Teachers are always on the go, and this isn’t something that is obvious to others that are not in the profession. I didn’t realize the extent of it until I was in it. It is also very hard to be vulnerable in this profession. Every day, you need to be in your classroom with your game face on; you need to be the sunshine in your students’ day. This can take a toll on teachers, especially when stress begins to catch up to them. You need to go in everyday with a smile on, even when you don’t truly feel that way. Teachers really are superheroes when you put it into perspective. I have previously written a blog on self-care for teachers, but that was when I didn’t actually understand what it was like to be in over your head with responsibilities. So, this is the updated version of teacher self-care tips, with realness behind it.
I encourage all teachers to participate in my #SelfCareTeacherChallenge. Pick a day, two days, whatever it is you need during the month of January, and do something for YOU. Post it on Twitter, on Instagram; anywhere. Let’s end the stigma about mental health, and idea that we cannot show vulnerability, need to constantly be in work-mode, and the belief that we don’t need a break. Show your self-care participation, and the wonders it can do.
Christmas With the Kids
Practicum has kept me extremely busy, in addition to tutoring part time. I have had no time to write, which consequently, has made me feel like something has been missing. Despite my busy schedule, I had been thinking about what I would like to write about once I had the time. Writer’s block took effect once again, especially during the Christmas festivities. However, this gave me the idea to simply write about Christmas with the kids, and to (slightly) rant about how we should all be spending Christmas with children so we can reinvent our lost holidays spirits.
I love Christmas; I truly do. I love the lights, the tree, the family time, and my tradition of watching A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. Over the years, I felt a lost sense of excitement about Christmas. I would think back to when I was a child, and that magical feeling on Christmas morning that could not be explained through words because it was truly magic. What happens to us? Why do we lose the magic?
A week before the Christmas break, all of the students were in Christmas mode. Christmas art activities, Christmas stories, a Christmas show; the hallways were filled with real Christmas spirit. Children from 4 years old to 12 were all equally excited about Santa coming to town, whether they believed or not. Even if they were ‘too cool’ to believe, deep down, they wanted to wait up at night to see Ol’ Saint Nick appear near their decorated tree. In between the hustle and bustle of putting sparkles on ornaments and practicing the dance to Jingle Bell Rock, I took time to appreciate the excitement over Christmas. I spent a week discussing the arrival of Santa, the nice and naughty list, the religious meaning behind Christmas, and the happiness over gingerbread house making with parents. Every day, I walked into a winter wonderland. Through this, I began to feel a small spark of that lost holiday spirit. I even found myself hoping that maybe, just maybe, I’d catch Santa Claus at my tree on Christmas Eve.
What do I owe this spark to? The children. They motivated me to feel that excitement again. They encouraged me to let my imagination run wild. They allowed me to feel that Christmas anticipation that I hadn’t felt in years. On Christmas Day, when my spark began to dull, and the magic felt like it was wearing out, I thought back to that Christmas-filled week; I thought about the children, and their eagerness. When Dr. Seuss said the Grinch’s heart grew 3 sizes too big, I finally knew what that felt like. I pushed aside any ‘adult-y’ way of thinking, and let the spark ignite.
Spend your December with children. They are the only ones who know how to truly celebrate the magic of Christmas. They are the ones who will ignite your spark, and allow you to feel like a child again. ‘May you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve’. You might be pleasantly surprised.
I Can't Do That...Yet
I recently recorded my latest TC2 podcast, and my fellow teacher candidate and I began to talk about an interesting topic; the power of yet. I have often heard students of all ages say, “I can't do that because I'm not good at it”, or “I'm not going to try anymore because it's too hard for me and I can't do it”. This mentality is not new. In fact, it's a pretty standard way of thinking. As an adult, I have encountered situations where I try something out for the first time, and can't get the hang of it. My instinctual reaction is to, unfortunately, give up. Why is that? Why do I give up within minutes of trying something new? We tell our students not to give up and have a positive mind; so why don’t we tell this to ourselves?
