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: 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Let's Have A Ball!

Let's Go Gamecocks, Let's Go!

Around my hometown, Columbia, South Carolina, the words up above are enough to start a riot.  I have been out to dinner in a fancy place - cloth napkins and all, where this was shouted and the place erupted like a Frat House in the 11th hour and then returned to linen tablecloths and champagne as if nothing had happened.  In Columbia, you "bleed garnet" in honor of our SEC college football team, The Carolina Gamecocks.  It might be the only place where young men aren't kicked out of a respectable establishment for having the word "Cocks" on their hat.  Occasionally, someone wearing orange and purple will creep out of the woodwork in support of our biggest rival, the Clemson Tigers.  I like to think I am proud of both schools for representing South Carolina so well.  However, I won't be as nice on Game Day.  

For me, the return of the school year signifies a new season in many ways.  A tiny bit of chill in the air is welcome after the Carolina heat, new students come into my classroom a little bigger than I remember them from the year before, and my beloved Fighting Gamecocks head to the field to commence a football season full of tailgating, victory, and some of the best teamwork I've ever seen.  

Speaking of teamwork, I have been very active on Twitter recently.  Not as a fan of "The Voice" (ok, maybe a little) but as an educational tool.  I have discovered an amazing network of educators and they have inspired me to make stronger connections with my team in my school!  It's funny that people I don't know have encouraged me to think about my working relationships with people I do know!  A new Twitter friend (@JayBilly2) has even inspired me to help moderate a chat.  If you don't know what that means, it is when you come up with a topic and post questions during a specific time slot and then sit back and WATCH AMAZING THINGS HAPPEN!  I am so excited to work with him.  The best part?  He's a principal!  In the real world, it's hard to find time to meet with my principal because we are both so busy and because there is always that "this is my boss, don't say something dumb" feeling.  But here we are, working together, sharing ideas, and encouraging each other to try new things! 

So... in honor of the 1st Gamecocks game and our collaboration, we invite you to join us Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 10:00 pm EST for #TLeadChat where we will be discussing the viewpoint from the "sideline" (The Coach/Principal) and from the "field" (The Player/Teacher).  

Strap on your helmets, put on your team colors, and join us! Game ON! Let's Go Twitter, Let's Go!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

You Know... "That" Kid

Here we are at the beginning of the school year again and I've already met him. 

You know who I'm talking about.  "That" kid.  "That" one. 

That one who is going to change your whole world.  

The one that will walk in every single day with a smile. 

The one that needs you more than anyone else because he just sees the world a little differently.

The one that hugs you because he loves you and because he knows that that is what will make the difference in his life. 

The one that might get picked on so he has to know you have his back. 

The one that will try but might not pass the test

The one that will drive you crazy every now and then but will cry when he leaves your room. 

We all have "THAT" kid.  We might have more than one.  And we get the JOY  of seeing those smiling faces for a whole school year.  We are so lucky that we get to watch "that" kid grow confidence this year, make a new friend this year, or get lost in a new book this year. 

I got to hang out with my new friend today and he has already taught me some things.  When "that" kid walks in Wednesday morning, I better be ready.  We have a lot of work to do so he can remember "THAT" teacher.  I hope I don't let him down.    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What A Pain in My Foot


If you are anything like me at all, that first word made you shudder.  I can't stand that word.  Ugh.  Typing it was too much for me.  What's even worse than typing it? Yup. 

Having one.  

Look, I fully expected that when I turned 89 my foot would look crooked all over like a question mark and I would resort to wearing Birkenstocks and long flowing purple dresses and drinking herbal tea.  At 89, I wouldn't care about high heels, pedicures, and fun toe polish.  At 89, I would use words like bunion. 

I am not 89.  

