This post is a little bit later, and honestly, I blame Beyonce. Well, actually, maybe just the Offspring. The Girl wanted me to straighten her hair for school tomorrow. This takes a little bit of time. Also, we decided Beyonce’s Homecoming would be a good background. Basically, it reminded me that I was raised Lutheran and seriously can’t dance. I mean they frowned on us acknowledging that we had hips - let alone letting us shake them. Anyway, I am here now, so sorry all you midwesterners and east coasters.
Today was full on, glorious robot chaos. Now that the room is really set up for the robots, I am settling into the excitement that comes with 9 robot stations in a small classroom. The principal stopped by today while we were in full swing, and saw all the tape on the floor. “Robot season?” I am fortunate to work for and with people who are all about the KIDS FIRST.
We finalized the design of our yearbook - catching a couple typos and one page that still had the place-holder FAKE LATIN on it! Thank goodness. It is now officially in the hands of Blossom Books in Wisconsin. We should have our copies in three weeks — STAY TUNED. I’m very proud of what the kids did AND that it was finally finished. Now, I need a new project for all my spare time.
I am SUPER, SUPER hyped about tomorrow. The motivational speaker from the beginning of our school year is coming back. The kids LOVED him, and we are all thrilled for his return. We are all going to be sporting our Leadership Gear. I got to FINALLY tell my leadership kids that tomorrow after the assembly, they get to meet with him for a special session. THEY WERE STOKED. We still have one adult-size leadership sweatshirt left and they want to give it to him. We are also hoping that he will let us interview him for our news this week. If you are the praying kind, throw a couple prayers my kids way. All in all it is going to be a pretty awesome day.
Here’s something new our family has been trying; one car. Yep, I know. It is completely crazy right? But honestly, why do I need to have a car sit in the school parking lot for 8 hours? The Husband works in town, so he drops me off in the morning, and comes to pick me up in the afternoon. It is a little bit bonding. Honestly, not having two cars isn’t as big of a deal as you would think. And technically, we DO have two cars, but the other one is a 1961 Catalina which I’m not driving. I like to refer to her as “The Other Woman”. It is only on the weekend when the Husband has a gig (He is a musician) that it can be a bummer, but we live in the time of Lyft and Uber, and my parents live in town and aren’t unwilling to loan us a car or tag along for a ride. It is almost as if we were Nosterdamus too because have you SEEN GAS PRICES?
Day 153 is coming to a close, and like my classroom from time to time, it is a little scattered, but hopefully it is encouraging and cheerful.
Keep moving forward,
AFTER MONTHS OF TOIL AND HARD WORK, we sent our sweet little baby yearbook off to the publishers. I spent the morning trying to hunt done the elusive 12 students who had managed to dodge all school pictures. My mini-army of photographers scoured every corner of the campus until they had been located. Most amazing of all, the two boys who joined our school on Thursday, are also in the yearbook. If they had joined just ONE day later they would’ve missed it. More important than that, I remembered that the Spanish word for smile is sonreir. Not bad when you consider my last Spanish class was in a different decade.
Short story long, the yearbook is finished - sort of. We’ve got to review the proof tomorrow and then it is ALL up to the fine folks at Bloom Books. Fingers-crossed that they know what they are doing. We tried out something new this year, with hopes that we could put it together easier and produce it for less money. So far, so good, but until I hold a finished book in my ACTUAL hands, I won’t be sure.
Today was robot chaos, which the kids love. I’ve got 9 different stations in my room where they can put their robots to the test. All of this just means that I have masking tape of various colors all over my floor. We’ve got a giant path called “Around the World” where students have to help the robot navigate the entire room. It was made with green masking tape. I used blue masking tape to make a maze for students to code their robot to solve. Other robots play the xylophone, draw a heart and shoot at a mini-basketball hoop that cheers every time someone makes a basket. It is NOT a quiet room, but it is super happy. There is also a robot vs. robot soccer game, in which a smaller robot is the ball. This is ALWAYS the most popular station until the students find out how incredibly difficult it is to make a robot fast on their feet.
My students have been asking me ALL YEAR to play with the robots. We’ve taken them out from time to time, but it is always at this point in the school year that we really get to play with them. State testing is about to start and playing with robots is a pretty great break.
MEANWHILE, my reading class is starting to really work on their upcoming TED Talks. We pitched ideas today and I heard some really thoughtful ones. I also heard some ideas that helped me realize we need to circle back the concept of ideas worth spreading. I mean, I love Mario and Luigi as much as the next person, but your talk has to be bigger than, “Mario is great. I like him. Luigi is great. I like him.” We will get there.
In personal news, now that I’m not checking and rechecking the yearbook, I am not sure what to do with myself. Although there is a GIANT pile or laundry, dishes, dusting, everything that I could focus on. I think I’m just going to enjoy a cup of decaf and the tail end of this cool, spring day.
Keep moving forward,
I HAD A DREAM THE OTHER NIGHT THAT I WAS TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM A GIANT RABBIT. I think this had something to do with all the chocolate I had eaten - far too close to bed time. Or I guess it could have been our sweet ninth grade neighbor who dressed up as a giant Easter bunny for all the little kids in our apartment complex. We have a ton of littles and they had the best time ever. It was a pretty sweet event.
