Saturday, December 27, 2014

All is Calm (HA!), All is Bright…


OK teacher friends, let us take just a moment to sum up the last few weeks. CRAZY. There’s not much crazier than the last-few-weeks-before-Christmas-vacation-in-an-elementary-school-crazy. There are kids in Santa hats and dress-up days every day. There is hot chocolate in gigantic crock pots and fantastic literature and holiday cheer and multiplication models and end-of-unit assessments and reading assessments and school-wide universal screening assessments. There are potlucks and secret Santas and cookie exchanges and grade deadlines and there is glitter. Lots and lots of glitter. I get tired simply replaying the last few weeks in my head.
Probably because its 11:00am on a Saturday and I’m still in pajamas. I’ve taken the, “…sleep in heavenly peace,” lyric quite literally and it’s so delightful. I’ve read four books. I’ve watched close to seventeen movies. I’m not sure I’ve washed my hair in three days. I’ve played CandyLand with my kiddos, I’ve, “Just Danced 2015” my butt off, and I’ve eaten lots of delicious food.
I’ve enjoyed watching my friends post pictures of their vacations. Playing in the snow, drinking coffee by the light of the Christmas tree, enjoying their families…This, my friends, is the very true meaning of the word, VACATION. We all needed it. We all benefit from it. And we all deserve it.
It is so easy to get stressed. It is so easy to work hard for things we don’t really care about. We look around and realize we are expending time, energy, and effort on things we do not truly value and it is taking us away from those things we care about the very, very most. A vacation is the perfect time to reconnect with our true passions, reevaluate how we spend our time, and restructure the boundaries that we need to put in place to stave off the nonsense that prevents us from really, truly living.

From my house to yours and from my classroom to yours, I hope with my whole heart that you are surrounded by laughter and crazy and love. I hope you are reading books and enjoying family and watching funny movies and drinking pepperminty coffee (If you like that). I hope that you are snuggled up with your people and I pray that your 2015 is filled with pleasure, adventure, and passion.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grown-ups Need Teachers, Too…


I am a teacher. Most of my days are filled with asking and answering questions, facilitating discussion, filling out nurse passes, collecting and disseminating money, and trying my best to deliver a curriculum that is way, way, WAY different than what I was accountable for when I was in elementary school. Oh, and I try to do that in ways that are innovative, creative, pedagogically sound, and fun. It sounds easy. It is SO, SO not.

Here’s the thing. I am also a learner. I LOVE learning. I know that sounds cliché and Eddie Haskell-ish, but I do not think I am alone. I believe most teachers are learners by nature, I’m just not sure that there are adequate opportunities for teachers to expand their knowledge, hone their craft, extend their ideas, and to really, truly grow as educators.

Enter…the Self-Directed Professional Learning Model. Designed by me. It’s actually not a model. Or even an actual real thing. I made it up because teachers should be learning. Adults need to learn. You want your doctors to understand the newest techniques, you want your plumber to stay apprised of the best ways to…um…plumb? You want your dentist to learn new ways to keep your dental experiences efficient and pain free…Do we not want the people that spend the very most time with our little humans to be at the top of their educational game? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if educators could just sign up for a training that they need and attend? It sounds easy. It is SO, SO not.

Teacher friends, I feel your pain. The SDPLM (that’s my model, that’s actually not a model) involves you taking charge of your own professional learning. It is reading research and educational blogs and talking to your teacher friends about what matters in the classroom. It is inviting other educators into your classroom and watching them teach and learning from them. It is talking to that teacher at your campus that you know is really good at (insert thing that teacher is really good at). It is trusting that tiny little voice inside yourself that says, “I know what’s best for kids and it may not be teaching three properties of multiplication all in 47 minutes…” It is having tough discussions and standing up for kids whenever the need arises. Even if you cry in a dad-gum meeting. Again.

And for me, it is seeking out mentors.

Teachers need mentors. Actually, all adults need mentors. We need people that are wiser than us, people with more life experiences, people who can show us perspectives, ideas, and angles that we may not have thought about before. We need it in all areas of our lives, I suppose. Last week, I learned so much about myself at a lunch date with an education professor, that I was close to tears (SHOCKER) because I left with a new goal, a new reading list, and a new outlook on this profession that I love, but lately has gotten me all tangled up.

