The World Needs More…

I’ve never been big on giving my kids stuff because, well, love don’t cost a thing. Relationships, interaction, and communication is what makes magic, not baskets of tiskets and taskets. I have held onto this philisophy over the years but this year I pulled an Elsa and let go.

After jumping on the “love languages” bandwagon late I realized that some people (big and small) need little gifts. While they don’t have to be expensive and alllll the other non tangible things need to be present as well, trinkets and trunkets and all the clunky lunkets aren’t always so bad.

Especially with this class.

I have discovered that many of my kids love to collect things. Whether it’s a Starburst, bracelet, or plastic gem, they are all about that life.

As such, I am too.

Right now, it’s what I call “review season,” that time between quarters in the school year where no new standards are introduced and we are all simply waiting for Testing Day.

Waiting can be dangerous. Review can be more so. If you aren’t careful you can packet the kids to death. Early in my career, I did.

Then, I realized school is an experience, not a packet, and I changed the way we did review.

Our most recent math experience involved a Fortnite math game in groups. Students collaborated to solve problems, earn pinatas, do the floss, and they had a blast The prize was an entire bag of suckers. Winner take all.

For 8 year olds who like to get stuff, this was a big deal. Fortnite alone made them mostly in, but adding an entire bag of candy (plus competition) ensured they were all in. All the way.

We played in chunks for about 20-30 minutes at a time. Finally by day 3 we were on the last question and a winner was derermined.

I was prepared for a “graceful winner” and “no sore loser” conversation. It turns out I didn’t need to open my mouth.

Not only did they win and lose like champs, they also showed me exactly who they are as people.

The group of four kids chose not to take home a mountain of candy each (I wouldn’t blame them if they did). No. Instead, they shared with the rest of the class.

Be still my heart.

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Christmas Magic

You hear all the time: relationships, relationships, relationships. It’s a Teacher 101 thing. Shout it from the rooftops, relationships matter the most.  You can’t do anything without them.  Every other post on Edutwitter and Teachergram screams about the importance of building solid relationships. These make great quotes, memes, and Twitter Chat answers.  It almost become a song and dance.  Relationships.  Everyone knows this.  What everyone doesn’t discuss, however, is that it can be hard.

There are times when teachers and classrooms full of kiddos just click.  It is effortless.  The vibe is real and everybody’s feelin’ it.

Then there are other times when nobody’s feelin’ anything.  No vibe and the only thing clicking is the tick tock of the clock…waiting to go home. And in those cases, cases when the connection just doesn’t happen, you have to create the connection.  Build he relationship.  Make it happen.  Fight for it.  And that doesn’t just come naturally, it isn’t easy.

I haven’t hidden the fact that this year, my class has been a bit more than a bit of a challenge for me.   Emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.  These challenges were somewhat new to me and after saying goodbye to a group I taught for three years I have found that I have had trouble truly bonding with them.

It isn’t for lack of effort.  I did all things I was”supposed to.”  Morning meetings, eating and chatting with them at lunch, greeting them at the door, personal chats one-on-one, and even playing with them at recess.  I tried.  Yet, it still wasn’t clicking and it all felt fake.  Although I do believe in the “fake it till you make it” mantra, if you never make it, you truly are just faking it.

I was starting to worry that I would forever be “faking it” with the kids in my class.  And how sad is that…a veteran teacher who used to claim to be able to build relationships with classes couldn’t do that one simple thing once it seemed to get hard.

I tried to not get too discouraged, but it has been a continual worry in the back of my mind.  August, September, November, and now December and I did not feel that magic that a teacher should feel with a class.

What is wrong with me?

I didn’t talk about it or write about it because it had no solution.  I just kept trying.  And then…then….It finally happened!   This past week, after nearly half a school year I finally feel a true connection with my kids.  Yes, these kids are now my kids. They aren’t my “new class,” “different kids,” or a “work in progress.”  They are my babies.  I have a class with my kids.

