Final Reflection of 2015

I promised my students, in the name of being willing to do what I ask them to do, that I would take the final reflective assessment. In essence, I have to prove my growth throughout the 12-week term. I hope I’ve done that well here.

Much of the reflection is in regards of this website: the culmination of our term’s work.
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READING:

I am blown away by how much I continue to learn through books. After experience, reading is the place I learn the most.

  • The Great Gatsby–It’s been about five years since I read this book and the moment I picked it back up, I got excited. My awareness of current society (which has grown incredibly since I now pay the bills, think about paying for my daughters’ educations, consider what retirement should be) is richer. It allows deeper connection.
  • Copper Sun–It’s not part of my daily thinking to consider the atrocities of slavery, but after reading this book, I couldn’t help but have empathy for slaves and think about slavery’s implications to today’s world.
  • The Scarlet Letter–There is health in truth. As Hester wears her truth on her sleeve (so to speak), she works through the horror of outcast only to come out a stronger, more accepted person. Dimmesdale maintains his secret to an unhealthy level.
  • The ancillary reading–specifically, I love Chopin. Her turn at the end of the short story, “The Story of an Hour” is exceptional. Every year, I enjoy the looks on my students’ faces when it happens. Chopin reminds me of surprise.
  • Where You Go is Not Who You Are–This was an essential read for me. I learned what I’ve been thinking for a long time: it’s not the place, it’s the person. If you have self-confidence, you can do great things from ANYWHERE.
  • What’s Math Got To Do With It?–This is a must-read for any parent who has a student struggling with mat–which turns out to be a lot. My best learning experience with this book was the hour-long discussion it led to in class. My students know this struggle all too well. Now, I am learning it, too.
  • The Dark Night–It’s pure joy for me to read graphic novels. I learn that visuals aid in understanding. Me, a die-hard book guy, needs reminders that visuals–graphic or film or whatever–can significantly aid understanding. It did for me with this book.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children–here, I need a summer kickoff read and it’s working very well for that. I’m enjoying the value of the genre–the set up. The author does a nice job with relationships in the book and I look forward to finishing it up in the first week of summer.
I like myself as a reader. I read all kinds of genres and I learn a lot. Two of the books I’ve read this term are on recommendations of my students and I love that they have a place in my reading world, too.
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HISTORIAN:

I have read these pieces many times over. I have read them in high school, in college, in grad school, and in class as a teacher–and still, I learn.

Specifically, this term, I have learned the following:

  • The Wizard of Oz is a piece of feminist literature. Really, I have never seen this piece through this lens. I’m incredibly grateful to have new perspective. I love it even more when that perspective comes from my students.
  • I remain saddened by the oppression of our Native Americans. After reading that section of our website, I am motivated to read more Native American literature–if I can find it (a big part of the sadness).
  • Music is an important piece of our history. From the slave songs to The Jazz Age to Stevie Wonder, music is prevalent in showing growth and change in our culture.
  • I have a lot to read (well, learn) about the War on Terror before I make too many claims about it. 
  • I haven’t paid attention to the value of films, but they can be great supplements to literature. They give us visuals of history in a way that millions can (and want to) see.
  • I also didn’t know that Abe Lincoln didn’t have many books. I’d like to inspect that more and learn why that was the case. What can be gained by reading the same–say–five books over and over? Apparently a lot.

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CREATOR:

I didn’t know how this term would turn out the way it did. In many ways–the important ways–it exceeded my expectations. Before I get into that, though, I’d change a bit about the way we created:

  • First, I would have asked some web developers to come in to support our work. Students should have learned from those pros. We did a good job, but I LOVE pulling in the community and I didn’t do much of that.
  • Secondly, I would have made this a six-seven week project. I think we would have ended up with roughly the same product in a shorter amount of time.
  • Thirdly, I would have developed a better system for personal accountability. As is the case in the real world (and for that, I’m not too sorry for this), some people work harder than others. In the future (should I do this style again), I would have nets to catch those who were either struggling or just not trying.

I am significantly harder on myself than not. I criticize myself more than I praise, but the following are the outcomes I love:

  • This was a truly collaborative effort. Students supported each other–and me. We asked genuine questions. We found genuine answers. The reason for doing the work was honest and good.
  • The quality of the work is something of which to be proud. I don’t know much of what ended up on the website. The reader who takes time to learn, will learn.
  • These students are risk-takers. We didn’t know where we were going with this, yet it resulted in a hugely positive outcome: the development of a website which other educators and teens can explore to gain their own learning.
The goods here FAR outweigh the negatives. And the negatives can be ironed out with better work by the teacher in the future. The positives, I think, can never really be found in purposeless work.
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INDIVIDUAL:
In my quest for meaningful work, I am glad we took this leap. The result is meaningful. It can be shared to many–and it can be enhanced. I see our work as a gift: a gift to the readers and a gift to the teachers who could take it over one day.
I have grown as a teacher, too. This term–this year–I’ve had the opportunity to be the dad of a teenager because of our exchange student, Anna. She has opened my eyes to a lot of ways that classrooms work. Mostly, I’m glad to work in a place where everyone can approach students differently. Students themselves are different; they NEED different educators and role models. But this is the biggest way I’ve solidified my teaching: TEACHERS MUST ENGAGE THEIR STUDENTS. How that is done is up to the class and the classroom teacher, but it must be the goal. There are lots of ways to engage, but it needs to be the goal, not student obedience to a less engaging experience. 
Finally, I’ve grown as a dad and husband. I need more dates with my wife, but it’s getting harder now that the kids are getting older. We’ve had fewer dates this year than in years past. It’s time to reclaim that part. That said, I love watching my children age. I love the conversations we have. I love that I’m going on a mission trip with my twin 11-year-old girls. This is just another age where impressions are made; I’m so glad to be one person who gets to shape my four girls’ lives. 
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TEACHER
  • Start confronting unmotivated students better. Keep the philosophies, but be more direct with the few who aren’t working to their potential.
  • Stop quitting on Poem of the Day. There is much value in poetry and students (I don’t think) get much of it. It’s worth the three minutes at the end of the day. 
  • Continue caring deeply about giving students meaningful work. And continue reflecting on it to keep it meaningful throughout the process.
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STUDENT
  • Start taking control of your education. Find relevance in what you’re doing. With clear, positive communication, you will find that most teachers can individualize the work.
  • Stop apathy. It will get you nowhere to NOT care. If you have a problem, address it; don’t give up on it.
  • Continue to imagine and create. We, as a society, are counting on you to do this. Even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, we need your ideas. Keep creating them and giving them.
Thank you for an outstanding term.
DT

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