Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Let This Moment of Clarity End

Dear Self,

You know what you need to do and how to do it. Rid yourself of all of the ridiculous roadblocks that inhibit you this school year. If you can't get rid of them, ignore them in hopes that they will go away. Prioritize:
1. Teach your students.
2. Write curriculum and participate in PD when it will help you teach better. (psst...remember, you're a teacher, right?)
3. When you are called to do something that is other than the first two things, think, "Did I take care of my first two priorities before I take on this one? Will this task help me with my first two priorities?"

If the answer to that question is, "NO!" then let someone else do it. You have a baby girl who needs your time and attention and love when you are not at work. In order to properly teach your students, most of the time you set aside for work outside your workday needs to be in preparation for your own students. If you don't do this, then you must sacrifice more time with your lovely daughter, just to help others in your school building. This does not help you to be prepared for your first priority, forget even doing the second well. The other priorities in your work life must somehow be put onto the back-burner or taken care of in some other way. Lead by example, not by writing down what an example should be. Currently, what you know and what you practice are not aligned because you spread yourself too thin!

Self, align your teaching with what your beliefs are and forget everything and everyone else that is unnecessary!

Do it for your sanity, your intellect and your baby!

Monday, June 28, 2010

I'm writing a book...

I've heard a dozen people say this in the past week, but could this really be possible? Perhaps I hang out with lots of really interesting, smart people...

I would like to add myself to this list. I officially feel like my school year has started. This is a very untimely event, seeing that today is the last day of school and all. Just last week I met my class and just today I looked through their running records and math assessments and moved my belongings into a new classroom. Naturally it's time for all of the mental planning to start!

I already cannot sleep. I need to set up my classroom. If I don't figure out how to put the rug just so in the next couple of weeks, I may not sleep for 2 months. This probably will not happen until August, and even then, I may only be able to set up some tables and chairs. It's a start. I will actually need a rug before I can position it just so. I don't even have library books to organize into baskets. I moved into a classroom that used to be a performing arts room, which is neat because it's pretty empty, however, there isn't any grade specific stuff to organize.

You see, I've been a mathematics coach for the past two years, so the ending of this school year seems pretty unofficial. Last June I was still on maternity leave, so I didn't know what it would feel like to have the school year end without 20 something children leaving you for the summer. Today I saw a teacher in tears and actually wished that I was crying too. I love those years. You know the ones, when your class (that you couldn't stand when they started the year) is now so lovely. They know you and they know each other and we all know how to get each other smart. You are all in some sort of love and now it's ending. They'll see you in the hall and give you a hug or a 'finger-wave' and be on their way...ahhh, then you get to do it all again, starting over from the part where you can't stand your class. Maybe that's why I cried year after year-happy that the kids had come so far, but maybe underneath all of that, sad that I would have to try to do this thing all over again!

That's how I knew that I had made the right decision about going back into the classroom. I decided to for many reasons, most of them selfish ones, but all good reasons. One reason is because I have always dreamed of writing a book about teaching and putting 'it all' in really well. Teaching younger kids is like orchestrating a masterful symphony if done well and is FAR from easy. Hopefully, I have a good (and by good I mean realistic) year and can live to tell about it. I wanted to call it 'Teaching with Intention" but Debbie Miller already used that title recently! I thumbed through her book the other day and realized that what she was writing about is really in line with my thinking, and since I've always loved (idolized at a time) Debbie Miller, it's okay that she stole my title. I still love the title and now need to find some way to encompass intentionally doing EVERYTHING into a neat title. When I say everything, I mean everything. There is a method to the madness that goes on in my head about so much that goes on the classroom-the writing tools, the paper we use, the songs we sing, the way we sit, the language we use, the stories we read and so much more. This year I will not write a book but instead try my best to chronicle all of the work that goes on behind what happens in the classroom. Ideally, I'd like to use this blog as a vehicle for writing. A warning for you as a reader is that there will be times that what I write makes no sense. This shouldn't be a problem since I only have one follower. The non-sensical stuff will probably be in a list format, just to hold onto my ideas while I change a diaper or feed Grace some dinner. I stopped blogging when I had Grace and would love to get back into it, but it's so hard! I even thought that I could hold off until closer to the school year, but no, it cannot wait! I had forgotten that in order for me to get ready for a successful school year I start so much of that work now. So, let the lists begin and the summer feel long. Please come along for the ride with me if you choose to do so!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ken Ken is the new Sudoku.  I thank Kim, a teacher at PS 503, for thinking of me when she saw it in the times.  "You're gonna love this puzzle," she said.  And she was really, really right!

