Teachers help each other get ready for new year

Drama students at Jesse C. Carson High School perform a surprise mini-musical dedicated to teachers at the curriculum conference Tuesday.
Drama students at Jesse C. Carson High School perform a surprise mini-musical dedicated to teachers at the curriculum conference Tuesday.

CHINA GROVE — To prepare for their students’ arrival on Monday, many teachers in the Rowan-Salisbury School System taught each other this week.

Certified staff met for the system’s back-to-school curriculum conference - Monday for elementary schools and Tuesday for middle and high schools.

Some of them led their colleagues in a variety of breakout sessions held throughout the day at Jesse C. Carson High School.

“It’s really exciting, because we get to make choices as to where we are going and what we’d like to study, and direct our own professional development,” said Lynn Bradley, who teaches sixth-grade science at West Rowan Middle School.

Bradley has taught for a total of 20 years and has been at West Rowan for 10. She said this is the first year that the school system has held a convention of this size with this many options for teachers.

During one of those sessions, she led a presentation on technology and assessment, tracking student learning and formative assessment.

She said she’s eager to make use of what she learns in the new school year.

“I love what I do,” Bradley said.

Kelly Reynolds, who teaches history and social studies at Carson, said she’s also feeling ready to go back to school.

“I feel really lucky to have a job that I actually enjoy,” she said. “I get paid to talk about history and to interact with teenagers, so I don’t know how there could be a better job than that.”

At the start of the conference, Reynolds said she was considering attending a session about student health, and she also planned to take a look at the technology posters in the gymnasium.

First, she led a breakout session called “Broccoli Bites,” designed to help teachers make serious learning fun and palatable for their students.

“A lot of us were asked by the administration to showcase something we felt comfortable with,” Reynolds said. “I chose rigor, because I think you can make the classroom rigorous, and yet you can still make it creative and fun for the kids involved.”

Teachers participating in the session rotated among five stations. One had examples of creative world history projects that Reynolds has assigned in her own classes.

Others featured activities designed to challenge students, including a “magic square” activity. Students are asked to piece together many smaller squares to form one large one. Each side of the small squares has a question/problem or answer/solution on it, which must be paired with its match.

A game of Jenga was featured in the middle of one station. Written on each wooden block in the teetering tower was a question or prompt - for example, “Name at least two works by Michaelangelo.”

Ashleigh Kirkpatrick, who teaches world history at Carson, said she appreciated Reynolds’ breakout session because she loves to find new ideas - especially when it comes to hands-on learning.

“It makes them more engaged, because they’re working on something and they’re having to look something up,” Kirkpatrick said. “They are playing a game and learning, without even realizing that they’re learning something.”

She said this week’s conference helped her get excited to go back to school.

“I was a little apprehensive, because I love my summers,” Kirkpatrick said. “But once we get in here and start doing things like this as a community, and as a family here at Carson... I’m ready for the new year.”

Curt Morgan, who teaches sixth grade math at Corriher-Lipe Middle School, said he was looking forward to the rest of the day.

“They gave us a lot of opportunities to explore different aspects,” Morgan said. “We were able to choose what we would like to attend, what we feel we need to improve upon and what we can use.”

Other breakout sessions covered topics like school violence and awareness, Lego robotics, making vocabulary fun and using problem based learning in foreign language classes.

“The best thing is it’s our teachers, coming in and sharing their experiences with their colleagues,” said Julie Morrow, assistant superintendent of curriculum at Rowan-Salisbury.

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The teachers all attended an afternoon session called “Inspire!” in the Carson auditorium. First, they heard a motivating speech from Shonda Hairston, principal of Knollwood Elementary School and the system’s 2013 Principal of the Year.

Alex Reynolds, 2013 Teacher of the Year, then took the stage and began to speak. But his theater students from Carson interrupted him with a different idea for motivating teachers.

Reynolds said the musical has been in development for about a month, and more than 30 students have volunteered to work on it for the past two weeks. The script and lyrics were written by student Savannah Deal.

To the tune of “Oklahoma,” they sang about Rowan County, “where the teachers teach, not just make a speech ‘bout the way things really ought to be.”

It’s also a county where the students “sing and dance when they get the chance, and perform for nothing but applause” - which the audience heartily gave them.

Changes in standardized testing made an appearance in “Phantom of the Opera,” where a teacher laments to the melody, “The MSLs are said to be too hard... and much too long.”

Three girls portrayed teachers in three different stages of their careers. A new graduate was excited about just about everything, and a mid-career teacher patiently kept her class in line when they start groaning and complaining.

A veteran about to retire motivated her students to work harder by giving them dire predictions of their futures.

“You think you’ll get a call from UNC or State this fall,” she sang, “with no essay, no APs, no accolades to show?”

Their students made sure to give them trouble, including a girl with an attitude who doesn’t seem to care about school. The brand new teacher encourages her with a heartfelt pep talk - complete with a version of “Popular” from the musical Wicked - and it does not go over well.

The other two teachers reassured their colleague that she is making a difference. By the end of the musical, it turned out that they were right.

At graduation, the once-troubled girl belts out, “I’m going to be a teacher - just like you!”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation

Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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