Surviving Teaching… truly

Hello! This is the first post I have made in a few months because life has picked up speed and I have been truly just ‘surviving teaching’. Welcome back to reading!

I often get asked why I decided to call my blog Surviving Teaching, because it may elude a negative tone and generally education embodies positivity and optimism. The truth is, I decided on Surviving Teaching because as teachers, sometimes we thrive and rock it, and sometimes we are just figuring out how to be the best we can for those kiddos and are just trying to survive. I wanted to present an authentic perspective of what went into teaching, all the great and stellar moments, but also the ones where you question your sanity and at times want to claw your eye balls out.

The last few months, for me, have taken surviving teaching to another level. 

In September I began my Masters of Education journey with the University of Portland, I thought it was going to be easy to balance the needs of a full time teaching job, ESL instructional coach, planning a wedding, teaching Ukrainian dance and being a student.

HA! I was wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I have LOVED moving through the journey of going back to school and exploring areas of leadership. BUT, as a new teacher who already has a ton on the go… it has been rough. Some days are hard, like really hard. And the online world of education and social media tends to portray the great and fantastic things about being a teacher. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of a student loosing it on you and expressing you aren’t doing a good job, nothing can prepare you for the heart break you feel when they are suffering, nothing can prepare you for the amount of patience and grit you are required to have to truly give 100% every day…. its hard.

Some days, I truly wonder if I want to be a teacher, and I definitely know other people are with me on this one.

I have been doing a lot of self reflecting over the past few months about my purpose in life, why I am here, what if I am no where near what I am destined to do. But, one wise friend of mine told me “it is ok to be blissfully dissatisfied with your life”.

The idea of being blissfully dissatisfied changed my perspective on what I am accomplishing now in my life and where I am destined to go. The blissful part comes from being truly happy where I am in my life; amazing students, great classroom, stellar support system, opportunities to grow and learn. However, the dissatisfied part comes from knowing there is something bigger and better waiting for me in my future self.

I have summed it all into one thought. Surviving Teaching… is all about being blissfully dissatisfied. About being present and happy in the moment no matter what is being thrown at us and knowing we are doing everything we can to push on and arrive how we can for our students. But the other side of it also includes enough dissatisfaction to challenge the present, grow, learn more and want more.

For everyone else struggling through balancing what ever you have going, I am with you. Surviving teaching is going to be our greatest accomplishment, and it is ok to be blissfully dissatisfied.

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Cheers,

Miss Rylance

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Shattering Myths About Teachers

In my life I always come across people who have to put their two cents in when I tell them I am a teacher. I often get comments like, “those summers off will be really nice” or “working until 3:30 everyday is going to be a walk in the park” or my favorite “those who can’t teach”… In my experiences so far this year, I can’t even begin to explain how those myths about teachers and teaching are wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a summer break to look forward to; however, the amount that goes in behind the scenes is the undocumented element that make teachers the worlds true super heroes.

In this post, I am going to uncover some of the myths behind teaching in an attempt to shed some light on the crazy, amazing profession I am apart of. And for those of you who are reading this who aren’t teachers, perhaps you will gain some empathy for the battle ground we face every day.

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Myth #1: working until 3:30 everyday is going to be a walk in the park…

LOL. In the 5 and a half months that I have been a teacher I don’t think I have left school at 3:30 once and I guarantee most teachers will agree.

The 7 and a half hours that I see my students is ‘on time’ of this profession. The time where I am persuading, presenting, teaching, creating, inspiring for 7 and a half our of the day. That time does not count the time I am preparing for what is going to happen in the 7 and a half hours every day, organizing extra curricular events and activities, meeting with parents, marking, emailing, creating report cards… all of that happens on my own time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I WANT to put in that time because of the benefit it has in my day and in my opinion is required.

Myth #2: those who can’t teach…

Most likely the most offensive of them all, but most likely the most wrong of them all. Here is the thing about being a teacher, being a teacher matters 100% of the time everyday. I am making impacting decisions that may change my students’ lives every minute, every day. The people I work with choose to make those impacting decisions with me every day. At times, I have to make split second decisions and live with what ever actions are going to come after that, and most of the time I don’t even have time to weigh those odds.

There are so many facets of being a teacher; teaching the lessons, marking assignments and tests, writing report cards… that’s the easy part. It’s the part about how you have 120 different humans in your classroom every day with different challenges and struggles, with different successes and triumphs that is the hard part.

