Category: Teacher Life

20 Tips to Help Your Child Be Successful in School

Dear Parents,

While we do enjoy teaching your children and getting to know them, sometimes we feel like we’re alone on this island and parents expect us to do it all. Now don’t get upset with what I’m about to say because I, too, am a parent of two school-aged children, so I will be taking my own advice. These “words of wisdom” come from experienced teachers (most of who are also parents) who just want the best for your children. Most people don’t realize that this is a partnership and what is happening at home also affects what is going on at school and vice versa.

With this in mind, my intentions are not to upset anyone but to let you know what we on the other end need you to know in order to make this partnership a successful one. While we know that most of you are doing the best that you can and are truly there for your children, when you haven’t done what we do, you may not be aware of these things. So here’s the list of 20 things that you can do to help your child be successful in school and even in life. (more…)

Who Will Protect the Children?

February 14, 2018 has turned into another September 11, 2001 for me. I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I first heard the news of each tragic event. With September 11, I was walking through the teacher’s lounge when I heard in passing about a plane hitting a building in New York and caught a glimpse of some video. I didn’t think much of it at the time and went back to my classroom prepared to teach. No teaching happened that day and life how we knew it changed forever.

On February 14 of this year, as I sat in a data chat meeting with my assistant principal, my team, and a few other people, my friend looked at her phone and suddenly gasped. She quickly filled us in on what what happening. Again, I was shaken by the news, but thought (no, I hoped) that it would turn out to be another false alarm, just hearsay, just some rumors being passed around, but it wasn’t. I had another class period to teach so I headed back to my classroom. Again, no teaching happened for the rest of that day as we got word, little by little, about what was unfolding.

But this time it was so different.

This time the news tore me apart in a completely different way. All I could do was pray, pray that my God would comfort those who were hurting, save those who were fighting for their lives, and give me the strength I needed to be strong for those around me, the peace I needed not to succumb to fear.

You see, as a teacher at a school only 15 miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, this hit too close to home. Before I could even try to wrap my head around how I was feeling about everything, I was first faced with the task of comforting and consoling my 8th grade students who were frightened and worried that since the gunman was still at large at that time, there was a possibility that he could be heading our way.

“She’s so calm,” was what one of my students commented about my outward demeanor. Inside, I was desperately trying to process everything I was hearing and seeing while not adding to the tension and apprehension that was slowly seeping into my classroom. I had to hold it together for my students. Numerous questions were sent my way. After all, I was the adult in the room, so of course, my students believed that I had all of the answers.  We had been placed on a soft lock down as a precaution. This, in turn, caused my students to start asking if their parents could come and pick them up, yet most of them were afraid of leaving the safety of my classroom to even walk outside. At that moment, so much responsibility was put into my hands all while I worried about the safety of my own children. My seven-year-old son was on the same lock down in his aftercare program on my school campus. My older son, was, hopefully, on his way home from his high school on the other side of town.

But this time it was so different. (more…)

The Heart of a Teacher (The Untold Story)

When I envisioned becoming a teacher, I pictured standing in front of a classroom presenting these beautiful, heartfelt lessons to the enthusiastic students seated in front of me who were just as excited about education and who were ready and eager to learn. While I didn’t go into teaching to feel a sense of power, I certainly thought I would at least earn respect from my students, their parents, and the community. We would all work together to ensure the success of every child in my classroom. Hey, maybe we would even lock arms and sing, “We Are the World,” overwhelmed by just how much we had done that would impact the world within that year those students were a part of my class. (Okay, so that might be taking it a bit far.)

                                                   

I was a bit naive about how things would really go down, but is it too much to ask for me to have something close to that? Suprisingly, yes it is. The reality is that my classroom is far from magical, and every day is a battle to get my students to be enthusiastic about the learning process.

