Thursday, July 02, 2015

Perception VS. Truth

Teacher Truth: educators don't sleep in coffins all summer.

We stalk the Target $1 Spot until classroom manipulatives, organization and decor items are unboxed, and then descend upon its bins like a swarm of ... well... teachers.

(Thanks to Bill Watterson)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Every Student Deserves Representation and Safety

I believe teachers' responses near and far to both yesterday's SCOTUS decision and recent news that increased awareness of transgender issues will be the ultimate litmus tests for many in the profession, stretching the patience and tolerance of those with whom they work. Some might consider it the height of professionalism to "leave well enough alone" or "keep your mouth shut," but student advocacy, not just instruction, is part of our responsibility.  In the search for age-appropriate books to add to my class library, I came across a thread on social media where veteran teachers were asserting how they weren't going to read "filth"/"this material" to their students, such as storybooks that include characters who dress in gender-opposite clothing or have two mothers, even if there is a student (or students) in their classroom who has same-sex parents or demonstrates gender fluidity (like many do in kindergarten). 

If "this material," meaning storybooks that illustrate the diversity represented by families, doesn't belong in the classroom and in the hands of our youngest learners who are likely to witness, if not experience these and many other social changes firsthand, then how will students learn to adapt, behave, interpret, and hopefully positively impact the world around them?  How are they to feel safe within their classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods? How are children from more traditional family arrangements supposed to learn about and practice respectful behaviors if they can't ask the questions they're bound to want to every time they encounter something new to them?  Some teachers in the post I stumbled across were advocating for a return to the "good ol' days" of reading, writing and arithmetic, and ignoring "the sick behavior" they find so disgusting.  These folks are oblivious to the fact that change and diversity are the rules on this planet, NOT the exceptions.  Are we to deny our students access to literature portraying biracial or bicultural families, or media that includes images of those suffering from handicapping conditions, or the death of a family member because a teacher thinks they're icky or the topic makes them uncomfortable?  Do we have the right to deny each student supportive representation and the feeling of belonging?  Teachers should not contribute to the idea that some children are less deserving or less human because of the decisions that their parents, in whatever arrangement they're presented make, or because of which gender each child might identify with.  Teachers should commit to the emotional and physical safety of our students and their families without thinking that our opinion regarding issues OTHER than abuse and neglect are in any way our business.  The love and care between parents and children and teachers and classmates has nothing to do with promoting sexuality.  I weep for the children who have to face a "trusted adult" in the classroom who looks at them or their families with an expression of disgust.

It's imperative for those who have chosen to work in the arena of public education to remember who they serve: the public, not just select members of that neighborhood or community. If your upbringing, belief system, sense of entitlement, or even gag reflex prevent you from giving each and every student your best, consider a change in venue. Find support and employment in a like-minded private school, or open your own. You'll be doing yourself, and many children a favor.

I found the following books on do you know of any others?  Link me up in the comments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Need a New Source of Classroom Inspiration? E-t-s-y !

It's summer, and if you're like many teachers, you're ready to track down new and inspiring resources and design elements to help create the perfect learning environment for your students... or you're still catching up on naps.

Whether you're taking part in book studies, sales shopping, or attending conferences, the thought of tackling furniture arrangements and bulletin board displays will eventually cross your mind.  If you're anything like me though, you'll notice that trimmers, anchor charts, and manipulatives featured in teacher stores and catalogs have all started to look alike, no matter the animal, super hero, or polka dot pattern used.

They're tried and true stand-bys, and I'll appreciatively admit that Bordette corrugated trimmer has ~saved~ my bulletin board displays on more than one occasion, but if you're wondering what else might be out there (and you're the creative sort who isn't afraid of scissors, a glue gun, Mod Podge or printing in color), I've got the perfect place for you to find fresh inspiration:

Oh yes, take a gander at art prints, bunting, printable posters and manipulatives available on Etsy, and let your imagination, creativity, and craftiness be inspired.  I've created a treasury of items that caught my idea for classroom consideration here

How about these?  Teaching in Kansas, The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorites.  Illustrations, typography, and textural elements can all contribute to the feel and comfort of our students' learning spaces.

You can join Etsy for free, and search to your heart's content.  I use terms like "art print," "bunting," "classroom decor," "teacher gifts," "quotations," and "nursery" when I'm on the hunt for ideas.

