Archive for August, 2011

27
Aug
11

shocking behavior

After a week of working at my new school, a totally different environment than my old school, I have witnessed some shocking behavior.

That is, of the students.

Example 1: Yesterday in the hall, a 6th grade student of mine had a whole case of colored pencils spill out all over the floor minutes before the bell rang. Within a second, 3 older students who were walking by were on their hands and knees picking up the pencils for him. Within seconds, the pencils were cleaned up, and everyone moved on.

I however, was shocked.

It was like a PSA. The kind of hokey message you see on TV every now and then.

But it still exists, kindness.

I was shocked yes, thankful too, and mostly encouraged.

My new job has been great. I am really loving it.

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23
Aug
11

there they go

How do you watch your child step into a new realm of being, the realm of a grade schooler, and truly understand what you are witnessing?

I did not realize they were growing up.

Too fast.

And they are becoming people.

People who will hopefully love others well, as well as love learning.

That was my prayer for them today.

He was too cute, so excited for kindergarten. He was also exhausted when he came home.

She is so goofy. I had to put this in because she is just like this. So over Pre-K already. I’m kidding of course.

And here they are… smiling for the zillionth time. I put them on the bus and they didn’t look back.

And there she goes, walking into a new world, my heart.

13
Aug
11

full circle

Just thinking about writing this post gets my blood pumping. I am a teacher. A teacher of middle school students, which may or may not make me more of a teacher depending on who you ask. If you have been on this journey with me, you will know that it has been up and down, characterized by emotion, hope, and sometimes defeat. Today, I sit here and type this, and I am indignant. And also confident. And also sad. And at the same time hopeful.

I began my teaching career teaching the young ones, the smallest, sweetest form of humanity. Five year olds are the epitome of a big heart walking around with the curiousity of a tomcat. Oh, how I loved those little ones. They are big now, my kids, the ones that I once taught to tie their shoelaces and wipe their noses. They are in high school. They have passed through the stage that I teach now, that awkward stage that defines the middle grades.

My first teaching experience was characterized by love and acceptance, by hugs and affirmations. My first principal was my cheerleader, my friend, my trusted boss. She knew my teacher’s heart and she valued my skill. I miss her.

After a move a thousand miles from my mountain school, I began anew, teaching a new age, in a new place. I jumped at the chance to teach middle schoolers in a private school here in my hometown, because at the time I was a stay at home mom up to her ears in the anxieties of nap schedules, ear infections, and too much time on my hands. That offer to teach again was salvation to me, in a time when I was doubting my ability and heart as a mother. I accepted this new challenge readily, with a twinge of apprehension to be in such an different classroom. If kindergarteners are the heart, then middle schoolers are the nerves, constantly demanding unneccesary attention, but also connecting me to my world. They were in short: energetic, insightful, and challenging. It was a great experience, one in which I learned the basics of middle school humor and insecurity all over again, through their eyes this time. Teaching in private school was never something that I had anticipated, and with that also came the label of Christian school. I went through a period of deep questioning about whether I was comfortable teaching in a school that was at times unequal, subjective, and rooted in such deep tradition. (My blog addresses this back in 2007-2008). I made a decision to leave this teaching situation for two reasons, money and educational philosophy. It had nothing to do with my students, the school itself, or the people I worked with. It was simply because I didn’t feel I was doing the best thing for anyone if I myself would not send my own children to private school. So, I left.

I started fresh, on the other side of the tracks, literally. My city is so big and diverse that there are schools in close proximity that exemplify each end of the socioeconomic, cultural, and educational spectrum. I stuck with my middle schoolers, who I had grown to really love, but I started with a totally different group. 100% Hispanic, 100% Low Income, 100% distrustful of me. I spent the year trying to win the trust of some that will never trust me. I learned a couple of things. First, I could not save the world. Second, there was no way I was going to do another year of that work. Third, I was not as tough as I thought. There were a few students that were the sparkle in the mud puddle. But overall, it was an awful, disappointing year. My year was characterized by distrust, anxiety, and fatigue. My administrators seemed to think I was weak and unimportant, not wanting to take the tough stance with tough kids. I drove out of the parking lot that June and never looked back.

I arrived fresh on the doorstep of my middle school. My middle school that I attended, 20 years prior to that day. I felt like I had come home in a way. I knew a bit about the school and the students that went to it. I knew that I also lived in this community at one point in the past, and that we had now made our home here for our own children. I knew I was walking into a better situation than the one I had just left. At that time, I was still a champion of public education for the grand gesture of inclusion, equal opportunities, and the adequate funding that it offered. I was thrilled to be, as a teacher, finally putting down roots.

My classes varied that first year in that school. I loved that this school was a mixture of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic statuses. I taught all the middle schoolers now that I had taught in the past, it’s just now they were all in the same building. I loved it. The work was hard and there were students who really resisted education, and simply fought the love of a teacher. But I loved these kids, especially some of the tough ones. And I made progress with some of them. It helped that I saw them at the football games, the grocery store, and in my neighborhood at times. They knew I was one of them.

There was always the looming pressure of student achievement, TAKS scores, and the fact that you are never implementing quite the right pedagogy in the eyes of the administration. But I championed the cause of educating all young people, and I was committed to my school, in a big picture way. My job did not end when the bell rang, but was now a part of my life outside of school, as I was connected to these students in a way that I had never experienced before. I had close friends in my building and a department that I had come to love and rely on. I thought that the pieces were fitting together just right.

