No Place to Call Home

This week I participated in the best professional development I have ever had.  For once we stepped away from report cards, common core standards, and data.  Rather than seeing our students as numbers, we looked at who they are as people, as children.  Our whole school’s staff participated in the “No House Tour” which was a half day tour through the homeless shelters and resources available in our county.  Working in a school with 2 of every 3 students living in poverty, this couldn’t be more relevant.

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Life in a Shelter – preconceived misconceptions

Before our tour, my experiences inside of a shelter were limitedOnce I was in a shelter to drop off peanut butter sandwiches that we’d made at a Circle K event.  I remember feeling intimidated by the building and the people.  I assumed that people in a shelter were constantly moving in and out. Some may come back each night while others only came around when times were rough.  I thought that people would all stay together in a few large rooms and sleep on mat, cots, tables, or whatever was available.  I imagined them dark, dingy and feeling less than homey.  I did  not think they would be safe.

 

Well, we went inside 3 different shelters and each had their own look and policies.   However, I life with my eyes open.  I have a better understanding as to how the shelter system works.  I can now slightly better imagine what our children go through when they have no place to call home.

 

Life in a Shelter – What I Know Nowtrue-false-check-box-28678010

Life in a shelter is much more structured than I had imagined.  First, to stay in each of the shelters, residents were required to have a background check.  Often times there is an intake interview and residents are contracted into an agreement.  In exchange for shelter and meals, residents were required to set weekly goals, participate in therapy and do chores.  Often there is an employment requirement, although it is wrong to assume that those living in a shelter are lazy and unemployed.  The stays in the shelters we visited varied from 30 days (an emergency shelter) to 2 years (transitional housing).  Residents were given rooms.  Men were often in one area while the women and children another.  To give you an idea of how they lived, think of your college dorm, now cut off a third of it and move a family of 3 or more into it.  All of the belongings you have stay in that one room while you share  a common area and kitchen (only equipped with a microwave and refrigerator).  One shelter did match my preconceived notion a bit closer.  Residents could stay in the building during the day with a single locker (which was kept unlocked and searched weekly) to keep their belongings.  At night, specific churches opened doors where the residents could sleep at night on the floor with just a mat, blankets, and a pillow.  As for the aesthetic, this was pretty spot on.  These shelters, these rooms were not a home.  The staff did all they could to make situations the best they could but they were dark, dingy, and did not quite scream welcome.

 

Life in a Shelter – Why It Matters to Teachers

Being homeless is traumatic for all members of the family.  We get the children.  When an adult has to worry where the next meal is coming from and how to keep a roof over their head, there is not time for nightly reading and extra attention.  It’s not a lack of love, it is a matter of survival.  Our jobs as teachers is to teach and more importantly to love and provide security to these children.

untitledIt is frustrating when we try to teach kids to be organized and there seems to be no support at home.  Despite nightly reminders and friendly notes, folders do not get cleaned out.  That adorable snowman project you were so excited about is less than cherished.  Now I understand.  If I had one locker or one room to keep every one of my possessions in, I wouldn’t waste it on school handouts or silly crafts either.

Last but not least, a shelter is not a friendly place to be.  I have no doubt that all of the residents are grateful for the roof over their head and a warm meal in their stomachs.  I can imagine the workers go to and from work, much like us teachers, feeling defeated and knowing so many people need them to do so much more.  The shelters are temporary.  Privacy is limited.  Space is a rare commodity.  A child is this environment will need extra care and love in the classroom, as much as we can give.

