Snack Tiiime….HUH?

Working in a Title 1 school presents its challenges. It also presents students who are just kids and who will share their love day in and day out. Beyond the ups and the downs, it also presents a very special time of the day – SNACK TIME!

Three days a week our class gets a fresh fruit or vegetable snack. You know the Red Robin slogan, right? Red Robin…Yum! Well in my class, snack time also has a slogan. Snack Tiiime…Huh?? Our snacks are unusual and impractical to say the least. More often than not we receive the bag of snack and have no idea what is inside. More than once all of the adults in the room have googled the PLU code of the fruit to figure out 1. What is it? and 2. How in the world do you eat it?

In case you are thinking the snacks can’t be that crazy, here are some real life examples.

1. Blood Oranges
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Blood oranges are not the most ridiculous fruit, but asking 2nd graders to peel them on their own without it looking like a murder happened on their desk? That is another story. It is also not possible to eat blood oranges and do writing. Dear students, forget about writing. We will just wrestle with the oranges for the next 30 minutes.

2. Persimmons
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This is one fruit that had us googling what it was and how to eat it. I believe you are supposed to break it open and just eat the flesh on the inside. The persimmons were a disaster. Kids were eating the outside peels. Others could break open the likely unripe fruit. I’m still not sure exactly how to describe this interesting fruit.

3. Lettuce – Iceberg, Bok Choy, Italian Blend, all the lettuce!
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These are the actual pictures of our snack. We just get shredded lettuce in a bag. Kids just get a paper towel and munch on that stuff dry. The craziest part is some of them really seem to enjoy it. (Of course there are those that look at me like I have 3 heads when I offer them shredded lettuce.)

The last and my favorite example of how ridiculous our snacks are is………..

4. LEMONS
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At first, I was questioning if these were your regular lemons. I went ahead and took a suck on one. Definitely a lemon!!

Never a dull moment, friends. Never.

Change Makers in Education

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Gandhi said it best about being the change you want to see in the world. However, what he forgot to mention, or perhaps the footnote that was cut off from the bottom of the page, is that the change is scary. The change requires sacrifice. The change often requires jumping off of the edge without being able to see where you are going to land. In many situations, personal, professional, or otherwise, we typically know the change that is needed. The problem is either not knowing the means to the end or being afraid to stand alone and be the change.

I do not hold anyone responsible for not always making the change. We are only human and must pick and choose the most important change to each of us. Working in public education, I hear about the change needed in education daily. It is nothing new. I know teachers that feel sick knowing their own child will be entering a world of public education that has lost sight of the child. And yet we continue working in a system because making that change is hard, scary, requires incredible sacrifice. However, people are doing it.

Two teachers from my last school, an elementary school in the Tulsa Public Schools system, are making that change. They said enough was enough and put their foot down refusing to continue administering student surveys and standardized testing. These teachers know their stuff and have strong credentials. They wrote to the district’s administration and a long letter to parents explaining their stance.

Here is a link to the open letter to parents sent out by Ms. Hendren and Ms. Jones published on the United Opt Out blog (a national group in the movement to end corporate education reform. http://unitedoptout.com/2014/11/17/first-grade-teachers-at-skelly-elementary-tulsa-ok-we-refuse-to-administer-the-map-and-student-surveys/

Along with being picked up on the United Opt Out blog, an article was published in the Tulsa World (the local newspaper) and a blog was posted from the Washington Post. I know there has been many publications beyond this. As a teacher who once taught at their school and as a teacher in public education, I stand in awe and applaud these women. This is change. This is scary. This is being willing to sacrifice one’s job. But of course, this is what is required to truly create change. In fact, discussion is now being held starting with the superintendent about the testing and surveys. This is not saying this is the end of the battle, but it is a start. It is pebble that has hit with water and created a ripple that can continue to grow.

Thank you to these two teachers. They are true change makers in education. May we all be inspired by their change.

Here are two of the articles published about their story.
Tulsa World Article: Tulsa teachers refuse to give student tests; Superintendent: That’s not an option

http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/education/story-of-local-teachers-concerns-about-student-surveys-over-testing/article_849d923d-d4db-5757-bdfa-ba5014220b85.html

Washington Post Blog: Your children deserve better than this, first-grade teachers tell parents

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/18/your-kids-deserve-better-than-this-first-grade-teachers-tell-parents/

A First Heartbreak

Today my student came in and the first thing he said to me was that he was sad because his dog had died. Immediately his eyes began to well up and it was obvious how upset he was. As he unpacked his belongings, he took out a picture of his dog, which he kept with him the entire day. My student was a trooper but there was no denying how much he was hurting. He would do a problem or two and then put his head down on his desk. The picture of his dog never once left his hand.

