Teachers, Do You Have a Business Card?

“What’s your contact info?” asked my new friend, whom I had just met at a PD event this summer. Wishing I had a business card to give her, I resorted to digging into my purse for a pen. Then I tore the corner of a sheet of paper from a spiral notebook in my folder and wrote my name, school, and email address on it. I handed it to her, asking aloud, “Why don’t I have business cards?” She smiled. She didn’t have one either.

I know it’s just a piece of paper, but every other profession utilizes business cards, so why don’t educators have them?

As a non-traditional educator, I didn’t start teaching until age 45. At my various jobs prior to that, my employers always provided me with a business card, whether my title was account executive or designer. In addition, when I wrote freelance, I never considered not having an ample supply of cards. At this point in my life, it feels unprofessional to hold the title of professional certified educator, but not hold the business card in my wallet to prove it.

It seems that I would  benefit from a business card for all kinds of situations, including PD conferences, visits with parents, or discussions with anyone in the business community.

What’s your opinion? Take a minute to comment on any or all of these questions, and I’ll update you soon on what I learn.

  1. Do you have a business card?
  2. If so, did you procure it yourself or did your district provide it?
  3. If you procured your own card, which printing company did you use and how much did you spend?
  4. How has your business card benefitted you?

 

 

Active Shooter Training Day

“Now. Students. Go to your next class.”

Upon hearing those words, we teachers looked at each other, grinning at the awkwardness of the situation we suddenly found ourselves in: active shooter training.  Some of us whispered and tried to figure out which classroom would be nearest whenever we heard the “gunshots.” Some of us milled around in the hall, pretending to gossip with our “middle school” friends. Others were clearly anxious about what was to unfold in the coming moments, biting their lips and peering down the hall to the law enforcement officers who would be the “shooters” in just a moment.

Then the gunshots. One pop, then a pause, then three more. I shoved and scrambled to the health classroom. I felt someone nudging against my back, pushing me quickly into the room. It was a kindergarten teacher who taught in our district’s other building. I didn’t know her well; that would change.

We entered the room and pulled the door shut, clanking it hard against its metal frame. We ensured the door was locked and then looked for something to shove against it. The trainer had told us to do this even if the door opened out into the hallway, which it did. We maneuvered a 3- by 6-foot table up against the door. We had also been told to barricade with anything we could get our hands on. So we grabbed two standard-issue chairs, navy blue plastic and steel, and stacked them on top of the table. We clumsily tied a length of rope, which had been supplied in the room, around the hinge mechanism at the top of the door. This would supposedly make it difficult for the intruder to pull open. I looked toward the window, knowing that it could be an option. My co-worker spied a large swath of ripped paper on the counter, ran to the vacant teacher’s desk for a piece of Scotch tape, and taped it to the door’s large window. In the rush, she missed an edge, and it drooped down in the upper right-hand corner. “Can he see in through that?” she asked aloud, but there was no time to retrieve more tape.

The officer beat his fists against the door of the room across the hall. “Let me in. I’m here to kill yooouu!” he screamed. He tugged at the door handle then kicked the door violently. “Open up!”

We dove under the table and cowered.  The shooter’s footsteps approached. My partner and I both reached for the door handle and strained to pull hard. I closed my eyes tight and waited. He was here. He breathed heavily and banged on the door. We pulled harder. Then he yanked on the handle. “Gonna die!!!” he screamed. I stopped breathing, pressed my eyes closed, and buried my face in my co-worker’s shoulder, knowing it would soon be over, reminding myself it was only a drill.

The course was taught by a company that specializes in training people who work at schools, workplaces, churches, and malls with the knowledge and tools they need should they ever be faced with an active shooter. This company trains not only employees and staff, but also law enforcement officers and security guards. That morning in the school cafeteria, my teacher-friends and I had sat alongside many other men and women, in both uniforms and in civilian clothes. Some attendees were from local police departments, and some were from as far away as Oklahoma. Over the course of the morning, the officer had shown a Powerpoint presentation embedded with videos and charts to teach us about the history of school violence in the United States, common one- and multi-shooter scenarios that might arise, and approaches that are critical when the unthinkable happens. We listened. A few of us took notes. Many asked questions.

As the morning lecture wrapped up, an uncertainty arose in the back of my mind.  How would I react in a real situation? Would I know what to do? Would I keep my head and act quickly to get my students to safety? It’s easy to talk about it. It’s also easy to watch actors demonstrate effective procedures on a Smartboard screen, but in the hallways of a crowded school, how would I perform? And that’s what made the afternoon session so valuable.

The threat of school violence is a reality for educators. Thankfully, school districts do provide training that allows educators to be prepared and cope with the anxiety or worry that may arise.  Even though I think about school violence, I don’t dwell on it because the training and the drills we conduct during the school year have imbued me with self-confidence. Please know that it’s a wary sense of self-confidence, though. It was terrifying to hear those footsteps approaching the classroom door. However, confronting that terror and equipping myself with knowledge and experience in shooter scenarios enables me to continue doing the job for which I am trained and serving the students to whom I am dedicated.

The door to the health room held fast. My co-worker and I had secured it well enough. The “shooter” slammed his hand down hard on the handle, gave up, and stomped on down the hall to try the next door. We heard him yelling and tugging again. He finally ended the drill to speak in the calm, authoritative voice of a law enforcement officer.

“Good job, team. Good drill. Now. Let’s do it again.”

