The Little Things

Today is Saturday, September 26th. It is a special day for my entire family. It was my father’s birthday and ironically, the day he passed away two years ago. I honestly believe he tried to save my mother some additional pain and sadness by making two sad days into one. That is how he lived his life, selfless, humble, and compassionate.

As I watch the Pope’s visit and as I reflect on the words and works of Mother Teresa, it reminds me that it truly is the little things that matter. Treating others kindly is not that difficult, yet we as humans struggle with this daily. Jesus told us to treat others how we want to be treated, even difficult people we do not like. That is not so easy.

Today I am reminded of all the “little things” my dad used to say and do. These are the things that catch us all off guard and we remember so well.  Anyone who ever lost a loved one will understand, a song comes on, a smell, and a word, can stop you in your tracks and bring you to tears. My family always had inside jokes and many were centered on my dad. He said things like, “pass me the gum band, put it in the ice-box, Ty-o-ta, for Toyota, and crick instead of creek.” He was very quick witted and the king of the one liners.

Now the point; it is the small things that truly make a mark on our memories. Teachers need to remember this. We say things to our students’ every day. Will they remember them? Lori is notorious for saying, “I expect high quality work that is phenomenal, and be brilliant” and I have heard students repeat these things in other classrooms. They can finish her sentence. They will remember that and they will work harder. Sometimes I wonder what my students are going to repeat what I say.

When we interact with our kids and we remember little things about them, it does make a huge impact on them. The other day Walter and I laughed about when he lost his tooth in third grade after I brought in candy for the class to try, Gibran teases me about eating potato chips while pumping my fit bit. These are silly things but they are shared memories that connect us to each other.

We must notice our students’ body language, new shoes, hairdos, birthdays, family trips, sick relatives, and all of the little things that matter to them daily. Sometimes these things can make a huge impact on someone who feels alone, unloved, neglected, or scared. It is even more than a relationship, it goes deeper, and it is an encounter.

Thank you Pope Francis, Mother Teresa, and dad for reminding me to do little things every day for others, they will add up and make a difference. heart to serve

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Hello fellow educators….it is grading time!

Why is this a big deal? Why do I sit in front of my grade book, in front of my computer and just stare. Every single time. I have done grades quarterly for over 15 years, yet it is still a challenge; it still takes me hours; I still dream about it, worry about it, and obsess over it for hours….And it is just interims.

A lot goes into grades, especially since we are standards based, many of our children are not on grade level, and most of them are very hard workers. How do you give a student an N on a standard if you are differentiating your instruction to meet their needs, they are doing all the work, and they are growing and improving, yet still not meeting the grade level band standard? I get it….I understand it…. I even agree with it – in theory, but in practice…well, not so much.

Teachers are not heartless. The product of our profession is not the bottom line. We are not working with inanimate objects. We are working with children. Many who come to us with problems and life experiences that take a toll on the bottom line. Issues that we as teachers can’t control. No matter what anyone tells us, it’s not about the “scores”. Concrete numbers and grades do not properly represent our children. In order to do their brilliance justice, we have to look beyond the numbers. How do you grade without factoring in effort, behavior, attitude, tears, laughter, aptitude, potential, and heart? That is what is asked of us quarter after quarter, semester after semester, and year after year.

So what do I do? What mark do I give them? What comment do I add? Do I write paragraph after paragraph so the parents are aware of how much I struggle?

To all the teachers that torture themselves quarter after quarter, grade after grade…you are not alone. Remember that no matter what anyone tells you, it’s about the children. Do what’s best for each child. Then go to sleep with a clear mind.

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Tough Times

School is up and running. We are finally in a routine. We hosted a curriculum night; we are close to interims, we’ve given tests, group projects, and homework. There has also been an amazing amount of drama. The kids have been melting down left and right.

It seems like many parents are in crisis and the kids are reacting to the stress. Being on the edge of divorcing, financial issues, and violence in the home, all contribute to the lack of well being for the children. Since Lori and I teach middle school these are the students who have to help hold it together at home. No wonder they fall apart at school. They can finally be kids.

They know we love them, they know school is their safe place, and they can act like teenagers. Behaviors are a window to the emotional baggage each one carries. I see so many damaged, broken, and sad children who have too much weight on their young shoulders. We have to see that first before we try to teach them. We have to let them know they can vent to us, they can be a 13 year old, they can be angry or sad, and it is okay. Our job as teachers is to help them through this while teaching them academics. It is not easy. But we must inspire hope that the situations will get better and with a good education they can have better. We have to teach them coping strategies along with ways to deal with their anger in a more positive manner, and that violence is never the answer.

