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Starting Over

7 October 2011

As some may know, I decided to start over this school year. Well, that’s an over statement. Last April, while I was pulling double duty as a Title I facilitator and an English 10 Honors teacher, I received an offer to return to the classroom full-time. The Title I job, a quasi-administrative position, was a great opportunity when I accepted it. I learned a ton about federal programs and gained valuable experience. I was well on my way toward reaching my goal of becoming a high school principal. At the same time, I started on a personal learning journey with the help of my PLN and began to rethink what it means to be well-educated and a networked learner in the information age. I realized that while I had been a successful teacher in my old job, I would totally reinvent myself if I ever returned to the classroom.

Over the course of last few years my perspective and my satisfaction with my job changed. The problem was that while I admired the people with whom I worked, I was totally disillusioned by the constant focus on high-stakes testing and quantitative data. I didn’t (and don’t) believe it was best for students, teachers, or schools in general. I wanted to lead a change in the way schooling was done, but if I was truly honest i had no idea how to go about teaching the way I believed it needed to be done. When the opportunity presented to pull double duty and spend the majority of my day in the classroom, I jumped at it because it allowed me to focus less on test data and test prep and see if I could actually be the teacher today’s students need.

I loved being back in the classroom. I loved the re-connection I made with students, other teachers, and my PLC. I also realized just how hard it is to truly reinvent oneself. I think I made strides, but I also fell short. I was to blame for most of the failure, but I was also limited by things beyond my control. I struggled with the lack of student access to technology, the required standardized test prep, the required number of summative assessments (and inflexible grading scale), and the mandated standards and pacing guides. It’s no wonder all the teachers are stressed.

When the opportunity presented to teach 6th grade reading at PDS, I jumped at it. PDS has an excellent reputation in town, and I had already connected with several other PDS educators through the Martin Institute and TeachMeets. They were (are) an impressive bunch. I’d also worked closely with my friends Melissa and Cindy to organize InnovatED, which PDS hosted, and I knew they’d continually push me to innovate. I love that PDS is committed to preparing boys to be critical, creative, and connected thinkers. Besides, how could I say “no” to the opportunity to teach in a 1:1 laptop setting and try to become the kind of teacher I think today’s students need.

So this August I started over. I moved to a new school, a new subject, and a new grade level. I rethought what a classroom should look like and how a classroom should be led. I stopped reading so many educational theory articles and dove head first into young adult literature. I cut back on the amount of time I spent on Twitter and spent more time considering how to teach kids to think. It’s been an adventure–one that I’m loving, and I wouldn’t change a single moment. I’ve experienced some success and some frustration, made new friends and missed some old ones, but when the alarm sounds each morning I cannot wait to get going. There’s just so much to learn.

I’m going to do my best to chronicle this journey here but I confess that finding time to blog has been problematic already. If you have any advice as I move from high school to elementary school or any tips on how best to get out of my students way, I’d appreciate the feedback. I’ll let you know how things go.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 October 2011 6:41 pm

    Hi Philip,
    Welcome back to the classroom. I’m sitting here trying to imagine how great it would be to have you, Cindy, and Melissa in one school. Oh the things that must be happening at PDS.

    My carer was reignited when I discovered how to integrate technology into my lessons. Since I was awarded a technology grant by my district I have 15 netbooks, so that gives me a 2:1 ratio in my classroom. When our server goes down I freak out because all of my lessons and handouts are online. I need access to Edmodo, Google docs, Discovery Streaming, Spelling City, IXL, and more every day. Like you, I am excited to go to school everyday when I wake up and learn beside my students. Your students are truly blessed to have you as their teacher and guide through this learning journey.

    Have we been able to attend #6thchat on Twitter on Thursday nights at 7 CT? Do you follow @mr_avery or @saraallen91? They are the moderators of #6thchat and are innovative and awesome 6th grade teachers.

    Blog when you can, even short posts, so that you will be able to look back over the year and reflect on how it all went. Good luck and enjoy each day with the boys.

  2. 7 October 2011 10:36 pm

    Thanks, Paula. PDS is an amazing school and yes, remarkable things are happening there. I’m so glad to be back in the classroom, and the boys are really inspiring me and pushing me. When you get a chance I still want an Edmodo tutorial. I’ve only had time o play with it a little. As for #6thchat, I have participated in one discussion. It was great, but unfortunately the scheduled time really cuts into family time. I will make it a priority to try to get there more often. I am following the moderators though. I’ll do my best on the blogging. PDS just recently got me an iPad so that should help. (This post was written on the iPad with the Blogsy app.) Thanks again for your help and fo the comment.

