Reacting Intentionally

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So, I’m here in Indiana at a family reunion. First of all, I love these people. I only see them at weddings or funerals and there haven’t been many of those. My cousins are quite a bit younger than I and live quite far away so I only know them superficially. Many of these Baumgardners have been or are educators, with the have “beens” far outweighing the “nows” especially by those in attendance. So I’ve been thinking about all of them this morning. I’ve also been thinking about going back to school and being around teachers whom I also love and haven’t seen in a while. My biggest dread being around either group is the one-ups-manship that is played out fairly constantly.

With family, someone asks you what you are up to and you tell her or him or at least you start. Not too far into the conversation the focus shifts off you and onto the person inquiring since she or he has done or seen something far worse or far better. With family, unless it’s a medical condition, they tend to favor the far better. And to be fair, it usually has to do with bragging about offspring rather than her or his self. By contrast, teachers one-ups are almost always downers. This makes talking to teachers rather depressing. So, what’s going on here? Why do teachers do this? Most importantly, what can I do to not be “that” teacher?

Multiple choice question:

I talk with a teacher about a situation that ends up being one-upped I am actually

A) venting so I don’t explode on a kid/parent/administrator/colleague
B) seeking support in the form of advice about how to handle a situation
C) trying to impress them with my mad skills
D) feeling sorry for myself and having a pity party
E) all of the above

Answer for yourself, but I choose E, if I am being totally honest. When I talk to another teacher I just want to talk to someone who speaks my language and understands.

I taught my husband to just listen and maybe get me a drink if I was sharing something particularly painful. Things at school, he cannot fix for me. I don’t want him to fix them. It’s not his world. I just want him to listen and know I had a rough day. I don’t usually want his advice either and if I do, I ask for it. Now, these behaviors, just listening and asking, did not come naturally for either of us. We have to think about what we are doing and “react intentionally.” Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not.

Imagine if an administrator or counselor or pastor one-upped each thing I shared with them. I’d quit going to these people. Venting would never turn into conversation that would lead to solution or simply a shoulder on which to cry. These people had to learn how to react and so can teachers. Teachers need to be there for one another. So in 8.6 days when I go back to school, I want to be a better colleague. I want to be a supportive listener. I want to help where I can and lead the positive charge by example. I want to react intentionally.

As I go onto the very loud, highly competitive stage of the Baumgardner reunion today, I hope to also react with intension. I pray for inner calm and keen listening for myself. I will make certain the conversation is centered appropriately. I am going to do my very best not to interrupt. That’s just really hard when you have something funny to sprinkle onto the conversation. But I will try.

Heart

Vulnerability = ZPD for teachers

TMC17 Summary and Reflection

I was surrounded by greatness and for that I am grateful. I didn’t show up at TMC17 with my A game, but I improved as the week progressed. Why is that?

Attitude—After leaving Greensboro late because of a doctor appointment that came with unexpected news topped off with car trouble, I got to Atlanta three and a half hours later than expected. It all worked out rather well as I ran into some very nice MTBoSers in the hall and they invited a first timer and me to join them for dinner. Great restaurant. Great company. Thanks Steve Weimar, Megan Schmidt and Benjamin Walker.

Comfort level—I left TMC16 thinking I would not bother to come to another TMC. I got into writing proposals to present back in January and they were accepted and so I came. I attended the Desmos pre-con this year so that was nice. I read comments that non-amateurs were not very open to new folks at that point of the camp and that is unfortunate. I will say, though, that TMC non-amateurs were super great at speed dating the next day. Perhaps it’s because they were held hostage by a downpour, but regardless, they were there. They were participating and they were welcoming and I think they actually enjoyed meeting new people. That was a real turning point for TMC17. Somebody really needs to schedule rain for TMC18. I wonder who is in charge of that.

This year’s TMC was my 2nd so I had a point of reference. Last year I over-PDed, if that’s possible. This year, I came hungry. I enjoy My Favorites and the Keynote speakers blew me away. If you haven’t done so, please check out their presentations here. I chose good short sessions this year. Then I hit the mother load when I made the right choice for my three-day session. I was excited to meet and learn from the well respected @cheesemonkeySF. Boy, did she deliver. See separate post.

