Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It Takes A Village

I know I am getting older when I make comments to my husband like, “Kids these days…” and discuss the worry that they don’t appreciate what they have, that they are entitled, or a plethora of other worries that pop in my mind. It isn’t necessarily my students I am referring to, I could just as easily be talking about my own boys. No matter how much I have tried to raise them to appreciate what they have, to be compassionate, to be giving – I worry that it isn’t enough. It is never enough.

So while I have a whole fabulous flipchart listing all of my Common Core State Standards that I must teach in a given year, I often add my own standards ahead of those: to teach empathy, to teach compassion, to teach gratitude, to teach the need to reach out and help another human. I want my students to realize there is more world out there than our tiny little town would have them believe. That there is goodness and ugliness. That small acts can make a difference. We’ve done this through discussion, picture books, our current class read aloud, and more. This week, we jumped into the world of YouTube.

It began with an older article from my Comprehension Tool-kit Texts. It was from Time For Kids and discussed the state of education for girls across the world. My students were horrified to learn how many children don’t go to school across the globe, but want to. In each class, at some point in our discussions, a child would say, “So other kids would do anything to trade places with us, wouldn’t they?” The looks of realization as they understood the education they have take for granted really moved me. We talked about Malala and her story. The kids wanted to know more.

The next day I shared with them three videos I came across last year. (I shared those videos in a blog post HERE.) The kids were so quiet, especially about the families that scavenge in the dump in Africa. We talked about how it reminded some kids of the book Trash. (Which was quickly checked out by others who now had to read it.)

As we read the articles and watched the videos, the students recorded evidence to the prompt, I am lucky because… on a graphic organizer. Our plan is to write an essay after we are done gathering evidence from all of our sources this week. The discussions they have had on the carpet after each video have been incredible.

Today I introduced them to one of my favorite YouTubers – John Green. I shared the following two videos:


They were floored by the conditions people half a world a way live in on a daily basis. In response to Green's first video, Looking Away, a child made a connection to people looking away from Auggie in Wonder. They decided it was all about feeling guilty for what you have and someone else doesn’t. They wanted to do more. I informed them that I donated to Green’s water.org campaign for all of them. I didn’t want them to feel like they had to run home and demand that their parents donate.

Tomorrow we will wrap it up by staying in Africa, but moving to Tanzania. I picked my son, Liam, up from fourth grade basketball this week. His coach had all twenty kids sitting around him while he talked about Kyle Maynard and his No Excuses platform. Listening to Liam’s coach talk about Kyle, I knew I wanted to share his story. I will tomorrow with the following video:


Watching Liam’s coach, I was filled with gratitude. It truly does take a village to raise our children. I will work my best at home to install values in them, to help them appreciate what they’ve been given, to create the desire to give back. But when other teachers and coaches do this work too, we all win. What a fabulous reminder of that I had this week.


Friday my students will craft their essays. Why are they lucky? What should they appreciate about the life they have been given? I think this chance for reflection is exactly what we need as we move forward this year. Will it make them all suddenly be fabulous students who consistently put forth their best effort in all ways, I doubt it. But the seed will have been planted, it is up to them to continue to grow.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Celebrate This Week - Twenty-seven Days

Twenty-seven days.

Relationships have begun.
Learning who we will share our year with.
Likes, dislikes.
Fears, dreams.

Assessment,
So. Much. Assessment.
Recorded and administered.
Conferring notes poured over.

Twenty-seven days
Doesn’t seem like that much.
Until you look back,
And realize how far you have come.

My mind reaches back,
Thinking of those students
Who have just moved on.
Comparing, worrying.

Looking over the writing
For this new group of seventy-five,
Soon to be seventy-six.
And my heartbeat speeds up.

Run-on sentences,
Capitalization and spelling errors.
Confusion on a narrative versus an essay.
Mini-lessons failing to be applied.

And then,
You breathe.
This is where we are.
We’ve already come so far.
It just takes time.
After all, it has only been,
Twenty-seven days.

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!




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Slice of Life - Homework Battles

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.

Looking at our quiet little street from our front porch, I had a strong desire to walk out the door and go on a run. Frustration flowed through my body and I needed to get it out. I glanced back at the front door to our home and saw the angry nine-year-old face glaring out at me.

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.

I was not going back in until I felt calmer.

My mind raced. Why was he in such a horrible mood? One math problem had set him off. Tears, frustration pouring out. I had waited and then calmly walked in the dining room, read the problem to him, asked questions to get his mind working, helped him work through the problem. His pencil grip was tighter and tighter. His writing angrier and angrier. I tried to be calm, but I’m sure he could tell I was irritated.

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.

Moving on to his book talk for the following day, I asked him to practice on me. It was then I realized he had almost nothing written down. We looked over the directions. I pointed out that he did, indeed, need more than he had written so far. His frustrations were bubbling over. So were mine.

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.

Helping him write out his notes, my mind swallowed everything I wanted to say, but knew I could not. I thought to the many parents over the years who have emailed me, asking for advice on homework with their children. I cursed myself for the emails back, my “simple” answers. None of those answers were helping right now.

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.

After practicing the book talk with me, I grew tired of the disrespectful tone, the frustrated tears, the angry looks. I announced I was giving myself a time out and came out to the porch.

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.

Walking back inside, I sat down on the couch. With a deep breath, I asked him to relax. “We all have bad days, we all make mistakes, we all hurt those we love.”
Those nine-year-old eyes I know and love looked up at me. I continued, “It is what we do when we know we’ve messed up that matters.”

“Can I have a hug, a kiss, and a start over?”

“You bet.”

I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach of not understanding assignments. The question of why everyone else got something so quickly that looked like another language to me. And that memory will help me react from a point of compassion instead of irritation.

Inhale, two, three, four five… exhale, two, three, four five. Repeat.


We’re good.

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

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.
 
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