Something Awkward Happened To Me At Work Today

As a teacher, there are ample opportunities for one to embarrass oneself.  I’m in front of teenagers about five hours a day, every weekday, for ten months out of the year.  In the past, I’ve always been worried about unstoppable bodily functions.  I won’t go into specifics, but you get the idea.  That’s always been my biggest fear.  The point is, every moment is a minefield of possible mortification.

Today something happened that’s never happened to me in quite the degree it did.

Before I begin, though, let me provide a little bit of background information.  We’re trying something new this semester called an “advisory period.”  For old folks like me, it’s sort of like what we called “homeroom” back when we were kids.  Theoretically, we’ll keep this same group of teens for advisory period every year that they are in high school until they graduate.  It’s an interesting idea that I think could prove beneficial.  Luckily, I’ve got an amazing group of students.  They really are fantastic.  Here’s the thing, though: I only see them twice a week.

Allow me to share just a bit more to help put this story in context.  I’ve taught now for seventeen years.  I conservatively average about 120 new students each semester.  That’s 240 students a year, which means I’ve had to learn over 4,000 students’ names during my career so far.

That’s a lot of names.

Can you see where this is going?

So today I’m doing an activity with my advisory period kids.  I’m running through the room, calling on kid after kid–no issues.  And then I get to a particular student–a student I’ve spoken with on a regular basis since the semester started.

I drew a blank.

Now, this is not the first time I’ve struggled to remember a name during my time as a teacher, especially when so early in a semester.  Usually, a second or two goes by, and it hits me.

Not this time.

I stared at the student.

He stared at me.

It got awkward.

I didn’t have my seating chart within reach.  I wasn’t near my computer, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I didn’t have attendance up on my screen.

I kept staring at him, smiling.

I saw the realization set in upon his face that I couldn’t remember his name.  A look of amusement in his eyes slowly turned to disbelief, then discomfort, then horror.

I peeked at the rest of the room and they all gaped at me.  No one would come to my rescue.  Though, to be honest, they might have thought I’d feel insulted if they did.

I told myself not to panic right before I panicked.

“Help me out,” I said to the young man.  “Give me the first initial.”

“P.”

Nothing.  I still had nothing.  I wanted to say “Nick.”  I wanted to say “Nick” so bad, but the kid just told me “P.”

“P!”

I briefly considered the possibility that he didn’t know his own name, that, in fact, I was right after all.  I abandoned that hope almost instantly.

I could feel myself grinning like an idiot, trying to play it off, but the awkwardness grew unbearable.  If you know me, you understand that’s quite a statement.  I exist in a perpetual state of awkward.  For the awkwardness to be so potent–so powerful–that it paralyzed me … well, that level of awkwardness might have killed a lesser man.

I had one more play.  Just as I was about to make it a game, to have the class offer me some hints, the student in question had had enough.  He called out his name to me–“Parker*.”

“Parker!”

How could I forget “Parker!”

I apologized profusely to both he and the rest of the class.  I joked about my age, how they can expect that sort of thing to happen more often from me.  On the inside, I was mortified.  I’ve never before experienced that level of forgetfulness in a pressure situation.  I absolutely feel like if I’d stood there for an hour looking at him, I still wouldn’t have come up with his name.

The class laughed it off with me, but I could see it on their faces–as far as they were concerned, I’d aged decades to them in that moment.

I’m barely over halfway through my career, people.

By the time I reach retirement age, I’m going to be lucky to remember my own name.

 

*The students real name has been altered in the interest of protecting his identity.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s e-book series HERE)

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The Worst Football Hit I Ever Experienced

If you had the pleasure of playing football with me, you know I wasn’t the top talent to ever go through Beardstown High School.  In fact, it seemed as though I got progressively worse as my experience grew.

I’m joking.

… Mostly.

I loved running the football.  Loved it.  Defense, though?  I didn’t care for defense a whole lot.  Initiating contact wasn’t really my thing.  More on that in a moment.

