The Green-Eyed Monster

There was a period of several years, thankfully a long time ago now, where I was often bitter and angry about what other people had….that I didn’t.  Really bitter.  Really angry.  Really hurt.

I didn’t want to be any of those things, but I couldn’t seem to help it.

The list of things I didn’t have seemed endless.  It was filled with little things and big things.  

I don’t know if you have ever lived through a time like that.  A time when nothing went your way, no matter how you tried.  A time when, no matter how hard you tried, everything seemed to go wrong.

My sons call it “being cursed.”  They’ve seen it.  They’ve lived it.  In some way or another, we all have.

It felt like I couldn’t breathe in, or out, without being reminded that life was very, very hard.

Every jealous thought felt justified, but also painful.  I was stoking my own inner misery.  

I embarked on an “inner” project.  Clearly, things were not likely to get better right away.  (It took a long time.) Clearly, I wasn’t going to stop thinking.  (I’m a chronic over-thinker.)  

But I knew that, with determination, faith and a LOT of patience/practice, I could change my thinking.

So I started to practice “blessing” instead of “cursing”.   If a friend had a loving, attentive husband, I practiced being grateful for my friend.  Wishing her peace, joy and love…..even though I felt like cursing someone else’s blessings.  Like I said, it took a LOT of practice/patience.

I remember wishing blessings on people because they had a lawn, because because they were able to drink a beer without a second thought, because they didn’t have a dog to clean up after, because they could buy a Happy Meal for each child.  I remember wishing blessings on people who had bought a new mattress, not a second-hand store one.  I even wished blessings on people for having a pedicure, laughing at jokes, being able to read a novel.   In many, many ways I really would have preferred to punch them in the mouth. 

In time, although I was still jealous of what other people had, I started to see what I had that I wasn’t appreciating.  I also remembered that other people’s lives were not perfect either.  Most of the people I was jealous of had no idea that I had reason to be jealous of them.  

I didn’t share my problems with them and realized that they weren’t sharing theirs with me either.  It made it much easier to “wish blessings” on them.  

Why am I writing this here? 

Well, the monster returns from time to time, and I have to put a muzzle on it.  

I see a lot of posts and messages on social media about all the ways I could be reaching my students right now.  And I don’t have the time, or the energy, or the money, for any of them.

Not even just individual idea, but even posts like “Top 25 Things to Do to………”  

Twenty-five????  I must be seriously way behind!

I find myself envying folks who are ahead of me in technology skills or have a computer with more power than I have.    I get a green tint in my newly-replaced lenses when I read about confidently juggling breakout rooms and delighting in Flipgrid responses.   Not to mention money to go to virtual conferences, time to write books or ….ok the list goes on and on.  It is so easy to go there. 

So I’m back to “wishing blessings.”   I have to honest. It ain’t easy people.  But it doesn’t fester inside me like the “cursing” used to.

So here’s to hoping that those wonderfully-talented teachers have supportive families and sickness-free homes.  May they be blessed with understanding administrators and enthusiastic students.  May they have homes full of health and sunshine.   May they have children who sleep through the night and in-laws who are kind to them.  May they have faith in themselves, chocolate when they need it, and fresh-brewed coffee in their cups.  

And may you be blessed as well,

With love,

Laurie

Wherever You Go, There You Are

It’s the beginning of my fourth week of classes.   That is hard to believe!  For many of you, it will be the first.  I was calm on the outside but quaking inside that week.  New school, new students, new admins, new colleagues.  Clearly at my age, even if you didn’t know anything about me, you would expect me to know what I was doing.  

But like a lot of you, I felt that I had no idea what I was doing.  Or very little anyway.  Luckily the people around me felt much the same way, and weren’t afraid to admit it.   I knew that I was not alone.  

They also DID have knowledge that I did (and still often do) not.  Where the different rooms are.  Who is in charge of what.   The unspoken expectations of an institution, of a building and of a community.  They have been reaching out at every turn.

Last week, while we watched Hurricanes Marcos and Laura, many of them gave me advice on how to prepare and asked if I had questions.  They also offered up phone numbers and promised to check in on me if things got ugly.  (Luckily it didn’t get ugly here, but much of Louisiana was not so lucky.)

