Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sub-letting Your Instructional Day

Karns, K. (2008). "What's in my bag."
If there is one thing I know of that sets classroom teachers apart from the rest of the work-a-day world, it's this: when someone calls in sick, they can hang up the phone and go back to bed. (I know that there are exceptions, but let's for the moment take a look at the big picture.) When a teacher calls in sick, he or she is expected to construct a plan for the day so that someone else can take over. Many times, this calls for a moderate adaptation of what a teacher has actually planned for that day. In some cases, a teacher may need to find the substitue themselves. (It's probably no secret that teachers have a "go-to" substitute for when the need to be out of the classroom; that person isn't always be available, however.) The final step is for the teacher to get the day's plans to the sub. The advent of email and websites has made doing that remotely easy. Sometimes, however, a teacher needs to deliver the materials to the classroom prior to the school day.

Something that I've observed regarding integrating technology into lessons is that most subs don't understand the overall assignment, or don't know much about the technology that is being used. How does that affect the classroom if the missing regular classroom teacher?

Based on a recent experience, I would say poorly.

Please don't mistake this as a harangue on the substitute teacher. I have many to choose form that are perfect for my classroom: energetic, tech savvy, and possessing of a good dose of common sense. There are some who I have asked never to be be assigned to my classroom ever again. The reasons for those folks are less than exciting: they mostly didn't want to be in my classroom. Still, there are days when the best classroom plan is "silent sustained reading," simply because what I had planed to do would take more time to explain in a written plan than would actually take to implement by the substitute teacher.

The issue is this: the classroom teacher who integrates technology into their lessons/units/courses puts a lot of time and effort into the thought and planning process. If they do it right, they consider all of the benefits and pitfalls of implementing technology in their classroom. They are damn near experts on the software, hardware, and perhaps even the research behind its integration. They are prepared for all of the successes and failures that will come.

Kirkland, M. & Selman, M. (2009). "Bart Gets a Z."
The sub is there to satisfy the legal requirement that a licensed teacher be in charge of the classroom. There is no law or rule that stipulates they need to be expert in the subject they are stepping into. That's not to say that they aren't expert - some of the subs for my classes have had some amazing experience and credentials. But the substitute that helped write the AP World History exam last year will likely not have the knowledge of how my students use digital image editing for their projects, or have access to or experience with Edmodo.

The easy answer is "well, when I get back, I'll get everything back on track." The problem is - based on actual experience - is that the nagging back pain might be a kidney stone blocking the essential plumbing. (You'll miss three-to-five days because of this, but the painkillers are amazing.) This means your sub will be on call for many days in a row. That's a lot of time to have to "get everything back on track." You may not be able to schedule the substitute who understands exactly what you are doing in your classroom. What do you do then?

I wish I had an answer to this one. I'm fortunate that I work in a school and a department who support integrating technology, but they also have their own classrooms to tend to. Sometimes you have to restort to the "life gets in the way" philosophy. Perhaps your technically infused lesson will have to wait until your return. In my experience, a day or two delay is not a lesson killer; a week is a long time to let things go without specific instruction. I've had those days where specific instructions were left behind, along with the caution "please make sure they are working on their projects." I've always received the report the next day that "those kids really worked and were focused on the computers." Many times, the work wasn't project related. Kids are still kids when it comes to the substitute teacher.

How do you handle the heavy tech lessons when a substitute has to step in for you?

UDATE: And, oh, by the way, Happy 2nd Anniversary, BlamSpot! I can't wait to see how you handle the terrible twos!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why Yes, You May Call Me "Master"

"Marty Feldman" (07/2011). Critical Fright.
Two years ago, I began my quest for an advanced degree. As a teacher, I had observed many colleagues fulfill their goal of receiving a Master's degree, and they all claimed that while it was a lot of time, work and money, it was worth it. The University of Northern Iowa's Instructional Technology Cohort program seemed to be the right program for my needs and schedule. I qualified for admittance, and began my trek with my first online class at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, May 4th, 2010. At 7:00 PM Friday, May 4th, 2012, the journey ends when degrees will be conferred.

Please - you don't be formal when you address me. You may just call me "master" from this point on.

