Thursday, March 24, 2016

Truth from the Shadow

"You might want to cover your nose," Mya laughed.

My eyebrows wrinkle and mouth becomes pursed together. This is my puzzled face and Mya can read it.

"Kareem is fartin'," Mya clarified with even more laughter.

Now my eyes roll and I chuckle to myself. "Yep. Sounds like Kareem." My bewilderment is furthered by the fact that Mya has barely said 10 words to me this year, most of which happened on the day I shadowed Kareem a few weeks back. What is this newfound candor that the fifth-graders have with me? There's no other explanation for it other than the shadowing. I appreciate them seeing me differently than they did before, but I must admit I am a little perplexed. There's a part of me that wants to say, "Okay, we have to draw the line. I can't have you telling me EVERYTHING that pops into your mind about school, teaching, learning, and other pre-adolescent happenings." Then there's the other side that says, "You drew a line a long time ago and it doesn't go as far as you want in developing relationships with students."  Maybe this new way is the way. Take a walk in their shoes and draw fewer lines between students and me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hallway Hug

He hugged me. He saw me in the hallway and he hugged me. I'm talking about Kareem, the 5th grader I shadowed two weeks ago. I guess we have some sort of implicit bond now that I've walked a day in his shoes.

He's sought me out when he didn't want to go to art class last week and today...he hugged me. I'm telling you,  last year you would not have been able to make me believe that I would have any sort of emotional attachment to this kid. And now he's hugging me in the hallway. I'm not sure what to do with this new dynamic.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Weekend Wedding

Let's go.

Time wipe to 4 hours post drive.
It's nearly midnight.
Car is unloaded.
PJs are on.
Wedding is tomorrow.

"I don't remember seeing the garment bag with ALL of our wedding clothes."

Makes funny face, "I don't either," he sighed.

"Oh no!"

"Wedding starts at 11."

"Target opens at 8," an uncertain grin pops on my face.

"Guess we'll be at Target, hoping to find three wedding-worthy outfits."

Somehow that seems like a bad joke.

We did it! Purchased three outfits and made it to the cousin's wedding on time. No one will be the wiser.

"Hey! Glad you guys made it. Heard you left all your clothes at home. You look good though," smiled a well-intentioned aunt.

Deep sigh of exasperation. I would have felt much better had no one known that we bolted to the store only hours before to purchase the outfits we now don. Does everybody know?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Driving Around Lost

"Stay right at the fork. Exit next ramp. Make a U-Turn," and essentially get back on the freeway going in the other direction even though I just told you to stay right at the fork. I meant stay right, then go left. 

Google maps failed me a numerously in the last few days. Who can read the mind of a navigation system?? Anxiety that accompanies being turned around while driving in an unfamiliar city can be gripping for me. I am not sure I knew that until this most recent trip. I thought I had the correct directions, but got turned around several times. Would I end up in a sketchy part of town? Would I end up in an accident because I did not know that the lane I was in would soon end and merge into the next? How many more people were going to blow their horns at me? Can I turn on red here? Is this exit ramp a cloverleaf or a straight ramp? Ugh! 

The anxiety, that I felt must be similar to what it feels like to be lost in a lesson for some students. Not knowing where the lesson is going or thinking that you are on the right path, only to be thwarted by a trick move that you missed simply because you were not familiar enough with the layout has to be what happens for some of our students. There are so many factors to take into consideration when trying to perform a task, including background knowledge (the layout of the land) and shortcuts. We all say we know it, but have we consciously recognized those feelings when we experience it? Have we considered that there might be students in our class that feel this regularly and how terrible it must be to feel that way, ALL.THE.TIME? 

