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.


Jail Time.

Sentencing came through recently for the Atlantic Public School teachers that were involved in a big cheating scandal on standajailrdized tests.  If you’re like me, you remember hearing about this in the news.  A quick google search got me to an NBC newscast about the sentencing.  Feel free to watch (warning: it got me a bit worked up).  End result: 3 of the teachers/administrators were sentenced to 7 years of jail time.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/crime-courts/one-educator-accepts-plea-deal-atlanta-cheating-case-n341256

 

7 YEARS OF JAIL TIME!!!  I am shocked and appalled.  7 years is a terribly long amount of time.  Just as a point of reference, a local high school English teacher had a sexual relationship with an 18 year old, junior male and was going to get at most 7 years.  This was in recent years.  I know she currently is out of jail and have heard she is volunteering in her son’s elementary classroom.  A teacher from my own high school had a sexual relationship with a 17 year old girl.  This broke less than 5 years ago and I do believe he is free.  I do not have much knowledge and chose not to research, but I would bet money that there are many people who committed robbery, drug dealing, embezzlement who are sentenced to less than 7 years of time.

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Let us just quick recap.  These teachers cheated on a test (for hundreds of students, yes), but they cheated on a test.  These other teachers were involved in child pornography, sex with a minor, etc.  The newslink above said it was not a victimless crime.  Maybe not completely but did any kid suffer as a result of the changing of test answers ? My moral compass may not always point due north but I surely believe sex with a minor, drug offenses, and other crimes are a lot less victimless.

Take their teaching license.  Fire them from their job.  Jail time, 7 years jail time, is ridiculous.  These people are not a menace to society.  If nothing else, let’s look at the cost of housing these three people in jail for 7 years.  I have heard studies comparing how much it costs to keep a person in jail as opposed to getting a students through one year of schooling.  Let’s just say the one you want to be a lot higher, may not be.  Here’s an idea!  How about instead of spending thousands of dollars to house these teachers in a jail for 7 years so they don’t harm any more of society with their erasers and #2 pencils, let’s put that money towards the Atlantic Public School system.  I do not know for sure, but, again I would bet that it is a Title 1 school that is failing and not the wealthiest of districts.

Let us also briefly consider the implications that led to these teachers feeling it necessary to get into this whole cheating scandal.  Standardized testing has gotten out of control.  The way schools and teachers are evaluated based on a single test is not valid.  After the 8th hour of testing in three days, you’d be pretty tired to and start filling in random bubbles too.  Ever heard of a teacher cheating to help students pass their own tests??  Probably not.  Do kids still fail these tests?  Of course, they do.  But we know they are valid assessments, they drive our instruction, they are fair.

What’s education and society come to when teachers are so pressured that they put their career/life on the line to assure good test scores and when we as society find it so vile and dangerous that teachers must be locked up away from society for 7 years?

 

It’s disgraceful, utterly disgraceful.

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Give Pride, Not Prizes

One of the more recent debates in elementary classroom management is about behavior charts and rewarding students.  Is it appropriate to publicly chart students behavior and have them clip up and clip down for good and bad behavior?  What are students working for?  Will they behave for nothing?

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This year my school jumped on the Class Dojo bandwagon.  As the new teacher in the building, I was willing to hear out what others had to say about Dojo.  For those who are not familiar, this is an online, interactive classroom management site.  Each student is represented with a character and gains/loses points for different behaviors throughout the day.  Families are able to communicate with you through the website and track their student’s behavior in real time.

Pros for Dojo: Students are made aware of their choices.

It is an easy way to informally communicate with parents on a regular basis. (Something I felt like I didn’t have last year)

The program is designed to be motivating for kids right down to the silly characters that represent each child.

Cons for Dojo: I personally do not love the idea of a visual, public behavior tracker.

I am not a fan of extrinsic rewards.

 

I voiced my concerns with my mentor who loved the idea of Class Dojo.  I told her that I didn’t want to give extrinsic rewards (stickers, candy, free choice activity, etc.).  I wanted my students to do well because that’s what you’re supposed to do in life.  She said that was great and what all teachers want, but the kids are going to ask, “So, what do I get?”

