Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned from Kindergarten Lunch Duty

The first week of school for an Instructional Coach is a bit different. Teachers are working to establish routines and procedures and so I did what most ICs do...plan, attend meetings, help with bus signs, console sad students, console sad mommies, and assist in the cafeteria. 

During lunch time. 
During KINDERGARTEN lunch time. 

I have been an elementary teacher for seventeen years. I have birthed babies and parented school-age children. I have worked in daycares, camps, and every other conceivable childcare field since I was 16 years old. I like kids. I am pretty good with kids. Yet, there is something scary special about kindergartners in the cafeteria during the first week of school. So naturally, I had to reflect on what I learned and find a parallel to my actual life. 

All I really need to know, I learned from Kindergarten Lunch Duty:

1. Assume NOTHING.
I have taught first grade for twelve years. There are things that first graders know how to do that I guess I assumed all children just come to school knowing. Wait your turn. Don't put orange chicken in his ear. Don't stomp on the unopened Cool Ranch Doritos bag. This is a lie. First graders know how to do things because kindergarten teachers are angels sent by God to earth to teach children how to function in a school setting. They also teach letters, sounds, math skills that used to be second grade, how to segment phonemes, how to listen to stories, how to share, how to read, and don't get me started on only getting twenty minutes of recess. They also teach the new kindergarten mommies and daddies how to hold it together while their babies are transitioning into big kids.

2.Don't take things that don't belong to you.
What do you mean, she ate your Oreos? You ate her Oreos? You may never eat someone else's Oreos. You may only eat the food that your family sent for you to eat, or that you bought for your lunch. I'm so sorry she ate your Oreos. I would be crying too if someone ate the Oreos that I was looking forward to eating in my lunch. Also, now I really want to eat Oreos.

3. Just because it's easy for adults, doesn't mean it's easy for kids.
I have school-aged kids, so I get the appeal of prepackaged lunch items. They make it way easier to pack the lunches in the morning. For the ADULT. The average kindergarten lunchbox contains approximately seven prepackaged foods. The average kindergarten child can open zero things independently. Whether it is because of emerging fine motor skills, not-yet-developed muscle tone, unwillingness, the splat factor (what I now call what happens when a five year-old attempts to open the little fruit cup thingys: applesauce, mandarin oranges, pineapple tidbits, fruit cocktail, etc.), it's just not going to happen. Other things I didn't realize needed tutorials: yogurt tubes, applesauce squeezers, milk cartons (someone hold me), any bagged item (chips, Pirate's Booty- hahahahaMrs.Taylorhesaidbootyhahahaha, Ziplock baggies, raisins, and I seem to have lost the will to remind myself of all the things so I'm stopping here). For about twelve minutes, I tried to be all Maria Montessori and teach the kids how to open the things. Yep. I know, I know...I see you laughing.

4.Clean up your own mess.
You would think this would be common knowledge. It is not. Probably because their little arms and hands and fingers are just so tired and sore from trying to open all the food. 

5. Lunchboxes are not weapons, hats, forts, or guns.
Oh, but they are. Sometimes it's on purpose. Sweetheart, put that down. She doesn't seem to like it when you put your lunchbox on her head. Mrs. Taylor, it's OK. I said she could put it on my head. Actually, it's not. Sometimes it's not on purpose. Ouch! When you swing your lunchbox around your head like that and it hits me in the shoulder, I don't like it. Will you hold it the right way so I don't get bumped, please? 

6. Kids are funny.
So funny. So, so, so funny. The kindergartners think I am the PE coach. Not in one hundred million years. They asked if I was the principal. Um, no. They asked my friend (our school counselor) if she was the camp counselor. Yes, kind of. They asked if she was the, "feelings lady." Pretty close. One asked me where I get all my nice forks from. Mrs. Taylor, I'm being so good today. Can I go home?

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten was originally written by Robert Fulghum over 25 years ago. The main points ring just as true for me now as I begin a new professional journey. The transition from the classroom to the PLC room to the lunchroom will continue to challenge me in unique ways, but as Fulghum stated, "And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together." 

I am so thankful that the brave teachers I work with and those that are teaching in schools all across this country are holding hands and sticking together. And I am so glad they are with me on this messy, exciting adventure.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Bend or Snap Method...

