26 January 2015

Letting go

Being that we are now facing the Blizzard of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to get back to Te@chThought's January Blogging Challenge.  I was going to go to the gym but I don't think anyone's going anywhere. (Good excuse, right?)

Anyhow, the prompt for today was to share a lesson that you have learned from a student.  Almost everyday, I learn something from my students.  Most of the time, it has to do with student culture, often student lingo, which is great for someone who loves language as much as I do.  Sometimes, I will use the new words in an exaggerated way to get their attention, or to make them laugh at this old guy using teenage slang or just to show that I pay attention to them (hopefully they're paying as much attention to me!).  

There are always little moments of learning each day for me but I would say that the biggest lesson I ever learned took me almost four years to learn.  I can remember it vividly.  One of my students, Nicholas, said to me, ¨It really upsets me that you don't trust me to make the right decisions.¨ Now, youŕe probably thinking, how could something that sounds so negative be such a profound learning experience?  Well, we'll need to backtrack a couple of years to Nicholas' freshman year.  

I had been teaching only two years at that point and was barely wet behind the ears.  Nicholas' class was a very special class for me. As any teacher can attest, I am sure, the first years can be dreadful and intimidating and exciting all at the same time.  Students who knew I was new tried to push every button they could. They stretched me to my limits and beyond.  It was hard not to give up some days.  Enter the graduating class of 2005.  They had put aside any prejudices they might have had in my regard.  Whatever had trickled down to the middle school was forgotten and they had formed their own opinions over time of me.  This was to be one of the first classes I would would follow for four years - from the beginning of their high school career to their end.  We would even have our last class of their last year together.  

This class and I just seemed to click so well. They were into what I was teaching.  They were respectful and they wanted to please me.  I was able to try out so many lessons with them and I learned a lot about teaching from them.  As a result of our time together, I had a very strong rapport with them.  Many of them even came on my very first overseas trip to Italy.  To say that I was close with many of them was an understatement.  We would spend a lot of time together over the years and not just in class, but also during our X-time (an extra period at the end of the day for extra help) mostly chatting about their lives.  I became more than a teacher. I was a counselor, a second parent, a friend.  

Eighth period, the last day of the school year 2005 was a very difficult one for me.  I remember this vividly as well.  I remember Matt writing on my board over and over that he would never leave. I remember writing in Kristin's yearbook and not wanting to stop because I knew it meant it would all be over.  The day. The year. My time with this class. I looked up to see Kristin in my doorway, crying.  I never imagined being so moved by students to the point of tears. Graduation day was even harder.  I just remember being so proud of this class and wanting them to go out there into the world and do great things but at the same time never leave.  

Back to that statement by Nicholas.  I knew when he said that to me, not too long before the end of the year, that I had to find a way to create a healthy distance between myself and my students and not because this was a bad experience but because I had to find a way to still care about my students, help them in any way I could, be there for them but be able to let them go when it was time.  This was difficult for me and took some time but I can say now, some ten years later, that I have been better for that experience and have been able to watch my kids graduate with joy (ok- even a stray tear at times) and let them go.

19 January 2015


I'm still behind in the January Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge but I have decided that given my crazy schedule of teaching, tutoring and parenting, I will answer the prompts that pique my interest and do as many as time will allow. 

The prompt is: What changes do you envision in the next ten years?

The only major changes (other than some political ones) I see coming down the pike will be with regards to technology.  Technology is coming at us at lightning speed.  Some of these advances are very exciting but some overwhelming.  I have mentioned in other blog posts that I, myself feel at times very overwhelmed and wonder where I will find the time to maintain all this technology and integrate it into my daily teaching.  I have embraced some technology and have shied away from other aspects.  Some questions I keep asking myself are: 
1.  When will I have a good enough balance between technology and so-called traditional methods? 
2.  How many times will I become accustomed to something and then have to scrap it for the latest advancement?
3.  Is technology hurting us in some ways?
4.  Am I too old to move this fast and if I am, will I become ineffective at my job?