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Along with friends, I presented so I also came to TMC17 vulnerable. Little did I know that vulnerability was the theme of TMC17. Last summer’s marching orders were “be intentional”. This year I heard loud and clear to be vulnerable. Take risks. I see vulnerability as a teacher’s Zone of Proximal Development. Learning and progress happen for teachers when they open up and take chances and then reflect and refine.

Have a great, vulnerable school year party people!! May you learn and grow exponentially.

Reflection on TMC17 long session–From Drab to Fab

This is MY reflection and summary of my three day Twitter Math Camp (TMC) session with @cheesemonkeySF, aka, Dr. Elizabeth Statmore. This is my interpretation. I apologize if I misconstrued anything Dr. Statmore put before me. My intent is to honor her and to document my learning at the same time.

Differentiating CCSS Algebra 1 — from drab to fab using Exeter Math 1 & Exploratory Talk

Day 1:
A goal to be met in the first three weeks of school is to build a culture where students exhaust all they know and have available to them before asking for help when problem solving.

In order to get students to own the problem for themselves, make it personal to them. Change the names and places to be relatable to the earners. Put a story behind the problem.

Teach students how to approach a problem. This is the Know—>Notice—>Wonder sequence.

Use readers’ theater as a way to establish procedures and protocol for classroom routines such as Talking Points, Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces, and Number Talks. Elizabeth has done this through a script she has created called deleted scenes.

We actually got to practice this as a class and this helped me understand the purpose as well as the procedure. I had read Elizabeth’s blog on this, but never truly got my head around it. I am now ready to give this a shot. There are at least a couple people in the class that are going to give writing a script a shot. I hope these get posted and shared widely. Each member of a table group (4 students or so) has a copy of the script. (reuse for all classes.) Characters are assigned and the script is read, with each group simultaneously working through the script. Doing this as whole class leaves too many inactive learners. Up engagement and participation at every turn.

Use Talking Points to illicit emotions and access prior knowledge when moving into a new topic. Choose statements that are debatable and students have opinions about. The number 1 rule to adhere to and teach and monitor is: No comment, no emotion, no body language as the talking points are going around the table. As teachers we must model this. By doing so, we honor learner space and inner thinking. I repeat: NO snarky comments. Listen. Be silent and listen. In a circle, Talking Point 1 is read. The only person in the group speaking is the person holding the Talking Stick (or whatever article you choose). The talker states their reaction to the Talking Point and gives justification for their opinion. They then pass the talking stick to the next person who then gives their comment and justification. This continues all the way around the table group. Round two is the same procedure with the same Talking Point only this time the talker keeps or changes their opinion and gives justification. When all have completed the second round, opinions are tallied and the next Talking Point is run through the process. Some groups may get several Talking Points from the list completed and others may only get a couple. That’s ok. Front load the Talking Points so the important points are covered first. Shut it down and channel the emotion into learning the math at this point. I see this as peak interest and passion and then shift to content.

The learning cycle—Wash, rinse, repeat

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Day 2: The theme of today was Radical Differentiation and this was addressed through problem organization and people organization.

Organize problems

  • Challenge for all
  • Practice & support—more problems and challenges for speed demons
  • Extensions
  • Make sure the beefy problems are up front so all students get these
  • Challenging learners does not mean stumping them
  • Every learner deserves a win.

Organize people

  • Group speed demons together so they do not rob the other learners
  • Group the “katamari” together. These are the thoughtful, careful, deliberate learners, not strugglers, but rather the learners who know speed is not the end game.
  • Group free-loaders together.
  • If writing as a group, the talkers do not write and the writers do not talk. Trade devices when necessary.

Day 3: The final day, we were all in awe of Elizabeth and just wanted to learn everything we could from her. We asked what a day looked like in her class and she delivered.

She uses a broadcast clock to plan her class period, regardless of the length of the period. (I know I read about this someplace else, but I forget where, but it is genius.) Her clock looks something like this. broadcast clock Details below. Please note, unlike a real broadcast clock, the sectors in my clock are not proportional to the total time. (I simply do not know how to do that in Word.)

