Friday, November 28, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: "If I could save time in a bottle..."

Day 27

If you could bottle up the perfect day, what would it look like?

This prompt reminded me of that song by Jim Croce, so I used the title as the title of my post for today...well. for yesterday, as I'm running behind on this whole blogging every day thing.  I was doing well until grades and traveling and spending time with family took precedence.  I'm giving myself some grace, though, and not forcing myself to go back to do the posts I've missed.  But the prompt and the song come together beautifully.  Here's the song to enjoy.

My idea of a perfect day would be one I can sleep in on, wake up gradually in a comfy bed, look out the window to see a wonderland of white unbroken snow and grey flannel skies.  Yes, I know, I'm weird and enjoy the cold where I can bundle up in a warm house with a fuzzy blanket and a book or a laptop to while away the day. 

Another part of the perfect day that I'd love to bottle up is spending time with family around a table burgeoning with good foods and fellowship.  We'd spend the time chatting and telling stories while we ate of the bounty of God's graciousness in provision for us.  Several generations would be there to remind us of those who have gone before us, and we'd smile reminiscently--and sometimes sadly--at the memories of those who cannot be with us at the table, but we'd rejoice that One Day we'd get to sit at the Table with them once again.  

We'd share our blessings and our laughter.  We'd sing a table blessing, and the harmony would bring back the times spent worshiping together at church.  We'd look across the table at our relatives and see the history in each other's glances.  Some of us would amaze the others by our willingness to try a dish we would, normally, not eat.  Others would raise a glass in "cheers" as we thought about friends and family and those unable to be with us because they're gathering at other tables.  

We'd share a blessing for those not so fortunate as to be at home for a holiday dinner: the servicemen and women who are far away from home and family doing their jobs to protect our way of life; the homeless or hungry who would rely on the generosity of missions, kitchens, and strangers in order to have a bit of holiday cheer; the men and women who work in hospitals, police and fire stations, and other such places who might have to have their holiday meal another time because work schedules require them to do so.

The day would conclude with games and conversation and, then, hugs goodbye as everyone goes home.  Then I'd get to get comfy on the couch with a blanket again, with a book or a laptop or the TV tuned to some movie I've not seen in forever.

I'd definitely like to bottle up such a day, letting the sweet vintage age and mature until I needed such a reminder of times spent.  I'd uncork that bottle on a day I felt tired and sad and defeated and alone.  I'd let the bottle breathe and then pour it into a glass to sip on as I let the tired, sad, defeated, alone-ness melt away in the warmth of the memories held in my hand.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Traditions!

Day 22

What family traditions are you are most grateful for?

Traditions are indeed how we keep our balance.  And if I am going to re-learn or put into practice the life lesson I'm most grateful for (see this post for that information), I need to experience some balance through tradition this year.

A family tradition I'm grateful for is celebrating the holidays with family.  It's not always the same way or the same place or even the same time, but we spend it together.  I enjoy the time spent cooking, planning, crafting, and sharing.  We eat, we talk, we play games, and we celebrate.  Work schedules or other family vacation conflicts have often meant that we don't do our celebrating on the particular day of the holiday, but we do always have a time we get together.

Friday, November 21, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: A book review

Day 21

Name a book you are thankful to have read and how it has inspired you to be better at what you do.

ISBN 1571103767
As a life-long reader, I have read any number of great books.  As a secondary English teacher, I enjoy teaching my students about the classics, having them read a plethora of various great literature, and trying to build within them a love of reading.

The one thing I don't know how to do, though, is teach my students how to read.  Secondary teachers are not taught how to teach a person to read. It was frustrating for me because I often come across students who are not reading at grade level or who have some gaps in their reading process.  So I began looking for some help.  I found it in this Cris Tovani book: Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?

It includes great strategies the secondary teacher can use right away with any kind of content to help her students to become better readers.  This book doesn't teach me how to teach reading from scratch, but it can--and does--help me to help my students where they are right now in order to help them move forward.  Our school used this book as a book study several years ago to help all of us teachers find ways to help our students.

