Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do Teachers Need Desks?

My teacher desk doubled as a computer station.
Principal Larkin is considering giving up his office, which I think is a unique idea. This kind of forward thinking is just what is needed in school leadership. It makes me (and a few people who commented on his blog) wonder if teachers really need desks.

The problem with teacher desks:
  • It becomes too easy to spend a lot of time there- time that should be spent with students. We're all guilty of this.
  • A teacher 'desk' turns into a 'corner' and can takeover a room.
  • It's a symbol of power, and intimidates students who want to come ask for help.
  • It separates the teacher from the students; my learning vs. your learning, it should be our learning.
Teacher desks should probably be on the list of 10 Things Teachers Should Pitch This Spring, but if you don't have a laptop at school (I don't) and aren't able to give up the idea of having your own space entirely yet, you may consider:
  • Having your desk double as a student work station. I come from the viewpoint that if it is a school issued computer then students should be able to use it too. It also forces you to keep things organized and put away.
  • Turning your desk so that it faces a wall. This makes your room look bigger, and you won't want to sit there during class with your back facing the kids- therefore you won't sit there as much.
I have a room in my house designated as an office, but I usually just stretch out on the bed with my papers and laptop; it's where I get my best prep work and writing done. I'd like to bring that same vibe to my classroom, so next year (wherever I am) I'm either going to get rid of my teacher desk or blend it in to the rest of my classroom.

I wonder what my students' parents will think when they walk into a classroom that doesn't have a clearly visible teacher desk?

Friday, May 21, 2010

10 Great Edubloggers I Read: RSS Recomendations

I'm inspired by Richard Bryne over at Free Technology for Teachers, who recently just published his list of top reads from his RSS (great list- I read all of those too), to publish my own list of stellar edubloggers. I have many I read so I'm going to mention just 10 that are not on his list (in no order).

  1. Blogush by Paul Bogush
  2. Search Me! New Methods in Teaching Research by

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Websites for Making Word Clouds and Tag Clouds

Below is a list of websites perfect for making word clouds and tag clouds. Wordle has typically been the standard, but check out some of the unique features on the other sites!

(Do you know of a great site I missed? Please let me know in the comments section!, This list is updated through a delicious linkroll, check back often!)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

10 Things Teachers Should Pitch This Spring

I've been keeping a little notebook of things I've noticed, seen, read about, or heard about this year that I believe need to be pitched when teachers spring clean their classrooms. Time-wasters, tests, stuff, ideas, etc.- if it needs GO it's on the list (in no particular order). Standardized tests by the way are a given- you won't find them below, we all know where they should be.

My PLN has also helped contribute to this list (thank you!) and I welcome comments and additions!

