Friday, November 23, 2012

Is leadership the new bullying?

Earlier in the year, a few of my sophomore volleyball players were asking some of their team mates why they weren’t with them in the weight room during the off season.  As a head coach, I was proud that my underclassmen were making their team mates accountable.  I was even prouder that I didn’t have to initiate that conversation – they did it all on their own.  And because they were individually asking their team mates why, more and more girls began to attend the weight room.
Well, as you know, there are always 2 sides to each story.

One of the players mother’s claimed that the sophomore group was “bullying” her daughter.

I really didn’t know where to go with that.  I didn’t want to discredit what the one player was feeling, that her perspective wasn’t “real”.  But in the same breath, I thought to myself, “How is this now considered bullying?”

I worry for the youth that we have been carefully raising, by telling them that they are smart enough to become whatever it is they wish to become.  That if they want something bad enough, they can accomplish it JUST BECAUSE they think they can.  Our kids are not permitted to struggle, they are not allowed to lose and therefore they do not gain valuable experience with dusting themselves off and trying again.  This generation has been raised on beefed up self-esteems, to the extent that they have unrealistic perspectives of their abilities.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my students in Biology class say, “I’ve never had to study before.”  

I do not doubt that bullying occurs in schools.  I am not saying that there are not kids that are targeted because they are different.  What I am saying is that being held accountable is being misinterpreted as bullying now.  If you can’t take constructive criticism, it’s bullying.  If your boss informs you that you are not doing your job well/right/fast enough, it’s bullying. 

One of the aspects of high school sports that I absolutely love is that the parallels from athletics mirror real life.  In life, there are winners and losers.  And when your team loses, it stings and you have 2 choices – you can give up or you can get up and work harder.  Losing is good for kids; everyone shouldn’t be awarded a trophy JUST BECAUSE they participated.  Kids need to learn that just because they lost, doesn’t mean they give up.  It means you learn how to dig deep.  It means you need to work harder.  My students are no different – when they encounter a tough problem or they get “stuck” in a lab/activity, their first instinct is to quit.  Because struggling is uncomfortable for them.  And God forbid they feel uncomfortable – they “think” they can accomplish anything JUST BECAUSE.  And when they get stuck, it doesn’t fit their paradigm.

In life, there are going to be people who don’t like you.  In life, you are going to encounter people who try to keep you down.  Because we do not teach our kids how to deal with these sorts of experiences, I feel that we are inadequately preparing them for life in general.  Yes, we do spend some time while in school on how to be “nice” to one another and not to pick on others who are different, but we do not teach kids who are the victims of bullying how to adequately deal with real bullying situations.

Lordy, if I recount how many times my college coach screamed his head off at me, by today’s standards, I would have been harassed.  If I look at how many times I was evaluated by athletic directors/parents/principals and read through the constructive criticism I had received, it’s amazing how I didn’t end up depressed, rocking myself in the corner of my bedroom.  

Maybe it’s because my parents made me fight my own battles.  Maybe it’s because my parents were teachers and coaches, and they refused to let me grow up thinking I was better than everyone else just because.  Or maybe it’s because I grew up in a time period where we weren’t all told that we could become anything we wanted.  Whatever the reason(s), I fear that I am doing the youth of today a disservice by not being honest and up front with them.  And I try to purposefully put my athletes and students into situations where they might feel uncomfortable because they need to learn how to problem solve.  They need to see that there is learning in the struggle.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sharing is caring

I was fortunate enough to land my dream job last year; I moved up and on from middle school science and found myself elbow deep in biology curricula and anatomy. I was like a hog in mud (and still am, actually). I feel so lucky to be teaching the content that I am so incredibly passionate about. I am also working with some phenomenal teachers. Individuals who love what they do and are about taking risks and trying new things and being open to new ideas.

