Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer . . .

The days of summer are slipping away much like the sand between my toes as I stand on the beach in the twilight hours. I love this time of the year. I love spending time with my family and watching my little one play on the beach. Looking for seashells as if they were precious jewels and screaming with excitement when she finds something more special then the last. She is totally absorbed in the moment. I would like to paint this moment on a canvas and hang it on my wall to keep forever. Then I watch as she and her father walk hand in hand along the beach, and I try to imagine what it will be like one day when he walks her to the door on her first date, to her dorm room, or walks her down the aisle. I know time will fly no matter how badly I wish it will stand still.

But it won't, and then I remember she needs us so much every moment and not in these special ones. I am reminded of the children that I teach that do not know or understand this kind of love. It truly saddens me that so many children are not loved or at least not shown love by the people they need it from the most. So many mothers and fathers are living in their own moments as their children live totally separate lives. It doesn't matter really if they are rich or poor. The love of a parent is so essential to a well-rounded child. I think the definition of love is so broad. It means that you would lay down your life for your child, but it doesn't mean that you are their best friend. You must be able to distance your self enough to discipline your child and teach them behaviors that are appropriate and respectful. So often I have found myself just getting caught up being a mom and making my girl happy that I forget that happiness in the moment will not give her happiness for a lifetime.

Let me explain. She may be crying in the store for a Barbie or a toy, and if I buy it for her, I am very much making her happy in that moment. However, if I explain that if she works hard doing her chores and earns an allowance she may be able to come back and buy the Barbie herself then I have taught her a life lesson. I have taught her that work is something valuable. I have taught that the Barbie you buy through your own hard work will mean more to you than if I buy it for you. It is a very simple concept, and I am not sure why so many times I give in to the moment instead of embracing a teachable moment. Not that she doesn't deserve surprises or fun things, but I know in my mother's heart and in my teacher's heart that if I don't show her the value of work that no one else will.

Which brings me back to the moment, the beach and the setting sun. I hope the sun never goes down on a day where I have not attempted to be the very best mom because truly it is my job to be her teacher.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Standardized Tests Create Standard Writers

I think standardized tests create standard writers. You learn how to write to the test. You learn how to communicate in that way. It does not create good writers, but it does create people who know the bare bones of writing. It probably. The person who can pass a standardized writing test definitely wouldn’t be the proficient writer. It would maybe be somewhere between the intermediate and advanced writer. No, standardized writing tests do not create good writers. I can’t say it doesn’t have any effect on people. It doesn’t necessarily have a good effect either.

Bursting the Bubble

Bursting the Bubble

The first time I walked into my classroom I felt excited and in control. The room, of course, was empty of students, and I was only there to decorate and prepare my classroom for the upcoming school year. I was very dedicated to preparing beautiful bulletin boards, organizing files, and arranging pictures on my very own teacher desk. I was so proud to have my own classroom. I felt secure in the fact that I had a college degree in English education, and I was prepared to face those 7th grade students head on. Or so I thought.

In those first two weeks, I met a wonderful teacher named Karen Kishimoto. She quickly became a great friend and mentor. She was a tall, blonde with a glowing aura about her. She was so positive, and she gave me the some of the best advice I have ever received about teaching. When I would get frustrated by the small stuff like trying to keep up with all the daily meetings and emails, she would say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff.” When our state changed the curriculum drastically, she told me in a matter of fact manner, “The only permanent thing in Education is change.” My friend and mentor was full of wonderful aphorisms, but more importantly, she was full of support and good, heart-felt advice. I can’t think of a single moment when she said a negative word that might diminish my excitement about teaching, but she did cautiously make me aware that teaching has its own set of challenges that are often unforeseen by new teachers.

During the second week of August, my room filled with 7th graders of every shape, size, and color. I quickly learned that my general life experience and college education had not prepared for this new set of challenges. I had never worked with children of poverty before, and I had not realized that so many of my students could not read on their grade level or anywhere close. In the beginning, I stubbornly trudged through the grammar workbooks and classic stories that were a part of the curriculum. I was determined to do the very best job possible. After all, I was an English teacher.

It wasn’t until midway through the school year that my bubble finally burst, and I realized that no matter what my official training was called that I was not a teacher of English. Instead, I found that in order to be successful I would need to be a teacher of students—students of every shape, size, race, and socio-economic level. Students like “Shawn” who suffered from a disorder that made it impossible for him to learn; yet his parents did not attend one meeting that we tried to arrange to get additional services to help meet his specific needs. Then there was young “Maria” who struggled to read on a third grade level, but ended up pregnant during the school year. She dropped out before the end of the school year so she could marry the father of her child. Her mother agreed to the marriage because she had married at fourteen as well. When I heard this news, I cried. I cried for so many reasons—for the child who was about to be a mother, for her future, and for the fact I felt somehow I had failed as a teacher. I wondered if there was any way that I could have done something to have prevented this tragic thing from happening. The reality was that there was nothing I could have done, and it was heart breaking. My idealistic bubble had burst. In the end, it was Karen who came to my rescue, and she talked to me and encouraged me to keep focusing on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.

That summer I reflected on the fact that teaching is much more than a skill or a being an expert in a subject area. Now that my perfect bubble had been burst, I could see the reality of teaching. It is a career that requires a fine balance of artistry, patience, knowledge, and humor. Since that first year, I have found that if I surround myself with positive people that I stay positive even in the most stressful situations. A student teacher never fully understands the magnitude of their job until they are responsible for a classroom full of children who are truly at-risk to fail . . . and not just the class. Teaching requires faith, compassion, and a true passion for the children you are teaching not the SUBJECT.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Teacher Student Connection--Building A Bridge

I have been teaching middle school for the last eight years. Thankfully, I have successfully crossed the perilious first three years when so many teachers fall victim to the politics of teaching, the uninterested studetnts, or for one reason or another decide teaching is not the career of their dreams. I must say that teaching didn't come naturally for me. In fact, I can't say that I ever dreamed of being a teacher at all. Instead, I dreamed of becoming a famous author. One that would create a masterpiece that would rival the greatest Southern novel of all time--Gone With the Wind. A dream that spun around in my head for years and then was tossed aside somewhere in the midst of trying to get a job and grow up to be a responsible adult. This blog is not going to be about my desire to be a writer, and it is not going to be a long log of monotonous advice about classroom management. Instead, it is going to be a reflection of my experiences as a middle school teacher and how those experiences have affected my overall understanding of my purpose and goals as a teacher.