Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Philosophy of Education

I was nominated to be a school finalist for Teacher of the Year.  So, I was asked to write my Philosophy.  I thought about it, and thought about it, and thought about it.  I was really torn between trying to make it sound "right," and writing from the heart.  I went with my heart. I humbly thank my fellow teachers for voting me the 2016-17 Bookman Road E.S. Teacher of the Year.  I work with amazing teachers and I am proud to be among them.  Here is what I wrote:

To me, one of the most amazing feelings in the world is the thrill of discovery.  I don’t know if it is an innate sense that harkens back to early childhood when those first connections are made.  Or, if it is something deeper and more instinctive, carried down from generations that first witnessed the natural wonders of our planet.  What I do know, is that it is the quintessential essence of being a learner, and what better way to spend our days, than being the guide for those on that journey? 
Teaching isn’t easy.  As far as jobs go, it doesn’t come with glamour, fame, or money (usually).  But when I imagine my day without, who from day one undoubtedly become, “my kids,” I know that there is no other job with any greater reward.  The job becomes an adventure and the ride is anything but even.  The ups and downs of the teaching process is as varied as the learners in our classrooms.  We must stretch ourselves into a multitude of roles, woven into a pattern that resembles a dance on a tightrope while juggling plates.  And we must do it in a way that reflects effortless grace.  We must do that because we are the models for these students who are so much more than a number or a test score.  They are our “kids” because we care for them in a way that recognizes the trust that is given to us by the parents that love them as much as we do and know that we will keep them safe and foster those glorious moments of inquiry that lead to discovery.  It isn’t easy.  But I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  Our product is too great.  Our role is too precious. 
Without trust, respect, and community, the most important messages are lost.  No classroom can function without that underlying foundation as the core for successful learning.  Caring for one another is mandatory, personal best is purposefully given, and after those needs are met, the real fun begins.  When students are nurtured and given a voice in the classroom, which becomes their own small world, the bar we set could never possibly be high enough.  After all, we aren’t just educating our kids for right now, we’re educating our kids for their “right now.”  My goal is to encourage them to take ownership of their own educational journey, and set goals that define personal success.  Once they know and see, through technology and real world connections, how their own lives can be enhanced and how great that feeling of discovery can be, I am simply the tour guide on their trip of self-discovery.  That type of passion is something I hope that the atmosphere of our classroom enables, ignites, and allows the walls to come down so that they become their own guides, their own teachers, and their own experts of information. 
The purpose of education is not as simple as the fundamental essentials of pedagogy and the specific information that comes with standardized content.  We teach manners, technology, human relations, conflict resolution, decision making, and so much more.  Our purpose is not to help kids pass a test (although that’s part of it), our purpose is to challenge our kids to make the world better than how they found it.  Within each of them is the potential to cure diseases, invent new technologies, design beautiful art, and so many other passions, just waiting to be discovered.  And my job, in the end, is to tell them that every day.  And mean it. 

Being nominated is an honor and I am humbled by this experience.  Thank you.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

How did the majority become the minority?

As a teacher, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that this post is based on passion and not on research. Not yet.  Consider this the opening reception on an idea that has marinated in my mind for so long that I couldn't hold it in any longer.  However, the topic is relevant, the necessity for the narrative is crystal clear, and the voice that isn't being heard has never needed to be louder.  I've read a lot, I follow so many amazing blogs, I listen to podcasts, I follow superior educators on Twitter, and I listen with intent.  However, there is a lot of research that I plan on doing so this isn't a post full of links.  There are probably others who have written about this need.  There are many who have stood on this platform and spoken bravely on this topic.  That's OK.  I want to share that stage.  So, this is where I will start. 