We’ve been watching lots of TED Ed Talks in class - as my students get ready to write and present theirs. I’m introducing this assignment over and over to each new set of students, and so I’ve seen a couple of the talks a few times, and I keep thinking about this one line: “Coming true is not the only purpose of a dream.” First, the poetic structure of the line struck me, but also the concept behind it. We live in a world of fairy tales where the ending of the story ALWAYS involves a dream coming true. Disney has MADE BUCKETS off this! Cinderella is found by the Prince. The Beast turns into a handsome man. Moana reconnects her people to the water. The list goes on and on. It seems like the lesson is that what matters most comes at the END.
But of course, most of our lives are all about the journey, and some dreams never come true. I am not 5’9. That just isn’t going to happen. I love the idea that my life isn’t about what happens as the credits roll. Dreams can inspire us, push and drive us in a new direction, and maybe that leads us away from where we thought we were going, but we can end up somewhere pretty great, too. I mean, it is pretty obvious that real life is far more complex than a Disney cartoon. Yet it can be pretty easy to fall into the trap of waiting for that moment where the music swells and all is made clear. Here’s a case in point, a friend of mine once told me the exact moment that he knew his girlfriend was going to be his forever. If this were a movie — it would be a moment filled with moonlight and stars, but in reality it was a moment filled with horrible food poisoning and unfortunate bodily fluids. The way he tells it, he staggered into the ER leaning on his girlfriend. He was sick. He was smelly and her only concern was that he get some help. “That’s when I knew it. This girl is the one I want to marry.” Not really a Disney moment.
Pursuing dreams is not a bad thing, but thinking the dreams are only valid when they come true, erases so much of the journey. There is so much value in the day to day, ordinary endless pursuit. And even if you never become an opera singer, or a NBA player, or a totally famous artist, it doesn’t mean your dream was a waste of time because coming true, that’s only part of what dreams are for.
Keep moving forward,
I checked in with our Kindergarten team at lunch today. They always know what day of school it is, and they confirmed that today is day 149 - so it turns out I was right. And to my beloved Uncle who just had to ask if I was a math teacher — Dude, don’t even.
I spent a couple of hours playing with robots and kids today, which is not a bad way to spend the day. I had to say SEVERAL times, “Ok, let’s keep our volume down.” They get really, really excited when we play with the robots. I didn’t bring out the launcher attachment and basketball hoop yet — just WAIT until that happens!
Can we discuss something kind of shallow? I was not feeling my outfit today. I was thinking about this while going upstairs to a district meeting after school and I had this profound/stupid thought, “You aren’t going to hit it out of the park every time.” Sounds kind of dumb, right? But it is also really true. I don’t have a personal stylist or team directing my every move. Sometimes, I might look kind of like a middle-aged mom. That’s just how it is.
And you know what else, that’s also true of the things we do in life - teaching, friendships — even walking and talking! Sometimes we get it all right, and sometimes we get it all wrong. We are just humans, after all, trying our best to do our best. It made me think of that story that Brene Brown tells. She witness this poor bank teller being treated completely disrespectfully by a customer who even makes racial comments toward him. Yet when she gets up to the counter and tells him how sorry she is that he had to endure that, his response is a calm and peaceful, “She’s just doing the best she can.” This concept floored Brene and made her wonder if it were true. Are people really doing the best they can? I think that is really true. I know it is true of me. I am a more calm, understanding, patient teacher than I was at the beginning of my journey, but back then I was doing the best I knew. Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can and when you know better, do better.”
I think of my students who are so very young. They are learning and growing. We spend so much time teaching them important skills like adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing. We make sure they can read and understand, and that they can craft clear sentences, but we also help them to find ways to manage their emotions, and how to recover from failure. They are at the beginning of their journey and every day we strive to help them to do the best they can with the deep hope that everyday, the best they can gets even better.
So, maybe my outfit wasn’t perfect today. I was doing the best I could, and tomorrow, hopefully my best can be even better — not just in my style but also in my substance.
Keep moving forward,
I THINK I SKIPPED A DAY SOMEWHERE. You can’t really blame me. The last days I counted were directly before Spring Break. I was somewhat exhausted, and then I abandoned the Blogosphere for that entire week. Either way, we are coming to last days of this school year. I am ALWAYS bummed about this. I’m not just saying that. I enjoy spending time with my students and I especially don’t want to send my fifth graders on to middle school. Truth be told, I wish our school was K-8th grade. Then we could REALLY send our students out into the world stronger, plus as a bonus, my Offspring would still be with me everyday.
A friend and I were talking at lunch today about how our Monday went. I was explaining how I was a little bit off-kilter all day because of mistakes I’d made in setting up my lessons. But while we talked about it, I started thinking about the goodness of those mistakes. It pushed me to be more thoughtful about everything that I was doing. I had to really focus back in on my goals and purpose of each part of my lesson. It basically forced me to sharpen and hone my skills. So, that’s not all bad, right?
