Awwww Spring Break

We are finally on spring break! No warm beachfront trip for me. My own children get a different week off of school for their spring break so we stay close to home. It is okay because see they are all at school and work today, while I am home to do the 10,000 things on my list alone. Okay, so I made it to number 3. 

We did enjoy a few days together to have a great time as a family even in the muddy stormy mess of the great outdoors in Ohio. We cooked out on an open fire, we rode go-karts and we hiked for days. I kept thinking how my students would have loved doing these things too. I videotaped some to show my 6th grade since we did a camping unit and I wanted them to see some of the things we did over the fire and some of the wildlife. Many have not done a lot of things that my own kids take for granted. Of course, we are not a jet-setting family flying to all kinds of exotic locations either, but we do have our own kind of down to earth fun. I mean that literally because I am still soaking mud out of clothes.

This school year has been unbelievable. We could probably make a movie out of all the drama and chaos that has occurred since the beginning of the year. We will not, I assure you, but it is tiring to say the least.

Well I guess it is time to hit my to-do list hard now. This is a much needed break. Teaching is the best, but the challenges of not being able to help every child enough are tough.

We will all rejuvenate our minds and souls and be ready to start again next week. It is like the beautiful sunshine and yellow daffodils that show themselves this time of year, always reminding us of the promise of better things ahead. 

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I am 47

I am 47 years old and I’ve finally come to a crazy conclusion. It doesn’t matter.

Working with kids all day is a humbling experience. They let you know what they think…about everything…all the time…without pulling punches. They let me know if they don’t like my hair, my shoes, my clothes, my lipstick, and my nail polish. I don’t ask, mind you. They just volunteer the information like it is needed in order for me NOT to embarrass myself. Most of their comments are harsh, but sometimes they are quite kind too.

In our society so much of our time is spent on perfecting our “image”. It’s ridiculous really. The media has made us ashamed of our age, ashamed of our wrinkles, and ashamed of our greys. But think about it….It is what it is. We age. Everyone on the face of the earth ages. Instead of fighting it so hard, why can’t we embrace it? Why can’t we be happy that we are still around and hopefully healthy? Is it really that bad to age? Isn’t it actually wonderful? Just think of all the experiences we have lived through, loved through, and seen. All the people we have cared for and all the goals we have worked towards. All the smiles we have given and all the tears we have shed. Think about all the vacations, all the days of sunshine and all the nights so clear that you feel like you could see every star in heaven.

I’ve been so lucky, really. All my dreams may have not been realized. I may not have reached all of my goals yet. I have been on the receiving end of denials, heartbreaks, and hardships. But…that’s life. What has made me so lucky is that I have had the faith to keep going. I have had the support system around me to pat me on the back or to give me a hug when I’ve most needed it. I’ve also chosen well. I have great friends, fantastic family, and wonderful friends who tell me that although I have had disappointments, although I have some (well a lot) of grey hair, and although I am not at my target weight, that I am still worthy of their love, trust, and friendship.

Years are just that, years. We make such a big deal out of age and I have to admit that I have been just as guilty as many others. But I think I have to stop it. I’m not 26 anymore, nor would I want to be. Twenty-six was a great year. I had met the love of my live and gotten married, I got my first teaching job, and bought my very first house. I was young, and skinny, and fit. But 47 ain’t so bad either. I have my beautiful girls, my kids at school, great friends, a husband that I not only still like, but actually still love. I have fantastic co-workers, my parents are still very much in my life, my bills are being paid, and Amy and I have 22 books published this year. Could be worse….

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Teaching is a strange bird when you think about it. Anyone can teach. You don’t have to be trained to teach someone how to tie a shoe or how to pick up a rock and throw it. Children can teach one another how to call names and pinch, how to hit, and how to scratch. If you think about it, you don’t necessarily need skills to teach certain things. But to be a teacher, a real teacher, now that takes skill, training, research, and perseverance. Teaching a classroom of children that walk into a building called a school takes a special kind of individual because it’s not about just doing, it’s about so much more.

Emergent literacy skills are the skills needed to be able to read. These skills should be developed prior to a child walking into a kindergarten classroom. These are the building block of reading. The main teachers of emergent literacy skills are parents. Every time a parent sits with a child with an open book, they are teaching their child emergent literacy skills. Pointing out words and talking about pictures in a book, turning a book right side up and opening the cover, turning pages, and finally reading the words; yep, emergent literacy skills. The lilt of the voice, the cadence of the words, the rhythm of a poem, all of these actions teach children to read. Letter and number recognition helps as well as introducing sight words, letter sounds and blends. All of these incredible experiences and firsts should be done prior to a child entering a classroom for the first time.

But what if it doesn’t happen? What if parents can’t read to their children? What if they can’t read at all? Or, what if the parents speak a different language than the language in the schools? What if the parents work a ton of hours and just don’t have the time to spend reading a book to their child? What if a child doesn’t have a parent that points out a basketball hoop, or a dog, or a sidewalk, a bird, or a flower during a walk? What happens to that child when he or she enters school for the first time and has either very little or no emergent literacy skills like his classmates? These are all realistic questions. Many children enter school with very little or no emergent literacy skills. Hard to believe, but true.

This is where teachers come in. Those wonderfully bright, talented, and dedicated primary teachers whose job it is to make a difference in these children’s lives. These teachers have learned literacy strategies that work, that move the child forward, and help these babies make up the ground they lost when they didn’t receive a strong foundation in emergent literacy skills. It may seem easy, but it’s not. These special individuals have to know each baby and his or her level. They must assess these children, guide these children, and help bridge the gaps these children have. These teachers are the ones who make it look easy, who start the day with a smile and end the day with a hug. They cheer growth and wipe away tears. This is teaching that truly matters.

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Lori and I were recently asked what it  means to be an at-risk student. We present this concept all the time to teachers and administrators, but when someone who is thinking, hey, I think I am an at-risk student looks you in your eyes and asks, it is a little unnerving.

We had to explain that anyone can be at-risk at some time in their lives. When you speak one language at home and learn all day at school in another language, you could be at-risk, if you have a single parent or a grandparent raising you, you could be at-risk, if you have a learning disability, anxiety, depression, violence in the home, trauma and tragedy to overcome, you might be at-risk. If you are in a loving home but living in severe poverty you could be at-risk.

Life is hard. Being at-risk doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, it means that you just might have to work twice as hard sometimes. That is why we believe that our mission is to help each student to meet and exceed all of their expectations. We want students who can be proud of their accomplishments, who can support a family, who know how to handle stressful situations in the appropriate manner, and who want more for themselves because they deserve it.

We love our students. We push them to work. Sometimes they get mad at us because of it. It is our job but it is also our obligation to inspire, to encourage, to model, to make them believe that they can do anything they want. Sometimes we look frustrated or tired, we are, it is hard to fight to make someone else discover a dream they don’t believe that they can reach…yet.

We want to hear the success stories, not because we want the praise or credit, because that is why we teach everyday with such a passion and mission. It is WHO we are and WHY we educate.

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