Monday, October 21, 2013

Aren't Teaching Blogs Just the WORST?

I mean, does it get any worse?

But really, they can be unhealthy for me at times. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love them because, hey, free stuff and creative ideas!

I hate them because . . .

Well, I think the best way to describe it is by this ecard I came across: - May your life be as perfect as you make it seem on Facebook.

Alls I need to do is tweak it a little bit and it becomes: - May your classroom be as perfect as you make it seem on your blog.

And therein lies my problem with teaching blogs. They are just too darn perfect. I start out happily clicking through pages excited to try new ideas and I end by crying and typing up my resignation letter.

I know the blogs aren't that accurate. I know those teachers' jobs aren't perfect and they have bad teaching days too. But I get fooled far too often. Look at all their creative lesson plans! And games! And look how cute their classroom is! And they made individual Easter baskets for each student! And, oh, they have a cooking blog too! And they just got a book published that they wrote in between changing the diapers of their newborn twins that I guess they somehow take care of!

Welcome to my classroom! The walls are made of gumdrops!

And what have I done? Oh, today I tried to teach that one math concept again that about three of the students understood. I was tired and got pretty frustrated with some of the students when I shouldn't have. My first thought this morning was, "Tomorrow's Friday!" 

That was my day. 

I don't think it's a bad thing to make an upbeat blog that focuses on the good parts of teaching. The problem is when the reader can't see that the blogs are only showing the good parts. These blogs are only showing a sliver of the whole picture. The good bits. The helpful bits.

Even my blog is mostly showing the good parts. Not because I'm trying to hide the bad parts, but because the internet is a very public and permanent place and isn't always an appropriate place for rants and complaining.

Someone should tell the people of Youtube.

I don't write blog posts saying, "Well, today I taught short vowels for the 57th time and it was pretty boring. I was tired, so I left out the fun part and we mostly did rote memorization. I daydreamed about going home for most of math."

I don't write that, but I could. Not most days, but many days. Lots of identical posts. But it would be so boring and unhelpful that even I wouldn't read it. Why prolong my monotonous ineffective day by writing about it? I'd rather write about my meaningful days, and the same goes for other teachers.

When I get overwhelmed by how amazing all these teachers are, I try to remember a few things I've learned over the years.

1. Every Teacher Has a Weakness

It's true, you know. Not that you should go pointing out teachers' weaknesses once you find them, but it can be helpful to remember. Sometimes I'll see a teacher that I am convinced is PERFECT. They've got everything down! But if you watch any teacher, or anyone, long enough you start to notice something missing. There are gaps in what seems like a perfect exterior. Sometimes the gaps are huge. Maybe a teacher has incredible, fun, and creative lessons planned every day, but they have huge behavior issues in the classroom that render the lessons completely pointless.  I know that has happened to me.

Often when I see a teacher who I think is perfect and there's no way I could be as good as them, what I'm really doing is comparing my weaknesses as a teacher to their strengths as a teacher. It's not a fair comparison.

Maybe if you just give it your all!

2. Teaching Isn't EVERYTHING

What? Yes it is! What about how all during my teaching program I kept hearing about how I'm going to change every child's life I meet? What about all those stories about inspiring people who credit their greatness to an elementary teacher? I'm CHANGING THE WORLD!

Calm down, I didn't say teaching wasn't important. I'm just saying it's not the only important thing. There are other important things in life too. 

All those things they tell you about teachers changing the world are encouraging during your teaching program, but they become nightmarish when you realize you aren't a perfect teacher each day. If you're not inspiring every child every day, well then logic says the only alternative is you're ruining them for life.

But you're not. Teaching is very important. And teaching is also not the only factor in a child's success in life. If you didn't teach a child fractions in the best way possible, they probably won't end up in jail later.

Except this guy.

3. If You Give 100% to Teaching, Something Else Will Suffer

Like I said, teaching isn't everything. We have other areas of our lives. If you devote 100% of your time and energy to becoming a great teacher, some area in your life will suffer. You can't live at the school 12 hours a day and come home and grade papers and design lessons for a couple more hours without some area of your life being affected. If you do this, the outcome probably won't be that you're the best teacher ever. The outcome will probably be that your health will decline, your relationships will suffer, and you will burn out and quit teaching in a couple of years, which isn't helpful to your future students at all.

