Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#failforward

Sometimes I fail.

I try to keep this secret. Not because I try to portray myself as a superhuman, able to juggle all my balls while balancing on a unicycle and reciting the first 100 numerals in pi. I just really hate failing. I don't like it. It's why I don't play chess.

Seriously. My dad always beat me when we played chess. So I stopped playing.

I've written before about the fact that what I do is hard, that it takes a lot of work to write my own lesson plans, a lot of energy to teach interactively and inventively, and a lot of research to stop using a textbook.

I rarely mention failing. But I do fail.

Sometimes a little.

Sometimes catastrophically.

And I fail in the classroom. Sometimes a little. Sometimes catastrophically.

Sometimes I get an idea and I think it's a really cool idea and I think my students are going to love it and it's going to revolutionize how they think about Latin and I explain it and I'm super energetic and my students are picking up on my energy and I want it to succeed and they want it to succeed because I want it to succeed and it. just. doesn't. It falls flat. In fact, I spend maybe thirty minutes untangling their Latin because instead of improving their understanding, I have instead tied their Latin knowledge into knots rivaling the Gordian knot that stumped all but Alexander the Great.

That is catastrophic failure, and I have known it.

And I usually keep it secret from you.

The wisest Jedi, Yoda is.
(You can get the poster here if you want.)
But here's the catch. When I fail like that, I generally apologize to my students. I explain my intent, and laugh at my result. I show them how to fail gracefully. And then I show them how to get back up and try again. I come up with a new approach, usually much more successful (after all, I definitely know how NOT to teach the subject now), and we try again, and we move on.

We celebrate my failures in class, we celebrate their failures in class, and we learn, and we move on.

I was at a presentation last February, and a woman sitting near the front used the phrase "fail forward." I think that is the perfect life philosophy, and definitely an important teaching philosophy. In developing a classroom culture, it is super important to teach students to value taking risks, and how will they value taking risks if they are afraid of failure?

And in sharing only my successes with all of you, how can I convince you to take risks in your own classes when I won't even trust you with my own risk-taking?

I fail. I fail all the time.

But I try to #failforward every time.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Movie Talks, OWI, and Student Interviews

This post is completely in the hopes of continuing discussion here and over on the Facebook group I help moderate: North Atlanta TPRS/CI Teachers. This is a non language specific group for teachers in the Atlanta area who teach using the principles of CI or who are interested in learning more. If this applies to you, I'd encourage you to come join us!

My question for January was: What would you like to see a blog post about?

We've gotten some great responses and I want to use this format to respond to those questions. In this post, I'll discuss one topic myself and then provide resources for the other two. Please let me know of any resources I missed and any other topics you'd like to see this kind of round up for. :)

Movie Talks

A shout out to Greg for asking about this. Greg particularly commented on wanting to know more about how to "make them contextual with the 'unit'". He also commented on tiring of hearing his own voice (which I completely understand) giving input. I think this is a great place to take this discussion. 

First, if you would like resources on the basics of putting together a movie talk, here are a few resources:
Now, on to the topic at hand. I love Greg's question because it gets to the heart of why and how we use movie shorts in class. I know some teachers make the movie short the topic of the unit and turn these things into stories and discussions. I've done this some, particularly if I'm given a vocab list with no readings. I will be honest and say that I am not great at asking a story or creating class stories. I can write them, but I find discussion and debate much better for me and my classes. This may change as I make the rounds back to first year (I am teaching level 3 this year). We'll see. 

For many of us (whether you are using a textbook, novella, or a series of readings), fitting in a movie short can seem like a break from the content that can harm the process. But, often, that break is a good thing. It refreshes the mind and gives the kids a new context within which to use what they know. Here are a few ways I fit movie shorts into my units. 

As unrepetitive repetitions of vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short early on in the unit, before we even see a reading. This will be when we are establishing vocabulary, using things like TPR, word webs, PQA, circling with balls, and tasks. I will pick a movie short based (often) solely on the vocabulary I can best use in it. We will spend part of a day with it or maybe use it as a beginning activity over a few days. If I were building a week plan and intended to include a movie short in my lessons, it may go something like this:

Sample Plan 1

  1. TPR/PQA new words
  2. Review words, movie talk (I lead through movie talk)
  3. movie talk (I lead through movie talk), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  4. movie talk (I ask questions while they lead), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  5. continue with reading

Sample Plan 2

  1. TPR/PQA/etc new words
  2. movie talk (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. reading over movie talk
  4. follow up activity: seek and find, partner retell, etc. 
  5. timed write

As a break from a reading/novella chapter/etc. to reinforce vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short in the middle of a reading. It breaks up the monotony and provides a welcome TL break from the story line. Again, I'll choose a movie short based on vocabulary and, sometimes, I'll try and choose one that goes along with the story we're reading. I won't spend much time on this in class, often only one day. 

