27 November 2014

The future of education- and educators

Day 24 of Te@chThought's Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge

What are your dreams for education in the future?

Now this is a tall order but I don't want to be greedy so here are just a few of my dreams for the future of education.

1. All schools are fully funded and are able to obtain all materials necessary to create the most optimal learning experiences.

2. All teachers are valued for what they and what they do by fellow teachers, administrators, parents and students.

3.  Freedom of curriculum without the fear of standardized tests as an end-all be-all.  While I can see the merits of having common curriculum, allowing students to move from state to state and be able to pick up where they left off, teachers should have the freedom to create their own lessons within the curriculum.  We are not Stepford Teachers. We all have different ways to achieve the same goal.  We are professionals and should be trusted as such.


Attitude of Gratitude

Day 23 of Te@chThought's Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge

How did your Attitude of Gratitude work out – tell us about it.

I have been doing "lunedì dolce" or "Sweet Mondays"  for a while now.  It was my attempt to make Mondays more bearable.  I will say that the kids really do look forward to it and I do find that it has worked well because I feel that for the most part, the students are grateful for whatever the "dolce" is and work better.

The other thing that I wanted to do was to make sure that I thanked all the members of the Italian Honor Society at each meeting.  I can tell that the students do feel appreciated but most of all, I noticed that many more are attending the meetings, which in turn has put us on the path for a very successful year - maybe even the most successful yet!

26 November 2014

Just the 4 of us

Day 22 of Te@chThought's Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge


What are your family traditions you are most grateful for?

Since we are always so busy during the year with work, sports, holidays and a myriad of other activities, my favorite "tradition" is taking trips with my wife and kids.  I know that it might seem a little harsh to the super-close families but the truth is that major holidays and birthdays all have their merits but are always somewhat stressful for me. 

On our trips, we get to discover new places together and have new experiences together like staying on an Alpaca farm and doing yoga. We don't even need to go far or go for weeks on end.  We just need to be together and create memories because those are the souvenirs that never break and are priceless.


Checking out Charleston, SC

Bike riding on Hilton Head Island

Feelings first

Day 21 of Te@chThought's Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge

List a book you are thankful to have read and how it has inspired you to be better at what you do.

Choosing just one book for someone who looks forward to summers only to be able to devour books I can't get to because I'm so busy during the school year.  I have read many teaching journals that I am grateful for like The Language Educator published by ACTFL because they help keep me current and are an invaluable resource for ideas.  I have read many Italian novels that have inspired me to bring them into the classroom in some way- whether it be to read the whole novel together or to read only pieces.  I have read Harry Potter and some other really entertaining and not-so-appropriate-for-work books.  While I do like to be transported to different worlds as a source of escape and just for fun, I find that I prefer non-fiction.  

A few summers ago, I was on this kick of wanting to know everything about knowing everything and how we remember and memorize and become a super-intelligent superhuman.  I read The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer and Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet to name a few.  While none of these apply readily to my day-to-day duties as a teacher, I do believe that they have opened my eyes to accepting people for who they are.  I will admit that this is not always an easy task but I do find it easier to do when it comes to my students.  I was particularly struck by how Daniel Tammet as an autistic man taught himself to have appropriate reactions to things that people would say so they would not feel bad even though he completely lacked the emotion. I thought to myself, wow, if he could do that, maybe we could all take a cue and try to take into account more others' feelings more than our own at times.  Another thing that I gained from this book was an insider's view of a disorder that many don't understand.  

Throughout my 15 years as an educator, I have come across many types of students and I hope that I have always been compassionate and understanding and made them feel comfortable in my classroom but this was something I wasn't prepared for. Only time and experience could make me a better teacher in all aspects.  I do believe that this book gave me a new-found appreciation for what some students might be going through, even if they didn't have autism.  It made me stop and think about their feelings first before I reacted or judged. 

Where there's a will there's a way...

Day 20 of Te@chThought's Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge

What is one life lesson that you are thankful for having learned?