Where else do you find inspiration for your classroom?  The great outdoors?  Museums? Travel?  Movies or television shows?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

August Will Mark My Twentieth Year Teaching

August will mark the beginning of my twentieth year teaching.  Barring any administrative changes with grade levels, it will also be the start of my twentieth year teaching kindergarten students.

How did it all start? With multiple job interviews after the start of the school year, I was called late one Thursday evening by an administrative secretary who needed more information from me before I reported to work the next day. "What job did I get" was my question to her, because honestly, I had no idea if I was going to be a librarian's assistant, third or fifth grade teacher, or ~shudder~, kindergarten teacher.

"Oh, didn't Mr. S (principal) call you? You've been hired to teach kindergarten! Your first day is tomorrow" was her reply.  After answering the rest of her questions, I hung up the phone and proceeded to cry.

My twenty-four year old self cried because I couldn't believe I had been hired.  A real teaching job.  The beginning of a career.  Yes, a paycheck.

And then I sobbed, because it was ~kindergarten~.  I didn't want to be a kindergarten teacher. Give me sixth grade, fourth grade, even first grade.  NOT kindergarten.

I reported to school the next morning, met my two grade level colleagues and the speech and reading therapists whose room was being commandeered to accommodate the new kindergarten class.  I was introduced to the existing kindergarten classes from which my students would be drawn, and then I had the weekend to build my classroom from the ground up.  After my first exhausting week with kindergartners, I knew I didn't want to teach any other grade.  A whirlwind of teaching adventures, missteps, successes, heartbreak, revelations, and learning, yes, so much learning, followed in the years to come.

I invited parents and volunteers to the classroom regularly, though I spent the most time with parents during conferences, school events or class parties.  I moved rooms only once, but stayed in the same building with the same staff for a decade.  They were my models, my mentors, and my standard. They became teachers for my own children, and I theirs.  Friendships grew, and many colleagues became friends who are family.  I taught siblings, working my way through families stair step by stair step.  I taught practicum students, and learned more about the history of public education while experiencing first hand the shifts of extensive technology integration and teacher blaming.

I fell in love with a solider, and relocated with him to New Mexico, then Kansas, then Texas, and finally back to Kansas, balancing multiple deployments with the expansion of my pedagogy.  I learned that in spite of highly publicized mandates for education reform and equality, cookie cutter results could never be achieved, no matter how strongly politicians espoused the idea that our nation's children should be treated like machine-hewn identical parts, to be assembled into a future mechanical work force.  I came to realize that I was at odds with districts that bought into the pitch from publishing and political snake oil salesmen, and I was at odds with teachers who insisted on keeping their heads stuck in the sand, hoping to ignore the bigger issues in education that were beating on their classroom doors.  I didn't find the developmental stages of early childhood offensive or in need of intervention or remediation.  I found the predation upon parents, the exploitation of their fears and the subsequent attacks on how I did my job by NCLB evangelists alarming. The ebb and flow, ebb and flow, and branching out of learning and growth that I observed year after year reaffirmed to me my belief that organic exploration with guided support is naturally more beneficial to students than inauthentic, drill and kill assembly line tactics.  I began blogging about my frustrations, my concerns, and shared ideas, tips and tricks, and humor.  Missing my first teaching family, and after careful reflection, I also decided ~not~ to cave to the pressure of fitting someone else's definition of what it meant to be a "team player."  I could do what was best for my students, and could be professional, supportive and polite while avoiding the traps of "... but this is the way we've always done it" or "just do what we do and everything will be fine."  In spite of the stresses, I didn't quit teaching.

After nineteen years of teaching five and six year olds, I have to admit their bluntness has worn off on me.  The things that they find silly, I do likewise.  Like my kindergartners, I prefer the freedom of movement, exploration, and growth.  We sing through much of our days together, which my husband surely finds odd as I hum "Down By the Bay" or "I'm Gonna Eat on Thanksgiving Day" while preparing dinner in the kitchen, far from the classroom.  Unlike my earlier years, classroom volunteers and visitors are much more regular now, which has made parent teacher conferences considerably less stress inducing.  Our partnership and dialogue occurs year 'round, our sharing not constrained by marked conference dates on a school calendar.  I still make the occasional mistake, and I continue to revel in my students' accomplishments.  I prefer the truths of children, and find myself increasingly offended by those who disrespect the necessity and timeline of childhood itself.  I suspect that I'll continue to ask "what can I learn now" and will appreciate all that practicum students and new-to-service teachers share in exchange with me.

