Wednesday, May 25, 2016

It's Been A While

Are you singing that song in your head now? If you are, I'm sorry for the ear worm. If it's any consolation, I've given it to myself as well, so I'm singing right along with you.

It certainly has been a while since I've been here. Being a connected teacher was extremely important to me, but I've learned over the past year and a half that it was also one of the ways that I was escaping all of the difficulties in my "real" life. While I was really hoping to find a better balance between life, teaching, and my online presence, what I found was that I just couldn't do all three for a while. Unfortunately, that meant my online presence was the one that I could afford to let slip.

So what's happened since I've been gone? Well, a lot. But in keeping with my attempts at being the bigger person, let's just say that I have definitely gone ahead and upgraded, and others have, in some people's eyes, downgraded. I continue to wish him well and hope that he finds great success. But as time continues to march on, I drift more and more away from that old life and the ties that bound me to its unhappiness.

Professionally, life has been challenging as well. I found this really great meme the other day online:

Everything certainly look and feels the same, but I have definitely changed. I am no longer the one who needs to be responsible for making other people happy, and I am no longer the one who goes along with things just because it's what I'm "supposed" to do or because it'll make my test scores look good for my evaluations. I'm doing what's right by myself and what's right by my kids. I've already been "unfriended" (and I am definitely not just talking about Facebook!), but I'm okay with that. Those seem to have been the toxic people in my life, and not having to deal with them all the time has helped me be more positive and true to myself.

But I do find myself being more and more frustrated. I'm frustrated with the testing. I'm frustrated with my kids being a number, or a set of numbers, rather than a child. I'm frustrated with teaching to the test and not teaching kids to learn or be creative. I'm frustrated people who I used to see as trusted coworkers now seeming to be in it for themselves rather than being a part of a team. I'm frustrated that so much seems to be "out of my hands" and there's "nothing I can do about it," And I'm frustrated with administrators who shift on a whim and talk out of both sides of their mouth. All of this frustration has had me looking around thinking, "What else can I do?" "How can I teach kids, but not really be a teacher?"

So as I sit here pondering the "what should I do with my life question" for the umpteenth day in a row, I heard a ding on my school messager. It was a message from a coworker for whom I have the utmost respect. Her words were so kind and so humbling. And as I sat reading what she wrote and answering her, I received an email from a student. He is now teaching 4th grade in another local district, and he just wanted to thank me for all that I did for him. It's amazing how sometimes, in our greatest times of need, just the right people pop up to share just the words we needs to hear. I guess tonight was that night for me.

Maybe, just maybe, I am in the right place. I am doing the right thing.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Beginnings

My one little word for last year was balance, and from the cobwebs around here it's probably kind of obvious that I crashed and burned on that word. The funny thing is that my word for 2013 was self, and that truly ended up being my word for 2014.

If you've been here for a while, you know that things have not busy easy for us. There has been a lot of loss and many challenges. Thankfully, we both finally seem to be rising above those losses and challenges, but unfortunately we've had to do so on our own. I'm so happy to tell you that Jerry's store is doing better than he imagined after only 9 months, and I'm hopeful that he can continue to prosper and be happy. He loves animals, and he is incredible at helping people take the best care of their pets that they can within their given budget. He is a great asset to our community, and I wish him nothing but the best as he continues forward on his journey.

It was hard walking away, but I came to realize that I could not do everything on my own, and I needed more. I took time this year, especially this summer, to go out and meet new people, to try new things, to eat new foods, to go to new places, and really grow as a person. In many respects I feel like I have failed, but with the help of a great counselor I'm realizing that these things that I'm seeing as failures are simply ways that my path was going off in a different direction than I had planned. I deserve the opportunity to explore these different paths to find which ones are best for me.

One of my favorite songs from many years ago said, "It's closing time, and every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." While 2014 was at times very sad, it has been a year of growth and exploration, and I am thankful that I was finally brave enough to look to an end and start a new beginning. It's scary because every other time I had an end on the horizon, I knew exactly what new beginning lay ahead. This time, not so much. So here's what I'm learning:
  • It's okay not to be in control.
  • It's okay to be impulsive and do something crazy.
  • It's okay to spend some money on a splurge that will make a wonderful memory, as long as you're putting a little bit away for a rainy day.
  • Sometimes people come into your life in the most unexpected way at exactly the right time.
  • Sometimes you just have to have faith that everything happens for a reason and that everything will be okay.
2014 really was the light at the end of a very long tunnel. With all of this in mind, my word for 2015 is possibilities. I'm looking forward to seeing everything that the new year and my new life has in store for me, and I'm keeping my eyes and heart open for every new possibility.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Last year I decided to make my One Little Word self, and I'm not going to lie - I didn't do a very good job of it. As I was reading through my reflection from last December I found that I really haven't come any farther from where I was last year at this time. Over the summer I did try and make some of those positive changes, but once again I allowed myself to feel as though things out of my control took away my choices (not true), I expected the negative (you get what you look for), and I put others needs ahead of mine because it was just easier and kept the peace.

