Ecclesiastes 10:1-9 with #GoodMorningGirls


When you struggle with something, you have a lot more to say. I am extremely passionate which means I am also easily angered especially by wrongdoing. I want to fight fire with fire, but the Bible is clear that’s not the way to accomplish God’s will.
“Calmness can lay great errors to rest.” ~Ecclesiastes 10:4b 
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” ~Proverbs 15:1
Plus, if you know me at all, these verses are ones I take to heart and challenge myself daily to uphold. 

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” ~Matthew 22:37-39
I honestly fail more than I succeed, but that’s no reason to give up! Each day is a new chance to get it right again!

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TFLA Conference in Frisco, TX

Friday and Saturday I attended the Texas Foreign Language Association conference in Frisco, TX and had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some absolutely fabulous educators including Clarissa Adams, Amy Lenord and Noah Geisel.  I also got to meet a #Langchat friend, Amber Hawk.

I often take opportunities for optional professional development because I love to learn, but recently, I have felt that other than those offered by my coordinator, there hasn’t been a whole lot that has helped me grow as an educator recently.  I began to wonder if I was becoming someone who thinks I know everything and thinks I have nothing more to learn.  I had been doing a lot of self-reflection when TFLA rolled around.

I was so excited to attend and learn some new ideas to incorporate in my classroom.  I’m a life learner and a perpetual optimist so I had no doubt I would get at least something out of each session I attended–this was a weekend dedicated to world language teachers after all so it had to be a winner.  I went to 4 sessions on Friday and left feeling more or less disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong, I heard about some cool ideas and some interesting brain research information, but overall, I did not get as much out of the day as I had hoped.  Maybe I was becoming someone who thought I knew it all already…  I spoke with some other Plano ISD colleagues, and it seemed to be a general consensus that there was not a whole lot offered that helped us grow.  And then the light bulb went off.  It’s not that we aren’t just as eager to learn, it’s not that I think I know everything.  The reality is, we have come so far with our curriculum development and professional development in the last 9 years that we are ahead of the majority of other world language programs.

So now what?  We need to pay if forward.  Others are going to catch up with us and will be hungry for more like I am now.  It’s now our responsibility to share the wealth of knowledge and experience we have to help others continue to grow and catch up.  I met so many people who want what we have in Plano ISD.  We have a performance-based curriculum that is based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.  We focus on communication, not grammar.  We grade on rubrics and assess with real-world tasks.  We teach in the target language from day 1 and witness our students in level 1 able to converse for 5+ minutes and write 100 words using transition, sequencing and flavoring words after 1 semester.  We are constantly reflecting, rewriting, and evolving.  Every teacher has a drop down Steven’s Learning language lab system in our classrooms.  We have a coordinator who works everyday to make sure everyone knows that world languages are relevant.  We have had amazing opportunities for professional development.  And now, we need to share.

So I am submitting a proposal to SWCOLT about getting on-level students to willingly participate in communicative activities through the use of various techniques including AVID strategies.  Or something to that effect.  I also plan to present with Shelli Brown on activities that support brain research.

On day 2 of TFLA, I went to 3 wonderful sessions that did not disappoint and reenergized me for the rest of the semester.  I enjoyed what I was able to learn at this conference and was quite participatory in the twitter conversation.  So much that I won a free conference t-shirt on Friday.  Check out the great collegial conversation #TFLA13.

When classes are too big

This is not a complaint post in the traditional sense.  In fact, some may be surprised by what I have to say.  My classes are all sitting at about 33 students.  My classroom has 36 drop down lab stations meaning my classes cannot go over 36.  I am fine with taking up to 36 students–I know, that may sound insane, but it is the truth.  3 of my 6 classes are level 3 on-level, and I am the only person on my campus who teaches that course so far this year.  We are 3 weeks in, and the 3 honors students are dropping like flies.  The solution from Admin is to combine 2 classes of 3H (and redistribute a few of those students), then open another section of level 3 on-level with a different teacher.  Then some of my students will be shifted to the new section with someone else.  It is the only solution to leveling out the on-level classes, but that does not make it any easier.

Now let me preface the next part with something that must be said: this teacher who will add a section of on-level is FABULOUS!  I adore her as a friend, colleague, mentor and teacher.  The students are LUCKY to get her and she will love them as much as I do too.  Still, I am sad to lose any of my students :(.  I am not sad because I think they won’t succeed with someone else.  I am sad because I have invested so much in them, and am already in love with my classes.  I know I am being selfish though.  Class size definitely can affect student success when students struggle.  I know in my heart that it is better for them to be in smaller classes to receive more individualized attention.  Nevertheless, I will miss anyone who is moved from my class.