November Blogging Challenge: Life Lesson

Day 20
What is one life lesson you are grateful to have learned?

One life lesson I am grateful to have learned is that balance is important.  To be honest, I'm still learning this lesson.  During the school year, especially, I tend to get caught up with teaching and grading and lessons--all completely normal--but then I forget that "all work and no play makes [Amy] a dull [girl]."  I fall out of touch with friends, become too busy to hang out with family, and spend way too much time staring at a computer screen instead of sunsets.

Robert Fulgham wrote a great essay about life lessons.  In his essay he tells about how he learned that we need balance in our lives: "Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some 
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some."  Ostensibly, I learned that, too, but I need to be reminded of it every once in awhile. So I am grateful to be reminded of this life lesson as we move toward Thanksgiving.  I am going to enjoy taking some time off to celebrate with family, and that will definitely add some much-needed balance to my work-filled life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Colleague Appreciation Day

Day 18
What do you appreciate about your colleagues?

I get a birthday card from my superintendent.  The janitors in my building ask how I'm doing.  The wrestling coach greets me every day.  My content area teachers give me Christmas gifts.  The teachers down the hall from me always include me in their hallway chatter.  I could go on and on.  The people I work with are great. 

I appreciate that my colleagues ask hard questions about their process in order to make their classes better.  They work collectively.  Even those teachers who teach stand-alone classes and don't have other teachers who teach the same subject to collaborate with work within their department and others to incorporate the standards the state requires us all to touch upon.

I appreciate that my colleagues support each other.  A couple of years ago when one of our co-workers had some major bills because of a family crisis, our faculty and staff came together to help out in various ways.  They are invested in each other's lives. They celebrate joys and commiserate sorrows.

I appreciate that my colleagues laugh over stories shared in the lunchroom.  They share recipes and photos and crochet directions.  They help un-jam the copy machine or fill it up with paper when they're done with it because that's the kind of people they are.  Of all the reasons I appreciate my fellow teachers, though, I think that the one thing I appreciate most is the way they all want the best for the students we serve.  They make me want to be a better person and teacher.

Monday, November 17, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: What a difference a year makes....

Day 17
One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for...

Our school has undergone a lot of changes from last year to this one, so I could name any number of things that have changed, from staff and administrative changes to room changes.

view from new classroom door
One of the things that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for is my new classroom. My previous classroom was in a trailer. I didn't mind the trailer; in fact, it was nice.  I wouldn't have minded having a bathroom, but the trailer was okay. I shared the trailer with a computer lab.

view from my desk
But this year I'm in the main building.  I have a new classroom.  It is bigger than my trailer was.  I no longer have to go outside the building in the rain, sleet, and snow (like the Post Office).  I don't have to go inside the main building just to get to a restroom or to the teacher workroom.  Now I can just go down the hall.

My students no longer have to brave the rain and cold in order to get an education from me.  They get to come down a brand new hallway and enjoy a classroom that is unlikely to be blown away by a strong crosswind.  They can come to my class when it's storming out and not worry that they could be struck by lightning.  (You'd think that wasn't a possibility...but...there is a story behind that comment.)

While change is necessary, I don't often like it.  However, in this case, I am very grateful and feel very blessed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Connectedness

Day 16
What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator?  What are you grateful for?

I am not much of a connected educator, I must admit.  I am a spotty tweeter...and I don't check it that often.  I do use Facebook, but I must admit I use it more to keep caught up with friends and family than for connecting with other educators.  I mean, I do use it for that sometimes, but I don't know if that counts enough to make me a "connected educator." I am grateful, though, for these social media outlets that allow me to be as connected as I am, and for the promise of more.  I felt welcomed by the other bloggers doing this challenge, and that is something I do feel grateful for.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Tech Tools

Day 15
What tech tools are you most grateful for?  Why?  How have they changed what you do?

This prompt is similar to the prompt we had in the September Blogging Challenge.  To save time--a thing for which I'm very grateful--I will repost that blog here. Reflective Teaching, Day 13: Edtech Tools

I'm grateful for all these tech tools because the students I serve are digital natives.  These tools help me to connect to my students on a different level.  They learn so differently than I did.  When I got my new phone, I spent unsuccessful minutes looking for the owner's manual until I realized that I would have to access it via the phone.  Kids today don't read owner's manuals in separate booklets; they learn from the device themselves.