    1. Shoebox Dioramas. I. Hate. Them. If you want to see how much money your students' parents can shell out, if you want to see a second grader cry, if you want to waste time, and have a completely pointless object in your room, tiffing off your janitor when throw-away day comes- then by all means, diorama away. I don't know anyone who has a career where they have to go to work and make a model in a box. I'm sure they're out there- I just don't personally know any of them. But I feel pretty confident that we are completely wasting our students' time coming up with ways to fit construction paper and legos into a paper rectangle. Who really has to do this kind of thing in their career?   
    2.  Acrostic Poetry. I love poetry and I know that acrostic poetry has its place. I tend to think it is kindergarten, but I have seen some very profound acrostic poetry written by middle school students. Why is it on the list then? Because it is the go-to poetry type teachers tend to go to when they a) don't really know any other kind of poetry, or b) just want to dumb down an activity so the "low" kids have something to turn in. Fight the urge! There are so many other types of brilliant form poetry, and- heaven forbid- we could actually let our kids do some free verse!
    3. Giving kids the answers. I know this one sounds weird, but really, I actually heard a teacher tell a group of us the other day that she sometimes gives kids the answers so they can raise their hands with the correct answer and feel successful. Yeah...I don't even know where to start with that one....
    4. Hard Copy Portfolios. Digitize people. Digitize. It's more befitting to their future, makes your classroom cleaner, and gives students a greater sense of pride and ownership when it's online. Bonus- it allows for much easier parent-teacher communication. is a great, free, easy, site to use to get started on this. (If you have a spare Franklin you could purchase this nifty little tool and make this oodles more interesting.)
    5. Decorative Border. I know. I heart @smilemakers too, but The Sisters, have taught me a valuable lesson this year, we need the stuff on the boards to stand out, not the border. Solid colors (they recommend black) reduce visual noise and therefore reduce stress.
    6. Posters. Ugh. I hate "doing posters" almost as much as I hate shoebox dioramas. When was the last time someone had to put together a poster for their job. Come to think of it, I can't remember having made a poster for my adult life at all? (Maybe a "Cubs Rock!" sign- of course not this year...but....well...I digress...) Multimedia presentations are where it's at, posters take up space, are a waste of time, only prove how well you can (or can't) color, and make me out to be a witch when I won't share my Sharpie collection.
    7. Library Pocket Cards. Oh these fun little things are the icing on a teacher-supply cake. But taping these into your books, filling out little white cards, and scheduling classroom library checkout, is just a huge time waster. Why not digitize your classroom library? Get rid of the cards and have students checkout online. Creating a simple google aps form makes this a snap.
    8. Powerpoints. Powerpoint used to be the big thing. A few years ago any teacher who had his/her students making a powerpoint was really "innovative." Sorry. It's old. Students should now be creating blogs, glogs, videos, prezis, etc. Rushton Hurley shared this idea at ICE 2010: If you love powerpoints do a search for them on google and have your students evaluate the ones already created.
    9. Going through homework. @davidwees shares that going through homework is a huge waste of time, and I quite agree. Taking thirty minutes to get out the red pen and check homework answers is asinine. The kids who don't get it need more instruction and the kids who do have to sit there, bored, (which often leads to classroom chaos), and it takes away time everyone could be doing something more productive. Come to think of it, maybe we should just pitch homework...(a post for another time.)
    10. Assignment Notebooks.  This can go two ways. These cost money; money taken out of text-book funds that could be spent elsewhere (like those fun gadgets in #4). Teachers and students have good intentions and start using them in the beginning of the year, but by Christmas they are stuffed at the bottom of a locker, torn into shreds, or worse- still sitting pristine unused. What a waste. Use an online calendar instead, SMS, twitter, or podcast dates and homework assignments. Alternatively: If the above options aren't realistic and you enjoy this communication format then use it with integrity. I'm not saying you need to check to make sure students are filling them out every day; but periodically would be nice if that is what your expectations are. Find multiple creative ways of using them, like marking famous dates in history, dates your class received favorite tweets from other classes, write positive notes back and forth to parents, use the margins to make lists or complete exit slips. Really take advantage and use them to their fullest- all year- or don't use them at all.
    This isn't a complete list, by any means, but it's a start. What do you think is missing? What should we be throwing in the trash at end-of-year clean up?

    (Author's Note: The adorable cat photo was taken by Sticky Pixels, found using a creative commons flickr search.)

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Thank You Readers and Followers!

    I just want to take a moment of my day to express my gratitude to all my blog readers and twitter followers- my PLN. You give me the communication, inspiration, criticism, and encouragement to keep me reaching my goals!

    Stay tuned for more exciting "renovations" to my blog and tweets!

    Safe, Free, Usable: Photos for Teachers

    Previously I posted a list of websites where students could find safe, free photos they could use in projects that were tagged as creative commons. Below is my list of similar sites for teachers. Some of the sites, while excellent, may yield more "adult" photos IF you search for them or aren't careful, which is why they didn't make the student cut- but are still awesome finds for teachers!

    (Do you know of a great site I missed? Please let me know in the comments section!, This list is updated through a delicious linkroll, check back often!)


    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Are You In It For The Summers? (Linchpin Thoughts part 2)

    Two weeks left of school; ...well technically three, (but that last one is so short I don't count it.) And like all teachers and students, I'm anxious to pack up and head home for a nice summer of relaxing job hunting. Regardless of how we are spending our summer break, it has always been a much needed respite for both children and grownups alike.

    Just because I enjoy my summer off, however, doesn't mean it is the reason I teach.

    In my first post reflecting on the Linchpin I mentioned that all teachers need to be artists. Seth Godin writes that "Art cannot be merely commerce. It must also be a gift."

    That bears repeating--  "Art cannot be merely commerce. It must also be a gift." To be a good teacher, a teacher who is striving to create art, to embrace and learn the art of teaching, you cannot be in it for the summers off; we cannot be in it for the money.

    (In it for the money?! -pause here for laughing to stop-)

    If I took all the hours I work on my teaching job, throughout the entire calendar year- January through December- and figured out how much I made per hour it would probably equate to slightly higher than that of a camp counselor (which I have also done, thank you very much).  So no, I certainly am NOT in this job for the money.

    However, I have always been fortunate to work in districts that have a decent salary schedule, with modest yearly increases for experience, and that fiscally respect me furthering my education. I doubt that I could walk into an office job somewhere tomorrow and get paid the same amount (without a lot of searching..., maybe a move..., certainly a commute....) and so while YES teachers are grossly underpaid, I'm still managing (though sometimes barely) to make ends meet.