This type of thing happens a lot in elementary school.  In fact, I recently heard from some friends about losing teammates 2 weeks in.  The enrollment was not high enough so they combined classes at that school and transferred the teammates to another campus that had higher enrollment.  That’s rough!  Not only did they lose their students, but their whole school and friends.  At least I am not in the market to lose all of my students.  How awful that would be!!!!

Right now, nothing is set in stone.  Our Admin is awesome and respectful of our wishes.  She agreed to give it a weekend to see what happens as performanc-based quiz grades go in.  We want to see if that inspires students to stay in 3H or drop down to on-level.  So I am still holding onto hope that only 1 or 2 more drop so I can keep them all.  If you are a praying person, pray that the students stop dropping! 🙂  Thank you!

And yes, I know I am crazy.  I have 192 students right now, and am willing to add more :).

Just say “no!” to homework

After hearing my students complain about how much homework they have already on day 1, I feel it’s time to propose a revolutionary idea: say “no” to homework!  Yes, teachers, I’m talking to you.  Don’t assign homework!  Use your class time effectively, evaluate every activity and if it’s not worth taking class time to do it, then it probably isn’t worth doing at home either.

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I am on both sides of the classroom.  I’m a teacher and I’m a parent to a student.  My son had more homework in 1st grade than I gave out in high school Spanish 2 and 3 last year.  That’s absurd!  The only homework that I felt was valuable to my first grader was the required reading time.  He was allowed to choose the book, thus making it enjoyable for him, and I watched him grow exponentially as a reader in the first month.  Beyond that, utilize the time in school.

In an ideal situation, homework may not be that bad if every child got home from school when school dismissed–though research disagrees by saying it is detrimental at the elementary level and questionable at secondary.  My child’s school ends at 2:45.  My contract hours end at 4:30, but let’s be honest, it’s next to impossible to leave then.  This year, my husband is home from Afghanistan so we are not a single-parent household.  When we were, even if I left at 4:30, I had to pick up 2 kids at 2 different places and drive home.  We would be home at the absolute earliest at 5:30.  Then we’d have to fix dinner, eat, bathe, and find time to do homework.  My then 6-year-old would fall asleep on his own around 7pm from exhaustion.  Thankfully, he did most of his written homework at the after school care, but we still had to fit in reading (our commute was 20 minutes so he often read in the car in the mornings with me updating his time in his planner in the carpool lane).

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Students are in school all day long, and then we send them home to do more work without the teacher present.  Do you like to go home and do work?  I sure don’t, and I do my best to get as much work done before leaving as possible.

So, now I challenge you to rethink what you are doing in class, but especially what you are sending home.  If it’s not worth class time, it’s probably not worth home time either. Use it as a classroom management tool as well.  When it looks like it may be a challenge to get through everything we need to, I tell the students, “Here’s what we must accomplish today, whatever doesn’t happen, has to go home with you.”  All it takes is 1 time to be the only class that didn’t finish for the students to make sure to stay on task each subsequent time.

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Trust me, students and parents will thank you.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m on my 6th year of no homework and my students succeed every single year.

Hi, my name is Laura-Jane Barber, & I want my students to like me!

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It was my first year of teaching.  The “right” thing to say to stay off the radar was, “I don’t care if my students like me.”  I even said that phrase back then.  But… It was all a lie.  I have always wanted my students to like me because I like them.

Don’t get me wrong, I know respect is more important, but it’s much easier to gain respect from someone who likes you.  We are taught to be mean at first, “don’t smile until Christmas,” and maybe that works for some, but it’s not me.  I’m cheerful, enthusiastic and excited to hangout all day with my high schoolers.

My first year of teaching, I think I got lucky.  I had relatively easy students to manage–which was a blessing as I was a traveling teacher with 2 schools and 6 classrooms while pregnant.  God knew my limits.  My second year was the year that fell apart.  I had disrespectful students, and at first I gave too many warnings that made it impossible to follow-through later.  I got trapped by, “well you let so-and-so have 5 warnings, I only got 1.”  How do you argue with something that is irrefutably unfair?  I learned the value of doing what I say I’m going to do from day 1.

I know there are a lot of new teachers out there and teachers who have had a year of bad classroom management.  I want to offer hope and advice to prevent anyone from having a year like I did my second year.

