Day 13: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?

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I am what many would consider a veteran teacher. I am in my 11th year of teaching. For ten years, I taught in a low-income, title-one, and sub-urban school. The racial make-up was about 50% African American, 40% Caucasian, and 10% two or more races. According to the website, www.schooldigger.com, 100% of students are recipients of free/reduced school lunches.

This year, I decided to apply somewhere closer to home. I was blessed with two interviews, and offered 3 teaching positions; one of which I accepted which is about a 10 minute drive from home!

The school I currently teach in is also a low-income and title-one, but urban school. The racial makeup is about 94% African American, 2% Caucasian, and 3% two or more races. Based on information also from www.schooldigger.com, about 53% of students are eligible for free/reduced school lunches. It is the largest elementary (K-5) school in the district, but smaller than and houses less students than the school from which I transferred from.

Leaving my former district, I felt I was at the top of my game (but still with room for improvement). I may have been overly praised and evaluated, and I may have been led to believe I was a better teacher than what I really was because this year, I feel like a novice. But then again maybe I really was a great teacher for those students, in that school, at that time. Nevertheless, the change in schools has been a rude awakening for me.

Change is never easy. In fact, it is unavoidable, can help us grow, is often scary, but often brings opportunities. Many times we fight change. I actually fought changing my approach to teaching in my new classroom this year. I thought my routines, procedures, and style of teaching would be just as effective in my new home school as they were in my previous one. Y’all, I was all the way wrong, but I did not want to change. I didn’t think I needed to change. I wanted to change the kids and make them fit into my box. What was I thinking? That sounds like a teacher with a fixed mindset, right?

Things are getting better in my new classroom. I am actually teaching and not always dealing with discipline issues. I can say that this change has a lot to do with me being willing to change and not forcing my students to fit my mold. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe each and every child in my class can and will succeed. I believe they will not only meet my level of expectation, but will rise above my expectations. However, I had to meet them where they were.

On this 13th day of the “What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R. Series,” I want to talk about the final E in T.E.A.C.H.E.R.

As a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R, we should always:

ENGAGE WITH STUDENTS AND EMBRACE CULTURE

Upon applying to my new school district, I knew that I would more than likely teach in a

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school that was considered high needs. A high-needs school according to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is defined as “within the top quartile of elementary and secondary schools statewide, as ranked by the number of unfilled, available teacher positions; or is located in an area where at least 30 percent of students come from families with incomes below the poverty line; or an area with a high percentage of out-of-field-teachers, high teacher turnover rate, or a high percentage of teachers who are not certified or licensed.” I was used to working in this kind of school with these statistics. Because I felt this way, I made a few assumptions. You know what they say about that…

It was then that I stopped assuming I knew best, and started over by asking questions. The beginning of my school year was more challenging than even my first year out of graduate school. In my blog post, “Caveats to Day 13: An Overwhelming and Under-Prepared Beginning” I describe in detail what made this year more challenging than I anticipated in addition to my asinine assumptions. Click here to read or listen to a short blog post about them.)

On Engaging with Students

Now that you have the facts, starting over was challenging. I had to let go of what was, and focus on what is. I had to commit to getting to know my colleagues, students and their families and stop comparing them to my former colleagues and students. I used the 2 by 10 Strategy attributed to Robert Wlodkowski. I spent 2 minutes (give or take a few seconds) each day for 10 days in a row talking to my students about anything they wanted to talk about. Most times it was an impromptu conversation in the morning after Harambe, at their lockers, in the hall during transitions, before or after lunch, during dismissal, or during our morning circle.

This strategy is recommended for teachers to use with at-risk students. It is really easy to use if you only have a few at risk students in your classroom, but when the entire class is at-risk, it takes a bit more elbow grease. Some students needed more than 10 days. I can tell that it is working because my students and I get along well. (They don’t always get along well with each other, so I still have some work to do there.) Additionally, another educator in the building brought to my attention that one young lady in my class this year is 100% better behaved now than she was last year. She said, “I don’t know what you did, but keep doing it. She’s a totally different person. 100% better.” After I heard a few things about this student and her behavior last year, I was committed to “Making her My Girl!” I’m so glad I chose to engage with her and the rest of my scholars.

The strategy is not a magic trick and it’s nothing miraculous. It simply helps teachers build better relationships and rapports with their students.

On Embracing Culture

Because nearly 100% of the students in my 4th and 5th grade classes are African American (this has never been true for me prior to this year), I feel that it is important to mention this next statement. As an African American teacher in the United States, who attended a public school district (before having a major goal to eliminate racial disparities in achievement levels of African-American students) and a predominantly white University (before it had the Center for Urban Education), I was taught using a curriculum that was primarily and essentially Eurocentric. Because this is the education system in which I was molded, I am sure the way I teach is also Eurocentric in nature.

