Total eclipse of the heart

What a day! The heat is back on in Denver, there is a lot of unsettled energy surrounded by the eclipse and freshman are running around trying to figure out the difference between the 3rd and 4th floors and 3rd and 4th hour! Ay, ay, ay!

As always, the year is upon me and I feel like I’m drinking from a fire hydrant. “I’ve done this before,” I tell myself. “Think of all the kids you’ve taught.” But somehow, doubt creeps in and I feel super vulnerable as we enter a new school year. How do I combat all the uncertainty? Focus on what I know to be true:

  1. I’ve done this before! I even have materials (flip charts, rubrics, syllabi, clipboards, curriculum guides) that I’ve worked so hard at creating over the years.
  2. Keep it simple. Make students feel safe, learn about their lives and build classroom culture. Don’t get ahead of yourself worrying about the first unit test!
  3. Listen to your students. Despite my worry, nerves and restlessness today, I had three students ask for letters of recommendation, one tell me about her successful summer with Duolingo and four students I taught as 2nd graders enter my class as freshman in high school!
  4. Be prepared. It gets easier and more natural, but go through every step of class and make sure you have materials, laser, flip charts, and brain breaks at the ready. Over planning is my go-to!

Here’s my plan to start AP Lengua y Cultura:

  • Greet students at the door and tell them to sit anywhere. (Don’t worry! I change that right away!)
  • Wait until second bell and begin with “¡Hola, clase!” When they don’t all respond, I say “Vamos a repetirlo de nuevo.” Normally, it works and I have 100%.
  • I then walk around touching each desk and who sits in it. After I’ve gone through the list, I ask them to stand and move to their assigned seat. Should take no longer than 10 seconds. (I’ll play music as they maneuver…probably “Despacito”:)
  • Flipchart w/ agenda
    • Asistencia/sillas
    • Introducción a la profesora
    • Actividad para “romper el hielo” (grab a small slip of paper with a character, find your match – ex. Lil and Stitch – and talk to your partner for 2 minutes (AP test connection already!! about summer, Spanish, etc. )
    • Introducción a la clase de AP
    • Cuadernos (si hay tiempo)
    • Encuesta/cuestionario (google form)

Our first brain break will be an awkward day one selfie that we will all look back on and laugh in May. 🙂


Not in Nepal anymore!

Spanish 3 Honors will be similar. After periods 1, 2 and 3, I will roll my cart down the hall amidst the hoards of students and scoot into 303 to connect and hopefully get my flipchart up and music connected before too many kids are in the room for 4th hour.

  • I’ll greet them at the door and tell them to find a seat. (This room is deskless! So pumped!)
  • After they are seated, I will tell them “¡Hola, class! ¡Bienvenidos!” When they don’t all respond, I’ll say “Let’s try that again all together” and most likely, 100% will respond.
  • I’ll tell them “I’m going to say ‘Hola, clase’ and you will respond with, ‘Hola, Profesora Wetzig.’ Ready, let’s try.”
  • Next, I will jump right into CI and talk about my summer! I will speak in Spanish and have a timer for 5 minutes on my flipchart. Depending on how engaged they are, I have PQA questions ready, maps, Google Earth, etc.
  • After 5 minutes, I’ll stop and we will debrief what just happened. In Spanish 3 I get kids from all over Denver, public, private, charter. I need us to get on the same page as quickly as possible!
  • They I’ll talk about what Spanish 3x will look like. (CI, expectations, lots of reading, goal for proficiency, etc.) I have a syllabus but may wait until the next day to review it.
  • Lastly, I want to get to know them and will allow time for a survey at the end of the class!

Phew! I’m exhausted already! Here’s to a great year and remembering that I learn more from my students then they do from me! ¡Suerte!


“Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people came from and where they are going.”
Rita Mae Brown Quotes

This I Believe

I believe my experiences inform my reality. I believe I can teach students to see outside their worlds. I believe I have the capacity to change lives. I believe students can and will surprise me. I believe I can create a culture. I believe students deserve a rigorous education. I believe students can learn.

I believe students deserve bright futures. I believe students’ families are powerful resources. I believe I can’t do it on my own. I believe this is only just the beginning. I believe students want to learn. I believe that I can teach. I believe all students are artists. I believe that my students are teachers. I believe I must put down my own walls. I believe taking risks help me grow. I believe it’s about the journey. I believe it’s important to walk in someone else’s shoes.

I believe in the power of education.

I believe that change is good. I believe that perspective changes attitudes. I believe you get out of life what you put into it. I believe learning languages helps us see others and ourselves for who we truly are. I believe being vulnerable is empowering. I believe I must not fear what I control. I believe knowing students is where we start. I believe people just want to be acknowledged and loved. I believe two heads are better than one. I believe each day is a gift and an opportunity to grow. I believe students will rise to high expectations.

I believe bilingualism is the future.

What underpins all of my beliefs? A solid pedagogical practice steeped in the awareness of individual student needs and the most effective strategies to accelerate student achievement. It is these practices that make by beliefs a reality. However, beyond pedagogy, what I believe about education is a direct reflection of my experiences.

I still remember my high school Spanish teacher, Srta. Garry, telling me that I will make a great Spanish teacher someday. At the time, I completely rejected the idea. I knew I loved Spanish and wanted to learn to speak it by traveling; I was not about to teach it. However, every job since has been related to at the least education and at the most, Spanish education. Paraprofessional, camp counselor, youth group leader, English teacher abroad, teacher’s assistant, nanny, trip director…each has a common thread running through: children. After countless hours in the classroom as a student, close to two years of living abroad and teaching in a immersion classroom, I will finally become what Mrs. Garry said year ago: a Spanish teacher.

3rd graders at Garden of the Gods ♥

I believe so strongly in the power of language. My life would not be what it is today had I not pursued Spanish as a foreign language. Though I studied Spanish in college, travel offered the most eye opening experiences for me. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and see the world in an entirely different way. I want my future students to have opportunities to do the same. have second and third families in Costa Rica and Chile. We communicate via email, Facebook and Skype. This would not be possible without language.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

My Chilean students.

Fútbol en Costa Rica (GW 2011)

Terraba, Costa Rica

Simon dice.

At the end of the day, I believe in the power of language. Though I am not a native speaker, some of the strongest ties I have to others are ties made through Spanish. The music I listen to, the movies I watch, the friends and familia I have are all influenced by the languages I speak. My path has taken many turns, but one thing remains the same: I am committed to promoting and celebrating bilingualism.

Do you speak my language?

Lago Titicaca, Peru

Las niñas de DLS

Language is powerful. I believe I can empower my future students to embrace bilingualism and break down barriers to make the world a better place.

Untangling the knot: an attempt at naming the essentials

How do we find simplicity amid the chaos and confusion?

Organizing ones thoughts around the essentials of teaching is all at once overwhelming and startlingly simple. It requires thoughtful processing and most of all, time. But is there something that comes before the disorienting sensation of explaining what effective teaching looks like? I think so.

Before discussing essential teacher dispositions, we must agree upon an essential belief and an essential focus. I believe this because by laying a common framework of belief and focus, we are solid in our foundation as educators. Each teacher practice takes on its own personality and style, but once we peel away the layers, the base should be the same. With the same foundation, teachers can be more efficient in naming what could be altered in their practice.

