Tuesday, October 18, 2011

lessons from a dolphin

I've always loved animals, and I'm fascinated by the fact that most other people do too.  My students LOVE our animal unit as well as any time we get to see what kind of unique animals live in the countries we study.  What is it about animals that draws us to them so much?  I believe it's partly because we see ourselves in them, and it's often the best parts of ourselves that we find in them: beauty, love, innocence.  This weekend my husband and I went to see Dolphin Tale, and it brought out this idea to me.

In the movie (based on a true story), a shy boy who gets D's & F's in school finds his passion for learning and learns how to make human friends when he develops a special connection with an injured dolphin that he helps rescue.  All of a sudden, the boy who wouldn't get out of bed or talk about school is rushing out the door in the morning and spouting facts about the animals he encounters at the marine hospital.  What an amazing transformation!  But the really moving part of the story is how the dolphin, Winter, inspires people around the country when its tail is amputated.  I was gushing tears when a mom and her disabled daughter drove 8 hours to see Winter and the little girl, who's missing a leg, says "Mommy, she's just like me!"  At the end of the movie, they show real footage of real people who are missing limbs visiting Winter and getting to swim with her.  It was incredible!

I love the way this story shows how animals can bring out the best in us and even inspire us!  Everyone fell in love with Winter because she was so beautiful, brave, and loving, and all the people in the movie became better from having interacted with her.  Moreover, those disabled people got to feel like they were not broken or alone, but just as brave and wonderful as the dolphin.

We love animals because we see their beauty and when we form a connection with them, it shows us how we are beautiful, powerful, and courageous ourselves.  When we love them, their innocence brings out the kindest, most caring part of us.  If only it didn't take animals to show us this... although I'm glad they're around to do it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Made a difference to that one!

I'm sure you know the story of the guy who was throwing starfish into the water.  Somebody came up and told him there were too many to save, and he just kept throwing them in one by one, saying "Made a difference to that one!"  That's how I feel about teaching: there's WAY too many starfish for me to save them all, but I can do something big for some of them!  Today, I had TWO starfish-saving moments:

1. It's 7th grade lunch duty (the second of my two lunch duties in a row in the fall and definitely NOT my favorite time of the day!) and I'm walking around dismissing tables to go up to the lunch line.  As I approach the next table, I see the following scene unfold:
       Kid #1 (who has behavioral issues and is a little on the large side for a 7th grader) has his hand spread obnoxiously a few inches away from Kid #2's (who is sweet, quiet, and QUITE on the small side for a 7th grader) face.  Kid #2 backs away, saying "Don't!" Kid #1 responds by doing the Darth Vader thing where he tries to choke you from afar by pinching his fingers together.
        I walk up and give Kid #1 a look.  "He told you to stop!"
        Kid #1: "I wasn't doing ANYTHING.  I was just doing this." (He re-enacts the whole thing as if I hadn't seen: puts his hand in Kid #2's face, then does the Darth Vader thing.)  Kid #2 backs away again.
        me: "Well he didn't like that and he asked you to stop.  It's really important to stop when someone asks you."
With a resigned look (and after a little more protesting), Kid #1 puts his hands down and turns away from Kid #2 to resume a normal sitting position at the table.  I dismiss the table and Kid #1 goes to get his lunch, along with several other students.  Kid #2 stays seated, and as I start to walk away, looks up earnestly and says "Thank you!" with a very grateful look in his eyes.  Must've been a bigger deal than I thought!

2. We had shortened classes this afternoon with a pep rally at the end of the day, so my last class (6th graders) was supposed to go to their lockers and then the pep rally when we finished.  I close the door and start to walk toward the gym, after finally shooing everyone out of my room amid many questions about what the pep rally was going to be like.  One of my sweetest girls comes running up to me, pigtails flying and eyes wide, still carrying her books.
        Girl: "My locker's jammed!  I can't put my stuff away!"
         me: "It's ok, don't worry.  Let's just put your stuff back in my room for now."
I unlock the door and we throw her books and binders on a table and head off to the pep rally. As we walk (pretty much alone since almost everyone else is already nearing the gym), I tell her that I'll find a custodian and have him/her work on the locker during the pep rally.  "It's a good thing we have the pep rally or you would've missed your bus by now!"  She grins and giggles and we chit-chat until we reach the cafeteria, where I spot a custodian.  I send the girl into the gym, assuring her that her locker will be fixed by the time the pep rally is over.
       After the pep rally, I have no idea whether the custodian fixed the locker, since I was in the pep rally the whole time.  I speed-walk to my room to unlock the door and wait for the little 6th-grader to come get her stuff.  As she grabs her pile of books, she asks if the locker is fixed.
          "I don't know but the custodian told me she'd fix it, so I bet it is!"
          "I hope so..." her eyes are unsure and a little fearful.
           "Well, I'll walk down with you and watch you open it, just to be sure!  If it's not fixed, I'll be right there to run and find a custodian!"
          "YAY!!!!" She literally jumps with happiness, pigtails bouncing.
 We head to her locker together and I watch her open it -- it works on the first try!  She looks over her shoulder at me with a big grin and I clap, wave goodbye, and walk back to my room.

Made a difference to those two.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's nice to be noticed!

The second Tuesday of the month is always rough: staff meeting first thing in the morning.  Ugh.  Not that staff meetings aren't important... but I think everybody feels the same way about starting off the day with one.  However, today's staff meeting brought a pleasant surprise for me!

