Friday, February 20, 2015

What Do Teachers Eat?

This post is a little out of the ordinary as it doesn't deal directly with educational practices, but I will aim to answer a very important question that I know is on everyone's mind:

What do teachers eat?

The real answer to this question, for most of us (I think) is simple. We eat whatever we can find. In the fridge, in the freezer, whatever drive-through we pass on the way home from school. For me at least, at the end of a long day at school, the last thing I ever want to do is open up my refrigerator or pantry to find that it's empty. Actually, the last thing I want to do is go to the store once I discover we're out of food. Actually, the real truth is, the last thing I really want to do is cook. And as the mom of a toddler, I know how important it is that I put a healthy meal on the table as many nights as I can, which means that runs to Whataburger every night are not an option. 

At the end of this summer, I found myself on Pinterest, which is not unusual for me (I could probably use a Pintervention, in fact), and I ran across this post: 40 Meals in 4 Hours. And when I clicked, I got sucked into reading about an insane woman who preps a month or two of meals in one day, freezes them, and then throws one in the crockpot each night. Who does that?

Well now, I do. 

On the Sunday before school started - a sacred, exciting, and also heartbreaking day for teachers everywhere - my husband and I went to the store, bought 20 meals worth of food, and set to work.

Here's what we've learned:

  1. The shopping trip goes extraordinarily fast when you use the delightful app Wunderlist. I created one list and shared it with my husband. When we went to the store, he started at one end, I started at the other, and we shopped our way to the center. The magic of Wunderlist is that one of you can each check things off, and the item is removed from each person's list. Amazing, right? The entire shopping trip took 30 minutes (I'm completely serious), and we even had JoLeigh with us.
  2. A big prep works really well with two people, and a toddler. I labeled all of the freezer bags as we went (I wrote the name of the meal, the cook time and setting, and if anything needed to be added at the end, like cilantro). I had each recipe pulled up on my iPad and did all of the measuring while my husband did the chopping and handled the meat. JoLeigh helped by peeling garlic cloves. The poor child's fingers smelled like garlic for five days.
    1. We later learned that the pre-minced garlic in a jar at the store is much faster than buying it fresh.
  3. If you realize, in the midst of your prep, that you've forgotten or run out of something, don't panic, and don't run to the store! Just write what you forgot on the bag and grab that item the next time you go to the store. (Tech tip: Throw those items onto your shared Wunderlist so that whoever goes to the store the next time will remember to grab it.)
I am telling you: This has changed my life!

We are eating healthier, spending far less money on food, my lunches consist of something more exciting than lunch meat, and my picky daughter is eating better!

The planning does take time (I followed the 20 Meals in 2 Hours list to a T the first time, but we realized that we didn't like a lot of the meals, so I make my own lists now), but the prep takes roughly one nap time. To me, that beats prepping a meal every single day. If you do the math, we're talking about the difference between 2-3 hours in the kitchen every 6-8 weeks and 30 minutes-1 hour in the kitchen at least 4 times per week - meaning you'd be spending 24-32 hours in the kitchen every 6-8 weeks. To that, I say: No, thank you.

We have now completed 3 big preps and have no intention of going back to our fast-food-eating, foraging days. Below you can find links to our meal prep plans.

20 Meals in 2 Hours - 6 weeks of meals
Fall Crockpot Recipes - 8 weeks of meals
Clean Eating Crockpot Recipes - 10 weeks of meals

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tricider and Spiderweb Discussions

Yesterday I tried something new (it was #trysomethingtuesday, after all). Technically I tried two new things: Tricider and Spiderweb Discussions.

Let's back up: At the end of the first semester, I invited all of my AP Literature seniors to come in during their lunch period to plan our next unit. Among the things they came up with, they wanted to have more class discussions. I tend to avoid whole class discussion because, frankly, I've never been great at getting my kids to participate at the level of engagement and insight that I want. I am far more comfortable with small group and lit circle discussions because kids are almost always more willing to participate when there are only a few sets of ears listening.

However, I wanted to give my seniors what they wanted: a whole class discussion - not an Inner/Outer Circle, not groups, they wanted to have a completely open forum.

To prepare them, we did lit circle discussions for two weeks. During those discussions I was able to show them what interesting questions looked like, what qualified as insightful contributions, and how to get quieter students to participate. I thought we were ready for a whole class discussion yesterday, so I came up with some ideas to try and get high participation from my kids.

The first thing I did was incorporate Tricider into the discussion. Tricider is a neat place where the kids could submit discussion questions or ideas. Then, the ideas and questions are voted on in order to determine which would be the most interesting to discuss.

Each class period had their own Tricider board where they could submit questions. After 10 minutes of brainstorming, we got into a large circle and began with the question that received the most votes (as seen below):

While my kids discussed, I created a map of their discussion using the Spiderweb Discussion technique from Alexis Wiggins. Since this was the first whole class discussion we had done, my goal was to get wide involvement rather than really focus on the level of the contributions made. I wanted my kids to have a visual that would show them how their discussion went. After all, if this really is their unit (they designed it), it has to be up to them to determine the success of the discussion. Here's what the Spiderweb looked like for my 2nd period:

As you can see, and as I showed them today, the discussion fell heavily to one group of kids - much like I expected it would.