I know that I have already mentioned this saying as one of my favorite quotes but it is something that I also am grateful for having learned--Where there's a will there's a way. Don't give up.  While for many it may just be another hackneyed cliche but for me, they are words I live by.  I can't begin to count all the times someone tried to make me believe that something couldn't be done or that an outcome would be unfavorable.  However, I think that these instances have just pushed me in the opposite direction.  I set goals and do all I can to reach them.  For me, it is important to always have something to aspire to because it's what pushes me and keeps me going.  I have been fortunate enough in my professional life and personal life to have realized so many goals.  And although I am grateful for everything I have, it doesn't stop me from wanting more.  And by wanting more, I realize I could seem greedy but wanting more is not just about material things for me.  Sure it would be nice to have lots of money so I could become the jet-setter I always wanted to be.  And now you're thinking, are you sure you're not greedy?  Well, maybe just a little but some of my goals are to write a book, run a half marathon and learn a few more languages and go to as many concerts as I can!

True failure is giving up.



23 November 2014

Super Student

Day 19 of Te@chThought's November Blogging Challenge

Tell someone you know how grateful you are for the work they do. Share your story here.

I'd actually like to take the time here to thank a student.  David is not even one of my students this year.  He is, however, an officer of the Italian Honor Society.  He didn't hold one of the traditional officer slots like President or VP.  Instead, because he showed how much work he put into promoting our club and our events and he demonstrated how proficient he was with social media and computers, I created a new position- Public Relations and Social Media. He has taken this post serious and has done all he can to make our organization successful.  He has worked tirelessly to create a website for our organization to keep all our members informed- check it out. He maintains our Twitter page and has never missed a single meeting.  He, like many other students, worked so hard to make our first big event- Italian Night - be the success it was. 
I could go on about how awesome he is but the most important thing is that he is sincere and humble.  I have told him no fewer than a dozen times how much appreciated his work is and he simply replies, "I'm glad to help." I just hope he'll train someone to be as good as he is because when he graduates, we'll be in trouble!

19 November 2014

My job is not just a job

Day 18 of Te@chThought's November Blogging Challenge

What do you appreciate about your colleagues?

I am fortunate enough to have an amazing cast of characters. Working at Comsewogue High School has been a blast.  There are so many to mention but I'd like to highlight a few.

Rosa - My best friend.  We became instant friends 15 years ago and I'm certain we will be for many to come.  She is my partner in crime, one of the few people I can tell anything to and never be judged.  We bounce ideas off of each other and support each other.

Maggie - Carpooling has brought us to a new level of friendship. If we hadn't started carpooling two years ago because of Hurricane Sandy. Our rides are nothing short of hysterical!

Julie - Library duty will be the only duty I will accept going forward.  Buckle up Julie, it's gonna be a long ride.

Maurizio - Even though we are in separate buildings this year, I think we work like a great team.  We're going to make this Italian program the biggest it has ever been!

Special shout out to all my math peeps: They all know how awful I am at math and we're still friends!

So I guess the common theme is friendship and support. Without them, my job would be just that-- a job. 

Thank you Twitter

Day 17 of Te@chThought's November Blogging Challenge

One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for…

Without a doubt, I have to say Twitter.  I feel like I should say something much more profound.  However, I feel like Twitter has helped me to become a connected with other educators as well as with my students.  I was skeptical at first but now I am hooked.  I still use Facebook from time to time but Twitter has become my go to app for news, ideas and yes, even fun.  Twitter has inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and I'm loving it.  Combine using Google Forms and my hashtag #twextracredit have turned me into a superstar! Need I say more?

18 November 2014

Camaraderie

Day 16 of Te@chThought's November Blogging Challenge

What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator? What are you grateful for?

This certainly is something I talk abut often in this blog.  Many of the prompts in this month's challenge bring me back to how awesome being a connected educator is.  So I thought I'd try to be simple and concise in explaining how I feel.

The most powerful aspect of being connected for me is the sense of camaraderie.  Sometimes, teaching can seem to be a lonely profession. It's you and the kids all day. An once in a while, you're able to talk to a colleague.  But, being connected through these blogs and Twitter gives you access to awesome, inspiring ideas when you have the time and when you need them.  It brings people in your situation closer to your without having to travel. For me, it reminds me that we're all in this together and I have somewhere to turn for great, collaborative solutions to my professional questions.  So , I am grateful for having a network of people who get me.

                                                                       

Me and technology

Day 15 of Te@chThought's Blogging Challenge

What tech tools are you most grateful for? Why? How have they changed what you do?

