Why I Became a Teacher

People become teachers for a variety of reasons – summers off, love of the subject matter, love of kids, love of learning, etc. When I decided to be a teacher it was because I had a teacher that changed my life, Mrs. A, and I wanted to be that teacher for other kids. I also felt that I could relate to some kids better because I was not the model student. I never really enjoyed school, never really enjoyed learning. I was not intrinsically motivated to do well. I had to have teachers, like Mrs. A, and my parents to constantly remind me of the end goal, to keep me focused and motivated. I was one of those kids that got excited about projects but would rather pass notes in class than take them, would rather read teen gossip magazines than any assigned literature, and would rather do anything (including get in trouble) than a worksheet. I became a teacher to reach kids like me, because without Mrs. A, I don’t know where I would be. However, somewhere along the way in my career, I lost sight of that. I became bogged down by the requirements, the to-do lists, and the ever increasing mountain of grading. I went into survival mode. It’s easier to give a worksheet or do silent seat work than it is to take the time to create, manage, and grade projects or group work that covers the same material. Now, I’m not saying a day of silent seat work or worksheets every now and then is bad, in fact I would contend it’s necessary, however I do not want it to be the majority of what I do. I want to interact with my students and get to know them past the assignment or the test score. I want to know their dreams and goals for the future and then I want to help them reach them. I want to come into my classroom excited about what I’m doing and knowing the kids will be excited about it too. I want to inspire, motivate, and enable my students to achieve their dreams.

With that said, last week my students presented their Holocaust projects. These projects were assigned three weeks ago and were meant to be a creative outlet for them to display what they learned during the unit – a type of culminating assessment. Due to teaching language arts, my students mainly do reading and writing. There isn’t a lot of room for projects. It’s not that I never do them, but I usually end up talking myself out of them with the justification of, “I’d love to do that, but we have so much to cover and not a lot of time in which to teach it, so I don’t have time”. However, I made up my mind to make these projects a priority, and it was so worth it! Let me explain.

I saw students come alive in a way that I haven’t before. When I hand out a writing assignment or a test at this point in the year, I can see my students’ eyes glaze over. Now that’s not to say that what I give them isn’t important, it is, and I definitely don’t want to create the assumption that students have to be excited about everything in their life because that is simply not true. However, I do think it’s our job as teachers to create memorable moments for students and to instill in them a love for learning. And for the first time in a long time, I feel like I did that.

Let me start with when I handed out the projects. There were eleven options of how they could display their knowledge, from dioramas, to videos, to illustrated flashcards, to ABC books. So three weeks ago, I gave them this three page packet of project options, and the first thing I told them is this is a completely outside of school project. I would not be allowing them any time in class to work on it. I expected to see disgruntled faces and to field a slew of complaints, but instead the students were going through the packet marking all the options that seemed viable for them, too excited about the project to be phased by the news that it was all homework. Let me tell you, middle school students being excited about homework is definitely a rarity!

So, I mentioned the projects every few days over the next three weeks just to keep it on their radar, and I stayed after school a few days each week to offer assistance to those that needed/wanted it. However, other than that, I didn’t really think much about the projects again until they presented last week. So, presentation day rolled around, and I was hesitantly excited. I was worried I wouldn’t have enough students do the assignment. I was worried the projects wouldn’t have much effort put in them. I was worried the presentations would only take a few minutes then I would be left with the majority of a class period to fill with…well, I didn’t really have a plan. Thankfully, all my worries were completely unfounded. The most students I had in any one class without their presentation was three, and I had multiple classes where everyone had their presentation. I’ll spare you from the exact statistics, but trust me when I say the completion rate of this project was significantly higher than typical homework.

However, that’s just participation. What about the quality of the assignments? Well, when I graded them, I only had one student not receive a C or above, the majority had a B or above. The amount of effort and energy that went into these projects was astounding. Not only that, but the amount of research…these students knew more about their topic than I did! They had really went above and beyond my expectations, academically and creatively. There were students that were so obviously in their area of interest that their work level exceeded anything they had shown me before. Students that struggle to get their work in on time, if ever, sent their projects to me days ahead of time for me to look over. Students that struggle with social anxiety asked to present in front of the entire class rather than just to a small group because they were so excited about what they had accomplished. Also, there was definitely no need to worry about excess time. The students were so excited about showing off their hard work that it was actually a struggle to reign them in enough that everyone in their group would have time to present. What a wonderful problem to have!

I was challenged by the success of these projects. Challenged to continue looking for opportunities to provide project-based assessment options/assignments, group work and interactive lessons when appropriate, obviously this cannot always be the case. Challenged to look past the mountain of papers to the students and spice up my classroom and methodology for their sake. Challenged to look for ways for my students that don’t feel success often in school to be successful. Challenged to be the teacher I set out to be.

Who Rescued Who? Lessons on Life and Love that I’ve Learned from Rescuing My Pups – Appreciate the Annoying Moments

Disclaimer: I am not a professional dog rescuer (if that’s even an actual title). I do not volunteer at a rescue on a regular basis. However, I am an animal lover and a firm believer in rescuing. This blog and the ones to follow in the series are simply my opinions and the lessons I have learned.

