Monday, April 8, 2013

Turning pages...

As I was pondering what to write in this post I was reminded of a news story I'd heard about Borders bookstores closing. One of the reasons given was because they didn't "keep up with the times" by catering to the online crowd. It saddened me in a way.

Now, I will admit that I have bought my share of e-books. I can take 1 book, 10 books, or 50 books along in my purse on my iPod or iPad and read anywhere. It's convenient and easy.

Still, there's something about holding a book in your hands. Turning pages. The feel and weight of the paper in your hands. The crisp smell of a new book, or the slightly musty smell of an old classic.

I was reminded of the movie "You've Got Mail." How "The Shop Around the Corner" ultimately falls victim to Fox Books. One clinging to the past, the other storming into the future.

Myself, I'd like to believe there's a happy medium out there between new technology and old, between the ease and convenience of an online bookstore and the comfort and feeing of greeting an old friend when I browse through the pages of a book in a cozy bookstore, hidden in an old building or the middle of a mall.

What do you think? 

Friday, April 5, 2013

To Sir, (or Ma'am) With Love...

I've been thinking about school quite a bit lately...

Well, truthfully, I don't know that I ever really stop thinking about it completely, even during summer...

But, lately education has been in the news, and not always in a positive way. In addition, I've been catching up on the blogs of some of my friends who also happen to be educators, and it got me pondering...

What is a teacher?

 A degree? A certificate? Passing a test?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a teacher as "one whose occupation is to instruct," but is that really all?

I think being a teacher encompasses much, much more...
 -  the countless hours spent in preparation for a new year, a fresh group of students
 - the laughter
 - the tears
 - the worry and frustration
 - the personal money invested without much hope of compensation
 - the joy of seeing the moment when it just "clicks" with a student
 - the pain of seeing a bright future dimmed or lost through poor choices
 - the second (and third, and fourth) jobs  - just so you can remain in the field you have chosen

This is my list... and it could probably go on... but I'd like to hear what you think being a teacher means, so please add your thoughts below...

And before you go, take a little inspiration that what you do really DOES matter...

(Remember the starfish story.... we may not be able to save every one, but we can make a difference...)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The power of words ...

                                                                                THE READING MOTHER
Strickland Gillilan

I HAD A MOTHER who read to me 
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea, 
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth, 
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath

I had a Mother who read me lays 
Of ancient and gallant and golden days; 
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe, 
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales 
Of Celert the hound of the hills of Wales, 
True to his trust till his tragic death, 
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things 
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings- 
Stories that stir with an upward touch, 
Oh, that each mother of boys were such.

You may have tangible wealth untold; 
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. 
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.

I "borrowed" this picture from my sister-in-law's blog, because it captures such a perfect moment. (Thanks, Jenny!)

I love this poem because it is so true.

I was fortunate to have not just a "reading mother" but a "reading father," too. Some of my fondest memories can be tied to books. Listening as my parents introduced me to:
 "The Little House on the Prairie" books,
"The Chronicles of Narnia,"
"Charlie, and the Chocolate Factory,"
 "The Door in the Wall"
 (and so many more)
  filled my mind with a thirst for knowledge and my heart with a love for the written word.

I also had more than one "reading teacher"- not in the traditional sense of the phrase, though I had many of those throughout my schooling - but teachers who were truly passionate about words. And not just in books - poetry or prose; short or long - it didn't seem to matter. They devoured the phrases set before them and created a similar hunger in me.

I hope that in some small way, I am creating a similar desire in those I teach.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Breaking Through...

As I headed to work one morning this is the sight that greeted me. I thought about the interplay between the sunlight and the shadow of the clouds. The rays of sun breaking through the stubborn cloud cover. Even when storms appear to threaten, ultimately the sun breaks through.  In some ways teaching is like that.

There are days it feels like nothing you say or do is breaking through the thick layer of issues students bring with them. Family issues. Health issues. Academic issues. And yet, every once in awhile you do break through. Those are the moments to cling to.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What would I do?

I started writing this blog post several weeks ago after watching what was going on in the nation and in my state as well as others regarding public education. I then saved it intending to get back to it a little bit later that day. Instead other things intervened, as they often do in life, and the post was pushed to the back of my consciousness - never completely out of mind - but not at the forefront either.

