I’ve worked in some challenging schools over the years. I have had my fair share of at-risk students. My classroom was even “stacked” because I was willing and able to handle the tough cases (whatever that means). I have to admit that I love the “tough cases”. These students that others roll their eyes over or prays for just once the student would be absent. These are the students that I gravitate towards and I have no idea why. I don’t share life experiences with them. As most of you know I come from a very loving and stable family. My parents support me and have always been there through easy and tough times, so I have no idea why these kids hit that special place in my heart, but they do.

When I worked in the public schools, I worked in the inner city. The system I worked in had a pretty strict policy for students breaking the rules. The principals did not have the luxury of deciding the punishment for the students on a case-by-case basis. The policies on discipline were clear cut and no tolerance was understood. I watched a lot of kids get suspended and many of mine were on the list. I had a problem with this even back then because the kids weren’t really misbehaving in my classes. They generally had very difficult times during transitions and in other classrooms. When one of my students got suspended, their work for me suffered. I didn’t think much about suspensions, even in-school suspensions weren’t on the top of my list. I was always volunteering for the students to hold their suspensions in my classroom so I could monitor them and make sure they were learning. Plus, if the kid’s home life was tough, well then, where’s the point in an out-of-school suspension? Where was the lesson to be taught in making a child spend a day at learning at home, with very little to no parental supervision, probably vegged out in front of the television? This didn’t and still doesn’t make sense to me and now research is supporting my thoughts about suspensions. I just recently read an article or to be more precise, a study card for my principal license. The card went on to quote respected researchers stating how important it is to keep kids in school and that suspended students have a much larger chance to enter the “pipeline” to prison. Not a good thing.

Amy and I have spent a lot of time researching how best to deal with the most difficult students. We both realized early on through personal experience that building authentic relationships with these kiddos work best. But how can you do this if frankly, you just don’t like them? This is an important question and one that has to be looked at with honest eyes and an open mind. As educators we know we are all supposed to love working with kids….all kids. But sometimes it is very hard to remember that especially when you have an oppositional defiant youngster staring at you with hate and anger in her eyes. And, what about the ADHD kid how refuses to sit still and listen raptly as you go through the life cycle of a butterfly? Why don’t the see that you planned really hard to make sure your lesson was riveting and engaging? You even have a great idea for a hands on activity, but the child who’s parents are going through a horrible divorce just threw your premade example across the room. Well, you have to take a breath and realize that yes, these students are complete disruptions, and yes, they are destroying the flow of your classroom, and no you are not getting paid to wrangle tough customers or to train children to act the way they are supposed to. You certainly aren’t being reimbursed for the breakfast bars you keep in your closet for those children who come into your classroom in the morning tired and hungry. I get it, but you are getting paid to TEACH every students and frankly, you can’t do your job if you don’t believe every child can learn. Did you catch that??? You have to believe that EVERY child can learn and you have to realize that YOU are the person who has been chosen to do it.

In order to change your world around, you have to look at each child with fresh eyes. You have to see them as you see your own children, or the children you one day may have. You have to come to the realization that every single child is your responsibility for a lot of time during the day and unfortunately it’s not enough to just “try” to teach them. You have to teach them. This is why building strong relationships is so important. In order to get to most from each child, you have to instill trust. They have to believe that you believe in them and that you are willing to go to the mat for them. Then you have to get to know them. We are all unique. You, as a teacher, have to develop a strong understanding of the particular learning styles of each of your students, so you can tailor your lessons to meet their needs and interests. This is exhausting work and frankly hard, but at the end of the day you will feel successful, and you will feel accomplished.

As educators it’s our job to keep kids in school. This takes a lot of extra effort, but it’s worth it. Teaching is not easy, but you were meant to do this. So do it right.

