School Starting

Let me be clear, I was excited for summer.

I was excited to can sta

 

y up later and sleep in more frequently. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to plan weekday outfits the night before. I was excited to have opportunities to travel and see far-flung family members. I was excited to spend time in the garden and at the park. I was excited to read books and play games.

But now I am just as excited for school.

When I was a kid, I liked

 

the freedom of summer, the untetheredness. The fact that it barely mattered what time of day it was, or day of the week.

But I there were things

 

I

 

did not enjoy about summer.

I saw my friends much less frequently. My closest friends were almost always the ones I went to school with. I played sports and did 4-H with other kids, but I didn’t spend the necessary time with them to forge the same bonds as I had with my classmates.

The lack of structure I sometimes love? Also frequently proves to be my downfall. Without places to go and people to se

e, I will stay home without pants on. That’s fine every now and then, but it’s not something I want to make a habit of, and it’s not my favorite thing about my

 

self. And when I have no externally imposed structure, when I’m the one who has to create structure and enforce it? That’s a challenge for me. Sometimes I wonder how I get any

 

thing done, not because I’m so busy, but because I struggle with self-discipline, follow-through, and taking initiative at home.

11949837731247653085school_hallway_gerald_g-_01-svg-medFinally, I missed recognition. When I was a kid, I missed school because I was good at school. I could get A’s and sometimes even rewards for good behavior. I did not get the same recognition at home; I didn’t get graded on doing chores or get kudos for not killing my siblings. Not that my home life was particularly bad, but I received constant validation from my teachers and much less consistent attention from my parents. I felt like I was a much better student than I was a daughter. And I had one of those decent childhoods. For many of my students – many of our students – school is the place where they are treated best. I have a great home life now, but I also really enjoy the mutual acknowledgement, respect, and even love I build throughout the year with my students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, halfway into September, despite the tiredness and the worn-out vocal cords, I still feel like I’m back where I belong.

 

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

Summer already seems like a distant memory, and I am totally okay with that.

In the beginning of the summer, I debated with myself whether or not I wanted to do at least weekly reflections on my blog, the way I did weekly reflections during the school year. Ultimately I decided to give myself a break from blogging. (Additionally, I decided that I wanted to pay less for my site, so the blog will have fewer bells and whistles going forward.)

So what did I do over break? Well, primarily I relaxed. I went out of town a couple of times. I played more than a few hours of video games and watched more than my fair share of Father Brown and Star Trek.

In late June, probably because of all the video games and Netflix, I also set a goal of walking at least ten thousand steps per day. Since June 30th, I have met that goal on all days but one. (And that day involved a family emergency and many hours in the car, so I’m very willing to forgive myself for it.) I’ve even continued it into the new school year. Walking a mile to school and another mile home really helps me reach my goal. Today, I was halfway to my goal before eight o’clock. I may have to increase it!

I continued volunteering for some organizations I was already involved with, most notably the Glamorgan Castle Crusaders. Glamorgan Castle is a local historical building, but it is not a museum – in fact, it’s where our school district administration is headquartered! The Castle Crusaders work together with the school administration to share and upkeep the building. This summer I worked on their social media, set up a separate Google Voice number for them (so people don’t have to call the school secretary to ask about tours!), and built a website. Turns out, volunteering is a lot of work! I’m looking forward to continuing to help.

I also volunteered for the local community garden association, but I reap rewards very directly from that seeing as I have a few plots myself! My favorite things we grew this year were root vegetables, particularly beets (which I pickled and shared with my mother) and carrots. Our carrots were so ugly but they smelled so good! Plucking them from the ground was truly hard work, but it was extremely satisfying.

My personal life was touched by both sorrow and joy and everything in between. There was one particular week in July where we had a family funeral and a family wedding in the very same week.

My spouse and I met the challenge of reorganizing our home life when he got a new job. Previously he was employed part-time as a college professor, meaning he had a lot of work he would bring home and do when it was best for him. Now, he has a nine-to-five full time job, bookended each day by a commute more than twice as long as his previous one. So he has less time at home, but he doesn’t bring work home anymore. He spends more time in his car and more money on it, but he also earns more money now. Previously our housework duties were divided up differently; I have had to step up my game in the chore department. I had really dreaded it, but now that school has started, it is less perceptible by me for some reason.

Now that we’re actually a solid two weeks into the school year (three and four day weeks count as solid!), I’m realizing things have changed, and I want other things to change too. My weekly reflections served a purpose before, but I think I want to change their structure or format in some way. I want to spend some time to mull it over.

