Playing School (or why I still want to be a teacher)-Guest Post

Playing School (or why I still want to be a teacher) is guest post written by  Julianne Frascella. Julianne is currently a 12th grade student in my AP Literature class at Robbinsville High School (NJ). She will be attending The College of New Jersey in September 2017.


It was like we were playing school.

Except, this was not supposed to be a game.

Wearing old glasses with the lenses popped out and clacking about in my mom’s oversized black high heels, I asserted myself as the head teacher. A pointer with the white gloved finger at the tip, in hand, I was in charge and my classroom was an orderly hierarchy.

One person played teacher.

In my classroom, I had a diverse array of students, consisting of teddies, American Girl dolls, Barbies, Power Rangers, and my little brother.

Arranged one behind the other in columns of four, my class of twelve “students” arrived each day, sitting neatly with their legs tucked under their makeshift cardboard desks. Strips of construction paper glued to the tops, printed with their first and last names in Sharpie, the letters stretching to reach the dotted lines.

The teacher’s desk (which magically transformed into a coffee table when “school” let out) was shoved in the corner, the swivel sofa behind it imitated the staple teacher’s spinny chair. My Barbie laptop plopped upon it, I clacked my fingers against the keys, typing very professional emails to the principal.

Each day, I’d call attendance, logging checks and x’s in my teacher’s book (a stack of white printer paper with three-staples down the side and grid lines that my mom sketched on for me in black pen did the trick).

The whiteboard, the one my dad reluctantly nailed to the wall, displayed the date in the top right corner and the spotlighted Morning Message, exuded cheerfulness in its rainbow letters.

My expectations of a structured classroom developed from the make- believe school in my playroom at home. However, my anticipations were completely defied as I entered the first grade. For most seven-year olds, their largest source of stress stems from a coloring mishap or their word sorting homework.

First grade was a rough year.

My school day often began with hyperventilating at the bus stop and concluded with a bellyache complaint and a nurse visit.

While I should have been enjoying the thrills of the first grade, I was instead inundated with anxiety- a consequence of my classroom environment, a mere discrepancy of my idealistic imaginary classroom.

Our class recycled through at least three teachers over the course of that year, with random substitutes scattered in between. They varied from apathetic to dictatorial, with few falling in between the extremes. And the majority of which, did not have the competence to organize our collapsed classroom.

They’d fumble through the teacher’s desk at the front of the class, which was cluttered with worksheets, yet to be graded and new copies, strewn throughout. They’d quickly scribble their name on the whiteboard upon their arrival, leaving the board bare and dreary otherwise. The date in the corner never seemed to switch, except when it was half erased and fading off.

It was November 3rd for three weeks.

Each day, I’d peek in my classroom to see who was playing teacher. Who would be squinting at the teacher’s book awkwardly trying to sound out our names for attendance? Who would be hollering to quiet down, overwhelmed by the lack of routine and order?

Where is the attendance book? How long do you usually read for? Where do you keep the markers? What are you learning in science?

Different students would jump to their feet arguing whether math or social studies came first on the schedule and whether we left off on chapter three or thirteen in the class novel.

We had twenty- three teachers leading our class, the better of which seemed to be under the age of 8.

And me, praying for an orderly routine, would tremble in my desk, completely distraught by the disorder I was immersed in.

School wasn’t supposed to be a game of role play, yet it had become just that. Wilting in my chair, amidst the mayhem of the classroom, my love for school along with my idealized vision of a harmonized school environment had been tarnished.

I now understand that being a real teacher will differ from my childhood fantasies. Nevertheless, I aspire to carry my childhood passion for teaching throughout my career.

 Why I Still Want to be a Teacher

  1. Offer a Comfortable Place to Learn

The school environment should offer children a consistent routine and a comfortable atmosphere. There is no need to impose extra anxiety on a child by having unexpected changes and irregularities. I want to ensure that my students feel prepared and excited for school each day, not fearful.

  1. Instill Respect as the Foundation of a Child’s Education

Realistically, students will not need to retain the details of American Revolution or the life cycle of a worm. However, they will need well-founded social skills. Classmates can be as much of a hindrance as they are an asset to a child’s education, hence my desire to develop a socially synchronized community within the classroom.

Teachers have a significant hand in shaping the future of society (that’s a lot of power!). Therefore, one of my greatest values is to impart respect as the primacy of learning to instill it as a foundation of future society.

  1. Cherish the Value of Individuality

It is easy to overlook the individual needs of every student with the overwhelming responsibilities of operating a classroom. The instruction of each child should be tailored to their identity, specifically their mannerisms, behaviors, and learning methods. Different tone, approach, and consequences should apply to every distinct child. I never want a child to feel inferior because a situation was not handled to compliment their personalities and abilities; emphasis on a child’s individuality may hold the key to their greatest growth potential.

  1. Emphasize the Inevitability of Imperfections

Learning is infinite, except when hindered by the trepidation of failure.

Dreading to answer a question and fretting over the repulsive B grade has become the reality of the education system from a student’s perspective. As a teacher, I aspire to break this falsified stereotype of failure and rather highlight the value in making mistakes. In fact, I want my classroom to be a place where mistakes are encouraged and no longer seem a place of consistent performance, but instead a place of constant practice.