What started as a slight twinge of discomfort in my right foot had turned into a "Wow, I must have mistakenly hammered a nail into my right foot last night while I was sleeping" kind of pain.  I am fairly active, despite my healthy (read:fluffy) size and I play tag with the kids, I work out more than once a year, and this summer I even HIKED.  I also have a high pain tolerance.  So, I knew this had to be sort of serious.  However, I still didn't go to the doctor.  Then, I went to the lake and had a VERY GOOD TIME and somehow I forgot how to properly use stairs and I twisted my ankle.  I went, thinking he would wrap it, give me some anti-inflammatories, and send me packin'.  Do you know what he said to me?

How long have you had this bunion? What? Didn't he know how young I am, my chart is right there!

So, now I have a foot doctor.  Again, I went in with the calm and cool collectedness of a young person in her 30's.  I assured all of the assistants that I probably didn't need to be there.  When the doctor came in, I explained to her that we were probably ALL just overreacting.  It was just a little swelling.  I'm sure it will go away.  I'm not even 40.  She did x-rays. 

Not *just* a bunion... a MODERATE bunion.  WILL require surgery eventually. 

Like, when I'm 89? 

Nope, proably before that.  In fact, I can't even do anything now except try to alleviate and not make it get worse faster.  She started using words like orthapedic inserts and nighttime "Bunion Booty" and that is when I checked out.  It was too much for me. 

And then it hit me.  I didn't have this 2 years ago.  It was teaching. TEACHING did this to me.  When I got home, I took a good look in the mirror.  I have gray hair now, seriously, like a whole stripe, not just one random one.  My closet is full of non-flattering clothes that cover every millimeter of cleavage.  I stopped wearing shirts that were fancy because they all have Sharpie marks or highlighter or vomit or Lysol wipe bleach marks on them within an hour.  And all those heels, those beautiful heels with strappy backs and pointy toes just sit there in dust.  Now, I opt for comfortable shoes with a sensible wedge.  That's when I saw it.  My one summer purchase.  A flowy purple dress.  I looked down and there it was, staring back up at me. 

My bunion. 

Pass the tea and strap on the Birkenstocks.  I'm here.  And, you know what?  It's O.K.  I may dress like and have the feet of an 89 year old but I get to play with kids every day and it keeps me young at heart.  You can keep your sexy skirts and heels, I'm going outside to play Octopus Ball at recess.  Keep your bathroom breaks whenever you want, I taught a kid a new word today.  And what is more exciting than laying on the floor and reading with a kid who discovered a book they love?  Nothing. 

I love it and I am here to stay.  I ordered the insert and I got a prescription for sneakers.  Take that bunion.  You didn't deFEET me this time! Now, I just need to run and get some hair dye. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nerd Girl

"I'm not really THAT into sci-fi stuff." 

That is a phrase I have said so often and then followed with a story of a sci-fi movie or book that I absolutely loved.  I'm starting to think that the only person I am still fooling is me.

Here's the story:   

Let me share a little bit about my mom.  She was absolutely amazing.  She was kind of a hippie and she always encouraged me to express myself.  

Cowboy chaps to go to the grocery store? Great! Lace Madonna gloves in Kindergarten? You Go Girl!  Glitter make-up in 5th grade? Go for it!  1996, belly button piercing (she HAS to say NO, right?)? Sure, maybe I'll get one too! 


I remember my friends calling the house and asking to talk to my mom.  She was just cool.  She was crafty and funny and silly and artistic.  She would take us to the movies and we actually WANTED her to hang out.  

But as a teenager, it was really hard to be rebellious.  My 15th birthday present was a tattoo.  (My dad thought it was fake well into the 2000's)

There was one, and only one, way.  She was a sci-fi junkie.  All of it.  Isaac Asimov, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, Dark Shadows, Larry Niven, Philip Jose Farmer, C.S. Lewis, The Hobbit, Madeline L'Engle, War of the Worlds, those ape movies... she loved them all.  

So I wasn't gonna.  

That's right. I didn't watch Star Wars, I cringed at late night movies with Elvira introducing them, and I only read The Hobbit because she paid me.    

It was my big plan of rebellion. Finally, I could feel the pain of all the other youth of America.  I couldn't be a true artist without some sort of parent sob story and this was mine.  