When I knew I wasn't going to be teaching middle school science this year, I packed up my belongings and made the move over into my new digs the last day of school, when it was just a teacher work day. Then, over the summer, I organized my files and lesson plans and activities that I had saved on my external hard drive. It was kind of nostalgic, opening old activities and lessons I had done in the first 5 years of my teaching career. It was like witnessing evolution first hand. There were definitely some activities that I cringed when I opened them (because I thought to myself, "Those poor children!") and there were others that I had kept and stowed away, to maybe use again some day when I was ready.

Since I adhere to becoming the facilitator and not the disseminator of information in the classroom, I would venture to guess that almost 90% of the things saved on my hard drive are my own creations. They are not completely organic as they were seeded from activities I had seen/found online, but they were adapted, edited, toiled over, hour after multiple hour, until they asked the kids just the right questions and they assessed their understanding in just the right format. Don't get me wrong, they were living documents because I would always find some way to refine the activity.

So you could only imagine my conundrum when asked by a former colleague if they could have a huge project that I created. The structure or skeletal frame of this project came from the reality show, Survivor, but the premise was to get students to work on teams to review content for their upcoming state test. I remembered the original idea from a teacher article in NSTA and then I saw a version online ( I created my own directions, my own activities, my own assessments, my own "rules" and my own time frame to get it all done. The end result was AMAZING. My kids were focused and excited because I incorporated competition and I chose their groups using Kagan strategies so that one group was not overly superior to any other. I had literally no discipline problems because the kids were interested in what we were doing (not to mention, my kids did fairly well on those sections of the state standardized test).

Now, it's not that I am a stingy toddler who doesn't know how to share or play nice, I completely understand why it's so difficult for teachers to simply hand over a project that took quite a bit of time and dedication to create. Some people might suggest that the person who asks for the activity actually is lazy or just doesn't want to put in the effort themselves.

And those nay-sayers MIGHT be right. That teacher asking for your lessons is just looking for an easy way out. They aren't creative. They do not have the desire to create such a thing.

Yet, I choose to take a different stance. My job is about children. Plain and simple. And if this activity benefits kids, then I feel obligated to share.

And here's the reality: the teacher who takes my "stuff" may not even use the activity to its fullest capacity and may butcher the crap out of it (which could be a reason for some to not even bother sharing).

But what if they don't butcher it?

What if they are concerned about their student's success and this teacher is reaching out to someone that they feel might help them? Haven't you ever had to ask someone for help? Sometimes asking for help is hard for people to do.

I try to take this perspective: every teacher truly cares about their profession and their student's success. And if there is a young and inexperienced teacher out there who is looking for some solid activities to use with their students, then it is my obligation to help be a supportive colleague. It's my job to help that teacher so they they continue to improve in their craft. It's my job to ensure that they never become comfortable in teaching the same lessons year after year.

I don't care what it looks like. I don't care that it might appear that I am weak and am willing to be taken advantage of. I am fully aware that I have nothing to gain, besides pride, if I do not share.

And in the end, it's the kids that have everything to lose if I don't.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Is Online Learning Where it's at?

Last year I applied to be a part of a select group of teachers in my district to compose and administer online courses. I was accepted into a group of highly motivated educators to collaborate and implement online courses for the upcoming school year. Needless to say, it hasn't exactly gone as planned.

To begin with, the leadership changed hands over the summer. The opening session of our "training" for this program was spent convincing us that this venture was worthwhile. In many of our minds, it was wasted time because all of us were already convinced that online learning was something that needed to be explored for our district, or we wouldn't have applied in the first place. We also had a panel of teachers from an area district who had already unveiled their online courses. It was insightful to an extent, although they were targeting a different group of students (pre-drop out prevention) than we were.

We have hit many road blocks along the way - from being provided time to collaborate to the district leadership not being very clear with "what" the online courses will look like. For example, the science teachers as a whole, would like to have a hybrid model where students come to school for 1-2 hrs once or twice a week for lab activities. In order for a student to take an AP Biology class, they are required to have completed 17 specific labs in order to earn AP credit.

We also have struggled with how to make these courses as rigorous as the typical classroom experience.

