Retaining Knowledge through the Summer

My kids come to me in the fall remembering very little from the previous year. We spent three days on nouns at the beginning of the year. Three days! In 9th grade!

Who knows what our students, especially those in urban settings like mine, go through during the summer. As a school, we have tried to brainstorm ways to keep our kids engaged during the summer months. However, these activities are a lot of talk with little action behind them at the moment.

What strategies have you used or heard of to keep kids engaged through the summer and retain the knowledge and skills they need for the next grade?

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Last Day

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I made a mistake. But, there are good and bad sides to it.

I have the awesome opportunity to teach overseas this summer. I have been super excited about this and I still am. However, it’s just now settling in that I’ll actually be WORKING during that time – and working a lot… I realized that I’m not really going to have a chance to “stop” before starting school next year.

I realized that I’m not really going to have a chance to “stop” before starting school next year.

Today is our last day of school. Before I even leave the country, I’m going to be doing some volunteer work and helping my friend run a camp for junior and senior high students. I’ve realized that I may have overcommitted myself a little bit and I’m worried about burning out during the summer, only to come back to a brand new school year.

What tips and tricks do you have for balancing your summer and school year out so as not to get burned out?

A Dangerous Phrase…

The other day I was sitting at lunch with several colleagues and heard a phrase that I’ve learned to hate this year: “I’m not doing that.” I’ve seen so many things fall through the cracks this year simply because teachers don’t want to do something they disagree with. We have several programs that we have tried to implement this year that haven’t been used effectively because teachers refuse to do it. This is the reason that our token economy has had no impact whatsoever. This is why our students hate our character education programs. Teachers don’t like it, so they don’t do it.

I’ll admit it, I haven’t been perfect at this either. However, I think all of this stems from an attitude of entitlement – that when a boss tells you to do something you have the option to do or not do it. “I deserve this” and “I deserve that.” “I don’t HAVE to do that.” Not doing something is very rarely a solution to the problem. In most career fields, if you don’t do something your boss asks you to, you get disciplined or fired.  If you constantly complain and refuse to do things – even in a school – you aren’t going to be liked and your words of criticism will be dismissed anyway.

Not doing something is very rarely a solution to the problem. 

 

On the other hand, if you are a team player and perform a required task even though you aren’t a fan of it, your words carry weight. I once heard my pastor, in talking about our denomination, say, “because I follow the rules, I can complain.” If you are reliable, trustworthy, and obedient, you will succeed in building good work relationships. And more importantly, you will do what’s best for your students. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right?

More importantly, you will do what’s best for your students. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right?

My challenge to you, friends, is to finish out this year with an attitude that represents your willingness to be part of the team and do what’s best for your students, even if it’s not always doing something you enjoy or agree with.

 

Evaluations

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I had my first evaluation meeting this week and I was surprised how well it went. Although I’m not the biggest fan of the system our district uses, it was a huge morale booster to receive some positive encouragement! I’ve heard some real horror stories about evaluations from other teachers.

How does your school do evals? Any issues or incidents?

Committees, Satan, and Congress

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Ever heard the idiom, “too many cooks in the kitchen?” I felt this first-hand last week, as I’ve been assigned to a committee that very few people in the school look favorably upon. 

One of our tasks was to plan out an assembly for the students. If you’ve read some of my other posts,  you know that I have a lot of experience planning and carrying out youth events. I know how to make them fun and engaging for the kids. Well, apparently we also had 5 other people on the committee who felt the same about themselves. This made for a long meeting where we didn’t really get anything done. And, tomorrow, we’ll produce an “okay” product for the students.

I come from a ministry background, and churches that use the phrase “Let’s form a committee!” are not usually successful churches. In fact, I find the terms “Satan” and “decorating committee” almost interchangeable. As teachers, we should know that sticking five people in a room without a defined leader will not yield the results we are looking for. So, why do we continually form “committees” that are typically more a source of stress than productivity?

