Monday, September 1, 2014

C is for Culture


It’s been a very long time since I sat down to write in this little space of mine. I’ve been wanting to for a while now, but just couldn’t find the inspiration. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just get started, let’s see where this takes me.

So here I sit about to start another school year. It’s usually about this time of year I start to feel ready to be on a schedule again, to feel productive and get back to work but this year it’s different, maybe because we had such a short summer after a long winter of snow days, or maybe because last year was a really tough one with a lot of new initiatives and challenges. Whatever the reason I’m not feeling quite ready. However, ready or not …here they come!

I’ve been thinking a lot about school culture. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject, mostly articles written by other teachers and administrators. I’ve talked about it with my colleagues, and as I write I'm talking about it with my best friend too. I've even gone so far as to do a little informal research by polling parents but more about that a little later.

Let me start by saying my school is a special place. Most school’s are, but to know Horace Mann is to love Horace Mann. It has a feeling. It’s not the most beautiful of school buildings, it’s old, it's in serious need of updating and it has its limitations but people walk in and it reminds them of the elementary schools they attended as children. We have no gym and our cafeteria is tiny. Despite the limitations, learning happens here. We are a dedicated bunch, working tirelessly to educate children and we know it's not the physical building that's important but the people in it.

It’s not easy to be a teacher these days, “work smarter, not harder” is something we hear often. We have curriculum maps to follow, trajectories and lesson plans to write, the word “rigor” is becoming a regular buzzword in the halls of public schools everywhere. As a teacher I know it’s important to challenge the students in my class, to teach them to think for themselves, ask questions, and be inquisitive. I know it’s important for them to achieve academically but I also know if a child is not enjoying school, learning isn’t going to happen. This is where culture comes in.

My fear is that with all the pressures from politicians, the business world and administrators who are concerned with test scores and keeping up with the rest of the world, the culture of community in my little school and others across the country will be disregarded as unimportant.

Of course the primary purpose of a school is to foster a culture of learning and student achievement, but as educators it’s equally important to foster a culture of community where administrators, teachers, parents and students work together.
Parents first and foremost want their children to achieve academically, but they want something more from their school. Parents want to know their children are learning, that they are being challenged, they want them to succeed both academically and socially. They want their children to feel safe, happy and loved. They want school to be a place where their children want to be. I know this because I’m not only a teacher but a parent too. It’s what I want for my own kids.
I know this because I asked parents what they thought of our school. I heard words like, “respect”, “family” “home away from home”.  They said things like “dedication” “perseverance” “warm” and “friendly”.

I know those are all feel good words, but it’s what makes school a special place. Those teachers, parents and students who are or have ever been part of our community know it. It’s important that in these days of high stakes testing, data, and assessment that we don’t lose sight of what makes our community special. 
The people, traditions and ideals that make kids want to come to school.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

P is for Perseverance

Social Media these days is inundated with article after article written by teachers who have decided to leave the teaching profession. Just Google "why I'm leaving teaching" and you'll see title after title written by teachers new and veteran.

These teachers site many reasons for leaving; unfair evaluation systems where teachers are judged by the test scores of their students, lack of support from their districts, unions or administration, increased and unrealistic class sizes, more and more demands being put on teachers with less pay, inadequate facilities, materials and funding. The list goes on and on. 

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to balance teaching and family life, the demands of our profession cross over into or homes having not been given adequate time within our school day to accomplish all that needs to be done. " Work harder, work smarter, of course you are expected to work at home, hang in there."

The teachers I am so honored to work with ARE hanging in there. 

Teachers are easily the most caring and hardest working people I know, and I know a lot of them. They are not afraid to work hard, or to find a better way to reach a struggling child. The teachers I know are always thinking with their hearts doing what's best for kids.

For me this year, that's what I find most difficult. Being asked to teach in a way that I don't think is best for kids. Asking the youngest of our students to learn a curriculum they aren't read for. That's what I struggle with. That's where my tears came from. 

If I were to leave the profession, it would not be because I'm afraid to work hard, it wouldn't be because I don't want to bring work home. It wouldn't be because I spend too much of my own money on my classroom, or that I'm afraid of being judged on my students' performance on the latest math assessment. It would be because philosophically I struggle with what I'm being asked to teach. I struggle with knowing deep in my heart that we are putting too much pressure on our youngest students all in the name of high stakes achievement.

I'm not going anywhere. 