 

I hope I can have a little more patience with families and students during this new year.  What’s difficult is while we can know where all others students live, teachers are not notified if a student is living in a shelter.  We have to be detectives and hear that which kids do not always say.  If you are blissfully unaware of what this life is like as I was, just keep an open mind.  When given the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes or peek in their windows do so while holding your judgment at bay.  There is so much we can learn from one another.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Days Drifted Away

Well, we all knew it would be here before we know it, perhaps a bit too soon…the end of summer.  My emotions were varied when it came to the start of the new year.  At first, I thought, “Have I even done this before?” as I desperately tried to remember what in the world I taught last year.  Next, I played the game of “Where did I pack this away for summer?” and “Why is my brain mush?”  Finally, I reached my happy place.  My room was set, my classroom supplies color coordinated, and 24 new kids on my class list.  You see, over the summer it was easy to remember how much I dislike the seemingless endless piles of work during the year.  But once I was back in my room, I remembered the passion I feel for this job and just how right it feels.

Back to School 1Tonight we had our Back to School Night.  From this night there is no turning back, the new year is really here.  This night is always a little nerve-wracking.  To make matters worse our principal restructured the night so that for the majority of our interactions students would not be with their parents.  Believe it or not, many teachers dislike public speaking.  Give us 7 year olds and it’s great, but adults can be a bit scarier.  I made sure to be extra prepared going into the night.

 

I am now home from Back to School Night and could not feel better.  My kiddos seem sweet and, as always, energetic.  I am very optimistic about my new parents.  They were eager to discuss their children.  They shared their pride in all their child has become and their concerns of what is to come.  Mostly, they allowed me to just be a person and were people back to me.  I was not a teacher who felt I had to perform on the stage.

 

Highlights from the night from parent surveys…

“[BOY] loves to read and really wanted you as a teacher.”

“I hope you enjoy your school year and I wish you well in nurturing our children.”

 

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The second specifically speaks to this blog post titled, “Dear Teacher, You’re Not Fooling Me.”  Thank you to my parent and all of those parents out there that truly see us.  We appreciate your support more than you know. http://alamocity.citymomsblog.com/2015/08/20/dear-teachers-youre-not-fooling-me/

 

Here’s to YEAR 3!  I can’t believe I am already here.  Good luck to all of you teachers out there!

 

 

Give Them Purpose

While perusing the internet this morning, I came across this really neat video.  It is about a father who started a Car Wash.  What’s significant is 35 out of 43 employees are on the Autism Spectrum.  Please take a second to hear about this business below.  This father, who has a son with Autism, has given a real purpose to his employees.  It gives them a chance to truly earn a living and be productive members of society.  It also brings together people who are like-minded to build friendships among adults who may find that difficult on their own due to Autism.

 

 

Here is another video from Conscious Discipline that shares how a teacher was able to transform a student’s life by giving him purpose.  He transformed from a gang leader who did not expect to live past 21 to a productive member of society who is now able to travel the US sharing his story and the power of Conscious Discipline.  (Side Note: I was about to see both DJ and his teacher at a professional development session and their story is pretty incredible).

 

 

The overarching theme here is that we HAVE to make it matter that people are present (especially those who may easily be overlooked).  In the classroom, this is the same way.  Make sure each day students know that you SEE them that it MATTERS that they are there.  I start each day by having a 5-10 minute Morning Meeting.  The very first thing we always do is a greeting.  I choose a different language to say hello in each week (we did about 30 languages!) and the Attendance Helper chooses a greeting (handshake, high five, fist pump, elbow tap, etc.).  Students must greet eachother with the hello and the person’s name.  If nothing else goes well during the day, at least within the first 30 minutes of the day I know this student has been recognized for being present.  If we’re lucky, this can be some pretty powerful stuff.

Summer Reading

A rested mind, clean apartment, and a face full of freckles are what I have to show for my first official week of summer.

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This first week has been great.  This is really my first true summer as a teacher where I don’t have to worry about moving or applying for jobs.  I am working part time in retail, but have left the summer pretty open.  I know, I know, everyone dislikes teachers in the summer.  I understand but I work hard all year, so I’m going to enjoy this gift of summer I’ve been given.

