Making it Work

I’m off today and tomorrow. Hoping to get my ReadID at the DMV this morning as well as my pass so I can more easily get on the army post where I now teach. If I can check those boxes it’ll be manicure time with my daughters and some wandering of downtown, in and out of shops, before dinner with a friend. Tomorrow we’ll celebrate our last day of summer together with lunch at a favorite spot, a trip to an independent book store, the afternoon at a water park, and The Producers at a local theater. Then Thursday I am back full time.

I start every year with hopes and goals for routines to make our lives work. Yesterday, a day back at work for this year, worked. I got up and hit the gym at five for an hour. Made it to the bank on the way to school and had a fabulous day working with my new team. When I got home I made dinner (a Home Chef meal as cooking isn’t my thing) and it was delicious. My daughters cleaned up after dinner. It made for a relatively relaxing evening.

I didn’t have major work I needed to do last night as I will many nights during the school year. Neither daughter had anywhere they needed to be or any overwhelming homework. They had been home all day while I was at work and they had taken care of laundry and other chores so those were off the list. There were many things that made yesterday easy.

I don’t care. I’m still going to count it as a win for the first day of work for this school year.

Dreams are a Sign

My dreams were busy last night. It didn’t make for the most restful night of sleep. They weren’t nightmares and I don’t remember being scared or worried, just caught up in them. In one (and there were several and some were odd) it was the first day of school. I was rushing to school to get there before my new students and I had no plans at all. And my room still looked like this.

I can remember, in my dream, thinking I would have to get the kids to help me move most of those desks out into the hallway to be dealt with it. Again, I wasn’t scared or worried, just thinking through what needed to be done.

Today is not the first day of school. There will be no students arriving in my classroom. Thank goodness, because that picture is how it still looks. I need to get rid of a lot and get all of my own stuff organized and I need to do it quickly, for my own sense of calm.

I do go to work today though. I have a team planning day with my brand new team at my new school. There will be nine classroom teachers gathering today (I hope – we may not all be able to make it) plus our math and literacy instructional coaches and special education teachers and I don’t know who else. Most of these folks will be new to me.

I totally get the anxiety that drove last night’s crazy dreams. In the next few weeks (I go back full time on Thursday) I am sure my dreams will be similar many nights. A month from now, after I’ve settled in, gotten to know my colleagues and my new site, and kids are there, I hope my dreams will calm down.

It’s a good reminder of how some kids feel as a school year starts. So much is new. So much is unknown. It can be scary or at least a little unnerving. I feel it.

Time to Repeal

Do you see seesaws on playgrounds anymore? Nope. We’ve decided they’re dangerous so we’ve removed them.

When lettuce is thought to be contaminated, maybe, possibly, it’s all pulled off the shelves. Removed. Eliminated. Destroyed. To keep us safe.

Products that don’t work properly and can cause injuries are recalled. Replaced. Fixed.

When we see a pattern of danger we address it. Even if companies will lose money in the process. We prioritize the safety of our fellow citizens over convenience and financial decisions.

Except when it comes to guns.

The pattern couldn’t be clearer when it comes to guns. But we look for any other possible explanation, any other possible answer.

I’m done.

I’m ready to repeal the second amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Repealing the second amendment will allow us to actually get serious about gun control. I think it’s time. Far past time.

Thank you, Amina

On Monday I’ll start a new school year (my 22nd as a teacher) at a new school (my 3rd as a teacher) on a new team (I’m not sure how to count those over the years). I’m ready and I’m not ready. I’m excited and I’m exhausted. I’m terrified and I’m confident.

This past week my district kicked off its leadership conference for principals and central office folks. The best part, from what I’ve heard, was students. This video has been shared by many of my colleagues. Watching it this morning, as I feel overwhelmed with all I didn’t manage to do this summer, it lifted me. It was exactly what I needed. I’m saving it here so that I can return to it when I need it. As I am sure I will. Again and again.

Our Views of Teachers

A friend shared this on Facebook tonight.

(By friend I mean someone I knew in college but haven’t seen in twenty years. And someone who is not a teacher but is a parent.)

I appreciate this view of teachers far more than those that make us look lazy or incompetent or some other negative view.

At the same time, I worry that we are only able to view teachers from one end of the spectrum or the other. The hero version isn’t fantastic either. Teachers are human. We work hard, yes, but we are flawed like anyone else.

I guess I’m not really sure what I would like to see folks posting on Facebook…

Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Now that my Instapaper has fewer than twenty things saved in it (impressive especially because I’m still adding to it regularly) I’m beginning to feel like I might manage to dig myself out of the hole I created.