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If successful elementary teachers had to be summed up in one word, it would probably be, "flexible." Any given day, there are one billion things that have to be monitored, adjusted, planned for, adapted, modified, and differentiated. There are unexpected meetings, a kid may puke on your carpet, a mom drops off lunch and wants to visit during your math lesson, and the list goes on and on. There are over 50 adults and hundreds of children in one building and do not get me started on the copiers...and so the odds are, something will not go as planned. You can blame it on miscommunication, multiple personalities, or just plain life, but the most important thing is not that you sometimes get derailed, but how you react respond to it.

I was up at school working the other day and got derailed. The reason I jumped the tracks this given time is irrelevant, but suffice it to say I lost my ever-loving mind. I closed my door, broke down into tears, and stood frozen in the middle of my room not knowing what to do next. I am prone to strong feelings, so this is kind of normal operating procedure for me, but it can make those around me uncomfortable...

So, what did I do?

I put on my sunglasses, walked straight out the front of the building, and went to get a pedicure. 
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I'm sure I looked like a trainwreck sitting in that chair with the swollen eyes and red nose as the lady tried to convince me that I SURELY needed my eyebrows taken care of also, but when I left, I was calmer, had delightful coral-hued toes, and was ready to face my children. Later, I was texting a friend and I replayed the scene. When I told her I just left and went to a nail salon, she replied, "Well, that certainly is the Legally Blonde way of handling problems."

I suppose it was. I love that movie. I love how Elle Woods does not apologize for who she is, but uses her unique talents (and a little bit of flair) to help people around her. She remains positive, upbeat, and roots for the underdog. She is self-deprecating and kind, and strives to bring out the best in other people. She befriends Paulette, works to cheer her up, and teaches her the Bend and Snap.
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Allow me to borrow that for the point of this entire ridiculous blog post. 

To be a successful teacher human, one must remain flexible. If you do not allow yourself to bend, you will surely snap. Not everything will go your way. Not every decision that is made is the one YOU would have made. Not every lesson will go how you planned it, not every anchor chart will look like Cara Carroll's, and not every day will be Instagrammable. You must bend. You must sway. You must roll with it, go with the flow, maybe even shimmy a little. The alternative is you snap. You break. You give up, you throw a fit, or you doubt why you do it at all. And trust me sweet friends, you must never doubt why you do it, because those babies will be in your rooms in two weeks and you will be reminded. 
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Take the time to take care of yourself. Fix your hair a different way, add a little pink to your wardrobe, surround yourself with friends that get you and allow you to be yourself, and enjoy your family. Listen to good music, drink good coffee and good wine (ask if you need recommendations). 

"Oh, and whoever said that orange is the new pink is seriously disturbed."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Who am I, if not a Teacher?

This is first day fake. My desk only looked like that for 13 minutes.

I am a teacher. It is not just what I do, it is who I am. I gather books and resources all summer long, I write student names on desk tags and bulletin boards and folders and notebooks. I read reports, I input grades, I make phone calls, I pour my heart and soul into twenty two lives a year. I carefully watch for what students will not show, I listen closely to what students will not say, and I love. I love on those kids so hard that when our time together is finished, I am emotionally depleted, mentally exhausted, but wholly satisfied that the way I have chosen to spend my days, my months, my years...has mattered.

“You’re such a natural teacher,” people say.

No. It’s not natural. Intentional, maybe. Pre-ordained, possibly. But, in no way is this career choice, “natural.” To choose minds over money. Fulfillment over power. Disrespect over accolades. It is not easy to neglect your own children for those belonging to other people. It is not normal to go to work sick because there are not enough substitutes. It is not natural to spend your own money to buy books or use your vacation money to go to professional training because you know it will benefit your students, but the system does not have the money to send you.

Dave Burgess, author of, “Teach Like a Pirate,” says,
“I’ve worked my butt off to build a class that is outrageously engaging, fun, educationally sound, and dearly loved by students. It wasn’t easy when I started, it wasn’t easy last week, and it won’t be easy next week either. It’s not supposed to be easy–it’s supposed to be worth it. You can build something incredible if you put the effort in on the front end, and then keep putting the effort in until you turn the lights off and close your door for the last time. But it won’t be, “easy.”
So then, what if I have turned the lights off and closed the door for the last time? I have accepted a new position as an instructional coach, which means I will work with teachers, but I will not have my own classroom of kids. I will still have lights. I think I will still have a door. But who am I if I no longer have a class of twenty two babies wearing my name on the back of their class T-shirts? What is my purpose if I am not at my classroom door each morning, welcoming children, asking about baseball games and dance recitals, calming worried parents or consoling kids who had a rough morning? Will my work still matter if I cannot easily point to a moment when I was there the first time a child found a book they loved or used manners when they asked for something, or found a calm way to disagree with a peer? What about on field day during tug-of-war? Somebody hold me.
I mean, seriously.