    I've never heard a fellow teacher say he or she was "in it" for the money. But I HAVE heard teachers say they teach for their summers off. Sigh. I know. And what's worse, is that I've heard this several times. From brand new fresh-off-the-internship to about-to-retire-awesome-ubber-teachers, some people are performing their art for commerce. They teach for those oh-so-lovely week vacations twice a year, for all the official holidays off (Thank you Mr. President) and for a guaranteed nine week vacation every hot summer sun, and (lest we forget) the occasional time the phone rings and you hear, "Stay in bed, Mrs. White, there's too much snow on the ground for school today." 

    "Art cannot be merely commerce. It must also be a gift."

    I'm glad that I am not one of those teachers. Yes, I appreciate the commerce teaching has afforded me, and I probably couldn't do it for free (I do have a mortgage payment!), but I give so much of myself to this profession. (I am also giving $240 a month in gas money to commute my gift.)

    We cannot be teachers if we don't love, truly love, teaching- regardless of the summers off, the holidays, the pay, etc. We cannot be in this job for the commerce, we have to give our hearts and souls into this job. We owe it to our students and if we are only in it for the summers then we shouldn't be teaching.

    I hope in two weeks when school lets out, teachers will take some time to reflect on where education has been, where it is headed, and where they believe they fit into the picture. To those who believe they have lost their gift I do hope you can get it back- your PLN may be able to help- but if you can't or won't, then maybe it's time to move on. There are hundreds of teachers artists out there looking to share their gift who would gladly take your place.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Teachers as Artists (Linchpin Thoughts part 1)

    Ruminating on my future as a teacher the other day led me to a startling uncertainty. Am I a fraud?

    How can I possibly be inspiring my students to BE more, LIVE more, and MAKE IT in the world, when sometimes I feel like I haven't done that. Doesn't that make me a hypocrite? Are all teachers ordinary people masquerading as intellectually and socially outstanding?  Is it true that "Those who can't do, teach." What can I do?

    Would I want my child being inspired by someone who just met the status-quo (and sometimes not even that)? How is a struggling learner going to believe me when I say "you can achieve your dreams" if I haven't achieved mine? Why would a high achieving student take me seriously if my aspirations are set lower than hers? Aren't teachers supposed to be leaders? To be setting not just good- but the best- examples for our students?!

    Right in the middle of my existential crisis, I stumbled upon the book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin.  Though it's been out for a while it wasn't available in my local library so I shelled out the twenty-five dollars for a pristine hardback copy and I'm glad I did-- this book might just change my life. Or at least my outlook on life.

    There are hundreds of great posts reviewing this book, check them out if you need a typical book review. Below (and in future posts as I continue reading this book) I'll share my thoughts on the content through the eyes of a teacher.

    Teachers as Artists

    Godin defines art as, "....something one human does, that creates change in another...."

    By this definition we, as teachers, should all be artists. Period. Artists are not happy with achieving the norm, but strive indefinitely to take risks, create new solutions to problems, and bring themselves and others to a higher level.

    Artists turn even the most mundane tasks into an art form. Godin writes of a coffee shop attendant who showed prodigious customer service and pride in his work. He turns wiping tables in a coffee shop into an art form, therefore making himself an artist, a linchpin in his field.

    After reading the section last night I switched to watching reruns of King of the Hill as I fell asleep. I missed the first part of the show but caught the perfect scene of Peggy Hill bagging groceries.  This perfectly illustrated Godin's point! If you've watched this show before you know that Peggy is full of herself, and in true narcissist spirit she was bragging about how it may not be brain surgery, but no brain surgeon could bag groceries like she could. She took a menial job and turned it into art, she is an artist at bagging groceries.

    Shouldn't we, as possibly the second most important people in a child's life, be artists?

    Teachers need to be artists in our craft, and have something by way of an achievement to use as a personal example for our students. We need to be artists of teaching, certainly...but I think we should go even further and be artists in other ways too. It's a step to becoming a linchpin, but more importantly a step towards reaching students and giving them concrete examples of success.

    So it leads me to I an artist?

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Safe, Free, Usable: Photos for Students

    I strongly believe in teaching students the importance of copyright, in particular when using photos and clipart for projects.

    Here is my list of websites that offer free and creative commons friendly photos for projects. These sites are safe for students to search through.

    (Do you know of a great site I missed? Please let me know in the comments section!, This list is updated through a delicious linkroll, check back often!)