Thursday, August 30, 2012

Opening up our classrooms

Students checking out Mr. Sharp's video

I love opening my classroom up, showing my students that the world is bigger than our tiny piece of it. Skyping has helped in that endeavor – and I cannot wait for my first Skype session this year. I also love to collaborate on units and lessons within my own district, creating lessons with other teachers, working with specialists to pull in their knowledge and teach my students that people beyond their crazy reading teacher love literature and technology. But today I was reminded of one of the biggest collaboration tools I’ve come across in the last three years, Twitter.

I joined Twitter three years ago this summer. Signing up, I didn’t think I would get much from it. I think the only thing I knew about Twitter was that Ashton Kutcher had a lot of followers. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I immediately began following educators and authors. Twitter has become, as Donalyn Miller puts it, the best “armchair PD” out there. I can ask questions, get assistance on a lesson issue, or just discuss books. I’ve made friends through Twitter, people that I communicate with on a regular basis. I’ve grown as an educator through Twitter. Probably the biggest shock was that through Twitter, and my friends there, I’ve also begun to realize my dream of writing.

Today as I taught a lesson in my reading class the beauty of Twitter was brought home to me. I’m reading R.J. Palacio’s Wonder to all three of my reading classes. The kids hang on Auggie’s every word. (For those of you that know the book, we hit the “Bleeding Scream” scene today. Oh boy.) Today I pulled up a blog from my friend Jen Vincent talking about her student, Michelle, who shares some of Auggie’s medical complications. (HERE) Wow, the discussion was amazing. The kids were kind, insightful, curious, and made connections that I was astounded by.

Then we switched gears and talked about how to share books with each other and how some people wear their love of reading on their sleeves. To illustrate this I shared Colby Sharp’s opening day video from last year. (HERE) The kids giggled, talked about what it would be like to be in Colby’s class, and discussed why he was a “cool” teacher. I pulled about six books that I said would be some of Mr. Sharp’s favorites (Bigger Than a Breadbox, Hound Dog True, Babymouse, Hatchet, The One and Only Ivan) and book talked them all. All of these books were checked out by the end of the day.

Educator friends from Twitter like Donalyn Miller, John Schu, Tony Keefer, Frankie Sibberson, and so many more have come up almost daily in our classroom. I’m thinking of grabbing a map of our country and pinpointing friends’ classrooms on it so kids can refer to them easily. Hopefully once my Skype operation is working again we will Skype in their classrooms because as I watched my students reading about Jen and Michelle today – and laugh with Colby  – I realized that my classroom is a richer place for because these amazing educators are part of it.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Teaching and Parents

Parent Night - Done!!

Well, I made it through parent night. And as nervous as I was – and I’m not kidding – the old heart was racing, it was terrific. I love meeting the parents. Putting names and faces together. Seeing some of their children in them. And I love watching the parents’ faces as I talk, how excited they are for the school year, but how nervous they are too.

There is a reason I believe I am a better teacher for having children. For my teacher friends who do not have kids, please don’t think I mean to slight you. I truly do believe you can be a wonderful teacher and not have kids. But for me, something happened when I had children. I had no idea how powerful the love was for your kids. How you truly would do anything you could for this other person. How badly I wanted my children to succeed, to be happy, to enjoy life.

When Luke, and then Liam, started school I was floored by how hard it was for me. I wanted to go meet with each teacher and share their strengths and their faults. To tell them what they needed to be successful. This is why I now send a letter home at the start of every school year asking my students’ parents to write me anything I need to know about their child. Often parents comment on how happy they are to get this opportunity. That they love this chance to share their child, although it is hard to summarize everything needed to share in one page.

A former principal also told me something one day when we were discussing a child that was struggling in my class. He reminded me that parents want the best for their kids. They may not parent the way I would, but they aren’t keeping their “best” children at home. They are sending you what they have and they love their children more than anything.

Each parent has hopes and dreams for their children. I’d imagine that most parents hope for a better life for their children. The way they go about this might be different than my own actions, but we have a lot more in common then we’d think. 