It wasn’t a sudden feeling that spread over me.  It didn’t take my by surprise.  There wasn’t a life-changing event.  It was the magic of Christmas.

Each year, I try my best to give my students a wrapped gift at Christmas.  Most of my kids love to get things and at this age gifts are a primary love language for many my kids (if not words of affirmation).

The gifts I gave my babies this year turned into a gift for me.

As a teacher, I don’t have tons of extra money during the Christmas season (or any season really) to splurge on a bunch of trinkets and gadgets for multiple children.  As an alternative, I purchased an inexpensive journal and gel pens for each of my students.  Then, I wrote each of my kids a personalized whole-page hand-written note on the first page.

I did this with the class I looped with and found myself eager to do so, the note-writing was easy.  This year, I almost skipped it.  I almost opted for a cheap coloring book instead.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the time or the heart to write anything that wasn’t a “stretch” and wasn’t sure my kids would really care if I wrote them anyway.

While I was at the store, however, something in my heart brought me away from the coloring books and led me to the journals.  I saw the perfect journals for my girls and a different set for my boys with, get this, the exact number I needed.

I tend to believe things happen for a reason and figured this was some sort of sign for the universe so I filled my basket and trudged my way through the store to collect the rest of my things and check out.  I had a long night of note-writing ahead.  Sigh.

This is where the magic happened.  I was prepared to have a difficult time writing some of these notes but as I wrote their names on each page I found the process truly effortless.  I was able to write full pages detailing exactly what I loved about each individual in the class, as well as true words of encouragement.  It was easy.  In fact, the hard part was stopping at one page.

By doing this, I saw my kids in a whole new light.  It sounds a bit corny, but it’s true.  I couldn’t wait for them to read their notes and read exactly what I felt about them!

When they saw their gifts, they were excited that I gave them anything.  A few of them never had a teacher give them a present before.  Then, they saw sparkly and shiny journals and were pumped like lotion.  Once one baby saw they had a note, word spread.  “Look at the first page!”  “She put us a letter!”  My room fell silent for a few minutes.  It is never silent.  They read.  I read to some.  All their faces just lit up.  Pure joy.  They were truly just as happy with these journals and notes as they would have been with some expensive toy.  All of them.

Once again, my heart turned into a marshmallow.

I looked at them and for the first time this year truly loved them all like my kids.

 

 

EVAAS

I pour my heart, my soul, my energy, my everything into teaching until the cup runneth over. And then? Then I keep pouring.

Drip after drip, some days it feels like I have given every drop I’ve got. I don’t stop. I’ve got to keep rolling.

…because this is all for something. Something important. Something that matters…all this hard work, it pays off. Hard work always pays off.

Or so I thought.

Then EVAAS comes out.

EVAAS. The Holy Grail of teaching that tells you exactly how good you are. Or aren’t.

You can be red, green, or blue.

Everyone is seeking blue. Blue means you are living your best teacher life. Your kids learned the most, grew the most, and you are the best.

Green is okay. It means you aren’t red. It means you are fine in that your job’s not on the line. Recently, I learned that there’s such a thing as a “good” and a “bad” green. Let that sink in. Imagine if the green on stoplights worked that way…

…yikes.

Now we come to red. Most good things aren’t red and this is no exception.

Your teacher color is quantified by some sort of *mystical formula that produces a number on a number line that corresponds with your color. The way they reach that number is unclear. Fuzzy. No one has ever been able to explain any of it to me.

After end of the year testing, the EVAAS people punch in these formulas for the whole state of teachers and 6 months later we are given our color. It’s like the Hunger Games…may the odds be ever in my favor.

I would like to state for the record that the tests they use as a baseline for their top secret formula are rubbish. They are culturally biased and developmentally inappropriate bubble tests that can take hours. They are supposed to measure educational growth but after administering such test, I don’t see any correlation to them and what or how I teach. Then again, I don’t teach boring passages all day. I don’t actually think you can quantify anything that way (them OR me).

