Thursday, October 29, 2009

What a surprise: Teacher Talk Strains Voices, Especially For Women

ScienceDaily published an article this week entitled Teacher Talk Strains Voices, Especially For Women. A study by the National Center for Voice and Speech (NCVS) concluded that female teachers use their voices 10% more than their male counterparts while teaching, and 7% more at home. The deputy director of the NCVS alluded to a higher number of voice problems in females, although the article failed to enumerate the type and severity of those problems. So, I'll have to fill in my own details:

I probably do talk more than my male colleagues, although I doubt that I speak louder. Perhaps my "teaching" voice is louder as compared to my everyday voice, though - I've always been one of those weaker speakers, despite my best strengthening efforts. You'd think that constant talking since the start of my career would help, but it hasn't, really.

I do have a number of voice problems. I'm recovering from the flu, which hit me like a bus last week, and my first symptom was a sore throat and a strained voice. Yes, strained like the peas meant to be fed with a small rubber-coated spoon. Mushy and kinda gross.

This is my 6th year of teaching, but it's the first in which I haven't lost my voice the second week of school. Also the first when my calves aren't killing me at the end of the day, but that's due in part to my decision that it really is okay to wear sneakers to school.

My singing voice has gotten worse. It was already pretty bad to begin with, but now it's absolutely horrible. I may also be losing my hearing.

When will OSHA recognize this as a safety hazard and require school districts to purchase those cool teacher microphones that hang around your neck?

Sweet Success

A gigantic environmentally-friendly lightbulb flashed on in my class yesterday. One student, whom I'll call Emily because that's totally not her name (and I'm sad about the lack of a new Bones episode this week) finally figured out how to write! I'm not quite sure what happened. I had already given detailed instructions, and this is my third year as her Language Arts teacher so I KNOW that she's been taught this stuff before, but she's just never really done well with writing.

During the after-school homework center yesterday, Emily was a little distracted by her friends (completely engrossed in a conversation), so I separated the group. Not an uncommon occurence. Instead of sitting and pouting like some of them tend to do, she started working on the book report. She needed more guidance, so I gave her the same step-by-step instructions I've been teaching her class since 2007. This was the time! It worked! She had already read her book carefully, which may have been the missing ingredient before. She took the instructions, worked on them, brought her writing to me to check, revised, checked it again, revised it again, and ended up with a composition that rivals the top students in the class!

Emily was completely shocked with herself, and I think I am too. Honestly, if I hadn't watched her write it, I would have doubted her honesty.

What in incredible boost this is for both of us! Emily is a good kid, and if she doesn't always work as hard as she could, she has shown the desire to do well. Algebra has been a pain for her, and I've seen her self-confidence take a blow, but now she knows, like I already knew, that she's capable.

Lesson learned for me, too. Even though I've been with them for a really long time, a number of my students might need just one more explanation, just a little bit more help, so they can get it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Promethean Training San Francisco

The alarm went off waaaaay too early for a Saturday morning, and I found myself blinded by the rising sun in my rear view mirror as I headed up to The City (that's San Francisco for you non-Bay Area friends) to O'Connell High School for a Promethean training conference.

I arrived in time to check in, pick up my pre-printed name tag and stylish Promethean-orange gym bag full of goodies, and select my breakout sessions. Well, that took slightly longer than it should have. This interesting lady must have had an earlier morning than mine. Based on the glazed look on her face, I don't think she was being pushy, I suspect that in her altered mindset she just didn't see me 2 steps away from the table. She stood in front of the sign in sheet I wanted for several minutes, gazing as if analyzing the effect of the black ink and white paper on the orange tablecloth, writing nothing, then turned around, gave me a Luna Lovegood-esque smile, and wandered along to get in someone else's path.

The bag full of goodies was nice, but mean. A USB drive (4G, baby!) with all of the day's presentations, a cheap-looking pen that writes really well, a folder with maps and schedules and such, a lanyard to hold our ActivPens (remember my earlier post about the, and (drumroll please), an ActivExpression device. What? Really? They're GIVING us one of these? Wait, why are they only giving us one? Are we supposed to use it today and then give it back? As these thoughts of wonderment raced through my head, my greedy paws reached down, rummaging through to get a firm fingers grasped the device...

...and sank about 1/8th of an inch into the soft rubber foam.

My heart sank, and I'm sure someone with a hidden camera was laughing at my look of dismay as I discovered that no, Promethean was not struck by a sudden sense of generosity (that would come later), but rather had given us stress-ball-like things in the SHAPE of the ActivExpression devices (seriously, if you haven't clicked the link yet, check it out. These things are amazing!).

Still, the USB drive and the pen and the bag were pretty cool, and I was glad to see that they printed out as few things as possible. Smart people.

After a super-healthy carb-and-sugar breakfast of my favorite type of donut (maple-glazed old-fashioned), my favorite bagel (blueberry with strawberry jam), and some decent decaf coffee with real milk (bless these people!), I made my way into the general session and sat in the back with some other people from my district.