Being a teacher matters 100% of the time. Being a teacher, requires an extra-ordinary kind of person.

Myth #3: If you went to school, you know what teaching is…

I often get people trying to give me tips about being a teacher. Although I love hearing feedback and am very open to how I can improve as a professional, it is difficult to hear the constant comments about “how this one teacher in high school used PowerPoint so I should too”, or “do you do any cool activities with your students because the best teacher would do this”.

The reality is, I am constantly and consistently innovating and changing, trying new things, old things and the unimaginable with my students. My university education, life experience, and learn from it moments along the way… are helping me be the best I can.

The reality is, if you went to school you don’t know how to be a teacher.

Myth #4: It’s your job, you get paid for it…

As a first year teacher, with 4 years on university the reality of making a $100,000 salary is not in my near future. The extra overtime and the bonuses for doing good work don’t exist in the profession I chose.

The reality, teachers I know have second jobs to support themselves and their families.

The reality, we may not be paid in  dollars, but we are paid in the difference we make every day, the smiles and laughs the students share in my classroom, and the appreciation for being a person that my students will remember forever; in this sense, myth is correct in that I get paid for it.

I could continue with the realities of the profession I love and admire so much. I wouldn’t change it for the world and I hope by reading these realities people begin the appreciate the work that happens behind the scenes.

 

Cheers,

Miss Rylance 

In a divided world, how do we teach inclusively?

The headlines in our world are more controversial then ever and every time I open my web browser I cringe with the opinions that are filling my Facebook wall and breaking news headlines that are so constant. Immigration bans, hate crimes based on difference, political divide, racism, religious oppression, sexism, ageism, misogyny… how do I promote a positive classroom of inclusive principles when these are the headlines filling my students’ lives?

Especially as a Social Studies teacher this has been something I have been battling for the last few months, but more recently this is a daily reality in my classroom.

As a teacher, how to I objectively teach my students the “right thing”, is there even a “right thing” and how do I help them formulate their own opinions when the radicality of our world is so polarized.

My solution is to tackle it day to day, situation by situation. The strategy accompanied with this idea is to give my students the information for multiple perspectives. Tell them everything I know, research everything I don’t, and separate opinion as much as possible until the students are capable to choose their own side. Now, I am not saying this is easy especially when student’s start to form opinions different then mine… but I know they have the right to their own judgement.

Another issue I am having is one of how can I have a classroom of equals when hate and inequality are becoming norms of influential and important leaders in our world. Each classroom has a mosaic of difference and the beauty that difference brings, whether that be gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity each person contributes differently to my classroom wholeness.

It’s hard. 

Especially for those students already dealing with the struggles of fitting in a being in middle school. My solution… make my classroom a safe haven of equality, love, and support. So far, it’s working. As I work every day to shatter the hate filling the young minds of my students… I wish one thing, that they grow into people understanding difference and appreciating it.

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Share with me your strategies… what are you doing to combat the crazy?

Cheers,

Miss Rylance

The Midpoint Struggle: PUSH!

You have reached the ‘1 week until Christmas break’ mark: students are going loopy, you are going loopy, assessments are due, you’re sick, the kids are sick, Christmas concerts, Christmas events, staff events… how are you going to make it?

Well… I am about asking myself the same question. I think the pressures of being a new teacher are always there and are always a battle but in times like this when the struggle is truly real, here are some things getting me through it.

  1. You’re not in it alone:
    I know it may seem that you are the new teacher that is trudging up the mountain alone, but even after talking to my principal today… we are all pushing through. Don’t feel like you’re in this alone. Talk to colleagues, go for some wine. Remember the end is near. If you try and fight this one alone, you are in for a long week.
  2. Try and make things fun:
    Trust me, there are moments in the day that I think to myself ‘man I am boring right now’, or ‘really my kids look like they are going to fall asleep’, and it may be because they played too much mine craft but it may also be because you’re loosing the spark. One of the things that I have to remind myself this week is that even with all the hustle and bustle, I still have to make things fun and exciting for my kids. How am I doing this?
    -Fun ‘secret Santa’ gift exchange for all of my students through out the week
    -I have a super awesome political cartoonist come and talk to us about current events!
    -Christmas Craft at the end of the week!
    Some simple easy things can even get you through the hard times you feel like you’re turning dull… trust me, it won’t only help you, it will help your students

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  3. The end is near!
    Use the time during the break to re-charge. I know every bone in our bodies is going to tell us to go in and change seating plans, or get ahead in planning, and although these things are obviously important…. don’t work so hard. A wise mentor once told me;

    “As soon as the students are working harder than you, you aren’t doing it right. We must work smarter, not harder”


    So lets all work together… cheers to a smarter not harder last week. For all of you first timers out there, I’m pushing here with you!

