I’m Not Proud Of My First Year, But I’m Glad I Didn’t Quit

lindseyHi, I’m Lindsey Warden. This is #WhyITeach.

When people hear that I teach middle school, they usually think I’m crazy, and when they hear where I started my teaching career, they usually think I’m even crazier.

I started teaching in 2015 through a placement program and picked up my life to move to rural Mississippi, where I spent a few weeks in the summer preparing to welcome over a hundred seventh graders to my English classroom in the fall.

Sweltering in the unreal Mississippi summer heat, I threw myself into learning all I could in informational afternoon sessions while co-teaching in a summer school classroom each morning. I was not even remotely prepared for the challenges I would face in my own classroom, no matter how enthusiastic and confident I felt.

My classroom lovingly decorated, books for a classroom library carefully gathered, and lesson plans for the first weeks of school written, I quickly realized that I was an outsider in a tightly-knit community.

The compliant and respectful kids that were selected for my summer school class gave way to children who ran the full gamut behaviorally, emotionally and academically speaking. Less than twelve of my students that year were reading at or above grade level, and that wasn’t the worst news compared to test scores from their previous achievement assessment.

The school leadership, who cared deeply about their students but fought high-impact battles against apathy, funding difficulties, and alignment of teaching practices to the requirements of newly adopted Common Core State Standards, held me to high standards and were in and out of my classroom often to help me troubleshoot my problems. As I began coming to terms with exactly how difficult my first year in the classroom was about to be, my students were also realizing that I basically had no idea what I was doing. My classroom ran wild, my students disliked me, and I was filled with anxiety over my instructional and management failures. Many of my co-workers expected me to quit before Christmas.

I didn’t quit.

Whenever I felt like quitting, I thought of Desmond*, a tiny boy in my inclusion class who spent the first quarter failing every test. One day in November, he made a 70. Then, he made an 80. When he made his first 100 and jumped out of his seat dancing with joy, my heart swelled with pride for him and his success. I began to realize that even though my kids deserved a better teacher than me, I might be making a small difference in some way.

I also thought of the kids I couldn’t seem to reach, like Cory, a chronically absent boy who would miss school for weeks at a time. One time, when he finally did come back, he revealed that he had been living for months with an abscessed tooth that the family couldn’t or perhaps wouldn’t get treated. I thought of students I could see parts of my experiences in, like Kadir, a Yemeni refugee whose family had settled in north Mississippi and who I often imagined felt even more out-of-place than I did. I thought of students whose stories crushed me to my core, like Tamora, who seemed upset one day and divulged to me in the hallway that she was being abused by her step-father.

I continued to teach for the academic outcomes, like Desmond’s and worked hard to turn my students into readers and pull them to higher levels of achievement. But I also continued because I realized quitting would just be one more example of instability in the lives of children who craved adults who cared, and adults who wouldn’t give up or quit on them.

I’m not proud of my first year teaching.

I know I did poorly in the classroom, and I know my students deserved and needed a more experienced teacher. Or a teacher with ANY experience at all.

I’m in my fourth year of teaching now, and am nearing graduation with my M.Ed.

Pursuing my master’s degree in teaching has helped me fill in the gaps that I had from taking a nontraditional route into the profession, and my classroom runs more smoothly than ever. My students and I love learning together using a project-based approach and have done everything from tracing our family genealogies back to the 1800s and 1700s in American History to drafting United Nations resolutions and debating them in a mock UN session in English.

I genuinely love my work in the classroom and enjoy seeing my students excited to learn. While I have since moved to a different town and now teach students in a suburban setting, I carry the lessons learned with my first groups of kids with me daily and remember that children in any school need teachers who care. A few students from my first few groups have since reached out, now as high schoolers, and thanked me just for being there and for coming in every day.

This is why I teach.

Aside from helping students improve and meet academic and behavioral goals, I teach because I love the human connections this career has allowed me to form.

Knowing that I can make a small difference each day, just with my own kindness and tenacity, and knowing that I am modeling qualities like empathy, perseverance, and open-mindedness for the world’s future leaders and activists is so rewarding, and it keeps me coming back to the profession year after year.