I am very happy with how I spent my summer, despite always feeling like I could have always done something more or something better. I am also very happy to greet the school year, for once feeling ready for anything.

student-1666118_1920

Reflection on Shame, Social Media, and RESA

It’s an open secret that when we post online to social media, we often do so to show our lives through a rose-colored lens. Look how solid my relationship is. Have I told you how good I am at my job? Look at me, I’ve reached another milestone in the game of Life. We carefully curate our self-presentation to put our best face forward online. We want the ‘likes,’ so we post things people can feel good about liking. We’re seeking out dopamine and oxytocin. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
 
Even when we share the bad, it’s the kind of bad that happens to us, not the kind of bad we bring on ourselves. Our illnesses, our grief – we’re calling out for support, and we often receive it on this platform. I’m sorry for your loss. You’re in my thoughts and my prayers. This is also very okay.
 
One thing that we don’t post about as much are the things that make us feel ashamed. The dissolution of relationships. A venture failing. Our insecurities. We want to put our best face forward, and a head hung in shame does not make a good impression. But sometimes it’s important to share, because we all, at some time or another, feel ashamed.
 
So I’m sharing something, not because I’m seeking sympathy or support, but because I want my friends to know I struggle, and that struggle is normal. Right now I’m struggling in my career, something that I consider very much a part of my personal identity. I feel shame about it. And, frankly, it sucks.
 
I have to do a five-part summative assessment in order to transition to a more permanent teaching license in the state of Ohio. I started doing this assessment in 2015, and have since passed four out of five of the parts. I should find out today if I have passed the last part, on my third and final try. If I pass, I can apply for a new teaching license. If I fail, then I can neither renew or advance my current license. I will also not be eligible for a one-year interim license. I would perhaps be able to be a long-term sub for my own job in my district while I did remedial coursework and experience, which would be a blow financially and also to my self-esteem. I’ve spent many hours reflecting on my teaching this year; while I believe I am a good-enough teacher, I am not sure I want to be in a classroom if the state of Ohio does not believe I am a good-enough teacher.
 
Failure was not a familiar feeling to me when I was a student. It took years for me to be okay with it, for myself, as a teacher. It still doesn’t feel good. But it is more instructive for me to confront and overcome obstacles than it is to never face obstacles at all. It allows me to relate better to, and be a good role model for, my students. It challenges my subconscious beliefs on the nature of learning and cognitive processes. It forces me to acknowledge what I truly value in learning experiences. It causes me to increase, or better manage, my effort.
 
I just wish the stakes, in this case, were not so high. Failure can be a constructive and even essential aspect of learning. Dead-end failure that results in loss of opportunity, stagnation, or regression? Not so much.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Seven

This was the last week of school.

Lessons: 
This was the week I gave students the closest thing to “free time” they ever get when using technology: a menu of choices with the ability to ask for more choices that I might have been unaware of or forgotten.

Except there was an element that we had never had before.

Chickens.

Okay, so if you follow me on Twitter, you certainly knew about the chickens already. I think I’ll write about them in more detail in their own post. But to summarize, I had my afterschool science group set up and study an incubator. The program ended the week before the chickens were due to hatch. I kept the incubator in the computer lab so when chicks hatched, we livestreamed it using Periscope so everyone in the building could see without issues. The chicks hung out in my room until the last day of school (today). Another teacher took them to her father, a farmer, who will try to provide us with fertile eggs in the future so we can repeat the activity.

And it did sort of work out, class management-wise.

 


Support:
 One of the more techie things I did this week was DJ the end of year carnival. I’m really glad I solicited requests in advance, firstly because it’s clear I am not very aware of what music the kids are into lately. Secondly, because I was able to find clean versions of some songs that were requested.

Things I Did Well: Everyone I was responsible for made it to the end of the week healthy. Even fourteen chicks.

Things I Will Do Better: Friday Caitlin left Tuesday Caitlin a heck of a lot to do. Friday Caitlin feels some guilt. But not enough to have actually done more.

Cold Prickly: Lots of physical damage this week. I’m talking about folks in the building, not the technology. The person who wore the “I Survived Field Day” shirt on Field Day ended up in the emergency room before noon. This is not a joke, but she did turn out okay so it’s still kind of funny.

 

Warm Fuzzy: Doesn’t get much warmer or fuzzier than this. Happy summertime!
20170526_152944

On Accidents and Apologies

One of the biggest bones of contention in interactions between students in our school is apologizing, especially if someone does something by accident. Just Thursday at dismissal, a third grader was venting to me about a fight she had with a friend. Apparently it started when something got knocked off a desk, or something like that. “She said, ‘Are you going to apologize?’ and I said, ‘No, because it was an accident,'” the child told me.

“You can still apologize for an accident,” I told her. “In fact, a lot of the times you should. An apology just means you regret something, on purpose or not.”

Elementary students, at least at our school, have an idea that an apology is an admission of guilt. (And in some cultures, it is. But that’s congruent with the school culture we work towards.)

