Saturday, February 22, 2014

Teach, Retire, Teach Again? The Case for Guest Teaching

Post by Cindy Ferguson: Cindy retired from teaching at Bettendorf High School after more than 30 years of teaching. She continues to impact our school community in a positive way by serving as a guest teacher.

After teaching thirty plus years and having made the difficult decision to retire if someone had asked me if I wanted to substitute teach I would have responded; “Do you think I've lost my mind?” Fortunately I found I was very wrong and I thoroughly enjoy guest teaching. Thank you Bettendorf Community Schools for giving me the opportunity to continue my heart’s work.

Having retired  I enjoyed doing the things retirees do,  following my own schedule, doing the things I didn’t have time to do while working and sometimes doing nothing at all.   I soon found that I missed the students and their never ending ability to bring variety to each day.  I felt the draw of September, no mid, no make that early August to return to the halls of academia, to participate in the excitement of high school activities and to seeing friends and colleagues.   I began thinking maybe I should give substituting a try.   The prospect of those 5:00am   phone calls jangling me out a deep winter sleep, the uncertainty the night before of whether I would be called to work the next day made my carefree, do as you please schedule unsettled, and the guilt I truly felt when I couldn’t take a teaching assignment or when I was asked to take a position that I didn’t feel prepared to teach made me question whether, maybe I had indeed lost my mind.   However; having successfully filled out all of the required paperwork, completing the mandatory training sessions I found myself back on the payroll and ready to give it my best. 

Guest teaching opportunities have gotten even better with the implementation of the Aesop system.  It alleviates many of the uncertain aspects of receiving assignments and lets me have control over when I am available to teach and what subject matters I feel most proficient in.  It allows for the best of both worlds, retired yet working when I wish.  I can’t get that as a greeter at Walmart.

I chose to substitute exclusively at the high school and it was a great confidence booster when I got my first assignment.  I knew the physical layout of the building, where all the basics were, the teacher’s lounge, the cafeteria, the good faculty restrooms, and most important the shortest route to the Industrial Tech area.  I knew many of the teachers having had the opportunity to work in their classroom in my role as a special needs teacher and I was aware of their curriculum.  It was a huge benefit knowing school procedures, daily schedules and behavioral expectations.

The moment had arrived and I was back in the classroom.  This is when the real excitement begins, when the emphasis and appreciation moves to the fabulous teachers and students at Bettendorf High School.  I have immensely enjoyed every teaching assignment I was given.   I always find excellent well laid out plans and materials for each class. .  The beauty of coming into a class where the planning is already done is awesome! Teachers leave class rosters, seating charts, and names of helpful students. All of the teachers in the departments are extremely helpful and make me feel welcome.

           The students are well behaved and well prepared.  It’s fun to be with them.  I tell them a little about my teaching background and that I am a veteran of their school.  I assure them that I will do my best to make their day productive.   I recognize the student’s commitment to the class and their desire to be there.  I admit to them that I don’t know everything, especially some of the class subject matter but I will work hard to be a facilitator for their learning. Current teaching practices make it much easier for this to happen as students work cooperatively with each other, use technology more effectively and are becoming more independent learners.
I apologize that their teacher is not there, and sincerely mean it. There are few real substitutes for the quality staff at BHS.   I believe the students recognize I have some skills to bring to the table but also see me as a person to take mercy on and they are always helpful.  We form a partnership for the period that seems to be working.

Working in a variety of subjects allows me to interact with students with varying academic skills and interest areas. It allows me to stretch my brain a little and to remember lessons learned in my high school years.  What they don’t teach Latin anymore?  It’s fun to meet new students and see others I have substituted for previously.  I enjoy the chance to see students again and ask them about how they did on the test we prepared for or if they are doing well in their classes.  Each teaching assignment is different regarding the amount of instruction I participate in.  Some subjects I feel more confident in and I can contribute more while there.  These days are especially gratifying knowing that I had a chance to impart meaningful lessons and information possibly presented in a different way than their teacher may have.  The thought of making a difference or of having one student be a little more successful in that class is great.   The satisfaction is there.

