This is a Hard Job

This post isn’t about an amazing classroom breakthrough or outpouring of positivity, as many of my posts in the past have been.  This post is about my current reality as a grade 8 teacher in a very dynamic and challenging class.

This teaching thing is a hard job.  I have been pulling nine hour days in the school at least four days a week and I’m bringing several hours worth of work home with me every single night.  My husband and I live in the same house, but we have rarely spent time together lately.  In the past three weeks I’ve managed to get out on only two runs.  Lately, we have eaten Kraft Dinner and toast/cereal for dinner more times than I’d care to admit too.  On top of all this, my class continues to be the most epic roller coaster of a class I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve seen a lot of classes from subbing experience!) One day we have an absolutely amazing day together and the next day is downright terrible.  I feel like I don’t know what to expect and when to except it.  I’m exhausted.  My recess and lunches are taken up by both impromptu and scheduled meetings and science study groups, as I try to help my most vulnerable students out.  I’m giving and giving and giving to my class…and not getting a lot back right now in any way, shape or form.  It’s draining.  On top of ALL this, I’m still not caught up…not even close.  Forgive me for being a downer tonight, but we try our best to keep it real on this blog, and this is my honest reality right now.

I’ve decided that I need to focus on the good moments in order to get by.  I’ve taken to the habit of writing down the good moments of the day at the bottom of my day book pages…I know it’s a small act, but it’s essentially one of the only fragments of positivity that’s keeping me going right now.  Sometimes our “good moments” are really tiny victories (like walking silently down the stair well) and other times we have really good entire blocks (our blocks are 40 minutes long), like yesterday.  Yesterday I showed this video:

My class watched this 7 minute video in absolute silence.  The conversation that followed the viewing of this video astounded me!  We discussed homelessness and poverty in such an engaged manner that I forgot all the troubles we’ve been having this week and just let the awesomeness soak in.  My students were so keen to share their experiences of interactions with people who are homeless.  One student shared how he and his younger brother passed a man who was making a shelter on the street.  The man told my student and his brother that he was cold and my student went home, got an old blanket, and brought it to the man on the street.  Various other stories of a similar nature started to make their way out and before we knew it, we had spent the entire block discussing a serious social issue.  I was very proud of my class after that block because they demonstrated extreme maturity and respect for the duration of the block.

This is all I’ve got for tonight.  I have a stellar support team who tell me every single say that I’m doing a good job.  I think I believe them, but, my goodness, is this job ever hard.  So, so hard. Chins up, fellow teachers.

Karley

Teach it Tuesday: Poems for Two Voices

I learned about this particular poetry style in one of our classes at university. I think it was based on this book in case you are interested in reading more or finding examples.

This was my lesson plan for Remembrance Day last year in my Grade 8 English class. Although Remembrance Day was yesterday (or Veteran’s Day in the USA) I think this would still be a powerful lesson for your students this week – Or adapt it to fit a social studies unit!

Poems for Two Voices – An Introducation

These poems are written in three columns that have been spaced out. Each of the outside columns represents a different speaker and the inside column is words/phrases that are said by both speakers. There are a few examples in the book mentioned above and I’ve made up a few of my own with classes. I usually introduce these poems by having the class read one together – half represent one voice, half the other, and we all read the middle together. It is very powerful when you hear everyone come together for the middle lines.

Remembrance Day Activity

After I introduced the poetry style we spent some time talking about the different views we could take to write a poem for Remembrance Day. The students did a great job at coming up with a variety of different people from whom they could write with a (relatively) accurate perspective.

Some examples to help guide your class discussion:

  • Child in Canada now/Child during the war
  • War Veteran/Young Soldier
  • Young Soldier/Mother or Father of Young Soldier
  • Soldiers on either side of a war (takes some talk about respecting both sides)

And there are of course many more examples you can come up with – My class was very multicultural and some students took on viewpoints in regards to their heritage (e.g. Korean War). I really enjoyed seeing the different ideas that my class came up with.

Once we had a list of ideas they got to work on their poems and then we had time to share them aloud at the end. Here is one of my favourites from the day:

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PDF Version: Poems For Two Voices

Extensions:

When I do this project again with students I will take more time to develop the poems and allow for editing and final drafts. I think that this would be a very powerful read aloud during a Remembrance Day Assembly.

This assignment could easily be adapted to fit many different Social Studies units as well as other subjects (there is an example poem in the book about Ice Bergs and Polar Bears that directly relates to environmental studies).

I would love to hear how you end up using this lesson – Leave a comment below!

