I Refuse to Be An Armed Teacher

I have been getting asked more and more whether or not I, as a teacher, would be willing to have a gun (either on me or locked in my classroom) in case of a shooting at school. But this has gone beyond people here and there asking what I think. Recently several politicians (you know who they are…right?) have publicly stated that arming teachers will put an end to the mass shootings that have been experienced by over 150,000 American students since Columbine in 1999. Yes, I specifically heard them say teachers. They are not talking about having police or armed guards in schools, that’s a different topic.

We are getting mixed signals. Teachers are told not to break up or get in the middle of a fist fight. “Call the administrator or school officer” we are told. And yet, it seems that many people outside of schools are saying that we should be breaking up school shootings. This would be significantly more dangerous. So which is it? Stay out of dangerous situations and wait for trained professionals or get yourself in there and risk getting injured (or worse…)?

So here is my response to whether or not teachers should be armed: NO. Here’s why.

1. There are plenty of teachers that have mental health issues. A lot of them. Some have full blown illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, etc. Others are just stressed to the max. Either way, as a group our mental well being isn’t the most stable. And that’s easily understandable given the difficult climate of education right now. We are not talking about issues that would stop us from being able to teach, but we also keep saying that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of people with mental issues. So if teachers with mental illness are not able to carry guns, will that affect their ability to get hired? What if all the teachers in the school have some kind of mental issue? Then that school just doesn’t get protected? 

2. Where will the time to train and practice for these scenarios come from? I have heard the argument that “police don’t train that much either”, but I don’t think that’s any excuse. So let’s say that teachers have to do annual training. Assuming this country is not asking us to give up our precious, already limited time with our families and friends, this would have to be time we are currently devoting to teaching. Is that really the best use of our professional development time? What will  we be giving up in order to make time for this? Will this mean we are less concerned about preparing our kids for post-secondary education or The Almighty Tests? I’m not a police officer. I’ve never even shot a gun. But I know there is a big difference between practice shooting at the range and training for an event like we are experiencing in American schools. This would not be a one time training and then hope your skills are sharp if/when you need them. So either we are asking teachers to give up more of their personal time, give up time in the classroom, or give up professional development time that would otherwise be used to make us better educators.  If this country is truly concerned about our education system pumping out kids who are prepared for adulthood, I’m not sure which of those options is going to get us there. 

*And please note here, I am not saying that teachers who want to carry their gun or have a gun locked away at school are in the wrong. I have talked with many teachers who have expressed they would be comfortable and willing to do it. They are typically teachers who already own guns and are comfortable using them. But I don’t think we can rely on that. Again, what if there’s a school where no one volunteers to be “that” teacher? Does that school just have to go without the same protective measures that others are getting? Will “are you comfortable being ‘that’ teacher?” be on applications now?

3.Teachers are biased. We have relationships with our students. It is one of the best, and yet most difficult, things about being a teacher. Often times, the shooters are current or former students of the school under attack. If a teacher has to put their head around a corner and decide whether or not to shoot the kid walking down the hall, that will be an incredibly difficult decision. What if it’s a kid who was in the bathroom when the lockdown started and now they are frantically jiggling door handles trying to find a room to hide in? What if they are actually the shooter? In the second or two it may take the teacher to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, it may be too late. Can you imagine the mental trauma a teacher will walk around with for the rest of their life if they shoot the wrong kid? Not to mention that the actual shooter is still active. Or what if the shooter is a student we had a bond with and we wait too long to make that decision? If teachers wanted to put themselves in a position of deciding whether or not to shoot people, we would have gone into some type of law enforcement. Assuming that because a teacher goes to the shooting range as a hobby or is a hunter they will be able to make these on the spot decisions is ignorant.