We should know that sticking five people in a room without a defined leader will not yield the results we are looking for.

Look at congress! When’s the last time a congressional committee did something that benefitted you? Just last week, they were deadlocked because there were too many opposing viewpoints in one room. Don’t get me wrong, I like the structure of our government and the system of checks and balances. However, I think that there are times where we just need to give a leader a task and let them run with it – trusting that they’ll carry it on to completion.

There are times where we just need to give a leader a task and let them run with it.

Have you had any stressful committee experiences? How does your school handle these things?

What I learned in Black Church

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Ethnicity is a tough topic to discuss, but I’m a person who likes to speak the truth. I still want to be sensitive, though, and state that everything I say here about ethnicity and culture is meant to be respectful and in good taste.

Everything I say here about ethnicity and culture is meant to be respectful and in good taste.

In college, I had the opportunity to tour professionally as a musician in several different settings. One of the groups in which I was involved would travel to churches and do music. This group embraced diversity and that allowed us to travel to Black churches, White churches, small churches, big churches, etc…

If you’ve never been in church, let me explain some of the differences.

DISCLAIMER: None of the things I am about to say are true of all churches everywhere. These are just general observations I’ve made in my unique set of experiences.

None of the things I am about to say are true of all churches everywhere. These are just general observations I’ve made in my unique set of experiences.

White Church

In the churches in which I was raised (I am a white male), the act of doing “church” consists of prayer (by the pastor), singing together, and a sermon. The music is rehearsed ahead of time and everyone sings along to the same tune. Most relevant, however, is the fact that when the pastor speaks, the congregation sits quietly and listens. Crying babies are removed by their mothers, and chattering teenagers are shushed.

 

Black Church

The Black churches I’ve been to have some similarities to White churches. There is still music, prayer, and a sermon but the atmosphere is totally different. The service is like a mosaic where everyone played a part. During the prayer, people in the audience yell out praises or thanks to God. The music often consists of a choir singing the melody while a leader adds lib or places their own spin on the song. The band stays on stage during the sermon and adds inspirational music behind the words of the pastor – sometimes being so driven by the words of the pastor that the room erupts into a “praise break.” Most importantly, however, while the pastor delivers his sermon, people are free to yell out approval or praises whenever they want.

 

The Point

I teach mostly African-American students. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the amount of White students in our part of the building. When you look at the differences in expected church behavior, it’s no wonder that sitting quietly and raising your hand is so foreign to them. They’re allowed to yell out their thoughts sporadically in church. They’re aloud to shout something without permission and not get in trouble for it. The practice and structure of church is also the closest thing to school that students experience outside of school.

The practice and structure of church is also the closest thing to school that students experience outside of school.

I’ve been trying to find every way to make my teaching culturally relevant to my students. Traditional teaching methods where students sit, listen, and raise their hand just don’t work with these students! We have to make our teaching fun and relevant to whatever culture are students are coming from. To be honest, I haven’t done a very good job of this and would like to improve.

What teaching strategies or modifications have you made to teach students from a different cultural background than you?

How do you feel about the Common Core?

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I’m just curious because I’ve heard many different perspectives.

Personally, I like the fact that the Common Core dumbs everything down to just 10 standards. However, I hate the fact that there is very little information, even on the Common Core Website, on how to properly implement the standards. This leaves districts hurriedly creating new pacing guides and materials that basically equate a shot in the dark.

There is very little information, even on the Common Core Website, on how to properly implement the standards.

I also don’t like that some of the grade-level standards are almost a paragraph long. If you’ve read my last post, you know that I am a fan of simple. I don’t like it when someone takes the concept of  ”writing a personal narrative” and tries to include every tiny skill and method that goes into that process in one standard. After all, I am an educated professional and should know how to teach kids to do that anyways. Give me a one page list of things students should know how to do before moving onto the next grade. This would be more practical, easier for the students (and teachers) to understand, and would help provide this “unity” that the american education system is seeking – which to me, is an unnecessary venture in itself.