Last Day of School

Today is the last day of school. It is also the last year I will have a classroom to pack up. I’ll be moving into an office. I have a new opportunity as the instructional coach for our school. I’m honored that my admin thinks I can do the job. But….isn’t there always a ‘but’? Is it me, or is it every time something new and positive happens, that little nasty “you can’t do it” voice jumps out every chance she can get. I mean can’t she just take a day off? For the love..

Packed up…

I’ve been in education almost 20 years. Although I’ve had many roles as an educator, I’ve never gone a year without teaching students. I will be working with teachers. I went back for my specialist degree to torture myself since I’m a graduate-school masochist. No, really, I went back to get my degree in teacher leadership. My goal was to make a difference and to advocate for teachers, and to end war and famine. The latter objectives weren’t on the description of the degree, but they were implied.

As a new teacher, back in 2000, I didn’t even know where I needed support. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My first year of teaching, colleagues would stop by, look around my room, and see sheer dread and utter confusion on my face. Students may or may not have been hiding from me. I have blocked some of that year out.

I was drowning in a sea of SSTs, poorly distributed desks, and holiday parties. Mind you, I was previously a personal trainer and aerobics instructor. I taught, in a way, but those folks paid me then drove themselves home. I didn’t need to walk them everywhere or make sure they got on the right bus or in the correct car. None of them pooped themselves or needed me to open ketchup packets.

My first day of teaching was the winter holiday party in a second grade classroom. There were so many little people, all doing different things and needing me for various reasons. Mostly, there was glitter….everywhere. I can’t think of a time where I was more unsure of myself or when I felt more like a failure.

One day, my friend Jen came to room and said, “It looks like your desks fell from out of the sky and randomly landed. Would you like some help in putting the desks in to cooperative groups?” I had no idea what cooperative grouping of desks was, but it sounded really good-like kids would suddenly cooperate once the desks were in fancy research-based groups. Just seeing my classroom more organized made my brain more organized. They dynamics of my class drastically changed. What Jen did changed my mindset. I had some control. I didn’t know a damn thing about instruction, but I had a starting point. Those few minutes she gave me changed the orbit of my teaching career.

Have you ever been so lost that an infinitesimal altering of perspective changes everything? I wanted to do for teachers what Jen and so many friends did for me. I was in a safe place, and people were kind and gracious. I grew in my craft. I wanted more. I was bitten by the education bug.

Teaching is a huge freaking task. It is difficult, and can be ugly and disappointing. There have been days where I sat in my car, before school, contemplating the day and hoping not to screw something up, upset a parents, or dissapoint those who (at one point ) thought I was a good teacher.

When teachers make mistakes, we make them in front of a bunch of people-students, teachers, parents and/or administrators. It’s not like you accidentally put salt in cake batter instead of sugar. Hell, you just throw that bad batter out. You can do this alone, with no one looking or judging. There was a time I attempted to make a bundt cake, but I was supposed to snap or connect the pan to itself, and the batter drained out of the oven and on to the floor. I did clean it up and bought a less complicated pan. But when a long division or a The Crucible allegory to McCarthyism lesson is tanking, and students are cross-eyed with confusion, you can’t really throw that out, but you can try to clean it up.

Today, I was doing the annual scavenger hunt for the folks on the end of year check out list. As I was avoiding death or severe injury rolling my Chrome Book cart out of the trailer, down the ramp, and cumbersomely into the building. (A colleague came to help me. Otherwise, I would have been cussing under my breath trying to roll the cart over the threshold of the door whilst avoiding smashing my toes with it.) I thought, “I am so glad I’m not one of the people on the check out list for whom everyone is looking.” That job kind of sucks. I would want to hide or scurry away from everyone. I was proud of my moment of gratitude. This is an aside since I’m attempting to be grateful for stuff every day. I was also grateful to Amber for rescuing me from the Chrome book cart. The voice of unreason began speaking and she said, “Dude, I bet you will be someone who has to check off crap next year.” She may be right.

At 50, the doubt doesn’t dissipate. It still reaches out and tells me the bad stuff that could happen. But, risk-taking is what keeps us alive and striving for a better life. At 50, I know how to tell doubt off. Sometimes it rolls its eyes at me or gives me the finger. I’m not scared of it anymore. It’s there and I know it exists, but I also know that hope exists. I’ve accomplished some cool stuff. I’m not an extreme expert on anything, but I have fought the doubt and focused on the end goal with some success. Doubt never apologizes, it’s just happy to have sucked the life out of us for a bit. I hope to do a good job next year. I hope to develop relationships with my colleagues. I hope to kick doubt’s ass.

Thank you JEN ROBERTS for taking the time to help me. I think of you always and with much love and appreciation.