The reality is, you can be nice, but firm.  I am friendly and laid-back in my classroom, but that should never be mistaken for an attitude of not caring what students do.  Students realize this, when someone decides to test just how flexible my attitude is.  So for starters, be prepared for someone to test you this week.  When it happens, do not show any anger, be very matter of fact.  You did ___, per school policy, I must now give you ___ consequence.  If possible, handle the situation as privately as possible–I go to the student in question and quietly warn him/her, and if the behavior continues, I revisit and ask to speak with him/her after class.  After class, I give him/her a detention form to complete.  Often, students do not know what to write.  For example, “talking” is the number one reason a student writes.  I always act shocked, “Talking!  This is a Spanish class; you have to talk.  I would NEVER give a detention for talking in a Spanish class.”  Eventually, they figure out something along the lines of, “talking at an inappropriate time,” and I sign and date it.  Sometimes, there are tears.  Inside, I want to cry with them.  I want to say, “Oh, it’s okay, I forgive you!!!!  Forget about the detention!” but that will get me nowhere.  Stay firm.  Follow-through.  I promise that they will still like you.  This is not just about liking.  It’s about trust.  By following through, students know they can trust you to mean what you say.  Every single year I have at least one student who tells me at the end of the year, “I thought I was going to hate this class when you gave me that detention the first week, but your class was one of my favorites.”

I’m not gonna lie, my heart strings always make me want to give just one more warning. I feel sad for the students.  However, I cannot give in to those feelings.  It’s like the quote I’ve seen circulating around Pinterest about dieting, “Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.”  I want a positive, inviting, warm classroom climate most.  I will not give that up for wanting to avoid a student getting mad at me today.

And so it begins again…

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Tomorrow marks the first week back for many teachers.  This first week is often filled with meetings, in-service, and a lot of stress trying to prepare for our new year of students.  Many people dislike this week and feel like their time is wasted.  I am an optimist, so I am thoroughly looking forward to it :).

As we embark on this week, I want to encourage us all to look for something valuable in every session we attend.  I guarantee there is something.  I have NEVER been to a single session in which I did not gain new knowledge.  This includes the rare occasions in which I have presented.  Even in those sessions did I also learn something from people there to learn from me.  Look for it, be ready for it, and when you get it, be it huge or small, appreciate it.  Thinking back to a session many of us attended last year, try to keep an attitude of gratitude.

I am grateful for this week.  I am excited to be back with my work family and welcome newcomers onto our team.

Have a great inservice!

God IS in Public Schools

Last Friday, our nation was rocked by the most horrific school shooting in our history. I don’t think anyone who lived through this will forget the pain and sorrow we felt for the lives lost and the families and friends affected by this tragedy.

Already there have been a plethora of posts on various social media sites about gun control, God in school, mental health care, etc, etc… I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m not going to throw around ideas because quite frankly, I am still in shock and having a hard time wrapping my head around everything.

What I do want to offer is hope. I have been very impacted by the comments regarding God being kicked out of schools. God may not be embraced by the public school system, but as a Christian teacher, I can say that he’s not absent. As a Christian, I feel it is my duty to try to be a good person and set a positive example for my students. While I may not preach to them, I nevertheless attempt to demonstrate Christ’s love through my actions. I am not perfect, but I feel that my job goes beyond teaching Spanish. My job is to help shape people. As a result, character development is something I intentionally incorporate as much as possible. As I’ve mentioned before, I start each class period with a Spanish idiom that typically is advice for being a good person or some sort of life lesson. I often take a full 5-minutes to relate it to either the students’ or my life. That’s 25 minutes a week on building character, and it’s worth so much more than the half a class period I dedicate to it each week. I recently learned that a colleague of mine scheduled 8 days throughout the school year that are 100% dedicated to character development. I plan to do the same next year.

So don’t worry, God is very present in schools. Besides, anyone of faith knows that you can ignore Him all you want, but he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is ever present with each and every one of us undeserving people.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play…

Today, I was off-campus for a great collaboration day among LOTE (World Language is another name) department chairs and team leaders across my district.  While I was away, students in all of my classes misbehaved for my substitute.  I’ve already had to be absent for various reasons and multiple times this year.  I’ve had 4 other subs in my classroom this year and EVERY single one has given my students a great report, including last Friday.  I am holding onto this knowledge as I prepare for how to handle my students tomorrow.  Why?  Because A. it makes me feel like less of a failure and B. It reminds me that my students can behave for other teachers if they choose to do so.