The next chapter of my educational journey is now largely up to me, but it does come with that little tag at the end of my credentials: MA. How that will affect what I do in the classroom or with my career is yet to be seen, but there is an aire of optimism regarding how I will be accepted in the realm of education. The fruits of my labor - and newly acquired knowledge - will bring me more than just a better paycheck (not that there's anything wrong with that, I'm not complaining. I'm just saying.) So as opposed to speculating on my future, allow me this posting to reflect upon the experience.

First of all, for those who are interested, my ePortfolio can be found here. This is the academic treatment of my past two years, and while not all of the artifacts will turn the pedagogical sphere inside out, I do feel that I've shed some light on things that otherwise needed some light. It represents a lot of work, observation, practice, collaborating, pontificating, writing, revising, revising, and revising.

Some other musings:

People ask me if getting my doctorate is next. The anser is "no," for these reasons:

  1. I had a hard enough time just writing a research literature review that met specs. I think a dissertation would kill me. Even though I know I am a better academic writer than I was two years ago, it's just hard to let my mind go to that space right now. Maybe in two years when I get really bored I'll consider it - but I doubt that I'll considering for very long.
  2. My wife would probably be less than thrilled - at least at this point in time. She's really enjoying the fact that for the first time in two years, I "don't have to write something." (Come to think of it, so am I.) She encouraged me to pursue this degree, and has been a huge cheerleader during the past two years - and there where many "poor me" moments that she managed to slap down. I think I owe her some "I don't have to write something" time.
  3. I like the title of "Master." I think it beats "Doctor" any day. Consider it from this point of view: "Doctor" makes it sound like you have to take care of someone, or cure their ills. It concocts an image of a kindly old country doctor taking care of the boo-boos ala Norman Rockwell. "Master," on the other hand, conjures images of an imposing figure with chiseled features and Fabio hair flowing in a gale-force wind, hurling thunderbolts down from a cliff while pounding his chest and shouting "I am man imortal!" Do you really have to think about this one? Please.
The human element must be addressed as well. I had the opportunity (which after a very short time became apparent that it was a privilege) to collaborate with fifteen amazing cohorts. I've learned volumes from them all, but more specifically (and importantly):
  • Chelsea, Lisa and Joni were champions for the elementary student viewpoint. Their projects and reflections reminded me that their students' challenges and successes will eventually become my students', and they will likely do better because of what these three do every day. 
  • Sarah constantly amazed by guiding us with her research abilities. I think she may have special powers, but we all agree that she's just a wicked-smart teacher-librarian.
  • Jennie inspired us by shattering the image of "the man's realm" with her teaching a unique male dominated subject.
  • Brandi, Marty and Deb constantly proved to us that they would (and probably should) be amazing classroom teachers, and that what we do in the classroom isn't always as clear as we think. Their perspective was sometimes humbling, but always valued.
  • Lance created some amazing opportunities via the ITEC conferences and set up important infrastructure for our projects. His ability to backchannel on multiple platforms was awe-inspiring.
  • Jamie and Stacy demonstrated to us that yes, you can teach full time, get a Masters degree AND have children all at the same time. I didn't think anyone could be that bored, but then again, what do I know? I think those kids are pretty lucky to have them as mothers. 
  • Carrie showed us that fighting the good fight for the kids who need a bit more help is always worth it, and challenged those she presented to to treat all kids with respect and compassion.
  • Mande and Cathy showed how collaboration between their students in two different school districts allowed for new learning opportunities and teaching methods. (Cathy also showed us that leaving your hometown and all that that is familiar can, despite being painful, provide some amazing revelations both in and out of the classroom.)
  • Dr. Z shepherded us through all of this by challenging, confounding, celebrating, confusing, and coordinating us. I don't know if anyone else could have done as well with this group. I suspect no one else could.
I think very highly of these folks, and I will miss them. From the start, it was clear that we all liked each other and got along fairly well. When posible, we would get together for some valuable face-to-face time. We collaborated, commiserated, edited each others' work, and sent messages to each other during our online classes. We bonded. In this era of online communication, it's not likely that we will all lose touch; at the same time, though, these were the people that made hopping on line every Sunday night much more enjoyable, especially when the backchannel chatting began. It was easy to post "We are the Cohort, the mighty MIGHTY Cohort" after successful presentations and accomplishments.

I know I'm a better person today, a better teacher, because of these people and the associated activities. It's been worth it. I think that's the real payoff of receiving the title of "Master." So, yes, you can call me "master," thank you.