I’m working on being more reflective in the classroom - trying to review what was effective and what wasn’t. I work with some WICKED smart people (I’m waving at you Shauna and Company) who are really thoughtful about what they do and how they do it . I don’t think that is something you can EVER stop doing in the classroom. It is a craft that requires endless effort, thought and (fingers-crossed) growth. It reminds me of that poem, “Yet all experience is an arch wherthro’ gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades for ever and forever when I move.” (Tennyson, Ulysses). In case you are wondering, Ulysses is my favorite poem. Tennyson was a wicked smart guy. Anyway, to make a short story long, the art of teaching is like that; you can see in the distance what good teaching looks like, but every step you take towards it, it just seems to move from you, and yet somehow in that journey you travel great distances. Or whatever.
That’s about it for today. My brain is pretty fried. Here’s hoping that Wednesday is a day of awesomeness - mistakes and all.
Keep moving forward,
WE RETURNED FROM SPRING BREAK TODAY, and everyone seemed a little stunned to be back in the classroom again. It made for a fairly cooperative group of students, but not necessarily a very peppy one. As for myself, my lesson planning was based on a small error in my brain — I thought our students were coming back to state testing. When they take state tests, I cannot use wifi in my classroom, so I built lesson plans around robots that use blue tooth connection, and other hands-on activities. GREAT, right? EXCEPT — state testing is in TWO weeks. On the other hand, my Offspring started state testing today which is how I seemed to mix things up.
It threw me off-kilter a little bit, but also allowed me to have some space to work on ONE LAST important BIG PROJECT with students. They are working on preparing a talk about something that is important to them. If you have never watched a TED-Ed Student Club talk, you should. There’s one with a six year old talking about how much he loves math — “Do you know what fractions are? Say you have a pizza and cut it into 12 pieces. If you ate one piece, that would be 1/12th. That’s a fraction!” He delivers it with such obvious joy that you can’t help but want to yell out, “Fractions are AWESOME!” even though working on fractions with my offspring and their homework makes me want to weep buckets. Maybe little Jim could come over and tutor. Another student shares her belief that mythical beasts might just exist. “We’ve explored less than 5% of the ocean, who knows what could be living down there? But do people take the time to explore? No! They are too busy watching Chopped” .
It’s a new project not only for my students, but also for me. I’ve never led a group of kids toward building their own talk and so feel trepidatious and excited all at the same time. This is my basic starting point for almost everything. Although, on the bright side, tomorrow I will have a MUCH CLEARER idea of what kids on campus are actually doing.
Mixing up the testing dates wasn’t my only error today; I also forgot an after school meeting. Sometime while I was driving home, they called my name over the loudspeaker from the front office. I had to hightail it back to school and apologize PROFUSELY to very kind and very patient team that waited for me. We still had a great meeting, and I really appreciated their understanding.
Sometimes, first days back are like that — a little bit rocky, but today was filled with great moments too. I loved watching and listening as my students problem-solved their way through programing their robots. “You got to give a time thing.” I overheard one 3rd grader say to another. “You know a time parameter. Here I’ll show you.” Sure, he pronounced the word “parameter” a little bit like piranha, but he definitely knew what he was talking about. I also enjoyed the shocking and somewhat blinding sunshine. I had become completely accustomed to clouds and rain. I stepped out into the late morning sunshine and thought, Oh, right, spring time.
I’m hoping your Monday was as smooth as the butter that slide off the butter plate and onto my counter this morning - a sign of the day to come!
Keep moving forward,
I WAS VISITED BY A COUPLE OF FORMER STUDENTS this afternoon. They are eighth graders now, but once, not so long ago, they were 4th graders in my classroom. They are taller than me now. It is something that generally happens around 5th or 6th grade. I am short - just 5’2 1/2. It is the 1/2 that really matters. They towered over me, one of them is 5’10. I loved seeing them, and hearing what they had to say. They are so poised and clear. Seeing my students continue on in their education is such an encouragement to me. One of them said, “I learned to never give up. I never stop. I just keep going.” That’s a good word, isn’t it?
We are in those last few days before a vacation; nearing that finish line. I don’t want to just stagger across and collapse though. I long to finish strong.
I’ve never had a countdown to the end of the year in my classroom. Even as a kid I didn’t like them. I didn’t want to think that someone was counting the minutes until I wasn’t in their room. My students ask me now, “What day is it?” They aren’t asking if it is Monday. They aren’t asking if it is the 8th. They want to know how many days we’ve spent together. Today was day 142. “We only have about 170 or so days together.” I remind them. We have to make every day matter. Every day has to count. This is easy to say, but difficult to remember when you are knee deep in spring fever.
Lately, we have been working on building up our stamina for silence. We don’t live in a quiet world, and they don’t live quiet lives. Our world is filled with sound, and I’ve been known to manage my life with earbuds in my ears. We sit together in silence and see how long they can mange it. Today we sat together in silence for two minutes, which might not seem like a long time, but you try to be completely silent for two minutes — and then try that with 26 kids in the room. I am proud of their progress. When we first attempted sitting in silence we lasted just seconds and there was a tension and discomfort in the room. Now we look forward to it, and you can feel peace settle over the room.
THE NEXT ITEM ON TODAY’S AGENDA is to prepare for tomorrow and settle in for a night of rest. Tomorrow is Day 143 and I’ve gotta be ready.
