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Things I Believe #BlackLivesMatter

Hello Friends,


I wanted to take this time to be abundantly clear about a few things I believe:

  1. As a white woman, I have benefited my whole life from systemic racism. Our country is designed to benefit white people and it has been designed to place Black and Brown people at a disadvantage. The entire system, all systems, needs to be dismantled. White people have to start speaking up and speaking out.
  2. Speaking of our country, we have a really ugly history that keeps repeating itself. The murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others are testament to that. They all deserve justice. That includes full criminal charges and convictions against all parties as well as systematic changes that ensure this doesn’t happen again.
  3. Black Lives Matter means BLACK lives, NOT aLl LiVeS. This doesn’t mean one is above another or that anyone is saying one life is more important than another. It simply means that in the entire history of our country we have never shown that Black lives matter. Black men, Black women, and Black children are being killed just for existing and nothing is being done. The entire Black community is targeted in both overt and covert racism on a daily basis. They have been discarded and treated as though they don’t matter. Saying that Black lives matter is placing our attention where it needs to be. White people have never experienced what Black people are experiencing, our lives have always mattered here. We are not the focus. Black. Lives. Matter.
  4. We don’t get to tell those who have had violence inflicted upon them how to respond. By “we” I am specifically meaning white people.
  5. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and other random quotes are not helpful here. His legacy has often been white washed. Here is a resource to get you started if you are so inclined: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/teaching-about-kings-radical-approach-to-social-justice
  6. Finally, I am not interested in a debate. If you have questions or want to learn more, I am happy to try to provide resources or talk you through some things if I am able (I am learning too).If you want to argue, please move on. If you can’t, feel free to unfriend me, I won’t be offended. It should go without saying, but just in case…if you support the racist cops who murdered George Floyd or if you feel the need to support any sort of racism, PLEASE unfriend/unfollow/delete me. You don’t even have to tell me you’re doing it. It’s all good. I promise.
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Pandemic Mistakes We Can’t Make

Prior to March 13, 2020 I knew nothing about teaching during a pandemic. Absolutely nothing. On March 14, 2020 I started scurrying to figure it out. The days turned into weeks and weeks into a month and that month turned plural. I am still figuring it out.

I am in no way an expert in this type of teaching. I am not perfect. I have made all sorts of mistakes while trying to teach and also handle my own personal struggles, my kid, and my emotions during this uncertain and scary time. Lots of them. And mistakes are okay. Learning is the business we are in after all.

That said, I am struggling in a big way with a few mistakes that I see educators making on a larger scale in the big bad world of Edu social media. These mistakes aren’t minor or pedagogical, they have more to do with how we treat our students and their families. It’s about how to be human. It’s the kind of mistakes we shouldn’t be making.

Upon scrolling my various Edu feeds I have been seeing a lot of things. Good, bad, and ugly. The ugly is becoming difficult for me to unsee right now…

I have seen teachers bragging about entering zeros, deducting points, and weaponizing grades. I have seen teachers crushed at the thought of not giving grades as they believe tHaT iS tHe OnLy MoTiVaTiOn for students to complete work. I have seen teachers prioritize work in their class over the mental health and well-being of their students, or their caregivers. I have seen more teachers than I ever expected bash, attack, and blame caregivers and students for a lack of participation, work ethic, etc…the thing is, I get that this is a stressful time. Everyone reacts to stress differently, but this can’t be the reaction. There has to be something else.

Right now people are becoming gravely ill and dying at an alarming rate. Every news station in the country is showing numbers in the hundreds or thousands and those numbers are people. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sons and daughters…those people are important to someone and that someone is sitting in a classroom somewhere. That ten point deduction, late work notification, or constant phone call from a teacher that is worse than a bill collector is not helping them. They are grieving.

When that gets mentioned, I often see ugly poke its head out again. “No, Johnny is just lazy. He didn’t do anything in class and he isn’t doing anything now.” Of course, that is a whole different can of worms but one that has little to do with Johnny.