Sample Plan 1

  1. reading
  2. quick reading activity (seek and find, T/F statements), movie short (I lead through, question and answer)
  3. reading activity and discussion

Sample Plan 2

  1. reading
  2. movie short (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. movie short (they lead through), reading activity
  4. reading discussion

As a point for discussion/as a topic introduction

This is probably how I most use movie shorts in my upper level classes. I really like to use movie shorts to spark discussion or introduce a topic, rather than a specific set of vocabulary. So far this year, we've used movie shorts to:
  • introduce qualities like loyalty, bravery, etc. 
  • debate topics like: love, heroism etc. 
  • discuss what characters possess what qualities
Rather than providing a sample lesson plan, I'd like to take a moment and point to the way I use the movie short in class. Since the purpose of this is different, I don't repeat the movie short. This lesson takes 1 day. It can fit anywhere in a unit. You can use it at the beginning to introduce a topic, or in the middle to introduce a debate or things like qualities. You can also use it in the middle or end to hold the debate or provide another context to use words. When I do this, I do not show the movie short in its entirety prior to discussion, usually because I want this discussion to evolve over the course of the class. 

An Example

When using the movie short "Dragonboy", I don't want them to know that he ends up being the hero in the end. I want the discussion to naturally move along the movie short. Here is how I'd use this example. 
  1. When choosing the movie short, I will have written a script. This will have key words I want to focus on like qualities. I may also write some leading questions to help the discussion move along. I will have also written in some key questions to ensure understanding on the base level.
  2.  I will introduce any new words at the beginning of class. I will write the Latin and the English on the board. Students may take notes on these at the end of class OR I will send them out via Remind. 
  3. We will start the movie short. 
  4. As the moments I chose, we'll pause the movie short. The following will ensue:
    (a) I will either: make a statement and ask comprehension questions OR ask them to describe the scene for me.
    (b) If appropriate, I will ask the debate/discussion question. In this particular movie short, I might ask who loves who, whether they think the person loves them back, who demonstrates qualities (like bravery, loyalty, etc.), who is the hero, etc. 
  5. As the discussion continues, I will try and lead the conversation if necessary.
    (a) bring focus to the main character or a unique situation.
    (b) suggest key words that they may have missed or need more repetitions of.
    (c) ask leading questions that bring up future questions. In this short, I may ask if they think they'll fight or who will win the fight. I may ask how the girl will react, etc. 
  6. When it is time, we'll enjoy the end in silence. They'll get to focus on how things actually occur. Many times, it may not be what they thought and will inspire even more discussion. 
A few final thoughts on this example:
  • I would reserve this for when you are sure kids are ready to have this kind of discussion. We began using this some in Latin one (although mostly with images) and Latin two (with movie shorts). Now, in Latin three, they are ready. 
  • This is a great way to change up a movie short. In this example we are no longer the sole source of input and we are showing the caring aspect of CI by letting the kids lead the discussion. 
  • You can follow this up, easily, with a timed write. You can have them reflect on the story, the characters, or even discuss themselves. 

One Word Images

Thanks Greg for this suggestion! I will be honest and say that I am not very skilled in this area. I love images and using them, but I prefer to use complex images already made and use them to lead discussion. OWI is a great tool, however. Here are some resources on the OWI. 
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

Student Interviews

Thank you Christina for this suggestion! I am sure there are variations of this, everywhere :). What I am going to point to today, however, is Bryce Hedstrom's la personal especial and how I've used it in class. 

