Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sugar Coated

Sugar Coated

There seems to be a honeymoon phase in many aspects of life including friendships, relationships and jobs. That feeling that “nothing can go wrong and this is the best thing that has ever happened to me” phase. This phase doesn’t last long: especially in education. Once the honeymoon phase with the students is over each student’s true colors begin to shine through. It’s at this point when it’s easy to tell who really cares about school and who doesn’t. As educators, I feel we naturally want to see everyone be successful and will do anything to help someone achieve that goal. Do I want to build a happy family of learners who value education, agriculture, and most of all, each other? YES! Will that happen? NO! Unfortunately, no matter how good you are, you can’t save them all.

A scary, but true example

I teach an agriculture mechanic technology course second semester. This course is designed as a block class during first and second period. Because of the extra time, we can get through a lot of material; most of which is large scale projects. I have 12 students enrolled: 17% female, 83% male.  We have met 28 days (approximately 43 hours and 24 minutes) since the start of the semester. I have a student who has missed 16 of those 28 days. He/she has only been in my class 42% of the time. This does not account for the 9 days he/she has shown up late. He/she has been to my class on time only 11% since January 17th.

How do I teach that student let alone grade him/her? How do I catch this student up on the one random day he/she decides to show up to class? The work that I do in this class can’t be taken home. When he/she does show up I literally have to sit with him/her the entire time because the rest of the class is so far ahead.

This one student, who doesn’t care one bit, is holding back the other 11. I have done nothing but try and help him/her with no prevail.


I work really hard to give timely and specific feedback to my students. I do give zeros but am open minded. I realize giving a student a zero can be detrimental to their self-esteem but how do I grade someone who is never here? How do you grade a student who gave up before the semester even started?

This has been a huge frustration for many teachers and I. Recently, the students in the class have been commenting on his/her absence and saying things like, “oh, he’ll/she’ll still get to graduate because the school will just push him/her through”, “the school has graduated students who have missed more”, “maybe we should start to skip more school if nothing is going to happen”, “it’s not fair that he/she gets away with it”. I never knew that one student, who is never in school, could negatively impact so many.

Monday, January 28, 2013


The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
By: Dr. Seuss
Bartholomew Cubbins is a poor boy who lives in the Kingdom of Didd. According to the laws of the kingdom, you must remove your hat when King Derwin is near. As soon as little Bartholomew saw the chariot carrying King Derwin he immediately removed his hat. To his surprise, every time he removed his hat another one mysteriously appeared.
The 500 Hats of Nikki Fideldy
By: Nikki Fideldy
Nikki Fideldy is a poor teacher who works in the Kingdom of Rugby High School. King Blikre and King McNeff demand your hat be removed while inside the kingdom. Unlike Bartholomew, Nikki would have to run around and pick up all her hats she had lost throughout the day. During a pleasant stroll through the cobblestone halls, King Blikre stepped on one of Nikki’s hats and fell. Red with fury, King Blikre marched down and demanded Nikki hand over all her hats. “You have too many hats” yelled King Blikre.  She gave him the following:
·         Accountant
·         Advocate
·         Architect
·         Attorney
·         Author
·         Bus Driver
·         Career Counselor
·         Carpenter
·         Cheerleader
·         Chef
·         Coach
·         Computer Expert
·         Curriculum Writer
·         Detective
·         Doctor
·         Janitor
·         Mad Scientist
·         Physiatrist
·         Secretary
·         School Concierge
·         Stand-in Mom
·         Teacher
·         Tutor


At the end of semester one, I gave all my students a teacher evaluation. When I handed out the form most of them didn’t understand right away. I had to spend a couple minutes explaining why I wanted them to evaluate my class and me as a teacher. Right away, they thought it was a joke. After some convincing they filled out the form. Many of them were so proud of the things they wrote they were even confident enough to write their names on it. Many of them made the following comments: “Why would you even care what we think”, “Are you going to fail me if I said something bad”, “Do we get to do this to other teachers”, and “What are you going to do with what we say”. It was at this moment I realized that teachers shouldn’t be the only ones giving feedback. Some of their comments were hard to take but it’s because of them that I am a great teacher. My best games, activities, and labs came from ideas from them.

