Thursday, November 19, 2009

Coming Down from a Conference High

Last year I was very bright-eyed when I hit the ground in the Bronx. With what I felt was moderate knowledge of what education should be and my experience teaching two different populations- rural/suburban Kansans and military brats- I thought I could probably handle another population of students, even if they were a bit more difficult (that was incorrect). That said, when I attended the NCSS conference last year I came back re-energized with my head back in the clouds thinking yet again about what education should be in my classroom, rather than what it was. That Monday was one of the most difficult days of the year for me.

Conferences have the power to fill your head with ideas. If you go to the worthwhile sessions you might very well see incredible educators sharing what they do to help their students learn in extraordinary ways. I once attended a session about a guy who created a cross-curricular unit on the Civil War that involved all major subject areas, a classroom management plan, students marching through hallways with regiment flags, real collaboration by teachers and students across an entire grade, and a unit finale that was a camping trip at Gettysburg. It was incredible, but not something I would dream of doing in my own school.

The day I got back from NCSS 2008, I walked into school with a smile on my face and with ideas of Socratic seminars and student-led discussions dancing in my head. Given the fact that I still hadn't taken control of my classrooms very well, whatever activity I did that day as a result of those pie in the sky thoughts was a total wash that ended in me yelling a lot and feeling more exhausted than usual. My mentor came into my room to check on me and could tell what had happened without even asking. She helped me realize again that education in the setting we find ourselves is not what it should be. Teachers like the Civil War guy above, as well as our former selves as students in schools of ed would be appalled at some of the teaching practices we use, citing the fact that they're archaic and do not promote critical thinking skills enough. Doing so is certainly easier said than done.

It's important to know what is possible in other classrooms, even if it's not yet possible in yours. That said, you've got to realize that it takes time to get to the point when you'll be able to implement many of the ideas you learned about in the school of ed or elsewhere. It may be impossible to use many of them in the setting we teach in. Don't get discouraged, but realize that even in a setting that's further back from the front it's difficult for new teachers to pull off a lot of the more hands-on, progressive, technologically sound ideas being developed in the field right now. Be patient, keep your head up and remain in the loop about what is happening in classrooms around the country. I'm certain that your time will come, but not overnight. I'm still waiting for mine, but at least this year it seems like it's on the way.

Today's Wine: Arden Woods Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This one was just fine. It was less than ten dollars and was a nice bottle for the table. One of the people drinking it with me said it had the essence of camping. Now, having camped quite a lot I can tell you there are a lot of things that describe the smell of camping. I believe she was referring to the oak and perhaps a bit of a smokey flavor you could get from this one, not the any of the other crazy things that require long showers once you get home.

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