being me, classroom expectations, role model

All Hail the Rambunctious Girls – What Will Ever Come of Them?

“Mommy, mommy help….” Thea is hiding in the house and has managed to get herself stuck.  I free her and off she runs; things to do, mommy, things to do.  I look at my little girl, the picture of energy, rambunctiousness, and vitality and I wonder what will school do to her?

At her daycare now she is one of few girls.  She plays with the boys, which suits her perfectly as she likes to climb, explore, and run around.  She also likes to read books and play with dolls but only sometimes.  Most of the time she is on the go, unstoppable, invincible and always headed for adventure.  She is not good at sitting still and being spoken to.  She sometimes wants to help but it does not come natural to her. And yet in two years when she enters school she is expected to embrace quietness, helpfulness, and eagerness to please much like any other girl in our society.  And if she doesn’t, she will be flagged.

We speak of how our school system fails boys, much like Josh Stumpenhorst just did in his excellent post, and yet we forget that by making these statements we push girls into the subservient roles we expect of them.  Our traditional classrooms call for quiet compliance and buy-in to whatever we propose.  Girls are trained quicker to fit this pattern than boys.  From an early age society expects girls to be selective with their words, complacent, and eager to help others.  We expect them to do their homework on time, to do whatever we ask of them and to give us whatever we need.  We don’t think girls will mind when we take away recess, or when we suggest quiet reading time rather than an activity.  We don’t think girls will mind always being the ones we ask for help, mind that they are the ones tasked with mothering other students, mind that we have them so far squeezed into a role that we do  not understand when they fight it.

And yet, Thea is not that girl, and I love her for it.  I see myself in her and I see her personality as a great thing.  She is not one to be quiet, she is nice yes, but she would rather be outside than sit and wait for someone to tell her what to do.  She has ideas, grand ones, filled with ambitious building and tearing down.  There is no plan, she is not meticulous in her details and perhaps she never will be.  How will she fit into the traditional role of a girl?  How will she cope with the pressures to conform that we all place on her.  Boys are not ever viewed as being naughty when they are loud, they are just being boys.  But girls are undisciplined, unruly, when they buck against the traditional role.  Girls confuse us when they don’t sit quietly and say please and thank you.  We have such high expectations for our daughters and our female students but maybe we should reevaluate them and stop thinking that all girls are naturally compliant.  Perhaps instead we should wait and see how they turn out and then embrace their personality. Let them be wild, let them be loud, let them be free.

being a teacher, role model, Student, technology

You Don’t Have to Be A Technology Whiz But You Do Need to Be Fearless

Image from here

As we find ourselves surrounded by more and more technology in our profession as teachers, we see teachers react in strong ways.  You have the embracers, the ones that think any tech tool will enhance their teaching whether it really will or not.  You have those who are open but sceptic, who look for tools that will create deeper meanings and not just be another flashy gadget.  You have the hesitaters, the ones that will not request but will use the tool when they get it.  You have the hand-holders, those who stare at something and do not use it until someone else walks them through the entire process, multiple times.  Then you have the skeptics, the ones that do not think any tech will enrichen their teaching because they don’t believe in gadgets.  Finally you have the resisters, those who resist pretty much any change, whether technology related or not.  All of these types of teachers have their reasons for being who they are, all of them base their perceptions on assumptions and on past experience.

So for all of them I offer some advice.

  • Don’t blame the tool.  Often we hate the tool before we have even tried it, it is like a gut reaction to change in education that one develops.  “Oh, here they come again with their fancy new ideas while the old ideas work just fine.”  And while there is some truth in that, it is not the tool’s fault it was placed in your room, so the least one can do is explore it.  Otherwise it leads to…
  • Judge first, condemn early.  How many teachers have gotten upset over new initiatives or things being introduced before they have even tried it?  Sometimes it is easier to get upset rather than just wait and see; many words have been eaten this way.
  • You don’t have to love it but do try it.  I don’t love every piece of tech in my room (SmartBoard I am thinking of you) but I do use it.  After all it is there so I might as well.  I may just prefer to teach in other ways and use different tools.
  • Mess with it.  Too many times teachers are afraid to even turn something on, let alone push several buttons.  This approach can no longer be accepted.  We should be guided by many of our students’ approach to tech; turn it on and mess with it.  You never know what you can discover on your own.
  • Give it more than one try.  Even with my SmartBoard I continue to explore it, hoping I will have that aha moment where I embrace it.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I will not give up on it.  It is there to stay and so am I.
  • Ask questions, but don’t gripe.  Yes, satisfaction can be reached through commiseration over the latest tool but will that really push us any further toward figuring it out?  Start a conversation, reach out to others, but leave it productive.  You will feel better when you walk away.
  • Get help.  Sometimes teachers are too proud to ask others for help but not me.  I ask my students to help me figure stuff out, I ask other teachers whether globally or in my school.  Somebody else is bound to have run into the same problem at some point so why not solve it together?  Team approach works best with technology.
  • Be fearless.  Technology is not the master of us and it never was intended to be, and yet, how many teachers are deathly afraid of it all?  Yes, you may break something but so what?  At least you attempted to use it.  Again look to our students for how we should embrace technology; try it, use it, make it work for you.  