Earlier in my career, I would have headed for the hills just at the thought of having to learn to use new technology.  It seemed like there was this major onslaught of technology and I couldn't possibly keep up that I almost decided to throw the towel in and just rely on what I knew already.  Besides, as I've said before, the blackboard and I have a very close relationship.

However, try as I might have in the past, there is no avoiding technology.  And I have really come around to a lot of it.  My students walked me through the process of signing up for Twitter and helped me understand the basics.  I was skeptical at first but now, I love it! I love it because I can follow things that of interest to me personally and professionally.  I follow Italian newspapers and personalities and I'm able to bring some of this information into my classroom.  I have become connected with other educators all over the world.  I found Te@chThought and the blogging challenge through Twitter. I never thought I'd be blogging but here I am making good on my promise to take the challenge seriously.  Through this blogging challenge, I have been inspired by colleagues and have reflected in a positive way on my own teaching.

Google Docs is becoming a fast friend. I have learned to make online forms that my students can submit electronically and I have been collecting some work electronically as well, eliminating lost papers, poor handwriting and saving some trees.

My district recently offered a training on Google Classroom and it seemed like something I could really get into. I am currently working on setting up my classroom and my goal for the new year is to have it up and running.

Look at me..getting techy with it. Of course I am light years behind some colleagues but I'm catching up!

16 November 2014

Five things that make me a better teacher

Day 14 of Te@chThought's November Blogging Challenge

What are 5 things you are grateful to have learned in your teaching career?

Be flexible. I know that this is becoming increasingly difficult with all the demands that Common Core is placing on teachers but in my instance, being flexible has led to many averted meltdowns.  And I don't mean the students. I mean on my part.  As a control freak, it is extremely difficult at times to be flexible. Rigidity is comforting. However, this only works when the only one you are responsible for is yourself. Add 100+ teenagers to your responsibility and try being rigid. Disaster.  

Admit you don't know everything.  When I was younger, I just assumed that all my teachers knew everything. As an adolescent, I had my suspicions that they didn't and by the time I was a full-fledged teenager, of course I was the one who knew it all.  I will admit that among my first fears stepping into the classroom and in front of a group of students was that I didn't know everything. What if they asked me something and I didn't know it? What would happen if I admitted to being human and not omniscient? Would they still respect me? Would they still take me seriously as a so-called expert in my field? I have since learned that admitting I don't know something makes me human and more connected with my students. They get it that it's not possible for any one person to know everything. And when we don't, we have Google.

Trickery will get you everywhere! When students don't realize that they are learning is when they learn the most.  I often have them play a review game. Of course there are prizes which could be extra points or candy but either way most of them are so into it because they want to win, that they forget they are learning. Tell them they can bring a "cheat sheet" to a test. Just another tricky way to get them to study.  I've been using a free app called DuoLingo to help them boost their grade (this is the supposition) but because they have to complete X amount of lessons in order to get the extra points. I post extra credit on Twitter.  I call it trickery because it gets them to do things they wouldn't otherwise do or read or watch.  Call it what you will- it works.

Get to know your students. I mean really get to know them.  It helps you to plan lessons that will be of interest to them and relevant to their likes/dislikes.  It also helps you make connections that will foster mutual respect.  Ultimately, if they respect you, they won't want to disappoint you.  And they might feel comfortable coming to you if they need help of any kind.  If your classroom is filled with respect and the students feel safe, you've got a captive audience.

Be uninhibited while remaining appropriate.  I have done crazy things in my classroom. I have sung (almost a daily occurrence at this point), I have danced, I have acted, made up different voices, and have posed as Gru for my student paparazzi. I have worn funky hats or masks.  All of these things have shown my students not to have fear in front of the class but also that we can have fun while learning. Sometimes these sidesteps have created not only memories but have contributed to many lessons learned.  My only rule is that I cannot repeat anything because they are one-time performances and so they need to pay attention!

Time for me

Day 13 of the Te@chThought November Blogging Challenge

What do you do to take time out for yourself?

Well, this certainly is a question I ask myself often.  Being a teacher, parent of two and self-professed perfectionist doesn't leave much time for "fun."  My perfectionist, somewhat OCD self says: Cleaning, organizing, planning, and checking things off an interminable list are "fun."  I realize that you must be asking yourself how on God's green Earth are any of those activities fun? Well, maybe it's not the the activities themselves that are fun or things I do necessarily for myself alone however, the sense of accomplishment brings its very own high. 

