Posted in Advice for rookies, Cross-curricular instruction, Differentiated instruction, Instructional design

Chapter 60: A Word of Caution

Good grief. Has it really been two years since I last updated? Sorry about that; I plead grad school and licensure dossier.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring younger teachers, coordinating cross-curricular projects, and working with prefabbed materials to try to save time, streamline my planning, optimize lessons for remote delivery, etc., etc., etc. Here is a thing I know:

You cannot trust prefabbed materials.

Every prepackaged curriculum has gaps. Even a comprehensive package will lose pieces over time. If your district has been using a particular curriculum for more than a year or two, it is probably safe to assume that you are missing at least one significant tool. Maybe your teacher’s manual never found its way to you and is instead on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.” Maybe the district decided to save money by skimping on consumables, so you don’t have a full class set of whichever workbook you’re supposed to have. Maybe the program itself ignores the importance of differentiation, so it won’t work for the kid who is reading three years below grade level or can’t remember his multiplication tables or transferred in from another state in the middle of a semester or [insert obstacle here].

Most of us are aware of this problem, so we supplement. If we have time, we sit down, comb through the next unit, figure out what’s missing, and create materials to fill the gaps. If we don’t have time, we grab whatever we can find at Lakeshore Learning or Teachers Pay Teachers or wherever we like to buy stuff for our classrooms, and we poke it into the holes in hopes that it will keep the wind from howling in through the cracks.

It’s OK to do that. You are under zero obligation to create every single assignment from scratch. But if you’re going to use prefabbed materials, you owe it to your students to curate those materials carefully and make sure that A.) they actually do what you need them to do, and B.) they don’t give conflicting directions or information.

This time of year is crazy, and we’re all in survival mode. I get it. I do. I’m writing this post because I started a cross-curricular project with three colleagues and completely failed to vet their materials before tossing them on Google Classroom. My students and I are now living with the ensuing chaos, and I have no one to blame but myself. Reading all the materials and talking to colleagues about how to reconcile the conflicts would have completely eliminated this problem and spared my kids a lot of stress. They deserve better from me, and you can bet they’ll get it next time.

Learn from my mistakes. Vet your materials, and make modifications as needed. Investing a few minutes now can save you and your kids a lot of time and heartache later.

Posted in Differentiated instruction, Special ed, Student engagement, Success, Teachable moments, Winning

Chapter 53: Community Policing

A few weeks ago, a pair of sheriff’s deputies paid a visit to our campus. Visits from LEOs aren’t unheard of, but they’re not super common, either, and the sight of two uniformed officers walking into my classroom startled a student who is still learning some social skills and isn’t comfortable with surprises.

I told him the deputies were just there because they were hoping he’d read them a story. (He’s been working on his fluency a lot lately, so I hoped he’d take the bait.) I asked the deputies to sit down and give him a little space while he processed the situation, which they kindly did. Right about then, his mom arrived to pick him up from school, but the deputies stuck around for a bit, and before they left, I got their names and a mailing address for the sheriff’s office.

The next day, my student wrote a letter inviting them back to hear him read, and when I saw one of the deputies at a school event a few days later, I asked him to give me a heads-up before their next visit so I could be sure my student wasn’t caught off-guard.

I got a text from him yesterday morning, saying they were going to be on campus later. I was out sick but immediately notified my boss, who ensured my student was prepared.

This morning, when I returned to school, my student greeted me with the news that he’d read to his new friends, and they had promised to return with patches for him and his classmates one day soon. He even got out his iPod and proudly showed me a video someone had taken of him reading and joking with them.

I’ve worked for newspapers in three states. I’ve spent a lot of time at crime scenes. I’ve met some pretty great cops. And I think I speak with authority when I say: This is EXACTLY how community policing is supposed to work.

Thanks to the patience of two friendly deputies, my student’s perception of law enforcement has changed from one of fear (which could lead to potentially dangerous misunderstandings when he is older) to one of camaraderie. Bonus: He got to practice reading and socializing a little bit in the process. And he is hella excited about that patch.

I hope he made their day as much as they made his.