Resources

First, here are some basic resources on student interviews
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

General Process

Generally speaking, you can use this interview to get to know students better, provide task based discussion in class, and allow students to shine. It gets at all three C's: comprehensible, compelling, and caring. There are lots of variations on the process, but generally:
  • student comes up
  • teacher interview student, circling through each question
  • teacher reviews answers with students
  • students write down questions and answers
  • student check each other's work
  • teacher and students review again

Variations and Edits

I've now done this for a few years. I love this, but I do find that sometimes it can become repetitive in a way that takes away from the compelling piece. So, I've experimented with a few different variations of this:
  1. Blogging: I got this idea from Meredith White and it worked really well. Students created blogs and each week completed a prompt. They talked about themselves, a dear friend or pet, a celebrity, and a fictional character. They responded to each other as well. 
  2. Changing and Adding Questions: This year, I edited the questions to include some more things that fit alongside our units. We talked about qualities that people have and in the questions, students told me what qualities they had and showed. You could expand this to include qualities they want to have or don't want to have
  3. Persona Illustris: Towards the end of the semester, when most/all students had been interviewed, I changed how we did this. Students answered the questions about a fictional character or celebrity they loved. The more information they knew, the better. I chose one each week to "embody" and they interviewed me. Then, they took a guess at who I was. 

Final Thoughts

This is something I continue to play with. I have no idea how I will incorporate it in this semester... but:
  • My kids are really good at this now. They know these words and can easily use these words, phrases, and questions. 
  • The questions are EASILY adaptable. For example: rather than asking students where they were born (natus/a est) in Latin, I asked where they were native to (generare). 
  • This can be done as a quick warm up or lead into further discussion

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My "New Year's" Resolutions

It's the "new year" folks! Of course, not really because it's only half way through our year. :) I don't give much credence to new year's resolutions, partly because I don't really do much for the new year. I've never been to a NYE party and this year was the first year I actually stayed up until midnight (with a brief nap between 10-11). My partner and I cooked a romantic dinner and he woke me up so we could spend the new year's together. It was pretty rad (if you will).

But, as I sit here in my empty room the day before my kiddos come back, I think about what's changed for me so far this year and what I want to change this semester.

Here we go! In 2018, I resolve to...


  1. have next week's "plans" completed no later than Wednesday of each week. BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHA am I right? Honestly speaking though, there has been A LOT of talk on the internet waves about planning. Should we even plan? What (in all that is holy's name) is an essential question (really)? If we do plan, what should those look like? How often to we "replan"? etc. It's all led to some great discussions online. Personally, I plan. I work in a group of 5 Latin teachers and we all collaborate and work together. I like to have my plans ready should someone need them in coming years or want to see what I did (which has happened a few times). I also post my plans online for my kids to see. Most don't bother, but those who are absent or who need them find it useful. 
  2. take time for myself. 
    I struggle with this, pretty much all the time. My partner recently said to me that he wants to help me focus and make sure I don't get overwhelmed. I greatly appreciated this and plan to take the fact that he noticed this seriously. This is common in teachers. We have a HIGH burnout rate and we face possible burnout many times in the year. For many of us, especially those who have mental and physical issues, this risk is even greater. I am looking at ways to take care of myself that include some work related things like:
    * standards based grading
    * low-need days like dictatios, R, R, R days, and OWATS
    * working to even further refine my grading and assessment procedures
    * sticking to a strict policy of being on time in the morning and leaving on time in the afternoon. For me, that means arriving by 6:15-6:30 (about half an hour before we are due) and leaving no later than 3:00.