After a week’s rest without thinking about school at all, I was ready to ease my way back into it. (See it’s true, teachers really can’t stay away from school and work during the summer.)  I decided to reread some of the books I kept from college classes.  I started with Comprehension from the Ground Up by Sharon Taberski.  Perhaps I am a dork, but I was getting so into this book and it got me thinking about my kiddos past, present, and future.

In the first two chapter Sharon Taberski wrote a lot about her philosophy behind literacy instruction and how to be most effective.  There were two major themes.  First, reading is not an isolated skills, nor can it be broken down into isolated parts, thus it should be taught this way.  Second, less is more.  These children (K-3) are truly babies in the grand scheme of things and we need to respect and cherish where they are at in their lives.

Some stand out quotes…

-We need to start where the children are if we have any hope of moving them farther along.

-The feeling of failure is unfortunate because it is ultimately our successes, not our failure that inspire each of us to do more and be better – whether it’s teaching or learning  This is especially true for our younger, most impressionable students. 

-Children need us teachers on so many levels.  Let’s not forget to be warm and funny and model our own enthusiasm for reading, writing, and thinking.  Sure, we can be rigorous, but that doesn’t mean rigorous in our service to external test scores.  It means rigorous in our service to children, to using our expertise to know where each of them is as a reader, a writer, and a thinker and where to take them next.

 

Teachers know that we are just force feeding as much as we can into these little bodies.  I am thinking of myself here.  I read this book in college and I liked it enough to keep but I doubt it went far beyond that.  Now that I’ve had a chance to relax, digest the year, and be on my own terms, I am captivated by the book.  A part is because now I have context to apply it to.  I’ve had 50 students sitting in front of me.  Children need this too.  They need time to read for enjoyment or in their down time because they want to, not because they have to.  Children also need time to take all of the independent skills we teach them and apply them on their own terms, in books of their own choosing.  Perhaps then they too could be captivated and get lost in the pages of a book.

Over this summer and the upcoming years, I am going to continue to do my research on the true, best practices in education.  I will follow the blogs and posts of inspiring, change-making teachers.  I will earn my Master’s Degree.  Most importantly, I will continue to put kindling on the fire that is burning.  I am going into my third (third?!?!?) year of teaching and have much to learn.  I also have boxes to operate within, lines I cannot yet cross.  However it is so important to keep questioning and not just blindly following the crowd.  Then one day, ONE DAY, I will work to be part of the solution and this low fire can truly burn and spread.

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A closing quote from Sharon Taberski…

-At some point we’re going to have to take a stand and truly stand up for children.  We know that many of the things we’re being asked to do in the name of “raising the scores” is neither in our children’s best interests nor good for them.  Therefore, we must acquire knowledge of effective and sensible teaching practices and make our voices heart.

The Cost of a Day

If there’s one thing I wish I could help all parents understand, it is that student attendance is absolutely imperative.  Allowing school to be a choice is unacceptable.  The only way I can help you child learn is by having them sitting in front of me.

In order to make this meaningful to parents, let’s relate it to a job.  After all, at 8 years old, a child’s one and only job is being a student.

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School Day (aka. workday) = 7 hours

          8:30-3:30

School Year = 180 days

Minimum Wage in Pa = $7.25

A Day’s Work = 7 hrs. x $7.25 = $50.75

 

For a child who misses 4 days a year (one per marking period, a reasonable amount), he/she misses out on $203.

For a child who misses a day every other week (1/10 days) or 18 days, he/she misses out on $913.50.

For the child who misses one day a week or 36 days, he/she misses out on $1827!!

 

Would you be willing to give up $1000 of your paycheck each year?  Don’t let your child do the same.

An Ode to Coworkers

I have been to many teaching interviews over the past few years.  Above all else, one moment stands out.  I was in the second round of an interview.  The tables had turned and it was my turn to ask the questions.  I asked, what is the best part about teaching in your school district?  It’s funny because I asked this at all of my interview and sometimes people would stop and seem surprised and then say I guess I’d have to say the kids.  However, this particular teacher spoke of something else.  She said, “Teaching at ___ feels like coming home.”  Chills shivered down my back.  I hadn’t known it, but as a young woman in my 20’s trying to find my place in this big world this was exactly what I was looking for.  Yes I wanted a career but I wanted something more too.  I wanted to build a life.