We aren’t in Elementary School Anymore…

Another year of teaching has come and gone. I have different  ideas, and definitely varied perspectives of education, and its faults, fallacies, and good intentions.

The year before last, I taught gifted, advanced math, and was an instructional coach. I changed schools to be closer to home, and I taught 4th grade. This year, I am an IRR teacher for 9th grade lit. A colleague asked me why I keep changing what I teach. I want to avoid becoming a complacent educator. The changes have been uncomfortable, but that discomfort fired off some stagnant synapses.

I chose to move on to high school. It is closer to home, and I love the content. I took the Special Ed and English GACE. So here I am. I’m humbled, again. The learning curve has become the rainbow colored spinning wheel when the computer is thinking..and thinking….and thinking.

I never understood the work and tenacity that writing  an IEP requires. My mentors are very kind and patient. They make corrections on the IEPs with multi-colored sticky notes. I give myself a grade on the IEP; it all depends on the sticky notes. Five or fewer, is around a C. I made an A one time, but it  was an anomaly.

It’s a big high school. It took me months to figure out which direction to head. There was the block schedule which took me a while to remember. The kids from the wrong periods showed up in my class; they were just as confused. I’ve noticed a few differences between teaching elementary school and high school:

  • I have TWO planning periods. TWO of them…not one, but TWO. 
  • They have phones. For the love…
  • I don’t need to walk  them ANYWHERE, even though I probably should.
  • They skip a lot…they aren’t very good at it. I wasn’t either, so I understand.
  • They don’t like me sometimes.
  • Some have given up.

There are a few similarities:

  • Calling parents still works.
  • They argue like kindergarteners.
  • They stall and avoid work with anecdotal stories of their lives.
  • They are awed and amazed by snow. They aren’t awed and amazed by the online learning days.

Going from 4th to 9th has been interesting. My students have struggled with literacy for as  long as they can remember. When working with elementary aged students, it seems there is more hope for them. I do get frustrated, because I know I can help, but some don’t want it. It’s too overwhelming for them, and they’ve ‘gotten by’. This year, I tried to engage students in good conversations. I tried to help them find their motivation that faded into the walls of a former classroom where failure blanketed them. They remember the struggles.  I tried to help them succeed. For some success is a making it to the end of the day. This year, students told me they weren’t smart, things are too difficult, and people gave up on them. 

We did get to some good places. We did learn to trust each other. I believe I started teaching without trying to gain trust. That was a big mistake. If they don’t trust me, then they won’t take risks; I get that.

My biggest struggle was the phones and earbuds. They asked if they completed their work if they could play on their phones. Um…no. I told them the first week of school that I teach bell to bell. There won’t be ‘down time’. They responded with looks of shock and confusion. I did use this as  an opportunity to teach situational irony. A good example would be if they came to class without earbuds and phones.

The EOCs and final exams came and went.   I watched as they faded into their usual oblivion, where tests they don’t understand don’t exist.

Next year, I’ll be teaching 11th grade American Lit.  If I expect my students to do something different to learn and grow, then I should too.

Gatsby

Centrifuge

One of my favorite classes in high school was advanced chemistry. I remember watching the centrifuge and always happy with the results of its manic spinning. The purpose of the centrifuge is to separate liquids from solids, or liquids from each other at varying densities.

This year has been my emotional and physical centrifuge. I’ve had to move on from many things, keeping with me what is meaningful, important, and good for me. I miss quite a bit, am sad about  a few things, excited about new opportunities, and reminisce often. I’ve moved from my house of ten years. I’ve left the school I’ve worked at for eight years. I’m going to be teaching co taught 4th grade at a brand new school; I haven’t been in the classroom for five years. I have been pintresting, and actually felt a little teaching MOJO return. The people with whom I’ve worked have become family, and I won’t have them laugh and cry with. They held me up in some very difficult times, and in that, my heart is heavy.

My older daughter, Serena, graduated from college, and Violet starts high school in a few weeks. I’ve spent the summer in Tampa to be with my boyfriend who has taken, what we hope, is a temporary job. So, all I know, all I’m used to, and all that is safe and comfortable has been put in the centrifuge, and here I am…

So, it’s been a while since I’ve done any writing. The internal dialogue sometime around Thanksgiving went something like this:

“Sure, I should sell my house. If I sell my house, I should get a job closer to where I will be living. I might as well do it all at once….”.

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The monumental ripple effect of these choices didn’t hit me until recently. Moving is an emotional upheaval of all we know. Memories and artifacts are unearthed. I found ten years of our lives settled into the foundation of the house. Time and events ran past me and through me in a disorderly montage.

I began decluttering, purging, and donating as soon as I made this decision. Room by room, night after night, weekend after weekend, and making many trips to Goodwill was all I knew. It began to feel like that recurring waitress dream where I’d finish serving the entire restaurant, only for it to be filled again-and of course I would be the only waitress working that night.

