Tuesday, February 28, 2017

#SOL17 The Night Before

It's the day before the March Slice of Life Story Challenge! It feels like the night before school starts, or before you go to summer camp....when you know you will see familiar faces again, and new ones, and you're about to start something exciting. Maybe a little scary. There's a thrill in the air, because life is about to shift in new ways....

I look at my March calendar and worry. March is BUSY. Report cards. My daughter's birthday. Professional events. Will I be able to carve out time each day to blog? To inspire my students to blog? To keep up with all the commenting and additional work that goes into being part of both challenges?

It always comes back to the "why." Why take on all of this extra work in a month that is already jam-packed? For me, the Slice of Life Story Challenge is about walking the walk and truly living like a writer. It's inviting students along and showing them that writing is something real people do, in their honest-to-goodness life, not only published authors but everyday folks. 

And, truth be told, there isn't a month that's NOT busy. Every day is busy. It's the noticing, the slowing down, the taking time to reflect and write that helps me appreciate my life instead of just living it. It's this one month in time, set aside, to tell my stories. 

See you at Writer's Camp! :)

Monday, February 20, 2017

#SOL17 Does Moving Up Always Mean Moving Out?

"It seems such a waste of time
If that's what it's all about

Mama if that's movin' up
Then I'm movin' out"
- Billy Joel, "Anthony's Song"

In the education world, I've noticed that most of the time, to advance professionally, you need to leave your role of being a teacher. To move up, you have to move out. You can become an instructional coach, a dean, an assistant principal, a principal, a director, an assistant superintendent, or superintendent. You can become an independent consultant or work with other consultants, visiting schools and working with teachers. You might become a professor and work with college students who wish to become teachers. There doesn't seem to be a way for a teacher who wants to stay in the classroom to advance professionally by way of different title, salary, or prestige. 

Being a classroom teacher is challenging. I teach third grade, which means I teach my 25 students every subject. Literacy, of course, has many components, of which I am responsible: reading (decoding, comprehension, fluency), word study, writing, handwriting, speaking, and listening. I also need to teach students WHY they need to be literate- why it matters in a democracy, and spark their love for reading and writing. I need to be a role model and share my passion for reading and writing. I also need to plan small group instruction for students with similar needs- often 6 different groups of children. This would be a daunting task alone, but literacy is not the only subject I teach. Math includes concept development, fact fluency, and problem solving. I need to teach social studies and science, character education, and integrate technology. And that is just curriculum. Somehow, I also need to create a caring and safe classroom community, encourage risk-taking and persistence, and differentiate my teaching to meet the needs of diverse learners. I need to get to know each student, communicate with families, refer students who have academic or behavioral concerns, and consult with the special area teachers who provide my students' services. I need to assess my students in every area, find the time to grade the assessments, and use them for the purpose of more targeted instruction. In every subject. 

I am with my students all day, except for 40 minutes when they are at a special and then 40 minutes when we get lunch. Most of the work I need to do to be ready to teach needs to happen after school. But of course, there are often meetings, tutoring, or clubs, which often does not leave much time at all. This translates to a full work bag that travels home with me every night. Like many other teachers, I come home to a family that is waiting for me. In my case, a husband and a 6 year old son and almost 4 year old daughter. By the time the family responsibilities are done for the night, there is rarely energy to take out that full work bag and make a dent in it. It travels back to school, heavier for the guilt that has been added to the bag. 

Some days, it feels very hard to be a classroom teacher.

And I'm sure there are impossibly hard days in other positions in education- but my pride says, at least those positions are ones that are higher up the hierarchy. You are seen as somebody who knows something more than the typical classroom teacher if you are the coach, the director, the administrator. You are the "lead learner." And you get to go to the bathroom whenever you like!

So, if you are a classroom teacher who wants to advance in your career- where are you to go? The answer seems to be  "out of the classroom." But once you are out, the longer you are away from the day to day teaching responsibilities, can you really understand what it is like, have empathy for the sheer impossibility of the expectations? 

Sometimes I wish there was a way for everyone who has left the classroom for a leadership position to come back to it for a year or even a trimester. I think there would be so much more empathy and understanding for those in higher positions to see how the different curricular mandates really fly in a classroom of real children. How a teacher who cares so much and wants to make a difference and is earnestly trying her very best... still finds it near impossible to do everything a teacher needs to do. 

I am a classroom teacher. It's what I've always wanted to be and who I am. I don't want to move out, so there will be no moving up for me.

What are your thoughts on the idea that teachers need to leave the classroom to advance professionally? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

#SOL17 Finally Reading Letter from Birmingham Jail

I am 37 years old, with my Masters plus 75 credits- a teacher for 15 years- and, I confess, I only just read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail this past Saturday. I'm annoyed that nowhere in my schooling was this letter shared with me or discussed. This past weekend, the Long Island Writing Project held a workshop on argument writing, based on this text. While we read the letter with a lens on argument writing and thinking about the specific techniques King used, it was hard not to get lost in the message of this letter, especially at this juncture in history. 

This particular section of the letter led tears to spring to my eyes:

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience ...

Martin Luther King Jr. was 34 when he wrote this letter- younger than I am now. How did he get so wise in those 34 years? How did he get so strong, to be able to lead a movement with love and nonviolence? Of course I knew the "I Have A Dream" speech, but never stopped to think about what a gifted writer he was to craft that. Letter from Birmingham Jail, written partly in the margins of a newspaper, is an absolutely brilliant and moving piece of writing. I wish to know more about the man who wrote it- not just the stories I've been told about him.

Reading this letter has led me to many more questions about Martin Luther King Jr. than I had prior to being a participant in the workshop. What did his wife and children do and think when he was jailed? How did he first get involved with the civil rights movement? What did his parents and teachers see in him as a young child that would foretell his place in history? 

One of the questions we were asked at the LIWP workshop was "How do we avoid having our students perceive of the reading and writing we ask them to do as a mechanical process to be completed or avoided? (Dr. Jane Maher) In other words, how do we get students to care about what they are reading and writing, to want to know more, to be the ones asking the questions and seeking answers instead of simply answering the questions we pose? 

As I follow the news each day, I am troubled by all I don't know about our government and history. I confess to not paying very close attention to the inner workings of the government and having previously felt a sense of security that all was well. Now, I feel the need to learn more about everything- to be a more knowledgeable citizen and to be a teacher that encourages critical thinking. I want my students to ask questions and seek answers instead of simply answering the questions I've posed. I don't want to tell them what to think, but I want to read aloud texts that will help them understand another's perspective. When I read how Martin Luther King was tongue-tied trying to explain to his daughter why she couldn't attend an amusement park, I was instantly thinking about my son- the same age- and how I would feel if I had to tell him he wasn't welcome based on who he was? Such is the power of reading and writing- to move you to see life from another's vantage point. And to let that somehow change you.