As I approached the end of my second year teaching at this particular school, I once again began to doubt how achievement based testing served the learners, as well as the teachers. The system is so flawed, and the accountability is rigged in a way that we can never do enough as teachers to get our schools where they should be. I began to seriously question the direction that the nation, the state, and the district was going on these matters of curriculum and instruction, and began to seek soulfully for what I thought was the solution to this floundering system. I think the thing that characterized these years of teaching was: confidence, rebellion, and innovation. I was willing to shake things up for the sake of the students. I was willing to get creative and stare the state determined curriculum in the eye. I was willing to take a chance. I knew what we were doing was not working. More and more, I realized in school, more and more, that students were simply taking up space, that they were indifferent, and bored out of their minds. It is not the fault of teachers alone. It is not the fault of the students alone. It is a systemic problem that has worked its way through the whole body of education. The future was looking bleak for coming years, I knew that. And I knew that the severity of the situation was not solely budgetary, but like I stated above, a much bigger disease affecting each member of the body.

I was willing to fight. I was willing to help others when necessary. But most importantly I was willing to stick it out and love and teach students who at times, seemed unteachable. They were my hope.

But in April, I was told that there was not a place for me at my school, that my job had been eliminated. Blame it on the budget, they said. Blame it on the teachers who won’t retire, they said. Blame it on the governor, they said. So sorry, they said. You will be ok, they said. You will get a job, they said.

I said, I know I will get a job. I said, I am a teacher. I said, I love these students. I said, I don’t want a job. I said, I want this job.

And they said, Sorry.

And I said, I am willing to fight for this.

And they said, that’s no good, it’s a waste of time.

And I said, I must.

And I did.

Until I knew it was time to stop.

I am a teacher who loves her students. I thought I had found my home school. I thought that I had positioned myself in such a way to make an impact not only on students, but on public education as a whole. And I guess I couldn’t have prepared myself to be the excellent teacher who loves students who was laid off.  I wasn’t prepared to lose all my faith in the system. I wasn’t prepared to bow out of the battle that I was willing to fight. I feel stripped of my voice, and in some ways my passion to change something in need of revolution. I don’t know how to perceive the public education system right now.

Especially because last week, they hired someone new to do my job in my school. They had to hire someone back into my position, because they had made a mistake when it came to determining the number of teaching units per subject. She is nice, I have been told. But she is a first year teacher with no experience in teaching, let alone science. And she is setting up my classroom right now, to prepare for my students.

I am indignant.

And I don’t understand.

And I’m not sure I will ever get over this.

And I don’t understand.

But I am hopeful for my year, and my new students, because like they said, I would get a job. I have a job. Where, you ask?

I am teaching private school to those middle schoolers I fell in love with.

09
Aug
11

self portrait

Sometimes this is how I want to portray myself: serene, tanned, and of course, completely at ease with my decisions.

But this is the truth: I am often none of the above. Instead I am out of control, spastic, and pretty much difficult to be around.

09
Aug
11

read this, loved it

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05
Aug
11

back home again

With car full of dirty clothes, crayons strewn about, and sleepy heads, we returned home after three weeks of travel. The car appeared to be chaos, and in fact it was. We had pulled our pop up all 5500 miles of the trip, and the car was lifeline and sanctuary on this journey. Our beds were a foam mattress and the beds and floors of loved ones. We lived a bit like vagabonds, visiting with those we knew along the way, but seeking new adventures all the same. It was in all ways, glorious. I love to be on the road. I love staring out the window for massive amounts of time. I love sleeping so close to my kids I can usually touch them. I love that we eat our food, clean our dishes, and must get creative with what we do for baths. I love seeing old friends. I love seeing sights I have never witnessed. I love being forced to be active outdoors. I love making fires. I love the way that the hours of daylight changes depending on your latitude. I just really enjoy being mobile.

We re-entered domestic life sunday, and the first thing I was aching to do was purge our actual house of all the unnecessary items. When gone for a full two months, you will find that you need very little. (For example, we brought a small backpack of toys for the kids, and, they never touched them.) So my first plan was to clean out every room in the house. In the course of a few hours, the house was now in shambles, from the mountains of laundry to the newfound non-necessities we realized we didn’t need. There were two days of that, resting, and catching up with family. And then I returned to work. (More on that later.)

Needless to say, our summer has been in nothing short of fantastic. The last trip we took was one of the best we have ever been on. I’ll show you a few pictures to keep you up to speed.

But we are happy to be back, this is home, and we definitely thought a lot about what’s in store for all of us this coming school year.

By the way, the order of the trip was as follows: Houston to Silverton, Colorado for family camping—–> Silverton to Denver to visit with family and friends (Thank you Jay, Dave, David, and Amy) ——–> Denver to Grand Teton National Park for family camping (we visit yellowstone also) ———> Grand Teton to Missoula to visit friends (Thanks Stacy and Alex) ——-> Missoula to Glacier National Park for family camping ———> Glacier National Park to Crested Butte, Colorado for family camping ———> Crested Butte to home.

Yes, it was a trek!

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