Slice of Life Tuesdays: July 4th and Freedom, and Hope

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For me, July 4th brings complicated feelings this year. I’ve been out of sorts all day. Although it’s a day of celebration, it’s also a day of remembrance, thankfulness, and prayer. Watching current national news makes me feel ill, and yet when I read tweets and posts of my friends and family working hard to resist the gloom-and-doom, I have hope.

I am celebrating my freedom to speak and write.

I ran across several tweets today from Laura Ruby, author of York: The Shadow Cipher, a book I just finished reading (and loved). Her words brought to mind my own mouthiness (is that a word?) — speaking up against the cruel and insane people who think our country is now a better place than it was last year. I have friends and family who are gay, poor, and disabled. My own daughters and I have medical issues that need constant monitoring. I fear for the future, for my family’s future. I have no right to feel this way, while many people still do not enjoy these freedoms. It burns me up when I see and hear inequalities in life. As a white woman with a traditional family, I have no right to enjoy all this freedom while others don’t. But I have the freedom to speak and write. I need to use it more. I will; I promise. I feel blessed to have so many friends and family who support me, who read with me, and who write with me. I am able to say and do what I need to do without much backlash or fear. I feel lucky. 

Laura Ruby wrote about her own medical diagnosis and struggles with a person at a hotel who asked her questions about why she was upset and afraid after the last election. She was able to speak, and later write, about this incident. I am inspired by her spirited tweets. I don’t feel alone in the world — I know people like Laura are out there with me, being mouthy and telling their stories. She mentioned how she felt moved, hearing John Lewis’s acceptance speech for winning the National Book Award (for March: Book Three – part of a wonderful trilogy about his own experiences with civil rights issues), and how his words put so much into perspective for her. John Lewis couldn’t get a library card because of the color of his skin. He dreamed, and fought, and wrote his story to share with us. As I re-read his words today, I feel lucky.

I am celebrating my freedom to read and to learn.

As a teacher, it is my job to use my mouthiness to inspire a new generation of thinkers and learners who will carry on this struggle for independence. It’s not easy — it’s really hard. I appreciate my students’ needs, hopes, and dreams, and I want to hear what they have to say. It’s my job to introduce them to books — reading — that will expand their minds and hearts. It’s my job to teach them to write their stories, so that others can be inspired by them as much as I have been inspired. I am lucky. 

I am celebrating my freedom to teach.

July 4th is Independence Day. I don’t have to worry about looking different (as in un-American), buying what I need (and want), or living with people I love. I have excellent healthcare coverage (for now) and a wonderful job. I don’t fear leaving my neighborhood to do the daily tasks I need to do. It’s not fair. July 4th means freedom for me, and I am celebrating my hope for the future, just as others are still being oppressed. I wonder what I can do. I hope future citizens of America will be as lucky as I am.

Laura Ruby wrote, “Protest. Run for office. Create art.” I love that! Those freedoms exist, although many still have to struggle and fight for those freedoms. I want to help. Today, I’m not sure what good I’ll do. For me, this July 4th brings complicated feelings. Ms. Ruby inspires me, saying, “Make all the noise you can. We are our own best hope.” I am lucky. 

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Reflections

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anniversaryflowers050614I was just staring at the beautiful flowers my husband had delivered to my school today. Anniversary flowers are so beautiful! So sweet! I looked through the enormous wide-bowl, clear glass vase to check the water level and saw reflections of light everywhere. Then I was thinking about multiple meaning words (a focus of discussion in class) like “reflection.”

reflection (noun): the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound, without absorbing it.

reflection (noun): serious thought or consideration.  (Definitions provided by Google.)

Reflection of light — the tiny pictures along my dining room wall, on the table, through the glass. So intricate! So beautiful! I am enjoying my day, this weekday anniversary that might have otherwise been boring. (School night — I have to get to bed early, you see.) The reflections make me think I am dreaming.

Reflection — thinking. It seems I have used reflection quite a bit lately, thinking of how my life is going during the “middle ages” (notice I did NOT capitalize here — I don’t want anyone to think “Dark Ages” — Ha!), about how my students are doing during this “ISTEP testing week” (almost done!), and about how I need to set some new goals for the summer and beyond. Again, dreaming — of the past, present, and future.

I hope your day provides you with reflections of beauty and joy, as well! Have a great week.

Day 30: SOLSC Slice of Life Story Challenge

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GRATEFUL for my new friends at SOLSC

G is for the GRAVITATIONAL pull of the SOLSC network. You kept me going. When I fell, I got back up. I kept writing, because my SOLSC pals pulled me towards them.

R is for REVEALING myself to new people, and for REFLECTING on my life as a mom, daughter, teacher, and human being.

A is for APPLE. Just because, “an apple a day keeps the teachers at play.” Right?

T is for TECHNOLOGY that I am learning to use because of this project, and for TIME to do what I’ve always wanted.