First, every teacher must maintain the essential belief that all students can learn. This underlies all of our work. When we agree here, we commit to finding ways to move this truth into practice. Differences in how may arise, but the essential belief remains.

Next, essential focus questions serve as an enduring lens from which we view and decide upon our choices as teachers: 

1)   What do students need to know?

2)   How do I teach them what they need to know?

3)   How do I know students are learning?

This seems simple enough. Decide on a topic, teach it, and test students. That doesn’t seem so hard. Yet it is here where we must pause and greet our friend, Context.

The moment Context steps in the room, feelings of stress, anxiety and confusion tend to follow. Indeed, it is the simplicity of teaching that is as daunting as it is freeing.

I argue that instead of meeting Context with anxiety and frustration, we instead embrace the challenge Context offers. If we are grounded in our core beliefs and anchored to focus questions, Context becomes less daunting; rather, Context is freeing because it gives us an opportunity to live out best practices.  It is here our craft takes shape.

In this post, I will synthesize my thoughts, experiences, theory and practice into what I believe are essential teacher dispositions, skills, and knowledge. I will make connections to the anchor questions discussed above and to other important dispositions. After much deliberation, I decided upon four categories: expertise, communication, management and reflection. When combined, students learn. And that is the simple goal we maintain each day.

The essentials for educators:

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.” The Little Prince

 Expertise = use what you know + you don’t know it all

First, I contend that an essential teacher disposition is expertise. Expertise extends far beyond a solid foundation in content. In fact, I believe effective teachers view knowing content as a given. Instead, I want to focus on expertise in pedagogy.

PEDAGOGY: study of teaching methods, including the aims of  education and the ways in which such goals may be achieved. (     

Beyond our content we must be dedicated students of our field. This manifests itself in many ways. For example, teachers need to be experts on state and national standards, or the “what” of teaching. If we waver from our focus question of “what do our students need to know?,” we are lost before we begin. Indeed, it is our duty to be experts on the process of teaching.

Another example of expertise is exhibiting a strong understanding of current theories and strategies. For example, effective teachers are deeply knowledgeable about learning styles, motivation strategies, effective methods for ELL students, potential uses of technology and key literacy skills. But effective teachers don’t stop there. They constantly strive to implement new strategies and practices into lessons.

Furthermore, it is crucial to be experts in assessment. Herein lies the key to whether or not the first focus questions proved successful. Stiggins explains, “Used with skill, assessment can motivate the unmotivated, restore the desire to learn, and encourage students to keep learning, and it can actually create—not simply measure—increased achievement” (CAFSL, 3). There is so much power in assessment for both students and teachers. When we are proficient at assessing, students have a better idea of what they know and where they need to go. We also inform our own practice and can improve instruction. Expertise in assessment cannot be emphasized enough.

Beyond content, effective teachers are also experts in the diverse social and cultural aspects of teaching. Teachers in diverse schools–of which I hope to be next year– must recognize and acknowledge diversity in the classroom and highlight difference as strength. Here is an example of where Context leads to anxiety, especially when teachers lack resources or are close-minded. But effective teachers seek ways to reach out to parents, include culturally relevant topics in instruction, and are informed about specific cultural norms and religious practices.

Lindsey et al. in Culturally Proficient Education, explain that a culturally competent teacher increases student learning because they focus on the core questions of curriculum, instruction and assessment while considering the assets each student brings to the classroom (Lindsey, 15).

Furthermore, the authors posit that for culturally competent teachers, “the shift in thinking from ‘our students can’t do it’ has been replaced by a mindset that says with clear goals, high expectations, rigorous coursework, extra instructional support as needed, and teachers with strong academic and pedagogic back-grounds, ‘our students can do it’” (Lindsey et al, 15). We must not only be prepared to teach content but to do so in increasingly diverse classroom. Every student can learn.

Side note: The connection between low-performing schools and students of color is complex and increasingly frustrating as I learn more about historical and structural causes. Yet I need to remember that reality and Context offer opportunities. I will stay informed and practice cultural competency to increase student learning in whatever school I teach.

As I alluded to earlier, effective teachers are experts in appropriate strategies for ELL students, students with special needs and gifted students. In other words, effective teachers are experts in differentiation. That is not to say they know everything; rather, they are proactive about seeking answers and using resources to increasing student learning.

Communication: ¡sumamente importante!

Next, I argue that communication is an essential teacher skill. It is closely related to collaboration, an increasingly common practice in the teaching field. On the surface, teacher as communicator may seem like common sense but we must go deeper to better understand its direct connection to student learning.

Teacher “voice” plays a large role in the overt act of communicating. Student learning may cease if they do not understand the teacher. This connects to the second focus question of “how do I teach students what they need to know?” Effective teachers display a variety of tones and pitches and use their voice to command and maintain attention.

Clear, concise and explicit directions. A clear understanding of expectations. Each of these exemplifies how effective teachers communicate in the classroom. Communication is so important that The Skillful Teacher dedicates an entire chapter to Clarity. The authors explain “[clear] teachers guide student thinking in deliberate ways along a structured route engineered for thinking and learning” (TST, 162). Voice and clarity are the bases for classroom communication and contribute directly to student motivation and learning.

Successful communication helps students feel safe and builds rapport. But what is successful communication? It is thoughtful, respectful, timely, cultural competent, relevant, caring and explicit. When teachers promote communication, students are more likely to participate and become involved (Weinstein, 50). Effective teachers work to create open lines of communication in their classroom and with parents and administration.

Relatedly, effective teachers promote higher-level thinking skills for each student. In this way, communication connects to real world contexts because effective teachers recognize the need for students to learn how to express themselves with fluidity and clarity as a life skill. I agree with Saphier et. al. when they declare “Space for questions like Why am I here? Does my life have a purpose? What does my future hold? needn’t be present in any particular curriculum; it needs to be present in the heart of a teacher” (TST 214). Teaching students to communicate requires intentional effort and persistence in the belief that all students can learn.

Furthermore, communication extends beyond the classroom. It encompasses communication with other teachers, staff, administration and parents. Non-instructional tasks often require teachers to communicate with people other than their students. Nonetheless, effective teachers treat each interaction with professionalism.

In terms of parent communication, effective teachers must be aware of the how individual nuances affect day-to-day student learning. This is only possible by communicating and collaborating with families. Weinstein asserts that “family involvement can be key to students’ success and extending specific invitations to participate has been shown to have a powerful impact on family involvement at home and in school” (181). Effective teachers do not underestimate the power of parent communication and collaboration has on fostering student achievement. In fact, they embrace it.

Middle management:

I chose to include management in the list of essential teacher dispositions because of its connection with action and leadership. Management especially relates to the second essential question, “How do I teach them what they need to know?” because of its direct relation to instruction. Effective teachers make informed decisions to increase motivation (action) and lead their students toward self-awareness and responsibility. It may seem effortless for some but most likely, a lot of time and consideration goes into teachers’ classroom management.

The Skillful Teacher breaks up management into six main areas: attention, momentum, space, time, routines, and discipline (TST, 18). Instead of discussing each aspect, it will suffice to say that effective teachers never settle upon one specific strategy or practice. Instead, they carefully consider their students when deciding upon management strategies and constantly work to find practices that contribute to student learning and achievement.

