Lighten Up and Laugh

Last night I participated in a Twitter chat. I still do not fully understand how it all works, but I comment and retweet. The chat was an educational one, go figure, and the entire set of questions were about engaging students and getting them to love literary as much as teachers do. The discussion focused on the connection between enjoying reading and the desire to want to write; yes, the dreaded writing issue.

There were many great ideas but as I added my 2 cents worth I realized it all comes down to this. It depends on how the teacher is able to motivate, inspire, connect, and build relationships with their students. (We may have blogged on this before, like 68 times).

I currently go with my gut instinct. This approach works much better for me. I never make a reluctant reader read aloud unless he/she volunteers, I never make a student read their writing in front of the class unless he/she wants to, (unless we are grading on a speaking and presenting standard and they are well aware ahead of time).  I do not compare a struggling student to a high performing student because these things hurt and demoralize, not motivate.

Now, most of my current students love to read and want to write. There are a few that really need me to get them started and stay close during the process. They are still independent but they get stuck. They need some reassurance and I give it to them. These are usually the students who cause class disruptions and fight me on everything, but they come around with patience and those small academic wins. This is not that difficult to do. I just do it, it is not rocket science, as my friend Vicki Petrella likes to say.

My former students, who were not native English speakers, struggled with writing. It was so confusing and frustrating to them. Every time they thought they had the grammar or spelling correct the rule changed. We ended up with some great pieces of writing from these amazing students. They put in the effort because they knew we were all learning together. It was safe to try.

Lori and I always wonder if we are doing enough, if we are in the right place, if we are making a difference; I think all of us in education tend to reflect this way, or should. I feel pretty good when I start to reflect. I get Facebook messages from students I taught years ago. Some actually tell me about how school is going. Lori and  I also get emails and the occasional comment on this webpage from students. They think it is a hoot that we have a webpage and always want us to write about them. Ironically, we always write about them. They are all we think about.

So, if you are an educator who is struggling with burnout or lack of enthusiasm, change it up, do what feels right inside, laugh every single day with your students, don’t be a curmudgeon.  They will read, they will write, they will attempt those difficult math problems, if you enjoy teaching and authentically develop those relationships. Kids are hysterical, how fun to be surrounded by kids all day, what a great job we have! 


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Dreams Come True

We all have dreams. Some dreams are bigger than others. It’s our job as educators to work extremely hard to make kids’ dreams and aspirations come true.

Some of you may know that I am a big “So You Think You Can Dance” fan. I absolutely love it. The feelings that these talented people evoke through movement are astounding. The control, the depth, the range that they have is truly inspiring. I cry during more episodes than I don’t and I know that’s silly, but I just can’t help it. As my girls and I watch the show, out of the corner of my eye I can see them watching me closely. “What’s going to set me off?” they wonder. I don’t know to tell you the truth. I just get blown away.

When I think about education, when I really think about what great teachers and dedicated school leaders can do, I tend to get teary eyed too. I feel so strongly about what I do and the impact I know each educator can have on a child, that sometimes I choke up. The responsibility is so great. Research has proven this fact over and over.

The last year I was in a classroom, somehow I found myself in charge of the eighth grade play. Don’t ask me how, but all of a sudden I was a director. Many of the students were in my 8th grade language arts class and I had taught them in previous years, well some I taught from fifth all the way until they graduated from our school. I knew they had talent and I knew each one of those students so well I had faith that they could make that play something special. I decided to handpick my crew, my goal was that by the end of the rehearsals that the students I had chosen would run the play all by themselves. I would step back and let them lead. I have to admit that at times the process was pretty darn painful. I had high expectations and I knew how I wanted the play to look to the audience. We had so many practices during school and some crew members decided to stay after school to work on sound, lighting, curtain, and props.

When the performance came I planned to sit in the audience and to let them fly, but I couldn’t. Not because the crew didn’t have things under control, but because I was bawling like a baby. It was ridiculous. Two of my students had to make a seat backstage for me, hand me a box of Kleenex and tell me to just keep it down. It seems they knew me pretty well too. Those kids made me so proud. The play went on without a hitch. (I have to add that the props were great too because Amy was in charge of those.) I felt so lucky just sitting there watching these talented, brave, and intelligent children. They rose to the challenge and made my dream come through. They succeeded.

Dreams are funny things. Some are challenging while others are just plain wishful. But, it doesn’t really matter because as teachers it is our job to do everything we can to make sure our students’ dreams come true. It may be really hard sometimes, but when their dreams come true, ours do too.


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In Mourning

I think I’ve been in mourning for over a year and now I am finally crawling out of that dark place. I didn’t have any idea that I was suffering. I mean, I knew that I felt loss, but I just couldn’t figure out why. I thought that maybe I was going through a bit of a mid life crises, after all I’m 48…and a half. My greys are getting harder, if not impossible, to fight off. My oldest turned twenty and my middle is going into her senior year. I feel…well frankly, fat and quite yucky. I look in the mirror and see my mother at my age and although no one in this world could possibly love and admire her mother more, it is rather a shock when you look in the mirror and realize that you have become your mother. Not only those things, but our publisher has gone down in flames and we only have half of our series published. But, I don’t think any of that is the reason for this funk I’ve been feeling. I think I have been in mourning. Not for the loss of a loved one, but strangely enough, for the loss of the school I had been a part of for eight years.