I don’t believe I give the best feedback 100% of the time. It becomes very challenging to give timely feedback when you’re wearing 500 "hats". I have to remind my students and myself at times that I’m only one person working many different jobs. I get paid the same amount if I stay at the school until 4pm or 11pm. I believe now that my students have realized that I’m only human and the extra time I put in is for them not me.



“I think it’s important for a teacher to get looked over by their students. They could tell the teacher what they like and don’t like and if it’s mandatory to learn you can find a different way to teach it. Over all I think it creates a more relaxed learning environment when a student and teacher compromise.” – Nicole Atkinson

Monday, December 24, 2012

Covered in Fairy Dust

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there was a classroom. Now, this wasn’t your ordinary classroom: this classroom was special. Why so special you ask? Sit back, relax, and I’ll tell you.

(cue magical music)

1. Let’s start with the room. When you walked in it felt like home. Nobody judged you for what you looked like or what you wore, your sexual orientation, your religious views, or who you hung out with. You were allowed to make mistakes and ask questions without fear of being ridiculed. The walls of this classroom were built with respect, honesty, and integrity (with a splash of glitter and rainbows of course).

2. The teacher was magnificent! He/she knew everything there was to know about their subject area and most of all made learning fun! All the students looked up to him/her and always looked forward to coming to this class. Best of all, the teacher got along with their students and never had any discipline issues.

3. We can’t forget about the students. They loved coming to class and always went above and beyond in their work. They were very respectful to their peers and the teacher. They didn’t have to worry about any factors that may hinder their learning like paying bills, having a job, learning disabilities, or security issues. Their parents were also very active in their learning at home. They worked diligently with their child at home, kept up with all their school work, and came to all parent teacher conferences. Because of the parents involvement learning extended outside the classroom which bolstered their knowledge and success.

4. The best part of this classroom was the homework. Students looked forward to doing it and worked their hardest at doing it right. The homework was fun and what the students liked about it most was it challenged their skill and their thinking. Homework always came back completed on time, if not early.

5. Finally, we have time. Time didn’t exist in this classroom. The students and the teacher didn’t have to worry about deadlines, standards, or failure.

Fairy dust aside, this classroom is just a fairytale.

Bum, Bum, bum! Now what?

After reading “Rethinking Homework” by Cathy Vetterott, I still find myself getting comfortable on that white picket fence in the middle of the argument looking for the “greener” side. At times while reading the book I did feel like Cathy was speaking from that fairytale classroom I explained above where all she had to worry about was homework.

I do not have a lot of homework in my classroom but the little bit I do have they still have trouble completing it or turning it in. For example, on Friday I had three students, “the trouble maker”, “the lazy one”, and “the good student”, who did not turn in their assignments. In my class I do take the time to try and understand students’ lives and if a student truly needs an extension on a homework assignment they know to talk to me outside of class. These three students have all asked for extensions at one time or another because of different issues. I wasn’t overall happy that they didn’t turn it in but the one thing I can be happy about is that they didn’t waste my time by lying to me. They had time to do the work, they just didn’t do it and they would be the first to admit it.

I also give my students a lot of control about what they learn and how they learn it. The one thing I have figured out in all the years I have been teaching, (1 year on January 15th! Wooo!!!) is that there is physically no way to make them all happy. At the end of the day they will find something to complain about. Instead of worrying about what they thought about that project or assignment anymore I’m just thankful they are taking the time to think about my class, even if it may be complaining.

I will continue to try and be the best teacher that I can be while allowing my students some control of the classroom and its curriculum. There is still a place for relative homework that scaffolds our students learning and challenges their thinking. That is the homework I will continue to assign.

And like every fairytale...... They lived happily ever after

The End

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chapter 1 - 2 reflection

A History Lesson
I walked into a college class and the following paragraph was on the board.

Poverty is the deprivation of food, shelter, money and clothing that occurs when people cannot satisfy their basic needs. Poverty can be understood simply as a lack of money, or more broadly in terms of barriers to everyday life (dictionary.com).

As I sat in class and listened to my professor talk about poverty and what it was, it hit me: my family was in poverty. I had never sat back and thought about it much until then: until I was forced too. Single parent household, children paying bills, no car, parent working multiple jobs….and the list continued. I fit into that category far too well.