So I was actually impressed with this video that came up in my RSS feed reader. The little boy gets bopped, accidentally, in the face by Vice President Mike Pence. He politely persists in getting Mr. Pence to acknowledge the unintentional harm. And, when Mr. Pence does, he apologizes, adding an explanation (“I didn’t mean to bop you”) without minimizing the child’s concern.

This might be a good moment to share with students to demonstrate that:

  • asking for an apology is not the same as an accusation
  • giving an apology is not an admission of guilt
  • anyone might deserve an apology, or owe the apology to somebody else, regardless of other circumstances like status

Differentiating for Myself

pm-mdLast night I painted my nails, something I rarely ever did as a teen or young adult. But I have a special occasion to attend today, and I wanted to look extra nice. I’m a bit clumsy, so a couple of months ago I got liquid latex. What you do is, you put the liquid latex around your nail and let dry before you paint. Then, when I inevitably color outside the lines, I peel the latex off and voilà! My nail polish is only exactly where it should be. It’s like bowling bumpers, but for beauty.

This is one way I differentiate some skill or ability I use as an adult. It’s far from the only one. I also talk myself through difficult tasks when possible, especially when I’m nervous. (This was how I passed my driver’s test on the third try; it was the suggestion of my tester who had just used the strategy herself on her motorcycle test.)

I also differentiate for other adults in ways that are easily incorporated into my routines. I write messages on the dry erase board to help my husband remember things, because a text or verbal reminder usually isn’t enough. I bring extra devices to the trivia night I host for people who either don’t have devices that get online, or for people who do have such devices but struggle to use them effectively during the time limit.

Differentiation doesn’t have to be a big deal; over time it might even become a habit. And better, for the teacher, is that over time it could become the student’s responsibility more than any adult’s. I mean, if the point is that students do what they need for themselves to succeed, it makes sense that they take it on so they can carry it with them through life, adapting where and when it’s called for.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Six

This was the second-to-last week of school. Next week, we lose a lot of structure; we have field day at both our elementary and the other one in our city, so that will disrupt both building’s typical schedules. Each grade level will have at least one field trip; third grade will have at least two. And the last day of school is our End of Year Carnival. So there will be more flying by the seat of one’s pants this upcoming week.

Lessons:
So I usually let students have free time* during their last computer lab class of the year; invariably I seem to promise it in a weak moment of classroom management earlier for some reason or another. So, some classes already got that this week, because I will not have them next week (because of field day or field trips). Most classes did not, though.

*Free time is not actually free in my classroom, because when you tell students sitting in front of internet-connected devices, you don’t actually want them to do whatever enters their head. Like doing a Google search for “play Five Nights at Freddy’s” which is a game you have to pay for and that they cannot install on the computers without admin privileges, which means that they click on an ad that says they can play it for free, except it’s not free, and the cost is that some janky website adds an extension onto Chrome without prompting, and then the kid gets pop-ups about hysterectomies that they don’t understand on multiple levels.

Yeah, that really happened once. I was so mad. I specifically told that sub not to tell the students they could do anything they wanted, and he basically told the students they could do anything they wanted. It was over a year ago and it still irks me.

Anyway, instead of truly free time, students get a menu of choices that they can explore independently. Most of those choices are websites that they find engaging anyway because there are games, but a couple are actually programs on the computers themselves.

Support: Lots of physical damage this week. I think some kids or teachers are stacking things on top of Chromebooks.

Things I Did Well: There was one weird day this week where I had a sub so I could attend a training at our school admin building. But then, the training only lasted through the morning. But when I went back to school, it turned out they were short a sub anyway, so I was going to let my sub remain in my room and I was going to cover this other person’s class. But then our receptionist went home sick (something really atypical for her). So then we combined the class I was supposed to cover (very small class) with another very small class, and I ended up covering the office for the afternoon! Whoa. On one hand, I can see why they don’t just put any sub there – too much risk of a negative interaction. Then again, it didn’t get nearly as hectic as it sometimes does. I was actually able to use some of my natural abilities (knowing where all 320+ kids in the building should be at all times) combined with the training I was just at (it was for an add-on to our gradebook I used to access rosters). I actually got a lot done. Not just covering phones and giving out ice packs either, there was also stapling, so you know I’m hardcore.

Things I Will Do Better: We had a Right to Read themed week going on, and I missed the memo on things like Epic Hair Day and Pajama Poetry Day. Fam, you know I’m all about this stuff. I really gotta engage better with building-wide initiatives.

Cold Prickly: At least four of our chicken eggs are total duds, meaning no chickens inside. They looked the same when candled at Day 15 as they did at Day 5 – clearly all white and yolk inside. A couple more eggs look to me like they developed somewhat, but not as far as others. Whether that means they are developing slowly or late, or that they started and stopped, I don’t know. But we are definitely not expecting all twenty eggs to hatch.

