Charles Town

Charles Town

Spanish moss curtains
fluttering in the wind
A gauzy layer over
the banks of the Ashley.
Down by the market
Ebony skin glistens
Sculpting a basket
of the reedy sawgrass.
The old market echoes
cries from the past
that trail a carriage
of modern day belles.
Sidewalks sizzling
Paddle fans twirling
down Meeting Street
people shuffle.
Over to St. Mary’s
with whispers from the tombs
over to Poogan’s Porch
Miss Zoey speaks.
Lazily sipping on the side porch
trying to catch the afternoon’s breeze.
Over on Queen Street
tantalizing smells waft
calling your name.
At the end of the Battery
regal homes stand
taking notice of
all the years.
The images pieced
create the majestic.
Charles Town
your spirit will always remain.

Originally Published in Burningword Literary Journal, 2002

May Survival Guide for Teachers

For teachers, May is the month of madness. Reviews, exams, grades, and a million other obligations pull at you. On top of all of these event variables, your students have spring fever. Every year without fail this flower of discontent blooms in late April and early May. The students are distracted, playful, and done. Yes, excuse my grammar, but they are done, baked, finished. Over it all.

As the captain of this porous ship, you have to be the one who stays sane. It may be just a bit easier than you think. Try these five simple hints for happiness in order to survive the end of the year shenanigans.

  1. Do not Cram in that Last Chapter-Think quality not quantity. Step back and evaluate your reasons for cramming in work. And be realistic, when has the word cram ever been associated with positive connotations? What will your students really glean from you teaching the Vietnam War in three days? Nothing. Absolutely. Nothing. The world will not come crumbling down upon you if you do not finish all the units you wanted to finish.
  1. Stop Taking Yourself so Seriously-You teach children who are prone to being playful, unique, and creative. So stop trying to sap those qualities out of them because you aren’t handling the May Madness as well as you could be. Instead of punishing an entire group because one child made a fart noise, consider a wrap up project that is actually fun and educational. Do a takeoff on John Green’s Crash Course and have the kids videotape a 30 second spot on their favorite topic of the year or create actual medicine bags for the short story “The Medicine Bag.” Stop being so serious and find some joy in your job; everyone involved will benefit.
  1. Go Outside-This time of year is perfect for a brief walk for students of all ages. You can go for a five-minute walk, come back recharged, and then get back to work. A week of walks can literally change your entire frame of mind.
  1. Round Up Recap-When the kids control the learning process, the results are always the best. Do a Round Up Review. You throw the first question out; such as tell me one thing about FDR, and the kids bounce around the room with details. At answer number five, get ready for the change up-a new question. There can be no longer than a five second wait for any answer. Some teachers use a beanbag to toss from child-to-child as the answers flow. This can go on for the entire hour with the students controlling the entire process. This is another wonderful example of be quiet and teach.
  1. Let Go of One Job or Commitment-Teachers tend to be overachievers. It runs through our blood. But if you do not volunteer for the end of the year dance committee, know this, someone else will do it. Yes, you are replaceable. Even if you are climbing the ladder, no one will be impressed with your struggle to juggle too many extra duties. Your work becomes shoddy and you become frayed. Make a list of every obligation you have from now until the end of the year, and then eliminate one of them. Be realistic in which one you excise; it probably should not be your fifth hour class. Also, do not take on any new tasks to fill in the one you just gave up. And do not even think about feeling guilty for not signing up for the class reunion committee.

The odds are against you in May. But your well being, mentally, physically, and emotionally, is important. Your family needs for you not to snarl at them, and you need to rediscover why you decided to teach in the first place. Look to these five easy to follow suggestions to help you on your journey to peace, love, and knowledge in the month of May.

*May*Miami*Museums*: BOGO

You have nineteen days left to enjoy the Miami Museums at the “buy one get one free” entrance fee (say that five times quickly). The following museums are participating.