The loss of Grandma in November, and the unexpected death of our dear dog, Maxx, just two weeks ago has made it challenging to think that there were positives this year, but there really were. 
  • We have lived on one income, paid our bills, not added to our debt, and have been able to meet all of our needs and a want every now and then. 
  • I started kayaking and found peace on the water. Right now I'm saving up to buy my own kayak so I can go whenever I want.
  • Jerry's business has continued to grow and see success. As a matter of fact, he will actually be opening a new store in 2014.
  • We were able to travel to Las Vegas for a trade show, and I was able to meet a dear online friend in person for the first time. 
I'm sure there were many other positives, but these are the big ones that stand out to me. They each bring a smile to my face, warm my heart, and make me realize how much I really do have.

As I've been thinking about my word for this year, one thing I know to be true is that I am often and all or nothing person. I feel like I have to be going all out in anything or everything I do, or I can't do it at all. Just like some of my through processes, it's so not true, but it's how I tend to approach things. Either I go all out or I don't go at all. This often means I'm putting all sorts of effort into one area of my life and completing ignoring the others, or it means I'm not putting much effort into anything at all.

With Jerry's store on the horizon I know I'm going to be taking on a lot more responsibilities here at home, and I need to recognize that I can't do everything perfectly. So with that in mind I've picked my word for 2014. 


I need to balance the realistic with the dreams, the light with the dark, the work with the play, the healthy with the having fun, my happiness with the happiness of others in the hopes that I don't let everything get me down and burn out. I have no idea what 2014 holds in store for us, but I do know that we can only continue the upward growth that we started to see this year.

Whether you do resolutions, pick you own little word, or skip all of that and just change full steam ahead, I hope that 2014 holds much love and happiness for you.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Remembering Grandma

I wasn't born into Grandma Bair's family, but I managed to marry my way in after I stole her oldest grandson's heart almost 20 years ago. I think I had known Grandma for about 3.2 seconds before I learned that when Grandma Bair says jump, you say, "Yes, ma'am! How high?"

My husband's parents ran their own business when he was a little boy so he spent much of his time with Grandma and Pop. Like a typical little boy, he helped Pop with his chores - digging in the dirt, tinkering on machines and cars, working at the mill or on the farm. There was an endless supply of things for a kid to do with his grandfather, and while he talks about his times with Pop fondly Jerry's eyes light up when he talks about the time he spent with Grandma. The stories he tells the most, the ones that make his heart the happiest, are the stories about the times they spent fishing together. Grandma was apparently the best catfish fisherwoman in the county, and she and Jerry spent many days under the mulberry tree seeing what they could catch.

Grandma was a strong, stubborn, southern lady, and even though she came to Pennsylvania shortly after meeting Pop when he was stationed in Alabama serving in the Army Air Corp, she always had a bit of that twang to her voice. Grandma had southern mannerisms; she expected things to be done certain ways. And if you didn't do things the way they were supposed to be done, boy did she let you have it. It was expected that as soon as Grandma showed up you would go and give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. One time, at a picnic, I didn't realize she had arrived because I was splashing around in the creek. When I finally did see her, boy oh boy! Did I ever get an earful! And I think I heard about "forgetting her hug" every time I saw her for the next year.

There are so many other things that I could say about Grandma, but there are two stories that really stand out to me as stories that give the true picture of who Grandma was. Jerry and I were getting ready for the cake-cutting at our wedding reception, and as everybody was getting ready for the official picture, Grandma made her way up to us. I can still see her finger waggle and the glare in her eye as she said, "Don't you DARE smoosh cake in her face and mess up that girl's dress!" And like a good grandson he did exactly as he was told. I may have gotten a little smoosh in, but even I was worried about the Wrath of Grandma if I made too much of a mess!