I have so many unanswered crippling questions about creating online classes that I find myself questioning if even creating an online course is in the best interest of my students. I often have the discussion with my colleagues that if I am hesitant to include an activity with my online students then should I even include the activity for my classroom students? How does one build a community and relationships with students in an online environment? Are the students of today motivated enough to learn without the structure of a classroom environment? Am I ready for the transition from being a facilitator in the classroom to being someone who simply monitors student progress?

I keep coming back to a central question - is this what's best for students?

I originally assumed that I would create an anatomy/physiology class online, since those students are juniors and seniors and they are more experienced, motivated and disciplined than my sophomore biology kids. I was not prepared for my anatomy students' reactions when I told them what I was attempting to do.

The majority opinion of those students was absolutely not. They told me that there was no way they would take this class online because they needed to "hear my voice explain the concepts and provide the real world examples."

This was not what I anticipated. So, I polled my bio students. Some of them were interested in taking my class online, but when I pressed further to find out why, many of them responded with because then they could do it on their own time. When I asked about time management being a concern, they said that their parents would make them get their assignments (which I found funny, because their parents don't make them get their homework done now, so how would online learning be any different?).

A student yesterday told me of a former student in their class; this young man had been failing all year and when he left last week, he enrolled in an online program and made up 3 quarters of work in a matter of 5 days.  Now, does that mean the work that was happening in the brick and mortar classroom wasn't worthwhile?  Or does it mean that the online version was easier?  Or does it mean that the student excelled with the format of the online course?

On top of this, everyone around me seems to be raving about the Kahn Academy.  I do not disagree that Salman Kahn is not an educated or brilliant man, but what I will disagree with is the fact that what he has done is revolutionary.  How is posting video clips online any different than lecture or direct instruction?  Ok, so kids can watch and rewatch and rewatch his clips over and over, which is something they can't do in the regular classroom.  But they can't ask him questions either.

At this point, I feel as though I love being with students, face to face, too much to leave and transition into an environment where I don't get to see their reactions when they learn something shocking.  I know I might not belong in an online classroom, but in general, I am still undecided as to what I think about online learning. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A lot of living has happened in 8 years...

8 years ago today, my life was forever altered. Time stood still. I watched my parents collapse at separate instances and in separate rooms. I witnessed 70+ people, who I never knew cared so much about my family, jam themselves into the waiting room at St. Ann’s Hospital. I can still smell the ICU. The bright lights and the white tiled floors still stings my eyes. The doctor’s voice telling us that Paul had no blood flow to his brain at 7:30am still feels surreal. It all still feels like yesterday. Or 80 years ago.

8 years ago, my only brother passed away from a head injury. He died on a Sunday morning. I still can hear him laughing with me at 2am, the Thursday before, watching Extreme Elimination Challenge, the Halloween episode where contestants in an Asian country competed in these ridiculous obstacle courses while decked out in Halloween costumes. I had come home from working a long shift at Galyan’s, and I made sugar cookies for us.

The Friday before his death, my parents came to visit me at Galyan’s. They were excited to tell me that they had eaten dinner with Paul at a restaurant, and he informed them that he had decided to become a history teacher. I think my parents were excited because he was finally turning the corner and “growing up”. I remember feeling hopeful yet still skeptical, which I regret now, but I vividly remember my mother’s face. She looked tired. Exhausted. Relieved. As if to say, “Finally. We made it. We did it. Paul is going to be alright.”

The next morning, Saturday, I woke up to the phone ringing off the hook. I can honestly say that not answering that phone was one of the worst decisions of my life. I was in grad school – no one called me at my parent’s house; I had a cell phone. I should have answered the telephone because it was my dad calling from St. Ann’s.

I went to work that morning, and for reasons unknown to me then, I felt the need to bring my cell phone with me to the shoe department and left it in the back room. At around 10AM, my phone rang while I was looking for a men’s ize 11 in a KEEN sandal. After closing the sale, I checked my voicemail and returned my dad’s call. My dad answered and couldn’t speak. He answered and just started sobbing. My dad, probably one of the strongest and level headed human beings I know, was choking on his tears. I instantly regretted not answering the home phone. I remember time stopped. My heart pounded and I was in shock, standing there in the back room, looking down an aisle of rows after rows, stacked upon rows of shoe boxes. I felt instantly small.