As I transition into a new position, a new career, a new role, I find myself with more questions than answers. I am more nervous than self-assured. Let’s just be real- I am actually scared to death. Even though teaching has never been, “easy,” it has provided me with things I have come to value: structure, routine, predictability, a reason to buy school supplies…

For now, I am enjoying working with the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University, where my summer days are spent in professional development sessions, journal writing, participating in demonstration lessons presented by committed, brave teachers who are putting the needs of themselves and their students at the forefront. I am presenting, reading books, having collegial conversations, eating all kinds of naughty foods, and laughing about this ridiculous job that I love.
Mayson and I (One of my former third graders)

But when August comes, and you see me wandering around in the school supply aisle at Target, or through the halls at Back-to-School night, please avoid direct eye contact. You can smile and shoulder-pat, even ask how my summer went or where the 4th grade hall is located. But, please do not let your gaze linger...because if you really look closely, you will see a teacher without a class who will be desperately searching for her place in this world.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Teaching is a Top 40 Song

I am quite certain Ryan Seacrest has the second coolest job there is. He interviews musicians, produces television shows, and talks for a living. And someone fixes his hair. If I didn’t already have the coolest job there is, I may try and give him a run for his money, but since I was born to be a teacher, he’s safe. For now.
I love music. I love teaching. I love metaphors. So naturally, as I’m listening to Spotify during this freakishly hectic time of the year, I landed on the idea that teaching at the end of the school year is a Top 40 song. Please allow me to demonstrate:

Blank Space by Taylor Swift
SO.MANY.BLANK.SPACES. Fill out this paperwork. Fill out this Google form. Fill out this survey. Fill out these profile cards. Fill in how you have differentiated for your dyslexia kids. Your GT kids. Your kids that have behavior issues. Fill out this 504 paperwork. Fill out this referral. Fill in what you will send in for the luncheon. For the dinner. For the breakfast. For your own child’s party. For the fieldtrip. Fill in the DRA scores. The STAAR scores. Your individualized professional development plan. Your summer address. Fill in an award that uniquely sums up each student in your class with a matching clever candy description. Fill in the report cards. The attendance awards. I’m not sure why this particular picture of Taylor was chosen for Blank Space, but maybe she’s pretending she’s an elementary teacher with four days of school left. “I’ve got a blank space baby, and I’ll write your grades.”

Sugar by Maroon 5
Friends, we’re in full-on panic mode. Break out the sugar. Call your friends chocolate, Jolly Ranchers, Sour Patch kids, sourdough bread, Dr. Pepper, 765 calorie lattes, hamburgers, pizza, and that bouquet of Kit Kats your awesome homeroom mom made you for teacher appreciation week. I would put a picture of it here, but I ate it. Whatever. Desperate times call for desperate measures and you don’t even need to comment about how eating healthy and exercising is the ultimate stress reliever. I know the facts. I wholeheartedly agree with you and the science of physiology. It still won’t make me not text my husband a picture of my crying face with swollen eyes and say, “Bring home Popeyes Chicken and a bottle of moscato if you love me and your children. All of our lives are possibly in danger. It’s hard being a teacher.” Teacher friends, you get this week off. You’re welcome.

Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon
PLEASE stop talking. Yes, it’s for a grade. No, you may not have your Doritos for snack at 8:14am. Yes, you still need to read. No, I’m not sending homework. Yes, you may go to the library. Yes, you may hug your teacher from last year. Yes, you may go the office to call your mom to ask if she brought your lunch. No, I’m not sure why it’s easier for her to bring it to the school every day after she’s already dropped you off. Yes, we are still working. No, we’re not doing anything, “important.” Yes, you may go to the bathroom. No, the test will not be done in partners. Yes, I still want you to turn in your work to the basket labeled, “FINISHED WORK.” I don’t even care if you dance. Just please stop talking.

