Thursday, June 30, 2016

Worry vs. Fear

I opened a fortune cookie several years ago that read, "The opposite of fear is love."  I have pondered this fortune often over the years, applying it to several situations in an effort to better understand the actions and words of others.  Nine times out of ten, I agree with this statement.  I have accepted that people act and speak in ways that hurt others because they fear any multitude of things.  I used to think the opposite of love was hate but isn't hate really based on fear?

This fortune holds a different meaning for me this week.  This week I fear because I love.  My children are vacationing in England with their father and stepmother.  They fly home soon.  Given the international events of the past week, how can I not worry?  Hearing about a bombing at an airport in Istanbul doesn't make me too eager to have my children at a major international airport, even if it means they are coming home.  I know they are safe with their father.  I trust he will protect them and keep them safe at all costs.  But I also know that this kind of thing isn't something one can prevent, avoid or protect from.

So then I ask myself, "Is this a realistic fear?"  I wonder that often.  What is considered a reasonable, realistic fear when it comes to being a mother?  I remember when my son was in the early years of riding his bike around our small neighborhood.  The only traffic on our road is that of people who live here.  It is a dead-end street and everyone who lives here knows that children are out and about so they drive cautiously.  I appreciate this tremendously.  Still, in those first years when I walked or rode with him I would feel a pit of panic in my stomach as he rode closer to a corner.  Would an oncoming car see him in time?  Would he pull off the road and stop like he was taught?  I choked back a scream that held his name every time we approached a corner.  I didn't want to startle him or impose my worries on him.  But really, how does a mother not worry...All. The. Time?

Worry.  Fear.  I know they are very different, perhaps at different points on a spectrum.  I worry that the bus will forget to drop off my daughter at the end of the school day.  I worry that my children will be hurt or injured and I won't be there to comfort them.  I fear outliving my children.  So is this airport issue a worry or a fear?  All I know is that I cannot wait for my babies to be safe and sound at home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Writers...Summer Not...Yet

Writing is my least favorite thing to teach.  I am trying to change my belief that writing is not for everyone, that not everyone needs to know how to write a memoir or a powerful personal narrative.  I do believe that everyone needs to know how to express their thoughts, ideas and opinions.  But I am also stuck in the belief that writing is the best way for teachers to assess how well students are able to show their thinking.  So often I say, "we can't really measure how well a student comprehends what s/he reads because we are really assessing how well they can write about what s/he reads.

I do believe that there is an important connection between reading and writing and that learning how to do one well will increase interest, appreciation and skill in the other.  Strong writers are strong readers.  I have yet to see proof that strong readers are strong writers, but I'm not giving up yet.  Writing takes time, and patience, and stamina.  In a world where information is at our fingertips, thoughts are fleeting and words on the tip of our tongues, writing, real writing, just isn't something students want to take the time to do.  For students, writing is a subject in school, a product that is scored.  I don't want it to be this way anymore.

I am working on my own vision of writing in my classroom; where I am nurturing, coaching, and growing writers.  I know that to really be able to do this, I have to be a writer myself.  I have the summer ahead of me to work toward this goal.  I've outlined a few steps and write them here in hopes that posting them will make me hold myself accountable to them.  Writing them down makes them real.

  • I will keep a writer's notebook, just like I ask my students to do.
  • I will write every day.
  • I will collect memories, ideas, opinions, questions, mental images, quotes, anything that I can jot on the pages of my notebook. 
  • I will revisit my belief that writing is not for everyone and see how I feel about that in August.
This fall, when I return to my classroom with my new group of students I will have grown as a writer and will be better prepared to support them as writers.  I will.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Step By Step

When my children are at their father's house they are mothered by his wife.  I have always been grateful for this.  She is kind.  She is nurturing.

She loves my children differently than I do.  Hers is not the love that grew from their hearts beating beneath hers, from fluttery (and not so fluttery) kicks, from 2:00am feedings, or from first smiles and first steps.  But her love is just as strong.  Her love was not at first sight.  But her love is just as unconditional.  I know this to be true because I know this kind of love.

I officially became a stepmother two years ago tomorrow.  These two sweet girls quickly claimed a piece of my heart even before I married their father. On our wedding day, I vowed to them to always keep their hearts safe, to provide them the strength of family and the security of a happy, loving home.

What has been the most powerful and most special is that I have watched the love between my step-daughters and I grow over time.  My own children loved me at first because they needed me.  My step-daughters liked me first, then they trusted me, then they loved me.  They didn't have to.  They chose to.  And I did too.

Their developmental milestones are precious stories shared in reminiscent tones. I treasure them like I do memories of my own children.  Third person.  First person.  The perspective is the only difference. They are children of my heart, though not of my womb.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Forest and the Trees

There are times when the day-in-day-out routine, working in my classroom, teaching my students, causes me to narrow my vision of education. I become focused on the here and now, what am I teaching right now, are my students learning, what do I need to do to lift their learning and better meet their needs.  It's almost like tunnel vision and it causes me to feel very small in the difference I make and the role I play in the lives of my two handfuls of students.