Being a 21th century teacher means we have to equip our students with the know-how of technology, there simply is no excuse to not fulfill our job.  Our students learn from us, even the way we react to change, so think of your approach as the newest thing is shown to you.  Will you model how to be fearless?

being me, family, inspiration, role model

A Mother’s Tale

When I was 15, I hated my mother.  In fact, I hated almost everything.  Anger, sadness and oh so loathing of myself emanated and surrounded me every day for years.  Words flew like daggers, piercing indiscriminately whomever and whatever came in my path.  I was a child who suffered in their own self-pity, one who wallowed in misery, and lost friends, alienated family and tried to make everyone else’s life as miserable as I perceived my own. And yet my mother stood by me.  She didn’t change her course, her faith in me, her utmost belief that the little girl that had been the last, would one day come back to her.

People like my mother do not appear often in one’s life.  She is selfless without being depreciatingly so.  She is witty, charming, and very very smart.  She is beautiful in a way that requires little effort.  She is strong, and she is a believer in strength for all.  She is fair, she is opinionated, and she carries a grudge, but she knows when to let go and forgive, even a child that sets out to hurt.

As a teacher, this lesson sticks with me every day.  Our students may lash out with words that are meant to destruct, destroy and hurt, and yet I stand by them, knowing that they too are momentarily lost on their path in life but one day they will return to me.

Tonight my mother was awarded the University of Wisconsin Academic Excellence in Teaching Award.  We were there to see her accept it and there to cheer.  My mother passes her lessons of love, curiosity, and inventiveness on to students every day and for once someone finally acknowledged just how incredible she is.  So thank you to the most important woman in my life, thank you to the one who taught me what it means to live with grace and to believe fervently that we make a difference.  We speak of teachers as role models, and yes, my mother is mine, but she is also many others’.  Thank you for standing by and standing up when I needed it.  Thank you for kicking in and kicking butt when it was deserved.  I am the product of a strong woman.  I hope my daughter will say the same about me.

aha moment, assumptions, being a teacher, believe, community, homework, hopes, role model, students

They are Someone’s Child – Tania’s Aha Moment

This last aha moment is shared to me by the prolific can-doer Tania Ash, whose newly minted blog I have a feeling will be a must read and who is also a must follow on Twitter at @tcash. Tania was a person who reached out early to me in my Twitter experience because that is just how she works. Always looking to welcome new teachers into the experience, always there to support, and as one of the founders of the wonderful #elemchat held on Thursday nights she has been a fantastic resource in my PLN. As a 5th grade teacher in Morocco, she is never afraid to connect with others both herself and with her students. This aha moment speaks deeply to me as I have gone through this same transformation. Thank you Tania for sharing it with the rest of us and also for rounding out our aha moment guest series with such a heartfelt piece.

When I was asked to write about my a-ha moment, I must admit that I had mixed feelings. Coming from an educator I respect and admire so much, a prolific writer whose blog represents not only a wealth of ideas, but also thought-provoking, deep reflection; after the initial excitement, my first fear was that of falling short. My second, was to find the perfect a-ha moment among myriad possibilities.

There have been so many a-ha moments along the way. How to choose a single one? My life, my choices, haven’t exactly followed the most typical itinerary.

There could be the moment when, after dropping out of school in grade 13 and following a boy to another continent, I decided I wanted to work in an elementary school and became an assistant in a 2nd grade classroom.

Or the moment, 3 years later, when I decided that I wanted to go back to school and become a teacher. It could be any number of moments with some of the inspiring educators I had the honour to work with, from the 2nd grade teacher who opened the door to the world of teaching (and continues, to this day, to be both my mentor and best friend), to the 3rd and 5th grade teachers who opened up their classrooms, filing cabinets and plan books when they kindly agreed to act as my cooperating teachers during my student teaching… those were unforgettable moments that shaped the teacher I was to become.