At the same time…when you pour your heart and soul into something it’s hard not to want some sort of validation. As much as the tests mean nothing to me and as wack as the EVAAS formula is, somehow at the end of the day, I found myself caring. It somehow, some way mattered to me.

I work until I’m nearly blue in the face, shouldn’t that be reflected somewhere…shouldn’t my EVAAS look like a Smurf?!?! Oh yeah, in case you were wondering…EVAAS odds weren’t in my favor. I did not find the Holy Grail this year.

To be honest, based on last year’s testing and how poorly I thought it represented my kids and where they actually were, I was not expecting to be blue. I probably should have been happy that I wasn’t red. Yet, it still stung to see…that according to this system I am not in fact awesome, amazing, spectacular, or top notch.

According to this system, it wasn’t for anything. What I did/do didn’t matter all that much. It didn’t actually mean that much of something. I’d have been better off telling the kids to sit down somehwhere so we could practice passages all day.

Validation wasn’t coming in the form of EVAAS.

Validation.

That’s a funny thing.

Why am I seeking validation from bunk science that is based on flawed formulas and farcical testing?

Am I insane?

These colors and numbers play with my mind. They leave me stuck between a rock and a hard place. Straddling the line between “testing is terrible I don’t want to be measured that way anyway” and boo-hooing. Stuck on the fence of test prep vs. teaching. I am sure there is a balance. Everything has balance.

Then I come back to this validation thing. The doing this for something thing. The idea that this teaching thing I do matters. I just have to find that validation elsewhere… because exactly what kind of teacher do I want to be?

Ultimately, when I ask myself who I am as a teacher, my kids matter the most. They are top priority. Seeing a previous non-reader blend cvc words, watching a child who never talks lead morning meeting, witnessing a boy who struggles with addition create an array and accurately multiply…those things aren’t quantified in that test. They don’t show up in EVAAS (side note, for 3rd grade math does’t even factor into EVAAS). They do matter though. They mean everything. These things are what my kids need. These things are showing me that my kids are learning and growing. And my kids…they mean far more than my EVAAS. So I will keep teaching and hope that next year, the odds are ever in my favor, even without the test prep books.

*This blog post is far more clear explaining the fuzziness of EVAAS than I could ever be, its a gokd read!

Ten Things I Love About Third Grade

Sometimes I get into a funk. A cloudy, hazy, stinky, stinkin’ “teacher funk.” Yeah, funks stink. Stank. They radiate into everything I see and do and can turn little blips into huge black holes of doom and despair.

It’s okay to go there, but if you aren’t careful, you get stuck there.

I can’t get stuck there.

One thing I find that helps is a peek into positivity so to speak. At first, it feels borderline sick, but eventually it can swing a mood the other way. I heard once that it’s hard to be stressed when you start to think of all the ways you are blessed. So with that theory, I am putting it into play in a very practical way…Ten Things I Love About Teaching Third Grade. Yes. Specifically third grade. Yeah, I can’t believe I am writing this either. Me. This is bound to be amazing then…

10.) The kids have jokes. Alllll the jokes. “What did the pie say to the fork?” and “what’s an astronaut’s favorite key on the computer?” Want a piece of me? Space bar. Hilarious.

9.) Speaking of hilarious, they really are. Like funny “haha” hilarious. Much more so than they were in first or even second grade. They get things. They can pick up on subtleties. They can be sarcastic in the best of ways. I saw it in the class I looped with. I used to exchange glances with Yasmin over everything once she hit third grade. She could throw down a joke with a straight face and kept us all laughing. Even with an entirely different class, I can even see it this year. Although their sense of humor is more sophisticated, they aren’t too cool yet for the silly stuff. Like if someone passes gas it is still hilarious…and if someone says the word “fart,” it’s over. Even though some may mistake that as obnoxious I really find the innocence of it endearing. It’s a wonderful mix of humors, all in one age range.