What does this mean? It means I am unable to connect with my students culturally. You may think that it does not matter because I look like my students. We know that color matters. YES, WE DO. We may not want it to matter, but that’s the unfortunate basis of the United States of America. The fact is that the color of my skin DOES NOT ALWAYS afford me opportunities to better relate to students and families that look like me. Culture is more than skin deep. My historical education has limited my ability to truly understand who I am as an African American. Because of this, I am unable to fully understand who my students are and furthermore unable to help them fully understand who they are.

According to Afroetry of www.afroectic.com in an article titled, Education: Europe-Centered (Eurocentrism) vs. African-Centered, we were and “are typically taught that human civilization begins with Greece and Rome…[and]…further educated within the framework of Greek, Roman and European culture. The substance of what [is] learn[ed] is rooted in the western stories [we] learn to read from, the mathematical concepts [we] learn in school, and the science applications that are rooted in the observations of white males.” To read this article in its entirety, please click here. We all know that human civilization began well before Greece and Rome.

I mention this to say that no matter where you teach, no matter your race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or cultural background, it’s our responsibility to learn about who we teach, and intentionally take the time to do so. We do not have to act or dress or pretend to be something we are not to understand those that we teach. It’s unnecessary to appropriate. These things make us look as if we are trying too hard, being fake, and typically backfire. It’s always best to Keep it 100 by being Audaciously Authentic. But we do need to talk to our students and their families, listen to them, respect them, and value the differences and the similarities we share. We should read what they read, watch what they watch, and go where they go. We should read about their history with non-judgmental lenses on. This is no easy enterprise, but I believe it is worth it for us as educators and furthermore for the development of our students, schools, country, and world.

In conclusion, although I am African American, my mindset is Eurocentric at best. There is nothing wrong with that. However, as Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome say in the title of their book, the “Kids Deserve It.” Our scholars deserve renewed teachers that engage with them and are willing to and able to embrace their culture.

I learned a valuable lesson this year by changing school districts. I learned what worked before, may not work later, and in order to meet the needs of my students, I need to be a great teacher for these students, in this school, at this time, every time.

Until then, Happy Teaching
Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher
American and African American History Resources:
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson
Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James.

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye…Deuces to Another School Year!

Hello my fellow educators! Happy first day of https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/3NHfaIO3ELy1nm9tpMwzp9” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>summer!

Do you remember this song? I’m sure you do!

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Image by Angela George, CC BY-SA 3.0

My last day with students was Wednesday, June 7th. My official last day was Monday, June 12th.

Its So Hard to Say GoodbyeBelieve it or not, the last day of school is a bitter sweet day for us teachers. Many of us finally get to do all of the things we had to give up during the school year such as working out, spending ample quality time with our families, watching our favorite prime time shows, reading, vacationing, doing absolutely nothing…ya’ll know what I’m talking about. 😉

But why is the last day or end of the school year so hard to say goodbye to? Why is it bitter sweet? Different teachers have different reasons. Consider the two following experiences teachers can have.

 

 

Did you have a particularly rough year with a group of students who’s behavior seemed

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

beyond your control, a lack of support from administrators, colleagues, and your students’ families? If so, I’m sure you couldn’t wait to see many of your students leave! Maybe there were a select few students that you cherished throughout the school year, but overall you dreaded waking up and walking into your building each day. You probably even counted down until the last minute! You may have shed a tear or two out of shear joy because the students were leaving, aaaannnd maybe for the few that touched your heart. If you were in this situation this year, I get it. All you may want to so is sit back, relax, and forget all about the previous school year. These years are the years that make some teachers leave the profession. If you are reading this, and considering leaving the field, I urge you to think hard about that decision and refocus by remembering your why. This profession needs good, dedicated teachers like you.

