Be the change, teachers

Could We Please Stop Making Each Other Feel Bad?

image from icanread

Yesterday I received the news that I am among 5 educators nominated for Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, otherwise known as the Bammy Awards.  Do you know who I told?  My mom and my husband.  I didn’t go next door to tell my teammates, I didn’t tweet it out until later when others had congratulated me.  I only told my principal because I may take a day off to go to the ceremony.  I certainly did not post it to Facebook.  This huge moment in my short teaching life was not something I felt comfortable sharing with others because I was afraid that they may get upset.  I was afraid of the negative reactions I was sure to get by telling others.

After witnessing the usual banter back and forth on Twitter about how we shouldn’t have awards for teachers or anyone within education because there are no winners, we are all winners, and no one should feel like they deserve recognition because it goes against what we stand for as educators, I felt completely deflated.  We are so good at making each other feel bad.  We are so good at feeling that our philosophy for education and educators should encompass everyone else.  We are so good at taking moments that should be celebrated and turning them into moments of shame.  

I grew up in a society marked by “Janteloven” which in essence means you are no better than anyone else.  That you should never stick your head above the crowd or promote yourself.  It squelched much creativity within my country, it squelched individualism, and pride in what people accomplished.  You never dared tell others when you were recognized.  Little did I know how similar the North American education society is to Danish society.  How dare we be excited when we are recognized?   How dare we tell others because if we tell others it must mean that we think we are better than them!

If I cannot stand up and be proud that the Global Read Aloud is getting recognition (because that is what led to my nomination) than what have we become?  We have become no better than all of the politicians who swear we are the root of all of the problems in education.  We are no better than the journalists that love sensationalizing whenever a teacher messes up.  We are no better than the commentators who tell us to quit our whining and get a real job.  We are no better than the teachers that sit in the teachers lounge and bash anyone who tries something new.  If we continue to make each other feel bad whenever we should be celebrating we are no better than the people we fight.

There will never be enough awards to hand out to all of those that should get an award.  There will never be enough recognition to give to everyone, but if we squelch the movements that are springing up to turn the tide of teacher bashing, then we are giving those who hate us a helping hand.  There are many brilliant people in education, this is not about winning or losing, but instead  finally saying that there are many people out there who do incredible things every day with what they have been giving.  We should stand up and cheer every time someone gets recognized within the education community , not chastise them or make them feel as traitors to our mission.  We are not fighting each other, we are fighting for our children.  And I for one will applaud anyone ho gets any kind of positive recognition 

assumptions, no homework, summer, teachers

You Don’t Own Their Summer

Thea enjoying her vacation

Summer vacation is starting to sneak into our school minds as stealthily as the first signs of a cold.  A mention of a vacation planned here, some raised trepidation about next year, begging for me to transfer to 6th grade.  And so while we plow on through all of our projects, still staying focused, I think of the things the students could be doing during that break; math facts, reading, fixing mistakes in their brain so that they start fresh the following year, perhaps even a little bit ahead, ready to conquer the world of 6th grade.  And then I am reminded; I don’t own their summer.

Already we have been given gentle recommendations to assign math games over summer. Some students know they will be expected to finish a math book, others to read a classic book or two.  And my outrage starts to bubble.  We don’t own their summer, we don’t own their summer, we don’t own their summer.

Summer vacation in America may be too long for some kids.  It may lead to the infamous summer slide, loss of knowledge, skill setbacks that will lead to worse test results, but we don’t own their summer.  Their summer is for them to explore, to renew, to breathe, to invest in whatever catches their interest.  Perhaps their summer will have nothing to do with school and yet everything to do with learning.  Perhaps their summer will be spent reading book after book, perhaps just being at a pool.  Whatever they choose to do with their time is none of our business.

And sure, of course those that assign homework for a class that starts after summer, they have the best interest of their students in mind.  Yet the truth is, you have no right to that time.  You have no power over whether they do it or not.  You cannot expect them to come having read 2 books, or written a paper, or done a packet of math problems.  You can ask them to, but you cannot demand it.  You may say that the summer work is like preparing for a job, but guess what, even jobs give you time off.  You may say that summer work is in the best interest of the students, to keep them out of trouble, well, let them make that decision.  You may say that if they don’t work over the summer you will never get through everything you have to cover; that is a time management problem not something you can push onto the students.

