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To the coaches–thank you.

Making it look easy…

Well.

Dang.

Have you ever cried at a wedding? I sure have. My friend still teases me about how much I cried at hers. Thinking about it, it was watching someone cross a threshold (too on the nose?) to another journey and life that wasn’t available to me. Yet, anyway. (That word, “yet,” — a prayer, a validation, a banner, and bludgeon…) A few months later I would meet my husband to be, and get a look behind that curtain. But her life and mine look very different. I’m struggling to come up with a metaphor here that’s not too cliche, but all I can think of are branches on a tree or rivers finding their paths. Ugh.

*goes to pour more coffee*

*it didn’t help*

Connections and separations lend themselves to cliches and similes, but there is truth there: once you meet someone you are connected: for this moment, I want to extend my gratitude to two coaches that made a huge difference for me this year, Michael and Vicky.

Vicky comes from my district, and Michael from out of district. Both are exemplary educators, masters in their craft, and far and away damn fine coaches. Their honest and intelligent conversations, observations and and reciprocity is what I admire more than I can say. They saw in me the talent, and the growth, and my only regret is that I didn’t get to see them enough. Each precious time they interacted with me individually I felt the clouds lift, and my vision cleared. Good coaches take a special personality, great coaches make you feel like you’re not being coached at all, but a collaborator on a masterpiece. Their generosity of acknowledging my strengths without me ever feeling a “yes-but” statement was coming is extraordinary. Vicky especially, since we spent more time together, valued the crafted curriculum and exploration I do and did on my own, and she knows I’m capable and ready to share. Just like my art education days, being in the studio by oneself is only enjoyable if once in awhile the work is shown and shared.

Some work I tried on this year (one of their favorite phrases), both on my own and through them include:

There is more, to be sure: handouts and PowerPoints and resources galore. And I know that when they do other things next year on their own journeys, I hope that we will always be connected and our paths cross frequently and joyfully.

PS I also need to thank my admin for pairing me with these coaches: as we grow together, I don’t mind being “keeper of the lessons” and sharing them.

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Shine a light…

via GIPHY

One of my favorite colleagues had this great idea. It’s all hers. I asked her if I could post it, but didn’t ask permission to share her name. Let’s just call her “Abazening Person” for now. The idea was to ask the staff (after two weeks’ of testing, more days of testing, and yeah…we’re tired) about their silly and serious advice for new teachers and/or teachers new to our school.

But you know why she is one of my favorite people? The person who can listen, hold their own, be gentle, strong, and wise is rare. I hope I have reciprocated the love and friendship because I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have I hold dear.

She asked the staff to write on slips of paper she provided, organized, etc., one silly and one serious piece of advice. What a great activity for the staff, and something to try with students, too! This is the list she compiled from the hand-written notes:

Thanks for sharing, everyone!

If you have anything to add for our 2017-2018 New to MC/New to Teaching “Words of Wisdom” as the year finishes up, please let me know. J

