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Entry date: 11-12-2022 - Charter School part 3 - Letter to My (teacher) Friends

Dear Friends,

To be fair, I learned a lot that first year in the charter school world that will help me throughout my career. I like to tell people that I have a thick skin, and in many ways, I do. You don’t spend years and years being told that your band sucks or your article sucks or your class sucks without developing a thick skin. This doesn’t even include or begin to scratch the surface of the subtle and not-so-subtle derogatory remarks from people who say they love you, either, regarding your decisions and such.

So yeah, I do have a thick skin, but I also have feelings. I wanted to be a great Technology teacher that first year so badly. I wanted the kids to think my class was the bomb diggity and I wanted them to learn and have fun. When the kids didn’t seem to be hitting those goals, I took it personally. It took me a while to learn that sometimes, no matter what I did, I was not going to reach certain students or even whole classrooms.

That was very new to me.

I had a lot of success while I worked for Casa when it came to getting kids to participate and enjoy themselves, even when the subject matter was tough. It took me a while to get there, though, and I kind of forgot that aspect of my career as I was starting my new role. I forgot how hard it was to get good at being a prevention specialist in the late 90s and how much practice I got in building my craft.

The fall of 2019 was like starting over and it was tough. To both my benefit and detriment, I was going full bore into my grad school studies (as mentioned) and I used my Friday prep days to work on my weekly assignments as much as possible. The benefit was being able to put into practice some of the strategies and methodology I was reading and writing about each week, but it also was sometimes quite overwhelming because I was figuring out just how much I didn’t really know about teaching.

During August, September, and October of 2019, I was trying to figure things out on the fly and get the kids into the idea of technology being more than just staring at a screen. One of the tools I brought into the Tech classroom that I know my Russian counterpart was not doing was reading books to the kids. I went to Bookman’s and found some different books in the children’s section about technology and would often read to the kids for a portion of the class.

I found that the younger students, first and second grade, really loved to get a story. I would slip in some Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) when I could, too, and they didn’t seem to mind. The older kids kept asking to use the Chrome Books, so I eventually relented and let them get online every so often. The rest of the time I was looking at expanding their outlook on the technology in our world.

I found this TedTalk video about a guy (Jay Silver) who created the Makey Makey and showed it to the students. What a godsend that video was as it captured the kid’s imagination. They wanted Makey Makey machines so badly, but I couldn’t get the school to kick down the funds to buy them. They weren’t super expensive, but I knew if I bought one, it wouldn’t last.

Not that the kids were terrible, especially the younger ones, but there were just so many. One Makey Makey invention kit was not going to cut it. I tried writing a grant for them, but it didn’t get funded. I should have written more, looking back, but that’s water under the bridge. In the Ted Talk, Silver explains how the Makey Makey can make anything into a keyboard through taking advantage of things that conduct electricity.

This video led me to thinking about the concept of where ideas come from and how they are executed. I found a really cool children’s book called What Do You DO with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. Most of the kids, even the older ones, really dug it (even if they didn’t admit it). It gave me an idea, actually, and that was to have the students come up with ideas of their own for a new technology or an improvement to an existing tech that they thought was worth pursuing. The students came up with some cool stuff and I wish I would have kept more of it.

With the younger students, who were typically awesome, by the way, we did a lot of drawing, too. When we did start using the computers, I learned quickly that it would take most of the period just to get everyone logged in and getting started on whatever activity we were doing. By the second semester, I had most of the first through third grade classes fairly adept at logging in, so the work was worth it, but some kids just never got the hang of it.

This was not the bane of my existence, though. The bane of my existence was the sixth graders. I could probably devote an entire blog to what I learned and experienced from them during that school year and keep in mind that it was cut short by a quarter due to the pandemic.

They were the ones that really treated me like I was a redhead sub-child. See what I did there? Sorry. That was terrible. They were mostly total dicks, though.

The charter school network I worked for had a policy of grouping students with similar levels of ability based on test scores. Each student was given some standardized testing when they enrolled, and depending on how they did, they would be placed with students who got similar scores.

See a problem with this? Teacher friends? People with a working brain? I’m guessing you do. It made the lives of teachers at my school hell. More on this to come.

See you tomorrow.

Make a banana your new keyboard with a Makey Makey. Another stolen pic.

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