Several years ago at ASCD’s annual conference I had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples speak (she was the national teacher of the year at the time) and it was an experience for which I am immensely grateful. Her writing continues to inspire me. I appreciate the self-reflection in this piece, especially in her willingness to recognize her own flaws or failures and share how she has grown and what she has learned. It felt extremely familiar to me.

My models of classroom discourse tended toward those of the “white savior” genre that we all know from famous “teacher movies.” I could see myself in those white ladies who just applied pen to paper — and presto! — poverty and structural racism were erased (along with students’ actual lived experience).

She goes on to write about avoiding exploitation and passing the mic to others. It is a thoughtful, meaningful piece that is full of wise guidance.

I have long struggled with the tension between content and kids. It seems like structures, systems, and people often prioritize one over the other (I tend to prioritize kids, with the positives and negatives that brings). Dan Meyer‘s piece here addresses this from a secondary perspective, which always fascinates me. Secondary teachers are, I think, more closely aligned to their content because they have chosen to focus there. They also have an absurd number of students. We elementary folks are the opposite: tons of different content but a much small number of kiddos.

It took me several frustrated years of math teaching – and years of work with other teachers – to realize that each of those energy sources is vital. Neither source is renewable without the other.

Dan owns his own path as he has come to the above conclusion and it is intriguing to read. I am always grateful to other educators who open their reflections up to the rest of us.

Another piece from Dan got me thinking and made me laugh. He writes about spending time with second graders (having been a high school math teacher) and what he learned from that experience. Again, he is willing to reflect openly and help the rest of us gain from his time and energy. That said, if you’re an elementary educator it’s just fun to hear a secondary educator’s take on your daily life.

For another, these students were inexhaustible. Their default orientation towards me and my ideas was rapt engagement and an earnest, selfless desire to improve my ideas with stories about their friends, their pets, and their families.

Jessica Lifshitz is one of those people who, when their post show up in my RSS reader, I know I’m going to need time and brainspace for it. I don’t click on her writing lightly. I click when I am ready to engage deeply and really learn. This piece is typical of her work. She shares what she is doing with her students in depth and why. Her thought process in the planning and implementation, including any necessary revisions or modifications along the way, is all there.

I think that when we read about history, we need a specific set of skills as readers. Too often, our students read about history only to absorb the specific content, without learning a process through which they can walk on their own in order to learn about moments in time in a responsible way. By focusing on teaching how to read about history, specifically, we are able to ensure that our students are learning how to read in a way that gives them a more accurate understanding of history.

Diversity in children’s books is something that has been important to me my entire teaching career, but my understanding of what that means and how that can or should look has evolved significantly. I’ve been reading Charlotte‘s reviews of books for some time but it was extra interesting to read about the ways her understanding of diversity in children’s books has changed over the years. (And her reviews are great so if you aren’t familiar with her site, look at her more recent posts too.)

I began really reading blogs more than a decade ago and my RSS reader has a large number of feeds (not all of those folks are still writing and many write every once in a while). After doing a National Writing Project summer institute some years ago, I was astounded to realize how many of the people I follow are also writing project folks. Are we just more likely to write regularly? Do I gravitate towards something in writing project folks? I don’t know the reason but it still makes me smile. Kevin Hodgson is one of those folks I was following before I knew much about the writing project. He helps lead a summer camp every year and this short piece is about one of the days there. Everything about this piece gets me because it hits on history, how history links to now, writing, and how writing helps students reflect and learn. So much.

Afterwards, I realized how little I have ever used the sense of smell in my own classroom, but how powerful it was. I could see it on the faces of campers, and afterwards, in reflection, they explained how they found the activity memorable, connecting what they discovered through their noses with historical information Reba Jean was sharing.

One last piece here is from Kin Lane. He’s been writing up a storm lately and it is wonderful. This piece, I Used to Enjoy Engaging in Debate with Conservatives in My Life, shows Kin’s thoughtfulness. He grew up in a conservative area and he is not, himself, conservative. He has conservatives in his life and his thoughts on how he previously engaged with them and how he will no longer is worth the read.

Never in my 47 year life have I declined engaging with a conservative. Never before have I felt like engaging with a conservative was a futile effort. In 2019, I refuse to engage in debate with ANY of my conservative friends. I’m sure they will just proclaim me a snowflake, and put the blame on me, without any regard to the irreparable damage they’ve caused. The primary reason I won’t step up to the table anymore is that they do not deal in any facts anymore, but they’ve also blown out of the water any issue that I used to disagree with them on, but I respected their positioning and stance enough to discuss the issues with them—not anymore.


