Animals Don’t Wear Jackets

As an educator, you find yourself saying things that are absurd.  Even the most seasoned teachers have bad days or re-teachable moments.

For animal adaptations this week the student are making models.  They were to draw an animal in its habitat and label the adaptations it has to survive.  The next step is to use up cycle products and left over crating supplies to turn that 2-dimensional drawing into a 3-dimensional model.  One student found an old zipper and wanted to use that.  While trying to guide him to turn it into teeth or scales or some type of defense mechanism he declared, “It’s a jacket!”  Animals don’t wear jackets.  And so we need to discuss animal adaptations again.

Other times this is a whole class level.  We all have had that lesson that goes wrong…

Today the lesson was on proper nouns.  This is a skill we are building on, so today we were discussing brands.  McDonald’s fries, what is capitalized?  This simple statement turned into:

“They have lots of fries.”

“You can get curly fries.”

“You can get no salt fries.”

“They have regular fries.”

No where in that spontaneous conversation was there a clue about name brand capitalization.  The lesson went off track, the conversation drifted into other restaurant names, and so I laughed and moved on.  Sometimes you have to call it.  Time of death, 1:03 PM.   We will try again tomorrow.

Teacher is hard work.  You have to creatively direct 20+ various personalities to learning.  Those days it goes well, celebrate!  And those days it goes wrong, just remember animals don’t wear jackets.  You can try again tomorrow.


Let Them Be Children

Today at a meeting we discussed the inhibition of children.  Little children.  Children who have not started school yet.  Think about watching a young child play, or react, or do anything.  They give 110% of themselves to the event.  In play that looks like imagination and sounds and movement.  In reacting that looks like tears and whole body stomping or laughter and a face covering smiling. Kids LIVE their lives.

So what happens?  When do we teach children they must contain that?  When do we say blend in?  Don’t be unique?  Act like this?  I have always been proud (and sometimes jealous) of my daughter because she wears what she wants. She has a unique sense of fashion and puts on what is comfortable and makes her feel pretty.  At 9-years-old this is still true.  And I really hope that does not change (yes, this may be re-evaluated in her teen years).  I really hope she grows up to keep this confidences and play in her life.

In my classroom we celebrate differences.  We openly discuss what is hard for us, what makes us happy and what we do well.  While I do have expectations and set limits, I try to remember my fourth graders are children.  I try to understand when they wiggle and are loud.  I try to remember indoor recess means less movement.  But there is always the pressure to learn and move through the checklist of tasks to be done which creates the stress to teach them to not be children.

This week, every time I want to say be quiet or sit still I will try to let them be children.  I will create opportunities for movement, give them time to discuss and let them create.  It all goes too fast so we need to let them be children.  Despite what adults do, they will grow up.  So while they can, let’s let them be children.

They Act the Way You Show ThemF

Well, my idea of posting more regularly clearly has not happened. My goal for focusing on time, however, in the classroom has been a success. I have had parents and teachers comment on our act of giving. One parent asked if we could keep it going in the new year. Challenge accepted!

The idea of paying it forward is not new. We have had  daily “challenge” for a random act of kindness all month and the kids love it. One day was hug day and I started the day at the door and asked each student if they wanted a hug. Many did, a few did not, and many more hugs were passed around before the day began. We all started the day with  smile on our face.

One day we made snowflakes to give to the HS. They used them to decorate the teacher work room. My students had a wonderful time making them and felt a sense of pride in helping others. Again, an activity ending with smiles.

Today was share a snack day. I had a brainstorm last night at 9:45 while preparing for the day, life of a teacher, and sent a quick email asking for snack mix supplies of parents had them at home. I was happily surprised with things this morning and we made two batches of trail mix. After lunch I scooped it up into cups and we walked around the building and gave a cup of snack mix to every adult. When handed the cup they were simply told, “Thank you for all you do!” The students were so excited and went back to class with smiles on their faces.

So tonight I have decided we need to do more little activities in the classroom. We need to help students see and feel what giving is. The smiles on their faces and the feeling  that comes with that are just as valuable as academic learning.


What Do We Do with the Time?

This morning in church pastor talked about the limited time from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  You have seen the memes, thankful today for all that I have and Black Friday shopping the next day.  As an American society we have done away with time.  We do not linger and relax, we do not reflect and breath, we rush and we move and we go and we look at what is next.  This push has created a society of wasteful, anxious people.  What do we do with our time?

As we enter the holiday season it is my favorite time of year.  I believe in Santa Claus as the spirit of giving.  We adopt a family and I encourage my children to think of others needs.  There is a paying it forward attitude that should be celebrated beyond this season.  We need to teach our children to give and to reflect.  We need to teach our children to take time developing interests and hobbies, talents and relationship.  It is important to state what you are doing with your time.

This month I am going to teach and model for my children to be thankful.  We are going to reflect on what we have and what talents we have been given.  We are going to pay it forward and help others as to focus outside of our selfish, personal bubbles and look at those around us.  Amidst the end of the semester testing and crazy, we are going to laugh and have fun.  I choose to spend my time living, connecting and being the example of what is important in life.  What are you going to do with your time?



It IS Our Problem

I have always been the type of person who speaks my mind.  If you ask for my opinion, I will give it to you.  I think it is important to be open, honest and transparent in a respectful manner.  As I have been in education I have shared my insight and ideas with those in power.  I have spoken at our local school board, state school board and written letters to governmental officials.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a stalker or anything, I just speak up about important issues and I want to be an educated voice in education.

