I’m a teaching nerd so I’m always down for some PD.
Here’s a trick to the trade; if you’re starting to feel burned out in your newbieness, go to a PD, or even better, a conference. It will reinvigorate that feeling of excitement for teaching. Routine is good, but sometimes, a good revamp to your lesson plans, your class interface, or even just your mentality is all you need to feel fresh and new for your students. There is something so inspirational about being around a bunch of teachers who are excited and willing to learn how to become better teachers. Conferences are always my favorite because you meet teachers from all around the country (and sometimes even the world) who are willing to share ideas and resources, and listen to your experience – no matter how long you’ve been teaching. If an admin ever brings up a conference, or sends you an email suggesting you go – GO – it’s worth it. (This is one of those times where I break my “just say no” rule).
Also, sometimes you just need a break from your classes and be reminded that they’re amazing and awesome. Most professional developments and conferences happen during the school day, so you’ll have to place a sub in your seat for a day or two. They always say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and nothing could be more true for your relationship with your students.
My current school site is in the middle of a huge push for tech-ifying all the in and outs of the campus, so they sent a group of us to sunny Palm Springs for a weekend to the CUE (Computer-Using Educators) Conference to obtain new tech-powered knowledge that we could bring back to our classrooms.
CUE is one of the most well-organized and teacher-friendly conferences that I have ever attended. I immediately felt like I was at a big party – but with teachers – which sounds great to me, but might sound like a terrible nightmare depending on the individual.
Everyone was smiling and bustling around trying to get into the next best tech talk. I am into energy and that chi life and let me tell you, my chakras were hummin’. When the energy of the place is uplifting, you can’t help but feel excited to embrace the culture of the room – or in this case the Palm Springs Convention Center – and just fly with it. Be a sponge, and get ready to learn.
What I Learned
There’s too much to put here, but I am going to share with you three topics that really resonated with me, my classroom, and my teaching philosophy.
1. Using Podcasts in the Classroom
Ah, yes, the Podcast revolution. I am no stranger to the hipster millennial ways of listening to people talk on Spotify or Apple Podcast for hours and hours about hyper-specific stories and topics that make great party conversations, but little else.
And yet, the Podcast does have value, and it’s time for Generation Z to buck-up, sit down and just listen.
In a hyper-visual world, where Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitch are the main modes of social media interaction among our students, the skill-set of listening is becoming obsolete. As a new teacher, I’ve always had students who struggle with lectures and listening. I’m like a walking broken record most days, especially if it’s last period. But, I’ve observed veteran teachers and they have adapted to the “new 21st century student,” but they do always note the lack of attention span this new generation of students has due to technology.
Technology is great, but we have to maneuver it in a way that still has students obtain important life skills – in this case, something as simple as active listening. Active listening is imperative for college, and for life. Students have to know how to sit, and listen to maintain positive relationships, as well as to connect with their communities.
So, CUE the Podcast (see what I did there – thank you very much):
2. Media Literacy in the Era of “Fake News”
As a history teacher I often think what names the history books will place on this time period of which we are living. The Era of “Fake News” might be a present term, but who knows, maybe textbook writing is in my future.
There were many, many, many sessions on media literacy in the new tech and Internet-reliant age at CUE. With all Donald Trump tweets and jokes aside, the lack of understanding in reference to the media is just downright scary. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education did a study in 2016 found that over 30% of high school students researched thought that most fake news stories were more trustworthy than the real news story. Additionally, 80% of middle schoolers could not tell the difference between an ad or a news story.
Hm. What the heck is happening?
One thing the study notes is that even though our students are digital natives, they have no idea what the heck is going on when it comes to sourcing. They have become clickers, not thinkers, and teachers feed into that by not teaching media literacy before assigning research-based assignments.
One media literacy session that I sat in on shared a resource from a magical goddess angel from heaven named Sue Haraper from Newbury Park, CA. She is a Teacher Library and she just made all of our lives easier.
3. Social Justice and Technology
No matter where you work, whether it’s public or private, you are working with a diverse and various population. Social justice has become a popular conversation that has found it’s way to the forefront of our media and lessons. With the quick access to news stories on our phones, students are able to discover the world around them in favorable and not so savory ways. The world can be violent, terrifying, yet beautiful and welcoming. As educators, some of the burden of exposing our students to the realities of world is placed on us.
One session I sat in on highlighted a project that students from a South Central school in Los Angeles, CA did in a Special Education class. The project was based on a survey that students had taken at the school which stated that the reason they feel that they don’t do well in school is because they don’t feel safe at school or in the neighborhood that surrounds it. These students lived in the neighborhood, ate in the neighborhood, and went to the schools in the neighborhood, yet they did not feel safe.
Instead of the teacher denying these fears or enflaming them, she had the students do the research on the neighborhood, and it’s crime rates, to obtain an accurate picture of the neighborhood rather than a conceptual one. Students used the LA Times Crime Map to compare and contrast LA’s neighborhoods and theirs based on race, ethnicity, economic status, police presence, and education. They analyzed the history of Los Angeles and the ethnic enclaves that came to exist because of it. And then they formulated a presentation that illustrated the in-depth analysis and realities of their neighborhood. Their project, although not perfect, turned into a conversation about what misconceptions do they and the world have about some neighborhoods and whether it aligns with the truth.
It was a poignant discussion on Social Justice, navigated by advanced research tools all on Google.
Last Little Bit
Technology in the classroom is all we know as new teachers. We have never had our classrooms any other way, and because of this, we often become reliant on technology’s ability to brush over the important skills our students need to learn. We are no better than our kids. In order for us to make sure our students are obtaining the skills, and not just using a piece of technology because we learned about it at some conference, takes patience and analytical cultivation. There are so many resources out there, but learning how to trim the fat and use just the resources that we know will get our students where they need to be, is an individual decision. As new teachers, it can get overwhelming because everyone is throwing so many resources at us all at once. But, if we are conscious of our abilities, our expectations of our students, and our teaching style, we can pick and choose what resources will work best for us and our students.