I just returned home from my second ISTE conference, which translates to the "International Society for Technology in Education." (So, basically, "teachers," because, really, technology is no longer optional for the future of our students.)  For those who are unaware of the magnitude of this event, there were over 16 thousand attendees at the one in Atlanta that I attended last year.  The numbers in Philadelphia this year had to meet or trump that.  On both occasions, I was blown away by the sheer number of people in attendance.  What I realized quickly, however, was that the magic of ISTE wasn't the number of attendees, rather the set up and opportunity for small conversations, connections, and people with so much enthusiasm for education that you could almost see sparks flying off of them.  I was honored, I was touched, I was overjoyed, and I was totally "geeking out."  Becoming an educator hasn't been a process that has made me feel like I was making great decisions.  Everyone seems so proud of me when I say I am a teacher but then there is an immediate sigh and that annoying undercurrent of pity.  And I don't blame them.  I get it.  Even at a conference that celebrates educators and innovation, I heard myself saying "I'm just a 5th grade teacher."  I went back and got a Masters to do this job.  I took a paycut for my passion.  I went into the classroom when others were walking out because their hands were tied by poor policies, ludicrous lawmakers, and lack of funding.  I should have walked in wearing a cape, holding a boombox, and shouting to the convention center "BEHOLD, I AM HERE, I HAVE A VOICE, AND I AM A TEACHER WHO ADVOCATES, INNOVATES AND ENCOURAGES CHILDREN TO BELIEVE THAT THEY CAN CHANGE THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET BECAUSE I HAVE TOLD THEM THEY CAN." 

But I didn't.  Like most of the other women I saw walking around in comfortable shoes, I  gazed wide-mouthed at all of these people making a difference. Then, it hit me.  At a conference of educators, a profession made up of an overwhelming majority of women, it wasn't women who were doing the talking.  The men were the networkers, the people at the tables and in the sessions that spoke up and were willing to talk out loud and challenge the traditional notions of classroom seating and settings.  I went to Twitter and looked at the chats I love, lots of women, led by men.  The voice of education sounds like a man!  Which is weird, because I have read countless articles that discuss how the education gap is growing because the staus quo is that the audience is growing more diverse but the people on stage are white women.  To the point, ladies and gentelmen, that I have started feeling guilty.  YUP.  How can I possibly have a voice? I am just like everyone else in my field.  How can I change the face of education when my face is the majority and it feels so broken already.  However, here I am at one of the largest gatherings of people in my field and what do I see? MEN.  Who are the educators that have the most followers and the most chats on Twitter? MEN.  What gender is predominantly working at state and governmental levels to write laws determining school decisions that are handed down to administrative teams mostly made of men? MEN.  Also, guess who owns most of the testing companies and who was there to market all the robotics and ed-toys? MEN.  We may be the majority, Ladies, but we aren't the voice.  

How did this happen? Women make up this profession with an overwhelming majority, yet we have allowed the powerful key positions to be filled by the minority.  And, if you're like me, you didn't even realize it was happening.  If you're like me, you think of yourself as just a teacher and you are happy that someone is talking about it, whether they pee in the same bathroom as you or not.  Despite what you may think up until this point, this is not a post to bash those men, I want to thank you.  And also, join you.  The innovators and educators of your bunch have done well.   You've primed the platform, but it's time for us to stand up and speak out, as well.  We are the majority and if we all start talking, it's going to be real hard for the world not to listen.  

WAIT.  Let me stop you right now.  I know that there are some amazing, outstanding, hard working, and overwhelmed female educators and advocates of education out there already paving the way.  And, I thank you tremendously.  I am just tired of saying "I'm too tired," and not walking proudly behind you.  If you're like me, you come home so tired and with a bag full of more work to do and you put the kids first so you don't use your voice, you use your pen to make notes on tests and papers and make a difference in the lives of the kids that you promised to teach.  However, let's not waste time, let's make time.  Let's demand policy change about best teaching practices, where federal money is spent, and how we determine growth in our schools.  It's time for us to be the voice of transformative teaching practices, it's time for us to shout with the MEN!  It's time for us to speak out as the majority and demand that "WE ARE HERE, WE HAVE A VOICE, AND WE ARE TEACHERS WHO ADVOCATE, INNOVATE AND ENCOURAGE TEACHERS WHO WILL BELIEVE THAT THEY CAN CHANGE THE FUTURE OF OUR PROFESSION BECAUSE WE HAVE TOLD THEM THEY CAN."  One of the majority has spoken, let's not stop now.   