I had personal goals set: downstairs closet Monday, four kitchen cabinets Tuesday, buy wine, bookcase Wednesday, buy wine, laundry room Thursday, buy wine…

Of course, while all of this was happening, I decided to get a job closer to where I’ll be moving. Sure, I pack my classroom each year, and I complain, and I post the “packed up classroom-must be summer” pic. But, for the love-this took me weeks of packing every day after school. It culminated with me renting a Uhaul truck, and if you know me at all, I can barely drive my very cute Mini Cooper.

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After renting the truck and the very nice Uhaul lady showed me how to get in and start the darn thing. She sent me off, like a kid on a bike for the first time. I watched her close the door with a look of terror in my eyes. She faded into the distance. My feet barely touched the floor and I had to scoot the seat very close to the steering wheel. I felt like a Polly Pocket in a Barbie Van.

I’m pretty sure every car on all the roads passed me since I was driving so slowly; there was honking and disgruntled looks. So, I get to the school, which is about to close, of course. I began by bringing box by box out, neatly packing them, then going back into the school. I realized I was running out of time, so i just did the lift, scoot, and dump the stuff outside bit. I packed the Uhaul full, only to see that it wasn’t all fitting, and I couldn’t leave the stuff out, but what to do? I reconfigured everything a few times, while sweating more than I thought possible.

I get everything loaded and head to my new neighborhood. Bottled water in hand, and feeling a bit more confident in the truck. I made turns without twitching, and even found the radio for a few tunes.

I get to the new neighborhood, and of course miss the house. I knew there was no way to back up, so I drove to the culdesack where the neighbors were having a block party. OH NO!! I can’t turn around. I can’t back up. I began to drive into someone’s driveway, but couldn’t back out. So, I sat there and began to crumble. One neighbor asked if he could help me. I immediately jumped out of that mean truck and let him get it back to my new home.

I unloaded, got back in the truck, took it back, got in my Mini Cooper and went home. The pic below is just my school things. OMG.

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Moving day is here! I chose the ONE moving company in that green book of handy helpers. I liked that they charge one fee, even if I have no clue how to assemble the TV or picture boxes (that the owner dropped by my house). It didn’t seem like so much until the truck was packed and they needed a van to get the rest. The cats hid in an empty house, and of course I kept thinking they just packed their cat things and went elsewhere.

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I’m still waiting to close on my house. It is set for the 21st; it has been pushed back once already. Then there was the thick and heavy red tape of documents we were made to find for the closing.

I never thought I was capable of changing the DNA of our lives. There are times that we are gently forced to be alone to get stuff done. No pity party here-I can drive a truck and pack a box in less than a few seconds. I do give the Chisel and Hammer work outs credit for the ability to lift the heavy boxes.

We are in the last moments of summer. The centrifuge has stopped for a moment.

Here’s to change!

K

 

Hiatus

I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ve been doing instead of blogging. Revenge-Victoria-sits-in-her-chair

I was obsessed with evil Madeline from Revenge. She can smile through the most horrendous comments, and evil doings. Plus, she has that cool chair where she sips her coffee while plotting against everyone. Her dresses are flawless, and she always has good hair. I told my colleague that I kind of wish I could smile and be evil simultaneously. She reminded me that was not a normal goal.

I have put my energy into refining my 3rd grade guided math. The other day, I looked up from my “meet with teacher” group, and saw an amazing thing: Children were engaged, on task, and collaborating about math. No one fell out of his chair, or asked me to sharpen a pencil the 567th time.  This class has a thing about sharp pencils. I’ve purchased two pencil sharpeners from Amazon; one already broke.

The following type of conversation happens daily:

Me: “We are going to do math journal, Number Talks, and then guided math.”

Student “Are we doing Number Talks today?”

Me: “Yes, we are doing Number Talks today.”

Me: “When you are done with your assessment, put it in the basket under the white board.”

Student 1:”Where do I put my work?”

Me:”In the basket under the white board.”

Student 2:-“Where do I put my test?”

Me: “In the basket under the white board.”

Student 3:”Do we give you our tests when we are done?”

Me: “No, put it in the basket under the white board.”

Then there is the stop everything, look at me, listen carefully classroom intermission.

“Everyone, hands on your heads. Look at me. The assessment goes in the basket under the white board. Thumbs up if you understand where the assessment goes.”

I’m working with my students to think outside the math box, or at least open the box and peek outside.

I have used picture prompts to show children that math is not confined to an hour a day, in my classroom. Slide25 This was a journal prompt one day.

Student: “There is no math in this picture.”

Me: “Yes, there is math in this picture.”

Student: “I don’t see numbers.”