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Grey Hair

I have grey hair. It’s true. If you know me well, you know that I have been going grey since I was in my early twenties. It’s been a lot of years of dying my hair, hiding roots, changing colors, and tweaking my highlights to figure out what hides my grey the best for the longest amount of time. Andrea, my hairdresser for over ten years can attest to this. My business alone has probably kept her in her size 0 jeans and adorable shirts. The truth is, I can’t hide my grey, not really, and certainly not for longer than two weeks. I have the fastest growing hair on record.

So why do I do it? Why do I, month after month, week after week, day after day, think about my grey? Why do I stare at the mirror and ask myself over and over if it’s worth it? Why do I question my family and friends and my poor husband for their opinions again and again? Why can’t I make the choice to just let it go grey? I literally sit in Mass every Sunday looking around the congregation staring at heads. “Look,” I say to myself, “she’s grey and she looks good.” Or it’s, “Would she look younger if her hair wasn’t grey?” But, does it really matter? Really? We are what we are? We look the way we look? I am 48, happily married, in a job that satisfies me, and have a family I adore. So why do I care so much? And more importantly, what messages am I passing down to my three girls?

Kids feel so much pressure today, and the thing is, I don’t know why? Most of the children I know, including my own, are deeply loved by their parents and are accepted for who and what they are. I can tell you that all of my daughters have suffered from anxiety at different times in their lives. I have been woken up late at night by one of them with something to confess, or to talk about something that is bugging them. I’ve reassured, hugged, cried, and laughed with them about their anxiety. Where is all this pressure coming from?

I don’t believe in high stakes testing. I don’t believe that all students are college bound, but I believe that if they want to go to college and succeed their, they can. I truly believe that all students can learn and can reach higher potentials than I can even imagine. I believe that all children are incredibly intelligent in their own ways and I believe that if we let them be who they are meant to be then their God given gifts and talents will come out and they will succeed. We need laborers, idea people, sales people, technicians, community representatives, construction workers, lawyers, teachers, artists, and builders. Why the pressure? Why not allow children to explore their interests, to find out what they are passionate about, and realize that they can work in a field that they love for a very long time.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. But what is perfect and who defines what perfect is? Shouldn’t we be looking at everyone as an individual and accept them for who they are, even if they have grey hair? As educators, instead of stressing over the upcoming tests, shouldn’t we be teaching our children that learning is what’s important, not how best to answer a multiple choice answer? I mean, really think about it….I have to take a test to earn a principal’s license in less than a month. The questions don’t has for the correct answer, but for the “best” answer. So what this means is that ALL the answers are correct, but someone has decided that one is MORE correct than the others. How is this fair? When have we decided that every situation that a principal faces is the same and the steps to solving complex problems involving people only has one best answer. It’s ridiculous and I can tell you that I have been stressed about this exam for over a year. If I feel this stressed about a high pressure test after doing a 455 page study guide, after buying a study guide and purchasing test practice cards and going over tests questions over and over again, just think how much a wreck a third grader is on the opening day of state tests. The idea to conform to the set beliefs of others is overwhelming. We can’t continue to do this to our children.

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My class has just finished a huge biography project that produced some amazing essays, speeches, and posters. I was pleasantly surprised at how hard they worked, how much they learned about each other’s person, and how they kept making sure their information was accurate. It was a long, messy, and time consuming process; but well worth the effort. Many of the characters came to life, for example Betsy Ross, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, and Jacqueline Kennedy to name a few. I am very proud of my students.

Being a teacher who likes project based learning, and might be slightly crazy, I thought it would be a great idea to introduce all of the components of graphic novels. So, for these two weeks before our spring break we are learning all about what it takes to create a great graphic novel. We are discovering the terminology, layouts, illustration techniques, and finally all of the elements of a novel.

We are now to the point where the students are creating their own. Wow, what a fabulous job they are doing. I was once again flabbergasted at their work. (Yes, I stuck that word in because they think it sounds funny).

I can’t wait to see the finished novels, I will post them on our TwoTeachersontheEdge Facebook page. This is what makes my job so much fun, the kids and watching their creativity come to life!

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