The school year I never expected

Teaching is a draining and demanding profesion. However,  as the years pass, teachers manage to find a balance between home,family and career. In my 25 years of  experience I’ve managed to raise two beautiful daughters, struggle through the the loss of a parent,  survive a difficult divorce , and meet and marry the love of my life. Through each of these experiences, I  was always able to perform well in the classroom, handle duties of department chair and maintain the yearbook,newspaper and broadcast staffs. Unfortunately, on September  15th, 2015, my ability to juggle home life and school life shattered.  My husband of only three years was hospitalized and diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma.
I had never heard of  cholangiocarcinoma before, but now I am a scholar on bile duct cancer ,its treatments, chemo drugs, pain drugs,nausea drugs and many other drugs. His prognosis, six months to a year, was mind numbing. We have begun a journey that has taken us to Tampa,FL and back to Thomasville for treatments.  He’s endured nine rounds of toxic chemo drugs, two ERCPs, two stent placements, numerous appointments with a pain management specialist, a gasterointerologist, an oncologist, and a radiologist. The journey continues with every day  radiation treatments for 10 weeks. Additionally, he will soon start on a second- line chemo drug while applying for a drug trial. He continues to fight with all he has. My husband told his doctor to never tell him that there was nothing else that could be done. So,the fight continues.
This rollercoaster ride of emotions shattered my ability to maintain my usual attentive nature to my job as 10th grade English teacher. For the first time is 25 years, I’m not researching new ways to present materials, I have missed more days than I ever have in one school year,  and also for the first time ever, my heart is not in it. I have cried over the diagnosis,  I’ve cried over the eventual loss of my husband, I’ve cried over the loss of our lifestyle and I’ve cried because I feel my students have suffered as well.
However, as a life-long learner, I know that every experience, good or bad, comes with lessons. I have learned that in times like these, the true professionals and other compassionate educators step in and take over when I can not. I’ve learned who my true friends are and how I truly appreciate them.  Most importantly,  my husband and I have learned of God’s infinite wisdom. He was preparing both of us for this painful journey long before we had any idea what was in store. As this journey continues,  we will learn more lessons. I will survive in the classroom because educators are the most compassionate people you will ever meet.  Also, the next time I teach Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers,” I will be able to communicate its meaning with new vigor.  I have learned that…..       “Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops-at all-”

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HAVING A SUCCESSFUL FIRST WEEK

Surviving the first week at school is always a battle. Not only are our bodies having to get used to the rigorous schedule again, we must also prepare mentally to be in front of a class full of students for the whole day. After 24 first days, I have learned a few things to help ease us back into the groove. 

1. During the pre-planning time, try not to stress about the fact that you are in meetings all the time. This is a given. KNOW and EXPECT it and plan your day accordingly. Every year I’ve gone back, there are complaints: “When do I get my classroom done if we are in meetings all the time?” – I finally came to the realization a few years ago that fretting about this doesn’t help. It only  stresses us out more. So, go in a little earlier, stay a little later. ( no more than an hour- any more than that and you’ll exhaust yourself)  

2. Don’t over decorate. We all want the cutest classroom , but realistically it is sometimes out of our realm of possibilities. There are those who are super at this and my hat goes off to those uber-creative and energetic teachers. You guys rock! However, I couldn’t measure myself against those who were experts in that area. I’m not that creative . What I decided to do a few summers ago was to research simple ways to make my classroom functional and last a long time. The most efficient time-saving idea I found was buying burlap for my bulletin board. It doesn’t tear, it looks good, and it matches anything. I put that up at the start of last school year and all I did this year was repair the boarder. BAM! Time saved!  ( Summertime is Pinterest time!) 

3. Be prepared for the first day by having easy-to-follow instructions for students as they enter the room. Even though I teach six different classes, I had assigned desks with the students’ names already on the desks. This reduces movement in the classroom and enables me to start on time and transition smoothly. 

  
4. Pretests are your friend! We pretest the 2nd and 3rd day of class. This gives me an opportunity to complete a few tasks that I may not have finished during the ever-busy pre-planning week. Also, since students are in assigned seats with their names on the desk, I have an opportunity to learn their names as I distribute materials. 

These are just a few lessons I’ve learned to help my first week run smoothly and I can end up with a little energy at the end of the day. 

My review of Harper Lee’s latest

This is not the usual “coming of age” novel because our protagonist is not a teenager, but an adult.However, as all young adults, we have that time in our lives when we realize how extraordinarily different our perceptions of people and life are when we are children. Readers are reunited with the citizens of the fictitious town of Maycomb,Alabama, and in true Harper Lee style, the first half of the book is spent on events in the narrator’s life. We read of her traumatic,yet humorous, transition into puberty, her rebellious teenage years, and her decision to leave Maycomb to work in New York. We find out the fate of her beloved brother and we are introduced to other characters that have entered her life since her face-to-face meeting with Boo Radley. My only disappointment was that there was no further update on Boo Radley’s fate.