So here I am, four weeks in, with my own experience, many, many questions and the support of others.

Is that not what Life is about?

When I visited Alaska, I was keenly aware of an interesting dichotomy there.   It seemed that everyone was quite prepared to take care of themselves.   Extraordinarily capable.  Yet, there was a very strong sense of community there.  People relied on each other.  They knew that to thrive, it would be necessary.   Independent, but rarely alone.  

I think that we are all in that place right now…..maybe even more so if you are teaching from home.  You are working through a new experience …and having to do it independently.   I’m sure that some districts believe that they have prepared you well.  I know that they are telling parents and students that they have.   

The truth is, they probably haven’t.  No one made decisions early enough for that.  (Not throwing blame, it’s a complicated situation.)  So…..here we are.

Working with what we have and what we know.  Knowing that we could know more, but don’t, yet.   

And again, that is Life.

Covid-19 has reminded us of many things.  It has forced us to see that we have depended extraordinarily on the world of technology to answer all of our questions.   No, we are required to use that technology to teach.  Whether or not we have been able to keep up with what is out there.

Some teachers are techie.   They have been so for years and delight in bringing tech into the classroom.   Some are Luddites.   They see teaching as one of the last bastions of people to people communication and do not want to bring anything electronic into the picture.   Others are somewhere in the middle….some moving slowly at the pace that is comfortable for them.  Others are in the middle and jumping around….trying this, trying that, using what can be used well in their particular experience.  

And we are often treated like puppets, pulled by the strings of the present administration towards whatever idea, program, etc. is the “new” focus.   Even if we wanted to fully explore something, we are often yanked out to complete some new project required of us.

So, as a profession, are we fully prepared?  No.  Nor should we have been expected to be.  

We’ve been focusing on our students.

The question I hear over and over again is…..how will I be able to connect with them using techology?  

Trust me, you can.

What are your strengths?  What are your skills?   What is it that you do that opens doors so that students trust you and listen to you?

Are you funny?

You will still be funny over the internet.  You will just have to realize that you won’t be seeing and hearing those smiles and that laughter.  You will have to trust in it.  Use your funny bone to create memes and stories.  

Are you thoughtful?

Ask your students thoughtful questions about the topics that you study.  Provide them with thoughtful stories and articles.

Are you interactive?

Still possible!!  There are many ways to have students use Jamboard or actual white boards, gestures and hand signals to interact using the language.

Whatever your strengths are, use them.  Work with them.  Build on them.  Don’t forget them.

But we will always do better if we accept support from others.  

So, when you look around out there, don’t look at everything.   Look for what goes with your strengths.   Look for interactive activities if you are interactive.  Look for humor if you are funny.  Look for what will enhance and complement the way you teach, so that don’t lose yourself in all of these new activities.

Take this new teaching world one step at a time.  Please.  ALL teachers are struggling to make this transition, and or students and their parents are as well.   

In the first few weeks, BUILD your new world, one layer at a time.  One piece at a time.  It will be all that your students can handle.  It will be in everyone’s best interest.

I know, I know, we haven’t worked that way since we first started in our present position.  It’s not “supposed” to be this way.

But my friends, this IS where we are.

And wherever we are, we bring ourselves and all of our skills with us.  Teaching is more than well-honed lesson plans and tried and true activities curated over the years.  Much, much more.

Teaching is leading by example.  Teaching is facing challenges with humility and courage.  Teaching is knowing that we must work WITH students, not for them or in spite of them, and certainly not against them.

Teaching is starting out from one small place of security and testing the waters.  It’s building boats and mending bridges to move ahead.  

It is NOT going from point A to point Z in a certain period of time.  

It is growing enough at each point, and between each point, to make better decisions, and learn even more.

Do NOT expect more from yourself than is humanly possible.  

Even if you, your school, your students and your parents think that you can.  

Create an outline, a pattern that students can count on and you can count on.

Stick with it.  Let everyone get used to it.

Grow with it.  Make small additions and changes and lead you and your students to more understanding and more input.  

Do not evaluate, yourself or the students, too soon.  Give things time to take root and to grow.