We are the agents of change for these kids, which will make or break them. What a huge burden to carry, but if we want them to grow into functioning adults we HAVE to show them how. We have to model constantly. It is tough, it is frustrating, but it has to be done. None of us are perfect role models, but these fragile kids need to know they matter, that it will be okay, that we believe in them, and it will get better.

Thank goodness we teach at a Catholic school where we can teach them to turn to God and He does hear their pleas.

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Overwhelmed Anyone?

Okay, so I could be a bit overwhelmed. In addition to all of my other duties, I just started taking a new class at Ashland.

On the first day of class, I was completely unprepared. There was no excuse for this. I mean, I have taken about one million classes in my lifetime, but I had nothing. Well let’s be honest, I did have paper and a pen (more than we can say about some of our students), but I didn’t have the textbook yet (I was the only one) and I didn’t have access to “Blackboard” the online learning system (Also, I was the only one).

I was sitting innocently and completely unaware in classroom C3. I was chatting with another student and we were talking about this being our first time using “Blackboard”. I was completely calm and ready. I had taken numerous classes through Ashland including hybrid courses. Amy and I had even taught in the building so I knew my way around. I was anticipating an early release time and my stomach was yearning for the first bite of the salad I had just purchased with the plan to eat it throughout first day introductions.

All of a sudden the professor walked into the room to inform us that our class had been moved to the tech lab. A small knot of tension began to form in my shoulders. If we were in the tech lab, then I couldn’t eat. I like to eat. Another thought formed right along with another knot of tension. I’ll need my password. I just knew we would be logging into Blackboard. I didn’t know my password. It’s saved on my computer and I just click “log in”.

Adding to my worries, the building is in the form of a square. It might as well have been a well designed labyrinth or a maze made with seven foot tall bushes. I could not find my room. I just walked around the square aimlessly. I had to be in the “D” hallway, but of course I was actually standing in the “A” hallway and I of course chose to walk in the wrong direction.

When I finally found the tech lab and as the sweat began to pour down my sides, I sat in my seat, after tripping over the book bag of the well-dressed, well-organized, logged-in gentleman beside me. The professor then began to speak. I am taking a class on the laws of special education. I have NEVER heard so many acronyms in my life. My mind went blank and I sent Amy a small text about my inadequacies as a human being.

Now think about it. I am a well educated professional taking a class that is targeted for my profession. I am returning to a building I habe been in countless times and I am in a class with people who share my love and enthusiasm for education. And I was still panic stricken.

Now imagine a parent who speaks very limited or no English. This parent has a sixth grade education and doesn’t have the best memories of school. She walks into a school to listen to teachers talk about the education of her child. She already feels inadequate because her child is in seventh grade. She doesn’t understand his classes, books, letters the school sends home, nor the expectations of the teachers. She looks around and sees parents talking and laughing, clearly comfortable in the school environment. She doesn’t have a husband to lean on and she has to ask her child what is going on. The child has a hard time interpreting because the teachers don’t stop talking to allow for interpretation and they are saying a lot of technical terms that the child can’t even interpret if he had the time.

Many of our ELL children come from homes where their parents have not completed middle school, high school, nor college. Teacher talk is intimidating and impossible to understand. These parents cannot help their children with homework nor can they read to their younger children because they can’t read English or some can’t even read at all. School makes them scared.

As educators it is our job to make all of our families feel welcome and to pass along information that they can understand. We have to make sure their needs are accommodated. If we want their children to experience success in our classrooms then we must make sure the parents understand and know how to help that happen. We have to make sure all parents feel comfortable asking questions, feeling prepared, and feel that they are a part of the school.

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This weekend we had a family reunion in my hometown. It was great to see so many family members and talk about memories of growing up. My Uncle Bill is the patriarch of the family and is the only surviving brother of the three. He is 91 years old and still has a great mind. He was always the one called when we needed work done on our house; he knew how to fix anything. As I was helping him into the car at the end, he looked up at me with the same look my dad used to have, it was a bittersweet moment. A glimpse at someone lost in the eyes of someone still here.

My father was well liked by everyone. He had a sarcastic sense of humor and was the king of the one-liners. He even would still make jokes in the nursing home; I heard his reply to the nurse when she asked if it was okay if she gave him a sponge bath, “only if I can give you one.” They all loved him too, so she would just laugh.

Anyway, my youngest brother had a best friend named Don Patterson. My dad was also known for getting names, almost rDanreunionight. When Don would call he would tell my brother that Dan called. We all just got used to calling him Dan. He and his wife also loved my dad and his sense of humor, so they showed up at our family reunion. Don was wearing this shirt he had made in memory of my father. We all got a huge kick out of it, and when we explained to the other part of the family, who was not in on the joke, they loved it as well. We all agreed that my dad was definitely there in spirit.

Have a wonderful Labor Day; I am headed to Lori’s house now to eat all of her delicious food.

We are two teachers on the edge of eating too much!

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