So, I wrote an article to that effect, encouraging teachers to speak up.  We have spent too many years letting those not in education have our voice.  We have watched and whined and complained and given more and more of ourselves.  We have LET them win.  But enough is enough, what would happen if we all stood up and shared our voice and our knowledge?

The article caught some attention as was published by the Washington Post.  This brought a few comments that honestly, made me sad.  Educators have given up.  Some asked what is the point?  Someone went on to say it was naive to think our voice mattered.  I teach my kids one person can make a difference.  One person can make a change.  A group can have an impact.  It saddens me to think educators are not modeling this same idea to their students.

We have been beaten down in the public image for too long.  It just takes one . Be that voice.  Write to your local newspaper, talk to your school board, write a letter to your representative.  As legislatures go into session and finances are looked at around the nation tell everyone what education is, what we need, and what they can do to help.  Educators have been quiet for too long.  This IS our problem.  You are the expert.  Use your voice!



Why Don’t We Let Our Kids Learn?

I grew up in the 80’s.  We had ribbons that were color coded (blue for first, red for second, green for third, there was NOT a participation ribbon), lists of students on the honor roll (read aloud and printed in the newspaper, again this was a small percentage of the entire class) and trophies for the winning team (again, not plural, no participation trophy for just showing up).  Almost every event I remember there were winners and losers.  I remember a very specific event in high school.  It is an event I quite possibly learned the most from in my life.  Cheerleading tryouts.  I had cheered my freshman year and I was cut from the team my sophomore year.  I failed!

Each day I tell my students there is always more to learn.  The amazing thing about learning is there is never an end.  You can always do more or find more or question more.  And learning is an ugly process.  Just as in sports where there are bruises, bumps and skinned up knees, you should have mistakes and failure along the way.  But somewhere, someone stopped that.

Too many people have developed the idea that we are protecting our children by making everything “fair”, the same, equal.  When did it become bad to be wrong?  To fail?  To not know?  In our classroom answers and effort are celebrated.  I am proudest of students who give the wrong answer or say they are not sure about something.  I am also transparent with my students and tell them about things that are hard for me (spelling) and when I don’t reach my personal goals (run 3 days a week).  We talk about progress and failure.  Fair, the same, equal does not exist. They are a fabricated mirage which has nothing to do with learning.

I remember the pain and heartbreak of not making the cheer team.  But I also remember the journey of self-reflection.  I remember trying harder the next year. I remember the pride I felt when I made the squad my junior and senior year.  That process would not have been the same if everyone had made the team.  If it was fair.  SO, why don’t we let our kids learn?  Why do we hover above and around and correct them before they fail?  Why do we steal that learning process from them?




The Children ARE Listening

I recently read a quote that has had me pondering ever since seeing it.  “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” – Abraham Lincoln.  Schools in America have through some misguided direction decided everyone is equal.  Somehow from the time I graduated HS in the 1990s through my 19 years of teaching in a classroom the rules changed.  When I grew up there were winners and losers.  If you wanted to win the championship, be on the Honor Roll, be in the elite schools you had to work.  And then something shifted.  I do believe this philosophical change has caught up with us and is disempowering the people, those who SHOULD be leading a democratic government.

In an effort to be “fair” schools took away winning.  This philosophy also trickled out into communities, or maybe it trickled from the communities into schools.  I think adults thought they were doing what was right.  I believe it was in good judgement they said, let’s focus on learning and fun and take away competition as a driving force.  Let’s give hope to those students who struggle.  But in that process we simmered down the meaning of everything.  We made our sports and schools and experiences and learning all blend into a vast pot of sameness.

With a no winners philosophy and handing out participation ribbons to any effort lacking participant, we told our kids everyone wins.  Effort–not important.  Participation–not important.  Skill–not important.  Knowledge–not important.  As long as you show up you get the prize.  We have taken learning from failure and persistence from our children.  What difference does it make if everyone is the same?

Then came No Child Left Behind and a push for standardized testing.  States asked for proof of learning and the government wanted to hold schools accountable.  Schools began a misguided approach of teaching to the test and when shoved, threatened, and backed into a corner learning became rote.  Memorization of facts and regurgitation of skills provided students who would “meet all standards”.  Again, we took away the natural curiosity of children and taught them to “think” the way they were told.  What difference does it make if it is only for the test?

We have been schooling a generation of students to do as they are told, think what they are told and show up to get a participatory prize.  We fell short in teaching them to create and help each other.  We fell short in teaching them persistence and failure as part of the learning process.  We boxed them in and they listened.

Disrespect and blame run rampant in our society today.  My hope is to see this turned around with our youngest generation.  In my classroom we do failure and we do our best.  We have winners and we admit when we lose. Children listen and learn from the modeling of adults around them.  I hope I get to see this next generation flip our government.  I hope they begin to question and create and think and evaluate.  I hope they take these skills that are beginning to sprinkle through American classrooms.  I hope I see this generation solve the worlds problems and come together as a people, not divided by classifications of race and gender and occupation.  And I hope teachers LEAD.  The children are listening.  Keep up the hard work.  Persist and learn from the failings before us.  Our hope is there.