Examples of classroom management: *note: there are very few images displaying secondary management, almost all images are from elementary*

Beyond the areas of management defined by TST, effective teachers also manage relationships and work toward creating a caring and respectful classroom climate and increasing student learning. “Whenever students feel empowerment, acceptance, and safety to take risks and try things that are hard for them, they like school better and learn more” (TST, 328). This does not happen by accident. Effective teachers consider their student’s psychological needs very important and understand that when certain needs are met, student learning increases.

Lastly, management can be defined as leadership. Effective leaders always consider alternatives and are open to other opinions. Effective teachers should adopt these skills too. When considering standards, or What do students need to know?, teachers lead the way. While policy makers may write them, teachers are the ones that make them real. Navigating this task can be difficult but through communication and collaboration, students not only learn content but the positive effects of open communication.

Reflect, reflect, reflect: Repeat.

I alluded to reflection throughout this post. One could even say reflection is a motif of education. We are constantly called to consider, reconsider, analyze, reassess and evaluate. Why? Because reflection in education leads to improved teaching and increased student achievement. Simplicity reigns again! The book, Reflective Practice to Improve Schools: An Action Guide for Educators, by York-Barr et al. was particularly informative around the art of reflection.

“Reflective practice requires a pause. Sometimes the pause is intentional—a purposeful slowing down to create a space in which presence and openness can emerge” (York-Barr et al., 6). It is easy to blame time as the reason teachers fail to reflect. Indeed, amid the chaos of a teachers’ day, there seems to be little time to pause, much less deliberately consider our practice. But effective teachers value reflection enough to make time.

York-Barr et al. name many potential benefits of reflection including “guidance for new teachers, continuous learning, bridges between theory and practice, consideration of multiple perspectives, more productive engagement of conflict, new content knowledge for immediate application, embedded means of formative assessment, growth in cultural awareness and competence, greater professionalism and voice, individual and collective sense of efficacy and strengthened relationships among staff” (York Barr et al., 14). Put this way, how can effective teaching occur without reflection?

“[Reflection] serves as the foundation for continuous learning and more effective action in               educational practice so that children are successful in school and in life”                     (York-Barr et al., pg. 11).

In a field dedicated to people, we must be willing and eager to reflect in community. Saphier et al. say “skillful teachers constantly reach out to colleagues with an assertive curiosity that says, ‘I don’t know it all. No one does or ever will, but I am always growing, adding to my knowledge and skills and effectiveness” (TST 2). In this way, teaching demands humility within our reflection and an openness to others’ opinions and ideas.

Conclusion: Uh-oh. I’m confused again. What does it all mean?

Try as we may to pinpoint specific teacher dispositions, skills and knowledge, there is no right answer. And that is exactly the point. The point is to grapple with and struggle to make sense of it all. In order to be true students of our craft, we must constantly question and challenge ourselves. We must compare what is given to what goes on in the classroom each and every day.

This post was an attempt at unraveling then wrapping back up the intensely complex profession of teaching. Here is what I’ve found. First, effective teachers share the belief that every student can learn. Next, underneath dispositions, skills and knowledge lay a few simple questions that I believe should drive our every move as educators:

1)   What do students need to know?

2)   How do I teach them what they need to know?

3)   How do I know students are learning?

These questions are our mantra. When these questions anchor us, navigating the details of teaching becomes more manageable. Finally, expertise, communication, management and reflection are essential teacher dispositions and skills that contribute to student achievement.

Ultimately, being an effective teacher means living out many of the values and practices we expect of our students. Effective teachers set high expectations for students to become experts in content, to be able to communicate and collaborate effectively, and to lead and to reflect thoughtfully on their impact in the world around them. The classroom is a microcosm for honing these skills and behaviors. Our profession serves as a vehicle to impart skills and dispositions we want to see lived out in the “real world.”

For these reasons, I argue that amid the confusion, if you truly believe all students can learn and are wholeheartedly dedicated to learning about teaching with an open mind, you are on the path to effective teaching. It’s simple. Really.

Something’s gotta give


Regarding teachers: “Over their first three years on the job, their beliefs about teaching knowledge and its nature, collaborative work, how students learn, their conception of the role of a teacher, and their place in the ecosystem of the school will be formed and solidified through what they see modeled by significant figures around them, by what mentors tell and show them, by what colleagues help them discover, by what message their administrators send to them about openness and seeking help, and by what support they experience for their own learning in college” (TST, 15).

From past experience and the “lab” of North High School, I feel as if I’m relatively aware of the reality of teaching. Yet however prepared I feel now, I realize I’m extremely naïve and have no clue as to what it will feel like to be a teacher next fall. The demands of teachers are endless and if we lack coping mechanisms, dropout is quick to follow.

In this post, I decided to analyze not only the different categories of tasks teachers face on a daily basis but moreover, how teacher workload and subsequent stress can lead to dropout. It is important to recognize the fact that as new teachers we will most likely begin our “careers at hard-to-staff schools where resources may be scarce — in other words, urban schools — simply because there are more jobs available there” (Graziano, 2005). It is in these schools where the teacher attrition rate is especially high. How can we prepare ourselves for such an environment? What tools and skills can we obtain before entering an environment that so many teachers abandon?

Informed by experience, conversations with teachers, North HS, class readings and research, I’ve separated the issue of teacher workload into two main parts: explanation and action. First, it is necessary to define burnout and common causes. Yes, we all get tired but what exactly leads to teacher burnout and attrition?

Next, and more productive, is the discussion of ways to cope with the signs of teacher burnout. Naivety only goes so far. As first year teachers, we must be prepared for every aspect of teaching, including workload and stress. To be truly effective, a teacher needs to know how and when to take a step back.How can teachers find balance? What resources can they seek? How can we thrive in the current system?

So what?

Why should we consider our own well-being? Frankly, the stakes are too high not to. The students we teach deserve idealistic, innovative and effective teachers. But if we fall into the trap of taking on too much, fighting every battle and letting student’s takeover, the depressing cycle continues. Students lose good teachers and we become another statistic. My hope is that by being aware and preparing ourselves for a roller coaster of emotions, we can alleviate some of the stress and seek ways to handle the first few years of teaching.

A glimpse into the classroom:

Teaching is giving. It is inherent with the job description. As teachers, we give, offer, advise, comment on, provide, inform, share, enlighten and update our students, their parents, the administration and state and national governments. Put this way, teaching Spanish through Guatemalan culture, food, and cooking vocabulary seems easy. Herein lies the point: Teaching is more than teaching. Let’s take a look at a couple examples of current teachers:

Example 1: At North, Mr. P writes and responds to emails throughout the day. He makes parents phone calls often and because he speaks Spanish, he interprets or makes phone calls on behalf of other teachers. He also performs specific administrative tasks such as attendance, photocopying and writing passes. There are professional development meetings after school, as well as departmental meetings during lunch. Mr. P also volunteers for extra curricular activities (i.e. homecoming Powderpuff referee, Chili Cook off chef). Lastly, he wants to coach the girl’s soccer team as a source of extra money in the spring. None of this involves teaching, yet it takes up much of his time during the day.