4. Public schools are government facilities and should be protected as other government facilities are. No one is asking lawyers or judges to carry guns in courthouses. Senators and their staff don’t protect the capitol building themselves. Why should teachers/principals/custodians have to? I have spent time at a government research facility. Just to get into the visitor center, we had to go through metal detectors, have our bags searched, have our IDs scanned, be on a guest list, and have a guest pass on us (all of which was after your car was searched at the parking lot gate). Now I’m not saying this is what needs to happen at every school around the country. But I am pointing out that there is a HUGE discrepancy in how we protect different facilities. There are certainly other steps we could take to protect schools instead of arming teachers. There is a reason that different careers have different job descriptions. No one person can do it all. We don’t ask police officers to offer counseling sessions to the people they arrest. We don’t ask judges to educate people about the harmful effects of drugs. We delegate these tasks and all work together. But for some reason, people think teachers can do it all. 

5. To me, the biggest issue is that arming teachers or principals or custodians or any other human in a school, if it goes correctly and according to plan, will only protect schools. The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history was at a concert venue in Las Vegas. The shooter in this event killed 58 innocent people. Roughly a year prior to that, nearly 50 people were killed in a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. Another 20 people were killed at their Sunday morning church service in Sutherland Springs, TX. We can’t arm schools and just hope for the best everywhere else. It’s just not fair. Yes, schools are government facilities, and should be protected as such. But we should also be doing something to stop these shootings from happening no matter what the location. I’ve heard many people say that arming teachers isn’t just about stopping an in-progress shooting, but scaring shooters off in the first place. “These shooters are cowards and want an easy target.” But what about all the other “easy” targets? If given the chance, they will still cause harm somewhere else. They’re not just going to see teachers armed, hang up their gun and call it a day. 

6. Last but not least, I would just like to point out that when someone outside of education tells teachers they need to be armed, it feels a lot like saying that teachers aren’t trying hard enough. And maybe this is just me being sensitive. But the fact that people think I, as a teacher, am the solution means that whatever I am doing right now isn’t good enough. People are suggesting that I’m not doing “everything I possibly can” to protect those students in my room. That honestly brings tears to my eyes. And that may  not be what these people think they are suggesting. They may think it’s just that: “a suggestion”. But what it really says it that somehow, it has become the teachers’ responsibilities to take on this gigantic, societal problem. We often have to buy our own supplies, give up time with our families and friends to work on what we have to get done, stress over whether or not we are doing enough to help each and every kid (not just academically), and now we are also being asked to stop shootings. I have to admit I am more than a little hurt and insulted. When is someone else (or something else- looking at you government) going to step up and take this one off our plates? There are a LOT of other possible solutions to this mass shooting epidemic we are in the middle of. We have to look at the options and throw out the bad ones. Focus our time and energy on solutions that are logical, possible, and will address the problem as a whole; not just one piece of it. Arming teachers is an option. But it’s not a good one.

I do appreciate you hearing me out. If you haven’t done so already, register to vote and be in frequent contact with your legislators (at all levels) no matter what you think the solution is. They need to know what we think. Having arguments on social media or writing blog posts is a great way to put your ideas out there, but these ideas need to go to the people that can do something about it. At the end of the day, we are all in this crisis together and have to keep the discussion going to come up with a solution. Feel free to leave civilized comments, I would love to hear your perspective.

Thanks for stopping by.

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It’s Almost Giveaway Time!

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I am so very thankful that anyone wants to read what I write. I appreciate all of the teachers out there who give me their feedback, collaborate, and inspire me. As a small token of my gratitude, I have posted a giveaway on my Facebook page at Thanksgiving the past 2 years. (BTW- if you haven’t checked out and “liked” my Facebook page, stop on by! I am much more active there because I have time to write 1 sentence much more often than full blog posts. Click here!)

The past 2 years I raffled off custom lanyard keychains in the winner’s school colors. This year, I’m upping my game! A friend of mine recently started selling LulaRoe…. she is married to a teacher, so we can trust her. 😉 She has agreed to do a LulaRoe sale sponsored by Refuse to Reinvent the Wheel. Ok, I know. I’m giving you the opportunity to spend money…. that’s the opposite of a raffle.

Stay. With. Me.