  3. 8 October 2011 1:28 pm


    What an adventure we are all on! Congratulations for having the courage to plow ahead with what you knew was best. It is fascinating how being connected with passionate educators drives us forward. I loved reading this post! While I am trying to find time for Twitter and Google+, there are only so many hours in a day, and changing my practice for the better takes time. I have learned so much that still needs to be translated into the classroom. I almost don’t want to learn anything more, though I know that I need to keep delving into the waters of change and learning. What students need is just not stagnant any more.

    Plus there are all of the experiments. The ones that work and the ones that are prove to be errors, not really failures, but just lessons that didn’t benefit the kids the way that I thought they would. It all takes time and energy!

    I too am back to reading lots of YA literature, having returned to a 6th grade humanities class. I must confess to loving it!

    I hope you will find time to share here now and then! And I hope you make it to Philadelphia sometime!


    • 10 October 2011 4:00 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Hadley. I will be heading to Philly again this January so we must make a plan to get together and talk books and tech! I have learned so much already–6th grade is very different from high school, but I am loving it. I’m trying to carve out time for family, time to plug in to connect, time to unplug for reflection and writing, and time to innovate and play (among all the other stuff, too). It’s truly an adventure, but I’m thankful to have a great PLN for ideas and support. You guys rock!

  4. 9 October 2011 7:26 am

    Philip wrote:

    When the opportunity presented to pull double duty and spend the majority of my day in the classroom, I jumped at it because it allowed me to focus less on test data and test prep and see if I could actually be the teacher today’s students need.


    This really resonates with me, Pal, because I’m not sure that I’m being the students that my students need me to be even though I work pretty darn hard at it.

    The hitch in the public schools are the policies that govern darn near everything that I’m SUPPOSED to be doing.

    Now, I could definitely ignore the policies—-there’s still not enough hours in the day for administrators to police what happens behind every closed door—-but that’s a real risk.

    And a part of me gets all hacked off sometimes and says, “I’m going to be the teacher that #edpolicies make me be. That’ll teach ‘em.”

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the work you’re doing—and to comparing the kinds of chances that you have in an independent school (that’s PDS, right?) to the chances that I have in public schools.


    • 10 October 2011 4:31 pm

      “…because I’m not sure that I’m being the students that my students need me to be even though I work pretty darn hard at it.”

      Wow, Bill. I think as long as we are modeling the process (which you appear to do very well) and honest about our struggles, they we see us for the learners we are. The simple fact is that you and I are trying to spin more plates than the average 6th grader. We have more roles than they do and it’s much harder for us to find balance. I don’t say that as an excuse, but our priorities (if we have them placed correctly) limit what we can do. I learning and modeling how to live according to our priorities is one of the biggest lessons we can teach in the age of noise. (Did that sound preachy? If so, my apologies. I’m talking to myself here.)

      As for the policies, I think we have to do what we believe is right for the students. A good administrator would allow enough rope for us to hang ourselves or prove ourselves to be right. That said, not all administrators are good, though I’ve been pretty fortunate so far. I say we pick the most important battles and fight them bravely. We remember though that not every battle is worth fighting.

      Finally, yes, PDS is an independent school. It’s definitely a place of privilege. Our leadership is strong, and I think they are going about things the right way. My classroom is 1:1 laptop and my 6th graders take their computers home. The school is committed to the ongoing learning and developing of its teachers, and has even committed to developing PS teachers, too ( I’ll be happy to share my experience and compare notes. I’m already using many of yours ( :0)


  5. 9 October 2011 8:22 am

    I was pretty far behind in my reader so I am just now getting caught up and I was very interested in your thought processes here, having already known you were in a new position. Your excitement for taking on a new challenge is evident! I know finding the time for blogging is hard (I am pretty far behind in my writing too!) but I know we’d all love to share the new journey with you!

    • 10 October 2011 4:34 pm

      Thanks, LeeAnn–I can never seem to keep up with my reader, but I sure am glad I have it. I’ll do my best to post regularly, and feel free to give me a prod if I’ve gone too long without writing. One of the reasons I wanted to move to PDs was because they were (are) more open to my sharing what I’m learning and doing in my classroom. I’ll keep you posted.

      By the way, where’s the nearest coffee shop to Edmore? See you at Thanksgiving?


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