School Shootings and School Prayer

Yet two more school shootings today.  On Dec. 24, 2012, I wrote the following on another blog that I write.  Thought I would dust it off.  If you happened to read it two years ago, my apologies for bringing you here to read it again.

After recent events, I’ve been thinking about this concept of prayer in schools.  I’m a bit irritated that taking prayer out of schools is one of the things being blamed for what happened.  I’m a teacher and I’m a Christian.  I will tell you up front that those are my only two qualifications to speak on this subject.

There are three sections of scripture I’d like to throw out there to start with:

John 9:31  Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.

Matthew 6:5-7 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (6) But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (7) But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

So, what exactly are the spokesmen of the Religious Right asking for or complaining about when they clamor about prayer in schools?  Remember this, if you get prayer in school, you’re going to get all religions praying in school.  Are you ready for the principal to read a Christian prayer, followed by a Muslim prayer, then followed by a Wiccan prayer? I know I’m not ready for that.

But, I digress.  Let’s get back to my thoughts.  Considering the three scriptures above, what would be the point of an unsaved principal, or an unsaved teacher, beginning the school day by standing in front of the class repeating a prayer?  God doesn’t hear him.  How many times when a prayer is allowed by a chaplain or other figurehead does he end up reading it from something he prepared earlier? Sounds like vain repetition to me.

Let me shock you a bit.  There is prayer in my classroom.  No, not from me standing up in front of the class putting on a show.  But from me before school.  And during the day with a prayerful attitude. Occasionally at lunch.  And guess what else…I’ve seen 5th graders in my room bow their heads before a test or even during a hard test, close their eyes and silently offer up a prayer.  Funny that “taking prayer out of schools” didn’t stop them from doing it.

Let me boil this down for you.  This whole fight over prayer in schools is just another attempt to avoid responsibility.  It is an individual’s responsibility to take prayer into school. You want God in school?  Take him there in your heart.  Parents, you want God in school? Train your child in the way they should go and have them take God there in their hearts.  No one is stopping them from praying in school.  Yes, they aren’t allowed to make a big show of it, but Matthew 6 pretty much tells you not to do that anyway.

How to Grow Even the Highest Students

There is a lot of pressure to show growth in our students. (Value added is similar, but it uses a convoluted formula that no one really understands.) Last time I talked about merit pay and gave you the golf coach example.  That example was merit pay based on achievement.  Growth is totally different.  That same golf coach would never want Rory McIlroy.  Rory is the number one player in the world.  The ONLY way to show growth is if he is still number one next year.  He could win five tournaments, but slip to number two because someone won six tournaments.  In the education world, that coach didn’t grow him a year.

I teach ELA to a largely gifted group of students.  If I have a student who enters my class reading in the 99th percentile, he has to be reading in the 99th percentile at the end of the year.  Otherwise, he is considered to have not grown a full year. I’m often asked to explain how my students consistently show growth.

These are the things I can put my finger on.

Teach to the top 

Differentiation is a major buzzword BINGO term right now.  In my opinion, it’s a certain amount of hogwash.  I teach to the top of my class.  Find out what the highest student can handle and teach up there.  Use questioning techniques that make the highest students work to answer. The lower students will sweep along with the wake.  Certainly, it’s necessary to swing the boat around and pick them up once in awhile, but never teach the whole class with a lower throttle.

Be excited about your material and ENTERTAIN

Some of you are thinking, I shouldn’t have to entertain them.  They should want to learn. Really?  Been in a church service lately? Watched any TV aimed at adults lately? What was the last big blockbuster movie you went to that was black and white without any special effects?  If you, as an adult, have to be entertained to sit still for an hour, how can you expect a 10-year old to be any different?

If you don’t love what you’re teaching, the kids will know it.  If you can’t get excited about your material, which the kids will join you in that excitement, you better reevaluate your job.

