Saturday, September 20, 2014

Celebrating My Students

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

Do you ever have one of those days that you realize just how completely blessed you are? That you are grateful for every single thing? I’ve had a weekend like that filled with football games, flag football, and a town celebration. It is, indeed, reason to celebrate.

I could celebrate the celebrity that comes with being a teacher. Hearing your name screamed and being rushed at while someone throws their arms around you is a pretty awesome feeling. My former students that are in high school are a bit more subdued, but I still love seeing them. Watching these kids grow, I feel such a sense of pride and gratitude for getting to be even a small part of their lives.

I could celebrate the game. What a game! I love high school football. I love the sense of community. The feeling of screaming and jumping up and down for heart pumping plays. I could celebrate the joy of jumping and cheering in the end zone with friends I have known since I was young. I could celebrate an incredible win, 58-55, which is amazing all by itself.

I could celebrate our high school’s flag football program, which is new this year. How Liam loves going and looks forward to it more than anything else in his week. When I woke him today all I had to say was, “Flag football,” and he cheered and hopped out of bed.

I could celebrate my community. I volunteered to work in two booths at our town celebration today. In one I spoke to community members about our referendum coming up. Every interaction was positive. I received hugs from parents of former students. Spoke to friends from town. Received compliments and encouragement – both of which I was so grateful for and will pay forward.

I could celebrate the chance to visit with students – former and current. Whether it was at the game last night, walking with a football player this morning to ask about his injury, hugs on the square today, book conversations, or the former student who walked me home from the town celebration in the rain, I love each and every one of them. What a gift they give me every day.

So many celebrations, I cannot even comprehend how truly blessed I am. Walking in the door to my home, I smiled. I was drenched from the rain, exhausted from the day, but Liam greeted me at the door. He had to show me the whistle he had won uptown at the celebration. He’s been asking me to borrow my whistle from school all week, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Looking at Liam, it finally made sense. See, the reason he wants to go to flag football has a lot to do with these guys:

Nate and Clay are two of my former students. The high school team volunteers as the coaches of the flag football teams. Nate and Clay are Liam’s coaches and it is an understatement to say he idolizes them just a bit. Every play of that game last night, he watched them. He wanted to get there early today to see them. And when they walk around coaching, want to guess what they have hanging in their mouths? Yep, a whistle. So now I have a nine year old walking around our house with a whistle.

As a teacher, I work hard to make sure my students know I care about them. Before I begin to worry about the standards I teach, I am always thinking about how I can strengthen our relationship to make it one that will last for our year and beyond. I constantly try and teach my students not only our curriculum, but also how to be people they can be proud of. It never dawned on me - until today - that those kids I was working with would be teens that my own children would look up to. Wow. I am beyond grateful for former students who are willing to be role models to my own children. My heart is filled with gratitude and love.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Plates Spinning

I went to church last night struggling with emotions for a variety of reasons:

  • I was overwhelmed with a never-ending to do list.
  • I felt let down by some people I was counting on for a project.
  • Liam seems to be getting a cold and I wondered how I knew whether it was that horrible virus.
  • I’m the co-chair of canvassing for our referendum and I feel like I’m making my co-chair do most of the work.
  • I’m worried about getting enough volunteers for canvassing and I don’t know what to do.
  • I’m worried that the community is focusing on the wrong issues for our referendum.
  • I’m worried about teachers who seem overwhelmed.
  • I’m worried about kids that are as well.

And as I sat in mass, watching Luke trying to remember the jobs as Alter Server and smiled. I began to feel at peace. The realization that I really cannot control everything and I just need to let go began to worm its way into my brain. I relaxed and knew that I was working as hard as I can, but the only person I can truly control is me. I cannot control the choices others make and I need to let go of that and focus on my own actions. What a relief. It was as if God had taken some of my burden for me.

Mass ended and I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw the grandparents of one of my students from last year. They shared how much she missed me and said she’d do anything to be in my class again. I smiled and told them to tell her I love her and miss her too. Walking out, I spoke to a few other parents as I grabbed a bulletin and stood in the aisle to wait for Luke. Looking at the bulletin, I saw the CCD teachers for the year listed. Next to sixth grade – Luke’s grade, the grade of that former student who missed me and wanted to be in my class again – next to them there was a blank.