Ancient Spanish Monastery

ArtCenter/South Florida

Bakehouse Art Complex

Bass Museum of Art

Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum

Coral Gables Museum

Gold Coast Railroad Museum

The Haitian Heritage Museum

Historic Old Town Hall Museum

HistoryMiami

Holocaust Memorial

Institute of Contemporary Art Miami

Jewish Museum of Florida — FIU

Little Haiti Cultural Center

Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami

MDC Museum of Art + Design 

Miami Children’s Museum

Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection

MOCA — Museum of Contemorary Art

Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum-FIU

Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum of Science

Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Wings Over Miami Air Museum

The Wolfsonian—FIU

Tom Brady and the High School Student Athlete

7.7 million high school students play sports. According to Bryan Toporek in Education Week football “sits at the top of the participation list with 1,108,441 student athletes participating during the 2010-11 school year.” With that many students playing sports, guess who their role models will be? Lee Steinberg in “Why Do We Make Athletes Role Models” summarizes this neat little equation when he says, “ I have built a 40-year career in representation around the belief that athletes are role models and can trigger imitative behavior…. This country needs role models and athletes have both an incredible opportunity and responsibility to use their power for good.”

In one fell swoop, Tom Brady and his sidekicks have made all my lessons and guidance to my students null and void. Here’s why:

  1. Everyone does it-I have heard that in my classroom a million times, and now rabid fans across the United States are echoing this statement. Then they are surprised when their sweet child Snowflake is caught cheating, because he or she would never do that. Maybe it is time to stop the cheating in professional sports if it is rampant. And stop giving excuses that a twelve-year can and does spew.
  1. I don’t know anything-If you don’t stand up for what is right you stand for absolutely nothing. The. Bottom. Line.
  2. The end justifies the means-A house built on a poor foundation will not stand strong. Yes, the Patriot’s have many accolades and accomplishments, but how did they achieve these rewards? The child who works hard in my room to get his or her B’s and C’s is far better than a child who cheats for his or her A’s. We cannot afford to imply for one moment that the cheater is rewarded, or the whole house falls down.
  3. They would have won anyway-Yes, they would have won, but the Patriots should not have even been playing. The rules on the field and in the classroom are simple, if you cut corners and use dishonest means to gain something; your punishment is swift, appropriate, and necessary. This is called a life lesson and most of my 16-17 year old students understand it. One of the first things learned in pre-school is we do not take things they do not belong to us. This is called stealing, and it is bad.
  4. The study was biased-This is the equivalent of the school complaints such as “The teacher doesn’t like me” or “You always pick on me.” If kindergartners on the playground know these excuses do not fly, why doesn’t the NFL? Take your punishment and let the 11.1 million high school watchers see you admit you made a mistake.

Tom Brady, Super Bowl quarterback, needs to do the right thing for teachers, student-athletes, parents, fans, and even his own children-he needs to admit he cheated and take his punishment.

Step Away from that Red Pen: Self-Rubrics and Self-Grading

 

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Having students create their own project rubrics and then having them co-grade them with you will result in better work and a stronger sense of ownership. In “Benefits of a Student Self-Grading Models” by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, she reiterates this idea, “Given student motivation to get grades and the prevalence of cheating, most faculty would never seriously consider letting students grade their own work. However, self-grading, especially of homework, does accrue some significant benefits. It can move students away from doing homework for points to making them more aware of why and how doing problems helps them learn. If students grade their own work, they see exactly where they are making mistakes.”

Invention and implementation are often a result of a need, and my experience with invention, self-grading, and self-rubrics was no different.

A Call for The Need

A family history video project was assigned in my class. It soon became apparent that each child’s project was going to be unique beyond the information, but also in the parameters of grading. Some students could not go back and find information on the required five generations, and others could go as far back as the Civil War. In addition, some children had missing information on a parent or simply had only one parent. I did not want those children to feel inadequate in the least because of this project.

Because each project would be different, each rubric would be different and who better to create it and then help me grade it, than the student who created the project.

The Benefits

Students were asked to make a rubric unique to their situation. They had 100 points to distribute among their categories. They were required to have at least eight sectors and the total value had to equal 100 points. Two components were required: information on themselves and a family connection to history. These arenas were required because it was a given that the students would be equipped with the knowledge to complete these arenas.

  • Ownership

The students began to own all aspects of the video. They actually complained at first and I had separation anxiety. But as recorded in Students Grading Themselves with Rubrics, “With self-grading, each student will have to think critically about their work before giving themselves check marks… Regular use of the self-grading rubric system can help students improve their writing and learn to target their projects toward your expectations. Your class will have fun playing the teacher and grading their own papers too. Using a self-grading system with rubrics is really a win-win situation. “

  • Life Lesson

It is a life lesson to be able to recognize your own flaws. For example, I know I am stubborn, lean towards self-righteousness, and tend to get too passionate about my own agendas. I also have been known to take on too many projects at one time. I know my weaknesses. Some businesses and schools are moving from administrator driven evaluations to self-evaluations for these same reasons.