Before having a sub, I always give the same speech: “I don’t care if you think the substitute is certifiably crazy, that they forgot to take their meds, whatever, do not get your name written down.  When in doubt, just don’t talk.  It is not worth your trouble to cause problems with a sub because then you will have to deal with me.”  I also leave a nice note about my students for the subs, typically something along the lines of, “I love my classes this year, I hope you enjoy them today as much as I do everyday.”  Typically, I get a great report because both the students and the substitutes know I have high expecations.  Today is not the case.  Thankfully, the substitute is going to be on my campus again tomorrow and plans to visit with me to tell me what all happen.  I will not be able to see her until after I have seen my students, and I don’t want to ignore the issue tomorrow.  Naturally, I’ve been strategizing.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. When students enter the room, I will great them at the door with a reflection to complete in English–sorry, we are going to have to take some English time tomorrow, it just can’t be avoided in this situation.  As they enter, I will tell them to immediately sit down and complete the assignment without talking.

2. I will give the students up to 10 minutes to explicitly complete the reflection before we begin our discussion.

3. When we begin the discussion, I will start by reminding them of the speech I always give them when I’m going to be away.  I will tell them that as such, I do not want to hear any disrespectful comments made about the substitute or anyone in the class.  I want to know what happened but in a respectful and honest way.

4.  We will then go through all of the questions together and debrief.

Here are my questions:

  • Describe your class period yesterday with the sub.  Give facts only.  Do not include feelings or opinions.  Be sure to explicitly state anything you specifically did during the class period.
  • What could you have done to improve the situation that you did not do?  Again, facts only, no opinion statements.
  • Do you feel that your and/or your classmates’ actions were justifiable?  Explain.  Here is an appropriate place to include your opinion.
  • What are Mrs. Barber’s expectations when there is a substitute teacher?
  • Do you feel you and/or all of your classmates adequately met Mrs. Barber’s expectations for when a substitute is present.  Explain giving as many details as possible. 
  • How do you think Mrs. Barber feels today after seeing the report from the substitute?  Explain.
  • What advice do you have for how Mrs. Barber should handle this situation? You must give a minimum of 1 course of action she should take.

I don’t know how effective this will be, but I will report back.  I am open to ideas from other people if you read this before tomorrow at 7am (I will definitely check for comments).  I also plan to discuss and establish norms for when substitutes are present with all of my classes.  Not all absences can be announced when dealing with sick children, so I would like to know that in the future there are even clearer expectations for behavior with substitutes.

The Great Homework Debate

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I hardly ever give homework–besides studying/looking over notes/activities we completed in class.  I am very aware that my students have 6 other classes that require a lot of homework.  We have the agreement that if they use my time wisely, I won’t take any of their time outside of class.  Sure, high schoolers need to be challenged and prepare for college, but they still need to play.  What’s the rush to make them grow up and take away all of their free time?  Let’s allow them time to explore, relax, read for fun, take a brain break.

I know that homework can be extremely valuable for learning if it’s meaningful.  I recognize that practice is necessary for success.  I merely choose to maximize practice time in the classroom so the students aren’t overburdened outside of school.  In the LOTE classroom, it is possible to avoid homework most of the time.  We pick up where we left off the next day.  I can guarantee that most of my students will complete most activities because I am there to make sure they do.  My students don’t get zeroes unless they actually try and earn one (which sadly that happens occasionally when someone is a little lost).  If a student doesn’t do an assignment during class, they get the warning, and then if they still don’t do it, they get a detention.  Guess what we do during detention… You got it, that assignment.  Late work is a non-issue.

So where is this post coming from?  Well, if you are my Facebook friend, you know the answer.  I have a first grader who has had homework every night this week.  On Monday, we were instructed to explore his new planner together.  We spent 30 minutes on this task during which Gavin complained that he’d rather be watching TV.  Tonight, we had a scavenger hunt through the planner to find things.  I actually think the scavenger hunt is a really cute idea… FOR OLDER KIDS.  Gavin could not read the majority of the activity and is not a fast enough reader to sift through the planner to find information such as how to set up a lunch account.  Let’s be honest.  This activity was NOT for the kids.  It was to get the parents to look at the planner and find “important” information.  I tried to get Gavin to write the answers, and he got frustrated.  He couldn’t spell well enough to do most of it, so I did it. I mean, this activity was not student-focused at all; it was parent-focused.

This true life example validated my decision to limit homework.  Some homework is just busy work.  If it’s not meaningful, if it’s not going to help him improve in an area, don’t waste our time.  My husband is deployed, making me a single-mom of two kids for the year.  We don’t get home until 6 (or 7:45 on Tuesdays after dance and martial arts).  If we have to tack on some homework after we manage to finally eat dinner, please ensure it’s worth our time.

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