I do have an update on one of the tools I mentioned in that post: NoRedInk  I've begun using this online grammar website with my students and have seen the students enjoy doing grammar exercises (I know!) and actually practicing toward mastery on their own.  I'm using the free version, but I am tempted to upgrade so that I can access even more content.   The students go to this site on their own time (or if they finish early) to get better at grammar; that in itself is something I am most thankful for.

Friday, November 14, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Five lessons I'm grateful to have learned.

Day 14
Five things things you are grateful to have learned in your teaching career.

I have been a teacher for going on 18 years now, and I definitely have learned some great lessons that I continue to use to this day.

 I went to a conference session when I was student teaching.  It was about classroom management.  The speaker talked about the three types of classroom management styles. The first is a brick wall: this type of teacher rigidly follows every rule to such an extent that the students have no chances for mercy.  The second is a jellyfish: this type of teacher lets the students run free until finally the havoc causes the teacher to snap his/her "stingers" at the kids.  The third is a backbone: this type of teacher has both rigidity and flexibility; he or she follows the rules but understands that sometimes a little lee-way is in order.  A backbone can bend but it won't break and snap under the pressure of a bad day.  That conference helped solidify my belief about classroom management: I wanted to have a backbone kind of classroom management that is strong enough support the rules, but also one that is flexible enough to allow a little freedom of expression.

Another lesson I'm grateful to have learned is twofold: first, teachers really do have the ability to change the lives of their students.  I had a student once who came back to tell me about how I'd helped him.  I wrote about it in the blog post "Homecoming."  The other half of the lesson is that our students change our lives, too.  I cannot count the ways the students have changed my life.  I've learned more from them, I think, than I've taught them.  I am blessed by the ways that my students have helped me see life from their perspective.

 A third thing I'm grateful to have learned over my career is the priceless lesson of how important it is to work together as a team.  Too often we teachers work in isolation, our classrooms becoming a little kingdom.  But when I learned about Professional Learning Communities I found a way to work together like the states do with the Federal government.  Instead of being an entity unto myself, I was able to gain insight and help from others who knew ways to do things I didn't and was able to give insight and help to those who needed my knowledge.

Another lesson I'm grateful to have learned is that every obstacle is an opportunity to grow.  When I deal with a student who is unruly, I can focus on the behavior that is frustrating me, or I can try to understand where that behavior is coming from.  There's always a silver lining; if I have to redo my curriculum (again) to match up with new standards (or just renamed standards), then that is an opportunity to add something.  I just need to Search for Ponies.

Lots of things in education today can be trying and upsetting, but when we come together with the same goals in mind, we can affect change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead.  I'm grateful to have learned this lesson because I'm reminded that my job is not just a job; it is a calling.

November Blogging Challenge: Time off?

Day 13
What do you do to take time out for yourself?

We had a similar prompt during the September blogging challenge, so, since I am running a day behind, I'm going to re-post that response here: Day 27: Days off!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: A picture of gratitude...sort of.

Day 12

Share a photo -- or photos -- of people/things you are thankful for:

I'm not a photographer.  I have a camera.  I have a couple, including the one on my phone, but I forget to take pictures; therefore, I write about the things/people I am thankful for instead.  I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took an essay I wrote about Thanksgiving and went to  Here is the result:

November Blogging Challenge: What I want my students to learn...

Day 11
What is the most important 'lesson' you want to teach your students?