But what surprises me even more about everything (and what this post is really about) is how ignorant everyone else is about exactly what it is that teachers are required to do. People truly believe that our days begin and end with the ringing of the school bell, that the only time we spend working is during those “work hours.”  How hard can it be, right?  It infuriates me when someone comments on the number of days off that we have, citing the breaks and holidays, as if those days off make our job any easier or when someone who has never been in the classroom wants to tell me what they would do if they had to deal with a particular situation in my class as if I am too ignorant to have thought of the same solutions. (I would never allow a student to speak to me like that. Why don’t you just throw him/her out? You just have to have discipline and the kids will behave.) Boy, please!

                                                                 

The thing is, it’s not easy. People don’t really understand just how difficult this career is, just how many different hats teachers are asked to wear, how much pain and happiness our hearts go through in a day while dealing with other people’s children and the endless demands placed upon us. You see, I actually feel like what I spend the least amount of time doing each day is actually teaching the subject that I get paid to teach. Yeah, I said it.

Now, before you freak out, let me explain.

   

Unfortunately, all of my students don’t come to me from perfect homes with supportive parents who are able to help guide them through the many ups and downs of school. Many of my students come to school with so much on their own plates that school is the last thing on their mind. Just this year alone, the stories that I have heard about some of my students’ lives is enough to make many Lifetime Channel movies (and you know how dramatic those can be). The things some of them have dealt with and seen or are currently dealing with is too much for even adults to comprehend, so how do we expect a child (my students are thirteen and fourteen years old) to be able to process what they’re going through or for them to care about what their grade is in my class? My teammates and I have been in tears several times this year as we try to fathom the hurt and pain that some of our students are dealing with every day. We’ve all been to the point where we just want to take some of our students home with us so we can shield them from the frustration and suffering. Yet, I’m supposed to just teach them about essay writing and grammar and everything will be okay?

What about all of the normal teenage issues that kids have to deal with? Although each school level has its own set of problems, I can definitely speak on middle school students and all that they’re going through at this age. Fitting in and learning who they are are the biggest concerns for my students. Their self-worth is based upon their hairstyles, their clothes, the way they think they look, how they speak, the music they listen to, sports they play, what group they hang out with, how many followers they have on Instragram, and the list goes on. It’s very difficult to teach someone who is worried about how everyone around them perceives them or is uncomfortable in their own skin. So I spend a lot of my time dealing with bullying, low self-esteem, conforming to fit in with others, misplaced anger, overwhelming sadness, and a sense of worthlessness or just confusion. It’s impossible to ignore all of this and just try to teach kids who have all of these other issues on their mind. Yet, I’m supposed to just keep on trekking and make sure these students are proficient at picking out the best textual evidence to support their thesis statement and writing a great paper. Really?

Electronics, video games, TV, and social media. Even parents know that these are tough competition. In this age of technology, kids are attached to these items 24/7 and getting them to focus on other subjects can seem impossible. I have kids literally falling asleep throughout the day because they stayed up to 2:00am on the phone watching videos or texting friends. Teachers have to constantly be on top of new fads, working to make lessons as fun and engaging as possible, finding clever ways to infuse the technology the kids love and yes, even social media, into our lessons. In a culture of instant gratification, trying to get kids to slow down and focus on a task that they can’t perfect right away, telling them they will have to practice it over and over again in order to master it, is a monumental task. Yet, I should be able to get my students to write, revise, and edit their essays several times before they turn them in to me. Let’s be realistic, please.

In order not to make this a book, I’ve only pointed out just a few of the issues that we encounter as teachers. Only…a…few. I haven’t even gotten to the fact that in addition to teaching we are expected to still be curriculum specialists, guidance counselors, referees, grief counselors, moms, dads, police officers, advisers, entertainers, data analyzers, be able to supply students with the basic school necessities, keep them engaged, well-behaved, report any inappropriate, suspicious, or below-grade level behavior, serve on different committees, attend numerous workshops, and keep up with every educational trend all while someone sits in the back of our classroom and evaluates our every move or while people sit in their government offices and make decisions that will impact our workload and pay.