This is the third in a series of blogs. The first blog has a bit more background in it and information about all the dogs we’ve rescued. If you would like to read it, click here. The second blog is also linked here.

All of our dogs have had their own personalities, which led to their own quirks, which led to their own, unique way of driving us crazy. Some of these personality quirks were cuter and more endearing than others, but they all annoyed us at one point…and some still do. Allow me to share some examples.

Bagel

Bagel had two quirks that really stick out. He HATED, with a passion, our DVD player. Every time we would open it to put in or take out a DVD, he would go crazy! He would sink down to its level and bark incessantly at it. I mean, he really showed it who was boss. At first, Adam and I found this hilarious, but after a while the cuteness wore off and it just drove us crazy. We would yell at him every time he began to bark, which of course he couldn’t understand. He was obviously just trying to protect us from the vicious jaws of the machine of death. It got to the point that one of us would distract him in the other room while the other put in/took out the DVD. The other unique habit of Bagel’s only occurred around Christmas when we put up our tree. He LOVED our ornaments, so much so that he wanted them all to himself. He would steal them off the tree and hide them in his bed. He would then curl around them and lay on top of them as if he was trying to hatch them. They were his “precious”, and he loved them very much. It took us a while to realize this was happening, and by the time we did he had a stockpile of about ten ornaments. Again, this was hilariously precious at first, but when we couldn’t hang any ornaments on the lower half of our tree it became quite annoying.

Lolo

Lolo was really just one giant quirk, bless her heart. She was our handicap dog that had “Wobbler’s Syndrome” (pretty much the dog form of cerebral palsy) and no teeth. She shook non-stop, marched with her front legs while her back end bounced from side to side, and fell often. However, she was also the happiest dog I’ve ever met. She had no idea anything was different about her. The thing about her that always cracked us up is that she attempted to be a door dasher. Every time we would open the door she would “dash” out. With any other dog this would be a problem, but it wasn’t like Lolo was going anywhere too quickly so we would let her go. It was obvious that she thought she was really going somewhere, wobbling around with her toothless mouth hanging open, tongue out in pure joy. Again, this was too cute, but after a while we stopped amusing her and just wouldn’t let her out or yelled at her if she snuck out.

Bella

Bella’s uniqueness centers around one thing – food. That is really what her whole life centers around. She was malnourished when we got her and has never really gotten over the whole idea that if there is food, she needs to take advantage of it. She inhales her food so quickly it makes her sick (we actually had to get a special bowl for her to eat out of), and she’s likely to take your finger off if you’re giving her treats, best just to drop it. Now, while there’s really nothing cute about her eating habits, there is something cute about that little “Jimmy Dean” belly. Every time you walk near Bella, she immediately turns her belly up to you and gives you that “Pet me” look. It’s too cute! We call it the “Bella-belly”. Again, though, this is something that is occasionally cute, but more times than not I catch myself saying, “No, Bella, down” just to get her out of my way.

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There’s the Bella Belly!

 

Theo

Theo, again, has two very specific habits that are cute and annoying at the same time. He loves everyone, so much so that he can’t get close enough to them. When he cuddles with you, being in your lap is not good enough. He has to be your scarf, right up at your chin and sometimes even your nose. Did I mention that I’m actually allergic to dogs? Yeah, so that does not work well for me, no matter how precious it is. Secondly, when he gets excited, he spins. Not just once like most dogs, he spins repetitively, like one of those ballerinas in the musical jewelry boxes, only in fast forward. It’s actually hard to give him treats, because he gets so excited about them that he can’t stop spinning long enough to take the treat. This is cute to most people, but when he’s excited about us coming home and spins beneath our feet, it makes walking quite difficult.

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Adam obviously loves it when Theo cuddles.

So, why talk about all of my dogs’ quirky habits?  Well, dealing with their weirdness has taught me a few things. First of all, I would give anything to hear Bagel bark at the DVD player again or to have to chase Lolo across the yard. I wish that I had just let him bark to his heart’s content and let her run all over the yard. I wish I had appreciated those moments more and realized how much I would miss them one day. Now, that’s not to say that I never reject the “Bella belly” or yell at Theo when he’s imitating the Tasmanian Devil, but I do try to be more aware of how precious those annoying moments are now. I try to remember that one day I’m going to miss them annoying me. However, this has also applied to other areas of my life. When I have a student that is driving me up the wall, and I am barely keeping my cool, I try to remember that (A) they might have a reason for acting this way (like Bella being malnourished) and (B) I will one day miss having this student in my class. 1 Corinthians 15: 10 says, “By the grace of God I am who I am and His grace toward me was not in vain”. I have this verse tattooed to remind me that I don’t have to try to be anyone else other than exactly who God created me to be. However, if I am going to believe that about myself, I have to also believe that about others. This means that even when people annoy me, I have to find ways to appreciate them and who God has made them to be.