Truth is, I am so fortunate to be surrounded by mentors of all ages…

*I learn EVERY single time I shut my mouth and really listen to my mom. She is beautiful and wise and funny and so accepting.

*I gained true insight the other evening when I met my aunt for dinner and we talked and laughed about life and teaching and parenting and sangria.

*The baby teachers that I get to work with mentor me on Snapchat, boot socks, technology integration, and how to use a curling wand without getting third degree burns. Again.

*The intensely passionate and HIGHLY driven sister I have been blessed with teaches me about parenting, going after what you want, networking, and public speaking.

*My dear friends, who challenge me, celebrate when I am up, console when I am down, smile knowingly when I go, “off,” and bring me Summermoon.

*My Kacee, who texts me at 4:57 in the morning to talk about professional development, our kiddos, life plans, and outfits.

No matter how you spend your days…at school surrounded by kiddos, at home taking care of your own little ones, at a high-powered office or a low-powered coffeehouse…find a mentor. Commit to your own Self-Directed Professional Learning Model. Find a person who challenges, inspires, teaches, and offers a new lens. Surround yourself with solid, happy, interesting people that push you to grow. You may just discover that you are the mentor. You are the one to inspire. Maybe you are the one that will help someone else to grow.

The student has become the master.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hot Mess, but Blessed

Just keepin’ it real, friends…the education profession can be a hot mess. The demands are great, the resources are few. We are asked to do increasingly more with significantly less training, less money, and less support. I often cry during the work day. My colleagues do, too. Sometimes it is because we are exhausted. Sometimes it is because we haven’t seen our own children in three nights. Sometimes it is because 100 second graders singing to our veterans is so beautiful and precious that we can’t even stand it. Sometimes it is because we forgot our lunch on the kitchen counter. Sometimes it is because we are laughing so hard…

Today I laughed out loud 157 times at things my students said because KIDS ARE STINKING FUNNY. Sometimes they are trying to be and sometimes they are not and that makes it even better. Sometimes my kiddos make me want to check myself into the Hyatt or the funny farm, but they are tiny, precious humans and I’m 100% in love.

Here’s how my day teaching third grade went down…
*Mrs. Taylor, I like the strings on your shoes. They’re very stringy. (It’s fringe, baby, and thank you…I certainly hoped I would look, “stringy.”)

*Mrs. Taylor, where are we post (supposed) to put this paper when we’re finished? (The same place EVERY paper you ever complete is, “post,” to go…in the gigantic black basket cleverly labeled in a darling font that says, “Completed Work…”)

*Mrs. Taylor, your leopard jacket looks cool. Did you know leopards roar? Kinda like jaguars. (Then she hisses. Like a jungle cat. Then pawed the air. I wish there was a way to communicate the hilarity of this exchange. There is not.)

*Mrs. Taylor, it’s OK that we spilled your water on your desk and it’s running in your purse. It’s OK because we cleaned it with Kleenex. It’s OK. Mrs. Taylor, you should maybe move your water for next time. (Hey punkin’, why don’t you move your body AWAY FROM MY DESK and my water wouldn’t spill. Into my purse. That is now full of wet lumps of tissues. It’s fine.)

*Mrs. Taylor, why did you write, “Who dat, who dat,” on the top of my paper?" (Well, because even though I have mad intelligence skills and the keen ability to perform handwriting analysis on 27% of any given assignment, I feel like I owe it to the teachers in the grades above me to hold you accountable for this minute task that you have been able to handle since you were five years old. Write your name on your paper. EVERY TIME THERE IS A PAPER. Not one time in the history of papers will there EVER be a time I do not want you to write your name at the top. Or on the bottom. Heck, write it in hieroglyphics backwards in purple crayon. Just write it. On the paper. I figured that maybe quoting an Iggy Azalea song would appeal to one of the multiple intelligences that I last received training on in 1997 and that you would feel inspired to write your name. ON. THE. PAPER.)

*Mrs. Taylor, do you think you should eat some chocolate? It might help with how mad you seem.(Sweet pea, you haven’t seen mad. You’ll see mad when the next friend asks me where he’s post to put the paper.)

*Mrs. Taylor, my mom said this money is to feed the hungry. My mom said this money is for t-shirts. My mom said give you this for a turkey. My mom said this is for the fun raiser. (That’s not a typo.) My mom said take this money to the cafeteria. My mom said take this note to the nurse. My mom said could you print that letter. What letter? Just that one you need. Got it.

