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Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Self-Care and the Jewish New Year

At our last staff meeting, the Principal of my middle school encouraged all teachers and staff members to take personal wellness days off from work to rest and recover. We are all stressed/tired/overworked, she said. Make sure you take care of yourself. I could not believe my ears.

Last year, I’m pretty sure I lost my job for taking wellness days. I am someone who is very into self-care and wellness. I try to check in with myself often and do my best to make sure I am meeting my own needs before I become sick or run down. How can I hope to function in that shape? How can I possibly do a job?

My supervisor did not agree, last year, and consistently questioned me when I took time off. I ended up having to get a doctor’s note confirming that I required the time off that I was taking. They no longer said anything about it — they just didn’t renew my position at the end of the year!

So, this year, it is more than a welcome relief to see my colleagues take “personal days” when they need to. And to be outright encouraged to spend a day just taking care of my needs! More administrators should be this reasonable! We are human beings and we need rest, peace, and positivity!

After I requested my day off this week, I realized it would be Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. As a Jewish person, I look forward to this solemn day of reflection that comes once a year. Many people would not think of it as “fun” or “rest,” but I know I will feel truly revived come Tuesday, the start of the Jewish new year.

So, I guess, it worked out nicely for me. I will have a nice day, and a nice week because of it. I wish all the teachers out there a peaceful fall season. Give yourself permission to take the day off!

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

“From a distance/ we are instruments/ marching in a common band.” – Bette Midler

Ahh, distance learning. While it doesn’t conjure up song lyrics for many, this year it is inspiring me to hum a long ago tune from The Divine Ms. M.

“From a Distance.”

Ms. M’s song is about how all of our differences wash away when looked at from afar, and everything looks beautiful and harmonious when you get some perspective. These days, I can’t think of a better message. Indeed, “From a distance/ you look like my friend/ even though we are at war. / From a distance/ I just cannot comprehend/ what all this fighting’s for.”

I think there is no better symbol for this moment than all of our wonderful, faithful, earnest young students, plugging away at their Chromebooks in distance learning. They come from all corners, all races, religions, and classes. Some moonlight as amateur video editors and some have never looked at an email before. Their wi-fi is shakey, their voices shakier, and they all salivate over the moment when the teacher forgets to disable the chat function on Zoom. Every morning and afternoon, hundreds of home lives collide in a massive, chaotic mash-up of everyone trying to figure out what the f*** is going on. And it is stunningly beautiful.

From a distance, these many little faces, these hundreds of little voices, unite in a song of hope.


Bette Midler – From A Distance

From a distance the world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white
From a distance the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance we all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fightings for
From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man
It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

God is watching us
God is watching
God is watching us from a distance

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Julie Gold

From a Distance lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Songtrust Ave, A Side Music LLC D/B/A Modern Works Music Publishing

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Add Ethnic Studies as a Grad. Requirement?

One interesting, education-related development in all this civil unrest has been the potential addition of Ethnic Studies curriculum to CA public schools. Though I am not considered an ethnic minority, I made the choice to major in Ethnic Studies as an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. To this day, people look at me crooked when I try to explain that choice. Perhaps now more people will be able to stretch their imaginations to understand what I was seeking to understand: What is racism? How/why am I/am I not racist? How can I help to fix things?

My choice of major ended up leading me down a path to a career in public education, where I felt I could make a huge difference in the world. And I would like to note that even though I studied these issues in college, I don’t really consider myself the number one choice of staff member to teach a hypothetical Ethnic Studies course. In my opinion, it is a subject best led by an instructor who has a lived experience that informs their knowledge of what is, ultimately, an “alternative” history class. I am half Yemini, which I do feel allows me to reflect and relate to certain issues on a deeper level. But since I am not part of a colonized group, my family has not been discriminated against and held back in the same way as the groups that Ethnic Studies focuses on.

For me, the Ethnic Studies major was majorly eye opening on a lot of issues. Issues that extended beyond social studies/colonialism and into questions about what literature we study and consider “classic” in English class. Questions of what kind of information is presented throughout the curriculum. Where does it come from? What other voices and perspectives are out there, not being heard?

I think I could write a short pamphlet on this, but to sum it all up:

An Ethnic Studies class for all public school students is definitely a GOOD idea. It would help people understand how we got “here.”

