Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

Tempus fugit

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to find a better balance of work and family and time for myself. I’ve been exercising more and have managed to drop nearly 35 pounds. I’ve signed my daughters up for activities they like and that fit into our busy lives. But gymnastics and swimming and soccer and all the other events that fill the lives of young children take more time than you’d expect. And this year I’m teaching a course I haven’t thought much about in over ten years, so prep for that is certainly much more extensive than for the classes that I’ve been teaching regularly all along.

Also over the past few months, education has very much been in the news. Mostly news that is critical of public education and all of the bad teachers that seem to populate our schools. It’s demoralizing (at best) to live in an atmosphere of such negativity. And frustrating to know that all of the good work that so many of my colleagues do every day with kids is never going to be recognized when it is much easier to point to standardized test scores or listen to what Oprah or Bill Gates have to say about education.

For the past two years I’ve found that blogging was a way for me to clarify my thoughts. I like to share what I do and what I’ve learned. But I also have found myself criticized for being open with my opinions and thoughts on education. Which is to say, I’ve found that taking the time to blog has been a distraction from the immediate business of life. Taking the time to thoughtfully reflect on my practice takes away time from planning my lessons or being with my family. Taking the time to engage with other thoughtful educators means that I have to turn my attention away from other pressing demands.

I want to renew my commitment to blogging and sharing my thoughts, concerns, and ideas about education. I want to. But right now, I have to submit my grades. And plan for the week. And develop goals for the next year. And complete paperwork to seek re-certification. And grade projects. And plan for an observation. So when Oprah and Bill Gates want to take the time to see what it really means to be an educator in a public school today, I’d be more than happy to have them follow me some day. But until then, tempus fugit. And I need to get back to the everyday work of being a teacher.


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This week one of my students was officially dropped from my class roster. I hadn’t seen Rufus (his Latin class name) in a while and other students told me he was planning to drop out. He’s been a student in my class for almost two years, and with only 2 1/2 months left in his high school career Rufus has walked away. The number of adults who’ve attempted to get him into school and to support him is probably too high to count. There have been calls home and meetings and interventions and disciplinary actions and accommodations made. But in the end, he has walked away.

So who has failed here? Has our public school failed him? Have his individual teachers failed to somehow connect with Rufus? Have the guidance counselors, special education liaisons, administrators, and advisors all failed? Have his classmates somehow failed to help their friend stay on track? If he had more personal relationships with his teachers and adults, would he have stuck around? Have we, in fact, failed Rufus?

Legislation like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top consistently says that it is the schools and teachers that have failed kids like Rufus. “The schools are failing our kids. Teachers are failing our kids.” That’s what the policy makers say. And ratings that measure school success count the percentage of students who don’t graduate and consequently lower the ranking of each district based on that number. The proposed merit pay for teachers won’t come to those of us who work so hard and so long only to have a student walk away. Policy makers don’t seem to recognize the influences that pull kids out of school: drugs, family crises, financial distress, etc. They only focus on pointing to those who are working so hard for kids to get a student this close to graduating, only to fail in the end.

I’m sad to have Rufus so quietly deleted from my gradebook this week. I hope to see him at some point, to say goodbye and to wish him good luck in the future. In the end I do not believe that our school that has failed. I didn’t fail Rufus. We didn’t leave him behind. One day, he just decided to walk away.

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Reflections from EduCon: Fun

I had fun at EduCon 2.2! It was great to get away for a weekend and spend time with colleagues. I loved meeting people from my PLN face to face and talking to educators from around the world about what we do and how we can improve education. It was a thrill to listen to so many really smart people share their ideas and debate. For two and a half days we joined in conversations, facilitated discussions, learned, relaxed, ate, drank, laughed, and had fun. Conferences should be fun. Learning should be fun. Spending time with colleagues – whether they teach in the classroom next door or at a school halfway around the world – should be fun. I need to make it a priority to have more fun with my colleagues. There are times when the work of teaching needs to be set aside so we educators can talk, share, laugh, and have fun.

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Need to know

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that more and more of my students are struggling with issues that reach far beyond the classroom. I know that I’ve become more aware of my students and I’ve tried to connect more with each student over the year. It is a challenge to really get to know kids when I typically have between 75 and 100 students on my roster – and I’m lucky to have small class sizes. Each class meets for less than an hour each day. That’s not that much time to get to know so many students and to teach them Latin.