While I recognize that I have to be updated and tech-aware, I can't help but come back to the idea that some things about what I do everyday cannot be done by a computer, tablet or smartphone.  For one, the human interaction cannot be replicated.  I don't really know anyone who has a real relationship with Siri. But I do like to think that I have established good relations with my students and this is what I think is key in having them enjoy my class- or at least what keeps them from cutting my class.  Sure, everyone loves the excitement that technology can add to a classroom but can it replace human interaction? 

So, in answer to this particular prompt, I say that in ten years, I envision that I will have found a balance between technology and traditional methods. I will have learned to embrace and maintain what is necessary and discard the rest so that I don't feel overwhelmed.  I will not be ¨run over¨ by lightning fast technology.  I will be creating a love for my subject material by being me, by creating and fostering excellent rapports with my students. I will be sitting in my classroom after school, enjoying visits from former students and building relations with my current ones.  

14 January 2015

So you want to be a teacher?

Te@chThought's prompt for today is:

If a young person told you they wanted to become a teacher, what would you tell him/her?

Honestly, I'd tell them to go for it! I know the climate now with Common Core, APPR and tax caps don't really make it seem appealing anymore.  To some degree, I even think that teachers have lost their perceived importance in society but every job has its pros and cons but I truly believe that the pros outweigh the cons.  It's really funny because my younger son used to say that he wanted to be a science teacher.  Then, one day a few months ago, he says, "I don't want to be a teacher anymore." When asked why, he replied, ¨You (my wife and I) are always working! I don't want to work that much.¨  It's true. We are always working on something related to our career.  However, when he's a bit older, I would tell him (and any current student) that teaching is not the career to go into if you are looking to be listed as one Forbes' millionaires.  It is not the career to go into if you don't want to work long hours.  It is not the profession for you if you want to become famous.

At this point, you might be thinking, wow, then why would I become a teacher.  I get to share my love for my subject material (Italian) everyday with a mostly captive audience. It's true that I will never be among the richest in the world but you cannot put a price on knowing that you have made a difference in so many lives.  Each and every year, many of my students come back and share stories about Italian and their lives in general.  Some even write letters telling you what an impact you've had on them. I have even been invited to college graduations of former students. Knowing that you had such an important role in their lives is worth more than any salary.  It almost makes you feel like you are famous, if even in a smaller world, but famous nonetheless.

There are other benefits of teaching.  If you plan on having a family, teaching does give you an opportunity to spend more time with them.  We do have a good amount of time off, although for me the only time that I really feel like I'm off is during the summer because on all my other vacations, I'm either leading a tour to Europe or catching up on grading or lesson planning. But that's me. This was my choice. I got lucky. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

13 January 2015

On this page, I thought I would share my ideas, tips and experiences traveling with students. I believe that travel and education go hand in hand.  Travel can open your eyes to a world beyond your own and teach you about cultures, beliefs, foods and history.  I can't think of any reason that travel could not enhance every subject area, whether it be a foreign language, art, history or science.  

Just a little bit of a background.  I have been traveling with students since 2005.  This April will mark my eighth tour that I have led to Italy.  I have used a few different tour companies but have found that they all had merits.  In the end, you have to go with who you are comfortable with and what works best for your students.  I have been customizing my tours since my third tour and have found this experience to be the most fulfilling.  I have also led adult tours to Italy (completely different and the similar at the same time!) I have a few tours in the works and am excited to begin recruiting for those.

I look forward to sharing!

Improving my teaching through digital learning

Today's prompt from Te@achThought is:

What is one area of digital learning that you want to improve on in 2015? How are you going to do this?

I think that this post will go hand-in-hand with yesterday's post.  In my previous post, How do you do it?!, I have expressed my concerns about staying relevant and staying up-to-date professionally. My goal for 2015 is to get a handle on how I can maintain various formats (blog, Twitter, Google Classroom, etc) and come to some resolution as to which are the most important/effective.  The best way I can think to improve in this area is to do what I did in the previous post--ask for help! I have asked for comments/ideas from fellow teachers and I am enlisting the help of a student for my Google Classroom. It's liberating to admit that I need help and that I am not an expert.  Often, I think that teachers are expected to have all the answers and not just by our students.  It is something we place upon ourselves.  I'm learning every day from my students and from my colleagues. When and if I am able to achieve this goal, I promise to share! 

