A Plea for Your Vote

Did you see the first lady’s speech?  If not, you may want to watch it on YouTube…if you are of voting age, and you are registered you SHOULD watch it.

I did.  Laying in bed between my two perfect little girls, I watched the First Lady speak about the upcoming election and all that is at stake.  She didn’t have to utter the name of Hillary Clinton’s opposition for us to know who she was talking about. He-who-should-not-be-named lit up the press again with his lewdness.

There’s something about watching an election as an expat that allows for a certain level of clarity.  My election conversations are not with my friends I’ve grown up with, my family, or my countrymen (in many cases).  And so, I get to see what they see: humor that turned to disbelief that turned to disgust.

I get it.  

Because I am disgusted that there are people (potentially reading this now) who would consider voting for a present day Voldemort.

I am an educator–so Day of the Girl meant something to me too.  All over the world girls have to fight for their right to education, freedom to choose their future career or husband, and/or survival.  Here in Mexico there are areas that JUST registered the female native population.  In the United States women who work just as hard as men (or arguably harder) are in many cases still paid less.

And yet, here we are.

Did you know that when women received the right to vote that the final voice chiming in for ratification was a young man from Tennessee?  His mama had sent him a note imploring him to wisely stand up for what was right, and he did (much to the dismay of his constituents).

I beg of you, vote wisely.

This is not something that we can ignore. It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season. Because this was not just a “lewd conversation”. This wasn’t just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behaviour…

The First Lady says the men in her life don’t talk like that, and I feel the same.  I’ve NEVER heard my father, uncles, brothers, or husband talk like that.  Of course, they never made fun of immigrants, people with special needs, or plus size women either.  They were raised to respect others, not lie, cheat, and abuse them.

And I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer – not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.

You know, I’ve had people in my own family say they just wouldn’t be voting this election.  The options are not options they are happy with, so they just will leave this one up to God.

In her speech, Mrs. Obama says something I want to share: One of these two people WILL be voted on next term as president of our country.  Don’t sit this out.  Don’t vote for someone who hasn’t got a chance of winning to prove a point.  Think of all that is at stake if we elect a national disaster (and embarrassment) as our leader.

And finally, think of my family.  Sometime in the next four years we will probably try to move home.  If you elect someone into office who makes ignorant, hateful statements about immigrants, what does that do for my family?  

Be responsible.  Vote responsibly.  And think of us when you bubble in, punch, or press your option for the next president of The United States of America.

First Day of School

Tonight I told Ale about a first day tradition from my youth: at night, Aunt Jen-Jen and I would lay in bed and dream about the first day of school.  It was her secret to falling asleep, and rather effective!    “Just think about your first day,” she would say.  Tonight I added, “Think of all the fun you are going to have tomorrow–all the friends you get to play with!”  

I remember thinking about Sister Bear’s kindergarten as a kid–wishing I had barrels of clay to play with or a see-saw right there in the classroom!  I wonder what she thought of as she fought sleep last night.  Maybe getting to paint?  Reading her name like Froggy?  Having snack like Emily Elizabeth? 

Ale’s favorite book! This was taken for our summer reading storytime’s final day!

 

We checked out a pile of first day books last week, and we have read them together.  We’ve talked about “nap time,” and how it is okay to just rest quietly.  We tried on her socks and shoes, and practiced using the potty in her skirt.  And I have been the nervous one, knowing that this year will be one she remembers for the rest of her life!  

In just a few hours, my little girl is going to her first day of Kinder 1. In Mexico there are three years of Kindergarten, the first being when students are three years old.  She is excited, and ready for some out of the house stimulation.  And lucky for the both of us, she will be in my school!  I can’t wait to see her playing outside, talking Spanish to her friends, and wearing her tiny uniform.

When I had a class of students, I would always pray for them this first night before school.  I would pray that God would give me the kids that needed me.  I know that the biggest testimony is often that of a little life though, and I think of that these days: how can I help her little light to shine for others?

I read these verses this week in Deuteronomy 6:

“…and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.”

I want to do a better job of that first part (loving God more) AND the second part (talking to my girls about my love and desire to serve God.) If her life can be used, even at age three, then what she is seeing and hearing at home must be the right things!  