One problem... this stuff was good.  Have you ever even seen Dr. Who or read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?  IT'S AMAZING.  So, like most artistic people with overly allowing parents, I became a sci-fi junkie.  Sure, I could keep it quiet most of the time.  Barely anyone found out.  My World of Warcraft friends weren't social enough to tell anyone on me.  Nobody had to know.  

Then, one day, I woke up and my mom wasn't here any more.  Just like that, she was gone.  I was so grateful for the amazing woman who shaped me, who let me be me, who loved science fiction and the daughter who didn't.  So, in her honor, the time has come: 

I'm saying it loud and proud.  I'm a total nerd and I love it.  I'm enjoying discovering all the things I proudly disavowed and it's making me such a cool person.  

I mean, just don't tell anyone.   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hot Mess

My name is Maria and there is a whole lot of mess in my classroom closet, drawers, and in my brain. 

I am great at helping other people come up with organizational systems.  Turns out, I stink at implementing them.  I can either organize it so well that it takes me three years to set it all up, can only be deciphered by a handbook, and is color coded.  Or, everything goes into one drawer and I have no idea how to find anything ever again.  

Some days, I wish I was better at this.  I wish I could just put my hands on that one piece of paper.  I feel like I am going to pull my hair out because I know I made three copies of something and it isn't in the "Tuesday" folder where I swear I put it.  

Other days, however, I'm glad that my brain doesn't function like this.  Too much structure, for me, feels stifling.  

Classrooms can be effective in chaos.  Some of the best days in my room have been when I can't see or remember the color of the carpet.  I know that I need to find a balance but it doesn't make sense to me to spend more time worrying about where the colored pencils should be rather than creating exciting opportunities to use  them.  

One of the challenges for me in teaching is the number of questions and requests thrown at me during the day.  Early on, I implement strategies such as "Ask three before me" to limit the number of small people standing within 3 inches of me needing something.  A lot of times, however, the line of kids is excited to show me something, want to read me something, or want to share a story.  And these are the moments when I really get to know my kids.  

I'm grateful during these times to have a brain that allows me to be off task.  I'm not saying that structured, well organized, efficient people can't be successful teachers.  I just know that it wouldn't work for me.  Sometimes, allowing the kids to work in weird spots, look through my "craft box" in the closet, or asking them to decide how they want to present a topic, is exactly what we need to build community, get energized, and effectively teach and share content information.  

As I prepare to go back to school and I peruse the beautiful classrooms on Pinterest and in my own school, I know that organization is important.  I want my students to feel proud of our shared space and I want it to be efficient and clutter free.  Unfortunately, it doesn't come naturally to me.  I can come up with creative seating, rhyming birthday cards, and catchy bulletin boards.  However, I have no idea how/where to store my own materials.  I just know that they need a place.  

So, I went to the 1$ store and I bought places.  I got a label maker and I made labels.  I researched, I got materials, and tomorrow I will engage in my own PBL design project.  

I'm almost happy that I am having this experience.  It's hard for me to understand why my students don't know how to use a sheet of notebook paper, where to put their homework, or construct an argument with fact and fluency.  But really, these are all different types of organization skills.  I know I can help them with these!  I also know that if they don't have "it" I can give them strategies to get there.   

I'm going to start with a plan and I'm going to do my best to stick with it.  However, if I have to choose between stopping kids to clean up or continuing to create, my new strategy will be a sign on the door that says:

And I'm totally OK with that.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Headed to Australia

Have you ever had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

Of course you have.  Everyone has.  And if you are an educator, you probably know that I am referencing a lovely book by Judith Viorst titled Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  In this book, Alexander decides that he is going to Australia since his day is so awful.  At my school, we are encouraged to have an "Australia" or area that a student can go to calm down, take a moment, or just sit quietly for a few minutes.  I haven't had one because I felt like my room was cramped enough.  Tomorrow, I'm going pillow shopping.   

