • studying the impact of social media
  • examining the changing role of journalists
  • the role of journalism in a democracy
I'm working to give my students the tools they need to be educated, savvy media consumers in today's age of total media saturation. To complete this lesson, together we're building a participatory blog/online forum, and the entire process is a real thrill as I put my communications degree and experience to work.

As much as I enjoy teaching literature like the unit on Elie Wiesel's Night my freshman class is currently undertaking, or examining the poetry of John Keats, it's media studies and mass communication/new media that hold my unwavering attention.

I've been a student of media since I read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neal Postman as a young man; I now hope to instill a similar passion for critically consuming media to my students.

Update 2.5.10: Was just on the ASCD's blog and I see a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation claiming kids between ages eight and 18 spend almost eight hours a day engaged with electronic devices such as computers, TVs and smart phones! The blog's author asks, "Do you help students manage their media intake?" Absolutely!

(Click here to view a lesson plan from this comprehensive unit)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

classroom management plan

I'm finding out firsthand the importance of classroom management, during my student teaching experience at Medina High School. A sample classroom management plan I am using and plan to adopt on my first day of school can be found here.

First day of school script

I was fortunate to start off the semester assuming full responsibility for Senior Literature at Medina High School. I understand, from experience, the importance of that first class. I found this script that underlines the importance of setting tone and procedure from the outset.