Growth mindset has swept the nation, and I’m glad I am able to teach at a time in which this is thriving. I remind my students that mistakes mean their brain is growing, and they should not be ashamed of them. Mistakes = learning. This is what we put out to our students, which is a great message. However, do we tell ourselves, as teachers and educators, this message?
I wake up on Wednesday morning, eager to teach my lesson. I have it planned to a T; and why wouldn’t it go the way it’s planned? I’ve rehearsed it in my head and watched it play out like a movie. I get to school and am still positive that nothing could go wrong.
Until it does.
No, my lesson did not go the way I planned- it didn’t seem to get through to my students. There was too much information all at once, and they weren’t grasping the concepts. Did I tell myself that mistakes make my brain grow, or that this was a learning experience?
Not even remotely close.
Instead, I questioned my ability to teach. Never mind the positive feedback I had received after the lesson (intermingled with things I could work on for next time). Instead, I fixated on how poorly I thought it went. I tell my students to do the exact opposite of this. Why am I unable to practice the growth mindset I praise so much?
I went to school during a time where A’s meant school was a good place to be. If you struggled, it was frowned upon. I constantly hid my bad marks from my peers, and was afraid to seek help. I wasn’t motivated for a very long time. Once I reached university, this was no different. In fact, this mindset was amplified. Getting a B made me question my existence (literally- I had monthly meltdowns about my career path and life). Bad grades meant I was not going to get into other programs of my choice. The little girl I was in grade 4 hiding her math marks, was a lot older now, anxiety filled about getting a B-.
I need to practice what I preach. We all do. We are all so much harder on ourselves, when we should be taking care of ourselves the most. I have repeated this so many times, but as a teacher, we are never done learning. Every year will be a new teaching experience. There are 100% going to be days where your lessons do not go as planned, and in all honesty, I think our students will see the realness in us if we are honest with them and say, “let’s try this again tomorrow”. “Students, it seems there’s a lot of information going on here. We’re going to break it down instead, and slowly work through it”. “We learned a lot of new things today, and maybe it was a little confusing. How about instead, we learn about everything step by step”. In this, we are telling our students that maybe we didn’t teach the lesson the way we wanted it to go, but we are going to try again. Don’t throw those lessons away; Try. It. Again.
I encourage all of us, no matter what profession we are part of, to practice growth mindset on ourselves. Practice the growth mindset your fourth grade self would have appreciated. Take care of you, and may your mistakes lead you to your successes.
Adventure of a Tutor
A few posts ago, I spoke about a student I was tutoring who was on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have made it a priority to work with this student as much as I could in order to help him succeed in Math, Reading and Writing. One of my main focuses in Math was grouping, rows and columns; the beginning state of multiplication and division. When I first started working with my student, there was a lot of difficulty in both these areas. I soon figured out that colour coding worked for the student, and I used this strategy in all of their math problems. I coloured in each row, each column; I coloured in the circles that represented the groups, and each balloon that had to be placed in each group so that each circle had the same amount of balloons. When multiplying 3X1, the task at hand was to know that 1X3 will give you the same answer. I coloured 1 in purple, 3 in green, and underlined the spots in which they had to go in for the reverse (this is explained in detail in my previous post). This may sound tedious, but it worked, and if it works for my student, than it works for me. The visible smile on my students’ face when they realize they finally understood the material will stay with me forever. I tell this story to other teachers, as well as friends and family because seeing the motivation and accomplishment in my student was overwhelmingly joyful.
I took a break from this tutoring center as I went back home to Montreal this summer. When I returned and began working with this student again, we continued with colour coding, only this time, they seemed to understand more so than before. I decided to try and take out a bit of the colour coding. Instead of colouring all of the rows and columns, I simply wrote R and C. Instead of colour coding the spots for 3 and 1, I left it without. When my student began to work, they understood the material without the colour coding, and even this small gesture made them happier than before. They realized that the colours weren’t there, and it was still making sense. In terms of grouping, this still needed guided support, and colour coding at the beginning. However, after a few tries, the colour was gone and my student still understood.