Quick-write notebooks and Question/All-writes

In my entire master’s degree program, these were the two strategies that I learned and truly believe in.  You have to make kids THINK about the material you’re covering.  Quick-write notebooks are exactly what they say, a quick write after covering something.  For instance, after reading an article on 9/11, the kids did a quick write in their notebooks.  They have five options: a summary of the material, a connection to their life, a question they had while reading, an illustration about the reading, or an equation using numbers from the reading.  After a few moments of writing, they share with their table, and then a few share for the class.  Questions get explored and answers found. In this case, they made connections to stories their parents told them, drew pictures of the burning buildings, asked tough questions about why?, made equations from the casualties, and a few even summarized the events of that day.

You know those students.  You’ve just asked a brilliant, probing, thought-provoking question and they just sit there.  They have no intention of thinking that hard.  They’ve learned from years past that they have a 1 in 28 chance of being called to answer.  If they are called, they know that an “I don’t know” and some uncomfortable silence will get the teacher to move on to someone else.  Enter the Question/All-write.  Ask that probing question and then be quiet.  Once the kids learn that you aren’t moving on till everyone writes an answer, you know you have everyone working on an answer.  Cruise the room, verify that everyone is giving quality thought, THEN call on someone, or have them share answers with their table before you have someone answer aloud to the class.

Build rapport

This is a huge time and personal investment, but it pays incredible dividends.  This comes from my days in school.  If I liked a teacher, I would walk through a wall to do well in his class.  If I didn’t like a teacher, you couldn’t get me to do anything in that class.  Also, a kid who wants to come to school every day is there for more of your instruction than the kid who fakes stomachaches to stay home from school.

It takes a lot of work to grow your students a full year, especially the ones at the top of the percentiles.  However, if you’re willing to work, to be tired at the end of the day, to not mail it in, you can grow any student.

Quick Thoughts on Merit Pay

First of all, I can’t imagine going on strike as a teacher.  It goes against EVERY reason I went into teaching.  That being said, Reynoldsburg teachers voted to strike last night.  They are fighting an agenda being pushed by Gov. Kasich’s cronies.  Besides class size and health benefits, one of the central issues is merit pay.

Let me break merit pay down for you.  Name one other profession that has merit pay AND it is based on how someone else performs.  When I think of merit pay in other professions, I think of pro golfers.  But, they get paid on how they perform.  Think about a golf coach.  What if he was paid on merit?  He would probably love that if his only pupil was Rory McIlroy.  What if you sent him players who wouldn’t practice?  He’d probably argue against merit pay.  What if you sent him players with one arm?  He’d probably argue against merit pay.  What if you sent him players with broken golf clubs and no spikes?  He’d probably argue against merit pay.  Would he still teach them to the best of his ability?  Yes.  Are they ever going to perform at the highest level? No.

That’s why Reynoldsburg is fighting for all of the other teachers in Ohio.  They are a big district and which ever way this domino falls will have lasting impact for all districts in Ohio.

Face it…you aren’t allowed to have a bad day

In many other jobs, if you’re having a bad day, there’s usually somewhere you can hide.  Turn off the phones for a bit.  Take a long break.  Shoot, go sit in the bathroom for awhile.  You really don’t have that option as a fifth-grade teacher.

I have a very small amount of time to capture my kids’ imaginations.  Part of that is the old adage that they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  So here you are on your A-game for the first part of the year while you’re energized, investing in the kids, making them want to be at school, and building respect and rapport.  You’re getting notes and emails from parents amazed that for the first time ever their child wants to come to school in the morning. That fragile child who has never opened up to anyone, sees you as that adult they finally trust.

And then you’re having a bad day.  And that kid who trusts you, but also hasn’t put his name on a paper all year, doesn’t have his name on his paper AGAIN!  Your day has been junk and your patience is limited.  And out of your mouth comes that comment that expresses your annoyance with his behavior, and you immediately undo ALL the progress you’ve made with him.  You realize instantly and pull him aside.  You try to explain you were having a bad day.  You’re sorry.

You have now become another adult he can’t trust.

Face it…you aren’t allowed to have a bad day.  But, regardless of our superhero powers, we do have bad days.  So, what do we do about them.