For the 3 days of the sale (November 8-10, mark your calendars), I will have a “discount phrase” posted here on my blog. If you send her a message with that code, you will get $5 off EVERY PIECE you buy!! AAANNNNDDDDD- I will be raffling off TWO gift certificates for LulaRoe from Megan Rusek on my Facebook page (seriously, go like it now!). So there, that’s how much I love you! =)

In Conclusion : If you haven’t seen/liked me Facebook page, here it is. Go join Megan Rusek’s LulaRoe Facebook group so that you’re ready when the big day comes. Mark your calendars for the LulaCash giveaways and sale on November 8-10.

As always, THANKS for stopping by! =)

Velcro Vocab Folder Puzzle Thingies!

Last summer, my (then) 3 year old went to nature camp at our local forest preserve. As a warm up activity, they had the kids match pieces of butterfly pictures that were velcroed to a manila folder. Brilliant!

Though I thought my high schoolers might appreciate the simplicity of butterfly pictures (and maybe they’d actually appreciate the brain break), clearly I would have to make them more challenging. And what’s more challenging than scientific word parts?? So here’s what I created:

I printed out a bunch of scientific words split into two parts with the meaning next to each word.

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Then I cut them all out and glued the first part of each word to an old manila folder (I had a ton laying in a drawer from activities I no longer use and I just couldn’t bear to throw them out…. ). Then I laminated the folder and all the loose pieces.

I bought a roll of Velcro that’s sticky on both sides and cut it into small pieces. Then I attached all of the loose pieces and their matching Velcro to the folder.

 

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Yes, I see the wrong definition is attached to the last one… but it’s already summer and they’re at school so you’re not getting a new picture. 😉

 

I tore off all the velcroed pieces and stored them in the folder (make sure you paper clips the sides shut so they don’t fall out and get lost).

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I made 20 of these. You can hand kids a folder as they walk in the door to get their brains going. I have the pile sitting in a spot students can get to if they finish their work early. It’s so simple. The kids are not intimidated by it. If they get one wrong, just peel it off and fix it. Teaching kids scientific word parts is tough because they are so detached from the words. But the more they use them, the stronger their vocab skills become.

My next step- make another set for my A&P students with medical terms! You could use these Velcro folder puzzles in just about any class: English with characters or details from a book, math with numbers and have the kids create their own problems, chemistry to balance equations…

*UPDATE: I used the words from my B1 Word Parts power point. I just copied/pasted. We go over these words in class and students write them all in the notebook, so they’ve seen the words before (or at least will before the end of the year….). Feel free to use the power point!

How would you use them? Comment below with your thoughts! Thanks for stopping by! =)

Refuse to be another “burned out” teacher.

I’m not going to say that I’m burned out, but I feel myself moving in that direction. And it breaks my heart. I’ve been hearing and reading about teacher burn out since I started teaching 8 years ago. I said to myself, “That won’t be me. I love teaching. I love my kids. I love the people I work with .” And all of that is still true, yet I feel myself getting sucked into the angry mob of burned out teachers.

Statistics show this issue is not getting better. In fact, according to a study discussed in NPR’s recent Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage”, nearly 8 percent of all working teachers (over 100,000 teachers nationwide) are leaving the profession every year. And less than a third of them are retiring. The US Department of Education also recently released a study showing that 17 percent of new teachers do not make it more than 5 years in the profession. This particular study tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, saying that the percentage is significantly less than previously quoted. But the down side is that the number is increasing every year (as shown in their data).

I’m sure that any of you reading this post (I’m assuming mostly current teachers) are aware of all the causes of teacher burn out. Things like budgets (or lack there of), mandates and standards, and administration from the federal to state to local levels that are unsupportive and not properly trained. I don’t want to go into them here…. because they bum me out. I don’t have the answer to those problems. What I want to focus on is how we, as teachers, can keep our candles burning a little bit longer in spite of all those problems.

