being a teacher, being me

The Great Teacher Myth

I have spent the last few hours quietly wandering around NCTE, trying to listen more than talk, processing, pondering, and also trying to reflect on the work that lies ahead when I return to room 235d this Monday.  When the reality of what it means to teach comes back versus this dream world where we sit and discuss how we can change what we do to make it work for all kids.  To work for all adults.

And yet, the learning doesn’t have to end when we return to our school.  The conversation doesn’t have to end.  Only if we make it.  Because in our school, every day, we are surrounded by people who have ideas.  By people whose voices may not have been heard, yet.  People whose ideas have not grown past their own classroom doors.  And yet, how many of us will go back and try to engage in the same professional conversations that we engage in when we leave our schools?  How many of us would rather go to a professional development day than spend a day immersed with our colleagues, trying to grapple with the weight of the very reality we teach withing?  How many of us, myself included, would rather idolize someone who doesn’t teach with us because they seemingly have it all figured out and if we only listen to them some more we will, surely, finally be a great teacher?

It’s a lose-lose situation and an unsustainable one at that.  When we assume that “those teachers,”  that “those experts” have it all figured out, we only see ourselves as less than.  As someone who perhaps doesn’t have ideas to share.  As someone who there isn’t space for in the conversation.  As someone who will never be good enough, let alone a great teacher.  And this simply isn’t true.  Our schools are brimming with people, and yes, kids are people, who have so much to share if we only start to realize the wisdom that surrounds us.

Because I can tell you this; as someone who has been given a lot of space, who has had labels, both positive and negative, attached to her very being; I am nothing special.  And I don’t mean it as a false sense of denigration.  As a way to tear myself down so that others can lay on the accolades.  I am simply a teacher who chose to reflect out loud.  Who chose to question her own practices because she faced the very harsh reality that if she continued on the path that she was on, she would harm children.  Who screws up oftentimes privately, sometimes publicly, who is lucky enough to have people who care enough (or are angry enough) to point it out and tell me I can do better (thank you!).  And so are you.

So it’s on all of us.  If we don’t give space.  If we don’t strike up conversations.  If we don’t reach out and ask for help from the very people we work with.  If we don’t share more of our mistakes as some of us are handed pedestals to stand on, then we are doing a disservice to those who come to us or guidance, who trust us with their time, who call us colleagues and mentors.

So find your worth, share your story, trust me when I say; we are all just trying to figure this out.  Sometimes we do great, sometimes we don’t, but we are all in this together.

 

 

 

being a teacher, being me

On Death Threats and the Life I Lead…

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Note:  There is offensive language in this post, not from me, but I wanted to warn you before you read it.

I was cooking dinner today when my phone went off.  Three new emails waited for me.  In between cooking dinner, catching up with my husband, and watching the kids have a water fight, I checked my email because I was waiting for an important one.

Two were comments on my blog, nothing unusual in that until I read them.  The first one said

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The next one said

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I showed my husband, Brandon, and tried to shrug it off.  After all, these aren’t the first vile comments I have received and they probably won’t be the last but he stopped me.  “What do you mean you have gotten comments like this before?  You haven’t told me that?!”

I guess in this day and age you just get used to it.  I see it happen all of the time, especially to women, and even more to women of color.  It seems to the price you pay to be public in a way, to being online.  Nestled in between all of the learning, the connections, and the book recommendations is your daily slice of hatred.   You have people who praise you, people who disagree with you, some in angry ways.  And then you have death threats against your family and yourself.

I blocked the commenter, deleted the comments after taking screenshots of everything. And yet, Brandon wouldn’t let it go.  “You should report it, just in case…” Sure it’s probably nothing, but still…And it was that “Just in case…” that made me do that very thing.

Because sure it is probably some kid somewhere having some fun.

Because sure it is probably some troll not caring who they wrote to or what they really said.

Because sure it is probably someone who just wanted to get a reaction and saw an easy way to do so.

But still, that small little thought is there; what if it’s not?

What if it’s not…

What if someone does want to hurt my children or me and I did nothing but shrug it off?

So I write this post to say it’s not okay.

