Tag Archives: Notes from the classroom

Goal 5: Reflections – Playing the Devil’s Advocate

Challenge number  5 of the 30Goals Challenge is a call for reflection.

I think that all the teachers that invest in blogging and discussing education after a long day at school (some of my colleagues would say I’m really crazy if they knew I actually do just that) are reflective people by definition.  We don’t need much encouragement to reflect on what we do – just look at the excited repsonses to this challenge!

I think some of are so open to reflection that I’ve decided to “play the devils advocate” and warn against TOO MUCH REFLECTION!

Teaching is like a relationship with your kids or your spouse in some ways. You can’t analyze every single thing you did or said that wasn’t what you planned it to be. Sometimes the interaction is more painful but you are “there” for each other tomorrow and the next day  nonetheless.

It is vital to think about your lessons and to see if your pupils understood the material, are progressing and be prpeared to change tack if they aren’t. But if you try, on a daily basis, to analyze evey single exchange in every single lesson you will become terrified of teaching. The fear of erring can be paralyzing. I’ve seen young teachers suffering from this problem!

Cecilia, in her blog Box of Chocolates gave a wonderful example of how something she said when she didn’t mean to actually worked out well!  Only those who don’t do, don’t make mistakes and its a fine line between learning from your mistakes and “obsessing” over them!

So, please reflect, but not about everything and all the time!

Goal 4: Leave it Behind

Wow, these 30 Goals really address important issues! Though for me, the BIG problem is not bringing my personal stress into the classroom, but rather bringing stress from the classroom home!

But maybe that topic will come up in another challenge so I’ll address this one for now.

Leaving stress unrelated to school outside the classroom door was never a big problem for me. I believe it has also become easier over the years.

When our boys were small it was harder, but then in those days there were no cell-phones. If I was needed, a phone call to the school secretary had to be placed. If I wanted to call I would have go to one of the offices or use a pay-phone. So I would only make REALLY important calls between lessons.

Now I do have a cell phone but I hardly use it between lessons. I see other teachers trying to manage issues from afar on the phone between lessons (during short breaks!) and just looking at them seems stressful!  My recommendation – turn off the phone!

I think it has also become easier over the years because at some point the message finally sunk in – nobody in the school system really cares what happens outside of school. I’m here to do my job and that’s what it is all about. How would I feel if our sons came home from school and said that they didn’t learn anything in class today because the teacher was in a bad mood?

Once the kids are in the room there is no time to think of anything else!

Goal 3 “What Do You Believe About Learning?”

My first reaction to today’s goal at the 30 Goals Challenge was; ” there are SO many aspects and ways to look at learning, where do I begin”?

Tweeting with Lisa Dabbs today gave me the “handle” I needed  – mentoring! She has a lovely post on it. I’d like to highlight a different aspect which is what the MENTOR learns from mentoring.

I had the experience of mentoring a brand new teacher, straight out of college, who at the same time also became my colleague, teaching the same pupils I do (we teach in the format of a learning center. I teach full time and she teaches part time in addition to my hours).

I’ve been  teaching for 25 years yet I found I was learning a great deal from the experience. First of all, because she repeatedly asked “WHY?”. I had set into motion all kinds of ways of doing things, some of which I had been doing so long that I no longer remembered why I had decided to do them in this particular way. Suddenly I had to reexamine everything! Sometimes it was tiring, but it was always useful. Some strategies or practices I realized that I felt good about them because now I remembered why they were planned just so. Others turned out to be “dusty” and were tweaked or even replaced.

Of course, as a talented young teacher, she came with suggestions of her own which have enriched my teaching!

But the thing I thank her most for is helping me to continue THINKING about what I am doing and why!

Goal 2 of the #30 Goals Project

Goal 2 of the #30 Goals project was an easy one because I had just done something before reading the challenge! I believe the following qualifies for this goal!