The backpack show

   

Quick pose before leaving

 

 

Family photo for Ale’s first day!

  

Ale and her teachers

 

Until You Have Your Own…

i love you

When I was a young teacher starting out in education, I heard something that struck a nerve.  One teacher commented on how having her own children changed her as a teacher.  “Until you have your own children, you won’t understand what it is like.”  Around the same time, a friend said having her own kids made her a better teacher.  What? Unthinkable.

In student teaching, my mentor in kindergarten told me to always treat the children like they were my own.  She told me this after a little boy came up crying at recess.  She gave him a little hug, some encouragement, and sent him back to play more.  I thought I did a pretty good job treating the kids like they were my own: I was tough and fussed a lot, but I always loved on them when they walked in the door too.  Once I had my own classroom, I remember some parents being concerned, because I was a young teacher.  They questioned me often on decisions I would make regarding discipline, and I didn’t understand then, but I do now.

The thing is, no matter how much someone loves your kid, they will never love her the same or as much as you!  Parents get this.  And once you have kids, you will be able to understand why parents are as crazy as they are.

Last week Ale started daycare across the street from my school.  She was excited to ride the bus and go to school.  She was excited to have new friends.  She was excited to get treats at the end of the day before heading by home.   But the tears upon pick-up about did me in.  In five days of school, three of them she had accidents. The other two days she didn’t use the bathroom.  All day.  For seven hours.

I started thinking about how it feels as a mom.  When we see that someone else is spending the whole day with our babies, and they are unhappy, it makes us hurt inside.  It makes us suspicious.  It makes us question what happens when we aren’t watching.  And more than anything, it makes us wish for a change for our children that would bring happiness back around.  I have sat in conferences when moms have said their children didn’t want to come to school, and while it is somewhat concerning, I always felt that it was more their problem than my own.  Until having children.  After Ale was born, my perspective changed; why were they unhappy? What happened? What did I do? What could I do differently?

We (parents) just need reassurance that someone will love our kids as much as we do.  Yes, we know that is impossible.  But that’s what we look for when we turn over our most precious cargo into your hands.  Just love them.  Hold them when they cry.  Assure them that all will be okay.  Kiss their boo-boos.  Hold their hands.  Let them tell you about their days without shushing them.  Don’t lose patience when they don’t understand or speak a different language.  Allow them to ask questions and explore.  Make them feel safe–safe enough to tell you what they tell us.  Safe enough to tell you about bullies.  Safe enough to tell you they don’t like the book you’re reading.  Safe enough to interrupt.  Safe enough to receive your correction when they do without getting scared.

Just love our babies.

And when someone tells you that having your own children will change you as a teacher, don’t get offended.  It’s the truth.

World Read Aloud Day

I started my day off this morning by checking out a stack of books to take across the street to Ale’s daycare.  Today, after all, is World Read Aloud Day!  I wanted my little girl to get books read to her all day long.

While at school, I began researching reading aloud online.  I wanted to find this statistic that I heard from Pam Allyn, Director and Founder of Lit Life, while at a conference last year.  She mentioned that students who are read to three times a day are one full year ahead of other students–regardless of socioeconomic status!  Alas, I didn’t find that statistic today, but what I did find was equally fascinating.  

The benefits of reading aloud are countless!  There is, of course, the overwhelmingly popular fun factor.  Being read to is fun!  And kids who get that are more likely to enjoy reading themselves!  Even from birth reading to children has benefits:  babies learn to associate reading with love.  They hear language structure and new vocabulary when they listen to books.  The vocabulary that comes from a picture book is often different than what someone might speak each day.  Even young adults love to be read to–and their listening comprehension is beyond that of their independent ability.  It isn’t until 8th grade that those two levels become balanced; therefore, the sophisticated language that children listen to causes them to think critically.  This, in turn, develops cognitive ability– not to mention, the emotional side of a reader.  Whew!  If that doesn’t make you want to pick up a book, I don’t know what will!

After a full day at school, I finally was able to read to my own precious punkin before turning in for the night.  I picked this up for her special last weekend in Texas.  I actually was looking for a character and a well-known title–I was so glad we went this route!  The bear is just the perfect to hide behind a pillow until his big reveal!







