I recently attended the annual Western Mass. Writing Project's annual Best Practices conference, held at UMass Amherst, the home of our local National Writing Project site. As every year when it is time to sign up, I did not relish the thought of spending a Saturday indoors, away from my family and the multitudes of weekend errands and activities that needed to be accomplished. And, just like every year, I left feeling uplifted, energized, and reminding myself that THIS is why I love the WMWP and the NWP. By the way, the National Writing Project and its sites are NOT only about writing, and not only for ELA or writing teachers! All teachers pre-k-college and beyond can and should participate.
I've written other posts about the WMWP and the NWP, and it's because I am always awed by the power of teachers working together and teaching each other. At the conference, the morning started with warm greetings, cider donuts and coffee. I checked in, got my conference folder and reviewed the workshop options. At this conference, the majority of workshops are led by the new teacher consultants, the title participants of the Summer Leadership Institute earn when they complete the intensive 3 week program. The first workshop I went to, though, was led by two veteran members of the WMWP. By 8:40, we were writing and by 8:50 we were discussing the myth vs. the reality of the American Dream, and how to use the PBS film "American Creed" in the classroom. By the time the session ended I was already full of ideas I wanted to implement in my classes next week.
My next session was about writing with your students every day in a writer's notebook. While I already do this with my students, the workshop presenter reminded me of useful tips for using the notebook in class, such as decorating it so students can make it their own and express themselves. We tested out 4 different prompts as if we were students ourselves. I relaxed into the writing, treasuring the time to sit quietly with my thoughts and paper. In my favorite prompt of the session, we were instructed to write a break-up letter or a love letter to someone or something. I wrote a love letter to the pool at my gym, which I recently rediscovered and has brought me a peaceful outlet, and has reminded me of my love for the water.
At lunch, we heard a keynote speech from Kelly Norris, a local English teacher who has just published a book, Too White (Bedazzled Ink Publishing binkbooks.bedazzledink.com/books/books-t/too-white/). She talked frankly about her book, a memoir, which chronicles coming to terms with racism and white privilege throughout various experiences since her childhood. It was thought-provoking and honest.
Also at the luncheon, I was honored to receive the Pat Hunter Award for Outstanding Teacher Leadership, which is given in memory of Patricia Hunter, a teacher who was one of the founding members of WMWP. She died in 1999 and I never got the chance to meet her, but I admire her legacy as a teacher leader and advocate. When the award was presented and I said a few words to the crowd, I mentioned how meaningful the award is, coming from what I consider to be my professional home. And it's true; teaching can be isolating, maddening, exhausting, and infuriating. Yet every time I attend a WMWP meeting, conference, or other event, my belief in teaching, public education, and our world is reaffirmed. It's always hands-down the best PD teachers can be involved in, and I am convinced the main reason is the model of teachers teaching teachers. Valuing what teachers already know and can contribute to helping and teachers just makes sense.
You won't regret it: RUN, don't walk to your local site! www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/doc/findasite/home.csp
In my town, Columbus Day has officially been Indigenous People's Day for several years. The movement to make this change started with students at my school who researched and then advocated for this change first with our school committee and then with our Town Meeting body.
In an effort to present to my ELL students the story of Columbus from a more socially just point of view, a few years ago I wrote the text I wanted them to read, in a way that facilitated their understanding of it. Today I am excited to share the link to this lesson, just published by Teaching for Change. I hope it comes in handy for those who are teaching about this topic this week or in the future!
Here's to all the brave and curious critical thinking students out there. Our future depends on you!
You will find the article/lesson at this link:
Third week of school, and finally teachers and kids are settling into the routine: get up, go to school, go home, go to sleep, repeat for 180 days. This year I have 3 preps, which are actually 6 classes; 3 of them are academic language development sections, and the other 2 are the English and Social Studies I've been teaching for years. Only this year, those 2 classes are different. Very different.