  • New to MC:
  • Jump in with both feet. There is no “halfway” at MC.
  • You have to be mentally tough to work here. Do something for yourself on the weekends.
  • Grab a $0.25 cup of coffee in the Work Room to start your day! Start a fresh pot and its free. 😉
  • Buy & wear a fit-bit.
  • Be the change you want to see…and LEAD that change.
  • Learn to juggle. You will make all the right friends.
  • Spread LOVE <3
  • Get to know the teachers. Building relationships is a big deal here.
  • P* gives the best hugs.*
  • A turkey dinner is served Thanksgiving week. Consider eating with kids in the lunchroom.
  • Don’t park under the lampposts unless you want a plethora of bird droppings!
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh with the kids!
  • First lunch is the BEST! 😉
  • Read the daily/weekly bulletins!
  • Avoid parking near the portables, unless you LIKE walking through large puddles on a rainy day.
  • Feel free to collect “floor pencils”. Even if they have bite marks, your kids will need them. J
  • Admin. feeds us well; if it’s a meeting or celebratory day, there is food…somewhere!
  • The staff bathroom in the C Building near the art room has a lock that works selectively. Use with caution. 😉
  • Leave the windows closed. The HVAC works better.
  • Participate in staff activities as often as possible. Parties, dancing, contests, movies; bonding time is never wasted time.
  • The parking lot floods. Bring boots!
  • Be nice to Mr. Gordon Dorsey(head custodian). He can be a huge help!
  • Be prepared for schedule changes. Make extra packets for new students.
  • Search for coffee around the building. It’s there…you just gotta find it!
  • If you see something that needs to be done, just do it.
  • The alarm will go off if you enter C Building before 6am…but you won’t hear it or know it until they come looking for you.
  • Find a teaching partner if you want to start/run a club.
  • First come, first served in the side parking lot along the field and C building.
  • La Huerta is awesome!
  • Never piss off the office staff. 😉
  • Spiders or flys in the classroom may derail your lesson for up to 15 minutes.
  • When cleaning out lockers, kids will trash books. Be on the lookout!
  • Enjoy the company of staff; great group!
  • Keep letting your light shine and you will glow for others to see.
  • New to Teaching:
  • Growth mindset is a must in this building.
  • Students – “What you put into your education determines your success in learning.”
  • Senior staff is very supportive. Talk to them for assistance and advice.
  • Always get their names right…or work hard on it. They care and it matters.
  • Be flexible with student students, schedules, etc.
  • Take the time in September to really get to know your students. The payoff for the rest of the year is immeasurable!
  • But the Mama Stortini’s special gift card in September.
  • Stand by the door. Don’t allow students to stand by the door before the bell rings. They love to slip out.
  • The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.
  • Rather than focus on the problem, try to be part of the solution.
  • Document everything.
  • Talk to our Student Success Team about options for discipline. Don’t always go for punishment. Discipline is about teaching.
  • Remember that our students are someone’s baby. Honor that bond and don’t judge.
  • Get ready to hear the “F” word. 😉
  • Get a second opinion…or three. Different perspectives help you to come up with your own, authentic “way”.
  • Don’t be shy about saying “no food or drinks” in the classroom.
  • Make sure students know you care about them. You can get them to do almost anything if they believe that you believe.
  • There are a lot of ELL(English Language Learners). Strategies to help them will be necessary to know.
  • Call home. Then try again. Our parents care…they just aren’t easy to reach all the time.
  • Do not be a “friend”. Be an adult with clear expectations. It’s what they need!
  • Learning can be good fun if you make it.
  • Teach students not to laugh at disrespectful/disruptive behavior. This will be super helpful.
  • Don’t be afraid of technology. It makes things easier.
  • Work on setting your classroom systems into place at the start of the year. Do it well and you will reap the rewards
  • Don’t take students’ negative attitudes personally. Stay calm!
  • Rule your classroom with an iron fist.
  • Actually TALK to your students, one to one. It goes a long way.
  • Make sure students know they are not allowed to have their laptops out without permission.
  • Don’t listen to or ask for advice from the crazy ones. 😉
  • It can be easy to become involved with everything so remember to schedule time for yourself.
  • Say everything like you mean it!
  • Don’t take the negative things kids say personally. It never really is personal.
  • Be a storyteller. Our kids like to know your life.
  • Collaborate and be open-minded in your PLC. It is all in the best interest of our students.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
You may not be able to guess the ones I contributed, and it doesn’t matter: what matters is we all said and felt a big collective hug toward each other and our students. She opens her heart and home and welcomes one and all, and if we all learned how to be a little more open, everything would just be…abazing. 🙂
*One of our admin, and it’s true.
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Little Miss Hollywood

The Teaching Sisters of the Rock Star

Ann Beatty recently penned a brilliant article for The Atlantic, “Hollywood’s Reductive Narratives About School.” Not only does she make a case against most popular teacher movies, but articulates what I’ve been trying to say for a long time. Over the years, students occasionally, with moony eyes and hope, ask me if I “love” Freedom Writers, and seem kind of hurt when I say no–but then come to some deeper understanding of when I tell them why. The “great White savior-teacher-lady” is bullocks, basically. But Beatty says it better. She writes: “Bulman argues these films are popular because they bolster the middle-class fantasy that holds individuals accountable for low-income students’ successes or failures, while conveniently absolving viewers of any responsibility to lobby for system-wide change.”

It is Hollywood, and it is a fantasy.

This fantasy resides in the same room as bootstrap baloney and the grit myths. The [white] middle class, usually young teacher, (so much ageism in Freedom Writers….so…..much….) comes to the school, loses her relationship with her husband, looks great in sweater sets, gets a paternal nod of Fatherly Approval from Daddy, and carries on, changes the world, and enlightens one and all. The thing is–her students possessed abilities and THEIR OWN STORIES the entire time. Somewhere along the way, they were taught to read, make letters, write, sing their ABCs, etc. I wonder if these narratives seep into our culture to the point where students can’t see past their own experiences, either, making short-cut assumptions about their teachers, no matter their race, gender or age.

The dangers of the ‘rockstar’ teacher or group include the shallow dismissal and incorrect thin-slicing of a group or individual personalities and dynamics. As in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story,” (which Beatty alludes to in her essay as well), the danger lies in accepting one’s perspective as the only perspective, and everyone else is getting it wrong.