When my time to serve students comes to an end, I know I will look back with love on my extended community of learners and look forward to the future with hope for all the extraordinary things they will do in this world. ❤️🍎✏️

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

*student names have been changed

I Teach, Because It’s What I Was Always Meant To Do

Hi, I’m Jill Bontrager. This is #WhyITeach.

jillGrowing up, I loved school. I did really well in school.

In fact, I even pretended that I was a teacher on occasion when playing with my dolls.

However, I never planned on actually becoming a teacher—or so I thought. Nope, I was going to be a police officer. I wanted to save people.

Then one day, which turned into years, I became the one who needed saving. My family fell apart; my life was dramatically altered by some disheartening events, and I no longer believed I could make a difference. Yet, my desire to help people never went away. In fact, it grew stronger; I just didn’t see it that way. As I grew older, I still didn’t consider teaching, so I found my way into customer service and sales.

My innate desire to learn and help others do the same enabled me to be quite successful in that area. But all along, God had other plans.

Ultimately, after many people and events were placed strategically into my life, my calling was finally realized. As it turns out, my hardships are the very reason I teach.

studentsI teach because there are wounded students out there who need someone to connect with them.

I teach because every student needs a person in his or her corner cheering them on, even if their parents won’t or can’t do it.

I teach because I know how important it is to be truly seen by your teacher and know that you are thought of even when you are out of school.

studentsI teach because I want students to use their critical thinking skills we learn in my English classes to excel and not be taken advantage of; to see the logical fallacies presented to them in the media, in society and even by their friends and family; to watch them find confidence when they write an essay they never believed possible; to see pride beaming across their faces when they accomplish a goal that seemed insurmountable.

I teach because my students fill my heart with joy and fulfill my calling in this world. I teach because if I didn’t, who would I be?

I am a teacher, and I teach because that is who I am and what I was always meant to do.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

Happy Earth Day!

Living in the Midwest, April is a most welcome time of year when we can more comfortably spend time outdoors and enjoy the sight of green grass, budding trees, blooming flowers and the sound of birds returning from their winter homes.

However, the arrival of spring can no longer be taken for granted.

As Rachel Carson warned us more than 50 years ago through her story of DDT contamination in communities across the country in her book, Silent Spring, we must continue to take action to protect our natural environment and slow down its degradation.

We must work to combat greed and the abuse of the environment by humans and to help people become stewards of the living earth, acting responsibly and carefully.

Additionally, we must remain vigilant to the continued rollback of policies that were put in place to protect our water, air and soil, and the creatures with whom we share the Earth. Human self-interest needs to be re-framed so that we humans live as an equal part of the earth earth’s systems and not the master of them.

As educators, we have a large role to play.

More than 80% of U.S. parents want their children to be climate change literate. We must help our students gain the knowledge, skills and global mindset of equity necessary to be prepared for an uncertain future and to become good stewards of the earth.

Addressing climate change can start with small changes to our individual lifestyles, classrooms and communities.

Research has shown that students can bring new practices and understandings to their families and communities.

These practices could be starting to recycle family or classroom trash, reduce water consumption when washing one’s hands or teeth, or helping the school cafeteria to reduce waste —all of which help the environment.  Small changes can add up to have a big impact.

So, as we commemorate Earth Day, what will you do to help your students take the first step toward making a change for a better future?

What commitment will you make to celebrate Earth Day?

Share your plans with others in the KDP community in the Educator Learning Network.

We really do have the power to change the world.

Image result for earth day 2019

Faye Snodgress is the Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), International Honor Society in Education.

The Outdoor Classroom: Where Nature Nurtures Kids’ Ability to Learn

magnifying-glassModern life often moves at a frantic pace: families, friends, and others often maintain full schedules with little time allowed to pause and take in what is happening around them.

For students arriving at school for the day, their morning may have been a blur of activity – hopping out of bed, getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, then grabbing their backpack to head off to school.

A student’s day—like those of most adults—is often just moving, from one car, classroom, or building to another. The outside world oven gets overlooked. But it’s this outside world that may help students inside.

stewardshipAs adults, we know that the ability to focus on the task at hand can ensure its success. We also know that sometimes it is easier to maintain our focus than at other times.