And then I step out of my classroom and engage in conversations with other teachers, my colleagues, teachers in other schools, in other districts, and my view widens, my vision sharpens.  I can once again see the forest and the trees.  My bucket is topped off.  I am rejuvenated, refreshed, and so eager to move closer to that vision.

Never underestimate the power of conversation and collaboration, of stepping out of your classroom so that you are replenished when you step back in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

One More Thing

The end of my day usually consists of reviewing student work, lesson planning, meetings, spending time with the kids, managing their activities, getting dinner in there somewhere...and now, for the past few weeks, typing up my daily blog entry for this challenge.

As the evening draws to a close, my husband always asks, "What do you have left to do?"  My answer is usually, "Gotta do my blog entry."  He has always called me "Miss One More Thing" because I'm the one that switches over the laundry, checks to make sure all the lights are off, and loads the dishwasher after I tell him I'm ready to go.  To him I'm sure this writing challenge is "one more thing." But he has been supportive and encouraging, not once commenting that I could just skip one night to spend this time with him instead.  He waits patiently for his turn, when the kids are settled in bed and all my other work is done, and I've typed up my blog entry for the day.  This kind of support is appreciated more than I could ever adequately express.

I know the profession I have chosen demands a lot of my time.  I miss my own children's open house or field days to attend those for the school at which I teach.  I miss the occasional cross-country meet to have parent-teacher conferences with my students' parents.  My school work bleeds into my home life all the time.  And he remains supportive. He encourages me to be my best self and knows that to do that, I have to give 110%.  He makes it so I have that extra 10% to give.

So, my blog entry for today is done.  My school work is done.  It's his turn now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Tapestry of Stories

The highlight today, the "slice" I will cherish, occurred this evening.  My parents stopped by to join us in celebrating my husband's birthday.  The conversation was a sweet as the cake from which my husband blew out his candles.  We shared stories, memories, from childhood.  The best part was hearing the same stories from different perspectives.  What it was like for my brother and I to surf down the stairs on a twin size mattress (so fun!), leaving blue streaks on the newly wallpapered walls (so frustrating!) The time I stepped out of a stream to find a leech on my ankle (terrifying!) and mom trying to get me to stop trying to shake it off so she could remove it (hilarious!) Mom and dad coming home to find my brother and I drying the furniture with hair dryers after the water fight that occurred in their absence (We're going to get in so much trouble!/What in the world are you two doing?) My step-daughters shared stories. My parents shared stories. My husband shared stories.  I shared stories.  The common threads of these memories wove together. Six ropes spliced together. United.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Thoughts on PD

A fellow blogger and participant in the Two Writing Teachers "Slice of Life" writing challenge posted questions on the topic of Professional Development.  I feel inclined to answer them to help her gather input for a blog she will be posting later and...they're just really good questions that made me really think about PD, especially the rights and responsibilities.  My responses to those two questions are brief but I am still rolling thoughts around in my head about them.
~What was your best experience with PD and why? A few summers ago my school district hosted a week long PD to get us started using the Lucy Calkins writing program.  The facilitators from the Teachers' College at Columbia University guided participants through the workshop model and helped us get our feet under us as we prepared to "go live" with this program when school started in a  handful of weeks.  Putting myself in my students' shoes, as a learner in the writing workshop and as a reluctant writer, allowed me to see the effectiveness of this teaching model.  I was engaged and stimulated consistently throughout the entire week.  The fact that my colleagues attended with me was an added bonus.  We were able to chat during breaks and lunch which enriched the experience.  The best PD includes opportunities to interact, engage, actively participate with other equally invested teachers.
~What was your worst PD experience and why? A large handful of years ago I sat at a table in my school cafeteria, listening to someone talk to us about best practices in classroom instruction.  One key point was that direct instruction should last no longer than 15 minutes in order to keep students engaged.  Basically, after 15 minutes students will start tuning out.  Ironically, we sat for 2 solid hours with no break and no opportunity to turn and talk or process in any way.  If the intention was to prove that direct instruction should not last more than 15 minutes at a time, then it was a very successful PD.
~What are the ingredients or components to an effective PD session? Interesting, relevant content.  Opportunities for teachers to actively participate.  Time for teachers to process content when a lot is presented.
~What are some rights of classroom teachers when it comes to PD? Teachers should get to choose the PD opportunities in which they participate.
~What are some responsibilities of classroom teachers when it comes to PD? Teachers should share what they gain from PD, especially if they are one of few teachers in their school who attended.  What is gained from the PD experience should be implemented when the teacher is ready.  There is little point in attending PD if you're not going to use what you learn.  A teacher is also responsible for selecting appropriate PD that will improve student learning.
~Should all teachers experience the same PD or should it be differentiated based on where teachers are in their understanding and practice? We differentiate for our students because they are at different places in their learning.  Why wouldn't we do the same for teachers?  I see no reason to have skilled teachers sit through PD that doesn't lift their learning and improve their practice.  Just like I see no reason to have new teachers try to implement new strategies without having foundational understanding of the content.  Differentiation is an effective way to engage learners and increase knowledge and skills.  It doesn't make sense to teach teachers using something other than the best practices we use to teach students.