When they came back to class today, I showed them the map and asked them how we could fix it. My 1st period decided to try an Inner/Outer Circle this time. They also chose to use the questions from 2nd period so they would have new ideas to discuss. The inner circle consisted of the students who had little to no participation yesterday, and the outer circle became the moderators of the discussion, asking extension questions or new questions when the topic became dull.

The inner circle first consisted of students who had limited participation the first time, and participation was much better the second time.

My 2nd period class chose to go a completely different route with Round 2 of the discussion. They elected to form two teams on either side of the room. I divided the class myself so that each team had an equal mix of kids who participated well yesterday and those who did not based on the Spiderweb.

Each team formed a line on either side of the room, and in the center of the room we placed two chairs in facing each other.

We started with the first kids in the line from each team sitting in the center of the room. I asked a question from the Tricider board that we had not discussed yesterday. They had approximately 30 seconds to debate the question while their teammates encouraged them from the sidelines.

Kids could move from into their team's "hot seat" in one of two ways: They could tag themselves in if they felt their teammate had lost steam or they could jump in on a new question. Though anyone could tag themselves in, when we changed questions, we continued down the line of kids to ensure everyone's participation.

When we exhausted the Tricider questions, I did a quick search for anticipation guides from their novel choices and we moved on to those.

All I can say is this: WE HAD SO MUCH FUN!

Participation was high because there were only two main speakers in the center of the room, and by going down the line, we were able to fit everyone in. The discussion was more exciting because the kids were up and moving, they were able to tag themselves in and out of the hot seat, and they had to listen closely to each argument in order to jump in. 

So we tried something new Tuesday, and it wasn't amazing. But my kids came together today and came up with their own solutions, and they knocked it out of the park!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Learn Their Names

The morning’s detention was served in the cafeteria, as they always were. A blonde girl, smaller than most of the other girls in her seventh grade class, sat uncomfortably on one of the benches. Her hands, crossed in her lap, trembled slightly. Her face reddened as she bit back bitter tears. She focused forward, avoiding the accusing face of the detention monitor and the other young, guilty faces around her. She watched the clock tick slowly, counting to the end of the long hour. When the bell finally rang, the blonde girl got up and rushed quickly out of the cafeteria, hoping to avoid being seen leaving detention, wondering why she had been there at all.
The day dragged on miserably. The girl was quieter than normal, too distracted by her still-knotted stomach to chat animatedly with her friends throughout the day as she usually did. She dreaded the last period of the day, though it was her favorite class: English. She wished she’d had the nerve to ditch, but that would probably make two detentions courtesy of Mrs. Sadler. The girl held off entering English until just before the bell.
The first half of class passed normally enough. Mrs. Sadler sat at the front of the room while the class researched Prohibition quietly. When Mrs. Sadler passed back presentation grades, the girl wondered why hers wasn’t returned. She had spent an entire weekend preparing her Fashion of the 20’s presentation and was hoping to get an A. Nevertheless, while the teacher walked the room, the girl stared down at her desk, hoping to avoid Mrs. Sadler’s prosecuting, detention-giving eye.
When she was finished passing back rubrics, Mrs. Sadler sat back down at her desk and picked up her phone. The girl stole a glance at her teacher, but quickly returned her gaze to her work. She jumped when Mrs. Sadler called her name and hesitated before making her way to the front of the room, stumbling slightly when her toe caught a backpack thrown haphazardly into the aisle.
“Yes, ma’am?” the girl stammered when she reached her teacher’s desk.
“No, not you, Christie. I called Samantha,” Mrs. Sadler replied tersely, holding the phone against her neck as she looked up at her student, clearly irritated.
The girl stared at her teacher. “I am Samantha,” she said confusedly, turning her head to look behind her at the other small blonde girl seated near the front of the room.
Realization flashed across Mrs. Sadler’s face as red blotches appeared, signifying her embarrassment at her mistake. Those red blotches were all too familiar to Samantha, who just this morning at detention bore those same symbols of embarrassment and shame. Mrs. Sadler shook herself out of her momentary stupor to pull the phone back up to her ear. She spoke from pursed lips. “Mrs. Knight? I’m afraid I called you by mistake.”
I’ll never forget how I felt when my teacher mistook me for another student and gave me my first and only detention. I’ll never forget how my respect toward my teacher went from near-worshipful to nonexistent in an instant. And I’ll never forget how small I felt, standing in front of her and realizing that in May, at almost the end of the school year, my teacher didn’t know my name; I was noone to her.
While I had many great teachers throughout my education who inspired me to become a teacher, it was Mrs. Sadler who made me the teacher I am today. Because of her, I commit to not only learn all of my students’ names, but who they are. I build relationships that extend beyond the scope of the classroom. I get to know their families, I talk to the friends who walk them to class, I follow their successes and struggles in their extracurricular activities. I ask them questions about their likes, their dislikes, their friendships and hardships. I share with them my likes and dislikes, my passions and my struggles.
The relationships I build with my students are by far my most significant accomplishment as a teacher. The relationships are paramount to their success; I set my expectations high and am never disappointed. More importantly, they are never disappointed in themselves. I do not believe this is indicative of their ability or any natural passion for learning because I teach students of all abilities and levels of passion (or lack thereof). I believe it’s because they know that someone cares deeply for them and wants to see them grow as students and young people.
A student will never pass through my door without knowing that they are someone to me. I know who they are. I am the teacher I am today because of a teacher who never learned my name. And I’ll never forget hers.