The process of becoming better able to focus is where nature can help. And often it’s just a matter of getting kids outside.

In one study[1], children who spent one class session in a natural outdoor setting were more engaged and less distracted during indoor class time afterward than if they had been indoors for two consecutive classes.

Some teachers may have concerns that an outdoor classroom would over-stimulate students, making them less able to focus afterwards. Yet this study found the opposite to be true: classroom engagement was better for those students exposed to nature than those students taught solely in an indoor classroom.

studentsBeing in nature not only helps students to be more focused, it also introduces students to the first step in the scientific method: to observe

From watching the clouds while looking up at the sky, to rolling back a fallen log to investigate which creatures live underneath, to watching a flower emerge from the ground and ultimately bloom in springtime, nature offers an infinite number of opportunities to witness how plants, animals and climate interact.

Observation can lead to asking questions, instilling a curiosity about our natural world that spills over into the classroom.

And as teachers know, curious children make better students.

A student who develops a question based on their personal observation is developing curiosity and critical thinking skills.

See what these educators have to say about the benefits of nature for young learners.

Nature provides engaging and relaxing ways for students to learn, so let’s make the most of our greenspace to expand and transform children’s learning experiences.

Learn more by visiting www.ILoveMyLand.org today.

Questions? Contact us at ChildrenofIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

[1] Lessons in nature boost classroom engagement afterward. Yates, Diana. University of Illinois. January 17, 2018.

Share Your #WhyITeach

Teacher Appreciation Week is quickly approaching—what a great time to share with the world why you’re proud to be a teacher!

KDP is looking to feature stories, photos, videos, and more, from teachers like you; we love a Celebration of Teaching!

We want to see and hear about your classroom experiences, mentors, lives you’ve touched, and what keeps you inspired in your work.

So, we’ve launched a contest that runs through Tuesday, April 30, with winners announced by early May.

1 Grand Prize Winner Will Be Chosen

  • $1,000 check
  • Story featured in the New Teacher Advocate
  • Free Convo registration
  • Story featured on blog and in email during National Teacher Week (5/6-5/10)

4 Runner-Up Prize Winners Will Be Chosen

  • $250 check
  • Story featured on blog during National Teacher Week (5/6-5/10)

In order to be entered into the contest:

  1. Post your story on the Educator Learning Network using the hashtag #WhyITeach; and
  2. Share your story on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram with the hashtag #WhyITeach and tag @KappaDeltaPi.

What is the Educator Learning Network?

We’re glad you asked! The ELN is our new online learning environment and social community. Learn more at https://eln.kdp.org, and post your story by clicking on “Take Me to the KDP Network” (the second blue button). You’ll be asked to log into your member account—or, if you’re not a member yet, you can create a free account!

How will winners be chosen?

While we anticipate wanting to re-tell each and every story, we are limited to just 5 that we select. Ultimately, we are looking for heart-warming, inspirational, and encouraging stories about the teaching profession.

If you have any questions, please contact Chris Beaman, Director of Advancement & Communications, by emailing chris@kdp.org or by calling 800-284-3167.

Standing in Line for Life’s Basic Need: Water

Erik Byker

Dr. Erik Byker

Today’s blogger is Erik Jon Byker, Associate Professor in the Cato College of Education at UNC Charlotte. His article “Global Water Crisis: Preparing Preservice Teachers for ‘Day Zero,’” coauthored by Michael Putman, Chris Reddy, and Lesley LeGrange, appeared in the January 2019 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

I often ask the undergraduate students I teach what they would be willing to stand in line for at least 1 hour to get.

After some quizzical expressions, the students chime in with responses like, “my favorite restaurant,” “concert tickets,” “roller coaster ride,” and “a sporting event.”

Then, I up the queue wait time to 3 hours, and the students go largely silent except for the one or two loyal music fans or sports fanatics.

I end the thought experiment by asking, “How long would you stand in line for a couple bottles of water?” Most of the students look at me rather puzzled and have a hard time even fathoming this inquiry.

Yet, waiting in line for water is increasingly becoming a daily reality for many people around the world.