    and... some non work related things like:
    * taking time to care for my hair properly (curly girls anyone?)
    * enjoying my pets
    * reading more
    * enjoying my traveler's journal and the bullet journal process
    * cooking more
  3. take my time.
    I've done a lot of this already. Rachel discussed the importance of slowing down last year and the previous year, Bob and I discussed the importance of really evaluating how we do things and our assessments. I want to do more of this. This last semester I slowed down and went at my kids' pace. Based on their feedback for this semester, I know I made the right decision. I want to do more of this. This includes reevaluating how we are doing things like Free Voluntary Reading and R, R, R days. We were reading a class novella, Itinera Petri. We didn't finish, but MANY kids expressed an interest in continuing to read. I also want to honour the things they chose to read for this year. blog post coming
  4. sleep more.
    Here we go... every teacher's vow. I need it. We all do. One of the things I've discovered this last semester, thanks again to my partner, is that: naps are okay. If I take a nap, I don't need to feel like I wasted time because, it was what my body needed. If my body needs a nap when I get home at 4:00, I'm going to take one. It's better to take a short (26 minute) nap at 4 than it is to fall asleep on the couch at 7 and wake up at midnight. 
  5. enjoy my work more. 
    I LOVE what I do. I really do. That doesn't mean, however, that there are days (maybe weeks here and there) where I wish I could sleep in more (see 5), wish I could work on my house more (see 2), etc. That doesn't make me a bad teacher. What could/might is if I allow myself to get dragged down by the monotonous aspects of work. You know what I mean: the paperwork, the sometimes gratuitous meetings, the early hours, the days where I hear my name every 2 seconds and it is for the same gosh darn question which I not only addressed at the beginning of class, but also wrote on their papers AND on the board.... You get what I mean :). So, I want to enjoy more of what I already love. I want more tasks. I want more discussions. I want to move more. I want more smiles. I want to hear kids say "I can't wait for Latin" every gosh darn day. So, I'm going to find ways to accomplish that with more:
    * QR codes/running dictations
    * Tasks
    * stuffed animals!
    * FUN reading/discussions
  6. listen to more music and podcasts.
    Maybe this could go under number 2. Sure, okay. But it is ALSO professional development. I have my personal podcasts I listen to: food and health, How Stuff Works, story telling podcasts, etc. But, I also have professional podcasts. There are podcasts in my target language (although not many). I listen to those on occasion and I listen to some CI podcasts as well. PBP has started our own CI podcast too. This is a great way to get a little input for myself on the way to or home from work and provides a decent break from the news going on (when I need it). I'd love to add to my list! Comment below with your favourite podcasts! 
  7. reflect more.
    As I write this, I am reading my resolutions to Rachel and this popped up for me: I am being a lot more reflective lately (and in this post) than I have been in the past. We have become very reflective. We reflect on every unit, every assessment we do and I am SO HAPPY with this. I want to do more. I want to share more here and over at Stepping into CI. I know Rachel does too. Bob has always been reflective, and I relish in the fact I benefit from both of their reflections. I want to feel so comfortable with reflections that, if I need to, I can change what I do and how I do it when needed, instead of waiting until the end of the semester. 
  8. avoid toxicity.
    Lastly, and maybe key to each of these, is avoiding toxicity. Rachel and I talk about this all the time. We are members of various online communities and we find value in them all. We also find issues in nearly all of them. So, we want to avoid the toxicity. To this end, I want to suggest a few points you may take to do so, while keeping those positives

    For Social Media
    * edit your notifications - I edited the vast majority of my groups to varying degrees. Facebook allows me to only show the notifications I want: every one, only when friends post, only on things I comment on/post, never at all. I love this feature. I can also choose my favourite groups which appear on the top of my list. That ensures I'm not scrolling through things I don't want to read all the time.
    * keep some social media ONLY personal - for me, this is my instagram which is mostly pictures of my pets and my food. Every once in a while I post something school related that I REALLY love, but for the post part it is only personal. Facebook is a straight up mix and Twitter is mostly school related with some political/personal things mixed in (rare).
    * choose your groups carefully - I am a member of some groups. I am not a member of all groups. At one time I felt the need to be a member of everything, because... well I want to know what's going on! But now, I value my time a little more and I do not want to be overwhelmed with toxicity. Do not feel badly if you decide not to join a group.
    * as a last resort, leave a group - If you feel a group has become toxic. Leave it. Simple.

    For Life
    * eat lunch alone sometimes - I am an introvert. I am very introverted. If I'm not careful, I can isolate myself. That being said, sometimes I need a reset. I love my lunch mates. Sometimes, I need a break from people OR I need to allow myself to reset and get rid of any toxicity I have. Eating alone is okay sometimes.
    * remember, they are teenagers - I am awful at this. I spent many years giving all the value I had in myself over to others. I have spent years trying to undo this damage. I still struggle sometimes. Our kids are just that: kids. Sure, they aren't five year olds anymore, but they are still kids and they say things. Sometimes, a kids' words can become toxic if we give them too much power or if we dwell on them. Having a bad day? Okay, accept that, reflect on it. Give them the same understanding. Oh, that's how you feel? That's okay, I recognise you may feel differently tomorrow or next hour.
    * take time for yourself - Ah, the key mantra. I mean it. We can be our worst enemy. We can be the most toxic in our life if we allow it OR if we don't give ourselves time to be ourselves. Schedule it if we have to. I know I am.
    * find a safe space - Let's face it. Some of us are not in the most supportive environment (for whatever reason). We, as people and teachers, need to have a professional space where we are safe to express ideas and concerns and find solutions to issues. If you do not have one in your physical building -- find one in your teaching friends, even if they aren't in the same school/city/state/country as you; find one online; find one in Professional Learning Groups. The point is: find one. Latin Best Practices has some great tools for building this space (including a checklist for administrators). There are FB groups where you are encouraged to experiment and enjoy. The second point is: be safe. Avoid toxicity and ensure your space is safe. 
So, there you have it! My teaching resolutions. What are yours?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Capstone Projects: My New Approach to Google Projects

This post has been in my head since the beginning of school this year, when I stepped back from the previous Google projects I had done with my classes, that tended to yield mostly good but sometimes really lacking results, and thought about what I really wanted from my class. This year I am responsible for Latin IV lesson plans, and all of my Latin IV students are seniors.