Now for a more normal response.  When I am done with my cleaning, organizing or planning- or what I deem a sufficient amount of it- I do like to do some things for myself.  I like running and have been trying to do it as often as my schedule will allow.  For the past two summers, I have participated in the Long Island Summer Run Series.  We run every Monday night at a different state park.  The runs are primarily 5ks but there are some 10ks and 5 milers.  At the end, besides the sense of accomplishments and the rush of the endorphins, there are snacks and drinks! I love running for a few reasons. 1. It is solitary and for me non-competitive ( I only compete with myself). It's often the only time I can have anywhere from 30-60 minutes alone (even when running with thousands) with a great playlist to clear my mind.

I love to read.  This another activity that I can indulge in without regret during the summer. Jumping into a great book by the pool provides a perfect escape from the everyday.  Each summer I seem to pick a new genre or focus in my reading but I do prefer nonfiction over fiction. 

One other major thing I do for myself, although not by myself is travel.  I can never tire of traveling. I can never tire of learning something new about a new place or even an "old" place I have visited.  I can truly relax on vacation- but I still make the bed.

I'm grateful...

Day 12 of Te@chThought's November Blogging Challenge 


Share a photo – or photos – of things / people you are grateful for.

There are so many things that I am grateful for, although I'm not always so demonstrative in how grateful I am.  It's easy to get caught up in negativity because it's just too easy.  It's like eating unhealthily- too easy and cheaper. I know some will disagree and to those of you who do, I'd love to follow some of your glass half-full examples. For the time being, I'll have to hope that this blogging challenge will bring out the better in me.

One thing that I am grateful first and foremost is my family. I know my life would be completely different and even knowing this, I wouldn't change it for anything.  This life has certainly had its ups and downs but it's what keeps me going.  Creating family memories, like the one below (eating dinner in Vico del Gargano, Puglia, Italy) and others are what are going to be our history.




Of course I would be remiss if I were not to express my gratitude for my career.  I started teaching 15 years ago and it was one of the best life decisions I have ever made.  I honestly could not see myself doing anything else.  





















Another thing I am grateful for is the opportunity to travel.  If I hadn't had the experiences I have had or hadn't seen the beauty that exists beyond my backyard, I would be a completely different person.  Below are a few examples of places I have visited that have left an impression.  
London, Tower Bridge


Eiffel Tower, France

Cefalu, Sicily

Rainbow over Vico del Gargano, Italy


Some things that I am grateful for that speak to my senses:

- Coffee: I just don't know how I would get through a day without it!
- Music: A day without music for me is nonexistent.  I do almost everything to music. My life would have the most awesome soundtrack.  Almost everything reminds me of a song and I often interrupt my own lessons to interject musical interludes!
- Food: I could write forever about food. Food and I have had a very intimate relationship for about as long as I have been eating.  
- Books: Although I don't get to read as often as I would like with my hectic life, I have a never-ending list of books that I want to read.  Although I love my career, sometimes, I can't wait for the summer so I can escape into as many books as I can!

It's not an exhaustive list by any means but it's a start! 

15 November 2014

The most important lesson

Day 11 of the Te@chThought November Blogging Challenge

What is the most important ‘lesson’ you want to teach your students?

I don't know that I have one lesson I want to teach my students.  Somehow, I feel like my goals/lessons can all be intertwined.  Of course I want them to learn about the Italian language.  That's my most immediate goal each day.  However, embedded in each of my lessons are stories that relate to history or of travels or art and architecture or any other aspect of the culture.  You cannot easily separate the language from the culture and by telling stories or showing pictures, I hope that I am sparking an interest in experiencing it first-hand.  Naturally, I tell my students that one of their homework assignments is to visit Italy at some point in their lives- either with me or through a study abroad program or by whatever means takes them there.  And then, they have share with me their experience.  