Me: “Is math always numbers?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “What about geometry?”

Student: “Oh!”

Me: “There isn’t one right answer. Look for the math.”

Students are looking for the one right answer. I want them to see math as a part of their worlds that cannot always be defined with one correct response. I ask them if there are other ways to solve a problem, and they give me blank stares. It has taken me a couple of months to show students that the process in which they are doing math is very important. Just because they know that 3×3 is 9, doesn’t mean that they understand the many ways this multiplication fact can be represented, or what multiplication means.

I am on a math committee for my county. We discussed how the traditional algorithms, we have always taught, are causing students to have little to no understanding of number sense. For example, if we are dividing 45 by 3, we ask the kids how many times 3 can ‘go into’ 4; place value isn’t considered in this standard algorithm. What we are really asking is, ‘How many groups of four are there in 40?’. Students have to explain their reasoning more than ever now. So how do we balance the right answer with the process?

I have tried to show students a standard in every possible form. I say it is the same standard, but in a different outfit. They need to apply the skills to various situations, which may or may not be the examples used and practiced in class. I have changed much of what I do as a math teacher, and it hasn’t been comfortable or easy.

I have been personally challenged this year. As the literacy coach, I have had less time in classrooms, and spent more time in meetings and out of the building. I begin teaching the gifted endorsement Monday. I’m in a small panic, because now I’m teaching a class to teachers. I am driving myself a little nuts. Should I bring cookies? Candy? Tell a joke? Do a little dance?

We have a new evaluation system. It’s amazing that I’ve taught fourteen years, but at the end of the day, I am reduced to a number between 1 and 4. I do understand the efficacy of a standardized evaluation system for teachers. But, sometimes I don’t want to worry about it. I realized that my expectations for myself are, at times, unrealistically high. Some days, we just feel like a 3. And that’s ok. Isn’t that what we tell our students, and better yet, their parents?

I remember my early years of teaching, where I felt invincible and that I could affect change. I hope that I inspired or encouraged a few students along the way. In those early years, I was able to advocate for children without meetings, emails, or glaciers of paperwork. I just did it. I’m sure there was protocol; I just didn’t think about it.

Now, I advocate for students in different ways. A test score doesn’t fully give the scope of a child’s potential. And if a child doesn’t qualify for the gifted program, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t brilliant. Children cannot be reduced to numbers and percentiles. There is so much pressure on everyone to perform. What happened to the utter joy of learning something new? What about taking risks in learning?

I believe that Drama Club has given students a chance to take risks without the fear of grades. I promised myself that I would only direct one play this year. We have ten boys in drama, and they requested Shakespeare. So, we are doing Macbeth.  I really wanted to do Romeo and Juliet, but the suicide aspect is too heavy for elementary kids. So, I thought if I made them zombies, they couldn’t die. Yes, I’ve been watching The Walking Dead. Zombie Romeo and Juliet is a future project. It has to be written…

Teaching is very much like impressionistic art. The further away we get, the clearer the picture. When we are too close, everything is a blur, and unrecognizable. None of the parts are logical, and everything seems disconnected. We often get lost in the blur. I am thankful that sometimes, I have the awareness to step back and see the intended beauty of being an educator.

K

A Midsummer in Oz at the Chocolate Factory-and a Lonely Goat

This week, we are auditioning 85 kids for three plays: Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Wizard of Oz, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is our third year of drama club, and like a distant memory or a faint dream, I can’t quite place the moment it all became real.

Over twenty kids are auditioning for Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am thrilled that there is such interest with fourth and fifth graders. Of course, I’m sure there is hope for a sword fight, a chase, and a few fairies causing havoc. (The boys are bent on a sword fight.) Then there is the bizarre fascination with the donkey head.

I went to the Leaf Festival in Asheville. While the Moody Blues inspired parade passed me, I had costume inspirations for Midsummer. I can’t use stilts, and I’m still a little bitter about that. That was the my first inkling of my  mild theater obsession. You see, graduate school is over soon, and I must fill my time with another endeavor that will encompass me, completely.

The Wizard of Oz has been done so many times; I am driven to do it a little differently. I could have them set in the future, like that Julius Caesar play I saw in high school. Dorothy is wearing space boots, and the Wicked Witch needs them to find her space voyager monkeys. Glenda is tired of green witch’s shenanigans, and she sends her off in a space shuttle-for eternity. I’m not sure what to do with the munchkins in the space scenario.

This story has always been a metaphor to me. I mean, Dorothy-searching for The WIZARD of OZ? And for crying out loud, he was such a let down.

Her real world is black and white, which could mean a myriad of things that only Dorothy could discuss with the right therapist. Her colorful world could illustrate her awareness of her issues. Her best friends need a heart, courage, and a brain.  We have all been there. Wouldn’t it be lovely to always be courageous, intelligent, and full of love and compassion?  But, it usually comes down to our friends shaking us apart, and telling us to scrape up the last bits of courage from the remnants of the day. I hate when they do that.

The Wicked Witch is a sad little green thing. I can’t imagine being allergic to water. No wonder she was neurotic and a shoe obsessed.

I sat with Shannon, doing drama club paper work, and we sang “I wish I had a Brain” over and over. Sometimes we don’t have brains, and that is really okay.

Oh, I could tell you why The ocean’s near the shore.
I could think of things I never thunk before.
And then I’d sit, and think some more.
I would not be just a nothin’ my head all full of stuffin’
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry, life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain.

I tell you, life can be a ding-a-derry. Whatever that means.

My friends, Margarita and Victor, who have kept our community theater afloat for the past couple of years, posted this on my FB timeline:

Dancing Goat Theater

As I am becoming embroiled in our school theater productions, I am saddened by the fact that this wonderful theater is close to shutting down. This is where we saw, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, A Thousand Paper Cranes, Macbeth, Macbeth Junior, The Holiday Hootenany, Ensler’s monologues, and so many more amazing performances. This is where I performed with my daughter, for the first and last time.

When I think of this theater, I think of some of my dearest friends; Daniel chewing wood while directing Shrew, Margarita encouraging me to have the Macbeth narrators dance to Liza Minelli’s All that Jazz, avoiding the giant MACBETH boulder in the middle of the theater, and most of all-laughing through our creative spirits.

I think of my personal growth as an educator, because I saw the need for theater arts in our elementary school. We have 85 drama club members, within two grade levels. That means something. That is huge. Sometimes, that is overlooked.

I think of how quickly hours of work can become a wrinkle in time, because the cause is so very worth every single, tiny, moment spent, working with these kids. I think of our volunteers, who came together from diverse backgrounds, to keep the heart of performing arts beating in the theater.

My hope is that by some miracle, Oz is real-somewhere. Maybe, in our little theater? Maybe, in the hearts of our performers? Maybe in our audiences? Our community? Because without them, we have no theater.

GLENDA WHERE ARE YOU?

“Now I know I’ve got a heart because it is breaking.

– Tin Man”
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Here’s to theater.

K

Wrinkled Hearts

A few years ago, my friend, Jennifer told me about the wrinkled paper idea. Say we have a clean sheet of paper, and we crumple it. We smooth it out and the wrinkles may be less evident, but the wrinkles remain. She used this analogy to compare harsh words and actions, and the impact they have on our spirits…our paper. No matter how much we smooth out the wrinkles, the memory of the wrinkles never seems to disappear.

This year was the first year I’d been back in the classroom in five years.  I spent much of my time talking to the kids about kindness. I used the paper analogy. I crumpled a piece of paper and then smoothed it out. I told them that this was like their hearts. We don’t want to wrinkle each other’s hearts, right?

Later, a student  in my class was making unkind remarks to another student.

I heard him say,

“You just put wrinkles in my heart.”

The other student stopped, and apologized.

At the time, I was pleased to hear this. But as the year progressed, and my challenges grew, I thought of those words exchanged between the two students. It began to mean more to me each day.

I have the curriculum, pacing guides, lesson plans, and data everywhere. But, there was no plan to teach my students the impact they have on one another. There was no plan to protect all of our hearts from wrinkles.

August brought high hopes, montages of kids learning, and me standing on the desks imparting literary wisdom. That didn’t happen. From open house to Milestone testing, I’ve been in an existential traffic circle.

The devil is in the details. Things I forgot about….

  • taking attendance
  • lunch count
  • tardy slips
  • attendance slips
  • specials schedule
  • dismissal
  • bus numbers
  • car riders

They don’t just leave the room, at the end of the day,  and I hope for the best. Some got on the wrong bus, or were in car line, when they were supposed to be on the bus. My dismissal clipboard(covered in coffee stains) was full of ‘change of transportation’ slips that I thought I updated.  I could have possibly forgotten some other things,  which I cannot remember, because I forgot them. The first few weeks of school, I was in a sweat by 8:30 am.

I had lost complete contact with the reality of the classroom.

The 4th grade curriculum eluded me. What do you mean I have to teach explorers, colonies, Native Americans, economics, government, Revolutionary War, New Nation, Westward Expansion, light and sound, solar system, force and motion, adaptations, and ecosystems….in EIGHT MONTHS? How the flippity flop did I do this before?

This year, the ELA pacing for grammar STARTED with the order of adjectives. Honestly, I never knew there was an order. Why is this necessary? If there are that many adjectives in a sentence, that need to be ordered, then there are too many adjectives. Right? I really just wanted my twenty- five, smart, small, young, fourth graders to write complete sentences without emojis, or texting short hand.

If you work in Forsyth County, you will understand what I mean when I say F&P. They are running records, that need to be taken on each child, three times a year. As a literacy coach, I told teachers to schedule a few a day, and they could complete them all, and the world would be a better place. Yah, not so much. There are interruptions; I don’t mean with just the children. The phone rings, people come to the door, fire alarms, UFOs landing, and random portals to other worlds, popping up all over the place.

After  fifteen years, I still had a modicum of hope and faith that I could actually help children. I worked in vain, much of the time.

The one thing, I’ve had my entire teaching career is that creative edge. I could pull a great activity out of the ethers, and make it work. I can differentiate an assignment in my sleep. I had my teaching MOJO. It was there, I depended on it, and it always returned. But, it abandoned me this year.

mojo

I just wanted my teaching mojo back.  Or maybe I can at least visit it. Where is it? Is it coming back? Did I send it scrambling  with pessimism and exhaustion? If it’s smart, it’s at a sunny beach with all the other teachers’ mojos. Maybe they are at a mojo retreat? Mojo group counseling?

It is human nature to cling to a negative experience, and allow that experience to obliterate the positive ones. I was met with some challenges that I never would have expected. The challenges weren’t kind either. They were like tidal waves, chasing me down. I couldn’t anticipate or control any of them.

The year passed, and I had better days. Some weeks. I did eek out a few new activities, that the kids seemed to enjoy. We made ecosystems in bottles, Westward Expansion Geoscenes, poetry books, and I was able to teach them a little Shakespeare here and there. It seemed that Macbeth was the touchstone character for most of our literary discussions.

We were wrapping up our year in a morning discussion. I asked the kids what they remember most. One student said:

“The wrinkled paper you showed us. You know when we put wrinkles in each other’s hearts?”

A few other students agreed. That had been more  than six months ago. They remembered the wrinkled paper. The small moments, in a classroom, are often overlooked. I wonder how many I missed this year? I imagine there were quite a few, because I was wrapped up in the things that went wrong, instead of focusing on the good things. It is very easy to let others wrinkle our hearts, but it is easier to wrinkle our own hearts.

I received this on the last day of school:

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Sometimes it’s the kids who bring us back to what is important.

K

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half of Ninety…

Many things have happened this year. I just had my forty-fifth birthday. I know I am half of ninety, and I round up to fifty, but I feel this year will be one of my best. I am still doing what I love at work. My daughters are amazing people. My suburban village is steady and strong. And I have a chance to open up my heart again.
I still need to reconcile being forty-five. I can say things like ‘thirty years ago’, ‘back in the seventies’, and ‘I ruined my Sean Cassidy bell-bottoms in a biking incident.’
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Forty-five is also-
  • the atomic number for Rhodium. 
  • a record
  • the dialing code for Denmark
  • a gun
  • an Elvis Costello song
  • the speed limit
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This year, we welcomed 90 drama students (that number again). We are producing three plays: Peter Pan, Hamlet (modified for younger audiences) and Alice in Wonderland. I will be living in Wonderland and Neverland, while trying to kill off all the characters in Hamlet on an elementary school level.
I thought about making Hamlet a lost boy, or the King of Hearts. Maybe later…
We read through Hamlet and I was explaining the plot. The conversation with my Hamlet cast went something like this:
Me: “Think of the Lion King. It’s the same story, but with animals.”
SILENCE
Cast: “OOOOHHHHHH”
Ophelia: “Everyone dies in this play.”
Horatio-“Ha, I don’t die!”
Marcellus: “Yah, but you are  all alone.”
Hamlet: “When can we practice the sword fights?”
Me: “How about light sabers for the sword fights?” (No weapons in school.)
Ghost of Hamlet: “Hamlet, I am your father.” (In a creepy ghost voice.)
I have a friend who is helping me with drama club. I’m not sure she realized what she got herself into. She is directing Alice in Wonderland. Thank goodness she is taking out the murderous oyster scene. There is no real justification for me to kill everyone in Hamlet, and save the oysters. Maybe it’s the bonnets? Maybe it’s because they are so trusting and BAM they are eaten?
Image
I am grateful to have this club. It is cathartic to me, and the kids keep me laughing and hopeful.
 In the very last scene of Peter Pan and Wendy, Wendy’s daughter (Jane) tells her mom she can’t fly anymore. The grown ups are not the heroes in this story. Eventually, the they lose the ‘ability to fly’.  I imagine this is because life knocked them around a bit?
I was reading through my archived posts, and it is so interesting to see how things change in the span of a couple of years, months, or even days.  I realize that each event brings you to the next experience, even if you don’t have control over any of it. But we really don’t ever have control; we just think we do.

My  foundation was cracked and my trust in people faded. Our wounds heal, yet those imprints remain. I am learning to sift through the yucky stuff, and find the things that made me grow, reflect on my own foibles, understand what I deserve (better yet, what I don’t deserve) and move on with more wisdom and fewer regrets.

I can relate to Alice trying to find her way, Hamlet seeking truth, and Peter Pan not wanting to grow up.

Happy New Year.

K.

Allegory of the Educator

I have waited to post my final paper on my philosophy of education. If you are a philosophy geek, and an educator, you may enjoy the post. If not, don’t bother reading it, because it is weird. 

 The first day of class, my professor talked about the Allegory of the Cave. I was drawn to the story, partly because it is an extended metaphor, but mostly because it captures the essence of the human condition. I began writing a generic regurgitation of my personal educational philosophy. But, the images of the cave in reference to our current educational predicament inundated me. I often call my home office, my cave, because there are no windows, and I spend much of my time in there, writing and planning for instruction. So, from my cave, I wrote about the educational cave.

Thanks Daniel for the awesome sketches. Somehow, you captured what was in my mind. Wow.

Allegory of the Educator

Long ago, there was a school, nestled between a mountain and a river. On the side of the river, the sun shone directly into the library.  The view from the mountainside of the school was solid rock. The teachers on the mountainside lived in the school. The inside of the school was the only world they knew. Nothing else existed. And if anyone talked about a world outside of the school, they would create a new philosophy representing the idea of that made-up world. For ideas could exist without matter, and matter only existed because of ideas. Sometimes, the stories of the other place became myth and were re-told as fictional accounts.

The walls were always walls, and only ever walls. The floor could only be floor, and made only of floor. There was something they breathed in and out, but the true nature of that was somewhere in a book, found on the riverside of the school. It wasn’t important because the thing they breathed in and out would never run out, according to a story they re-told one another.

Many of the teachers had been chained to the walls of the school, because they thought that was what they were supposed to do as inhabitants of a school. They didn’t need mobility of mind nor body.

Seldom did anyone venture to the riverside of the school. The chains kept teachers in their respective rooms, and there was no need for books since everyone had memorized the curriculum.

The students had lost two and a half dimensions, and they became a generation of shadow students. The shadow students had smoke and mirror thoughts. All student thoughts conglomerated into one mass thought. At the end of the school day (when the lights were turned off) all thoughts evaporated. They turned into thought vapor, and when the new day began (when the lights were turned on) the thoughts would trickle down and return to the dim brains of the shadow students. The same thoughts were recycled daily. If there was a new thought, where would it go, and what would the teachers and students do with it? It wouldn’t fit anywhere, so why have it?

The atomic make-up of a shadow student consisted of percentiles, rankings, and standardized test scores. When shadow students were injured, numbers would leak from their bodies.  The school nurse would scoop up the lost percentiles, and attempt to put them back into the shadow students. Unfortunately, once a student lost a percentile or a ranking, it was almost impossible to put it back.  In order for the percentile to be valid again, there was extensive paperwork that had to be completed. It had to be stapled three times (one millimeter apart) in the upper right hand corner, be signed by fourteen school dignitaries, and be put in a red folder, with a tab in the middle (not on the left or on the right). As each number bled from the shadowy bodies, the students began to further fade. So, it was in their best interest to keep still, sit in seats, and stare vacuously at the stone walls.

On murky school day, after students learned about the philosophy of penumbra, took three hundred forty-five assessments, filled out sixty-two scantron sheets, and watched the nurse sweep up the numbers left by a faded shadow student (who met his demise with an errant pencil) a teacher realized her chains were broken.

She stood up and balanced herself on the cinderblock wall. She felt dizzy and unstable. She had been chained to the wall since the beginning. The beginning of something important. Long ago.

No one noticed as she stood up. They continued to sit; they remained chained to the walls and watched the shadow thoughts move through the thought cycle. The only noise in the classroom was the clanking of the chains when a teacher would re-position him or herself.

She looked beyond the classroom and saw a light curving its way into the thing outside the room. Later, she would learn the words hall, brick, mountain, block, learn, books, brain, chain, teach, learn, walk, ask, breathe, and choice. She limped to the door and peered to the left. She glanced to the right. She gazed straight ahead. She closed her eyes and felt that thing in her chest pound. She stepped outside of the room.

Her gait was unstable for she had been chained since the beginning. As she walked, the thought dust obscured her sight. She had only seen the classroom to which she was chained. Her brain couldn’t assimilate the new images bombarding her consciousness. Eventually, she found the room with the books and light. Beyond that room was a door. She could see outside the door and the stone was gone. She remembered the myth of the outside place. She was instructed to teach the shadow students that the pictures of the things in books were only a product of someone’s mind. They weren’t real. But, now she was looking at trees, sun, river, squirrels, and grass. The invisible thing (later she would know it as wind) was blowing in her face, and it moved through her hair. Had she found the truth? How could she trust what she saw? If she left, would those things still be there? What was REAL?

She ventured outside to see students with all dimensions intact. Each student had a thought bubble attached to his or her head. Instead of smoke and mirror thoughts, each child’s thought bubble was full of images of concepts they were learning. Some students were playing musical instruments, and others where playing soccer. The teacher with the students was wearing a shirt that read, I Heart Socrates.

The mountainside teacher heard the students’ conversations. They were working in groups to solve various problems. The students shared new thoughts. And the thoughts were original, unlike those of the shadow student back in the school. There was a sign on the grass that read: “Please frolic and play on the Dewey grass.”

The riverside teacher introduced himself to the mountainside teacher.

“Hello, I’m UTO P. IA. You can call me UTO. Are you a new hire? What is your name?”

The mountainside teacher stared at UTO. She had never needed her name before, but she knew she had one. She reached into her frontal lobe and pulled out her name.

“Hello. I’m..well. I’m PAV L. OV You can call me PAV.”

She touched UTO’s shoulder and flinched when she realized that he was not smoke and mirrors. She longed for the safety of the cave. As she wandered back inside, she pondered the term, ‘new hire’. The sounds of the multi-dimensional students faded and the light dissipated.

She knew she had to go back and tell everyone that they had been wrong about the ideas. The ideas were real. Or the things were real. Maybe they were both real.

On her way back into the school, she saw a small, plump man sitting in the middle of the hallway. He was bald and effortlessly smiling.  His t-shirt read, I’m Siddhartha. Just call me Buddah. She walked close to him and he said, “You have desired nothing, therefore you haven’t suffered. Now, you are experiencing the desire to learn about life, and share that knowledge. Well, now you will suffer.” He smiled and then he began to laugh. As he laughed, the word truth flew out of his mouth. With each breath, a new version of truth came out.  Some truths were small, some were large, some had fancy fonts, and others were looked as if a child scribbled them. Pav didn’t see any of the truths as they few over her, under her, and around her.

She walked past the little man, because she didn’t know how to respond. She was never taught what to do when a new sentence was uttered. And in this case, a new sentence with a new thought.

She found her way back to the classroom where she had been chained. The teacher in charge introduced herself.

“Hello. I’m UT O. PIA. You can call me UT.”

Pav had known UT since the beginning. UT ignored the faint bouts of recognition and decided that she didn’t know Pav. The thoughts weren’t real without words to support them.  Pav realized that UTO and UT had the same names. But the two teachers were polarized, yet very content. This confused Pav because she only knew one form of contentment, and that was the classroom cave.

Pav knew that she had to tell everyone about the outside place.

“UT, I need to tell you about something. It will change everything we do here on the mountainside.”

“Well, okay-go on. The thoughts have not completed their cycle yet. I don’t need to clean the empty thoughts off the floor yet.”

Pav was nervous for the first time.

“UT, I found the outside place. There were children, who were different from the ones here.” She pointed to the shadow students and they were still and staring.

“They didn’t just sit. They talked about the things they were learning.”

UT was noticeably shaken.

“Pav, stop there. You of all people should know that those alleged children out there are behaving as they were told.  This is what we know: It is our truth.

Pav thought of her words before speaking. She tried using her common sense to talk to UT, but it didn’t seem to be working. Their words were different now. Pav’s words didn’t mean what they used to (before she visited the outside place).

Pav wondered what was real. Was UT really there, or was she experiencing the idea of UT? Then, she began wondering if she was real. She wondered if anyone else saw her. Did she really teach?

“UT, don’t you want to know what is out there? Aren’t you curious? It’s real! We don’t have to continue to teach like this!”

UT looked at Pav, and she hesitated before she began to vacuum the empty thoughts from the stone floor. The empty thoughts looked like giant dust clouds as they retreated to the guts of the vacuum.

Pav had some decisions to make. Familiar things are easy. She could go back to teaching the shadow students, and perpetuating the smoke and mirror thoughts. But, the more she thought about the outside place, the more curious she became. What if she ventured to the riverside and learned that all that she knew was wrong? What would happen?

We run the course of philosophies during a teaching career. There is no one, set philosophy that lays the foundation for my instruction. Every day, I strive to be the teacher that students can count on. I want to be mentally aware, as I teach, not on autopilot. 

I may have lost the idealism I had when I began teaching. The invincibility shield has been tarnished. It isn’t the kids: It never is. It’s the quagmire through which we sift in order bring us close to the place where we felt we could change the world. That place is not lost; it is hidden beneath the years.

So, hopefully Pav will take the road less traveled and take a few risks to make that difference.