School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Four

February feels difficult. It is cold, lots of people get sick, and it’s still weirdly busy with extracurriculars.

Lessons: I got to play gym teacher this week. Turns out, that’s a pretty hard job! The gym teacher was sick for two days, and one of those days he didn’t have a sub. If this happens to another specialist, he usually doubles up on the classes and has a gym class twice as big. So I did the same for him, combining both our classes in the gym since I only have so many seats in the computer lab. Luckily, I had recently bought a megaphone (because it turns out I really like chanting); without it, I would have lost my voice by the end of the day, surely.

Support: My new favorite thing is to make Google Sites to serve as research hubs for student projects.

Things I Did Well:
 I’m going to give myself credit for not actually getting very sick this week. Felt like I came pretty close, though. 

Things I Will Do Better: I was on an event committee this week and, despite being very passionate about the event, I did not take a lot of initiative to get things done. I followed directions just fine, but a lot of the work of these kinds of things is to actually come up with ideas and solutions, then delegate. I want to do better for the next event committee I’m a part of, I want to take more off of other teachers’ shoulders.

Cold Prickly: Just dragging, physically. Today is Saturday. I slept in. I went to breakfast with my in-laws. And already I want to go back to bed. I’m exhausted.

Warm FuzzyLast night, we had our Parkway Hearts Dance (the event I was on the committee for). I love to dance, and I love dancing with lots of kids. I mostly danced with first graders and students’ younger siblings. I think the second and third graders have started feeling self-conscious, or are just not that into dancing with their overly enthusiastic technology teacher. But gosh, it was fun.

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I really must learn how to juju on a particular beat.

(No) School Week Round-Up

This week was a break, that lovely end of the year confluence of major winter holidays. Hooray, hooray, hooray! It has been incredibly relaxing. Obviously, I can’t write my normal weekly round-up, because we had no school. No lessons, no tech support issues. Wins and losses, perhaps, but of a distinctly more personal nature. For example, I took charge of the matching family pajamas this year. I began conspiring with my mother and sister-in-law in November to order t-shirts and jammie pants from a vendor local to me, printed with our family crest on the shirts and our name down one pant leg.

I have a large immediate family, so rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone else (which would devolve into an expensive, time-consuming hassle), we do a family Secret Santa facilitated by DrawNames.com.  This year, I got my youngest sister, who participated for the first time. I got her a sweatshirt of the university she currently has her sights set on (Tulane, but she’s got three years left of high school so who knows if she actually ends up there); plus some of those pickle-flavored candy canes. (She loves pickles.) My brother’s wife, Brittany, got me. She got me a few years ago, too, and she knocked it out of the ballpark with pencils engraved with my last name that I still have in my classroom. Pencils with the teacher’s name are like boomerangs, because no matter how far away they go, they still end up coming back to you. This year she outdid herself, though: she conspired with my spouse to send and set up a child’s wading pool filled with potato chips. CHAAAAPS!

Another good thing of this season is that my first Donors Choose project got fully funded! The items I asked for will be arriving in January. I’m very excited. I asked for cords and charging stations, since our school received hand-me-down devices from other buildings but didn’t have enough cords and accessories to charge them. The new accessories will make it much easier for teachers to keep devices charged for use in classrooms, rather than remembering to unplug some devices in order to plug in others, and so on.

So not only is today the end of the week, it’s also the end of the year. I intend to go into 2017 with open eyes, clear head, and full heart. Let’s go!

School Week Round-Up: Week Seventeen

Only four more school days until winter break, only four more school days until winter break…

Lessons: Back to our AIR Test Prep Prompts this week. In many ways, kids are improving. Many third graders are starting to write multi-paragraph responses.

Support: So, there is the way technology works… and then there’s the way we expect it to work. The second one is a bit of an issue. A coworker brought her students to the computer lab at a time when I couldn’t also be there this week. She was frustrated at how long it took for the kids to log into their emails… because she thought our Mac desktops worked like our Chromebooks. I don’t know how to bridge this gap between reality and expectations, especially when expectations are often taken for granted and thus left unspoken. How do other people address this when it comes up in their workplace?

Things I Did Well: 
I was much more engaged in our  district Twitter chat this week and I think I was somewhat helpful to other teachers. The idea was that different folks would take turns share their teaching challenges, and everyone else would come up with ideas and resources to help. I really, really, really enjoy that idea, because so many of my slumps happen at times when I feel “tapped out” and unable to come up with creative solutions. And so often, when you ask for help, you either feel like you’re imposing or giving up or complaining. I hope we do that kind of chat again soon, and that more elementary level teachers participate. I would love to get some ideas for myself when it comes to teaching students about writing responses to passages they’ve read!

Things I Will Do Better: I fell behind with the grading of those AIR Test Prep Prompts again. I caught up with one grade level, one more grade level to go. If procrastination was an Olympic sport, I would medal.