The face of teaching and learning has changed dramatically since I began my professional career.  The changes intended to improve student performance and teacher accountability were often needed but are sometimes difficult to accept and time consuming to implement.  These factors along with the hard wired desire of teachers to maintain their love of teaching often leads to teachers having to walk a fine line on their paths to success and fulfillment.   The beauty of guest teaching is that I get all of the good with little of the difficulty.  I get to interact with the one factor that has not changed since the beginning, the students.  It’s like having grandchildren; you can enjoy them then return them at the end of the day.

           Guest teaching is a good thing and I am very glad I decided to spend part of my retirement years doing the thing I love to do, teach

Friday, February 14, 2014

It's the Small Things

Post by Shannan Retter: Shannan is a 2005 graduate of Bettendorf High School and is currently in her 5th year of teaching special education at BHS. You can follow her on twitter @ShannanRetter

As I was sitting in the Bettendorf High School gym in 2005 waiting to walk across the stage to receive my diploma, the last place I thought I would be nine years later would be back in the same high school gym, watching the first group of students I  ever taught walk across the same stage. I graduated from St. Ambrose University with a degree in elementary education and student taught in a first grade classroom.  The idea of teaching high school, let alone being a special education teacher at a high school, had never crossed my mind. Fast forward a few years, and I’m doing exactly that at the same high school from which I graduated. My principal is now my boss, my teachers are now my co-workers, and my classroom is now nestled between my old English classrooms.  Some people might find that weird (and it was at first), but after four years, I wouldn’t change a thing!

Most of the students I teach are struggling readers.  Several of them read at least a couple of grade levels below their peers.  They saunter into my classroom on the first day of school with a little bit of confidence, but also a bit of hesitance and fear because they realize they just walked into their English 9 class.  These students have been struggling readers for years and most of them dread reading.   When I tell them that they are going to be reading every day with me, of course, I get the usual “ughhhhs” and “oh no I’m not”.  A few weeks later, as students are walking to the board to add a sticker next to their name for reading a book cover to cover, I ask them when the last time was that they finished a book by themselves.  Most of them can’t give me an answer because it has been so long.  This might be a small accomplishment through some people’s eyes but to a student who is reading at the 6th or 7th grade level in high school, it is huge.

Over the few years I have been teaching, I have learned that we have to focus on the small things to continue to see our students grow academically and emotionally.  Very few of my students, if any, have never really experienced success in reading.  Their confidence in their reading and writing skills is usually nonexistent when they  walk through my classroom door.  By the time they get to me, they have checked out and it’s up to me to build that confidence and show them some success. They have to see at least minimal success with themselves before they can conquer bigger and more important tasks. 

I usually have a group of students for a full year and a half as they move through English 9 and 10. These particular students really struggle with reading and writing, as well as their own emotional struggles.  I watch them accomplish small things over the year and a half as they sit at their desks within the classroom walls. I watch as they finish book after book.  I watch as they learn new vocabulary words.  I watch as they learn to write a paragraph using capitalization and punctuation correctly.  Most importantly, I watch them gain confidence in their reading and writing skills.  They begin to come out of their shell. They begin to raise their hands to participate in classroom discussions and answer questions.  They begin to read and write on their own.

With this year’s group of students in my English 10 class, I let them decide what we did the last few weeks of the semester.  I told them what standards we needed to cover but how we got that done, was up to them.  We had just finished the second book in the Tears of a Tiger trilogy and, so far, they loved it.  They had the option to work on a project, any type of project they wanted, to show me how they comprehended the story and what they had learned or to start reading the third book.  They chose to continue reading.  I was amazed.  They could have created another iMovie but no, they chose to read.  All of their small accomplishments I had watched over the past year and a half had led to this huge accomplishment of having the confidence and desire to continue to read!