Keep moving forward,
Every spring I take a group of kids over to a local high school to show off their projects. That’s where I was last night, and I never got around to writing about day 139. Of course, yesterday was also a little on the stressful side. I had a couple of meetings to get to, but the biggest stressor was that I thought the day to take all the kids to the high school was today, but it was yesterday. Luckily, we figured this out around noon before the kids went home, but from that moment on I was scrambling.
The amazing thing about it though was that I had the best turn-out ever. Sixteen of my leadership kids made it last night, and they did a great job of showing off all the hard work they had done over the school year. Plus, they were given cookies. They were pretty stoked about the cookies.
We are headed straight toward the weekend and with the SISTER in town, that is gonna be AWESOME. I am teaching a class on Saturday, but then we are speeding towards the last week before Spring Break. It has been a long and arduous journey but we can now see the destination ahead. I will be happy to take some days away from the classroom. We have so few days left. I can’t believe we are already at day 140! I can’t help but think about the fact that my 5th graders will soon be leaving us. I will dearly miss them.
Now, though, I am going to rest and recharge so that I am ready and powered up to make day 141 another great day of learning.
Keep moving forward,
MY SISTER IS HERE. Her husband is here, too, and also her dog, but if you have a sister, you understand why I emphasize the fact that she is here. The ordinariness of life gets disrupted when she is in town. She lives out of the country, so we soak up every minute that we can with her. For example, we got home from school and headed over to my parents - where my sister and company stay when they come to town. We all had dinner together, and just now got home. It puts a little zip into the average Tuesday.
OPERATION FUEL THE TEACHER was a big hit. My reading class was much smoother today. I’m trying to help them build up their endurance and ability to be still and quiet. Our first attempt was 17 seconds, and our second was 43. I know that doesn’t seem like a long time, but you try and be still and silent for 43 seconds. I am trying to help them feel comfortable with quiet because during our upcoming testing season, they are expected to not only be comfortable with silence but thrive in it. It’s a work in progress.
My leadership kids, organized a snow cone sale after school today. As I explained to them multiple times, I couldn’t help with it. I help in the crosswalk after school, and so couldn’t be there. They pulled the whole thing off — kids dropped off supplies to my room in the morning, and then in the afternoon they set the whole thing up. They sold out, and were thrilled that they had earned $28.75. I honestly don’t know how they got the 75 cents - the snow cones cost a dollar. They will be selling them again on Thursday, and I am pleased that I don’t need to worry about anything. I love watching them handle things themselves. They were handing out free cups of ice when they ran out of flavor. A kinder tried to pay $2 for a cup of ice, and they told him, “No buddy. Ice is free.” He was overjoyed.
AT THIS VERY MOMENT you can go to Amazon Prime, and watch our students in action — if you would like. The tv series is called Make It Work, and we are the subject of the first episode. If you left a review, I wouldn’t mind at all.
Keep moving forward,
APRIL FOOLS DAY GOES LIKE THIS IN THE ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM: Student: “Hey, Mrs. Ellison!”
Student: “April fools!”
Yep. All day long and about fifteen times with each class. Students, of course, think that they are hilarious and original. It isn’t so much terrible as it is annoying. It is like hearing water slowly drip - over time that water drip can wear away stone.
AND NOW FOR A MOMENT TO REFLECT ON THE WEATHER . . . it rained today, again. Listen, I’m starting to feel for you Seattle folks. Someone said that Northern California has had more rain than Seattle this year, and it might be true, but it probably isn’t. You can’t really trust quotes on April Fools Day.
I didn’t bring a lunch today. I keep protein bars in my classroom, and I had a big breakfast. I thought, “Well, I’ll eat a protein bar and we will all be good.” WRONG. I could feel blood sugar dip right before my last class of the day. I knew I was in for trouble. The thing is when I get hungry, I get kind of sad and irritable. This does not work in the classroom. I feel kind of bad for my students - not that I was horrible, but just a little bit fussy.
That’s the thing about teaching, though, you’ve got to be ready, able and at full level of ability all of the time. You can’t phone it in, and sort of just fake your way through the day. And it isn’t just that some kids sense your lack of focus like they have super powers, but it is more than that. I’ve only got 170 days (give or take) with my students. Today was Day 137 and it CANNOT be a throw-a-way. My students deserve my best effort all the time, every day because what we do in the classroom really matters. Are they a stronger reader on day 137 than they were on day 97? What are we spending our time, and it is moving them closer and closer to becoming successful, independent, thoughtful readers? Tomorrow’s lunch is ALREADY packed. I will not let another day slip past.
FOR THE RECORD, we still haven’t had spring break yet. Some of my friends are lamenting that Spring Break was nearly three weeks ago. We are still two weeks away. This has been a LONG stretch for us. Our district follows a traditional calendar and therefore, spring break syncs up with Easter. On years when Easter comes late, like this year, that means we have this LONG stretch of time, then a break and then a whirlwind of days until school ends. Next year, we will experience the opposite, as Easter will be early - this long stretch will come after spring break. We will end the year with a marathon. I haven’t figure out which is better, honestly, I think it would be good to be able to teach for six weeks, and then have a week or even two weeks off, and then six weeks of teaching again. I think kids would progress really well if that was the pattern we used, but I would definitely miss having July for vacation. That’s what summer is really like for most teachers — July. Many of us work extended school year days in June, and come back to work in early August. It is funny, but when I was a kid, summer seemed to last for AGES.