And while we’re at it, lets make Ethnic Studies training mandatory for all staff, who didn’t get to benefit from this requirement while they were still in school.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Modeling Self-Respect

I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a chid’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.

-Dr. Haim Ginott

This quote, from Ginott’s 1976 book Teacher and Child, is posted on many classroom walls and school entryways. There are some immediately obvious reasons for its popularity, and some other reasons that may take longer to uncover.

The most basic idea here is respect, starting with self-respect. You must respect yourself to accept that your actions have an effect on others. You must respect yourself to really know that others listen when you speak. As a teacher, you must also extend that respect to your students and consider their full humanity (“humanize or de-humanize”) in the rules you make and the ways you respond to them.

Ultimately, I think the beauty of Ginott’s quote is the acceptance that — in the words of Peter Parker — with great power comes great responsibility. A strong teacher takes responsibility for their effect on students’ mood, behavior, and learning. When the teacher is willing to think about how they are affecting their students — really reflect, and then adjust instruction as appropriate — how can a class not succeed? 

Simultaneously, we can’t forget that the teacher is always modeling positive, responsible behavior for her students. So, along with their coursework, students in this teacher’s class learn to self-reflect; to be responsible for their actions and aware of their effects on the whole group. This teacher might use small group instruction regularly to reinforce these ideas. Classroom norms, rules, and expectations would also reflect a sense of shared responsibility: ‘we sink or swim together.’ The teacher might bring in SEL themes about the power of choice (“I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal”) to reinforce students’ awareness that their choices are important. 

I’d like to close with two final reflections on the quote:

  1. Teachers must respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect students and others around them.
  2. Students should learn to respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect everyone around them. 

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Classroom Cleanup

I went to campus today for the first time since March 10th! I went to clean out my classroom. Teachers I’d conferenced with who went earlier in the week said it was eerie, the school frozen in time, with students’ materials left behind and work samples still on the walls. I braced myself.

I found my room in a state of disarray. Clearly everyone had left in a rush, grabbing what they could, cleaning desks methodically and arranging as much as many things as possible before they left. I was absent for the last two days of school because I was sick with what my doctor diagnosed over the phone as “a virus” and was advised to stay home until I did not show symptoms.

Pulling my students work off the walls was difficult. I thought of their proud faces as they examined the evidence of their accomplishments when I first posted it on the wall. We worked painstakingly hard on a phonics and spelling program from September through March. My students learned to mark the phonetic sounds of words with symbols and codes, much like what you would find in a dictionary. I found the detail and dedication in their work extraordinary.

The last thing I did was take down the whiteboard covered in letters and sounds which is pictured above. This was my main teaching tool all year. Again, it was painful to pluck the magnets off the wall and store them back in their box. Those magnetic cards became an extension of my vocabulary, and it was a shared vocabulary between me and my first class of students. I will miss those students very much.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Teaching in the 21st Century

I am amazed by the sheer power students hold in their hands today with the devices and connections available to them. I am even more amazed at how little they do with that power.

I entered into the teaching profession as a “digital immigrant,” not born into the world of technology that my students take for granted. Let’s put it this way: We got a dial up connection my freshman year of high school and I didn’t have a cell phone until I graduated from college. I’m comfortable online, but I don’t live my life here. I went to meet the so-called iGen, a generation “born with an iphone already in their hands.” It followed, I thought, that they would be hyper-advanced at using their tech devices.

Not so. After 3 years in the classroom, I can report that most students do little more than 1) make phone calls, 2) check instagram, and 3) play video games. Wait — that’s what I do! In fact, I do more: I blog, I can design websites, I videoconference… and, and, and. What gives?

I think the answer is, they’re still kids, and they don’t know any better than we do what they are supposed to do with all of this new “stuff.” But it’s such a shame to waste it!

Last semester, I gave my advisory students a fun homework assignment: Over the weekend, learn how to do one new thing on your phone. They looked at me like I was not a “serious” teacher and on Monday, no one wanted to report back. Apparently, they did not believe this was a “real” education. Phones are bad; books are good. But as a culture, we need to fully accept that phones are books — they are libraries, in fact.