  1. Open class with a PowerPoint slide that has students self-managing. Do now, check “Home Enjoyment”, aka, homework, with table mates, identify burning questions with tablemates, and get any handouts or supplies needed for the day. This all takes about 4 minutes. Each class has a theme song that plays for the first minute of the opening slide. This helps learners shift into math class mode.
  2. Burning questions that students have about Home Enjoyment are addressed. Reserve the right to deem a posed question as NOT burning if learners can get there themselves and merely didn’t do so. This segment is as long as it needs to be, and no longer.
  3. Slide changes to a fanfare of sorts to reveal the EQ. Learners rely on the EQ for focus and grounding. Initial notes and direct instruction happen here. This is only 6 minutes. Tighten up. You get another chance at the end.
  4. Productive struggle/guided practice/guided sequential flailing happen at this sector. Have plenty of chosen problems, but front load them so all students get rich materials, not just those who get there first, aka, speed demons. Never give problems you have not done. Intentionally choose the sequence. Stumping learners is not challenging them and vice versa.
  5. If the situation warrants, have a close. Elizabeth does not see this as a nonnegotiable the way some instructors do. I appreciate that, but will try to get my head around when closure is helpful and when it is just a closer for the sake of that checkmark.
  6. Set a timer so you know when you have 7 minutes (or whatever your experience tells you that you need) for final notes and marching orders and a calm ending.

Synthesis

The productive struggle sector could be handled in a variety of ways. One way is to use Speed Dating—one side moves, each student is an expert in one problem, see Kate Nowak blog for details. This could also be Vertical Nonpermanent Surfaces, aka white boards. Alex Overwijk is the expert in this area. This could be the time for Exeter problems thoughtfully and purposefully sequenced for maximum learning.

Phrases—these just stood out to me as brilliant insights made by Elizabeth and paraphrased by me and others in our session.

  • You can’t develop patience quickly. (teachers or learners) Practice and honor the process.
  • Your learning should never be a threat to others. When you share your learning you gain and kids need to experience this. A rising tide floats all boats. Everyone benefits when students share their learning and insights with one another.
  • Speed demons commit cognitive theft. Honor all learners and protect the Katamari from robbery of their learning.
  • We don’t “fix” struggling learners, but rather, we help heal the disconnection from their inner mathematical selves.
  • Guided sequential flailing leads to learning. Problems are sequenced to support learner success.
  • Kids have to be able to get a win. Challenged ≠ Stumped
  • If kids have been robbed of their confidence, lend them yours. (Believe in them and let them know.) Take that burden from them so they may focus on learning.

Management Tips

  • Seat for discourse and production (separate the speed demons, katamari and freeloaders) when appropriate.
  • Honor learning and respect the process for self and others. Talking points procedure can reinforce this culture.
  • Music may be used for unity; transitions; class identification; sharing about yourself.
  • Students can self-start and you need to set the stage for that. Have this structure in place from the start so students own it and can rely on it, even if you are absent.
  • The Tibetan Singing Bowl is a peaceful way to focus students in a calming way. Help students be fully present and you be fully present for them.
  • Listen at every turn. Sequence. Listen. Learn. Breathe.

(Note, this is not intended as my TMC17 archive reflection. This is yet to come.)

My Education Autobiography…could also be titled I Did It My Way

Kindergarten is my first recollection of school and with good reason. I had Mrs. Trout. She spanked me on the very first day of school. Me! We sat at tables. Someone was at the front of the room. I spun around in my seat so I could see. Mrs. Trout told me to turn around, so I did. The next thing I know, she tells me I’m not paying attention and drags me out into the hall and spanks me. This was a rural school in Marion, Ohio and we only had kindergarten in the morning so Mary Mantey’s mom picked us up in her dark blue station wagon before lunch. Three girls (Mary, Jenny Pitts and I) climb into the back seat, and Mrs. Mantey turns around and says, “So, did anybody get whacked today?” We all just sat there, heads down, not saying a word. I never told my parents, but they said they found out at a conference. That explained to them why I stopped wanting to go to school. For math, we had to take a piece of chalk and go up to the board and write over the top of a number that was already up there. Mrs. Trout did not like the way my dad taught me to make my 4s and my 8s. I also remember that we had to take turns counting. Mary went all the way to 100! I went to 80 something and then I sat down. I could have gone further, but didn’t feel compelled to. I wasn’t into pleasing my teacher.

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Mary Mantey, Sara Baumgardner, Jenny Pitts (standing, Beth Baumgardner)

One memory from first grade is Jenny Pitts had a snowball in her desk that she was saving for recess. That didn’t end well. Also, I fell from the top of the slide onto the cinders below and had to get stitches. Jenny was involved in the incident too. Mary went to the Catholic school with her three older brothers. I don’t remember who my teacher was and I don’t remember a single academic event. I do remember that I brought a giant bull frog to school for show and tell. It got loose on the bus. Jenny’s brothers were really scared for me because they were always in trouble with that bus driver. He just smiled as I lifted my frog from under the gas pedal. His name was Fuzzie and he liked me because he knew my dad.