On the other hand, maybe you had the most uplifting school year ever! Maybe your administrators, colleagues, and families were a gift sent from heaven!  Whatever you needed, you received it. If this is your experience, you may not want to see your former students go out of a fear that next year may not be the same. (Unless you teach in a school where students loop). Your students may have caused you some grief and had a few rough days here and there (especially at the end of the year), but overall, they respected you as the teacher, families were available, behaviors were not too out of control, and if they were, they were dealt with effectively and fairly. You may have even succumbed to tears before the students exited the building too, but only because you will truly miss them.  Although it seems you may have had a rather easy school year (I know that is never true), you deserve the much needed R&R the summer offers as well. This may be a year, where you may also consider leaving the classroom, because you want to impact children, teachers, and the field of education on a broader scale. In a sense, you may also be looking for a fresh start.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in between these two extremes. You may have had extreme life changing events happen this year.  Maybe you married the love of your life; had your first, second, or third child; adopted; became a caretaker for a parent. Maybe you had a rather difficult personal and/or family situation to withstand this year. Maybe you lost a parent or another close relative; someone near and dear to you was diagnosed with a terminal illness; a significant other lost their job; a near fatal accident; miscarriages and/or infertility. In case you’re wondering, yes, I do know teachers who have experienced one or more of these expected and unexpected events within this past school year. I’m sure you can name one in your circle of teachers as well. I personally had to deal with losing my grandmother back in March. She was the glue that held my family together. I love you, Ganny!

Regardless of how your school year may have fared, leaving the school year behind is almost often tinged with sadness with some gladness.

I will truly miss all of my lovelies. There were days when they annoyed me to no end, but then there were times when they made me truly love coming to work. I personally did not cry the last day of school, but the day before, I was a water head, as my dad used to say.

As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, remember that self-care is an important part of summer vacation, which makes this time of year so important and necessary for us. However, let’s make it a goal to take it a step further next year, and practice self-care throughout the year as best as we can. You can read my post on how to prevent and reduce back to school stress here. This will make us less likely to get burnt out, and less likely to count down the days until summer vacation next year.

But right now, I want each of you to enjoy your summer to the max! Go to the beach, workout, sleep in (or not), go on a road trip, have a day in and binge on Netflix or Amazon Prime, spend unlimited amounts of time with your significant other, children, parents, and/or friends and other family members. Do whatever it is your heart desires to take care of yourself!

I also challenge you to reflect on what parts of the year were good and not so good based on what you had control over in your own classroom.  Take time to learn new things, read old and new books, attend conferences, take summer courses, watch podcasts, follow this blog or any blog that is there to motivate, encourage, and inspire teachers, and do whatever it takes to further develop and enhance your teaching craft.

Remember, it’ll only be about 6-8 weeks before it’s so hard to say goodbye to summer! Oooooooooooooo!!!

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

If you like, love, or enjoyed what you have read follow the blog and follow me on PinterestLinkedIn, and Facebook

Until then, Happy Teaching! and Deuces!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

P.S. Here is an amazing interview on teacher self care, with two teachers I follow and admire, Jennifer Gonzalez and Angela Watson. Both are educators, bloggers, and Nationally Board Certified Teachers. Check it out by clicking here here.

 

 

The Tightrope of Life

My Day

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Image courtesy of Creative Commons-Google Images and Pic Collage. 

At the beginning of this school year, I woke up at least two to three days a week at 4:30 am to get to the gym by 5 am, to work out until 6-6:15 am, to get back home by 7 am to get my son ready for daycare (Mr. Smith takes him to daycare), and leave the house by 7:30-7:45am, to be at work by 8:30am.

 

Once at work, I completed all of my teaching duties including: attending morning meetings, making copies, communicating with families and colleagues, having my students’ assignments and activities ready for the day, handling any attendance, bus, or personal issues students were having, getting prepared for the next day, organizing my classroom, and a laundry load of others things teachers are responsible for doing. By the time I usually left, it was about 5pm on an early day. Some days I forced myself to leave at 4pm which is my school’s ending time. Other days I had to leave at 4:45pm to ensure I picked my son up from daycare on time. Once or twice a week, I stayed in my school building until 6pm-7pm.

It takes me roughly 30-40 minutes to get to and from work. I made it home between 5:30-7:30 pm on any given day depending errands I may have needed to run. Upon getting home, I was able to enjoy some quality time with my son and husband. We’d eat dinner, play, listen to music, watch some television, read a story, or go for an evening walk, and then bathe, and get the baby ready for bed. After putting the baby down for a good night’s rest, my husband and I clean house and prepare for the next day (that’s if he was not working the evening or night shift at his part time job) by getting our meals prepared and clothes laid out. By the time we’re finished, it is 9:00pm or later. We usually watch a little TV from 9-10pm. At this time I may or may not have graded some papers, written some ideas for the blog, or worked on Component 4 for National Board. By the time I was finished with this, it was about 11-11:30pm. It’s time for bed. I usually read for about 15-30 minutes before I turned off my lamp and lay down for some beauty rest.

