Teaching, Coaching, and Decisions

I may just be one of the lucky ones. I have found my life’s passion and career in one. I feel like teaching is exactly why I was put on this Earth.  For as long as I can remember, I wanted to grow up and be a teacher.  In teaching I am in my element. I find so much joy in helping kids grow, in mending their sometimes broken spirits, and in being the shaper of little lives. The near miracle is that I can spend the rest of my life making a living off of this purpose. I am so lucky.

And yet, I am sitting here writing 9 months after being out of the classroom. 9 months away from the career in which I found myself.

On my very last day of the school year, I was asked to step out of my second home for a different position. After many thought provoking and trying weeks, I accepted a position as a literacy coach. It was such an honor to be asked. With just 3 years in the classroom, others saw my potential. In many ways it was a promotion, a step up the ladder, something so incredibly rare in teaching.

But today, my heart aches to get my second home, my family of 20 little souls back. It seems wrong to give up something I was so lucky to have found.  Coaching is great. My influence goes beyond the students and families I get to call mine for 180 days. I ask the difficult questions to my superiors without fear. I can feel us ever so slowly breaking away the traditional foundation our education system has been resting on for hundreds of years. I am learning so much from others and there are even a few days when i think maybe I’m teaching my teachers a little something too.

But, it still just doesn’t compare. When I left the classroom, colleagues chuckled saying I’d never go back to the classroom, but there hasn’t been a single day as a coach, be it my best or my worst, that I’ve considered anything else. It’s now only the decision of when. I want to be fair to my new school and give them the time they deserve and worry a year won’t do the position justice. I don’t want my substitute to settle in my room until one day I pull the rug out from under her feet. I worry about the impact a single year in a position could make to my resume and reputation in the district. Above all else, I worry about the students I am missing, the ones I will never get back, and all the missed opportunities to work with them.

The year is coming to an end.  Big decisions lie ahead.

Teaching in a School Shooting World

school-shooting-monitor-chorma

3 minutes.  From start to finish, they tell us that’s how long we will have.  3 minutes, 1 shooter, and a version of hell worse than any of us could have possibly imagined.

Today’s faculty meeting is different.  It is all about safety.  A seemingly logical and common topic for any workplace.  However, today we are going deeper.  Today we are planning for the possibility of an attack within our school walls.  We plan for a shooter that could enter into this sacred place of learning.

The motto is “survival is a choice.”  We are told that we need to plan today for an attack.  We are shown zip ties and duct tape, carabines and keys.  We are told that along with practicing drills with students where we crouch down in the corner, hidden out of site, teachers also need to practice.  If we need to barricade the door, what furniture will we use and how long will it take to move?  We consider what is best for breaking a window and should you hit in the middle or corner.  We are asked how many bullets are in a typical magazine and just how long will it take the shooter to reload.

The mood is somber as we all think through the possibilities.  How will I respond should this ever happen?  What will I say to calm these innocent children knowing I may be the last voice they hear?  Will I barricade myself in my own office or run into the hall to protect the students and put up a fight?

They are my least favorite days of the year: the days we practice security drills.  I know it’s necessary but the anxiety I face as a teacher is sickening.  This year there was screaming and banging in the hall as if a true fight had broken out.  The terror was real for us all, even knowing the voices were familiar.  Questions spew out of students’ mouths like a waterfall: Has anyone ever forgotten to lock the door?  What if they see us through the window?  What if they break through the door?  Slowly they spiral to be more and more absurd and have to be cut off.  It’s a fine balance – to help students understand the seriousness and preserve their childhood innocence.  So we assure them that this won’t happen in our school and we just practice to be safe…hoping that these words will forever remain true.

So I will bring a metal bat to school, I will consider what I can tie the door to, and I will go on teachingt.  Hoping each day is filled with smiles, laughter, and the inevitable smart remarks rather than fear, hatred, and gunshots.