I just couldn't get it together today.  It really started yesterday.  I did something to upset a friend and it was completely unintentional.  The weird thing is, she was so gracious.  I apologized, I told her why I had done what I had done and she told me not to worry.  In fact, I went to her to see what I could do to "fix it," and she said that it was all O.K.  Later, she even texted me to tell me, again, that it was all a misunderstanding and that I shouldn't feel bad. 

I still did. 

Then, another friend had a car battery situation.  It all worked out but I still worried for her.  I know that feeling of having something that functions stop functioning.  I also know what it's like to have an unplanned expenditure come up.  I didn't want that for her.  And, I realized that I was in no position to help her.  It wasn't my fault AT ALL.  And, she didn't need my help.  Why in the world would I feel bad?  

I still did.  

Understandably, I didn't feel great when I woke up this morning.  I couldn't believe my alarm was going off, it felt like I had just laid down!  My very old dog isn't doing well and she wouldn't eat.  I can't leave food out for her because my very fat wiener dog is on a diet.  I finally got out the door and down the road when the sun came out and I had left my sunglasses at home.  I NEVER LEAVE MY SUNGLASSES.  They are like my security blanket and I've had the LASIK and they make me look like a 1950's movie star and they hold my hair back just perfectly.  

I had to be at school at 8:00 a.m.  It was fine. I was on time.  

But how do you think my day went?

It didn't matter that after that morning, nothing went that poorly.  It didn't matter that everyone was kind to me.  It didn't matter that we had a successful session of professional development and team planning.  It didn't matter that I finally organized that "junk tub" in my classroom (you have one too, right?).  It just didn't matter. 

When I got home, my answer to "How was your day?" was "It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."  The rotten that I woke up with just wouldn't go away.  It just stunk up all the good that followed.  

I'm a grown-up.  I know how to handle my feelings and emotions.  I know that there will be times when I will make poor choices, bad decisions, or act unwisely.  However, through experience, I know that tomorrow will probably be better.  It's all going to be fine. Eventually.  I am hoping that as I get even older (perhaps, wiser) that I will be able to see that even more quickly and not dwell in it at all.  But what about when you're 9 or 10?  You may not realize that it's going to get better.  You may think that the whole world is against you.  And you may not know that it's going to be all right.  

Sometimes I think all I have time to teach is content.  But if someone in my room is having one of those days, are they really listening to me anyway?  I would say probably not.  

So, I guess I get it.  I need an "Australia."  I'm not saying it will be any better because: 

But maybe some pillows and a safe space will help.  Maybe a hug.  I'm going to go try it myself right now.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let's Agree to Disagree

Do people know how to have a conversation anymore?

One of the first conversations I will have with my students is how to have a conversation.  By the time my students leave my classroom, it is not uncommon to hear them speaking to one another in a manner that shows greater skill than some adults I have spoken with.  By mid-year, I am beaming with pride when I hear one of my students say "I respectfully disagree with what you are saying."  It doesn't have quite the panache as "Yo' Mama" jokes but it does reflect a lot of hard work and modeling.  

In this age of internet conversation, I often wonder if people are losing their sense of courtesy.  Obviously it is easier to be mean when you don't have to see the "whites of their eyes," but I want to take it a step further.  

If you are obviously passionate about something and a person is willing to publicly call you out, disagree, or challenge your belief, what is the goal of the conversation that is about to ensue should you reply?  

Now, as I tell my students, I think that in that type of conversation, the goal should be to inform.  If each party is knowledgeable, passionate, and willing, great learning can take place.  The key is that in order to have this conversation, you have to come prepared.  If you didn't put in the time, act like a mime.  Turn your voice off.  What's great about that is... you can still listen!  And, you have two ears so you are working hard! 

However...  what I see happening at this point, in my classroom and on the internet, is that it suddenly goes from a conversation to a verbal lashing and disagreement of epic proportions.  The goal is no longer to inform but to WIN>! And, really, that's not what it should be about.  

I wonder what the adults in their lives are modeling?  I grew up in a house where there wasn't yelling.  I am 100% sure that my parents disagreed on things.  My mom was a hippie and my dad was military.  They were basically Dharma & Greg but they looked like normal people.  I was raised to feel like my opinion mattered but taught to listen to what other people thought as well.  I'm not sure that many of my students have this.  

