Want to be a Teacher? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

Teaching is something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl I had a chalkboard in my room and would “teach” my younger brother, along with all my stuffed animals and cabbage patch dolls — who I’d line up seated in a horseshoe shaped-U, in front of me as I lectured them on reading and writing.

blog4I was also an avid reader and writer myself and kept a number of composition books and various notebooks filled with short stories that I wish so badly I still had today. My dual passions for teaching and writing were always at odds and for most of my life I thought of as two separate entities pitting themselves against each other. I had to choose — be a writer, or be a teacher.

Writing won out at first as I spent most of my high school and college years dedicated to writing for and acting as editor for my school newspaper, respectively. Although teaching seemed to always be calling to me in the far ends of my mind, studying Journalism and ultimately landing a career in communications seemed more natural — at first.

When my family embarked on our cross-country move to the San Francisco Bay area from New York City back in 2011 I took the opportunity to go back to school and study education. Before committing to any program I spent a year volunteering at my son’s preschool, and visited many elementary classrooms as well. Once in my Masters program, I excelled – A’s all around!

I thought I was prepared, but very quickly realized once in the classroom that there was so much more that I didn’t consider, or think to ask myself ahead of time. One of my most recent chat with teacher podcasts with Danielle David, educator in the East Bay for over 11 years, touched on three questions any person considering a career in education should ask themselves. At about the 48:55 mark, you’ll hear Danielle suggest asking yourself the following:

  1. Do I really like kids?
    Danielle admitted that while this may seem like a no-brainer, that it is very important to consider your feelings about children. Whether you’re considering early elementary, middle school or High School — do you like being around young children, adolescents or teenagers. Your love of math may not be good enough to qualify you for being a math teacher in a room full of around 30 teenage students if you can’t stand being in the room with them in the first place.
  2. How am I going to balance the workload and my life?
    “I know that seems like putting the horse before the cart,” says Danielle, “but at the same time, it’s really important to have a work/life balance. Being a new teacher, it’ll eat you up if you let it.”
    Thinking about how to honor all the parts of your life that are important to you is good  advice in any career you choose, but as Danielle says, as a teacher “there will always be work, there will always be lessons to write, but you’re not always going to have that time to be with your family or that you could go and take an exercise class and you don’t want to lose yourself to try to get ahead.” If you’re not putting your best self forward, you’re not going to be able to forge long lasting relationships, a part of teaching that is extremely important, and often goes overlooked in teaching programs.
  3. How am I going to prepare myself for feedback that maybe isn’t so great?
    During our chat, Danielle shared a personal anecdote from her earlier years in the classroom. She talked about how an administrator once said “I don’t like your voice.” Danielle shared how hurtful that felt at first, but after some thought and reflection was able to figure out that she had been talking loudly over her students. She was able to take, what she referred to as badly worded constructive criticism, and turn it into a teachable moment that taught her to slow her pace and be more aware of her students engagement during lessons.
    “It is a very personal profession. You are out there on stage,” says Danielle, “people are going to come in and they’re going to have things to say about it [your teaching], it’s going to happen.”Danielle went on to say that despite the comments anyone gets, “people are going to get feedback that they don’t want to hear.” She suggests asking yourself, how will you be able to respond to that? She also recommends not being reactionary, and instead consider where the observer is coming from? How truthful are they? And, are they someone you trust?

Teaching has so far proven to be a profession that definitely requires one to have patience with children, and adults! It has also taken more of an effort to balance my life as a mother, wife, teacher and now blogger, than ever before. In a separate podcast with 16 year teaching veteran, Melissa Ascencio, we chatted candidly about what balancing her life as a teacher/mom meant to her — understanding that nothing can be equally balanced at the same time, that sometimes certain parts of your life required more attention than the others at any given time, but that as long as it all evens out in the end you have achieved some sort of balance.

And lastly, one thing I am so grateful to have learned as a teacher so far, has been this idea of tackling everything life throws my way with a growth mindset and willingness to improve for the betterment of myself and for the sake of my children…both my children at home and in my classroom.

by Jennifer Khadir

Episode 6 – Danielle David

 

ddavid“I’m a Caucasian woman from an upper middle class town where I was raised… I moved to Oakland when I started teaching in Oakland – and so I think that actually living in the city that I worked in, especially considering Oakland has many different neighborhoods, but there is a lot of impoverished areas of Oakland, it was humbling for me and that helped – immersing myself in the culture. I had some falters throughout the years, people may or may not have called me racist, I don’t think it was true, I know it wasn’t true, but people get defensive when it comes to their kids or somebody that is trying to help them but they feel like it’s a challenge. So, I just became very humbled and I listened, and you know what I learned… you don’t always have to have an answer for something, and the most valuable tool you can give to someone is your active listening… you’re just listening with your ears and heart.”