*Mrs. Taylor, when we did that fire drill, was the school really on fire? (No, if the school had burned down, we would not be in the school now. It would be burned down.)

*Mrs. Taylor, can I get you ice? Can I take out the recycling? Can I take this to the nurse? It’s my haler. For if I need to breathe. Can I take this to my kindergarten teacher? Can I work in the hall? Can I wear your jacket? Can we go to recess? Can we do math longer? Can we play football in the hall?
*Mrs. Taylor, can we stay at school longer? I want to read all the books. (That would be so fun. But no.)

*Mrs. Taylor, you said we could switch plus and times, so I just added all of them even though I think it’s post to be multiply. (Um. No. What I said was that, based on the commutative property of addition, the order of the addends can be switched, so 3+4=7 and 4+3=7. I then clearly explained that, based on the commutative property of multiplication, 3x4=12 and 4x3=12. At NO TIME did I ever mean to imply that any student, past or present could just switch the plus and times.)
But maybe just turn it in where you’re post to without a name, and we’ll start over again tomorrow.

Education may be a hot mess, but I’m so blessed to be a teacher.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

“Kids These Days…” Teaching, raising, and loving the entitled…


I was walking out the door this morning to go grocery shopping. I asked my kids if either of them wanted to go with me. My son said, “Mom, I don’t really want to hurt your feelings, but sometimes it’s nice to just lay around at home.” No problem, son…I wish I knew how that felt. My seven year-old daughter says, “I’d rather stay here with Dad, but will you please bring me a vanilla bean Frappuccino?” Um, no. And who in the name of Starbucks raised these kids?!

I drove away (alone, thankfully) with a weird, discontented feeling. The kind of feeling that caused me to turn off the radio (which I NEVER do) so that I could be alone with my thoughts and try and figure out where this sense of entitlement came from.

And then I realized. It came from me.

I am living, parenting, and teaching in a much different place than all of those brave parents and teachers before me. The kids that I encounter on a day-to-day basis (including the ones I birthed) are growing up in a different society than I did. These kids wear $15 Nike socks and carry $40 monogrammed lunchboxes. They are accustomed to treats, entertainment, technology, vacations, and trips to restaurants that I would never have thought possible when I was eight years old. Kindergartners get back-to-school pedicures and ten year-olds get blow-out birthday parties and even as I sit here and type this…I can’t completely convince myself that it is their fault that they feel entitled. My daughter didn’t ask for a vanilla bean Frappuccino because she’s a spoiled brat.

She asked for one because last weekend, I asked her if she wanted one.

We were grocery shopping and I stopped at Starbucks for my inaugural Salted Caramel Mocha, and I asked her if she wanted a treat and she said yes. Today when I mentioned shopping, she knew I would go to Starbucks again because I feel entitled. Every weekend I feel like I deserve something that is delicious for having to grocery shop on a Saturday. And maybe I do and maybe I don’t, but either way…it’s on me, not her.

The Frappuccino Debacle of 2014 caused me to think and think and think…What are the ramifications of entitlement? How does it affect my children? How does it affect the students I teach? Is it inherently evil? How far should I go to be certain that my kids are not jerks because I bought them a cute shirt or threw them a fun birthday party? Should I only shop at thrift stores? Should they only drink water? Welcome to my brain…A VERY SCARY PLACE TO BE!

Our district encourages kids to bring their own electronic devices to school and then we complain that kids are too connected to their devices. I give my kids treats and then I wonder why they ask for a treat. We take our kids on a fun vacation and then that becomes the expectation. I use sarcasm, sass, and humor in my interactions with the little people in my care and then I get shocked when they use sarcasm, sass, and humor right back to me.

So…what is a mom/teacher/person who LOVES to be around children to do?

I’m asking you because I have no earthly idea.

The only plan I could come up with as I was sipping this morning’s Latte was that each decision made from today on out will be made with the intent to raise kids who are funny, kind, thoughtful, and appreciative. I don’t think that it’s a crime to take Mallory to get our nails done. I think it’s a crime if she pitches a fit if I say no. I don’t think it is necessarily wrong that my son wants a big birthday party. I think it’s wrong if he gets angry when we place rational limits on the guest list and the budget. I do not believe that my daughter will never have another vanilla bean Frappuccino. I believe that day will come when I say no and she questions my authority. I don’t plan to eliminate sarcasm from my interactions with my kids, but I do believe that there are teachable moments for them (and me) that I will capitalize on as the unique situation arises.