Example 2: I observed an even more intense example of non-instructional tasks last week when I visited another high school. Beyond teaching, this particular teacher sponsors three clubs, mentors numerous students and because he is well known in the district, sits on various committees that meet on evenings and weekends. He barely has time to eat lunch because there are always students in his room. He builds such strong connections to his students, past and present, that they choose to eat in his room, ask questions about college or just hang out. Teachers too, join in the fun and Mr. X never gets a moment alone in his 9+ hour day. On the surface, it seems as if he exemplifies effective teaching: his students learn, he created a safe environment and everyone wants a part of it. As well intended as he is, is Mr. X creating a recipe for burnout? How can he keep it up? Why does he take so much on?

After a bit of basic research I found a few reasons. Lisa Bartlett in the Journal of Educational Policy, discusses an expansion in teacher roles over the past 20 years. “Whereas before teachers had a more individualistic role in the school and a teacher-centered approach, now there is more emphasis on the professional community of the school, student-centered teaching, accountability and leadership” (Bartlett, 2004). No longer are teachers isolated. Collaboration is important and requires extra effort in terms of meetings and shared planning. Compounded with typical in-class duties, this represents a new facet of teaching life. “These new social realities of teaching represent a dramatic shift in the work environment and expectations made on teachers” (2004).

What is burnout?

Authors Alvarez and Grayson discuss school climate in the journal Teaching and Teaching Education. Put simply, we can categorize teacher burnout in three ways: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment (Alvarez, 2008).

Emotional exhaustion is more than just being tired. It is sustained fatigue, “that develops over time as one’s emotional resources are drained (2008).” There is no sense of bouncing back or re-energizing after a long weekend. Though it wasn’t burnout, I vividly remember last year arriving home from school a few Fridays and falling into my bed from exhaustion. I was often left alone to teach with no lesson plan or direction. Interestingly, the lead teacher was pulled to perform administrative tasks, as she was the most experienced of the teachers.

With no explicit plan, I was left with 28 2nd graders expecting to learn language arts, math or science. In Spanish. With instructional strategies set up for two teachers. Needless to say, I can be resourceful and spontaneous but my energy only lasted for so long. I knew I was emotionally exhausted when every little comment or question from the kids drove me crazy. I had no patience. At that point, I knew I needed a break from the constant giving that teaching asks of us.

Then notes like these reminded me why I’m teaching…

It’s the little things in life… but back to burnout. Next is depersonalization. “Depersonalization includes cynical attitudes toward students, parents, and the workplace. In turn, indifferent, cold, or distant attitudes are displayed through generalizing, derogatory labels, or physically distancing actions” (Alvarez, 2005). A word I hear often to describe this is jaded. We’ve all seen or had teachers like this and wonder why they don’t change careers or retire.

At North, though Mr. P is young, I see signs of depersonalization all the time. His comments toward students are often negative and based on generalizations. “You don’t think they are really supposed to learn anything in high school, do you?” was one of the first things he said to me. Just yesterday, when I suggested a “Brain Break,” where students stand and have to do the action learned for each verb he said, “They won’t do that. They won’t stand up. They are lazy.” It is hard to work with someone like this, much less be his student.

Lastly, “diminished feelings of personal accomplishment are found when educators feel as though they are no longer contributing to students’ development” (Alvarez, 2005). I think that the structural implications of education creep into this category. First year teachers in low-performing schools have major challenges in terms of student achievement. While they may put forth their best effort and improve a few students’ test scores, it may not be enough for the state or nation to approve. No Child Left Behind, new teacher accountability programs and state tests loom over teachers that attempt to blend content with higher level thinking, solid testing skills and innovative instruction. I’m not sure many other professions have such high stakes, high publicity or public scrutiny.

Overarching causes of burnout:

-Unmet or unrealistic goals

-Lack of sense of personal accomplishment

-Student behavior/discipline problems

-School context and environment

Administration: power struggles, disagreement with policies, poor admin. decision-making, lack of leadership and support

Something’s gotta give. How can we prepare for and avoid burnout?

“New teachers, however naive and idealistic, often know before they enter the profession that the salaries are paltry, the class sizes large, and the supplies scant. What they don’t know is how little support from parents, school administrators, and colleagues they can expect once the door is closed and the textbooks are opened” (Graziano, 2004).

To be prepared, we must face reality. Because we deal with living, breathing people as opposed to machines, laboratories or computers, our work changes constantly, week to week, class to class. Misbehavior, heartbreaking stories, celebration, and humdrum administrative work can occur within a matter of hours. Though there are many ways to deal with the teacher workload, I believe many of them have to come from within the teacher herself.

Flexibility, pre planning, spontaneity, open-mindedness and patience can help a teacher deal with the constant demands of her job. But what do we do when our students won’t listen, we have yet another Professional Development meeting after school, a parent sends a nasty email about their child’s grade and the principal wants a week’s worth of lesson plans by 5pm?

Honestly, I don’t know. That is what’s scary. Does it just come down to personality? My instinct tells me to pick my battles (save the email for tomorrow), be professional (go to PD with a good attitude) and work hard (lesson plans at home). I also don’t want to underestimate the power of positivity. Befriending generally positive people can go a long way in a stressful work environment.

In the past, I’ve dealt with stress by escaping. Get out of the school environment, exercise, talk with someone who isn’t a teacher, read a book, spend time with friends and family, watch a movie, catch up on sleep. Mentally and emotionally, I can generally bounce back over the weekend and be ready for Monday. Reading this blog in a year will prove quite interesting…

The research I found presents more structural suggestions for reducing attrition and workload. “Less students!” cries one article, stating that class sizes are too large and it leads to teachers feeling defeated before they start (Klemm, 2011). Indeed, it is hard to learn names, make connections and effectively teach large groups of adolescents. A defeatist attitude is hard to overcome.

Lisa Bartlett discusses the need for a strong sense of support from administration is important. “A good fit between teachers’ work expectations and the material supports of the organization enables teachers to complete their work with-out overworking, to minimize stress and to help sustain work commitment” (Barlett, 2005). If teachers feel supported instead of isolated, they are more likely to reciprocate commitment back to the school. It seems to me that a sense of community with fellow teachers and administrators is important, especially since education is leaning more toward collaboration. Being a part of a positive, committed community of teachers is crucial.

Saphier et al. in The Skillful Teacher, go further on the idea of staff community and explain, “collegiality and interdependence need to be built into the fabric of their working relationships. Interdependence requires that they function as both leaders and team players and that they support a balance of autonomy and cohesion in curriculum and teaching practices” (TST, 14).

Related to a sense of support and community within the school, Grayson and Alvarez suggest, “an acknowledgement of problems with school climate may prompt the implementing of behavior management strategies to support teachers, developing staff leadership teams, and developing teacher in-service programs” (Alvarez, 2008). Silent suffering benefits no one. Teachers need to be their own advocates and respectfully voice opinions. While the result may not be ideal, acknowledgement helps bring perspective and shared experiences.

“Ultimately, emotionally and physically healthy teachers exist in environments where the school system and middle management work diligently to enhance self-actualization and esteem in their teachers” (Alvarez, 2008). Though it is easy to forget, we must be emotionally and physically healthy in order to serve as the most effective teachers possible. Sometimes that means we need to be selfish and draw the line in terms of how much we will say yes to.

