Monday, May 28, 2012

Run Naked!

Not literally...but you'll see where I am going with this title:)

Although I hate to admit it , I am slightly competitive.  I also give 100% commitment and focus to whatever I am working toward at that time.  I began to realize this a little more in my physical training.  I have always enjoyed exercise, but in the last year or so, my focus has been on the next "big thing" rather than the sheer joy of a good run or bike ride.  When I was asked about my battle wounds from the Warrior Dash, I shared with passion and enthusiasm - that was the best race ever!  "What you training for next?"  I was asked.  Before I could even process, I said "I have a half marathon in November."

Wow, I went from the chick who loves to run because it clears her mind to the chick who lives and trains for the next race.  It is no longer about running until my legs can't move anymore; it is about distance and speed.  Even with an uncooperative left hamstring, I train diligently.  I only rest when my training calendar gives me permission.  Houston, I think we have a problem.

My brother and sister are very smart, driven, honest and balanced people.  We were talking over the past two weeks and my obsession with "the next race" came up.  "Jen, I say this with love," says my baby brother, "You've got to stop training and go back to running for the love of running."  I hate when my younger siblings are right!  But they were correct.  I had trouble seeing it because my love of running seemed no different.  But indeed it was.  I did not think of running without my iphone full of timing and distance apps.

So the next morning I ran naked (well I guess I should say gadget-free).  I ran with no music, no running app, and no goal.  I ran because I love to run.  I don't know how far I ran or what my pace was that morning.  It was the best run I have had in months.  I ran because I love to run not because I had to train.

As I sat on the porch in the hour following my run, I was thinking about my week at work and how difficult the last couple of weeks are for teachers and students.  This becomes the time of the year where we kick our "training program" into overdrive as EOGs and EOCs are administered.  All the work we have done all year comes down to this test.  Sometimes in our focus on the race, we loose our love of teaching and learning.  As we approach this big race called the end-of-school, I hope that we remember why we teach and our love of the sport.  If everything we do is "training" we may loose our true passion for teaching.

I realize that training is essential for athletes and for those of us who love races, triathlons, and have now fallen in love with mud runs.  But sometimes a naked run helps us to remember why we fell in love with the sport in the first place.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't tweet that....

I will be the first to admit that I am in love with my DVR.  Seriously, who has time anymore to center life around a favorite show?  The much awaited Grey's season finale was safely stored on my DVR so that I could watch it sometime over the weekend.  And then I made a crucial mistake:  I checked my twitter.  Seriously?  You gotta be kidding me!  Why did so many of you tweet the ending?  Oh the disappointment.

Yes, I will get over this and I will still watch the finale eventually.    I spent the day in classroom observations trying to forget about it and focus on some great teaching.  As I wrote up some notes from my observations I started to think about whether we spoil the ending too often for our students.  Do we get so excited about what we love in the lesson or what we find important, that we kill the excitement our students have?

I remember teaching a lesson and rotating between the small groups of students working on the assignment.  I don't remember if the reason was time or simply just my non-awareness, but as I was helping a group, I answered some questions.  Much to my surprise, the group working next to this group, looked up and stared at me in silence.  Completely confused I asked what was going on.
"You killed it Ms. Fatch."
"Killed what?" I asked.
"The point of our group's work.  You just gave us the answer and we were just about to come to that conclusion ourselves."

I just did the unthinkable.  I killed student desire to learn.  I buried alive student motivation.  I "tweeted the ending."

No tweet about the events of the season finale were  intended to rain on my parade.  No guidance I provided a group was ever intended to harness student motivation and learning.  But nonetheless,  I destroyed the ending my students were working so diligently to discover.  Especially as we approach the crazy, end-of-the year time crunch, we often find ourselves giving answers rather than letting our students figure it out.   We are all guilty of spoiling the ending for our students even if that was not our intention.  As we approach the end of the school year, let each of us be reminded that even in May and June, students can and will rise to the occasion.  Let's not spoil that!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why I teach

If you are an educator you have been asked on more than one occasion "Why do you teach?"  The general public seems to lack an understanding about why we choose to pour our hearts into this profession.  Some teachers feel it is a calling.  Others will express that teaching is an act of social justice.  Others love learning and want to help the next generation fall in love with it as well.