Meaghan

Blog Makeover Monday

Our blog got a makeover today and we are so very excited to share it with you!

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Our little blog team hard at work…

A huge shout out to Meaghan’s brother for all of his hard work on his day off! We definitely couldn’t have done any of this without him!

Here’s a few things you can check out and let us know how you like them…

1. Try it: taleoftwoteachers.com Yup! We have our own domain name now – We feel pretty proud of that one!

2. Our awesome new banner at the top! We are pretty excited about this and hope you like our updated look.

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3. Teach it Tuesday posts (and Guest Posts) are now all in one place along the top so you can easily access our lessons and ideas.

4. Our Book Tales and Travel Tales are organized better under their heading sections and you can easily access our Amazon store to buy any books you are interested in directly if you wish.

5. Follow us by email on the sidebar – it will send you an email when we add a new post so you don’t miss out!

6. Search bar at the top to help you find any of your favourite posts directly on our site.

Let us know what you think and if there’s anything that would help make our site easier for you to access!

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Creativity. Passion. Compassion.

This post was inspired by this video that I just watched:

Being a middle school teacher I see this struggle of adolescence becoming themselves on a daily basis – And I LOVE this idea of honoring the rebellious state of mind, of truly encouraging our young minds to think for themselves, of being a necessary support system for our teenagers to use as they learn to navigate this world. Let’s honor and celebrate the development that these youth are going through.

This week I noticed a very drastic change of two students in my class who are normally good friends. I talked to them each individually and they expressed the need to talk it out together but were either scared, nervous, or too angry to address the issues with each other. Since it was apparent that neither student was able to continue through the day without these issues being addressed (and luckily I had a prep block to spend the time with them) I helped to initiate the conversation between them but they weren’t talking or opening up. I shared with the students that when we open up and share what’s bothering us our friendships become stronger and we learn and grow from these moments. And then I left them in the room. My heart was hurting for these students caught in an all too familiar situation (something I had dealt with many times in my own adolescence) and I was worried that the conversation might not happen without me there, or that one student might not be heard out, or that the problem might get bigger… But I left the room. I wasn’t leaving them to deal with it because I didn’t want to help or because it was “wasting” my prep block. I left them to deal with it because I know that next time I might not be there – next time there might not be any adult – and the best way for them to learn to be vulnerable and honest with each other is to practice. And this time it worked. I don’t know what they talked about, I don’t know what solutions they found. All I know is that they are now friends again and they found a way to communicate – to hold compassion for each other.

If we don’t give our students the space they need to find their own answers and make their own mistakes, how will they know what to do when we aren’t around?

And what about school work? Instead of sitting and doing worksheets or following step by step lessons – How do we help our students form the connections in their brains that happen through truly meaningful learning? I think that a big part of that is letting go and stepping back. We are facilitators in their learning, we are not instructors. We are their as a support network when things are tough, we are not the solutions to problems. Sometimes it is hard to let go, not simply because we want to be in control but also because it’s hard to know how to let go when what was modeled to us was the opposite. I saw my students come alive with passion this week in their science projects (Water Animal Books) when they were looking at different animals they could research. Whether it was the freedom to choose their project, the creativity in how to present the information, or the connection they feel to living creatures, I’m not sure – perhaps all three?

We talk a lot about personalized learning in today’s education climate, but what does this really mean? To me it means giving space for thoughts and creativity to arise and flourish, it means letting students figure out the “tough stuff” on their own sometimes, and it means letting go and not expecting any particular result. It means that students need to find connections between what they are passionate about and what the world is in need of. When we are looking at our adolescence we need to allow them a balance of space and support (enabling constraints in the education theory world) to be creative, passionate, and compassionate – this is all I want for my students.

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When I step into my classroom next week I am going to honor adolescence by appreciating the rebellion, choosing to let go a little more, supporting students in the search for their own knowledge, and sharing my love with my students. I want my students to find their own ways to grow into creative, passionate, and compassionate adults. I will model this and facilitate this but I will understand that I cannot control how it is done. They are rebelling for freedom because freedom is needed for growth. And growth is needed for change. And change is needed so desperately in this world.

Meaghan

Half of a Year, Full of Gratitude

We are so excited because today marks six months since the launch of our blog! The past half year has been a whirlwind for us from the end of our first year teaching to the beginning of our first full time jobs. There have been so many highs and a few lows, and we are so very thankful for all the readers we have that have joined us on this journey. We are so very appreciative of the comments and feedback we are getting on a daily basis from colleagues all over the world.20131108-181238.jpg

This has truly been an amazing experience for us and we wouldn’t be where we are today without all of you. In return for the constant support of all our readers we are offering 20% for our half year at our store on TeachersPayTeachers. So check out our products and let us know what you think – There are a few freebies on there as well!