About this same time last year, for example, citizens in Cape Town, South Africa, would line up to collect their daily water ration of just 50 liters of water per day. And Cape Town is not the only large urban area to be affected by the global water crisis. The British Broadcasting Company explained that there are nearly a dozen other large cities that are water stressed. This Friday, March 22, is World Water Day, which is a day to highlight the importance of water for sanitation and health (WASH).

World Water Day also helps to raise awareness about the global water crisis, which impacts more than 2 billion people around the globe. In her 2015 book Raising Awareness, Raising Hope, Lori Stoltzman shares other eye-opening statistics from the United Nations and the World Health Organization about the global water crisis:

  • Women and children (usually girls) spend up to 60% of each day walking to collect water.
  • 160 million children suffer from stunting and chronic malnutrition due to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation.
  • Without access to a latrine, many girls in lesser developed nations stop going to school once they reach puberty.

Raising awareness is a pathway for taking action. In the article “Global Water Crisis: Preparing Preservice Teachers for ‘Day Zero,’” my colleagues and I discuss how an immersive study abroad experience in South Africa led many of our teacher candidate participants to adopt water conservation habits. Yet, educators do not have to travel halfway around the world to investigate the water crisis. There are examples like Flint, Michigan, and the Catawba River Basin in North Carolina, which impact localities across the United States.

To integrate World Water Day (which should be every day), educators can start by supporting their learners in examining the importance of water to everyday health and well-being.

One effective strategy for this examination is to distribute one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) icons and then simply ask the question, “How is water connected or related to the icon you have? Explain the connection.” Another strategy, which integrates with mathematics, is to have learners estimate how many liters of water are used for everyday activities like brushing teeth, flushing the toilet, cooking food, and washing dishes.

Such an activity helps learners analyze how quickly 50 liters of water can get consumed. As learners gain greater awareness about the importance of water, it could lead to participation in service learning opportunities organized by groups like H2O for Life, which engages learners of all ages in a Walk for Water.

To close, I ask again, “How long would you wait for a couple of bottles of water?” The question answers itself depending on the water scarcity. During World Water Day (and beyond), let’s commit to raising awareness and taking action about the global water crisis. Such acts are part of becoming a Critical Cosmopolitan Citizen or what Paulo Freire explained as developing a critical consciousness in order to rewrite the world.

I am more and more convinced that educators need to promote greater water literacy so that even a couple of bottles of water will be viewed as a precious resource to meet our daily need.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the Kappa Delta Pi Record with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through April 30, 2019.

World Water Day 2019

Click the image above to visit the official World Water Day website.

A Lost Experience: Kids in Nature

Have you ever asked your grandparents or parents about what they did for fun as a child?

If you did, you likely heard stories about climbing trees, building forts, chasing fireflies, fishing, riding bikes, playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, or going to a nearby park for a pickup game or sport.

Ask today’s elementary school students what they do for fun, and the answer is quite different.

The current generation of young people are playing video games, sending texts, and making posts on social media. Some are passionate about a sport, to which they may dedicate numerous hours each week. Most of these activities are done indoors.

Today, many kids stay inside because of the weather or from fear of a mosquito, spider, snake, or . . . (insert the name of your most dreaded creature).

The outdoor and nature-based activities of prior generations provided adventure, fun, and entertainment for youth.

Like the dinosaurs, are the outdoor activities of our parents and grandparents becoming extinct?

The Nature Conservancy wants to keep those connections to nature and the outdoor world very much alive. We want every child in Indiana—and the world—to enjoy the many benefits that nature gives us.

Scientists are studying nature’s effects on people and measuring some of the amazing things that we may have experienced or know intuitively. Being in nature helps adults reduce hypertension and depression. Kids who live on a farm and are exposed to soil and domestic animals are less likely to have asthma than urban children. The risk of nearsightedness is reduced when children play outside more. Playing in gardens or natural areas contributes positively to learning and development, aiding cooperation skills and reducing conflict among children.

Connecting to nature helps improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and their communities. The Nature Conservancy knows that if we care for nature, nature will care for us.

We want to encourage childhood time exploring nature and avoid the possibility that time in nature could become an “extinct” childhood experience.

Will you join us in this endeavor?

Questions? Contact us at ChildrenofIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter