Category Archives: Teaching

About lessons and curriculums

A Simple Request

Image result for sub lesson plans template

Today, I took a job at a school for a 4th grade class – no big deal.

However, when I got to the classroom, I didn’t see any plans for the day. Looked on the desk, the reading table, etc., and not a guideline or directive in sight. By then, the class arrived, and after settling in, I buzzed the office, asking for emergency plans. The reply was that there weren’t any. Okaaaay……no plans in the room, no emergency plans, no posted schedule, no colleague teacher support.  Quickly going through my mental file cabinet, I came up with something creative that got us through the day, but here’s my open letter:

Dear  Teachers:
1. PLEASE PLEASE prepare for any possible absences by having emergency plans available. Make sure that they’re not just time-wasters of word searches, and quick fill in the blanks. I’ve known many administrators to require a week’s worth of resources , just in case.

2. If  you don’t have that ready, be willing to e-mail and/or fax the school something that will ensure a productive day(s), keeping with your original plans.  Once, I had  a teacher  e-mail his plan for that day, plus he sent worksheet and activity attachments to be copied.

3. Supply clear instructions, along with what students to rely on, and whom to be aware of questionable behavior. If allowed, phone numbers are welcome, too. Don’t hesitate to share the reward and discipline procedures.

4. You may know your routine in your head, but I don’t. Please post it somewhere handy. It’s easier to get through the day, especially when a 1st grader doesn’t know when it’s actually time for lunch or washroom break. 

Sure, it’s common sense, but sometimes in the wake of unplanned absences, this aspect gets lost in the shuffle. As a guest teacher, it’s my job to maintain your routine as closely as possible, not create more upset. Seeing a different face is stressful enough for the kids, but adding in no plans is a downward spiral.

The next worst thing – NO scheduled prep, too!


The REAL Reason


The above image show WHY I go out every day and teach such a wide variety of students every week—to know that I can  reach even one or two is awesome goal.

More Than Just A Letter Grade

school grades


Since I started back working for the current school year, my second assignment was at a a large high school for the first week, where there were over a dozen vacancies where no teachers had been placed. 

All of us had no classroom materials or curriculum guides to choose from. and the building was 90% without air-conditioning, including the auditorium. So we were filling time-slots with oft-repeated “ice-breakers” that had worn thin by the second day for the kids. Naturally, they showed their discontent in typical teenaged ways—by completely turning you off. One of my classes was termed “Leadership,” but nobody seemed to know what it entailed or what material so I tried another tactic; I asked them –as an open-ended discussion—what “leadership” meant to them.

As I had all boys, a handful of them started to respond, but one guy rang out with “What kind of grade do we get to answer?” I calmly told him that this was no grade, as their permanent teacher hadn’t been assigned uet, and we were just readjusting to the school climate.

He then replied, “Then, it shouldn’t matter, if you can’t get a grade; that’s what school is for. Learn the stuff, and get a grade—that’s it.” The majority around him agreed. In their eyes, if their was no letter designation, it wasn’t worth their efforts.

I asked them about exploring an area or topic without the premise of getting a grade, and they said that’s a waste of time, as ALL learning is a grade. Even when I showed them that the adult world was NOT graded, but one’s actions produced the results, they were  still unfazed. To them, learning for its own enrichment was bogus. The concept of spouting  an instructor’s “facts” and completing soon to-be-forgotten paperwork for these coveted letters was what education actually  meant to them. How sad—the system has already doused their flames of inquiry.

The Real Reason

education for what

As a new school season unfolds, and I return as a guest teacher in my city, my hope is that there is an across-the-board revitalized movement to put teaching before testing, to allow students to be genuine explorers of knowledge, and  to instill a respect for the thousands of guest teachers throughout  the nation, who provide a valuable service as professionals  keeping the learning continuum going when a regular teacher is out. Rather than let the learning threads be broken, they keep the threads flowing along.

Unable to connect the dots of thinking

children-thinkOne of the tasks I do at one of my sites is assist middle- and junior-high  students with critical thinking/character building activities.

Working with 4th through 8th graders, I am constantly amazed at how far too many kids don’t really know “how” to think reflectively. When given a quote to respond to on paper, the majority of students hit a brick wall, and were not skilled to verbalize clearly, if at all.