Personally, I feel like we’re superheroes in disguise, saving the day behind the scenes, but never getting the credit for all that we do.

So please don’t get upset with me if a child’s test scores is not my first priority. I’m sure that I speak for all teachers when I say that we’re more concerned with the people seated in front of us than the scores on a paper, with the growth and development and the overall well-being of our students than what level they scored on an unfair test. Yes, we do want to see them do well on the tests, to improve and show growth, to be successful in school, but that’s not the end all be all. That’s not our daily motivation. We are focused on the WHOLE child, not just the part evaluated by a test.

And our students see us as more than just teachers. They tell us about their problems, and brag to us about their accomplishments, they get hugs from us to cheer them up or give us hugs to try to cheer us up, they scream our names from down the hallway and run to us to say hello, some adopt us as Mom or Auntie or Uncle and try to invite themselves to dinner at our house, they beg us to come watch them at their games or to read the story they wrote. We are so much more to them and they are so much more to us.

I wish more people would listen to us and understand our hearts, hearts that break for our students as well as swell with pride. What we give our kids can’t be found in a textbook or on the next state assessment.

What we do is more than just teach.

We give our students our hearts.

EVERY SINGLE DAY.

That should count for so much more than any test score.

All of my teacher friends, what do you think? Please feel free to chime and comment below!

 

 

 

Education in America is a Freaking Joke (poem)

Education in America is a freaking joke
I need you to sit down and take note
As a teacher I can explain to you firsthand
The foolishness on which I must expand
About the career I’ve chosen
About what’s got me groanin’
Questioning the choices I’ve made
That’s brought me to this day
Where I have to explain
The craziness in which I am daily forced to partake

And I say again,
education in America is a freaking joke
I don’t mean to rain on or take away your hope
I just wanted to give you some insight
To explain to you this plight
About a system that no longer works
About a system plagued with anger, frustration, and hurt

In order to so-called “compete” with other nations
We’ve sacrificed the very essence of education
Because it’s all a sick, twisted game
Where teachers are always the ones left to blame
Teachers are rated on test scores
So now their lesson content has become a bore
Testing is seen as the only way to understand
The brilliance inside of a boy or girl’s head
The kids don’t respond because they know it’s no longer about them
The system’s not set up for them to win                                                                                                                                                     It serves to just further divide
A nation that seems set to commit suicide
No child left behind
Has left most of them struggling to find
A place where they belong, to fit in
A place where they, too, can feel like they can win

And what about the parents
Why isn’t this problem apparent
That their lack of participation
Only adds to the devastation
Why do they get to sit back with fingers pointed
And not realize how much they contribute to this disjointed
And broken system that makes no sense
How long will this insanity persist?

Come on America
When will we get it right?
When we will we stand up and fight?
We need to make the classroom a place
Where children have the chance to be great
To see what makes them special and unique
Without constant fear of a harsh and judgmental critique
Let’s teach them the lessons and values that they really need
Now just how to pick between answer choices A ,B ,C, and D
Help them to discover the talents they possess
Show them how to turn that into success
Help them to compete with themselves
Not just constantly compare them to someone else
Give the teachers creative freedom
And trust that they have enough wisdom
To guide their students to the next level
Without the stupid tools you use to measure
How “effective” they are when do what they do
And by the way,
Why don’t you let them do what you hired them to do? (more…)

Defining Moments

This past Friday I had the honor and the pleasure of attending an induction ceremony and tea for a girls organization that I had the privilege to help start as well as advise when I was a teacher at my previous school. The organization, P.I.N.K. (Positive Influence Nurtures Knowledge), was originally created by a wise and beautiful woman at a local elementary school, and one of her old members begged my friend to start a chapter at our middle school a few years ago. I heard about the idea and jumped right on board, and the rest is history. Being an adviser for P.I.N.K. was one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my adult life (kind of like parenting but to 30-40 young ladies at one time).