Hard Lessons, Bright Futures

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that our national reflection isn’t as pretty as we thought. Admit it, we’ve all passed a lot of judgement on others but hopefully did a little self reflection as well.  2016 was a year of many kinds of losses but we hopefully learned some hard lessons.

In 2017 it’s time we start expecting better. In the past years, decade, and century, we as a country have made impossible feats come true. The technology age has exploded beyond our wildest imagination. We have driverless cars and touchscreen phones. We have internet connecting us to nearly anyone and any piece of information at the drop of a hat.  Our social norms are changing. In 1920 women got the right to vote. In 2008 our first African American president was elected.  In 2015 we took away gay marriage and finally gave everyone the right to just name love as it is in a bond of marriage.  In 2016 millions of American finally believed that a woman could lead our country.  100 years ago people would not have believed we would progress to where we are today. But here we are.

This is why i think it is time to start expecting better. Far too often, we still fall into the comfort of saying that’s just how it is. Well yes, that’s how it’s always been, but it’s not how it has to be in the future and WE will be that change.

I write as a teacher and speak for the bright eyes looking towards the future in front of me.  At 6 years old Ruby Bridges broke the status quo as she walked through the doors into a newly integrated. It wasn’t what people were used to. It was scary. It’s was different. It wasn’t easy.  If she could do it, so can each of us.

Today our schools may be racially mixed, but we are perpetually dividing society along lines of class.

do-you-ever-think-about-the-fact-that-the-us-has-created-and-legitimized-a-system-of-institutionalized-inequality-by-funding-schools-through-property-taxes-1469038117

We are taking the greatest free service provided to every single person in our country and using it as a tool of segregation. Why? Because that’s how it’s always been. Because the more affluent communities pay their property taxes. Because can you imagine if those poor kids came into our schools??

If you don’t work with “those kids” I don’t think you get a say. Let me tell you I work with those kids.  I’ve worked in 3 schools with 75-100% poverty. I’ve been there with large class sizes and limited resources. I’ve been there with over worked and under educated parents. It’s not the kids that are the problems. It’s not the families that are the problem. We are continuing to keep those at the bottom down. The next rung out the ladder is constantly out of reach because, for some reason, we are threatened by giving those people at the bottom the same opportunities we have.

I am not so naive to think that I can change the world. But Maya Angelou said it best, “Don’t underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones whomever have.” The first step is to stop accepting the status quo.
Admitting it’s not ok makes it our responsibility to take action. Most days I’m not sure I can carry that burden, but we have to stop saying “that’s how it’s always been.” We are so much better than this. We have flown to the moon and back. In a world like this, we need to stop using education to tear us apart. People rise to the expectation you set for them, high or low. Well, I’m done with low expectations. I expect more.

 

It’s on.landscape-1481582416-2017-new-year

Anti-Discrimination…How is this still an issue?

To the town on Carlisle,

Tomorrow night the council will be voting on an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.  This article does a great job outlining what the Ordinance says, what supporters say, and what opponents say.http://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/12/carlisle_anti-discrimination_o.html  The general idea is that the Ordinance would prohibit discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in terms of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Here are some of the oppositions viewpoints: The Anti-Discrimination Ordinance would cause a divide within the town.  People currently and always will have different opinions.  No single law will ever change everyone’s opinions and we don’t want a world where we all have the same opinions.  However, our town is currently divided.  It is the minority LBGTQ community that is being forced behind closed doors and outside of the public arena.  You are correct that this Ordinance may not unite us, but it is a lie to believe we currently are.

Secondly, the bill forces people to participate in something they morally oppose.  I understand if churches have religious differences.  The Ordinance respects this.  “The ordinance states it shall not be a prohibited act for a religious corporation or association to commit any of the acts deemed discriminatory in the ordinance if it is based upon the religious group’s beliefs.”  But, this ordinance deals with employment, housing, and commerce.  You as a fellow human do not have a right to say a person does not deserve a roof over the head or food on their plate because of who they choose to love or identify as.  I refuse to respect your opinion when your opinion disrespects anyone’s existence.  

