Farewell Ghana

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Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to Ghana.  On my first trip to Africa, I learned a lot about Africa, perceptions of the US and myself.  It was a really good trip and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience African culture . . .to see my ancestral homeland.  My reflections:

IMG_0264 I understand African American culture better after this trip.  In the words of one of my cousins, “Black DNA” is the same everywhere. It is the truth.

  1. African American traditions of respecting elders. . .typically, if a person is older than you, they are never called by their first name.  Instead you are to call them, Auntie or Uncle.  The word cousin doesn’t exist in the the Ghanaian language, so to everyone here, my cousin is my Auntie.
  2. There are so many extended families.  Usually, several generations live under one roof.  I remember growing up in Memphis, we had “brothers and sisters” but they were distant cousins or not related at all.  Big families are celebrated.  I absolutely LOVE the family atmosphere of Ghana.
  3. Everyone has a nickname in addition to their given name.  Few people are called by their birth name.
  4. The flavors of southern Black cuisine are here.  The soups and stews remind me so much of my moms cooking.
My new Ghanaian family

My new Ghanaian family

Ghanians are the most hospitable people I have ever met.  They eagerly welcome foreigners and are extremely friendly and helpful. If you want a taste of Africa with out fear of being robbed or mistreated, Ghana is a great starter.

Ghanaians are business minded.  Everyone wants to own a business. They sell in the streets or on the side of the roads. “Hustle” is the middle name of most Ghanians.

IMG_0094I love the confidence of African men and women.  Early in their lives, boys and girls are taught their worth and beauty.  Parents tell their children things like, “you are a great man” or “you are so beautiful.” Self esteem issues are not rampant.  Most Ghanaians think very highly of themselves.  They are proud of their bodies and clothes, jewelry and makeup show this.

I am puzzled and bothered by the hybrid Christianity here.  Yes, I have often taught in my history classes that Christianity or Islam mixed with the local indigenous religions of Africa, but I did not have an experience with it.  After listening to the radio, I now understand it, but am sad that the message of Jesus is distorted.  There are posters and signs everywhere with smiling preachers on them.  Street corners can have more than 5 signs advertising churches.  Preachers heavily promote prophecy and a prosperity gospel.   However, many still believe power of curses to kill off members of the family for evil actions.

The poorest of Americans are wealthy compared to Ghanians.  The minimum wage is a daily rate, not hourly. It is the equivalent of about $5.00.   A couple of the villages that I visited were really poor–an entire family living in one room.  I’m left with a sense of confusion and emptiness. .  .I want to help, but don’t know how.

This trip was a fantastic adventure.  I am eternally grateful for my family that cared for me and gave me the chance to experience Africa.

I kept of vlog of my journeys, click here for the playlist.

10 Lessons, 10 Years

Friday, I celebrated the completion of my 10th year of teaching.  It is really hard to believe I have been teaching for ten years.  To celebrate, I am sharing the 10 most valuable things I have learned over the past ten years.

  1. REST. There is a reason for all of the breaks and summer vacation.  We must have time to relax, reflect and release.   I feel like in the US, we have this notion of work, work, work.  There is more to life than work.  Work hard, play hard. Rest makes your work much easier.
  2. LAUGHTER.  Laugh in front of your students.  Let them make you laugh.  Be silly and goofy with them.  Act ignorant of their world (and watch out for what they tell you).  Laughter lightens the classroom atmosphere.  It helps you connect with your students.

  3. TEACHING IS AN ART. There is no correct way to teach. Across the hall there is a teacher that lectures and uses slide projectors.  Kids love her and she’s effective.  Down the hall, math teachers are flipping and using classroom time for collaboration.  I use a lot of games, music and drama.   When Eddie was here, he used the Harkness Table–every class they were have discussions.  Everyone does it differently. . . we all reach students differently.  Find your comfort zone and make it work for you.
  4. CHANGE. The cliche is true:  Variety is the spice of life.    If you are going to make teaching a career, embrace change.  Change grade levels.  Change schools.  Change subjects. Change something.  Especially, if you teach a high need school.   Otherwise, you will experience burnout and you won’t be effective. You will be bitter and resentful.  I am listening to several of my friends in Memphis complain about issues in the district, some extremely serious.  Many of them have a families and can’t make the drastic change that I did.  But they need a change to avoid the bitterness rut.