Issues of equity:

Unequal teacher expectations: In every other post, I’ve focused on what teachers do for their students, not what they do for themselves. From what I can tell, teachers in schools or districts under intense scrutiny or who teach students with large achievement gaps are at a distinct disadvantage compared to those who teach at high-achieving schools with less administrative scrutiny. Inequity also arises if, due to a lack of funds or resources, a teacher needs to perform extra duties that take away from planning time.

Lack of consistency: There have been four principals in four years at North. Most teachers are very young and many are in their first year at North. The attrition rate is high and from what I can tell, burnout is too. Who loses out in the end? The students. Just this week, I was walking with our class to the computer lab discussing our “difficult” project. The student said, “this isn’t East, this is North.” I responded by asking her what she meant and she replied, “East is a good school. North isn’t.” She equated difficult projects to good schools. Her comment stuck with me and makes me more determined to change that mentality.


To me, teachers need to have a good sense of balance and awareness. Looking back on my two teacher examples, Mr. P and Mr. Z are both at risk for burnout but for very different reasons: Mr. P because he lacks a true connection with students and teaching and Mr. Z because he is too connected to students and teaching. How will I fit in? How will I strike a balance?

I already catch myself thinking about how my room will be, that I’ll coach the girls soccer team and start a running program. That I’ll sponsor trips to Costa Rica or Ecuador and get to know parents. My daydream lasts about two seconds until I remember that I will no longer be the TA or teaching part-time. It’s the real deal. And my students need to learn first. If I’m lucky, the rest will follow.

Below are the articles I read and used to inform my thinking around teacher burnout:

Alvarez, Heather K., & Grayson, Jessica L. (July 2008). School climate factors relating to teacher burnout: A mediator model. Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 24, No. 5. Retrieved from

Bartlett, Lora. (September 2004). Expanding teacher work roles: a resource for retention or a recipe for overwork? Journal of Education Policy, Volume 19, No. 5. Retrieved from

Graziano, Claudia. (February 2005). Public Education Faces a Crisis in Teacher Retention. Retrieved from


Simply complex.

Which seems like a more inviting place to learn?




At first glance, one might scoff at this comparison, quick to call out the inherent difference between elementary school and high school students. Young children need eye-catching decoration, vocabulary, signs, color and comfortable spaces in order to learn, some say. High school is just, well, high school. Desks, chairs, whiteboard (or nowadays, “Smartboards”) plus a teacher and students and the room is complete, right? Maybe a generic poster or two and we are really getting crazy. Why is it that in elementary school, teachers stress about rotating bulletin boards, posting student work, creating cozy “reading corners,” and displaying relevant artifacts about content? Yet in high school, creating an aesthetically inclusive and positive classroom atmosphere falls by the wayside? Why the disconnect?

As I continue to delve into various aspects of teaching, one specific statement seems to be on replay. “It happens in elementary school but by the time students get to high school, ________ no longer exists.” In the blank, one could insert, “parent involvement, praise, choice, emphasis on individual students,” and now, classroom atmosphere. This rhetoric is insidious in nature because it subtly leads people to believe that, “así es,” or,”it’s just the way it is.”

I would like to argue that classroom atmosphere is extremely significant in secondary education and has many implications connected to it.

So am I arguing that a teacher needs to wear an “interior decorator” hat on top of everything else? Or that students will learn because a room looks cozy, or feels comfortable and inviting? Not in the least. If only it were that easy. But alas, creating an inclusive and positive classroom environment involves much more than interior decorating skills…although they wouldn’t hurt!

Beyond the tangible elements of a positive classroom atmosphere lie myriad intangible factors, and each plays a significant role in student motivation, self-esteem and fostering an inclusive classroom culture. The Skillful Teacher, Middle and Secondary Classroom Management and two articles from Secondary Methods about culturally relevant teaching helped inform my thinking about how a teacher develops an inclusive classroom environment. Also, I went to the source: the students themselves and asked them what good teaching and a positive classroom look like. But before I continue, I need to address the lens through which I viewed North this week.

**Analyzing what an inclusive classroom looks like was particularly complex this week because of the “white elephant” affecting everyone at North. A student passed away this past weekend from an overdose. This is an incredibly sad reality that no teacher wants to think about much less face directly. Yet here it is and what are teachers doing about it? I’m not sure how the school addressed what happened on Monday, but if Mr. P hadn’t told me, I would have had no idea. All I have seen is a sense of uncomfortable sadness and frustration from students and staff. More than just an “off day,” students seem to be especially anxious and emotional. Están inquietos.

As I discuss the elements of an inclusive classroom environment, my thinking lingered on the tragic situation at North. I moved quickly from the tangible “look” of a room, to the significance of the intangible “feel” of a room. Both are important and both help students feel comfortable and safe, even in the most disorienting moments in life. Now, on to my observations and connections.**

What does a positive classroom look like?

As I alluded to earlier, TST has much to say about inclusive, positive classrooms. First, an inclusive classroom climate encourages community and mutual support. When a teacher incorporates community into a classroom an outsider would see the teacher greet students, listen intently and reaffirm ideas. He may foster a sense of group identity by saying “my best 5th hour block of the day,” in which students feel a part of a group. He also would promote cooperative learning and social skills through group work and discussion. Students would view their classroom as a place of academic, social and emotional support (TST, pg. 330-331).

At North, I see some aspects of community manifested. Mr. P makes an effort to greet students as they come in. At times, he mentions to the class as a whole that their behavior was good or great. He tries to acknowledge and praise class participation during group stories. On the other hand, I have not seen an effort to problem solve or an emphasis on cooperative learning. In fact, there have been many instances in which students argue, even fight, and he demands silence over an explanation of the problem.

Today in particular, many students acted out. Mr. P was visibly irritated but did not stop the lesson. He scolded students and yelled at almost every class. I found myself wondering if stopping the class to discuss behavior and emotions would do any good. Maybe the staff was told to stick to lessons in spite of what happened over the weekend? Either way, today was especially stressful and emotionally exhausting.

Next, Saphier explains how encouraging confidence and risk taking contributes to the classroom (TST, pg. 337). In a language classroom, risk taking is vital! Students must realize mistakes are natural and necessary to acquire a new language. Indeed, each of the following, “the threat of being laughed at, of feeling foolish, or of being wrong,” is extremely prevalent in Spanish class (pg. 339).

Particularly in Spanish 1, participation is painfully difficult for students because their affective filter skyrockets the moment teachers speak in Spanish. When I teach, I try to speak slowly, repeat myself often, draw pictures, use gestures and only introduce a few words at a time. In the end, the students that participate are those that know they are right. Weinstein encourages teachers to, “be sensitive to anxiety or difficulty your students may be experiencing with course material or requirements” (MSCM, pg. 54). Yet, is being sensitive enough to encourage participation? At a certain point, these students need to speak. How do I get the ones who are not 100% sure to speak up?

At North, I see Mr. P correct students in a cordial way but not necessarily promote risk-taking. It’s more like forced participation and results in barely audible whispers. Some students become defiant when asked to participate saying, “I don’t know Spanish, Mister!” Mr. P tries to encourage asking for help by stating it explicitly and staying after school each day. Still, many students are indifferent then complain about low grades. His offer is sincere, yet students still hesitate. What is missing?