 I am not going to lie and say that being a special education teacher is a breeze because it definitely is not.  There are some days when I question why I went back to school to earn a degree in this field.  But then I remember the small things my students have been able to accomplish as they move through high school.   Most of my students leave my classroom after a year and a half making great strides in their reading.  It’s exciting to me to know that because of the hard work they put in during the instructional time with me, they are going to be more successful adults. 

My students also do small things outside of the academic world that reassure me that I’m in the right profession. There are days when I get a thank you card from a student, a picture a student drew for me, or they think of me to bring the snack they worked so hard to make in Foods and Nutrition or Introduction to Baking. There are the times when my past students hang out in my classroom before school or in between classes. Those cards, pictures, treats, moments, and knowing I made a difference are what keep me loving my job...the small things. 

As I sit at this year’s graduation ceremony, watching the class of 2014 walk across the stage, I will think of the small things that they accomplished that have now compiled into the biggest accomplishment they have had in their short lives.  I’ll also wonder if they’ll ever realize how the innumerable baby steps on the paths of reading and writing have led them to this endless road of confidence that will take them wherever they want to go in life. Just knowing that I have been a part of guiding them on their way verifies that I am in the right place, back where I started at Bettendorf High School.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Taste of Educon 2.6

Post by Mark Pisel: This is Mark's 4th year in teaching HS Business courses, the last three years at Bettendorf. Before going into teaching, Mark worked as an account executive. You can follow Mark @mpise12

It took nearly $20 in cab fare and twenty minutes in the driving snow to arrive at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia.  Nine of us had made the trek from the Science Leadership Academy, host to Educon 2.6, to this famous cheesesteak restaurant.  From what we heard, Pat’s is a staple in the city, a place we simply couldn't pass up.  We had spent the morning learning about SLA’s mission, sitting in on classes, and conversing with students, teachers and other educators.   We were excited and hungry.  But, our excitement upon our arrival quickly turned to laughter (or concern for some) when we realized Pat’s is an outdoor restaurant and it was roughly -147 degrees outside (or so it seemed).  By the time we noticed, we saw only taillights from our taxis.  There was no turning back now.  So we did what any group would do – we ordered our cheesesteaks with wiz, unwrapped the foil packaging, huddled in a circle, and began devouring our new favorite food in the single digit, winter cold!

                        Frozen Bulldogs, but the cheesesteak with wiz was obviously worth the frostbite

Since being hired in 2011, I feel lucky to be a Bettendorf Bulldog.  Looking back on this trip solidified that view in more ways than one.  First, I work with great people.  It had been the first time that I had spent time with some of the teachers that I traveled with.  Working with students, lesson planning, extra-curricular activities, etc. fill our days with little time left over for conversations with teachers in the departments that sometimes seem miles away from my classroom.  I hear about great things other teachers are doing with their students at BHS and it continues to push me to be better each day.  But this trip allowed me to see their greatness in action.  I felt a lot of pride observing our staff members spark new ideas and ignite innovation within their breakout sessions at the Educon conference.  I enjoyed watching my colleagues communicating with students and other educators, asking questions and seeking ways to improve their craft.  And, it was awesome getting to know many people that I have worked with for nearly three years on a more personal level.  It was great knowing that there are people that I work with that, like me, have an unhealthy obsession with sports, think that pizza AND cheesesteak with fries and ranch is a perfectly fine option for lunch, felt the number one tour attraction in historic Philadelphia was the Rocky Statue, and who are willing to hop aboard a random tour trolley without asking any clarifying questions about where exactly we were headed.  The more time I spent with my colleagues, the more I recognized how great they are at their jobs and what a talented, diverse, and fun group of people I work with.

 Second, I work at a school with great community support.  I can’t imagine there are many school districts out there that would send twenty teachers and administrators half way across the country for a site visit and conference.  I think that type of support for our staff helps make Bettendorf the school we are today.  In the short time I was in Philadelphia, I learned so many things that I want to implement in my classroom.  From framework to teaching essential life skills, I felt like this trip helped provide some answers that I was seeking for my classroom. It also provided a platform for me to connect and learn from people all over the country.