This year we were inducting 20 new members, and I was so excited to be on the other side of the table, not the one putting everything together, but as a speaker on a panel coming to encourage and impart wisdom to the new and old members.  I didn’t plan a speech or anything of that sort because I knew that once the conversations at these events start, they just keep rolling seamlessly.

We had gotten to our Q&A session of the tea when one of the young ladies, after hearing stories of the challenges and hard times that we had all overcome, asked a very thought provoking question. She asked  “In order to grow in life will there have to be more bad times than good?”  Apparently in conveying our stories, we had given her the impression that in order to it make to where we were as guest panelists and successful women, that life would have to be more hard than easy, more bad than good. Two other presenters spoke up before I could, and because we were running short on time, I didn’t have the chance to respond. But here is what I wanted her to know. Maybe she’ll get the chance to read this some day.

No, there will not be more hard times than easy and more bad than good. It’s really all about your perspective of and approach to life each and every day. When I look back over my life, I can definitely point out more happy than sad days, more laughter and smiles than tears, more peaceful moments than those spent in pain.

The bad days or hard times cannot be avoided and yes, they do help us to grow. It’s all in our responses to these moments that can make all the difference in our lives. 

We can grow from “good” moments as well. For example, if something that you’ve tried to do turns out positively, you’ll repeat the process to continue to get good results. You will learn through that process. You will grow.

However, the moments that seem to have the biggest impacts are those hard times or what I will call the defining moments of our lives. I believe that the reason most of us point these moments out when giving wisdom to others, the reason why they stick out in our minds the most, is because they are the moments that change us the most, the moments that truly make us who God created us to be.

These defining moments stick out because we are usually in a make or break situation where the decision we make or the lesson we learn will have a lasting impact on our lives. 

They can be the beginning of a chapter of our lives that will lead us to success or even the ending to one that will take us away from negative things such as a toxic relationship.

The reason we are so eager to share these stories is because we don’t want you to be blindsided by them. If we came in and told you that life would be all unicorns and rainbows, you’d be mad at us when it didn’t turn out that way.

Defining moments often come as a surprise. They interrupt your normal life. They may even knock you off your feet. But I dare you to do this. I dare you to welcome these moments and use them for the learning experiences that they are meant to be. Let them be temporary interruptions and not how your story ends. That way you can add words such as courageous, strong, bold, wise, indomitable to your list of words you use to describe yourself.

We want you to be prepared and understand and remember that this too shall pass. That you will come out on the other side of this stronger than you’d ever thought you would be and that one day, you will be standing in front of a room of young ladies, or on the phone with one, or holding your own daughter’s hand as you tell your story of overcoming adversity, so that she will understand that the strong, beautiful, positive, successful woman that she knows wasn’t created overnight.

But she also wasn’t defeated by the storms of life. If anything, she always found a way to come out on top. That is our humble prayer for you and why we are here today. So that you may always come out on top. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Fresh Start

The start of a new school year can bring about many different emotions: excitement, fear, optimism, stress, anxiety. But no one can deny that there is a buzz in the air as we all rush back and forth in preparation, buying this, cutting out that, copies being made, and seating charts being drawn. And let’s not forget the time and effort that is put into picking out that first day of school outfit. (Yes, teachers do it, too). None of us knows what the new school year will bring, but I know that I, like most teachers, am praying for this to be the best school year yet (especially since I am starting at a new school, with new colleagues, and new students).

So today, the day before I start my 17th year of teaching (can’t believe it’s been this long), I want to offer encouragement to all of the teachers whether you are about to start your first year or your forty-first.

I pray that each and every one of us will start this year with the same optimism and energy that we had on that day when we first declared that we were going to become educators, when we knew that we were going to walk into a classroom and change lives. This job is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who truly want to make a difference in the world.

I pray we will treat each day as a new day, not allowing any of our frustrations from the day before to get in the way of the day ahead of us.

I pray that we will treat every child as if he or she is our own, giving them the same opportunity for a great education as we would want for our own children.