Something more awesome than the actual puzzle is the philosophy behind the puzzle's creation. Japanese math teacher, Tetsuya Miyamoto created these puzzles. I have read that he "runs a class for children whose parents want them to improve their thinking powers," and that of these students 80% are admitted to Japan's most exclusive schools.  Of course, I think that his philosophy is awesome because it mirrors mine, or really, that my thoughts about the learning of mathematics are similar to those of a really smart Japanese mathematician.  He states, “Children are not taught or instructed.  If you give children good educational materials, they will think, learn and grow on their own."  The new mathematics we engage our students in at PS 503, (and some, but too few, other schools in NYC and beyond) allows students to play with numbers, logically reason about why certain rules apply to mathematics and construct their own understanding of each mathematical concept.  Important sidebar here-constructivist mathematics CANNOT be taught by just anyone. You need expertise teachers to manipulate and execute this type of curriculum well, and for students to learn at a high level, just like any other curriculum.  More on this later...In a sense, Miyamoto and I agree that students need a good problem to work with in order to engage in a high level of mathematical thinking.  We also agree that the teaching and learning of mathematics is not just a transfer of knowledge from teacher to learner in a 'Watch-Learn and Do-What-I-Do' sort of way.

In short, you should play Ken Ken.  If you are a teacher of mathematics, Ken Ken may be a fun way for students to practice composing and decomposing number, while testing their logical reasoning skills.  Even better, you can download really easy to amazingly hard puzzles and differentiate the types of numbers students work with depending on their skill.  Go here to play or just buy the NY Times!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sincere thanks...TCRWP July Summer Institute

This July, I had the great pleasure of actually being accepted to the Columbia Teacher's College July Institute on the Teaching of Reading.

I expected great things.  I knew that a lot would be review, but that most of the keynotes would be inspiring.  They were.  They reminded me of why I've worked so hard, and brought a flood of memories back to me about just how hard it was seven years ago when I first started my journey of teaching reading, and children, well.

The rest of my days were filled with smart educators and authors filling our heads with smart ideas about teaching well.  In the afternoons, I was in a small group section lead by Enid Martinez, with other Kindergarten teachers (I am not a Kindergarten teacher, but I wanted to learn more about it...I spent the last 5 years teaching 1st grade.)  We were supposed to bring a 'literary gift' with us to the last meeting.  I brought a quote, some books for my turn and talk partner, and I wrote a thank you note.  The thank you note was long, so I didn't read it, not because I didn't want to, there was just not a right time, and who wants to listen to me go on and on anyway...

By writing it though, I felt good.  It started to immortalize my journey, in a small way, as a teacher of reading, writing, and everything I've always knew was right in my heart to teach.  The following is that letter...

My gift to you all is sincere thanks and appreciation.