Cold Prickly: “Cold Prickly” is not quite the right term for this, but I spent more time this week reflecting on Sandy Hook than I have since that day four years ago. It is a difficult subject to think about. I remember that actual week. I had a fifth grade reading class, and the students started asking about what to do if an intruder came into our classroom with a gun. I told them of the spaces we would hide, but they all imagined they would be tough and fight an intruder successfully, the way we all imagine we would if we were heroes in an action film.

I don’t know for sure how they would have reacted in that actual scenario. In fact, I’m not sure how I’d react. I know how I’d want to react, and I imagine sometimes the best course of action based on slightly different circumstances — where I am, where kids are, which kids are with me, what weapons an intruder might have, whether or not they were a stranger — it’s a weird rabbit hole I kept mentally revisiting.And that the easiest thing to hope for is also statistically the likeliest (that such a thing never happens) feels like a cop-out.

Warm FuzzyWe had our first snow day! Okay, so technically it was a “cold” day, since it was called more due to wind chill than accumulation. But I’m not complaining!

Also a first grade student gave me a Christmas present, which I don’t get as often as a homeroom teacher does. It should give a little insight into my actual teaching style that I’m not sure comes across in blog form.

I also dressed like a Christmas tree, because my reindeer sweater has electronic components and can’t be washed, so I have to let it air out for a few days between wearings. I’m a sense-maker like that.

Mother’s Day Struggle

Happy Mother’s Day.

You know, if it applies to you.

Not everyone feels the same way about Mother’s Day, the way it’s portrayed in commercials — uniformly euphoric and feely-goody. Even its founder flip-flopped on it. Many people face this holiday with a heavy heart, for whatever reason.

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I feel like rebelling against the one-size-fits-all Mother’s Day. It’s one reason I’m relieved to be a “specials” teacher and not a homeroom teacher — I am under less pressure to observe holidays. On the other hand, we work with kids, so generally we are teaching them to appreciate their mothers or other female figures in their lives. Goodness knows that those who do invisible work deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated, and that in the “traditional” nuclear family, much of that falls on Mom’s shoulders.

So, Happy Mother’s Day, to those who have children, who raise children, who protect children, who nurture children. Happy Mother’s Day to those who have good memories of and with their mothers, even if they mingle with bad ones. Happy Mother’s Day.

And for those of us that struggle on this and other “special” days, let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s make room for our grief and encourage one another and remember that tomorrow is another day.

Yesterday Was a Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. And I wanted to write about it, because last week I was feeling pretty down about teaching. (I find it a little demoralizing to give standardized tests.)

But yesterday was fun. It was many of the things that make this career feel like a good and worthwhile choice.

First, it was May the 4th – “Star Wars Day.” I came in wearing leggings emblazoned with the Star Wars logo down the leg — they were XL child size, because I am an XL child. They were surprisingly comfortable. I also wore a Darth Vader mask and cape and played the Imperial March from my phone. Even the kids who didn’t understand why I was acting this way really got a kick out of it.

My morning announcements crew also ran with the theme.

And it’s entirely possible that I repeated this joke a few dozen times.

Then, I submitted a flyer for approval to distribute through the schools. I’m trying to start a 4-H club in my city. There are 4-H clubs in the rural areas that surround our city, but not one within the city itself. I am hoping to do this because I was in 4-H as a kid. I didn’t do any livestock or stereotypically “country” projects. I did mostly sewing and creative arts. These days 4-H also has a lot of STEM projects students could try. My point is, 4-H is not just for country kids. It’s a way for students to extend learning throughout the summer through projects that involve choice and self-determination. There are also scholarships and other opportunities open to students who do 4-H, and I want the kids in my school district to have access to that.

Anyway, my point is, my flyer got approved so I’ll hopefully get that out to the schools late this week or by next Monday. It feels like a really concrete step forward. (It is too late to sign up for competitive judging with 4-H projects, but I actually find this a relief – some of the pressure is off and we can focus on building the club itself.) It feels good to feel like I’ve accomplished something, even though it means there is much more work to be done still.

Yesterday I also had students working on an endangered animals research project, but that took some interesting turns that I think merits its own post. Stay tuned!

Intense Holidays for Teachers

It probably differs by culture and region, but I think the hardest holidays for teachers where I am are Halloween and Valentine’s Day. They are sugar-intensive, involve class parties or other in-school celebrations, and varying levels of participation from parents — something that can help or hinder, depending!

That doesn’t mean these holidays are all bad. If you keep your wits about you, you might even find yourself enjoying them. I enjoyed our school’s Halloween parade, seeing all the kids in costume. I enjoyed our school’s Valentine dance, which was actually an after school event; I liked when kids did the Cupid Shuffle with me.

I also got some Valentines from kids. These were two of my favorites:

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Our first graders use the standard school account, “pabc,” instead of their own usernames or passwords to log into computers in the lab. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that I got a Valentine addressed like this…

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Second graders recently did projects on Google Drive. When sharing with me, I told them they only needed to type “dri” to find me (my surname is Driscoll). This kid proved that doesn’t just work for our Google accounts…

Friday Five Favorites: Christmas Traditions

childrens-choir-hiI don’t think very many people are likely to be reading their blog rolls or checking their Twitter feeds as per usual today, but I did want to write a post every day in December, so here I am, holding myself to that.