My true hope is to create lifelong learners who have been bitten by the travel bug.  I hope that they go anywhere that attracts them and that they learn about the people, the art, the language, the culture - even if it's not Italy. Ok, my heart my break a little if they don't make it to Italy but the world is a big place and I never had an appreciation for it until I traveled. Your immediate community seem so safe and secure and to have everything that you need that it can sometimes be difficult to step out of your comfort zone.  But once you have, you'll be better for it.  It gives you a new-found appreciation for what you have and for what you might be lacking.  It teaches you tolerance and acceptance of differences.  It prepares you to interact with people on a different level.  Travel=education.

11 November 2014

What's so funny?

Day 10 #reflectiveteacher November Blogging Challenge

What's so funny?

Humor plays a HUGE role in my classroom.  My students and I laugh almost everyday.  Sometimes it's related to the actual lesson and sometimes it's just a story that is shared by one of us.  I have to admit that I am easily sidetracked, but in a good way (ok and sometimes not so good - I am human you know).  I can't help that my mind works the way it does.  Almost everything makes me think of a song. Almost anything can bring me to tell a story of travel or family or past lessons.  And usually, the stories or my horrible singing make us laugh.

Just yesterday, we were reading a new book in my Italian V class and some of the new vocabulary led me to reference some songs from the 80s- and to sing them.  Thankfully, I have a student, Allie, who is always at the ready to look up on her ChromeBook a song or movie or other tidbit of info that I reference.  All I need to do is is look at her and she says, "I'm on it!"  Yesterday's songs were "Eyes without a face" by Billy Idol (and I even got the year right--why do I know such random stuff?) and "True Blue" by Madonna (I was only off by one year on that one). My singing and my choice of songs got a few sideways looks and a lot of laughs.

One moment that really stands out is when I was compared to Gru from the movie Despicable Me. I hadn't seen the movie but had heard about it.  I happened to be wearing a sweater... ok.. I never happen to be wearing a sweater. I'm always cold and my students will often poke fun saying that I wear turtlenecks until June or will ask how many layers I'm wearing today.  For some reason, that day, one of my students said that I reminded them of Gru.  So, naturally, I had to pull up a picture on the board.  I noticed he had a striped scarf and lo and behold, I had one as well. I put it on and stood next to the screen.  It was like someone let loose the paparazzi.  Everyone was hysterical and taking pictures.  I even had the picture set as my profile for a while!


Gratitude

November 9th - #ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge

What is one way you could develop the Attitude of Gratitude in your classroom or school? 

I have to admit that at first, I was thinking, "How can this apply to me in my classroom? I'm an Italian teacher."  I even envied all those English and History teachers, thinking of how easy it would be to apply the Attitude of Gratitude in their classes. You could simply have students write often about things they are thankful for or in reviewing cultures or historical events, discuss why students are grateful for what they have and where they live.  And they could do this often.  I, on the other hand, could only do this on occasion. But then it dawned on me.  I could do some of the very same things in my language class. And with some frequency as well.  

When I teach about the differences between Italian and American cultures, I always ask students to compare and contrast.  Recently, discussing the Italian school system, which is a little different than ours, many students expressed how they were thankful for the way our school system is set up and how they would be especially nervous having to give many oral exams or having to choose their path at the end of middle school.  Since culture is a big part of what I teach, I could always ask students to express what they are grateful for when discussing the differences between the two.

A few weeks ago, I also began lunedi dolce (Sweet Mondays).  On Mondays, I bring in something sweet (usually candy) and hand it out as the kids are working on their Do Now activity.  My reasoning behind it is that Mondays often get a bad rap so I thought we could change the idea that Mondays are bad by making them a little easier and sweeter. I realize that this has little to do with curriculum but I do feel like it makes my classroom a better place to be in and gets them working.

Another way to express gratitude is thanking my students.  Since I am the adviser of the Italian Honor Society, I find myself thanking students often for their participation.  It is hard to get everyone together for meetings and for events but we try our best.  I make sure that I thank students for their attendance and letting them know we wouldn't be a successful organization without their help.  My officers have also been doing this, which is nice because the thanking is coming not only from me but from their peers.  

A memorable moment...

Today's prompt from the Te@chThought November Blogging Challenge is:  

Write about a memorable moment in the classroom and how it reminded you about why you love what you do.