I took a risk.  I drank the Dojo Kool-Aid but did not go in 100%.  A brief overview of how Classroom Dojo works in my room.  Students are told when the earn and lose points throughout the day (sometimes for everyone to hear and sometimes one-on-one).  My computer makes a sound effect whenever points are changed, which is a perk that keeps kids on their toes.  At the end of the day, students come up to me while they are packing up to get their points and color their calendar according to how many points they’ve earned.  Ideally parents are looking at this calendar or online daily.  And what do the kids gets for earning positive points???  Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Ok.  I am being a bit dramatic.  Students are getting a lot more than nothing, but what they are earning can’t be kept in the prize box.  When my students have a “blue day” (4 or more Dojo points), they get a high five and verbal praise.  When they have a red day (-2 or more Dojo points), they get a consequence that ties into our school-wide behavior plan.  And the greatest thing is, IT WORKS!  We are officially three-quarters of the way through the year and not a single student has asked what they earned for getting points.  Most frequently kids will tell me, “You’re forgetting something!” as they hold their hand up in front of me.  What have I forgotten?  The high five students earn from having a blue day.  Another gain is students thinking about their own behavior.  One of my students with the most challenging behavior now tells me how many points she thinks she has each day showing me that she’s reflecting on her behavior for the day.

My class is good, real good, but they are far from perfect.  I work in a Title 1 school that has a representation for being that school in the district.  (Flip back to that post about substitutes, of which our school has run off many.)  These kids want (and need) love and positive attention.  They do not need petty prizes for doing what 95% of students would do on their own.  In fact, by constantly offering prizes for meeting expectations, I believe we are teaching kids that they are behaving to earn a prize not to be respectful, responsible learners.  This is not a perfect system and won’t work for every child, but TAKE THE RISK.  The amount of pride you will see on your students’ faces at the end of the day makes it worth the risk.

 

Give pride, not prizes. 

Love in a Child’s Eyes

If you want to see good in the world, open you eyes a little wider.  If you want to hear the good, listen more and speak less.  If you doubt that we are all good at heart, speak to a child.  The things children say are truly incredible.  Sometimes they cause a belly-aching laughs.  Sometimes they cause an exasperating sigh.  And in the brightest of moments, they will remind you what love truly is. 

For Valentine’s Day, I gave each of my students a paper that said “Love is…”  Students were told to complete this sentence and illustrate their artwork.  While we discussed a few examples of what you could put including thing you enjoy, people you like, and items that are your favorite I tried to give minimal help.  I didn’t want students to be limited by a few “ideal” examples.  The answers I expected and what I got were very different.  The results were pretty special. Sometimes I underestimate their brilliant, compassionate minds.

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In the eyes of a 2nd grader, Love Is…

~Having fun with your friends and family!

~Spending time with my dad, me, and my sister.  Don’t get to see him a lot.

~Eating sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving with your grandma.

~Caring about others, your family, and friends.

~Getting to go outside with my mom and dad.

~Watching a scary movie with my family!

~Playing Minecraft with my brother.

~Spending time playing dolls with my mom.

~Playing video games with my dad!

~Caring for each other, trusting each other, and spending time with each other.

~Playing Uno with my family.

~When I treasure Valentines because there is lots and lots of candy.

~When I play Duck, Duck, Goose with my whole entire family.

~World peace.

Dating a Teacher

I have read some recent articles about Why/Why not to date a teacher recently. They are entertaining and quite accurate. It’s had me thinking and I’ve decided to write my own take on it.

The Realities of Dating a Teacher

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-My work day goes well beyond 8-4. In actuality, I will get to school early and leave a little before dinner. I will come home and spend another hour or two on work. Weekends are spent with hours of planning for the next week. I will most likely need you to remind me that IT CAN WAIT. However, if you even mention how teachers are so lucky because they have summers off or elementary teachers only color all day, you can show yourself the door.

-I LOVE these kids! Even on their most frustrating days, I still love these little guys. You can’t help it when you are someone who spends so much time and has such a big impact on their lives. Be prepared for student quotes, pictures, and the expectation that you know my kids and their stories when I mention their names.

-Despite all of the love, some kids are pretty unforgettable, for better or worse. Therefore, should we decide to have kids, picking out names will be a difficult process. Many choices have already been eliminated.