Honestly, I thought about getting hurt back then–a lot.  More specifically, I worried about breaking my neck.  I know now it’s pretty unlikely, but it happens in football more often than people think, and it sometimes even results in paralysis.  I knew I wasn’t great at football–not even good enough for a small college.  (Not that I had my sights on a small college).  The thought of permanently injuring myself for a sport that wasn’t going to take me very far … it always lurked in the back of my mind.

During my junior year, I broke a bone in my left hand while at practice.  I thought it was a sprain, so I kept playing on it.  My right hand is my dominant hand, so it wasn’t too bad.  Three months went by before I went to the doctor.  I thought it was a sprain–everyone thought it was a sprain.  Turned out a little tiny bone was broken kind of where the thumb attaches to the hand.  I had to wear a cast up to my shoulder for three months.  The same cast.  (I actually ran track with it on, which made it, well, a little smelly by the time our relationship ended.)  Needless to say, that was enough football for me.  I didn’t play my senior year.  There’s more to the story … but I won’t get into it here.

When I think about my old football days, one hit sticks out to me more than any other.  Keep in mind, I got tackled all the time.  I played second-string on varsity, so I had to practice against the first-string defense, which resulted in getting hit a lot.  The fact that one hit is as vivid today as the day it happened over twenty years ago is pretty astounding to me.

We were playing a game during the daytime on our home field.  I couldn’t begin to tell you who we contested.  I was playing secondary on defense.  Remember how much I liked defense?  I saw a running back break through the line and so, without even thinking, I rushed at him.  We hit helmet to helmet and both fell to the ground.  Everything went instantly quiet.  I didn’t have a ringing in my ears–just the opposite.  Everything went silent.  I popped right back up, and so did the other guy.  The whole thing lasted only a few seconds.  I looked over at my coaches and saw one of them, usually a pretty stoic guy, losing his mind and congratulating me on the hit.  The game continued.  I didn’t have a concussion or any other injury, but even in that moment the impact struck me as unnatural and it still does to this day.

I imagine that guys at the collegiate and professional level experience those kinds of hits literally all of the time.  I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.  More and more research is coming out connecting football collisions to brain damage, and let me tell you, that one hit I had scrambled my circuits for a moment or two, no doubt.  It’s probably one of the most violent blows I’ve ever experienced.

I wish I could tell you that I miss those glory days.

I don’t.

I love to watch football.  I love the sport.  I especially love the Chicago Bears.  But, I’m totally fine without playing tackle football ever again.  Even though it was my senior year and I’d played since seventh grade, I was relieved when I finally had the guts to give it up.  Isn’t that crazy?  I felt like it took more courage not to play.  I don’t begrudge anyone who lets their children play tackle football, but there’s no way in hell I’d let my son play the sport–if I had a son, that is.  That single time I got my bell rung told me all I personally needed to know.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp, but maybe you do after reading this.  If that’s the case, that’s fine.  I’ve been called a lot worse, trust me.  But take it easy on those families who don’t let their kids play football.  Give those boys who don’t want to play a break.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid injury.  Some might say it’s even smart to try to preserve your health if it doesn’t seem as though a professional career awaits in the future.

Below is a picture taken by Ralph Sabetti for the Beardstown newspaper.  My mom kept a scrapbook of all my childhood and teenage doings.  She gave it to me a few years ago.  I’m running the ball with pure joy in my heart.  I’d like to tell you that I broke the tackle that guy is about to put on me and ran for a touchdown, but I honestly don’t remember.

I’m guessing not.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Polar Vortex Has Created a Unique E-Learning Opportunity

With the polar vortex hitting Central Illinois tomorrow, many schools have wisely closed for the day.  In some cases, some schools have actually preemptively closed for several days.

Incidentally, a new Illinois law now allows for “snow days” to be counted as actual “school days” as long as e-learning occurs.  This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for both educators and families.