And this was the perfect ending to a perfect day of celebrating reading aloud… Make someone’s day by reading aloud today.  Let’s make everyday a read aloud day!

Nerd Alert.

nerd-hipster

When I was thirteen, my brother’s friend was always so proud of being a “nerd.”  She would, with relish, call me a nerd too (like it was something to be proud about…)  I didn’t want to be a nerd.  I wanted to be cool.  Or at least halfway cool.

I am embracing my inner nerd.

If being excited about learning makes me a nerd, bring it on.  If wanting to tell everyone else about what I am learning is nerdy, bring it on.  If hanging on each word my professor speaks causes others to give me a scarlet “N,” bring it on!  If referencing classical literature…

I am taking a course right now about instructional practices, and I can’t believe everything I am learning!  When I talk to my professor asking “I wonder…” questions, she encourages me (quite enthusiastically) to explore those topics.  So I am.  With gusto.

In addition, I am finding a lot of areas within the class where I can practice coaching my colleagues.  Secretly, I ask them questions to encourage them to elaborate or think beyond what they’ve said to explore other facets.  I am practicing being a good listener–something I struggle with due to my over-excitability.  I am learning to let others finish their own sentences, and show them that they matter by being present in our conversations.  Our teacher says, “The greatest gift you can give someone is to be a present listener.  Listen with your eyes, your ears, and your heart.”  Sigh.  Please, oh teacher, tell me more.  I am hanging on your every word.

Oh, wait, that’s nerdy, you say?  Webster’s agrees:  “One slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.”

That’s me.

World Read Aloud Day

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My heart is breaking.  Seriously.  I take so much for granted–like this wonderful world of literacy!  Reading has been an escape for me since I was a little girl.  Writing became my therapy a couple years ago when I felt like the world was crumbling around me.

And now?  Literacy is my future!  It’s what my job is based on, and I’ve already signed a contract as a literacy coach for the next two years.  You could say that I can support my family because I learned to read.   That’s the truth.

But still, my heart is breaking.

My custodian just asked me sheepishly, “Miss, what does this say in English.  I don’t understand.”  He was holding a button that I had made proclaiming March 5th World Read Aloud Day.  I didn’t think anything of it, and I explained in broken Spanish the idea behind World Read Aloud Day.  It’s a day where you read with a loud voice (the actual translation).  Suddenly, a look of near panic crosses his face.  “Us too?” he asked?  I explained that no, we wouldn’t have everyone reading, but that some schools do celebrate like that.  “But, it’s because I can’t read.  I had to quit school when I was eleven,” he continued, “when my father died.”

Hard swallow.

I quickly assured him that I understood how that could happen.  My husband too worked his whole childhood and missed out on a lot of school.  I can help, I explained.  It will be hard.  But I know I can help him learn to read.

Wow.  I think back to the notes that I’ve written, the cards that we’ve signed, and the text that is literally dripping from my classroom walls.  Poems decorate my door, banners fly in the hallway with each writing celebration, and this sweet man who takes care of us everyday just told me his secret.

I know that it is a secret.  That expression on his face?  I know that expression.  I see it daily on the faces of the boys and girls who struggle with reading–Who know that they are struggling.

There are a lot of things I can’t do in this world.  But teach someone to read?  That’s something I can do.  And it all starts with reading aloud.  Reading with a loud voice.  Be loud.  Be proud.  Read someone a book tomorrow–even if that someone is just yourself.

 

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An Ode To Moving On

Recently, it’s been brought to my attention that the principal of my old school resigned. I’ve read the new articles in The Washington Post, and I can’t help but feel pity for the lady. After all, I know how hard it is to move on…

I could rehash the horrible things that she did when I was there, but is there really a point now? I remember that saying about kicking a man when he is down–and that’s not where I want to find myself (Incidentally, that is what she did to me as I turned in my notice.)

When I left Fort Hunt, I also left the city I had learned to love, my friends, my family, my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, my adopted family, and my naivety. While I mourned those things I felt I had lost, I also learned to love the things I gained.