Even if a student is not directly dealing with a COVID-19 illness or death in their family does not mean that they are okay. It does not mean that they are ready to learn in an online format. Right now, some families are financially devastated. They are worrying about feeding their families, paying their bills, and surviving. Surviving. Keeping up with the internet bill for remote learning is not top priority when you have to survive.

Even if the school is providing a hotspot, some parents are working incredible hours to keep their family and their community going and they are unable to assist their child with logging onto the eLearning platform and completing any sort of assignments. The reason we have school is because most students don’t learn well on their own. They need someone to faciliate their learning, discuss and share with. All the discussion boards and Zoom meetings can’t replicate that. Not to mention, making a Zoom meeting might be tough if you have to share your device, have limited data, or are taking care of a sibling. As an adult, I find it difficult to work from home and take care of my 4 year old (who has no online learning). I couldn’t imagine being a kid and doing it with several siblings.

The truth is we don’t know exactly what our students are facing or what their families are going through. It is not any of business, actually. We don’t need to know every single circumstance to show compassion, to act like a human. We have to understand that people are struggling and that there is nothing normal about what is happening in our world right now. We have to understand that this is a terrifying time for many and our actions simply cannot inflict additional trauma on those we claim we love in the name of a career we say we love.

***By the way, this pandemic has exposed a lot of ugly. We have always had work to do, but everybody surely has to see that now.

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Unbalanced

Contrary to many popular narratives, teaching is not a completely selfless act. It isn’t a “noble career” and although I will always advocate for a larger paycheck or better benefits the fact of the matter is that being a teacher is not an act of charity. Compensation comes in many forms, dollars, sense, and sometimes something even more selfish.

Many teachers sing about their “why” or reason for teaching to the tune of all things warm and fuzzy. Lightbulb moments, being the one or the change or the somebody, making an impact, changing the world, and more. All those things are great and a part of my why as well…they are likely part of most everybody’s why. I would argue those are not entirely selfless, however. At the end of the day all those warm fuzzies create a warm and toasty feeling in the heart and who doesn’t love that? It may also trigger some other self affirming feelings or desires one may have… being important, being somebody, being “good”, maybe feeling power…probably a lot of unpack there. I think that’s okay as long as we are aware that those warm fuzzies benefit us too, that walking into our classrooms and doing our job doesn’t mean we are Mother Teresa.

Personally, there is a long list of reasons why I am a teacher. One of my more selfish whys is something I just recently realized; there is a version of me that I am most free to be when it is just me with my kids in our classroom…and being that person feels pretty darn good.

It’s not that I can’t be her in other places, but in some of those other places I have to tone her down quite a bit…and in other places there is another part of me that takes precedence. That other part of me is great. I love her too. But there is a balance and just like how things feel shaky when I am at work too much, right now things are feeling shaky by being home for who knows how long due to the COVID-19 stay at home orders.

Of course, I miss my kids and I miss all the warm fuzzies that come with teaching and I am missing all my other whys but I also miss the version of me that most freely comes out when I am with them. I miss my balance.

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Turn Up

Every year, I have a group of kids I vibe with. Really vibe with. We click like cameras and I swear if they were older versions of themselves, I’d hangout with them and mind you, I don’t tend to hangout.

Then, there are kids who are the polar opposite.  Usually just one or two but they can feel more like 22. They are the ones who always seem to have a complaint, fuss, huff n puff, and must always make me work too gosh darn hard…they exhibit a multitude of various behaviors that I just cannot take anymore. I can’t even. All day long.

But some kind of way, I figure out how to even. Even if I don’t know it in the moment.

My class last year had three kids like this and this year they are the ones who without fail stop by my room or make an effort to see me in the hall every. Single. Day. Turns out, we ended up vibing more than I thought.

…and it’s not because anything magical happens, there are no movie moments. There’s just some struggle, ups, downs, self-reflection, and hard work. Hard. Work.

I say this as a reminder to myself that when things get tough, things still keep going and that a bumpy ride can turn into a vibe.

