Posted in Community, Inspiration, Relationship

Letting Go

“Come to my yard sale,” she called merrily as I rode by on my bicycle.  I took it in at a glance.  It looked pathetic.  Nevertheless, with mixed feelings of compassion for her and pity because she needed customers, I stopped and pretended interest as I looked at the various offerings.

“How much is the little dog”? I ventured, only able to see his head as he was hiding behind other boxes.

Thus it was, I found myself riding through the streets of town with a dirty, cobwebby, black ceramic dog named “Dark Star”, full of holes, who had taken up residence in my bike basket.   She had insisted I take him and thrust him into the basket against my protests.  I was laughing at myself, as I pictured drivers going by, pointing to this woman who had “lost it”, thinking she was taking her dog for a ride!

But as I thought about me laying him in his final resting place rather than her, it occurred to me that I also have things I’m hanging on to in my teacher basket that maybe I don’t need.  Is it time to lay to rest that favorite activity that’s fun, but doesn’t really have a purpose?  Is it time to put aside previous prejudice, open my mind, and just TRY that technology the principal is urging me to use?  Is it time to admit I need some fresh activities and ask a mentor for new ideas in the area of classroom management or ideas for teaching a particular concept?

I have a saying in my classes — “All of teaching is a grand experiment.”

No matter how long we’ve taught or how much experience we have, our job is new every morning.  That’s the fun of it…….and the challenge.  Every year is different, every class is different, and every child is different.  What do I need to do to embrace the new…….and let go of the old?

Posted in Community, Inspiration, Trauma

Teachers: Non-Stop Responders

In Redding, CA, we have lived, breathed, and strategized the devastating Carr fire for the past two weeks.  Approximately 1100 homes are gone and eight people lost their lives.  Now it’s time to start the long clean-up process.

My friend and I were having breakfast yesterday when a group of firefighters came into the restaurant  At the register, we decided to pay their bill as a thank you for all their efforts in saving so many lives and properties.  Someone else had already beaten us to it!

That’s how it is around here, and I love how the community has come together through this crisis.  Soooo many signs of gratitude everywhere – people just can’t show their appreciation enough for the firefighters and other first responders.

I am so thankful for the thousands of emergency personnel who have come from far and wide to help us through this disaster.  But now the clean-up really begins.

As I think about all the “after effects” this fire has caused and will continue to cause, there are two types of clean-up: physical and emotional.  This effort will come from heroes who are largely unsung and unrecognizable.  They wear no uniforms and drive no sirened vehicles.

I call these people Non-Stop Responders.  Included among them are teachers.

Our kids are going to need extra help as they head back to school.  Some will need to replace all their possessions and find a safe place to live.  Others will need school supplies or clean clothes.  That’s the physical side.  But on the emotional side – all our kids will need time to process the loss and devastation we’ve experienced as a community.

A teacher’s job was already difficult before the fire.  Now we’ve added children who have no home who might be living with another family.  We’ve added children who were displaced for days and when they got back to their homes, they found loss in the form of ruined food, stinky rooms, and toys that needed to be thrown away.

Even for those who weren’t affected this time, insecurity swirls in young minds as they wonder if and when such a thing might happen again.  And then there’s the smoke that hangs heavy over the area, changing routines (think inside recess) and causing more worry for parents.

How can we help?  There are many practical ways we can be part of the movement to celebrate our non-stop responders.

  • The first and most important is recognition. The expectations are high for our teachers.  They are expected to care for our children physically, emotionally, and mentally, spend their own money to buy needed supplies for the classroom, arrive early and stay late, handle ever-increasing class sizes, attend countless professional development meetings to learn the latest ideas, work to obtain deep knowledge of the curriculum, teach values and manners, communicate with parents who are not always gracious, answer emails promptly, try to do what’s best for each child……you could probably add to the list.

Teaching is a stressful career.  Yes, teachers choose it willingly, but let’s acknowledge the difficulty of the job they do.   Let them know with a thank you and a smile.  More ideas:

  • Volunteer to help, which doesn’t always mean in the classroom. It could be preparing class materials at home, baking, doing a school project on the weekend, such as painting or weeding, or helping with a special event, such as a carnival.
  • Wouldn’t it be amazing to gift teachers with a special pin they could wear so we, the public, could thank them for their service? They are serving their county and community and certainly deserve our thanks.
  • How about donating needed supplies for the classroom?
  • A gift card for a dinner out that they can give to a family in need, or a small gift certificate, lunch coupons, etc. are always appreciated.
  • Find a plant to brighten the classroom.

(If you’re unsure if something is appropriate, check with the principal first.)