Teaching Philosophy

When I was growing up, a classroom meant the four walls inside a school where knowledge was passed from teacher to student. I learned how to memorize material and pass tests. When I began teaching, a classroom meant the four walls that I got to decorate inside a school where I could pass knowledge on to my students. It didn’t take long to realize that if I wanted to impact the lives of my students in any meaningful way, I couldn’t treat them like receptacles for dumping rote information. I would have to break down the walls of my classroom to show my students that the world around them matters, and more importantly, that they matter in it.
A tenet of my teaching philosophy, and one that I consider to be my most significant accomplishment as a teacher of English, is that students should have a voice in their learning. At the beginning of this school year, my classes filled out a survey that asked questions about what and how they wanted to learn, which I have used in both English II Pre-AP and English IV AP Literature to guide my planning. A common response among my learners was that they want to become better readers, learners who actually like reading. It seems that once kids move into high school, a love of reading is replaced by a need to simply get through the assigned pages, developing more loathing for the written word than love.
To answer their request, I have implemented two major components into our classroom: First, I conduct independent reading where learners chose their own novels that will help them master the concepts and skills studied in class. Second, I have worked to create a culture of passionate reading by building relationships with my readers. Independent reading projects have allowed my learners to choose the content of their reading, creating far greater interest than in reading that has been assigned to them. They are able to explore the vast corners of the world, covering the farthest reaches of time and space to learn about cultures that activate their interest in ways that whole-class assigned novels cannot.
Many of my own English teachers found little value in reading books that weren’t considered to be in the canon of “literary merit,” and I would never confess to reading such books to those English teachers. As a teacher myself, I feel it is important for my learners to see me as I am: a human, capable of if not apt to making mistakes, and a nondiscriminatory reader. There are days – many days – when I am more likely to pick up Divergent than I am1984, despite its less rich literary content. I give my learners access to my reading through a digital application called GoodReads, which is a social network for readers. My learners can follow me, viewing my bookshelves to see what I have read, am currently reading, and what I plan to read in the future. Likewise, I can follow them. This two-way view of reading preference allows me to build relationships with my learners based on their interests. Through this application and conversations in class, I can tailor class content to their tastes and make reading recommendations that will grow them from young adult readers to readers of the rich, stimulating classics that will challenge them in college and beyond.
Further demonstration of my belief in student voice and choice is in a unit I conducted with my sophomore Pre-AP classes, in which learners chose a community issue that they passionately wanted to see changed. Many learners focused on school-wide initiatives such as the types of elective courses offered at our high school, while others took on larger issues in the community, such as cyber-bullying, which is prevalent in all levels of school. Learners conducted research in both scholarly forums and in and around the school and/or community in order to develop a Public Service Announcement (PSA) in which they utilized rhetorical devices, persuasive strategies, and mood and tone effectively. They utilized their choice of media platforms to deliver their message, including popular social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter. The focus of the unit was on learning how to evaluate the reliability of research sources, conduct thorough research in the style of Problem-Based Learning, and to publish their research utilizing rhetorical devices, persuasive strategies, and mood and tone effectively in their PSA. Throughout the unit, learner teams worked on collaborative Google Docs, allowing me to monitor their application of knowledge and re-teach based on individual student need. In addition, the use of this collaborative technology broke down the walls of our classroom, allowing students to create research teams consisting of any English II Pre-AP students who shared their passion, whether they were in the same class, in different class periods, or in classes with other English II Pre-AP teachers. The capstone of the “What Would You Do?” Unit was the creation of a scholarly article in which each learner group proposed the change they wanted to see happen in the community grounded in their research, further developing rhetorical strategies crafted to persuade their target audience. To demonstrate to the learners their true ability to influence the community, outstanding articles were published into a book. Once chosen for publication, learners worked together to revise and edit all of the articles, and even create a cover for their publication, which was then distributed in the school and community through a physical book and a downloadable iBook. By giving the learners an authentic audience within the unit, learners discovered the power of their own voice to change the world around them.
When I was a student, it was enough motivation for me that a teacher would tell me to complete an assignment, and I would complete it to the best of my ability. I didn’t need any reason other than that it was what I was supposed to do. As a teacher, I have come to realize that my students, for the most part, aren’t anything like I was. And every day I have a choice: I can try to force my students to become obedient, or I can harness their interests in order to broaden their horizons and make them care about their impact on the world around them. I choose to teach thinkers, doers, innovators who question the “hows” and “whys” of the world, who will find their voice in the world, and know their own power to create change.