Today is my first day of spring break and a much needed break it is! Instead of going on a cruise or traveling someplace warmer my husband and I are staying home this year. I plan on spending my break by sleeping in, enjoying lots of quality time with my hubby/daughter, doing a few chores (only because I won't be able to stop myself) and rereading some of my favorite books.
There are a number of things that I am afraid of ranging from the full-blown phobia to the simple I really don't like that, but I'll survive as long as it stays away from me kind of fear. I suspect my family has always taken some delight in challenging those fears. For example, I do not like heights. I am an Acrophobic. I have always said that God made me short because he understood that about me. My family, of course, is well aware of this yet on vacations they would plan things that would test my limits. For instance, they would make me ride on the exposed Grim Reaper bench suspended high above the tree tops by a teeny-tiny string. Some call this torture device a ski lift. No, thank you. I would rather walk up the mountain.
On another vacation we were driving to Sedona, Arizona. After sitting in the back seat the entire trip my parents decided that it would be fun to put me in the front passenger seat for our drive over the Rockies. (We were on a road that appeared to be used mostly by locals.) Fun is not how I would describe it. I sat there white knuckled, clutching the seatbelt strap with tears rolling down my face. I felt completely helpless as other vehicles, including huge UPS and FedEx trucks, squeezed past us on the two-way (TWO-WAY...HA) road. I tried to close my eyes, but that made me panic more so I would open my eyes. However, from my lovely front row seat of certain death I had a birds-eye view. I would open my eyes and see the safety guard-less, crumbling road and the sharp curves that seemed to be barely clinging to the side of the mountain. To my horror I could see everything, including the rusted carcasses of every type of car ever made trapped for eternity in the tops of trees FAR below.
My father, who was driving, became rather annoyed with my repeated warnings of "We're all going to die!" in-between my prayers for God to keep us safe. In an attempt to lighten the mood he said, "Everything's going to be alright. We just have to stay between the line and the drop off. We do that and we'll be okay." Great choice of words, Dad. Drop off... yep, that should help subdue the terror. I didn't sit in the front seat again.
Why I am I dredging up past experiences? Well, upon my parents request, all of us are going on another family vacation this summer. I'm just wondering what challenging experiences will be in store for me on this trip. I think I'll be fine as long as I am not ON the mountain. I like to view them from a distance.
In a guided reading lesson it is important that the teacher is carefully listening to each individual reader, taking notes on areas of strength and areas where more time/experience is needed. Always ready to provide any support the student may need in order to decode a word. Anyone who has ever lead a guided reading group with first grade students has undoubtedly had a student look at the first letter or letters of a word and say another word that begins with the same letters. Most of the time when this occurs the sentence becomes so incomprehensible that sometimes the teacher doesn't even have to say anything. The student, if we are lucky, will catch it on their own and go back to reread correcting their mistake. Then there are those other times. This is one of those times.
I was reading with a group of my first graders, who are reading at grade level. My one student's current goal has to do with fluency. He is working on reading at a more natural pace (not racing through the words) while paying attention to punctuation and reading with expression. (He is REALLY focusing on the expression bit at the moment.) Anyway, today he was reading with even more expression than usual. He read the first sentence beautifully. "He was NEVER mad." I beamed with pride as he briefly stopped at the period before continuing to read on to the next sentence. "He NEVER sh*tted." (The word was supposed to be shouted.) Not one single student said anything and the look on the reader's face convinced me that he was working out his mistake. So I fought back my urge to giggle and waited patiently to see if he would fix his mistake. I watched as the confused look left his face and he opened his mouth to say..."Wow!"
I have a framed poster in my room that says, "I teach. What's Your Superpower?" I had a student get all excited when he read it. He said, "YOU have a superpower? What is it?" To which I replied in my most impressive super hero-ish voice, "My superpower is teaching you how to read and write...in English. It is the most powerful of all superpowers." (I even made a Hulk pose to highlight the power.) For some reason his enthusiasm diminished following my response. (Maybe the Hulk pose was too much.) So I asked him what superpower he would like to have. He thought about it for a minute and then said he would like to fly. "That way I can sleep longer and just fly to school." The other students in the group each shared their preferred superpower AND the reasoning behind their choices. One wanted to know everything that way homework would be easy. Another wanted to be invisible so that he could prank people. It was wonderful. The students were questioning each other on their decisions with what if this happens/how would you do this etc. Just the type of thing I love to hear from my ELL students! It was at this point that my prepared lesson was set aside to use another day. Instead we wrote about our superpowers.