Lastly, in order to create an inclusive classroom, a teacher must make students aware of their influence and control. Choice in a classroom is powerful. Again citing a difference between elementary and high school, Weinstein writes, “as students advance through the grades, becoming more capable of making decisions and more concerned about having autonomy, we offer fewer opportunities for choice and involvement in decision making” (MSCM, pg. 60). Why?

Student influence and control does not mean that teachers give students total power but rather, “successful teachers find ways for students to have some ownership and influence over the flow of events and the intellectual life of the classroom” (TST, pg. 343). In my room, there is a great potential for student ownership—students create the stories we use to teach content! They have influence but seem indifferent or unaware of such potential in Spanish class. Tapping into their creativity is a goal of mine and I hope to do this by getting to know students’ interests and life experiences.

Related to influence, I liked the sub-section in TST on, “Stop my teaching,” because it relates directly to my classes at North (pg. 343). Today Mr. P said, “raise your hand when you do not understand a word” and began reciting a story. Not one student raised her hand during the story. Maybe this relates to the risk-taking anxiety students feel but nonetheless, my students need to be more empowered to speak up. They need to practice and rely on signals “when the instruction is leaving them behind” (pg. 343). Not only are signals formative assessments for the teacher, but they also promote student ownership over what they learn.

Ask the audience:

In Middle and Secondary Classroom Management, Weinstein et al. suggest teachers, “Ask students how they feel about the classroom environment” (pg. 70). I decided to do just that because who better to ask than the students themselves? During the “Do Now,” I asked “the audience” to complete the following sentences:

1) A good teacher…

2) A positive classroom looks…

Below is a poster (Glogster-great teaching tool!) I made displaying a variety of student responses.

 “Teaching the –isms”: Issues of equity

In Spanish for Heritage Speakers, Mr. P introduced a project about “Patrimonio Cultural,” in light of Hispanic Heritage Month. I was very excited to hear about the project but the reality resulted in students working independently on computers and fumbling around with directions, blogs, the UNESCO site and word documents. In theory, the students would have had a chance to discuss stereotypes, racism, sexism, the role of Spanish in their communities etc., but instead students became frustrated and confused. The project was far too rigorous and needed more context to make sense. Mr. P introduced relevant topics that inspire high-level thinking skills, yet students couldn’t connect.

Another example of equity lies in the discussion of immigration. The guidance counselor from Denver Scholarship Foundation told me that while most students are legal citizens, some are not. In this sense, immigration equality means an entitlement to or lack of certain rights. Earlier in the year, Mr. P explained a spring break trip to Spain and France. As a joke, he mentioned, “if you don’t have papers, don’t go to the meeting.” Later, in the SHS class, he said said jokingly, “si no tienes papeles, no puedes ir. Bueno, puedes ir pero no puedes venir.” (“If you don’t have papers you can’t go. Well, you can go but you can’t come back.”)

I found this attitude alarming but at the same time, my perspective is quite different. Mr. P himself does not have a green card and has missed class to go the immigration office. Maybe he is just trying to relate to the students and “be a real person,” as Weinstein discusses in Middle and Secondary Classroom Management (MSCM, pg. 58). I agree it is important to relate to the students and to show our “real” sides but how we do so is very significant.

Furthermore, immigration comes up often in class when students talk about their families or where they are from. It is also significant in terms of older students applying for financial aid in college. Immigration is a reality and it is not as though I discourage discussion or pretend to be blind to the issue; rather, I hesitate to use humor but that is because of who I am and my own experiences. Also, given the current events surrounding immigration in Alabama, the topic seemed especially uncomfortable to joke about. I would approach immigration in a more formal way with specific questions or goals for the conversation.

All of this relates to a thought-provoking reading from Secondary Methods about Culturally Responsive Teaching. It argues that all students bring assets to the classroom and it is up to the teacher to determine how to take advantage of them. Moreover, Lindsey et al. explain in Culturally Proficient Education that, “recognizing and acknowledging students’ and their communities’ assets fosters respect and trust that they can be the architects of their own futures” (pg. 22). As a teacher I need to be aware of relevant issues that my students face at school, home and in their communities. Awareness is the key. Just being aware and receptive to students helps teachers gauge class morale and gain trust. From there, the teacher has momentum to motivate and engage learners.


To me, this post feels disjointed and fragmented but I think it reflects how a teacher can feel in her classroom, especially when tragedy affects the school first-hand. We try so hard to do so many things right: create engaging, effective lesson plans, assess students in a way that informs teaching and learning, motivate students and create inclusive and positive classrooms. But at the end of the day, we are all just people in a room dealing with life’s confusing twists and turns.

I think it all comes down to care. If I care about my students, I will take time to get to know them, decorate my room with their work and make visuals to help them connect to content, offer choice, encourage risk taking, build community and confidence, open up discussion to often-avoided topics and teach them to own their learning. If I care, I will effectively teach my students what they need to know and refuse to let them slip by. Yes, it’s idealistic. Yes, it will take a ludicrous about of work and effort. But from where I stand now, why would I choose to teach if I didn’t care?

“Nadie nace enseñado.” No one is born taught.


“64 points, 87%, B+, A-, 2*, ✔+”

What does assessment mean for students, teachers and parents? How is the concept of assessment changing in the 21st century classroom?

I’m not quite sure when I started comparing myself to classmates but I vividly remember how: by looking at the top of a spelling test or persuasive essay and comparing the number, symbol or letter written in ink to that of my classmates. Good or bad? Better or worse? Where did I stand?

Socialized by my parents and teachers, I learned from a young age that a high score or grade was good. Low was bad. It wasn’t until high school, when I received meaningful feedback from a Spanish and history teacher. Of course the numbers still mattered but my conception of learning shifted. Instead of focusing on points and letter grades, I began to appreciate the process of learning. Despite this, the reality of high school is a points game. Points in class, ACT scores, GPA. How will I negotiate the game for students in my classroom?

As a future teacher navigating the first quarter of this whirlwind TEP program, I am becoming increasingly aware of the major shift in the education paradigm from what I knew as a student. No longer are teachers to lecture all day. No longer are students to take notes and regurgitate information. No longer do textbooks determine curriculum. Undeniably, times have changed. As a result of many factors, nationwide test scores included, the change is not only necessary but also imperative to the students we teach.

By examining what assessment means in the 21st century classroom, I found myself drawn to a few distinct topics. First, I observed what practices in the “lab” of the classroom at North. I then compared what I saw to what I believe is most effective and proposed potential ideas for my future classroom. Next, because I am still grappling with student motivation, I discuss ways in which assessment can serve as a catalyst for motivation, informed by the Stiggins text. Lastly, I discuss and analyze issues of equity apparent in the classroom. But first, I start with what I find to be a fantastic and succinct definition of assessment amid all of the foggy jargon. Paul Black in Classroom Assessment for Student Learning simply states,

“Good feedback causes thinking” (pg. 279).

Vocabulary quiz: Spanish 1. What does each student get out of this assessment? What do they think about?