I do not feel that the critics were fair in their vicious attack on the character of Atticus. Yes, Atticus attended a KKK meeting and was overheard in the ‘community’ meeting using the ‘n’ word. And, yes, I would have the same initial anger that Scout had,but Lee restores respect to the character in Atticus’s discussion of why he attended and the purpose behind his actions. One also has to understand the setting of the novel. The novel cannot be read with today’s standards and fully understand Atticus. According to Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor, readers must ” find a reading perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story, that understands the text as having been written against its own social, historical, cultural, and personal background.” If a reader can do this, then there can be some understanding of Atticus and others in Maycomb.

The novel is true to its title, as Lee quotes from the bible, “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go,set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Lee shows readers Jean Louise’s return home to experience the realization that while as children, one does not see the flaws of those respected. Jean Louise found her own conscience (‘watchman”). One apart from Atticus and those she respected growing up. Growth is painful, and as she listened to Dr. Finch and to Atticus, she does gain some compassion, but is still firm in her own beliefs about the need for equality of mankind.

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Yay Days

As many veteran teachers know, not every day is successful in the world of education. However, when those successful days arise, we feel a high that comes only with the satisfaction of knowing ~they get it! They really get it! I refer to these as my ” Yay Days.”
Today was a “Yay Day.” Building on an idea from Sara awes sling from the Teaching Channel, my students participated in what Sara called “pinwheel discussions.” My students have just completed reading three works from Ray Bradbury: “The Pedestrian”, ” There Will Come Soft Rain”, and Fahrenheit 451. The longer this discussion continued, the more excited they got. After a passage was read, in response to a comment made during the discussion, the students were actually cheering! It was enough to give this teacher of 26 years chills!
For innovative ideas and to connect with other educators, I would suggest using Teachingchannel.org. This is an awesome resource that has helped me have a few more “yay days”!

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Sometimes I do.. And sometimes I don’t

So today, oh man TODAY was one of “those days.” You know the days . The ones that no matter how hard you try all you hear are crickets echoing in the classroom. Teaching is hard! Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. If you care about students and you care whether they learn… It’s VERY hard. But there are a few things to keep in mind and a few things that keep me going:
1. Every day can’t be a banner day.
2 . No matter how much I wish I could, I cannot reach all 175 of my darlings that grace the desks in my classroom.
3. I am NOT super teacher.
4. I am not an Oscar- wining actress who can wow the stage called the classroom at all times .

With that being said , there are those things that I CAN do:
1. I can TRY!
2. I will NOT give up.
3. I can continually look for ways to improve my content and delivery.
4. I can smile and know that there are those days when the students DO get it and I am very entertaining and I may feel like Super teacher because there was learning… Not memorizing , but true , meaningful learning going on in my room.

Those moments make my “horrible , terrible , no good day” days worth the effort ! Keep pushing forward my fellow teachers ! Spring break is on its way!

Pictures are from the work my students did on F451 by Ray Bradbury . A good day 🙂

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Teaching: Not just a job

As my heading states, teaching is not just a job, it’s a way of life. This has been proven again and again whenever dangerous situations stare them in the face and yesterday was no exception. In the Atlanta area and in Alabama, teachers “hunkered down” for the night with students due to the situation caused by inclement weather. It amazes me just how much is always expected of us on a day to day basis, and then, when the going gets tough, teachers stand tall and do what has to be done for the safety and well- being of their students. My hat’s off to these educators who stepped up once again in the face of adversity and showed the world the compassion and class ( pun intended) that we teachers possess!

How do we get kids to slow down…..read….and think?

So, call me old fashioned, but sometimes I just feel it is important that students find the benefits in slowing down, reading and thinking for themselves. I find it increasingly difficult to keep students on task when the assignment is for them to read and think on their own. Now keep in mind that I haven’t just thrown them to the wolves and said…’here read this so I can get back to grading papers.’ My conscience won’t allow that. No, I have modeled strategies of chunking passages into smaller, more manageable units; I’ve modeled and allowed students to work together on varying close-reading strategies, and I’ve provided audio for students who may struggle a bit more than others. However, after all this practice, there comes a time when students need to fly with their own wings and put into practice the strategies we’ve learned. Invariably though, when these days come around 90% of the students in my regular 11th grade classes absolutely refuse to read. I felt the true irony today when, after working on close reading a short passage about transcendentalism, and having students construct their own meaning for transcendentalism, students refused to read on their own a short excerpt of ” Self Reliance” ! I believe that we as educators must insist that there is value in independent reading, not only in reading just what interests the students, but also in needed assigned material. We are so used to making things high interest that we loose site of some necessities and lessons of life. Not everything is something that we choose, or something that we want to do, but there is value in hard work and persistence. So, while there is great merit to teaching high interest material and student choice, there is much to learn from slowing down, strapping in and diving into the occasional ” boring stuff” (student terminology, not mine) .