There was a moment in the afternoon that really struck me. About halfway through the day he said, “I still feel funny about my dog being gone.” This made me crack a bit of a smile about his childhood innocence. I gently told him that he might keep that feeling for quite a few days. The way he put it was so innocent but also so genuine.

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Think about it. Remember back to one of your own heartbreaks. Your childhood dog dies yet you still expect her to be there to greet you at the door when you get home. Your high school boyfriend breaks up with you and no matter what he said you still picture spending your Friday night sitting next to him. A grandparent dies and come Christmas you expect to have that card signed with their love. Call it what you want, but we all feel a bit funny. Even though we know what reality is, when we are forced to face it head on day after day it just does not sit well. Something seems off. After a week, month, or years we find it strange that the funny feeling has stuck around thinking surely by now it will be over. Like with my student we must be reminded that our heartbreak too may stick around for a while.

I have no seen two children who are truly heartbroken. One over his late dog and the other over a dying mother. The emotion of children is raw and real. Laugh it off as we too often may it is the first of many heartbreaks experienced in life. A funny feeling that seems to linger even when it has worn its welcome.

In honor of late dogs, here’s the song that played on the radio on the way home from putting our first dog Cinnamon to sleep. Sometimes the world gives you just what you need.

Halloween Terrors

In the past year and a half, I think I have grown up a lot. There have been many times I’ve felt like I’ve been slapped across the face with the harsh reality of “you’re really an adult”. Of the many examples some of my favorite include shopping in a grocery store halfway across the country, not recognizing any brands, and thinking what am I doing here? There was that time at 22 that they were asking me about my retirement. About that….I know I have money going somewhere but still don’t have the slightest idea about what it all means. I’ve even had to pick insurance benefit plans three different times. All of these things felt pretty adult in my mind. That was until October 31st.

Nobody warned me how stressful Halloween is as an adult when you have your own place!! To say I was a bit on edge may be an understatement. I may have called my mom a few times (thanks mom!) to share just how stressful it is and criticize her for not warning me about how tricky Halloween is for adults.

First, I had to make sure I would have enough candy. I had no idea how many kids to expect. You can’t be the house that has bad candy or gives everyone one piece. Fifteen minutes before trick-or-treating I ran out and got two more bags of candy out of panic. In the end it wouldn’t have been necessary but better safe than sorry! (So you know it is true that when you’re the adult you put most of the good candy at the bottom of the bowl. That stuff is delicious AND expensive!)

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Secondly, I had to be sure I was available for the full two hours of handing out candy. That meant my dinner had to be ready and no potty breaks! I was a mad woman trying to cook my Stromboli and make sure I didn’t drink too many liquids from 5:30-6:00.

Lastly, there were so many little things I was way too worried about. For example, I did not have a single Halloween decoration at my door. Lame. I had to clear my pile of teaching materials from the doorway so my apartment would seem neat and tidy to visitors. And last I heard trick-or-treat for UNICEF was still a thing so I got out spare change so I was ready when I was asked.

When you are a bit of a worrier like me, this all led to a far from care-free holiday. In the end, the night ended up being a success but I may have gotten a gray hair or two out of it. In addition, I kept thinking that with the right costume I could look like a high schooler and just be trick-or-treating myself instead of all the adult craziness. Maybe next year.

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If that was just Halloween, I won’t even begin to imagine Christmas with kids. Oh lordy!

Enough is (not) Enough

When students are upset, we encourage them to use “I statements.” This keeps them from talking on behalf of others or making assumptions.

Well, today I feel angry. I am angry with teaching. Not my school, not my students, teaching.

I feel that we have come to expect too much from our students. It is nothing new to hear that curriculum from 10 years ago can now be found a grade lower. What was first grade curriculum is now kindergarten, what was second grade curriculum is now first, etc., etc. In addition, the rigor the schools work towards has intensified. Suddenly, we are expecting students to learn a exorbitant amount of material in a very limited amount of time. I end most days feeling like the whole day was a blur. I feel like I have not had time to process anything that happened. Well, here’s the thing. I am the teacher, in my 20s, and already know all of the content. If I can’t keep up, how in the world are my students supposed to?

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We are constantly pushing our students to do more and more. I believe that it is important to be challenged. I believe it is just as important to feel success. But students finally ace that test they’ve worked so hard preparing for and we give them a “good job, now…” From then on we have to challenge them more because if they are able to do it all it must be too easy. Reaching an end goal, a finish line is impossible. The same is even reflected in the teacher evaluation system. Teachers are told they will mostly be satisfactory and the possibility of being distinguished overall is so rare. Distinguished…”It is a good place to visit but not to live.” Once again, I believe in high expectations and being challenged, but I want a chance at getting it. I want a chance to say I worked hard and I reached the top.

