Lovely sunset

Lovely sunset

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

Veteran's Day 2014
We have just completed the first ten weeks of school. I am home today celebrating the men and women who fight for us to enjoy great freedoms. Veterans Day. The meaning of this day is not lost on me. My dad was a WWII veteran. My brother fought in Vietnam and was my first living, breathing example of a hero.  My kids have friends who now are in service to their country either in active duty or as reservists. I continue to be amazed at those who choose to sacrifice their personal freedoms to protect those of others.

My kids and I have just spent the day researching and, ultimately, purchasing new cell phones. Funny--there seems to be some irony there. You see, we live in a great country where much time and effort went into protecting our freedoms from any kind of tyranny.  Inherent in the notion of America is the fierce individual who stands on its own and answers to none. Maybe you already see where I am going with this.

The cell phone hysteria. IPhone this and Droid that.. Everyone needs, no,... has to have one!!! No one is safe without one, right? The incredulous looks when you try to explain that there once was a time before cell phones are quite amusing.

It really is interesting when you stop to think about it.  The fiercely independent, devil may care American cannot live without a cell phone.  A device used to call for help in case of an emergency. You know, in case we are abducted. It happens all the time, right?

I was especially struck by the irony when the new IPhone I purchased offered me the opportunity to sign into the phone with my fingerprint. Hmm. Let me get this straight, I am buying a device that will track my every move, that authorities can use to see who I have been talking with and what I have been saying through my texts, they can see what I have searched on the internet and what videos I have viewed on Youtube. I am paying a monthly fee for this service and, oh by the way, would you be so kind as to SIGN IN WITH YOUR FINGERPRINT thereby providing us with all your personal information we need to completely watch you 24-7?

 And we all feel we #CANNOTLIVEWITHOUTTHESEDEVICES!!!  This has been masterfully orchestrated, implemented, manipulated. It is so prevalent in our society and no one even recognizes what has happened.

The irony is not lost on me on Veteran's Day. Thank you to all the Veterans in my life and everyone else's. We are free to give away those freedoms because of you. We are free to surrender all our personal information to cell phone companies who gleefully accept our hard earned money in exchange for our own hand held personal tracking device.

You know what else is ironic? That so much of our society thinks teachers are the problem to nearly every ill in society. Now that is really something we should think about. All this talk about personal tracking devices aka cell phones, that is just nonsense. Teachers! Those are the ones who need to be scrutinized. Teachers! Part of the "monopoly " of public schools that our esteemed Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke of. Teachers! Who need to sign documents of non-disclosure before scoring the NYS Assessments that will ultimately impact their careers. Teachers! Hey, stop thinking about those phones!!! Focus!!


Do you get it now?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rebuilding Our Classrooms

"Teachers have the entire summer off! What a cake job!"  
 ..........said no teacher ever. 

This is a popular refrain often tossed around when the topic of the teaching profession comes up. Even close family members of mine have been known to joke about my “blissful summers of rest and relaxation.” In the past, I would smile and nod while quietly thinking how little they really know about the teaching profession. There may actually have been adolescent eye rolling taking place. Guilty.

Now, I am much more likely to patiently explain how many days I have actually gone into my classroom to work on it. First, I must address the quizzical look – yes, we (teachers) must take down much of the beautiful environment we create before we leave in June. That involves much packing, storing, sorting etc. And, that is if we are lucky enough not to have been told our room was changed for the following year. Room Change Packing is a whole other process requiring packing boxes (maybe provided, maybe not) packing tape (maybe provided, maybe not) labels to identify all your stuff (one for you to duplicate and hand tape on all boxes) and a huge ordeal to survive. Some teachers do this multiple times throughout their careers. Aviva on her "Living Avivaloca" blog talks about this at length and describes some of the summer conversations and meetings that take place.

So, what does this have to do with teachers working in the summer? (Still the quizzical look) All those items that have been packed must be unpacked and put back where they belong. 

Wall displays are created, bulletin boards built, shelves uncovered and filled, desks moved to the right grouping, desk set up, signs around the room, art supply bins refilled, calendar set up, desks moved to a better grouping, tables shifted to create center possibilities..  (ok here is where the eyes begin to dart around the room. I am beginning to lose my audience.) I teach 6th. I haven’t begun to explain what the primary teacher must prepare.