As I have mentioned before, we’re working on the poem “The Road Not Taken”.  Besides all kinds of written tasks the pupils have to do, they are supposed to be assessed on  something creative related to the poem. In the past most of the pupils chose to create a PowerPoint slideshow. It’s a comfortable medium for many of the pupils, and of course. very visual.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough (I siezed an opportunity!) to work with a teacher of Sign Language.  This teacher also knows American Sign Language. So, this year was the first time that the opportunity to present the poem in ASL was made available. Two pupils that came from mainstreamed classrooms and don’t sign are learning to present it in Israeli Sign Language.

However, that’s not the latest development. I have one hard of hearing pupil who isn’t interested in Sign Language and communicates very well without it (utilizes his cochlear implant well!) He has a problematic home life and hardly gets any academic work done at home and would never get a PowerPoint Presentation done. Fortunately, he works with a retired volunteer once a week whom he adores. The volunteer is an enthusiastic American who’s been showing him “the rythm” of the poem.  So, this pupil’s presentation will be to recite the poem in spoken English with some intonation and attention to rhyming! I’ve never ever done that with a pupil in my class!

Only downside is that now another pupil wants to do that and she doesn’t spend time with the volunteer…

“Be a Beam” – My first day of the #30 Goals Challenge

Just joined the #30 Goals Challenge! What a refreshing idea!

As a special ed. teacher, by definition all my students study English in my self-contained class (as opposed to a regular class) because they have problems, either academically, emotionally, or have more than one handicap (in addition to the hearing loss). English as a foreign language is a very hard subject for them as a “default” situation.

So, since basically all of my students can be defined as ” struggling” , I decided to give some extra TLC to “A GOOD GIRL”! Every now and then I catch myself and realize that the few pupils who come in, work nicely on their own (I teach in the format of a learning center) organize everything, hand in their work on time without being reminded,  don’t always get enough attention! I’m often too busy with the pupil who won’t start working until I sit next to him for a few minutes to get him started or with the girl who deals badly with any frustration and needs frequent reasuurance. The volunteer will be asked to sit with the hyperactive boy. And so the list of “blow-ups to be prevented” goes on…

Today I made an extra special effort to spend time with a girl from 10th grade who really is on those “good girls!” I also told other teachers about how she learned the poem “The Road Not Taken” in American Sign Language for her lit. project so that they could compliment her when they meet her.

Wonder what tomorrow’s goal will be!

Comment on “The Power of a Teacher”

On a wonderful blog I’m following called “Be the Change” there is a post about a  powerful quote by Haim G. Ginnot. You can read the quote on the blog or here

I immediatly commented that I strongly identify with the quote and I stand behind that statement.  However, for the last 24 hours something was nagging at me about it and now I identified the problem.

There is a “but” in there. The teacher IS the decisive element in the classroom BUT not the only one. Sometimes things will get out of control, a “drama” will occur despite the fact that the teacher reacted or behaved in the manner we would define as the right thing to do. There is something about this quote that brings you close to passing the dangerous line from being a great teacher to trying to be a PERFECT teacher.  Which leads to misery because there is no attaining the status of perfect teacher.

A recent example of this occurred in my classroom. Pupils are not allowed to eat during the lessons. They are allowed to drink, chew gum (as long as they don’t make balloons!) but no eating. No eating during lessons  is a policy ALL kids are familiar with since kindergarten and I don’t make exceptions for that particular rule.  No long ago, first lesson of the day,  a 12th grader burst into my classroom and took out a sandwich. When I reminded her that she is not permitted to eat in class there was a huge scene which actually only lasted two minutes or less. It ended up with her leaving the classroom, slamming the door as she left. I felt bad about it all day but could not see how I could have reacted differently. She’s 19 years old, she can wait for the break to eat and that’s the kind of rule that if you make an exception to it – well, its like opening the floodgates!

At the end of the day the scho0l’s art therapist came  and told me that this pupil had had a major fight with her parents before coming to school and I was basically the first person she met when she arrived. Her reaction had nothing to do with eating and could easily have been about anything at all. She was brewing for a showdown with someone and I was there…

Is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without knowledge of vocabulary?

