Defining the Field

It is my personal goal to get back to utilizing this blog more frequently to reflect on all of my roles: Instructional Designer, Adjunct Lecturer, and Doctoral Student. Just as I have done in the past, today I’m going to share one of my assignments with the world. In my Issues in Instructional Technology course, we were tasked with researching the various labels and definitions of the field of Instructional Design and Technology or the field of Instructional Systems Design and Technology or the field of Educational Technology, etc., in order to define and label the field as we see it.

So here is my definition and label of the field where I now find myself fully immersed. It doesn’t have the snazzy, sometimes snarky, tone of other blogs, I think you’ll find it an interesting read.

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Introducing Mrs. Hebert, Instructional Designer (plus a review of Mentimeter)

I think it is time to make my career change Blog-Official. Back on February 1st, I started a new career path as an Instructional Designer, and I have never been happier than I’ve been these past couple months. It was not easy for me to walk away from the classroom, and I spent a lot of time second-guessing my own decision to make this move, but I know this was the right move for me. Considering my career has been on this trajectory since my first Instructional Design course, I’m actually a little surprised at myself for feeling so conflicted.

This blog was originally born from a master’s course assignment and I’ve used it over the past few years as a place to reflect on my work, both as a teacher and student. I’ve talked about different educational technology tools that I’ve discovered and loved. I’ve talked about issues in education. I’ve reflected on my own struggles as a teacher and as a student, first in my master’s program and now as a doctoral student. The important part for me has always been reflection. I’ve learned and grown so much since I wrote my first post here, and I whole-heartedly believe that reflection is the most important aspect of learning and growth. And so, moving forward, I intend to keep that theme. I may one day bring myself to change the name of this website from Mrs. Hebert’s Classroom to something else, but regardless of the name, this will always be my place to reflect and learn from my own practices. If you’re reading this, I hope you are able to learn from my reflections, and I hope that you take some time to reflect on your own practices in your profession.

I chose today to write my first reflection as an Instructional Designer because today I led my first live professional development seminar. In February, I was told that my first topic would be RUBRICS. Throughout March, I designed and developed a 60-minute webinar on that topic, taking my presentation through two rounds of feedback with my team (who are the best, most supportive, intelligent people!). All my effort culminated in a wildly successful seminar today.

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The Future Dr. Hebert

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the end of my last synchronous online meeting of CUIN 3312: Educational Technology, one of my students commented that I am Superwoman for teaching their class while teaching full time and working on my doctorate. I personally don’t think I am Superwoman, but I am probably crazy. This has been a… busy semester, to say the least.

I knew what I was getting myself into when I started. I thought long and hard about whether to continue teaching at the University of Houston once I started my own doctoral classes, and ultimately decided that I just could not give up teaching that class. Teaching CUIN 3312 is the highlight of my week every week. It’s my favorite part of my busy schedule, and there was no way I would give it up. So, I knew coming into this semester that I would be one busy beaver, teaching at UH and teaching 8th grade English and completing two doctoral classes all at the same time. I did step down as department chair because even I have limitations, and I didn’t feel I could commit to the amount of extra time the position required in order to do it well. I probably could have made it happen if I needed to, but I knew that I would not be as good of a leader for my department with all my extra responsibilities.

Of course, I did not anticipate the pandemic. (Who did?) I did not know how different and how impossible my job as an 8th grade English teacher was going to be this semester. I received my acceptance email to Sam Houston State University on March 5th, just weeks before the pandemic lockdowns began. I have thought numerous times about whether or not I would have stuck with starting the program this year or if I would have postponed my doctoral plans for another year if I’d had the foreknowledge of what this semester was going to be like. And if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I don’t think I would have changed it. What can I say? I’m stubborn. I mean, determined.

And so here I am, once again sitting in front of the post editor on my blog and reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past fifteen weeks of classwork. It’s been more than two years since I last did this, and yet it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I know that I am just one of those people that is as comfortable as a student as I am a teacher. Even in the two years between completing my MEd and beginning my EdD, I never stopped learning.

