Staying Relevant As a Veteran Teacher 

I never really know how to take it when someone  says, “I’m surprised you still try new things.” Or,”You’ve been teaching forever, what do you still need to prove?” Better yet, to sit in on an interview and hear only new teachers have new ideas.  Once I asked what was meant by these questions, and I was a little shocked and annoyed by the answer. Basically, since I’d been teaching for so long it was assumed that I would still be teaching the same way I always had with no need to stay current or to try new strategies. New strategies or research could only come from newer, younger teachers. Umm, no.  It’s not that I have anything against younger or new teachers.  Hey, I was once one of them myself.  Yet, what many people find hard to grasp is that, as a veteran teacher, I’m constantly learning and trying new strategies.  It’s not just the need to stay current that drives me, but the need to ensure that I’m providing the very best education I can to my students.

So, how do we veteran teachers stay relevant?

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  1. Mentor a student teacher or a new teacher.  Student and new teachers have fresh eyes and a new passion. You will learn from each other. Often the desire to be a good model and mentor improves your craft as well.
  2. Don’t wait to be trained on technology. Seek it out. Try it. Don’t worry if you don’t know all about it. Just do it, and then share with others.
  3. Read professional books and blogs, and then share what you’ve learned. The running joke on my former fourth grade team was if I’d come to school on a Monday morning and utter the words, “So, I read this book and…” I’m constantly reading to hone my craft.
  4. Ask to provide professional development in your building. We have a lot to share. Not only from our own experience, but because we are life long learners and enjoy sharing what we’re learning.
  5. Don’t be afraid to switch grade levels.  Sometimes we can get way too comfortable in a grade level, and therefore, don’t really see the need to change or keep current.  How can you be relevant if you aren’t growing? Not to say that if you’ve been teaching the same grade level for years there is something wrong.  No, just don’t teach the same lesson plan in the same way for all those years.
  6. Get connected. It doesn’t matter the platform, just get talking with teachers outside your own building. This will expand the ideas you’re exposed to, and provide places to hear about new strategies and technologies. Then, you guessed it, share what you’re learning.
  7. Advocate for our profession. Face it. The older we get, the less we tend to worry about what others think, and we stop being afraid to speak up. It can be difficult for new teachers to speak up. They have a lot on their plate. Often we don’t feel comfortable rocking the boat early in our careers. Midway through our careers we get over that. Yes, many new teachers are already at that point, and I’m always in awe of that confidence.

Stay your authentic self, and maintain your enthusiasm for teaching.  These alone will keep you relevant. Remember, a healthy school is one comprised of a good balance of new and veteran teachers.

How do you stay relevant?

Flipping the Teacher Mentoring Experience

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Each year that I mentor either a student teacher/intern or a new to the profession teacher, I always reflect on how I could make the experience better for both of us.  Mentoring takes time and intentional planning to make it more than a required activity.  There have been times that I felt I did a really good job with my interns and student teachers, but I haven’t felt as satisfied with new teachers.  I often blamed a lack of building or district focus on what mentoring should entail, but in the end, that was just an excuse to make me feel better about how the experience went. This year my district made great strides in how they approached the mentoring experience.  Even better, at the end of the year they gathered a group of mentors and mentees to evaluate and tweak the program.  Love that reflective nature!

Yet, this is not enough for me.  In order to change the situation, I need to first change how I’m going to approach mentoring this year.  And yes, I’ve got a plan.

I’m going to flip the mentoring experience.  This will not replace our face to face meetings. After all, these meetings are where you build relationships and get a true gauge for how your mentee is doing.  What I’m talking about are the things that you’d like them to reflect upon, or look into prior to meeting.  With my students we call this coming to a discussion prepared.  So, this summer I will be planning my list of topics to flip.  I’ll also be asking my mentee to also think upon what needs she has.  While I know our new teachers are quite capable of finding information on their own, this is one way in which I can lessen the work load that first year.  If I already have information on a topic, then I’m happy to share.  Or, maybe my mentee is interested in something I haven’t yet heard about and now we get to learn about something new together.  Definitely a win-win.

I plan to use my blog as the medium for delivering the flipped mentoring experience.  It will include topic information, links to books and videos, and I am thinking of including a video in which I can either talk directly to my mentee (adding that personal touch), or walk her through the websites that I share.  I’m sure that as I go, I will tweak the format as I learn from my mistakes and get feedback from my mentee.

So as I look to planning my Mentoring in Minutes (Yep, that’s what I will call my blog posts) posts, I will consult the district suggested list as well as topics I feel would benefit my mentee.  Below is my list so far.  What would you add?

Mentoring in Minutes Topics

  • Parent Information Night
  • Communicating with Families
  • Using an Online Planbook
  • Creating a Sub Tub
  • Websites to Help With Differentiation
  • Google Drive/Classroom
  • Favorite Professional Books
  • Connect with Twitter/Growing Your PLN
  • Guided Math
  • Number Talks
  • Calendar Math
  • Guided Reading
  • Writer’s Workshop
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Classroom Management
  • Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest
  • Technology
  • EdCamps

A Teaching Bucket List

I think most people have heard of Bucket Lists. They range from fairly normal things to do to some extraordinary things to do. Of course the point is to not wait, to accomplish these things before you die. But have you considered a Teaching Bucket List?  What would you like to do in your career before retirement?  Here’s a few of mine so far.