Fast Facts about Danielle

  1. Full name: Danielle David
  2. Years in education: 11
  3. Current position: Teacher on Special Assignment in Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District
  4. Grade(s) taught: TK, K, 1, 2, 3 as a classroom teacher but I have worked with all grades from TK-8th
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach: Because I want to help enable our future to make better decisions than those from our past.

Noteworthy outtakes from Danielle’s chat

During our chat, Danielle mentioned some of the following topics. Click on the links below to learn more about them:

  • Transitional Kindergarten (TK) – a relatively new grade that began in California about five years ago to accommodate children with Fall birthdays who did not meet the state’s most recent kindergarten age cutoff of turning five before September 1st.
  • Montessori – Danielle mentioned Montessori briefly in comparing it to the very play-based TK program she helped to launch at Emerson Elementary school in Oakland, CA. More about this topic in an upcoming post as a Montessori trained teacher is on the schedule for an upcoming podcast!
  • Caring School Communities

daniellejpowerMeet and Spin with Danielle in Person!

Danielle is a wealth of knowledge and experience, and also doubles as a spin studio instructor! If you happen to live in, or around, the Benicia, CA area, be sure to attend one of her spin classes at JPower Studio. You can find Danielle combining her passion for both teaching and exercise here every Wednesday morning at 5:30am, Thursday nights at 5:30pm and alternating weekends – check out the schedule.

 

 

 

Episode 4 – Vanessa Donino

 

vanessadonino“I completely admire the profession of education more so than anything. Please don’t ever be discouraged … if you’re overwhelmed reach out to fellow educators who understand what you do because what we do is truly, truly noble!”

Fast Facts about Vanessa

  1. Full name: Vanessa Donino
  2. Years teaching: 3
  3. Grade(s) taught: 1st-3rd and Alternative High School
  4. Current position: Educator of Incarcerated Youth at Oneida County Prison
  5. Current city: Oriskany, NY
  6. Past cities Vanessa has taught in: Bronx, NY, Clark County, NV
  7. Why teach?: I teach because I want to help fight educational injustice and policies.
  8. Favorite books:
  9. Resource mentioned during podcast interview: Engage NY

 

The Five Letter Word That Saved My Life!

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Ok… so I have a flare for the dramatic! But seriously, when I began getting ready for my first year of teaching I planned lessons, decorated bulletin boards, set up the classroom furniture, and had my first day of school read aloud book all ready to go. I was prepared, so I thought.

I soon found out that the missing piece of the puzzle was a well thought out curriculum in social emotional learning (SEL) and the incorporation of a five-letter word that has since been a wonderful addition to my classroom: PEACE!

But what is peace? Why is it important to teach and include in your curriculum?

Once I discovered the value and importance in talking to my students about peace, I began starting each school year with a conversation about what the kids themselves think peace means.

“Being able to feel good about yourself!”

“Blue!”

“Soft and quiet!”

These are just some of the things they’ve come up with, and they are always surprised to learn that peace can be found in many places. It doesn’t just refer to “world peace”. They can have a hand in creating a peaceful environment wherever they are.

We then read the book Peace Week in Ms. Fox’s Class by Eileen Spinelli. After reading about all the squabbling and chaos happening in Ms. Fox’s class we share moments of difficulty we’ve had in the past and how we worked through them. I then, and with that dramatic flare previously mentioned, reveal a “peace path.” The kids “Oooo” and “Ahhhh.” Once settled down we go over the different parts of the peace path:

  1. Take a Breath
  2. Stop and Think
  3. I statements: “I felt __________ when __________ because___________.”
  4. Followed by the listener repeating the persons feeling with, “I understand you felt ___________ when ____________ because __________.”
  5. Brainstorm: One idea at a time, problem solve, take turns.
  6. Come to an agreement and make peace: Shake hands, high five or hug.”

img_20161017_142250462This is followed by some fun modeling on how to use the peace path and give respectful “I statements” as well as how we use our listening tools (“we listen with our eyes, ears and hearts!”). Each person on the peace path stands on either side of it, with another student whose classroom job is a “Peacemaker.” They then follow the steps on the path and step forward until they meet in the middle where they brainstorm ways to make amends and come to an agreement in the middle.

