Sunday, June 27

Professional Development Race

I did it.  I didn’t think I could, but I did it. 
In the state of Pennsylvania, we are given five years to complete 180 credits/hours of continuing Professional Education.  This is my second time doing this and I should have known better to wait as long as I did.  (The deadline is this coming Wednesday, so I made it by three days.)

During the first time I had to do this, my school provided workshops and I earned 90 credit/hours quite easily.  Then, I finished the second 90 on my own.  I found on-line courses that I could take for free and met the requirement.

I wasn’t so fortunate this time.  My school only provided two courses in five years.  One was on “Handwriting without Tears,” which gave me 5.5 hours.  (That one was torture!) The second one was a character education course, which while interesting, no one in the school chose to use.  (That one gained me 3.00 hours.)  I work in a small private school, and we were basically told, “You are on your own.”  At the beginning of this month, I needed 171.5 hours.  Yep, panic time!

As a person who is compulsively organized, never late and always submits things early, this is completely out of character for me.  In my own defense, I did have the most challenging class this year (which I loved), sole responsibility for the yearbook, and the job of school photographer/videographer for the school website.  And, Pennsylvania wanted me to keep on learning? 

The good news is my school year ends the first week of June.  My challenge was to sign up for as many online courses as possible and get moving.  I did check out possible ways to extend the deadline, but I was only going to do that if absolutely necessary.  I have to admit, I wanted to see if I could pull this off.

For the last three and a half weeks, I have been taking courses on:
Connecting Reading and Writing
Differentiated Small Group Instruction
Developing Independent Readers
Effective Strategies Supporting Language Arts Instruction
Teaching in the 21st Century

I filled four binders, used two reams of paper and more printer ink than I can really afford.  (Oh, and the binders were the three inch size.)  The end result was an amazing collection of articles and work that I did.  And, I even learned quite a bit.  Was this the best way to do this?  Absolutely not.  Do I take responsibility for not managing my time better?  YES!  Am I grateful that I can read super-fast and process information so quickly?  You bet! 

In the midst of this, “Oh my… I will never finish.  Keep going.  You can do it!”  panic time,  I did write a few blogs and take a Twitter break.  When I re-read those blogs, I seem a little cranky.   Ahhh, now it all makes sense. 

This morning on the Pennsylvania Department of Education portal, it says I completed 188.50 credit/hours.  (I was determined to exceed the goal.) Now that I’m finished doing my happy dance, I can breathe.  Would I do it this way again?  I don’t think so.  Granted, it was my fault, but I like to learn and this felt more like a race. 

Thursday, June 24

A Twitter Break

This is the third week of my summer vacation.  For the first time in more years than I can count (remember?) I am taking the summer off.  Next week I will start tutoring a few of my favorite former students, but that is only because I want to do so.  The most remarkable thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve stopped talking. 

Now, this is not to say I’ve become mute or have some new medical condition.  Anyone who knows me would think the world had spun off of its axis if I actually stopped talking.  I’m just as healthy as always.  Yes, I am a chatty girl, but a silence has befallen me.  What this means is that I’ve stopped tweeting!

As a teacher who loves to learn, I spend a chunk of each day on-line reading articles, blogs and basically anything that will help me grow as a teacher.  Typically, I would read articles, tweet them and then engage in twitter conversations.  I worked really hard to develop, grow and engage my PLN (Personal Learning Network).  My Twitter relationships are important to me.  Unfortunately, I needed a Twitter break!

After a busy and stressful school year, I could not muster the energy to connect or even read anything related to teaching.  My brain is rebelling and screaming at me to take a break.  Although one of my columns on Tweetdeck is #ntcamp and I am so close to signing up, I'm not ready to commit to anything.  I am starting to worry about my lack of interest.

Each day I take a cursory look at Tweetdeck and my Twitter homepage and then I move on.  I’ve been reading books non-stop in a leisurely way.  (See earlier post on “The Summer Reading un-Challenge”.)  I’ve been organizing and de-cluttering my house, and reading many blogs that are not related to teaching.  It is more than peaceful.

This morning, I read, “What do teachers do all summer.”  This short little list in Teacher Magazine released me from guilt.  The title of the article drew me in and I couldn’t resist.  (See how effective a good title can be to the reader?) Many teachers seem to need a breather.   It’s OK to take a break!  While some continue to sample teacher blogs, many are using humor and wit to express their need for a break.  I loved the one about “conjuring up satirical lesson ideas from his pool” and “giving her hair a vacation.” I wonder how many teachers are also taking a Twitter break.

So, here’s my list of things to remember…
  •  A Twitter break can be healthy! 
  • The Twitterverse will keep spinning even if I fall behind on my tweets!
  • Participating for the sake of participating can be boring and self-indulgent. 
  • Twitter will most likely welcome me back when I have something worth saying.  Right now, I'm in quiet/reflective mode!
So, what are you doing to rejuvenate your teacher spirit?  Are you staying connected or are you taking a break?  Are you being kind to yourself?  I hope so!

Wednesday, June 16

The Summer Reading Un-Challenge

Now that the school year has ended (or is just about to end) for so many educators, we take a big breath and exhale.  We made it.  The stress leaves us and our shoulders are no longer stuck around our ears.  Breathe.  For many of us, it is a time to re-group and rejuvenate.  What are your plans?

I know what I won’t do: count books I read.  I’m fascinated by the number of summer reading challenges in my email, twitter and blog groups.  My summer reading is a time to sample, savor and simply read.  Maybe I had a particularly difficult year, but I just can’t face the pressure of tallying the number of books I finish.  I applaud those that are enthralled by the challenge.  I’m rooting for your success, and most importantly, I am not  judging.  I simply want an un-challenge.

Typically, I read too fast.  I also tend to read more than one book at once.  I usually keep books in various places throughout the house.  I’ve been banned (whohoo) from cooking because I would hold a book in one hand  and not pay attention to the overflowing pots.  (Boring.)  My goal for my summer reading is to slow down and let each word I read embrace and envelope me.  I don’t want to rush.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I adore Young Adult Fiction and the books I’m reading are breathtaking.  My TBR (To Be Read) pile is enormous and varied.  It is filled with fiction, non-fiction, and books on teaching.  I have a collection of book markers and sticky notes that hold my place in many of the books.  I have a buffet of book delicacies.

Recently I attended my first Un-conference, Edcamp Philly and felt an excitement for learning that I haven’t felt in years.  What made it so unique is that the typical “conference” rules were thrown out and educators had choices.  (Imagine that in your classroom!)  I love that I was in charge of my learning for the day.  I’ve decided that my summer reading will be a Un-challenge.  I will read and not count how many books I finish.  I will read simply because it is what I do.  I will not be intimidated by the book counts that others produce.  I will allow myself to un-self-consciously jump from book to book because it is what I choose to do.

If you need me, I’m sitting in the sunshine with a pile of books.  

Sunday, June 13

A Perfect Way to Choose Summer Reading!

One of the first things on my summer “to do” list was a trip to the book store.  Some of my very savvy class parents knew that a gift card was the perfect end of the year gift.  I couldn’t wait to go spend it, although I knew I would go well over the amount.  Doesn’t everyone?

Although I have spent the last few years in lower grades, I have an addiction to Young Adult Fiction.  So, my first stop was the summer reading tables.  I love that the local book stores stock the required reading of the surrounding schools.  I couldn’t wait to visit old “friends” and look for new ones.  Can you picture me rubbing my hands together, ready to attack?

Suddenly, I looked up and saw the most unexpected sight!  Two of my former students were walking toward me.  Of course, they were so engaged in conversation that they didn’t see me.  My plan was to just stand there until they recognized me.  I knew what would happen next.  The pre-teen squeal that is unique to their age filled the store.  (OK, I did it too!)  After hugs and shock over their height increase, they whipped out their summer reading lists.  These girls were my students for three years because of looping.  To say my attachment to them is deep is an understatement.  This was my first year without them and I loved every update they provided throughout the year.

