Saturday, October 4, 2014

Birthday Wishes....


Margaret Berg: birthday/celebrate
Yesterday I gave my annual birthday quiz to my students.  It's a fun little quiz that gives the kids a few extra credit points and is a quick formative test to see how closely they read the questions.  I mean, when the kids have problems answering "What is my sister Heather's name?" they obviously are not reading the question very carefully.

I even give a "guessing list" for the 15 questions.  And I still have students confused as to which animal is my favorite (mountain lion) and who my favorite singer is (Frank Sinatra) because they don't want to read through the list at the bottom of the page of the offline version or the drop down box in the online version.  

Why is it that we want to rush through everything?  That's what those who were frustrated were doing, after all.  The students who didn't know my sister's name (even though it was right there in the question) or the name of my favorite animal/singer/whatever other topic I asked about (even though the answers were right there on the page) were rushing through the quiz instead of taking their time.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons we celebrate birthdays: to slow down the year that seems to be just flying by.

It is always fun, though, too, to get all the birthday greetings from the students.  I heard "Happy Birthday a day early!" many times yesterday.  It brings back memories of bringing in cupcakes or treats with my sister to elementary school on our birthday.  I didn't bring treats to all my students, but I like to think that the extra credit points more than made up for the lack of frosted cupcakes (and were more nutritiously sound, too).

Yes, you read that right: our birthday.  I'm a twin.  My sister is a blessing in my life, and I wish her a happy birthday today.  I wrote a poem about her in another blog post (So I had to write a poem about twins...), but I wanted to share another poem I wrote about her on this, our birthday.

The Sister I Love                                                                  

Her laughter and tears                                                                           
Complete me as if they’re                                                                         
Happy Birthday Heather!  Love you!
Left over parts of myself
That I lent to her and never
Got back after we left, prematurely,
The shared room inside our mother.
I see her smile on my face and hear
Her voice in my throat—and
Me in her likewise. She shares
A bit of my soul, too, as we
Can know each other’s
Thoughts with just a glance. She is
A lifetime of shared amusements
And trials and worries and joys
All wrapped up in a package
Only two minutes older and yet
Infinitely wiser than I. My mirror,
My other self, if I were married and
Had a son and lived by crunching
Numbers instead of building cathedrals.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reflective Teaching, Day 30: Facing Fears

Day 30--What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?


I look at my teaching life and see a lot of things I could fear, but I realize that I cannot let my fears overrun my wisdom and faith if I want to advance instead of retreat.  I have to fight the paralyzing effects of fear.

As I contemplate what fears I have about teaching, I run the gamut from silliness (showing only movies for the rest of the year without the fear of reprimand)  to poor judgement (saying exactly what I have always wanted to say to an apathetic parent without the fear of reprisal) to illegality (smacking an annoying student over the head without fear of repercussion).

So what would I do if I weren't afraid?  Would I chuck the standardized test prep out the window because I know that the students cannot be judged by a blanket test that tells us more about the state of their minds on the day of the test than whether or not I have taught them?  Would I take a stand against the pressures of administration, school board, or even community in order to hold my ground on curriculum matters?  Would I try some out-of-the box teaching style that scares me because it is so different from what I'm comfortable with?


Fear is a paralyzing thing, as the quote says.  I fear that I'm not good enough.  I fear that I will not make a difference.  I fear that I will not connect with my students in a meaningful way that makes them want to learn.  I fear that am not living out my calling when I allow my fears to govern my life.

While I believe in Roosevelt's quote about how fear is paralyzing, I also know the cure.  Love casts out fear.  I teach high schoolers who often make loving them difficult, but I do.  Teaching this level of student is my passion.  If I remember why I teach these kids, my fears fade in the face of that pure light.  I see these kids who are filled with their own insecurities and worries and fears every day.  

I must let my love for them and this job overcome any fears I have about my ability.  I have to throw that fear out and be willing to be vulnerable about who I am in order to connect with the students who are feeling so vulnerable.  I must cast away any trepidation so I may do my best job each and every day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflective Teaching, Day 29: Personal Growth

Day 29--How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

Timeline: August 1996. I walked into my first classroom (not counting student teaching). Bulletin boards were up, my desk was organized, my lesson plans were made, and I was nervous. I was filled with exhilaration and fear. Would I be good at this? Would the students pay attention? Would they learn? My fingers shook as I wrote my name on the board in anticipation of the students coming in. I had to erase my own name three times, at least, until it looked like an educated adult had written it. The bell rang, and students came into my classroom. Thus began the first day.

Fast forward eighteen years to August 2014. I walked into my new classroom. Bulletin boards were up, my desk was organized, my lesson plans were made, copies of my syllabus sat, stacked, ready for distribution. I was anxious and eager. I wondered if I were any good at this, whether my students would pay attention, and, most of all, if they would learn. Eighteen years later, and I still had to rewrite the information on the board several times before I was satisfied with how it looked. The bell rang, and students came into my classroom. Thus began the first day.

I have changed since I first started teaching, but I still have that thrill of nerves as I begin the year. I am more confident in my abilities. I use technology that didn't even exist when I started. I have grown in knowledge. My classroom management style has matured throughout the years. I'm a better facilitator, leader, and teacher. My teacher tool bag has grown, filled with tools gained at conferences, trainings, and loads of professional development hours.

Time has flown, and I hope that my skill set has grown with the years. My education philosophy of building cathedrals or searching for ponies has grown out of my experiences. I pray that I have become more adept at my calling. That's not to say I still don't have bad days when I am little more than a worker piling bricks or shoveling poo. I just have to continue to work with the knowledge that my Audience is more than my students, my peers, my administration, or even my community. If I can keep moving further up and in to the goal set before me, I hope to hear my Master say, "Well Done."