After nineteen years, I also wonder if I'll teach for twenty more.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Freebie: Summer Bingo Cards for Teachers

I've been having fun with PowerPoint and clip art lately, and have certainly been enjoying the start to my summer.  Want to play along?  Here's a freebie Summer Bingo Card  TWO Bingo cards, just for teachers:

How many boxes will  you fill by the end of the first week of summer vacation?

Monday, June 01, 2015

#TeacherFriends Chat: A Charming Giveaway

Many regular readers know my non-teaching time is spent with family, friends, or downstairs in the crafty nook, and that my "summers off" are typically spent creating and crafting to my heart's content.  It's more than a hobby, it's a need to make, do, learn, and often, share.  It's how I wind down from the good and not-so-great stressors that accumulate during the school year.  It's how I relax and re-energize.  It's a ritual, even.

It seemed fitting to create a charm for tomorrow's #TeacherFriends chat: one lucky participant will win it!  Join us (try following along via, it's easier) Tuesday evening, June 2, at 7:30 p.m. Kansas time for our "early bird" chat, and stay for our formal chat when we'll share ideas for how to refresh, renew, and re-energize ourselves this summer. There will be additional prizes as well, so make sure to find our link to a Google doc during the chat so you can enter to win.  All teachers and friends of education are welcome to participate, regardless of tweeting experience!

See you soon!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer's 3 R's: Refresh, Renew and Re-Energize

For many teachers, summer vacation has started, or is just around the corner.  Family time, naps, professional development, travel, catching up on medical and dental appointments, and ~more~ naps are on many of our agendas.  As we tackle the items on our to-do lists (that we likely postponed during the school year), our pace can closely resemble that of our typical work week.  Add to that the awkward adjustment period of days or even weeks when our internal clocks force us awake at 5:30 each morning, and our transition can feel less than relaxing, delaying the start of our necessary self care.

Non-teachers may think that I'm advocating for undeserved pampering when I mention self care or advocate for a summer version of "the three R's:"  Refresh, Renew, and Re-energize.  It's the often ignored fourth R component of our jobs, relationships, that make the other three so necessary for teachers.

First, some definitions:



give new strength or energy to; reinvigorate.


resume (an activity) after an interruption.

    verb: reenergize

    give fresh vitality, enthusiasm, or impetus to.

Teachers form new relationships with students and families every school year, and continue to grow partnerships with fellow colleagues and other friends of education.  These relationships form the foundation of a safe and nurturing environment, but they can be the source of stress, worry, and even fear for teachers.  Poverty, politics, and performance anxiety can drain teachers of our energy and inspiration, despite the goals we set for ourselves and our students each year.  We often put the needs of others before our own, and forget to replenish our own energy reserves, though it's essential that we do just that: our students should get the best that we have to offer, instead of making do with what's left over.  As it happens, summer vacation, that traditional time for children, families, exploration and memory making, is also the perfect intervention... for teachers.

Dr. Karen Horneffer-Ginter, author of First Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life's Just Too Much, shared this infographic over at The Huffington Post, suggesting fifty ways that we can take a break in order to refresh, renew and re-energize ourselves:

This Tuesday, June 2, #TeacherFriends will be chatting about how and why teachers can implement self-care over summer break.  Join us and share your suggestions and ideas regarding meditation, hobbies, exercising, eating healthy, and replenishing your teaching spirit.  Teachers new to Twitter are also invited to join us, taking baby steps with lots of online support and camaraderie as we tweet, retweet, chat, and share. 

Did you notice the hashtag #PRIZES?  Chat participants will have the opportunity to put their names in a hat (actually a Google doc) for several prize drawings!  Since part of my self-care routine involves crafting and creating, I've decided to offer a patriotic soldered charm to one lucky winner:

Join us (in your jammies, if you like!) Tuesday, at 7:30 p.m. Kansas time, for an early bird "practice" chat opportunity.  I'll answer any questions you might have (my favorite color is red, I wear a size 9 shoe, and this will be my 20th year teaching kindergarten), and then get our 3 R's chat underway with Debbie Clement (@KweezleQueen) and friends at 8:00 p.m.

See you soon!

~Michaele~ (@msommerville)