A student can look at a project and note if t has only two photos when six were required. In my case, the kids were told to fill the empty spaces with new information on a different field. For example, the photo category, if the child had none, could be replaced with art from the child’s culture or a famous people in the family category. The student will recognize where replacements are needed and also where the sections are still weak even after a replacement occurs.

The bottom line is that a child can view the end product and clearly indicate where it is weak. Sehar Siddiqui in “Recognizing Flaws Just as Important as Embracing Them” the author hits the nail on the head, “True flaws are trickier because they’re the ones that can inhibit us from success. This is why most of us don’t like admitting to, thinking about or even considering we have a flaw that is deeper than something that shows purely on the surface level. What’s even harder than realizing and admitting our flaws by ourselves is accepting the criticism when we hear it from someone else. Flaws and criticism go hand-in-hand: Chances are if you’re talking about flaws, you’re going to talk about the criticism you received about them, too. “

By implementing self-rubrics and self-grading, you are teaching a beautiful life skill. It is not always easy to admit your flaws, but doing so is a life skill. You have flaws, the project may have flaws, and they can recognize this and note in on the rubric.

Disclaimers

You have to put much time into this project before you can present it. You also have to know what will be required and what you can let go of without having a meltdown. Then you have to sit back, close your mouth, and watch the learning happen. Teachers are not prone to letting go or shutting up.

You will need a disclaimer to cover that one child who will mark his project 100% without justifying the grade. My rule was that each mark given had to have a short comment as to why that score was assigned. And I reserved the right to override any rubrics that were not prepared in neither earnest nor true reflections of the work. My last safety net was that I too, would be grading the video, so this evaluation would be co-scored.

Join Me in 21st Century Teaching Techniques

Our world of teaching is changing, and we are discovering new ways to challenge, educate, and inspire our students. The next time you give a project, let the students create the rubric and self-grade. This process is a win-win maneuver in the classroom. Consider these thoughts from Lead @ UVA, “When you self‐assess, you become an active participant in your own evaluation.  Your involvement enables you to honestly assess your strengths and also the areas you need to improve. “

 

The Unnamed Storm of 1926

Sissy liked to draw pictures, flip the pages

for homemade movies.

The night of the hurricane, Little Bit screamed

her shoulders into the world. The eye’s eclipse found

Sissy mothering, emptying pots and pans of hurricane.

Gators dug into the swamps, snapped at wind, and burrowed

sunken logs. Only the ibis and Sissy kept watch as waters

rushed the stoop, then cut an island out of the homestead.

Daddy was gone. He paddled streets to see the remnants

of Moore Haven; someone else’s destruction. His exits

always involved broken containers and bitter waters.

The storm passed and the water receded. Most nights

Sissy watched her movies in the shack on the bend

of the Okeechobee. Viewed the same picture again and again,

the same raging storm.

From The Sister Series-2008

Pudding House Chapbook Series

Carol Parris Krauss

Give Me Back My Lesson Plan

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During the Stone Age, when teachers were etching lesson plans on a tablet, the audience for those documents was clearly defined. The LP was produced by the instructor and for the instructor. Today the UTF still feels so strongly about a teacher’s right to lesson plan ownership that in 2014 an arbitration ruling upheld the 1990, Article 8 UTF contract component which states, “…the organization, format, notation, and other physical aspects of the lesson plan are within a teacher’s discretion” and further stressed, “Lesson plans are for the personal use of the teacher.”

But when discussing lesson plans you have to recognize that a few years ago, the teacher’s audience suddenly burst at the seams with the onset of online accessibility. Now students, parents, and administrators have the capability to view the educator’s lesson plans 24/7. This is not necessarily bad, but with the adaptation of common core standards by some schools and districts, the teacher suddenly becomes at risk of losing some or all of his or her power over one of his or her greatest tools. In the article, “The Problem with Lesson Plans” by Nancy Flanagan, the author clearly defines what the teacher really wants, “Teachers want a steady supply of good ideas for teaching, but they also want the responsibility of choosing the best strategies for their own classrooms.” They also want the right to convey their plans in the matter in which they choose within the parameters of professional behavior and norms. So the question becomes, how do teachers remain true to themselves and still fulfill navigational highway requirements and the transparency that accompanies them? Here are a few suggestions, certainly not a cure-all, but some usable ideas, – avoid templates and professionally generated plan books if possible, keep in mind that deep reading, such as with a lesson plan, is a skill, and consider using my LP recipe suggestions.

