Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dreaming is Free

Or is it?

Can you imagine your dream school?  Your dream team of teachers?  Your dream parents?  students? classroom?

I got my first teaching job in January of 1983.  Then just having a job was living the dream!  That first semester was spent in survival mode.  I did my best to deliver the dream of learning to each student with my well-planned lessons as prescribed by a curriculum written for the average student.

It took me about 2-3 weeks into the next school year to realize that my students weren't average.  If they did fit the curriculum they certainly did not fit the scope and sequence.   Positive, negative, intermittent reinforcements were not working for any of us.  The disconnect between my professional training and practice in the classroom was a constant noise inside my head.

But I was lucky.  I wasn't the only one and back then there was so much more 'wiggle room'.  I found some kindred spirits and we banded together across districts, states and even continents around child-centered, holistic, constructivist, inquiry-based classrooms driven by the needs and interests of the children, not the curriculum.  Those were dream years with students leading the march with their play, curiosity, interests, and ideas far beyond any clever thing I could have imagined.  Children were seen as more than just a test score.

Many times in my career that professional support group has been reshaped, rebuilt, rediscovered.  But over the years the 'wiggle room' has been diminished.  Mandates eat up our time and our energy and the dust starts to settle on the dream.  People grasp for easy answers based on the latest renamed teaching strategy to make the news.  Professional teachers are held accountable via testing at younger and younger ages.

It is so easy to get lost and lose sight of the dream.  It takes vigilance.  It takes support.  It takes time and energy.  Thank you Kinderchat for helping me dust off the dream, rekindle my spirit, and once again dream... What is best for kids?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What would be the Point?

Sometimes change happens slowly.  So slowly you don't even notice it.  Like the way children learn and grow when you see them every day.  You're not sure when it happens, but all of a sudden the class that used to fit comfortably around the rug in a circle no longer fits - resulting in less personal space and more bumps and bothers.

Living in a small community, I watch my students grow and change in all manner of ways long after they leave my classroom.  And sometimes I am lucky enough to have one of them connect with me in the form of a letter, a stop at my classroom, a graduation invitation.  The change is more drastic then, but I can always see the smile of their 5 year old self.  Yesterday, I ran into a former student who just graduated.  He walked right up and without hesitation gave me a great big hug.  Bo was proud and excited to tell me, his Kindergarten teacher, about his plans for next year.  Big changes for him, chosen by him.

Sometimes change happens in an instant.  On Tuesday one of those former students was killed in a car accident.  A beautiful, feisty, red headed girl who left a mark everywhere she went.  Emma was the child who (when you turned around to check the line of students going down the hall) was joyfully doing cartwheels.  She was friends with the toughest child in the class, the one no one else wanted to play with.  Emma would have been a Senior this year.  Her absence will leave a gaping hole at her church, the school, our community, the future.  The grieving and healing for our community will be slow.

Emma's death brings about a change of perspective and a clarity of priorities.  We talk about how the joy and fun of teaching is in danger.  I know teaching is now a job filled with specific outcomes, paperwork, accountability, core curriculum, new tools and technology, testing, and more.  But that is not why I do this job.  I teach children.  I touch little lives that will change our future.  Without the joy, the play, the hugs, the sharing, the connections, and even the losses, what would be the point?

Kinderblog13 - Assignment: Change

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sometimes it is Better to do Something Poorly than to Not do it at All

Okay, Kinderchat13 I don't like this topic so it must be good for me.  I finally had to give up on the narrative (usually a strength) and make a list.  So here goes.


*  I am thoughtful of my friends, family, coworkers, aquaintances.  If I see something that would be fun/helpful/meaningful to them I will get it for then.  I like to send messages of encouragement or leave nice surprises for them to find.

*  I'm creative.  This makes me very resourceful.  It makes me a good problem solver.  I tend to use things in unusual ways.  If you tell me I can't do something.... look out.  I'll find a way.  And it adds a bit of 'color and texture' to my life and for those around me.

* I am a big- picture person.  I may struggle with the details, but I can see how it all works (or doesn't)  in the big scheme of things.

* I am an introvert.  (No excuses... just awesomeness!)  I am also pretty laid back and know there are many different ways to get to the same goal.  This makes me easy to work with (unless you mess with my coffee then all bets are off!)

* I am good at seeing/offering different perspectives on the same topic.

* I have a good sense of humor as long as I watch the sarcasm.  I can lighten up a situation if appropriate when things are getting tense.

* My BMI is 23.

* I like trying new things.  It is tough to be in education if you don't!

* I am good at teaching children to be independent learners.  I always get kuddos from the Gr 1-2 multi-age teachers!

* I am stubborn.  Ooops.  I mean persistent!  But I also know when it is time to let something go or say 'good enough'

* Something inside me 'wakes up' when I am around children.  And I love that part of me!

Phew!  Done.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Confession

I have been teaching for 28 years.  I have a whole list of laurels I could share with you.  There are amazing accomplishments over the years that I am very proud of.  At one point in my life a sticker chart would have been my confession.  (I remember when I came to that realization - it was a very long time ago.)

So what then?  I must confess, if only to admit it to myself, that this last year I gave up.  I'm not sure exactly when it happened.  And once I realized it, it felt like it was too late to fix it.  It was the most frightening thing to ever happen to me professionally.

I am the only full-time Kindergarten teacher in our building.  We have a part time classroom as well (all day every other day).  The person in that spot is typically a new teacher who has not been able to find a full time position.  And once they do find a full time position, they are gone.  Sometimes even in the middle of the year.  These new teachers come in with wonderful ideas, but also need a lot of help and guidance.

It was also my third year with a Principal who did not appreciate my strengths, had no experience with primary education, and thought the best way to motivate the staff was to always point out what was lacking.

This last year I had the most challenging group of learners I have ever had in all my years of teaching. They tested my philosophy and beliefs about educating young learners at every turn of my head.  They exhausted my bag of classrooms tricks by the end of September with no effect.

It did not take long after the year started for me to realize I was in trouble.  I was in need of collegial support.  I unabashedly asked.  I asked the Gr. 1-2 multi-age teachers in our building.  I asked my Principal.  I asked our C&I Director.  I asked a former principal who is still in the district.  I asked other Kindergarten teachers from other buildings.  Responses varied from no response to shrugging shoulders to an empathetic head nod.  But no help came.

And I gave up.  I gave up on myself and I gave up on my students.  It was a horrible long year.  We did manage to have some good memories and I know the children learned.  But that was not me teaching.  I don't know who that was... But she sure could do all that accountability stuff - even without a heart!

When I gave up I lost my passion for my child-centered, holistic, inquiry based, context/meaning centered philosophy of education.

So I am fighting my way back.  Kinderchat was the first buoy I found.  Literally an answer to prayer.   I had to go over my Principal's head to get permission to go to a PreK-K conference.  The presenters were not great, but spending two days with teachers who do nothing but work with young learners like I do was a huge help.  I am trying to focus on real and meaningful things for Fall.

My greatest fear is that the difficulties of last year will still be there when I get back in August.  Everyone tells me not to worry.  That I will have a new batch of kids.  We are getting a new Principal.  But I know one part of the equation will still be there:  me.