Honest and emotional. We caught up with Karen Anagnost, Graphic & Advertising Designer and CTE Teacher at J.F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, CA.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
In regards to my teaching career, probably my proudest accomplishment is that I survived my first year in the classroom, and stuck with it. No kidding here. Before beginning my job as a full-time art teacher, I worked as a graphic designer. My days were busy and I was always juggling multiple tasks. The environments I worked in were largely quiet and focused, which suited me well. My not-so-quiet teaching day is akin to a busy subway
station; bell rings, door opens, one group out, the next group in, hour after hour, 5 days a week, with lots of noise and chaos that I absorb and need to manage, handle and accept. With all that action comes lesson planning, teaching my content (graphic design), classroom management, knowing my students’ needs/strengths/improvement areas, handling discipline issues, handling student mental issues, communicating with parents, administrators, counselors, filling out grant applications for my classroom equipment funding, inspiring, engaging, and on and on!
I made it through my first year, and didn’t run for the hills. I learned how much of a bad-ass, not gonna give-up, gonna solve it, type of worker I truly am.
What is one thing a student taught you?
Wherever you are Noah, this one’s for you.
Two years into the most challenging and demanding work I had ever done, I was still struggling to find a way to keep many students on task, cooperating and not using my computer lab to Google naughtiness. In rolled 2014, and with it came a new group of thirty-one 10th graders that were mostly boys. Six of the boys were part of our very extroverted and energetic baseball team. It was almost a daily task to get that bonded bro squad to be on task and quiet down. We had a very good relationship, but I was exhausted, so I started to throw down some consequences. I made a phone call to one mother who was very involved in her kid’s education and told her I was having issues with her son. She handled him with consequences and the student was not happy with me at all. Unintentionally, I broke the trust that I had built with him. He told me that he thought we were close and that he wished I had talked to him before calling home. Rookie error on my part, but I learned that I needed to take a BIG breath, trust my students, and keep doing the hard work of learning to communicate better.
What is the best way students learn?
Students learn best the way we all learn best, with information that is broken into smaller chunks and delivered in different modalities (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) in an engaging fashion. Since my classroom is computer based, I create activities to get students up and out of their seats (kinesthetic activity). I use a popular game-based learning platform to quiz students on the instructions that they ignore more than read (visual and kinesthetic).
No-one enjoys being talked at and no-one enjoys a slide presentation with a lot of text and no visuals, so I put in a lot of time creating lesson presentations that are interesting to look at and easy to follow. I read the slides while the students take notes which gives them auditory, visual and kinesthetic components. We work hard in class and accomplish work that is college level, but we have fun too.
Almost every month, I give playtime to students as a reward for their hard work. Past playtime activities have included a game based quiz for Squirrel Appreciation Day with plastic squirrel prizes and color theory fun using air dry clay to create whatever they want (with a contest and prizes at the end). I try my best to make learning fun, and I know that I have succeeded when students tell me my class is their favorite.
Share one teaching strategy that worked.
There are many teaching strategies that have worked well for me, but based on what I spoke about in the prior question, the one that comes to mind concerns community building. Teachers know that the way to avoid discipline issues and get student cooperation is to build a strong classroom community based on fairness, clear expectations and attainable goals. Add to this, the creation of a safe learning environment where students can make mistakes and take creative risks without the fear of ridicule. I needed to win the hearts of my students so that they understand we are a team and as a team, we help each other learn and succeed. I am someone that admits to students when I make mistakes and laugh (or groan) with them when a new lesson or activity goes astray. “Teacher error!” is my response to my own typos or confusing instructions.
There is a lot going on in my work-a-day world, and unorganized chaos, confusion and
discipline issues are emotional and physical energy drains. I am a very organized person and have created purposeful routines that my students know and understand. Unit goals and criteria are clear and the classroom is clean, neat and lively, with new student work on view every month. I think it is the little extras I have put in place that helps my students bond with their slightly silly teacher. My famous rubber ducks for example.
Two years after I started teaching, I began using little well-made (of course!) rubber ducks as incentives and rewards. I will send a rubber duck to a students’ homeroom with a note telling them how well they are doing, for example. If they are having a rough spell, rubber duck. During the pandemic and distance learning, I did some duckie drop-offs to student houses. If you were to walk into any of my class periods you would see groups of engaged, kind student learners and achievers that have a warm relationship with their teacher-leader who knows her craft. That was not one teaching strategy, was it?
What gives you fulfillment in life?
Hanging out in nature, traveling, making art and loving on those who love me back and see me for who I truly am. That’s the good life right there.
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