Also stay tuned for some exciting new changes coming up in the next little while. We won’t tell you yet but we are very excited about some of these developments!

And along with the new here is what each of us thinks is the best of the old…

Karley – 3 Favourite Posts

1. Speaking Up – My Story – This one was tough for me to write because I was pretty concerned about how our readers who are part of my gymnastics community would receive this post (ego in full force, I know). Thanks RG community for the support and love that stemmed from me publishing this post and thanks to all our other readers, too, for your kind words. You people are all so great!

2. Travel Tales – Teaching in Thailand – We haven’t done too much with “Travel Tales” on our blog yet, but we’ll get there in due time. I really loved writing this travel tale about my teaching experiences in Thailand because I got to wander down memory lane and dig up the old photos of my husband and I just doin’ our thing in South East Asia. Travel + teaching = winning combination, in my mind. We would go back in a heart beat.

3. Guest Post – The Courage to Lead – Soooo…this one I didn’t write, but my dear friend/educational mentor/VP from last year, Nadine Naughton, wrote it and it is a beautiful piece of writing concerning the courage it takes to be an effective and inspiring leader. Nadine is truly a warm, caring, giving and incredibly courageous leader (one of the best I know!) – if you haven’t given her guest post a read, I highly suggest you do so right now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us here on Tale of Two Teachers, Nadine. Much love!

Meaghan – 3 Favourite Posts

1. Coming Undone – I loved that sharing my story honestly allowed for so many open conversations with people. I was overjoyed by the responses I received and it moved me to tears to think of how important finding connection is in our world. It is those connections that have made this hold blog adventure such an unbelievable experience!

2. Guest Post: Parent~Teacher~Student – I was absolutely thrilled to have my dad guest post on our blog. The whole parent relationship piece of teaching is very new for me and probably many other new teachers and so I think it was really nice to get another perspective and it was also our first guest blog post – something that we really have been loving ever since!

3. You Know You’re a Substitute Teacher When… – This post was just absolutely hilarious to write! We chose the top ones for our post but we had a ton of great ideas coming in from other teachers. This was one of my favourites to write and it seemed to be a reader favourite too! Keep sending us your ideas for this and maybe you will see a part two coming your way soon!

We are so grateful for all of you! Thank you for taking the time to stay tuned in with us.

What have been your favourite posts?

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Teach it Tuesday: Capturing the Essence

We’ve all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but back in my final practicum (a year and a half ago) I challenged that phrase. Instead of writing a thousand words to go along with a picture, I had my students write five or less words to truly “capture the essence” of a series of photos.

How we did this lesson: My students were seated in pods, which served nicely as small groups. I chose an image to project on the screen and had my students look at it and think about it for a few minutes. Once my class had some time to look at and think about the photo, I asked them to discuss and take notes on one sheet of paper per group. The ideas written down could be as lengthy and detailed as the group desired. After each group had a chance to discuss and write, we went around the room and shared ideas. It was interesting to her what each group had to say about the same photo – some ideas were similar and some ideas were radically different! From here, I had my students work within their group to narrow down the essence of the photo. The groups worked together, crossing out words and phrases that didn’t totally and fully describe the photo. This part of the lesson was interesting for me because some students really had a hard time narrowing down specific words or short phrases that captured what they thought the essence of the photo was.

The end goal: At the end of narrowing down the photo’s descriptions in small groups we came together as a class as shared our specific words/phrases once more. During this sharing I wrote the words along the edges of the projected photo. After each group had shared their idea(s) we decided as a class what the “caption” of the photo should be, in five words or less.

I found this lesson to be quite powerful because of the images I chose. The photo below is a picture I took in Cambodia while riding a local bus through Phnom Penh early one morning.

A barefooted monk collecting morning alms from the people.

A barefooted monk collecting morning alms from the people.

Not only did this lesson serve as a writing lesson, it also touched on aspects of humanity, social studies, creative thinking/question forming and rich conversation. Initially, I created this lesson for my students to introduce the notion of writing in comic strips (a social studies project we were working on). Comic strips sometimes use very little writing, so I wanted to show my students how powerful images could really be and how UNnecessary wordiness can be.

I’m curious to know what words you all think fit with this photo? Can you capture the essence in five words or less?

