Finding Joy

JOY

Amid the meetings, the hubbub, and the rush, rush, rush of today, I found myself treasuring so much about what I do. Today, I am celebrating  joy with this little list of appreciation. The items on this list bring me joy. Joy when I’m stressed, joy when I feel like I just can’t get it all done, joy in those moments when I wonder if I’m really cut out for this little profession we call teaching.

  • My students, my students, my students. Each day I hear something hysterical, thought provoking, kind, or optimistic. They inspire me, give me hope, make me smile.
  • I have a tremendously supportive principal who listens to me vent, empathizes with my viewpoints, and supports my students in a loving, yet firm manner.
  • I am overjoyed to  work with a staff that likes to laugh, especially on those full moon days! I love to hear Mary Helen laugh out loud with that sparkle in her eye, or to get an emoji text from Michelle that depicts EXACTLY what I’m feeling.
  •  I am humbled to be in a partnership with parents who care, who return my phone calls, and who aren’t afraid to ask questions; parents that are present.
  • I am blessed to learn something new every day from colleagues much more learned than I. I am constantly thinking, “Wow, teach me how to do THAT!”
  • Grading math tests tonight, on fractions no less, I was inwardly shouting, “YAY! Way to go! You got it, I knew you would!” My students are learning, no matter what ISTEP may say.
  • Gavin, after learning about how slaves were treated and how they traveled hundreds of miles on the Underground Railraod blurts out, “Now, this is making me MAD!” Yes, Gavin, it should, good for you!

At 8:01 p.m. on an ordinary Tuesday night, these are the joyful thoughts on which I am reflecting.

What brought you joy today??

Why Genius Hour?

live-nowLast week, I, along with a good friend and colleague, presented to our staff about how we implemented and use Genius Hour in our classrooms. As I began to prepare for the presentation, I thought about how much I had hated my high school years and how I couldn’t wait to finish so I could “start my life.” Same thing in college. I thought, “Wow, let’s get this over with so I can really start living.” But honestly, why can’t we go ahead and let kids “start life” while they are in school?

My goals for Genius Hour are that kids become curious, learn to problem solve and collaborate, but mostly, (and this is the biggest reason), that they have FUN!! I feel like we (myself included) are so serious about this business of education. We are serious in meetings, serious when doing curriculum mapping, and serious about standardized tests. I think it’s time we bring some joy, laughter, and fun back to the classroom as much as possible. Genius Hour, STEAM projects, &  Maker Spaces are just a few ways to do this. I know for some of my kids, Genius Hour is the one time a week when they feel excited, confident in themselves, and accomplished. That is how we should live our lives!!
There is no wrong way to do Genius Hour!! I just jumped in three years ago and had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes it feels like a train wreck, and other times it’s the poster child for collaboration, media literacy, research & creativity.
A student asked last week, “Why can’t we have Genius Hour every day?” Great question, dear student, great question!! I would love to hear your thoughts on how we could…

We Are Exhausted

Exhaustion

I set my alarm for 6:30 this chilly Sunday morning, started the coffee pot, then sat down at my desk and began to cry. The stress and anxiety of last week and the week ahead finally got the best of me. I had worked most of the day yesterday, still had planning to do, a stack of papers to grade, and needed to go to my classroom to prepare materials for the coming week.  How would I ever get it all done? How did other teachers do it? What was wrong with me? Was I just not managing my time well? How could I be a good wife, a good mom, a good daughter, a good friend, AND a good teacher? These questions raced through my mind as the tears slid down my face.

I am so passionate about my vocation-not my job– but my calling to be a teacher. The meaning of passion includes “an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” It also includes the act of suffering. I think to say that educators suffer for teaching would be accurate. I believe teachers, in general, are an altruistic lot. We spend our own money on classroom resources, agonize over the well-being of our students, and obsess over the most effective means to deliver content to our students. Often, I spend 30 minutes or longer viewing videos or resources for just one lesson.

I know I am not alone.

When I got to school today, several other teachers’ cars were in the parking lot as well. Some of us had a short discussion in the hallway about the demands of meetings, data collection, and observations. We spoke of the exhaustion and stress that accompanies our profession. It seems we all feel it, but are hesitant to talk about it.