The Rocky Statue and our impromptu trolley ride to see the other, less important historic landmarks of Philadelphia.

In many ways, this trip also reaffirmed what a great school Bettendorf High School already is.  The Science Leadership Academy is very progressive.  The school and class sizes are very small, the administration that started the school has hand selected each of the excellent teachers there, and the vision has been a shared vision among all faculty and staff from the beginning.   The culture and passion for learning that has been built at SLA is one that every educator should see.  Yet, I was proud that many of the things they were doing at SLA are also being done in our school.  The idea of open student choice, the use of technology to transform a classroom, and an emphasis on a love of learning are all happening at BHS right now.  Our teachers are thinking outside the box.  We are putting ourselves out there and are willing to fail in order to get better.  We are finding new, innovative ways break out of our content silos and learn with the students.  These are all staples of SLA and are things I have witnessed at BHS.

Finally, I recognized the opportunity that we have at Bettendorf High School.  Every day, we have nearly 1500 students that walk through our doors.  Our responsibility to each and every one of those students is immense.  Thinking about every kid with his or her own wants and needs keeps us up at night, makes us miss that right turn we were supposed to take when driving, and makes our own kids say “DAD!!!!” a few extra times before getting our attention because we are so mentally wrapped up in how to help our students.   There is truly no mental time off from that responsibility.  But that responsibility is why we come to school each day.  It’s why we need to continue take the opportunity to attend conferences like these, make connections with other educators, and revise and edit our teaching practices on a daily basis.  It’s also why we need to continue to share our story and the innovative things were are doing in our attempts to help all kids stay connected.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Everyone Is On A Personal Journey

Post by Nancy Emmerson: Nancy has been teaching Language Arts for 21 years, 17 of those years at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Nancy on Twitter @NancyEmmerson

This is the story of a journey within a journey. The larger trek is my personal journey as an instructor born and schooled in the era of books and pencils slowly adapting curriculum to today’s technologies. It has not always been easy, and sometimes I have felt overwhelmed, but ultimately it has been and continues to be a positive, transformative journey.

The Greater Journey

Last December my husband Tim came home from work with a small chrome rectangle, and said “Check this out.” My family gathered around the device, Tim pushed a button, and a red virtual keyboard appeared on the table. “OOH!” we said. Tim synced the keyboard to the iPad, and typed. “No way! “ we said, looking at one another in disbelief and amazement at this crazy tool. “The future is NOW!”  I said.

So the future is now, which is very nice for many teachers who embrace and easily adapt to teaching with technology. Yet I come from the era of books, and as a Language Arts teacher happen to love books very much, thank you. I will continue to read, teach, and analyze books for a long time to come. Therefore the leap to technology is greater for me than it might be for others, who all around me seem to be seamlessly integrating it into their classes, while I wonder what to use, how to use it, and most importantly, how technology can make learning better for my students, who are from, and live in, the future.

The Journey within the Journey

Obviously the larger pilgrimage in this story is me as a teacher over the course of my career. The journey within the journey is a 74 hour trip to Educon 2.6 in Philadelphia to a school called the Science Leadership Academy. Going in, the question was, how can attending a conference hosted by a Science Institution and school apply to me, my subject area of Language Arts, and my students? I am pleased to report that it does, and that I was enriched and inspired by what I saw and experienced. 

At the Science Leadership Academy there was a great deal of freedom and choice on both days; go where you want, ask questions, visit classes and students. Each grade level has only 125 students, who apply and go through a rigorous interview process in order to be selected. During the site visit the school buzzed with the energy of a hive. The students were attentive, well spoken, friendly. It was hard to tell who was in class, as students were everywhere, with backpacks and hats, sitting on sofas or floors, giving tours, making coffee. One teacher ate lunch in the back of the room while her class was conducted by a student teacher; they were so busy! And although the school didn't look as shiny and new as BHS, there was a sense of purpose and pride. Class atmosphere was inclusive and serious. The students liked being there and loved showing their school to us.