This is a process that takes multiple days. Simply setting the same room back up takes at least three days.

If you moved your room, it will easily take a week to unpack all the boxes. This is all done during those blissful endless weeks of summer, once you know it is ok with the maintenance to reenter the building. This unpacking can occur as late as the last few days of August especially if there was construction over the summer in your building. When there is construction, there is always the possibility that it won’t be done in time for you to get into your room at all before school starts. My first year in my current district, school started before all the windows were in. No teachers were to enter before the first day of school because the floors were not in yet.I had unknowingly entered to put up a bulletin board; administration was not happy with me.

Then, I remind my listener of the professional development classes that teachers attend during the summer. (Wrinkling of the forehead occurs here) Our district requires one work day over the summer. Teachers who sign up to write curriculum may use one of those days to meet that requirement. Then you may be advised to attend training for a new curriculum. While voluntary, it can be critical information conveyed at those trainings that is necessary for the start of the year. For me this year, I have written curriculum for three days, attended staff development  for another three days and attended a union workshop another day. Others I know have worked on curriculum topics for six days in addition to workshops they may take. Clearly it varies but that is close to two weeks work during those “blissful endless weeks of summer” for me.

At this point my listener sidles off to chat with another family member, eyes darting back and forth apologetically signaling with a nod of the head in the direction of the new chat partner.

Of course, I understand.

The perception of teaching being a great job with summers off is much easier to process. I still believe it is a great job, make no mistake about that. But, it can be a challenge for non-educators to actually imagine all the work that goes on to make that first day magical for your students. The two weeks of professional development and curriculum work combined with the days spent recreating my classroom will total three to four weeks of work easily. Do the math. I was done on June 26th this year. Of the nine weeks of summer, I actually was working for four of them, leaving five “blissful endless weeks of summer” to catch up on everything I had let go during the school year. Some teachers actually travel and go on family vacations during that time. But no teacher ever really “turns off” the job. Anywhere we go, we notice ideas or items to use in our classroom. Conversations with other teachers are seldom free of work references. Students notice us out and we are “the teacher” again.

Today it seems teachers are defending themselves on a regular basis. I don’t mind explaining if it will help to clarify how very hard teachers work. I don’t mind explaining if maybe, just maybe, my listener will gently push back the next time they hear 
Teachers have the entire summer off! What a cake job!” 

We are your neighbors, your friends, your sisters, your brothers, your aunts, your uncles. We haven’t spent one second disparaging your professions. Why has it become commonplace to disparage teachers? And so, I am happy to defend, explain, and educate others about the profession of teaching. That’s what we do. We teach.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Just Not Ready Yet

I have a great friend and colleague who is wonderfully talented. She is a great teacher, friend, and a diligent writer. She is a lifelong learner and constantly is sharing books--( our newest find) Blended Learning , and ideas with me. I find her to be a great co-worker because we truly complement each other. When we work together, magical things happen. The ideas begin to pop and bubble up and we run around trying to catch them so we can paste them into our notebooks to use at a later time. Sometimes, we sit and laugh at how simply the ideas come when we aren't even trying.

So, you may wonder, why the title of my post? She has been peppering me with texts, phone calls, fb messages and even a few tweets with ideas to use this fall in our classroom, ideas for a blog we need to write, ideas for books we can write (and when I say 'we' I mean "she will write!"). I am trying, trying, trying to get there with her. I really want to be excited and ready to go again as we tackle the new year and its challenges. I simply am not there yet. And, I wonder what got her there so quickly? We have only been out of school for about three weeks. We worked long into the month of June. Then it was the 4th of July and there was much to do with that. I have truly been on vacation for real only about 2 weeks.

I just need a little more time. Maybe I am starting to feel my age. (what?!) I usually have read at least 5 books by now. Truth? only 1. The Matchmaker by Elin Hildebrand and that I read in an afternoon last Friday. I seriously need to get moving!

What is slowing me down? Could it be the college search I am earnestly trying to get my daughter involved in? She wants to go to college. I know that. She just isn't all that excited about getting involved in the selection process. We have visited a few colleges already:Westchester University, Millersville University, Shippensburg University, all in PA. Last week we visited Lemoyne University, outside of Syracuse, N.Y. None of these really are where she wants to go. We have two more visits to schedule for this week: St. Bonaventure University and SUNY Albany. I am not thrilled about all the hours in the car. I used to love the car rides, now not so much.

These are the things taking up the creative space in my brain. I am trying to make room for thoughts about the upcoming school year but can't. Not yet. I just need to get my daughter situated and THEN I think I will be ready. Here's hoping it will happen before summer is over!!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We Really Must Shop, It's Our Duty.

Just came back from a little bit of shopping therapy. Took my daughter, Ally, to the mall to buy a pair of running shoes for her. Well, one thing led to another.. picked up a few things in addition to the running shoes at that store and it just seemed to early to go home. We turned away from the doors and ventured deeper into the mall.

Shopping is different nowadays. The malls are not very full, at least not in Rochester. It helps you navigate all the stores more quickly but I worry if this trend continues.  If all the malls are gone and we have to shop exclusively on-line, I am in big trouble. Wouldn't most women care that there is no way to try things on before purchasing?

I shopped last week for a dress for a wedding. I brought easily 20 dresses into the dressing room to try. I did end up buying 4 (will return one) but I would have had a much harder time managing that all on-line. Imagine the ordeal of returning/shipping back everything that didn't fit?

I tried to explain this to my husband the other day. We are hoping to help out his little sister with clothing purchases this summer. I told him that on the day I shopped I tried on dresses in 3 different sizes and depending on the style all three sizes fit. He stared and me as if I was speaking in a different language. He offered to take his sister shopping but would need to know her size. Not so easy, I assured him. She has to try things on. Once you find a style that works then we can purchase several of the same size in different colors but she is not a typical size. She is very short, (less than 5 ft) and not a typical petite frame. Recently she borrowed a pair of my dress capris. They were actually the correct length for her and looked like full length pants.

I think I totally discouraged him from shopping solo without me to help. This is a complicated process. Even today shopping with my Allygirl, we discovered that she needed a different size in something quite simple to purchase.

 But it just proves we need to be able to try things on. I hope the malls can survive the internet era. "Going Shopping" but just sitting at the computer is just not the same. I will do my part this summer to keep the malls happy. Perhaps we all should!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July is my time to rest!

Finally, finally feel like I might be on vacation now. This year we worked until June 26th. That was a long month of June both for teachers and kids! Consider when we had our beloved state tests. (April/May). Our kiddos started checking out shortly after completing them. Such a challenge trying to explain to them that we were not done learning yet!

Then family graduations, a few last soccer trips for my own daughter and, before you knew it,  JULY 4th!

Lots of driving -- family members looking to purchase property on beautiful Keuka Lake,
my brother's cottage on scenic Port Bay. No trips shorter than an hour. Top it off with my husband also being on vacation the same week!

So, I have had two amazing days in a row where I could sleep in as long as I wanted and can decide when I am ready to be productive. For sure, I have a coffee appointment at 2ish. Think I will just about be ready by then.

Teachers -- well, at least, this teacher -- needs this time to rest from always being "on". You can flip your classroom all you want, make the students in charge, get rid of your desk etc, etc. It won't change the fact that we are ultimately on duty until the end of the day with a few brief breaks. A planning period (eaten up by responding to e-mails, bathroom breaks, delivering various and sundry items, reading required texts, grading papers, making copies...) and a lunch break (always less than 30 min.) are the only times you feel the sense of urgency diminish at all.

So just having a little time in July to do nothing is really ok. Being busy is great but our human soul does need time to slow down a bit and feel the peace. Yes, I am only too aware of all the house cleaning that is beckoning. I am quite aware that I need to schedule college visits for this summer. I need to shop for a dress for my son's wedding in October. There is much to be done but yesterday, today and tomorrow I will be focusing on breathing, thinking, planning, reading, and resting. This is my  vacation. I need this. I worked as hard as I can remember this year. I have earned a few days to reboot. Cheers!