Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Year of Delight

at Two Writing Teachers!
A year ago, words were rattling around in my head. It took me a few days before I picked my one little word: DELIGHT. But it certainly was the right word! With my mind centered on DELIGHT, I was able to bring myself to the heart of what matters most.

I've worked hard to craft a classroom where delight in learning is palpable: where we share joyful adventures in reading, bring forth treasures in writing, and truly care about each other. It has come together like magic, but it really took a lot of courage, a lot of careful cultivation of special little moments, and some amazing opportunities to belong to something bigger than school.

Focusing on DELIGHT has helped me slow down and enjoy my students, while reminding myself of what I really want them to take from my class: the skills and enthusiasm to be lifelong readers, writers, and learners... as well as the grace and dignity to be caring, confident citizens. It has helped me to be grateful for little moments of joy and to see all my blessings, even those in disguise as stressors.

Just a few weeks after one of my new students arrived, she wrote this in a feedback survey:
In just a couple of weeks, she saw in me the teacher I'm trying so hard to be.
Since then, whenever I feel myself getting stressed or impatient, I take a deep breath and think of her words. "When you help, you smile. I think you love when you help students." I want every student to walk away from my classroom with that feeling.

2013 may be over, but I will continue striving for delight.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gifts from heart to heart

at Two Writing Teachers!
 You almost didn't get to read this today, because I almost didn't write.

After school today, I was plodding to the mailroom with too many thoughts zipping through my brain. Lessons. Exams. Planning PD. Upcoming units. Christmas gifts. Christmas cards. Thank-you notes. Slicing. Ugh, slicing. I should just skip it today. I'm exhausted.

When I rounded the corner, I could see two bulging interoffice mail envelopes jammed into my mailbox. Oh boy, maybe a present from my mom? I grabbed an envelope and rushed to unravel the string. Hmm, feels like books though. What on earth???

Three books and a note, all from my new colleague and friend, Stella!

She called me a "fellow writer". Stella, who writes for Choice Literacy, called me a writer. Even now, when I know I'm a writer, there's such power in that name. The name "writer" says "I believe in you. I want to know your story. I know you have something special to say to the world, and I want to hear it."

Just two words, but they reverberated through my head. Fellow writer. From exhausted to inspired.

She thought of me when she was at NCTE! She got books for me! One's an ARC. I've never had an ARC of anything before! (I can't wait to read it before the rest of the world can!)
Maybe she just grabbed a whole bunch of books and then decided to send some to various ELL teachers around the district...

Just for me!!!
She really thought of me. Right there, in the midst of NCTE. Stella, the teacher-leader. Stella, who navigates two languages and cultures with such strength and grace. Stella, who has really only talked to me in person a few times. Stella, who was such an exciting addition to our district this year.

Books are gifts from heart to heart. They draw us together: We are the same, you and I. We are readers. We lose ourselves and find ourselves in stories.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My smile for the day

at Two Writing Teachers!
I grinned as I passed her in the hallway this morning: bright scarf spiraling around her neck out of the depths of a huge fleece. What does she think of Ohio? She's probably wondering if she's moved to the North Pole!  Wisps of wavy hair framing a placid half-smile, she clutched her stack of books books and calmly navigated the sea of students. Oh good, looks like she knows where she's going!

In just over a week, that's a pretty significant accomplishment. She's learned to navigate the lunch line and open her locker. In addition to all the usual cultural and linguistic challenges my new students face, her schooling in El Salvador was interrupted. Other than a month and a half in Texas when she first entered the U.S., she hadn't been in school since 6th grade... and she's 16! Our school must seem like a new planet to her!   

Once nervous about even approaching the computers, she can now log herself in and open the Internet browser.  With just a little wrestling with the mouse, she can scroll down my webpage and click on the correct button to access our district's Rosetta Stone practice site.

Last week, she was so shy around adults that I could barely get two words out of her, even in Spanish. Although she smiled and chatted with several of my sweet Spanish-speaking girls who took her under their wing, she'd hunch over and avoid eye contact whenever I tried to check in with her. What if she didn't like me? Did she think my Spanish was bad? To my relief, one of my colleagues mentioned that it had been nearly impossible for him to get any information from her when she enrolled, and pointed out that a soft blush filled her cheeks whenever any adult spoke to her.

Yesterday, she looked up at me when I came over to her seat, and I finally got to see her slow, sweet smile creep across her face for me. She's started to ask me a few tentative questions in Spanish, and she's not quite so hesitant to admit she needs help. This afternoon, as she ran out the door with her friends, she even exclaimed "Bye Mr... Mrs. Mitchell!" with twinkling eyes.

After school, the Spanish teacher across the hallway stuck her head into my classroom.
"I just wanted you to know that you're E.'s favorite teacher!"
"I am?"
"That's what she told me during her speaking assessment. There's your smile for the day!"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

thinking thankfully

at Two Writing Teachers!
Awhile ago (actually, a year ago!!!), Michelle wrote an unconventional post about thankfulness, where she reflected on how everyday annoyances are really signs of bigger blessings. Since it's been a crazy and stressful (but wonderful) fall, her idea seemed like the perfect Thanksgiving slice for me this year!

So thanks, Michelle, for reminding me that I have so much to be thankful for... even on the most stressful days!

I am thankful for:
  • hours upon hours of work after school each day and on the weekends -- because I have a job that I love and I know it matters
  • the extensive time and effort I spend creating lessons, activities, and assessments -- because I have the freedom and flexibility to do what I know is good for my students
  • my small, oddly-shaped classroom with no air vents -- because it's my own space, and I can create my own community inside it
  • a seemingly incessant tide of SST, ETR, and IEP meetings -- because I know we are getting these students the support they need
  • students who stop by at inconvenient times for extra help or to talk about their lives -- because they want to be successful, they trust me, and they believe I can help them
  • graduate student observers and researchers who have lots of questions for me to answer -- because it's humbling and exhilarating to influence future teachers
  • new students who come with limited schooling and minimal English -- because I can make a difference in their lives
  • the very small number of staff members who came to my professional development sessions about supporting ELLs -- because their students will benefit, and they can pass on what they learned
  • students with special needs and devastating obstacles in their lives outside of school -- because I can show them that someone cares and challenge myself to find better ways to help them
  • only three computers in my classroom -- because three is better than none
  • working in a building where some colleagues do not share my beliefs about education and many are inexperienced with ELLs and technology -- because I have the opportunity to be a leader
  • hours spent at band practices, meetings, and performances -- because marching band is still part of my life
  • all the extra hours my dad has to work right now -- because his company is successful and he's good at his job... and because now I really appreciate each minute I get to see him
  • so many invitations to spend time with my mom that I don't get other things done -- because she's amazing and she loves me so much
  • when Husband doesn't buy the right thing at the grocery store, or forgets to wash my favorite pants in time for me to wear them -- because he goes to the store, does the laundry, and shows me he loves me in a million other perfect ways
  • so many friends who are far away -- because friendship is real when it continues across miles
  • cold weather -- because it brings the possibility of shimmering, magical snow
  • the ever-earlier darkness each night -- because it lets the Christmas lights shine