Here are five of my favorite Christmas (or around Christmas) traditions:

    • Stair carols. I come from a big family. When I hit my teenage years I still had very, very young siblings who were very, very excited about Santa coming. But a teen has a very different circadian rhythm, and my teen siblings and I may have been up very late the night before playing elves. So to compromise between morning excitement and morning need-to-sleep in, stair singing developed. Basically, kids weren’t allowed to come all the way downstairs until everybody was up and awake – that way no one got any kind of head start on stockings. A time was set as to when it was “okay” to deliberately rouse teenagers, which was significantly later than the little kids would and could get up. So the little kids, not allowed to directly interact with the teens, would sit on the stairs (because why stay in your room?) and sing all the Christmas songs they could think of at the top of their lungs. It could take a full thirty minutes to make it through a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with all the false starts, stops, and wrongly remembered lyrics.
    • Christmas morning elf. This is not the elf on the shelf who is spying on your kids. “Christmas morning elf” is something that my in-laws have always done. Every Christmas someone is designated to be the elf, and has the task of passing out presents. They have to read tags and deliver the gifts to others (possibly in a particular order). They have to make sure people get to take turns — no giving one person gifts twice in a row. The first Christmas morning I spent with my in-laws felt extremely organized and methodical compared to the “storm the tree and take what’s yours” atmosphere of my childhood. It was peaceful and relaxing. Plus, being the elf is a job kids take very seriously, while adults can lean back with mugs of coffee.
    • Tree trimming. My family always had a party to trim the tree — we would make appetizers, serve punch, and make an event of it. (Sometimes it would make an event of itself — the tree sometimes got heavy on one side and fell down.) My in-laws don’t go to quite that extent, but welcome help in putting up the ornaments. As someone who does not get too much into holiday decorations (we do not have a tree in our apartment, for instance), I appreciate using division of labor to make a task that might get tedious go faster. I also appreciate approaching it like a party and not like a chore. I also appreciate that when bad things happen to the tree, like falling down, we all feel invested because we all worked together on it, so we all will work together to fix it.
    • Food. My in-laws always have julgrot served with fruit on Christmas Eve. This is rooted in my mother-in-law’s mother coming from a very Swedish family. My mother-in-law (and this year, my sister-in-law) likes making julgrot because it is an extremely easy but very delicious meal. And because Christmas Eve can be very, very busy with other plans, it can be a relief to make something so simple for the evening meal.
    • Being open to other traditions. This year we attended a Mass at a local Catholic college, which makes sense because we’re out-of-towners, so we don’t belong to a parish around here. The college is run by an order of nuns, and many members of their order come from Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. The second reading was read in Bangla (although it was printed in English in the program too). And during the offertory, several students and acolytes performed a ritual rooted in South Asian traditions called aarti (though it was spelled aroti in the program). I really enjoy this incorporation of other languages, cultures, and traditions. Firstly, I have firsthand experience of living in a different country, so I relate to the feeling of needing to recreate some of your cultural traditions in a new setting, to feel connected back to where you came from. I really like that it felt very easy to make room for that at this church we went to. Also, I sometimes struggle with tradition — it can have a lot of positive elements, but I have also had negative experiences with some traditions too. I think being open and flexible with and to traditions helps temper that for me.

      Being open to new traditions has helped my family grow, develop, and evolve traditions as our lives have changed. Like I said, there are a lot of us, so buying Christmas gifts for everyone would be expensive and impractical. We also have moved to different parts of the country (and world, in some cases!). So we do a Secret Santa style gift exchange managed through DrawNames.com. We make arrangements to send gifts or meet in person to open them. If we can’t be with each other, then we take “unboxing” style videos of opening our gifts and share them on social media. So technology has helped us stay connected to each other!

Well, I am totally aware that this post has a definite unfinished quality to it, but I am going to leave it as it is. I have fulfilled my obligation to myself for the day, and being a holiday, it is important that I also step away and give of myself to my loved ones. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a lovely day!

 

Do You Want to Wear a Snowman?

My eight-year-old niece and I are having a silly hair Christmas Eve. We’ll see whether the other adults stop me from wearing my hair this way to Mass. I want to see whether the nuns react.

Structure made of two differently sized hair donuts, stacked on each other. Tissue instead of colored hairspray. Niece drew the buttons and nose, and glued on wiggly eyes and the Hersey kiss hat. Pipe cleaner scarf.

Dear Santa, I Didn’t Do It!

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My current student group for the after school program have written a Christmas-themed online picture book centered around letters to Santa. Well, more like excuses to Santa. What can I say, we were under the spell of a bad influence.

Here is the book trailer. (I used screenshots from the video to actually create the ebook.)

Download the ebook version for free! There is more heartfelt content in addition to the mischief. And keep an eye out for more ebooks in January – we hope to each write our own (now that the teacher has taught herself how to publish an ebook to begin with!).dearsantacoverart