I’m hearing and reading a lot about teacher burnout and teacher shortage. I’m in my 5th year of teaching; the year the statistics talk about. I don’t want to burnout. I want to continue to do what I love, to maybe change the world in some small way.

I think we, as teachers, need to voice our concerns when the meeting load gets too heavy, when the data collection overwhelms us, when we just need to take some time and breathe.

I’m writing this tonight, not to complain, but to try to start an honest conversation about the work load of teachers. Teachers who LOVE what they do, teachers who are passionate, but teachers who are tired.

What do you do to manage your time? To have a life? To keep going because you know your students need you?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

rabbit-hole

I met after school today with my team to discuss math curriculum and the looming standardized test we’ll be administering at the end of February. I admit, I was starting to “freak out” a bit as we reviewed standards we had yet to teach. Those with *** that meant they could (not will, but could) be tested on the first round of testing. And there are many  BIG topics that need taught in the next several weeks. Fractions, decimals, area and perimeter, measurement. BIG mathematical concepts that provide the foundation for harder concepts to come, but more importantly, for students’ LIVES.

We have been doing valuable work in our math classes this year. Small “guided” math groups, stations to increase fact fluency and problem solving, spiral review activities, and Tier 2 math remediation. Sometimes it takes more practice to master  a concept.  Sometimes kids aren’t quite developmentally ready to tackle a concept….yet. Oftentimes, we like to provide hands on experiences, watch videos, do projects; all with the goal of making math real, making it stick. These things all take time. Time, I would argue, that is time well spent.

So why should we feel the panic, the anxiety, the urging to hurry through and
“cover” the content because it might be on the test? Because, as those of in education know all too well, the test is really a crap shoot, isn’t it?

Take for example, this recent article in The Washington Post. Poet Sara Holbrook couldn’t answer questions correctly on the STAAR reading test (8th grade) about her OWN POEM!! You know why she couldn’t? Because the test maker made the questions. They didn’t ask the author for her answer. Only she knew her purpose for writing the poem. Only she knew what certain lines meant..and what they meant to her.

Poetry, like all literature, is interpretive. Students bring their own points of view and background knowledge to any kind of text. In our class, when I ask students to think of the theme of a story, I have them provide evidence for why they think that. Thus, there are MANY correct answers, not just one.

That’s why I’ve decided not to go down the rabbit hole into which it seems test makers and politicians are trying to lure me. I will NOT teach content quickly just to cover it for a test. I will NOT tell students there is only one correct answer or one correct way to show me what they know. I will NOT allow anyone to try to coerce, scare, or intimidate me into doing something I know is not good for kids.

What I will do is keep providing the best quality of instruction that I know how to provide. I will continue to use multiple sources in instruction and reject any canned curriculum handed to me by test makers. I will continue to do my best to reach students where they are and help them achieve to their greatest potential. And that, is the grandest adventure of all!

 

 

 

Wearing the Badge of Honor Roll

badge

I just finished printing off report cards for Quarter 2 and creating a list of “All A’s” and “A’s & B’s” so those students can receive an honor roll certificate at a quarterly awards program.

As I kid, I was usually on the honor roll. I loved getting my name in the paper and proudly displayed the article on our refrigerator. I have to admit, I liked it when my peers would ask me questions because I was one of the “smart kids” in class. (I wasn’t really, but that was the perception because of honor roll!) But now, as a teacher, I cringe at only honoring kids who are academically gifted.

I totally think these kids need recognition for their academic achievements! They have a great work ethic and are usually leaders and role models in our classroom. But what about the kids who work their tails off, make amazing progress, but never get the grades? What about the kid that shows kindness and empathy every day to his/her peers? What about the kids who are wildly creative in art, music, and Genius Hour? What about the kids who are athletically gifted or the kids who have a great sense or humor?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every kid has to get an award. Awards are recognition for excellence. But I do think we need to expand our vision of how we honor kids and expand it to realms outside of academics.

What do you think?