At times I think I forget how important it is to just work in the moment with my students. After all I have a goal for each student and a plan of action. Don't get me wrong, I adjust lessons ALL the time in order to best support the needs of my students. I am a tweaking queen! However, setting aside an entire lesson, to completely change it, made me feel a little guilty. Just a few short years ago I would never have felt guilty about teaching in the moment. If the students were excited about something they discovered, or something they were discussing I would often run with it. I wanted to capture their enthusiasm while it was at its peak and challenge them to do something with it. Today there is so much pressure to have our kids preform well on tests that are, at times, neither developmentally nor grade level appropriate...and there are so many MORE tests! (I am sure that I am not the only educator who finds this frustrating.) I know for myself I have lost 15 days...FIFTEEN DAYS of intervention instruction time with my ELL kids so that I could help administer tests. Sigh. Unfortunately, I can't do anything to get those lost days back. All I can say is that on THIS day I got to use my superpower and I feel like a super hero.
This year our district began using ST Math to complement our math program. For those of you who may not know what ST Math is please let me explain. ST Math is an instructional software that aligns to Common Core and state standards. The program contains a plethora of math games that not only differentiate instruction but are completely visual and are therefore language independent. This is GREAT for my ELLs as well as for any student who struggles with reading.
With ST Math the students need to solve the problems so that JiJi-the ST Math penguin mascot-can walk from one side of the screen to the other side. If the student solves the problem correctly JiJi will make it safely to the other side and another problem will come up. If the student gets it wrong something will block JiJi's path so that he will not be able to go to the other side. The student will not only lose a life but will have to attempt the same problem again. Sometimes JiJi is blocked by an empty space, sometimes a line and sometimes a tiny dot depending on the problem the student is working on. (This last bit of information is vital in truly appreciating my student's rant.)
This morning I had some of my students working on ST Math. One of my students had his head resting on his hand and was heavily sighing. As I made my way over I asked him what was wrong. He said, "This doesn't make any sense! It isn't logical!" At this point I am watching him solve a multi-step problem. I not only can see that he is clearly understanding how to solve the problem but that it is also his first attempt at this level, meaning he hadn't lost any lives and he had not attempted this level before. He had also completed 50% of the problems on this level so I was confused as to why he was so frustrated. Before I could say anything he says, "Watch this." I watched as he quickly finishes the problem and was witness to JiJi's successful migration to the other side of the screen. It was at this point that the rant started. "How come JiJi can't even step OVER the dot, but he can climb UP a ladder? I can't even climb a ladder that fast! And why does JiJi make us do ALL the work?" Why indeed.
I am currently taking a professional development class for CEUs lead by a wonderful co-worker of mine and another amazing teacher in our district. It's called Digital Maker Playground. I signed up for the class because 1) any class that Cathy and Julie are leading is going to be great and 2) they used the word playground in the title. Who doesn't like to play?
Every class that I have taken with them has been wonderful. They give us the information/tools and then allow us time to work with what we have learned while they offer support. Why aren't more professional development classes designed like this? Anyway, Cathy and Julie asked us to share our "maker" spaces digitally. (Maker space meaning our personal space where our creative juices flow; where we create things.) The problem I am having with this is that I don't really have A designated space...unless I can call my brain a space.
If I want to write I might go to my loft and write on the computer or curl up in my reading chair. If I feel like sketching I'll pick up my sketch book and sketch wherever my heart desires. Sometimes I like to try new recipes or attempt to come up with something entirely new so I am making a mess in the kitchen. When I feel like altering an old item of clothing into something new or making a completely new clothing item I go to my sewing room. Whatever it is that I am doing always starts with an idea that popped in my head. That idea might have taken seed when I was watching something, reading an article or a good book, perhaps it started from something that I saw on the internet or Pinterest. Regardless of what it is I am creating it has always taken root in my brain. Now to share that digitally. Hmmmm...I have some ideas beginning to sprout!
Well, we have sprung ahead again. Other than feeling a little "off" immediately following the time change the time change never really affected me much until I had my daughter. That is when my dislike of Daylight Savings Time began.