This is what I have learned about moving on:
1). It helps you discover your worth.
2). It opens your eyes to things that should have been, but you chose to ignore.
3). You learn to accept what you may have never wished for.
4). The future can be better than what your wishes actually were.
5). It causes you to self-reflect.
6). Some things aren’t worth holding on to–but you don’t realize it until they are out of your grasp.
7). The things you think matter often become less important with time.
8). You learn to stand up for the things that actually do matter to you–forming your own “non-negotiables.”
9). You can’t walk forward while looking backward every step of the way, but…
10). When you get where you’re going–it’s good to look where you’ve been. Then pat yourself on the back for braving the waters.

The compassion that the community is currently crying for is rather curious in itself. That is what I notice the most. The same moms who were in uproar over the decisions made at the school for the last four years, are the people who are now standing eloquently beside the funeral procession taking Leibrandt’s tyranny away from those hallways. The readers commenting now are talking about how great she was–causing the negative teachers to quit while flushing the building with new life.

I find myself short on words to describe what I feel for this school. Despite my decision to leave, I learned a lot in my time there. I also loved the children who filled my tables and chairs. Change of leadership is hard–but oh-so-necessary. Yes, they will have to learn the new expectations of the next administrator. Yes, their children will feel the repercussions of a train without a conductor. But thankfully, the attention that has been given to this school, even in a negative manner, hasn’t been overlooked by the county. Here’s to hoping they will take extra care in finding a principal who can put the community back together again–a principal who can fill the halls with the wonders of education, the joys of learning, and the laughter of children.

Teacher Reflections

I am currently taking a B.S. Master’s class on teacher reflections.  Today, our teacher said we needed to think of the most disturving experience in our history of teaching.  He told us not to share it with anyone–that reflections like this are highly personal.  So like all my other personal and most private thoughts, I figure that this is a good place to defy his wishes.

Where do I begin?  Six years of teaching have given me experience after experience that has “kept me up at night thinking of what I should have done differently” (the directions…).

1.  There was that time my first year when my student held scissors to his chest and a pencil to his neck.  He told me that he just wanted to die.  He was, of course, heart-broken at the tender age of 10.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how broken he truly was.  His home-life was in shambles, his step-mother resented him and treated him differently than the other students.  He followed up this event with a shoestring around his neck… and mandatory time being evaluated.  He is the student I remember the most.  The student that told me, “Miss Blakley, you saved me in there,” when he returned from the hospital.  I think of him constantly, and have called him to check on him.  Maybe someday I will find him on Facebook.

Maybe I should have kept in better contact with him.  Maybe I should have fought for him.  Maybe I should have done more to focus on his needs, and not the angry young man a couple seats over…

2.  There was another student that same year.  One that my mom suspected had been sexually abused based on her behaviors.  She wasn’t a behavior problem.  She wasn’t an academic problem.  She was ignored.

What if I had asked her more about her home-life?  What if I had reached out to her family?

3.  Student three made me promise not to tell anyone that her family was living in a van.  I didn’t.  She was well behaved.  She was poor.  She was well-loved.  She came to school clean each day.

What if I had thought to check on her family?  What if they didn’t have enough to eat?  I mean, after all, they were living in a van!

Ahh… I think of these kids often.  But they aren’t alone.

4.  This kid was a big kid–bigger than all the others.  The other students, their parents were scared of him–wary perhaps is a better word.  He thundered around the classroom, because he was too big to move quietly.  He threw his body around like every other seven year old–only he was the size of a ten year old.  He didn’t know how to play with other students, so I began playing with him.  I love this kid–I would have taken him home with me.  Alas, he did actually have a mama who cared–at least the best way she knew how.  This kid, he was too dumb to follow along–and too smart to qualify for services.  He was flying in the dead zone academically.

What if I had pushed harder against the system for him?  What if I had coached his mom on her rights to request testing for her son–after the school determined that he didn’t need it?  What if I had kept in contact with him–given him my email address to keep finding me incase he needed me?

5.  This kid was special.  She was sweet as could be–but suffered from physical issues as well as the issues that come when your parents refuse to admit that your kid can make mistakes.  Her mom made me nervous–there’s no other way to put that.  And she’s the ONE kid that I happened to screw up her test scores.  Convenient.  Once, I accidentally hit her in the eye when I turned around in the hallway.  Nice.  Totally an accident.  That kept me up at night.