  5. TRY YOUR STUDENTS’ STUFF. Try their games, ideas and apps.  For example, my students love review games. Once or twice a year, I tell them to plan a review game.  Students have brought in all kinds of ideas and activities:  bowling, golf, race to the board (seems to be a favorite), Candyland and the list goes on.  If a game is easy to replicate I’ll set it up for us to play at a later date. On another note, if I have five minutes left at the end of period, I’ll ask them:  What apps do you use?  This is how I stay techie.  Or I’ll ask, show me how to do this or that?
  6. WATCH AND LEARN FROM YOUR PEERS.  The former principal at my new school was awesome about this.  She used the 2 + 2 model for evaluations.  Each classroom teacher was required to visit 4 classrooms outside of their subject area during the school year.  We completed a form that had places for 2 commendations, 2 recommendations and a reflection area.  This allows me to see what tools and strategies my peers are using.  This informal model for evaluation really works, but mostly it aids in collaboration and connection with your colleagues. Even when my department chair, curriculum director or principal visits my classroom, they use this form.  At the end of the year, you have 6+ impromptu classroom observations.  You can see common themes from the observers and your end-of-year evaluation is fairly simple and clear–you know what will be said even before you arrive. I love that I don’t have to prepare a dog and pony show every time that my principal visits.  I believe these 2+2s  help to keep our principal connected to our classrooms.
  7. CONNECT with your colleagues and students outside of the classroom.  Relationships build trust.  Trust makes teaching easier.  Period.
  8. LIVE LIFE.  Travel.  See the world.  Have a family. Actively pursue a hobby.  This is the best professional development one can have.  You can use photos and stories from all of these experiences to provide commentary to your classroom instruction.  The kids students love the most are those who tell stories.  Right off hand I can think of several teachers at my school that do this.  Those are the teachers my kids talk about the most:  the geometry teacher who was in the military and volunteers at a prison, the history teacher who tells tales of her time at an urban school, the marathon running algebra teacher, the Bible teacher that is REALLY honest about his life before becoming a Christian, the English teacher that only tells part of a story and then the kids have to beg for more the next class.

  9. PROCESS VS CONTENT. Sometimes, it is about the process more than the actual content.  I’ve learned this through PLP and a project I assign to kids.  PLP was tough for me because it is self directed learning.  However, the process was beneficial because it caused me to become more reflective of my teaching and tools I use in the classroom.  In the spring, I assign a documentary project.  While creating their own documentaries tracing the history of something they love, they are developing research skills.  The project has VERY LITTLE to do with World History.  One students even told me this, but  I still assign it because students have to actively research a topic using databases and reliable sources, kids write annotated bibliographies with appropriate citations, they learn IMOVIE software.   Again, it is about learning research and presentation skills, not content.
  10. CLASSROOM MANGEMENT.  It doesn’t matter weather you are at a high need school or private school, classroom management determines whether or not you can teach.  My first year at new school was TOUGH, largely because I didn’t implement any of the classroom management techniques that I had in previous school.  If students don’t know what is expected of them, they will push your buttons.

 

I Decided to LIVE

A few months ago, I got word that someone I knew indirectly had died.  He was young.  Younger than me.  It struck me in the most peculiar way.  I posted the following to Facebook:

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I think we assume that we will have time.    For me, I was constantly saying, I’ll do this when I get here. . . . or when I get married . . . or someday.  The reality is:  life is short and I am more than a teacher.  That day I decided wanted to LIVE.  No more waiting for a travel companion, a friend who is open-minded, the perfect bank balance.  I want to live this life.  I want to love my friends and family hard.  I want to see the world.  I want to bless others.   I want to work hard, AND PLAY hard!

One of the decisions I made that day was to travel.  I spend so much of my money on frivolous nonsense that will not go with me when I die.    Why not spend it on living and traveling?  I made the decision that day to go to Ghana, no matter what.  Today, I followed through and bought a plane ticket.  It was worth every penny of “beans and rice” for the next two weeks (yuck).  Nevertheless, I am terribly excited. . . I will LIVE!