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Debunking Myths: Teachers Must Have Bladders of Steel

Every year after an extended holiday or vacation the internet is flooded with memes about teachers not having time to pee. Many teachers also post about it like it’s a joke but no one is actually joking about it. I mean, who can pee when you are in charge of 20 kids, right? So, haha… guess I gotta get used to holding it all day again or I can’t drink anything because I can’t use the restroom until 3:00 *giggle*…ummm no.

For many, this has become a reality that is all but funny. I mean, nothing is hilarious about a kidney stone or a UTI.

Using the restroom is a basic human need, not a luxury reserved for weekends and vacations. This is why I never appreciated any of the jokes or memes…it normalizes the martyrization that plagues the field. It makes new teachers or new-to-a-school teachers feel like there is no other option. It ultimately creates easily preventable health issues.

So, what can be done?

Honestly, there are quite a number of solutions and if you are a new teacher you should not feel bad about utilizing any one of them:

1. Have the teacher next door watch your class. They can stand between both rooms and keep their eyes in both classes.

2. Line your class up and take them to the restroom with you.

3. Take your whole class on a restroom break. Use the bathroom with them.

4. Use the restroom during lunch or recess when multiple teachers are present. Ask a colleague to watch your class when you step out.

5. If all else fails, call the office and ask for coverage. I never did this to use the restroom, but I have back when I was a nursing mother and needed to pump…yes, you can pump to feed your infant and be a teacher. Blog post to come on that later.

I am sure there are other solutions out there, you have to do what works best for you and your work environment. Bottom line is that there are solutions. You can pee. It will be okay.

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My Fall Down the Ed-Tech Rabbit Hole

Much like Alice, I have a way of falling down rabbit holes. Sometimes I even jump. “We’re all mad here.” Not I. Well, maybe actually I.

Several years ago my school became 1:1. We went from a computer lab and a traveling cart to an iPad or chromebook for every student, k-5. It was amazing and wow, how grateful I felt to be part of such tech-fortune!

As a teacher, I tend not to shy away from change. Technology does not scare me and anything new or unconventional is like Smuckers to me, my jam. So when a shiny cart of 20-something iPads came rolling my way I read a few articles, followed a few hashtags, and I was ready. Both feet in, bells on, let’s go.

I explored a variety of apps to supplement instruction. Apps to use while teaching, blogs for writing, eportfolios, ebooks, emanipulatives, e-everything and programs. All the programs. Programs that claimed they were differentiated, check that box off on my eval. All the problems in the classroom had answers now.

“How do you know I’m mad?…”

“You must be…or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Eventually I realized my students were on a device for some purpose all day long.

All. Day. Long.

I tend to emphasize extremes but this isn’t too far from reality When you start counting minutes and those minutes turn to hours and hours in elementary is pretty much all day.

A supplement meant to enhance became it. All day everyday. The main event. It didn’t happen overnight but it might have happened overnight.

When I go, I go hard. It’s a side-effect of a rather extreme personality.

What followed was general mediocrity. To be fair, the world did not end and my kids did not turn into zombies. My first grade and later second grade test scores did not tank although full disclosure, with how k-2 was tested they would have scored fine either way.

Technology did come at a price. It seemed that overall focus diminished. Handwriting diminished. Collaboration diminished. Spelling diminished. Conversation diminished. Everything diminished.

We had a program for that though. Phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, math, even handwriting and things to improve focus. We had a program for everything…well everything except conversation…but blogging is the same thing, right?

It took me some time and experience with my own kid more on that later) to see how very wrong I was.

As far as alllll the programs, I didn’t see any significant real life applicable progress on any of them (sure they may have advanced within the program but real life application not so much).

In fact the students did those programs when they weren’t face to face with teacher during small group time and many weren’t doing anything but mindlessly clicking along. In some cases, they were multi-tabbing and sneaking onto other sites. Coolmath and minecraft and YouTube. It took me awhile to catch on to that one but truth is they probably weren’t missing out on much by not doing those programs. Either way, I found myself down another rabbit hole within the rabbit hole.

