The Hardest Decision, Take 3

Just had a meeting with our principal, and is still hoping that I will continue as our CFF Coach next year, even though it is only part time. He had a sketch of how it would lay our for the math department, and also had spoken to those that would be effected, in case I were to change my mind.

So, I came back and sent out an email seeking advice from my colleagues. And suddenly, one question came up that stopped me in my tracks: what are my short term and long term professional goals? I know some short term goals. I can keep them no matter what happens next year. I'll still be in the classroom either way. But I have goals that I am still trying to achieve through our CFF grant that I wouldn't be able to see through to completion if I were not in this position. And what are my long-term goals? If this position does become full time in another year, I wouldn't be in the position to be a full-time technology coach if I were to step out of this position. What if I end up wanting to go into administration (here or elsewhere)? How would me stepping down look if I were to seek that out?

Also, I'm worried about the students in my classes. There will be days where I won't be there to assist them in learning math, same as this year and last year. Yet, these students have still excelled in many ways, and they feel much more confident in ways of learning math. But if I step down and the district has to find someone new, what effect will it have on our whole staff? And how will that effect EVERY student here at A-C?

I hope that I can get some good advice from those around me. I'm glad I've already gotten some feedback, as I am now seeing things in ways I hadn't thought about before.


The Hardest Decision, Take 2

The most difficult decision that I had to make in my professional career came in October of 2006. Our tech director approached me about a new position that was coming into our school as part of the Classrooms for the Future grant. We were one of the first schools to enter into the program, and both he and the rest of our admin team had me pegged for the position. He wasn't looking for an answer right away, and he provided me with some links as to what the position would entail. I checked them out and mentioned that I didn't meet all of the qualifications for the position, especially the one that says I should have a Master's and my permanent certification (I got permanent certification earlier this school year, and the Master's is coming at the end of the summer). He told me that wouldn't be a problem.

I had to think long and hard about it. There were so many variables for me to consider. I ended up emailing a few people who were in positions similar to the CFF coaching role for feedback. They gave me great advice (and I'm pretty close friends with one of them now, as she became a CFF coach for a Cohort 1 school). I talked with one of our math teachers. He warned me that our district had taken stances on similar situations in the past where they put too much work on the person in a half-and-half position, as our CFF coaching position would become. Our tech director said the position would probably become a full-time position in the near future.

Did I want to leave the classroom so early in my professional career? What would become of the classes that I would have to drop partway through the school year? Would there be a large conflict between the two positions? I decided to try out the position.

In the first year, it wasn't that bad. I did my CFF stuff in the morning and teaching in the afternoon. I was able to meet with almost every CFF teacher during my CFF time, and we learned a lot together about implementation. I had a lot of training and was out of the classroom quite a bit, but overall, it didn't have a large effect on my instruction. I learned A LOT about integrating technology into instruction, collaboration between districts, and all sorts of web tools and software. I really enjoyed this new position.

Then came year two. I still only taught 3 periods a day (first, 8th, ad 9th). I had two preps, one of which I hadn't taught before. The other might as well have been a new prep, as I completely redid the curriculum (third year in a row that I did so with this course) and eliminated the use of a textbook for an all online curriculum. So right there was a lot of work. I was my own CFF coach, so I was able to help myself out a lot. This part wasn't really all that bad.

However, year two of CFF was so different from year one, as PDE had learned a lot and was ready to change. Our Coach Boot Camp lasted one day longer than last year. There were more requirements that came about. Our local CFF Coaches group came up with some great ideas about collaboration days for subject areas. These days went off so well that we were asked to present the idea to coaches from the entire state, and now other areas are doing the same. We have 5 collaboration days overall, and I participated in an extra math collaboration day for a group that wasn't ready to collaborate when we had our first one. There were conferences, workshops, and trainings to attend. Overall, I was out of the classroom over 20 days due to CFF, and about 8 more days for non-CFF related issues. That's a lot of time I wasn't there for my students. I was able to still present the content virtually, but I wasn't available to answer questions they had. How was that fair to my students?

Also this year, we expanded from just math and English to including all four core content areas, which meant that there were twice as many teachers for me to work with. However, I could only meet with about half of them, as I was teaching when they had their free periods and they were teaching when I had mine. How could I help out these teachers who wanted to learn how to integrate the technology when there was no time to meet with them? And how was I able to do twice the amount of work with the same amount of time? I constantly had teachers and students stopping in during both my CFF time and my teaching time. I don't know how many times I had to tell a teacher on the phone, "I'm sorry, but I'm teaching right now and cannot help you with your issue."

Between having to turn teachers away and being out of the classroom so much, I felt as if I wasn't doing a good job in either of my positions, regardless of what any administrators, teachers, students, or parents said. I couldn't give either of my positions the devotion they deserved, and it was getting to me. I was having trouble sleeping and eating. I felr run down. I was forgetting things. I wasn't myself. I had to make a decision. And this decision was the second time in my short career that I had to make the most difficult decision of my career. I needed to go full-time as a CFF coach or go back to being a full-time math teacher.