This week, one of my students said, “Um, Mrs. Taylor, it seems like you may have forgotten that we go to recess pretty soon.”

Um, student, it seems like you may have forgotten that that diploma that is framed on the wall means I have a degree in education that comes with it the uncanny ability to read a clock and if you will kindly sit down and let me be the boss of this classroom, we will get ready to line up for recess.

Please notice that mine isn’t in quotes because I only thought it in my head. This time.

This week I am going to be intentional in my interactions with the children in my life that I love so dearly. I am going to look for ways to interject humor with a love for life. I will try to teach them to be kind and go out of their way to help others. I will read them stories and sing songs about the states of matter and I will try with everything I am to make them better people. I will probably be sarcastic. I will maybe be sassy. And I FOR SURE will have a Starbucks.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I See Your True Colors Shining Through…

Well sweet friends, we made it through the first week of school. We made it through the early mornings, the mountains of paperwork, the sorting of planner money/T-shirt money/PTA money, the dismissal changes/schedule changes/transportation changes, and the sheer physical and mental exhaustion that always comes with the transition back to school.
Whatever. I got to use brand-new crayons this week.
I know. Unless teaching is your life’s work, you probably don’t understand the blessed appeal that is hidden in those words, but there is just something about new crayons. They are sharp, bright, and organized in an identifiable ROY G. BIV formation. Crayons could undoubtedly be a metaphor for all that is right (or wrong) with the world, but for this time, I’ve decided to focus on the tiny microcosm that is my classroom and my family and my very own little world.
When I taught first grade, we always read The Crayon Box That Talked during the first week of school. Click here to read more about this great book.
My fifth grade son brought home a personality test the first week of school called the True Colors Test. You answer a few questions and are given a color that crudely outlines some of the intricacies of your personality. The theory is that if you understand your people’s personalities, you can relate better. Our staff has taken this test before, so I knew what I was, and I knew what my husband was before he even took the test because I’ve known him since I was 13 years old. My son is EXACTLY my color, which comes as no surprise to anyone that knows us well…we are passionate and manic and emotionally present and affectionate. I loved the process of discussing this test as a family because it highlighted the character traits that define each of us and celebrated our uniqueness. It also pointed out how necessary all of those colors are to create a happy home, a harmonious classroom, and a beautiful picture.
God bless. A harmonious classroom. My new group of third graders is full of color. There are all sorts of oranges: active, playful, and spontaneous. There are brilliant blues: tender, dramatic, and poetic. There are glistening golds: organized, practical, and orderly (NOT ME IN 100 MILLION YEARS), and thank God for the greens: cooperative, clever, and competent. I am so thrilled I get to be their teacher this year, as we work to create a masterpiece, of which, we can all be proud.
I hope your first week back was as fantastic as mine. I hope your year is filled with wonder and bright colors. And I hope you get to use new crayons.
“So don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors are beautiful…like a rainbow.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This is Where I Belong…

Teachers begin their work long before they are ever given a class list. One of the very first tasks we tackle is creating a space that is functional, inviting, kid-friendly, and fun. It also needs to be organized enough that a classroom full of children can move comfortably, find what they need, and maximize their learning time. For me personally, the classroom environment I create is extremely intentional. During the school year, I spend more waking hours in my classroom than I do in my very own home, so it’s important to me that it’s a space I love. I used to put up a bunch of nonsense that I thought belonged in a classroom, but the longer I’ve taught, the more stingy I get with the space. I read one time that when people walk into your room, they should be able to immediately tell what it is you value. I value books, self-sufficiency, fun, and conversation, so I put a high priority on creating spaces in my classroom that reflect this. Allow me to take you on a tour of this year’s classroom…

This space is my little corner of the world. I try to make most of the classroom available to the kiddos, but this little area is kind of like my home office. It has my computer, bins for each day of the week, a board with funny quotes, pictures of former students, love notes from my kids, and my EVER-present Sonic drink. My BFF of 16 years moved to a new school this year, so the front of my desk is decorated of pictures of us with all of our different hairstyles.