Cheers,

Miss Rylance

Your Guide to Establishing a Classroom Routine

One of the biggest things that I find an asset to the success of my day to day ‘teacher life’ is the routine and structure that I have established with my students in my classroom. Although there is a ton of flexibility in terms of the dynamic instruction of my lessons, some simple things have helped my class run smoothly. I also have found this to be a saving grace for classroom management and the establishment of strong student relationships.

Short, Quick, Simple. My formula to effective classroom routines. Check out my tips below!

  1. Have something for students to come into class every morning expecting. For me, this includes a Quote of the Day, and Today’s Plan for each lesson. Both of these are slightly time consuming as I switch my quotes daily and switch my plan per class; however, it is something I know they appreciate.

    At times, the inspirational quote may be the one thing that the student needs at that moment and the plan outlining the lesson is perfect for those students who have issues with transitions or need more prompting. Both of these short, quick, simple things are very meaningful in establishing what my students can expect entering my classroom.

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  2. ‘Do Now’ activities. At the beginning of each one of my classes, students come in knowing that they are expected to sit down and ‘do’ something immediately. In my English classes, this looks like 10 minutes of silent reading at the beginning of each class, in my Ukrainian class this looks like a question on the board they are expected to answer. Regardless, students come in knowing their brain is working from the start.

    This works well when I need an extra few minutes to transition between classes and also helps my students know the expectation and work expected when they come in.

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  3. Every Friday I change things up a bit. Throughout the week students know that we will be working through material striving for our summative assessment. But at the end of each week I do a ‘current events’ Friday and a Library period for them to have some ‘chill’ reading time.

    Both of these things are items students look forward to during the week, but also give me a chance to hit different outcomes that may not be included in my unit plan.

    I use an awesome video to start my current events lesson from www.cnn.com/studentnews and then get students to work in groups to look up local, national and international headlines. This gets students familiar with reading the news and collaborating with each other to come up with education explanations of world events.

I hope these 3 tips can assist you in establishing your classroom routines. Let me know any of your tips and tricks, I would love to hear!

Cheers,

Miss Rylance 

 

Balance in Teaching: Is it really a thing?

I think through my experience so far teaching, the hardest thing to establish as a new teacher is balance. The demands of lesson planning and keeping up with marking, while doing the extra deaeb2afd77cae907ed21e9262ed75f9c3mands of teaching like late night staff events, extra curricular basketball practices and seating plan arrangements is a lot to combat while still hoping to maintain an portion of a social life.

Now, I can’t say I have master
ed the system, as I am not sure masters to this problem exist (or I am yet to come across any or these gifted beings); however, here is a compilation of advice I have been given, trial and error experiences, and a guide to how I am floating by now…. so listen up;)

  1. Set yourself some clear boundaries. 

    I am the WORST for going over the boundaries I set for myself and I tend to have a problem saying no when asked to do things, but it is one of the pieces of advice that is working. In my first week of teaching, my principal said “If you don’t set yourself some kind of boundaries this job is going to take over” and I promise you that fact is truer then true.

    Some ways you can set some easy boundaries for yourself: 
    -Set a time you will absolutely leave school. A crazy concept I know, but even on the days that the marking piles are never ending you have to force yourself to leave. If you follow this rule, you will save yourself from the ‘B’ word… BURNOUT! 

    -Find an extracurricular organization to be apart of that has nothing to do with your school. For me, this is dance practice 2 times a week. For others it could be a fitness class, sports team, art class… etc. But set aside this organized time for yourself to be able to take a brain break. 

    -Don’t agree to do too many things… also something that isn’t working out so hot for me. Although getting involved is good. Maybe limit it to 2 or 3 things throughout the year that are small but effective. Trust me, once every component of school starts taking over, you will encounter the ‘B’ word.