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The Professional Development We Need (And Deserve)

An amazing thing happened today. I found myself this afternoon standing in the front of my classroom, desks in evenly spaced rows, a big jug of blue hand sanitizer near the door, my laptop projecting on the Promethean board, my iPad under the document camera, a bright yellow mask on my face. Spread out in a mixture of standing or sitting on top of the desks, a group of English teachers laughed, commiserated, and eagerly listened and shared ideas in preparation of our foray into hybrid education that starts Monday.

For the past month, I have been a ball of anxiety. I have come home from work angry and upset just about every day. I’ve started chomping on Smoothie Tums like they’re candy, and I’m in the middle of a two week cycle of Prilosec. Like many districts, mine is getting ready to start phasing students back to face-to-face, meaning that starting Monday, I’ll have students joining me in my actual classroom and students joining me via Cisco Webex from home, all at the same time. To increase the anxiety, we’re transitioning from a half day schedule (two groups of students, one AM and one PM), to a full day, complete with a whole new bell schedule and all new rosters of students. For the past three weeks of virtual learning, I taught eight separate 45-minute classes, but starting Monday, I’ll have three 100-minute block classes. Because why not throw a full schedule change into the middle of stressful pandemic teaching?

I consider myself a good classroom teacher; I strive to do what is best for my students every day and to improve my practice through research-based strategies. And I think I’ve done a good job of teaching virtually for the past three weeks that we’ve been fully online. But the prospect of teaching both at the same time… how will that even work?

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Mrs. Hebert’s English Class: ONLINE EDITION

On this blog, I’ve reflected on the successes and failures surrounding my teaching career. I’ve written about the activities and assignments I’ve designed and redesigned. I’ve written about my own views and feelings relating to education and technology. This blog started as an assignment in my first masters class three years ago. I’ve been striving to continue posting here because I believe it’s important to reflect in this profession, on the big things and the little things.

It struck me pretty hard when I opened up this blog and saw that my last post was one from the first week of school, when I had the privilege of seeing Nic Stone speak. How far we’ve come since the start of the school year.

Just a few years ago, I wrote about the heartbreak of starting the school year late due to Hurricane Harvey. Now, I sit here thinking about the heartbreak of closing our school early, and the struggles and successes of moving to fully remote instruction.

Once again, a natural disaster of sorts has drastically affected our school year. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has shut the doors on schools across the country, but that certainly does not mean that the school year is over.

Just this morning, I posted the handout and assignment for our seventh week of online instruction.

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Dear Nic Stone

While standing on the stage in the Cullen Performance Hall, wearing a stunning technicolor outfit, Nic Stone asked the rapt audience to turn to page 152 in her debut novel, Dear Martin. Sitting four rows back from the front, I eagerly turned to the page to see which brilliant line from the novel she wanted us to read. It was this one:

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you.”

Dear Martin, Nic Stone

This quote that I already had underlined in my own copy of the novel. This quote that sums up exactly what I try to instill in my 8th grade students every day. This quote that I myself often fail to remember.

This was only a small part of the brilliance that made up the University of Houston College of Education‘s 2019 First Lecture. I am immensely glad that I attended this year.

Nic Stone speaking at the University of Houston College of Education 2019 First Lecture

In the past, I’ve always skipped the First Lecture event. As a masters student previously, and as an adjunct instructor now, I had the opportunity to go in previous years. However, since it coincides with the start of the school year, I’ve always put my career first and attend my school’s back-to-school workshops, meetings, and planning. But when I received an email back in June that informed me that this year’s speaker would be Nic Stone, I knew I couldn’t miss this one, so I used one of my (precious) sick days, leaving my precious kiddos in the capable hands of a substitute on the first Friday of the school year, to attend. #worthit

Within the first few minutes of her lecture, I knew I’d made the right decision. Ms. Stone talked about herself as a student, and it was like a knife to my heart when she said, “I loved reading… until 6th grade” (paraphrased). I am the English department chair on a 6th through 8th grade campus, and I felt the full weight of her words. Students in elementary school read for fun. They read exciting picture books and funny short chapter books, and they love them. And then they come to us in middle school and we cram “literature” down their throats and they read a bunch of stories written by and for old dead white men. And it only gets worse in high school.