So, it falls on the teachers. Again.  You know what though, that's ok.  There are a lot of things that I will teach them that they won't remember.  This is something that I think can influence the rest of their life.  Instead of anger and emotions that run out of control, how great would it be if the kids that came through my room got up, shook hands, and said "Let's agree to disagree," and walked off.  We need more of that. At least, that's what I think.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I got a 4 in skipping?

This is NOT what you think it might be. 

I'm going to tease you and make you think that I'm going to talk about assessment and grading. I'm not. One day I might but it's not here yet.  I am going to share a story that could go down that path. But it won't. 

1985 and I was in Kindergarten.  If you know me now and you think I am kind of a "knowitallbossypants," (it's o.k. I can't see you shaking your head yes) than boy, oh, boy, you should have seen me back then.  First, I was pretty blonde.  Like that corn field Southern girl blonde with ringlet-ish curls. Next, my eyes were about 1/4 of my face and my eyelashes were like tiny arms.  Oh, and last, my mother was amazing and a little bit insane and she would put me in tiny color coordinated things with matching accessories and shoes that squeaked.  

This is a younger picture but it's late and it was available. Just add awesome. 

I was basically the poster child for "Adorable."  And everyone told me how great I was. I was an early reader, an early talker, and my pretend food was out. of. this. world.  If there had been Kinder-superlatives, I would have been Dress-Up Prom Queen.  

So, fast forward to the exam day.  That's right. In the 80's in South Carolina you had to prove that you could do some things and do them well if you had any chance of advancing into the wild, wild world of 1st grade.  From what I can remember, there were some physical challenges.  You had to write letters (easy), you had to cut on a line (champ), you had to walk on a balance beam (please?), and you had to skip (FAIL). What?  How could I have messed up skipping?  I was an adorable, tiny, blonde human who skipped everywhere I went just for affect and to make my pony tail swing!  Oh, my skipping was fine but the established rule of the classroom  was that each child must walk on cement.  Movement any faster than walking had to be done on the sand. Including skipping.  I looked down. Cement.  

But I was excited! The teacher was sitting on the cement! I just wanted to win Kindergarten. 

It didn't matter. I broke the rule.  I failed skipping even though I could skip.  As you can tell, I'm still not over it.  Maybe in 30 more years. 

Today, a co-worker and friend seemed surprised that I was so "ridgid" when it came to "rule following."  It was interesting to hear her say that because I totally understood why she felt that way.  I tend to waiver on the far side of wacky.  I don't like things to line up, I barely match, and I think dance breaks should be mandatory for any age group.  The actual Senior Superlative I received in high school was "Most Original" and I have been called a hippie and a free thinker.  

But the bottom line is... I never want to fail at skipping again when I know how to skip.  I am perfectly happy making mistakes and failing because I tried my hardest and it just wasn't right.  But I'm not going down because I didn't follow the rules.  

In fact, the reason I am so confident and capable when it comes to taking risks and flexing my creativity is because I feel safe in knowing the established rules.  Once you know them, you know what's important and what can be pushed.  Once you agree to abide by them, you don't feel defined by them and you can put your free thinking towards an area that hasn't been defined.  I love being me but I'm still that kid.  I want to please and I'm kind of a "showoff."  

So, as I go back in the classroom, I want to make sure that the established rules are set in stone.  However, I also want my kids to be a part of the process and allow them the autonomy to contribute to the classroom procedures.  I want them to feel comfortable enough to fail, but I never want that failure to be for the wrong reason.  

If they break the rule, I will let them know and I won't let them off easy.  That 4 in skipping has followed me for the rest of my life but it was a lesson that stuck.  And sometimes, those kinds of lessons are hard to learn and not easy to teach.  But I will, because I want want what's best for my kids.  And, sometimes, that includes a serious chat and a humbling experience.  No matter how big their giant eyes are.