Thursday, May 30, 2013

Nearing the end....

It's hard to believe that my first year is nearing an end, and these final days are an experience all in themselves. Senioritis runs rabid, but they remain focused on getting to the finish line. Some of my freshmen students have secured the long-awaited sense of urgency, scrambling to complete overdue assignments and pleading to retake exams originally given 2-3 months ago. These are trying times for every first-year teacher, but I am MOST comfortable in my new threads.

Since Seniors finish school a few days earlier than other underclassmen, today was FINALS DAY and they closed a long-awaited chapter in their lives. Prior to taking their final exam in Econ Class, I paused to say "thank-you" to this group of thirty students. "I appreciate the respect you provided to me as well as your insight on life. You have much to look forward to, not only at Sunday's graduation, but in the months and years to come. Good luck!"  I could feel their stress and assured them that all would be well. Now, the test.....

When the final bell rang, I collected the scantron sheets and entered grades into Skyward- as is the normal procedure, then went about my business for the balance of the day. Prior to closing up my room, I pulled those Econ tests and read their "No Count Essay Response" to the following question: In a minimum of fifty words, tell me whether this class truly provided you with a feel for the subject of Economics. Do you believe you'll be able to put this information to good use at some point in your lifetime? And yes, I can handle the truth!

I expected some sarcastic responses and even prepared myself for a couple of atomic bullets. It was a wonderful way to end the day and every comment hit close to my heart. One such individual shared this with me: "Yes, I actually do believe I will use the stuff we learned in the future. I already used one piece of your advice when I wrote a thank-you card to a company after they gave me an interview. They called me back three days later and said I was the first to ever do that, and they appreciated it so much I got the job and will be moving to Iowa next week. Thank you Mr. D....this was the best class of my senior year. :)"  The balance of the written responses were just what I needed to end the day on a positive note. I did make a difference in their learning experience and they have knowledge in place which will aid their success.

Moments like this make my new career all so worthwhile. It has invigorated me to take it to another level and I look forward to taking "teaching" to the next level in years to come. I've accepted the position of AP Economics at BDHS next year, a first-time offering at our school. I have an opportunity to engage students looking to excel at a college-level course, and I'm up for the challenge like never before!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Quick Talk about Memorial Day

Today was the perfect opportunity for me to spend a few minutes to interject how Memorial Day first came to happen during the aftermath of the American Civil War. Although the fighting had officially come to an end, it was a time when our country was still emotionally torn from over four years of fighting. General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a day when soldiers of both North and South would be remembered for giving their lives for the freedom and liberty of past, present and future generations.

This weekend is the first in a series of summer holidays and everyone was looking forward to a long weekend. My students were anxious for the long weekend, but as is the case with many of our patriotic days, I fear the true meaning of Memorial Day is diluted in a pool of commercialized selling sprees. Lost is the historical significance and values we've achieved as believers of democratic ideals. When people question why this new generation of learners doesn't have a grasp of real history, I believe we have only ourselves to blame.

I provided them with pictures of Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC and a stirring 3-minute video of Amazing Grace by the Armed Forces Bagpipes. 
It was laced with images of fallen soldiers and ways which they are remembered by comrades and everyday citizens. I ended with a simple request that my students take a few minutes before the end of the day to visit the school's in-house memorial to recent graduates who gave their lives in battle. One of these soldiers was the brother of a current classmate of theirs and few were aware of this association. I asked that they also spend time on Monday in reflection of the true meaning of Memorial Day, recognizing the efforts of soldiers who have defended our country. As each of my five classes departed for the day, there was a somber sense of "I got your message" amid them all. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Best Day in the Classroom

For the past four weeks my freshman students have been engulfed in learning about the Civil War, a fascinating time period in American history. Teaching the Civil War is a challenge in that there is so much going on and a teacher can only cover so much material in limited amount of time. It's not only the battles and politics of the mid-19th century, but the individuals who impacted the fate of our United States. As a high school student I never imagined there were things happening behind the scenes, and this unit provided me with the opportunity to explore such unique things as 3D photography, commonly referred to as stereoview in its time. Nowadays students think 3D is new, but they are surprised to learn how commonplace it was almost 150 years ago. After I purchased a DVD with almost 100 stereoview photos, I was amazed when I discovered how they were digitally colored, bringing scenes to life as I had never imagined possible. My students loved it when I distributed 3D glasses, logged into my iTunes account with an hour's worth of music from the Civil War, and then turned out the lights. I guided them on a one-of-a-kind journey into the past. It was amazing!

It wasn't until the Civil War unit came to an end that I experienced my best day (to date) as a teacher, and once again I've realize the best lessons in the classroom are those made with a connection with life. When the Civil War unit began, I informed my students that I would allow them to use their notebooks for the unit final, provided they were written notes in their own handwriting. In other words, no xeroxed copies or worksheets from textbooks- rather, everything they transcribed from notes in class or taken from assigned readings. Throughout the unit I reminded them that by taking good notes and organizing them appropriately, they would improve their chances for success on the unit exam. For those who chose to ignore my warning, the day of inevitability hit home on Thursday, May 2nd. As I handed out the test, I caught a glimpse of some of their enlarged eyeballs and a sudden realization that they had made a huge error in judgement as to my sincerity of the difficulty of the test. For those who heeded my advice, they excelled like never before.

It was on this same day that I celebrated the success of two students who had previously struggled with tests such as these. Other teachers refer to 'Joe' and 'Jim' as dysfunctional and derelict in nature. They are kids other teachers quickly toss from their classroom, while I tend to tolerate and focus on ways to motivate their passion for learning. Our relationships have grown over the past several weeks after heart-to-heart talks after school when they dropped in to grab a Jolly Rancher from my candy jar. I challenged them to take my advice to prove, if only to themselves, that they could ace the test just by following through on my advice. There were times when they worked together to update their notebooks, talking smack with one another...all the while having just the tiniest of doubts in their abilities. When I finished grading their papers, I was elated to be able to place 'A+' in the top corner. They popped their heads into my classroom this morning and I sat them both down in front of me with a stern glare, then broke the news of their success. They NAILED IT like never before!

I asked if they would allow me to use their names and notebooks to share with other classes, if only to model how successful others could be by following my advice. They were proud of their accomplishment and I matched their elation by suggesting they do it again on the next test. They jumped on board immediately!  Later in the day I strolled into the Dean of Students and asked Shawn to seek out these two students at some point in the afternoon by congratulating them in person in front of their cohorts. In the past Joe and Jim have been frequent visitors to his office, always being reprimanded for their negative actions. Today was genuinely different!  :)

As the day progressed, I had heart-to-heart chats with each class in hopes they would understand the sincerity behind my words. In one of my most difficult classes, one-third of the students received an 'F' on their test, and I shared that they were capable of better work. After all, three students in this specific class earned top honors with perfect the issue of attitude and attentiveness in class clearly came into play. Rather than rubbing their nose in the results, I elected to challenge them to do it 'right' when we begin the next unit on Reconstruction. My students were STUNNED (yet very happy) to discover that Joe and Jim did something that no one expected, much less ever considered possible.

While the good news has yet to spread amongst my comrades in the Social Studies department, I take great satisfaction in knowing that kids who are often tagged as "impossible" can turn their academic lives around in short order. Their success can truly inspire it the teacher or the achieve what was once considered unattainable.