Here in Mexico, I think about the academic needs of my kids more than their social and emotional needs.  It must have something to do with homes that have both parents, food that is on the table, and money that pays for quality education.  Sigh.  Thanks, teacher.  Thanks for dragging up my worries with my precious babies throughout the years.  That will for SURE keep me up tonight.

We, As Writers

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I don’t know that I would have called myself a writer before this year. I mean, you know that I did a much better job blogging the first year, no? There’s been a change of events that has caused me to reevaluate…

It all started when my school began using Lucy Calkins writing. For those of you who aren’t in a classroom, Lucy Calkins is a “program” to teach students how to write. It is great because the first part of the year is spent with the students learning that their stories are important. We’ve moved away from Lucy lessons, and now we are writing our own. We teach students specific “mini” lessons, and every day we say, “We, as writers…” It works like this: “We, as writers, tell stories by using pictures.” “We, as writers, get ideas from real life experiences.”

I started to realize that It is easy to connect with my students while I am teaching. Because I am a writer.

This week we had a celebration for the students. Parents came to school, and the students were able to read their stories out loud. We met with parents to let them know it wasn’t time for correcting grammar or punctuation. It was time to celebrate their children as writers.

I have to say you, as readers, really have done a lot to help me celebrate. I know that sometimes I misuse words, forget punctuation, or am unclear. But every little hoorah! encourages me to keep writing! This blog has been such a great experience for me, and while I love sharing my family with you–it has given me a voice. (No smart comments about how I never lacked a voice…). It is also the cheapest therapy that one could ever choose…

I feel like I can say, with utter confidence, that we, as writers, appreciate our audience. Thanks for your patience through my blogging laziness of the last few months. I’m working on my motivation!

What Makes a Good Teacher?

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At Readers and Writers Workshop we talk about what it looks like when you are a good reader or writer. We make statements like, “Good readers look at the pictures to see what is going on,” or “Good writers write about what they know.” I feel like I have reached that point where I can say, “Good teachers reflect on their teaching.”

Because of reflection, lately I have reexamined a lot of things that are typical to see in a classroom or at school. And I have started asking myself, “Hey! What’s wrong with that?”

Example 1: When children run, jump, hop, wiggle.
This is what children do. They seem to follow the rule of thumb, Why walk when I can run? I had a student from last year that had one speed–full throttle. Not surprising, this year he busted his head open the second week of school. Good teachers recognize that children move different than adults.

Example 2: When children talk in a line.
What are we operating? A school or prison? As long as no one is being disturbed, I don’t see the point in a quiet line. Actually, the whole “line walking” thing leaves a lot to question. Good teachers don’t enforce ridiculous traditions.

Example 3: When children giggle or laugh and we shush them.
There is nothing better than a happy child. And how wonderful that we have happy children in our classroom! Why are teachers scared of a giggle getting out of control. Good teachers know that happiness is something that makes work a lot better.

Example 4: When children ask why.
How many times have you heard, “Because I said so”? There is nothing wrong with a student wondering why. We tell them to ask questions, and then when we have students who are inquisitive, it becomes a problem. Why? Good teachers know that inquiry is the basis for life-long learners.

Example 5: When children sigh with boredom when the same old lesson starts. If I were presenting a conference to a group of adults, and they loudly moaned when I told them what we would be doing–I would have to rethink that presentation. Why don’t we pay attention to children when they tell us with their body language, words, sighs, moans, etc. that we are boring the pants off of them? Good teachers pay attention to their audience.

Example 6: When students become excited, and we tell them to calm down.
This happens when we teach new games, when we learn new energizes, etc. We want our audience to be attentive! Why are we always complaining about their energy? Good teachers allow energy to flow.

Example 7: When someone farts and all the students giggle.
Farting is funny. For years I would give the old everyone-does-it-and-it’s-normal speech. Then I had a kid. We all laugh when she has gas. It’s especially funny if she has gas when we are just sitting around and it is quiet. Before you tell me it isn’t funny–think about the shows you watch on tv. I bet there is farting humor in most of them. I always choke back my giggles in class. No more. Laughing is allowed. Good teachers can see humor through the eyes of a child.

A good teacher recognizes when change needs to be made. A good teacher admits when she is wrong. And a good teacher vows to be different.