And tonight I had the immense pleasure of meeting my niece, Vivian, for the first time. As I looked at Ryan and Mo’s faces I saw two things: exhaustion and love. Being parents for the first time is a humbling experience, but amazing in a way that takes your breath away. And thinking of my brother, his wife, and their new baby girl I said some prayers. Of course I prayed for health, happiness, and to be surrounded by love. But with parent night fresh in my mind and the faces of 71 students who cheered when I told them of Vivian’s arrival today, I prayed for educators to nurture, support, and adore her just as every child should be. For teachers that will be compassionate when she slips up and a cheerleader when she soars. But mostly I just loved her, which is what it’s really all about.  Welcome to the world, Vivian Jean. We sure do adore you already. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Slice of Life - Parent Night

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.

It’s less than twenty-four hours away and I’m already dreading it. As I’ve told everyone I know, give me a gym full of children anywhere from age four to eighteen, and I wouldn’t break a sweat. Give me twenty or so adults in my classroom and my voice quakes and my neck begins to resemble a thermometer as it gradually turns red. I sweat; my heart beats faster and faster, the whole time praying I can just make it through the night.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) will be my thirteenth parent night. It has gotten easier over the years. I have found that having kids truly was a great equalizer. Also, growing closer in age – or older (!) – than the parents also helps. I have more practice at presenting too. But truly, it is never something I would do for fun. I stress about it, make plans, copy handouts, think it through, and pray it goes off without a hitch.

My favorite story of parent night is from twelve years ago, B.C. – before children. I, like many in my area, teach in a time warp of “no air conditioning”. How this is even remotely allowed I still don’t know. So, after school on that fateful parent night I raced into the house, threw down the M&Ms I purchased for the parents (bribes), tossed the gate across the dining room entrance so my dog wouldn’t get out, and ran upstairs to shower the day off. I quickly got ready and ran back down thirty minutes later to grab my candy and run out the door. I looked around, and around, and saw that there were no M&Ms to be found. What? Then, I thought for a minute. I had foolishly put the candy near the gate. My ever-hungry golden retriever, Bally, had apparently snaked her paw through the gate, pulled the M&Ms into the kitchen, carefully torn open the bags, and inhaled a pound and ½ of M&Ms. I might have said a few bad words at this point.

A quick call to the local vet informed me that I needed to get her to throw-up. I think I might have said something to the effect of You’ve got to be kidding me. Luckily, my younger brother, Ryan, was in town. He rushed over to my house with hydrogen peroxide, which Bally gleefully licked out of the spoon. We then stood back and watched her like a ticking time bomb, and boy did she go off! Ryan agreed to stay with the dog until Chris could get home and I hightailed it out of there to parent night.

Needless to say, that was one of my more entertaining evenings. I found that you can’t plan out everything, everyone loves a good story, and most parents want to know three things: you care about their kids, you will try your best, and you will get them out of your hot classroom as soon as possible. So I will try to keep this at the forefront of my mind as I meet the new parents on Tuesday night. I have seventy-one kids for reading this year. I have only fifteen minutes with each group to try and convey everything I’d like to say, as I shake like a leaf at the same time. And while I dread the presentation part of the evening, I truly enjoy meeting these parents, forming the partnerships with them, and beginning another wonderful year. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading?

 I’m joining Jen & Kellee (and many other bloggers) in discussing what we are reading this week. Join us! Go to their site and link up your own blog.

The only thing I can think to say about my week in regard to reading is, you can tell I’ve gone back to school. Gone are the leisurely days of lounging in my bed and reading one book after another. Sigh. But, the back to school frenzy is wonderful as well. At any rate, here’s what I read this week:

Not a bad book in the bunch! Always a good thing.

Currently I’m reading this:

I feel pretty good about my own children, although they can always step up more, but thought this would be a terrific book to share with parents. I have parent night Tuesday night and am racing to finish before then so I can book talk it there.

After that, who knows? I have so many books to read I’ll have a hard time choosing what will come next. Fingers crossed I have more energy this week and can actually read before bed. Last week I dropped off as soon as lying down.