Despite, my early experiences in the public school system, I still believe in education.

As I am about to leave high school and embark on my future, I often think of myself as a timorous, little girl sitting in a first grade class. I know there are other girls out there just like me and I feel it is my responsibility to make school no longer a place of fear and chaos, but instead the start of an exciting journey.

 

Teaching Students the Power of Vulnerability

This week’s post was inspired by Teacher Appreciation Week.


It takes more courage and less time to admit you don’t have the answer then to pretend you do.

For most aspiring teachers, writing a Philosophy of Education is not only a requirement, but a pedagogical rite of passage.

I remember, 15 years ago, in the swarms of early May, littering my philosophy with the theories of Skinner, Maslow and Erickson and thinking (albeit foolishly) I had arrived as a teacher. I thought that because I could regurgitated theories and infuse chic educational language into my philosophy I was bound for classroom success.

But 15 years later, 3 high schools later, and thousands of students later here’s what I have learned:

Underneath all the best practices and strategies and theories and high-stakes testing and educational bureaucracy remains one critical component for successful teaching: Vulnerability.

A few years ago…

…at Back to School Night, a parent approached me, shook my hand and said, “I don’t know how you do it.”

I smiled, “Well, teaching is tough but I enjoy it.”

She shook her head, leaned in and whispered, ” No. Deal with teenagers. They’re scary. I can’t wait until mine graduates.”

When I first started teaching…

…I was afraid to show weakness in the classroom.

I thought not knowing the answer to a grammatical question or the definition of some ornate word like sophistry would trigger not only the quick death of my teaching career but a storm of teenage mockery.

So I fashioned an authoritative front–polished shoes and a tightly knotted tie.

I deflect questions I didn’t know the answers to with responses like, “I’ll answer that later.” And would either not answer the question or conduct some stealth research and pass off the answer like I knew all along to fortify my position as the all-knowing teacher.

Why?

Because teenagers, like Back to School lady said, “are scary.”

However, little did I know, the all-knowing, impenetrable  teacher was uninspiring, unreliable and further forging the many falsities that narrate the realistic fiction novel known as High School.

Fortunately, something happened.

11 years into my teaching career, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder– Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disorder that can, if not monitored, be fatal.

In my first few visits, the doctors told me it didn’t look good. They told me to get my affairs in order.

I was a 33 years old,  a husband, a father of 3. I was suppose to be a rock. Strong. Brave. And here I was standing feebly at the most vulnerable intersection of my life.

Enter Vulnerability

Struggling with the diagnosis, I returned to the classroom. I had to. I had to go back to what I knew, to the stability of the school day.

I think it was the sudden awareness of my own mortality that made me realize it was okay and even acceptable, to tell my students I didn’t have all the answers. That much of life and literature is and always will be a mystery. And that the mark of a good teacher is having a willingness to learn alongside of their students.

Since my diagnosis, I constantly reinforce to my students that life, like high school, comes to an end. And with the gift of time it’s our job, our responsibility, to question and think and explore and share our stories and have courage to blast beyond the limits of rudimentary theories.

One the first day of school this past September, I introduced myself to new batch of students by telling them how I once stood 30 feet away from my literary hero, Tim O’ Brien and how I lacked the simple courage to introduce myself to him. How I missed an opportunity of a lifetime.

I wanted them to know that vulnerability is the essential root of the thinker and learner.

I wanted my new students to know that– before the syllabus was handed out– they weren’t being taught by an educational cyborg. That my wounds are both fresh and real. And how the seminal teenage belief that vulnerability is a weakness is completely and utterly false.

~

With education changing at a blistering pace, technology and quantified data research now dominates best practices.

And I do believe classroom education should be pillared with research, poignant questioning and differentiated instruction.

But underneath all the pedagogical verbiage, education has and always will be powered by human connection.

An electric connection that jolts you to know vulnerability is both a strength and an essential pillar of learning.

Be well,

Jay

The S Word- by Mark Roeder (Guest Post)

Meet Mark Roeder…

Hi everyone, my name is Mark Roeder. I work full time as a Project Manager in Washington DC for a DoD contractor after 10 years active duty in the Navy, living in the Virginia Beach area.

My family is the most important thing to me and I spend all of my spare time with them. I married my best friend over 10 years ago and we have two tiny humans that share our last name. I love sports and my son shares my passion and I’m lucky enough to coach his soccer team for the second year in a row. I am a dad blogger and have contributed to the Huffington Post Blog, Babble by Disney and my own site, All Good in the Fatherhood.

I started off writing as a form of therapy, a way to get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or a screen really). I really enjoy sharing my experiences through fatherhood and after some of the great feedback that I’ve gotten, I love knowing that I can help out or entertain just a few people.


