Tuesday, August 25, 2015

School Starting Rant

I got home from a day in my office, highlighted by a faculty meeting. Tomorrow is the first class day at SHSU. That means our online students will be able to access our classes for the first time, and we can start getting to know them. It's exciting and fun! I came home and admitted to myself that I had been building up to a rant for a couple of days. Fortunately, I do not rant all that often but this one refused to get out of my head so I am sharing:

I love the beginning of school. In my previous life as a classroom teacher I had some fun getting-to-know you activities for students and looked forward to the fresh faces. As a school librarian it was even more fun to stand out in the hall and greet students, both the returning kiddos and the fearful first-timers. I confess that I can still get a bit excited even though now my first day (and subsequent ones) is online. I love getting to know my amazing, motivated, graduate students. They are a special breed.

This week I’ve had fun seeing all the wonderful pictures posted by teachers, parents, and grandparents. There are so many cute ideas for ways to denote your special student’s grade and first-day excitement, which does wane humorously with some teens looking either pained or indulgent about the fuss made over them. On the first day of school everybody says such positive things. Teachers get high praise and lots of people offer prayers for both students and teachers. This is all great!

But…and if you know me you knew there was a “but” coming, could we have some love and praise throughout the year? Wouldn’t be great if ALL parents bent over backwards to encourage their students and back up the teachers? How about if all parents made sure their kids were prepared for school and on time every day? Of course I’m preaching to the choir because my online Facebook friends'  postings that I see are by folks that will do these things, so thanks in advance.

And here’s what I really wish. Could we stop electing people who don’t support public schools and teachers? Could we not even let someone progress after saying he’d like to punch teachers in the face? Could we vote for people who GET IT RIGHT about education? Frankly that’s a tall order. Our present administration has, in my opinion, dropped the ball here—or rather passed it off to Arne Duncan. Could we at least refrain from voting for those who clearly want to do away with public schools, who heap scorn upon teachers, who are out to make a buck for themselves or their cronies through educational testing and review products, and who advocate cutting already cut-to-the-bone funding? Could we? That’s my school year wish, in this important year as we move toward nominating our next president. Have a great year everybody! I plan to!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


I find it interesting that both Monday and Tuesday’s keynotes focused on the same word…DELIGHT! It is a point well taken that libraries and librarians should seek to offer delightful experiences and opportunities to patrons, students, and the general public. FUN should be a priority along with other more traditional values. I think there are a number of ways to do this, including special events and programs, maker spaces, coffee bars, author visits, and collaboration with student/local/academic groups and organizations. I just finished a stay at a boutique hotel in DC, The Quincy. We were greeted at the cab and ushered in by a friendly greeter/concierge. This wonderful fellow accompanied us to our room, explaining on the elevator all the special services and spaces in the hotel. Every time we re-entered the lobby we got that same warm friendly welcome. There were comfortable chairs and shelves with books to read and games to play. It was a bit of a cross between a traditional hotel and a B&B. Then we moved to a very nice, expensive, conference hotel, which is also very traditional. You have to pay for Internet access. Folks there are nice but not in the warm personal manner of the Quincy staff. Guess where we will stay if we return?

Every term I try to focus on one goal with my students, in additional to the expected duties of a prof. This term I vowed to be more encouraging. I really bent over backwards to work with students who were plying me with questions, remembering especially with brand new students what a culture shock it is to become a student after years as a teacher. I now have my focus for next term: DELIGHT! I am going to try extra hard to provide DELIGHT to students. We need to have more fun!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Trip Prep Sketchnote

I am fortunate to be able to go to Washington DC with my BFF for sightseeing before the conference. We are leaving tomorrow! Since my presentation is about sketchnoting, I am going to be sharing notes throughout the conference. It's a great opportunity to get in some practice and also a great way to share what you are taking away from sessions. Here is my preliminary sketchnote about getting ready to go. Sketchnoting is combining taking notes with doodling! Do a web search and you will see how very popular this practice has become in recent years. It really grew out of the business world but I think it's a perfect fit for librarianship and education.

PS I wrote this a couple of days before leaving for DC. I just forgot to publish it, so I decided to go ahead with it after the fact. 


This session, via Internet@School Track, really resonated with me. I have played around with Hour of Code a couple of times, in a very disultory fashion. It has been something that never quite hooked me in as a topic to pursue in depth. I think part of the reason has been the face that I am NOT a logical person. My left brain must be pretty neglected. Also, I could not see how I personally would use it as a public school teacher or as a professor preparing school librarians. So I chalked it up as something cool that I might look into but....likely not. This presentation made me really think again. It provided a raft of resources online that I want to explore and share with students. It gave me ideas for using with students. One of my favorite ideas was to create an animated poem. Several of the apps shared are ones I want to at least sample. These include:
Raspberry Pi
Lightbot (seems easiest and thus my first planned foray)

Hour of Code....I'm coming back to you!!


What a day! A keynote and five sessions. Anybody else feeling a bit of brain drain? I am heading down to the lobby for a nice beverage shortly. They have something called Modern Mule on the menu and I had one last night. Tasty. The great thing about today's sessions was that they were all very different with no real overlap. I am staying put in the Internet@School track because that is where I present and also it best meets my needs. And before that was the keynote, Steve Denning. His message, that we should strive to delight customers, can apply to patrons, students, colleagues, and superiors. It was a great kick-off for the day. Here is my sketchnote for that presentation:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ANTICIPATION...Looking Ahead to Computers in Libraries Washington DC 2015

I just finished registering to blog during this conference and decided to start an entry looking forward to this event. I have an idiosycracy such that a great deal of the time there's a sound track running through my head, serving up songs, unbidden, that somehow relate to what's going on with me. I'm not musically talented but I do love music and have a musician daughter. Anyway, I just realized that, appropriately, Carly Simon's "Anticipation" was running playing inside my cranium. This is a heck of a lot better than when I drive by the Texas State Stadium and suddenly realize I'm listening internally to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Anyway, here's a link if you like the tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NwP3wes4M8 --I think it's very appropriate for my mood at the moment.