It’s thrilling for several reasons.  The most universal and obvious reason is because it solidifies the school calendar.  If “make-up days” are now taken out of the equation, families can count on their kids getting out for the summer on a certain date, which will allow for summer plans to commence even sooner.  Of course, while that’s probably the sole reason we can all agree on, it’s not all that beneficial in terms of education.

Another reason that I’m fired up for this is because it keeps learning consistent.  Look, we all understand that students are not going to engage at home like they do in the classroom, and we recognize that teachers are not going to give work to do at home that requires their immediate presence in order to provide explanation, but as long as some kind of learning occurs, that’s a good thing.  My biggest gripe about summer vacation is that so much learning is lost.  Students come back from summer and take weeks to get back into the groove of things and remember what they learned from the previous year.  It doesn’t sound like it should happen, but trust me–it does.  On a much smaller scale, the same thing happens with “snow days.”  So much of education is routine and structure.  By asking students to initiate their education while at home, it keeps them focused, on task, and exercising their minds.

Furthermore, many schools, including my workplace, are now one-to-one.  This means that students in junior high and high school are provided a laptop.  Our district even provides internet services to families who can’t afford it.  We’ve been a one-to-one school for several years now.  I’m exhilarated by the fact that we are moving forward with our technology and encouraging students to use their laptops for explicit educational purposes at home.  Laptops mean that we no longer have to lose out on a day due to inclement weather.

I must admit, though, that I’m being a little selfish.  When our school initiated one-to-one, I created a website for each class that I teach which updates daily.  I particularly did this so that homebound students or students absent due to illness, field trips, college visits, etc., could keep up with us on a day-to-day basis.  Every audio we listen to has a link, every video we watch has a link, every activity sheet we do has a download, every website we visit has a link.  And my class site continues to evolve.  I now take advantage of the District’s educational resources such as BrainPop! and Microsoft Forms to provide even more learning opportunities.  Does it take a ton of work to update three different class websites on a daily basis?  You bet it does.  But it provides the chance for absent students to keep up and learn along with the present students, which is the whole point.  My practice is tailor made for “e-learning days,” and I’m selfishly happy that my efforts are proving fruitful.

This “alternate learning” will take time to perfect, though.  For example, the elementary teachers do not have the benefit of students with laptops.  They cannot contact their students directly via the internet.  They will have to work through their students’ parents or guardians, which complicates matters for everyone, to be sure.  As is often the case, they will have greater demands to meet.

Taking attendance is also an imperfect enterprise at this point.  I won’t go into our district’s plan, but it relies heavily on the “honor code.”  I wish I could tell you that 100% of our students, students’ families, and even educators are honor-bound, but we all know that’s not true.  It’s hard for anything to be 100%.

I also understand that it could prove burdensome for families in terms of childcare.  With this option now legally viable, more and more districts are going to utilize it.  This could result in families having to figure out childcare more often.  I recognize that for some, this is a serious issue and not one to be taken lightly.

Consequently, I’ve heard some educators say that this begins the end of our profession as we know it.  To that I say … maybe?

On the one hand, I don’t believe that “brick and mortar” schools will ever disappear.  As stated above, we provide an invaluable service.  Look, I’m a career educator.  I take this field very seriously.  I take education and learning very seriously.  I have two college degrees.  But, if I’m being perfectly honest, if nothing else, we provide a safe, structured, stable environment where people can send their children while they go to work.  People need “brick and mortar” schools so they have somewhere to send their kids during their shift.  I’m loathe to admit that, but it’s true.  Heck, I praised God the day both of my kids were out of daycare and at the local public school because it freed up a LOT of money that could go elsewhere.

Will our profession change as a result of e-learning at home?  Yes, it probably will.  While common sense dictates smaller classes are better, and while no one should argue against the benefit of an actual, present human being teaching impressionable youth, e-learning could result in larger classrooms with fewer teachers.  Research leads us to believe this would be detrimental to kids, but it’s a likely scenario.