I have this class of mostly boys this year - it's the kind of class where you might linger in the hallway a few more seconds than usual just to avoid going in because you know the chaos that is in store. The kind of class where on the FIRST day, you threaten to call home, and on the second day, you do it. By the second week they have permanent assigned seats. And the kind of class where you have already heard unexpected words and expressions, such as "Mr.Testicles" and "vagina", and where sometimes all that is heard are fart noises by way of the armpit or raspberries on the arm, and all manner of animal noises all the time. The kinds of class where you spot one kid switching from raspberries on the arm to kissing his own arm, and where if you turn your back for one nanosecond, things happen. The kind of class where, when I took out puppets for a conversation activity, one student had the Ernie from Bert and Ernie thrusting his hips forward, "dancing". It's the class where you have to write instructions on the board, act them out, read them aloud in 2 languages about 7 times, and show them through interpretive dance. And where, on day 2 of school, one student lets out a full 10 seconds of actual fart and doesn't bat an eye.
The day I had them for 3 hours in a row in 85 degree weather inside the classroom and 93 outside was the day I wanted to cry, and began to seriously question if I should keep teaching.
Luckily, it's also the kind of class where, in the first 2 days they have already called you "Mami" and "Titi" by mistake several times because they feel comfortable. And where they tumble in, all over each other, because they are happy to be there. It's the kind of class where, when the bell rings for the next class, they want to stay with you. They call you "Missy" affectionately and are fascinated by animal fights, dinosaurs, and volcanoes. They have random facts in their background knowledge which they love to share. They love reading out loud to each other in their beginners' English. They still respond to threats of phone calls, texts, and emails home. They love games and are playful, and raise their hands all the time to answer - when they remember to raise their hands and not shout out answers. At least they're engaged, and not tuned out.
This is the kind of class that makes you, as a teacher, step up your game. You have to be 100% prepared for every class, no winging it here. No down time or spare time at the end of class. I have had to rethink everything I was going to teach, and instead look for highly engaging material and activities that are also at their level. After the first day I learned I had to plan breaks, insert games, walk outside, and make sure they have transition time. Slowly, we are making progress. The animal noises and raspberries on the arm continue, but I am learning to ignore them. Focus on the bigger behaviors and ignore the small ones. I'm trying out my PBIS skills by praising whenever possible ("Excellent use of your eraser!").
I know there will be lower points than the 85 degree in the classroom day, just because, well, that is how it always works. With teaching, you feel like you are making great progress, and then something happens to make you feel like you are the worst teacher ever. I'm holding on to other days, though, the ones where you see your students happy and engaged, and know they are learning, and you know you went into the right profession.
To all those teachers who have classes like this, hang in there. We need you! There will always be bad days, but hang on tightly to those good ones.
The knot in your stomach gets tighter and tighter, as if 2 tiny beings are pulling on either end, as the days seem to fly by, each one more quickly than the last. Your nights get shorter, and you wake up more often. When you wake up, you have a harder time falling asleep. Your brain is suddenly wide awake even though it's 3 AM and your body tells you it's still time to sleep. In your waking hours, you spend hours on YouTube or Pinterest, looking for fresh ideas and engaging activities. You are excited and anxious at the same time. Your dread builds up while you also look forward to this first day. You are a teacher, and it is back to school time once again.
Some of us have had many "back to schools". In fact, my good friend Dave, who just retired, has been going back to school for a good 57 years. This will be his first year ever NOT going back to school. He plans to spend the day in a nearby bookstore, leisurely reading his book and not thinking about the students coming through the door. He promises to bring me coffee once in a while this year, though he says he will not stay to visit, and definitely not to sub.
People who are not teachers marvel at the fact that teachers have 2 months "off". However, teachers everywhere know what really happens. We use large chunks of the summer to prepare for the following year, meeting with other teachers and going to professional development workshops. We teach summer school. We attend conferences. We work at other jobs to make extra money. I know - we are lucky, too, to have unstructured time at home with our families or by ourselves, recharging for the following year. But by the time the summer comes, we need it. In fact, I need a good three weeks before I start feeling like a normal human again. By the end of August, I think I might have the energy to face 400 seventh and eighth graders once again.
As August comes to a close (and I know many teachers have been back to school for a few weeks already), teachers, take a deep breath. It's going to be fine. The anticipation is often the worst part for me, and once my students walk in, I'm excited to be there once again. Students, try not to be nervous. It's a new year, with new possibilities for excitement, learning, friendships and growth. Families, as you send your kids off to school, keep us in mind. We work hard to make every day count for our children. Work with us, not against us. Administrators, support your teachers, listen to them, value them. Unions, thank you for all you do for us; stay strong!