12 January 2015

How do you do it?!

How do you do it?!

So,  I just learned that there was another blog challenge from my friends over at Te@chThought.  I'm a little behind so I've decided to choose the prompts from the first two weeks that inspired me the most and hopefully, I'll catch up!  Before I get into my first post of the January Blog Challenge, I'd just like to say that I am a firm believer that the universe really answers you.  I was just saying the other day that I needed to get back to my blog and was thinking how great it was that Te@chThought gave me so many great prompts through their past challenges, I didn't know how I'd get back to blogging.  Lo and behold, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed the other day, I saw that there was a January Challenge and I thought to myself, ¨How perfect!¨ And here I am...

The first prompt that caught my attention was: 

How am I going to update myself professionally?

This morning, while photocopying from my newest materials acquired through the grant I had mentioned in a previous post, (but definitely worth saying thanks again to IACE (The Italian American Committee on Education) -  GRAZIE MILLE!! ), I asked one of my students to help me with my Google Classroom.  David is pretty much a genius at these things.  He set up our Italian Honor Society webpage, our Twitter account and has been lending a hand to teachers with their sites.  As I was asking him for the help, I realized how overwhelmed I am feeling--and we've only just come back from a nice two-week break. 

I would like to appeal to all those teachers out there who might be able to help me with tips, ideas, or even just moral support.  I am new to blogging, Twitter, Google sites and Google Classroom.  The possibilities seem endless but inevitable if I am to be updated professionally.  I made a web page through Google sites -https://sites.google.com/a/comsewogue.k12.ny.us/sigdrucker/ and I'm pretty proud of it. I did it with some help through a training class.  My next focus was to try and get my Google Classroom set up and streamlined.  Well, the set up part sort of happened.  Then all the new materials arrived and I was so excited that Google Classroom fell to the wayside. The excitement of new materials made Google Classroom I would just get around to - eventually. Now I really want to because I have been using Google Docs and having my students share work with me and it occurs to me that things would just be easier to find, stored in neat folders if I had not been sidetracked and just set up my Google Classroom. Sigh.

So my questions are the following: How does one maintain a website, a Google Classroom, a Twitter account, teach, grade, plan, blog and have a family all at the same time and be good at all of it? Is it possible? What things should I choose that will help me the most professionally?  I want to be the best teacher I can be. I want to be relevant and updated but at what cost? What will suffer for it (if anything)? 

08 January 2015

Too much stuff?

It's been a while since I last wrote in my blog. Holidays and everyday life are two reasons for my absence. Another very good reason is that I have too much stuff. And by stuff, I mean, assorted materials and books that I consult in order to plan my lessons. My stuff is in almost every room of the house. It's in my bathroom,
There's plenty on my nightstand,
and here's my pile on the kitchen table. We won't even go into the living room or the office. 

       Part of the reason for these piles)some more neatly put away) is that in the fifteen years that I have been teaching, I have made plenty of purchases because I'm always looking for new ideas to keeps teaching fresh and exciting (sometimes more exciting for me than my students but these days, it takes a lot to impress them). I'll admit I have a little bit of a problem- and no it's not hoarding- I just need to be in the know. I need to be current. I need to find ways to reinvent the wheel. I need to be a better teacher. And how can I do all this?Stuff. Books. DVDs. Study guides. Stickers. Games. You know-- stuff.

    Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from IACE (The Italian 
American Committee on Education).i filled out the necessary information and placed an order with a favorite vendor of mine and voilà! Three large boxes filled with books, DVDs, games, etc. arrived at school. $5000 worth of stuff. I opened the boxes like I'd just won the lottery. 

   And then I brought some stuff home because now I have to review, read, and plan. My piles have grown like Big Anthony's magic pasta pot in Strega Nona. I'm finding myself overwhelmed. Is it possible to have too much stuff? When should I stop amassing materials? I still have at least another fifteen years to go. 

  I'm curious to know what my fellow teachers do. How do you regulate your stuff? When is enough enough? How do you find time to evaluate all your materials? I do a lot in the summer but I also do a little here and there (as you can tell from my photos) but I'm still overwhelmed. Ideas? Strategies? Aiuto! Help!