The Teacher’s Academy Celebrates Teachers!
The 2015 April Teacher Feature honors… Mrs. Zahra Tees!
Mrs. Tees, the 7th grade teacher at Northwood Charter School has been recognized for her outstanding creativity, passion for learning and motivational teaching strategies. Keep reading to discover how this amazing teacher from Philly is inspiring a group of incredible students to work hard, be nice and LOVE reading!
Mrs. Tees, is probably one of the coolest teachers you will ever meet. Every experience she had in her past has molded her into the confident, intelligent, compassionate teacher she is today. In this Teacher Feature we will be sharing some of Mrs. Tees lesson activities, educational resources and philosophies of learning. If this tech-savvy, book-loving, weight-lifting, rock star doesn’t make you proud to be a teacher and inspire you to try new things, nothing will!
I first met Mrs. Tees at a workshop she was running at the Pennsylvania Education Technology Expo & Conference (PETE & C) in Hershey, PA. The conference attracts technology companies, media specialists, administrators and teachers from across Pennsylvania. The Teacher’s Academy participated as a vendor, but since we are also teachers, we wanted to take advantage of the professional development workshops offered at the conference. I stumbled into Mrs. Tees’ workshop, Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy Instruction. Her energy was infectious and I wanted to share her style and knowledge with our teacher community. I knew immediately, that she would be an excellent candidate for The Teacher’s Academy’s, monthly Teacher Feature.
As a blogger, I wondered how blogs could be used in classrooms to enhance literacy instruction. Apparently, many teachers thought the same because I walked into a very packed room! The first thing I noticed was Mrs. Tees’ confidence and ease as an instructor. It’s not easy to teach a bunch of teachers! She offered solid information, direct instruction and was more than capable of fielding questions about possible blogging issues. She had a relaxed way about explaining the use of Google Blogger and could connect with other teachers by incorporating funny, typical teaching scenarios with wonderful but sometimes, unruly middle-schoolers. She had the room laughing a number of times, but more importantly, these teachers loved her idea and were ready to try something new!
Teaching Strategy: Blogging
Mrs. Tees and her students use Google Blogger for two blogging activities. First, to design character blogs from the books her students are reading in class. The second activity is to design a poetry blog.
If you have ever taught in a middle school, you may have noticed a lack of interest in poetry. Mrs. Tees overcame that obstacle by using the documentary, Louder Than a Bomb. This compelling documentary follows the teenage-teams of the Young Chicago Authors as they create poetry, formidable poetry like no one has ever seen or heard before. Using this documentary, Mrs. Tees found an explosive way to bring poetry to the lives of students who normally would not care. Her 7th graders view poetry as relevant, powerful and most importantly, cool.
Of course there are strict guidelines for what to include in both of the blogs:
|Poetry Blog Requirements||Character Blog Requirements|
In addition to Google Blogger, students are expected to use Google Forms and Google Groups to present their work and communicate with each other. This not only addresses the goals for Common Core but, expands the language arts skills learned without adding separate lessons.
Teaching Strategy: Motivate Students with Media
A few weeks after the conference, Mrs. Tees was gracious enough to allow me to come to her school to observe a lesson. I watched as she used current material to introduce her reading lesson. She used a short clip from the Simpsons cartoon to help clarify the complex literary meaning of conflict and plot. Once her students were secure on the meaning they were able to apply their understanding to the circumstances in the book that they were reading. She found the educationally appropriate clips on Hulu (for free) and used PowerPoint to present the lesson.
Even though she has proven to be savvy with the use of technology, Mrs. Tees recognizes that it is a tool and it should only be used if it enhances the lesson significantly.
Teaching Strategy: Allow for and Encourage Risks
Mrs. Tees is respectful, kind and compassionate with her students and fellow teachers. She has a fun, edgy energy and enjoys making the kids laugh but also has a real sense of how they feel about reading.
“I want them to love to read but the reality is that they are not all going to love to read. The best we can do is make it fun and interesting.”
She pointed out a stack of purchased books that have every Common Core Standard covered, along with lessons and activities. “Boring!” She laughed.
“I went to my supervisor and told her that I could not use these books with my students. They can’t relate to these stories, they are not fun or entertaining.”
Her students read quietly in their small groups, discussed the topics, made connections and responded to questions on their worksheets. She challenged her students and they were very comfortable taking risks. “Making mistakes is an important part of learning.” She reminded her students during the lesson.
Mrs. Tees has a warm and inviting classroom decorated with inspirational quotes and funny grammar tips. She is especially proud of her extensive, in-class library where her students are free to borrow books whenever they want. I noticed some references to pirates and lots of pictures of bulldogs and so I had to ask.
“One of my closest friends and I have this funny connection with pirates.” She explained how references to pirates keep popping up in their lives. You can imagine how excited she was to win our giveaway prize at PETE&C: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.
Teaching Strategy: Create Opportunity to Breach the Comfort Zone
The bulldog reference goes a little deeper. Mrs. Tees is a health / nutrition / physical fitness enthusiast. Making good choices for a healthy life style is another passion for Mrs. Tees and she is known throughout the school for having such knowledge. She and her friend Mrs. Jones run a Lady Bulldog Fitness Club, which is a weight-lifting program in her school for girls.
“The weightlifting program is meant to inspire girls to try things that might be outside their comfort zone. They have fun with each other and learn a little about themselves.”
Teaching Strategy: Let the Students Learn from your Experience!
Like all teachers, Mrs. Tees has a history. The events and passions that surround her world find their way into the classroom. Take a page from Mrs. Tees’ lesson book- live a life outside of the class and then bring those lessons to your students. They will thank you for it!
During the observation I watched Mrs. Tees provide a safe, motivating learning environment for her students, assistance to her administrators and support to other teachers. And, like many great teachers, she was full of gratitude for her position.
“I’m so lucky to be part of this school. I get to be surrounded by the best kids, the most amazing teachers and my administrators always have my back.”
Very true Mrs. Tees, but I do believe they are just as lucky to have you.
Congratulations to our 2015 April Teacher Feature, Mrs. Zahra Tees!
A Few of Mrs. Tees Resources:
Google Blogger is free with a Google Account (Gmail).
Louder Than a Bomb Movie
Young Chicago Authors
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fire in the Hills by Donna Jo Napoli
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Teacher’s Academy recognizes one teacher each month in a blog titled, Teacher Feature. This special teacher is recognized for working hard to make a difference in our schools and with our students. We like to find teachers that have ingenious ways of coping with the difficulties and restraints of our education system. Do you know someone who you would like to see recognized? Have you done something you think could help other teachers across the nation? Let us know by submitting the information through our Contact Submission Form on our website. Thanks for all of your hard work teachers!