Avoid Templates and Lesson Plan Companies

It is understandable and expected that administrators wish to offer certain courtesies to students and parents. I’m from the South, I know all about manners and customer service. This desire to accommodate combined with technology is how the lesson plan has moved from a personal writing for the teacher to a missive with an audience. But in the haste to make the reading and comprehending of lesson plans easier for the audience, templates for plans are being used and some people are buying entire programs from businesses. Your teachers are unique and special; you hired them for their talents, do not make them cookie cutter robots. I am lucky that I am able to use a form that lets my personality shine, but still delivers the information that my principal wants. However, I have worked in places where I was hired because of who I am and then told to present something other than who I am in my LP. If you have a choice, and I am aware many of you do not, consider using Google Docs. This is the tool I use. It provides a platform to please the teacher, administrator, and student/parent. The teacher is pleased because he or she can change plans with one swipe, let their personality shine through, and navigate the doc easily. The administrator is pleased because the sharing capabilities allow him or her to gain instant access. The student and parent are pleased because they can find the work assigned in case the child was absent or forgot to write it down in class. In all my years using it, not one parent has ever emailed or voiced a complaint about it to me. It is uniform in the delivery and what the admin requires, but allows for teacher autonomy. Additionally, when a child has to read and process different formatted lesson plans, he or she is learning a life skill. Lesson plan reading and comprehension are skills that help cut-down on spoon-feeding our students.

Lesson Plans and Life Lessons 

Larry Ferlazzo at “Response: Close Reading is a Life Skill” proposed the question: what is close reading, is it important, and if so, how should I teach it? Authors Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johnson hit the nail on the head when they answered, “ Close reading is a life skill, not a reading strategy confined to the classroom. As adults, we close read every day. We slow down to reread certain emails, advertisements, maps, and articles. We do this in order to gain important information, interpret a message, and reflect.” Simply put, learning to read and interpret a lesson plan is an important life skill. We must not remove this learning opportunity by mandating a lesson plan template for a teacher.

LP Recipe Ideas 

            If you are allowed some freedom in creating and formatting your lesson plans, use these tips to help you tighten up your plans. They are free of educational jargon, as I have had enough for ten life times. Remember, your plans need to benefit you and your electronic audience (with the emphasis on you):

  • Include the Nitty Gritty-make sure you have your name, the date, and the subject at the top of the plan. This seems obvious, but in our haste to include bells and whistles, we often overlook the obvious.
  • Keep the Objectives Simple-neither you or your students/parents care if you are covering 16.2 of the English standard of the second tier of the third phase of your particular state. No. They really do not. Just tell the audience your daily and/or weekly goals. If the students are going to make medicine bags while studying the short story “The Medicine Bag” in order can understand the significance of them, then simple write that.   Numbers, codes, and educational jargon will just confuse you and everyone else involved.
  • Tools-just bullet point what text/pages, apps, movies, or worksheets you will be using. Upload or link any tools that a sick child staying at home might need.
  • Looking Ahead-look a week ahead and indicate to your audience what is coming down the pipe. Include page numbers for readings and links for any online materials. You do not need to keep this a secret. Some teachers do not want the children to look ahead. Why? Are you afraid they might prepare ahead?

You do not need more than this on your lesson plan. As stated at Strategies for Effective Lesson Planning, “To be effective, the lesson plan does not have to be an exhaustive document that describes each and every possible classroom scenario. Nor does it have to anticipate each and every student’s response or question. Instead, it should provide you with a general outline of your teaching goals, learning objectives, and means to accomplish them. It is a reminder of what you want to do and how you want to do it. A productive lesson is not one in which everything goes exactly as planned, but one in which both students and instructor learn from each other.” You need to keep it simple, easy to read, and easy to use. Stop being your own worst enemy.

It’s a Wrap

I am aware that the tips presented here cannot help all educators. Some teachers no longer have any control over the contents of their lesson plans. This is sad. But as I tell my students, if I have managed to assist, educate, inspire, or remind even one you in some way with this blog, then my job here is complete.