It’s not okay for us to be a society where threats towards us and our families are so commonplace that we barely register when they happen.

Where language like what was posted to me is deleted rather than reported.

Where threats and the use of vulgar language are so common that we even hear people in power use them as if it is no big deal.

Where trolls and kids and whoever wants to hide behind their computers get to mess up your sense of security because who really cares how others feel, they were just joking anyway…

And because it happens so much we don’t even do anything about it.

It is a big deal.  And we have to remember that…

When kids say things in our classrooms that are not okay.

When people leave comments online that are not okay.

When those in power say things that are not okay.

We have to speak up, reclaim the conversations, and shift the power back.

So tonight, after I hung up with the police and they told me I did the right thing, while I didn’t feel much safer, I did feel right.  Like somehow me tracking that ISP.  Me documenting.  My writing and sharing let me reclaim a little piece of the power that someone tried to take away from me.  Because guess what?  I’m not done writing.

 

 

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

That This Year…

Thea tells us that the only goal she has for fourth grade is to not be bullied.

She doesn’t care about learning how to read better.  How to strengthen her math skills.  How she will do more science, learn more geography, create more beautiful art.  How to do the work that fourth graders are supposed to do.

She cares about being safe.  About being liked.  About not sticking out so that “others will pick me on, Mom…” as she hides her new glasses and tells me she doesn’t really need them after all.

Her actions speak louder than her words right now.  One moment happy and carefree, the next riddled with doubt about what lies ahead.  The questions tumble from her, will I have a friend?  Will my teacher like me?  The uncovering of the hurts that were perpetuated against her continue.  They told me I was stupid.  They called me gay and I knew they meant it as a bad thing, Mom.  They told me no one liked me.  That I shouldn’t come back.  That school would be so much better without me.

And I hold back my tears and I put on my brave face, because damn it, what do you say to your kid when she would rather believe the awful lies her fellow students told her than the truth from her parents?

So we speak louder through our actions and our words than those kids could ever hope to do.  So we spend time simply being together, getting ready for the year ahead.  Telling her that this year will be better.  That this year will be different.  That she is awesome.  That she is funny.  That she is smart.  That this year she will find another friend.  That this year she will blow everyone away.  That this year she will feel safe.  That this year will not be like last year because how can it be?  And we try to piece back together what the kids who bullied her tore down so easily.

I think of her as I get ready for my own students to show up.  That while some may be dragging their feet simply because school is not fun, others may be downright terrified.  Others may lie awake at night wondering what this year will bring?  Whether this year they will continue to be picked on, picked apart, punched, pushed, and abused, all by those kids we tell to stop and “Be nice.”  Do they worry that we will not protect them?  That our nonchalance and our quick fixes will do nothing to actually change anything?

And what about their parents?  The ones raising them?  The ones who send them our way with the hope that we will see the very miracle they sent us?  Do they lie awake at night, like we do, wondering if the words we say will actually be true once the year gets started?

Thea has her first day of school outfit planned, aid out in her room, waiting for the moment next Tuesday when we wake her up, kiss and hug her and send her out the door with our love as her protection.  It took a long time to get it just right, what my seem small is now so large, because, who knows what will happen on the first day of school?

We hold our breath and expect the best.  After all, this is a new year, a new start, and for this kid it has to be.   So this is a reminder that it’s on us; the adults.  The parents, the caregivers, the educators, the staff.  That these kids are coming to school to feel safe.  To feel accepted.  To learn in an environment that will protect them no matter the child they are.    No child deserves to be terrified.  No child deserves to wonder whether this is the year, they will once again be bullied.

 

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

On Airplanes

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I am hurtling through the air, clouds drifting by beneath me, blanketing the earth from view.  Confined to the seat I was given by a computer, on an airplane as I once again cross the country in order to teach other educators all that my students have taught me.

My seat is comfortable, for short periods of time, the ache in my back slowly making its presence known, reminding me that as I get older, my body carries the signs of frequent travel and confinement.  Of sitting in airplanes and plastic chairs, of hurriedly drinking my tea before I find the seat that has been given to me, that will dictate my next hours all in order to serve a greater purpose of bringing me to the destination I need to go to.