This wall will eventually house our mathematical thinking. Patterns we observe, math vocabulary, and anchor charts, will all be on display here. The kiddos' cubbies are underneath that will house backpacks and book boxes.

IMG_5716This is the back wall of our classroom. The Math Daily 5 headers are on the cabinets and will be filled with activity titles once they are introduced to the students. The black coffee table is a workspace that is available to the kids anytime. Photo props were out for BTS night! The book jackets are hung from string with clothespins.

I’m pretty sure that if kiddos want to be in my room, it’s all because of this bathtub! I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when a teacher friend was retiring and I’ve had her bathtub ever since! This year, I added the books about bathtubs, and the bubbles hanging from the ceiling. I have a rotation system so that each kiddo gets a regular chance to work/read in the tub.

This is part of my classroom library. I am super-excited about my new book pillows that I got from ETSY. The books in the black crates are leveled by Lexile level and the books in the white tubs are organized by genre, topic, or author. The empty shelves on the wall are for the kiddos…Each time a student finishes a book, he/she gets to create a book spine to add to our class shelf.

Here is another section of our classroom library. The open-face bookshelf gets changed out seasonally- right now it’s all books about school and third grade. The book tubs on the left are mostly arranged by topic, author, or book series. Please note the AMAZING picture above the shelf. My sister is AWESOME at gifts and she had the lyrics to one of my favorite songs made into a canvas print that matches the colors of my classroom. Such a special gift.

Here’s the other big hit in my room…our couch! There is a rotation system to determine who gets to be the, “couch potatoes,” for the day. The front carpet is kind of like our gathering place. The kids come up front when I read aloud, when we’re solving tough math problems, or when we’re having class meetings. I found the cool Work Hard pillow at Marshall’s and felt like it was a necessary school supply.

Brain research, classroom experience, and common sense all point to the fact that learning is optimized when kids feel comfortable, know where things belong, and are in charge of their own space. I got to meet my new roommates this evening, and I am so excited about all the learning and fun that we’ll get to experience together this year!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Magic of a Meltdown

Well people…it’s time.

My mom says, “You’re in transition.” My husband says, “Here we go again. What dinner should I bring home?” My non-teacher friends say, “Just don’t go to work! It’s still summer!”

My teacher friends say, “Let’s go eat queso; I had mine yesterday. Or five minutes ago. Or both.”

This will come as no shock to those who know me well, but I have emotional, um, freak-outs tendencies. I’m a crier. I feel things deeply and then the depth of all the feelings about SEEMINGLY DUMB THINGS make me bawl. Maybe it’s in a Hobby Lobby. Maybe it’s when a song comes on in my car. Maybe it’s when I’m standing in the middle of my classroom or in the shower or in my kitchen or ANYWHERE I AM EVER STANDING.  It’s who I am. It’s what I do. And I have finally decided to be OK with it.

Here’s why.
A meltdown means it matters.

I’ve melted-down (yes, that is now a verb) at my kitchen table filling out ADD paperwork for my son. In a staffing with administrators and other teachers over a student that was struggling with his place in the world. In my car when my best friend of 16 years drove back to her new home to her new school in her new town to be with teachers each day that ARE NOT ME. And last year…sweet mercy. Suffice it to say a grade level change shouldn't seem like a huge deal, but I pretty much cried my way through the entire school year because it was important and hard and scary.

The upside, if there is one, is that an emotional release can be cathartic. My dictionary app even said, “psychological relief.” Yes, please. I always feel better after I cry. I look like I’ve been stung by bees on my face, but I feel better on the inside.

I’ve decided it’s OK to be emotional. I’ve battled with this one for most of my adult life. My personality could be described as passionate at best…manic at worst, but I’m not going to apologize anymore for always getting so, “worked up.” One friend of mine calls it being, “emotionally present.” Isn’t that FANTASTIC?!