My Issues Continue…

We had friends over for dinner this evening and their youngest is about to start fourth grade. So I enlisted her help in testing out some new furniture for my classroom.

I got some Lovesac Sactionals for kids from Meh but I wasn’t sure how well they’d work. If you aren’t familiar with Lovesac Sactionals they are imminently flexible. I got three seats and five sides for my classroom. Our little friend adored them. She put them together in a variety of ways and tried to convince her mom to get some for her bedroom.

I’m not sure how this will work in my classroom yet, but the deal was too good to pass up. (One of my many issues.) I’m confident the kids are going to like this though and that’s good enough for me.

Our Alternative Field Day

It’s possible this makes me a terrible teacher but I don’t like field day. I feel about field day similarly to how I feel about field trips. I think they are valuable experiences that I want students to have but I’d prefer to not have to participate myself.

This past year, if I remember correctly, we had planned to do field day in the fall. This is definitely my preference. It allows field day to be a community experience that helps kids bond as a class. It also avoids having field day in the spring, after testing is finished, when there are so many things happening as we wind up the year. Unfortunately, weather interfered so we postponed to the spring.

Testing and retakes (don’t get me started) meant that field day was scheduled for the final week of school. Again, weather ruined it. I will admit I was not disappointed. Not having field day meant my students would go to specials (P.E. and music) for an hour and I’d have that time to continue packing up stuff in my cabinets and closets. It felt like a gift of time.

I did realize that the kids would not feel as I did. So I searched for activities we could do in our classroom that would be field-day-like.

My parameters included:

  • we had to be able to do these activities in our classroom so space was somewhat limited
  • activities could only require materials I already had on hand or could easily obtain at school
  • activities had to be collaborative rather than competitive (I feel strongly about this as competition is, in my opinion, far too prevalent in our schools and society)

I came up with three things.

  1. In a circle, kids held hands and moved a hula hoop around the group. This was the easiest of the three activities and we did it with two hoops to add a little bit of a challenge. I worried it was too easy, but they seemed to enjoy it. 
  2. In a circle, holding hands, kids keep a balloon up in the air. This was more challenging than the hoop activity but I was still worried it wouldn’t hold their attention. The smiles seemed to prove me wrong.
  3. In a group, each kid had a string that was tied to the same rubber band. Using only their strings, kids stacked plastic cups in a pyramid. This was exceedingly challenging. I gave most groups the hint that the rubber band didn’t have to stay on the cup on which it started. That helped. There was still some near frustration with this activity but all the groups did achieve the goal and their pride and joy in that moment was totally worth it. 


More On My Issues

I went in to my new school today to check out my new classroom space. A new classroom space is equally exciting and terrifying. Determining how best to arrange the space is a challenge (even knowing that the kids and I will change it throughout the year).

I walked in today and found this: all of my issues waiting for me.

All of my stuff. I owe those poor custodians something fabulous for having to move all of that into this room. But boy did it overwhelm me to see it all there.

It got slightly better when I realized there are close to 30 desks in the room, most of which I will get rid off. (I will likely keep 3-5 as places students can work completely independently but mostly we’ll have tables.) There was also a teacher desk, which will go as I don’t use one. As well as a kidney table (a teacher favorite but not a table I like as it is huge) and a rectangular table – neither of which I want. So it was reassuring to realize that some of this will leave the room.

I spent my morning moving boxes out of the way so that I could begin to really get a sense of our classroom space. There’s still plenty to do but I feel like I have some thoughts. So much about being at a new school is unknown, it feels good to begin getting a handle on something, even if it’s something small.

Still Working on the Backlog

Okay, after three posts so far I think I’m about halfway through everything I’ve saved in my Instapaper for the past several months. I know how important it is to me to have routines and I let this routine crash for a while. It is tough to get it back but I’ll be glad when I’m on track again. There are so many brilliant folks out there sharing generously.

The idea of consent is one that i believe in strongly. It is also a place in which I fail daily. I spend my days around young children, my students and my own daughters (although as they’re teens/tweens, young children is probably not the right term for them). I know I touch them, a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or a hand on the back guiding them in some direction, without consent all the time. It’s something I am trying to change. I have gotten far better at asking children if I can give them a hug, or more often, if they would like a hug. It’s not a habit for me yet but it is a goal. As well as helping children see that they should do the same and get consent from their peers before physical contact. This piece, Conditions of Consent: Teaching Children Bodily Autonomy, by Jenn Jackson, was a great to help me clarify my own thoughts on this idea. I think it matters a lot, long term.