I'm not going anywhere because if I do, I'm giving up. Giving up on the hope that things can be better and will be better. It's my job to do what's best for kids. I'm not against teaching a kindergartner to read, or asking them to understand how numbers work. I'm not opposed to asking them to work hard to reach their potential. What I am opposed to is not giving them enough time to play and be the little kids they are or have the right to be. 

I'm not walking away because they deserve better, and if I can somehow find a way to balance academic expectations and creative play, then I will. I am not going to walk away from my philosophical beliefs about what I know is right. I'm an early childhood teacher it's my job to be an advocate for them when they are unable to advocate for themselves. Perhaps things aren't going to change right away, but with a little perseverance from those of us who work with the littlest of our students thing can be different. 


I'm going to stick around and find out.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

K is for Kids

Wow. My poor little blog has gone untouched for almost a year. I don't think I've ever gone this long without writing about some activity we've done, or some cute, funny story about one of my kindergarten kids.
For as long as I've been able to put my thoughts down on paper I've used writing as a way to be creative, to decompress, or express my opinions.

Not only have I not written for my blog, I haven't so much as clicked on the link to get me here to read it. I was not feeling inspired and honestly I've just been too busy. My plan was to end the school year last year and spend my summer writing, catching up, and uploading the many pictures of lessons and kindergarten accomplishments from the past year. It never happened.

When summer rolled around I was just too spent to think about it. Being a teacher is difficult, the best job in the world, but it is not easy and after a long year, I just needed to chill. Read a book just for pleasure, dig my toes in the sand, ride my bike, spend some time just doing nothing and not thinking about anything school related. Now if you are a teacher or know one, you pretty much know it's next to impossible not to think about school...it's just who we are. Always planning, always learning, always trying to find a better way to inspire children.

The summer as usually flew by and there I was mid-August facing another school year. I'm usually more than ready by then to get started, to be on some kind of schedule and routine. I love meeting the new bunch of kids, getting to know them and their parents, so full of promise and excitement for the year ahead. I love seeing my teacher friends who I haven't seen in more than two months, they have become like family and by the end of the summer I've missed them.

I have 21 little cherubs this year, a larger class than I've ever had. They are all unique, have a wide range of abilities and struggles and I love them all. They are cute,smart and very funny.

They are why I do what I do.

I have to remind myself daily of that..."They are why I do what I do."

Being a teacher has become increasingly more difficult. There are more and more pressures being put on us daily. Meetings, lesson plans, action plans, meetings, assessments, self evaluations, goal setting, observations, meetings, behavior plans, and did I mention meetings? All in the name of raising achievement. We are a dedicated bunch...towing the line, doing what is asked of us even when we don't think we can do it anymore. It's not like we don't want to work hard, we DO work hard and we aren't afraid to put all our effort into it and work smarter and harder and longer.

They are why we do what we do.

We know what's good for kids, we are kid experts, developmentally and fundamentally. We know that we can raise achievement by teaching kids that learning is fun, by creating a classroom environment and lessons that make kids want to come to school and be inspired. By letting kids know that they are capable of anything they set their little minds to and giving them the tools they need to show them how to accomplish that. We know that by giving them the tools they need to explore, discover, think and ask questions they will learn.

We aren't going to raise achievement by asking kids to learn something they aren't developmentally ready to, we aren't going to raise achievement by testing kids and we aren't going to raise achievement by stressing out teachers or worse children.

I do my best each and everyday to make my classroom one where kids are not only learning, but discovering their abilities, not just reading, writing, math and science but music and art, empathy, respectfulness and creativity...those things that can't be measured with a test. I'm not going to apologize or stop taking out the play-do, the paint, and the music. Years from now they aren't going to remember who taught them how to read, but they are going to remember chasing the Gingerbread Man down the hallway, the Halloween parade and the Thanksgiving feast, the leprechaun footprints that magically appear in the hallway year after year, the field trips and the fun. Those are the things that make children want to come to school and learn, those are the things I'll continue to do in my classroom because it's about the kids.

They are why I do what I do.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

T is for Teacher

Victoria Soto

Victoria Soto, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D'Avino,
Anne Marie Murphy. These are the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
 Heroes who gave their lives protecting children.

Every teacher I know would do the same. We educate, protect and love our children. It's what we do. 

Their deaths have brought attention to the teaching profession. Attention which is long overdue. It's a shame that it had to take such a tragedy. In the days following 9/11 our country was made aware of the lengths fire fighters and police officers would go to save lives not giving a second thought to putting themselves into harms way. We always knew they were heroes, but watching the images of that horrible day put things into perspective. It gave us a new appreciation for who they are and what they do.