The first day of school is just around the corner for me and has already happened for many. Vacation is almost a distant memory. As my mom and I work on finishing our book, I found myself looking at blog posts from my first year of blogging. I found this one, still very true today and appropriate for this time in the summer!
The anticipation before the first day is the worst. You feel desperate to hold on to every last second of summer, wishing you could drag every minute out, and thinking about everything you didn’t get to do that you wanted to over the summer. There are always more things to do than days in the summer. The night before you go back you just want to cry. How can it already be over?
Then, inevitably morning comes and you have no choice. You grudgingly accept it and get ready for your first day.
During the first days back, before the students arrive, there is always hope. Hope for the new year, starting fresh, and trying new things. Hope for new routines, new students, starting lesson plans from scratch. Everything is bright and shiny, you open new boxes of markers and fresh post-it pads excitedly. You even feel hope as you listen to the new principal talk about new procedures and her vision for the school.
Hope wanes a little as you sit through convocation, not so inspiring this year (or maybe it’s just how you’re feeling). The 88 slide powerpoint that follows and the mandatory trainings on Epi pens, safety, etc. start to wear down your excitement.
Finally, freedom – you are finally given time to finish your room, and prepare for your students. You finish the day, head swirling, exhausted, feet throbbing, and STILL not ready for the first day. But then, are you ever 100% ready? Either way, the kids will be there at 7:30 the next morning, also nervous, excited, and mourning the end of summer. Another year is starting. Good luck!
Here is to 24 years of teaching, new beginnings, and HOPE. Always keep the hope.
Have an amazing year!
This blog post is dedicated to two of my favorite people to work with: Mr.David Ranen and Dr.Patty Bode.
Two years ago, I set out on an adventure, a new chapter in my professional career, and two years later, I have no regrets. When I started my 22nd year of teaching, I also started my first year of being an administrator. In an innovative model, the new principal decided to reach into the pool of teachers for 2 assistant principals who would teach half time and be half-time administrators. I was lucky enough to be one of them. Some of our central office administration couldn't seem to wrap their heads around it: how would they figure out payroll? Who would be in charge of what aspect of the school? Who would do special education? Who would oversee discipline? Somehow, we knew it would work out.
Dave had been a beloved chorus teacher for 36 years at the school, while I had taught first Spanish, then ELL. We had been friends already. When Patty Bode came on as our principal, we already knew her from her years as art teacher, and for me, as family friend. We began planning for the school year on a summer evening over burritos on Patty's screened-in deck. We had a good vibe already, and we knew our team would gel. What we did not know was how well we would come to work together in such a short time.
Between the three of us, we had over three quarters of a century of experience under our belts. We each brought different strengths to the our team. Patty held the big picture, and the vision, always at the center of what we were doing, always grounded with the question, "what are we learning today?" She developed our school's visual culture and embraced the themes of solidarity and empathy, which then the faculty learned to embrace as well. Dave had a deep understanding of and kindness towards the middle school student. They all knew they could talk to him and many would seek him out on a daily basis. He had a calm way about him that diffused challenging situations. I was able to help engage Spanish-speaking families and create a safe space for them in our school and to work with families in a way that was open and inclusive. The three of us supported the school's inquiry group work, field trips, special activities, teachers, and more.
As we wrap up two years working as a leadership team, I have been reflecting a lot on what we accomplished. In fact, I am still trying to formulate into words some of the lessons learned along the way (maybe for a future post). It was not easy most of the time, and in fact, we faced some of the most challenging times of our personal lives and of our careers. Dave and I juggled teaching with being administrators; in fact, really our district was lucky - they got 2 full time administrators who also taught on the side. Still, I know that I am richer and a better educator/administrator for having worked with them. In the meantime, the words that keep coming into my head as we wrap up our work as the "dream team" as some people called us, are "No regrets", and I truly feel that way. I learned so much from each of them, and feel incredibly privileged to have walked into an office every day where I was supported every step of the way.
Dave will be able to make his own schedule from now on in retirement. Patty will be able to follow more creative aspirations and I will continue making waves in any world she goes into. As for me, I will happily go back into my classroom full time and continue to blog about teaching, students, and education. No regrets.