I paused. My brain raced. I don’t have free time. I can’t do this. Or maybe I can. I stood, silent, and waited. Tears sprang to my eyes, I knew this was a sign. I walked up to father standing outside and asked if they were struggling to get a sixth grade teacher for that class. He shared that as of Wednesday night he knew they still didn’t have anyone. He asked if I was willing to step in and I said I felt I needed to.

Luke came out and I thought about it the whole way home. I knew what I had to do. I called and talked to the woman in charge of our religious education program and volunteered myself. I cannot teach this week – I have to go through some sort of training before I can be in the classroom, but if all goes well, I’m teaching on Sundays now too.

Chris, the boys, and I headed out for dinner after that. I sat at dinner, a bit quiet, and reflected. Going to church I had been a mess. Angry, worried, irritated, overwhelmed. Two hours later I have one more plate to spin, but I felt lighter and at peace. It is such a good feeling to be on the right path, to know you are doing all you can – and for the right reasons as well. Deep breath, a new journey is beginning.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Celebrate This Week

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

Today I received a ring from a student. He pointed out the school colors he had woven together and also how one side also included my favorite color, the blue that is in the ocean. I thanked him and immediately put it on my finger. One of the other students at the table looked up from a project she was working on and said, “You sure do love us, Mrs. S., don’t you.”

And with that, my friends, my heart was full. You see the start of the year is both amazing and exhausting. I don’t think a year has begun where I felt like everything was working well until at least October hit. I have begun to realize that I place completely unrealistic expectations on myself to have everything operating in the fall just as it was in the spring. Today I decided to let go of that and look around at the reasons I should be celebrating.

Impromptu reading clubs. I glanced up from the spot I was conferring from the other day and realized many of my students were in clusters around the room and on the landing outside our door. When I moved around to check on them I realized that so many had created their own reading groups or partnerships. We had the Babymouse group, the Lunch Lady group, the Mike Lupica group, and more. If I had assigned it, I doubt they would have been interested. As it was, they were creating these learning communities on their own.

Learning for learning sake. I have many students who love to extend their learning this year. Some go home and blog on their own time without it being assigned. Some have created newspapers, magazines, and other projects even though I haven’t required it. Many come back from Math or Social Studies and choose to teach me about what they are learning. They don’t stop because the assignment is over, but it is almost as if they are just getting started.

Remembering 9/11. For the anniversary this year I read 14 Cows for America and then shared this video:

We then did a quick write – how can kindness change the world? What I want my students to realize is that they do indeed have a power and it is the way they choose to view life, to treat others. This video made me cry every single time I played it on Thursday. Explaining to my students that it made me cry with gratitude for the kindness that is displayed was a lesson all by itself.

It has been an exhausting week, but an interesting week nonetheless. It has been a week where I have been frustrated while I have watched adults lose focus – to fall victim to negativity and forget that children (our own and the ones in our communities) should be at the forefront of every decision we make. If they are, we cannot go wrong. But it has also been a week full of kindness, love, relationships, and more. I look at my students and my mind races with where I want to be, but then realize that we are, indeed, exactly where we should be. A glance up from my front table at study hall found a group of boys working on creating a magazine, some other boys reading and discussing books. Seems like a perfect world to me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Slice of Life - Despair

                 Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers.

Despair. This was a vocabulary word my students and I discussed the other day. I explained that to despair was to lose hope. One of my wise students asked if I ever felt despair. I looked in their eleven-year-old eyes and nodded my head. I confessed that sometimes I lose hope in the goodness in people. That others bring me down and make me sad. Then a quiet voice asked, “How do you get hope back?” and I shared my secret, you look for the good.

This week there has been much reason to despair. Loosing members of our community too soon. Ugliness on social media. Friends being hurt by unkindness. Watching my son be hurt. That last one was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Luke is in football. Against all odds, Luke loves football. As his mom, I’d like nothing more than to wrap him in bubble wrap and move him away from any sport that has the risks that football does. But, also as his mom, I want him to grow and find what he loves. Football it is.

