Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What Will My Room Look Like?

The prompt for week 3 of the #kinderblog14 challenge had two options. We could write about where we live or we could write about how we design our classrooms. I'm choosing to write about how I design my classroom.

Here's what my classroom looks like right now:

This is the view from my door.

From the back of the room looking forward

North to south view

South to north view

Last year, I didn't put too much thought into how my classroom was designed. I didn't really have time to. Going into last year, my biggest focus was surviving in an elementary school setting and in a new grade level. I was never very happy with how my classroom looked. It was this weird collage of student art work (I wrote about how I feel about that here) and random teacher store materials. Creating an environment that encouraged collaboration and learning was far from my top priority last year. 

This year, I've been putting much more thought into this. I've been in my classroom about once a week this summer trying to get things organized and visualizing my final product. Also, I've spent a good chunk of time researching how the environment impacts how the brain works. Today, I participated in a webinar with Erin Klein (@kleinerin) which was all about incorporating brain research into classroom design. I think I'm finally at a point where I can jump into actually designing my classroom.

I have three main goals this year. First, I want to create more flexible seating. I didn't offer my students many choices in where they'd like to learn last year. This year I want to go away from a seating chart and not require that my students work at their tables all the time. To help with this, I'm hoping to create a few more areas for students to choose to work. Right now my tables are set up in a u shape. My hope is to find a small coffee table (or some kind of shorter table) to put in the middle of the u with fun floor cushions to go around it. This would offer my students a chance to get away from the hard plastic chairs and find a spot that might be more comfortable to them. I also want to work on my classroom library area. My library is currently located on the loft on the north side of my room. I want to bring it down to the main floor and create a cozy area with a rug and some fun options for sitting (more floor cushions and a fun bowl chair). 

Secondly, I want to work on my decor. In the webinar today, Erin talked about the importance of color choice, especially in the primary grades. I'm hoping to replace the teacher store materials with homemade materials in warm browns and cream colors. Since most of my furniture and the cupboards are red, I'm going to try to work a little red in too; however, I want that to just be a highlight color. Erin also talked about the importance of including plants, so my goal is to find a couple of house plants to go on my windowsills. Just for elements of home, I've been contemplating adding a few fake flower arrangements here and there and maybe some fun picture frames.

Lastly (and this is the one that might not happen this year), I'd like to work on the lighting in my room. The two big windows on the east side of my room let in a lot of sunlight, so there were times when my students could work without the overhead lights last year. It's still a little dark though, so I'd like to pull in a couple of lamps here and there. Throughout my research, I found numerous studies that showed that natural and incandescent lighting is less distracting. Why not try to create the least distracting environment I can?

I don't know how much of this will actually happen this year. The whole process is not going to be easy on my wallet. My ultimate goal, however, is to create an environment that is brain-pleasing and allows my students to collaborate and grow. As I continue working on this, I'll try to update my blog to show pictures of this process. Nothing gets me more fired up than a good challenge for my students!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Taking the Next Step

In a meeting with my principal early last year, he and I were discussing my not-so-easy class. That day, which happened to be a Friday, I had had a bit of a break down. It was ugly and horrible, and I wish I had been able to control my emotions better. At that point, though, I had been working so hard to get my class to look like the other classes that I just didn't have anything left to lift myself up. After discussing my desire to incorporate more of my own teaching philosophy into my classroom, I was feeling much better. Then he asked me, "Are you living to work or are you working to live?" I know he was trying to encourage me to relax a little bit and to take some time away from school. He was absolutely right; I needed to do just that. I was more burned out during that meeting (which happened in September...) than I had ever been in my teaching career. That question, though, is one I have struggled with since that day. I haven't fully decided whether or not it's a good thing, but I think I live to work.

I have to follow that up with this: I believe teaching is a calling. I fully believe God put me on this planet to inspire, care for, and challenge the children in my care. I believe he gave me the strength to put in the intense effort it can take to be a great teacher, and I believe he gave me the heart to love other people's children as if they are my own. He gave me the passion to fight for what's best for my students and to create awesome learning experiences for them. This is why I'm here.

The hardest part, for me, in being called to teach is that my teaching journey has not been easy. I have never had solid job stability, and I live year to year praying I have a job come August. It is stressful and depressing. There are many days when I struggle with the fact that I so badly want to teach and I feel I have great things to offer, but I still haven't found a place that will fight to keep me past the next year. This year was particularly difficult for me in this way. I can't count how many times I have wondered why, if I am truly called to be a teacher, I have to fight so hard to be one.

At the beginning of the summer (the last day of school to be exact), I was approached about a new opportunity. Our district was looking for a new media specialist and someone had recommended me. I applied and interviewed, but I wasn't offered the position. I'm completely okay with this (and I'm not just saying that - I really am okay), and I think it was a blessing in disguise - divine intervention. In that crazy few weeks where I was exploring all that teacher librarians do and the impact they have on students and staff, my eyes were opened up to something new.

I really could be a kick-butt teacher librarian. I fully believe that. (For those of you who don't know me personally, it might be hard for you to grasp the full effect of that statement. I never say anything like that about anything. My confidence in myself is nowhere near where I would like it to be, and I can easily talk myself into believing I am not really good at anything. Saying I fully believe I'd be a good librarian is saying a lot.) The job incorporates my two strongest passions: books and using technology to connect to the outside world. Not to mention that I'd have the opportunity to impact more students and teachers in the course of the year than I can as a classroom teacher. Back in January, my district invited Shannon Miller (@shannonmmiller) to be the keynote speaker at our technology conference. She's amazing, and even then, I wondered about what it would be like to have her job.

In all of this thinking and praying and trying to decide what I'm supposed to do, I decided now is the time to do something about it all. In June, I was admitted into a grad school program where I will receive my master's degree in school library studies. Tonight, I submitted my request to enroll in my first two classes.

Holy. Scary. I am a planner and a sure-thing kind of girl (which is probably why I've been having such a hard time with my lack of job security). There is no guarantee that having this degree will get me a job. Not to mention that I've been told over and over again not to get a master's degree until I'm in the district I will be in for the rest of my career because then I will cost too much and no one will hire me. What if I make this investment in my career and it doesn't work out?

Despite being completely scared to death and overwhelmed by the work that will be involved in this process, the biggest part of me is excited. This could be a good thing - a life-changing thing. I'm choosing to focus on that excitement. While it's so hard to fight for what I believe I should be doing, my fight's not gone yet. I'm hoping this next step will lead me to something awesome and fulfilling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Exploring My Passions

After hearing so many wonderful things about Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate, I quickly ordered it on my Kindle around the end of June. I am so thankful I did. If there has ever been a book that challenged me to better myself, this was that book. The ideas in this book are fresh and forced me to think in all kinds of different ways about the way I was teaching.

I blogged about my thoughts on immersion here, but today, I wanted to share some of my passions. Dave breaks passion down into three categories: content passion, professional passion, and personal passion. Thinking about my passions in these three different categories surprised me in so many ways and I learned a lot about myself in doing so. (That's why it took me so long to blog about it. :) )

Content Passion - What do I love to teach?

My ultimate passion when it comes to content is teaching about books. I took a class on Daily 5 and Cafe at the beginning of the summer, and I am itching to get into the classroom and put all of my new-found knowledge to work. Putting books into the hands of children and teaching them how to use them (both to gain knowledge and for pleasure) puts that spring in my step. With teaching reading, I am constantly challenging myself as a teacher and trying to find the best way to meet my students' needs. This is important to me as a teacher. 

There are a couple of science/social studies topics that keep me going throughout the year too. I love, love, love to teach about the ocean! My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and my eyes were opened up to a whole new world. Having lived in (very much) land-locked Iowa my entire life and never seeing the ocean before our trip, I had no idea of its beauty and mystery. While in Hawaii, I had the opportunity to go on a submarine trip. At the deepest depth, we were 128 ft. below sea level. We saw all kinds of amazing creatures and habitats. It was fantastic! I love creating all kinds of beach/ocean-like experiences for my students. (Like this one!) I think I come alive when I'm teaching about these topics.

Another topic that puts the extra bounce in my step is farm. I grew up on a dairy farm. At times, we also had pigs, sheep, and chickens on our farm. As a kid, my life revolved around milking the cows, making the hay, immunizing the pigs, and feeding the calves. My dad loves to tell the story of the three year old me who was desperate to watch him milk the cows in the middle of the winter. After getting all bundled up and getting me to the barn, I think I lasted about 15 minutes before I was desperate to go back to the house. In my heart, the farm will always be my home. I love how naturally inquisitive my kiddos tend to be about the farm, and I love being a part of helping them experience the wonder of the farm.

Professional Passions - Why do I teach?

Three reasons:
  1. Watching students become great world citizens - There is so much more happening in my classroom than reading and math. Every day I have the joy of teaching students how to operate in the world. I teach about manners and kindness, and together, we work to better ourselves as people. This is why I teach. Nothing can make me smile bigger than hearing students share how kindness made a difference in their lives and how they plan to use that kindness in the future. 
  2. Being there - I have very little clue as to what my students are dealing with outside of school. Some students are more open than others, of course, and I know that many of them are dealing with things adults struggle with. For this reason, I teach to provide as safe place for my students. I challenge myself to take the time to love each and every child in my classroom and to make sure that their time with me is as caring and worry-free as it can be.
  3. Connecting and inspiring greatness - I want my students to know that there is more to this world than what is inside our four walls. I want them to know that what we are learning, doing, and creating within those four walls is important to everyone outside of those walls. I teach to inspire my students to be great and to explore their own passions to create something awesome. Then, I teach to create ways for them to share their passions with the world. I want them to be great, and I want the world to know it! 

Personal Passions - What do I love outside of teaching?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I cannot turn down a sweet to save my life. (This is the reason why I run.) For this reason, baking is one of my all-time favorite things to do. I recently tweeted this picture of the cake I made for my birthday. Let me tell ya', that thing tasted even better than it looked! I also make some dang good cinnamon rolls. My husband frequently requests them, and they have become a Christmas morning staple for both of our families. 

Another personal passion I have is books. Most Saturdays during the school year involve hours of losing myself in a good book. I won't disclose how much time I spend reading in the summertime. It's quite embarrassing. It's a good thing I am very conscious of our budget, because if that wasn't the case, I'm certain a huge percentage of our monthly income would go toward new books. Instead, I make weekly trips to the library and delight in rereading my favorites. I'm currently working my way through the Harry Potter series again, and I'm just as excited about them now as I was when I first read them. 

Now that I have identified all of my passions, I need to determine how I'm going to use them in my classroom. There's no doubt that I'm looking at this year in a completely different light than I did before. I'm hoping to focus on engagement and planning with my students in mind. After taking a few weeks off of school (although it is really hard to completely detach myself from school), I'm finally ready to get back and I'm so excited to see where this year takes me and my students!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Cute-ness Factor: Is It Worth It?

The #kinderblog14 week 2 challenge is more difficult than the first challenge, that's for sure! This week, we are supposed to write about an article that "pushes our buttons." I didn't find a specific article that fit this purpose because there are far too many about this topic to narrow it down to just one, and I didn't want to pick on a specific person. Also, confrontation is hard for me (what if I offend someone who has worked hard to create something for their students?), and I have a difficult time believing my opinions are worth being heard (what if I really know nothing about what I'm talking about?). Challenge is the perfect word to describe this post.

I've been in so many early childhood classrooms that revolve around cute. Every worksheet (ugh...), project, writing paper, and center is cute. There is cute clip art everywhere, and cute "art" projects hang all over the place. Teachers make all kinds of money selling their cute "art" projects and worksheets on Teachers Pay Teachers; they use their cute blogs to promote their cute products. I am certain you all know exactly what I'm talking about - those cute bumblebees the students created by cutting out the pieces and gluing them all together just so. They all look the same, with the exception of a few crooked stripes or wings here and there. Cute is everywhere in the early childhood realm. Last year, my classroom fit this mold. All year long, I asked myself, "Why am I asking my kids to do this "art" project?" (Is it really art if the artist is recreating something someone already created in exactly the same way?) Rarely could I actually answer that question, and that bothered me. I think what got me to fall into this pattern was the pressure to appear like the other classes; I didn't want to be the one classroom that looked less put-together or not kid-friendly. I had a deeply ingrained fear that parents and outsiders would notice how un-cute my classroom was and think I was less of a teacher because of that. I thought the best way to ensure I avoided all of that was to make project after project to hang all over my classroom.

To say I was conflicted is an understatement. I taught preschool for three years. In those three years I never did a prefab craft with my kiddos. My students created art. They used paint in all kinds of interesting ways. They built 3D structures with clay, pipe cleaners, and craft sticks (and whatever else they could get their hands on). They cut and glued and wrote and colored and explored art in meaningful ways. It was messy, fun, and open-ended. I believed in the process; I believed in the importance of allowing children to manipulate their environment and to use their imagination to create something. When I found myself in a kindergarten classroom in an actual elementary school , I lost that piece of me and I'm sad about that. As a rough estimation, I think my students did three prefab craft projects each week last year. They took so much time, and they stressed me out. By the end of the year, I simply gave the kids the tracers and the paper they would need and showed them an example of what the end project should look like. It was just too much to try to organize 19 5- and 6-year-olds to do the same thing at the same time. (How developmentally appropriate is that anyway?)

I recognize the fine motor practice involved in the cutting and gluing in these projects. I also recognize the power of a brain break; creating a fun something-or-other is a great way to give the brain a break from the academic demands of school. What I'm not sold on is the idea that creating cookie-cutter projects is a valuable use of time. I believe in creating authentic experiences for students. When in real life are my kiddos going to be presented with an example of something and asked to recreate that exact same thing in the exact same way using the exact same materials? Taking it a step further, I wonder if I am I teaching the value of creativity and individuality by asking my students to create the exact same thing? Also, can my students get the fine motor exercise in a more creative way, and can I structure the art project to be more open-ended to ensure students are exploring their creativity while giving their brains a break?

I'm not exactly sure what the perfect answer is. What I do know is I want to be the type of teacher who encourages students to share what they know with those around them in meaningful ways. I'm not convinced I am doing this when I ask my students to recreate something I've already created. What if I provided them with the materials and let them decide how they presented their knowledge? Let's say I'm doing a unit on zoo animals with my kiddos. Instead of giving them tracers and paper to create a giraffe from an example I have already created, what if I asked them to choose their favorite animal and use whatever materials I had available (paper, paint, pipe-cleaners, cardboard, etc.) to create a 2D or 3D representation of their animal? This way, I would be giving them creative control over their learning while still providing them with the fine motor practice they need and a brain break from the academic demands.

Next year will be different for me - that much I know. I want to get back to the core of who I am as a teacher and see where it takes me. I hope to say goodbye to prefab crafts and work to cultivate my kiddos' imaginations in more creative ways.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I Don't Have Kids. I'm Still a Good Teacher.

I'm coming a little bit late in the game to the #kinderblog14 challenge. I have a good excuse though! The topic for week one was to write the post that has been sitting in your draft folder or brewing in your mind for some time. There have been many topics I've wanted to write about, so I took some extra time to think about which post most needed to be said. Here goes nothing!

Unfortunately I was confronted by an upset parent about an incident on the playground at the beginning of last year. The parent was in tears when she came to me, and I honestly didn't even know anything about the incident other than that it had happened. (I wasn't on duty that day.) During this confrontation, she spoke words that hurt me to the core and that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. First she asked, "Am I remembering right that you don't have any kids?" When I replied in the positive, she said, "Okay, then you just don't understand."


This isn't the first time someone has said something like that to me, but it was the first time it was directed at me in a negative way. Many of my cooperating teachers for various practica and student teaching told me they became better teachers when they became parents, and that that would likely happen for me to. In those situations, though, their intent was never that I was a lesser teacher because I wasn't a parent, just that I would become even better because of that. When the comment was directed at me in a way that implied I wasn't as good or qualified to be a teacher because of the fact that I am not a parent, it hurt.

Of course, in the moment, I remained calm. I remained calm while discussing the incident immediately afterwards with my fellow kindergarten teachers and my principal too. The second I got to my car that afternoon, though, I broke down into tears. How dare she say that to me! She didn't know a thing about my life, and since it was the beginning of the year and I was new to the district she didn't really know much about me as a teacher. I felt torn down and deeply disrespected.

I wish I could have said this:

Here's what I know about my ability to teach and care for children:

  1. I have been trained in child development, effective teaching strategies, and differentiation, and I understand what to expect from my children I work with.
  2. I have cared for hundreds of children in many different capacities for 11 years including: babysitting, before/after school care, daycare, and teaching.
  3. I know how to keep kids safe, and I go out of my way to do so. (I was that teacher at the end of the year school picnic who was spraying down children with sunscreen as they ran past.)
Here's what I know about what it means to be a teacher and not a parent:
  1. Because I do not have children of my own, I have a ton of time to devote to my classroom. I spend nights and weekends researching and planning for ways to make my classroom better fit the needs of my students. I can do this, because I don't have to put my own children first.
  2. Because I do not have children, my heart is completely open to love my students. After God, my husband, and my family (who all live far away and who I wish were much closer in spirit), come my students. I've got a whole lot of heart left for them, and they quickly fill it up. At night, I think about my students; they often keep me up at night (out of excitement just as much as worry). I plan for my students constantly and think of them frequently when I'm out and about. I pray for them every day. I spend a good chunk of my paycheck on them, because I want what is best for them. (I am not saying teachers who are parents don't do this. I'm simply saying I can do more of this since I don't have children of my own to think of first.)
  3. As a teacher who is not a parent, my students become my children. I talk about "my kids" all the time, because that is how I think of them. For the year I have them, they are mine. My kiddos last year occasionally referred to me as their school mom. I take my job seriously, and "my kids" mean the world to me. At the end of the year, I am more sad than happy because it means "my kids" are no longer mine. All summer long, I can't wait to meet "my new kids," and I love nothing more than getting to know "my kids" throughout the year.
I am not in any way saying that I am a better teacher by not being a parent than those who are parents. I want to be very clear about that. In fact, I want with every fiber of my being to be a parent, and that is a daily heartbreak for me. I am 100% certain that becoming a parent would make me a better teacher and I would understand on a deeper level, and I have a profound respect for the teachers who do such a beautiful job of balancing being teachers and moms/dads; however, I am not a bad teacher because I am not a parent.

I didn't have a chance to say any of that to this parent (nor would it have been very professional for me to do so), but I've wanted to say those words since that day. I am certain I am not the only person fighting that perception, and I am more than happy to be a voice for those in this battle with me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

First Grade Bloggers

Last year, I decided to go out on a limb and created blogs for my kinders using Kidblog. I wrote about my initial attempts here, but I never followed up with my final conclusions on blogging. First, let me show you some of the incredible thoughts my kiddos shared on their blogs last year.

Kindergarten Blogs

Sometimes we used our blogs as weekend journals. One of my kiddos decided to write about the addition of bunk beds to her bed room.

Another time I provided the students with the prompt: write about a time you got hurt. This student went above and beyond and wrote and wrote and wrote. I had to stop her at the end of our scheduled computer time!

At the end of the year, we used our blogs to reflect on our year together. This student did a beautiful job talking about the people who impacted her and what she had learned during the year.

I think, more than anything, blogging last year helped my students find a love for writing and communicating. They not only enjoyed writing their own entries, but they LOVED responding to their friends. This process opened up all kinds of opportunities to talk about digital citizenship. We talked about how we needed to be kind in our responses and we needed to respond in ways that made sense. There were many teachable moments, like the time one of my kiddos responded with "Hi" on every person's blog, and we used those to stretch our thinking and ability to come up with good responses. We talked about reading for understanding and many different reading strategies in this process too. My kiddos begged for blogging days, and I was more than happy to oblige.

I also enjoyed the fact that I was able to give them quick responses to their writing. With our traditional weekend journals (physical notebooks), I never responded to them. It simply took too much time to go through each one, find the page they chose to write on that day, and hand-write a thoughtful response. With blogs, I could quickly write back to my kiddos with the responses they deserved. I didn't have to carry any bulky notebooks home, and it took me just a few minutes of my time to get through them. They were so excited to see what I had written.

Another really cool thing was that I blogged too! I tried to have a blog entry ready for each of the prompts I presented the kiddos with. This was a great way for them to get to know me. I shared pictures and stories about my family, I talked about my niece's birth, and I wrote about my passions and interests. My students loved learning about me. This was also a great way for me to model good writing. I used full sentences with spaces between the words and punctuation at the end, and I talked about those things as we looked at the entries. It amazed me to see how quickly my students picked up on these aspects of writing and began to include them in their own writing. 

First Grade Blogging

I created my students' blogs for this year this morning, and I cannot wait to see where they take us. In planning for this year, I want to continue in a similar pattern but I am hoping to add a few opportunities for my students. Last year, my students blogs were completely private; only classmates could view them. This year, I'd like to open up a way for students to be able to connect with students in other places through their blogs. 

One way I hope to do this is through a process called Quadblogging. (You can learn more about it here.)  In this process, four classrooms from all over work together to connect their blogs. Each week, one class takes on the challenge of blogging while the other three classrooms read and respond. This continues for four weeks which gives each classroom a chance to blog and to practice writing great comments. While I loved having the students read their own blogs, I feel opening them up to the world and having a greater audience will be even more motivating for them. My goal in all of this is to help them become better writers, so motivation is absolutely key.

Quadblogging will be a big project, and I am excited about its possibilities; however, I'd like to do a few simpler things as well. One of which is to simply make connections with other Kidblog users. I have already made contact with another teacher in a different state about making this reality. Once again, my goal is to widen my students' audiences. I want them to have an authentic reason to write; these connections will give them this reason. I know there are teachers in my school who are blogging with their students as well. Hopefully, we can connect at some point this year.

There is a lot I need to get done before I can make this happen. I need to be connected, for one. In order for me to connect my students, I have to make those connections first. Yikes! For an introvert, that's quite a challenge. I am confident I can make this happen though. I want to get started right away to give my students as much practice as possible. I'll be starting right in with the digital citizenship lessons and writing lessons to ensure their success.

Blogging is the perfect example of redefinition of instruction. Never before have we had the chance to give our students authentic audiences like this, and I am honored to be able to offer this opportunity to my students. The beginning of school cannot come soon enough! (I'm sure I'll regret saying that when that time has finally come. :))

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Devouring Books

I'm currently working my way through Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild, and I believe she and I are kindred spirits. When I read The Book Whisperer a few years ago, my life was changed. Before I was introduced to Donalyn, I didn't realize there were other people out there who, like me, can spend an entire Saturday reading and not feel guilty about it or who light up when asked about what they are currently reading. Until I discovered this, I was slightly embarrassed by my love of reading. I used to think that people viewed my passion as a waste of time. I am so grateful for Donalyn and her writing. My passion is even deeper now that I know I am not alone, and I have been using that passion for all kinds of good in my classroom.

On page 17 of Reading in the Wild, Donalyn talks about a question she asks her students when it comes to how and when they read. She asks them to tell her if they have ever devoured a book in one sitting or spent several days devoted to one long book. What a great question and I have a fantastic answer! I'm taking a risk here, and before I do so, I just want to warn you all that I am a nerd (and I'm completely okay with that). Bear with me on this one!

On July 21, 2007, the conclusion of my favorite series of all time came out: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At that time I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college. My family still lived on our dairy farm, which was seven miles (almost all gravel roads) outside of the nearest "big town" (population: about 5,000 people). Since it was summer break, I was working at a daycare in that town and I had plenty of free time to enjoy the things I loved. I had been looking forward to this day for years!

I came to the Harry Potter scene later than many. My younger brother (who is not a wild reader) actually read Sorcerer's Stone before me; I believe my mom ordered it for him from a book order. After he finished it, it sat around our house for quite some time. I was bored one day when I discovered it sitting on a shelf. With nothing better to do, I picked it up. I wasn't in love with it after the first couple of pages; it took me a little while to get into it. Once that happened, though, I was hooked.

I quickly read through the books that were published at the time (Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire). Then, the waiting began. As each of the remaining books in the series was published, I got my hands on them as quickly as possible and often read them in the span of just a few days. My mom (who definitely is a wild reader) supported me in my love for the series. When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out, our local grocery store had a promotion. For every $100 a person spent in their store, that person would receive a ticket. Get ten tickets, and you get a free copy of Order of the Phoenix! Luckily, I come from a big family (7 people in all), so spending $100 on groceries was easy for my mom. She got the ten tickets in no time, and I got myself a free copy of the book and was in heaven!

Of course the book I was most looking forward to was the conclusion of the series. I simply had to know how it would all turn out! The morning of July 21, 2007, I woke up early. Our local Walmart opened at 7:00 am, and I was determined to buy the first copy of the book in our town. The Pallet(which was like a glowing beacon of hopes and dreams), stacked many books deep, had been sitting inside that Walmart, all wrapped up, for a few days, and I was excited to finally be able to touch the words that held the ending of my favorite story. I hopped in my car at 6:45 and made the fifteen minute trip into town. As I pulled into the parking lot, the store opened. I hightailed it to The Pallet and grabbed my very own copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The moment was completely bittersweet. Excitement coursed through my veins, and it took all of my will power to not sit in my car in that Walmart parking lot all day and read that book! This was the end though; once I finished this one, my relationship with Harry would be complete.

I did manage to get myself to drive home before I began to read, but once I was home, I didn't stop reading except to have a meal here and there. Around 1:00 am on the morning of July 22, 2007, I finished the greatest series ever written (in my opinion, of course - you can disagree with me). I read all 784 pages in one day, and that day still sticks out in my mind as one of the greatest days of my life! It ended in tears, of course. It was over after all; there would be no more new books about Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who I considered to be my friends. What a wonderful way to end it all though! Through those tears, I was grinning from ear to ear.

This book is not the only one I have devoured in a day, but it's the one that played the biggest role in my life as a reader. Our souls can absolutely connect with real people and fictional characters through the gift of the written word. My goal is to help my students achieve those same moments in their reading lives. I know for sure that my life wouldn't be quite the same if I hadn't met Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Total Immersion

One of my last posts on my old blog was about my goal to create lessons next year that I could sell tickets to. You can read that post here. As promised, I recently purchased Teach Like a Pirate and I'm about halfway through now. There are so many ideas and so much inspiration in this book, and I cannot wait to start to implement it all into my classroom this fall. With all of those ideas, though, come many challenges that have hit me in ways I hadn't anticipated.

Throughout the chapter on Immersion, Dave talks about the importance of being 100% present in our classrooms. He describes how we, as adults, can tell when we are dealing with someone who is not focused on us; our students are the same way. When I am not completely present in what is happening in my classroom, I am sending the message that something else in my world is more important. As I continued to read about many of the experiences he creates for his students, his picture of total immersion came right out of the book and smacked me in the head.

What an incredible challenge! I am so, so guilty of not immersing myself in my classroom. Here's a perfect example of how completely guilty I am of this charge:

Two years ago, I was teaching preschool. In my two sections of preschoolers, I had four students on IEPs. Of those four, three of them needed one-on-one assistants to be successful. This was my first year trying to balance teaching my students and managing extra adults in my room. Around February of that year, the school district I taught in made a decision that I felt wasn't in the best interest of my students. This decision involved the special education program and would result in my four kiddos needing to relocate for preschool the next year. The whole thing was not handled well on my part, the district's part, or our local AEA's part. Since many of the people who were instrumental in this decision spent a good chunk of time in my classroom, I was incredibly distracted. I was constantly wondering if I was doing something wrong and what, if anything, was being said behind my back. Not to mention the nagging worry I felt in being responsible for keeping the doors of my preschool open. If I had lost the support of the district or the trust of the community, it could very well have been the end of my preschool. As a result of this constant worry, I could have easily won an award for Most Distracted Teacher. I shudder to think of all the time I wasted in my students' lives because of my lack of immersion.

This, of course, is just one example; there have been many, many more in my short teaching career. That's just how life is though - it's hard. What I have to remember when I walk through the doors of my classroom is that my students need and deserve to have all of me. They deserve to have a teacher who is excited about each lesson and who is willing to do anything to make sure they learn what they need to learn. 

Again, I say, what an incredible challenge! Here's the thing about total immersion though: if you are completely immersed in something, it doesn't take long to forget about everything else. It's not an easy thing to leave all of my problems at the door, especially knowing that I am a worrier/questioner. If I succeed in doing so, though, the moments in my classroom become so much more effective and powerful. It's like taking a vacation. People can have all kinds of worries, but if you push them to do something that will encompass their entire being (like going to an amusement park or a historical monument or to complete a craft or project) they will forget those worries and inevitably have a good time. I need to think about my classroom this way; I need to immerse myself into each lesson and become present in each moment.