BulgingButtons

Not bad for a fat girl


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Is it Over? I Don’t Think So

I’m talking about the Pandemic, of course (I think the capital letter is warranted, don’t you?). Yes, the number of infections and the number of deaths has declined, at least here in the United States, and for that I’m grateful. And yes, many people have had the opportunity to get vaccinated, which is also excellent news. But over? Far from it.

Our world has become so interconnected that I think it’s naive to believe that what happens in one part of the globe doesn’t affect other parts. It’s true of climate change, and it’s true of this horrific disease and its myriad mutations. People aren’t static, they move, and they take their viruses with them.

I have to admit, I’m not feeling as stressed out about Covid-19 as I was a year ago. Back then I was terrified. I’m an overweight individual with some underlying health concerns that made me an excellent candidate for the grave, if I were to become positive with the virus. I still have stuff to do in this life, so I didn’t take any chances. I became a virtual shut-in. I worked from home, shopped at home, and communicated with others from my home. I became hyper-vigilant about being outside, always wearing my mask. The only place I didn’t wear it was my own backyard, and even then I had one in my hand, should one of my neighbors pop up on the other side of the wall.

As time went by various groups of people began pushing for a “return to normal.” As if that was even a possibility. But still, their voices were loud, and in some circles their wishes became the next new reality. Things started opening up, and people started abandoning their masks, at least in my area. Just when I was feeling like I might start to venture out, the rules changed, making “out” so much more dangerous. I waited. I’m still waiting.

So here we are, still living with this horrible virus, but pretending like it doesn’t really exist anymore. Unless you have it. Or your loved one has it. Or you work in a hospital with people who have it. When the whole thing first got rolling, I believed that we would all either get it or know someone who did. So far, I’ve been lucky and managed not to contract this virus, but I know several people who were not as lucky. Even the people with”mild” cases don’t wish it on anyone. It’s that awful.

Here’s my suggestion: let’s stop pretending this thing is gone, and start treating each other with respect and decency. Wear your mask, keep your distance, and avoid crowded places. Is going to a baseball game or concert really worth the risk? I don’t think so. Do we really need to celebrate at a crowded restaurant? Maybe not this year. Let’s be cautious, and plan for brighter days, not live like they’re already here, or they may be short lived indeed.


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Going Hybrid

Tomorrow starts the beginning of a new phase of the school year. Tomorrow is the day when I begin to teach kids online and in person simultaneously. For many teachers this has been their reality all year, but for me, it’s brand new. As more kids are returning to school, the in-person classes were getting too big, and the online only classes were shrinking. Most grade levels didn’t really have an issue with this, but our grade level was set up a little differently, so we had to make some adjustments.

Rereading my previous blog post at this time was a good reminder of why we do the things we do. Am I stressed out about this new way of teaching? You bet. But do I think it will be in the best interest of the most kids? Yes, I do. I’m sure I’m going to fumble around a little at first. I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes. I’m sure there will be times when things don’t go according to plan. But I’m also sure that I can figure it out, with the help of my students, teammates, and colleagues. If a teacher can’t embrace learning something new, it would be hypocritical of them to expect their students to rise to new challenges.

I will rise. I will do my best. I will model how to handle coping with things that may be confusing or frustrating. I will muddle through. And through it all, I will be delighted to have actual human children right there in the room with me, as well as those tiny digital people online cheering me on. Here’s to a new challenge for this old teacher. It’s going to be great.


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Student Success Strategy

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in a virtual staff training. Here we were, a staff of mostly white, mostly female educators trying to improve our practice. We worked with a trainer who has spent her career researching and applying methods to bring EVERYONE to the table in terms of education. From early childhood to graduate studies there are obstacles that many of our learners and their families face that take them further and further away from receiving the quality education they deserve.

There was a lot to learn, think about, and digest, but for me there was one nugget that stood out. Here it is: Every Decision Made Must Be For The Benefit Of The Students. It seems both obvious and simple, but when I think about day to day practice in schools (not just my own), there’s plenty of work to be done. Think about it. Every decision. Wow. Let me just throw out a few, some from the workshop, and some from my reflection.

  • curriculum (yes, that’s HUGE)
  • class size
  • class make-up
  • teacher hiring
  • teacher preparation
  • lesson plans
  • assessment
  • discipline plans
  • schedules
  • school assemblies
  • morning announcements
  • visitor policies
  • teacher evaluation process
  • building conditions
  • athletics
  • cafeteria set up
  • instructional team decisions
  • furniture placement
  • performances
  • family communication plans
  • rewards and incentives
  • technology use
  • competitions
  • lighting
  • heating/air conditioning
  • wall/hallway displays
  • playground design
  • supervision of unstructured times

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within each of those individual bullet points there are dozens of factors to take into consideration, but the most important one must always be the best outcome for the student.

The reality is that we know there are things that could and should be better if only we had bigger budgets. Smaller class sizes, more access to high quality instructional materials and equipment, the ability to bring in experts to share their knowledge and love of their field to spark kids’ interests; all of these would be wonderful. However, we must work with what we have and find ways to make it better.

There are dozens of times a day during teaching when I make decisions on the fly. If the class seems to be drifting off, we switch gears or take a break. If the work turned in is poor, I analyze the weakness in my instruction, and have another go at it taking a different approach. If part of a lesson has taken longer than expected, I modify the assignment to reflect the shorter amount of time for students to work on it. These are things that teachers do all the time, and the more experienced they are the better they get at it. But experience can also bring an attitude of “this way works for me, so I’m going with it.” This is where the Benefit Of The Students can come crashing down.

Here’s what I mean. In my teaching I have always read aloud to my students. I have taught kids from preschool to grade six, and I have read to them all. Over time I’ve found many books that I love, and in my heart I would like everyone else to love them as well, but I know better. My reality as a white woman born in the suburbs more than 50 years ago is quite different from that of ANY child born in the last ten years. Now add in family structure, race, gender identity, home language, disability, living conditions, access to adequate food, housing, and healthcare, economic situation, issues of safety in the home, and more, and you see that my reality and my students’ realities may be worlds apart.

What speaks to me, inspires me, motivates me, and enthralls me may do none of those things for my students. If I were to share some of my old favorites, it would become a lesson in drudgery for many of my kids: just a boring old lady reading a boring old book. That is NOT how you share a love of literature. Thank goodness for Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, Kwame Alexander, Kate DiCamillo, Varian Johnson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Linda Sue Park, Tedd Arnold, Jason Chin, Dusti Bowling, Erin Entrada Kelly, Dav Pilkey, Jeff Kinney, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Pena, Katherine Applegate, Dan Santat, and so many others for giving voice to the children of today. Of course many old favorites have stood the test of time, too.

A mixture of older and newer titles.

While I’m feeling pretty good about the literature I share with me students, I do sometimes make decisions that I know aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the students. Is every lesson as engaging as it could be? No. Time constraints are a big factor on this one. Planning, executing, and assessing these top tier learning opportunities take a good deal of time and effort. Every teacher I know has limited time, and most of us are knocking ourselves out in the effort department, just trying to keep our heads above water.

Here’s the thing: when you know better you can do better. Can I completely reinvent what I teach and the way I teach it? Not completely, no. But can I make adjustments that benefit kids? Absolutely. After all, doing what’s best for kids is why I became a teacher in the first place.