Tell them up front.  Kids are amazingly forgiving if they know ahead of time that you aren’t yourself that day.  Be honest and tell them, “I’m having a bad day.  Please be patient with me today if I mess up.”  Not only will they forgive you easier if you slip, your honesty, if you’ve developed respect and rapport, will most likely buy you a calmer class than normal. I know this flies in the face of many of the “experts.”  They say your students should have no idea of your mood because you should have a game face on.  Yeah, right.  That advice is written by “educators” who haven’t been in a classroom for years.  Be honest with your students.  They know when you’re lying anyway.

Elvis In the House

This may seem disjointed at first, but hang with me.

1) I’ve been an Elvis fan as long as I can remember.  My mom was an Elvis fan.  It was the most natural thing in the world to also be an Elvis fan.  Fortunately, my best friend was also an Elvis fan.  We would put on concerts in his play room.  Stereo blasting, he would be belting out Elvis and I was singing the part of back up J.D. Sumner. Well, belting the bass parts as well as an 8-year old can.  It never left me as I got older.  My brother-in-law gave me a life-size stand up of Elvis in his gold lame suit.  It now greets my students at the door.

2) Last year was easily the worst year of my career. Too many changes.  Too much flowing from upstream that I had absolutely no control over.  I pursued teaching in my thirties.  I felt called.  It was an irresistible call.  And then last year actually made me question if I was still supposed to be teaching.  It was that bad.  Just when I needed it last year, former students dropped by to see me.  One brought the most incredible framed photos of us when she was in 5th grade and one of us when she was a senior at her soccer teacher appreciation night. Those visits began to push aside the horrible year I was having.

3) On our first teacher day this year, our new vice principal had us write down our favorite memory of when we were in school.  Then he challenged us to figure out what it was about that memory that made it so special.  For me, it was Mr. Clark’s class.  It was special because of the relationship we had.  We examined this some more and made the connection that the relationships are what I strive for with my students.  Some teachers strive to present challenges.  Some strive for perfect lesson plans.  For me though, it’s relationships.  I want my kids to want to come to school, to enjoy every minute there, even when they struggle.

So, imagine the confirmation when I checked my email this morning and found an email from a former student in her first year of education classes in college.  She had an assignment to write about a former teacher.  She thought I would like to see the essay.

Forgive me the indulgence of putting this out there.  But this is why I teach.  This is affirmation of what I do.

Elvis Presley was My Fifth Grade Teacher:
The Teacher Who is My Inspiration
(Name removed)
Miami University

Fifth grade was a difficult concept to grasp. I was leaving my beloved elementary school that I could easily walk to for a large middle school with strange teachers and even more students. My parents said I had nothing to worry about but I knew within my gut that fifth grade would be an abhorrent experience. That was until I switched to my language arts and social studies class where I entered a room of books that filled two whole book cases, maps placed all around the white boards at the front of the room, and a tiny window draped with Elvis Presley curtains. Wait, Elvis Presley? “Who is that,” asked my unenlightened fifth grade brain. As my brain continued to wonder, Mr. Kesselring introduced himself and changed the way I thought about school for the rest of my life. Mr. K and Elvis helped me to define my passions as a student, to never be afraid to demonstrate those passions, and to keep one goal in mind: to inspire.
Mr. K was an amazing teacher in every way (and still is). He genuinely cared about the wellbeing and needs of his students. He used many examples, some of them Elvis related, and told lots of stories that helped explain topics we were going over in class. This helped me to better comprehend the subjects and eased my anxiety of not being able to keep up with the class. One of my favorite moments in Mr. K’s class was during our social studies part of class and we must have been going over the voyage of Lewis and Clark because Mr. K had sent one of the students in my class on a bogus journey across the white boards. I don’t remember all of the details but I remember how much I enjoyed that particular lesson and how hard my class and I laughed. Mr. K was also an excellent reader. I already had a deep love for reading but Mr. K was the first teacher I had that expressed emotion as they read a story aloud. We read a terribly sad book about a dog and Mr. K had started crying. His emotions helped me to realize that stories are just more than words on a page—they are there for any one person to completely delve in and comprehend the author’s true message. Just the way Mr. K taught or spoke sometimes resonated deep within me how passionate one person could be about anything! He truly opened my mind to a world of wonder and possibilities.
Now how did I come to call Mr. Kesselring Elvis? Most know that Elvis Presley was a truly amazing artist and inspired many to follow their own passions in the music industry. Well, Mr. K is my Elvis Presley. He is the true reason as to why I am becoming a teacher. He helped me to realize that fifth graders have so much potential and how much more impressionable they are than other grades, thus being the reason why I want to teach fifth graders. And now that I am in college and I reflect back upon my earlier teachers, Mr. K fully embodies the ideal teacher: someone who listens, respects, understands, and most importantly, cares about each student and what they embody at such a young age. I want to be that exact same teacher. Finally, Mr. K gave me one central goal to focus on as a teacher: to simply inspire. To inspire all of or at least one young mind that I encounter in years to come to encompass that they are someone who can change the world or the world around them. Thank you Mr. Kesselring, for everything.