Each day, in my classroom, I am reminded that I love what I do in some way.  From the way that my students treat me to seeing the proverbial light bulb go on when a student "gets it."  Knowing that you are respected and loved as a teacher certainly makes your job more enjoyable.  Witnessing a students understanding what you are teaching is also rewarding.  Just yesterday, a former student came to visit and told me that he's going to be in Italy in March to play basketball and hopes that he may even be picked up by an Italian team.  How awesome is that? 

I feel like there are so many moments that I could point out that remind me that I'm doing what I'm meant to do that sometimes they just blend into categories like: former students' visits, former students' letters/emails, witnessing learning, being respected and loved.  

The most recent moment I can recall was when I was teaching my 3 1/2 yr olds.  They were so proud to shout to out "Buongiorno, Mr. Matt." And later, I would receive a huge hug from Dylan and Daniel would tell me that he loves being in Italian class.  What better reason to love what you're doing?

09 November 2014

What "new learning" has inspired you in your career?

Day 7 of the November Te@chThought Attitude of Gratitude Blogging Challenge

What new learning has inspired you in your career?

I have to admit that I did put this prompt off for a bit because I was a little confused by the term "new learning."  Does this mean a new way of learning? Does it mean what new thing I have learned?  I'm not altogether sure.  I did read a few other posts on this to see what other people were thinking and I think technology is the popular answer.

I am not any different than my colleagues in this respect.  I do have to admit that I, too, have been quite taken by some new uses of technology.  I do appreciate Google docs and how they can make my life easier (no lost thumb drives, sharing docs directly with students, no collecting papers).  I am just starting to play around with Google Classroom and my goal is to have mine up and running by the end of the month.  I have been using Twitter with my students and professionally.  Going back to a previous post of mine, some of this technology has helped me to foster connections with students, which is paramount, in my opinion.

As I am writing this, something just dawned on me.  Yes, technology has changed the playing field in so many ways but some things haven't changed at all.  For example, I use DuoLingo with my students.  This app for education can be accessed by any device (iPod, iPad, Chromebook,etc) and has proven to be a great tool for learning in the foreign language classroom.  Using the app is what I might call "new learning" but one thing is "old."  If students perceive that they are having fun doing something, then it doesn't equate to learning for them and this is key.  I think we have always had to find ways to not let on to students that they are actually learning because what we're doing is fun.  It works really well because I award them extra points on their average for completing a certain number of tasks on DuoLingo and each quarter the student with the highest XP points (experience points) gets a prize.  

So if had to say anything about "new learning", I would say bring on the "old" in a "new" way!

Check out DuoLingo!

08 November 2014

Favorite sayings....

The funniest thing about one of my favorite quotes or sayings is that I don't know who said it! I did a search again and came up with nothing.  It hasn't stopped me from re-quoting it or posting it in my classroom or using it on my course overview that I hand out to my students.

Here it is: 
Basically, this says that motivation is fuel for the brain.  I loved the image and the idea behind it.  Sometimes, in our educational world we are caught up with testing to show how well students do and how well we teach.  One thing is certain, without motivation on either of our parts, we're not going to get very far.  I wish I didn't have to make my teaching about testing.  In fact, I wish that I never had to give a test at all.  For me, the most important thing is that my students have learned something, anything more than what they knew before my lesson.  To me, that's a win.  I wish I could grade them solely on their motivation and participation.  These are the two key elements in my classroom.  But as we know all to well, at times we have to give in to what the state mandates or the district mandates.  It hasn't stopped me from emphasizing that this is what is most important to me as my students' teacher. I let them know that if they're motivated and they participate, they will all do well.


Another favorite saying of mine is just an idiomatic expression that I also post in my room: Volere e' potere.  It's the Italian way of saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way."  I feel that it can apply to not just the classroom setting, but to life as well.  Just the other day, some of students were talking about college and how they felt they could never go to certain schools because of financial reasons.  I told the, don't give up so easily-- volere e' potere. There are always ways to make your dream happen.  It may take a lot of hard work - or searching for scholarships to apply for - but it will be well worth the fight!


My strengths...

This really is a tough one! Sometimes, it's easier to see the faults that we have. I often look back at a lesson and think, "I could've done better. " or "What should I have added to make this lesson better?" I'm always planning and replanning and trying to make the best lessons I possibly can. But at the end of the day, I'm not so sure that my biggest strength is my lesson planning or even my delivery of the lessons.