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PLP Reflections

Observations as my year in PLP draws to close:

1. I loved our project–a revamp of professional development. I hope to continue working with our Curriculum Director to provide relevant and useful PD to the school. There are so many new ideas we have had: 5 min previews, 60 second shares and reflection time.   We are moving away from a lecture-based, seminar style meetings to variety and discussions.

2. Leadership: I used my bossy! (Michele encouraged me, “In a man’s world you would be called assertive and a visionary). Under normal circumstances, I would not have taken on leadership. However, I was appointed leader by the team (after I made them get on task during our first group session). As department chair at my previous school, I loved organizing and facilitating. And believe it or not, I liked it this time as well. I love seeing our action plan come together. However, I realize that I am a bit controlling and from time to time, I struggle with delegating. What was wonderful about my team is that they often would say, “What do you want us to do?”   I am so grateful for their constant reminders that they would and could do what I asked.

3. Quick Scenes:  At the November PD, one the sessions I attended was led by our drama teacher. He uses an activity called “Quick Scenes.” Here is the method he gave us for this activity.

Quick Scenes Strategy

  1. Sort students into groups of 3-4
  2. Give a prompt    example: Boston Party set in the Wild West  (give them a crazy location for the content)
  3. Give students Requirements for the scene: strong intro, plot, conflict, vocabulary, etc.
  4. Give students 15 minutes to develop a scene.

I successfully tried this in class. I gave each group a topic that we had studied that quarter and told them they had 10 minutes and must use 3 words from the semester exam study guide in their scene. Using the drama teacher’s Quick Scene Activity, students were able to be creative and have tons of fun reviewing some the major ideas we’d discussed first semester. And it was really nice to end the semester laughing. Here are some of the scenes developed by my students.

 

 

 

Is School and Jesus enough?

Friday, a colleague asked me:  If you didn’t have work, what would you have?  He went a step further and said, if you weren’t able to work what would you do?   He was trying to emphasize that I work too much and need to have a life beyond teaching and school.

I didn’t have an answer for him.  I still don’t have an answer.  All I have is school and Jesus.  Thats it.  It really depressed me to realize this.

I like work.  I love teaching.  I love my students.  I tried online dating.  That was a bust.  I’ve been volunteering.  My only option if I want more than work is to go back home to Memphis.  There, I have family and friends and a small life beyond work.  But what’s wrong with work if it brings me joy?

Teacher friends, I ask you?  What do you have beyond work?  What should I be doing with my life?

Homecoming 2014

Homecoming was a success this year. I felt like the kids were more spirited and engaged than any other year.  I really enjoyed the dress up days and the Pep Rally.  However, student engagement cost me class time.  Next year, I will use the last couple of days of Homecoming Week to do a leadership lesson.   I attempted to teach my last last block How to DBQ in the hour before the Pep Rally. It was RIDICULOUS to expect Freshman who are having their first pep rally to focus on a skills lesson.

This year I have been focusing on teaching more skills.  So far this year, they are using OPTIC to evaluate documents, writing thesis statements, and learning to write a DBQ Essay.  This first DBQ is really easy because the DBQ Project has already done the groupings for them.  Additionally, students will not discuss POV due to the structure of the DBQ.  I am just exposing them to writing about documents and using the DBQ formula.

Before the next DBQ, I will add on POV.  I am thinking about using the football DBQ or the Brad Pitt DBQ to teach Point of View.  And eventually, I will give them documents with no guiding questions or they will write the DBQ in class as a major assessment.

One of my big struggles this year in classroom management is getting students to begin working as soon as the bell rings.  Honestly, its so frustrating to remind students every day of what they are supposed to be doing.  I think maybe I will create some sort of reward system for being on task and silent when the bell rings.  I was thinking about making it some sort of competition.  Like giving out tickets and the person who has the most at the end of the quarter can exempt a homework/daily assignment.  Or maybe, include working when the bell rings into their participation grade in Class Dojo.

It seems that my first year of teaching in Houston was about adjusting to the culture and climate of my new home.  Last year was clarifying who I am in this new culture and restructuring the course  This year, I am focused on building strong skills because in the long run will they remember Cyrus or Sennacarib?  However, they can take with them using evidence to make a good argument and that is the job of any good historian.

