Thursday, May 24, 2012

In this Job, You Don't Retaliate

     I wasn't a frog kisser today.  In fact, I did something I  rarely do.  I lost my cool.  It was the bad timing of the end of the year mixed with the stupid things we do when we are fourteen-years-old.  When it turned into making fun of other people, I lost it.  It was a controlled anger, but it was anger, nonetheless.  It stuck with me all day and made me feel sick to my stomach.  I just can't stomach anger.
     I've been reading Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom.  Tonight I was reading about a doctor who treated the rabbi horribly, but when the doctor's brother passed away, the rabbi made a condolence call.  Mitch asks the Rabbi, "After the way he treated you?"  The Rabbi responds, "In this job, you don't retaliate."  These words stopped me cold.
     I was so caught up in my righteous anger, I forgot that in this job, you don't retaliate.  No matter how bad today was, tomorrow is a fresh start.  I would hate to be judged by the way I acted today, or pretty much any day, really.  I am far from perfect and should be the last one to throw stones.  Especially at fourteen-year-olds who are still learning how to become adults.
     I am not sorry I got angry.  Sometimes a moment can only be taught by getting angry at the situation.  Bullying people is one of the issues I am willing to take that kind of a stand.  However, the lesson will be overshadowed by my quest to retaliate and destroy the last few days of school.
     Imagine what a world we would have if we all said, "In this ______________, you don't retaliate."  In this marriage...this friendship...this country....this school...this family...this church....this world... What a beautiful world it would be!   

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quack Attack

     Today was our first annual Quack Attack.  Students who completed 30 hours of service since January chose a rubber ducky of their choice.  Every extra ten hours of service earned another ducky.  They giggled as they dove into the bag of duckies, looking for the right personalities for their duckies.
The manly men among us chose construction workers, cowboys, and army ducks.  The ladies chose beach duckies, princess duckies, and ones covered with flowers.  They wrote their names carefully with Sharpies so they wouldn't get lost in the attack.
After eating cookies so we'd have energy for the attack, we headed off to the gym.
Two of our guys held the water balloon launcher handles while we carefully took turns tucking our duckies into the holder, 
pulled back,
and sent duckies sailing across the gym.
It was an awesome sight. 
 The winners won a stuffed duck from Kohl's Care for Kids Foundation so we could continue to serve others.  They also got a large candy bar.
 You've never seen such big smiles!   Teenagers love to give service to others.  I love to serve them.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Getting out of their Way

     We admire creativity, but we rarely allow it in school.  This week I took a leap of faith.  I presented a project idea to my students, but instead of the usual controlled options, I only gave three guidelines.  
  1. You have to create a mash-up of two or more books we read this year.
  2. It will be presented to the class in 3 - 5 minutes.
  3. Everyone needs to have an equal share in the work.
     Hands shot up in the air.  How many can be in a group?  What should the project look like?  Can we have music?  Can the whole class be a group?  What books do we have to do?  My answer, "Whatever you want - be creative."  They sat silent for a second and then broke into excited conversations.
     I wandered around the room awestruck.  Everyone was so different.  5th period decided to work together.  They pushed the tables out of the way to create a big empty space in the center of the room.  Then they began cutting giant butcher paper squares and fashioning them into a giant game board.  Their plan is to create a Jumangi type game.  They will roll giant dice and act out the stories through the cards they land on.  
     In another period, three boys are busy writing new words for "Boys in the Hood" to fit the right rhythm with the new words from "The Outsiders" and "The Dangerous Days of Daniel X."  When the words are complete, the boys plan to add their own beatbox music to perform for us.
   I learned a lot the past few days.  My usual tendencies would be to provide a few well-structured projects for the students to work from.  Luckily, I have been doing too many things on too little sleep and my creativity stalled.  Up against a time frame, I was forced to take a leap of faith and see what would happen.  What a wonderful piece of synchronicity.  Without my own loss of creativity and a unmovable deadline, I would have missed out on the true lesson of creativity.  When I got out of the way and stopped trying to control everything, my students truly began to learn.   
     My students are amazing teachers.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dr. Seuss Goes to 8th Grade

       1 day
       4 teachers
    450 eighth-graders
+  108 Dr. Seuss' birthdays
1 amazing birthday celebration  

     What better day to celebrate our first cross-curricular day than Dr. Seuss' birthday?  We started the day together to learn more about this man we think we know so well, but really don't know at all.  Then off we went to see the world through Dr. Seuss' eyes.
     As 8th graders, we were finally old enough to learn the grown-up meanings behind Dr. Seuss's stories.  We read his political cartoons and discovered amazing insights and connections with our world today.
     After all that hard work, the Cat in the Hat came to play.  We tried out our own funny cat tricks with flips and kicks, tongue twists, and crazy beard hangings.  We even created a human pyramid for a minute.
     Time to relax and hear a great book with The Sneetches.  We chose an amazing thing about ourselves to share with everyone.  We have officially been together for five months, but some of us have known each other for years, and we still learned new things about each other.
     Finally, time for reflection on the words behind the man.  So many amazing quotes to choose from.  After choosing our favorites, we illustrated them in Dr. Seuss' style and explained the reason these quotes impacted us so much.
       A wonderful day together celebrating with Dr. Seuss and each other.  Here's to many more days together.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Doing it for the Kids