Stop: it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not a competition. It’s not a ‘celebration’ when there are winners and losers. It’s a celebration when it’s a celebration, and everyone is invited to the table.

Beatty distinguishes between pity and empathy: pity leaves us all diminished and weakened. Pity is the beast that lower the bar, doesn’t maintain high expectations, or gives a pass when too tired to keep pushing. Empathy, however, should work reciprocally: we and our students come to better understandings of one another’s, and our goals align. (Easier said than done, clearly.)

“Pity means I tell students who I think they are; empathy means I ask them, again and again, to tell me who they are. Such a shift resets a power imbalance. Classrooms where teachers and students actively work against the narratives and misconceptions that batter them are places where real learning happens.”

What Beatty comes to, and where I came to a long time ago, was that students are so much more than a Hollywood narrative, and so are we. When we work together and stop putting each other in ‘rockstar’ or competitive situations, zero-sum games, when we don’t reduce one another as colleagues or reduce our students to simple numbers, we see a much bigger and more beautiful picture, a bigger life, one larger than any Hollywood truncated narrative. As the next few weeks fall into summer, what final messages will I, in some cases desperately, in other cases seamlessly, instill in my students?

Well, as friends read Beatty’s post on social media, many agreed with the list of damaging teacher films. But everyone still likes “Bad Teacher.” Okay, I’ll let that one slide.

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Series: Teacher Tombs (the great purging)

Many teachers around the country are out for their unpaid, too-short summer break. We’re not. Due to snow days and very cautious safety folks, we’ll be in until the 27th of June.

And yes: we have half-day that day.

Now, assuming you’ll be back next year, and in these days that’s a mighty big ‘if’ for many educators, what do you purge, prioritize, or plan for? How do you manage your ideas for the next year?

Elena Aquilar posted: How to Make Planning for Next Year Fun

Cult reposted Caitlyn Tucker’s fantastic suggestions. Click link.

Since my last post about the things I hoard, I’ve given a lot of thought to the methods of my madness. Yes, there may be hoarding, for sure, but like the Great Repurposing of Vinyl CD Covers of ’17, hoarding isn’t all bad. It is the art of finding potential in an object. However, going on my 12th year of teaching, it’s time. Some things just don’t fit anymore or can be amended to suit. (I am never getting back in that wedding dress: it did its job, but no need to unbox that baby.)

Here are some tips to how I manage the “next year idea bucket list:”

  • Cute, functional and sturdy journals and good writing pens handy.
    • The trick? Make a “date” with your notebooks and clean and out and highlight key thoughts.
  • I use Evernote and am starting to use Things.
    • The trick? Go through and use consistently.
  • Reorganize digital files: just like when you’re going through your closet, do the same for files. It is time-consuming, but sketch out a plan of attack:
    • Writing
      • Sub-folders per lesson
        • Folder for Grammar, Punctuation, etc.
    • Student Samples
      • Sub-folders per lesson
    • Reading articles/pdfs
      • Sub-folders for genres
      • Sub-folder for graphic organizers like the What It Says document
    • PowerPoints and other media for flipped learning
    • Tried-and-True:
      • Annotation Lessons
      • Argumentative Unit
      • Burning Questions Unit
      • Journey of the Hero Unit
      • Salem Witch Trial Unit
      • Horror/Fear Factor Unit
      • Zombie Unit (needs work)
    • Listening/Speaking ideas
    • Engagement Ideas/Ice Breakers
    • General forms, contacts, etc.
    • District curriculum information
    • Teacher Evaluation information
  • Create a year map: highlight some pitfalls or plan for times of fatigue. Things always look a little weird in January, so put a random event on a calendar to brighten your day.
  • Organize a list of links and ideas from things saved on social media or bookmarked for later.

But one thing — one very important thing — I suggest to all of my colleagues and administrators, please read this:

Knowing where we’ve come from helps us avoid future disasters. Teachers tend to be organized, creative geniuses. Right? Yes! We are the original “makers” in our “spaces.” Keeping track of hundreds of souls is not for the weak. And like the lady said, “Let those teachers go home!”

Almost there.

Almost.

There.

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Because….books.

Love this idea from Cult (and am jealous of her cute little hair flippy-do)! To my ELA local peeps–if you have ideas about books we can share with a middle level/YA book club, I think we should do some home-grown discussions. One of our issues is the…

BOOK ROOM!

So…how about we take some time, meet over appetizers and beverages, and figure out just what do we have, what digital resources we have, how to get audio books, etc. for our students? Our best brains work better together, and mapping out what our students need and want (even if they don’t know it yet) would be invaluable. Consider yourself tagged!