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Annandale, Virginia
Social Studies teacher with 2 years experience as a substitute, 1 year as a student teacher, and 6 years of volunteer work in various roles. I specialize in differentiated instruction, data driven curriculum, and authentic assessment. A New York State certified teacher, I graduated from Fordham University with an MST degree and high accolades. Finally, I hold membership with Kappa Delta Pi and NCSS as well. It is my intention to grow student confidence and widen content knowledge for students of all backgrounds, cultures and abilities through modeling literacy comprehension, critical thinking and communication skills. I believe each and every student is a valuable asset to the learning community, capable of achieving academic success. I am able to lead these young people to such success. Please click on the links on the right to learn more. You can also email me at I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

In a Substitute Teacher's Spare Time...

When I returned to Virginia to embark on being a substitute teacher once again, there was one thing I upon which I never bargained: Spare time! To those readers who are unfamiliar with this term - and wonder what language I'm speaking - you are not alone. I, too, had forgotten this state of being years ago and only recently has become reacquainted with it. Spare time is a block of time in which a person is devoid of obligations, destinations, or expectations. It is free. As I progressed in my adult life, I carried the assumption that spare time would be less and less frequent as the years continued. I was apparently wrong (as I have time to write this article).

In the time since I was last a substitute, I had managed to forget one truth: subbing is not steady work. I entered this academic year thinking that if I were to be employed by a large enough district, and opened myself to enough grade levels and subjects, I would receive a placement each day that I wanted one. One week and many early mornings later, I have learned the flaw in my logic. As was the case as a two-day-a-week substitute in previous years, the role has a supply-and-demand basis. If there are no teachers out, there is no need for substitutes. Further, if there are more available substitute than available assignments, someone is without work. Nothing has change with respect to this rule of common sense. Perhaps my financial situation, linked with my strong desire to be in a classroom everyday, has blinded me to reality: I will not teach every day in which I want.

It's not until today that I've become okay with that reality.

So the result is extra time on my hands. Ever since I began undergraduate studies 15 years ago, I've been conditioned to think of all time as useable. It wasn't a matter of choice for me; I just always had something expected of me and somewhere expected to be. I enter unchartered waters and ample ticks of the clock. For the first time in my adult life, I must actually see this experience as a set of choices. The following words illustrate the choices I have made.

I continue to wake at 5:30AM and prepare for a potential teaching day. While middle schools do not open until 8:30 and high schools do not open until 9:00, I live between twenty and thirty miles away from them. Awaking early provided sufficient time to prepare for such opportunities. When I do not receive a call, I spend a few extra minutes in bed - something of which many readers may become envious and I see as a wonderful gift. Who doesn't say, "If only I had fifteen more minutes"?

Already prepped for the day, I have a second cup of coffee and make choices about how best to spend this unexpected time. As I don't currently have internet at home, I drive to the local Starbucks and borrow some bandwidth. After catching up on emails, I visit the usual sites (Facebook, Twitter, Blogger) to catch up on world events and the lives of my friends and peers - the result of which has been starting thought-provoking discussions on Facebook. These discussions have been very interesting, and help to hone my skills of facilitating discussions on social issues - a top skill I practice when given the opportunity to teach. Further, I write articles - such as this one - to voice my thoughts, ideals, and visions as an educator. Admittedly, this task is also a marketing ploy for me to advertise myself to potential employers, colleagues, and administrators. Here, I not only post my thoughts, but direct these key individuals to my online professional portfolio (see the links on the right of this page). Cheap in that it is free marketing: yes. Devoid of care or seriousness: far from it. I hope whoever you are, you see something that will enrich your day.

FInally, the remainder of my otherwise-spent-in-the-classroom day is spent calling upon resources that may lead to my eventual and ultimate goal: becoming a permanent classroom teacher in social studies. As stated in yesterday's article, I'm not merely a warm body hoping to fill a void left by someone else's misfortune, I am a determined and driven professional who wants to make a difference in the lives of those who may not think they can make one. It is more than a job, it is a state of mind and heart. In sum, this state of mind and heart drives most everything I say, do, and think. That is why I blog, that is why I start discussions, and that is why I market myself. So free time can be viewed as a lack of income or a lack of on-the-job training, or it can be viewed as an opportunity to learn, improve, and teach in other ways. Decide for yourself which option I've chosen.