I hope your April Fools was drama free. I don’t like April Fools by the way. It seems like a mean holiday if you ask me. You trick people and then laugh at them when they trustingly believe you. It seems like a backwards approach to relationships and life. I know some people get a kick out of it, but maybe the constant “Hey, Mrs. Ellison . . .April Fools!” has worn away that particular part of my funny bone. Then again, maybe I’m just hyper aware of the power dynamics in the classroom. I can’t expect my students to trust me if I prank them - especially if the prank leads to their classmates laughing at them. So, I am glad that this “holiday” is over. I’m ready to buckle down, make sure I am rested, focused and fed before I tackle April 2nd.
Keep moving forward,
I LEGIT HAD TO calm myself down from a panic attack today. Nothing major happened, but it was just all the little things catching up with me. I had everything collide on one day and had even double-booked myself with my leadership class, and a class that I teach for the district. Between eating lunch, filming a news segment and a quick team meeting, I told myself to slow down and breathe.
That’s the thing about ordinary daily stress; it can sneak up on you. I felt like I had a sneak attack. It was partly my fault because I had too many things to manage in an 8 hour period and that I wasn’t better organized. I knew that I had to dig in, and take care of myself BEFORE my reading class started, and I am pleased to report that my reading class ran pretty well today. I can see that they are moving forward in a good direction. Their reading skills get stronger every day, and lately we’ve been working on finding a strong answer together as a team. They are getting better and better. I’ve been using the techniques I learned at the conference in New York and it is really put some good energy into my reading classroom.
I don’t know if you are aware of this, but tomorrow is Friday. I’m pretty happy about that BECAUSE I don’t have big plans. Last weekend was a little crazy - especially after just coming back from New York. I am looking for a LAZY Saturday morning. Fingers crossed.
Now that I am at the end of my long day, I feel much calmer. It is always like that. When faced with a mountain of work, we feel overwhelmed and yet tackling it piece by piece, we manage getting it done. I try to think about this with my students - they must feel that way too. Here’s hoping for a mellow, peaceful weekend for us all.
Keep moving forward,
I tend to think of change as a bad thing. Well, I really used to zero in on change as a bad thing. We think of big changes as being seismic — and thus connect them to the destructive power of an earthquake. I am a born and raised Northern Californian (THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA!). I’m accustomed to earthquakes. And I’m learning to be accustomed to the earthquakes that ripple through my life.
If you google earthquakes, all the pictures you get are of devastation and destruction. But the truth is that when the earth shifts, new things arrive, too. At one time the earth split, and new continents were formed. Probably at the time, this seemed horrible, and yet new worlds were created. The one thing that is usually true of earthquakes is that they are over quickly, and everything settles back into peace.
We are facing a time of change, which to be honest is pretty much the norm for the teaching profession. This can be uncomfortable, especially at first, but then things eventually settle into a new peace. I’m trying to reflect on that, and to be willing to go with the flow. After all, nothing I do can change what happens next. I can only live through each day.
SPEAKING OF DAYS, today was our one hundred, thirty-fourth day of school. It was pretty radical in some ways, and pretty ordinary in others. My reading students have travelled miles and miles in their skills since the beginning of the year. Today they had to work in a group to come up with a strong response to a question WITH TEXT EVIDENCE. Three out of my six groups DID IT. I was super, uber stoked. Their responses weren’t sophisticated and more along the lines of “I found the answer on page 4” rather than, “The author states that . . .” but it is a strong beginning and filled me with pride. I mean, these kids . . . That’s an extraordinary moment, but honestly, the average day at a school is filled with MILLIONS of ordinary miracles. A kid sounds out a word, or remembers to think BEFORE speaking, a group of students pause to let another child catch up — these miracles are all around us, and sometimes we don’t even notice them. I guess to follow my entire analogy out — they are tiny earthquakes that happen all the day in classrooms all over the world.
SPEAKING OF ORDINARY MIRACLES, we just finished ALL the math homework. BOTH offspring are working on really complicated things like probability and fractions. THANK YOU!!! It isn’t that I find the problems themselves challenging, although every now and then they can be tough, but EXPLAINING how to solve the problems is really, really challenging! Explaining a math problem and having my Offspring say, “OH! I get it!” Now that is a miracle of seismic proportions!
Keep moving forward,
Also, for your viewing pleasure - a small promo of OUR UPCOMING TV EPISODE!!!!! Dropping into Amazon Prime on April 2nd!
FOR WHATEVER REASON, the whole household was sleepy this evening. I fell asleep for awhile which never happens. I HATE naps. They always make feel groggy and useless for the rest of the day. The Daughter fell asleep too, and upon awakening was seen rushing around the house. When I saw her start making oatmeal I thought maybe she was confused. “Aren’t we going to school?” She asked. “It is after seven.” It took her a little while to understand that it was 7 PM not AM.