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Here is the good news. We are producing children whose IQ’s are on average 10 points higher than those who were born in the 90’s. The national unemployment rate continues to fall as we produce students who are better prepared to ender the real-world workforce. Even social skills seem to have improved as the incidences of violent crimes and the frequency of mental health problems have gone down. It is clear, the students coming out of this standardized, test-driven education system are just better, smarter, improved people who are ready to enter the real world.

Is you head cocked? An eyebrow raised? Perhaps my stats don’t seem to line up. They’re made up. I have no idea of exact statistics, but if you ask me I don’t know that there’s been a drastic shift in our students thanks to these changes in education. That being said…

What’s the point?

Letters

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No, no. Not these letters.

THESE!

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Remember those pieces of paper you used to write as a child. You’d fold them in thirds, put them in an envelope, and place a stamp on the outside. It’s a fuzzy memory, but dig deep. You know what I’m talking about.

At the end of the summer I wrote to each of my 2nd graders from Oklahoma. I ended each letter with. “I would LOVE to hear from you. Write to me and I will write back!” A few kids took me up on it and I got letters, drawing, and photographs. In addition, I know that some additional kids told a teacher on my old team about the letter and were very excited. I have since been sent some pictures from an old teacher with my students holding up signs about how well they are doing. I’ve returned the pictures encouraging the students to keep going. I LOVE seeing those little faces I spent so much time with last year. I love seeing the pride they have for their own work!

Just this weekend I replied to the letters of students that wrote me back or that I have heard from in other ways. Tonight one of the parents sent me a picture of her son just beaming holding my letter and told me he’s replying tonight. She had some very kind words about the effect I had on her son last year.

I’m 1,000 miles away from my students. The reality is I will likely never see them again in person. However, it is truly incredible to know that your impact is not forgotten. My greatest fear, my greatest guilt of my students feeling like I just up and left has been put to rest. THIS is why I teach.

Dear First Year Teacher,

I’ve completed my first year of teaching and am almost a month into my second. I will continue teaching second grade but this time much closer to home back on the East Coast in Pennsylvania. As the year has been moving, I’ve reflected a lot on my crazy first year of teaching. I am writing this letter to the first year teacher. These are all the things that I would tell myself (and remind myself daily) a short 13 months ago.

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Dear First Year Teacher,

1. Your year is going to be every bit as demanding, strenuous, exhausting, and emotional as you have been warned. This career will consume the seemingly few hours in each day. You students will constantly be on your mind, for better or for worse, and tugging at your heartstrings. You will devour internet sites to find ideas because what in the world are you supposed to do to teach silent consonants?? I think over the last year I’ve been very honest about all of this. However, what you may often forget through the rollercoaster ride of your first year, is that it will be every bit as rewarding as you ever dreamed. The chance to truly impact a child’s life come in each in every moment of the day. You have been given the gift, opportunity, and honor to make this kind of impact, but your students will also impact YOU, changing you every day for the good for the better.

2. Swallow your pride. As a first year teacher, there will be bucketloads of things that you simply cannot know do to inexperience. Do not be afraid to take the help of others. Do not be afraid to ask for help and admit that you feel like you’re barely staying afloat. Do not suffer in silence.
The time will come when you will be the one helping others. Be patient, young grasshopper, your time will come.

3. Leave the idea of perfection behind. In college you had much more control over your successes and failures. Now there are 24 little minions and multiple big minions (also known as administrators) who are dictating your day. Just make the most of each day. Accept your limitations and know that you can also improve in the future. Looking back I can’t help but think, had I done xyz since day one, my students could have progressed SO MUCH further. Hindsight is 20/20, my friends.

4. Pick one thing and become really good at it. It is not possible to perfect everything at once (please refer back to #3). Put your effort into one thing each year. For many people, they choose classroom management out of necessity. For me, I took one of the most difficult parts of my day (small groups) and got the help to make it some of the most effective hours in the classroom.

5. Parents are your allies. It is scary talking to parents, especially for less than stellar reports. Do it anyway. I truly believe that 100% o parents (in a healthy state of mind) want what is best for their children. Sometimes they are doing what they can to help and sometimes not. It’s not your place to judge. Instead, support them, involve them, and encourage them to advocate for their child.

Imagine giving your most prized possession to a stranger for 24 hours. Maybe it’s all of the money in your bank account, maybe your car, or wedding ring. Would you trust them? That’s kind of like teaching except that children can NEVER be replaced and the effects we have on children will never fully disappear. I repeat – You have been given the gift, opportunity, and honor to make this kind of impact. Never forget.

6. YOU CAN DO THIS! There’s a reason that you are a teacher. You didn’t choose teaching, it chose you. So buckle down, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride.

Love,
A first year survivor <3

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