We moved to Delphos, Ohio around Halloween of second grade. My first day was unremarkable. I do remember that Kent Brewer and I had the same birthday. We got to play his game, but not mine. I also remember that this is when I began to hate reading. We had SRAs, whatever that stood for. There were colors that indicated the different levels. I was always significantly behind all of my friends in color. They were purple and teal. I was tan and brown. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hoverman and everybody absolutely loved her, except me. She was tiny, well dressed and grey headed and she preferred boys to girls. That’s all I got. Oh, and the art teacher grabbed the paintbrush out of my hand and put bars over the animal I had drawn. I had the bars behind the animal. She made them go in front. That’s not what I wanted. I was in the cage, not looking from outside!

Third grade I had Miss McClure. She was young and I liked her. I fell on the playground that year the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I know the day because I had on green socks the next day when my dad took me to get a silver cap on my front tooth. I don’t member who my reading teacher was, but I do remember that I had to miss recess sometimes to be in a reading circle with a couple other boys. That made me mad and didn’t make me read any better.

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Laura Baumgardner (cousin, now an amazingly gifted Special Education teacher), ME with my silver tooth!! and sisters Becca and Beth Baumgardner

Mrs. Shade was my 4th grade teacher. She was sweet and took on the look of every character in every book she ever read to us. I don’t remember any other teacher ever reading to the class. We made valentine boxes and I stepped in dog poop on my way to school and I passed a kid’s lunch box up the isle one day, just because. I had never sat in the back of a classroom before and I just couldn’t resist. Somebody else got blamed for it. I still feel bad.

We went to the middle school for fifth grade because there wasn’t room at the elementary school. A new high school had just opened so the middle school got moved into the old high school. It was the best building ever. It had three floors and a secret hallway that served as a fallout shelter and went over to the gym/auditorium. I don’t remember my main teacher’s name, but I remember I liked her. I wrote a lot of poetry. I wasn’t good at spelling though and we just had spelling bees constantly. I was always out early so I just sat there. I didn’t care about stupid spelling anyway. I had a different teacher for math. It was cool to switch classes. I was good at math, except when we had to match shirts to skirts and determine how many different outfits could be made. I totally disagreed with the teacher because, you see, two of the outfits she claimed were possible didn’t match. Other than that, I liked math. I got in trouble during study hall and got detention. Mr. Policki was the 8th grade math teacher and he was in charge of detention. I had a terrible cough and he yelled at me and said, “What’s the matter with you Baumgardner? Do you have whooping cough?”

In sixth grade I had a lady with only one hand for my reading teacher. I liked her. We did projects about what we read and I made a ukulele with my dad’s help. I got to play it for the class and I still have it. I had Mr. Morris for math and he was my first male teacher. Seems like he always had the book in his hand though as if he had no idea what he was about to do. I think he was new.

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I was in trouble in 7th grade too. I remember having to stand at the chalkboard in study hall holding a penny to the board with my nose. Seems like the Reds were in the World Series that year. I had Mrs. Wager for social studies and we studied South America. I remember making a green bird out of dyed rice that I glued onto a board. I probably copied something right out of the encyclopedia and we called that a report. I may have had the one-handed lady for math that year.

My first authentic use for math came in 8th grade. Mr. Polocki had moved away, thankfully, though my sisters said he was a really good math teacher. I had a lady with long black wavy hair. She taught us how to balance a checkbook and how to actually write a check. That’s the only time I ever learned that and I use those skills regularly to this very day. She had power of attorney for her dad and so she had to do all of his bills and she just really thought we needed to know this too. That was a good call. We had Krotzer for history and he was a legend. Mr. Fleming taught science and he was fun and we got to build a bell that ran on a battery we made ourselves. I remember girls cheating in that class by memorizing answers. I thought that was crazy. It was so much easier to just learn the material rather than an ordered list of 20 ABCDs.