Teachers, especially middle school teachers, I believe, steel themselves for the months of May and June. March seems eternal, the longest month, with no 3 day weekends to look forward to. In our area of New England, it is still pretty cold in March, though the days are longer. The month drags on and on until finally April arrives. April brings hope, with spring usually trying to peek through. This year, though, April brough not only showers but also snow, well into the month. It also brought a one week reprieve from the every day routine of school.
Finally, May is here. In May, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We begin to count the days (in my school we count up instead of down: it is the 144th day of the school year!) until the final day of school. We make plans for teaching summer school or other summer work. As an administrator it's extra busy because we are planning for the end of this year, but also need to plan for the beginning of next school year.
For the students, May is MCAS math month. In May, the drama often gets to an all-year high, with raging hormones mixed in for some extra fun. The weather gets warmer but sometimes we still have heat in the building, which makes for very smelly hallways: raw onion with some Axe sprayed over to hide it. Students are not thinking about next year that much - they usually think as far ahead as the summer, with plans to attend summer school, rest at home, work, go to camp or travel.
For me, it is a time of reflection as I think about changes for next year. I will likely go back to the classroom full-time, which will have its advantages: I'll be able to focus only on teaching and my students. It will be the first time in probably 10 years that I have an entire summer free, because I will not be leading the WMWP Summer Leadership Institute. I'll be teaching on online course through Mount Holyoke in May and June called "Research in Teaching ELLs", which I am excited about. My family is planning a trip to Spain to see my husband's family and my dad's family. As my kids get older (they are now 13, 14, and 17), I treasure any amount of time I can spend with them, so a family trip will be great. I will be looking for great books to read on our trip, so please recommend some if you have any! (Mary Ginley!! You always have the best recommendations)
And in other exciting news, my mother and I will hopefully finish the book we are writing, due for publication in 2019, by August. We have been writing on weekend retreats all year and it has been fun to work on something like this together! We do not have a title yet, but many blog posts have been included so far. Stay tuned for more news about that as we get closer to finishing!
What does summer bring for you? How will you rest and rejuvenate for next year? What are you looking forward to for next year? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.
As a teacher, one literally never knows what will hit you. For me, the other day, it was a football.
After lunch if the weather permits we typically take students outside for a short recess. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly hit by a flying object - a football, from about 30 feet away, had hit me. Even as I tried to breathe through it and wait out the pain, tears sprang out of my eyes. Through gulps I radioed our dean to let him know I was going to the nurse. After 45 minutes of ice, rest and tea and 2 check-ups of my eyes, I left the nurse's office feeling okay albeit with a slight headache.
Teachers do not have it easy these days. The list of what we are faced with every day gets longer and longer: active shooter trainings, trauma, anxiety, attention to special needs, social emotional health, school refusal, grading, meetings, difficult family situations, work creep, working more than one job to make ends meet, planning, and so on.
So, what can we do to keep positive in this crazy job that we (most of the time) love? I thought I would share a few things that have been working for me.
1. Do something you love!
This weekend I was fortunate enough to spend time doing one of the things I love - dancing with a fabulous group of women who, like me, are educators. Our passion for Latin American folk dances has been a form of therapy for us. Today we gave our time for a fundraiser for a local group, Center for New Americans. The event was called "Immigrant Voices" and was replete with dance, song, poetry and more. Though exhausted, I felt exhilarated and grateful to be a part of this great event.
Dance is one of my outlets. Writing is another. Traveling, even day trips, can do wonders for my mental state.
What is your outlet? Find what makes you happy, and do more of it!
2.Face the day with a smile
That can be hard to do sometimes. But, when things are upsetting, or sad, or maddening - it helps to smile. Grumpy begets grumpy. Instead, smile at people. Ask them how they are, and mean it when you ask - and then listen to their answers. Put on a smile for your students. Your energy feeds into their energy; they pick up on how we feel right away. Other adults do, too. Sometimes if you keep smiling, your body and brain start to believe you are happy and they follow suit.
For me, it works to separate the different categories of my life. If things are more challenging at home, I set that aside while I am in school, and vice-versa. When your students are still in your head long after you have left school, get them out of your head! Focus on your outside of school life.
