Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Celebrating excellence

at Two Writing Teachers!
Last Wednesday evening, after rushing home to change clothes and stuff some Wendy's into my mouth, I found myself back at school.  Decked out in dresses and ties, teachersand students milled around the atrium, exchanging excited pleasantries.

"Wow, you look so nice in that shirt and tie!"
"What a pretty dress!"
"Which family members are here for you?"

Finally, we formed a long snake with two stripes: teachers on one side and students on the other.  A peaceful processional drifted to our ears, and the snake slithered through the auditorium doors and down the steps, splitting as the students continued onto the stage and the teachers took our reserved seats.

One by one, each student came to center stage, met by his or her nominating teacher.  As each pair stood together on stage, the Master of Ceremonies read the nominator's special description of the student.  Many were outstanding for their academic work, but there were also students who were recognized for their superior effort, dramatic improvement, or leadership.  All were certainly outstanding young people, but I knew that none compared to my student.

Finally, it was our turn.  Wondering why standing on a stage still gives me such jitters, I took a deep breath and strode out to meet my student, congratulating him with a handshake.  As someone else's voice floated my words through the air, we faced the audience with smiles.

Is that guy reading too fast?  I wish he would have paused there.  I hope everybody hasn't stopped listening since we're so late in the program.  I hope they can hear what he's saying clearly enough!  My mind raced, and I felt sweat running down my back from the nervousness of being on stage.

Halfway through my words, I noticed my student tilt his head back, blinking back tears.  Time seemed to slow down as my words ran out. "Thank you!" he said, but the gratitude in his eyes was enough.  We hugged to powerful applause that resonated through the auditorium as I gave him the certificate and walked off the stage.  Is it just me, or was that WAY louder than the applause for all the other kids?

I squeezed back into my seat to whispers from the principals and other teachers.
"Good job!"             "Great choice!"           "What an amazing kid!"    

At the cookie reception after the ceremony, countless teachers and parents came up to personally congratulate my student, even people who didn't know him!
"Do you have to work tonight?"  one couple asked.
"Oh yes, 10-7!" His teeth flashed against his dark skin as that signature smile stretched across his face. "I miss my bed.  It's ok though!"

Each time someone expressed their admiration, he'd just grin, shrug, and turn to me.  "Everyone is acting like I'm special."
"You ARE special."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tristeza terrible

at Latinaish!
Today is Spanish Friday, so this post is in Spanish!

El miércoles por la mañana, al final de la primera clase, el altavoz de repente sonó con un anuncio.

-- Maestros, acabo de mandar un correo electrónico que Uds. deben leer. -- declaró nuestra secretaria en voz seria.

Uy, eso no es bueno, nunca.  Abrí mi portátil y entré en mi cuenta del correo electrónico.

 -- MUERTE DE UN MAESTRO -- El corazón me cayó cuando leí el asunto.  ¡Que horrible!  -- Ha muerto el estimado Sr. ______ después de sufrir un paro cardiaco mientras entraba en [otro colegio en nuestro distrito escolar, donde trabaja mi mamá como la directora]. -- Ay, dios, mi mamá tuviera que haber sido uno de los primeros en responder.  

Ese señor había trabajado por muchos años en el colegio donde enseño ahora, y este año se había traslado al colegio de mi mamá.  Iba a jubilarse en sólo un mes.  Muchos maestros y estudiantes de mi colegio lo conocían como un maestro amable y chistoso.  Durante toda la mañana, tuvimos que ayudar a los maestros de su departamento antiguo para que no tuvieran que enseñar después de las noticias tan inesperadas.  Me preocupaba por mi mamá, pero sabía que ella estaría muy ocupada.

Por la tarde, después de sonó la última timbre, ella me llamó por fin.
-- Mami, ¿Estás bien? --
-- Le agarraba de la mano cuando se murió. -- Me contestó tristemente. -- Estaba en la oficina cuando recibimos el aviso de que alguien había llamado 911 de un aula.  Salí corriendo y lo vi caído en la escalera. Intenté hablarle para mantenerle alerto, pero... se murió, allí, antes de la llegada de los médicos.  [Un director asistente] le hizo CPR, y luego los médicos usaron su desfibrilador allí en el pasillo, pero... nada.  Todos nuestros maestros se pusieron tan angustiados... fue tan traumático.  --
-- Ay, lo siento Mami... --

Así que ahora hay dos colegios en nuestro distrito escolar con los corazones destrozados.  Y hay muchísimas personas que quieren decir -- Te amo -- más frecuentemente.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I Teach

at Two Writing Teachers!
Last week, I wrote about what it's like to face those discouraging days in the classroom.  I also hinted at why I persevere through those tough days, a topic which is on many minds lately.  In the midst of testing, blaming, "It must be so nice to have the summers off"-ing, and "You're too smart to be a teacher!"-ing (not to mention all the regular classroom challenges!), teachers are speaking out.  We are sharing Why We Stay and Why We Teach.