I pray that we will continue to create innovating and engaging lessons for our students, having high expectations, and demanding excellence from them all.

I pray that we won’t let the way educators are being treated by those who have never been in the classroom or seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be in the classroom to taint the way we feel about our profession. (more…)

What Teachers Really Do During the Summer

I have people who are upset with me right now, giving me the side-eye whenever they see me. What is it that I have done to make people so upset with me? It’s all because I am a teacher and I am off for the summer and I keep posting pictures of my legs crossed, a book in my hand, and a cup of coffee at my side. No worries. No schedules. No concerns.

I’m sorry, but I am not sorry. I’m sorry that not everyone can have a job where they get two months off and, thanks to year-round pay, still get paid for it. However, I am not sorry because this is a well-deserved break. I won’t go into all of the details of what a teacher has to do during the year. However, I wanted to give some insight into what most teachers actually do during the summer.

*Disclaimer: Please excuse my grammar in this post. It’s not a dissertation, just some fun, so please don’t judge me.*

Here’s a list in no particular order:

#1 – One thing that I know I do plenty of during the summer is reflect on the previous school year. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What can I do better?  How did I actually survive that one class period that made me want to quit every single day? Will THAT child be in my class again next year? Why did I become a teacher? Is there time for me to get another degree over the summer? Do I really have to do this again next year? Then something clicks in my brain. Wait…I have two months off.  Two full months. Two months. Then I come back to my senses and I say, “I think I’ll stick with this teaching thing after all.” Got to take the good with the bad.

#2 -Believe it or not, we actually start planning for the next school year. Wait, did you really believe all of that teacher magic could really happen with us coming back only ONE week before the students do? Noooooo!!!! Most teachers have already started filling their Pinterest boards with classroom decor and ideas for the new year. Some are attending summer trainings in order to learn new strategies (oh, and for a much needed stipend). And all are praying that this year will be the year of perfect lessons, no unnecessary meetings, and perfectly behaved students. Hey, we can dream. To tell you the truth, we know that the first week back to work for teachers is actually filled with meetings, meetings, and more meetings, so there is NO real time to plan in our rooms.

(more…)

The Entitled Generation

*Disclaimer: This is a bit of a rant.

I apologize in advance.

I had to get this off my chest.

As a child, I remember hearing the phrase, “You don’t get something for nothing,” and I realized that in order to get something, I needed to earn it. Whether this was referring to earning grades, awards, or money, it was the same idea. You get from life what you put into it. I understood the concept that hard work would be rewarded and no one wins at everything. Hard work, dedication, and perseverance were  keys to success.

The same concept seems to be neither taught nor understood by this current generation of children, the generation that includes my own children as well as the students I teach. I think this school year has been my most frustrating one out of the sixteen that I have been teaching. I don’t think I have ever had so many students angry with me because they did not receive an ‘A’ in my class for just being present in the room on a regular basis. The amount or quality of the “work” that they turned in or whether or not they actually turned in any work at all seemed to be of no consequence. They felt they should get a passing grade just because they came to class, just because they were nice, just because they got an ‘A’ on that one assignment that one time, etc.

It is extremely frustrating!

When did we start teaching kids that just because they are alive, the universe and all of the people in it owe them something? When did we start teaching kids that everyone is equal in talent and ability at everything? When did we start teaching kids that having a talent meant that they didn’t have to work hard because that talent would just carry them along to success?

I see it every day. Students who earn high test scores on standardized tests automatically seem to believe that their test scores entitle them to an ‘A’ in a class, that the mediocre work that they turn in to the teacher is acceptable and they don’t need to do any more than that. I see talented singers and dancers at the school who think that they don’t need to actually rehearse for a performance, that they can just get on stage and magic will happen. It’s in the struggling learner who feels that because everyone knows that it’s harder for them to learn, that they shouldn’t really have to work at all, that the teacher should just have sympathy as well as low expectations and gift them with a passing grade. (more…)