After talking to my ex boyfriend and Mackenzie on the phone, I left work and cautiously walked into the hospital, not knowing what to expect. I partly anticipated him being fine, and that all of this was just going to be a huge wake-up call to him. I never thought for a second that I was never going to hold a conversation, let alone have the opportunity to look each other in the eye at that point. When I had arrived, Paul was still alive. He was heavily sedated and the doctor’s had informed my parents that Paul was going to be ok. He had suffered a head injury that he would likely recover from, but he really couldn’t get into any more fights again. Literally, within 1 minute of me arriving in the ICU, I watched Paul start to become as the doctors put it, "agitated" and they ushered me out to the waiting room. While I sat out there, I still felt like all of this was going to end up with all of us losing just a little bit of sleep that weekend. Meanwhile, Paul experienced a massive seizure. Before I left the ICU, I remember watching my dad trying to help Paul get comfortable on the bed; Dad just looked so helpless as the nurses bustled about the room.

What had felt like an hour but was actually only 5 minutes had passed, and a nurse came to get me. They had put my parents in this conference room within ICU. My mom was a mess at this point, shaking and crying over what she had just experienced with her son. Later, I discovered that this was “the room” where you’re told heavy news. I still remember the pattern of the carpet on the floor.

I can’t remember how much time had passed at that point, but I then remember someone from Lifeline of Ohio come to speak to us about organ donation. I was stunned. I looked searchingly at my parents, and I wanted to stand up and demand, “Wait. What in the hell is happening? I thought the doctor’s said he was going to be ok! Is this really happening right now?!” But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even move. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. I just looked at my parents, wide eyed and tried to process just what was being said to my mom and dad as this gentleman was asking my parents to sign on this dotted line.

8 years ago, our world got a little smaller. 8 years ago, I became an only child. 8 years ago, my parents experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. 8 years ago, life, as I knew it, was never going to be the same.

Over the past 8 years, a lot has happened. I graduated with my Masters degree and moved 1089 miles south to Sarasota, Florida and began my teaching career. I met my husband. We got married. We switched schools. I donated my hair twice. We traveled to visit friends. We survived 4 hurricanes in one year. We bought a condo, then lost it. I ran 3 marathons. We coached track together. We took our first cruise. We turned 30. We bought Vespa scooters. We had a baby. My husband was named Teacher of the Year. I earned my National Board certification. We moved back to Ohio.

A lot of living has happened in 8 years. I can’t tell you what my first day of teaching my first class was like. I can’t tell you what my husband was wearing when I first met him. I can’t describe how I felt the day my husband asked me to marry him. I can’t tell you what my first taste of crème brulee from our favorite restaurant C’est la Vie tasted like or what the Sarasota beach smells like. But I can tell you everything about the day Paul died. And the days or months that followed. I can describe to you what it was like to wake up every morning for months to my parents crying. I can tell you about how when I stood up to speak at his funeral, everyone was crying before I even spoke and I couldn't even look at my own mother. I can tell you about how I couldn’t get close to anyone for fear that they too, might leave me. I can tell you what I was wearing at the hospital that Sunday morning (red hooded sweatshirt) and I can describe the duffel bag that I packed for my mom and dad since they stayed the night at the hospital. I can tell you what it was like to not be able to sleep for weeks because I couldn’t shut off my brain.

I often wonder how my life would have been different had Paul made it through. I would have never moved to Florida, never met my husband and therefore never had Juliette. In a strange or twisted way, I feel as if I need to thank Paul, for allowing me to grow and experience the things I did after he had gone. I can’t smell his cologne in my car anymore like I used to or feel his presence, but I know he’s somewhere out there in the universe. Thanks, Paulie, for giving me the strength to give just about anything a shot. Thank you, for reminding me that no matter what happens, you've always got family.

RIP Paul Geoffrey Price 02/22/2004