We all know the research on the value of being reflective practitioners.  Most of us will admit that we reflect daily on our pedagogy, research, classroom management and so forth.  But how often do we reflect...and I mean really reflect...on why we chose to become teachers?

A few months ago, the Pearson Foundation asked our TOY class to participate in a video series entitled "Why I Teach."  In 90 seconds or less we were to share our passion for our chosen profession.  If I was going to say anything in less than 90 seconds, I really had to get to work.

As I pondered the right things to say about the profession I love so much, I went through my code blue folder.  This idea was given to me by a veteran teacher in my first couple of  years in the classroom.  I store any notes from students, parents, colleagues and when I begin the flat-line, I revive my passion with this code blue folder.  As I poured through years worth of photographs, thoughtful notes, and inspirational words, I fell in love with teaching all over again.

I invite you to watch a few of the videos from some pretty amazing teachers who spend a little time sharing why they teach.  Why do you teach?

Click here for the Why I Teach videos from Pearson, CCSSO and the 2011 State Teachers of the Year

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How do you train for that?
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC) annual conference.  I was sitting at a table with some pretty amazing folks.   Just before lunch we were talking about some of our hobbies (like we have many outside of education) and I shared about the Warrior Dash that is just around the corner.  "What's that?" I was asked.  I am so excited about this that I gladly share any and everything I know about this mud run and obstacle course.  I could feel the "Is she crazy?" stares as I talked.

 "I just have one question." said the lady sitting across the table.  "How do you train for that?"  

"Ya know, " I replied.  "I am not sure.  I just hope that I have been doing something that will work!"

Fast forward a few days and I found myself sitting in a meeting about our teacher preparation programs in North Carolina.  According to data presented at this meeting, the mode for the number of years experience for  teachers around twenty years ago was 15.  Now, the mode for the number of years experience in North Carolina is 1.  Wow!  That is powerful information to me.  Why?  Why are people choosing to leave the profession so quickly?

 I thought back to the question I was asked a few Saturdays ago.  Teaching is sometimes like an obstacle course through mud.  And I began to wonder:  How do you train for that?  Many teacher preparation programs are excellent.  But do we give our future teachers the kind of preparation and training program to make it through the course?

I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing teacher preparation program at Meredith College.  Yes, their training plan worked because I am still in education as are many of my fellow Meredith graduates. But the thing that makes Meredith's training program work is that the Department of Education is constantly evaluating, reflecting and changing to ensure a quality preparation program for its graduates.

But as I have spent the last few years working with student teachers and mentoring new teachers, I have done a great amount of reflecting on teacher education programs.  Do we give our future teachers enough time to embrace the profession in student teaching?  Is our "training program" covering all of our muscle groups and lengthy enough to help our new teachers feel strong enough to stay the course?

Teaching is a tough job.  It is demanding intellectually, physically and emotionally.  Teaching is not the kind of job where you leave your work on a desk when you leave for the day.  Teaching the whole child takes the whole teacher.  That, my friends, is an obstacle course like no other.

Sure, I can study and research all kinds of information about the Warrior Dash.  However, I will really not know how to tackle this race until I get there and start racing.   Teaching is the same.  We can provide training programs but no one really knows what it is like to run the race of a teacher until you actually do it.  Maybe you can't train for teaching specifically, but for those of us who love to run this race every year, maybe we need to put our training tips together and create a better training program for our new teachers.  We have classrooms full of bright, passionate, energetic, and creative future teachers.  How well are you helping them train for this race?

Monday, April 30, 2012


Whenever I hear the word courage, I think back to a story (though how truthful this story is I do not know) of a college student whose final in class essay was write about courage. "This is courage." he allegedly wrote on the first line of his blue book and turned in it. Sometime in my first few years in the classroom, I had a student try something similar. He shared the story with me and my first response was "That's not courage...that's cowardly." Needless to say, our views on this alleged "courageous essay" were not the same.

 Courage is something we talk about often, but we usually have very different descriptions of the word. I was recently speaking with a room full of new teachers and I themed my presentation around The Wizard of Oz. I spoke (and probably for too long) about the things we can learn from the characters of this classic. From the lion we learn that we must have courage.  We must have the courage to do what is right for our students.  We must have the courage to try a new idea in class even if it means we may fail.  We must be courageous in this profession.

