Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What Beachin’ Taught Me About Teachin’

Our family just got back from a seven-day beach vacation to Florida. We went with four other families, for a total of 21 people…ten adults and eleven kiddos. We stayed in a darling beach house super-close to the water. We ate delicious food, played games, rode boogie boards, shopped, ate delicious food, had races in the pool, jumped in the waves, sat and talked, watched movies, and ate delicious food.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a few (tiny) reservations about traveling half-way across the country with a group this large. What if it’s too many people, what if my kids act like jerks, what if we run out of delicious food…(Clearly, food is a priority of mine on vacation. Also, on Tuesdays. Whatever. Food is delicious.)
As I walked the beach alone early one morning, I started thinking about the impending work that was waiting for me. Setting up my classroom, organizing furniture and files, working at school late at night…and I got kind of sad. Not sad to go back to work, but sad that I can’t hold class here.
The more I started thinking about it, however, the more it became clear that this vacation was just what I needed to start my school year off right. Our family doesn’t travel often. My world is very small. This was actually the first time my children had even been out of Texas. This was an experience that we will always remember and it even taught me a few things about what I want for myself and my new class…
#1 Life is Better With Music-I created a playlist for everybody filled with songs about the beach, vacation, friends, summer, and fun. My kids helped me choose songs that (hopefully) everybody would enjoy. Some songs were serious, some were silly, and some were just plain ridiculous… “Mandy” by Barry Manilow just HAD to be on the list, right?! I was reminded just how important music is and how much I enjoy playing it in my classroom. I’ve even started playlists on Spotify for different activities this year.
#2 Shared Experiences Create Community-Any time a group of people experience something together, a sense of community is born. Hence, the 576 group texts that the moms used to keep tabs on meals, supplies, kids, routes, and pictures. Our children watched Matilda 786 times in a row. On VHS. They called it an, “old fashioned movie,” I suppose meaning it wasn’t a DVD or downloaded onto a device. It became a running joke that our kids had crossed over state lines to watch a movie on a nine inch VCR. Whatever. They loved it and are still talking about the fun they had with their friends. In much the same way, shared experiences make a classroom a true community. Sharing in read alouds, participating in math discussions, playing games, even pulling on a rope at field day all provide our students with a bond that they will always remember- if priority is placed on building the community in the first place.
#3 It Takes a Village- Let’s be honest…I’m over this saying, but I’ve never seen it in practice more clearly than on a seven day trip with twenty one people in the same house. We fed each other’s kids and washed each other’s laundry. We shared chores, towels, medicine, clothes, and snacks. If somebody was in the pool, somebody else was wiping down the countertops. The dads took the kids to a baseball game and the moms went to the beach. The dads played golf and the moms took the kids to the boardwalk. It was a seamless dance where everybody could do what they wanted to do and each person contributed to make it a great trip for everyone else. It reminded me so much of school. I even said, “Twenty one people in one house is nothing! This is how many people are in my classroom every day, only we don’t get to spread out into six bedrooms!” When everybody in a school pulls his/her own weight, pitches in to help when it’s needed, and works to make it pleasant for everybody, let’s face it…Stuff gets done. I’m so thankful I work at a school where this happens.
#4 Life is Better With a Book- I love that my friends are readers like I am. I always take their recommendations and am thankful that the important people in my life model the practice of reading to my children, even though it’s not a conscious decision. On our trip, books were everywhere…with authors ranging from Chelsea Handler to Lee Child to Bernhard Schlink. Luckily, the owners of the beach house left some romance novels, too…just in case we finished what we brought! I believe books are the common thread that bring together a classroom of diverse learners. Sharing books builds confidence, community, and character. I am already planning the ever-so-important first read alouds for my new class this fall…
#5 The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends- I thought of this one somewhere along the 11 hour road trip home. It seemed we would never be back to our own house, sleeping in our own beds and using our own bathrooms (ugh- gas stations). However, the memories our family made on this trip, the fun we had with precious friends, the hours we played in the ocean, and the delicious food we had…everything was worth it. The hard work that teachers put into their classrooms, the hours they labor over lessons and children, the trips up and down a step-ladder to get that word wall exactly even…it’s all worth it.
I was back in my classroom today, arranging furniture and organizing books. I stood in the middle of the room, overwhelmed with the enormity of it all, but then I remembered that just like the past sixteen years, it always gets done. And then I’m back where I’m supposed to be and there are twenty one new housemates to make it all worthwhile.
Even though I may still be dreaming about the beach.