Truthfully, though, I’m a big believer in necessity driving innovation.  We often don’t come up with new ideas unless we have to.  While our district’s educators didn’t get much notice that this would be enacted, and that rightfully proved stressful for some, I personally would much prefer that we dive into the deep end rather than endlessly discuss it for years and years.  Oftentimes, when lives and livelihoods are not at stake, the best way to start something is to simply do it and figure it out as you go.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

5 Items I Need To Remember When Meeting My Freshmen For The First Time Tomorrow

  • These are people’s children – treat them as I expect my own to be treated
  • I could be the only positive male role model they encounter – act accordingly
  • Everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways
  • Some of these kids are dealing with things I can’t even fathom – keep an open mind and a kind heart
  • No matter what, I have to remember I’m the grown up (even though it’s sometime’s really hard)

 

*Find me on Li.st @ScottWFoley

Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker – A Book Review

Blended (subtitled Using Disruptive Innovation To Improve Schools) entered my world when a representative from Edmentum recommended to my staff that we read it before going one-to-one.

It’s important I provide some background before reviewing this book.  My workplace, where I teach English, is rolling out a new initiative this August in which every single student will be given a laptop to use both at school and at home.  I’ve been teaching since the year 2000, and I’ve been teaching predominately using traditional textbook methods and using mostly whole group instruction.  One-to-one is an incredibly exciting adventure, and I’m very glad to finally reflect the society in which we live, but I’d be lying if I pretended to have any idea where to start with a classroom fully utilizing laptops.

That’s where Blended has been so incredibly helpful.  This book takes a big picture approach to how to utilize blended learning not only in the classroom, but as a school, as a district, even as a culture.  It offers several different models of technology in the school, and it explains which model is probably best suited to your current situation.  It goes into great detail as to why blended learning is vital to the student, and it especially stressed the importance of most student populations having face-to-face time with teachers.  Any teacher fearful of technology replacing them will feel greatly heartened after reading Blended.  It truly values the importance of professional educators working with children and young adults.

I also appreciated that it explained basic terminology, offered some useful websites to help you get started, and provided several anecdotes in each chapter offering real-world examples to illustrate points being made.

This book proved extremely effective at helping me wrap my head around one-to-one, it taught me several different methods I could employ in my own classroom, and it encouraged a positive attitude about technology in the classroom which will help contribute to a productive culture in my workplace.  Best of all?  It straight out tells you that it will not be an easy process and it will take time to find a comfortable method specific to your school and population, but it also explains how to go into blended learning purposefully and strategically.

Though it gets slightly repetitive near the end, I urge you to read this book if you have any questions about one-to-one or blended learning.  Personally, I would consider Blended required reading for any teacher about to embark upon technology in the classroom.

My Tentative Technology Plan Concerning the First Week Of One-To-One

I am so very excited for our school to go One-To-One this August.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that every student in the school will be given a laptop to use during the school day and to take home.  I’m reading a book called Blended in preparation for this new initiative, and it’s really opening my mind to what a great opportunity this is for students and teachers alike.

I won’t go in-depth about the book as yet, but it’s generally stating the importance of students having somewhere to go (the school), having face-to-face time with a professional adult (the teacher), and having the chance to learn in a personalized fashion that also allows them to move at a comfortable pace.  Thankfully, the whole-group factory model of teaching is now a thing of the past and we can start individualizing education.

How is this possible, you ask?  Our school is using an Edmentum educational software tool called Plato Courseware.  As you know, I’ve written about my limited experience with this software, but so far — I like it!  Of course, I know until I’ve got students in the room I won’t fully grasp my feelings concerning it, but at this point I like the content it provides, the format it uses, and the pace at which it progresses.  Best of all?  You can edit it completely to make it fit your needs.