For the second time this season, officials were unkind to him. Luke is larger than the majority of the sixth graders. He can thank his father for that DNA. Being tall and broad, he seems to be seen differently by the officials. They assume he is aggressive. They assume he is unkind. He’s called for penalties I know he didn’t commit. He’s been called a “jerk” by one official, been told he’d be kicked out of a game by another. I’ve watched, I’ve checked in with his coaches. They have reassured me, the officials were wrong, my son is fine. And still, my heart hurts for him.

Adults being unkind to children are something that gets me every time. It hurts when I see it done to my students. It hurts when I see it with my own children. Fortunately, for them, that is a rare occurrence. For that, they are lucky.

And so I began my Monday with despair in my heart. I ached for those who had lost loved ones recently. I was saddened to see people reacting with vitriol to others online. And most of all, I was sad for my son. But, as always, the good began to rise to the surface. It came in the form of coaches – my son’s and others in town – that took the time to email me and let me know how impressed they were with his character. It came from friends who sent me kind notes throughout the day. And it came from my students, especially my fifth grade boys on the same team as my son. They came in, testosterone racing, ready to go out and protect Luke against all the evildoers everywhere. I looked at their earnest faces, listened to their words of support, and my heart filled with love. Yes, there is negativity everywhere, and if you choose to focus on it, you will be filled with despair. But the light comes in if you let it, and, as Peter Reynolds reminded us, we make the light. I was surrounded by that light today. The despair has been banished and the hope has been renewed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thank You...

Last week I shared our classroom Twitter account with my students and set them free to tweet with abandon. I had learned the year before that the first few days on Twitter are a bit insane, kids tweet non-stop. They are beyond excited. This was true this year as well. I shook my head, silently apologizing to the authors that were being bombarded with incessant tweets of “I love your books. Write more.” It was the first experience for these kids where they could reach out and “touch” an author, and they were a bit giddy. I knew if I just rode out this wave, their Twitter use would calm down to a manageable amount of tweets, so I stayed quiet.

Friday I went to grade their writing journals for their slice of life writing. Flipping through entries, I saw posts on football games, playing outside, grandparents, etc. Looking through Drew’s, I stopped when I saw an entry marked Twitter. I looked closer. Drew had tweeted Dan Gutman sharing how much he loved his books and asking him to write more. Dan tweeted back and told Drew he would.

Drew’s entry goes on to say how beyond thrilled he was that Dan said his name. He goes home, tells his parents about it, and decides that one of his life goals will be to meet Dan Gutman in person.

This happened over and over last week. Jenni Holm, Gordon Korman, Tom Angleberger, Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier, Lisa McMann, and more tweeted my students back when they sent out their bazillion tweets. I don’t know if they realize the impact of that. These kids would shout out when they saw a tweet favorite or replied to. They’d run around, showing everyone their iPads and say, “She tweeted me back! She tweeted me back!” It was awesome.

I always say we live in a tiny little hamlet here in Monticello. Surrounded by cornfields, thirty miles to the nearest bookstores, much more than that to a bookstore that would actually have author visits. These kids don’t often have the chance to interact with authors and I wanted to change that. I grew up here. I never thought I could be an author because that wasn’t something that happened to “real people.” Because of Twitter, my students can get to know authors as people and that can become a real dream for them. That makes me happy. Having authors tweet my students back and make their day or week? I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to learn more about the link up for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

The school year has just begun and already it seems like it is flying! Looking over my reading list for this week, I finished two books I had been reading on and off throughout the week, but making no progress with. All ended up being terrific. It's hard at the start of the year to read a ton during the week, I'm exhausted and completely drained from this oppressive heat and lack of air conditioning in my classroom. However, the long weekend hit and I flew through several books that I cannot wait to book talk when I return to school.

Here's what I read:

Classroom library note: The Graveyard Book begins exactly as the book does, with the murder of the parents and older sister. You see them laying in bed with blood on their throats. I am still putting it in my library, but will be mentioning that fact so students who don't like violence can steer clear.

Up next to read this week is Greenglass House by Kate Milford. I've heard great things about it. 

Have a terrific week! 
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