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How do you feel?

You know what feels amazing?  

Feeling amazing.

Seriously.  Forget all the pedagogy, the overwhelming stacks of "How to do that thing that you want to to better at" books, the people that have time for independent reading and small groups every day, and find what makes you feel amazing.  Because here's the thing.  The more that you focus on what other people are doing and you aren't doing, the less likely you are to ever get there.  What a conundrum.

But when you find a strategy that fits.  A group of friends that lift you up.  A person that makes you feel innovative.  A student that pushes you and accepts that challenge you give.  Everything seems possible.  And the amazing part is, it is.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about my chosen profession.  How lucky I am to do what I do.  Yet, it is so easy to feel defeated.  I care SO MUCH that I only see the things I didn't get to.  The lessons that didn't go right.  The parent I didn't e-mail.  I lay at night and worry.  It doesn't take me anywhere.  Maybe lower than I was before.  

One conversation.  One conversation can be all it takes.  Want to make the world you live in better?  Make the classroom you teach in better.  Or the office cubicle you sit in better.  Or the bench at the park.  Make you better.  Don't live up to everyone's expectations. It's too many.  Even 12 doughnuts aren't good and I love doughnuts.  There is a limit.  And how much better is that doughnut with someone who makes you feel amazing?  

Find those people.  Be that teacher. Love that teacher. Listen like that friend.  As we enter the holiday season, life gets rough.  So many are reminded of what they don't have, what they didn't get done, who isn't here.  I miss my family so much it physically hurts.  But I have a choice.  I can feel like that or I can live like this.  Like I am the keeper of magic, the idea maker, the chance giver, and the doughnut sharer.  

And why not?  

It feels amazing.    

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Musings at McDonalds

I’m saying it right now, right here. 

I just don’t think that enough people are proud of what they do.  I mean, in general, not just in education. 

I was craving something just awful for me tonight.  I know, I know, I should have eaten something so organic and natural it came from my backyard but honestly… I wanted McDonald’s fries.  And, they are so far from real food, that nothing else fulfills that craving. 

And guess what?  They were wonderful.  Sorry, not sorry.  But here is the thing.  The people that worked there are doing just that. WORKING there.  I mean, I get it.  Working at McDonalds has been a joke for years.  But why?  Why not just wake up and take PRIDE in what you do, whatever it is you do?  If you don’t, or can’t, maybe it’s the motivation you need to do something else.   

As I pondered what the sundae I decided to get was actually made of (stop judging me, I get it, it’s bad) I couldn't help but think about it further.  I think every person has high and low points at their job but who is PROUD of what they do? 

The first jobs that came to mind, of course, are the jobs where people are truly in it to HELP people.  Helping people is something that you can “hang your hat on” when it comes to the end of the day.  Helping people, no matter what, elevates your mood, makes you feel good, and increases the desire to do it over and over and over. 

Maybe I should have told those people at McDonald’s how much I loved their product.  How often do we do that?  Why not send a positive e-mail, instead of just a complaint.  Why not tell someone how the good thing made you feel, instead of going on social media to speak out about how awful something is?  Our society is too focused on failure.  Perfection is the goal.  Wait, what?  Why?  That seems too far from reality and, yet, it’s the expectation.  As a teacher, am I perpetuating it?

Teaching isn't perfect.  It’s far from it.  But I am so proud of what I do.  Seriously.  When I feel like I am helping a student it makes me shine.  You know what doesn't make me shine? Handing back a paper to a student who fails.  What does that mean?  I didn't help them?  I didn't help them enough?  I don’t plan to help them? I’m torn on being proud of being an educator and also being the person that tells a tiny person they failed. 