I have also determined to really look deeper from now on. People that don’t know me well are usually confused when I’m doing the Lamaze breathing-shelf tears-quick blinking-trying-not-to-cry-thing because there is seemingly no clear reason for the emotion. But, it’s not the paperwork, it’s the feeling of inadequacy that maybe I didn’t do enough to help my son. It’s not the meeting that’s making me cry, but the feeling of helplessness that there may be a student or a situation that I just cannot help. It’s not that I’m not THRILLED for my sweet friend and her new adventures, but the selfish feeling that I will miss her being the only one that can recognize my post-meltdown state. “You have cry-eyes…tell me what happened.” It’s not the song on the radio, but what it reminds me of…

I have decided to embrace the meltdown. I have decided to surround myself with people I love and that I know love me. To eat queso and have girls’ nights and binge-watch Pretty Little Liars. To listen to music that I know will make me cry and then to play music that is SURE to make me feel better. (Please download All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor and your life will be better. You’re welcome.) To teach my kids that it’s OK to be, “emotionally present” if you can learn from the feelings and use them to help others.

To all my friends who need to have the meltdown…I hereby grant you permission. Then, please call me and I’ll take you out for queso.

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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Writing Camp Saved My Life

That title may seem strongly worded. Please indulge me, as I have just come off of nine days working with young writers. Also, I like hyperbole. Also, I wanted to get your attention.

I suppose I wasn't really dying before, but it is hard to deny that strange sense of loss that teachers go through when school is out. Don't misunderstand...I LOVE SUMMER. I enjoy taking these yahoos bowling.
I enjoy the pool and the lazy mornings and the visits with friends and the summer techno music and the reading of books...but I would be a big, fat liar if I said I didn't miss teaching. I am a teacher. It's who I am. It's what I do. It's a huge part of my identity and a lot of my purpose as a human being on planet Earth is as, "Mrs. Taylor." It's the hugs at the door in the morning and sharing books with reluctant readers. It is trying to make lessons fun and engaging, it's finding the balance of teaching standards, spelling words, character, and multiplication strategies. I'm a big dork, but I love summer for about three to four weeks, and then I feel that weird pull...the tug of setting up my classroom, choosing just-right books that I think my students will enjoy, and the constant hope that this upcoming year...I'll finally get it right.

However...teaching is hard. Not just the oh-I'm-so-overworked-and-underpaid-and-my-raise-doesn't-even-cover-the-increase-in-health-insurance-kind-of-hard, but the real kind of hard. The kind of hard that makes me wonder if there is something more out there for me. Something bigger, something more productive, something more financially rewarding. They keep changing the game, changing the standards, changing the resources, changing the levels of support, and I find myself getting tired. So.Very.Tired. Just let me teach! Just let me do what I was born to do! Just...wait-I'm in public education...

Enter writing camp. I was approached this spring about teaching a writing camp at our local university and my first inclination was to giggle. Writing camp? Is that a joke? Who would pay money to send their child to write for three hours a day? In the SUMMER?  Apparently, several people.

"What's the curriculum?" I asked...
"Whatever you want it to be," I was told.

Wait. One. Second. I get to be the boss of how we spend the time? I can read fun, engaging stories and roll with the kids and their ideas? Yes, yes you do...

Holy Ticonderoga Number 2 pencils.
Oh, and you get paid.

Writing camp saved my life. OK, maybe not my real, actual life, but it saved my summer. It saved me from that weird, unfulfilled feeling I sometimes feel in early July. I was put back together each day as kiddos that ranged in age from 5-10 years old worked in the same classroom and did the hard work of writing and sharing their thoughts and feelings. It re-energized me to hear the older kids support the younger writers with encouraging words and precious little "love notes."

 It reminded me of true collaboration as I met Laura at Starbucks and we shared ideas and we worked together and we already signed up to teach again next year because it was just so stinking fun. It reminded me of who I am at my very core and why I do what I do and how I can trust myself to go with my instincts and find new, engaging ways to bring the fun of writing camp into my own classroom in the fall. It made me want to write more. Even if nobody reads what I write. It made me have to reset the password on this blog that I started in 2011 and then never did anything else with...

It also gave me the rare opportunity to have my very own child in my class. I asked both of my kids if they wanted to come to camp with me. My seven year old was like, "Um, go to writing class or play at Nanny's house? You can just tell me what it's like." Parker, though, was excited about coming with me because he needed to work on his novel. Um, what?

"I've got this idea, mom. I just don't have much time to work on it."

Punkin. What fun to see him as a student and a writer and a leader. He even got to touch the sword from the Percy Jackson movie on our trip to the Texas State library. Boom. Major cool points for mom.

Writing camp. An unlikely source of salvation. But, an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.