    How does assessment impact teaching and learning?: 

Assessment OF vs. FOR learning

At North, I observe much more assessment of learning than assessment for learning. Over the past six weeks, students of all levels have taken a range of exams. Some had to take the district placement exam from DPS and an oral exam. Others took a simple 20-question vocabulary quiz. Students in Spanish for Heritage Speakers wrote out short answers describing different types of text: fable, story, poems and legends. Mr. P also pre-assessed the Spanish 2 class to see how much they retained from Spanish 1.

I want to note a small influence I had affecting how Mr. P pre-assesses. Over the course of my observations, I noticed that many students in Spanish 1 and 2 know a lot of random piece-meal vocabulary. In other words, they have substantial background knowledge but often don’t realize it until it’s blatantly obvious. As a teacher, why wouldn’t I take advantage of this?

As a ploy to deter some of our classroom management issues possibly due to boredom and teacher-centered instruction, I decided to pre assess the Spanish 2 students about “La Familia.” The activity was simple: I had six groups of students brainstorm a list of as many names of family members as possible for two minutes. In this way, students were accessing their own knowledge instead of me providing it.

I then laid the lists next to each other and had immediate information about what they knew. As I moved on with the lesson, I briefly mentioned nuclear family members and moved on to more complex structures such as, “¿Porqué es está casado, no es casado?” I realize this is a very basic example but in the moment it helped build class morale as they realized how much they knew and it helped me speed the lesson along, introduce new language and deter disruptive behavior.

Returning to the types of assessments used in Mr. P’s room, I have a few concerns. As we get further into the year and initial placement assessments wane, it seems as though he uses mostly assessment of learning. I wonder if assessment for learning is useful at the beginning of a course but not sustainable among the myriad of other obligations teacher have. Yet I hope this is not true. How can I find ways to efficiently include formative assessment throughout the course for 150+ students?

Luckily, the questions posed in Chapter 9 of CASL helped inform my thinking on the practical application of assessment:

1) How do we synchronize assessments for and of learning in actual practice? (pg. 281, CASL)

I believe Spanish exemplifies the potential for formative and summative assessment overlap. “Any learning target at any grade level where proficiency develops over time is a potential candidate for judicious overlapping of assessments for and of learning” (282). Spanish involves reasoning, skill and product targets and when well thought out, the teacher can balance descriptive feedback in order to prepare students for a summative assessment.

In my future classroom, formative assessment may look or sound like the following:

  • Writing reviewed by a partner then submitted to me for error correction.
  • “Centers” focusing on vocabulary, grammar, speaking, writing etc.
  • Partner work: check for understanding, short dialogue
  • Pretests to assess background knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, culture
  • Recording/practicing oral presentations and playing them back to improve
  • A student portfolio (folder) to track progress over time
  • Color-coded assessments in grade book (pg. 287, CASL)
  • “What other question could you form out of this picture?”
  • “What is another way to say that?”
  • “I don’t understand your answer. Can you say it again?”
  • “Good job making the verb and noun agree. Good pronunciation.”

2) “How will I motivate students to do the practice work needed to improve performance if I don’t make everything count toward a grade?” (pg. 281, CASL)

Mr. P makes a point to tell each class that participation (oral and written) in class counts for part of the grade. Nonetheless, many students avoid work for the majority of class then frantically rush during the last three minutes to write a few mediocre sentences. Are they really learning in those three minutes? Does the vocabulary or grammar structure stick? For some, maybe. But for many, no.

Even though in-class work counts for a grade, many students still refuse to do it. Therefore, I am intrigued by the question posed by Stiggins et al (pg. 281, CASL). How can I spark intrinsic motivation and not have the threat of grades be the means by which I get kids to practice? I want to think I can include non-graded practice in my classroom because repetition is vital to language acquisition.

One possible solution is using online verb conjugation websites. My sister, a high school junior in Spanish 3, has to complete a certain number of verb conjugations and record her accuracy. Interestingly, she can repeat the quiz as many times as she wants to get her desired score. This gives students choice and makes them more accountable for personal outcomes.

Example of online practice for Spanish:

What issues of equity are evident in assessment practices?

When I observed the class and analyzed assessments, two main issues of equity arose. I saw an issue of equity in terms of ELL learners. Second, I believe there is a disconnect among students with major gaps in learning at the secondary level and assessment.

  • Equity in assessment for ELL learners

There are a few English Language Learners in the Spanish 1 classes. They sit together and often cause disruptions because they chat. Maybe they are translating between three languages? Either way, when it comes to assessment, it is apparent that tests and quizzes are unfamiliar. In the placement exam, one student did not understand how to answer much less what to answer. Filling in the blanks after listening to an oral reading was a foreign concept.

In this way, inequity lies in the act of test-taking itself. I grew up in the US and learned the difference between matching, true/false, and bubble tests from a young age. The language of the test needs to be understood before the content within it.

Once an ELL student is ready for content, issues of language and cultural capital arise. We have talked a lot about this in Literacy. One example someone gave was about the word, “harbor.” A student had no idea what harbor meant yet that was only part of a question within the test. In order to understand the question, the student needed to know the meaning of harbor.

In terms of formative assessment, I need to think about how I might differentiate or adapt the way I communicate with ELL students. More visuals, gestures, reinforce correct pronunciation and emphasize the cognates when possible. I want to stay keen to new ideas in terms of formative assessment for all students, especially ELL students.

Lastly, I found the article by Guillermo Solano-Flores, “Cultural Validity in Assessment: Addressing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity,” thought-provoking because it highlights something I hadn’t thought of before. It mentions how No Child Left Behind shed light on the issue of inequity in assessment for ELL learners. “Despite many unwanted outcomes, the law can be credited with bringing attention to (while not necessarily effectively addressing) inequities of ELLs, promoting interest in formative assessment, and, in many ways, spurring attention to cultural validity in assessment” (pg. 278). This is another way in which the paradigm shift in assessment is visible. Considering how to assess ELL students is imperative. Not only do they need opportunities to show learning but also more and more teachers are responsible for proving it.

  • Equity in assessment: What about students with major gaps in learning?

One student, Sam*, in my class reads at a kindergarten reading level. Although he comes to class, he rarely participates. At first I thought this was purely defiance. Yet as I work one-on-one with him, I realize that he lacks so much background knowledge in English, that learning Spanish is an enormous jump to make. Spelling, copying words, repeating information. All of this is very difficult for Sam. Asking Sam to write 5 sentences using new grammar and vocabulary is too much. He requires more support. Grappling with Sam’s case leaves me with many questions:

  • What is one to do if the student struggles with basic reading and writing? How do I show him what he does know through assessment? Ideas: Different expectations for assignments, scaffolded exercises, more oral assessment.
  • How would I adapt assessment for him?
  • Is this a bigger issue of equity? Why has he passed previous grades?


After sharpening my focus of learning through the lens of assessment, I am astounded by its complexity. In the end, a few things are clear. First, students need to know how they are progressing and see what they are learning. They deserve to see and hear feedback so they can begin to develop reflection and analyzing skills. Also, I realize it is necessary to balance both assessment for and of learning because each provides students, parents and teachers with crucial information. This information shows us where to move forward or if we must rewind in order to move on.

“Assessment is not just the index of change, it is the change” (pg. 37, CASL). These powerful words incite hope in teachers as we shift our understanding of assessment. It is exciting to be involved in a major paradigm shift that I sense in education right now. I feel as if I am gaining the theory and practical skills to effectively teach and assess my students. The numbers and symbols may never disappear, but I will do my best to accompany them with words so they mean something to students and parents. I want my feedback to make them think.