Thinking about it, I would have to say that one of my greatest strengths as an educator is my ability to make connections with my students. I never really thought that this would be something that would be so it important or rather more important than lessons and knowledge of the subject matter.  Instead, I find that because of The rapport that I build with my students, I'm able to reach them easier. They're more willing to listen to me and pay attention and they also want to do more. Very rarely do I have classroom management problems because of this. 

One advantage that I have over other subject area teachers is that many times I'm able to have a student for two or more years. This really gives me an opportunity to get to know them not just as a student but also as an individual. I'm also very fortunate to be able to plan trips overseas to Italy every other year. These trips are unforgettable experiences that create a bond with the students and myself and the students with other students that is really undeniable. 

I truly believe that if it were not for these connections that I'm able to make with my students and Foster mutual respect, I would not be a successful teacher as I am.

The nicest gift

Like many other teachers, I could easily answer this prompt by saying that the nicest gift I've ever received is the positive feedback from my students. I have received countless letters and emails from both the students and parents praising what I do. This certainly does make you feel like everything that you're doing is totally worth it. It validates you as both a professional and as a person.  One of the advantages of teaching high school is that my students come back to visit often.  This week alone, I had a visit from at least a dozen students. It is so nice to be remembered and so nice to know that I've had an impact on their lives. These kind of gifts or immeasurable and priceless.

One material gifts however, really stands out.  Many of my students know how much I enjoy cooking.  Many of them beg me to cook and bring it into class. And when they're really lucky, or I'm feeling extra special generous or have some time on my hands, I am always willing to bring in food to class. Knowing this, one of my students, bought me a pasta pot. The pasta pot is an incredible thing because the lid has the strainer already built-in!  This means not having to wash a pot and a colander. Yay! 
Here's a picture of my pasta pot. And it's orange. I love it! It was a thoughtful gift that has benefited not only me but even my students! 

04 November 2014

A flourishing progam

Wow, Te@chThought! Always making me dig deep and think about how to respond to your prompts. It's a little nerve-wracking while at the same time challenging (in a good way!)  Today's (well, ok, yesterday's- I'm a day late already...) prompt is: What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career? 

Once again, it is difficult to choose just one thing that I am most proud of.  And this is not just a way to toot my own horn.  I think that being in the profession for a while (15 years) already shows that I've had many successes (big, small, personal, professional).  Otherwise, what would I still be doing here?? 

To limit myself, I have chosen to talk about my hand in creating a successful program in my school district.  I believe that I have really breathed life into the Italian program in my district by encouraging students to choose Italian. I don't necessarily like to compete with my LOTE (languages other than English) counterparts but I do have to preserve my job,  When I arrived 15 years ago, the enrollment in the Italian program was not very high.  I decided that there were a few things that I could do right away to change that.  For one, I had to prove that Italian was not just the language of food.  I do believe that because Italian is not one of the U.N. languages or because it didn't have an AP program, that many people didn't take it seriously and many parents tried to steer their children into studying Spanish because it was "more useful" or French because it was "more prestigious."  That certainly is a lot to compete with.  So I lobbied with many other Italian teachers to gain the recognition of our language by instituting an AP program.  I have since had the district let me, in conjunction with St. John's University, teach a college-level course that earns my students 6 college credits.  This ability to benefit from the study of Italian academically has drawn more students.  Even though I have some doubts about the whole AP exam validity, having it certainly demonstrates that we, too are worthy.  Having a college-credit granting course helps show that our language is also valuable.

Another thing that has helped me is that since 2005, I have run a student tour to Italy every other year.  Students generally participate in their junior or senior year, which gives them incentive to learn as much as they can and to remain in the program.  To say that these trips are a lot of work would be the understatement of the century.  I work nonstop to make sure the kids are safe, learning and having a fun, unforgettable experience.  All of the work is worth it to validate what I teach in the classroom and to give them this opportunity to experience first-hand the culture and language.  It brings to life everything I talk to them about in class.  Many of my students have gone on to do study abroad programs with their universities and some have even become Italian teachers! They say that imitation is the best kind of flattery and they are right. Everything I do for my profession may have a cost (emotional, time or even monetary) but to see a program blossom and become successful is the perfect payback!

02 November 2014

The best part of the day...judge away!