Lay Me Down by Sam Smith
I need to sleep for two weeks. I can’t because I need to fill in lots of blank spaces. My 38 year old body is still sore from third grade field day and I watched TV with some friends until 10:45 last night and I can barely recover. I’m old and tired. I’m not sure if I’m even forming coherent sentences anymore because I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen asleep at the keyboard. I have a couch in my classroom, but I never sit on it for fear I’ll accidentally fall asleep during specials and I will not be on time to pick up my class. Sam Smith has a beautiful lullaby voice, but I’m pretty sure I could fall asleep to ACDC at this point. Momma tired.

Time of Our Lives by Pitbull, Ne-Yo

My husband has finally figured out the rhythm of my melt-downs. It took years, but when you live with a teacher, you can eventually read the signs and know when to bring home fried chicken and white wine. He understands that even though I may cry on the weekly, I am COMPLETELY in love with this job. There are days that it’s hard, there are times when it’s overwhelming, but as the school year draws to a close and I see the faces of the babies I’ve worked with all year long smiling back at me from the end-of-year slideshow that will make them laugh and their mommas cry, I can honestly say that we have had the time of our lives. We have read books, solved problems, played games, and run races. We have learned kindness, acceptance, the power of hard work, and how twenty one bodies can become a family after spending seven hours a day together in a tiny, little classroom. We know each other’s gifts and struggles, we’ve learned about special talents and insecurities, and I pray each kiddo in my care has had as much fun as I have.
The number one song this week is Earned It, by the Weeknd. (That’s not a typo; I suppose it’s just a hipster, cool way to be awesome. I’m not sure; I’m tired.) I think that’s a fitting way to end the End of Year Teacher Top 40…
Happy summer, teacher friends! You’ve earned it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Power of Play

I’m pretty new to Twitter, but I was scrolling through the other day and found a post by Global School Play Day, an initiative that was founded on the premise that kids need to play. My background is Early Childhood, so at my very core, I have always believed in the power of play and the need for it, but the increasing demands of elementary curriculum have caused even seasoned educators some disequilibrium when it comes to balancing solid pedagogy with actual classroom practice.

I know that children need to, “grapple,” with tough ideas and concepts. The best way for a child to internalize equivalent fractions is to divide actual things. The best way to learn how to read is to read actual books with people you love. The best way to learn to add is to add actual items; items that can be held and touched and manipulated. The most effective way to understand the components of soil is to get grimy little third grade hands in the dirt; to dig and to sift and to observe.
However, in the back of my mind, there’s this one thing that happened over seven years ago…A child I taught went on to the next grade and was having trouble, “sitting still.” At a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told the parent, “Well, sure he wasn’t having this problem last year. In Mrs. Taylor’s class, EVERYTHING is a party…”

Um. OK. Thankyouverymuch. Good heavens, should it not be a party? These are five and six and seven and eight year olds. They only just learned to walk. They play, "Tiger," at recess. Shouldn’t our students WANT to come to school each day? Shouldn’t we strive to convey that learning is fun, learning is super-exciting, that learning is such a treat?

Global School Play Day had one charge. Let your kids play. Don’t boss it, don’t plan it, certainly don’t intervene in it. The skills kids learn as they play are cognitive. They are social and emotional and physical. You will be shocked with what kids learn when they are allowed and encouraged to play.

My third graders came in the room and asked where the morning work was. Oh, your morning work is to play.
Play what?
Whatever you want.
What do you mean?
I mean, find something to play. There’s stuff to play with all over the room. There are puzzles, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Magnetix, PlayDoh, paper, pattern blocks. Just go find something to play.
Kelsie hugged me. Like, full on embrace. “This is the best day ever, Mrs. Taylor! I don’t even understand why you’re letting us do this…”
One of my kids brought me a hamburger, fries, and a large water. 
And he waited for me to pretend-eat it. Bless.

Praise sweet Baby Jesus that I work in a building where my administrators trust teachers and I (mostly) have the freedom to do what I know is right for kids. It’s probably best for kids that I get to wear jeans every day, but we’ll save that post for another time…I know that every day cannot be Global School Play Day. I know that it is my job to deliver a, “clearly articulated, vertically aligned curriculum.” I am fully aware that I am required by my great state to hold students accountable for a rigorous set of content and readiness objectives in order to have my students College and Career ready…

But, as long as they’ll let me, and maybe even after they don’t, I will fight (the civil disobedience kind…I’m not great at confrontation) for what I know is right for kids. I will search for methods to deliver my content in ways that are engaging, relevant, and hands-on. I will work with my colleagues to balance our job description with our passion for teaching…and darn it, we will PLAY.