When plants are repotted, there is often a period when they are “in shock” before they grow….even if the new pot is bigger and better.

We are in that spot.  That’s where we are.

We are also surrounded by support….some of it more welcome than others.

You are on a new journey.   It’s an independent journey, so don’t accept more than you can carry at any given moment.   But there is help out there.   And you can offer help as well.  You would be surprised how much you already know and how much knowledge you are acquiring along the way.

It is OKAY to be where we are.  Even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient or frustrating.    

How we handle this will determine how well we get through it.   We cannot control what happens, but we can control our response…Even if others are yelling what our response should be…WE GET TO CHOOSE OUR RESPONSE.

Reach out as soon as you can.  Share one idea, get one idea.  Say thank you.  Repeat.  

You will always have yourself in this new strange land.  You will always have support (really, just ask, we’ll help you find it.)   And bit by bit the land will not be so strange.

We were made for this.  We learn new languages.  We teach them.  We explore new worlds.  We share them.  All good things take time.  This journey will too.

With love,

Laurie

SWBAT

So, eleven school days in and we are home for three.  This isn’t COVID-related, it’s the combination of (was a hurricane) Marcos and Hurricane Laura heading our way.  First, let me say how AMAZING it is to be where you can actually stay home and safe in the case of dangerous weather.   I’m very grateful for that!

Are we missing out?  Is this a terrible thing?  Will be able to “get back in the groove?”  Honestly, I have no idea.  But what I have seen so far is this:  If I think it isn’t going to go well, it’s already over.   

As a whole we educators are evaluators.  We have been trained that way.  We replay every lesson, every interaction, every assignment, ever assessment.  We evaluate before it happens, while it’s happening and for a long time after.   I’m no longer sure that is in our best interest.

It has allowed us to develop this good or bad syndrome.   Either we were good, or we were bad.  Either the lesson was good or the lesson was bad.  Either the students were good or the students were bad.  Either the scores were good or the scores were bad.

I don’t think that type of thinking gets us anywhere.

Part of it has to do with the SWBAT (Students will be able to) Lesson objectives we’ve been asked to write for nearly 50 years.   The truth is that students will not be able to do much after one lesson!  Nor should they be expected to!!   After a unit?  Maybe.  After a marking period?  Sure.  After 40 minutes?  Nope.

So write it if you have to, but don’t believe it.  Particularly now.  Right now here is what we can hope for…and there are no guarantees:

Spoiler alert….this may be depressing, but hopefully it will help you to connect with the second part of the post!

If you are teaching remotely:

  1.  Students will be able to access our lesson at some point in time.   

      This in itself could be a 10 step process depending on their home situation, the internet situation, the school’s internet situation and the functionality of the SLP we are required to use.

  1.  Students will be able to follow the directions.

       This is difficult even when we are there in person to walk around and assist.

  1. Students will have the time to attempt the lesson/assignment.

        We have no control over that and no right to expect that parents can manage it.  If you are a parent, particularly a single parent, you know what I mean.

  1. Students will have enough interest in the topic to attempt the lesson/assignment.

         Let’s face it…..sometimes we are required to teach things that just aren’t all that thrilling to our students!

  1. Students will have the confidence to attempt the lesson/assignment.

 Whether or not we like it, our students worry about being able to do things right.  Many of them believe they need a great deal of support.   Many of them do.   

  1. Students will be able to turn in the assignment.

  Again, this is not always easy or clear and each teacher has his/her own way of receiving assignments.  As an adult, I have trouble remembering passwords.  Is it any surprise that our students can’t remember the different expectations of each teacher?

  1. Students will believe that there is enough benefit to our lesson/assignment that Steps 1-6 are worth working through.

This, really, is where the rubber meets the road.   Students are not stupid.  If we can’t produce lessons that really do something, we are out of luck.

  But wait Laurie, didn’t you just say that 40 minutes is too short to get students to “be able to” do anything?  How can I get them to see a benefit of anything then?

By letting them know how much you care about them as people, and as students.   