Take care and remember: no matter where you are and what you do, little ones are watching you and learning from you. Be careful what you teach them!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dying Stigma of Substitute Teachers

When I was in elementary school, there existed a certain stereotype about having a substitute teacher in the classroom. This person was usually expected to be nothing more than a warm body, given the responsibility of taking attendance and passing along the busywork for us boys and girls - as recited from a written lesson plan left by the usually classroom teacher. Usually this substitute didn't have content knowledge of the subject or grade - let alone a teaching license. She (and I say "she" because they were usually women back in the day) were part-time stay-at-home moms or retired teachers whose professional development dated back to before her students were even born. The results of this situation were an adult in the classroom who could offer no academic assistance, had no authority to manage her students' behaviors, and had no aspirations of making teaching a career - so no investment in the students or in her career.

Let's fast-forward about twenty years to the present. Substitute teachers are still very much in demand - as they always will be. As long as teachers go on vacation, have doctor's appointments, become ill, or have children, the sub will be an asset to any school district. As I entered the world of teaching about three years ago - as a substitute - I noticed a huge shift in the expectations of this set of educators. Yes, before I mentioned "teacher" (which I use very loosely), and now I mention "educator" (a professional dedicated to the education field). This statement is meant to be bolder than perhaps it sounds on the surface. Now, with the advent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - which I have issues with, in part, for other reasons not mentioned here - teachers are to be held to higher standard than previously. As schools and districts are rewarded for possessing Highly Qualified faculty, they are held accountable to having classrooms staffed with licensed educators, teaching in the field in which they are credentialed. Where this higher standard crosses paths with the role of the substitute is in the higher expectations placed upon them in many school districts.

While attending a substitute orientation for Fairfax County Public Schools back in 2007, I noted an emphasis on substitutes only teaching subjects in which they believe they are qualified. I thought it was the greatest thing I'd heard in a long while. In fact, I practically had to look through my orientation materials to make sure I was at the right session. This new ideology shook my world - suggesting that substitute teachers should NOT be just warm bodies. This district wants all teachers, substitutes included, to offer their expertise to students in the classroom. A BA in English teaching English, a BS in Math teaching Calculus, or a BA in History and Geography (like me) teaching Social Studies. Warm bodies be gone, and enter the "Substitute Educator"!

It's difficult to become a classroom educator, and rightfully so as educators carry with them great responsibility. However, with the recent recession and often-accompanied budget constraints, becoming an educator with his/her own classroom has become an exceedingly daunting pursuit. As witnessed in cities like New York and Washington, these budget constraints have caused mayors and chancellors to crash under the pressure and make some really ridiculous choices. I will be kind to these leaders here, as I've bashed them plenty in other venues.

The result most relevant to this article is that MANY qualified teachers are without classrooms. This is amplified by the false claim by many at the dawn of the recession, "Go into teaching, the education field is always in need of good teachers." Hence, career changers flooding a field already supersaturated with able educators. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing these career changers at all (after all, I'm one of them!). So, the collective body of substitute educators in our nation's school districts are these qualified educators, awaiting the opportunities for classrooms of their own, and hoping in the meantime that their skills and talents will be discovered by impressed administrators. Therefore, classrooms possessing substitutes who are very serious about their professional practice, who go above and beyond in making a positive impact wherever they're assigned, and who see substituting as a stepping stone rather than a fallback way to earn easy money and have summers off.

I am one of those hopeful substitute educators. I love teaching, and I love helping young people succeed and believe in themselves. Despite the current economic situation and overpopulated industry, I will gladly take on the garb of the substitute. While the students I face will not be the same from day to day, and while it will not be my own classroom in which I teach, my dedication, devotion, professionalism, and love will not wane. Yes, I admit that this is in part for want of impressing the right person at the right time, but it is also because my devotion to kids existed long before I ever received a paycheck for my efforts, and will continue to exist even if I never see another paycheck. Although if you're reading this article and are an administrator, a classroom and a paycheck would be nice :)

Take care and know no matter where you are and what you do, little ones are watching you and learning from you. Be cautious of what you teach them :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Activity-Based Teaching Improves Motivation

Hi there! I've not been very frequent in my posts lately, as I currently do not have internet access at home. This situation is a change from that of my residence in New York, where I spent perhaps too much time online. Also, I don't usually write my own pieces on this page, but would like to discuss an educational topic that has become very relevant to me over the past month: Activity-based teaching.