I realized that what I wanted most was to help them find a way to contribute to the Classics community, where they have found a home for the past four years. So my approach this year has been to build the Google project into something ambitious: a year-long project that either contributes to publicity about Latin or creates new resources for Latin teachers.

So I renamed the project "Senior Capstone Project" and put aside a notebook to use exclusively with the project to record my meetings with students.

Pictured here with a strategically placed Starbucks card
to protect the innocent.
They got one day to discuss with others what they would like to do for their projects and to form groups for that purpose. One of my recommended projects was to teach a small Latin class at the nearby elementary school. I had several students interested in that option, so I contacted the school's principle, we had an amazingly animated and productive meeting, and my students were organized to teach at the elementary school once a month. Since I had so many interested, they divided into four groups, each with its own set of 15 elementary students. On the very first day they all returned excited and bursting with how much fun they had teaching the younger students. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the day to discuss their ideas and plans, I met with each group the next day and discussed their plans in detail. This gave me a chance to help them organize their approaches and to help them extend a project if it was underwhelming, and to help them scale a project back if it was overreaching.

Since then, I meet with each group once a week, check in on their progress and see if they need any extra direction to move forward. So far:
  • I have nine students (!) teaching four classes at the elementary school. I meet with them and help them design their lesson plans so the classes will be fun and engaging.
  • I have four groups designing games either steeped in Classics knowledge or in Latin itself. Two are basing theirs off preexisting games and creating their own spin, and two are completely new. We have talked about realistic options for production, the importance of Copyright law, and the need for alpha and beta-testing new games.
  • I have two coloring books being designed, one at novice Latin level and one advanced. The advanced book is very ambitious, and if they are able to create as much as they hope, it should be fantastic.
  • I have a pair working on translating songs into Latin and (eventually) recording them. They began based on the theme of internet memes, which has morphed completely into songs from LazyTown.
  • One student is designing an online magazine based in Classical culture but designed with a modern aesthetic. I get to see its progress each week, and am enjoying it very much.
  • One student is writing a blog over Roman clothing. He has explored themes, like military gear, as well as the basic Roman ensemble. 
At the halfway point, I feel like most groups are where they should be for successful completion by the end of the school year. There are a few that are struggling, and we had a serious discussion over their commitment and my expectations. 

Now I am looking back at my previous Google Projects and wondering how I could bring this level of focus to a younger group, like my Latin I students. One very nice perk to Google projects is that they make it much easier to write compelling student recommendations--each student has completed several passion projects for me to brag about in their letters, and details like that make students stand out to Admissions.

Overall, I recommend this project! It has been a joy and, I feel, extremely successful so far.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bellum Civile: Gaming Caesar's Civil War

I feel bad that I've been so silent lately. I have many, many ideas for blog posts, and I just haven't had time to put pixelated letter to white screen. There are a lot of reasons for this, and that could be its own blog post (it kind of is here). Suffice it to say, I have tried to rethink what a Latin IV class could be, and it's been exhilarating and exhausting and I haven't had too much extra energy to feed into anything else.

But now I'm at a good breathing point and hope to dive straight back into blog posts. This post is to share with you my presentation from ACTFL on running a role-play game with my Latin III students.

I have always wanted to do something role-play for my Latin classes, for over a decade at least, if not for my entire teaching career (on year 15!), because it is such an immersive opportunity with language, and because I'm a gaming geek and love role-play games; my husband was my first Dungeon Master in Dungeons and Dragons (I played a rogue half-dragon named Seline) when I was seventeen. Gaming has been a huge part of my life since then, and seeking a way to marry our different passions is a natural drive for any geek and teacher.

Last year, I finally hit on the perfect game style (Fiasco-esque) to use in conjunction with tasks, something I had just started experimenting with (you can see my first experiment here, and Miriam and I recorded a book study on tasks here), and, to make it easier both for students to plan their actions, speeches, and dialogues for the game and for me to keep a record of each session's events, I realized Twitter was a perfect medium for gameplay.