I'm going to be completely honest: sometimes I think about quitting.  Occasionally, I used to wonder if I'd become part of those sad statistics about the incredible number of new teachers who quit within the first three or five years of teaching.  But here I am, still pushing through year six!

Some days, I battle back tears as I drive home, and I wonder if I can keep doing this for years.  I wonder what my life would be like if I had become an engineer (my major through my freshman year of college).  In the morning, I pry my exhausted body out of bed in the dark and do my best imitation of Mr. Holland's Opus: "What kind of person goes to work at 7:00 in the morning?!"  But I get up anyway, and by the time my students walk through my classroom door, I'm waiting to greet them with a huge smile.

Here's why:

I teach because I want to change the world.
  • I believe that I can design my instruction and my classroom in a way that will help my students become more tolerant, empathetic, compassionate people.
  • I believe that I can give my students skills and confidence they can use to follow their dreams and affect the world in ways I can't even imagine.
  • I believe that my life can shine in a way that helps my students see what is possible when you live with love and enthusiasm.

I teach because I want to change lives.
  • I believe that every student has a reader and a writer hiding somewhere inside.  I want to help all of my students discover how to lose themselves in books and how to pour out the stories of their hearts.
  • I believe that students who flick their eyes from the ceiling to the clock to the floor during reading time in the fall can come rushing into my room, waving a book and shouting about it in the spring... and I've seen it happen.
  • I believe that students who stare at a blank page for over a half hour in the fall can write heartfelt paragraphs and poems in under twenty minutes in the spring... and I've seen that happen too.
  • I believe that I can help my students catch a love of learning that will propel them through their lives.
  • I believe that one teacher is enough to make a difference.

I teach because I love my students and I know they need the kind of teacher I try to be.
  • I know that my students need smiles, encouraging comments, and quick little conversations about their lives.
  • I know that my students need hugs, tissues, moments in the hallway, and a safe place to come when their worlds are falling apart.
  • I know that my students need snacks, dollars, change, and a place to work on the computer before and after school.
  • I know that my students need listening ears, chances to ask hard questions, and guidance about things I don't even begin to have answers to, but I know they just need me to try.
  • I know that my students need celebrations, treats, and thoughtful feedback.
  • I know that my students need authentic, meaningful learning opportunities that allow them to bring their own experiences and connect to others.
  • I know that my students need to see adults who are still reading, still writing, and still learning.
  • I know that my students and their families need someone they trust to help them navigate this befuddling world of free lunch, residency verification, Title I programs, testing, lectures, college applications, and so much more... all in a new language.
  • I know that my students need someone to speak up for them to other students and staff who don't know or don't understand what they are going through.
  • I know that my students need someone who also struggles with thinking of a word in the wrong language, being unable to find a phrase in the right language that expresses a certain concept, yearning for a different pace of life, craving a food that just can't be found here, and all the other issues of those who "carry another home in their hearts" (as Silas House and Neela Vaswani so eloquently described it in Same Sun Here).

I teach because I can't imagine doing anything else.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grabbing at Stars

at Two Writing Teachers!

It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them. -- R.A. Salvatore

This school year has been quite a challenge: new subject, new school, new age group.  Even though everyone (principals, other teachers, district administrators, all of you wonderful slicing friends...) keeps telling me what a great job I'm doing, I haven't been happy with my work.  

The way I see it, I've just been floundering around, constrained by time and energy, struggling madly to stay afloat.  My classes are just finally starting real thematic units (my strength and the only way I really feel like I know what I'm doing), just because I didn't have time to develop them earlier in the year.  (I love thematic units, but they take so much intensive planning and preparation!)  My writers' workshop just feels like we're floundering around, but there hasn't been any time to dig into that stack of books on my bedroom floor that I know will give me the guidance I need.  All of the handouts I've made and used this year are teetering in a giant pile on top of my file cabinet.  My desk and my Evernote are both strewn with exciting and wonderful ideas that I just haven't been able to implement yet.

Even so, all that is ok on the good days.  On the good days, I'm able to shove aside my perfectionism and celebrate all I have managed to accomplish this year.  I can hear excited voices engaged in purposeful conversation, feel the quiet peace of a roomful of riveted readers, and savor strong student voices alive on blogs and paper.  On the good days, I can see the students who have turned into readers and writers, who have overcome incredible obstacles, who have trusted me with their problems, who view my classroom as a safe and happy place.  They are my shining stars.