However, Edmentum won’t be the final answer in my classroom.  I plan to also utilize several different web services including Turn It In and even the Khan Academy.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

So, as I see it, my primary concern at the moment is where do I send my students to start, how do I keep all of this organized, and how do I help my students navigate the various websites and online tools we plan to utilize?

The answer has literally been at my fingertips for over ten years — WordPress.

I’ve spent a decade maintaining a website to promote my fiction, share book and movie reviews, and generally talk about whatever struck my fancy.  I’ve utilized it both as a blog, but there were moments I treated it as a static webpage.

As I ran through all the things I want to achieve, I realized that I’d done it all through my own website.  I know what you’re thinking.  “But, Scott, your website isn’t called WordPress!”  It’s not, but that’s because WordPress allows me to buy a domain name and call it whatever I want.  If you don’t want to buy a domain name, you can still name it whatever you want, but you’ll have “.wordpress.com” at the end of it.

So, here’s the plan. I already have a totally free classroom website set up through WordPress called “Foleyd87.wordpress.com.”  (Check it out if you want, but keep in mind it’s in the middle of a makeover pertaining to this article.)  In the past, I treated it as a place students could go to basically download Word documents from class or to find links to any audio or visual things we covered.  I used it as a static webpage, meaning it really didn’t change from day to day.

Here’s where things get fun.  WordPress allows you to treat it as a daily blog, instead.  That means every time you post something, it shows up at the top of the webpage and it is specific to the date you posted it.

WordPress also allows you link to anything on the web (as you’ve noticed from this writing), it lets you download basically any MS Office tool, you can embed video or audio, you can post polls — you can do a lot.  Probably more than you would expect.

Also, when you post something, you can assign it a category.  This writing, for example, has been designated part of my “Gladly I Learn and Teach” category.  If you wanted to click on that category alone, you would only see those articles belonging to “Gladly I Learn and Teach,” but you would see every article I’ve ever written for that category.  Consequently, if you posted something and used the category “Freshman English,” your freshmen could click on that category and go back indefinitely to anything you ever posted.

I also like that WordPress allows you to post a calendar that will always appear on any update you post.  (You can see it on the lower left of this screen if you scroll down far enough.)  For any dates on which you post, that date will be highlighted.  If you click on that date, it will take you to that day and show you anything posted that day.  Imagine a student is absent.  They can click on the date they missed and see everything you did that day.  Not only that, but if your site is interactive, they can make up the work from home on their One-To-One laptop!

So, my tentative plan is that I will send the students to our class website at the start of every class.  I will have that day’s events at the top of the screen and ready to go.  (Remember, WordPress does this automatically for you, and you can even manipulate the dates of when you want something to appear.  In other words, you can create an entry but set it to appear a week later on a specific date.)  Everything will be embedded or linked.  If I want them to go to Edmentum, I’ll have the specific link ready for them to click on and set to open in a new window.  After that, they can click back on my site and watch an embedded or linked video I need them to see.  I can then link them to a formative assessment tool or guide them to a brain break.  My students won’t be on their laptop the entire period of every period, but for the times they are on the laptop, WordPress fits my needs perfectly.

I have a very rudimentary example set up for you to view if you want to take a look at what I’m talking about.  It’s not meant for students to ever see, but it’s something I’ve been playing with as I experimented.  You can view it here.  You can also explore this site which is also a WordPress site.

You can customize your WordPress site in an almost limitless fashion.  They have free pre-made templates and “looks” ready to go for you, or you can try to build your own (which I don’t recommend unless you’re an expert).  What’s really neat, though, is you can customize their pre-made “looks” to add a little personal touch.

If you work at Bloomington High School, I’d be happy to help you set up a site.  Bear in mind that, like any new technology tool, playing with it is the best teacher.  But I’d be glad to help you get your basic page going.  If you don’t work at BHS, feel free to ask questions in the comments below.