E is for EXCITING new stories to tell. I’m also giving a virtual “high-five” to my EXCELLENT SOLSC team of leaders who organize this event every year. Thanks!

F is for FUNDAMENTALS — I will use this writing experience to become a better writer and teacher.

U is for ULTIMATE goals! My goal is to become a published writer, so writing every day gave me the chance to experience my dream!

L is for LEARNING. Oh, that’s the ultimate goal — yes! For me, for my students. My time with this SOLSC project helped me to renew my faith in the learning process.

Thank you everyone at SOLSC! It was nice meeting you all, and sharing stories with you. Keep in touch!

 

Day 24: SOLSC Slice of Life Story Challenge

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Indiana says “No More to the Common Core”

Today has been a struggle. Indiana has “officially withdrawn from the Common Core reading and math standards that were adopted by most states around the country” (WSBT 22 News, 03/24/14).  I don’t know if I liked the Common Core. I don’t know if my students would have passed the PARCC. We never got the chance to try.

What’s frustrating is that Indiana was a leader in pushing the PARCC, Common Core, and spent “Bookoo” dollars and time encouraging us teachers to stretch our students into higher level thinking and learning. We were “trained” in the history of Common Core, and told, “this is the wave of the future.” Students would be driven to “read closely” and spend time on tackling argumentative and informational texts, and teachers (in my grade) were told to use fiction sparingly, to meet the new standards.  We were to get ready for the PARCC (the standardized assessment that would replace ISTEP) and beware of the consequences if we weren’t ready. We don’t want our schools to fail — we took the bait. Many teachers took all the hype to heart, even worrying that they would lose their jobs if they were not evaluated as “effective teachers” under Common Core. No one wants to be ineffective.

Well, now the Common Core is mute in Indiana. I am left to wonder, “What next?” What standards will we use to identify students who are below, at, and above grade level? How will the curriculum change? How will teaching life change (again)? Will our students succeed under whatever new plan our state government creates?

For now, all I can do is my best: read aloud to my class, teach skills and strategies I know I’ve used to become a better reader and writer, and re-create the best lessons from the twenty years of practice I have under my belt. I will continue to teach my students to read, write, and think. It’s time to move forward. Let’s go!

Note: One of my students wrote that she had “bookoo” friends, and explained that “bookoo” means “a great amount.” I’ll use her word tonight. I love that she tried to use more descriptive words in her writing (instead of “a lot”) and I REALLY found it cute that she defined the word for us in the text. She’s learning! 

 

 

 

 

WFMAD Challenge: Thinking about Consistency in Classrooms

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I’ll just jump right in; it’s late! I’ve been thinking about consistency in classrooms. I know (prior knowledge, research, communication with others) that consistency is key in classroom management, and I have found this short school week that consistency does play a key role in lowering stress for classroom teachers…eventually.

The stress level has been high (!) this school year, with getting to know new students, planning again, standing up all day again (tired feet!), and one of my goals is being more consistent and less flexible with my expectations for students.  High expectations = High achievement.  I followed my plan to a “T” this week, and today was a wonderful Friday, full of learning! My students behaved and were engaged in the learning. They seemed to take pride in their work, and I observed them working together well, communicating politely, and getting the job done. I was even surprised with some of the scores on my formative reading assessment; students were achieving higher scores than I expected. The week was full of stress: calling parents, writing notes for documentation, talking to the administrators. As frustrating as the week was, and as much as I wanted to assume the role of “nice guy,” I did not give in. I was consistent and expected the best. I even said to a colleague Friday morning, “No!” when she asked how I felt about having a Friday free time session. “They don’t deserve it,” I noted. Now next week, after staying consistent with practicing procedures and expecting high achievement, I hope to say, “Yes! Let’s have some fun! We’ve worked hard all week.”

Staying consistent with practicing the classroom ways and holding my students to higher standards was rewarding for me this week because even though I was the “mean, bad guy,” (Oh, man! Hey! I’m not a man. Stop it!) my students quickly changed their behaviors to comply with those standards, and they even noticed improvements and received rewards! One student even said, “You’re giving us a compliment? (Yes!) Well, I’ll be good more often now!” It seemed like we were practicing too much before this week. I remembered that the first few weeks of school are rough, and teachers assume that practicing procedures a few times will be enough for the students. But just like fluency research states that students must read a text about 7 times to be fluent readers, students must also practice other tasks several times to succeed.  (Got some reading research in there!)

I found that sticking to my plan, and “sticking to my guns” helped all of us. We were all calm, relaxed, and ready for the tasks at hand. Consistency pays off!

Have a great weekend!

Sharing: Art in the Classroom

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Here’s another one of my teacher friends I respect and admire, and she’s an artist! Julie has created a blog to chronicle her life as an art teacher in a large, urban school district. Check out her post, “God in the Art Studio,” and then consider your practice. I love reading about students who are this excited about learning and sharing their learning with others!

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