Now of course, this is an overgeneralization, but that doesn’t take away the truth of it. I’ve discussed this on this blog before, and I’ll keep discussing it until the day I myself become nothing more than a story. Our curriculum across the country too often turns students who love reading into students who hate reading. And even worse, it keeps students who never loved reading from ever having the chance to discover a love of books.

Ms. Stone talked about how African American people were portrayed in the texts she was reading in class. If there were any characters who looked like her, they were set far in the past. She said that she didn’t believe she could be a writer because she didn’t see anyone like her publishing books. She said that she started to regain her love of reading when she chose to read Divergent by Veronica Roth because, as she said, “Divergent was the first series I read where the black character lived all the way to the end.” She needed contemporary stories about people like her and by people like her. All of our students need contemporary stories about people like them, by people like them.

The State of Texas has taken a huge step toward fixing this, in my opinion (and of course, there will always be people who disagree). With the brand new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are taking effect from kindergarten through 8th grade this year, and 9th through 12th grade next year, a new focus is being put on students reading self-selected texts.

Nic Stone during a Q&A portion of the First Lecture event

For the first two weeks of school (I’m sorry, I need to pause here because holy crap, we’re already two weeks into the school year and it’s still August and this is why I’m writing this post more than a week after the event instead of right after like I meant to and holy crap my lesson plans that I haven’t started are due tomorrow and… deep breath… deep breath… I got this), anyway, for the first two weeks of school, one of our instructional focuses was making personal connections to the texts we read. On Monday, I asked my students to write for ten minutes (thank you, Kelly Gallagher for the 10 minutes per day writing idea; it’s going so well and I’ll probably write another post about it sometime this semester) describing any connection they could make to the three texts we’d read the week before. The first two texts were different but had a similar theme revolving around bullying in middle school. The first was from the textbook and the second from our curriculum guide. But the third text was Ghost by Jason Reynolds. I’ll detail what I’m doing with that novel in a different post, but we’d read the first two chapters at that point.

Honestly, I expected students to make a connection to the accounts of bullying in the first two texts, and I wasn’t wrong. A lot of students, especially my girls, wrote about their own experiences with bullying, whether it was their feelings as the bullying victim or the regret they feel about their own acts of bullying in the past.

But I also had a lot of students write about how they related to Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost. I was blown away by the connections they made to this young African American boy whose father was in jail because he shot at Ghost and his mom, who has anger issues, who gets in trouble at school, who wants to play basketball, who can’t stand a kid showing off at a track practice and decides to put him in his place.

So many of my students are seeing themselves in that book.

Which bring me back to Nic Stone and Dear Martin. I hope to read Dear Martin with my classes at some point this year, maybe after we finish Ghost. In the meantime, I’ve book talked it to the entire 8th grade when the 8th grade English teachers participated in a rotation of book talks. I watched the faces of the students as they listened to me read from Justyce’s first letter to Martin. I’ve already had students check out my copies of the novel, including the one that Ms. Stone signed for me. There is no feeling like having a kid run up to you, book in hand, before the school day has even started to say, “I’m loving this book. Thank you for letting me read it.”

Me with the amazing Nic Stone

If I’m being honest, I wish my students didn’t relate to this book. I wish a book that starts with an intelligent young man trying to do a good deed and consequently being thrown to the ground in handcuffs wasn’t a book that my students could see themselves in. But as Justyce says, “If I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight handcuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear… things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.” As long as my students need these books, I’ll provide them.

Me barely keeping my cool while Nic Stone signed my book

When I had the opportunity to meet Nic Stone and get my copy of Dear Martin signed after her lecture, I freaked out. I am not cool in the face of meeting people that I consider in any way famous (I lost the entire English language upon meeting one of my favorite Alley Theatre actors after a performance a few weeks ago – I am not cool). But I held it together, and I thanked her for writing the books that my students need. And she signed my book with “Hell yes, 8th grade!”

Nic Stone signed my book and wrote “Hell yes, 8th grade!”