As I was traveling last year, I ended up on a plane with a couple of teachers (at least that is what I gathered from their conversation.) They were talking about a book that changed their life.  (Point of clarification:  I was not eavesdropping.  Along with my teaching license came  super sonic hearing.)  Of course I want to know this book title, so I keep listening thinking to myself "If this book is that powerful, I  need to get it."  It is just my luck that the two gentlemen sitting between me and those gals with the life changing book decide now is the time to start work on a presentation.  I can't hear a thing.  The only words I understood were:  Palmer, Courage, and Teach.  I get off the plane wondering how a golf book was going to change my life. As I wait at baggage claim, I google those three words and indeed discovered Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach.  How could I have never heard of this book?  I quickly download it to my kindle and started reading it right away.  I was at a crossroads.  Was I going back into my classroom or was I going to take the job as an Instructional Coach for my school district?  Much advice was already sought and much sleep already lost.  I had no answer.  So I figure Parker Palmer may have the answer.  "This book is for teachers who have good days and bad, and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from somethings one loves.  It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life."  This book was indeed going to change my life, though in ways I never imagined.

I couldn't seem to get past the first chapter because I read it over and over again.  As I moved forward, I found these words "“If we want to grow as teachers -- we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives -- risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.”   Then I realized why the word COURAGE was in the title. Most of us love our jobs in the classroom. Most of us are experts in our content and in pedagogical practice.  We can talk all day long with unparalleled passion about best practices and effective instructional strategies.  But did he  just say, that if I am going to grow as a professional I have to do a little (okay a lot) of soul searching?  Hold up!  I'm not sure I am up for that kind of conversation in the teacher's lounge.  I prefer to discuss the inner most feeling of Addison from Private Practice than my own internal struggles.  And I stopped reading.  I was not sure I had the courage to go least just yet.  

When I first started the book I thought the idea of COURAGE would center around the ideas I spoke about with that group of pretty awesome new teachers.  I really expected it to center around having the courage to take risks, to set high expectations, and maybe even to touch on the courage to dream.  In some ways it does touch on those, but more importantly, Palmer pushes the reader to have the courage to think about who we are as individuals and how that shapes us as teachers.  

Yes, I found the courage to continue reading. Yes, I am sure many more posts will spring from  "ah-ha" moments while I read and re-read the pages of this book.  The question I am left wondering is this "Will I have the courage to actually do what he says?"  It seems lately that I have discovered that indeed there is a little courage inside.  I will be open, honest, and genuine about my own struggles as I continue to read and share Palmer and I continue the very personal look at my inner life and my life as a teacher.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Window to my Soul

As I was running the other day, I came to a realization.  As nerdy as it may sound, I really miss blogging my random thoughts.  I have been struggling with blogger separation anxiety for a short time.  When I attempted to capture my thoughts on the notes section of my iphone while running along a pretty busy highway, I decided that returning to a blog may prove much safer and smarter than playing frogger along Hwy 421 on a busy afternoon.  While I realize that my random thoughts might be more comparable to Jack Handy than to Bob Marzano,  I have found that blogging about them is just as reflective and therapeutic as running or  eating ice cream while watching Law & Order.

So what's my purpose?  I hope to use this blog to capture who I truly am as a person and a teacher.  I hope to share thoughts, provide commentary on policy concerns,  engage in true reflection and get at the heart what I believe about teaching ( and life in general).

I was once in a discussion forum with other teachers/educational folk and the topic of blogging emerged.  We each shared our blog information and spent some time reading up on our colleagues.  A few days later,  I received a message from one of the teachers in the forum.  She wrote that my blog was a "window to my soul."  I had never really thought about it that way before.  But this year has been a roller coaster for me and maybe I need to take a look through the window to my soul again.  So this blog will be open, honest, genuine and heart-felt.

I am reading Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach  and I can hardly put it down to go to bed at night.  He talks about the reality that we must know and be okay with who we are as people if we are to ever really be great teachers.  Self-refection as an educator.....I got that.  This whole self-refelction as just plain old me....not so sure.  While I get that most of the world will be captivated by far more intellectual blog posts,  this is my personal journey as a teacher.