The Daughter is also SUPER into Sailor Moon right now. Have you ever watched Sailor Moon? If she starts crying it is uber obnoxious. She cries in every episode - usually more than once.
This time of year is fun for schools everywhere. I really feel for admin. You see, this is the time of Next Year’s Budget. This is the time of year when teachers, aides, instructional support people all get lovely letters with phrases like, “may be reassigned” or “due to changing population” or “expected budget cuts”. Pretty much everyone who stops by their admin’s office is in a mild state of panic. My philosophy is that change is the one thing you can count on, and that is usually true.
I’ve been working my DREAM job for the last few years, but to quote A River Runs Through It, “nothing perfect lasts.” That isn’t to say that I know anything is definitely going to change, but that the word MAYBE hovers over us all. Then again, change can be a good and powerful thing. We shall see what comes next.
MEANWHILE, back in the classroom, my students are working on making their own video game. We use this awesome game builder called Bloxels, which you should 100% check out. The whole application is the direct result of a couple of kids trying to hack around their parents. The creators of it used to get irritated when their parents would turn off their gaming system and toss them out into the sunshine. Their ultimate act of rebellion? They figured out a way to play video games on paper. Fast forward about 20 years, and one of they figured out a way to make their paper game builder work in real life. It is pretty cool. My students are always stunned to see their own games come to life. The classroom has a happy hum whenever I bring out Bloxels. Best of all, you can get your own Bloxel kit at Target for $39! Most educational products cost ZILLIONS of dollars.
SPEAKING OF GAMES, I gamified my reading class. I am trying to keep my resistant readers motivated and working in this long stretch until spring break. I also had reconfigured the class, putting them into new groups. This is the oldest teacher trick in the book, by the way, every time you rearrange seats, it throws students off just a little bit, and shifts the balance of power toward the teacher. There was still a bit of noise today, but we had solid moments of thoughtful work. My students continue to make progress and I am proud of how very hard they work - even if some of them are NOISY workers.
Keep moving forward,
REAL TALK - It took my three tries to spell vengeance correctly. I have NEVER been a good speller. The Husband won the THIRD GRADE SPELLING BEE back in the day. I didn’t even qualify. It is funny because I read from day one, but I couldn’t spell a thing to save my life. When I switched to public school in 8th grade, they took one look at my spelling and threw me into a remedial English class. My teacher, after a week said that they needed to move me to honor’s English. The principal glanced at the entrance exam which had put me in remedial English, and raised his eyebrows, but the English teacher, who was MY RESCUER said, “Oh, no! She just can’t spell.” And I found myself in honor’s English.
It is that kindness that changes lives. I could’ve stalled out in middle school, but that teacher, and my sixth grade teacher, who saw me as more than a spelling test, that pushed me to see myself as a writer. They also confirmed my long-held belief that teaching is the noblest of professions and one I wanted to pursue. Make no mistake, even on a rainy day like today, children all over the world were showered with unexpected kindness and goodness by teachers who offered just the right word, at just the right moment. It doesn’t make the news but it happens all the time.
SPEAKING OF KINDNESS, on my glorious NYC trip, we were able to see Come From Away. It is a FABULOUS musical, and if you haven’t heard the true story it is based on - man you need to look it up! It seems like a crazy idea for a musical, but it is based on some amazingly positive events that transpired on 911. Gander, Newfoundland, found itself the temporary home of 38 planes that had to reroute when the United States airspace was closed. And so a population of 9,000 worked night and day to make sure that those who had come from away, were welcomed and cared for. It is such a good story, and the musical is so wonderful, that if you get the chance to see it — you should run! The small theater (who knew Broadway theaters were SMALL?), was filled with such a spirit of kindness, and togetherness, that if someone on the stage had shouted, “Everyone come over for a party!” I not only would have believed it, but I would’ve joyously attended. The band plays a song at the end, and everyone was clapping and smiling. A gentleman sitting not too far from us, was waving the flag of Newfoundland, and the band kept pointing and directing their music to him. It was pretty awesome. Since the play I read the book, The Day the World Came to Town, 911 in Gander, Newfoundland. It was really good, and a quick read. My favorite part of the musical was when the stranded Plane People, as some of the Newfies called them, gather together in a church. One character begins singing an old hymn that I used to sing as a girl in Lutheran church, while another character begins to sing in Hebrew. More characters begin singing in Arabic as they lift up their Muslim prayers. It is a beautiful song, and that beautiful sound seemed to shimmer in the air, long after the song had finished.
I spend a lot of time thinking about kindness; particularly during my last class of the day. My reading class is attended by some fairly challenging students who have spent a good chunk of their lives on benches at recess or outside principal’s offices. Now, keep in mind, they have generally earned their spots, but it seems to me that of all humans on earth, they might need kindness most. As a class, we have made so much progress, but in those small moments when they fall back on their most familiar roll in the classroom, I can see how very much they need patience, compassion and human kindness. And so I, and teachers everywhere, lean in and determine to return whatever comes our way with kindness.
