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

 

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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.

Nerd Alert.

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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.

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.

I Am The 22%

This is in reference to an article posted in The Washington Post today. You can read it here.

Two years ago my life changed for the better. I didn’t know it at the time. In fact, I really never could have imagined all that was in store for me. Two years ago (and a few days) I quit my job.

I didn’t have another job. I really had no clue what I wanted to do, but I knew that I couldn’t survive another school year at the Northern Virginia school where I had spent the last three years. With the support of my family, I walked into the office that Tuesday, and resigned. It was easier than I had imagined it would be–probably due to the end of the rope that I had been dangling from snapping in two.

It took me four months to recover.

Luckily, I was able to rediscover my love for teaching, and I moved to Mexico to teach in an American School. This school was far from being perfect. The teachers I taught with were very unhappy. As foreigners teaching in Mexico, they were lacking the support that most international schools offer. I didn’t mind. I was happy with my shabby furniture, the extremely hot houses, and the lack of water.

One of the teachers who was experienced in teaching overseas said, “You know, Jania, you were just in an abusive relationship before–so everything seems great to you now.”

Oh, how true those words were.

I feel somehow validated to read about my school in the Washington Post. I was one of the 22% who left with the first mass exodus. We knew as we left Fort Hunt that we couldn’t cite the REAL problems as reasons for leaving. Fairfax County Schools probably has a file folder full of teachers resigning for “personal reasons,” “health reasons,” or “moving to another area.” That’s so far from the truth. The truth is that telling your future employeers that you had to quit because you couldn’t work in a “toxic environment” any longer makes you sound like you’re weak. Telling future employeers that your principal sucked the life out of a great little community school makes you sound like you shift responsibility. Telling future employeers that you were promised many things that never came to light makes you sound like a whiner. Telling your future employeer that you were switched grade levels, given split days of two grade levels (around 50 students), and not given the special ed support that you were meant to have (by law) makes you sound inflexible.

When other teachers left, we were led to believe that changes would occur. That the whole reason why we were miserable was due to the a group of old school teachers and their negativity. We started Happiness Campaigns to boost moral, but that will only go as far as the administration allows it to go.

The readers of the Washington Post article speculate (as did the parents) that teachers left due to the population of students. False. Our students were the best thing we had going for us. We had a great mix of low-income minority students and the neighborhood kids. I say a great mix, but for years they weren’t allowed to actually mix. The administration did actually encourage that to happen–but with very little cultural understanding.

The teachers were completely unsupported. One teacher was told after a trip to the hospital with heart palpitations (at the tender age of 24 or 25) that she needed to learn to deal with her stress better. I was told in a post-evaluation conference that sure, I would be a good reading specialist, but so would my co-worker. We were built up and broken back down on a daily basis. Teachers were moved like pawns to intentionally (admittedly) disrupt their comfort. Teacher after teacher would leave the school ragged, tired, and worn out. Happy Hours became more common, and more teachers than not would mention the need of alcohol to relax. Many teachers retired before they planned due to the environment. Some teachers left to have their children–choosing to stay at home. One employee told the cluster superintendent that he would take a demotion rather than work at that school another year. Others did move to areas outside of Northern Virginia. But most would have stayed had the situation been different.

I feel like I suffered from PTSD while working at Fort Hunt. I have blocked entire memories out of my head. Sometimes, I think of something–and often it is with wonder that it even happened. Be assured: this article isn’t lying. It isn’t exaggerating. It’s the real deal, people.

Maybe you don’t feel like pointing fingers at the administrator is an appropriate thing to do. The truth is, in this situation, it’s the only thing to do.

 

First Day of School Hatred

I am just going to put this out there: I hate the first day of school.

I used to love it, and part of me still does! But then there are the supplies still thrown all over the corner of my classroom… I never thought the day would come when I would complain about too many supplies.

It arrived with the 75 boxes of Kleenexes that some helpful students organized today.

There used to be a time when I would fret about supplies. Mama and I would scour the Sunday paper advertisements for the 1 cent sale. I loaded up on enough folders, glue sticks, and pencils to sink a battleship. It was necessary, you know, in order for my students to have what they needed.

This is one reason why teachers should make more money. We spend so much of our already meager earnings on our students. Sure you can write off some on taxes, but not enough to make a dent in my debt…

Before, my students families weren’t able to purchase the list of “suggested supplies.” They would envy the goodies the other students brought to school. So, we began community supplies. At the beginning of the year, I collected all the supplies–and we used them at our table groups throughout the year. It. Was. A. Game-changer.

This year, it took me three days to sort through Kleenex boxes, highlighters, and colored pencils. I had students with pencil sharpeners that look like toys, artist quality colored pencils, and pencil boxes organized with each pencil labeled. Back to community supplies! Rich or poor–learning to share is always a challenge…

Teacher Let The Monkeys Out Year Two

I have never in my life seen so many students crying.  Today was the last day my kids were in school, and you know how in the States kids get super excited?  My kids cried.  I would like to believe that it’s because I am an amazing teacher and they will miss me so much, but really, it’s not that.

First of all, they have a flare for drama–it is what makes my Mexican students so lovable, fun, and frustrating.  So when the waterworks started in one kid, I knew it was because he is moving in about three weeks to Monterrey.  When two girls started crying, I knew it was because their home lives are a little lonely.  But then, it was like an epidemic.  Before I knew it, half of my class had teared up, and this hormonal teacher started crying too.

Now, here’s the thing.  I love my students.  I care about them.  I have enjoyed them.  I will even miss them to a degree.  But I am NOT sad that it is the last day of school!!  While other first year teachers have been telling me how sad they are all week, I have bit my tongue.  Because saying, “Oh, well, that will change!” isn’t something a first year teacher likes to hear or believe.  I remember.  So I didn’t say it.  But I sure did think it!  So these tears?  I attribute them to hormones.  I knew crying would just make things worse, so I choked them back and hid them from the kiddos.

THEN, we went to dismissal.  A older student found out that his cousin died.  Someone called his mom while they were sitting there waiting, and I was alerted by his tone of voice.

“Que paso? Que paso?” he said urgently.  Then he broke down.  I was worried.  I was sad.  But I didn’t know him–so I was able to walk away dry-eyed when I saw he was being taken care of by the counselor.  Until I started thinking about that poor mama.  Oh, my!  If I were to lose my Bebita!  Ah!  I can’t even stand to think about it!!

I calmed down–and returned to normal.

Then, my little boy who is moving came back with his mom.

“He is sad, because he is going to miss you,” she said, “He doesn’t want to leave.”

“Oh!  You’ll have so much fun!” I assured him.   Before I knew it, the mama was tearing up.  I looked at her a little worried and confused.

I asked, “Are you okay?”

She nodded towards her son and said, “It’s just because…”

I sprung another leak.  I finally understand!  I used to think my Mama was silly when she would look so hurt when we were sick or hurting.  It always kinda made me laugh.  Never again!  I get it!  And while the office staff, other parents, my co-teachers, and students looked on, I stopped holding it back.

And there we stood, us three, crying over the last day of school (kind of).