If you’re a teacher and read my blog, go out and inspire your kids.  And if they’re only your students and not your kids…start right there.



Bubblegum and lockdowns

2014-08-27 10.01.09What a crazy day today!  In the midst of teaching theme, we had a lockdown that basically lasted from 11:30 till 3:00. Police escorting the buses at dismissal.  Pretty sure we made the national news. Craziness.

ANYWAY.  So the subject was theme today.  On my side I gave direct instruction with guided notes about theme. I started with a humorous hook of fables and their morals.  Humorous, you ask.  In a room full of fifth graders, it gets rather giggly when you are reading about the Donkey and the Lion’s Skin.  Just remember, when Aesop was writing, they didn’t call them donkeys.

After the right side notes, I gave them some cutouts from Grade 5 Reading Notebook by Nicole Shelby.  They were a gumball machine and five gumballs.  The gumball machine has the definition of theme formed as a question on it.  The idea is that just as blowing too big of a gumball can create a sticky situation, theme is what sticks with you after you read.  That idea gets carried through to the gumballs.

On their side, the processing side, they had to look back over their notes and pick the five things that needed to stick with them from the information.  This forces them to prioritize the notes.  To do that, they really need to think them through.

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Today’s hiccup…Apparently there isn’t a whole lot of new material in the 5th grade version compared to the 4th grade version.  A portion of the kids who all had the same 4th grade teacher said they had these same cutouts last year.  I thought maybe the teacher had been challenging her students with the 5th grade book.  But alas, she told me she has the 4th grade version.  I’m hoping it doesn’t all repeat.


Frayer Models In the Notebooks

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Here is a page we started Friday and the kids completed over the weekend.  On my page on the right is an introduction to affixes and word roots.  I used their page to introduce Frayer models.  If you aren’t familiar with Frayer models, they are an in-depth vocabulary graphic organizer, and they are on of the recommended Marzano strategies to focus on similarities and differences. A typical Frayer model has the word in the middle, a definition in the upper left, an illustration in the upper right, examples in the lower left, and non-examples in the lower right.

Because improving my scores in acquisition of vocabulary is a target for me this year, I tweaked the definition box.  In addition to a  standard definition, they have to break the word into parts and define each, prefix, root, and suffix that makes up the word.  I also have lowered the center oval to create a larger area for the definition and the illustration.  I supplied the kids with one model and then they were responsible for recreating it the second time.

To extend them on this page, they had to use two of the three word parts (prefix, suffix, and root word) for their center word.  They were allowed to use any resource to find the meanings of pre-, suf-, fix,root, and word.  I let them work together to break the words into parts and find the definitions, but solo on the rest of the Frayer model.


Trouble spot:

When we set up our notebooks, I followed the advice on many of the websites to have the kids prenumber their pages to 100.  I made the mistake of assuming 5th graders knew left from right and could follow simple directions as to setting up the notebooks.  Now we have numbered pages that don’t match my running example and kids putting my materials on their side and then having to do their work on my side.  If I hadn’t had them number all the way through, we could tear out pages and glue them again. The Elmer’s really does its job.  Once the pages are in there, you aren’t getting them out unless you catch it right away. Next year, I’ll know to monitor that much more closely.

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