Converstations

Hello my lovelies!

While I’d love to take credit for the creative blog title, it comes from a dear colleague whom I’ve had the pleasure of growing closer to throughout this academic year. She has sought guidance from me in such a way that I feel empowered as her mentor – although, truth be told, sometimes I feel she’s teaching me more than I’m teaching her.

Anyway, we’re in that time of year where our final observations are taking place and we’re trying to find inventive ways to showcase teaching strategies so as not to bore our observers. Enter, Chat Stations.

Where the idea began…

If you’re not a follower of Jennifer Gonzalez and the Cult of Pedagogy, you need to be – we, as educators, should model what it means to be lifelong learners for our students, and finding professional development opportunities that are free AND helpful is imperative. Cult of Pedagogy has been around a lot longer than I’ve been seeking PD, and Gonzalez often tweets out links to her older blog posts so we can continually seek new tools. This is how I found her post on Chat Stations.

(By the way, if you have other people you follow religiously, drop their links in the comments!)

Being at a classical school, learning by means of discussion is how the bulk of our lessons are planned. While my AP students have been phenomenal in regards to discussions – in all their forms – my traditional (on-level) juniors would much rather allow quiet to dominate any form of conversation. To help my students prepare for our Socratic Seminar over Of Mice and Men, which was also used as their assessment for the novella, I employed Chat Stations after the reading of Section 4 (when we’re introduced to Crooks).

The method…

I divided my room in half, which was a natural split due to the u-shaped configuration of my desks (not a complete and closed off horseshoe). I had a total of four stations which I duplicated so both halves of the room had the same four discussion points. Hindsight, this was smart as it limited bottlenecking and cross traffic.

Before beginning, I had the students count off by fours – 1s went to station one, 2s to station 2, and so on. This moved students around so they weren’t paired with their usual peers or shoulder partners.

Groups were then given 3-5 minutes per station. I circulated the room to monitor and adjust time based on the conversations that were happening. Students took notes at each station as they analyzed the quote displayed and applied it to a deeper understanding of the text, as a whole, and the world.

The outcome…

When we gathered for our whole class discussion the next day, I found the conversation to be much deeper and less “surface-y” than habit had allowed for. I was lucky in how the timing worked out and will do the same for next year. This activity occurred on a Monday, followed by a whole class discussion of Section 4 on Tuesday, followed by a whole novel Socratic on our Block days (Wednesday/Thursday). This lead to one of our most engaging Socratics for the year.

I will definitely keep this little tool tucked away and will pull it out earlier in the school year to help establish discussion norms and expectations.

And to steal from Hannibal (George Peppard, the OG) from the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

It’s all about balance

Some days you have enriching, collaborative lessons where students thrive; and other days, you have students spell St. Louis –> St. Lewis and Cairo –> Kyro. And these are juniors…who are in AP classes. 🤦🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️

When you have no words…

Yesterday, I learned that one of my sweetest friends passed away unexpectedly. She was exuberant and vivacious, so incredibly full of life, and to hear that she is gone is just…numbing.

I met Leslie when we worked at the same district. She was the Instructional Coach for ELA at the district, so I spent many hours with her, under her guidance and tutelage as I learned how to incorporate the “district way” of writing into my overflowing toolbox of teacher tricks. That same year, I was overgoing a bit of an overhaul, personally, physically. She joined me on that journey and we spent afternoons walking Cosmo Park, talking and laughing.

It was in those walks that I learned just how incredibly lucky I was to be in her presence. You see, Leslie’s world…her people orbit around her. She is the guiding light, the person whom 6-degrees of separation stems off of. She wasn’t narcissitic or egotistical, people were just naturally drawn into her gravitational pull…because that’s exactly what it was – her ENERGY drew you in. All in.

All in. Just like Leslie, who committed to everything and everyone 10000%. There was no half-in, half-out with her. It was all or nothing. And I am so incredibly grateful that my five years of friendship with her has felt like a thousand lightyears. I just wish I could have a thousand more.

You will be missed beyond measure, Leslie. Forever and always, my bubbly, unconditionally loving friend you’ll be.

Me and Leslie

From one insecure soul to another — Part 3 (and finale)

Okay, Kristine, we get it. You were insecure and measured yourself against others’ success instead of your own. We’re human – we all do it – so, what?

I realized I spent my three years running away. I taught a zero-hour class, which meant I was free and clear by 1:20 p.m., every day. And as often as I could, I hauled ass away from the school by 2:00 p.m. – mainly because I had college classes to teach beginning at 2:45 p.m. This was all fine and good — but it got to an unhealthy point where I booked myself solid, maxing out on the number of classes an adjunct can teach in a given semester (9 credit hours), all for what purpose?