This past weekend, the most amazing, thoughtful, kind, charming, and intelligent lady I don’t *actually* know but feel like I have known for years began a “campaign” to raise my Twitter following.  (@tritonkory, stop right now and follow her please).  And here is the thing… I didn't feel like a failure because I wasn't at 1,000 followers or because I didn't make it to 1,000 followers.  I felt honored and excited that someone cared enough about me to help me. 

I also thought about other areas of my personal life.  I fail often.  I forget to turn in my library books, I forgot to pay the water bill, I said I would do something and I just didn't.  You know what I have found?  I may have to pay a fine or apologize but I get to try again.  It makes me better.  It helps me remember.  It isn't one strike, you’re out.

So, as I start a new week tomorrow, I want to keep that in mind.  I am proud because I help people.  Am I helping or just serving people what they expect?  I hope it is never the latter because that is not the peg I want my hat on. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Trust me

There has been a buzz in the air about standardized testing that seems to be getting louder and louder.  

This isn't a post about my feelings on that.  Not really.  It is a post about my feelings on what is the most  important thing.  

I am not a parent.  I won't pretend that I know or understand the emotional undertaking that it involves.  However, I will say this: 

  • I don't really like it when other people watch my dogs.  They just don't love them like I love them. 
  • I don't really like other people to drive my car.  My mirrors are just right and I don't like the radio station pre-sets to be changed. 
  • I'm not a fan of anyone else cooking in my kitchen.  I know where things are and I like it that way.  
Now, these things are important to me but they are a far cry from tiny people that I birthed from my own body or accepted the great task of looking after.  

I understand how much faith parents place in me each day to keep their child safe, engaged, and encouraged.  I may not be able to understand wholly but I can empathize with what it is like to allow someone else to spend as many hours as I do with their child.  I imagine that your children are your "world" and I appreciate and value that it must be so hard to leave them with someone for an entire day.  I get all of this so I KNOW how hard it might be for you to do what I am about to ask you to do next. 

Trust me.  Trust that I am going to do the best I possibly can for your child.  

I'm not saying I'm perfect or anywhere close to it but know that I will do my best.  

No, we might not get to the last question on the "Problem Set," and yes, I might have to change the date of the quiz because I don't think everyone is ready for it.  But that is OK with me.  

When your child makes a connection and the class values his or her opinion and the conversation distracts us from the lesson, I will weigh that situation and do what I think is best for the community.  I know that we will get back to that skill and I am not so naive that I don't understand and value the importance of that standardized test that is always looming in the future.  However, giving your child a voice seems pretty darn important to me too.  Allowing your child to make connections to their peers and foster a safe and nurturing environment can be rewarding and life changing.  Perhaps, more so than any test.  

When we are outside at recess and your child finds an egg sac on a leaf and wants to know what kind of insect it is, I might skip silent reading that day and let the kids have an authentic scientific experience.  We may not get to talk about a reading comprehension skill, however, they will learn even more because they are invested in finding an answer.  They are finding value in inquiry and building a foundation for lifelong learning.  Trust me, that matters more than any score on a test. 

It's going to happen.  Your kid is going to say "Nothing," when you ask him or her what they did at school today.  It isn't unusual for me to spend 10 or more hours at school every day.  My entire Sunday is usually spent researching, planning, and engaging myself in professional development with other teachers just like me.  There might be times where we are all stressed and we have some silent reading time, review time, or a dance break to break the funk.  But I never have, nor ever will come to school and do "nothing" with your child.  I set high personal goals and standards and I do what I can to meet them.  I expect the same of your child.  They might come home upset with me for pushing them today but we have established trust and they know I want what is best for them.  They might come home tired because I found multiple ways to engage and excite them throughout the day.  They will probably come home silent because I have given them multiple opportunities to discuss their learning with their peers throughout the day and they just don't know what or how to tell you.  Trust me, they didn't do nothing.  Try to find another way to ask the question.  Connecting with your kids about their day might take extra effort, you might have to work it out of them, it might turn into a much longer discussion than you thought.  Trust me, it will be more important than any test score.  