I don't know if there is just one lesson I want to teach my students. Of course I want them to learn and master my content, but education is about so much more. The prompt asks for one lesson, but as an English teacher, I have an entire alphabet of lessons I want to teach my students:

Always share your joy.
Be willing to listen with an open mind.
Carry on when times get rough.
Don't ever give up.
Enjoy solitude when you can get it.
Feel the wonder of little miracles.
Give generously of your resources.
Help someone you normally would not.
Imagine. Imagine. Imagine.
Journeys are worth the effort.
Keep on hoping for the best, even during the hard times.
Let laughter live and love in your life.
Make friends wherever you can.
Never stop learning.
Occasionally take the long way ‘round.
Perception is not reality.
Question. Question. Question.
Rejoice in all things.
Spend time, not money, on your loved ones.
Take no one for granted.
Understand more than you let on.
Voice your opinions--and support them.
Wonder “why” more often.
(e)Xamine your motives.
Yearn for the Forever Now.
Zealously guard your humanity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Humorous Lessons

Day 10
Being grateful for humor--share a story about a time in your career where humor played a part.

Humor is a tool I use a lot in my classes.  I love laughter and the release of endorphins that laughter brings about.  In a classroom of sullen, angst-ridden teenagers, laughter really is the best medicine.  I could tell story after story about how humor played a part--from the jokes I tell in class to the personal joy I get from the students' sometimes humorous behavior--but, alas, I didn't write those stories down, and it's moments like this when I rue my personal dislike for a daily "what I did today" journal/diary.

So because I don't have a written record of the hilarity in my classroom, I have to pick something recent enough to remember off the top of my head.  Just today I told a silly joke in my sign language class.  A student I'd had in another class had seen me sign/tell this long, silly joke in another class, so he has been asking me all semester to tell it.  Today I finally told it.  It's one of those stupid jokes where the punch line has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual joke, so it is hilarious.

I signed the joke as I told it, and the kids were laughing along with me as we went through the repetitive portions of the joke.  When I did finally get to the non sequitur punch line, the kids groaned at the seemingly pointless end to the ten-minute long joke.  Then they immediately began plotting how to use the punch line to tantalize the members of the class who were absent.

Humor in education is important; a laugh shared between people can break down barriers, build rapport, and bring people together.  That's part of what education should do with all things, not just jokes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

Day 9

What is one way you could develop the Attitude of Gratitude in your classroom or school? Try it out and let us know how it went in a couple of weeks.

A couple of years ago (yikes...I just checked and realized it was back in 2005 or 2006) I went to a conference session about putting drops in other people's buckets.  The presenters were using the book How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton.  The authors use a classic metaphor of a bucket and a dipper in relation to how every interaction with others can have a positive or negative impact.  Everyone has the opportunity to use his or her dipper to either fill or empty someone else's bucket.  In addition, when you use your dipper to fill someone else's bucket, you actually get your filled, too.

The presenters gave us copies of these droplets to use in our classes and at our school as a visual way to fill other people's buckets.  I used them for the rest of that year, but I haven't really used them since.  I see the book on my shelf, and I see the droplets in my filing cabinet; however, I have to admit to letting this really great way to encourage each other get dusty.  I will have to start this up again in my classes and/or in the teacher's lounge.   Thanks, Blogging Challenge, for reminding me about the importance of developing the Attitude of Gratitude.

November Blogging Challenge: Memories are Made of This...

Day 8
Write about a memorable moment in your classroom and how it reminded you about why you love what you do.

Most of us teachers who have taught for any length of time have plenty of stories, both good and bad, that have influenced how we feel about our chosen profession.  I am no different.  I can spin tale after tale about my students and how they either frustrate or fascinate me--sometimes at the same time.

One such memorable moment occurred in my creative writing class a couple of years ago.  We were in the poetry unit, and the kids were filling out an imagery chart while studying a slice of orange.  One of my students was having trouble with going beyond the literal.

He was getting frustrated because all could see was the "orange-y-ness" of the orange.  His chart had one entry for each of the senses: "orange."  For visual imagery, he wrote "orange."  For olfactory imagery, he wrote, "orange."  For taste imagery, he wrote, "orange."  See the pattern?  He was looking only at the obvious and not delving beyond. We started a discussion (well, I call such exchanges of information discussions... some might call it an argument) about the slice of orange on his plate.  He kept saying that the orange was just an orange, unable--or unwilling--to see it as anything more.

