BulgingButtons

Not bad for a fat girl


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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.


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What Do You Say At a Time Like This?

I’ve felt tongue-tied recently. At least online. I want to write, but I’m not exactly sure what to write about. Naturally there are the BIG things. Things like justice, equity, access to healthcare, governmental responsibility, constituent responsibility, the role of media, the role of the courts, the issue of personal responsibility, the issue of public health.

I’ve stayed away from the BIG topics because I feel like a blog isn’t the right place for me to share my thoughts about them. It’s too one-sided. There are my words, then your interpretation of what I mean, then maybe a comment from you and a reply from me and that’s about it. There’s so much room for ambiguity and misunderstanding. There’s so much margin for error. I prefer to discuss these topics in a more two-sided way, with give and take from both parties. We don’t learn from one another by making proclamations, then closing our eyes, ears, and hearts.

So if not the BIG things, then what? There are plenty of things rattling around in my brain, but they seem so trivial at a time like this. In light of the pandemic raging and the U.S. Capitol being overrun, does anyone really want to read about my seemingly never-ending quest for just the right hand cream? Maybe. After all, I’m not the only one washing my hands excessively this winter.

Or maybe you want to hear about my brownie fail? I’ve made this recipe dozens of times, if not more. These brownies are the best. They ALWAYS turn out. Except the other day they didn’t. The closest I can figure is that I either set the oven for the wrong temperature (maybe 325 instead of 375?) or I set the timer for the wrong amount of time (13 minutes instead of 23?). I was distracted. I had more important things on my mind (more about that in a minute), and I rushed. Sure, they looked a little strange when I pulled them out of the oven, but they weren’t jiggly or anything. And no, I didn’t test them, because why would I? After all, I’ve made them dozens of times, if not more, and I was distracted. They’re still pretty tasty, but they are definitely underdone. Like, way underdone. They hold together, but really, they’re not exactly cooked. Oops.

And why was I distracted? Well, because if was just about kickoff time, and my football team is in the playoffs. Yes, the Buffalo Bills are showing up and it’s glorious. This football season has been a welcome distraction from the BIG things. The team has done so well, and they’ve been so much fun to watch. It’s been a long time since the Bills have gone this far, and it’s a ton of fun. Thank you, Buffalo Bills.

Then there are a bunch of “other” things. Things like the stolen credit card number (that my credit card company caught, thank goodness), the glitchy connection to my online students, and the thousands of spam messages to this blog. There’s the job hunt my son has been enduring, and not seeing much of him due to this stupid pandemic. There’s the mountain of work I need to do in order to complete the requirements to be considered for National Board Certification (for teachers), as well as the professional observation I need to schedule. There’s the concern about going out into the community that has kept me from the dentist and the hair salon, making me feel somewhat like a cave-woman. There’s the worry that I feel for my friends and loved ones, as the list of people I know who’ve been diagnosed with this horrible disease grows. There’s the anxiety of watching the news, but the feeling that I have to keep informed. There’s the wrath that my colleagues and I face from some members of the public, in our community and beyond, because our schools are functioning in an online only capacity for the time being. There’s a lot. And here we are, right back to the BIG things. They’re impossible to ignore.

It seems to me that it’s the big things that frame our lives, but it’s the small things that make them worth living. I’ll set up my observation, and continue the quest for the perfect hand cream. I’ll keep working my way through my National Board materials. I’ll keep looking for work-arounds when our Google meet goes wonky. I won’t give up on that brownie recipe, and I won’t give up on my football team. In the middle of all this crazy, you can still hear me shouting, “Go Bills!”


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Staying Home

I was supposed to on vacation this week. Well, maybe I should say “vacation.” It would have involved a quarantine for the entire duration of my trip, which didn’t seem terribly productive or fun. Or safe. I also didn’t want to go to the airport and get on a plane. I didn’t even want to ride to the airport. And what about my luggage? Who was handling it? What if they sneezed on it and got me sick? Paranoid? Maybe, but I just don’t want to take any chances.

I’ve tried to avoid talking about this pandemic thing, because I know it’s polarizing. There are those that believe in science, and those that believe in conspiracies. Maybe there’s something in the middle, but I don’t know what that would be. In case you weren’t sure, I’m firmly in the science camp.

I wear my masks when I leave my property, even if it’s just to walk to the mailbox around the corner. I’m beginning to assemble a nice little wardrobe of masks. The other day I added a fabulous Ruth Bader Ginsburg mask to my collection, thanks to my crafty and generous friend. Now that was a good mail day.

I’m not going anywhere this summer. Not on vacation, not to the mall, not to restaurants, not anywhere. Wait, I take that back. I did make one quick trip to Target last week. It was a coordinated strike, with an action plan in place to get in, get the goods, and get out. Every person in the store was wearing a mask, which frankly surprised me, given where I live. My nerves were on edge the entire time I was in the store.

You see, I’m one of those “high risk” people when it comes to this disease. From the point of view of the disease, I’m an easy target. From the point of view of health care providers, who are currently stressed to the max from too many sick people and not enough resources, I’m not a great bet. I get it, which is why it’s up to me to make sure I stay well. So no, no trip for me.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been gobbling up professional development opportunities like crazy. I’ve spent hours and hours learning new approaches to teaching, and I’ve earned a few college credits along the way. I’ve been home since March, and this is a way for me to feel productive. Yes, I enjoy my hobbies, but I also love my profession, and I want to be prepared to move forward when the time comes.

The discussion around school reopening has been one that I’ve been following closely. As of a few days ago, the governor of our state pushed back school opening to August 17. We generally start the first week in August. Now what will actually happen on August 17 is still unknown. The last I heard, our district will open providing 3 choices for families: all in person instruction, all online instruction, or a hybrid model that places kids in school for 3 hours each day. I know, I don’t really get the logic of that last one either. As we approach August 17, there may be a change to that plan. Several districts in our state have already come out and said they are only offering online instruction the first quarter. Personally, I think that’s wise from both a public health standpoint, and a consistency standpoint for students.

Let’s face it, there’s no good solution. No matter what happens, education has been impacted in a huge way, and there’s no easy fix.

I want to teach kids. I want to be in school. I also want all of us to stay healthy. I want this horrible pandemic to go away. But as my father used to tell me, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Wishing it won’t make it so. I, for one, will stay home as long as I can to help stop the spread of this disease.