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My first recommendation is to take of charge of what you have control over: yourself. So many teachers get so caught up in everything we are doing for our students, our families, our schools, and our communities that we forget about or just don’t have time for ourselves. There’s a reason I haven’t posted here in 4 months. I’m literally just too busy. I’m a mother of two little ones, I’m in grad school, I’m teaching, and I’m attempting to be a good wife, friend, and daughter. And I know I’m not the only one in this chaotic boat. A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I just literally couldn’t keep this pace up anymore. I needed a night off. Thankfully, he’s a wonderfully understanding human. I booked a room at a local hotel on a Friday night a few weeks later and spent the night with… myself. It was PERFECT. I ordered pizza, drank wine, and watched two whole uninterrupted movies. In the morning (after sleeping a solid 9 hours) I drank coffee and read my book. I went home a much more rested, happy, and patient person. And that carried into my teaching on Monday. It let me clear my mind and just unplug for a while. Maybe just a night at home will work for you. Or go out to dinner with friends. Find whatever YOU love to do, and do it. You deserve it.

My second recommendation is to be friends with the people you work with. And do things that friends do. Go out to eat. Let your kids hang out together. Meet up for drinks. There have been some big changes in staff and administration in my building over the last few years. With so many new faces coming in, it can be hard to find someone to turn to when I’m having one of THOSE days. And when you just bottle it up (even just until you get home), it’s never good. Teachers need to work as a team in order for a school to be successful. Being friends with your colleagues, not just “the teacher down the hall” goes a long way in reducing stress levels. And maybe even more importantly, the kids pick up on it. When you are standing in the hall talking and laughing like friends, the kids see the teachers are a team. I think it goes a long way towards building that sense of “community” that we all want in our buildings.

Lastly, you’ve got to keep the kids as the top priority. Seems simple enough. I spend 7 hours a day looking at them. But you have to find the good in them and remind yourself how awesome/funny/creative/amazing they are. This year I have started pushing myself to write down the little things. I have a clipboard with all 7 rosters (including my study hall) that I keep in my top desk drawer. When I see them do something good (ie. asked for help, brought in supplies for a lab when no one else did, pushed themselves in class), I jot it down. Then on Friday, I go through my list and email their parents with what I saw. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t. That’s not what’s important. It’s really about being more conscious of the good things and sometimes that means I have to look really closely. But it’s there. I’ve also had a LOT more one on one after class chats with students this year. I want them to see I’m on their side and that I believe in them. It also gives me the chance to see them as people, not just students, and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.

It’s really easy… REALLY EASY to get lost in this burn out spiral. And it seems, from personal experience, that the more you let yourself focus on the problems (especially the ones that we don’t have direct control over) the harder it gets to stop. This isn’t me saying “get over it”. There are legitimate problems educators are facing today. And I have lots of thoughts on those… maybe another post. But while we are dealing with those problems, we have to keep our candles burning.

I hope these tips are helpful to someone out there. If you have other suggestions, by all means share it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

To Give Full Credit, or Not to Give Full Credit…

…That is the question.

I realize that late work is a touchy subject for some teachers. We all have various policies, and some schools have a blanket policy for all teachers. But this is my policy that I have adapted and changed over the years. I finally have a plan that I really like, so I want to share it with you.

Until a few years ago, my policy was any homework turned in late was worth 60% of the total points (our lowest D is a 70). So I would grade it, and as long as they got a 60% or higher, that was their grade. If they got 59% or lower, then I gave them that grade. What I did not like about this policy was that when I (or a parent, administrator, or student) looked back at the gradebook, you couldn’t tell if the low score was the result of incomplete work, the student not comprehending the task, or just that it was late. And then I had a group of students that forced me to change (so looking back, thanks kids). Their mindset was that it was better to turn in work incomplete (and I’m talking REALLY incomplete) than to get points off for being late. I’ve gone to great efforts to make sure that any homework I assign is enrichment and will help the students deepen their understanding. It’s never busy work or just because I feel the need to take up every free moment they have. So because they weren’t completing the work, they weren’t getting the information. And everything else they were doing in class was suffering as well.