Even if you do decide to devote 100% of your time to teaching, you will still find you can't give 100% to every area. You have to divide your time and energy between preparing lessons, communication with parents, collaborating with colleagues, and participating in various teacher teams. I don't know what the right balance is, but it's probably different for everyone. So when you see teacher X giving 100% to area 4, remember, some other area is suffering. Don't feel like you're a failure for not doing something that's impossible.

Well. Well, if I didn't just give a motivational speech, eh? Well I'll be. But I do hope it can help some struggling teacher at some point. 

Gooooooooooood luck. Teaching isn't so bad!

P.S. You probably will change some lives, even if you feel ineffective. They weren't completely lying to you in your program.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Synonym Game

I suppose it's time for a synonym lesson plan. Synonyms are totally in right now.

Here's a quick lesson plan and synonym game I use to introduce the concept with a little fun. This synonym lesson plan and game would be suitable for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. You could use it to introduce the concept to older grades, but you would likely need higher-level words for the game.

Anticipatory Set:

Tell them this story, "I went outside and the trees were pretty. The grass was pretty. The sky was pretty. The lake was pretty. Everything was pretty. The end."

Ask if they liked the story and if not, ask them why. Explain that if you use a word over and over it can get kind of boring and doesn't make for a very good story. Change the story to this, "I went outside and the trees were pretty. The grass was beautiful. The sky was stunning. The lake was lovely. Everything was gorgeous."

While this isn't exactly the best story, it still shows what synonyms are and why they are useful. 

Some problems you might run into: 
  • You'll need to establish that synonyms are not and never will be cinnamon. Good luck. Once you get them actually saying synonym, half your battle is over.


Explain that synonyms are words that mean about the same thing. We use them because it makes our stories and our conversations more interesting. Cut out these cards (or write them on index cards) and present the cards one at a time. Model naming a synonym of the presented word, then have the students guess for the remaining words.

Visit here for the download of the synonym and antonym matching game:

Some problems you might run into: 

  • A student might answer "hopping" for "hop" or they may just say a word they associate with hop, like, "bunny." A sentence prompt would help here. Give an example sentence saying, "I could say, 'he can hop so high.' or I could say, 'He can ____ so high. What would fit in the blank?" Try putting their guess in the blank and they will see why it doesn't work.

  • Other  students might say, "pop" for the word, "hop".  Explain that you're not working on rhyming words, you're working on words that mean the same thing. I've seen this several times. They mix up "sounds the same" with "mean the same." 

Reinforcement Activity:

Time for some fun! Now use the cards to play a memory game with the students. I split the sets into 12 cards (make sure each set has 6 pairs), because 24 seems to be too much for my students. I also make several sets and put the children into groups of 3-4 to play the game. 

Demonstrate how to play the game by flipping over a card and looking for a match. Remind them you aren't looking for exact matches, you are looking for synonyms.

Some problems you might run into:

  • The first time I tried a game like this with my first graders it ended with several kids crying, lots of angry outbursts, and one kids proclaiming that it isn't fair if everyone doesn't win! We have to keep going until everyone wins! Oh, but how didn't I see this coming? First graders are not accustomed to losing and they are definitely aren't good at controlling emotions. But that doesn't mean you have to skip the game all together. It's a good idea to go for cooperative games often, but it's also good for them to learn how to lose once in a while. This is what I did before playing the synonym game this year, and we didn't have any problems:
  1. Explain that someone is going to lose. Most people will lose, in fact. Start by saying, "We are going to play a game. Do you think everyone will win the game? No. One person will win, and the others will lose. We're going to work on being good sports whether we win or lose."
  2. Brainstorm how to be a good sport if you lose and if you win. Suggest saying, "Good game." and not flaunting if you win.
  3. Acknowledge that the kids might feel angry if they lose, but help them understand that they don't have to act on those feelings. I talk about this a lot with my students and it generally goes well. They might not be able to control how they feel, but they can control how they act.
  4. Let them know that this is a trial run, and if they show they can be good sports you'll let them play games in the future. If they are poor sports, tell them you'll stop the game immediately and won't introduce games again until you feel they are more ready.