I have pretty much always been a very flexible person. I wouldn't describe myself as being completely go-with-the-flow, but I am generally pretty laid back...most of the time. My lovely daughter, however, has more of a tendency to be a type A person than myself. Meaning she can become very frustrated when things, including the time change, mess with her schedule...including her inner schedule. So, while Daylight Savings Time would leave me feeling a little off for a day or two it would make Rachel feel as if EVERYTHING was against her. Sigh. Like myself she would feel off, but in her mind that "off" feeling meant that she either forgot or was actually late for something. This would cause her to want to control even more and, at times, she would become a little too focused on things.
Watching my daughter's stress increase immediately following the time change didn't irritate me. It really angered me! As I would work with-and support-Rachel through these stressful times I would find myself asking, "Why are we still using Daylight Savings Time anyway?" In our modern world is this time change even effective anymore? I mean, are we really "saving" anything anymore by adhering to something that was first introduced by Woodrow Wilson during WWI and then was instituted year-round by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during WWII! Since there was little I felt I could do about it I would take a deep breath, encouraging Rachel to do the same, and we would rally on.
Now that my daughter is all grown up and on her own I no longer have that same ominous feeling that coincides with the appearance of Daylight Savings Time. However, watching the students walking into school an hour earlier than what their bodies had been used to was eye opening. I am certain I saw some other kiddos with the same issues with the time change that my Rachel had. May the force be with us all today!
*This was NOT written during testing. That would be against the rules and I am a rule follower! I wrote this later in the day as I was reflecting upon my day.
I think everyone has experienced doing some mundane activity in which your only means of entertainment, or escape, lies within your own mind. Today has been my thirteenth day of administering state mandated tests. (Yes, I did say thirteenth.) I still have at least two more days of testing to look forward to! YAY ME! Anyhoo, while administering these wonderfully valuable tests that will provide me with SO much immediate feedback about each and every child's abilities (I'm being sarcastic here) I have walked the room, counted my steps, counted the cement blocks in the room and made mental notes of things I need to do. As the students busily write away I have mentally rearranged the furniture in the room...several times, I've thought about who I need to email or call, and I have decided on which intervention I want to use with one of my second graders.
As the clock in my room LOUDLY ticks on I realize that they have only been working for 10 minutes. I say a little prayer asking God to give me the strength to fight the urge to fall asleep and, just in case, threw in a humble request that my bladder won't fail me. Oh, a hand. Thank you, God. You are great! Student: "I don't understand this question." Me: "I'm sorry, sweetie. I can't help you with that." I give her a reassuring pat on the back, smile and walk away. This interaction is then followed with absolute frustration, for both of us. Then my thoughts turn to how the powers that be should be the ones in here administering these tests. They need to experience this special level of Dante's...well, they should be here in order to have a true understanding of what we are needlessly putting our kids through! Rant over.
Time continues on and I have figured out how many days until the second part of season 1 of Outlander comes back. (It's just 30 more days in case you have been patiently waiting its return as I have!) I thought about how I will never be able to survive waiting two years for the next book (in the series) to come out. Then I had a morbid thought. What if, heaven help me, I die before the next book comes out?!? I almost had a panic attack at that thought, but I was able to hold myself together. Hmmm. I wonder how many hours there are until it starts? I could figure out how many hours until it starts! That will occupy my mind for awhile. Wait. What time does it come on? How do I not even know what time its on? DVR of course! Uggghhh! Does it start at 9 or 10? I'll check on my phone. NO! I can't check on my phone because I am administering this bloody test! Curses.
What time is it now? How has it only been half an hour? We still have an hour to go! Sigh. It's so cold in here! I wish I could adjust the temperature from my own room. I'll walk around my little room a few more times. That will help warm me up, I hope. What was with that dream last night? At least it wasn't terrifying like the I Am Legend dream! (Shudder.) But seriously, why would I dream that I suddenly grew a second set of toes...and why were the toes webbed? What is that supposed to mean? Maybe it means that I need to go to the beach. Ahhhh! The beach. (Smile) Sinking my toes into the warm sand. Listening to the waves rushing onto the shore. The smell of sun tan lotion being carried on the breeze while I sit there sipping a lovely cool drink of happiness complete with a little umbrella as its accessory. Bliss. Yes. I think I need to go to the beach and soon.