Thus was born Bellum Civile, a dive into Caesar's civil war, with seven major(ish) historical figures from the civil war--each controlled by groups of four students--battling for Rome's soul.

Below you will find links to the game and its various accouterments. I have included my vocabulary-building materials, some of the materials I used to build student knowledge before we started, and everything else you might need while running the game. I did my best to create an easy-to-use teacher's guide and to make the game self-running in large part. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Teacher's Guide: Bellum Civile
Folder of Materials (most linked by Teacher's Guide as well)
ACTFL Presentation

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reflection: Chronic Pain and Teaching

There are a lot of difficult and necessary conversations going on in our communities today. I've seen all sorts of discussions and arguments and debates unfold in recent weeks/months about male privilege, white privilege, cis privilege, straight privilege, and so on. Today, I'd like to take a post and talk about another one: able privilege. It has also been part of these conversations I've seen, although, it often takes a back seat to other topics. This is not a criticism because each of these conversations needs to be had: these privileges need to be challenged! This is also not the reason for my post. Rather, I had my post already written in part when the conversations started. These conversations reiterated to me why I am writing this one.

At the bottom of this post, you'll find links to a recent post by a dear colleague and a blog I help co-write. They are about Comprehensible Input and challenging white privilege and other privileges (respectfully). There is also a link to a post by Rachel on mental health. I would LOVE to add to this list. If you have a blog post or know of a source where these privileges are being challenged and discussed, please leave it in the comments so that we can continue the conversation.

Now... on to my story.

There is a phenomenon that I read about recently in an online medical journal. It doesn't necessarily have a name, but the way it is described is that those with disabilities (ranging from the seen, unseen, physical and mental) often do not discuss their pains and issues (even with doctors) because "someone has it worse than me". I mention this for a few reasons:

  1. Disabilities often go unseen or unnoticed. 
  2. There seems to be an expectation that someone with a disability will tell you about it. 
  3. Disabilities affect everyone. Many of us just don't realise it. 

Some Background

Many of you who know me may be asking, "Who is she to talk about able-ism?" And, even until January of this year, I'd have agreed with you. It has been a long journey for me to be able to (a) talk about this to myself in these terms and (b) talk about it publicly. In fact, I still don't talk about it often, except to provide quick explanations for why I cannot attend something, why I am avoiding something, etc.

Without revealing too much, I deal with chronic allergies daily (environmental and food), moderate to severe adult onset asthma, and a genetic issue that affects my ankles and feet causing daily pain and frequent injury. Right now, my doctor says I should not be walking and should be sitting as often as possible. To add to all this, I was recently diagnosed with chronic daily headaches and chronic migraines.

It took me a while to be able to talk about this. Even now I've erased and re-written this three times. I am still coming to terms with what all this means. Partly because I don't necessarily view some of the things I deal with as disabilities (others have it much worse!) and, more recently, I've had to come to terms with how some of this is changing my daily life and future plans. What I want to focus on today, is how this plays out in our professional lives and steps we may take. I am by no means an expert on this. I welcome further discussion and suggestions in the comments below!

The Way Chronic Illness Effects Teachers

I have good days and bad days. Last week... there was a bad day. I am back in my medical boot because of a mistake that was made in my ankle bracing. The boot is large, and heavy and, while it gets rid of the immediate sharp pains, it does not do much else. By the end of the day, even if I'm sitting while teaching, I am exhausted. That morning, a student in my first period class asked if I was okay and said I looked "defeated". And he's right. It's how I feel. I LOVE my job. I love teaching and I love my kids. I love my subject area. I also love so many things outside of school, but, with the issues I am facing, everything I do is a challenge. Some days are easier. Some are nearly impossible.

Recently, I was attending some professional development. I entered a room on time for a scheduled talk and looked around. There were empty seats, but they were on the inner section of rows, nearest the wall, often 5-6 people in. I walked the aisle trying to find some way I could easily get in without disturbing those people. Getting in and out of the rows was very difficult, even without people. I contemplated asking someone if they would squeeze in and as I walked, I realised something: (1) people saw me and my boot. They stared at it. (2) They were staring at it (or avoiding me all together) so that they wouldn't have to look at me or engage with me. (3) No one was moving inward. I searched for a seat in the back, but there were none. I ended up leaving the talk as standing for an hour is not a possibility for me. I was incredibly frustrated.

What I've realised is that things I otherwise took for granted are now things I must consider every day. This is the same (to varying extents) for every teacher with chronic issues.