I asked him to try using the orange in a simile.  He didn't want to because he didn't think he was good at poetry. We a bit more when he seemed to have an epiphany; he had that moment of clarity that we teachers want for our students.  He said the orange was like a sun in a blue sky because it was a of orange on a blue paper plate.  I agreed with him.  He was surprised because he thought I'd be mad it was so simple.  I told him that simple is beautiful and thoughtful.  In fact, I told him I was going to use his simile in a poem, and he should do the same.  My poem became a blog post in July of 2012.  His...well, I'm sure that he has kept it because he loved it so much.  Maybe.

I saw him at homecoming this year.  He told me he was changing his major to education because he realized how much he enjoys sharing his knowledge.  He also told me that it was because of experiences like the one where he had an epiphany in my classroom that he was even thinking of being a teacher.  I was so honored.  It is moments like that which reminds me of why I became a teacher.  I wanted to share my knowledge as well as help my students become who they could be--I got to build a cathedral.  That moment was another reminder of why I love what I do.

Friday, November 7, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Inspirational Learning

Day 7
What new learning has inspired you in your career?

I remember reluctantly joining a group of teachers at my high school several years ago in writing a grant that would bring more computers into our school.  I say "reluctant" because I was already in a room directly next to a computer lab and partly in charge of running the lab.  I didn't know if I wanted more computers under my care.  However, the grant required two English teachers and two math teachers to work together.
Several months later we all sat down with some Google guys... and I was hooked.

Two days of Google App training later, and I realized that I could use Google Docs, Forms, Sheets, etc... to revitalize my teaching practices.  I was able to become a teacher with a 1:1 classroom.  Each student would have a computer (Chromebook), and we could do more with them than just word processing or research (even though we would use them to do both).  I still had a computer lab next door to me, but having a computer lab in my classroom was that much more exciting.

Using Google Apps daily in my classroom has been inspirational to me because the students use technology every day in their lives, and if I can tap into that already built-in interest with technology by connecting it to my content, how much better is that!?  In addition to a class that runs on much less paper, I also get the chance to learn more and more technology myself.  So.. bonus!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Inspirational Quote

Day 6

Share a quote or verse that inspires you and tell us why.

Tonight was the first night for the school play, and the kids did great! Well done everyone involved with the Buffalo High School Drama department! However, because I went to the play and had to do yesterday's blog post too, I am once again using a blog post I wrote awhile back . This feels slightly like cheating, but I really need to get to bed earlier than I did last night when I was up late grading.

Everlasting footprints: Apollo 14 tracks on the moon.
The quote I wrote about in the prompt (February 25, 2012) deals with the everlasting footprints that the Apollo team left on the moon.  The quote is inspirational because of the longevity of the footprints and the metaphorical meaning of the footprints I leave behind on the hearts and lives of those people I've touched. 

November Blogging Challenge: Thankful for strengths...

Day 5

What are your strengths? Which are you most grateful for?

Grades were due today at noon, so I spent last night grading papers instead of writing a blog post about my strengths. Instead, I'll share the post I wrote about my strengths for the September Blogging Challenge:

Day 15--Name three strengths you have as an educator. 
1. Content knowledge--I love my content: English Language Arts. I have enjoyed reading and writing for as long as I can remember. Analyzing literature for themes and deep thoughts, writing fiction and nonfiction of varying genres, using proper grammar--presenting all that information to my students so that they, too, can get the same joy from the written word as I do is one of my strengths as an educator. 
2. Willing to learn and try new things--My grandfather used to tell us that a day's not been wasted if you've learned something. When we can learn how to help our students grasp our material in a better way (or deeper in a way that we already knew), or when we can learn how to use a technology that helps us do our jobs better, that's a great thing, and I think that is one of my strengths. 
3. Desire that students succeed--When a teacher knows what a student can do, she can inspire the student to do even more. Sometimes the teacher is the only one in the student's corner--not even the student is always in his or her own corner. My students always know I am their loudest cheerleader even as I correct their papers and push them to better scholarship; my desire that my students succeed is one of my best strengths as their teacher.