It's a good thing we were sitting in the back, because...well...I'll let my twitter posts tell you.

Wow. They just started the mood music. Please let this be a joke!about 11 hours ago from txt
#promethean it doesn't sound like a joke...about 11 hours ago from txt
#promethean the mood music is still going! I wonder if this guy brings the pianist to classroom...about 11 hours ago from txt
#promethean this should have ended 2O minutes ago. At least. Is he this self-aggrandizing in his classroom?about 11 hours ago from txt
#promethean this guy has no problem complimenting himself. Okay, you made a difference. Great. Now teach us something!about 11 hours ago from txt
#promethean this music makes me feel like i'm on hold...about 11 hours ago from txt
#promethean he's done! The whole message was "you touch lives. Don't give up." thanks, i didn't know that!about 11 hours ago from txt

Now, that's not the whole story (check my twitter feed for that), but it is the reason why it's a REALLY good thing we were sitting in the back. It was hard to keep from giggling! I did enjoy seeing the multimedia magazine his class produced, and the presentation gave me some ideas of things I could do with my own students.

When the keynote speaker was done with his Hallmark card, we went to our breakout sessions. Having suffered through two years of BTSA, I appreciated the simplicity of this conference: we went to a total of two breakout sessions, 2 hours each, and learned enough information to be useful but not so much that we were completely overwhelmed. No stupid activities, no patronizing or time-wasting presenters, just information and guided practice. In my first session, I learned how to use three of the slightly-more-complicated features of the software. The second session focused on the design of our classroom presentations (like a PowerPoint slideshow, only WAY better). It was led by the keynote speaker, and I was a little dubious after his silliness that morning, but it turned out to be informative and helpful. The first hour saw instruction and examples, and the second hour was help creating our own flipcharts. I learned that I can make 3-D slideshows. How cool is that?

The final session was a demonstration of super-cool features and devices followed by the afore-mentioned generosity. They raffled off technology stuff, including a class set of ActivExpression devices, which one of the Tech people from my district won! I was sitting right beside her, so I'm first on the list to borrow it :D

The conference was a lot of fun! They used the Giants - A's rivalry (this is the 20th anniversary of when the two teams played each other in the World Series) and had us each select a team to support. Most of us came dressed in our team colors, which eliminated the need for stupid ice-breakers. Of course, the balance was tipped toward the Giants, considering that the Promethean color is orange (and the Giants are a better team!). I learned some new skills, got the seeds of new ideas, and am ready to go improve my own instruction.

Yay for the Promethean!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Drama, advocacy, and oops...

This may come as a shock to you all, so please be sure you're sitting down.

Sometimes 8th grade students don't react in the way you intended.

Are you okay? Breathing? Should I get you some oxygen? Because I know that's a shock to your system!

Here's the story.

No, here's the background.

Our school has an Advisory class. Students in this class stay together for each subject instead of splitting up and going their separate ways. They have different teachers and go to different rooms, but we work to achieve truly tight-knit teams.

Sometimes that backfires.

Now here's the story.

On Friday, I checked homework for one of the classes, whose Advisory teacher happens to be fairly new to the school and is having a hard time being consistent with all-school practices. The Language Arts class usually ends with a reflection, and I started the time with a conversation about the homework that I had just checked. I explained that based on the quality of this work compared to what they have created in the past, I could tell that they were not using their homework and Advisory time well. After a brief discussion of what they could do and where they needed help, they started writing. The question for the written reflection had two parts: "Are you doing your best in Advisory?" and "What do you need to do to make your class better?"

Now, I expected that a few students might realize that their Advisory class could be a LOT better if they controlled themselves, rather than relying on the teacher to control them. They're not little children, after all. I hoped that they would step up and lead the class.

However, it slipped my mind that we've also been emphasizing the skill of self-advocacy. These students will be leaving our little cocoon next year and jumping into large high schools, and we've been talking a lot about how important is to speak up for what you need.

So, this class took the written reflection, and apparently combined it with the self-advocacy lessons...and had a class meeting during lunch. Based on the random conversations I heard after school, they drew up a list of everything that was wrong with their class, especially the Advisory teacher, and presented it to him after lunch. They chose to "make their Advisory better" by telling the teacher what was wrong with him!

I don't know much more than that, and I don't know how much to worry.

Are the kids truly working to improve their class, or have I given them silent permission to be rebellious? Is this going to deal a blow to the school culture, or will it be the crisis that turns us all toward a better path?

Am I going to be seen as an instigator? This other teacher and I don't always see eye-to-eye and, although I try to be professional, the kids have surely noticed by now, especially since he has made a habit of criticizing me in front of them while I'm in the room. I didn't actively want to cause trouble in this class, but trouble has been brewing since the first week of school. Am I an instigator? Is this my silent revenge?

How do I handle this?