What has been great about the addition of the peace path in my classroom is that it has given my students a voice and builds their skills as leaders when they help their peers “walk the peace path.”

I leave the peace path in a part of the room dubbed the “Peace Area” and students are free to offer the flower to a peer and invite them to the peace path when they feel like they need to resolve an issue.

Generally, I have found asking students to use the peace path during recess, or other transition parts of the day doesn’t generally interrupt the work time as a class. I’ve also even allowed some kiddos to go to the peace path whenever they’ve needed to and have seen it help with them getting focused again when they return to working because they feel heard and have had their feelings valued.

There is so much I am still learning about social emotional learning and building a peaceful environment and culture in my classroom. I hope this one example of the use of a Peace path is helpful to you and can help you and your students work towards building these very important social emotional skills.

By Jennifer Khadir

Finding My Place As A Teacher

“What’s your secret?!”

“How do you get your students to the circle so peacefully?”

“How do you keep your kids so engaged?”

“When do you have time to plan your lessons?”

So many questions still left unanswered, or come up throughout the career of a teacher, that were not quite so covered in Education 101. Three years into teaching and I have so far found that there has been no better training than the lessons taught to me by my very own students. Them and the peers I work alongside.

Before I go on, I have to first admit that teaching is a second life career for me. I first spent almost a decade working in Corporate Communications while I lived in New York City. Having always longed to be a teacher, when my husband and I decided to move our young family of three across country to San Francisco, CA, I jumped at the chance to go back to school and earn my Masters of Arts in Teaching.

How smart of me to go back to school during my time as a stay at home mom. I didn’t have to work and I’d have plenty of time to study, earn good grades and take in everything I could during my time as a student teacher. I was 30 years old, my son was three, and we just moved 3,000 miles away from the family and friends we spent all our lives around helping us and providing support that I was too naive to have realized I was getting so much of.

Needless to say, it was a tough road. If it weren’t for the support of my husband, and the fortunate placement of some pretty incredible people that have been placed in my life along the way, I couldn’t have done it. But thanks to them, my ambition and type A personality, I graduated with a 4.0 degree from a top rated University and was well on my way to becoming the educator I had always dreamed of being.

Soon after I was even offered a teaching position as a second grade teacher for a school in East Oakland. I was on cloud nine. My timeline was all coming together… I should also mention that a month after graduating I gave birth to a second son who was a mere eight months old when I started working again after a three year hiatus as a stay at home mom. All my check boxes were getting ticked off.

Move cross-country, check!
Experience being a stay at home mom after working non-stop since high school, check!
Get Master’s degree, check!
Have another baby, check!
Become a bonafide teacher, check!

Does it sound like I am bragging? Because I’m not. Like all those celebrity couples that the media loves to place on a pedestal, watch in amusement as they attempt to live up to the live’s the tabloids created for them, then later watch their relationship experience a great fall…I must admit my first year teaching was the most difficult and gut-wrenching experience I ever had.

It was like a punch to the gut. I spent countless hours planning, preparing, fixing up my classroom. I remember aching to get my hands on those classroom keys! I memorized my class roster. I spent weekends the summer before my first Fall as a teacher at Lakeshore. I was already spending money before I was even making any! I was so excited.

Then reality hit.

Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Especially in a school serving an area’s most vulnerable and under-served young people. I was in for it. My type A personality was about to get a humble lesson in humility. My students were my best teachers. That said, I did not feel ready for the challenges that faced me that first year.

In just the short two years since, I have grown immensely, learned so much, and learned to take whatever advice I could get with an open heart and an even more open ear.

I’ve since also grown to appreciate the importance of things like social emotional learning, and building a culture of love and safety before all else, including the curriculum.

It is my hope that this will be a place where teachers come together to share their experiences, share their expectations, their hopes, and their ups and downs.

As I think back to my time as a student teacher, I remember admiring so much the classroom management displayed by my host teacher and asking, “Can you tell me exactly what goes into your classroom management techniques?” After sharing and showing me some of the things she does, she said, “…but you’ll have to figure out what feels right to you.” And while that is so true, it doesn’t hurt having resources, tips and tricks shared along the way!

I have grown to value the importance of good and ongoing mentorship. It is with all this in mind that I look to build a place where weekly blog posts and podcasts can live to help me and any teacher looking to build a resource of mentors and resources can come to as we seek answers to those unending questions of how to best support our students and live up to the needs our children have as they grow and learn all they need to know to go out into the world as competent well-rounded people.

By Jennifer Khadir