High school was much better. I quit getting in trouble so much, or at least, I stopped getting caught. I remember only one English class. I had the football coach and I was tired of getting not-so-great grades in English, so I wrote a story about a football from the perspective of the football. He loved it. I had finally succumbed to playing to the audience rather than being my own person. I was a sellout and I felt dirty. I took chemistry and civics a year early because I got out of Spanish 2 by doing poorly my first year. I was such a clever girl. I did not like Spanish 1. Math was the best though. I ended up having Mr. Wolfram for all four years of high school. We had algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2 and then trigonometry which was really pre-calculus, we just didn’t know it. I remember proportions and then mixed rate and mixture problems in algebra 1. That was fun when it finally clicked. Geometry was fun because it was like putting together a huge puzzle. By the time we got to trig, there were only 9 of us left in the class. Me, Kathy, Paul, Big Drew, Pacco, Trevor, Bruce, Sam and somebody else. I had a bookmark that I made that had trig identities on it. I used it all through college. Except for Pacco, I still see these people once in a while when I am in Delphos or on Facebook.

So, what finally made math fun and memorable? It was a challenge. I was pushed to think. Mr. Wolfram was full of energy. He loved what he was doing and it showed in how he did it. We did a lot of work at the board, getting feedback and helping each other. We loved helping each other understand. It was absolutely the best part of high school.

In college, I worked hard and made Bs and Cs. The only As I recall were in Managerial Accounting (the prof said I couldn’t get an A since I got a C in Financial Accounting so I had to prove him wrong) and Basic. The final was to write a program that had to do with rounding numbers. I wrote four lines of code and turned in my paper. The prof looked at it, and said, “Oh. I never thought about it like that. You can go.” I may have gotten an A in Money Credit and Banking just because somebody told me it couldn’t be done. I got As here and there in math, but mostly Bs and I was ok with that. I learned and I understood and that was all I wanted out of it.

In graduate school, I loved learning and being around other people who were enjoying school rather than enduring school as I had done twenty years earlier. Graduate school was the first time I ever recall a teacher actualy wanting me to succeed. It was like this big secret, that all of my teachers in the seventeen prior years kept, was uncovered. Teachers want students to succeed. They really do. Who knew? I seriously saw most teachers as an enemy that had to be defeated and that is how I got through. I finally got better at this reading and writing thing in graduate school–in my forties. I did ok in college, but reading was a real struggle that I did not enjoy.

Take-aways…adults need to take the time to see and hear a kid’s perspective. Now, as a teacher, I need to understand situations before I react. The actions of teachers matter, even after many years. The extreme actions of teachers are the most memorable. How do you want to be remembered? Is this different from how you will be remembered? Make an action plan to reconcile any differences. I know I have some fixing to do!

I was inspired to go through this exercise as I am reading Tracy Zager’s [@tracyzager] Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. Tracy takes me into so many classrooms and it stirs up many memories. Some of these memories are funny and some are painful, but they are all just part of what makes me, me.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I encourage all teachers to take some time to think back grade-by-grade and see what sort of memories you have. What sorts of experiences had lasting impact on you? Do you ever teach the way you were taught? Yikes!

Whew! That was long overdue.

RANT

So, it’s that time of year again. That time when I get so fed up while searching for lesson and activity ideas and clicking on links to should-be swell articles only to have them lead me to the dreaded Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) site with all its evil.

I hate TPT more than just about anything related to education. I hate it more than testing. I hate it more than late work. I hate it more than interactive notebooks which almost killed me a couple years ago. I hate it more than cotton candy—well maybe the same as cotton-candy because that is what it is.

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TPT is sweet and fluffy and full of nothing of real substance when things heat up. It’s good for the seller and the sales platform but does nothing for the consumer in the long run. It’s a quick fix.

Here’s my short list of rants on TPT:

  • Teachers pay the host (TPT) to which the second teachers post stuff and that posting teacher gets pennies.
  • Teachers show up at NCCTM and other places of professional development as speakers and actually do their TPT commercials there. They try to turn other teachers onto the site. I walk out of those sessions. This boils my blood. NCTM is about educators supporting and inspiring one another all to advance student learning. It can all be tied directly to student learning. Not to some price-point.
  • I don’t even search Pintrest for educational resources because Pintrest keeps taking me to TPT stuff. Just stop it.
  • The products I have seen from TPT that other teachers innocently share with me lack depth. They lack rigor. They lack my touch. My ownership. My love. They aren’t me. They are someone else. They are not for my kids and I can resist them easily, just like cotton-candy.
  • Teachers I’ve asked, buy entire units and whole year curriculums from TPT “because it’s so much easier.” Easy does not equate to good. Easy does not mean it meets the rigor expectations of the district or state or even the school or the teacher. Yes, the purchasing teacher didn’t have to work. That is the worst feature of all.