     Change is a scary thing.  We have to take a risk and move out of our comfort zone.  We might fail - big time. It is hard work and the pay off might not be worth all of our efforts.  Sometimes the bad we know is better than what we might get.  The present may not be perfect, but it is safe and reassuring.
     Unfortunately our students are unwilling to let us stay in that safe zone.  They expect us to give them everything we've got and then to give even more.  They don't care about our fears or the time it takes or the amount of work.  To them, these are just excuses, and they refuse to give us what we can't give them.  Our students also decide to play it safe.  They stop taking risks and thinking in new ways.  They don't do the work we give them because if it isn't worth our time to create it, it isn't worth their time to do it.  When asked to read or write, they question why they should do something we don't even do ourselves.  Playing it safe doesn't work for us or for our students.
     As a new teacher I thought my students would sit at my feet and hang on my every word like the disciples of the Greek philosophers.  Luckily my students let me know that wouldn't be the way we would be doing things.  They questioned, pushed, debated, argued, and negotiated what they needed.  I begged, cajoled, bribed, and threatened before I stopped being defensive and listened to what they needed.
     Being new, I spent hours developing curriculum for my students.  Everything I heard, saw, or read was likely to end up in my lessons.  It was scary and difficult to live day to day, not knowing what I would be doing next.  It was also exhilarating to create something new each day that fit what was happening around them - the music, movies, books, current events...a sparked discussion from today's lesson might lead me a whole new direction.   Still, I longed for the day I would have all of this down and I could stop living day to day.
     Fast forward twenty years and I'm still not there.  I rarely do the same things twice.  Even if I do the same book or theme, there is always something I can do better than the way I did it before.  One of the blessings of teaching is that you always get a fresh start; nothing is set in stone.
     The kids I teach are the same age as the kids I knew twenty years ago, but the world has changed and so have they.  I am preparing them for a world that I can't even begin to comprehend as an adult.  How do you explain how a man could blow up his sons in a horrific show of violence?  How do you assure them that although we must practice a lock-down drill, they are safe and I will actually risk my life to get them out of the bathroom if they are locked out while a gunman lurks outside?  Reassure them for the millionth time the world won't end just because the Mayan calendar ends?  Help them choose the best classes for high school credit with all of these new choices?  And this is just this week.  None of it my doing.  None of it my curriculum.  All of it asked because I am one of the adults they trust in this crazy world they live in.
     If I try to teach with the lessons I prepared twenty years ago, I prepare them for 1991.  It is hard.  It is scary.  It takes lots of time.  My students deserve nothing less.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Man I Loved and a Fish Song

     I saw the obituary in the newspaper last week and instantly recognized the man, even though I hadn't seen him in 38 years.  He wouldn't remember me, but he changed my life.
     My Kindergarten teacher taught us "The Fish Song."  Then she told us we were going to sing it for the principal.  I was terrified.  I spent the line-up-and-walk-down-the-hall-time nervously going over the words in my head so I wouldn't mess up.
     When we got there and crowded into his office, his smile lit every corner of the room and his hello snuggled me in warmth.  Suddenly I wasn't scared anymore.  He was totally present, looking at each one of us, and smiling.  When we were done, he said, "What a wonderful surprise!  How did you know that was my favorite song?"  I thought it was strange that an adult's favorite song was "The Fish Song," but I was thrilled we happened to pick his favorite song.
     I was extremely shy and literally never said a word to anyone.  My teacher thought I had a learning disability and sent me to special ed.  When the ladies there realized I understood what they were trying to teach me, they focused on ways to help me with my fears.  The wonderful man in the office was a huge part of that.  He loved to tease me and try to get me to smile or laugh.  We worked up to saying hi in the halls.  With his love, I slowly began to talk.  Time passed and I moved away, but I never forgot him.  I knew I wanted to grow up and make other kids feel like he made me feel.
     I am in the middle of becoming a school administrator now, and I talk to lots of people.  Many of them tell me I should stay a teacher because you can make such a difference as a teacher.  When I asked a principal about it, the response was, "Being a principal is different.  You don't make a direct difference, but you do make an indirect difference by making the school a great school."   I have loved every second of being an intern, but I'd started doubting my choice, wondering if this was going to be enough for me.
     A few days later I saw his smile and suddenly realized it could be so much more, if I chose it to be.  I cut out the obituary and put it on my vision board.  His smile shines among the other pictures and sayings and thoughts, reminding me that it's me who makes the difference, not the job.