Behind-the-Scenes in a Clay Studio

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This is a photo of a kiln shelf. It’s a one-inch thick, 12-pound shelf made primarily of mullite high-alumina clay that will withstand the 2,350+ degrees (F) of a gas-fired kiln. The shelf holds pottery and other items that are ready for their second and final firing. In the photo, the brown “paint” is actually kiln wash that I painted onto the bare spots of about 20 kiln shelves today.  After firing, it will appear white as shown in the photo. Without this kiln wash, the glaze on the pottery would adhere to the shelf during firing and then likely chip from the pot as it is removed from the shelf after the firing. I say likely because before you set pots into the kiln, you must sponge off the excess glaze that lingers on the foots of bowls, plates, cups, vases. However, occasionally, a small drop or drip or smear of glaze escapes the sponge and necessitates applying kiln wash to the shelves.

I’m a middle school language arts teacher, but during the summers I often find myself back in my husband’s ceramic art studio, doing some of the unglamorous tasks involved with, but absolutely critical to, the making of ceramic pottery, sculpture, and the like. Many think that “making pottery” primarily involves that spinning thing (the potter’s wheel) and paint (glaze), and clay. However, the behind-the-scenes work of a potter is much more mundane, complex — and more quietly beautiful, even — than those moments that some readers may recall from the movie Ghost.

I’m losing my mind. Thanks, Google.

magnifier-389908_1280Everyday in my middle school language arts class, we open the hour by doing a warm-up activity that consists of some quick grammar exercises and cursive writing. On the Smartboard, I post an inspirational quote for the students to copy onto their paper in cursive. The name of the speaker of the quote also appears on the screen and one day recently a student asked me, “Who was William James anyway?”

Since we do this activity daily, we copy many quotes and sometimes, to be honest, they can come from some fairly obscure people from all walks of life, living and dead. I told the student I had looked up the name on my phone earlier, but I had since then forgotten what I had learned. It hadn’t been the first time that some Googled information had escaped me, so I rolled my eyes, and reached for my phone to look it up again.

After letting my students know that many consider William James the father of American psychology, I told my students, “I’m tired of forgetting things that I look up on the Internet.” And then, as my captive listeners quietly continued honing their cursive, I attempted to theorize aloud (it’s my classroom, after all) the reason why I couldn’t remember who William James was.

And here’s what I came up with: because there was no true search to discover his identity. In fewer than sixty seconds, I was able to Google the name and then, thanks to two or three websites or documents, gain a brief cursory knowledge of the psychologist.

Then I relayed to my students that today’s learning “process” is so vastly different from how it was before the Internet. I followed that by telling them in my best “back-in-the-day” voice, that finding the answer to the question used to involve a visit to my bookcase where I would hope to find an entry in an encyclopedia. If no luck there, then it would necessitate a visit to the library, a 15-minute drive away. Once there, I would again hope to find the answer somewhere within those walls . . .  in the stacks, the card catalog, or maybe the computerized system known as ERIC, which didn’t really provide answers so much as places to find answers. I even recounted to my students the time I phoned the Atlanta,  Georgia Police Department to locate up-to-date burglary statistics for an article about home security systems I was writing for a glossy Atlanta lifestyle magazine.

In other words, I attempted to show my students that before the Internet there was an actual, honest-to-goodness search involved when one needed to learn. Digging. Page-turning. Jotting. Re-reading. Checking. Now that was a search. Today, all that investigative, thrill-of-the-hunt searching is a thing of the past. As a result, I now surmise that the information I learned was retained because real effort and time (not to mention gasoline) were spent in those searches back then.

So what, my students ask? If you forget, you can just look it up again.

“True,” I reply.  After all, why remember anything when there’s nothing at stake in forgetting?

In middle school research, pictures are winning

FullSizeRender (11) In the game of middle school student research, pictures are winning and words are losing. I have noticed increasingly that students, when they are researching a topic for a writing assignment, spend a lot of time not reading articles. Many spend their time looking at pictures. Or watching videos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed students scrolling down full screens of thumbprint images. Here’s a typical conversation we would have as I walked around the room and noticed students doing their research with Google Images.

Me: “What are you doing?”

Student: “I’m doing my research.”

Me: “What are you trying to find out?”

Student: “What grey squirrels look like.”

Me: “So why don’t you google grey squirrels?”

Student: “I did.”

Me: “But google it in web search and find articles.”

Student: “But I googled it here instead and now I’m just looking at the pictures to find out what they look like.”

And that got me thinking, because the student had a point. I think. It made me wonder whether perusing images could be more authentic research than reading. So I had a debate with myselves: my old school/gut and my new media self.

Old school/gut self: No, reading is better.

New media self: But couldn’t the result of reading simply be ingesting and recording what someone else has written about what grey squirrels look like?

Old school/gut self: Yes, true, but don’t forget that in looking at all these images, you are just looking at what someone else has decided for whatever reason is a grey squirrel.What if some of them you’re looking at aren’t actually grey squirrels? How do you know they’re grey squirrels?

New media self: Well, in an article, how do we know the author actually knew what he was writing about?

Old school self: That’s why we choose authoritative sources. “National Geographic,” for example, instead of answers.com. 

Authoritative sources. There’s really the issue. It seems kids don’t know how to locate authoritative sources. Looking at images is easier. And then they get stuck. Scrolling endlessly through mind-numbing screenfuls of tiny images.

True, an exhausting variety of visual information, whether it’s the printed word, the image, or the video, simply comes with the Internet territory. So why not use it all to benefit our research? Perhaps.

The thing is this: I’m just afraid students will take the path of least resistance and over-rely on images for the bulk of their research every time they need to do research.

Your thoughts? Am I over-reacting or noticing a troublesome trend?