To prove my MA wasn’t a waste of time or money? To prove that I can teach secondary AND post-secondary students? To whom? Myself? My peers? Why? What were the benefits?

I honestly do not know.

What I do know is that if I had stayed, I would have continued this unhealthy pattern of running away and avoiding reality. My leaving was more about my sanity than it was to move on from somewhere where I felt like I was constantly being judged, raked through the coals, and spit out. Let me go on record to say that my department chair, my department, and my principals were all phenomenal — they were my reason for remaining sane. However, it was the constant struggle against a machine that wasn’t privy to my daily contributions that squashed my will to stay and fight.

I focused my energy on my “why” — reflecting on the reason(s) for having a mid-life career change into this beautiful, wonderful field that I call “home.” I landed at a 7-12 secondary school, teaching 8th graders (middle schoolers are FUN!), and falling back in love with my craft. I stopped being an adjunct instructor because my cup was being filled at my “day” job. I stopped running away and I stayed put.

What I found at the end of this year was a school I want to retire from, my “forever school.” I have felt more support and unspoken recognition than I’ve felt in the past couple of years, and I finally heard, “You’re the expert, we trust you.” And to me, that’s priceless.

From one insecure soul to another — Part 2

After a few attempts at moving out of SpEd and into the GenEd arena both on-site and at sister schools, I realized that in order for me to make the move, I would have to look outside of the district. Sadly, once you’re SpEd, it seems that’s the only thing people see on your resume.

I found this out when I went to interview for a position at what would be my next school district. Interviewing with both the principal and assistant principal at one of the high schools, the bulk of my interview was spent with the principal, flopping around in her chair (I’m serious, she couldn’t have been more bored), as she tried to convince me that taking the SpEd Department Chair position would be a far better fit. She was trying to bend me to make me fit into her mold and I don’t play that game.

Thankfully, a friend and co-worker played mediator when he heard that I had interviewed with this specific school. He had connections at the sister (but also, rival) school and helped make an interview happen. I was lucky in that the interview team (another principal and assistant principal, along with the English department chair) was honoring my request and desire to be a general education teacher. However, I couldn’t help but feel that my connection (my mediator) had a lot to do with my progression in the hiring process.

Don’t get me wrong. I am completely at peace with the decision I made to use my resources to help me advance in my career, but because of all the “no, you need to stay in SpEd” rejections I had encountered in such a short amount of time, I felt incredibly insecure in my abilities. Period.

I felt like I had to continually prove my worth, to have my actions show that I was more than just a SpEd teacher; that I could take my skills and apply them in any educational setting, allowing for the same success. This feeling spilled into all facets of my work. I took on numerous classes at the local community college, working as an adjunct instructor, to “show” my colleagues (at both the high school and college) that I was the consummate English teacher I set out to be, certifications be damned.

What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t them I needed to prove my worth to, it was myself.

From one insecure soul to another — Part 1

Insecurities. We all have them. Every single one of us. No one is immune. And nowhere have I felt more insecure than I have in the field of teaching.

I have always felt like I’ve had to prove that I was a competent teacher. That I’m not just faking it through the day and that I do, in fact, know what I’m doing. I can’t be alone in this, right? I feel like every teaching job I’ve had has been secured, not based on my merit, but on my circumstances.

For the first eight years of my career, I was a special educator. I received my post-bac in special education through a wonderful partnership from the school I attended and the school districts that hired students on intern certificates. I am very fortunate that I was able to change careers while attending school for education while being employed by a school district. Let’s face it – taking four to five months off without pay to student teach is not a viable option for many. I am one of the many.

Most educators would agree that it’s not until the third year of being in a classroom that you stop feeling “new” and overwhelmed by the demands of teaching. I am no exception. I flourished at my first school and started to gain immense confidence in my abilities. I had wonderful department chairs who fed into my strengths and provided me with ample opportunities to succeed in the field of special education. I knew that my time and my experience as a special educator have provided me with a solid foundation to be successful in a general education classroom.

During my tenure at this first school, I went back and earned my MA in English – I had always said my BA was out of necessity (all about that single mom life) and my MA was for me. Once I earned the MA, I was able to add secondary English to my teaching certificate and thus, set out to leave special education and get my foot in the door in general.

The year I decided to leave my first school, I applied for the gen ed openings at the school. Not once, not twice, but three times. I was rejected each and every single time – for one reason: I was good at SpEd and it’s easier to fill a gen ed position than it is a SpEd one. I called bullshit on this and reminded the principal that I could employ the same techniques on a larger scale. He saw my state scores for SpEd and he didn’t want to lose them. I asked him to imagine what I could do with 150 students as opposed to 50. But he just didn’t get it.

I didn’t like being pigeon-holed. It hurt. I had grown as much as I possibly could have in those eight years, it was time to move on.