Keep moving forward,
YESTERDAY I WAS IN NEW YORK. It is kind of trippy to think about that. I got home around 8:30 pm or so after an amazing trip to New York City. There wasn’t a thing about my trip I didn’t enjoy fully. I kept thinking of that quote, “I will drink life to the lees.” Man, we did that IN SPADES. And it wasn’t just that we squeezed every ounce out of every free minute either. The conference I went to was really good too, and I already started using things I learned in my class today. Thanks to an awesome ADMIN who basically INSTA-PRINTED my requests in bright, beautiful colors: BAM! I was using what I learned the day following my learning it. I guess that New York pace of life took over me.
New York is BIG. After having walked the streets of Times Square, San Francisco seems like a sweet little town - like downtown Sonoma or Petaluma. The day I arrive in New York was the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade so it might have been busier than usual, but who can honestly say. There are always 15 million people going somewhere in New York.
I loved hanging with my crew, too. We just rolled with everything. We didn’t fret or fuss, or complain. We took to the streets of New York and took whatever came our way. On our off day - the whole reason that we got their early - I left the hotel at 6:45 a.m. and returned after 11 p.m. WE SAW EVERYTHING. And here’s the craziest thing, everyone we met was happy and friendly, too. At one point someone in our group said, “It is like we are throwing all this happiness out, and it just keeps coming back.” That is the way of it sometimes. Our let’s see what we can see attitude, caused us to happen upon the Empire State Building at 5 in the afternoon. We didn’t have to wait in line because it wasn’t crowded. We cheerfully walked into an elevator and out onto the observation deck. It was bitter cold up their but our wonder and joy seemed to be enough to keep us warm — that and our coats and hats, but you get the idea.
Nearly every day, I would turn to my friend Patti, and say, “Hey, Patti, guess what?” She would grin and say, “What?” And we would both say, “We are in New York!” We were, and we enjoyed it. Now, we are home again, enjoying that. I am happy to be back with my husband and offspring, and to be back with new tools to support my students. I told myself this morning, “ Don’t complain about being tired! You got to go on amazing trip which was a blessing, and a wonder. Now you get to go to an amazing job, and work with some great people. Enjoy it! Enjoy it, and live in it just like you lived in those days in New York.” And I did. I was pleased to see my students again, and to watch them as they tried new things in our Technology Design Lab. I loved watching my reading students take on a new approach to reading. It was a good day. Soon, I will rest my head on a soft pillow while my family sleeps around me; good rest at the end of a good day’s work. There is nothing more that I could ever ask for. I remember an old song we used to sing in church, “You have filled our hearts with joy, more than their wine when it abounds. You make it safe to live. We sleep peace when we lay down.”
Keep moving forward,
I AM SPEEDING HEADLONG toward a weekend in New York, but right now I am in the midst of all the HAVETOOS. I have to make sure that all the pieces of my lesson plans are in place and ready to go. I have to pack. I have to make sure that my family doesn’t STARVE while I’m gone.
I made myself a list first thing this morning, and I am pleased to say that nearly almost all of it has been crossed off. I STILL have to pack, and I have to add a couple things to my lesson plans, and I probably have one other thing that I have completely forgotten about.
And you want to know why I have so many things done? The support of my TEAM! I was supposed to be at a meeting tonight from 6 - 7 pm. but HONESTLY I couldn’t even. I had leadership class until 5 and then was supposed to have a leadership meeting until 6 (it actually got cancelled) and still had a news show to push out. So a good friend said, “No worries I got you covered” AND WENT TO THE MEETING FOR ME. This is the kind of squad I roll with.
AND BY THE WAY I am simultaneously typing this and helping SOMEONE with their math homework, so if a strange equation wanders into a line - it is explained. We are currently solving equations with two variables. ONE OF US, saved all our math assignments for today and the other one of us is irritated. Also, GOD BLESS SAL KHAN. If you got a kid in middle school or higher, you know what I am talking about. Also, I was kind of terrible at probabilities when I was in middle school - and I still am. Whatever.
You can send your New York suggestions my way. I will happily consider them all. I am also entering the Hamilton lottery every day that I am there. It COULD happen, right?
Keep moving forward,
TRUE STORY: A few months ago, my boss asked me if I would like to go to a training for our reading program. Actually, it was a training for our previous reading program, as the district has adopted a new one. However, it also includes a great program for class meetings and student leadership. I coach our after school leadership class, which is why my boss suggested I go. I am ALWAYS up for training. I legitimately love learning new stuff, so of course I said yes. The next day he dropped by my room and said, “I forgot to tell you. The training is in New York City.”
i have NEVER been to New York City. EVER. Next week, I won’t be able to say that anymore. Today, I found out that our hotel room is in TIMES SQUARE! Can you believe it? It doesn’t get any more New York than that. I tell you what sometimes I just get overwhelmed by the goodness of good things. I have a MILLION things to do between now and Saturday morning when we leave, but I am SO EXCITED. Me, in NEW YORK CITY.
I ended up teaching at my school through a series of left turns. I got CANNED from a school that I had taught at for FIFTEEN YEARS; kicked to the curb and REJECTED. I was carrying my box out to my car when a parent said to me, “You are such a great teacher! You really should get your credential,” which is when I discovered that the new administration had sent out a letter saying that the 15 of us who were let go didn’t have our credentials. I blinked and said, “I do have a teaching credential. I have always had a teaching credential since my first day of working here.” That was a bummer.