If the COVID-19 crisis has made anything in my life palpable, it has been the need to transition to a high-tech lifestyle. The time is now. We have all the tools, and we have the ability. Even children have the tools and the ability. As a society we are ready.

A 21st Century education MUST include instruction on:

1) How to write an email without typing the entire message in the subject line.
2) How to create a personal website (with a blog.)
3) Digital citizenship and what it means to participate with integrity, even though you may feel invisible/invincible when online
4) How to manage your digital footprint: Students need to understand that anything they post can and will follow them, forever.
5) Coding.

These are just the basics, and I believe they are things every student has a right to know. Schools that don’t incorporate these skills will leave their students without essential knowledge they need for college, career, and life. I don’t think we can afford to be late to getting on board with this.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Updated Class Library and #ProjectLit

I still owe my wonderful family and friends a big public thanks for helping me raise funds for an updated class library last fall!

Room 202 got a new bookshelf from Amazon, and that’s not the best part! We were able to buy the entire collection of #ProjectLit 2019-20 Middle Grades Book Selections!!

I knew my students would be excited, but actually, they were thrilled. Everyone wanted to take a book home and I had to beg them to bring the books back so others could enjoy them.

I will definitely stick with #ProjectLit in the future as these titles offer high-interest, culturally relevant reading for secondary students. I was excited to read many of the books myself!

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Closing with a Smile: Class Superlatives

This school year is ending in such a strange way, with very little closure for any of us. I want to make sure my students know they are missed and and thought about, so I decided to create this customizable postcard using a found image and mail it to every single one of them at the beginning of June!

I made a list of superlaties for every period in Google Sheets. It took about two days to receive the postcards from the manufacturer, and two days after that I am halfway through “naming” them. Basically, I have the rest of the month to write 65 addresses by hand!

I had a special message printed on the back that will be the same for every student. I tried to be encouraging and show my support. I also wanted them to know that the work they put in from August through March was not for nothing! Since my classes got discontinued during distance learning, it was very anticlimactic for everyone.

I hope these bring a smile to each of their faces so they can close the year with warm memories.

Posted in Portfolio

Class Reset for November – Seventh Grade

  1. Do not let students in right away! Tell them to line up outside the door. 
  2. Have differentiated questions ready for them in order to walk in! (Group by level)
  3. Choose a “secret agent” every day.
  4. Think Now:  State directions clearly every day. Sit down and take out your materials. Hang your backpack. You should have pen to paper before the bell rings. 
  5. End of period: Everyone must be in their seats for the class to be dismissed. Dismiss by table or by student.* Reward positive behavior by being first to be dismissed. 

#35: Reward quiet students
Praise quiet students throughout the lesson. Make a list of these students and let them go slightly earlier than other students. Don’t make a fuss, just let them go early while those who were talking are kept back for a minute or two. A sanction doesn’t have to be particularly harsh in order for it to be effective. In this case, two minutes stood behind a desk while their peers trot out to the bus will be excruciating for some students. You will only have to do it a few times for the message to get through – good behaviour is rewarded.

#39: Secret Agent
Tell the class at the start of the lesson that you are going to secretly pick one student at random to be the Secret Agent (you can put names in a hat or, to save time, just by picking a number from the class list/register). Important: none of the students must know the identity of the Secret Agent. Tell the class that as long as this student has a good lesson (you can formalise this by giving them a behaviour or work target of some sort), the ENTIRE class will receive a reward.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Ali Standish: Middle School Virtual Author Visit!

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I downloaded four YA books at the beginning of the year. I read two of the four YA books I downloaded. They were amazing. One of them, “The Ethan I was Before,” I actually checked out of the LA Library App as an audiobook and played for my reading intervention classes as a cool down on crazy days or as a reward. Now that we are distance learning, I had the thought that perhaps the  book’s author, Ali Standish, would pay a visit to our virtual classroom. So, I found her website, emailed her, and she was happy to comply! This week Ms. Standish send me a 30 minute “Video Visit” just for my reading intervention classes, in which she lead an imagination exercise, gave us some writing tips, spent 20 minutes answering every single student question (I had the students fill out a google form in preparation for this) and she even read to us from her newest book, called “How to Disappear Completely.” We are so, so lucky! Thank you Ali Standish!!