It seemed natural that we would dive in and start looking at the books and the list together.  They attend a very prestigious private school and the list was seven pages long.  It was filled with classics as well as recent popular authors’ titles.  They were a little overwhelmed by the list, so I suggested they look for books that attracted their attention and then, check to see if it were on the list.  If they found a book that they were excited about but it wasn’t on the list, they could contact the school to see if it were acceptable.  This plan was just what we needed to get started.

Their arms quickly filled with Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Number the Stars, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and Margaret Petterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden.  We also included a new one that I just finished: Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.  All of us were intrigued by the two view point approach to Flipped by Wendelin Van Draaen.  Our excitement and giggles were not exactly noise appropriate for a quiet book store, but no one shushed us.
At one point, one of the girls shared that she had just finished reading Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan.  When we couldn’t find the book, she confidently went to the help counter and eloquently explained what she was looking for and asked for help.  Was this the same little girl I had in first grade who was too shy to raise her hand?  Who was this poised and self-assured young lady?

I drifted away to talk to the Mom who had brought them and we watched them from a distance.  I was in awe by the grace and maturity these girls displayed.  I was flooded with memories of helping them not only learn how to read but teaching them how to make inferences, draw conclusions, summarize, and most importantly, love reading.   I felt deeply grateful that I was a part of their academic journey.  I was their teacher. 

By the way, we all promised to email and keep in contact about our summer reading.

Wednesday, June 9

The First Teacher

I always knew I would have a little girl named Sam.  I imagined her with hair to her waist, delicate and breezy.  I knew if I were patient enough, she and I would meet.  I couldn’t wait, but she was 18 days late.

After time in the intensive care unit due to some complications, and me carrying on like a maniac, they brought her to me.  How do you fall so deeply in love with someone you just met?  I promised her I would be her teacher.

From the beginning, I started teaching.  Now, do not confuse this with an over-zealous, flash card showing intensity.  My goal was to teach her that the world was a safe place.  I wanted her to feel fearless and confident.  I wanted to surround her with experiences and opportunities to shine. 

Each day I spent raising this amazing human being was joyful.  Sam exceeded every expectation.  No matter what I showed her, she not only learned, she explored more deeply.  She was inquisitive, intuitive and imaginative. 

Today is Sam’s 23rd birthday.  Raising her has made me realize, she was my teacher.  She showed me how to look at the world in a new way.  I continue to learn from her each day.

When I first fantasized about being her mother, I thought I would be her first and most important teacher.  I was wrong.  She was my best teacher.

Sunday, June 6

My Big Secret - Teacher Clutter

So, this year when school ended, I decided to clean out my classroom.  Everything that was mine was coming home.  It took three trips.  What have I done?

To begin with, I already have shelves and shelves of teacher resources stored in my basement.  It is a finished basement with three separate rooms.  Last summer I organized and put everything in plastic containers.  I did an OK job – not my usual standard of organizational mania.  I was told to get everything out of cardboard and off the floor, since we have had flooding issues.  (We now have three sump pumps, with a battery backup – don’t ask!)

Over the course of three days, I brought home mountains and mountains of teaching treasures.  It took 20 canvas tote bags, numerous crates and boxes and a plethora of baskets and containers.   I did more cardio than I ever thought I could running up and down the steps. 

Of course, the first step was Target!  More containers!  (I think I missed my calling and should work in a container store.)  I have sorted some of the piles and now, I categorize and classify.  Then, I will call a self-help group for my pen addiction.  Can a person ever have too many colored pens?

As a teacher who has taught every grade, I have enough resources to  fill a warehouse.  I couldn’t possibly choose which to remove from the collection.  What if I needed it one day?  The irony of this is that I am known as a person who does not have any clutter in my house or in my classroom.  I am compulsively organized.  This is my big dark secret.  Shhh…I have too much teaching stuff.

I’m off to organize.  If you don’t hear from me, I may be lost under a mountain of bulletin board trim.  