Now, also think about being a teacher who feels this way. Not knowing the content or the road ahead and how to get there.  This is not to say that teachers don't know what they're doing! So if your mind went there, bring it back. I do believe that there are times when a teacher might be lost, thinking she's on the right path, following the directions of the Google Maps voice--AKA curriculum maps/scopes and sequences. Maybe a the map seems to be leading in the right direction, but there's a fork in the road where she needs to veer left instead of going right at the fork. As a coach, I need to remember that feeling for my teachers, too.  When I outsmarted Google Maps and made the right choice on my own, I was proud of myself, but I also could not help but know it would have been so much easier to navigate with a partner.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Neglected Feet

Hello friends,

Today I'm heading to a professional development experience in a warmer place. I relish this opportunity for many reasons, one of which is the obvious--being able to learn something new, but another is the chance to get away for a little while and explore a new place. For a brief moment this morning I contemplated taking the time, once I get to my destination, to make both a manicure and pedicure a part of my experience. You know, a little pampering of myself. While I was gathering the rest of my toiletries, I truly thought about taking nail polish and spending an hour or so of my time polishing my nails.

**Disclaimer for those of you who are gasping at the idea of me not regularly maintaining my toes: I am not a high maintenance person and I live in an area where my feet have been covered for nearly six months due to the cold (albeit unusually warm cold weather, still too cold for open-toes in my opinion). I don't have time or make time for that much personal pampering.** 

After briefly entertaining the thought of pedicure/manicure, I decided against them both. I though, I'd much rather treasure the experience of being in a warmer environment and making memories for myself outside of a nail salon or my hotel room. Deciding to say, "who cares about whoever notices my unpolished toes in flip flops and sandals over these next few days, I want to see some cool stuff," is a critical move for me, particularly because I've spent time becoming comfortable with myself and not caring what other people think.

Off to make memories in neglected feet,

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sub Plans

I have not seen the movie Inside Out, but I'm pretty sure I have the idea of how it goes. This is a small scene from inside out of students' heads when the teacher is out. 

"Just how many things can I get away with?"

"Drain her energy now! Make her feel like she's a cell phone running too many apps all at once."

"How many questions can I ask that will delay the start of the assignment my teacher left for me to do?"

"I need to go to the bathroom. I'll take the long way back."

"I must do this assignment Mr. __ left for me. It has to be important if he left it for us to do."

"He's not going to check this work."

"Hmmmmm...will we get a longer recess? How can we get a longer recess?"

"They don't do this when Mr. __ is here. "

"I hope Mr. __ is okay. When will he be back? I hope he'll be back tomorrow."


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Learning by Ear Hustling

We all do it at some point--ear hustle. A more traditional way of saying this is eavesdrop.

Lots of times when I was in my classroom conferring with students about one thing or another, the people around the person I was specifically talking to, would keep writing but be oh-so-aware of what I was saying to Student A. After doing something like listening to them read a portion of their writing and of course affirming something they did well, the conversation would go something like this:

  • Me: Student A, I see that you have lots of great descriptions of what was happening on the field at your game when you intercepted the ball. Remember how a sentence starts. 
  • Student A: Oh yeah! With capital letters! 
  • Me: Yes! See right here, this little "r" should be a big "R." I'll show you..
  • The scratchy sound of an eraser changing all the first letters of his sentences to capitals immediately begins, but Students B, C, D, E's eyes would begin darting across their pages searching for lower case letters at the beginnings of their sentences and that same erasing sound would start. Sometimes the sound might even come from Student L who is two tables over and is always listening to what Mrs.T says to his best friend. 
Learning by listening to what others are doing is such an easy way to pick up a skill or remember something. I did the same thing for about six years at my previous school where we had classrooms with an adjoining hallway (the hallway housed two restrooms that were shared by both classes and cubbies). I could hear my teaching partner explaining conflict in a story to his students, for example, and use some of his same verbiage that I might not have though of to teach the same skill in my room. More often than not, we were teaching the same skills at the same time, which made it easy for me to grow as a teacher. Those ear hustling sessions were some of the best PD I could have gotten at the time!  I definitely attribute a decent amount of growth that I had as a classroom teacher to ear hustling.

What have you learned from ear hustling?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Butterfly Wings

While gracefully flapping her arms as wings, one of the teachers in my school said, "I feel like a butterfly flying with her," to describe how she feels about Lacy, who has made a huge jump in her reading level. This teacher had such a huge grin on her face and I could not resist the cue to take out my notebook and capture that quote because I wanted to remember it for today's post.