My Teaching Bucket List

(in no particular order)

  • Attend a national education conference like ISTE, ILA, or NCSTA
  • Present at a conference
  • Meet members of my Twitter PLN in person
  • Attend an EdCamp in an area or state other than my own
  • Create a recording studio in my school
  • Start a Twitter chat in my district
  • Earn my doctorate
  • Teach first grade (I’ve taught 2nd-5th)
  • Implement Teachers Throwing Out Grades
  • Become a Google Certified Teacher
  • Teach in a project based school like EPIC Elementary in Liberty, Missouri or Apache Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas or 
    • create that type of school in my own district
  • Go storm chasing for a weather unit
  • Create a YouTube teaching channel

I actually began this post quite some time back.  So, happy to say, I have actually crossed off two, and have begun work others.

Item #3-Meet members of my Twitter PLN in person

Last week I attended #edcampLiberty.  While there I happened to notice a familiar face.  From the name tag I could see his name and Twitter handle, Dave @DavidGeurin. Now, I am basically a shy introvert in new settings.  However, something got into me that day to work towards overcoming that quality.  So, I walked up, introduced myself by name and Twitter handle.  I believe I sounded like an idiot, but he was very gracious and thanked me for following him on Twitter.

Item #5-Create a video recording studio in my school

This year I wrote a Donors Choose proposal for an iPad mini to go along with my @TouchCastEdu green screen, lapel mic, and tripods.  Thanks to generous donors I received the iPad mini.  We’ve created Christmas cards for parents, interviewed members of our school community for a writing project, and recorded students reading Dr. Seuss books.  The Dr. Seuss videos were shared with other classrooms in our school.  Some students are currently learning to podcast and will present their first project soon.  I’d like to keep expanding the projects like recording a weekly news show and a weekly video from me to add to our weekly newsletter.  I have aspirations of inviting other classrooms to use our studio, or even moving the green screen to a central location where more classes could use it.  My students would be able to train and assist other students with using the technology and the studio.  I want this to go beyond my classroom walls and become one for all to use.

Item #6-Start a Twitter Chat in my district

Last year I worked with the elementary coordinator for my district, Kristl Taylor (@Trending3-She’s now moved on to to Lawrence Public Schools.), to create a Twitter chat for our district.  It’s changed names twice, and I believe with the help of our District Technology Integration Coordinator, Cindy Swartz (@swartz_c), it will be changing to #232connect.  This will hopefully integrate the chat with a district wide desire to share what we’re all doing on a daily basis, and not just during monthly chats.  It’s been slow going, with only a handful participating each month, but that’s ok.  It will grow.  It’s not about the quantity of participants, but the quality of what is shared.

I’m not sure of how many items I will be able to cross off my list before I retire.  Early retirement is in about eight years.  Either I get busy real fast, or better yet, I’ll just keep teaching for a while longer.

So, what’s on your Teaching Bucket List?

 

Saying Goodbye To My Math Mentor

Two years ago I had the privilege to begin working with whom I have considered my math mentor, or more playfully when we co-taught,  my work wife, Rachel Kemper. I’ve written before about co-teaching with her and how sad I was when she went to primary and our coteaching experience came to an end.

It is with mixed emotions that I must say goodbye to her at the end of the year. She’s  leaving our school to spend her days with an adorable little boy. She’s made the decision to stay at home next year with him. He’s a lucky little boy to have her as his mom. I’m happy for what this means for her family, but sad to see her go.

Rachel has taught me so much in the last two years we have worked together. You see, I’ve never really liked or cared for math. I wasn’t good at it in school. I was fine teaching primary math, intermediate math, however,  was different story.  My own math anxiety would kick in and I’d have to work really hard to be sure I fully understood what I was doing so as to not let my kids down. Converting measurements and fractions would cause a panic that people around me never saw, but I felt it and had to work through it.

When we planned together, she provided a safe place for me to say,”I get the procedure, but why does it work?”  No judgements, just unconditional support. Our styles complimented each other well. She gave me the confidence to teach a subject I was never comfortable doing.

While unable to teach together this year, she has still been there for me. Whether it was a question, a wacky idea I wanted to run past her, or sharing the successes of our students, she always had time for me. My favorite was when I told her about our fraction number line. She was so proud of me for doing it this year. I told her that when we did it last year I didn’t really get it, but doing it on my own this year it really made sense. Again, no judgement, just support. I was amazed to hear myself say that I actually enjoyed teaching fractions.

When she told me she was leaving, I of course wondered who would take her place. Whoever it would be would have big shoes to fill. Imagine my surprise when she asked me if I would consider it. Shock and disbelief. I mean, come on, I just recently decided math wasn’t that bad. But she did what Rachel does.  She makes you feel good about how you teach. That what you do, and how you do it matters. Her enthusiasm about teaching is contagious. She makes you a better teacher by believing in you even when you don’t always believe in yourself.  While I’m not ready to leave my own classroom, it means the world to me that she would even ask me to consider taking over where she is leaving off.

So Rachel, thank you for all that you have done for me and have taught me. I wish you well in this new chapter in your life. And, I wish that every teacher has the opportunity to teach with their own Rachel. You will be missed my friend.