Where are the Amazing Teachers? Closer Than You think!

This weeks posts=Teachers #1

Many people in many states are wondering, where are the awesome teachers? The one’s that will change the lives of their children, the one’s that will make the world a better place. I see posts on Facebook of parents excited (or not) over the teacher their child has for the upcoming year.

For me this is much like a lost set of keys. Sometimes you can look so hard you miss what is right in front of you. To realize the quality of those I am surrounded by I had to put myself out there. I applied to the New York State Master Teacher program where we had to teach a 10 minute lesson to other teachers. I was in a room with 6 other science teachers. All high level people. All striving to be apart of this program. As I sat nervously awaiting my presentation I observed the others. At one point I said “Wow-there are some amazing educators in this room”.

It took that lens. That step back for me to realize who I was surrounded by. Following that interview experience I stepped back in my own school. Rather than being a domineering force, I became more observant. I found myself in a perpetual state of awe at the work of those I am surrounded by.

My state of awe increased conversation with colleagues about their work in the classroom. We discussed the strategies they were using to peak interest and engage students. The ideas for ‘big lessons’ or ‘risky lessons’ they had. The great things that they are able to scaffold so students feel successful. The challenges they had with some. The success’ they have with others. These amazing educators were just outside my door, every day.

Through our conversations I also realize that my colleagues felt like I did. They are overwhelmed and dismayed by the general education ecosystem we were in. They were also optimistic about our work and what our students can accomplish. They are creative with strategies to navigate around the obstacles that lay ahead. They realize their role in shaping our community to be the best it can be and the role that our students will eventually play in it.

They are AMAZING.

Talking with friends in other school I can say that our world is filled of AMAZING educators. Educators who care about students. Educators who care about the future. There is no need to look any further. Where are the amazing educators?

Standing in the classrooms of your school. You didn’t lose your keys or your teachers. You’ve been so busy looking you’ve missed what is right in front of you.





1st Days of School-Secret Sauce #2

Yesterday I wrote about my ‘Secret Sauce #1’. Today ‘Secret Sauce #2’ gives another piece of how I’ve set students up for success in chemistry. 

Starting in 2014 I made a HUGE shift in my classroom structure to account for a downward trend in test scores and retention in science classes beyond chemistry. While I could foresee how the pieces would move together, there was one loose one.

The out of class assignment piece was loose because it forced me out of my comfort zone. All of our teachers had trouble getting 100% assignment completion. We repeatedly received training on the ‘challenging lives’ of our students. But that never resulted in increasing the amount of homework completed, it simply increased my apathy. I understand (though never experienced) the difficulties with students completing work at home. While I sympathized I knew that I would be letting students down if I accepted it as an excuse. I know our students are busy out of school with items that are important to them and are also learning experiences.

I chuckle because I developed the ‘secret sauce’ after talking with students who had earned good grades but weren’t the top students. After learning their perceptions I concluded 5 things:

-assignments must be meaningful to the class, important to do for understanding

-give options for how students could complete the assignment

-outline the assignments ahead of time, examples here, so students have choice in when to complete them

-more than an average of 15 minutes is too much

-all of the above must be evident from the start of the year

A week before school I send a mass email to parents and students about the first assignment, attaching the paper. I tell them it is different than what is usually assigned by teachers so I want to give them a heads up. I encourage them to email with questions. Parent engagement and knowledge is a KEY component of the ‘secret sauce’ for student success.

My first assignment now is to either a) read a piece of paper or b) watch a video where students make either a butterfly or a rose.   In both the paper and the video it states that students should write down the key steps because we will be using them the next day. When they arrive to class, they create their object and we place them around the room.

Do students not complete it? After two years of the method only a few (1 or 2). During the time that everyone is crafting they write about why they didn’t do it and how they are going to resolve that. By the next day, they have completed it.

High assignment completion allows the class to flow smoothly. Many students have said they like the assignments in Chemistry because they help them understand the material. For me, students arrive with a similar background of knowledge, leveling the field for all helping when utilizing new methods of instruction.  They also lessen my stress in hunting down students who haven’t done their work.

1st Days of School Secret Sauce #1

Secret Sauce #1

The first few days of school. A key time to get to know the students and lay the foundation for your class. Many teachers establish the guidelines going through rules. Some give their pre-tests. I strive to engage the students in ‘science’! My goal is to clearly demonstrate why what I ask them to do is essential for our class to run smoothly. I call this my ‘secret sauce for success’ during the remainder of the year.

The first day I randomly place students in groups. I have a very large box on the front table that contains a rather complex molecule. I outline who the groups are. The groups can:

-send one person for the first 15 seconds of a minute up to the table to look in the box. ONLY one person

-if two people leave their chairs the group forfeits that minute

-a group member may only speak to the group when their butt is in the chair

-remember–rule 1=to learn; rule 2=help others learn

The groups have 6 minutes accurate draw the creation that is located in a large box. Once posting these rules I very quickly say go and place a timer up on the board.

Usually chaos ensues for the next minute until someone in the group determines a plan. This helps me, as the teacher, learn who the alpha dogs are which will guide my groupings. I gain a sense of how students work with other students and what the student perceptions of the other students are. My knowledge of the students is key to future success.

After the six minutes we compare drawings. Groups come up with a list of what could have helped make this go more smoothly. These lists, a key component of the ‘secret sauce’ usually contain information that leads to the discussion of group roles. We discuss working in groups that are not functional. How to be proactive in resolving the issues that arise. Sometimes I move to look at of the implementation of the roles using videos, sometimes not.

By the end of the class the students can state why I assign them group roles in activities. They can outline why it is important to carry out the function of their role. They can even give tips for correcting malfunctioning roles. Demonstrating the purpose behind what I’m doing and giving students the autonomy to carry out corrective action generates a culture of ownership, motivation as we do class activities, and is but shouldn’t be just my ‘secret sauce’.

Stay tuned for Secret Sauce Part 2, tomorrow