On days like today, the stars are hard to see in the midst of all the clouds.  Students are tired or stressed or goofy or hyper, or everything at once.  Maybe it's the end-of-the-year-itis, maybe just an off day, or maybe something happened at home that I can't even dream of.  That student in the corner still hasn't become a reader no matter how many great books I've nudged him with.  Those other students are churning out the same brief, flavorless writing they were slapping on paper months ago.  Another student doesn't even have materials out after three reminders.  It takes five minutes to focus for oral directions in one class, yet we can hear the nearly-silent air vent running when small group discussions are supposed to be happening later.  On these days, the stars seem so dim and far away that I barely notice them. Moreover, I wonder if I can ever clear the clouds away to make more stars appear.  

But if I squint really hard, I can see them.  If I narrow my field of vision, those gleaming little successes suddenly look a lot bigger and brighter.  The others may be hidden for now, but they're there.  If I keep trying, I might reach them someday.  I have to keep reaching.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Para no repetir la historia

at Latinaish
Today is Spanish Friday, so this post is in Spanish!  If you don't speak Spanish, try out Google Translate and see if you can get the gist!

Hoy tuvimos una presentación especial para todo el colegio.  Unos convictos (todos condenados por delitos grandes relacionados a las drogas) nos hablaron de sus vidas y su dependencia en las drogas y el alcohol.  Alrededor de veinte convictos nos relataron sus historias conmovedoras:

  • Tenían de 20 a 50 años...
  • Antes de usar las drogas, eran atletas, animadoras y estudiantes inteligentes, ricos y pobres, de circunstancias malas y buenas, de hogares disueltos y hogares felices... eran como todos nuestros estudiantes.
  • Fueron condenados de una variedad de crímenes, de la posesión de drogas al robo, la falsificación de documentos, amenazar a los testigos, el asalto, y más... todo para conseguir sus drogas or el dinero para comprar más drogas.  
  • Después de convertirse en drogadicto, un joven robó de sus propios padres para obtener dinero para las drogas.
  • Una mujer energética y simpática tuvo 37 condenas de delitos grandes.
  • Una joven había empezado a usar las drogas a los siete años.
  • Casi todos se convirtieron en adictos de la heroína, aunque habían jurado que no lo usarían nunca. 
Cientos de estudiantes silencios y atentos.
Cientos de ojos mojados, incluso los míos.

Al final de la presentación, nos preguntaron cuántos o usaran drogas o conocieran a un amigo a familiar que las usaran.  Casi todos los estudiantes levantaron las manos.  

Algunos se levantaron para hacerles preguntas muy emotivas a los convictos.  
-- ¿Cómo puedo ayudarle a un amigo? --  
-- ¿Cómo puedo dejar de usar? --

La respuesta siempre era lo mismo: 
-- Buscarle ayuda. Pide ayuda.  Antes de que sea demasiado tarde. --

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Celebrating Student Writers

Today I hosted a celebratory lunch for my student writers who posted "Slices of Life" for 21 days or more during the March Challenge.  I gave them passes to have an extra-long lunch with me so we could eat together and talk about the challenge, and I picked up Chipotle for them.  (I'm not sure which they were more excited about -- getting out of class, or getting Chipotle!)

When I got to Chipotle to pick up our order, I mentioned that this was a reward for my students and explained the Slice of Life Challenge.  The girl at the cashier said "I think we can do something for you..." and went to talk to her manager.  To my excitement, she came back and announced, "We'll take care of that for you.  We love the schools!" and made all of our burritos/burritos bowls complimentary!

Back at school, my students beamed when I told them that Chipotle had given us the food for free because they had worked so hard!  After chatting and giggling over our food for awhile, we discussed the challenge.  We celebrated favorite posts, shared our plans for future blogging, and avowed the thill of getting comments.

After we finished eating, I had a special activity based on the reading signs Donalyn Miller has her students make at the end of the year.  Armed with bright tagboard and markers, each student made a sign displaying the number of posts she wrote during the challenge.
These four students blogged for 21 days or more in March!
Her writing is small, so here's what it says: "I Love how I can write anytime I want.  Even before we start this challenge I loved to write about myself. So when I heard that our classe will start March Challenge I was really excited. I think it really helps my writing skill. I can feel that I'm getting strong! :)"  (Lina
To wrap up the celebration, I presented prizes: special journals to the top two writers, a free book coupon to the third writer, and a bookmark for the fourth girl (all inscribed with notes from me).

During the challenge, my students found their voices, their courage, and their potential.  Now, they are writers!  This is my true gift to them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Days Like These

at Two Writing Teachers!
I've been welcoming Poetry Month into my classroom, and it's been really fun so far.  When I was walking out of school today, I thought about writing a post about how poetry has always been a part of my life.  As I climbed in the car, I started to think about some of my favorite poems and how special they've been to me. (I always brainstorm Slice ideas in my head while I drive home from school!)