  2. Find your people…mine rock.
    The people and support system you have in your life are going to be life changing to the success you have in the first few years of your teaching. Having family to come home to and talk about your day to, or great friends to go for pizza with a few times a month make all the worlds difference. Find your allies quick and make sure you have them on your side.

    Word of caution… they are going to need you there as a person too. Don’t geek out into teacher brain and become that lame friend that only talks about work. Remember they are supporting you because they love YOU!

    Also, finding great people on your staff is lifesaving as well. As you already know, my staff rocks beyond words, but even having one person that is new with you, or also teaches the same subjects could be awesome for those days you need a life saver.

  3. Know when to take breaks.
    For me, this break time includes everything from going to coffee shops for Pinterest sessions and my favorite cup of tea to traveling every chance I get to where ever I can. Regardless, I am {still} learning to be able to monitor myself when it is time for that mental time with myself.

    We recently had a November week break and I decided to go to Nevada to enjoy the Vegas lights and the Grand Canyon sightings. People told me I was nuts for leaving at a time when quite down time was so essential. I agree, having a week to mark and catch up on life would have definitely benefited, but the wanderlust bones in my body knew it was time for one of those breaks. Although I am playing catch up now, and a few long-er days at school are needed for that story marking… it was worth it and I would recommend this mental breaks when you need them.

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Balance… is it a myth? Is it attainable? I am still figuring it out… if you have any tips and tricks let me know about them!

Cheers,

Miss Rylance 

 

 

 

 

My ‘I SURVIVED Parent-Teacher Interviews’ game face!

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Photo Credit: Snap Chat Filter

With the first assessment term coming to a close end, it is now time to face the Parent-Teacher conference that gives everyone’s stomach a turn in every direction. For me, this nervousness mostly came from the unknown and a lack of experience in how to deal with the good, bad, fabulous and ugly-ness of those conversations.

Now, although I don’t have all the answers, I sought out a lot of help from colleagues and I definitely have some advice for how to get through yours!

Tips:

  1. Come up with a ‘go to’ formula that works:This formula is the magic compilation for how your interview is structured. The formula will save you from the awkward small talk, the interviews that never end, and a lack of direction that could turn overwhelming. My formula may or may not work for you but here is what I did to survive:1. Ask the child first how they think they are doing in your class, put the ball in their court. Ask what they like about your class, if they are happy with their grades, if they are understanding things. If you open the floor to the student then it reflects the pressure off yourself. If the student is not here, ask the parents the same questions, they may have something to the point that they want to address right away, make sure you give them the chance to do this.
    2. Bring out a grade book or breakdown of their grades and discuss their assignments and tests that they have performed in your class. This gives more points to talk about and can give parents a good idea of where their child is sitting in the class.
    3. Once you have shown some pieces of work, it is always good to talk about the break down of the year and discuss what they will be learning about in your classes. This not only invests the parents more in what the child is learning but also makes them aware of what to expect in the future.
    4. Talk about areas of improvement. Now I like to call this the sandwich of love. Start with something the child is doing well in your class, fill the middle with some things they need to improve on, and always end on a good note. That way the student, you and the parents will feel positive about the whole experience.
  2. Make sure you have printed documents to talk about. Have a clear schedule of the interview times, a clear printed breakdown of grades and marks, and some pieces of student work to discuss. If you are not prepared with these things, you will find yourself scrambling during the interview.
  3. Bring the support in that you need. Asking people like councilors, inclusion coordinators, teaching assistants or administration to come in and sit on interviews is a great idea. Having the extra support you need could go a long way. Just make sure you tell them ahead of time!
  4. Coffee (or TEA for me;). Bring your favorite beverage into the meeting. If things go good or bad, its always a warm comfort to ease the situation.

If you have any other tips and tricks let me know… I am always open for more support!

Cheers,

Miss Rylance 

PS. When you are a first year teacher planning an amazing race around the school the day of your first set of interviews isn’t the best idea, even if it is one of the best days ever. 15 hour days are hard no matter how great.

Authentic Learning

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Authentic learning is an instructional approach that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner.”

Great… so what does this mean and how can I make this work as a first year teacher figuring out how to survive? Well I have a few things that I have done in the last few months that have helped gain this authenticity in my classroom.

Is it easy, yes.

Is is time consuming, yes.