I am a very independent, strong-willed woman. This may or may not be related to teaching. In the classroom, I am the one completely in charge. Most days I go through the day in charge of these 22 little lives with absolutely no interference from anybody else. Our success or failure is dependent on my plans, my mood, and my ability to adapt. Therefore, I do not shy away from being in charge. I need someone who is willing to keep up. I need someone with ambition and goals for the future that match the same caliber as my own. And yet, I need a man to balance me out. Be prepared for me to be independent but know that on the inside I am still a softy and appreciate not always having to take charge. Everyone once in a while it is nice for someone else to put out all of the fires, come to my rescue, and sweep me off my feet.

-You will be asked to cut lamination, color signs, or grade papers at some point during our relationship. Thank you in advance for your help! And yes, all this stuff does take WAY more time than you realized.

Lastly, teaching is stressful. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. There are days I will want to celebrate the joys and days I need to cry over the frustration. I don’t expect you to understand it all and I definitely am not looking for a solution. I AM looking for someone who is willing to listen to my stories. I need someone who will give me 5-10 minutes when I first get home to get everything off my chest from the day before moving on with my night. I need your support and understanding. We are going through this journey as a team, stand by my side as we go on this ride.

Well, that’s that. My own personal pros and cons of dating a teacher.

Here are the articles that inspired my own post.

15 Reasons to Date a Teacher: http://www.eharmony.com/dating-advice/dating/15-reasons-to-date-a-teacher/#.VOPzxY3wtYc
10 Reasons Not to Date a Girl Who Teaches: http://acrucialweek.blogspot.com/2014/10/10-reasons-not-to-date-girl-who-teaches.html
Don’t Take a Girl Who Teaches: http://www.loveteachblog.com/2013/11/dont-date-girl-who-teaches.html

Dear Parents ~ A Promise

Dear Parents,

We are now joined in a very special relationship. For 9 months, you and I will be some of the most important people in your child’s life. We will be the ones that spend the most hours with your child. No matter what, we are a team. As a team we can work together, pass the ball back and forth, and take on a shared responsibility. As a team we can also try to claim all of the glory for ourselves and mistrust the other. I hope for the former. We both want what is best for your child. We both can make make this year empowering or belittling. Let’s make a promise…

I am not perfect. There are times I will change the homework I tried to clearly communicate last minute. There are times I will forget to update the calendar. I may even miss your child being picked on by another. I accept my imperfections. I am asking for you to accept them and be willing to forgive my mistakes. As a parent you are imperfect. There are times you might miss a scheduled meeting or forget to put your child’s folder in their backpack at night. I will accept your imperfections and show patience with your mistakes. Let’s promise to accept our imperfections.

Next, let’s both acknowledge that kids say the darnedest things. Some of those things are true and others may not be. I will take 50% of what they say about you at face value, if you take 50% of what they say about me as true. The questionable things kids say are worth listening to. Sometimes they are good just for laughs, sometimes they lead to a truth. Either way let’s have a conversation before you believe every single word your child says is 100% accurate.
Parents let’s remember a child drew this picture….
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Will you promise to work with your child at home? I do not expect for you to have a teaching degree and spend hours of your precious time doing worksheets. You were not the one who went to school to be a teacher, but you are the one who chose to have a child. Did you know a child who reads for 20 minutes a night from kindergarten to 6th grade has read over 1.8 MILLION more words than the student who doesn’t read at all at home? 1.8 million words is an incredible amount of knowledge! If you do nothing more, just read with your child. Build a love of books and learning in your child.

Finally, I promise to respect your time and be willing to be flexible and responsive. If you email me, I will respond in 24 hours or less. If I want you to come in for a meeting, I will give you ample notice and many choices of times to come in. I will spend extra time at school to work to meet your needs. In response, will you value my time? Understand that if we have a meeting scheduled, you are expected to show up and be present. Respect that I work well beyond the 8 to 4 o’clock school day to make the best schooling experience for your child. I am investing my blood, sweat, and tears into your child, but I am also a person with my own family and life.

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I promise to be the best I can be for your child. I will not be perfect but will do my best to make each day a great experience for your child and to attack each day with passion, patience, and determination. Let’s promise to make this a great year together.

Love and Thanks,
Your Child’s Teacher

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