Beyond the issue of human decency, let’s all recognize that we have been here before!  So. many. times.  Remember when our society was lawfully segregated.  You could be refused service and harassed based on the color of your skin.  Whites argued that it was their right to discriminates against blacks, after all they were lesser human beings.  There was a time when women weren’t able to vote because we had a place behind the closed doors unless we were on the arm of a man.  6 million Jews were killed while the world stood by because Hitler decided they weren’t part of the superior Aryan race and he morally objected to them.  The list could go on and on.  And yet, these disenfranchised communities are still fighting for the most basic rights.  

Image result for LBGTQ symbols

Tomorrow I will stand in solidarity with the other supporters of this Ordinance.  I stand as an ally for my friends and family from the LBGTQ community because if I become half the person many of these people are, I will be more than proud.  I stand as an ally for my students, may they grow up to live in a world a little more accepting than ours.

 

Make us proud, Carlisle.

A New Definition of Woman

He starts the conversation with
“You’re just such a strong woman and feminist”
And I almost can’t help but smile.
Because no matter what he says to follow that sentence,
I am not offended.

Strength.
A characteristic that our country and society has always held in high regard.
Strong in muscle
Strong in character
No matter, we do not praise others for being weak.

Feminist.
To me, that’s indicative of equality.
It is fighting for equal rights every day
It is searching out a voice for equal representation in government
It is knowing that my work is as valued as a man and shouldn’t be given a penny less.
It is wanting to walk hand and hand
Equal in status with every man.

He called me strong and feminist
And it proves my very point.
Never would you critique a man for being strong and manly.
It appears you simply need to learn a new definition of woman.
Bold. Outspoken. And willing to fight.

 

Image result for women hand in hand

Thank you to all the strong women in my life and the role models in the world.  Our fight is not yet over but this is surely not a defeat.  We will continue working towards a brighter future.  Stand strong and proud.

To the parent wondering WHY SO MANY PENCILS?

School office supplies on board.

School office supplies on board.

While standing in the school supply section of Target this afternoon I overheard two parents shopping with their elementary aged daughter.  Item 1 on the list was 4 dozen pencils.  (I’ll agree this is on the higher end but bear with it).  The father says, “Why do you need so many pencils?  I could use the same pencil for a year.”  When the list asked for one standard eraser, he seemed slightly perturbed that they were only sold in pack of two.

While I do not intend to judge this man for his reaction, I think he deserves a response on behalf of all teachers

 

To the parent wondering WHY SO MANY PENCILS?

At the beginning of each school year teachers are given a set of school supplies from their office.  Typically this is about one of each item per kid (24 boxes of crayons, 2 sets of pencils, 24 whiteboard markers, etc.).  These are the bright and shiny supplies that we so tirelessly stack on each student’s desk so that the classroom looks warm and inviting on that first day of school.  The remainder of our supplies come from donations from students or our own pockets.

The number of supplies we go through each year is more than you can imagine!  Even as a teacher, I often wonder if there are small trolls that come out at night stealing the pencils and losing the glue sticks.  Trust me, we do everything we can to keep track of those precious school supplies.  We color code them by table to hold kids responsible.  We write tiny student numbers on each pencil.  We do one less craft because the glue simply won’t last till June.  Just think about yourself as an adult.  How many times a year do you put a new pen in your purse because despite your plan to always leave it in there so it’s available, it mysteriously disappears?

 

Ok, okay.  Let’s say the average teacher requests 2 dozen pencils.  Let’s pretend there are only 20 kids in the average class.bbr4r

24 pencils x 20 kids = 480 pencils!