At the beginning of each year my mailbox is filled with folders sharing IEPs and 504s and other education plans that keep me informed of diagnosed learning disabilities and other issues that might impact each students learning. I also make sure to keep track of the list of illnesses and allergies that the school nurse shares with teachers. I’m aware of who carries an epipen in case of bee sting and who is allergic to milk or nuts or shellfish. This confidential information helps me get a better idea of who each student is, and perhaps what issues he/she deals with outside of my classroom. I only have food in my classroom on rare occasions, so the food allergies don’t seem to come up much for me. All of this information helps me provide accommodations and establish a safe classroom setting to help all of my students have success.

Yet each year I stumble across information that I really wish I had known much earlier. And sometimes the information we get isn’t the information we need. Parents and students often keep information from teachers either because they don’t think it is relevant to the classroom setting or perhaps they wish to keep certain medical issue private. I understand the instinct to keep social and emotional issues separate from school, yet so often those are the issues that impact a student’s ability to focus and learn. This week a young woman in my class told me that she had trouble staying awake in my class because her Prozac kept her up at night and left her drowsy all day. If she hadn’t felt comfortable sharing that with me, I might never have known. Yet this is exactly the kind of feedback that a parent or doctor should hear. Another student shared with me that his prescriptions (for ADHD) hadn’t been working for him last spring. He was drinking an energy drink when he came into my room and could barely stay in his seat the rest of his period. Shortly afterward he went into rehab to deal with drug and emotional issues. Again, I would never know about his struggles if that student hadn’t felt safe sharing that information with me.

Parents and students have a right to keep information private, this I know. But a teacher can’t meet the needs of a student without having all the facts. It is as important for me to know about a student’s struggle with depression as it is to be aware of a life-threatening nut allergy. When a student is fighting drug dependency, a teacher will see him every day, more regularly than a parent or a therapist. Please, parents, share this information with the adults who can make a positive difference in your child’s life.

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Keys by Bohman via flickrSince the beginning of school I’ve run into a few roadblocks that were really frustrating me. I kept trying to figure out how to solve a couple of issues on my own and really wasn’t getting anywhere. I sent some e-mails and asked a few people for suggestions, but still felt stuck. It seemed like I couldn’t get support and my concerns weren’t being heard. Finally on Friday I ran into a wise colleague who has been in the building longer than I have. I summarized what my issue was and how I felt stuck. She suggested I talk to one person face to face. Fortunately I quickly found him and explained the issues. He knew how to fix it and assured me that by the time I get to school on Monday, the problem would be resolved.

Sometimes we rely too much on using technology to address problems. We send e-mails, post questions to a bulletin board or fill out an on-line form. Sometimes, you just need to talk to one key person. I need to remember to shut off my computer and go find people when I get stuck. I have to ask for help face to face. Finding the right person to ask is the key.

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Happy New Year!

I am excited to start school this year. In the past few weeks I’ve had none of those end of summer dreams about walking into class unprepared or all of my students running like maniacs around the halls while I try to round them up as if I were herding cats. I haven’t woken up with the feeling that I’ve forgotten every single student’s name. Or I just have to make one photocopy and every machine in the building is broken. Nope. I’ve had each of those dreams (nightmares?) in the past, but this year I’m just plain excited to get going. I’m looking forward to getting my kids collaborating with Google Docs and working on their Roman culture wikis.  I can’t wait to get my students exploring Ancient Rome in Google Earth. I’ve got a VoiceThread story telling project in the works and plans for a podcasting assignment in the next few weeks. I’m happy to plan for some Language Lab training coming up for my colleagues. I’ll be contributing to a blogging workshop in my district and presenting at MassCUE later this fall.  This is an exciting year.

The past two days have been filled with meetings, trouble shooting some tech issues for my department, setting up gradebooks and Edline pages. I’ve had a little bit of time to plan, but I am thankful that after 15 years of teaching, the first few days of school don’t require me to start from scratch.  So tomorrow morning, although the alarm clock will wake me earlier than I’d like, I’m excited to go to school. I can’t wait to meet my students and welcome them back to this new year of possibilities.

How about you? What is exciting you about the school year ahead?

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