According to their website, the School District of Philadelphia is the eighth largest school district in the nation, by enrollment. As of December, 2013, they have 16,827 Employees, 8,390 Teachers, and 293 Principals and Assistant Principals serving 214 District Schools educating 131,362 K-12 Students. The student population is 87.3% Economically Disadvantaged. I gather that the Science Leadership Academy and other magnet schools are a response to a serious dropout problem in horribly failing public schools. Students want to be in a magnet school if not only to escape a dangerous neighborhood school, but also, to feel as if someone cares. SLA  receives more applicants than they can take. There seems to be no special education, and no behavior problems. One boy I spoke to said he rides a bus and then a train to get to school. Another student said they can’t go off campus unless accompanied by a teacher, and that she often eats lunch off campus with her adviser. Clearly, student life in Philadelphia differs from student life in Bettendorf.

I was fortunate to have a few hours of free time after the site visit on Friday to tour Independence Hall with a few colleagues.  As I listened to the guide I suddenly felt a new, symbolic significance to being in Philadelphia as an educator. The guide explained that the 13 colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia in 1787 to try to write a constitution. They came from different places and had different needs and goals. The delegates deliberated over the document for four months. They argued, they disagreed, and before they voted, Benjamin Franklin articulated that neither the document nor its framers were perfect, but he believed in the perfectability of both. In the end they signed, for although the document may not have been perfect, they hoped for a better future together; reaching a compromise was best for all in attendance.

See the entirety of Franklin's speech here:

That future is now. The analogy is that just as the founding fathers strove for equality in the nation, teachers and students today strive for equality in education. It is a highly democratic idea that everyone deserves access to information. With 1:1 our students have access. They also need continued guidance on etiquette and navigation of the brave new transparent world we are living in. Another way we see the democratic ideals in education today is the idea of student choice and student voice.. Students will be more involved if they feel their opinions matter.

Our forefather’s desire for freedom and equality parallels what I am seeing and hearing in education in ways besides leveling the playing field by providing access to technology. At Bettendorf, teachers and administrators all have different opinions and voices; we come from differing disciplines, yet have the same shared goal, that of improving student experiences and achievement for every student in our district. How Democratic is that? Like the framers of the constitution, we also trust that moving forward together is better than going forward alone. Collaborating and discussing ideas for change and generally getting to know colleagues better was also a highly inspiring and honestly, the most enjoyable part of my experience.

One more analogy came from my visit to Independence Hall. Again, before the delegates voted on the final draft of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin addressed the group.  Franklin, 81 years old and in poor health, had been carried to and from the meetings all summer. George Washington had headed the group, and was seated at the front of the room in a chair with a carved image of a sun. Franklin said, "I have often looked at that (sun) behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I... know that it is a rising...sun."

See the rising sun chair here:

The chair symbolized hope for Franklin. I believe educators also channel the spirit of Franklin in our great hope of making education a personal, meaningful journey for each student. Like Franklin, we worry that our efforts may not come to fruition. Like Franklin, we must remain optimistic, and listen to voices of dissention. We know that we may not see the end results for our students, whether they will achieve success or experience failure. The most we can do is to provide a good foundation so that each student can be his or her own rising sun.

Journey as Transcendence

Before I left for Educon, my American Literature class was studying Transcendentalism. The concept under discussion was how Emerson and Thoreau were inspired by nature and intuition. I assigned my students a project, and off I went on my trip. I returned from my Educon journey and rejoined my teaching journey. My students presented their projects. A few people really went above and beyond. One student in particular blew me away with an original song he wrote, composed, and performed. He played his mandolin, and the class and I delighted in this creative culmination experience. My part in this was so little, but what he did was amazing! He took a quote from an author from the past and created a beautiful masterpiece. It was a live performance, a special moment in time, a snapshot. His song is a beautiful product that transcends the classroom. It matters; it humanizes those of us who come into contact with the melodious creation. Some talents cannot be scored by a standardized test. So finally, I strive to improve my instructional practice because, though I have been here a long time and plan to be here for a while longer, my students have one shot at it, and I want their education, and their future, to be rich and meaningful.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It Takes a Village

Posy by Sharon Woodworth: Sharon has served a para-educator at Bettendorf High School for 14 years. She leads by example every day.

