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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World Teacher Day: celebrating you!

Happy World Teacher Day!

www.unesco.org states that…

“World Teachers’ Day aims to focus on “appreciating, assessing and improving the educators of the world” and to provide an opportunity to consider issues related to teachers and teaching”

When I think about everything that comes with being a teacher, I think about so many things. Some of them include how lucky I am to live in a place where education and teachers are appreciated and how motivated I feel to improve the lives of teachers and learners in my own developments; but mostly, I feel so grateful that I have the best job in the world.

So this post is dedication for all of you fellow teachers out there. I am so proud to serve with you and I am proud of the difference that we are creating daily.

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To celebrate World Teacher Day, I decided to write a positive and uplifting post about the 7 best things I love about being a teacher. When I tell people about how passionate I am about my job, people usually think I am crazy BUT hopefully this sheds light on why it is so worth!

Reason #1: The Kids

I think this is the most cliche reason that teachers love to teach. But for me, its so much more than just working with a wonderful bunch of people. My students are like a beacon of light in my life, they give me energy and hope on the hard days, they teach me so many things about humanity and the ‘latest’ and greatest things, they bring me joy.

My students are my why. My students are why working so hard is worth it. They are my #1 reason.

Reason #2: Helping them discover themselves

I also love seeing how my students are deciding who they are going to be in the world. How they are going to be the game changers and world shakers. AND I love being a part of that discovery.

I love empowering different parts of them and helping them see their strengths and how they can change the world, I love making a difference in the person and path they are going to have.

Reason #3: My work is meaningful

I firstly just want to say, that I think many people have important work in our world and everyone contributes to making our lives awesome. But I love that my work is meaningful and making a big difference in the path of our future.

It is sometimes discouraging listening to the news, realizing the opinions and actions of others, and know that I can have a small part in making a difference in people and in lives is so worth it for me.

Teachers- you are doing awesome things.

Reason #4: The ripple effect

Teachers are making impactful change- hands down- but the change that we are creating in society is sometimes missed. The reality of why I love my job is because we are changing the world from the bottom up, teaching the future doctors, prime ministers, teachers, business people, mothers, fathers of our world- that is epic.

Reason #5: Spreading my passions

Selfishly, I love that I get to talk about what I love every single day, and I get to make my students excited about it too. World politics, cultures, languages, literature, and being Ukrainian- what else could be more amazing.

Reason #6: The fame

I love feeling important to around 160 little people every day. With all the classes I teach, I have just over 160 kids. I like to refer to it as ‘the fame’ because we all know that there is no true fame in teaching; however, feeling important and knowing that the connections I am making with these kids are long lasting is so worth it.

Reason #7: Life long learning

Practice what you preach… that’s my motto when it comes to learning. I have a deep love and passion for learning from new people, new places, new things and I absolutely love that by being in a learning environment, I can continue to learn.

My students push me to learn new things, and I feel accountable to continue to better myself for them.

So today, here is my challenge to you. Think about a teacher through your life who has had an impact on your life. Reach out to them and tell them, or thank them in your heart for the universe put them in your path.

For all you teachers out there, know that you are doing an AMAZING job and that you are enough in this crazy profession we are in.

Enjoy World Teachers Day!

Cheers,

Miss Rylance

Surviving Teaching Year 2!

WE MADE IT!

The end of June is here, and its safe to say that we survived teaching for this school year! WHOOP!

June is always a bittersweet month for teachers; teacher burnout is evident, the days seems more like years, fun times are had, the rewards of all your hard work with the students pay off and sadly (or sometimes happily) you say good bye to your batch of students. I always feel like I am on board an emotional roller coaster in June- I want them to leave, I want them to stay, I feel like I have failed, I feel like I made a difference, I hope I did enough, I hope they leave my classroom better, I know they left my classroom better, I wonder what next year’s students will be like, I wonder if I taught everything they needed... its quite the ride.

As i’m sitting here in my empty classroom, with the bulletin boards down and the chaos for 8th grade tucked away (for now), I think about the students that made this classroom theirs. All the memories and adventures and risks that were experienced this year and it makes me SO proud. I often write a lot about how being a teacher is hard but rewarding, and I think that in moments where time seems to stop, like the one I am in right now, its clear that all the struggle and crazy and stress that happens in the profession of teaching is so absolutely worth it.

IMG_5220.jpgI’m going to miss these beauties!

Recently, I was interviewed by the Teachers on Fire podcast and in the interview Teachers on Fire host, Tim Cavey, asked me what the hardest part of being a teacher is and how I get through those hard times. It was a hard one for me to answer because the truth is, there are hard things everyday, but the greatness over shadows those hard times.

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My answer to him was this, that no matter what anyone says teaching is a hard job but the hardest days are when we don’t believe in each other or we don’t believe in ourselves as teachers. So, the way I get through those hard moments is taking them as learning moments, periods of growth, funny stories and moving forward. My challenge in these last few years as a new teachers was to focus on the amazing and spectacular things that were going to come with this journey, and it has made the experience beautiful.

Surviving Teaching was the inspiration for that positivity. For those days when it is hard to see the good, for the moments that are so amazing that I want to share with the world, for the stories that need to be told beyond the walls of my classroom.

As I close the chapter of my second year as a teacher, I thank you guys for following my journey, learning from my experiences, and joining in the joy.

Have a fantastic summer!

Cheers!

Miss Rylance 

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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

Life Long Learning!?

When I was in grade school I never really understood when my teachers always said they were life long learners, until I became a teacher. Every principle and passion I try and hammer into my students about reading more and exploring more, clearly rubbed off on me when I decided after just one semester of being “graduated” to go back to school.

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Now, you might be thinking…
“Wow she is a first year teacher who is trying to have a life and she is going back to school”…
Why yes, I am. AND here is why.

Once I got into the classroom, I was so eager to engage all the tools I learned in University and test out all the ideas and information that had been marinating for the past 4 years, and I did. But then as my ideas expanded, I realized where my short comings as a professional were and where my students needed more from me.

Yes, I am my biggest critic. Yes, I in reality don’t have time. But, as a part of making a pact to myself that I would reflect the person that I want my students leaving my classroom as, I decided to do it.

There is something that will always and has always been rumbling inside of me to improve myself. But, the question of if I jumped the gun and decided to go back too soon is also something running through my head.

Here is what I know so far, I am excited to be back. I am newly inspired by my classmates and professors. And, I am getting fresh material on how to make my classes better. Stay tuned in a few weeks when papers are due, report cards are happening and I have exams.

But right now, my ‘few times a week’ night class is going to be the newest adventure for this first year teacher.

Let me know what you do to stay fresh and keep you passion brewing!

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 

 

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