Karley

Finding Inspiration

I am pretty well known with the people in my life for relating most things back to teaching – I visit a cool place and I’m planning a field trip in my head, see interesting art work and I’m visualizing the student friendly version – you get the picture! So today I want to talk a little bit about my main sources of inspiration for my classroom (temporary class until end of November) in hopes that you can share your inspirations too and we can all feel a little bit more inspired together…

Team Teaching

This year in math I have been working with one of the learning assistance teachers at school to do some team teaching. Not only have I been learning a lot from her but it has also inspired a lot of creativity in us! We have planned lessons related to cookie recipes for ratios and short form texting for percentages. Not only have we had a lot of fun planning these (sometimes silly/goofy/ridiculous) lessons but it’s also made the rest of my teaching a lot more creative as well! The plan behind these lessons is to introduce a unit in a way that is fun, based on real life, and an easy introduction to the necessary steps a student needs to know.

Quotes

I don’t know why but quotes have always been a very powerful source of inspiration for me. I love looking up quotes about balance, teaching, leadership, mindfulness… really anything that relates to my life. I often find that just reading these quotes and making small mantras out of some of them really increase my capacity to find inspiration in other places. One of my favourites this year that has really been in the back of my mind through my planning, teaching and marking came from a workshop back in September that I was at. I can’t remember the exact quote or who said it (please let me know if you know it!) but it was something along the lines of “we need to make math irresistible to students.” I just love the idea and the passion that I feel when I hear that word irresistible used with math – not only are we trying to break down the barriers of math being “too hard” or “not for me” but let’s also try to make it so engaging and enjoyable that students love it and want to do more (like reading for many students).

Childhood Favourites

In the back of my mind I must have known that I wanted to be a teacher since I was little (even though I didn’t admit it until I was 19 – coming from a family of teachers and trying to be fiercely independent) because I kept everything that I might need one day. I have a bookshelf full of novels and pictures books from when I was a kid and in my box of childhood memorabilia I have found various projects from throughout the years that I love to adapt and bring into my own teaching practice. Last year students had a great time looking through my old poetry book from grade 12 English before they made their own and a variety of other projects remain in the “one day” pile of things that I want to do.

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Two in One Animal Books

Most recently I have started planning a science project that is based on these little books that were favourites of my brother and I when we were kids…

It took me a little while to find a copy online (these books were my brother’s and I guess he wasn’t as considerate of my future when he decided to give this set away) but I now have one in my hands to use as an example for my next exciting science project! To study the differences with ocean/freshwater living environments my students will be making their own books to show two different animals. I can’t wait to see one of my childhood favourites come to life. If it goes well you might see it up on our TeachersPayTeachers site soon!

Professional Community

This will probably always be the number one way I find inspiration for my job and I am so lucky to have amazing people in my life that help me reflect and improve my practice. The new online community that I’ve discovered has also become a wealth of knowledge, opportunity and inspiration for teaching.

This weekend was full of opportunities for me to talk “teacher talk” (without annoying everyone in my presence). I had some good teacher talk after school on Friday with a few colleagues to start it off. And then my good friend from university was in town so we talked a lot and visited with a couple other teachers and spent the whole night talking about everything from curriculum to sharing funny classroom stories – what a refreshing time!

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Some of my creations at Art Club

After all that I had my art club this afternoon that has become a wonderful opportunity to talk with other teachers while feeling completely immersed and inspired by art (something I rarely take the time to do on my own).

I’ve found this year that I have been really pushing myself to take more opportunities to expand my professional learning community and access many other people’s thoughts and ideas. I’m so thankful for all these people but I am also working hard at making sure I stay open to new ideas as much as possible.

Meaghan

Halloween Week Recap

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Pirate Karley and Panda Bear Meaghan

So we made it! Energy was high, excitement was in the air, candy was everywhere… It was fun and crazy and very, very busy! We both had dress up days for Halloween at school and the middle school dance. Some of the costumes I saw were so funny, scary and creative – I loved them! Karley and I had fun ourselves getting dressed up this year. Karley with an awesome pirate costume and myself with a panda bear outfit. Halloween was a lot of fun this year for us and we hope yours was too!

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Hard at work with a little incentive!

If you didn’t catch Karley’s post on Tuesday here it is. Halloween can be a really fun time at school but it’s also hard to keep kids on task. I decided to use candy to continue our math unit on percents. It worked really well because they couldn’t eat their candy until they were done the sheet… hehehe! The kids were thankful for the treats and did a really good job on the assignment.

You can get a copy of the assignment for free here!

Meaghan