I am reminded of how it used to be a joy to get on a plane, excited for the journey ahead, and now it is mostly just ordinary, a means to an end, no longer covered in sparkles and foil, but just another day at the office.  How my mind has made it a quest for anything to be out of the ordinary just so that this very trip can be wrapped in something other than what I have come to expect; greetings from polite attendants, the same snack selection, perhaps a movie, nothing more, nothing less.

Much like the school experience many of our children have.  One that used to be wrapped up in excitement and possibility but now is immersed in tradition, in used to it’s, in more of the same, and the same expectations for all for the greater good.

I wonder why it has taken me so long to see the similarities between airplane travel and our schools?  Wedged in beside strangers that I may or may not connect with, told within the armrests what our area is, with hidden rules and expectations of what proper behavior is.  Knowing full well how rude it is to take up more space than what we are given. How rude it is to draw attention to ourselves through the food we eat, the scents we bring with us, the volume of our conversations.  How rude it is to be loud, to be seen, to be anything but quiet and nearly invisible in order for the greater good, the common purpose.

How the attendants start us all with the same speech, assuming that only a few are paying attention and yet they try to tell us how important it all is for our future as they vie for our attention while using hands-on manipulatives and humor.

How the seats we are given mirror the very experience our students have when we give them rights that are based on what they already have.  More wealth or status gives you a better seat, a better seat gives you better service, food, blankets, and careful attention.  Remove the privilege, remove the ease, as the rest of us regular folks can only sit and watch behind the mesh curtain, aware that we are not good enough, not properly attuned to sit up there where the air must surely be better because the food certainly is.

And I am confined, not just in my physical space, but also mentally.  I find it hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand, longing instead for the air to move, for the wiggle room to do something other than sitting here, even though I know that the quiet I have been given in this very moment should be seen as a gift.  A chance for me to take a moment and do whatever I want, but this is hard to do when all I want to do is not be confined.

I count down the minutes until the journey is over so that I may resume regular life.  Outside of these rules.  Outside of this space.

And so what do we do within this knowledge of what school may be seen like for some of our students?  How do we, within the rigid systems we claim are in place for the greater good, find space for all of our students to breathe freely, to break the boundaries of the space they are given and recover the sense that where we are going matters?  This is what I ponder as the attendant waits for us to push the button in case we need anything, as they do everything in their power to ensure we all have a pleasant and safe flight.  As they wrap us in infinite patience.  Feed us snacks to make sure our inner rumblings don’t become outer ones.  As they try to take us to a destination that we surely wanted to go to at some point.  But perhaps we just forgot.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

being a teacher, being me, Reading, Reading Identity

On Not Being a Reader…Yet

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She tells me she doesn’t want to go to first grade.  That she no longer wants to be a first grader.

This child who loves school.

This child who loves her teachers.

This child who has been beaming since the day she realized that after kindergarten came first grade, another year to learn, another year to grow.

And yet, here she is, declaring that for her school is no longer where she wants to be.  So I ask, what changed?  Why not?  And she gets a little quiet, sinks a little bit into my body, snuggles up as if the secret is hard to carry and tells me quietly, “I don’t know how to read…”

Because in her mind, all first graders know how to read.  Because in her mind all first graders know how to look at a book and automatically unlock all of its secrets just like that.  And why shouldn’t she?  Hew twin brother, 21 minutes younger, is already deciphering words, putting letters together to uncover the mystery of the page before him.  Asking me what this word means.  How to spell this word.

And yet she sits in front of a page still working through her letter sounds, trying to remember the foundational blocks before she pieces them together.  She sits in front of a page and instead of seeing opportunity she sees something that she cannot conquer, that she has not conquered, despite now being an almost first grader who supposedly should have conquered it.

I realize that once again, our well-meaning intentions, those benchmarks we put in place to ensure every child is a success has claimed another temporary victim whose self-esteem now relies on a part of her that her brain simply isn’t developmentally ready for.  Because that’s it.  There is nothing wrong with her capabilities.  Nothing wrong with her skills.  Nothing wrong with that smart brain of hers, other than that it is not ready.  Not ready right now, no matter how many district mandates tries to say she should be, but she will be.