Is it worth it, YES! 

The lesson to learn out of this post, if your students are engaged and the content is meaningful, ball is in your court for some awesome learning. Here are a few simple things I have started to incorporate to make this authenticity a reality for my students.

  1. Field Trips.

I decided at the beginning of the year I was going to bring as many people in, and take my kids as many places as possible to make their learning a relevant journey and ultimately a reality. My BIGGEST pet peeve is when students ask  “why are we learning this” or “I am never going to need to know this” **insert whiny voice**. At which point I have historically done a few things: wanted to throw something/ rage quit, loose sleep over how I can engage students in their learning, and or cried. All of which options are not good options, but are mostly inevitable in experiencing the joys of junior high students.

A way that I have found works in helping with student engagement and authentic learning is by creating monthly field trips or small excursions that give students something to look forward to and may drive your lesson planning, units or assessments.

I realize this is not always feasible but if you can make it work… DO IT!

I took my students to the public library close to our school and it was an awesome way to incorporate so many outcomes in their English classes and bring the community into their learning. The great things about this type of field trip is that libraries most likely have teen or children programming that love to have classes to work with and its free! This field trip went so well that we are now able to schedule bi-monthly visits where students will be using the library for different tasks… its great!

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Tip: center a research project, or book reading around these trips it gives direction for you and the librarians. 

I also took my students on a ‘Ukrainian Day’ field trip around our city. Now these type of field trips definitely require more work but are still (in my opinion) crucial to authentic learning. Since I teach Ukrainian, the second language engagement in the culture segment of the second language learning fits as a crucial part of the student understanding why we use the language and how to use it. I took advantage of the whole day and went to Ukrainian Holdomor monuments in our down town, a Ukrainian Church, a store that sells Ukrainian goods where they could use the language to interact with the store owners, and an immigration museum exhibit which tied into our unit of study. It was a whirlwind day… but it rocked and students LOVED it.

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Some tips: Pair up with other classes if possible, that way you are splitting the planning work, and you are able to have another teacher there with you. Take the day to do any many things as possible! If we only went to the museum students would not have found it as authentic. Use your devices (phones, iPads, tablets etc.) to take photos or the whole day to be used for projects later on!

        2. Worldwide Learning: Pen Pal Schools

Traveling and experiencing new culture and traditions is something I value as a teacher. Bringing this worldly understanding to my classroom was something I decided in University was a ‘thing’ that was going to happen in my students’ learning.

Once again I was faced with the HOW. In second language learning this seemed easier. You are learning about a different culture and way of life as you are learning the language and how to use this. As an English and Social Studies teacher I knew that it would be easy for my students to learn about the cultures but I wanted them to be able to gain empathy towards it in an authentic way. THEN I found Pen Pal Schools.

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It is an online platform that connects over 100,000 students in 168 countries to learn together. PenPals ages 9 and up collaborate through high-quality online courses to discover other cultures and learn about global challenges while practicing essential reading and writing skills. Weekly lessons are going to be completed at any time from any device the students have. This was life changing for my grade 8 students.

It was easy to set up and made the current events and history classes I was teaching them about so much more of a reality in my classroom. If you are able to implement something like this… do it!

3. Tap into your Community, Parents and other Staff!

I decided that in order for my students to be invested in their learning, they need a support team to not only make their learning authentic but ensure that they know they are not alone in the journey.

Tip: It takes a village. 

In figuring out how that was going to happen I tapped into a school resource we have called the keys program. Keys is To Empowering Youth to Succeed (KEYS) operates with the understanding that Wellness is for everyone and is essentially a mental health project for our district. As an attempt to understand global and societal awareness, I worked with the keys program to create an ‘Amazing Strengths’ challenge around our school (an Amazing Race challenge essentially). This challenge involved different members of the community in the form of police officers, staff around our school, and their parents where they had to complete different challenges in order to complete the race.This could easily be organized with a school councilor or just on your own as well.

The race went great because we had so much support and organization for students to be successful. Students were put into different teams based on their strengths found in the Character Surveys  and were able to shine in different challenges.

Having so many outlets of support makes a HUGE difference and allows for those more authentic activities.

I hope I helped a little, I know its a lot but I feel like I have 50 tabs of information open in my brain…;) Let me know your tips and tricks of authentic learning! Help a sista out!

Cheers,

Miss Rylance