During the past week I've read articles, blog posts and editorials about teachers. It seems our country has suddenly become pro-teacher. It's wonderful to see, a new appreciation for what we do. I've received  hugs from parents, words of thanks, and lovely notes written in Christmas cards. I have never felt more appreciated for doing the job I love to do.

While surfing Facebook today I read a post titled, Dear Teachers. It's a tongue and cheek letter bashing parents.  When I first read it I found myself nodding my head in agreement, but then I began to think. I don't think we are going to get anywhere by bashing parents.

I truly believe the hypothetical parent described in the post is in the minority. Do parents like this exist? Yes unfortunately, but I have no doubt that all parents want what's best for their children. There are those parents who have no choice but to drop off their children early, not because they want to go to Starbucks, but because if they are late for their jobs, they won't have a job. Then there are those parents who need us to feed their children because they can't afford to do so themselves, or those who worry more about providing their family with a warm coat than reading to them each night.
My school recently held parent/teacher conferences and despite their different situations, and their level of parental involvement each and every parent I spoke to, without a doubt, love and want what's best for their child.
  
This year our school's Christmas concert entertained a full house. There was not a seat to be found. All but one parent kept their appointment with me for conferences, and that parent called to reschedule. Perhaps recent events have made all of us look at our priorities.

I work with children who sometimes have parents who  have not been taught how to parent because they themselves have not had good role models. There are so many facets to this problem. I am a teacher, but first and foremost I am a mother who appreciates each and every teacher who has ever had a part in my children's education. I think that's true for most parents.
  
I will be honest, I've done my share of complaining, but perhaps recent events have opened my eyes a bit too. I look at my students and their parents through different eyes now. If we truly believe the mantra "parents as partners" then our attitudes need to change too. Being a parent is not easy, in fact being a teacher is easier. I can always quit my teaching job, but I'm a parent for life.








  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

P is for Pray

I went to church today. Not unusual for a Sunday morning I suppose. But today I went for a different reason. Not because it was Sunday morning, or the Advent Season.
I went to church today as a parent and as a teacher.
I went to church today because I needed my prayers to be heard, maybe a little more clearly and maybe a little bit louder. I went to church today and cried.

I have the good fortune of being a kindergarten teacher. I get to teach and play with our school's youngest students. Not only am I their teacher, responsible for their learning, but in many ways I am responsible for their well-being and their happiness. For six hours a day, 180 days a year, I am their nurse, their surrogate parent, their confidant and sometimes their best friend.

This tragedy has put what I do into perspective for me. I've always known that we do as teachers is important, but as I read the stories of the teacher heroes it has become very clear how important. Teachers save lives.
I'm not talking only about putting ourselves in harms way to protect our students, I don't know a teacher who wouldn't, but we save lives on a much larger scale.
We teach our children skills for life. We teach them how to read, count, share. Sometimes we provide them with the only meal they'll have that day, often we read the only book they'll hear, or give the only hug they'll feel.
We provide their parents with a shoulder to cry on, some reassurance when they don't know what to do or how to cope with life.

I went to church today. I prayed today for myself that I'll be able to continue to teach to the best of my ability. I prayed for my husband the 4th grade teacher, my two oldest children who will become teachers. I prayed for my 6th grader to keep him safe in his big school on the hill. I prayed for my friends, the teachers I have the privilege of working with each day.

I went to church today and I prayed for the children.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A peek inside room 134!

 Welcome to Kindergarten!

I've been wanting to post pictures of my classroom for awhile now, and since we just had our school's Open House, it was picture ready.
As hard as I try it won't stay that way for long. So before the little piles of papers, folders and student work start collecting in the corners I grabbed the camera and took a few shots.






I use the back table for messy projects since it's the only part of the floor covered in linoleum. 
Our playhouse (the most popular spot in the room) is also back there. The play house was built in 1946 and has been in the room ever since. When I moved in to the room it was white and was in need of a coat of paint. I chose yellow!


















We use the tables for snack time, our Superkids lessons, guided reading and math and literacy centers.















The library area is my favorite part of the room, it's so comfy, cozy and inviting. I finally found a system that works for sorting my books. Each bin is sorted alphabetically by author, but I also have a shelf that's sorted by theme. Each kid also has a clothes pin with their name on it. When they take a book from the bin, they clip their name to the bin to hold their place. This system has saved me a lot of sorting!





The front of the room where the kids and I sit for circle time. Lots of learning happens here!


Thanks for taking a look!