 

The irony of this post is that I didn’t get that position, perhaps that was a blessing in disguise for I am now 95% of the way through my school year and I can truly say that working in my school feels like coming home.

 

I was worried it wouldn’t come to this point.  At new teacher orientation, I was the only person from my school.  One teacher is 3 years older than me, but she’s married and working towards making a family.  Two teachers are about 30.  The rest or over thirty with families of their own.  Their weekends weren’t going to be free to hang out with the new girl trying to make friends.  This did not exactly set me up to make friends with people beyond a professional, working relationship.

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I quickly learned that there was nobody else at orientation because once people come to our school, they don’t want to leave.  I’ve never seen ALL of the teachers in one school getting along so well.  There is a feeling of warmth, trust, and acceptance.  There have been multiple happy hours, weekend parties, and impromptu ice cream trips after school with these wonderful folks.  Everyone is invited and most people show up.  Doors are always open after school and people linger in the halls to catch up.  We can lean on one another on the hard days and celebrate together on the good.  My tears have been dried and my spirits lifted on many occasions.

 

I’m still figuring out this whole teaching thing.  I’m still working on finding my place in this big world.  I’m not sure where I’ll be 10 years down the road.  What I do know is that coworkers like mine are one in a million and I will continue to be incredibly grateful and fortunate to work with them each day that I am given. 

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#Iwishmyteacherknew becomes #I WISH MY LAWMAKER KNEW

Since the #Iwishmyteacherknew story hit big, I have had  a wide range of emotions about it.  Touched that a teacher cared so much.  Heartbroken for kids with such difficult lives.  Angry that it made it seem that it is rare for a teacher to care and know his/her students so well.

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But I want to take all of those emotions and channel them into something else.  Something that could be big and powerful. But I need YOUR help.  As teachers, especially those who serve students from a low-income background, we know our students.  I cannot pretend to know every detail of my students life.  In my opinion, that is not my place.  Sometimes I have an idea of exactly what their home life may be and other times I can only take a shot into a very big, overwhelming darkness.  I have never lived in poverty.  I have never even had divorced parents.

It does not take living in a child’s exact situation to be able to teach them and to do your best to understand.  Students’ stories these days are heartbreaking.  I am not so naive to say by trying to understand their stories I can feel exactly what my students go through.  I can’t.  But I try to do my best every day.

-It does not take a student telling me they’ve lived through a trauma to see it in their every behavior.

-It does not take a kid telling me they don’t have food at home to know that they must first be fed before any learning can take place.

-It does not take a student telling me they are home alone all the time to know that they come to school first to be loved, the learning is a secondary less immediate need.

WE TEACHERS KNOW OUR STUDENTS.  I teach in a high-poverty school.  I’ve been professionally developed all about poverty.  BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, MY STUDENTS IN POVERTY WHO MAY BE HUNGRY, HOMELESS, HAVE NEVER HELD A BOOK PRIOR TO KINDERGARTEN ARE HELD TO THE EXACT SAME STANDARD AS A STUDENT WHO HAS NEVER KNOWN A WANT FOR ANYTHING.

Here’s my proposal.  We work off of #Iwishmyteacherknew and it becomes #I wish my lawmaker knew.

Examples:

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew My students come to school first to be loved, only then can they learn.

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew Success can not be measured in bubbles.

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew Parents and teachers are a team and must BOTH be held accountable for a child’s education.

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew Just because my student didn’t pass your test doesn’t mean they haven’t made a year’s growth.  It doesn’t mean they don’t also deserve to be celebrated.

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Can you think of more?  I bet you can.

Do you know twitter?  I hope so.  I don’t and I need your help. 

If nothing else, comment here with what you wish your lawmaker knew.