 

Taking Control of My Internet Presence

So, I joined PLP and the kick-off session was today.  I’m excited about the journey and being a more connected teacher.  Everyone knows I love good PD.  A few of my takeaways:

  • Why be Connected?  Reduce Classroom Isolation & gain the Wisdom of Crowd.  Years ago when I started blogging, it was for this very reason.  I loved being apart of online communities and growing and learning from them.  Without Carson and Duez and Dede and Margaret and Amy and Kristine and Kary and Tamara and Marcy and Jessica and Lisa (and so many others), I would not be the teacher I am today.  They read my posts and offered improvements for my lessons.  Honestly, it was the best collaboration I have ever had.
  • The facilitator said we should “Transparently share with others once I contextualize what I’m learning.”  Even more, she told me that I should take control of my presence on the web.  For me, this is extremely challenging.  I have been “Teacha” for years.  Desperately trying to hide my real name and picture from my online activities.  Most of it was because in public school, contact with the press could get you fired.  What if the paper/news found my blog?  Then, I made the move to a Conservative Independent Christian school.  I was even more frightened. What is hilarious about all of this fear?  Technology coordinator said that they knew about my blog years ago when I accepted the job. I am not as anonymous as I thought!  So now I face this inner debate:
    • keep this site and use my real name allowing this site to become “personal” and less anonymous.
    • or take my old school website that has my name on it and make it my new online presence.  And this site would be my personal space to blog about my life.
  • “True leaders replicate themselves” and create more leaders.

 

 

Decisions. . .

This afternoon, as I was searching for new utility provider, I had a thought:  “I need a husband.  I’m tired of making decisions.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love being an independent, single lady.  I like that I don’t have to clear my girly whims,  share my schedule or discuss the budget with anyone else–I can do what I want, when I want.  But I am just so tired of making all of the decisions.  Why can’t someone else to do it for me?

I am a VERY slow decision maker (one of the reasons I could never be a principal or head of a company).  I like to mull things over, pray about them, make lists and more lists.    When I finally make my decision, I am often pretty happy with it.  Spur of the moment decisions, not so much.  When I applied for the teaching position in Houston; I knew about the opening for a month before I decided to submit my resume.  By the time I decided to apply, I thought the position would have been filled; however, they were still interviewing.  When the school called with a job offer, I knew I could say yes.  I’d been praying about it, mulling it over and making lists for approximately two months.   On the other hand, I bought a car once because my mother said I needed to. . . just showed up at the dealership with nothing in mind except to get a car.  I never really loved the car, hated the car payment and from day one I knew that the deal did not benefit me–but I did it because my mom said so.  Last story, I have been looking at apartments and comparing prices since December of last year.  My lease expires at the end of July.  Over the past six months, I have visited complexes, read reviews and talked to residents of ideal choices (yes, honey, I drove around the complex, stopped people and asked questions.)  I involved friends in my comparisons and doing the “math.”  I feel really, really good about my choice and I am really excited about the move.

So back to my thoughts earlier today.  Sometimes, I just wish I could let someone make the big decisions for me.  It is exhausting making decisions in my personal life…I want leadership I can trust (sounds like one of those Republican commercials). Although I know that singleness may be God’s gift to me, a girl can still hope for man, right?   *sigh*  Maybe one day, God will do the miraculous and when he does, in typical Teacha fashion, I will make a list, mull it over and over and pray fervently.  For now, I need to select an electric company and I have less than 5 days to do it.  Decisions. And way too many choices.

Random Stuff

In my classes we debate today:  Which was the better society, Sparta or Athens?  My students love debate.  They like the opportunity to argue and persuade someone to see their perspective.  After the lesson, many students asked “Can we do this again?”  I am so grateful for their enthusiasm.

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My pacing is off this year.  There were a lot of changes to the schedule and we lost time.  My struggle has always been how to teach a large amount of material in a short period of time.  I know I should focus on big ideas . . . but implementing it is so difficult.

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Today, I was talking to a colleague about dating. Colleague says you have to put yourself out there.  I asked how does one do that.  “Well, you can’t be here all the time working.” “You develop routines and have a face that says that you are open and friendly.”  When I leave school, I’m tired.  But if I’m thinking about dating, I’ll need to develop activities that put me “out there”after work.  So, I signed up for a church social this Friday.

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Thankful for the gift of laughter with my students, an evening on the red couch reading and playing games, I am thankful for the Lord’s provision.