We are proud to introduce our thirteenth Sunday Spotlight, featuring Michael Ruffin who teaches in Hampton, VA. Michael plays guitar, loves the Classification and Drawing Response TEIs, and has been teaching for 18 years after growing up in a family of teachers and telling himself he wasn’t going to become a teacher. He now loves working in education and supporting teachers in his district! We had a great time talking with Michael and learning about the value of relationship building with students and the challenges of teaching. We hope you enjoy getting to know him too!
Curriculum Integration Technology Teacher
Phoebus HS and Jones MS, Science
City of Hampton
18 years teaching
“I share with them that I’m here to get in the boat with them and that more than ever, I care about who they are as a person and not just passing a test. I make sure to reinforce this throughout our time together. I am not going to force them to learn the way I want them to learn. I am going to learn how they are wired and then assist them in crafting a system that helps them learn best.”
Get to know Michael Ruffin
What do you love about teaching?
What I love about teaching is the opportunity to learn how a student is wired and through relationship building create an environment that fits their mold. When a student walks in the class they want to know: #1 Can I trust you? #2 Can you coach me to the place of success? and #3 are you someone who is committed to help me get from point A to point B?
I share with them that I’m here to get in the boat with them and that more than ever, I care about who they are as a person and not just passing a test. I make sure to reinforce this throughout our time together. I am not going to force them to learn the way I want them to learn. I am going to learn how they are wired and then assist them in crafting a system that helps them learn best.
Why did you decide to be a teacher?
That’s actually a funny question because I never wanted to be a teacher. Honestly I was like “God if there’s one thing I do not want to be it’s a teacher. My mom and dad are teachers not to mention many of my aunts and uncles. When I reflect back on their teaching careers, I noticed that they were always up late and very stressed not to mention weighed down by tons of papers to grade.
Right when I thought my plans were all set, I go and do the exact opposite. I graduate from college and go straight into education. It was awful. I was wondering “Why am I here?” And those first four years were just horrible- I was in survival mode, and I was like “uhg, I’m not even good at this”…. I was surprised these students were actually staying in the class.
After my fourth year I started to discover my niche. I started to get all the kinks out and find my own system that fit my teaching style and personality. Now that I was out of survival mode, I could focus on being a better teacher and sharpening my craft. Over time, I began to get stronger and as a result, I began adding a diversity of resources to help enrich my “educational toolbelt”. There’s no such thing as the teaching gene, but in turn my learn obstacles.
What helped me through that season was coaching. I videotaped myself teaching then shared the video with my coach. Once completed, we reflected on my class and looked at ways I can improve myself and grow.
During my first year as a new teacher, I was informed that I was the third teacher the students had within the first three weeks of school. The two teachers prior to me couldn’t handle it and decided to quit. In my heart I was thinking, “Seriously!? Those are the kids I have to work with?!” It was horrible and very tiring, but it challenged me. I had to go through the fire. That’s what I tell new teachers. You have to go through the fire, endure the fire, and flourish in the fire.
What is your “Edulastic story”?
Last year I had to do a PD on using Technology Enhanced Items (TEI), but at that moment I didn’t know anything about Edulastic. I thought that I would use Google Docs, but after trying it for TEI questions, I found that it was very difficult and glitchy. Objects wouldn’t overlay correctly and it kept merging objects together versus keeping them separate. I then tried creating PDF versions of TEI questions using Preview on a Mac. Unfortunately, certain Mac operating systems carry a different version of Preview, which provided different options for teachers coming to the training. One of my co-workers saw my frustration and suggested that I try Edulastic. She heard about it and felt like it was the game changer for TEI questions.
I checked out the website and immediately I began getting excited! I said to myself, “This is what I’ve been looking for!” My school uses Powerschool assessment, but it was very limited in it’s TEI capabilities and was not as user friendly compared to Edulastic. Their TEI question creator was cumbersome and required so many steps. I was further discouraged by PowerSchool’s limited question bank and their minimal selection of questions from prior released End Of Course Tests.
When I went to use Edulastic it was like a dream come true! I could create my own questions, piggy-back off of other teachers’ questions, filter through questions type and standard, and watch quick how-to videos to get more comfortable with new TEI questions. I was impressed by the preview tool and the ability to share work with others in a variety of platforms. Overall the structure made sense. From an administrator’s perspective two concerns are targeted. First, are teachers giving students questions that are too low or too high on the level of rigor. Second, are teachers giving students questions that are not properly aligned to the End Of Course standards. From the teacher perspective, Edulastic is user friendly, does TEI, and can be utilized for formative assessments in so many ways.
Describe your favorite Edulastic “aha” moment.
I was in a biology class running an assessment with some biology students. I put together an awesome assessment and was so excited because I was confident that these kids were going to learn something today. I gave the assessment to the students, but unfortunately it took them way too long to get through it. I was thinking to myself, “where did I go wrong?” As I reflected back, I began to see that they were not engaged and even worse shutting down in frustration. I then realized that my assessment length and answer choice length were too long and as a result made a significant negative impact on my students’ performance. At that moment I said to myself, “Mike, keep it simple- You’re a biology teacher and these kids are trying to learn.” Help them to learn by giving them stepping stones that build to higher levels of rigor.