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This applies to teachers too!!!

  • Shouldn’t the school, district or state have something to say about an entire sequence of curriculum that is being used on a set of kids? Or shouldn’t they at least be aware of what the teacher is using? Educators use the standards and find supporting learning activities and strategies. Educators work to do what is right for the kids they teach rather than fitting their kids’ learning to someone else’s fluff materials.
  • If the TPT products are that good, shouldn’t the school system pay for the resources rather than the teachers?
  • From what I see from TPT materials, the teachers creating these materials and selling them are playing school rather than teaching school aka helping students learn. It’s all-pretty, but that’s it. Full disclosure: I have not done enough investigating to make this bold statement as fact, but this is my blog and I’ll do it if I want to.
  • In the professional learning communities to which I belong, teachers support teachers. Teachers help one anther become better educators. Teachers take one another’s’ lessons and activities and use them and improve them and share back the improvements. They do this willingly and enthusiastically and it’s received that way. Educators feel the love and effort others put into their materials.
  • TPT does not share experiences. My professional learning communities do. They do this in person, on twitter and in blog posts. And it’s priceless. I love you tweeps and bloggers and flesh and blood colleagues too.

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Thank you to my professional learning communities for helping make me a better educator for my students. Thank you for doing all the right things for all the right reasons.

Heart

I’m a Viking

I’m a Viking all the way, but that doesn’t make it right.

I love my students at a ridiculous level. I go to their recitals, concerts, football games, softball, baseball, especially basketball games. I love competition and I love seeing my kids succeed. It’s not real complicated.img_2368

Today, my kids won the regional MathCounts competition. That may not seem like a big deal, but here’s what you may not know. There has been a dynasty team for as long as I have been working with the math team. (Ten + years). I’ll have to study the trophy inscriptions after my co-coach gets done taking pictures with the trophy to see how long before my time the dynasty goes back. The dynasty team my kids bested has Mathclub as an elective course. They have parent volunteers that run the club because the teachers don’t have time or interest. They have homework They are also a magnet school for the gifted. Seriously. Our mainstream public school kids meet once a week on Fridays for 45 or 55 minutes with my co-coach and me. Our serious kids also meet with former students of ours that are now juniors in high school once a week for an hour. Our kids are just having fun doing math. Who couldn’t love that? It really is fun.

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Tired of my bragging? Here’s my real point. The reputation of our school is grounded in the academic success if the institution. That affects the real-estate prices in this area. It affects how our teachers and principals are viewed across the county. It just does. I love that my principal showed up this year as well as the last couple years. That’s easy to do with successful programs, even on Saturdays, but still greatly appreciated. Where they were the 8 years prior is anybody’s’ guess. (Different principals; different times. Glad they’re behind me.) It should be noted, I didn’t see any other principals at the competition. EVER.

We sponsor clubs like math club for the kids. Perhaps we do it for the school. Do we do it for the money? No. We don’t get a cent. In fact, to sponsor a club costs us money. We do something for kids and we are away from our families and it costs us money to sponsor a club. Last year we asked the parent organization to help with the expenses for our modest breakfast celebration at the end of the season. They told us to solicit donations from the local grocery store first. Seriously? They want me to spend time begging free goods from a local business rather than preparing for their kids’ classes? We just did it ourselves. This year, after a couple years of bringing this to their attention (mind you this has been going on for well over ten years) they are offering up some token amount. I don’t recall what it is. Bad on me. I’m complaining today after the competition and my husband says, “perhaps my employer could foot the bill for your awards banquet.” I told him I could foot the bill. For that matter, any parent of a member of the club that I asked would foot the bill. That’s not the point. We build the academic reputation of the school and thereby help real-estate values in the area. Someone other than me, my co-coach or club parents or my husband should foot the bill. If it’s truly valued by the school and community, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. It should just be taken care of.

If it were just the math club, I could probably sit quietly (though not my style) and soldier on. BUT. We have a quiz bowl team that has gone to nationals the past 3 years. (May not qualify this year as it is a rebuilding year). The sponsor(s) pay their own way. Atlanta. Dallas. Where ever. Competitions are always on Saturdays and last the entire day. One of our school’s Odyssey of the Mind teams went to nationals in Iowa last year. They had to do a fundraiser and then still paid much on their own.