Either decision was going to have a large effect on our district. I knew that I couldn't stay as half-and-half. For my students, for my teachers, and for my own health and sanity, I couldn't continue as it was. I spoke with our administrators about how this year has drained me. How it made me feel as if I wasn't doing my best work. How it was unfair to both my students and the teachers I was supposed to work with. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the budget to be able to make the CFF position full-time, so I am going to be going back to being a full-time math teacher next year. This means that one of our other math teachers will be back to half-time, and it's unfair to her, even though we both knew this was a possibility when the switch was made last year. This also means that our district will have to find another person to be CFF coach, and they will be starting from scratch. I've had two years of training and working in the position. I have a rapport with our staff. This new person will have none of that. They'll be trained from the start and will have to work on building a rapport with our staff. That will be a lot of time and money devoted there.

And I know I will miss coaching. I thouroughly enjoyed working in edtech. I've even had offers to apply at other districts so I could stay in edtech, although they were PC schools. I don't think I could switch back to PC now that I've been in an Apple district for 5 years, and I don't really want to, either. I will enjoy teaching math all day again, and it will be tough to turn people away when they ask for help, but I'm going to have to. Not only do I have a full teaching load next year, but I also have the largest aaverage class size out of all of our math teachers, and I'm sure it's going to grow by the beginning of next school year. Between that and having four preps that I will be working on integrating technology myself, my time will be fully occupied. This will put more strain on our building tech guy (who isn't always around) and the new CFF coach (who will be unfamiliar with many of the issues that would arise, being new to our school).

Then again, there would be many students would would be quite upset if I wasn't teaching next year. I've had some tell me they want to be in my class because they want to be challenged. They know that their grades won't be as high in my class as they would in another, but it's also nice to see that we have students who want to focus more on learning than on a number that's supposed to help them learn. But I digress, and I will be blogging my views on grades in a later posting, when I respond to Ken O'Connor's talk that our district hosted in April.

So, for now, I will be a full-time math teacher next year. I will miss the camaraderie of the CFF coaches. I will miss planning for collaboration days and inservices. I will miss some of the learning opportunities that CFF coaches had. But in the end, this is the decision that is best for my students and myself. The ones who will miss out are our district and the teachers. We will still only have a half-time coach who will only be able to meet with a few of our teachers, but in the end, it works out best for the most, and from an educator's point of view, for those most effected: my students.


Back to the same old argument

It seems that some conversations that are held with/among my colleagues are somewhat cyclical. An issue arises, we discuss, disagree, agree to disagree, and then come back around to it later down the road.

One of these arguments/discussions that is going on at the moment is about student email. Many districts do not allow their students to access their personal email through the school's network, but they issue student email addresses that allow for only certain domains to get through. Others block all access and do not issue email address. Then there are some schools that allow access to personal email. Who is right? Is anyone right?

In an ideal world, all districts could just open up this access. Let the kids obtain personal email, as they may use it as a way to transfer files from a home computer to a school computer so they can work both from home and at school. It also allows for more open communication between teachers and students.

However, we do not live in an ideal world. When a district opens up personal email, they open themselves up to viruses, SPAM, spyware, etc., depending on filters and antivirus software, as well as the diligence of the teachers and tech staff. However, teachers and tech staff can only monitor so much, antivirus software needs constant updating, and students will always find ways around filters (which isn't completely a bad thing, as skills go, but I'll talk about that later).

Now, with Web2.0 (or is it Web3.0 now?) being fully encompassed my classrooms across the country, there is a high need to have access to email so students can register for many of the tools out there. True, there are many of these tools that have come up with solutions to these problems, such as wikispaces and Google allowing a teacher to contact them with student info so usernames and passwords can be generated. Then again, what happens when a student forgets a password? Does the teacher really need to have one more thing to do?

I long for the day when education drives industry, instead of the other way around. Why is it that we, as educators, often wait for something to happen in industry before utilizing the skill in our classroom? If we know there are benefits to having these technologies available for use as tools for education, why are we restricting these opportunities?

I, for one, am glad that students have found ways to get around the filter at our school numerous times. True, there are instances where I have had to deal with students who are accessing inappropriate materials in school. You will always have inappropriate uses of technology as long as it is around. There will always be games on graphing calculators. There will always be kids texting on their cells while keeping the phones in their pocket so the teacher can't see. There will always be kids who figure out how to override a filter so they can play Tetris in study hall.

My goal for next year is to try and utilize these skills in my classes to help my students achieve. My summer will be filled with researching how to use cell phones and iPods in my classroom. I want to find a grant that might help me obtain an iPod cart for use in our school. I want to continue to find new ways to include various technologies into everyday instruction and learning. And I want my students to help lead some of this. Afterall, it is their education. I am also going to run some technology sessions after school for those interested in learning more about and exploring technology and possible uses. I want kids to think about ways to beat the filter. I want to learn those ways and learn how we can use these methods to improve filtering, but also to get the students to think in ways other than how we've always thought. If we are in charge of moving these students not only into the 21st Century, but to mold them into the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow, I think we better start right here and now.