I mentioned above that the world wasn’t ending…but I did do some damage. It was especially harmful for my ELLs and kids with attention issues.

It seemed like everytime I started to question myself, I looked up a new article or hashtag and recommitted myself to the rabbit hole I so happily had fallen into. Because there’s an article for everything.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

Here’sthe more later part…

When my son was 2 (almost 3), my parents bought him a tablet for Christmas. When he had this tablet, I noticed his personality changed. He was quiet, less active, more irritable, less creative, and overall less cool of a person. I am not exaggerating.

My son never had a ton of tantrums and he more often than not is joy to be around (yeah, all parents say this but it really is true). The second the tablet came out none of that was true. His biggest tantrums occurred when it was time to put that piece of technology away or when the battery ran out. He was obsessed…I often wondered whose kid he was.

This led me to more critical research on technology for little guys and to be honest, there isn’t much good that comes with it. Article after article, Google search after Google search.

This revelation I had with my own child raised a lot of red flags with what I am doing in my classroom. Obviously a 3 year old is at different place developmentally than a 7 or 8 year old. But still. Developmentally no 7 year old should be on a device as much as my students were on one, even for the coolest most cutting edge educational purposes.

Again, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

I am still navigating that. I am climbing out of the rabbit hole I wasonce so happily in.

As extreme as I tend to be, I don’t think it has to be either/or. I find a lot of value in many educational tech tools. Whole group lessons have transformed for me with interactive presentations like Nearpod, my kids can create and show off work with apps like seesaw, and their selection of reading material has multiplied exponentially with ebooks.

That said, programs are mostly mindless and the only ones I put my kids on now are those that my district requires. I’ll ask my kids to read real books made from paper, write with pencils, and use real manipulatives.

There are a ton of edtech tools out there. Many are amazing and great. I found that there simply is not room to use them all. I pick and choose just a few and run with that. I stopped worrying about missing the next greatest thing…because the greatest thing doesn’t involve wifi.

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”

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“The Human in Me”

1, 2, 3, 4…

I don’t like field trips.

5, 6, 7, 8…

Not at all.

9, 10, 11, 12…

Many people find this surprising. Typically I hear many teachers say that they love a good field trip, it seems they even thrive off of them. I also tend to be a bit “extra” in most areas so field trips would seemingly be my thing.

13, 14, 15, 16.

But they aren’t.

1, 2, 3, 4…

Don’t get me wrong, I still dress the part. I’m not talking jeans and school t-shirt either. I pull a full-on Frizzle; school themed dress, pencil shoes, and/or accessories galore. I wore a princess-style tutu dress to “The Nutcracker” one year and antennae to the zoo another. When I say I am extra, I mean it.

5, 6, 7, 8…

But that doesn’t mean I like it.

9, 10, 11, 12…

“Fake it ’till I make it” became my game. I believe whole heartedly kids deserve a great school experience and field trips are just one of those things that’s part of that experience so I suck it up, smile,and deal because this isn’t about me but…

13, 14, 15, 16.

So. Much. Counting.

That’s all I do on field trips. I count and recount all my students. Over and over like a Florida election and everybody’s named Chad.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…

Anxiety through the roof. Is everyone still here? No one is about to wander off, right? No Boogeyman? Who’s that man, does he work here? Where is the nearest exit? Where are safe hiding spots? What is next? Is it time to go yet? What time is it? Let’s count heads again, just to be sure…7, 8, 9…

Why can’t I just chill and enjoy the moment?

Smile.

10, 11…

My mind is always racing.

I lost count, let me start again.

“Line up ya’ll, get still for a sec.”

1, 2, 3, 4…

Smile. Take a selfie. I can enjoy the moment later.

5, 6, 7, 8…

So. Much. Counting.

9, 10…

It’s okay. They all are having fun.

11, 12, 13, 14…

I am faking it.

15 and 16.

…and I made it.

After the longest five hours imaginable, I made it through the first field trip of the year today. When I say I am “extra,” I mean it. Sometimes a certain level of over the top can be amazing. Other times it is an amazing burden.

This is my reality.