I absolutely know these programs and more like them are defining for our school and district. I know they make a difference in our students’ lives. I also know that they raise real-estate values in the area. So, why do teachers have to do this with their own money and not be compensated for their time? Is it that time is worthless or merely priceless? Is it that you know our hearts and souls will never let these kids down? Because WE WON’T. We suck it up and do and do and do. We love our kids and we love what we do. (Noted and appreciated that the school pays the entry fees.)

Our thanks come when our kids return from the high school to see us. Two years ago three high schoolers ran into my room after a competition to tell me about their success in a regional math competition They didn’t run to their high school teachers. They ran to me. A parent sponsored/coached them. No high school teacher gave up the time for free. Middle school teachers just suck it up. For the kids.

I suppose all this processing has really helped me see that real-estate agents ought to be sponsoring our school like crazy!!! Dang.

It took me long enough to figure that one out. Thanks for listening.

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The Softest Soft Skill of Them All

So, I’ve spent the past week thinking about what on Earth soft skills are to me and what soft skills I have that I bring to the classroom daily. Truth be told, some would say I don’t have any soft skills because they see me as a hard-ass—always demanding more and expecting perfection. Some don’t really know me. Those that do know me know that I have the softest soft skill of all.
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At our school, we have a monthly event where students are nominated by their teachers to be recognized as Spotlight Students. My team takes these nominations very seriously and we each make impassioned pleas for our nominees. I get so emotionally invested in the recognitions for my students that I usually can’t even tell the student she is nominated without crying. Crazy right? A kid is great and I can’t even tell him without breaking down.

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That’s how students know that they each mean more to me than I could ever say out loud. I am so proud of how they carry themselves as compassionate young adults. They care for one another. They trust one another. They are courageous, emerging individuals. They are becoming really great people right before my eyes each and every day and I have the best seat in the house.

Friday we found out that our beloved school counselor, Crystal, died. She had been ill, but she was at school more often than not. She never complained. She was the bravest person I have ever met and she will be deeply missed.

I taught Crystal’s son, Zack, three or four years ago. He was a typical 8th grader and she would say to me, “What am I going to do with him? Will he ever grow up? He’s so sweet, but he’s just a mess.” I assured her that he would grow up to be a wonderful young man and that she needn’t worry. This fall I asked her how Zack was doing in high school. She told me I was right–was well-rounded, well-adjusted and responsible. I smiled and nodded. Then I went to my room and cried.

Shortly after I first found out Crystal had breast cancer, I saw Zack waiting for her in the parking lot after school. I would walk by their car and wave and smile at Zack wanting to speak to him, but being too afraid of my own emotions. I would then go to my car and cry. After a couple of weeks of this, I finally stopped at the car and spoke to Zack. He was happy as usual. I told him how much I thought of his mother and how incredibly brave and strong she was. He just shrugged as if to say, ‘Eh, that’s my mom. She’s one tough cookie.’

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So, do I really have a soft skill that I share with students and does it make a difference? I say yes and here is how I know. Last year at school something was missing. There was little joy. My homeroom was great but the rest of the day was a challenge for sure. I didn’t love my kids, but rather just tried not to hate them. Oh, I started out with good intensions, but it was just a rare group of kids who made it their life’s’ work to make school miserable. At least that is what it felt like. Eventually I showed no emotion for if I was excited and happy, they couldn’t handle it. If I was upset, they went in for the kill. I just became numb, as far as students knew. Outside of school my heart was broken. I was confounded at the thought of kids being constantly disrespectful and mean. I couldn’t invest my heart because I couldn’t have it trampled on again and again. I worked hard on the academics, but that was all. I had to force myself to show up on the last day of school for the awards ceremony. I seriously did not want to be there.

This year is back to normal or even better than normal. You see, kids need love, even from me, and I need to give love. Loving kids, warts and all, is my strongest soft skill. That word “love” is something I thought was totally inappropriate to describe a teacher/student relationship before this year. It is what was going on each year, I just could never admit it until now. It took the lack of love last year to convince me of that. I’m never going back, even when it hurts.

Crystal taught me how to love the unlovable. There are kids that spent a great deal of time in her office. Hers was a safe space for all kids and adults for that matter. Crystal’s greatest gift to me was helping me develop my softest skill and I am forever greatful.

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