I’ve been saying that for a long time, but it is clear that this is the time to focus on it.  I’ve seen many posts titled “Community First, Curriculum Second” or something similar.  GOOD!!!!!!  Keep ‘em coming!!   Let’s be an incoming wave of humanity this year!!   Read every one that comes at you to find out which ideas and activities will work for you and your students.

As you read the ideas and suggestions, keep these things in mind:

  1.  Your time and energy are valuable.  If it involves giving up your mind, heart, body, soul or bank account, don’t do it.
  1.  Comparison is not just the thief of joy, it’s the thief of sanity.   DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER TEACHERS!!!   (See upcoming post on this later this week.)
  1. Make access to your information as simple and foolproof as possible.   Don’t worry about “babying” students right now.   Life is already giving us all challenges.   If we want them to see our stuff, we have to make it super-easy to find.
  1.  Require the minimum amount of work acceptable by your school or institution.   You can always OFFER more, but require the minimum.
  1. Hold students accountable in the easiest ways possible.   Students who will cheat, will cheat.  Students who will game the system, will game the system.   You can worry about that later.  Not now.
  1. Now here is the fun part:    Make it as much about them as possible!!  Take a lot of polls using Google forms or any other system that works for you.    They are GREAT low-pressure and interesting reading activities.    For novices, ask a lot of either/or questions.    You will learn a ton about your students and they get in a lot of reading!   
  1. Use the response to create readings or slide shows.   (See upcoming post for more ideas.)   They don’t have to be long.  They don’t have to violate anyone’s privacy.   Yet, they will be personalized and interesting to your students.
  1. If you know how to record yourself, consider reading the pieces and recording it so that students can see and hear the text at the same time.  Voices are very powerful and hearing your voice will light up their brains! 
  1. Schedule announcements or emails to go to students daily.  Short ones!  That aren’t an assignment!  I love sending memes and pictures.   These say, “I’m thinking about you.”  They say “Life is hard, here is a smile.”  They say, “Hope to see you soon.”
  1. Don’t be afraid to share stories and pictures about your own life from time to time.  
  1. The quality is about the content, not the length or the difficulty.   

Maybe you already have all of this figured out.  Hugs if you do!!!!!  

Just remember, right now there is no good vs bad.  There is kind (to myself and others) versus  unkind (to myself and others).  This is a time to focus on what we can do and what we appreciate…..even if it seems small.  I promise you, it will make a big difference.

With love,

Laurie

Shhh…Don’t tell 2020 I’m back in the classroom!

Hello friends!

I know, it’s been a while….and if you are reading this, I’m grateful.   Where am I?  I’m in Baton Rouge, Louisiana!!   I’ve been living here since August 1 and hope to be here for a while.   Last fall I accepted a sub position for a maternity leave in Austin, Texas.  By January I knew that I really wanted to be back in the classroom full-time for a while….if I could find the right fit.    With the advice and support of many of you, I found my way to an independent day school here in Baton Rouge.  

We’ve been in the classroom since August 7th and yes….it is a very different world in many ways!   First, I need to say that the staff, students, parents and administration have been very helpful, supportive and welcoming!   It is OVERWHELMING to start at a new school.  I’ve done it a number of times (3 times in the past 4 years actually!) and it takes a while to get the details straightened it.  (the hundreds of thousands of details!)

I have two classes of 7th graders (second half of Spanish 1), and three classes of 8th graders (Intro to Spanish 2 and Spanish 2).   I also have a homeroom/study hall with 7th graders and advisory (which we haven’t started yet.)   It’s a rotating block schedule with 4 classes per day and an A-G day schedule.  I have a page printed out for each and every day on my wall or I have NO idea what kids I’ll see!   It’s actually already starting to make sense and feel normal but those schedules are never “natural” if you know I mean!!

Things I love about being here:

  • Crepe myrtle trees
  • Passing thunderstorms
  • A beautiful view from my classroom and my apartment
  • Having to go outside to go anywhere on campus
  • Students who say “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am”
  • THE FOOD!  (On and off campus!)
  • The diversity of this city
  • My colleagues

Things I am learning to appreciate:

  • Canvas  (a bit of a learning curve for me!)
  • Loom
  • Google Teams
  • A slower pace 
  • Using pool noodles as a social distancing visual

With love,

Laurie

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