I appreciate all of you for coming from near and very far places to learn the hard but necessary work of teaching reading well.  I expected to meet so many more people from 'around town'.  Maybe some familiar faces from calendar days and Saturday reunions and study groups.  Because of your presence I fell inspired and lucky.  You would need to know a couple of things about me to understand why.  I am a TC junkie.  Seven years ago, when I started teaching (without ever student teaching) I had 28 students who couldn't read-either at all or very little.  The students that did read didn't seem to enjoy it, and the other kids saw reading as just plain hard and I was faced with lots of resistance.  Nevertheless, they were my students, and I was told to teach them and since I was given a job, my superiors thought that I know how to do so.  The sad truth was that I only knew how to teach art.  (And we made some pretty cool stuff that year, to fill the times when I didn't know what to do!)  Fortunately, left in the pile (sort of a mound that went up to my waist) of unwanted books that I was supposed to make into my classroom library, was The Art of Teaching Reading.  This book served as my guiding light to get me through this first year.

As I was on my journey as a first year teacher I wondered, "Why aren't the rest of my colleagues heeding the advice offered in this book?"  When asked most replied, "It's just too big," or, "It's not practical."  Others said, and I quote, "It's good, but we don't do TC, we do Balanced Literacy."  It took me a while, because I was especially naive then, to understand that these teachers and I were not similar, and they did not like me at all.  In earshot, but never to my face, I would hear, "What a to read that book and use it like a bible.  So I became like Kathy's husband and probably many of you have (or might soon be) the teacher that shuts the door and becomes quiet at staff meetings.

My hope for you, and good teachers everywhere, become just like me.  Not just because I'm awesome and have really neat teeny-tiny handwriting that would make Ruthie jealous, but because you can become a person who inspires change in your school in your town.

I hope that you will shut your door at first (and only if necessary) but then I hope that you'll follow a few more of these next steps <dot, dot, dot>

  1. Start to peek out of your doors and share with the people who'll listen.
  2. Upon receiving a compliment on your (and the student's) work, don't just say, "Thank you," but also say, "I can show you how we did it if you want."
  3. Plan with someone hopefully near (but far works too!) that will support you.
  4. Make copies of journal articles and/or chapters in books written by the researchers you've learned about here so that you're armed and ready when your AP asks, "Why?" or even worse, demands, "Don't".
  5. When you know enough and have seen change in your students, speak up LOUDLY at staff meetings about it.
  6. Do everything in your power that you can (sanely) manage, to do the best job possible, always keeping a clear cut goal in mind for the students and for yourself-not you principal or your district or your state.
  7. Always help others try out what you've learned here, even if you feel unsure, you can say, "I don't know how this will go, but let's see together."
  8. Sit on every committee, inquiry team and study group possible to whisper (and sometimes shout) what you know in your heart is right.
  9. Accept that the journey to teaching well in never over or easy because we should always try to improve our work.
Hopefully then, you may be blessed with <dot, dot, dot>
  • the good fortune of administrators who care and know how important this work is;
  • seeing a change in the culture of your school building;
  • teaching with your doors wide open!  (You'll know that you can do this because you now have enough influence to hire only people that are awesome like you!)
I said before that you inspire me.  You inspire me to continue my journey of refining my practice so that I can hopefully inspire so many others to refine theirs.  I feel exhausted by the thought of the many places in the United States and the world that will now work so hard at the fine art of teaching reading and relieved that so many of you are here to do so.

When planning, remember this, 
"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.  The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child." ~Carl Jung

Good luck to everyone who wants to teach 'those kids'.  I have to add on one other hope for you all.  I hope that you one day feel like I felt when hearing Lucy's closing speech.  I hope that you will one day feel like you've come full circle, you've inspired change, that your school is as awesome as you and that you feel an overwhelming sense of proud!  I sit here and still have tears in my eyes for how accomplished my school and my colleagues are!  Congratulations to PS 503!  

Like Lucy said, take care of your colleagues.  If you ever need help on your journey, I'll help take care of you.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Teacher's College July Reading Institute

Well, although I'm not ready to write so much now, I wanted to create a space where I can share all types of stuff with all of the professionals that I met this summer at TCRWP at Columbia and anyone else who is interested in my interesting life as a teacher.  I hope to blog a lot this summer!!!

Teachers are the second most amazing people that I know.
Kids are the first.

Teachers, enjoy your summer and come back often!