8.) I get to teach multiplication! There are SO MANY things you can do with that, I don’t even have to repeat lessons year after year. You can literally make anything a manipulative. The kids look forward to multiplying too, it is like some sort of right of passage for an elementary school kid. All they want to do is learn their “times tables.” Although the foundation begins here in second, we really dive deep in third and they feel so grown up and mathy with it. Seeing their faces light up when they find out they are multiplying is just heartwarming. Hashtag teacher dork. Yep.

7.) Speaking of teaching, I love the depth that get to with character. It seems rather surface-level in first and even in second (although it does get a bit deeper). In third though, it gets really real. I love analyzing complex characters and even my babies who do not yet read the words on the page are able to listen, understand, and contribute to discussions…it’s really cool. I think it goes back to number 9…their sense of understanding is developmentally a bit more sophisticated.

6.) Novels! The choices! They somehow seem more vast. That’s not to say that I am limited in second, but it is just…different in third. Different in a “let’s devour a novel right now” kind of way.

5.) Independence. It’s a real thing. They stuff their own folders. They tie their own shoes. They blow their own noses. They replace the tissue box when they use the last one. They don’t get on the wrong bus. They don’t cry on the first day of school. They don’t need the teacher to hold their hand.

4.) They can log in to things on the computer…and they know their lunch numbers! Okay, so that may be able to be paired with independence, but it feels like it is their own separate thing. It is such a time saver not having to teach either of those things and spend an exorbitant amount of time practicing them. Seriously. In first and even sometimes second grade I would have rather plucked the hairs out of my head one by one than get everyone logged on to a computer or go through that lunch line on the first day of school. Rough wasn’t even the word for it. Those issues were eliminated that moment I jumped into third.

3.) Fractions. On. A. Number. Line. The level of fun is just ridiculous here. Last year, I was dreading it but it ended up being one of the most fun things ever to teach. We even made life-sized fraction strips on the number line and oh my…hashtag teacher dork times two! I think what’s fun is that it is the foundation for some very complex stuff later and as it is the time when these things are introduced it is just so very appropriate to live in the land of the concrete for awhile which is just incredibly fun.

2.) They aren’t afraid to need me. Despite their independence, they still need me and don’t mind showing it. I get all the hugs, all the sweet notes, kids reserving spots next to me at lunch, begging to get called on to the point where I have to press the “random” button on Dojo just so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. They all want to be the “teacher’s pet” and they all think I they are my favorite. They all want to be the favorite. This is the very thing warm-fuzzies are made of.

1.) These kids have hearts that are pure and kind. They are better than most adults. I don’t see hate, bigotry, or judgment. Just love. They can bond over Pokemon, mechanical pencils, tacos, Fortnite, and removable tattoos. In a world full of worry, concern, and frankly scary things, they make things seems more okay. Even after the latest debacle is shown on the news, I can come into class and be reminded that the future just doom and gloom. These kids can change everything and with what I see in their hearts, I see that for them…for us. Okay, so this one isn’t at all third grade exclusive. It’s all kids…but it puts my heart in a warm and fuzzy place, it gives us hope and that certainly deserves the number one spot.

I almost sold my teacher soul…

A. B. C. D.

Fill those bubbles completely.

Don’t you dare “Christmas tree.” Not if you want to survive in Club Infinity.

Yes, “Christmas tree” is a verb. It means randomly decorating your answer sheet like you would a Christmas tree; no work, no rhyme, no reason. It’s a form of treason.

High stakes tests lead to near cardiac arrests. For everyone.

It starts at the top, trickles to me and ultimately every third grade baby.

The implications are many, these tests answer allll the questions:

Am I a good teacher?

Are my kids a mere statistic?

Is this a pipeline to prison?

State required “retention?”

Print all the labels and stick them on everyone. We will all be placed inside boxes when this thing is done.

That’s the thinking of our system, anyway…designed by those who haven’t spent more than a few minutes in a classroom. And zero minutes in mine.

But still.

There’s always a but still. Perception is everything and as much as I try not to, I do care of what the world thinks of me and mine.

I can’t be like Taylor Swift and shake it off.