I will mess up some days.  My big ideas will fall flat.  I might trip and fall on my face.  My SmartBoard might break or I might put the wrong answer on the board.  You'll probably hear about that.  Trust me, I'm OK with that.  If your kid sees me dust myself off, get back on that "horse" and keep going, it will teach them to persevere and learn from their mistakes.  Not just believe that one day, one moment, or one test defines them.  And that is way more important than any one test score.  

So, trust me.  Trust that I will do the best I can for your child every day.  I will notice them, I will talk with them, I will enjoy them, I will push them, I will encourage them, I will challenge them, I will care for them, I will advocate for them.  Trust me, because I see them as the unique, individual, and important part of you that they are.    

Because to me, they are way more important than a test score.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Top 100

In honor of #TLead Chat tonight, I made my own Teacher “Top 100” I hope it’s a hit!

1.     You get to read cool young adult novels FOR YOUR JOB.
2.     Kid hugs
3.     Kid smiles
4.     That moment when a kid says "Oh, I get it!" 
5.     When they make up a song for you
6.     When their parents say they came home excited about learning today
7.     When a parent thanks you
8.     When an administrator tells a parent (in front of you) that their kid is lucky to have you as their teacher.
9.     A job where you get to have recess every day
10. The natural curiosity that kids have
11. When a kid makes a great connection
12. When a kid asks a question that shows they are really listening
13. When a kid solves a math problem a way that you didn’t even think about
14. When the copier works
15. When every kid follows line procedures right as the principal walks by
16. When you hear your student being respectful
17. When you see your student helping a friend
18. When you see your student struggling but they don’t give up
19. When a student e-mails you at night just to tell you that they finished the book
20. When a mom asks how she can help
21. When a dad stops by just to read with kids, not even his sometimes
22. When another teacher asks if you need anything
23. When a front office friend cuts out your laminating for you
24. When a kid sits with you at recess to tell you about their weekend
25. When a kid asks if you can sit at their lunch table today
26. My coffee pot in my room
27. My absurd amount of gel pens that kids think are cool and adults just don’t understand
28. Picture books
29. Town Hall
30. Board games
31. Creating a class song
32. Creating a class rap
33. Showing a kid hilarious internet videos sometimes, just because hilarious internet videos
34. Spending your day with friends
35. Allowing yourself to sit back and watch learning happen
36. Realizing that the kids have more to teach you than you ever thought possible
37. Going to the school library and getting as many books as you want
38. Playing freeze tag during a dance break
39. Skate nights
40. Field Trips
41. Secret Buddies (Bucket Buddies at my school)
42. Getting to draw on a Smartboard
43. Having a line of children waiting to greet you every morning
44. That kid who sees you after school and waves like you’re a rock star even though you just saw them an hour ago
45. When you have time, grading papers and commenting to kids so they know you care
46. Book chats
47. Dressing up
48. Planning a lesson that gets them engaged
49. Knowing that your kids feel safe in your environment
50. Knowing that your kids will take risks
51. Knowing that your kids will feel celebrated
52. Knowing that your kids will know that they matter
53. Jamming to 80’s love tunes during Writer’s Workshop and that one kid sings along to Journey
54. Kid drawings
55. Kids that e-mail you years later
56. Kids that come with their siblings to night events just to see you
57. A teacher down the hall who brings you a cookie just because
58. Leftover snacks in the break room
59. Teachers who share great ideas
60. Teachers who share great documents
61. Teachers who value conversation
62. Teachers who inspire you to be great
63. Teachers who help you with new ideas
64. Teachers who are excited about new technology
65. That kid that asks if they can borrow a book
66. That kid that brings in an artifact to help with our learning
67. When you see a kid help another kid who doesn’t understand
68. When a kid doesn’t know a word and other kids offer to help and don’t laugh
69. The cheers that we give for great news
70. The community that we have when someone has sad news
71. The cheesy videos of adults acting like dendrites
72. The neurons made of noodles
73. Construction paper
74. Blogging
75. Kid presentations and all their awkward glory
76. Shy kids stepping up
77. Loud kids stepping back
78. When a kid tells you that they’re sorry and they mean it
79. When a kid asks if you can come to their baseball game
80. When a kid wants to know how your weekend was
81. When a kid asks if they can take something home to work on it some more
82. When kids get excited about math
83. When kids have on task chats about their learning
84. When kids write you notes
85. When you come home tired but you know you made a positive difference in a kids life today
86. When you spend all your free time thinking about your kids because you care
87. When your kids watch football because they like what you like
88. When your kids ask you to read your favorite book from when you were a kid
89. When your significant other says they’re proud of you
90. When you look in the mirror and you’re proud of you.
91. Dance Breaks
92. Dance Breaks
93. Dance Breaks
94. Dance Breaks
95. Dance Breaks
96. Dance Breaks
97. Dance Breaks
98. Dance Breaks
99. Dance Breaks
100. Dance Breaks