The second happened at Jerry's father's funeral. Jerry is super emotional, and losing his dad really took a toll on him. But when Pop died, Jerry struggled with the fact that he was not able to talk at the funeral so he insisted on speaking at his father's service. It was gut-wrenching, and there were several times I wanted to run up and help him. But he made it through what he wanted to say. After the service and greeting what seemed to be like a thousand friends and family members we finally sat down to eat some lunch. As we sat down at the table and started eating, Grandma, in her blunt fashion, said, "You were a mess up there. I don't want you talking at my funeral." We just shook our heads, and feigned shock, but secretly, I know she didn't mean it. Jerry was the grandchild she specifically asked to see when she made her decision on Sunday.

I guess that would be the final story. Even at the end Grandma was stubborn and did things exactly her way. She got a cold, and the past few years her colds have turned into bronchitis or pneumonia. This time she said she wasn't taking anything. That was Thursday, we said our final goodbyes last night, and she went home to be with Pop this afternoon on her own terms.

If they ever decide to put a picture along side the word matriarch in the dictionary, they need to use Grandma's. She was full of love and life, and while she was only my Grandma for 17 years, I am a better person because she willingly shared that love and life with me.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Interactive Math Journals - Part 2

Earlier this summer I kept seeing interactive math journals popping up everywhere, but I was a little concerned about the fact that they were simply a glorified way of taking notes. I didn't get any comments on my blog, but I shared the idea with my two teammates. I kept looking and being concerned, they got really excited, and here we are using interactive journals in math class. So I thought now would be the perfect time to revisit the questions I asked to see if I actually have the answers. What I wrote back in July is in bold print, and my thoughts today are underneath.

  • How is this different than the note-taking I did in high school?
    • It's a lot different. When I took notes in high school and in college the teachers talked or wrote things on the board, and we either summarized or copied. There have been a few times where our kids have copied things, but that's mostly been to check their work. Each of our activities have involved the kids exploring a topic and using what they know to create their own answers. Then they check them and make the corrections necessary so that their journals are accurate.
  • What about kids with fine motors skills who can't write in small boxes?
    • This is probably the drawn back I've seen with the journals. Because of our students needs, we have often provided typed information that they manipulate and glue into their journals rather than them doing all of the writing. Extra time for us in terms of typing, printing and doing some of the cutting, but it's still up to the kids to make sense of the information that we're giving them.
  • What about kids who can't keep up with note-taking in class? Are these as effective if the students are able to participate in the discussion but aren't taking their own notes?
    • I'm now seeing that, at least as we're using them, the journals really aren't so much a place for note-taking, but they are a place for collecting knowledge. I think as I was researching this summer I read a post where somebody likened the interactive journals to making your own text book, and now I understand what they mean. It's not so much about the kids writing or copying what you say, but it's a place for the kids to complete activities that show they've met the learning goal.
  • Besides taking notes and flipping the paper, how do the students affect some sort of change with these notebooks? What else do they do?
    • We're really just at the very start of our notebooks, but my teammates keeps reinforcing with the kids that this is their resource. We know it's hard to remember everything so this is a personal place to look back and get reminders about skills you already know. So what else are the kids doing with them? Using them to review topics and make connections to new ones. 
    • Some of our activities so far including creating moveable rays so kids could create different types of angles, gluing in an envelope with a set of polygons so the kids could compare different polygons by attributes and properties, and creating solids from nets. (I'm not going to lie -- we've been able to make some connections to real life activities in terms of using some of these ideas in construction and landscaping, but honestly, I'm not running around comparing polygons by their attributes. The kids did enjoy finding how shapes and solids really are everywhere in the real world and in art, though.)
  • It seems as though there are very specific notes that go in these notebooks. Do the students have to include exactly what the teacher wants in the Interactive Notebook or are the students free to write / organize their notebooks in a manner that makes sense to them?
    • As of right now we're giving our kids what we want to put into the journals, but we are leaving space and time at the end of each segment for the kids to do some type of a reflection. We think this is an extremely valuable resource, but we're having difficulty helping others see that these reflections are examples of formative assessments. Still working on changing the thoughts that assessments have to be tests or quizzes.
  • How much paper does this use?
    • Probably no more than a more traditional approach of using worksheets that go along with a text book. We probably use more than some people because we provide more completed items for the kids, but since we're using composition journals I don't feel the amount is extraordinary.