Then I started driving.  I rolled down the windows and opened the moon roof.  The sun was shining so brightly and the air was so warm, and new words just flew out of the breeze and into my head.  As soon as they started to tumble around in there, I knew that I wasn't going to be writing ABOUT poetry anymore.  I was writing poetry.  (This is how poems always come to me: nature, and then words in a jumble that bounce around my head!)

I walked into the house, threw my school supplies on the ground, and grabbed my notebook before the words left.  (Husband came home while I was writing. As soon as he opened the door, I screeched, "DON'T TALK TO ME!  I'M WRITING A POEM!")

So, Happy Poetry Month!

These days,
when sunbeams sparkle
playfully on the rolling river ripples
and filter
lazily through the just-awakening
green growing trees

I roll
           the windows
and pop open the moon roof,
crank up the country,
and catch
great greedy gulps
of sweet sunshine
and delicious dancing daffodils

Breathe deep
and smile.

These days,
I can

toe-wiggling sandals,
warm-breeze-welcoming tanktops,
foot-tickling grass


crisp crackling fireworks
gleeful glowing fireflies

and days that just never seem to end.


Friday, April 5, 2013

¡por fin, la primavera!

at Latinaish!
Today is Spanish Friday, so this post is in Spanish!  If you don't speak Spanish, try out Google Translate and see if you can get the gist!  :-)

Por fin, ha llegado la primavera, y no hay nada que me inspira a escribir más que la primavera.  Además, abril es el mes de la poesía, ¡así que me parece bien escribir un poema para dar la bienvenida a la primavera!

Este poema es del estilo Tanka, una forma poética japonesa.  Aprendí de los poemas Tanka de Lee Ann cuando ella escribió uno para celebrar nuestra visita Skype.

las rayas del sol:
una manta calmante
que me abraza
con la brisa caliente:
respiro, despierta.

(La idea de bloguear en otro idioma los viernes ha entusiasmado a mis estudiantes, y algunos han empezado a escribir en sus idiomas nativas en nuestro blog.  Por favor, dejad unos comentarios para ellos!)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Student Blogging Reflections

Earlier this week, I reflected on my experiences with the first-ever Classroom Slice of Life Challenge and shared some of my students' thoughts from our 3rd quarter reflections.  Even though the challenge wasn't yet complete when we did those quarter reflections, most of my students cited blogging in general and/or the March Challenge as one of the most enjoyable and helpful activities of the past nine weeks.

Now that the challenge is over, I wanted to see them reflect more deeply on their experiences with trying to blog every day for a month.  I gave them several sentence starters to guide them (thanks to Lee Ann for the ideas!), and I was really impressed with their insightful reflections.

Here are a few of the highlights:
  • "For the first time..."

"For the first time... I enjoyed writing."  Enough said!

  • "I learned..."

how to get writing ideas and how writing connects people! 
how to use others' comments as models for good commenting!

empathy for others!

how to appeal to an audience!
  • "I enjoyed..."

(She was originally very insecure about sharing her writing, but loved the connections she found!) 
He "used to hate writing", but he really got into blogging!
(We got comments from as far away as New Zealand!)

  •  "I wish..."

So many students echoed this feeling!
She's a senior!  :-)  Wouldn't it be cool if she wrote next year from college?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why bring blogging into your classroom?

at Two Writing Teachers!
Wow.  My 2nd March Challenge is over.  (Can it really be that last year was my first March Challenge?  It seems like I've been slicing forever!)

While I loved the challenge and feel proud that I completed it again, this year was really all about my students.  Thus, this year was even more rewarding.  (It was also infinitely more exhausting!)

This year, my own slices and comments were fun, but they were not my focus.  I still grew as a writer, but not as much as last year.  This year, I grew as a teacher of writers.

I stretched and grew during the classroom challenge:
  • posting my own daily link-up posts on our class blog, modeled after the TWT ones
  • using the Kidblog iOS app to easily approve comments throughout the day
  • commenting on student posts each day, in addition to adult slicers' posts! 
  • Skyping in class (with Lee Ann and her students!)
  • creating connections with other classrooms across the country
  • running commenting challenges and other prize giveaways for my students, modeled after the ones Ruth and Stacey do
  • gaining a much deeper appreciation for my students' lives and strengthening positive relationships with them
Best of all, my students stretched themselves and grew too!  Before Spring Break, our quarter ended and my students did our usual end-of-quarter reflection and evaluation.  I was pleased to see how many of them mentioned blogging (and specifically the March Challenge!) as one of the most enjoyable AND beneficial activities of the quarter.  

Look how many different benefits of blogging they came up with!

building classroom community and empathy/tolerance for others!
practicing interpersonal communication skills!
authentic audience!
gaining courage to share your stories!
I couldn't have said it better myself!  Student blogging is an incredible experience that will transform your classroom... and your students' lives.

Still not convinced? Read a student's goodbye to the March Challenge.