Why should I?

Student motivation: as illusive as we think?

We’ve all heard it. Maybe we have even launched it back at a former teacher under our breath. The proverbial question, “Why should I?” while rude and annoying, is in fact a good one. Why should the students do what we tell them? To me, this is a sobering question and one that requires careful analysis.

First of all, Students need to know what they are doing in the classroom is valuable. If not, motivation will quickly wane followed by a slew of classroom management problems. All students deserve to learn in an environment that not only motivates but also provides authentic and enduring value to their lives.

I figured it would be straightforward: are the students motivated? Are they engaged? What does Mr. P do to spark interest? However, with just a quick glimpse through the lens of student motivation, I was struck by how interconnected motivation is to other aspects of the teaching and learning. I found myself forming more questions than answers. Therefore, wearing glasses of motivation, I will shed light on the following relevant issues facing North: assessment, curriculum and learning the 21st century. Also, I will discuss issues of equity, effective and ineffective teacher practices that impact motivation.

Assessment and Motivation: using feedback to sustain motivation

Public praise, a type of formative assessment, can be a vehicle to motivate students. However, the following example highlights that teachers must be cognizant of how they use public praise.  Today, Mr. P handed out an invitation to AP Spanish to a few specific students in the Native Speakers class. He announced it to all students by saying, “if you don’t get it, don’t worry about it.” The reaction was interesting. A few students humbly received the paper with shy smiles. Others, mostly males, were joked with and jostled. Those that did not receive the invitation launched into random commentary including: “¿Porque yo no, Mister? ¿No soy bueno en el español, o qué?”Though Mr. P’s intention may have been to positively reinforce the abilities of a few students, the result was something quite different.

Praise is tricky. As Saphier points out, “If a student doesn’t want it, it’s not reinforcing. Being praised in front of someone else may be embarrassing” (Saphier, pg. 227, 2008). The negative reaction of a few students clouded the potential celebratory sentiment for future AP students. Teachers need to consider the specific characteristics of students to gauge what type of praise is best.

I pause here to bring up an issue of equity in terms of perceived intelligence. How does a student feel when picked or not picked for a higher-level class? Do they believe what the teacher deems true? Does it make students work harder to prove that they can be in AP? How can we praise students while also maintaining other students’ dignity and pride? This issue would need time and further study but it deserves mentioning.

Summative assessment also links to motivation. The picture below exemplifies how Mr. P’s summative assessments attempt to motivate students: Most classes on Tuesday started with, “Tons of you have Fs.” Students began arguing and asking what they were missing. Mr. P entertained a few requests then yelled, “If you are failing, you have to come after school, sí o sí.” In all there are 36 students with Fs out of 150 total students. Many students were surprised to find out they had an F.

I see this situation as a lack of consistent informative feedback. Instead of feedback days or weeks after the initial assessment, The Skillful Teacher encourages teachers to, “give explicit feedback to students on their work as rapidly as possible after completion” (Saphier, 227, 2008). Consistent, rapid feedback helped me as a student and kept me engaged with the material. It helps the student feel as if someone else is aware they are learning. Furthermore, a lack of student feedback is “detrimental to students’ motivation” (MSCM, 222). Again, the question, “Why should I?” is legitimate here because if assignments are only for points, then what are students taking away from the class?

Curriculum and Motivation: making school valuable

As a high school student, I distinctly remember which classes I felt motivated in. Pondering why, I believe it was because what we did in class was engaging, thought provoking and I felt I could perform successfully. Now I see that my high school motivation was due to teachers successfully exhibiting the “expectancy x value framework,” highlighted in the book, Middle and Secondary Classroom Management (MSCM, pg. 215-216, 2011). I felt I could perform at the task and take away value from it. Now, roles are reversed: it is my turn to employ this framework.

Spanish 1 on Tuesday, September 20th:

¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños?

MSCM highlights a great example of language classrooms. Students “can be enthusiastic about role-playing a visit to a restaurant, but can appear board and uninterested when it’s time to conjugate verbs” (213).  In terms of the “expectancy x value framework” in MCSM, how can I make conjugating verbs something that students recognize as attainable and valuable? (215). From the strategies listed, I identify most with, “relating lessons to students’ own lives, help[ing] students recognize the relationship between effort and outcome, creating finished projects and provid[ing] informative feedback” (217). It is helpful as a beginning teacher to break down motivation in this way.

Veering a bit from curriculum, I wanted to discuss humor as a way of imparting new information. At North, Mr. P relies on humor often to engage students and in turn, motivate them to continue paying attention. For example, he told students that when we learn about phone numbers and addresses, the information could be used to, “pick up chicks.” He also teaches words like “coger,” which has a very negative connotation in Mexico compared to Spain. Also, in the Native Speakers class, one student responded with “masticoso” to mean “chewy” in English. “Masticoso” is not a word and everyone had a good chuckle. Lastly, Mr. P started using a buzzer in response to wrong answers. Students find all of this funny to a degree, but I’ve noticed that humor often leads to side conversations and tangents. While I definitely want to bring humor into my classroom, I need to be careful in how I use it. Humor alone cannot motivate students.

Technology and Motivation “plugging in” in the 21st century

In this day and age, students are incredibly motivated by technology. Students thrive on “instant gratification” and are always “on” or connected. They are motivated by “friend requests” and the anticipation of an incoming text. My sister, a high school junior, interacts with various screens,  cell phone, smart boards, ipads, television and computers, all day long. The question is how can teachers take advantage of this type of motivation through technology? How can technology become a source of intrinsic, or internal, motivation?

Notes from the SmartBoard

In my classroom at North, not a class goes by without a handful of student’s texting, surfing facebook or listening to music. Technology exists in the classroom and certainly motivates but can students transfer their skills? Interestingly, when asked to put together a Powerpoint slideshow describing an invented product, many students struggled to type and navigate the program. Motivation was high; students asked questions, engaged in the activity yet struggled with the details.

Herein lies another issue of equity and opportunity: while most students at North have cell phones, I wonder what kind of access to other types of technology they have. North has great resources, but are the students practicing the skills necessary to take full advantage of technology? It takes  skill to put together a Powerpoint presentation and students now more than ever need such skills as students and future employees. As a teacher, I will use technology in a way that is accessible and applicable to everyday life.

Conclusion: What does it all mean for me?

“Research has shown that good everyday teaching practices can do more to counter student apathy than special efforts to attack student motivation directly.” (Barbara Gross Davis, in Ericksen, 1978). This quote speaks to what I have learned thus far in the TEP program. When used effectively, I believe that effective planning combining praise, students’ background knowledge, choice, opportunities for success and engaging students in critical thinking lends itself into a classroom of inherent motivation. My hope is that the question students will ask moves from, “Why should I?” to a statement of “I should because it matters.” Other issues I would like to discuss:

-Gender and motivation. Are boys are girls more apt to feel motivated? How do we socialize boys and girls in terms of academic motivation? Activity motivation (sports, music)?

-Family and motivation. How does ones family experience affect motivation? Why do some students sense motivation from parents or siblings and others not?

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