Last weekend during a conversation with a friend who is also a teacher, we talked about what we would do if we weren't in the education profession any longer.  I made a somewhat facetious remark that I'd love to own a bookstore so I could read all the books. It was the second time in as many days that a friend and fellow educator brought up that question and the idea of this post resurfaced. My friend made a statement something to the effect that having been in education as long has he had, he wasn't sure what he would do. I had a similar thought. I have spent so much of my life either in this profession, or preparing for it - quite literally half of my life if I consider my schooling - that it is a conundrum for which I have no clear answer. Again, I dusted off this post and worked and reworked it, then set it aside.

As I've listened the past couple of weeks to what is coming down the road for public education, much of it punitive at the least and retributive at the worst, I realized that I couldn't put off completing this post any longer.

I went into the education profession because I cared what happened to the children who were placed under my guidance. I wanted to make a difference in their lives like so many of my former teachers made in mine.   I wanted to be in a profession where, by and large, most people felt the same way. I didn't become a teacher for the pay or having the summers "off." (Which is a whole different post perhaps I'll tackle some day.) Yes, there are teachers that are less than effective. There are people in any profession who are not effective or who reflect poorly upon that profession because of their words and deeds. Does that mean I paint the whole profession with a broad brush and write them all off because of a few outliers who skew the perception of what the majority do?


Yet, it seems as though everything that I have worked for in the past several years is under attack from the very people who should be the most supportive.

I am all for accountability for teachers and administrators. I don't think many people argue that isn't necessary - just as there needs to be accountability for ANY profession. But accountability in what form and for what purpose? When you consider all that is now considered part and parcel of what constitutes public education it is daunting. Additionally, there are more stakeholders in this situation than just teachers and administrators. Where is the accountability of the parents, students, communities, and policy makers? Where is the consideration of all the consequences both intended and unintended that come as a result of mandates - many unfunded - that are passed down from those who have little to no experience in the actual system of public education?

Here are two very powerful pieces from the perspective of a teacher who says it far more eloquently than I can.

I urge you to read them and share them.

This also brought to mind a story told by Jamie Vollmer a former businessman and critic of public education who is now a proponent. I think it makes several valuable points.

Image found here.
Does the fact that we are not able to choose our "raw material" excuse us from giving our best effort in educating the children we serve? Absolutely not! But, by the same token, you cannot judge public education and its facets through the lens of a corporation or business that has more control over its variables. We are dealing with human beings not pieces of plastic or metal that you can melt down and rework to suit your purpose!

I can honestly say that I don't know where the future of public education lies. Many days those glimpses of the future I do see can be mighty discouraging.

What would I do if I wasn't an educator?

 I don't know... but in the current environment, maybe I need to find out....

And yet, then I think of what really drove me to become a teacher and has kept me in the field regardless of the ups and downs - the children. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing potential wasted. But, conversely, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the moment something clicks with a child. It's those last moments that help me hang on when I feel the most like moving on to something new. I can't control the world, or the nation, or even my state. I can control how effective I am in my classroom and my school. As in the story of the starfish, I may not be able to change everything but I can make a difference every day in the life of a child. I just hope I continue to get that chance.

It came to me
When I was young
That I would never be
       A great philosopher
       A healer of wounds
       A doer of mighty deeds
       A finder of hidden treasure
I am but a gardener
Simply a planter of seeds
A waterer of saplings
Encouraging tender shoots to burst forth
Overshadowing the gardener
As branches stretch ever nearer
The great vast expanse
I am not forlorn
That the world
Knows not my name
I am content
That the seed sown
In the midst of the tumult
Has thrived and now
Sends forth seeds of its own
For me to plant
And nurture
And love

Monday, April 1, 2013

The value of an education?

During a lunch break a couple of my colleagues and I were discussing the way some students fail to value the opportunities afforded them to gain an education. So often it seems that some give up without even trying to put forth even a modicum of effort. It can be somewhat disheartening at times.

One of the teachers said that when she was teaching high school she used to show them a clip from the movie Ever After

" If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them? "

She made the point to her students that by giving students the chance to gain an education in their youth the people who support their schooling "buy in" to the philosophy of the Cinderella character in this clip. That the purpose of an education is to open up previously unknown opportunities and possibilities. And, that by investing in their future now they are hoping to avoid the "mak[ing] of thieves [just to] punish them."

I thought it was an interesting comparison to make.