My Life

I followed this schedule for about two months. When my husband started working his part time job over night and coming home at 6:30am, I was no longer able to get up and get out to the gym in the morning. I have about 10 extra lbs. on my invisible 6-pack to prove it! Some of you may say this is an excuse, and I can workout at home, and you know what, you’re right, it is an excuse. However, what’s not an excuse is the fact that I was tired. Yep, Tired with a capital T. Each morning I attempted to wake up to work out at home, my body said no, and my head said h*ll-to-the no. I was starting to wake up with headaches. You know that feeling you get when you drink a little bit too much of fermented grapes? I felt like that, and I was only drinking water and coffee! I knew I needed more rest, and that’s what I did.

I knew that if I continued on this path, my mental and physical health would suffer. I must confess that I was, and I still am walking the tightrope of life.

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Image courtesy of Creative Commons-Google Search and Pic Collage.

An Attempt to Balance Work-Life Demands

“Walking the Tightrope of Life: Refuel, Renew and Re-center Your Work-Life Demands,” is Sharise Nance’s second book due to be released on April 1, 2017. I am happy to be the first to say that I cannot wait to read this book! I personally know Mrs. Nance to be honest, direct, and passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of everyone she encounters, and it seems that this book will back up how highly I think of her and how much I respect her as well as her work.

Sharise Nance, MSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and co-founded of Hand-in-Hand Counseling Services located in Penn Hills, PA. A Pittsburgh native hailing from the Homewood/East Liberty neighborhoods, Mrs. Nance has over 17 years of experience in the helping profession. Since I have known her, she has always been interested in the human mind and has always wanted to understand and help others understand how relationships and the environment affect our lives and vice versa. This book is a prime example of that.

“Walking the Tightrope of Life…” is written for us, dear readers! We are working day-in and day-out attempting to make positive change in the lives of others. We are teachers, nurses, counselors, mentors, tutors, custodians, politicians, police officers, etc. We work for others! We experience times when we are unable to disconnect from the work day and furthermore struggle with emotional, mental, and physical burnout because of all that we do for others. We sometimes forget about our needs because we are so focused on the needs of our students, clients, patients, colleagues, employees, and employers while at work. Then we continue to neglect our needs when we get home because we are now focused on our spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, and extended family, or even close friends. While you should be gracious because you are able to help others, it’s time to refocus and renew you!

You Are and Can Be a RenewED Teacher Too!Attitude_of_Gratitude

As a RenewED Teacher, I do not proclaim to know it all. As I reflect, since I have begun writing this blog, I really thought being renewed was the end point. I am learning it is a process, a cycle of continually working to become a better teacher and person. The RenewED Teacher doesn’t become complacent and plateau when they reach a goal. The RenewED Teacher realizes that when one goal has been accomplished, it is time to set a new one. The RenewED teacher has an attitude of gratitude and is thankful for even the smallest opportunity to help others. The RenewED Teacher is always willing to learn something new, take risks, and share with others. This book is a chance for me and you to do exactly that!

The RenewED Teacher also understands that balancing work-life demands is not a one-time occasion in a person’s life. Rather it’s the ability to adapt and be flexible when work adjustments and life altering events take place.

The Challenge

I want to challenge you! I want you to go on a journey with me. I want you to Refuel, Renew and Re-center your work-life demands. You deserve it! You work hard for others 5 or more days/week! Take some time to find some balance. Take some time to “practice good self-care as well as find renewal in [your] work in order to experience more balance and satisfaction in [your] professional and personal lives.”

Your challenge is to read the book, share your comments here, and tell us how this book has helped or can help you balance your work-life demands! I cannot wait to hear from you!

Vitamin_C_HealingYou can order a copy of “Walking the Tightrope of Life: Refuel, Renew and Re-center Your Work-Life Demands,” by Sharise Nance by clicking here.

WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY? 

I am raffling a free autographed copy of the book to the first person to like this post, leave a comment, follow and subscribe to my blog. Please e-mail your first and last name along with your mailing address to renewedteacher@gmail.com. 

Once you receive the copy of your book, feel free to visit Sharise on April 1, 2017 from 12pm-3pm for The Book Release Signing of her 2nd Publication! I will be there. Will you?

Click this link to see Sharise on the Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show.

Air date: Saturday, March 17, 2017.

If you really want to work on yourself, Mrs. Nance will be hosting a workshop on April 22, 2017 called, “Refuel, Renew, & Re-Center Your Work-Life Demands. See the flyer below. And I hope to see you soon!

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As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s make it a top priority to take care of ourselves first. Remember, as the old cliché goes: “Take care of yourself first or you will have nothing left to give others.” Click here for more self-care and inspirational quotes!

Also, remember to follow the blog or follow me on Pinterest

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher