Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Very Mogwai Christmas #SOL17

The packages were under the tree, in color-coordinated wrapping paper. Alex had green paper with Minions in red Santa hats. Megan had magenta paper, with Disney princesses and mistletoe and holly. Wrapping paper flew with exclamations of delight until Megan opened one gift that stopped her in her tracks. Gizmo, a Mogwai- a Gremlin was opened to shrieks of joy.

I was not in favor of my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter watching Gremlins, the classic 80’s movie. I remember it being so scary. On a night where I was out, my husband showed it to them. They loved it and no nightmares. In fact, they talked about Gizmo a lot, especially Megan. Which gave Santa the idea to buy her Gizmo for Christmas.

There were many other adorable stuffed animals she received, but it was Gizmo who she held all day long on Christmas. Her new alphabet beads were used to spell out MOGWAI in a necklace for Gizmo. Gizmo was lovingly carried to her grandparents’ house and didn’t leave her arms for pretty much the entire day.

Years from now, when Megan is a teenager or even later, when she’s a mom herself, I will pull out these pictures from the Christmas she was nearing five years old and her most favorite new toy was Gizmo, the Mogwai from the 80’s.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Teacher Happiness #SOL17

In December 2001, back before my curricular units were all planned out prior to the school year starting, created by others and not me; back before "I can" statements were anything I knew; back before teacher evaluations were based on the Danielson Rubric and being deemed "highly effective" was synonymous to the Holy Grail, I was a first year teacher, teaching sixth grade in an elementary school. Back then, one of the subjects I taught was "Language Arts" and aside from the New York State Standards at the time, there wasn't a whole lot of direction in what I should be teaching. While that was disconcerting for a first year teacher, it was also freeing. Here is what my sixth graders did in December 2001:

Each student was part of a group. The assignment was to make your own toy or game. It could be based on a real game, like Monopoly, but redone with your own categories and questions. Students had to create the game and write the directions for how you play it. The next step was to sell the game using persuasive techniques. We studied what advertisers do to sell products and students were asked to come up with a commercial for their toy. We invited the other 6th grade classes to watch our toy commercials in the small gym, where each group performed. 

This was before technology was more than an overhead projector and it was before the makerspace movement, before words like "innovation" were common in schools. But, looking back, I think there was a lot of good in this project. December is a busy, exciting, and off-schedule month with many assemblies, parties, concerts, etc. This unit capitalized on kids' excitement in December with a focus on toys, persuasive language, creativity, presentation, and collaboration. 

This project came to mind as I've been considering the idea of Teacher Happiness. I've been following along with Matt Miller's Ditch That Textbook Ditial Summit. On Saturday, I watched the Science of Happiness . There were so many points and takeaways, but at one point the conversation turned to teachers accepting being "effective" over "highly effective" if it meant more time with family and better mental health and well-being. As I watched this, I wondered, "When did teaching become a profession where you can never be considered highly effective?" Why do you have to settle for being "effective" to be able to also be a good parents and not be completely run down? 

I know my first two paragraphs don't really match my last two, but I guess they connect for me around teacher happiness. When I had more freedom to plan curricular units, it was exciting. I loved finding ways to plan motivating and meaningful lessons for my students. We put the Greek God Zeuss on trial that year. I had a "cookies and conversation cafe" at reading time so kids could pick discussion items off a menu while they ate cookies. We made class books of our personal narratives. I looked for ways to integrate multiple intelligences and make learning come alive. It also felt like I was trusted to make decisions about what my students needed. 

The other piece of teacher happiness is feeling like I was good at what I do. While there is always room to grow, it was knowing that I was a teacher having a positive impact. With the Danielson rubric now used for teacher evaluations, it feels like I'm never good enough. Like I could work round the clock every day of the week and still not be deemed "highly effective." And it doesn't feel happy to know that. I'm someone who has always sought to be excellent. As a student, as a student teacher, as a teacher- I want to be my very best. So to accept that I'm never going to be considered highly effective is disheartening, and it makes me put less stock in a system that rates me that way. 

What are your feelings about teacher happiness? 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

An Honor #SOL17

The violins played "Pachelbel's Cannon" as the high school juniors, holding a small candle, filed into the auditorium. I sat in a special section, with other teachers from my district who'd been asked to attend by a new inductee of the National Honor Society. The student who invited me was a former kindergarten student! How honored I was that she chose me to see her receive this honor. 

After I had the chance to hug her and tell her how proud I was of her, I bumped into another former kindergarten student and her brother, who was from my first kindergarten class. He's a college student now! When I saw his face, I knew instantly who he was and could picture him as a little kindergarten student. I took a picture with my 3 former kindergarten students and it was such a special moment.

There are days and moments when teaching feels too hard, too heart-breaking. There are times I feel lost. But the moments that ground me, that anchor me, are moments like tonight. Connecting with students and building relationships that last years longer than the time we shared a classroom can be fuel for the fire- inspiration that can carry me past unfair expectations, decisions I'm not part of, and a host of other parts of teaching that can wear you down. Tonight I took joy in knowing I played a small part in helping a student grow and succeed and become part of the National Honor Society. Proud teacher moment.