How appropriate, I thought. This is what we do! However cliche you find it, it's true. As teachers we grow with our kids as they emerge from the cocoon over the course of the year to flit along on an upward trajectory. These moments, we must treasure and REMEMBER, because what I've found in teaching and coaching teachers is that we focus on the times when something does not go well and forget about all of the good that happen over the course of a school year. 

Fly along with them. Flit among the flowers, as students go up, rise with them, and if they descend--I'm talking mood, behavior, general academics, and test scores--remember that they will move back up as long as you are doing everything you can with them to get them there.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Robins, Black-Capped Chickadees and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks

When I came home from college in the spring, I really noticed the sounds of birds outside of my window. This was not because I was so enamored with birds, or happy to be home, rather I was taking a class where we traipsed around the woods from about 6am to 10am learning about and identifying "flora and fauna." One of the requirements of the course was that we be able to identify bird calls. I know, right? Who needs to know that? Apparently, I did. I had to first realize that different birds made different sounds, not like what I could hear before taking the course--goose vs. robin, rather robin vs. Black-Capped Chickadee. So when I was back at home that summer I could not help but notice birds...everywhere...birds. Especially irritating at that time was the sound of the robins right outside my window on the days that I did not have to wake up at 6am for class...when I wanted to sleep in, but could not because the birds woke me and I was identifying which species was making the most noise that was keeping me awake when I could be sleeping.

Now, the class did allow me to feel a little closer to my bird-watching grandfather. I could talk to him about the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak in the photo on his wall. My parents loved asking me to identify unusual birds that sometimes showed up in their trees. And I can use a dichotomous key to identify trees. .

Fast forward several years to "present-day" me (the me that is up at 6am regularly without an alarm most of the time) taking my dog outside this morning. I heard THEM. Those robins that used to wake "college-hours" me up. This time though, I was not annoyed by them at all. In fact, a smile immediately crept on my face because I knew that hearing THEM meant spring is definitely coming. I knew that before the course, but now I truly pay attention to the birds in the spring. Though we have had a very mild winter here, I still absolutely appreciate the signs of spring! Spring means summer is not far behind! And that means farmer's markets, tulips, bike-riding, fishing, and all that good summer stuff is on the way.

How does this tie into teaching? Well, sometimes the lessons we are learning do not become relevant until later. It's much better when we or our students can see the immediate relevance to what is being learned, but being able to apply the lessons independently later is a true sign of learning, right?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Things I hope

  • More students will succeed than don't.
  • People will begin to care more about each other.
  • An awakening occurs--one where there is less of a focus on material possessions and more focus on things that matter in the long-run.
  • Teachers will be valued for the impact they have on what's to come.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The forbidden tactic

I did it. When I was shadowing a student, I did it. I don't usually do it. In fact, I warn others against using it, but I did it.

I was shadowing Kareem in his math class and he was becoming agitated with a situation. He wanted to go out for water, but his teacher wanted him to wait until she was done teaching the mini-lesson. Dealing with disappointment, not getting what he wants when he wants it is not his strong suit. Protests began in the form of pouting and pacing. Eventually, he got to take his water break and returned.

When it was time for him to get to work, he of course, was not ready to do it. There were about 10 fraction multiplication problems to do. "This cake problem is whack! I don't even make cakes."

I tried pulling his grandmother into it saying, "Does your grandmother make cakes? Do you help her? You can help her make cakes by learning how to do these problems."

"I don't make 'em. I just eat 'em!"

I was losing this battle. That's when it happened. I remembered the donut that Kareem saw another teacher give me that I placed on my desk. "Donut! You want my donut, right?" I crossed the line into territory that I advised teachers I coached from entering.

Eyes wide focused on me intrigued, "Yeah!"

"Get these problems done and you can have it. The whole thing instead of half that I promised you earlier," hoping he would take the bait. Disappointed myself, but happy that he was going to do the work. This goes against my teaching philosophy! Way against it. Kids are not puppies. They need to be intrinsically motivated. Learn because you want to learn and need to learn, not because someone put a treat in front of you.