In addition to getting the answers to some of my questions, I'm also finding that the short breaks to cut and glue or manipulate and glue have been positive brain breaks or great opportunities for the kids to talk math. It's also been exciting to hear the conversations our kids have been having and watching them work together.

I'm thankful my teammates were able to see the potential and the positives when I couldn't, and I'm excited to see where our kids can go as we collect more and more knowledge in our journals.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Out of the Darkness

Tomorrow will be day 13 of school. In these first 13 days I have had or will have (by the end of tomorrow) Parent Night, a faculty meeting, 2 mornings (2 hours blocks each) of standardized testing, a support services meeting, my first walk-through, 3 hours of work to complete the paperwork for my clinical observation, a spelling inventory assessment, a pre-observation meeting, my entire class pulled for Dibels benchmarking, a follow-up meeting on the walk-through, two morning meetings to grade standardized testing open-ended responses, and a data meeting to place students in their appropriate intervention groups. And next week my post-observation paperwork is due, and I have meetings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning before school, Thursday after school, and Friday during planning.

Oh - and I'm supposed to plan and prepare for instruction at some point, too.


I love teaching, but I do so little of it. So much of my time is spent on paperwork and in meetings (meetings, I might add, that could be eliminated through the use of a blog or other online collaboration tools), that I am forgetting the joy I have for working with my kids. And when I am with the kids so many of them are facing so many challenges it makes my heart even heavier.

I swore after reading this that I would not let them suck my fun circuits dry, and yet I'm already starting to feel a little dried out. After 12 days.

Just when I needed something to combat all of this a bright light appeared as I walked past the cafeteria. Five of my kiddos from last year were frantically waving at me so I thought, "What the heck! I'll brave the cafeteria and say hi." 5 minutes and about 20 hugs later I finally made it to the table of the five original girls whose waves brought me into the cafeteria in the first place. There were kids hopping up from tables all over the cafeteria (GASP!! Getting up without permission?!?!?!?!?! What were they thinking????) to say hi and give me a big hug.

Needless to say, I'm not feeling so dried up any more. And I think I'll have to stop by that cafeteria more often.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nothing Like a Forced PLN

So to help us prepare and begin to implement the Common Core and work through our first year of the new Multiple Measures Evaluation System here in PA, my district is trying to do a lot of things to support us. While I appreciate everything that's going on I feel like once again education is taking something positive and making it more of a chore than a help.

Over the past three years I have developed a pretty substantial Personal / Professional Learning Network. Through the connections I've made on Twitter, the chats I'm part of, and the blogs that I read I am finding many teachers to learn with and from, and I'm learning so many new strategies to help my students explore and learn topics more successfully. I share what I've learned with colleagues, even going so far as sharing important blog posts and books that I'm reading with administrators, including our superintendent. The work that I do on my own, informally, has helped me learn and grow as a professional in ways that college courses and district provided days never have.

So what's with the title of my post?

Even though I am actively connected with people from around the world, my district has purchased licenses to a website called pd360. The idea is straight forward - you go in, watch a video, reflect, and discuss in a community; what's frustrating is that these are things that I am already doing on my own - but I'm not just analyzing video made by the School Improvement Network. I'm reading and watching blogs and videos made by other teachers, by people in the classroom, by students. I get to decide what might be valuable and might be the most helpful for me and my teammates and our unique group of students. In this program I am given a list of videos to watch (although I can browse the additional videos and choose ones of interest to me if I want to watch more), I'm given questions to answer, and I'm given tasks to complete in the in-program community, which right now is made up of the people I work with at school. Sounds so much more like a college course than a PLN to me.

Here's what I'm wondering: since the huge emphasis is differentiating instruction and mindfully planning for the different student needs in our classroom (the fact that this is only an emphasis now could be a whole other blog post -- are we really not doing this??) why is our administration not differentiating this professional development for the teachers? I feel it's because our administrators don't really know enough about each of us and the work we do in the classroom to truly differentiate and point us in the directions we each need to grow. I wonder what answer they would give. I'm definitely going to ask that as soon as I can.

But just like I tell my kids when there are skills we only have to learn for the tests (yep - we all know it happens), sometimes there is just stuff you have to do even when you don't like it. So I will plug ahead and complete the tasks that I'm required to do in the hopes that I will gain some new knowledge from it. I just hope that, at some point, the website will stop freezing and logging me out so I can actually accomplish the course I'm supposed to complete!