I subbed for a year and half, and was stunned to discover that subbing in the public school was the same pay if not more than what I’d been paid at the private school. I worked ALL THE TIME. The lady who is in charge of assigning subs, had me working every day. I think I subbed 115 days in one school year. I had this really tough long-term sub job teaching 3rd grade. I was supposed to be there for 5 weeks - finishing the school year. The class was rowdy and when they got in trouble, they would just get sent back to class with a sticker. It was tough. Then I got a call asking if I could switch jobs because they needed someone to teach 6th grade. She wanted to switch me out because she knew that I didn’t mind 6th graders and it was easier for her to fill a 3rd grade spot.
And that is how I ended up at Phillips Elementary. I loved the place from day one. There was a different principal there then - one who had already decided to go somewhere else for the next year. There were five weeks left in the school year, too. While administration was thinking about their future, the staff filled in the gap and were a united force making sure that the students had a powerful education. I was impressed. I looked around at my first staff meeting and everyone was attentive, serious and on task. No one was sleeping. No one was grading papers. No one was muttering sarcastic comments under their breath. I sat up taller, leaned in and determined to up my own game.
I knew that I wanted to work there, and it was only through an outright miracle that I do. I had to convince people who barely knew me, to convince a principal who had NEVER met me to give me a job. I am so grateful that my boss took a chance on me. I love my job and my school, and can you believe that on top of all that — I get to go to New York, too. Life is rich with goodness.
THE SONG “SHALLOW” HAS BEEN stuck in my head since about 3:30 p.m. Now it is probably stuck in yours. Sorry about that. It is a nice song, but it is kind of an earworm.
We are continuing our device-free life in my reading class. We’ve even spent some time illustrating our work. There is something terribly pleasant about a room full of kids contentedly coloring. They all seem younger somehow, and sweeter, too. At the end of class we had five minutes left-over for a quick game. We stood in a circle playing “Concentration” which they enjoyed EXCEPT it involved touching hands. Then they seemed REALLY young because some o f the boys didn’t want to touch the girls hands.
When you first begin teaching, you tend to think of your students as “projects”. You need to help them improve this, or teach them how to develop that. You get focused on performance scores and percentages. If you stick around long enough you recognize that your students are humans. They come to you with all kinds of abilities. They have areas of amazing strengths, and sometimes you will also find glaring gaps in their learning. For example, my 5th graders built computers this year. The kit is made from a company named Piper, and it is an incredible project. The kids use a blue print and working in teams build a box that houses the computer and another one for its screen. These two boxes are then hinged together. Some kids were AWESOME at following the blueprint. Other kids really struggled. Even after I told them, “Start at step 1, and then go to step 2”, they worked on their computer haphazardly. The steps are numbered on the blueprint. The numbers are huge. It was a surprising gap in understand numerical order.
Another surprising gap involved the use of the screwdriver; in that they had no idea how to use one. “What is this?” one boy asked me. Another said to a friend, “I need the twisty-thing.” But that just goes to show you that you can’t predict what students will find challenging. One girl started snapping that computer together like she was born to do it, and another boy told me, “This is a thing that people do for work, right? Man, I would like doing that. You could plan what to build and then build it.” He was pumped, and went around telling people. “I’m gonna be the kind of engineer that designs things and then builds them.”
Which is all to say that that kid had value before he knew how to use a screwdriver just as he had value after he knew how to use a screwdriver. He was a whole and complete human in both situations. The same is true of all kids. They have value whatever skills they have. Good readers have value. Struggling readers have value. Kids who glide through school like it was custom built for them have value. Kids who sit on the bench outside the principal’s office waiting to talk through their most recent error in judgement have value.
I used to measure my worth based on my performance. If I got a good grade; I was awesome. This pushed me to be the strongest, smartest, funniest person in the room - ALL THE TIME. SPOILER ALERT: This is an impossible goal. There is always someone funnier than you. Also, I have NEVER been the skinniest person in the room — not since 2nd grade.
I love the idea that all of us - myself and my students are on a journey together. We are all navigating a course toward the future. Sometimes we zip ahead, as we take on a skill that seems easy for us. Other times we flag behind trying to sort out the complex challenge of communication or responsibility. At times, I turn to a student to encourage them forward and other times a student encourages me. We are in this together. And not to be TOO MUCH of a hippie-type, this simple truth of the classroom, is also the truth of humanity. We are here together for now; all of us traveling and all of us learning.
Speaking of encouraging moments, I’ve been asking my students a question each day and they can respond on a sticky note that they leave on my board as they dash out the door. The questions can range from academic (What is one thing good readers do to make sure they understand what they read?), serious (What is one thing you wished others knew about you?) or silly (If you were a super hero what power would you have?). I find out really interesting things even though not every student responds. The picture above is a collection of some responses. I believe the question was, “What have you learned this week?” or “What is something I don’t know about you?” I loved that some kid put, “I am the Flash.” There is a sweet, giddy confidence in leaving that behind. Anywho, it made me smile. Sometimes it is the smallest things that make it possible for you to . . .
Keep moving forward,
Keep moving forward