  • Do I have a meeting across campus? If so, in my case, what can I cut out during the day so that I have the energy to walk and am not in too much pain to do so?
  • Am I delivering a dictation today? How much time can I walk around in each class so that all my students get what they need from me and I don't push myself too far? 
  • Do I need to make copies today? If so, will the elevator be unlocked? Can I even get into the building where the elevator is? If not, is it worth the injury and pain to walk down the two flights of stairs to get to the office?
  • Do I need my crutches today? If so, how can I carry my things AND support myself on them? Do I need my laptop for a meeting? How will I get there and back holding a laptop and using crutches?
  • Did someone just use perfume? If so, how strong is it? How much time do I have before an asthma attack hits? Where is my inhaler?
These are just some things that come to mind right now. Other things that affect teachers with chronic issues: fire drills (especially if stairs are involved), daily duties (required standing/walking, cold weather, etc.), classroom management, working through a migraine because there is no choice.

The Way Chronic Illness Effects Our Kids

We've all seen it: the kid who always appears sleepy, the kid who always seems to be down or in pain, the kid who asks to go to the bathroom a lot. We've gotten health plans and IEPs that tell us to allow the student to do x, y, or z and we've all, at some point, wondered about it. The fact of the matter is, it isn't our place to know everything or understand it all. Rather, our job is to provide a safe learning environment and that means making accommodations for any number of reasons. 

Chronic illness and pain (of the physical or mental kind) affects our kids daily. There are some students who are always keeping an eye out because, even though we've announced it, some one may have snuck in a snack with peanuts in it. There is a kid who is counting down the minutes until they aren't surrounded by people and noise. There is a kid whose eyes are closed all period because the light is making them feel nauseated. There is a kid who couldn't make it to class today because of the pain and illness. When we don't have these struggles (and yes, I was guilty), we might look at that and assume the kid is sleeping, that the kid is AWOL, that the kid is trying to get out of class. But, if we realise that these kids are dealing with these issues and also dealing with the regular day to day of life, we'll change our perspective and change how we treat those issues and them.

In addition to all that they deal with as teenagers, they have these added issues. It affects their participation and attendance in class, their ability to do homework, their ability to bring in projects, mood, concentration.... everything.

What We Can Do

The fact is that anyone dealing with chronic issues has to make choices every day, every hour, every minute. They have to consider what they can do in that moment and how it will affect what they are able to do in the next.

A student may choose to do one piece of homework over the other because while they have an "A" in one class, they have a "C" in another AND they know that they have a doctor's appointment, treatment, or are dealing with the onset of any number of symptoms that will affect their ability to do the work asked of them.

A teacher may choose to skip lunch with colleagues because the pain is so bad they cannot get up from their desk or they are conserving energy to teach the next period.

In addition to all this, we/you may never even know what they are dealing with because "someone else has it worse" or "I don't want to be a burden".

To be honest though, and to repeat a point above, it isn't anyone's job or business to know the details of someone's struggles unless they want to share. Rather, it is ALL our jobs to make spaces that everyone can be comfortable in, no matter what they are going through any given day.

To that end, I'd like to suggest a few things we can do for our students and colleagues:
  1. Don't presume that any child is faking to get out of something. Yes, some people play the system, but the vast majority do not. Trust a kid who says they have a migraine and can barely focus. Trust the kid who needs to go to the bathroom or the clinic every day. Trust them to tell you when they need the space and time and honour it. 
  2. Make your room a safe space. Avoid jokes about those in pain or those with chronic issues. Be clear. Don't allow it. Don't allow someone to make someone else feel badly about the issues they are facing. Be clear on day 1. Be clear when someone slips up. If we're learning anything from the current issues facing those accused and guilty of sexual harassment and assault it's this: we all need to do a better job of stopping privileged culture and talk in its tracks. This means, in my room, we do not make jokes about any group of people. It isn't allowed and there are no excuses. 
  3. Just because you can't "see it" doesn't mean it isn't there. No one knows another's allergies unless they say something or something awful happens. Don't presume that because on Monday a student has a great day, that on Tuesday they will as well. Many look at me, see nothing outwardly wrong, and presume I am fine when, in reality, I am in pain with each step. Some students will show little to no outward signs of any issues, while they struggle inside. Some struggle to keep it hidden because they are embarrassed and might not feel safe expressing what they are going through, but, again, they don't have to share it. 
  4. Reconsider your rules. If you are a teacher who doesn't let students go to the bathroom, or only allows them a certain amount of passes each day/semester, I would strongly suggest you reconsider. Students with chronic issues may use a "bathroom" pass to decompress, take medicine, or deal with any number of issues. They shouldn't have to come to you and explain why they need to go "again". If you require students to stand when they deliver answers or to give regular presentations, reconsider how you do this. 
  5. Move in. This is pretty specific, but I am using it for a broader idea. These are small, daily things we don't think about. Things we do almost subconsciously. They will require a change, a reboot of the brain, if you will. When you go through a door, glance behind you. Can you hold the door for two seconds and allow someone through? When you go to a talk/conference, sit inside the rows, leaving aisles available. If you must leave in the middle, take a seat in the very back, rather than taking the aisles. If you are giving a talk/presentation, use a mic, even if you must then stand behind a podium.
  6. When in doubt, be kind. There are all kinds of disabilities. Some are temporary, some are chronic, some are fatal. Some are visible, some are invisible. Some change day to day, moment to moment. Whenever you see someone you know struggles with this, or someone in general who is having any kind of struggle.... Be kind. Avoid making that joke, just keep it inside. Make the move yourself; don't wait for them to ask and bring attention to it. 
Just.... be kind. :) If we make these small adjustments daily, the world becomes a slightly kinder, easier place for everyone. We cannot solve the struggles of those with chronic issues, but we can help share the burden and for many of those who are able.... they won't even notice the "extra" they do. 