Fundamentally, these instances are about our collective avoidance of consent and the rape culture that overlooks its importance. Because of this culture, children in elementary school, especially girls, are socialized into non-consensual touching, unwanted physical intimacy, and deeply misogynistic notions of bodily autonomy.

Jenn Jackson really gets at why we need to be sure children understand that they are the ones in control of their bodies. And that requires we fight against messages they hear again and again.

On a totally different note, Tim Stahmer wrote about homework. I have strong feelings about homework as well. Even before my own daughters were in school I had begun moving away from homework. I realized I was assigning it to my fourth graders because it was something teachers did. I hated going over the homework and would often quietly recycle it rather than spend my time with it. Once I realized that I knew it didn’t make much sense. I send home books with kids every night so they can read. Other than that I hope their afternoons and evenings are spent in ways that they (and their families) choose, not ways I choose for them. As a parent this has been strongly reinforced for me. Homework causes serious stress for my own children at times and certainly interferes with things we want to do as a family. Tim’s references, his thoughts, and his questions are worth reading if you assign homework or not.

I’m not suggesting that every teacher should eliminate homework from their practice.

Only that every teacher should take a long, hard look at what they are asking students to do at home and why. Does the work really benefit the kids? Are those assignments valuable to their learning?

Today is Gary Stager‘s birthday so I love that one of his pieces showed up in my list. The Subtlety of Prompt Setting addresses language and how much it matters. He explores a prompt given to a bunch of teachers at a workshop and the wording one participant used when describing it. Gary explains why the prompt was worded in the way it was originally. I love seeing the thought process behind something, especially something that seems as simple as a prompt. Having thoughtful educators lay out their processes helps me grow in ways that might not even have been on my radar. In this instance, thinking about the language I use with students has been on my radar. I spend a surprising amount of time thinking through how to word questions so as to give students the flexibility, freedom, and range to respond rather than to set it up in ways that suggest a specific idea or strategy.

Why quarrel over such subtle differences in wording?

  • Words matter
  • My prompt was an invitation to embark on a playful learning adventure complete with various sizes of candy eggs and a seasonal theme. Posing the activity as a problem/solution raises the stakes needlessly and implies assessment.

Words matter. I think that gets ignored far too often.

Apparently I can’t write one of the collections without a piece from Sherri Spelic. In this one she reflects on a conference she attended and at which she presented. I fear anything I write is going to take away from her beautifully written piece so suffice it to say that she reflects on this conference, the good and bad, with such clear eyes and thoughtfulness that it gave me new thoughts on how to make reflections more meaningful in the future. (I believe strongly in the importance of reflecting and am always trying to do so in ways that are more useful.)

I struggled with an internal need to defend my right to be present as a real live teacher without a leadership title. And yet I persisted.

It’s a challenge to balance praise and criticism of an event when both are necessary.

Three months ago this piece from Kyle Korver of the Utah Jazz was all over my social media. (This piece is still his pinned tweet suggesting it is still important to him.) It’s not a short piece but it is another of those by a white person working on how to be in our society in a way that does not harm others. It requires effort for white folks to be anti-racist as our society is built on racism. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s worth the time.

What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color….. I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.

Coming at this from a different direction is this piece from Kelly Wickham Hurst. The title is Racial Identity and a Certain Looking White Woman. White women are in the interesting place of being women, and therefore at a disadvantage in our society in many ways, and being white, and therefore having power in our society in many ways. This often results, I think, in white women feeling they need to save BIPOC. Kelly writes about how quickly she can identify a “Certain Looking White Woman”.

I share this part of my identity work because there are far too many white women who assume they’re safe for me. Many are shocked when I identify them as the source of my fear and anxiety. Often, they’ve never considered the danger they pose to me. Some will ask, once I’ve told this part of my story, “Do I look like a Certain Looking White Woman? Is it me?”

If you, like me, are a white woman, you have likely been that woman before. I am certain I have been (although without any confrontation because I’m too wimpy for that – just the looks and ‘concern’). Not being that woman and raising my daughters to not be is the goal. Learning from BIPOC, especially women, is what I am doing to reach that goal.

On the whole I share these pieces in the order in which I read them. It is fascinating to me to look back over what I collected. What did I choose to curate to share? Whose writing did I save? Sharing these helps me reflect on the reading I am doing. Time is finite and I want to know I am spending it well.