Background: Our district has an initiative going this year to get all teachers using their district-provided teacher webpage as the central point of communication for parents and students.  This way, parents and students don't have to remember where to go for information about any class; they just have to go to the school's website and click on the teacher's name to find out about that class.  I got "ahead of the game" this summer at tech camp with learning how to make my webpage, and I worked really hard to make it a visually appealing, informative place where parents, students and other teachers can find information about my classes, important links, and downloadable resources. It's mostly for parents, as I use my class Moodle sites for student resources and activities, but now the kids know there's a link to Moodle from my webpage, and many of them have been getting there that way instead of having to remember how to get to Moodle.  It's a lot easier for their pre-teen brains, and it makes a nice communication link for parents, so I've been happy with it.

This morning at the staff meeting, our principal talked about the teacher webpages and how everyone is supposed to try to have theirs set up by the end of the month.  (Most people didn't go to tech camp, so a lot of them don't even know how to start creating theirs!)  He's starting to use Moodle to provide resources to us since there's never enough time in the staff meeting to go in-depth with anything, so there's now information on creating webpages in the staff Moodle.  I love to go to sites as I'm being told about them, so I was on Moodle clicking around during the meeting, and as I scrolled through the description of suggested and required content for our webpages, I almost jumped out of my seat!  Right there, under "Model Webpages", was my name!  The very first one!  The only one that was listed as an "overall" example, not just an example of one component!  I think I may have emitted a small giggle/squeak of happiness and made a small joyful hop in my seat... sometimes the little kid in me just squeezes out!  (And that little kid is a straight-A, perfectionistic, "gifted" student who LIVES to work hard on something and be praised about it!)

As someone who "just" teaches an elective, and travels between 3 buildings at that, I often feel like I just slide along under the radar.  There are days that I wonder, "Does anybody even notice what I'm doing, how I'm pouring my heart and soul into these classes for these kids?"  Today, somebody noticed.  And it was really nice!  It's happened before, but never very often, and frequently as the result of a required observation.  Today was just out of the blue!  I hadn't even mentioned my webpage to my principal.  I didn't even know he knew I had made it.  This meant that he went and looked at everyone's webpages and found mine and liked it!  Wow!  I mean, of course my hard work on the webpage has been validated by the fact that parents and students and teachers have been using it to access resources and contact me... but that little girl in me is just SO excited and proud that my principal noticed!  And he liked it!  And he told everybody that it's a model!

A nice bright spot in a week full of craziness -- a band board meeting that lasted 2 1/2 hours last night, Spirit Week at school with a pep rally tomorrow (I always love Spirit Week but it's adding to the craziness of everything else right now!), parent-teacher conferences on Thursday evening, and 14 college kids from my row in band coming to eat at our house on Friday!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The few, the proud...

It's 9:30 on Saturday night.  Baggage claim at our airport usually has a fairly sparse crowd (generally just one or two of the 6 carousels running at once), but now it's PACKED.  A sea of people spread from wall to wall, with barely enough room to walk between one another: Scouts, young adults, families towing kids in strollers.  Grizzled Marines sport motorcycle jackets emblazoned with "Leathernecks".  Color guard members proudly hoist the military service flags.  Banners and posters wave in the air, calling out "Welcome home!" and "Thank you for your service!" in bold letters.  Almost everyone has a flag in hand.

We wait, instruments in hand, young and old together.  Gray pants and red polos intermixed with sharp crossbelts and plumed hats.  Even though it's Saturday night, even though the football game just ended a couple hours ago, we are here.  Suddenly a buzz runs through the crowd and our director starts to wave his baton.  They're here!  They're coming!

Everyone starts peering toward the escalators trying to catch a glimpse as we start to play.  "Caissons", "Anchors Away", "Marine Hymn", "Air Force March", "Semper Paratus".  I can barely see over the crowd but every few minutes I spot a wheelchair or a gray head proudly wearing a service branch hat.  "Military Medley, again," our director shouts and off we go some more!  "Caissons", "Anchors Away", "Marine Hymn", "Air Force March", "Semper Paratus".  A few times I'm lucky enough to catch a giant smile and eyes lit up with joy as a wheelchair or some unsteady legs with a cane come down the escalator to their first glimpse of us.  Mostly it's a blur of "Military Medley, again!" or occasionally "Navy Hymn!" "Stars and Stripes!"  Even a few "Sloopy!"s.  A small gap.  Then... "one more vet!" Our director cranes his neck toward the escalator, looking for a clue to the service branch... "Air Force!"

A lady gets on the loudspeaker and asks for a moment of silence.  The bagpipers quietly start the moving strains of "Amazing Grace".  We all sing "God Bless America" and then...

Tap, tap, tap.  We form up to march out: first the young, the "real" band.  We alumni fall in step behind them and together we snake through the crowd, yelling along to the familiar cadences we share.  Now we can really see everyone.  Volunteers and families and vets with grateful eyes reach out to us and say "Thank you!"  "Thanks so much for being here,"  "It means so much!" as we march by.  I think of my two Marine grandfathers and straighten my back with pride as I pass.  I just wish they could have been able to experience this.

This is a returning Honor Flight, a new addition to the long list of gigs we play at, and my new favorite for sure.  As members of a band with military roots and as regular American citizens, we are proud to be a part of saying "Thank you" to those who so deserve it.