Or I haven’t yet figured out how…

What I did, however, is almost sell my teacher soul to the educational devil lurking behind those standardized tests.

It didn’t even take two years.

For most of my career, I lived in first and second grade and did allllll the things that everyone knows are good for kids. Alllll the things. Room transformations, art integrations, inquiry and explorations, and all the other “-tions.” You name it, we probably did it.

Then third grade hit.

And I found myself slowly changing who I am as a teacher all in the hope of increasing scores.

I didn’t realize it until a few weeks ago but it started sometime last year.

Our schedule is tight and we have so much to get right. Our beginning of year reading data is red and sometimes I feel like we are barely keeping afloat in the Dead Sea of reading recovery.

So I found myself skimping on science, then slowly moving to “integrating” it into reading. During our science time. Quotations. Because integration means content level passages and more bubble practice, right?

Best for kids?

Nope.

Best for scores?

Maybe.

Except you don’t treat a lingering headache with a whole bottle of Tylenol. If you do, you may just kill yourself.

What I was doing was the educational version of killing myself. And my kids.

Throwing down reading pills, hoping our issues are cured and scores go up…all the while slowly killing us all.

Quick. Pump all of our stomachs.

I am better than that. My kids deserve better.

Much like Drake, I was feeling upset at the time when it was pointed out that I was wrong. But now, I am glad. I all but signed the dotted line to sell all of my soul. For $9.99.

All for some extra percentiles that I may or may not get.

Checked myself before I wrecked the world.

I find myself having to check it all. Make sure I am not sucking the life out of teaching and learning.

Many say that if you just teach, not to a test, that scores will come.

I don’t know.

Maybe?

I do know, however, that teaching isn’t test prep. My kids aren’t a score. So what I do has to reflect that and my focus has to shift back…back to what matters.

Last week, we grew radish seeds without soil.

We replaced some of the planned passage practice with real text that kids will actually want to read.

We are going to do Flashlight Friday. Along with a heap of other great kid-centered things.

But still. Yes, there’s even a but still here. But still, no one better “Christmas tree.”

Unpopular Opinion: Teachers are NOT Superheroes

Unless you are Edna Mode, capes are incredible.  Shiny personalized suits that fit just so have an appeal that extends far into adulthood…to the point where there are conventions full of grown folk lining up in costume discussing alllll the super powers. And I get it.  Superheroes are amazing.  Wonderful.  Great.  I actually think I have a catsuit hanging in my closet somewhere…and as much as I love a good costume and wouldn’t mind the ability move mountains, I must say that in all reality, I am not a superhero.  No teacher is.

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I don’t want to disassemble any hashtag that may be hanging around Twitter about teachers and superheroes or cause anyone to throw away any of their “superhero teacher” t-shirts.  The truth is that although the sentiment is sweet, at times feels empowering, for me personally, it is setup for feelings of inadequacy.

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Superheroes are everything.  They rescue people.  They save the world and make everything that is wrong right again.  There is no human error, misunderstandings, or shortcomings because superheroes are perfect. They make it happen and at the end of the day everything is perfect.

This superhero world is far different from the world of education.

First of all, no one needs to be rescued. It took me awhile to figured that out, but after some years, some reading, and continued reflection, my perspective changed and that weight has lifted. I. Don’t. Have. To. Save. Anyone. Wow.  I wish I figured that out sooner.

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So…if no one needs saving, is a superhero even needed? Isn’t that their whole purpose?  If I am not swooping up distressed individuals, fixing every little thing that may be wrong in their lives (from my point of view, by the way) and flying off into the sunset with my cape and mask…am I still needed?

My answer is an unequivocal no.  Not in the role of superhero.

Even if we took the “saving” out and considered ourselves superheroes because of the long drawn out hours we put in, the many hats we wear, the many connections we forge, and the difference we do make (because without all the hero schmero stuff, I do believe teachers DO make a difference), it is still a label filled with disappointment.