Friday, June 4

The Dream Team at #edcamp Philly

I am a teacher! What I do and say are being absorbed by young minds who will echo these images across the ages.  My lessons will be immortal, affecting people yet unborn, people I will never see of know.  The future of the world is in my classroom today, a future with the potential for good or bad.  The pliable minds of tomorrow’s leaders will be modeled either artistically or grotesquely by what I do.  Author Unknown

Today is the first day of summer break.  It has been a long week and I am feeling overwhelmingly discouraged.

The quote above helped me realize a few things.

I love being a teacher.  I value this profession and treasure the time I spend developing this calling.  I’ve started analyzing why I feel so out of sorts.

I’ve come realize that there is a difference between frustration from teaching and frustration from venue.  I went to #edcamp Philly in May and was so inspired by what I learned that I haven’t been able to look at my current school environment the same way.  The educators I met and observed at this un-conference were my dream team!  These passionate professionals’ agenda was simple: learning and sharing.  If felt as though I had a sneak peek into a secret society where altruism and generosity were the norm.  Yes, Twitter educators and my PLN were re-lighting my fire for teaching this past year, but this was tangible, visceral and in the flesh! Almost three weeks later, the gift of #edcamp Philly still resonates and is my catalyst for change.

I teach in a place that does not embrace technology, let alone new ideas.  I am starved for leadership and growth.  My ideas are frowned upon and dismissed. 

As I begin this summer, I know I do not want to stop teaching.  It is becoming clearer to me that my discouragement is due to location, not profession.  So, as a teacher who loves to learn, it is time for me to look at things in a new way.

That is what learning is.  You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.  Doris Lessing

Tuesday, June 1

Imagination is Fundamental!

Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein.

Imagination. It is very important to me and a huge part of who I am.  How do you define it? How do we inspire it in our students? When I went to Wikipedia, I found this:

Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through sight, hearing or other senses. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world….

I was pretty much skimming the words until the last sentence. Then, I was hooked. This was the perfect definition: Imagination is fundamental!

I’m one of those people who can remember vividly using my imagination throughout my childhood.  I was stunned to learn that others did not have magical friends to keep them company and share secrets.

When I was in elementary school, the playground was surrounded by overgrown forsythia, weeping willows and an assortment of overgrown shrubs. There was a group of us that had magical adventures underneath the covered weeds and brush. We may not have had a wardrobe to travel through like the Pevensie children in Narnia, but sneaking away from the blacktop was the highlight of every day for months – until we were caught and had to do the time.

As a teacher, one of my greatest accomplishments is when I inspire a love of reading. The success is doubled when I foster imagination, too. My favorite starting point is Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Somehow this breathtaking author peeked inside my memories and captured my favorite place. I never know when I will bring it out, but I always have it ready for the right “teachable” moment. Roxaboxen can only be found when you look in the right place.

This year my third graders were having a poetry lesson and the moment presented itself. They were asking the wrong questions and I knew we were getting off track. It was time. The right mood was set – the kids know when I’m about to share a personal story. I told them about the secret place behind the playground.  They loved the part about me getting in trouble. 

Then, I read Roxaboxen and when I reached the end, the mood was electric. (I admit I am a bit dramatic.) As soon as I finished, I read it again. They loved this! Next, I asked them to see if they could find Roxaboxen at recess and at home.  For many, they were bursting with goose bumps and couldn’t wait to share magical details. Admittedly, not everyone jumped on the imagination bandwagon, but it was a good start.

The next day many of the students were sharing stories about the various Roxaboxen places they had found.  It was becoming contagious and spreading to other grades. Everyone wanted to visit Roxaboxen. I passed the book to a few colleagues who read it to their students. This one word acted as a catalyst for imaginary play. Back in the classroom we segued into a discussion about the importance of using visualization, schema and prior knowledge while reading.

At this point, some might expect me to include a list of great books that inspire imagination. I disagree. When my students choose books from the classroom library, I do not give directions such as, “Find a book that inspires your imagination.” I let their imaginations, interests and desires guide them. My job is to share and inspire, and then let them soar on their own imagination wings. Hopefully, they will take a piece of Roxaboxen with them and remember that imagination is fundamental and helps us make sense of the world.

Have you visited Roxaboxen lately?