Even though I am caught up in the excitement of one conference at the time of this writing, the Texas Library Association Conference, I am already excited about the upcoming Computers in Libraries gathering. TLA is for seeing former students, colleagues, and friends from the last 30 years as a librarian. CIL is where I learn so much at sessions that are consistently top notch, and also hear stellar keynote speakers. I do get to see friends as well, having presented at CIL in Monterey for the past 12 years. Internet@Schools Conferences are my opportunities to get excited about what I do, and I never fail to garner new ideas. This is my first time to present in Washington DC, but I know it will be a wonderful time of learning and inspiration. Attendees to the larger conference can also attend Internet@Schools sessions, and you can count on some great opportunities it you choose to come to one. My topic is sketchnoting, and I am very excited to be sharing because this is an activity that has been very rewarding for use with my students in the past months. Hope to see you in DC!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Makes a Great Teacher?

What does it take to be a good teacher? A colleague of mine, Dr. Teri Lesesne, shared a link yesterday that has a great message. You can read it at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/12/19/are-you-a-truly-bad-teacher-heres-how-to-tell/

I went to it thinking it would be one of those fun quizzes where you pick choices and get a quick answer. It is far more thoughtful than that, and I agree with everything included.  When I finished reading, though, I was left to the feeling that there is more to being a great teacher that these important qualities.  Looking back from the vantage of 40 years in education, I tried to remember how many REALLY BAD teachers I have known. I have known some that were less effective than others, or less talented, or even less caring. But as far as REALLY BAD, only one person came to mind. The odd thing is that she possessed, at least in some measure, all the qualities listed in this piece. For starters, she was/is a nice person, a bit eccentric but someone I liked. As for the points in the article:
1.     I believe she liked, or wanted to like, her students. She enjoyed conversing with them one on one.
2.     She did NOT find her subject matter dull. She was in fact passionate about it.
3.     She absolutely knew what she was talking about in her subject area. She was brilliant with a stellar college background and a master’s degree. I found this out because she left her resume in my workroom one time, and because this was clear from talking with her.
4.     Did she ignore a large subset of her students? Well this one is a maybe. The problem was that her students ignored her. There was no real connection.
5.     Was she totally disengaged? No, I don’t think so. She told me that she wanted to and was trying to improve and I took that at face value, though she continued to flounder.

How do I know so much about this one person?  I was asked by my principal to videotape her in her classroom as she delivered instruction. He said the reason was for us to then talk with her about how to improve, but we all knew he was documenting her with in order to eliminate her from our faculty.  What I saw during several visits was distressing and sad. Her students were leveled and at the lower end of the spectrum at that school. They were relatively well behaved while I was there, but there were stories of how out of hand things got at other times. She came in and talked very rapidly, often with her back to the students as she wrote on the chalkboard in barely legible writing. One lesson was about how to write a “compare and contrast paragraph” for the state testing prompt at that time. The example she gave as Athens and Sparta. These students had no idea what she was talking about and could not answer even the simplest of her questions about Greece and history. Still she pressed on. At one point a boy near me began whispering to me urgently. “Please…get me out of this class. My parents complained but (the principal) says no, too many people have gotten out of the class already. I want to learn! I can’t learn in this class!”  I felt so bad for this kid, and did appeal to the principal but don’t remember if it helped. Things culminated much later in the year when a boy shoved her and she stepped backward, ending up half sitting in the trashcan. She couldn’t get out and a kid went for help. She was sent home for the day and when she returned she pretty much drew into herself. She resigned at the end of that year and moved to another state right after that. I felt sorry for her and sorrier for the students, who lost that year’s instruction because their parents were not influential enough to get them out of the class.

 Based on this experience, here are some things I would add
1.     Are you able to communicate with youngsters at the ages of your students? She was spectacularly lacking in this area.
2.     Are you able to maintain order in your classroom? This CAN be learned! I have seen people make great strides. In her case this just didn’t happen which leads to the next question.
3.     Are you a “Yes But” person? I was asked to pass on some tips about classroom management to her. At every suggestion she would say, “Yes but that would not work for me because…”
4.     Can you collaborate with others? There were avenues for help she could have sought. She made ironic jokes about her situation rather than seek ways to improve. She did not have friends among faculty, even though we had an unusually tight knit and supportive group. She was very much a loner. I was probably the closest thing she had to a friend in that school and I was documenting her shortcomings.

Why am I taking the trouble to put all this down? I am not sure but I think it is because I want to point out that teaching is not something that just anyone can do. It requires more than expertise in a subject area. A good teacher cannot be defined by some list of qualifiers composed by people who think they are experts in education because…Hey! They went to school! Teaching is a helping profession, one of the highest of callings. It pains me to see it denigrated as it is today, at all levels from the earliest childhood to post graduate. Teachers and professors bring so more to the profession than most people seem to realize.  One of my Christmas wishes is for people not in the field to return to the general attitude of respect for teachers that was present when I was growing up, and when I started out in education.