For example, one of the quotes was Gandhi’s “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Students were asked to show how this statement applies to their lives, in more than just a sentence or two. First of all, they didn’t understand what the statement meant. [These were 7th and 8th graders.] Then, they went on to just re-copy the words. Or, they were unable to formulate any thoughts beyond that sentence or two without expressing frustration, extreme fidgeting, and/or being terribly grammatically incorrect. Anything that required looking beyond the surface of an obvious answer was uncharted territory, and they were stymied.

Even whole-class discussions before the writing proved fruitless, as the simple rules of courteous dialogue weren’t followed. It’s difficult to share ideas when students constantly horn in and belittle, instead of  listening to each other.

Rather than get upset, I held brief one-on-ones with the more willing students to find out where their heads were at. For starters, most of them had never heard of Gandhi, or his accomplishments. Then, they didn’t feel it was important to be an agent for change; they were more pre-occupied with iPods, and new shoes. They actually saw “thinking” or reflecting as being “too hard” or just busywork. What they wanted was more mindless worksheets, where supplying the “right” responses was equated with true learning in their minds.

Practicing expository writing with clarity and purpose outside of standardized tests had little or new appeal, and showed up in their finished products. Rather than learn to see revising and editing as steps on the journey of critical thinking, they went for the easiest way out– just fill up a page with words, whether they related to the quote or not. To them, seeing a full page meant “getting the work done,”  not expressing a personal idea.

What concerns me is that being educated nowadays has shifted focus from being a well-rounded individual who is productive, into becoming a reservoir of hollow facts ready to spout off at any time, only to “sound” smart, but not really understand.

Most were able to recite the latest lyrics, ad slogans, and current slang, but overall, incapable of answering the deeper “why” questions, feeling that this skill is not really necessary for academic success. How sad it is that they are missing out…..

On Backpacks, Books, and Ballpoint Pens

It’s the start of a new school year, and in many districts throughout  the country, schools started up as early as three weeks ago.

My city is one of those who embraces the August return, so I’ve been back at work, despite the waning days of summer

One point about my guest teaching is that I’ve seemed to create my own niche of obtaining long-term stints—filling in for medical leaves, unfilled posts, etc. It’s a real blessing as I get to establish lasting bonds with the teachers, students, families,  and administrators with my assigned schools, and also reinforces the fact that ALL teachers, whether regularly assigned or in a more fluid way, are following a true calling to enrich the lives of every child that sits under their tutelage.

On the other hand, it involves doing the work for that subject—the lessons, conferences, and professional development that occasionally can be daunting. But being originally trained for teaching, it’s like riding a bike—those learned habits really never leave.

This year was no different from the others, as I witnessed a an endless parade of shiny new [and expensive!] backpacks waiting to be filled with textbooks and homework. Due to warm weather, shorts were often the order of the day when temps soared in the 90’s. Bu t most kids were excited anyway—glad to be back in the routine of class, lunch, and recess.

After years of teaching Spanish to urban grade-schoolers, my new learning “pool” to swim in is General Music, which is what I was originally trained for—Music Education.

So coming full circle, it’s been very interesting to see how my current crop of  kids at my two schools have little connection with the traditional formats, and are much more knowledgeable about hip-hop, rap, iPods, rather than the orchestral families. 

So the new challenge has been handed to me, and we’ll see how this season’s clay will take shape in creating not mere urns of spouting facts, but  evolving into endless spouts for expansion.


Driven By Perfection

One of the tasks that I’m doing this year is asssting other classroom teachers in their workday, when I’m not engaged in teaching Spanish. One of the trends that I’ve noticed among my primary and middle-schoolers is an excessive need to be absolutely perfect in appearance on paper  in doing classwork.

When providing individual guidance, I’ve noticed that there’s so much emphasis on “geting it right,” in appearance on the paper, and not owning the knowledge for themselves. For instance, when writing a sentence, I had a 3rd grader erase over and over just two words, because he said they weren’t “all the same size,” or uniformly even in his eyes.He spent more time focusing on what it looked like, instead of following the assigned task of correcting the misspelled word.

I asked him why, and he said without blinking an eye, “It has to look perfect, or I won’t be learning.”.

Already he has lost the joy of learning, and replaced it with drudgery.