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

0 to 60

Teachers are so lucky. We get the whole summer off.  
Let me tell you how awesome it is: 

1. Sure, I have more time but I don't have more money.  
         It's not like just because I have time off I have the ability to do all the things in my house that I always said I would do if I had more time.  And, here is the thing.  Now, I have to spend all day in my house.  Why? Well, if I leave my house I am spending money. I don't have extra money to spend.  Sure, I am saving a bit in gas but I am spending that in the extra groceries I buy during my very long grocery store trips because I just need to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE.  Also, I am a social person.  I wanted to become a teacher because I like being creative and fun and I don't want to be quiet all day.  But guess what? EVERYONE I KNOW IS WORKING.  So, sure, I have some time off.  But really, it's not all you might think it's cracked up to be.  
2. During my summer I spent time tutoring. It was really awesome but it still meant I had a place to be and a time to be there.  I also spent a LOT of time revising lesson plans, searching for new ideas, studying the new standards, reading blogs about education, attending conferences or professional development, reading young adult books, and basically "working" to get my classroom ready, my filing cabinet organized, and trying to get ahead.  

3. I'm not saying I'm great with money but I don't go wild.  Honestly, I make just enough.  I can pay my bills and I am comfortable but it's rare that I have extra.  So, even though I actually have a job where I have time to travel, and even though I LOVE to travel and have the desire to do so, and even though I work 12-14 hour days during the school year, many hours each weekend, and in the summer... I still don't have enough to go on vacation.  It's depressing. 

And then... all of a sudden it is gone.  

If you aren't a teacher, it's hard to explain.  I almost think it is detrimental for the human brain to go from the biggest stress of the day being deciding whether to choose "white" or "whole wheat" at the grocery store to the AMAZING AND INCOMPARABLE AMOUNT OF STRESS WE FACE AS TEACHERS.  

***********Now, listen up, I am not complaining about my job. I LOVE teaching.******************

Sadly, a good portion of my day isn't just teaching.  It's doing a whole bunch of other things that are time consuming and overwhelming and take me away from what I want to do most.  What I do best.  And what is that?

  • Talking to kids
  • Building their confidence
  • Establishing procedures so that they know they are safe and how to follow directions
  • Exploring their passions and encouraging them to dream
  • Reading to kids, with kids, near kids, stuff written by kids
  • Hearing kids
  • Comforting kids
  • Modeling a positive attitude and good citizenship

What I don't have time for is all the other "stuff."  It fills up my brain, so really, by the time summer rolls around I need about 6 weeks to decompress and then it is time to go back.  The kids make it worth it EVERY SINGLE DAY but it's hard. It's stressful.  

And it is so, so, so important.  

I am proud of what I do and, to me, that is an important thing to be able to say.  But right now, I've passed 60 and I'm trying to stay in control at 100.  I might miss some days on my blog, I might not return your call right away, and I might have to cancel last minute.  But only because my job isn't working with products, it's working with people. Little people.  And they are worth it.  It may seem corny and it may sound cheesy, but seriously: