Bad Student to..Good Teacher?

It was guided reading time. I was with my second group in the seventy minute block. We’d reviewed segmenting words for three minutes, they’d read the book of the day for eight minutes and there were nine minutes left for the discussion of character feelings.

“How do you think Mom and Dad feel about Baby Frog throwing the garbage out all by himself? That’s the question we are going to think about. What’s the first thing we should do?” I asked.

There were three hands up. Mason was looking out the window. I knocked slightly in front of him to get his attention and repeated the question. Ali, who was sitting next to me, was squirming in her seat. She put her face in my face with a big smile so she could be called first. I reminded her, “Everyone will get a turn.” Ali momentarily pouted but then resumed her best – hands folded, eyes tracking and back straight – to be called on next.

Desiree answered the question. “We should find the picture where Baby Frog is throwing the garbage out and look at his mom and dad’s face and actions to figure out how they are feeling.”

“Very good,” I replied. “Looking at the picture, tell me what the parents are doing and how they feel.” Ali was still sitting at her best but she looked at me with her big eyes. I smiled. “Go ahead Ali.”

“I see that the mom and dad have big smiles and they are watching Baby Frog. On the next page after Baby Frog throws the garbage away, I see that mom and dad are hugging him. That makes me think that his parents love him very much,” Ali said enthusiastically.

“Let’s do a group vote with thumbs up to show agreement.” The three children gave her thumbs up. “Yes, Baby Frog’s parents do love him very much. But today we’re going to build on that to find a better word.”

Ali’s demeanor changed. She slumped in her seat and folded her arms. “Ali,” I said leaning closer to her. “This is a new feeling we’re learning. You tried your very best and I’m proud of you.” I turned to the whole group. “Oops, I gave the answer away! Who knows what proud means?”

Mason raised his hand. “It is when you do something that is very hard. Then you feel proud of yourself.”

“Yes! It is an accomplishment. Like learning to tie your shoes or opening the lunch milk carton all by yourself! When you think ‘I did it!’ that’s when you are proud of yourself. And teachers and parents can feel proud of you too.”

Ali remained sulking but I was against the clock – seven minutes remaining – and five more questions to do. So I was firm with Ali. “You’ll get another chance and you can try again with another question,” I said and moved on.

But it’s not that simple. I know that now having to revisit taking courses to complete my teacher certification.
I stopped being a good student in high school. Sure I was in AP and Honor courses, but I stopped trying in class. I failed to see the relevance of the courses applicable to my life and the deeper the grades sunk without teacher concern the less I cared.
I see it now: my parents were always on my case to do better in school, but I was their daughter not their student. I sat in the back of my classes and wrote and teachers never asked what I wrote or what I did. They taught and enjoyed conversations with the A students.
That’s not the kind of teacher I want to be. Every child has a capability and shouldn’t be measured by expectations. I should given Ali more time to process, but that day when she got a second chance with another question and she didn’t reply, I just moved on. Because I was so focused on teaching, I didn’t even consider what she needed. I should have checked in on her later, to help her understand I believed in her even if she made a mistake, but I didn’t.
She still passed the assessment at the end of year which is dandy, but I’m not proud. So what if she can read if she can’t process her feelings?
I’m about to turn 23 and I still have trouble with that! It’s why I’m here writing instead of doing an assignment. Because after I got 3/5 and a FAIL on an assignment I spent 12 hours doing, the surprise left me bereft of all confidence. Now I’m doubting myself every step of the way in the online math program and I find myself procrastinating. After all, sanity doesn’t let you be fully engaged in something that will hurt you.
Yes, in this case its my pride and self-esteem that are hurt. But I’ve struggled with that all my life. It’s why I became a teacher, so I could help students believe in themselves from the very start. And I forgot that along the way, I was focused on taking cues from my coteacher on how to teach that I overlooked my ability to reach out to kids just like me.

Of course now I know what I can do better my second year teaching. If I stay teaching. What if I don’t pass this math class and my certification never happens? I want to be fifteen and act like I don’t care. But that’s not who I want my students to turn into. For their sake, I need to learn to not give up. If I can win this battle within myself – push past all my doubts and try my best and try again if I fail – then I can instill that value in my students. And that’s the best gift I want to give them.

 

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A Teacher is a Scholar First

In my school, each of the kindergarten classes are named after universities. So that each of the scholars know since day one they are beginning their journey to college and after.

As a homage to Dr. Seuss’s classic and the paths that lay ahead of each scholar, I wrote a poem for the kids’ mini yearbook. They graduate tomorrow ready to be first graders, many ready to dismiss their parents’ help to read the poem on their own.

Oh, the Colleges We’ll Go

We did it!
Today is our graduation.
We’re off to great adventures
and our journey has just begun.

We of NYU, Kean and Clemson Universities
learned to be professional scholars
with college hands and curious minds
we’ll go forth to paint our future in bright colors!

I remember Meet the Teachers night like it was yesterday. I read a book with Kaelyn, played blocks with Darwin and Jefferson, and colored with my shy girls. I remember the first few weeks Andrea cried to go home. Now she has grown up brave enough to touch a snake at the zoo. I remember Jasmine hiding behind her mom’s legs, smiling, but not ready to talk to me. Now she’s always raising her hand to share out. Ashley and Britany are our resident cousins and Britany was dependent on her. Since then, Britany has realized there were other Spanish speaking friends in class and she slowly opened up to them – and me with my broken Spanish. Daniel and Emmanuel, our reserved boys, now come in with eager grins and arms open for hugs every morning.

The kids knew when to laugh and when to listen to Ella, but I was the soft one. The one who listened to all their cries, tried to make amends between the kids, and was goofy with silly voices and cat obsessions. It took me twice as long to get my class back on track after I made a joke. So somewhere in the middle of the year, I became the structured teacher.  I followed lesson plans and didn’t allow for distractions. Ella would take pictures with our kids and buy prizes for them; I relied on praises and the occasional stickers. I treated then like miniature college kids in lecture halls in which every minute counted.
I forgot what it was like to be a kid.

It’s an awkward year  for me – a recent college graduate wading into adulthood, I don’t know where I belong socially. I can’t stay up to hang out with my college buds and I can’t connect with the other older teachers. Stunted, I focused on my work and it translated into strict transitions between blocks to make the most out of academics for my kids.

My first year teaching, I’m still learning the balance of fun and management. As the school year end comes to an end, I have less preparation to do and the schedule is more flexible for the kids. We had Field Day on Friday and we had so much fun. I thought, 9 months of rigorous teaching is worth it for one day of ultimate fun with the kids. But they’re five. They should be having fun every day.

I thought being a good teacher meant making sure they were set up for success in first grade and beyond. That’s always a goal. But the best teachers are the one who listen and believe in you and challenge you. Those are the teachers you remember forever.
My sixth grade math teacher, Ms. Jasper, pushed me to excel in math while encouraging me to come out of my shell during group work. My 7th grade Reading teacher, Ms. LaMarca, adored me because I was a voracious reader. By chance, I bombed an exam in her class the same time I was struggling in other classes. She wrote me a note telling me not to let recent grades get me down and keep believing in myself. My 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Nilooban, challenged me to dig deeper as a writer and listened to me about my fall-outs with friends. They are the reason I got into teaching.

So hellbent I was on doing, I forgot on being. I don’t know if my students will remember me. But I will remember them for teaching me to ease up.

I make mistakes and I doubt myself occasionally. But Ashley kisses my hand and Naomi will never leave the classroom without making sure she says bye and Jayden has to share his good news first with me and Mimi wants me to sit next to her while she writes and Jaylin wants my approval with his stand up, and Ally calls me squishy when she hugs me. They love me even when I’m not sure I’m meant to be a teacher.
My students are the true teachers of joyfulness and courage. And like any good scholar, I will remember this lesson and build upon it.

FieldDay Fun

 

Goodbye, Hello

My kindergartners are graduating in three days. My first year teaching is almost complete and it’s hard to let go of the bonds. Sure I’ll see them in the hallways or when I peek into their first grade classrooms next year, but they are no longer my babies. They are proud scholars ready to soar into the next grade.

Today the students filled out introduction sheets that will be saved and given to their corresponding first grade teacher in the fall. The students LOVED writing about themselves – a big difference from all the writing they have been doing about the Magic Tree House books, listing facts about animals they like, and basic opinion pieces about whether they like donuts or cupcakes. The best part for them was being able to share it with me and Ella.

I remember starting out the year with All About Me pieces. Back then our wee scholars wobbled in their pencil holding and could only write their names. Since then they’ve grown so much and as much as it is hard for me to see them fly from my nest, I am proud of each and every one of them.

Still, I don’t feel sad. I always knew as a teacher that none of my students would be permanent. Instead, hopefully the fun we had in our class will remain in their minds forever. That’s all I can do. Hope.

And cherish the things that are a part of my life to stay. Like my precious cat Indigo!
Yes, I’m the typical cat mom who believes her cat is truly the best. I love showing her off to my students who like to think of her growing up with them. So I made her a “first grade” introduction based on all the talking (hmph, meowing) she does.

It turned out to be a good lesson to my scholars about imagination. They’re so good at dramatic free play, but when it comes down to visualizing and considering the impossible as possible it’s still a big grow for them. Naturally. But my personification of my cat led to a discussion of what life would be like if my scholars’ toys came to life.

Every moment is a story, the collection of which can be labeled as a good memory or – not. The moments that contain fleeting interactions provide us with perspective and ways to strengthen the bonds we want to retain. Ultimately, that is the novelty of life.

I have one regret this year: I became so focused on creating a environment that encouraged curiosity and learning, I didn’t take the time to find out what my kids wanted. I don’t know if it would have fit into the curriculum, but I’m sure they would have liked it if I’d heard their voices more and not just to in response to questions I asked pertaining to lessons. We had fun building toy cars, making volcanoes and moon dust and rain in a jar, but we didn’t talk.

My hope: in the fall, I can make the time to find out more about my scholars outside of school.
The big picture: I can’t want to spend my summer and the rest of my life laughing, cuddling, and playing with those closest to me – especially Indigo.

fantasticfirst

I dug my own grave

I  sat in the staff workroom perfecting the upcoming book celebration plan. After kindergarten completes reading a Magic Tree House book – a second grade reading level – we decorate the cafeteria based on the book theme and have a dance party. For Midnight on the Moon, the scholars will walk in to a read aloud about the moon to see a blacked out room with bulletin board paper, stars and rocket ships on the walls, astronauts and moons hanging from the ceiling, a bowl of moon rocks in moon dust as centerpieces at each table and a pumped up playlist to get them moving after they eat.
All for them and to prove that I can excel at creation.
When my boss walked in, I was listening to a moon lullaby. I stopped it to find a more dance inducing song, and Boss told me to not stop on account of her. Smiling, I admitted I was searching for a better option.
As she placed her Wendy’s lunch on the table to sort through and refrigerate, I moved across the room to check the printer. I can lead a class of twenty-six five year olds, but striking up a common dialogue with a superior makes me bite my tongue. It was her who spoke. Curiosity I don’t know, but the Boss mentioned my approved day off. “I also saw that you added another day. Are you going somewhere?”
A conversation I didn’t expect, I was unprepared to lie. Stumbling sincerity: no, I just wanted another day to myself to write. Like a fifth grader asked about her feelings for her crush by the crush’s mom, I awkwardly added, “I can come in if you want me to.”
Where was the future me traveling back in time to stop me from committing stupidity?
Of course Boss tried to be lenient. Would I want Monday or Tuesday? I was getting a day off March 12th. That was a gift.
She packed up her prepped salad to take upstairs to eat in her office. I stood there in the empty space knowing if I screamed everybody would hear.
The chasm of frustration had me teetering on the endless rim of black hole vexation. What’s a personal day if I have to talk about it?
It’s Rich’s spring break that week. This semester has been hard on us. He juggles work, eighteen credits and jumping into game design without prior experience. We don’t see each other so much. All I wanted was to spend a long weekend with him, Indigo curled up between us as we continued our Naruto marathon. That day for vacation is approved. I just wanted the extra day for myself.
Why should I feel guilty about what I want? I take pride in my work, the youngest of the pack, I try to maintain my gait with the grade leader. Somehow I’m still the twelve year old who’s not good enough in comparison to the teachers who spend their weekends traveling to teacher conventions and hobble in noncontagious but diseased.
Scholars, parents, boyfriend, cat – and those are just the people who covet time and energy from me. Ice it with my meticulous desire to excel at creation in school projects, I don’t know how Supergirl does it. I don’t want to be taken care of, but I’m not taking care of myself either. How can I be entrusted to bring joy into anyone’s life?
I am a balloon filled with slime. Mud masked it can’t be popped; trickling life force leaving a trail of unappreciative attitude. I can’t inspire if I’m not my best self.
Coincidence awarded me the chance to blog nightly this week. This literacy testing period will be over soon and I will have to write twelve more lesson plans instead. The next testing period begins two days before Rich’s birthday. Personal days then won’t be an option so I won’t ask.
The worst hell isn’t torture. It’s a stretch of bleakness.
I used to be an actress, Jack Daniels my teacher, but it was a bad habit I had to let go of. A dull rock will never have the luster of pyrite – fool’s gold yet it sparkles. So I retreat into my mental cave of creation – for work and for myself – because the words I say aloud come out wrong.

Gun Control NOW!

I start my car
but I don’t where to drive it
idling, I toy with the radio
while the engine warms up
indecisive, I step out
but I can’t be home either

The beauty of poetry is that you can say what’s on your mind but not truly reveal anything at all. Like any art, the audience can make anything out of it that they choose.
My car is what I really want to write: about the Florida shooting. But I don’t know where to begin. As a teacher, I have anger and sorrow and fear sown into me. I want to pour out but I know my circumventing will overrun a gas tank. Thinking about anything else is bliss. But in this case, silence is a crime.

American born Desi, my parents wanted me to love their culture, but I chose to call myself an American first most and only. I don’t want to live to India. I love traveling to Britain and France and Switzerland and Canada, but my home is United States. The land of dreams and freedom – but it’s no longer that.
In its muddled state of affairs all we have is a dream to be free of gun violence – of all violence. How long do we have to wait for that?

The news is like a taunt – what if I can’t protect my scholars? What if I’m not a good enough confidant or role model for them to lean on me when they need it? What if I can’t teach them to express with words?
There are no answers. We can all do our best but it won’t be good if the laws don’t change.

Up until 12th grade, I learned history, the past. Then I took AP Government and Politics and I learned about policies, laws and wars all in my lifetime. It was my past, what I’d grown up with on the news, now permanently etched in a book as a recording.
This shooting will be immortalized in text; my five and six year olds will one day be learning about it. This has to be the last one. I don’t want them to think it is a norm for “troubled” people, people with mental health disorders to go around shooting the world. I don’t want them to grow up accepting the world is unsafe. I don’t want them growing up it’s okay to let a disorder consume you and let actions speak louder.
We have the chance to be on the right side of history. Now or never, the 2nd amendment has to be changed. The allowance of personal guns to protect ourselves is only endangering more lives. It’s ironic, we need protection from guns and people think the solution to that is letting everyone have a gun. Fight fire with fire and there are more lives lost and hearts broken.

I’m not proud to call this my country anymore.

I know it’s been days since the incident and I know people have voiced their beliefs already. I – I didn’t want to face it.
I love Valentine’s Day. I have gold heart decals all over my room, pink and red hearts hanging from the ceiling, a wall of my favorite television couples and above my bed love letters. To spread how much I value love, I wanted to be on the Valentine’s Day committee at my school. The scholars made Valentines for their parents. they wrote and drew on hearts which teacher they are grateful for and why; these were put up in all of the school hallways. The cafeteria was decorated with streamers and hearts hanging from the ceiling. We made time for a quick dance party to get our hearts pumping. I had more ideas – I wanted to include STEM and have the kids make hearts out of toothpicks and marshmallows, make heart slime, learn about the real heart structure – but we ran out of time in preparation but I pumped to do it even better next year.
I wore a black dress with metallic flowers of various shades of pink, I was so excited to let love ring. The tragedy – I couldn’t comprehend it. How. Why. Why.

During lunch, we had our scholars share out grateful hearts. One of my scholars, Jamie, said he was grateful for me and coteacher for protecting our class. He was talking in reference to a classmate who is autistic and is working on emotion regulation. Sometimes he puts the class in a tricky situation by pulling and throwing classroom materials around. Jamie’s choice of words made my heart sad knowing the class saw it as needing protection. There are worse dangers out there, ones I never want my kids to ever find out from personal experience.

Columbine and Virginia Tech happened when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember much in the news and partly because while my parents didn’t want to scare me. The first school shooting that I remember that left me speechless and broken was Sandy Hook Elementary. It was only six years ago but 28 people died. And still guns are allowed? How is this okay?
Lives in schools aren’t the only ones important. All lives are. The Las Vegas shooting just last year, the Orlando nightclub just two years ago, the Sutherland Springs church shooting – a church? I want to call them monsters who do this, but they’re not, they’re just people. What did we do to let them become like that?

This is my first year teaching. I take a lot of pride in my profession; it’s a lot of hard work and energy – teachers are superheroes. A lot of 22 year olds don’t believe it. They want to make money and they want to make it fast. It’s parents who look at me with gratitude and thank me for choosing the profession. I get it – they are entrusting their babies in my hands and heart to teach, to love, to help their minds and emotions grow. Really we are all a part of teachable moments with people of all ages. Be fair and be open-minded.

But even if all neighbors were kind and empathetic, but it would not hold a candle to the government not changing the law on gun control.
It’s not okay that people die. It’s not okay that control of their life is taken away by someone with a gun. It’s not okay that one cannot travel outside not knowing if they will return home that night. How can we live in a world without trust? Power should not be in the hands of a gun wielder.

I shouldn’t have to wait for my country to make the right choice in protecting all of its people.

 

rebel strikes back

Why is the first reaction to criticism rejection? It’s this automatic reaction to save our prides. It stings worse when you’ve actually made an effort.

I checked my email to see if I got comments on my guided reading lesson plans. Occasionally there are a few formatting slights or material presentation misprints and sometimes I’m lucky enough that I did it right. But today there were more comments than the first time I wrote my plans back in September and it was unnerving realizing I had to edit twelve lesson plans. It’s hard enough to write that many in a week with deadlines of subject lessons plans and homework creation. My mood soured.

Since the last testing round, guided reading has changed in our school. While in the long run, once we teachers have fully grasped all the changes and have well-oiled implementation, our scholars will fully benefit from the change in style that allows them to learn to read while increasing their schema, right now we teachers are in the same boat as leadership. The information that is coming down to us is in a narrow pipeline and with no exemplary model to follow, we try and fail and get a thousand edits that leave me with more questions than answers. What am I doing right?

Our school has an education consultant who makes the trek from Brooklyn to Plainfield to help fortify the foundation of our school. A lovely lady she works with each teacher one to one listening to their questions and goals and then assisting them in improving their outcomes. Apparently what I gathered from our discussion from our meeting earlier this week was misinterpreted; I accepted the tip of the iceberg as the whole rather than delve into the frigid waters of the big picture.

We start our reading with a text presentation, a hook question if you may, like the one I started with at the beginning of this entry. Over the last few months I’ve been told to do it differently: from writing an engaging question that opens a discussion to asking a yes/no question that scholars can answer by showing a thumbs up and down to. Now to promote more usage of schema – which is much needed – I thought the consultant wanted us to present the text’s big picture in the question. For example, if the leveled reading book is called Banana Sometimes and on each page there is a pattern in which readers are told what bananas sometimes look like, it is best to create a hook based on. Thus to my scholars I asked, what do bananas sometimes look like? I let them talk to their partners before they shared out and then I was able to tie in their answers to how the book would read and what the book would tell us about bananas.

Wrong. Apparently, the big picture is much bigger. In the case of the aforementioned text in which a boy is playing with his banana as a boat, phone, spider, fingers, pencil, he is really using his imagination to pretend what the banana could be. Thus, my opening question should have been about how my scholars use their imagination to play with – a pencil. Then I would take their experience/replies and connect it to the book’s big picture to allow for a growth in schema by comparison of practice and told by story.

I get it. I understand it. But I was looking forward to my Thursday night with no work to do. Because every night I come home and I have some preparation to do, some email to answer, some plan to write. When you’re a teacher, you can try, but you can’t really turn it off. There’s just too much to do.
And today that made me want to scream. Because if the edits were given sooner, if I had prep longer than twenty minutes, if there was a quiet place for me to think during my prep, if this distinction was made clear before with a model, if if if if if if.
I still have to get it done. But I was told by tomorrow afternoon so I chose not tonight. Even though I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Tirelessly I try to exceed expectations and face responsibilities with optimism, but I’m stifling the kid inside of me. And she’s banging on my heart to get out. The devil on my shoulder whispers for me to look for a mundane 9 to 5 ticktock workplace, but the kid in me ignores that. She just wants me to remember the fun parts of work: the challenge of coming up with sentences that the scholars can read and have sight words, finding new ways to make lesson plans engaging with videos and stories and hands on activities, doing arts and crafts to make classroom decorations, laminating for literacy centers. Still teaching related but sometimes the brain wants to follow the heart.

Let it. What good are you to anyone if you are dead at heart?