I’m teaching the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” to a large group of my Hebrew-speaking deaf and hard of hearing 10th and 11th graders. It’s in the curriculum.

I find it to be a puzzling situation. On one hand it seems absolutely insane to teach it to most of these kids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of them only know two to four words in the entire poem. Even a word that seems familiar to them such as “sorry” isn’t in the right context as they only know it to mean “please forgive me”.  Even though we did a pre-reading exercise which included translating the really difficult words (such as “undergrowth” “hence”) they didn’t know most of the other words either and couldn’t even begin to read any sentence of it on their own.

On the other hand, this poem is about dealing with dilemmas and making choices. We did a pre-reading activity on how they solve problems and many of them were interested in that. The vocabulary exercise I gave on those really hard words had them match the Hebrew translation to a simple definition in easy English, so there was reinforcement of vocabulary, just not of the vocabulary of the program. In addition they learned  a bit about metaphors, how to infer something and about the poet. Some of the pupils actually said they find the poem related to life!

However, to answer the low order reading comprehension questions (which were in English they could handle) they relied mainly on the translation of the poem. Since I foresaw that, I made sure they had to copy out lines of the text to prove their answers otherwise they wouldn’t have looked at the poem itself at all!

I wonder if I could have achieved the same effect by having all these nice activities and tasks in English, about a poem written in Hebrew?! So, is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without vocabulary?

Comment on Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling

I just read Bill Ferriter’s post titled

Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?

and it reminded of what we experienced in my classroom when texting first became an option on cell phones. I’m not quite sure how long ago that was anymore – maybe 10 years ago?

The first cell-phones pupils showed up with only had texting options in English. People were texting each other in Hebrew transliterated into English. My deaf students were ecstatic about this visual option to communicate, but they had to use English letters! They spent time on their phonics, always pestering me with requests to help them sound out the letters for the words they wanted to write. It was wonderful.
Now, of course, not only can’t we discuss if texting helps their English, we can’t even discuss if it is good for their Hebrew! Most of the pupils have 3G cell-phones and sign (Israeli Sign Language) their messages!

Comment on “Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes”

On the blog Box Of Chocolates, which I really enjoy following, there’s an interesting guest post discussing whether or not the experience of learning a foreign language can help you understand your students better, called

Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes

I had an interesting experience related to this. About 7 years ago when I was on a partial sabbatical, I took a beginner’s course in Spanish. My motivation was part historical (classic Eastern Jewish story, my maternal grandmother’s family scattered from Poland to Israel, USA and Argentina) and part practical (Spanish is supposed to  be an easy language to learn).

I wasn’t thinking of sharing my students’  experiences when I registered – after all, I’m not deaf and had not been expecting the course to enrich my experience as a teacher. Just hoped to learn some Spanish!

Well, I was wrong from the word “go”. I barely knew 3 or 4 words in Spanish when I started. My clasmates were shocked that I hadn’t known the Spanish word for heart! Hearing children in second grade know all sorts of words in English beore they start formal education. The deaf pupils literally start with nothing (some kids know the word LOVE but only in capital letters).

I had no exposure to Spanish outside the classroom. The only Spanish speaking friend I had at the time had recently moved away and I don’t watch the Spanish speaking Soap Operas.  Many (not all, never all) of my students are not exposed to English outside of the classroom, even though we live in a country where English is influential. They watch TV and movies with subtitles, use Facebook in Hebrew and don’t hear songs in English.

Just like my students I found it increasingly harder to remember the vocabulary. Each week required more effort on my part to review the words on my own. As I was also teaching, it was difficult sometimes to keep up when I had report cards and national exams to deal with.  Just like a sizeable number of my high-school students, who are often distracted by things going on at home.

I put in extra special effort and finished the course pretty well. But not easily at all. Seven years ago, after  not using Spanish at all, I remember very little… But I do remember how I felt when I studied.

I think learning a foreign language is a very important experience for any language teacher!