It could be the moment when, after serving as the technology coordinator in my school, I realized that I longed for my own class where I could be a pedagogue and plan learning experiences from start to finish, and not just content myself with being the “tech” of someone else’ project.

That said, one of the moments that most profoundly impacted my teaching came from the most unexpected sources. Well, it was unexpected to me at least. It wasn’t in any textbook in the teacher-training program, it wasn’t in any student-teacher internship programs, nor part of any of the countless workshops and conferences I’ve attended over the years. It was a transformation that started small, and then began to grow. It isn’t a particular moment per se, but a collection of moments that started the day my son was born. The day I became a parent and got my first glimpse at the other side of the fence was the day I began to be a better teacher.

At first, it was just the realization of how powerful parenthood is…
As an educator, I’d always loved and valued children, but as a mother, I found out what that really meant. For the first year after my son was born, I found I couldn’t watch any news or read any newspapers. Every time there was a story about a suffering child, it touched me as if those children, in faraway lands, were *mine*. Today, when I meet my 5th grade students and their families in the first days of the school year, I can immediately visualize those nights when those parents tiptoed into their child’s bedroom at night, just to make sure s/he was still breathing, or imagine the trepidation they felt the first time they left their treasure in someone else’ care. Today, when I greet a new student at the door, it is the whole family that I welcome, doing my best to reassure them that I will handle their delicate treasure with the utmost care.

After a while, the a-ha feeling grew…
I began to look more closely, and more appreciatively, at the small things in life. Having worked with mostly upper elementary aged students, I used to think that teaching early childhood just wasn’t for me. I know – that’s quite the confession coming from a teacher. Shame! I found I had trouble relating with very young students, that our cadences were, well, off-sync. Kindergarten? I didn’t think I had the patience for the very basic, well, basics. But as I watched my son grow from an infant to a toddler, and the determination with which he learned to crawl, then walk, the elation I saw in his face with each new discovery, I learned just how *big* those small steps are. They say that quality preschool programs are one of the best indicators of future success. Today, as both an educator and a parent, I strongly support that claim – and would gladly teach Kindergarten any day if offered the opportunity.

And then it grew some more…
Another confession that I really must share is this – as a teacher, I used to give plenty of homework. I used to make students record their reading in a reading log, do problem after problem, practice basic facts, research…I even occasionally gave homework on the weekend…academia in overdrive! Today, as a parent, I realize just how precious those weekend minutes for family time really are. I see, now, that fighting with my child to get his reading homework done isn’t going to create a lifelong reader. It is only going to create frustration, anxiety and tension and may indeed backfire. As a teacher, I now strive to be more reflective, more selective in the homework I assign…much less than before… and I never, never assign homework on the weekend.

Every day, another a-ha connection
Whereas I have always felt a little anxious during parent conferences as a teacher, I now have a better sense for what a parent feels at that same moment. As a parent, I look at my son’s teacher across the conference table and see someone who is judging him – whether favourably or not – evaluating his development in the cognitive, physical, and social domains. Does she see the guilt I carry around about all the things I *should* be doing as a parent to help my child grow? Those things that somehow, despite best intentions, get set aside on those days when life gets in the way? This person is helping to shape my child’s future. Does she know everything she needs to know about him? Does she know how anxious he gets when he believes that he may have lost her approval? Today, as before, I start out parent conferences by listening. I listen to parents tell me about their child, and how they perceive their child’s feelings about school. Is Johnny happy to come to school? What kinds of topics does he seem to enjoy most? What works at home? Today, as before, I start out by listening, but it seems like today, when I listen, I can really hear what parents are telling me. As a teacher, I don’t beat around the bush – I am honest with parents about their child’s progress, and always include goals and strategies parents can try at home to help their child grow. I do my best to set the tone right from the start of the school year, to clarify that lines of communication are open. I explain to them that we are partners in the quest to help guide their child towards success, and that, whereas I may not have all the answers, I, we, can work towards effective solutions together.

I have the incredible fortune of having my child attend the school where I work, a school which is, in my opinion, one of the best schools out there. Located on a beautiful green campus, it has intangible qualities that make it a very special place where children are happy and want to learn. It is also a place where, every day, I learn a little something about being a parent, and I learn lots about being a teacher. Being a parent has helped – is helping me – become a better teacher. I switch hats numerous times during the day, look at the other side of the coin, or across the fence. Whatever the metaphor, whenever I move between my role as a parent and my role as a teacher, I make another connection, I have another little a-ha moment.