This isn’t only about colour coding and trying to remove the colours slowly to see the effect; it’s about never giving up. There are always going to be good days and bad days; days where our students seem to just “click” with the material, and other days where it’s just not happening. Patience is our biggest strength, and most effective tool. I stuck by my student, and every time I worked with them, I put on my motivated game face and was determined to teach in a way that worked for them. I did, and still do, whatever I can to help them succeed.
My student was very happy with their efforts, and I felt extremely grateful that I was able to help them reach that point. On bad days, I didn’t push through the material; you need to know when to take a step back and just say, “let’s do something else”. On good days, we worked on it, we were focused and we completed a lot of our pages. We need to be aware of the good and bad days, and have equal amounts of patience for either. The end result will be a story you cannot stop repeating.
I am appreciative and thankful for the opportunity I was given to work with this student. I know I taught them a thing or two, but they taught me so much more. They taught me the virtue of patience, of collaboration, of motivation, of perseverance, of tenacity, and most importantly, of being able to let things go when they just aren’t working; taking a step back on those bad days and just saying, “it’s okay”.
I encourage you to make a conscious effort to be patient in times of struggle, to be motivated on all your days, and to just let it go and say that it is okay.
Will This Be On My Report Card?
“Will This Be On My Report Card?”
During one of my University courses, we began to talk about this new ‘trend’ of students, at young ages, worrying about test scores, marks on a report card, and grades. Of course, hearing the words “I need an A on this test” is not uncommon from a University student. However, it feels unnatural coming from a third grade student. When did we stop making school enjoyable, and start making it all about grades?
I’d like to say that I understand grades have a level of importance in school. Yes, I understand that almost all people need a percentage or a letter grade to move them forward and let them know how they are doing at a given moment. Although… does a letter grade really let you know how you’re doing in a class?
I present to you the ‘Importance of Feedback’.
There are a couple of points I need to cover in this blog, but let’s start with the feedback portion. Also, I understand that many educators and teachers will have different opinions than mine, and I encourage everyone to voice theirs in the comment section.
A grade two student shouldn’t be racking their brain around a letter grade that ‘wasn’t good enough’. Instead, we need to be telling our students what they did well, what they need to work on, and how we can help them move forward. If a student sees they received a 92% on a test, no matter how feedback filled it may be, they won’t bother to look at it. The same goes for a student who gets a 72%; even if you spent countless hours writing your most perfected feedback, there’s a good chance it will not be looked at. This student will see a 72% and immediately think, “I need to study everything more”. What they didn’t see was the only portion they needed to work on was the third criteria- not the first or second. What have we been doing that our students are so grade-focused? How can we change this?
I definitely don’t have the answer to the latter, but from tutoring and practicum experience, I’ve tried to incorporate the growth mindset into the students I’ve worked with. I am not opposed to keeping those grades that need to be on report cards away from students and instead, give them feedback. Instill that the words on the paper are even more important than having a level 3 written at the top of the page. Feedback allows for us to know what we do well, and how we can improve the things we still need to work on. Feedback allows for us to move forward and grow, because we understand just how to do that. A grade of 82% doesn’t tell me what I did well, and where I lost marks. It tells me ‘I did pretty good but I should aim for a 90 next time’. Except, how do I do this?
“Miss Karaline, I need to practice writing more. I’m bad at it”.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, because Miss Karaline, I got a 62% in spelling, so that means I’m a bad writer”.
Why do children feel that proper spelling and grammar are the only things that will make them good writers? Why do students feel that fast mental math will make them good mathematicians? My second thought of this blog is; why do students base an entire subject on 1 or 2 abilities? Math is not only about speed and quick addition; it’s about problem solving. We can use skills from math, and apply it to real life situations. Baking a cake? That’s math. Grocery shopping? That’s math. Students don’t realize this- they see math as scary and full of angry, mean numbers.