I grew up in the days where activity-based learning entailed filling in blanks on lecture notes distributed during class. I am convinced that the only purpose for this activity was to prevent 20 heads down - half of which whose snoring would drown out any teacher. While I was one of the fortunate (or unfortunate) souls to remain upright during class, I regret that I didn't learn a thing from the lecture-and-notes exercise. This is how history was taught to me through my second year of undergraduate studies. It is also why I disliked history up to that point in my life.

When I transfered to a 4-year college junior year, I was pursuing another major, and for several reasons I abandoned that major for one in history. Despite having learned basically nothing from my previous history coursework, there still existed something in me that liked the study of the past. Usually, however, this interest was separate from the material taught in the classroom. However, upon taking courses at this new university, I discovered something new about the way history was taught as well. As opposed to the lecture-only methodology espoused in high school and community college, upper class studies included seminars around discussion topics, assignments that allowed students to take on the perspective of certain historical figures, and ample choices of the topics explored due to the plethora of courses available. I finally had a say in what I learned and how I learned it. Therefore my love of learning about the past could be expressed through the classroom and through organized study.

It is through this pedagogical enlightenment that I arrived in graduate school - to learn how to teach history. In addition to my small wealth of learning activities and content knowledge, my professors, peers, and supervisors added fuel to the fire. At the end of that year, I walked away with a library of learning strategies, materials, and links to more of the same. I also walked away with a new lens upon which to teach social studies: current and relevant social issues.

We live in a world in which adolescents must take on some very challenging responsibilities. They must be expert managers of time, trustworthy caretakers of siblings, and are expected to make crucial life decisions based on there abilities to think critically and successfully. The latter responsibility must be nurtured and encouraged in the classroom, so that the former responsibilities can be achieved - along with others. Simply teaching social studies through rote memorization and recitation won't give students the tools to face those responsibilities. Giving students the tools to think and act for themselves will. In turn, it is our responsibility as social studies teachers to do so, and this can best be accomplished through interactive, relevant activities. What is more relevant than the world in which these students live? They live in a world of social issue after social issue. They live now, without really understanding how we got to "now". History and social studies provide the context, examples, and road that lead to today's complex and important issues. It is through understanding these past precedents, people, and events that they can make informed choices in this "now" world.

The above philosophy is how I see history as relevant to the lives our the young men and women in our classrooms. Through activities that allow student to discuss their own values, thought, and feelings, lessons curriculum becomes connect to their lives. Additionally, we live in a very diverse world which is also seen in the schools. By facilitating discussions and other interactive activities in the history classroom from a number of perspectives, our students can better understand why events are important to them, and why they are important to those events. History should be about "us" and not "them" in order to matter, and in order to see the complete and bigger picture of the discipline.

Thanks for reading these brainstormed thoughts from my caffeine-filled mind. Please feel free to comment. Just as I want to know what's on the minds of my students, I want to know what's on the minds of my peers. You and I are part of the bigger picture, too!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar? Parades Get Dumped, the Holiday Renamed; Brown's 'Fall Weekend'

Wall Street Journal Online
October 10, 2009

Arrivederci, Columbus Day.

The tradition of honoring Christopher Columbus for sailing the ocean blue in 1492 is facing rougher seas than the NiƱa, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Philadelphia's annual Columbus Day parade has been canceled. Brown University this year renamed the holiday "Fall Weekend" following a campaign by a Native American student group opposed to celebrating an explorer who helped enslave some of the people he "discovered."

And while the Italian adventurer is generally thought to have arrived in the New World on Oct. 12, 517 years ago on Monday, his holiday is getting bounced all over the calendar. Tennessee routinely celebrates it the Friday after Thanksgiving to give people an extra-long weekend.

"You can celebrate the hell out of it if you get it the day after Thanksgiving -- it gives you four days off," says former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter.

In California, Columbus Day is one of two unpaid holidays getting blown away by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of a budget-cut proposal. In Washington, D.C., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled this year's weeklong Columbus Day recess so the senators can buckle down on health care. (They still get Monday off, though.)