Now, I'm no military person and google is not helping me right now, so I cannot figure out an appropriate analogy to describe my forbidden tactic, but this was a huge no-no for me. Nevertheless, I did it. The donut worked in that brief moment. Kareem probably will not be able to double or triple that cake recipe for his grandmother next week, but the work was done.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Who is going to teach me?

This is more of a work in progress, but feel free to read my thoughts after a day of shadowing a student.

Who is going to teach me?
I will.
If I am the challenging child, who is going to teach me?
I might.
If I resist your structure, who is going to teach me?
I will try.

Will you notice when I seem bored?
Something is missing.
Will you notice that I need to move?
Let's move.
Will you notice I like to help?
How did I not notice this at first?
Will you notice my talent, even if it's not academic?
How can we use this to help you learn? 
Will you notice?

Will you notice?

I need to notice... 

...because if I don't who will?

If I don't teach you while you're here, who will?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


A 5th grade kid peeks his head into the space where my desk is as I'm walking out.
Kareem: Mrs. T?
Me: Yes, Kareem?
Kareem: Mrs. T?
Me: Yes, Kareem? Walking closer to the door.
Kareem: Mrs. T? Giggles and walks away.
I couldn't help but laugh to myself.

This is progress! Last year when Kareem entered our school, admittedly, I did not take a keen liking to him. Honestly, he got on my nerves. As a coach at the school where I work, I got to see Kareem a lot in the hallways, being sent from one room to the next or down to the office for one reason or another. Not many people liked him.

Something changed this year. It might have been our attitudes toward him and realizing that our school might be his only shot realizing, we get one chance with this kid and we need to make the most of it. Having taken the time to see him in a different way, I have realized he is a FUNNY kid. He might get a little angry sometimes and be challenging to teach, but he is funny and intelligent.

I picked him for my Shadow a Student Challenge. Today was the day I asked him if he'd be willing. In that moment I was a little nervous because there is a certain stigma attached to being a school administrator with students. You don't necessarily have as much street cred as you did when you were in a classroom teaching, well, at least I don't. I've been out of the classroom for a few years and these kids that are in my building right now, don't know what kind of teacher I was/still am. Anyhow, that's a story for another day.

While Kareem's class was waiting in the hallway for their special class to start, I nervously called him over to ask him THE question: Can I shadow you for a day? Nervously? Yes. Nervously. Kids are harsh. They can reject you and think nothing of it. I almost felt like I was asking someone to a high school dance. "What if he says, 'no?' I'll have to find someone else." I'd already gone down that path, so I was hoping that Kareem's answer would be "yes." I know that he's a kid that will keep me on my toes during my shadowing day and he'll be comfortable enough to talk to me.

So I walked with him a bit down the hall. We were trailed for a second by one of his friends whom I had to shoo away while I asked my important question. "Hey, Kareem! Would you be interested in letting me shadow you for a day? Mrs. B, Ms. G, Mr. M and I are all picking one student to shadow for a day so we can learn what it's like to be a kid in our school. You can say, 'no.' It's okay if you're not comfortable." Kareem smiles a bit devilishly and asks, "What does that mean though? Shadow me?" I give him a few more details, "It means I would do the work you do. Take notes. Hang with you all day. And I'd need you to talk to me and explain stuff that we're supposed to do. It would be Thursday" He flashes that big grin again and quickly answers, "yes," turns around and goes to proclaim to his friends, "Aye! She's gonna shadow me..."

Relieved, I continued walking. I really felt like I'd just asked someone out. It's tough thinking about being rejected by a 10 year-old. Some part of me wondered if that's how teachers, myself included, feel when students challenge them in front of others. Do we flashback to middle or high school when some friend turned us away or challenged us? Is that where the out of body experiences that some teachers have when they impulsively react to a student's behavior with a voice that is a few decibels higher than a whisper? I've heard stories about these teachers *wink wink.* Some part of me thinks so.