People say a job is a job, and it is, sort of. I mean, I had to wake up ridiculously early, drive thirty minutes, plan creative and challenging lessons, grade countless papers, spend a fair amount of my own money, and teach both difficult and amazing students. I had to fight for my students on a daily basis and a had to feel exhausted, frustrated, exhilarated, and crazed every single day. I mean, I was a teacher and a dedicated one to boot. I was in a school that demanded a lot from me. Many of my students needed support, the principal asked a lot from everyone, and I had to be at the top of my game every day because the teachers around me were phenomenal. I grew very close to my staff, but that didn’t mean I was never angry. I took my turn crying and railing and yelling and Amy and I would complain and curse and scream in the van to and from work. I mean that school was hard work. But man, I felt like I was accomplishing something huge. I was making a difference. I was advocating for my students’ right for a great education and for a future.

There were many things at that school that drove me crazy, it was “work” after all. But it was home. Every time I walked through those doors I was exactly where I wanted to be. The smell, the feel, the volume was just…it. I laughed every single day. I was allowed to be loud and crazy. I expected to be teased mercilessly on a daily basis. My hair was the center of conversation and my singing was ridiculed, but it was okay because those people were my family. They knew I was there day after day for those kids. The students were why our world spun. Every decision we made, every extra effort we put into our work, every hour we stayed after our contracted work day was okay because everything we did was for the kids. We were in it together. And then with one decision made by someone who should not have the power to make such and important decisions ended that. Our family broke up. We all scattered and the world we created, the world me cherished, the world we lived for crumbled. It was and continues to be devastating.

I am now a full time administrator and I feel that I made the right choice in leaving when I did. I made the same decision that many of my school family members made. We saw the writing on the walls and we made the extremely difficult decision to leave, to break away, to flee. It was the right decision, but it wasn’t easy.

I moved on. I did what I had to do. Little be little I’m letting it go. I am searching for my passion again. I’ve missed it… you know that feeling of strong purpose. I have learned a lot this year. I’ve grown as an educator. I’ve had to leave my comfort zone and stretch myself. In the midst of my loss I had to concentrate on finishing up my work on my principal’s license and I had to get used to a brand new job that didn’t really resemble anything like I had done in the past. These responsibilities kept me focused and although from time to time I would let myself go under, I didn’t have time to focus on my hurt and on my loss. I couldn’t let myself drop the ball and feel sad. I know it sounds crazy, I mean, it was just a job, but it was so much more. But, now that I know I’ve been in mourning I feel like my footing is returning. I know now what’s been wrong with me. I can now get over it and move on.

My loss is so small compared to others, I know that and I think that was one of the reasons I didn’t realize I was in mourning. I am grateful for all I have. I know I am very lucky for so many reasons. But I also know that I was very lucky when we had our old school because not many people get to go to work every day with their family. We were blessed.


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Saving Lives

My dad is a pharmacist and for awhile he worked at a prison. This was after he retired and he had the opportunity for a some extra income. He worked at the prison pharmacy just a few hours a week and when he didn’t, well, he was golfing and cooking, and sitting in the barber shop. My mom would see him leaving and she would ask him, “Where are you going?” His response was always the same….”I’m going to save lives.” My mom would chuckle, because he actually meant it. You see, my father felt, and still feels, that his job was to catch the doctor’s mistakes. Some doctors prescribe a drug that could have negative interactions with medications the patient is already taking. He/pharmacists are in the background and they still save lives.

Teaching and educating the youth in our country/world is the same. Strong and knowledgeable educators save lives. You may think I’m being metaphorical, but I can assure you that I am being quite literal. Think about it.

Interacting with children everyday makes your role in their lives extremely important. Children are impressionable. The way a teacher talks, speaks and acts can have a profound effect on a student. Some educators may not realize this, and in fact, they may choose to ignore this because it puts too much pressure on them. I mean, some people want to come into a classroom, share their knowledge, have the children do the work, then leave for the day. They want to stop thinking about the kids, about the job, about the weight of what they are doing, but, if you are a true educator, down in your soul, this is impossible. You can’t teach without taking care. You can’t spread a love of discovery and thoughtfulness, and ingenuity without connecting with the students. Without a true connection to the boys and girls sitting in seats in the room where you work, well you might as well be a computer program because people can learn material from just about anything or anyone, but they can only live the material, ingest the material, and expand on the material when someone inspires them. And this, folks, is a huge responsibility.

Everyday I walk into school a little bit tired, a bit annoyed, and sometimes even grumpy. I want to huff and puff my frustration and I would just love to turn my back and walk away from the drama, you know, after I tell someone off really well. But I don’t. It’s strange really. As soon as the bell rings and when that first baby walks around the bend or out of the bus, I smile. I can’t help it. I hug, I tease, I prod, I cheer, and I sing every single day. The children in my care know that I am there for them so if they have a problem, well, they know I’m there to listen. And I do listen, and nod, and share, and sometimes even cry with them. I rejoice when they are brilliant and I get angry when I fail them. I take responsibility for their woes and I feel pride when they aspire. The kids know I enjoy them because they are the reason I do this. I will always try my best with each of them. I will always listen. I will always hear. And, I will always do whatever it takes to meet their needs. Why? Because every day I enter my school….I save lives.


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