Let’s go back to spelling now. Why do students feel proper spelling equates to being a good writer? Being someone who has a passion for writing, spelling isn’t always the top priority. It’s about seeing a strange looking plant and creating a story about how it’s actually a magicc plant that has ben alive for centories. It was planted by an anchient tribe of peeple years ago, and the only way for it to relese its power is if it’s in the hands of the chozen one. So I had a few spelling mistakes, but didn’t you like the story? Point made.
All of this relates back to something of a bigger issue. There has been an increase of anxiety is our primary/junior students. Mental health is at the top of my priority list, and I believe as educators and teachers, we need to work on this. The Atlantic states that “an article in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Play details not only how much children's play time has declined, but how this lack of play affects emotional development, leading to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems of attention and self control.” Yes, they are talking about free-play, but there are other ways to view this as well. In the classroom, let’s place importance on building a community with our students; get rid of any hostility they have towards on another. Build a community that doesn’t run on competition, but focuses on how cooperative learning can improve your personal learning. Build a classroom community that runs of kindness, respect, growth mindset, motivation and inspiration. The least we could do for our students is create a classroom and a school that they look forward to being at every day.
I encourage all educators and teachers to think about all of the points made here today. I am not here to judge you based on your teaching choices; we all have different learning styles, which is what makes this profession so amazing. With all our different techniques, we have the opportunity to learn from one another. However, I encourage you to think about feedback and classroom community, and the positive effects it can have with your students.
I also encourage you to please leave your feedback in the comment section below.
Top 5 Things You Shouldn't Say to a Teacher
New blog post up on VoicEd.ca about things you should never say to a teacher. Here's a small excerpt:
“Tests are a good way to see if the teacher is doing their job right”. No no and no. Tests are the necessary evil we must face every year. Not only do they not measure a teacher’s ability to teach, but it doesn’t always measure a student’s level of understanding. One bad day = one not so good test. That test doesn’t equate to the countless raised hands and answered questions during any other day or lesson. For this reason, many teachers don’t place all of the importance on tests; what students produce elsewhere is just as important.
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Thursday, September 21st, I will be hosting a radio show on VoicEd.ca; "OnEdMentors". It will be about questions for Teacher Candidates, and questions from TC's for Teachers. If you'd like to be part of it, please message me for more info.
Are You Ready?
Little shoes running across the yard. The thump of the backpack as it hits the ground. Scuffling into the classroom. Racing to sit next to your friend. The sound of the pencil writing a name on its paper. The silent raised hand. The whispered giggle at the corner of the room. All of these little, wonderful things are what make up the first day back at school.
I can barely remember any of my first day experiences, and because of this, I began to think: “what makes a first day back to school memorable?” Is it the friends in your class? Is it knowing you’re with your favourite teacher? Maybe it’s the activities you did that day, or the way your teacher made you feel? When I think back, I can remember embarrassing things that happened at school, or experiences that I treasured. However, no matter how hard I try to recall a first day, I can’t.
How can I make sure that when I am the leader of my own classroom, my students will have a memorable first day? I want them to leave my classroom thinking, “This was a great day”. I want them to grow up, and when asked to write about a favourite school experience, they think back to that very first day in my classroom.
I cannot give personal tips on a subject that I do not have much experience in, but here is a collection of my top 5 favourite ideas that I thought could really make a first day great.
These are only a few ideas of the many out there. I encourage you to find ways to make your first day back to school special. Today marked the very beginning of my second and last year in the Education program at the University of Ottawa. I was able to be part of a back-to-school experience. Just before the students left the classroom, one little girl turned to me and said, “best first day ever”. I hope she remembers this day, and I’m glad I was part of it.
If you can remember a back-to-school moment, please leave your story in the comment section below!
Diary of a Student Teacher
I recently wrote a blog post for VoicEd called "Diary of a Student Teacher". It's very different from what I usually write. It's a lot more personal and 'free-written' compared to my usual educational and informative blogs.
Check it out at voiced.ca/kvlahopoulos/diary-of-a-student-teacher/ and don't forget to leave a comment.
Here is a small excerpt:
"I’m from Montreal, and I’ve officially decided to make Ottawa my forever home. The main reason for doing this was because I believe the education system here is organized, prepares young students well for future educational experiences, and schools here truly care about the well-being of students. I want to be part of a system that puts education as a priority on its list."