I have to give a shoutout here to my district. As we were adopting these new TEKS and the new textbooks to go along with them, I was able to collaborate on a novel selection committee to choose a set of 140-160 new novels for every teacher’s classroom library. At our first meeting, the first thing we did was discuss what types of books we needed, and that entire discussion focused on all types of diversity. We all thought about the minds in our classrooms and what they needed to read, and we worked hard to make sure that there were books that students could truly relate to in each of our classrooms. As a result, Dear Martin is one of the books now in every 8th grade English classroom in the district. I am proud to work for a district that put so much emphasis on this.

When I started writing this, I truly intended to talk about more. I took notes on my phone throughout the whole lecture, silently hoping it wouldn’t look like I was texting, and what I’ve discussed here is only a small portion of what she said. As an aspiring writer, I hung on her every word about writing, about ICU storytelling – Inform, Connect, Uplift. She talked about how first drafts are supposed to suck, and her own process for writing that includes detailed planning and outlining before a single word is written. Every word she said was magic and she was funny on top it, but I just don’t have the time or space here to get into it all. Just know that if you ever get the opportunity to see or hear Nic Stone speak, jump on that opportunity. It’s not one to pass up.

Technology: It’s Not Just for the Students

In case you were not aware, today was #DigitalLearningDay. As far as I’m concerned, just about every day in my classroom is a digital learning day, but I am not one to pass up an opportunity to show off my EdTech prowess and design something extra special for the occasion.

For the past week, I worked with one of my favorite teacher besties who is also my across the hall classroom neighbor to build out an Escape Room activity. It was pretty rockin’ if I do say so myself. Even our admin team thought that it was a great learning experience for our kiddos.

Me and my across the hall teacher bestie with our Digital All-Star stickers and rocking our AVID shirts! ❤
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My feet hurt, the underwire in my bra has come free and is stabbing me, I have a papercut on my finger from making copies, half of my lipstick is gone, there are no less than three different hair clips holding together this hairstyle that one of my students described as looking like broccoli (uncooked, not covered in cheese).

Today I had a really good lesson with a mixture of silent choice reading in the library and reviewing a big test they took last week to prepare for the upcoming STAAR. I used non-technology notecards for silent reading trackers. I used technology with Pear Deck for test review and in-depth, very animated discussions.

This is teaching.

Sometimes, well often, I struggle in this profession. I struggle with balancing what I know my students need and teaching to the test, with whether or not I’m doing a good enough job, with how much work I have to take home with me, with how much emotional baggage I take home with me, with how exhausted I always am.

And then sometimes I have a good lesson. Not even an awesome lesson or amazing lesson, and it wasn’t a perfect day. I still had deal with discipline and students who won’t listen or don’t get it. But it was a good lesson.

And when I left work today and thought about how my general appearance started out looking pretty snazzy with the makeup and styled hair and a dress and ended up with the description above, I realized how great this job can be.

If that even makes sense.

This is teaching.

Reflecting on Experiences

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

Sitting in a session about the effect of teacher education on teacher attrition and retention, I heard this quote from John Dewey, and it struck me deeply. I have been sadly lacking in this reflection since I completed my masters this past August. Of course, I knew this would happen. Many of my reflections in this blog centered around my masters coursework; in fact, the original creation of this blog was an assignment. However, having earned my degree certainly does not mean I am done learning or done reflecting.

I am, of course, proud of having completed my degree and of my several subsequent accomplishments. I’ve started drafts of posts about those accomplishments, but without a deadline or a requirement, I haven’t completed them. Even this post is coming a solid month after I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention and heard this quote. Continue reading

The Promise and Hope of Our Students

I haven’t had much of a chance yet this semester to sit down and talk about the two classes I’m taking in this last spring semester of my masters education (just one or two classes this summer and I’ll be done!). I think it’s time to remedy that.

This semester I’m taking another professional seminar class that is split into three mini-courses taught by three different professors, just like the one I took last semester. This time, the three topics are Best Practices, Leadership, and Social Justice, but I’m going to focus on Social Justice here. Continue reading