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As I said above, I want to invite discussion into this further. Below you'll find a list of blog posts and blogs that discuss and deal with issues of privilege. If you have another, please comment with it below so we can add to the list! 

  1. The Inclusive Latin Classroom - a blog run by a number of teachers that discusses how using CI creates an inclusive classroom for all types of learners. 
  2. "Why Students of Color Don't Take Latin" -- an article by John Bracey on Latin classrooms, and students of colour. 
  3. "A Personal Blog in Honor of Mental Health Awareness" -- a blog post by Rachel Ash mental health and the classroom. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Stepping into CI - Officially Up and Running

Hello all!

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I announce that the new mother site is up and running, in official terms! Below you'll find a quick overview of what we currently offer or are beginning to offer. You can read the detailed announcement here.

What's Changing?

  1. The blog is still up and running, but you can find access to all of our resources here: www.steppingintoci.com. Be sure to bookmark this site!
  2. We have become three! Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing/Stepping into CI now includes: Miriam Patrick, Rachel Ash, and Robert Patrick Ph.D.
  3. We are widening our offerings. Up until now, you may have seen our blog posts, our publications, the book studies, and our podcast. Now we are offering a wider range of ways to get a regular dose of CI, and new materials for you and your students. 

Okay, so.... What are you offering?

Glad you asked :) 

  • Free
    1. The Pomegranate Beginnings blog has always been and will remain free. You can always check it out here, and get updates via Facebook, email, or Twitter.

    2. Book Studies with Rachel and Miriam is a somewhat new endeavour for us (we are on our second book study), but we will continue to provide this for free.

    3. Our most recent offering is the Stepping into CI Podcast. This by monthly podcast includes the voices of Miriam, Rachel, and Bob along with special guests. There are a variety of topics up for discussion. Past topics include: Our favourite CI things, reports from the field, Free Voluntary Reading, and Why CI.
  • Paid Subscription
    1. CI Bites is a brand new offering from Bob Patrick, Ph.D. When you subscribe to Stepping into CI, you will get a bi-weekly email from Bob with CI tips and inspiration. Be sure to check out the sample!

    2. The Latin Listening Project was born out of Rachel's desire to have easy listening for learners of Latin. Miriam began the first series of the LLP with her horror series Sonitus Mirabilis. When you subscribe, you'll have access to every episode, including a complete vocabulary list and transcripts for each episode.

    3. Lastly, Miriam, Bob, and Rachel are offering exclusive organised units from their own successes in their classrooms. Each unit will be neatly packaged for teachers to access online and will include a variety of activities, tasks, and resources.

Where does the subscription money go?

As always, Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing/ Stepping into CI strives to be transparent. The three of us are also teachers and we know that money is not free flowing. We want to honour your time and money. We offer two subscriptions options:

1. Monthly ($4 per month)
2. Annual ($36 per year)

The money goes to help run the site and to provide all of these resources and materials, both free and paid.

Okay, sign me up! 

Great! Join us at Stepping into CI. And don't forget to join the conversation online:

Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing on Facebook

Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing on Twitter

#steppingintoci