I realized that Edulastic’s TEI questions all by itself adds a dimension of rigor. I didn’t need to work hard to add extra bells and whistles to my assessments. I just need to let Edulastic do the work for me.
What are your teaching/learning goals this school year?
For Edulastic my goal is to meet with grade levels and subject areas during their plannings or after school to assist with creating assessments in Edulastic for the content they need to cover for the next 9 weeks. I have also set a goal to meet with teachers in their classroom and help model Edulastic with their students.
Tips for new Edulastic users:
If you are creating a multiple selection question, don’t put 8 or 12 distractors on there. Keep it simple! Just keep it to 5, maybe 6. If they’re doing a classification question, for example I had a food web, and I wanted them to name the producers and the primary consumers, secondary consumers, etc- that’s a lot!
The goal is too keep it basic yet add rigor with appropriate doses. When students look at a question, they don’t want to think “ughh”, they want to think ” OK, I can do this.” If a student sees too many questions, that’s going to turn them off.
I would recommend putting the assessment in preview mode and having the students go back through the test. You could use Google Cast For Education to have students teach the class and model the questions on the board or from their seat.
Favorite Edulastic question type?
I like them all. I think the one that I gravitate towards the most is the Classification Question because I love for students to be able to show me how they group things. For the most part, they know the information, but they don’t know how to organize it. With these types of questions I am able to better see my students’ level of mastery.
What I really love now is the Drawing Response tool. I just created a quiz for Ecology and I started by uploading a background image. Once uploaded, I was able to ask four or five questions within one question with this new drawing question. These types of questions don’t have to be for a grade, but at times as teachers we’re just wanting to check for understanding and overall mastery.
Favorite snack while using Edulastic
Normally I get the Nature Valley granola bars. They come in peanut butter, chocolate, and Oats ‘ n Honey. I always go with the peanut butter or the chocolate. It gives me a good energy kick without all of the fat.
Coffee or tea?
Neither because I don’t like caffeine but I’d probably go with the tea because I can add a little raspberry to that. I’m a big juice fan so orange juice or apple juice.
I love books. On the non-fiction side I love John Maxwell. He has a book called “Winning With People” that I felt has really helped me better connect and collaborate with those I encounter on a day to day basis. This book has helped me to add value to others and create an environment of synergy.
On the fiction side, I’d have to say Ted Decker. His Circle series was amazing and taught me so many lessons concerning issues of the heart.
Best tactic to get the class quiet?
As a biology teacher I would love having different objects of animals and other specimen surrounding the classroom. Pictures of dissected animals or molds of random organisms would always set the atmosphere. I love it when kids walk in the room on the first week of school and say, “Ahhhhh Mr. Ruffin, there’s a picture of a dissected frog on the wall!”
How do you like to spend your free time?
I love playing the guitar and reading books. I play acoustic guitar at my church and also travel around to different places playing with other groups. I used to love playing soccer but after my knee injury I settle for something safe like running and jogging. I’m recently married so spending time with my wife has been my #1 enjoyment!
Favorite time of the school year?
I would have to say the beginning of each semester because teachers are free enough to actually want to try something new in their classes. During the end of each semester teachers are working hard to help their students pass the end of course test for their subject areas so they are under a lot of stress. Working with teachers during the seasons of “freedom” from testing is very rewarding as I see them engage with their students using technology that is meaningful and productive for their classrooms.
What was your greatest accomplishment in the classroom?
Getting the courage to address my fears. Part of what I didn’t share is that it took about four years before I could find my niche as a teacher. I ended up partnering with a coach who helped me grow in areas I was very weak as a teacher. I videotaped my classes, and she sat down with me and helped me to reflect, learn, and grow in the process. It took a lot of courage to go through that process, but it was a “game-changer” because it allowed me to move away from my “go-to strategies” which were failing and begin growing to become the teacher I need to be.
My students are my greatest achievement and seeing them fulfill their purpose means everything to me. As a teacher I feel that my role is to help students discover more of their purpose and wiring and then use my time with them to help them grow further in walking those things out in their lives.
Kindest compliment you have received from a student?
I still serve the school that I taught at. Just hearing that they missed me and that I made a difference in their lives makes a world of difference to me. Some of my former students still come by my office and want to talk and share what’s going on in their lives. Knowing that these students would still come to me and share their heart means a lot to me.
Funniest student moment?
Every year I go around my class with a bucket that has a preserved kitten fetus in it. I would walk from desk to desk and says “alright guys, I don’t want you all to get distracted, I don’t want you to get off course, I want you all to stay focused.” Then I take the fetal kitten in my hand and begin walking around saying “Every year I have one of my girls that gets pregnant. Here, take a look at this.” The students then respond, “Mr. Ruffin, ewww what is it!?” I share with them that it’s a baby kitten” and they say “Mr. Ruffin, you killed it! Ahhh you’re going to hell!” I responded to them letting them know that I didn’t kill it and I’m not a “baby killer”. What’s also hilarious is that I still get students who ask me if the fetal kitten in the bucket is alive.
Dream Vacation Spot?
I’d love to go to Hawaii or possibly Italy. In Italy the foods great and very rich in history. Hawaii has the great weather, beaches, culture, and so much more.