Of those strengths, the one I'm most grateful for is the third one: desire that my students succeed. I think that as teachers we have no better strength than the desire to make a difference in our students' lives. When we believe that all students can learn and succeed, we look at our jobs as more than just jobs. We have a mission field, and our students are the harvest. Not to get too Biblical, but these fields are rich unto harvest. Now we just need the workers to bring in the harvest.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

November Challenge: Gifts are nice....

Day 4
What was the nicest gift you ever received from a student/parent/colleague?

As a high school teacher, I don't receive as many gifts as those teachers of younger students. When I taught overseas for several years I did get some nice gifts.  One family gave me a lovely scarf for Christmas.  A couple of years ago I had a student give me a pair of earrings.  Compliments are always a nice gift.  It's nice to be recognized as a good teacher by students especially if they don't normally like my content.   It's also nice to hear that my colleagues consider me an inspiration.

I suppose I could go on and on about gifts I've received.  At Christmas my department always gives wonderful gifts to each other.  One of my colleagues whom I carpool with always gives great Christmas and birthday gifts.  We do a Secret Santa gift exchange, and I have gotten some really fun things from those, too.

But I think the nicest gift I was one I got anonymously--and quite recently, too.  I came back from my parking lot duty a week or so ago and found a basket of goodies on my chair.  It was filled with snacks and lotions and sodas and a note.  The note said that one of my colleagues wanted to surprise me, so I was to pick three things from the basket and then put three more things into the basket and pass the basket on to someone else.

I have no idea who put that basket on my chair.  All I know is that I needed that little encouragement just then.  I took three items out and put three items in.  Then I put the basket into someone else's room.  I don't know who has the basket right now, but I hope it is still making the rounds.  It was a blessing at just the right time.

In this month of Thanksgiving, why don't you pay it forward and show some thanks to the people in your life; it may just be the blessing they are needing at just the right time.

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Challenge: What I'm proud of...

Day 3
What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

This may sound weird, but the thing I'm most proud of are the number of students who "friend" me on Facebook after they graduate from high school.  To add to that "weirdness" is that sometimes the students who wish to stay in contact with me are not the ones I would have thought might want to do so.  

The students I get friend requests from are often the students who talked back or claimed they didn't like English or didn't get the highest grades.  I find this knowledge to be extremely gratifying because that means I succeeded in creating a rapport with my students, even if they didn't make the best grades.  

So, that saying I have pictured here is true.

Connecting with my students in some way that makes the ones who didn't even like my content area want to befriend me after high school, that is what I'm most proud of in my teaching career.  I get to see pictures of their kids.  I get to see statuses (even those non-grammatical ones which make my English teacher heart and soul cringe) about their lives.  And all of that makes this teacher's heart and soul puff out with pride; I made a difference.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Challenge: Small Delights

Day 2

What is one small delight in the day that you always look forward to?

If we're talking the school day and not the day in general, I would say the small delight I look forward to is the moment just before the first bell rings for the day.  I think of it kind of like the moment just before the curtains open on a stage: everything is set, the desks are--for the only time in the day--perfectly in lines, the room is quiet, and I am taking a deep breath.  The bell rings, and I open the door to a new day.  Kids will come into my room and disrupt the quiet, move the desks, and take my breath away.  The students are then the focus; but that tiny moment just before bell rings is all mine.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Challenge: The best aspects...

Day 1
What are the best aspects of being a teacher?

Some of the best aspects of being a teacher stare back at me every Monday-Friday for 180 days from mid-August to mid-May with holidays off.  The students.  I know that seems cliche', but it's really true.  The students really are some of the best aspects of being a teacher.  I teach high school kids, and they are filled with hormones and attitude and angst...and I love it.  Every day is a new day with them, and that makes teaching them a challenge.  A challenge I really enjoy.

Another of the best aspects of being a teacher are my colleagues down the hallways of my school.  The people I work with are some of the most devoted people I know.  We work hard to help the students in our charge.  These teachers I work with spend hours of precious time giving their all to our community.  The parents in our community are sending the best they have to us, and we honor that trust by giving our utmost in all our endeavors.

These are the best aspects of being a teacher--the students we serve and the people we serve with.