I started as a para-educator at Bettendorf High School in early 2000 after spending ten years at home raising my children as a single parent.  I also provided daycare for friends and neighbors. I found a need to get back out there and after being surrounded by young ones all day, I wanted to challenge myself with an “older” crowd. The high school seemed like a perfect fit for me!

I spent my first seven years as a para-educator assisting the Behavioral Disorder program in the Special Education Department.  I worked closely with those teenagers that came from dysfunctional families, broken homes, were homeless or many times resistant to authority.  I’ll admit that at first glance, I would not have given many of these kids much chance of success, but as the year went on and I actually got to know the kids….my eyes opened up and eventually my heart followed!  Granted, not all of the students I have come across are loveable, but they each have a story and some are less willing to share than others.

Many of them felt the need to keep up their rough exterior, their “I don’t care” attitude.  But, little by little, they would let down their guard and I hoped they saw I was not the enemy.  Rather, I hoped they saw I was someone who cared!  It felt very rewarding to develop a rapport with these students whose lives were so different from mine and feel that I might be making a difference, at least… at that moment; for that day!  It was very interesting, the perceptions they had of me.  Many thought I HAD to be rich!  I quickly dispelled that one.  The part I found most frustrating was that I couldn't always make as big an impact as I had hoped (that’s the mother in me, I guess).  Often these students would still go on to make bad decisions once they stepped outside our walls.  The influence of their home environment and peers was too strong compared to our best intentions!  I would much rather see them walk across that stage to get their diploma than see them drop out, get sent to Annie Wittnmeyer (residential placement), or worse yet, jail.  These students definitely made an impact on my life.  Sometimes living in Bettendorf we live in a “bubble” and we don’t think there are students here who have it THAT bad…who are so poor…who are suffering, but we definitely do!

After some restructuring of the Special Ed program at BHS, I then went on to work with students who have, at some level, a Learning Disability with reading and math. I have been in and out of many different classrooms, assisting the teachers with students that have accommodations. I actually LOVE this part of my job because I have been able to get to know more of the staff than I had before and develop some close relationships.  With the assistance of the teacher, I am able to further instruct on a 1: 1 or smaller group basis. I have noticed that being involved in different classes and subjects, I have become sort of a “Jack of all trades, master of none”, and my trivia knowledge has more than doubled!! Being a para-educator means wearing many different hats and being flexible.  

Many of you may already know I also work at the Bettendorf YMCA (and now the Utica Ridge YMCA, too) and I love the surprised look on the students’ faces when they first recognize me behind the desk! Seeing many of “my” students over the years at the Y has helped me bridge the relationship I started with them at school and extend it out into the community.  I would much rather see them expend their excess energy playing basketball at the Y than out on the streets where the bad influences lie!

Building relationships with our students, “special” or not, is important if we want to make any difference in their lives. I truly believe “it takes a village” to raise our kids and with the extra help para-educators can lend to a classroom, by helping to put a student with a disability on a more even playing field.
Even though my role here at Bettendorf has expanded and changed over the years, it has been the best fourteen years of work experience. Bettendorf High School has a wonderful staff and I have enjoyed watching our students grow and eventually leave the BHS nest!!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why Am I Here?

Post by Diana Steiner: Diana is in her 15th year of teaching World Languages - German and Chinese. This is her second year at Bettendorf High School. You can follow her on twitter @die_frohe_frau

I, like many of my colleagues, begin the semester by introducing myself on the first day of class.  Students are usually surprised when I tell them I am a first-generation American and a heritage language learner.  The second surprise tends to be that I was a trained interrogator and Chinese linguist in the Army for five years.  The inevitable questions are “did you torture (waterboard) anyone?”, “could you interrogate me?”, “can you REALLY speak Chinese?”, “where did you work” and “why are you a teacher instead of still being an interrogator?”    The first questions are easy to answer, “no” and “yes, but I won’t”, “yes, but I am a little rusty”, “the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion at Ft. Bragg and the US Embassy in Beijing” but the last makes me stop and think.  

