Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pitching My Clients

I just spent 4.5 hours pitching 90 clients - that's exhausting.

Here's a typical marketing pitch: Show up and sit in the lobby, then be greeted by the client. Enjoy a beverage as you set up the projector, and unpack your briefcase.

Pleasantries are exchanged, and you put on a 20 minute slideshow. They ask a few questions, and then you pack up, exchange business cards, and make plans for next steps.

The whole thing lasts an hour tops - two on the rarest of occasions.

Pitching my kids today, in an attempt to build buy-in for me and my course, was far more intense than any business presentation I've ever given.

I know how important the first day of school is (as Mr. Wong and all of my mentors have taught me) ... and this second semester I put every last ounce of energy into setting procedure and expectations. My voice is actually hoarse.

The first semester, I did exactly what Wong says not to do - I glossed over procedure and dove into material. My kids respected me, but overall classroom management needed tightened.

So, I plan to drill procedure and expectations for the first few weeks. I also rarely sit down - but these first few weeks my desk and I will be complete strangers during class time.

This is my plan and I'm sticking to it ... I'll report back!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ugly fonts, messy handwriting = more learning?

Our school's tech guy (not his official title) loves the Smartboard feature that converts handwriting to a digital font. He reminds us repeatedly that kids hate reading our messy handwriting.

Well here's an article citing a study which claims simple, easy to read fonts actually inhibit learning.

The article states that e-readers like Kindle use such a casual font, that the brain absorbs the information too passively ... and so the info is often forgotten rather than absorbed.

But on the other hand, standout fonts and hard-to-read handwriting make the brain work to understand the information, and this extra effort facilitates learning.

Ha. I bet my second grade teacher who gave me all the Fs in handwriting feels silly now!

UPDATE: our school tech guy sent this link to the Scientific American, which basically states the opposite: Easy, clear, simple instructions (including clear fonts & handwriting), serve to enhance both motivation and success.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reflections on my first semester

When I walked into this classroom five months ago, it was a mess. It looked like a tornado had struck; so, I stripped it down and began the gradual process of making it my own.

I suppose the initial physical chaos was a perfect parallel for my spinning thoughts ...

Well, my room is still not the neatest classroom in the building, or best decorated, or something you'd see in a textbook.

But I love it. I love it, and I cherish every activity that's gone into shaping and decorating this humble little classroom where we try and tackle big ideas. And I suppose as the room's slowly come together, my thoughts have leveled out as well. Chaos has been replaced by an increasing sense of calm.

Kate Chopin said the beginning of things are necessarily vague, scary and uncertain. Becoming a first year teacher, and switching careers, felt like I had moved to another planet. (Not to mention moving from Ohio to North Carolina, and getting married, and buying a house - all in a period of weeks). Oh, and we got a puppy, too.

It feels as if all of my previous experiences have paved the way for a degree of initial success: The highs and lows of my life positioned me to enter the classroom with at least a little bit of poise.

But man, ultimately, was I clueless. Preparing now for the second semester, I feel like a wizened old veteran. But I know at the end of the year I'll look back to this moment, and smile at how naive I am, sitting here typing ... still largely having no clue.

Sure, there's fear inherently tied up in beginnings, and in the unknown. But there's a beauty in it too: I know can never have these moments back.

I don't know if I'll become hardened and jaded - I suspect everyone does, at least to some degree. But right now everything is still gold.

Better classroom management, tighter lessons, diving deeper into content knowledge ... of course these are my focuses.

But I have the gift of shaping a child's character, and impacting lives every day. That remains my real focus. Frost says nothing gold can stay ... but that's not entirely true.

Dawn goes down to day, and beauty is temporal - but the values I'm working to instill are in fact timeless. I offer up this little prayer: May the seed I plant this new semester be worthy, and true, and live on in my students. To be neither a sheep, nor a wolf - but a sheepdog, day in and day out.

Thank you to my mentors past, for your time and dedication; and thanks to my current mentors (there are several) who are helping me in the coolest profession there is - teaching.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Parenting styles and student performance

At a moment when China's president is on U.S. soil for official state business, and given the fact my school is part of a very cool cultural exchange program with China, it's worth looking at some East / West cultural differences in parenting styles.

From the Wall Street Journal article (actually, it's more an opinion piece):

"In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun."

By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way." (emphasis mine)

It's an interesting read, to be sure. Just one viewpoint - not mine, not my school's ... but still, interesting!

UPDATE: If you are as fascinated with culture as I am, you'll want to read this follow up in the New Yorker ... apparently the first article has caused quite a stir, and this second article offers some balance and perspective in its analysis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mini books and the downfall of society

Okay, so that headline's a bit dramatic.

But I do wonder if we are losing something, as technology advances ever forward ...

I'll explain. I was shopping over Christmas break, browsing in a Borders, when I noticed these little mini motivational books, like the one pictured above.

Change your life or master your finances in 3 easy steps! Joel Olsteen and Donald Trump were offering life-changing advice in under 10 minutes.

These cute little books, each smaller than a cell phone, struck me as deeply ironic: If you are setting out to change your life, shouldn't you have more ambition than what it takes to tackle these tiny books?

Later that week I was home playing with my new Nintendo Wii; I'm not much of a gamer, and Wii is just about my speed. I pulled out the instruction book for Super Mario Brothers, and realized I had several pages to read!

But I wanted to know how to do a jump-stomp-smash move NOW!

So I reached over and pulled up a website that had all the key instructions on one page - complete with colorful pictures. A few more clicks and now I didn't have to read anything ... as I was instead watching a YouTube video showing me how to play.

And I'm an English teacher.

I try not to judge technology's impact on education - it simply is, and it's my job to meet the kids where they are at. Wasting time pining away about how things should be is pointless.

But sometimes it does seem like technology is advancing along ceaselessly, while at the same time society is sliding backwards in some important aspects.

Well I have to go ... I'm reading Tony Dungy's "The Mentor Leader." Thank goodness the key points of each chapter are all highlighted and in bold.