And so I wonder how often do we lose kids within our standards?  How often do we add labels because of a rigid system that tells us not only how each child should learn but also when and then lets us decide that a perfectly fine child is now behind.  How often do we, because of outside forces, lose a child’s place in school because a chart, a book, a system, told us that the child was lost.

I will tell you this, much like I told my Ida, she is a reader.  She is a reader who is figuring it out.  She is a reader who is growing.  But more importantly, she is a child.  A child who will read when she is ready.  Who is ready for first grade despite the benchmarks reminders of what she should be able to do.  She is ready and until the first day of school, and for every day after, we will snuggle into bed together with a book, reading the pages together, developing at the pace that was intended.  Not the one dictated by something that will never know the nuances of my child.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, being me

We Send You Our Best

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I have shared Thea’s story with school for years.  How our oldest daughter was labeled a struggling reader in kindergarten and has been in intervention ever since.  How she declared that reading was simply too hard in 2nd grade, despite her incredible teachers, but that Dog Man by Dav Pilkey made her believe that she was a reader and that she had always been a reader.

How our oldest daughter was bullied so badly that she asked whether you could survive without friends.  That she ended up changed last year, new pieces of a puzzle that we have yet to figure out how to fit together.

I have shared how we have we searched for answers.  How we have focused on protecting her hope of reading.  Her love of school.  How we have flooded her with books, fought for her right to be safe, and seemingly tried everything we can to make her believe that she has worth.

Thea is a child who tries even when it is hard.  She is our dreams come true.

What I have never shared, fully, is the guilt that comes with having your child identified as someone who hasn’t learned what they should.  The shame in your own parental structures.  The questioning of your own ability to parent successful children who do not need intervention.  Who do not end up being a question mark.

Who do not end up being bullied.  Being the victim of other children’s vicious nature and whims.

Who do not end up being the parents of a child who thinks that she doesn’t deserve friends, because she is lame.

I think of all of those emotions that are tied in with our own children’s journey.  How their journey in school only seems to highlight the failures we have as parents.  As people.  How we blame ourselves when they fail to reach benchmarks.  When they get in trouble.  When they fail to find the community that other children seem to so easily find.  When they make decisions that we seemingly cannot understand and we know that the teachers that teach them may very well think that we are the ones that pushed them in that direction.

How many nights of conversations my husband and I have had about what we were doing wrong.  About what else we could do.  Trying to come up with solutions to a situation we are not sure we understand.  How many nights we have held our tongue and assumed that perhaps a teacher did not see how something affected our child.  How many nights I have cried over how I have failed my own child because of what she has to face.  How I wish I could take her place but that I know that as a parent that is not my role.

I think of how many times I have assumed that a child stood in front of me and acted a certain way because that is how their parents or those at home acted.  That the child in front of me is surely the product of everything those at home failed to do.

I am ashamed of this realization.  Of the judgment, I have so easily passed.  Of the assumptions, I have let shape my decisions in how to work with kids.  In how to work with those at home.  But in shame comes learning.  Comes growth.

Because what Thea has taught me, what all of our children have taught me, is that most parents try their best.  That we send you the very best kid we can.  That we have probably done all of the things that are meant to make our child as successful as they can but it turns out it might just not be enough.

That sometimes even though we follow the rules, take the advice, try all of the tricks, a child, our child, will still confound us.  Will still mystify us.  Will still make us pause as we wonder what else we could have done.

I hope my children’s teachers see us as parents who try.  That they know that sometimes we don’t understand a behavior either.  That we have raised them right but that doesn’t guarantee that they will act right.  That even though we did all the things to raise a reader, our child, who is a reader, may not be able to read well, yet.  That even though we have raised our child to be kind, helpful, and loving, others may not see her as such.

May we all remember how hard it is to send a child to school.  How hard it is to let go and hope that the child that walks through those doors is the child you hoped would show up.  Because we tried.  Because we are trying.  And I hope you see that.  I hope we all remember that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.