Superheroes are not human.  Superheroes do not fail.  Superheroes do not make mistakes.  Teachers, however, are human.  I cannot hold myself to the unrealistic expectation of being perfect always.  If I did, I would have cracked like Humpty Dumpty and been out of teaching after year two…after all my inner goo was all over the floor. Because goodness, I have made a slew of mistakes and I continue to make them.

I could write a whole blog on mistakes and failures ranging from my first year when I spent the first semester teaching out of workbooks with kids copying what I wrote from an overhead projector to my third year when I killed off a bunch of baby chickens my class was hatching to my sixth when one Friday after a particularly long week I inadvertently ignored the needs of a child in my room because *I* was overwhelmed to my eight year when I put my entire class on a computer program one afternoon so I could complete and print my report cards that had to be sent home that day, to last year when I was so gung-ho on blended learning that I didn’t see when it wasn’t quite working until several months in to this past Friday when I had too short of a temper with kids who were being kids…all while realizing I have been putting so much energy into one child with some very special needs that I may in fact have been neglecting the rest of the class.  And then now…check out that run on sentence.  Here I am, a teacher, unwilling to properly punctuate.

The list of mistakes goes on. Add in flopped lessons, poor judgement calls, and mistakes that haven’t even happened yet but surely will. Because one day I won’t have time for coffee. Everything breaks loose those days.  Mistakes happen and always have, from my early days to my veteran days.  It doesn’t even matter.  If I were a superhero, would those mistakes happen?

N. O.

Superheroes are perfect.  But teachers, they are not and if I held myself to superhero standards…well…it would be pretty ugly.

So here I am.  A teacher.  Teaching.  Not a superhero…because if no one needs to be saved and if I make alllll the mistakes because I am not perfect then I can hang that cape up and take off my mask.  I can do my job the best I know how, learn from my mistakes, and get better.  That’s what teachers do.  I can save the saving for the movies and save my cape for Halloween.

Late For What?

Teaching doesn’t always fit into nice little pre-planned boxes. It gets messy. It falls outside the lines. Sometimes, it falls off schedule to the point where you feel like that White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Late, late, late. Late for what? Sounds like a Drake song…Late for the next thing: lunch, specials, math, science, the next standard…late for all that. And then some.

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All that used to stress me out. Used to. These days, late can’t clock me. It’s not that we aren’t ever behind. It’s not that I don’t ever fall down rabbit holes. It’s just that I realized that much like life, teaching happens and it doesn’t always fill boxes or time slots. It isn’t always pretty from the outside. But it happens.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday, I had an elaborate “review” activity for reading planned that ended in a test. This review consisted of everyone turning into literal detectives (mustaches and all) and collaborating to complete reading activities at various crime scene stations around the room in order to collect pieces of a reading passage they would later use to take a test. It was quite engaging and valuable, yet totally time consuming in a way I just didn’t anticipate when I was creating this plan.

What I mean by that is that it literally took foreeeeeever. Reading and rereading the texts, completing the activities, redoing rush jobs, solving conflicts within the group…Forever ever. Tick tock. The mouse ran up, down, back up, and down the clock a million times and no one was done.

Minutes turned into mountains…and mountains into more minutes and before I knew it…it was time for lunch. I didn’t even know it was that late. We were late. Late.

Of course, no one was finished, but it was time to move on. We were taking late to a new level today.

It was time for lunch. Then time for the next subjects. Then time to go home and on Monday…time for new standards. This test should have been done. Twenty minutes ago. And no one even earned all the pieces of their test yet. Late. Late. Late.

Bright idea, engaging review and assessment (yeah, who knew…an assessment can be engaging)…tanked…because we were late.

BUT…late for what?

What good is the next thing if we can’t complete anything?

…of course, you can’t do anything on an empty stomach, so we hurried up and went to lunch. But then…confession time...we did….Reading. During. Math.

Good Golly, Miss Molly! Holy moly. Call the Education Police.

A teacher sin. A crime. An educational faux pas.

We did reading during math. We actually finished what we started.

And then we did math.

We were late…and that was okay.