 

 

 

Balance: A Tightrope Between School and Home

balance

     I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a child. Playing school with my little sister as my student, “teaching” summer school in the summers from age 10-16, being a paraprofessional for over 10 years; teaching is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

     This will be my fifth year as a teacher and I absolutely love my profession! However, I can’t seem to find a balance between school and having a personal life. A typical Saturday evening finds me perusing Teachers Pay Teachers, YouTube, and Twitter for fun ideas for next week’s lessons. Sunday afternoons are spent at school copying materials, making anchor charts, filing things that I didn’t have time for during the week. Besides “just teaching”, I try my hand at blogging, and occasionally am asked to present at various professional meetings. It is a profession that encompasses my entire life.

     My husband cannot fathom why I’m not home at 3:30 on weekdays and relaxing on the weekends. Why on earth do I “work” during Christmas break? Why can’t I get home before 5:00 and once I do get home, unwind and have some fun.? Why, indeed? I ask myself these same questions.

  I recently watched this video by John Spencer. Am I too busy? Doing too much? Working hard, but not smart?

 I have tried this year to guard my time out of school. I have turned down being in school skits, going to the staff Christmas party, and speaking engagements. With this, comes some guilt. But I truly feel like I give so much of my time, my heart, my life to my students and to my profession, that sometimes I just have to say no.

I think it’s so difficult to be so absolutely passionate about teaching and know when/how to unplug. Personally, I just haven’t been able to find a way to do that…

I would love to hear how (and IF) other teachers like you are able to balance school and home.

Thinking Allowed

thinking

Over break, I’ve been planning our next writing unit; persuasive writing. I always grapple with this genre of writing due to an experience I had several years ago in my fourth grade classroom.

The small town I grew up in has always had a third grade field trip to the circus. (For over thirty years, this has been an annual field trip!!) Several years ago there was wintry weather, and the trip was cancelled. When those third graders came to fourth grade, our fourth grade team decided to ditch that field trip for many reasons. To name a few, we saw little educational value in the circus, and we took other high-quality field trips that aligned with our state standards.

So, when it was time for persuasive writing, I thought it would be intriguing to research circuses. At the time, as far as I knew, we weren’t required to go to the circus. So we researched the pros/cons, and looked at both circus websites as well as animal rights websites. We looked at bias and what it means to “jump on the bandwagon.” Students found videos that shocked them when they saw how elephants were controlled with bull hooks. Students saw what went on behind the scenes as tigers and lions were kept in small cages, and elephants swayed back and forth in chains. Needless to say, their eyes were opened and they began to look at the circus through new lenses. In our class, thinking was allowed, especially if it challenged the good ol’ status quo!

Fast forward several months after our unit. It was time for the circus! You could almost hear the music, see the lights, and taste the cotton candy. Two days before the circus, parents began a public outcry on Facebook as to the unfair decision to not send the fourth graders. Administration was contacted (without ever asking the teachers or the students about their opinions). In the end, it was decided, that yes, fourth grade must attend this field trip.

But what about my class? They didn’t WANT to go to the circus. They had done research and had made up their own minds by thinking critically about the issue. Isn’t this what we want for our students? That they should be able to make informed, intelligent decisions about their own lives? Thinking, and acting on that thinking, should be allowed. Just because “we’ve always done it” sure doesn’t mean that we should continue.

Circus day arrived. Students were told if they didn’t go to the circus they would be counted absent, or they could spend the day at school in the library. Three of my students stayed home. One brave student stayed at school in the library all day. The rest went to the circus. What about their teacher? I refused to go. I took a personal day. My wonderful paraprofessional said that when the elephants and the trainers came out, my students stood up shouting, “Bull hook! Bull hook!”I couldn’t have been any prouder of them than I was when I heard what they did.

I think the heart of persuasive writing lies in the ability to really reflect on your opinion; to gather as much information from multiple sources to help you formulate an informed opinion. What do you think and why do you think that? And why do you want others to agree with you? Most importantly, if they agree with you, what can you do to change something for the better?

So, with these things in mind, I chose The World’s Largest Lesson for our persuasive writing unit. I found out about this project last year on Twitter from A. J. Juliani. I figure, if we are going to learn the art of persuasion, let’s do it right and do it BIG! As a teacher, I want students to think critically about issues that really matter, then use what they learn to make a difference. The World’s Largest Lesson allows students to research a global goal like clean water or climate change. Then, they’ll write a public service announcement and Tweet it to the world.

Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see what these kids will do with this unit. Yes, thinking is not just required…it’s allowed!