Those little moments in your day can really make your day...

So I hopefully will not be judged too harshly for this post because while my heart and soul are teaching, I struggled to find the one consistent part of the day that I look forward to each day and while I could individuate instances that made me smile or made me feel valued as a teacher, they were not a constant. (Which isn't such a bad thing anyhow...) There were two things that I kept coming back to when thinking about today's prompt of Te@chthought's November Blogging Challenge.

The first is really a weekly occurrence.  It is when I walk into the classroom at Friends Academy School for my afternoon enrichment program and hear the 7 three and half year-olds shout in unison "Buongiorno Mr. Matt" Not only is it a validating moment but it just gives you this warm feeling.  These kids are into it and they're waiting for me every Wednesday with enthusiasm.  You can't beat that feeling!

The daily moment that I keep coming back to in my mind is my duty period.  Yes, my duty period. I know that many of you are thinking -"Is this guy nuts?!" Duty, especially the dreaded cafeteria duty, is not always fun, much less the highlight of your day.  However, this year, I have been assigned to library duty.  Essentially, my job is to make sure all students sign in and behave appropriately.  What I love about this duty is that I get to know a completely different set of students from my own.  Since it's 3rd period and not during a lunch period, the crowd is filled with regulars who have a free period.  I try to make sure to acknowledge all the students, either greeting them as a group (some are there before I get there) or individually, like one student who I call "Little Karissa." I call her this because she is one of my former students' sister but I didn't know her until this duty period.  Everyday, when she walks through the door, I shout (and I mean shout--even though it's a library) "Good morning, Little Karissa!" I think that while I am probably embarrassing her on some level, it still is making a connection and acknowledging her.  The other nice part is that I get to hang out with our librarian, Julie.  We have so much in common that it really is a pleasure to spend 43 minutes with her! It really is a nice opportunity to get to spend time with people I would normally not encounter during my day.

So, let the judging begin...

01 November 2014

Why do I love teaching?

So glad to be a part of the Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge again! The first prompt is : What are the best aspects of being a teacher?

When really thinking about this question, I feel like any of the negatives associated with my career choice melt away. Listen, every job has its stresses yet we return day in and day out for some reason(s).  For some, it's because they need a paycheck to pay the bills.  For some, it's easier than finding another job.  For me, it is out of love and passion for what I do.  I did try a few other jobs before I found my true calling.

Of course there are some of the obvious reasons that make being a teacher great like having more time to spend with my family and summer vacations.  It's true, I am able to be home to help my kids with their homework, to bring the to and from soccer practice and games or to and from religious education classes.  I am lucky to have an entire summer to spend with my wife and kids on awesome family vacations that make lasting memories.  However, these reasons alone would never be enough to keep me in the profession. All that time off is more than earned.

First and foremost, I have a passion for what I teach- Italian.  My goal is nothing more than to share everything I know about all things Italian with anyone who will listen.  And let's face it, in a classroom setting, you've got yourself a pretty captive audience!  I can easily be sidetracked from a grammar lesson but it almost always a nice side step into the culture of Italy so I don't mind because I know these are sometimes the most important lessons, even if the kids think they're not learning because it's not grammar related.

I would be completely remiss if I didn't say that the rapport I have with my students was not an important factor in getting me out of bed and into the classroom. At the high school level, students still seek guidance and someone to connect with.  I have written many more college recommendations than many of my colleagues because I do take the time to get to know my students well.  It is so rewarding when students come back to the school to visit or send me messages letting me know that I have had an impact on their lives.  Nothing could make you feel so important.  Just the other day, I had a two students visit me and one told me that she was so prepared for Italian classes in college and that she really did use her Italian often.  She also told me that she made sure her younger siblings took Italian so they could have me as a teacher.

And it's not just the high school kids. I have been teaching children aged 2 and up for a few years now.  My wife and I started a program that we run on weekends and we are currently in our eighth year! Watching kids this young pick up the language and learn is amazing. The gratification here isn't the same as on the high school level but it is just as sweet.  Last week, I was teaching a group of 3 1/2 year olds and one student, in the middle of the lesson, got up from his chair and gave me one of the best hugs.  When asking how they were feeling that day, another told me "Sto bene (I'm doing well) because I love being at Italian class."

Do I need any other reasons?