This morning we had a staff meeting. One thing our lovely principal does is that she starts every meeting with new and goods. This is an opportunity for the staff members to share wonderful things that are happening either personally or with our students/class. This morning two teachers shared amazing stories that touched my heart and made me smile. I thought I would spread the joy and share their stories here.
The first good comes from a kindergarten student who was really struggling to be in the classroom. When teachers tried to say hello to him he would turn his head away from them. I'd experienced this myself on numerous occasions. Slowly but surely he started to acknowledge our existence when we said hello to him. He is now to the point that he is able to stay in the regular classroom the entire day! (I knew he had come a long way when HE said hello to me first AND gave ME a high five, but I didn't know HOW far he had come until it was shared with us this morning.) I feel so lucky to work with the most amazing teachers. They never gave up on him and the unconditional love they have shown him is helping him to blossom. I feel so privileged to be a witness to his transformation.
The second good comes from a second grader. This is a student who has the most unique and loving family. He, like so many others, has had his own set of struggles. His teacher read aloud a piece of this child's writing. It was beautifully written with the honesty and innocence of a child, but the words were woven in such a clever way that it would have challenged the writing of many adults. Listening to this brilliantly written piece had me smiling, chuckling and even brought tears to my eyes. He wrote about a trip that he had taken with his family. He talked about seeing a blind woman who had a seeing eye dog and talked about how the dog went everywhere with her. Then he effortless moved onto how they went to church and prayed a lot. He wrote how he said the Lord's prayer three times and he included the prayer in his writing. Then he talked about going to his grandma's house, how it was a sad, sad day. He ended it by saying that they went to the cemetery where they buried his grandpa. His words touched my heart.
Teaching is SO much more than just the academic part. It's believing in each child, regardless of what their struggle or circumstances might be. It's being that special person that they feel comfortable enough with to share their lives. It is about celebrating the good things and encouraging them to persevere when things get hard. It is about helping each child realize the gifts they have to offer just by being themselves. In this day and age when public education is being bashed left and right; where we are forced to administer tests that, in my humble opinion, are not necessary it is important to share the New and Goods. I'm so grateful to work with a principal who understands this.
Today I got to do something that I LOVE to do but have not been able to do for two weeks. I got to teach again! Now, some of you might be wondering what I have been doing for two weeks if I haven't been teaching. Well, part of that time was spent at home. (Due to the extreme temperatures our school has had to use an abundance of calamity days this year.) The rest of my time has been spent doing something that just sucks the joy out of me. I have been administering state mandated tests. (By the way, testing is STILL going on so I am not 100% back to my regular intervention schedule yet.) Anyway, while I wasn't able to work with all of my kids the few that I was able to see today brought some joy back into my teacher's soul.
My first, second and third graders (that I was able to work with today) all expressed how much they had missed me and, of course, I shared how much I had missed them. After catching up with each others lives we got to work. We read, we discussed, we shared our thinking and we wrote. The lessons weren't amazingly inspirational by any means, but they were meaningful. We worked as if we hadn't missed a single day together. Then, sadly, I had to send them back to their classrooms. What I didn't realize at the time was that the best part my day was about to happen with my kindergarten students.
First of all, if you have never worked with kindergartners you have missed out on some seriously hilarious experiences. Kindergarten is an adventure to say the least and one day is never like the next. For example, in one afternoon I witnessed a twin going all WWE on her sister in an effort to help her pull up her pants up so that her butt crack wasn't showing while a small group in the drama center was playing out an elaborately dramatic story filled with a level of misery and mystery that was way beyond their years. (By the way, when I asked the drama center group why their story was so dark their response was, "Well, this IS the drama center." I couldn't argue with that.) One of my favorite stories is when I was challenging a student to write different words. I told him that the last word was REALLY hard. He pushed up his sleeves, sat back in his chair, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Lay it on me."
Today I walked into the Kindergarten classroom and pulled my two students over to a table to work on saying words slowly and writing down the sounds they hear. For one of the students this has been a particularly difficult activity. Not today though. She owned those words. She was doing such a great job and had a confidence that I had not seen before. I asked her how it was so easy for her now and she said that she'd been practicing at home. Then she went on to explain to me that somethings can be really easy for some people and really hard for other people; that everyone has something that they are good at. She said that she just needed to work on words until they were easy peasy lemon squeezy. My heart has been smiling ever since! THIS is why I teach.