You can hope that their summer is spent learning.  That their summer is spent finding new interests.  That their summer wasn’t just a big break from anything strenuous, but you cannot decide what they should do. You cannot decide what constitutes summer learning or not, because, yes, that’s right, you don’t own their summer.

being me, parents, teachers

Your Child’s Teacher; Who Cares What Parents Think?

Image from here

Yesterday I fired my OB.  The uneasy feeling every time I saw him could not be dismissed and I figured now was better than later.  His lack of concern for my well-being, his nonchalant attitude about having twins, his lack of communication all led to this decision and after I made it, I was relieved.  Sure I have to start with a brand-new OB at 16 weeks, but I think it is worth it.  So why do I share this bit of info?  Because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it had to do with the role a teacher plays in a child’s life.  In fact, a child’s teacher is one of the only things we have absolutely no say in as parents, one of the only areas in our life we are left without a voice.

In America, a child is assigned a classroom teacher at the elementary level and that teacher is the biggest educational influence that year.  Parents have usually no say in who that teacher is and have to place their faith in the hands of the previous grade level teachers and the principal.  Sure they can ask for a placement but I wonder how many principals actually honor it?  Now don’t get me wrong, I can understand why every single parent doesn’t get to pick their teacher -talk about a popularity contest – but still, shouldn’t there be room for some sort of input?  After all, that teacher can make or break the future of this child’s education and ultimate fulfillment in life.

Most of the time the placement of the child works seamlessly and there are no parent complaints, but sometimes it fails.  Sometimes the teacher’s style of teaching, of communicating, of caring for that child flies in the face of what the parent believes in and that uneasy feeling crops up.  Sometimes a principal is involved, sometimes, the parent just sucks it up and hopes for a better one next year.  But is this right?  Should parents have to wait a whole year to get to a new teacher?  Shouldn’t they be able to have a say in what type of teacher their child gets at the very least?  The type of nurturer and mind-shaper they think will benefit their child.

I think one of our downfalls in our schools is that we think we are the only child-experts.  That because we have taught for  amount of years we know what is best for children even if a parent doesn’t agree.  I think that needs to change.  We need to allow parent input in placement, ask them about communication style, about homework and classroom management, ask them what type of environment their child will flourish in and then place that child accordingly.  Don’t make it about the teacher; make it about the child and allow for choice in this sacred cow of the American school system.  I fired my OB, why can’t parents at least decide who gets hired for their child?

summer, teachers

You Have the Summer Off, Really?

I know people mean well.  I know they think I am exhausted from dealing with students, demanding tests, and just the overall misery of being a teacher in America.  But they are wrong.  I am not exhausted, I have never just “dealt with” students or misery (dreadful tests – yes).  So when someone tells me that they survived the school year, I cringe, and when someone asks me how excited I am to have the summer “off” I stop and pause.  I am excited to spend more time with my family and do summer things, but excited about having off, no not really.

I don’t have the summer off.  I never have since deciding to be a teacher.  When I was going to college I would work extra hours and take summer classes.  Since getting my teaching job, I have taught summer school, taken classes and just kept my brain engaged.  And while many choices are voluntary, I do it with one big picture in mind; a better educational experience for my students.  This post is not to whine, I make the choices about my time, but it is meant to make people pause before they state that teachers have 3 months off and have it so easy.  So here is what I have been up to:

  • I blog almost daily to keep myself reflective and engaged.
  • I am getting ready to present twice at the Reform Symposium 3.  Once on student blogging and once with my great friend Matt on the connection and collaboration between our very different classrooms.
  • I have finished editing an upcoming article on the Global Read Aloud for ISTE’s magazine “Learning & Leading with Technology” to be published in November.
  • I have written a guest post for VolunteerSpot on what we wish we could tell parents but don’t.
  • I have finished doing a double blind review of a great book to be published by SolutionTree.
  • I have engaged in deep conversation about best practices and student blogging on an almost daily basis with individual educators looking to make a change.
  • I am preparing a weeklong professional development class I am teaching in my district in August on how to integrate technology into your classroom.
  • I have revamped my school’s old website and converted it to a blog.
  • I have changed my own classroom website from Tumblr to Blogger due to security issues.
  • I have worked on revamping the Global Read Aloud website to allow for author collaboration (email me to let me know if you want to be a collaborator).
  • I have cleaned my classroom and sorted all of my 4th grade curriculum to pass on to the new 4th grade teacher.
And that is all in the first week of vacation.  So while bettering myself is a choice and I may do more than other people I fit it into my daughter’s schedule and we make it work.  Next week when I leave for Denmark I have 3 books I am bringing with me all education related since I want to revamp my reading program.  So the next time someone feels the urge to tell teachers how lucky they are to have 3 months off, think about, maybe ask them instead what they plan on doing this summer.  The answer may surprise you.
aha moment, answers, assumptions, balance, being a teacher, believe, change, education, education reform, educators, elementary, hopes, inspiration, invest, school staff, talented, teachers, teaching

Bring Out the Experts

The education community loves experts. Experts are flown in, bussed in, and wined and dined. If you are an expert on something chances are there is a school that wants to pay you for sharing your thoughts. In fact, you don’t even have to claim to be an expert, others will often bestow that title upon you as a favor. After all, how else will your expense be excused? So I wonder, how does one become an expert, after all, aren’t we all just humble learners?

The word expert is tinged with weight. To be an expert you must be not just knowledgable, but also an authority. Yet who decides when one is an authority? Does it need a book deal? A huge following? Or someone else who is an expert to look at you kindly? Who decides who the experts are?

We are quick to bring in outside experts whenever there is a need but often I wonder who could we have turned to on-site? Who at this school could already have shared that same information at a fraction of the price? Who at this school could have had the opportunity to teach others, much as we teach our students every day. I consider myself lucky being surrounded by experts every day. I find myself among some incredible educators that work hard to bring their expertise into the classrooms to benefit the students. Isn’t it time for all of us to recognize the experts among us?

I dare to propose that we are all experts. Although not world known, or even known outside of our small circles, yet we are knowledgable of something particular, something that we can claim authority on. And so consider this; at school you are indeed surrounded by experts. Whether they are experts at teaching the civil war, grammar, haikus or how to dribble, they have deep intimate knowledge that they can pass on to others. So share your expertise with others, go ahead open up and discuss what you know you are good at. We have to get better at celebrating each others knowledge, each others succeses, simply each other. We are all experts, how will you foster expertise?

being a teacher, teachers

Ok, I Admit It

It is time I admit a few things.  Not any secrets, nothing that will hurt others, but truths that I am ready to share about myself.  After all, my birthday is nearing, time for reflection is now, and honestly, why not put it all out there?  So in no particular order, here it is 
  • I am not tough.  Far from it in fact.  Although my steps seem self-assured and I can argue all of my opinions, inside I am still that awkward 15 year old hoping for acceptance.  So when people speak of “people” and what these “people” are saying about me, that pit in my stomach grows.  And yet, I know that life is a series of ebbs and flows, and someone out there likes me and what I do.  
  • I am a massive (proud) geek.  Oh, such a cliche, but it is true, my husband reminds me all the time that I would be a Trekkie if I had more time.  Instead I consume all things zombie, Neil Gaiman, techy tools and nerd style.  I would rock geeky glasses if I needed them.  I get excited when students quote obscure books or Sherlock Holmes.  I will talk videogames with you.  And it’s ok, I embrace it in my own nerdy way.
  • I am not an extrovert.  I am boisterous, I laugh loudly, and I sing in my classroom.  That does not mean I am comfortable around people.  In fact, I think the internet has provided me with a much needed shield so that I could explore facets of my personality and let myself shine amongst others.  See me at a conference and don’t be surprised if I am very, very quiet.
  • I do not have all of the answers.  I am sharing my journey, not selling a path.  
  • I change my mind.  This year certain things are working for me incredibly well but that does not mean they will work next year as well.  I am forever open to change, to reflection, to reinvention.  After all, life is not a passive act and neither is teaching.
  • I don’t think I am a great teacher.  I have been around great teachers, my mother being one, and I am not even close to that.  And thankfully so; my journey has just begun and I need to aspire to something.  I think I have good ideas, passion, and dedication, but greatness – maybe in 25 years.
I wonder what others wish the world knew about them?