I hope you’ll join me in this campaign to honor our non-stop responders, who just happen to have one of the most important jobs in the world – giving their best for OUR children.

Posted in Community, Inspiration, Relationship

Why “Every Moment a Learning Moment?”

This motto has been “mine” for many years.

I believe very deeply that every moment is a moment to grow, to learn, to love, and to serve.

One day, in the middle of teaching kindergarten, one of the children said, “Teacher, a worm just fell on my desk.”  I ignored the comment and went on.  Within a few seconds, another child cried more urgently, “Teacher, a worm came down from the ceiling!”  And when the call came a third time, I decided it was time to take notice.  Sure enough, upon inspection, little white “worms” were coming from the ceiling!  We immediately stopped what we were doing, grabbed our little magnifying boxes, put a worm inside, and began to “study” it.  Eventually, I asked a child to go to the office and have someone come over to see what it really was, and what needed to be done!

However, I hope what I modeled was that there are interesting things to be examined all around us.

Curiosity is a gift not to be squelched by the humdrum of “planned curriculum”.

Learning tools are everywhere – we just need to be aware and take advantage.

Using our moments wisely is also a great classroom management technique.  When your children are standing in line, are you busy making sure they’re standing properly, not touching each other, walking in a straight line, etc?  Or are they singing a song, practicing the memorization of a poem, reciting their times tables, learning a new math formula or giving a compliment to the person in front of them?

Wasting five minutes a day adds up to 25 minutes a week, which makes 100 minutes per month……well, you get the idea.  How long does it take your children to settle down and remember the purpose for which they came to school?  Do you talk to them about the job they are there to do?

We have no minutes to waste…..not in the classroom and not in life.  Once time is gone, we can never get it back.  Use each moment wisely.

Posted in Community, Inspiration, Professional Development, Relationship

Teaching as a Calling

On the first night of my university class, as I look at this new group of excited and usually nervous, budding educators, I talk to them seriously about teaching as a calling.  I tell them very bluntly, “If teaching is not your calling, don’t do it.  It’s much too hard.”

What is a calling?  Webster defines it as “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action, especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.”  I define it as the place where your deepest heart’s cry and the world’s greatest needs intersect. The knowing resides deep within you and whispers to you that you are doing what you were meant to do.

It’s a recharging exercise to go back to why you entered this profession every once in awhile.  You  know those “awhiles” – when the whole class seems as though they had eaten nothing but spoonfuls of sugar for three days, when your administrator has asked for yet another piece of paperwork, when IT decides to “improve” by reformatting the program you use daily, when a parent accuses you of not meeting the needs of her child……you know those days.  Remind me again WHY I’m doing this!

For many of us, the answer would be, “I went into this profession to make a difference.”

Sigh. Those are the times when it’s important to regain focus.  Sit down in a quiet place with your cup of tea, and think of each child in your classroom.  Think of the progress each one has made.  Determine to let them know that you have noticed, even if it’s minuscule.  Acknowledge that you ARE making a difference in that child’s life, and no matter how small, determine that you will continue each day to value, to acknowledge, to honor, and to help each child who walks through your door.  And then, in confidence, know that you are where you are meant to be, making a difference in a way only you can……and try again tomorrow.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”    Mary Anne Radmacher

Posted in Community, Inspiration, Relationship, Uncategorized

The Art and Craft of Teaching

My university students, aspiring teachers, often come back from an observation where they have watched a teacher in his classroom, and think to themselves, “That’s not so hard.  I can do that.”

While I like the confidence, I’m also well aware that they don’t have the full picture.  They don’t yet know what they don’t know, and thus don’t see the subtleties of the groundwork that has been laid in that classroom and the work that has gone into instituting effective procedures and routines to make the classroom hum with learning.

When I watch ice skaters perform their various twirls, double half turns, and amazing jumps, it doesn’t look so difficult.

That’s because the job of a professional is to make it look easy!  And teachers, who are also professionals, “make it look easy.”

You have worked hard to hone your skills, to learn from each professional development session, to collaborate with colleagues, to incorporate standards, to learn new programs…..and the list goes on.  Each activity contributes to your growth as a professional and your dedication as a craftsman and artisan.

I love thinking of our profession as an art.

Generally, art involves creativity, inspiration, and imagination, producing a visual product that can be appreciated.  Is there any better definition of what we do as teachers?!

Our products are the students who leave our classes, richer in knowledge and character, than when they came to us.  And each new crop of students enriches US – both in knowledge and experience – and gives us opportunity to delve more deeply into who we are as teachers.

YOU are the professional!  YOU are the artist, the craftsman, the one who has devoted your life to learning how to help our next generation achieve their dreams. I celebrate those teachers who make it look easy.