So I had two big issues here; getting kids to complete the work and being able to tell if students were getting the knowledge and skills. Here’s what I now use: I will accept all late work until the day of the test for full credit (see, controversial… I warned you), but I will not accept ANY incomplete work. If a student hands in an incomplete assignment, I hand it back to them and explain the value of the work and that it’s worth more complete and late than the other way around. I rarely have a student hand in incomplete work more than once.

Now before you go thinking I’ve lost my mind, yes, I do know that turning work in on time is an important life skill. So when I say they get full credit for late work, that’s a tiny bit untrue. I keep a separate grade in the gradebook for “on-time” points. They get 15 points per quarter. Any time they turn in something late (or without a name), they lose one of those points. So there is an incentive for turning your work in on time, but turning in one or two late won’t trash your grade. It also makes it super easy to look at the gradebook and see if a student’s grade is low because they aren’t doing well on the assignment (which was complete, of course) or because they turned work in late.

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This policy has been working really well for me and my students. I know that in a perfect world, students would do their work well, on time, and completely finished. But this isn’t a perfect world. So for me, it is about choosing which skills are the most important (and realistic) for my kids and putting my emphasis there. I hope this is helpful to some of you. I’d love to hear your class policies in the comments!

Collaboration Concept Maps

We just finished final exams at my school (though my grading is far from done….). I usually dread the days leading up to exams because I find that the kids are as bored with reviewing as I am, though it is a necessary evil. I’ve tried review games, but find that the kids don’t really get as much out of them as I’d like. But this year I found an activity that I really like!

I’m always shooting for the application end of my content, not just memorization of facts. So on those review days, I handed each student an index card as the walked in. I had marked each card with a colored line (I had 4 or 5 colors). Then each student chose 5 words to write on their card. They had to choose words from the section of the study guide that was due that day (I had not collected the study guide yet). I advised them to choose words they understood since they were going to have to use them.

Then the students were grouped according to the colors of their card. They compared their lists and replaced any repeats. Then each group was given a posterboard and created a concept map using their words. Creating the map itself is tough for them when it’s from scratch and there are no bubbles to fill in. But the struggle is worth it.

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The next day we started the same way with new cards for everyone. This time they were in different groups, so when it came time for the concept map they had to choose a random one that was started the day before and figure out how to fit today’s words in it. This was a lot harder for them since they may not totally understand the words that were already on the poster, but it was beneficial for them to see what they really did and did not understand. They also had to not only know the meaning of the words (memorization), but be able to relate those words to other words (application).

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The third day was the same routine; card, 5 words, groups, concept maps. By the end, students were comfortable explaining words or concepts they understood to their group members that didn’t. And I always feel like they’re more willing to learn from their peers than from a teacher. This was, in my opinion, a much better use of review time!

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How do you review for finals?

By Popular Demand!

A while back I wrote about turning my classroom into bakery. Here’s the original post: Let Them Eat Bread  Since then, I’ve had a lot of people ask for the document I used for the yeast lab. I apologize that it took me forever to post it, but better late than never. So here it is: YeastLab. I have my students do a formal lab report with this one. Their initial hypotheses are usually all over the place, and someone always says the salt will kill the yeast.

This year I used both the yeast tube lab and the bread baking in our cellular respiration unit. I started the unit by having them write in their journals in response to “Why does bread dough rise?”. It was important to emphasize to them to just write whatever they thought. This gave me a good idea what their pre-conceptions were, but also allowed me to show growth throughout the unit. After baking the bread, they had a one question quiz. “Write one paragraph explaining why bread dough rises.” They had to include the words cellular respiration, yeast, glucose, and carbon dioxide. I graded them not by marking their answers right or wrong, but by asking questions. Then I put them into pairs based on their scores and had them revise together to raise their scores. I feel like they got a lot more out of it this year.

If you try it out, let me know what works and what doesn’t. I really appreciate your feedback!  Happy Baking!!

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