Another obstacle: Columbus Day hasn't transcended its original purpose, as some other holidays have. Sure, Columbus Day celebrates one of the world's great explorers. But Memorial Day and Labor Day also do double duty as summer's official bookends, whereas Columbus Day is stuck in mid-October, halfway between summertime and Christmas. And many Americans apparently prefer more days off around Christmas.

So some employers have turned to "holiday swapping." In Calimesa, Calif., the city council recently voted to swap two holidays -- Columbus Day, and a day honoring labor organizer Cesar Chavez -- for one floating holiday and day off on New Year's Eve.

Mayor Jim Hyatt says the swap is partly a reward to give workers more flexible use of their time off. "Nothing against Columbus Day," he says.

In Wilmette, Ill., teachers and staff are working this Columbus Day, but they get a make-up day off on Dec. 23. Ray Lechner, superintendent of Wilmette District 39, says the reality is that Columbus Day is a low holiday priority. "We would not mess with religious holidays," he says.

Columbus Day itself was created during a holiday switcheroo. Back in 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law, which not only established Columbus Day on the second Monday of October, but also moved three other federal holidays -- Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Washington's Birthday (a.k.a Presidents' Day) -- so that they always fell on Mondays, too. And the golden age of three-day weekends was born.

The fact that this year's holiday falls on the actual date that Columbus is believed to have landed is mere coincidence. It won't happen again until 2015, assuming the holiday exists.

A spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, the fraternal society founded in 1882 with the explorer's name, said: "So far as we're concerned, it's quite obviously an appropriate holiday."

Columbus Day used to be a big deal in Columbus, Ohio. But it has been 11 years since the city had an official parade for its namesake, in part because of the controversy swirling around Columbus. There were fireworks and a beauty contest.

"It was the biggest parade in town," says Joseph Contino, a local who flies tanker jets for the national guard and is trying to refuel the idea of celebrating the big day with a big parade.

The city isn't helping, Mr. Contino says. "Their reaction is as if it was the Ku Klux Klan."

A city official says that's not right. "The mayor thinks a parade is a great idea and thinks that the Italian community should take the lead on that," says Dan Williamson, a spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman.

"It would be stupid to pretend there is no controversy around Christopher Columbus," he adds. But the mayor of Columbus isn't taking sides.

The holiday isn't under threat everywhere. New York City's longtime Columbus Day parade will still be marching up Fifth Avenue this year, as it has since 1929. The bond market takes the day off, too.

But 22 states don't give their employees the day off, according to the Council of State Governments. And in other places, Columbus Day is under attack. "We're going after state governments to drop this holiday for whatever reason they come up with," said Mike Graham, founder of United Native America, a group fighting for a federal holiday honoring Native Americans.

His group's agenda: Rename Columbus Day "Italian Heritage Day" and put it somewhere else on the calendar, then claim the second Monday in October as "Native American Day." South Dakota already calls it that.

Other organizations want to rename the day "Indigenous Peoples' Day," as several California cities, including Berkeley, have done.

Columbus's defenders aren't prepared to watch their hero's holiday sail off the edge of the earth. They say he should be celebrated for risking his life to explore the world and for forging modern ties between Europe and the Americas.

His supporters acknowledge Columbus took slaves back to Spain and opened the door to conquistadors who killed Native Americans. But much of the criticism is built on "judging a 16th century man by 21st century standards," says Dona De Sanctis of the Order Sons of Italy in America, a group of half a million Italian-Americans that tries to defend Columbus' legacy.

At Brown University, the rename-the-holiday activists "stressed this was against Columbus, but not Italian-Americans," says Reiko Koyama, a junior who led the effort to persuade the school to change the name to "Fall Weekend." Brown happens to be in Rhode Island, a state with the largest proportion of Italian-Americans in the U.S.

Ground zero of the Columbus battle has been Colorado, home to the nation's first official Columbus holiday about a century ago. Columbus Day parades in Denver have faced acrimonious protests for much of the past decade. Marchers have been on the receiving end of dismembered dolls and fake blood strewn across the parade route. Dozens of protesters have been arrested over the years.

This year, the attacks took a new twist: A prankster sent an email to local media -- purporting to be from parade organizers -- saying the event had been canceled.

"I consider it much more than a hoax. This is a personal attack on me," says Richard SaBell, president of the Denver Columbus Day Parade Committee. "As in years past, we are undeterred. The parade will not be stopped."