4. Stay positive
It's easy to fall into a cycle of whining, complaining, and feeling bitter. It can be harder to make a conscientious effort to stop that cycle. Be a part of the solution, not the problem. Find happier people, or people who can help you problem solve. Vent if you need to, with some good friends - and then move past it.
And lastly, this one really works for me :-) ....
5. Take more naps
Sometimes I get home and flop on my bed. Even if it's for 15 minutes, even if I don't actually sleep. It helps to have my brain on "off" for a few minutes. I feel refreshed and can tackle the rest of the evening.
Hang in there! In Massachusetts, we are 5 days away from spring vacation. After that - you know how it goes: April is done, and May and June will fly by. We will end another year of teaching, say goodbye to our students, and take a break before we welcome new students. You can do it! Just don't get hit in the head with a football.
For this blog post, I decided to share some poems about parenting, as I am feeling reflective today on the one month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Feel free to add your thoughts or your own parenting poems in the comments!
Want to remember
Don’t want to forget
This age, this night
Loving their Mami
Without holding back
Showing me their love
I hug them tight
And ask them
“Will you always love me this much?”
And they both nod, solemnly
“I never want to grow up”, they say
Neither do I, I think.
a mother’s pain
a mother’s pain
knows no limits
it’s the pain you feel
when your sweet baby is so mad,
she gives you the silent treatment for hours on end.
it’s the sadness you feel
when your grown up girls go the movies
without you for the first time.
it’s the longing you feel when you think of
the days when they were little enough to
be scooped up in your arms, and nuzzled
it’s the bittersweet memories
of the sleepless nights, tired days.
it’s the wishing and hoping
for a better future, a happy life, free of pain.
it’s the panicky feeling
you feel each day
as the future pulls your babies further and further
away from you.
and it’s the devastating, crushing, soul-sucking pain
you feel for your comadre,
who has lost her daughter forever.
7/4/14, written for my friend MT
Closeness used to be there
But it’s gone
Where there was warmth,
There is space
Where there was affection
There is a gulf, an abyss
That little person
Who used to occupy every thought
Every blank space
And every corner of me
And my life
Thoughts and ideas and worries
All circling around you and me
We were a unit
Unbreakable, beautiful, elastic bond
Elastic now wearing thin
Tired from being stretched out
So many times
And broken again,
Gasping for air,
Deep gulps of icy fresh air
Our students are pretty amazing. Not only my students, or students at my school. Our collective students in the U.S. It has been amazing to see and hear students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School speak out in all their anger and sadness, about the recent shooting and how fed up they are. They are inspiring.
This school shooting has been the tipping point for many students and teachers. Students across the country are organizing walkouts, sit-ins and protests. I applaud them. They have had enough, and they're right! No student should have to be afraid to go to school. No teacher should wonder if today will be the day they will have to protect their students from death.
The day after this shooting, the anxiety among my colleagues and in the school building was palpable. The sense of caring for each other was, too. I stood in front of the room after my students had left, and looked around the classroom, planning. What would I do if it did happen in my school? I'm lucky to have an exit right next door, but that would require me taking my students to the hallway first. I looked out the window. Below was the loading dock and bus repair garage. If there were a bus there, I could help the kids out the window and tell them to jump on the bus below. If there were no bus there, I would tell them to jump anyway because a broken bone would be better than being killed.
What kind of crazy country do we live in where these are the thoughts a teacher has on a daily basis? What is wrong with us?
It's unfathomable to me that the president actually agrees and is taling about the idea of arming teachers as a solution. WHAT? Pure insanity. In what world is that a reasonable solution? The day that I am asked to attend a shooter training and arm myself to go teach is the day I will leave teaching/education.
I love walking down this particular hallway in my school and reading this display. Each time I notice new descriptions and I am struck by the honest and proud proclamations the students make. Our students are capable of so much. We need to continue providing for them the safe spaces to continue exploring, learning and growing - not spaces they will be afraid to go to. Teachers: this is the time to make ourselves heard. Let's defend our students in the best way we know how: by educating them and others and encouraging them to speak out and stand up against senseless violence and against a crazy government that thinks it's okay to arm our teachers, but cut special education funding.