I Don't Learn That Way: Writing & Reading
This is the last learning style that is part of the “I Don’t Learn That Way” series. Everyone in the classroom uses this learning style, although not everyone learns best this way. Therefore, instead of going over techniques for this learning style, since it is the most widely used in schools, I will go over ideas on how to make reading and writing fun for everyone.
Together is Better: Whether you are choosing picture books or chapter books, reading as an entire class will allow everyone to feel involved in the book. Reading aloud (as the teacher) to the class is especially useful for students who may struggle with reading, or ESL students. It is important in this case, and if possible, to have the students follow along with their own book. It may even be a good idea to choose a book as a class. For younger students, books with repetition allow them not only to learn new words, but as they ‘read and repeat’ those repetitive words, will feel a sense of independence and empowerment in their reading abilities.
The Book Club: this may be cliché, but I don’t often see book clubs in schools anymore. This is an extracurricular activity that engages your reading learners, and allows them to use their learning style not only in the classroom, but outside as a hobby and social gathering as well. Having monthly (or bi-monthly) books that students get to choose (get ready for Captain Underpants) will create a fun discussion and inspire them to read more!
“Miss Did You Buy ANOTHER Book?!”: Make sure your classroom is always stocked with books (More Captain Underpants! More Junie B. Jones! Junie B. Jones is still my favourite- who am I kidding?). Having them around and easily accessible will encourage your students to read more. I found that allowing time for students to get into groups and read together will not only increase your chance to integrate group work and cooperation, but you will also see an improvement in your lower-level readers. Higher-level readers may be the first ones to offer to read aloud, while lower-level readers are following along (they are absolutely still learning this way). Although some students may not have the confidence to read aloud at first, eventually, they will be the ones to take their turn!
One key point to remember is to never discourage a child from reading. They are all working at their own pace, and not giving them the opportunity to improve will only dissuade them from wanting to read. If you are working one-on-one, give them the chance to read the words. It may take them several seconds, but if you are constantly giving them the answer, they will lose their motivation. Instead, give them techniques on how to read the word- give them to space to use those strategies (letter combinations, letter sounds!).
Let The Mistakes Go: Yes, grammar, spelling and all things correctly written are important. However, we don’t want to deter students from enjoying their writing. I suggest allowing students to free write, and not always having to correct everything. Giving them fun topics and allowing their creativity to flow will encourage them to write. Of course, there are times in which we must correct the spelling mistakes and teach them about nouns, verbs and adjectives (oh my!), but still giving them that time to wander off into their own writing wonderland is equally as important.
Not Another Essay: introduce different writing styles. Use poetry, songs, short stories, even news broadcasts! Switch up the ways in which they need to write when this is possible. For those students who don’t like writing, in some of these cases (like a news broadcast or a song), they won’t realize how much writing practice they are actually getting.
Don’t Talk Bad About Authors, They’ll Write About You In Their Books: There are many opportunities to enter student’s writing in competitions, or sending them to different publishing houses (Canadian Young Writers). This could be something that you may want to integrate into your classroom to motivate your students to be creative, and get writing! This also introduces self-editing, and peer editing. In High School, my creative writing teacher sent some of our short stories to the Canadian Young Writers, and I was luckily chosen for a short story and a poem to get published! Although I already loved writing, this increased my motivation to continue (and now I currently have about 14 different half finished books in my computer).
That's Child's Play
New blog post is up on VoicEd.ca called 'That's Child's Play". I discuss the importance of free play during a school day for young students (click on voicEd.ca to direct you to the website).
Here's an excerpt:
"One thing to remember is that physical education is not a substitute for free-play. Phys Ed has rules and structure, whereas free-play only has the rules that the students come up with themselves. Phys Ed is great to release energy and get active, however it does not have the same effects as free-play does on the brain. When students engage in play, they are deciding what they want to do and how they want to do it; it is all a negotiation made by the students’ themselves- no rules are imposed by a teacher or educator."
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