Let’s take a 23 year step back! The world was graced by my presence (#awesomeness) in 1989 followed by my sister in 1991, and brother in 1992. In 1999, my parents finalized their divorce. My mother worked 2-3 jobs to fight to make ends meet with my father paying zero child support. When I was in the sixth grade I got my first job and started paying bills. Later, my brother also did the same. My responsibilities grew quite rapidly while being highly active in sports and FFA. Many of my peers didn’t know my living situation. My mother was very supportive and helped out as much as possible but, with only a high school diploma, my school work soon became too hard for her to help with. This trend continued with my brother and sister.

There were many things my peers or teachers didn’t know about my home life.  As I got older I could see how imperative it was for me to attend college and worked hard at school with zero help from home. There was a lot of stress put on us and as a kid that made school a second priority at times.  I was lucky to have the emotional support and a good home environment: luxuries some students at Rugby High School would die to have. When I think back I don’t know how I did as well as I did, but am thankful for it.

“Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What being poor does to kids and what schools can do about it”

A book written by Eric Jensen challenges many “social norms” of the reader. Jensen states that students living with poverty are more likely to live in crowded homes, inherit low self-esteem, own fewer books or technology, inherit negative views of school, and have high tardiness and absentee rates. This list of hurdles makes completing homework difficult, if not impossible.

I faced many of these hurdles when I was a kid but managed to do well. There are many students enrolled at Rugby High School that deal with a lot of stress in their daily lives: much more than what I had to.

My Advantages

1.       I’m a noob at RHS. (Noob is gaming terms for being new at something and being willing to learn. Drop that word to your Call of Duty gamers and they might just be surprised!)

I think I have an advantage of being new here. I don’t have any clue as to what the students home lives are, I don’t know whose dating who or who’s never ever ever getting back together, what kind of trouble they have been in, or the kid in general. This allows me to not pass judgment. Every student gets a new slate. This can also be seen as a disadvantage. The following thank you note was given to me at the end of last year by a student:

“I just wanted to write to you to thank you for the awesome year all of us had and for teaching us of the art of agriculture. I also wanted to thank you for not judging me like most do and treating me with respect. I thank you for all the great times.”

                                                                -John Doe Jr.

If I told you the author of this card you wouldn’t believe me.

2.       Agriculture Education

Agriculture Education is unique. I can teach a lesson and then do a project to reinforce it. My class doesn’t require as much “practice” as math or English. The homework that I do give I try and make it a project. Most of my projects are done in class because I have the materials and resources available. I also like to do this so I can try and cover some, if not all, of the cost.

Because Agriculture Education isn’t a core class, I feel it is part of my job to integrate as much math, science, and English into my classroom as possible. I think it’s important for students to realize that the core classes, the classes they are “forced” to take, are relevant in all aspects of life. Also, if there ever comes a time where classes are being cut (knock on wood) I will be able to prove that my classes reinforce the core classes. For example, my students just started a project where they are analyzing data from cranberry and turkey production in 2010 and 2011. They are to take the data and plot it on a graph to show how the value and the amount produced has either increased or decreased and what states play a major role. Although very simple math, it’s still math and I want them to appreciate it. I try and do this with my entire curriculum and many of my projects.


I still don’t know what to think about homework and may never develop a concrete answer. I think students need to have homework so they can learn how to balance their life. I hate busy work and most of all hate correcting it. I am still learning and trying to find my stance on this issue and how to implement it into my classroom. At the moment, the only concrete homework assignment that I have is current events every Friday. This assignment challenges students to develop an opinion on an agriculture current event while also thinking about the cause and effect it has on the industry and its consumers. This simple assignment, which I love, still doesn’t get turned in by many.

Homework is also needed and vital in a college level class. Students need to learn how to be adults and find out what it will feels like when they are out in the real world. The students enrolled in these classes should be the students that are truly looking to continue on to college.

How can we get rid of homework completely when we have the government breathing down our necks to meet standards and state assessments? There are many different ways to measure our students’ abilities and homework is one of them. As long as teachers are making an effort to make the assignment reasonable and relevant to the topic at hand I believe it will enhance students learning.