That is a lot of pencils!  The lives of these pencils are often short or rough.  Pencils may be chewed on by students and the erasers shamelessly ripped off.  Pencils are taken from one room to the next (or home) and left behind.  When sharpening pencils, they quickly shrink down to nothing despite the tip never actually getting sharp.  Another reality is not every student will send in school supplies.  I understand it may be frustrating to take money from your own hard-earned paycheck to support another family’s child, however there is one thing I have learned time and time again in education.  It takes a village.  Today you may be providing a pencil to a child whose family didn’t send one in.  Tomorrow that same child may be the only student in the whole class who agrees to lend your child a pencil when theirs has mysteriously disappeared for the fourth time that day.  Tomorrow they may offer to play with the lonely child at recess.  Tomorrow they may be best friends working together on the reading centers.

Sir, I know that sometimes the requests of teachers seem like a lot to ask or annoyingly specific.  Please know we are all working hard with one end  result in mind – raising our next generation of children to be productive, kind, and generous adults. If you are a family whose able to grab that extra pack of pencils, please know that your child’s teacher will be so grateful.  If you are not able to send even the requested supplies, please know that we will take care of your child and see the many characteristics your child contributes to our classroom.

Happy School Year to all the teachers, families, and students out there!  May the odds ever be in your favor 🙂

Our Brand Story: Starting from Bras and Panties

When you hear the brand VICTORIA’S SECRET many of you probably think of this.

victoria-secret-fashion-show-2003

If you’re like me, that’s not exactly the greatest picture to come to mind.  It reminds me of a highly sexualized culture for women in which we are valued more for our physical appearance than actual substance.  It sets an unrealistic standard for beauty that we are raising our daughters in.  Generally, not the image of a company that  I would look to as a professional organization that sets an example in the teaching world.

That’s what I thought.  I am going on my second summer working at Victoria’s Secret.  It started as simply a job.  I wanted a break from working with kids and the mall website said they were hiring.  I had very little knowledge of the brand besides knowing it was a world-wide lingerie company.  I will admit that my opinion has been completely changed and more often than not, I’m wondering if our schools might be able to learn something from the brand.

 

Where as I used to see Victoria’s Secret as this…

Victorias-Secret-store-by-GRADE-Kuwait-03

…I now see it as this.

vmv

I joke with my manager that I think I do more training with Victoria’s Secret than teaching.  While this could be a slight exaggeration, comparing the ratio of hours worked to training, Victoria’s Secret blows any teaching job I’ve ever had out of the water.  Employees are empowered through education.  The brand has high expectations of performance but provides the necessary support for associates to be successful.  What I find to be most powerful is almost every single training or staff meeting starts with THE BRAND STORY.  It’s approximately a 6 minute video that describes how Victoria’s Secret came to be, their viewpoint on the products, and who the company wishes to embody from the highest CEO to the newest associate.

You can’t help but feel a little inspired and feel a little more buy in after listening to the story.  They’ve figured out how to get thousands of employees invested through a single vision.

vision

This is where it relates to teaching

(thanks for bearing with me…)

Each of us has a story of why we want to teach, how we got started, or a student that keeps us moving forward.  This story is dynamic and likely shifts from time to time, but the core beliefs stay the same.  How often do we get to share our “Brand Story” as a teacher?  It’s usually the first question in an interview.  I may casually discuss it with colleagues.  But, I think we need to do more.

By sharing our BRAND STORY, we can create a sense of community within a school.

-First, we will understand each individual a little bit more.  Whether you agree with them personally or professionally, you can respect the lens that they use to view the teaching world.  We can be a little more forgiving of the differing points of view.

-Second, we can connect to colleagues.  No two stories will be identical but there is likely some similar feature between any two stories.

-Lastly, we remember our why.  Teaching is hard.  It chips away parts of ourselves each year.  We beat ourselves up over kids we cannot save and academics we can’t move.

 

Our Brand Story reminds us of the bigger picture and that at the end of each school year what we do matters.

 

I am soon to be moving into an instructional coaching position.  I am joining a school where I know very few of the staff and they do not know me.  I will be the outsider.  But maybe, if I can share my Brand Story and build trust to learn theirs, we can develop a relationship.  Maybe from the top down we can start to build a common mission and make the change we are all working so hard to create.