Why am I here?  Good question.

Answer #1:  I need to teach.  It is a drive, an undefined something.   When I was five years old, I told my dad I wanted to be a German teacher, like him.  Along the way, I changed my mind only once (pediatrics was scuttled by my inability to comprehend calculus), but I have always been drawn to teaching.   I started as a Sunday school teacher for three year old students when I was 16, then worked as volunteer tutor through high school for elementary ESL students. I wasn't sure I would be good at it, but I did it.  What did I learn?  Preschool was not for me!  But I will never forget my ESL student, Joey.  He struggled and struggled with reading.  The time I spent with him on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons working on phonics and fluency resonated with me.   I don’t know where Joey is now, 25 years on, but I do still remember the smile and hug he gave me when I left the tutoring program to go to college.  It is the memory of a smile that compels me to be here. 

Answer #2:  I have something to share.  I don’t know why exactly but there is something inherently satisfactory about watching another person with little or no knowledge of something begin to use, internalize and perhaps come to love what you have to share with them.  I have been to a few places and done a lot of things in my 44 years on this earth.   If a story I tell a student about what I did as a soldier or as a furniture and humidor maker or as an assistant manager of a garden store or as a contract translator for a large software firm helps them define what they want to become in life, then I have been successful.   My favorite teaching moments have not necessarily been in the classroom, but rather when a student comes to tell me, “Hey, Frau!  Guess what?  I am going to join the Navy and be in intelligence”, or “Hey, Frau!  I placed into German 201”, “Hey, Laoshi!  I am going to continue with Chinese in college!”   “Guess what!  My mission is in Singapore and I will have a head start on Chinese.”  I am glad that I can share with my students and they, in turn, share their milestones with me.

Answer #3:  I like teenagers.  Call me crazy, but you can have a really good conversation with a bunch of fifteen year old students.  It is amazing to me what kids are interested in.  Cars, music, books, movies, I have talked with my students about all of these topics and more.  I taught at the college level for ten years but I never really had a chance to get to know my students.  At most, I would have them for two semesters, for 101 and then 102.  High school is the place to be.  I have the chance to really get to know my kids, because if they choose one of the two languages I teach, they are stuck with me for the long haul. I see the trust they place in me after a few semesters.  I have taken kids who have never been on an airplane before for a thirty-day trip to Germany to meet and live with another teenager, who for all intents and purposes is a complete stranger.  Over time, my hair has gained its own moniker, “the Frau-Fro” and many of my classes have a class joke, usually some vocabulary word that has taken on a life of its own.  I have a very odd collection of trinkets on the bookshelf in my classroom, ranging from origami stars to a small model of a German Tiger 1 tank to a Chewbacca PEZ dispenser.  And I remember the kids who gave me those things.  The first time I had seniors who had been with me for four years, I cried at graduation.  Those were my kids walking across the stage and no parent in the audience could have been prouder.  As I am writing, I am in my classroom with ten kids who are really into learning about Asian culture.  They are teaching each other Korean games and rolling on the floor with laughter.  They are freshmen through seniors and probably don’t hang out with each other much during the school day, but every Thursday afternoon, they spend 45 minutes with each other, playing music and videos from Korea, Japan and China and exploring  what THEY want to learn about, not what I am compelling them to learn.  When they ask me to teach them something, like writing Chinese characters, I am happy to lead the session.  When they don’t, I sit back and smile.

So that is why I am here.  Did I answer the question in a way which would be acceptable to the 15 year old boy who asked it?  Probably not, but it certainly made me reflect on the answer. 

  It’s you, kid.  It’s you!