Warm Fuzzy: We are expecting more than half the eggs to hatch still. And, I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to find homes for chicks, but I think I’ve got it covered! One local farmer even offered to take chicks and, in exchange, provide us with fertile eggs in the future! Then take chicks, and in exchange, provide fertile eggs again later on. Eggs and chicks in perpetuity! Who cares which comes first!

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Five

 

It’s definitely feeling like May up in here. A lot of teachers are using their personal days before they lose them, and so our building gets a little more subby than usual at times, particularly Mondays and Fridays. And indoor recess in May is a goshdarn travesty. (This is me, shaking my fist at Mother Nature.)

Lessons:
So I wanted to do something with my classes that tied in with the curriculum from 4-H my afterschool group is using. So I plotted out an open-ended project where students identify a problem or challenge for animals, then come up with a high or low tech solution for them. It involves brainstorming, research, creativity, design, and communication. The only actual requirement is that they create an image of their idea, then write a paragraph explaining it. Some students are writing about endangered animals, others about pets. One student is writing about his own pet, describing the steps his family is taking to identify what they suspect is a food allergy causing their bulldog discomfort. A pair of students started working together on deer; one found the PETA Kids website on hunting, one found an online hobby magazine that lists positives of hunting. Their ongoing disagreement is surprisingly polite as they bounce ideas off each other.

Unfortunately, I took two afternoons off this week (instead of taking one whole personal day). So I didn’t have my Tuesday or Thursday third grade classes. Tuesday was already a week behind everyone else due to the PD day we had the week before. Then, I found out that I also have to do day-long trainings outside my building next Tuesday and Thursday too. So, I will not have them again this week either. (Not something I knew when I planned my personal time off, I assure you.) And that means I won’t have my Tuesday or Thursday afternoons again until… the last week of school.

These classes are also sometimes challenging in the classroom management department; I don’t think a sub could lead them through an open-ended assignment, not without additional support. It’s too much. Or rather, I bet a sub could lead them through, but I want my sub to keep coming back so I won’t ask her to. So I am planning alternate lessons that my sub can do with these kids.

Support: Actually I got really excited when I came back after time off Wednesday, because a sub left a note describing a computer issue a student had. “He figured out to do X,Y, and Z, and I let him, and it worked – I hope it was the right thing to do?” Yessss. A sub who is comfortable enough to let kids try troubleshooting and trust their results. Hearts and stars forever!

Things I Did Well: I got my sub to pick up all this week, and at least one day for me next week. (I am really not super thrilled about missing so many school days in the last month of the year. I think it’s possibly the worst time for subs and sub lesson plans!) I had never met her in person before Tuesday, but I know she picked up for me before. In fact, she remembered that I left her a paper mug and a K-cup of hot chocolate. I joke that I like to roll out the red carpet for subs, because their job is like mine but also harder in some ways. (Maybe easier in some ways too, but it’s not important for me to focus on that.)

Things I Will Do Better: I did not budget my time particularly well on Tuesday, so when my sub came, I didn’t have lesson plans written out. So I scribbled out the schedule and told her about Google Classroom, but I didn’t actually leave the detailed document I would have liked her to have as a safety net. I did better for Thursday. But, I need to do even better next Tuesday because I’ll be gone all day. Yipes!

Cold Prickly: I was the person in charge of giving all the make-up standardized tests. I thought the last one was Wednesday, for a child who had been sick for a week and then came back. He wrapped a day later than most because he had two parts to make up, plus the day he came back there was a class field trip. And who wants to miss a field trip to take a standardized test? If that were me, I would definitely be wondering what my classmates were up to instead of concentrating on math. So we postponed his makeup so he could go on the field trip, which is a reasonable thing to do when you have the time.

But then another student had to make up both parts, and showed up on Thursday to take tests, and it was a bit of a schedule blip that I hadn’t anticipated (no one could have, really).

Warm Fuzzy: So many warm fuzzies this week. First, when I took off Tuesday, that meant I wouldn’t be there for the afterschool program. I got another teacher to sub for me, but the leader of the activity was actually a third grade student. He had pitched some ideas for the afterschool group over the past couple weeks. I shot a couple down because they were too expensive, too time-consuming, or too dangerous, but he didn’t give up. Finally he found a video of a science demo on getepic.com that seemed doable. (In fact, it is something I did years ago at a different school.) He put together a shopping list of materials, I got them for him, and he led the activity in my absence (with adult supervision). He also got rave reviews! I’m so proud of him!

Also, when I was on my way to school on Wednesday, I decided to go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get a treat. (Wednesday is the one day I consistently drive my car.) The line was long (what do you expect at 7:30am?) so I was rocking out to some tunes. When I got to the window, the person said, “You can go on forward, the person behind you is going to pay for your order.” WHAT? Usually it’s the person ahead but okay! Every time my day got a little rough after that, I reminded myself about the kind thing someone did for me, and adjusted my attitude accordingly.

donut-md