The S Word

As a married dad, we all think about it all the time, we can never seem to get enough of it, plan our lives around it and often daydream about that dirty S word… Sleep! What other S word could I have been talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter! From the moment that our first bundle of joy, cries and poop was born, we had to adjust our lives to be able to function on significantly less sleep. We thought that once the midnight feedings were done, we would be able to get more sleep but boy were we wrong! As the kids have gotten older, it is nice that they can get their own breakfast and play and even feed the dog in the morning, giving us a few extra minutes, but not many as they haven’t quite figured out the art of quiet. When Brenn is still asleep and Lilly is awake, she will come in our room and talk and use our bathroom and want snuggles and hugs, really any way to not be the only one awake. A clock in each of their rooms has been a blessing and rules that they cannot come out of their room until 8:00 gives us slightly more rest.

Sleep is almost a tradable currency in my house, with negotiations always ongoing such as “If you get up early today, I’ll go grocery shopping for you and get up with them tomorrow”.

It seems like there is a sick kid or a nightmare on a weekly basis. My 5 year old still randomly climbs into bed with us once a week or so and she takes a while to fall asleep and has been known to talk to herself or even ask us some of the most random questions about a meal that we once ate at a restaurant that was completely unmemorable but is enough to spark a thought and make it that much harder to fall back to sleep. On top of kids keeping us up, we have 2 cats that sleep on the bed, a golden retriever that sneaks on to the bed when she thinks I’m not paying attention and a giant rabbit downstairs that doesn’t like to be left alone so will randomly thump or toss things around his cage. The odds are stacked against all of us but I promise that you will not jump out of bed faster than when you hear a kid or animal start gagging and it turning into full-fledged projectile vomiting.

I know that it has become cliché at this point but for all the times that we didn’t want to nap as a kid, we wish we could nap so much more as an adult. We sneak naps whenever we can get away with one, my favorites are when I can sneak out of work early on a Friday and catch an hour cat nap before getting up and thinking about dinner and our raging Friday nights of Pie Face and Nick Jr! My wife relishes her nap time and she loves the lazy Sunday afternoon nap, and I cherish my alone time with my kids on Sundays, even more now that they are no longer devoted to homework and studying. I have been known to catch a few Zs on the couch while the tiny humans play all around me.

I wake up early most days to go to work, usually around 4:45 which is way better than the 3:40 for my last job. It is tough to balance life in that respect between not getting enough sleep to function properly or going to bed when my kids do and not getting any adult time with my wife. I usually get around 6 ½ to 7 hours during the week and a solid 8 on the weekends and that works for me but not everyone is the same. I know a lot of people that need much more than that to function, and others that seem to be able to go without sleep all together. Being in the Navy gave me the ability to sleep anywhere, at any time and I have even fallen asleep standing up on multiple occasions. I fall asleep almost daily on my Metro ride home from work, but I’m too nervous for a deep sleep.

We are all warned when we find out that we are going to be parents to get all the sleep that you can before the baby gets here and that seems to be the stereotypical advice given, but I believe that we need to cherish what we have, whatever it is.

Stay strong and not so sleepy out there dads!


Be sure to check out Mark’s blog at www.allgoodinthefatherhood.com

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on Kyle McDonough

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight features awesome educators who are dedicated to teaching and inspiring young people everyday.

In this edition, WoFo features Pre-K4 teacher, musician and soccer fanatic Kyle McDonough.  I would like to thank Kyle for his interview and for his dedication to the teaching profession.

” The students absolutely love him. Because of Mr. McDonough, my child wants to go to school six days a week. He’s so down to earth and has been really great, especially for a nutty first time parent.”


Besides being a teacher Kyle McDonough is…. 

 A husband, musician, friend, and a big soccer fan.

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

I currently teach at Nativity of our Lord school in Warminster, PA. I teach Pre-K 4. This is my first year here at Nativity.

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why? 

 My favorite lesson to teach is reading. The students I currently teach are 4 and 5 years old, so when they read a word for the first time or understand a new word, their excitement is infectious.

If, for one day, you were in charge of your school what would you do? 

I would begin the day with a school wide yoga session or controlled breathing exercise. I really find it to be a good way to block out the world around us and come together as a school community. It lets everyone have a fresh start to the day.

If you could write one quote on the board for your students what would it be?

“All people smile in the same language”

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

If I were not a teacher I would be a lawyer. In college, I always thought I would go right to law school after undergrad. However, after sometime in that industry I found out it was not for me.

What advice would you give to all new teachers?

 Be flexible! Everyday is different in school and the more malleable you are, the better each day will be.

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what’s the second best thing?

The school community. When you are in a building everyday with others who are passionate about education, it make everyone better at their jobs.

Who inspires you?

 My mom. My mother, Debra McDonough, has been a teacher for over 25 years and still has a deep passion for her students and teaching. Every student that passes through her class comes out a better person. And everyone lucky enough to be around her is a better person for knowing her. She is truly remarkable.

My classroom superpower is…

 My classroom superpower is calmness under fire. I always say to people that stress is a participatory activity and I choose not to participate. I do not let things in life stress me out, because no one is their best self when they are stressed.


Hey parents, does your child have a teacher who inspires them? Does your child look forward to school becasue of an awesome educator? If so, please consider nominating your child’s teacher to be featured on WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight Series. Contact Jay at writeonfighton@gmail.com