Sunday, January 22, 2012

Blue Monday

Did you know that some people designate Monday, January 23, as "Blue Monday," the most depressing day of the year?

It's based on a perfect storm of several factors, some of which are: 

            Weather - It's usually cold, gray, and dreary.
            Economics - The debt of all the holiday spending is really starting to weigh on us. 

            Confidence - Most of us have dropped the ball on any New Year's resolutions by now. 

            Outlook – The next official holiday is a loooong way off.

So rather than passively succumb to Blue Monday, stare it in the face and do something nice for yourself.

Have you heard the song, “Open Wide?” It's not what I usually listen to, but I love the lyrics in the chorus.

Open wide the arms you're given.
You're too alive to just stand still.
Open wide your heart as you breathe in.
You're too alive to just stay here.

The music video's kind of quirky but it grows on you.

Here's to enjoying your Blue Monday!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Food For Thought

            “I don’t know how to do this,” Roberto wailed.  I had seen him staring blankly five inches to the left of my head during my entire lesson, so I wasn’t surprised.  I stood between him and Naomi and reviewed how I wanted him to write his concluding paragraph again.  This time he was watching me.
            “OK,” Roberto said, “I think I know how to do it.”
            “Does anyone else have any questions?” I said to the full group.  “You’re all going to be writing a concluding paragraph that has a food for thought statement in it.”
            Ruby had spent a big part of the time yawning and rolling her eyes, so again, I wasn’t surprised when her hand went up.
            “What’s a food for thought statement?” she asked.
            “Oh, good grief!” Kylie wailed, and laid her head down on her desk.
            “Ruby, you weren’t listening,” I stated, glaring back at her.  The kids were hoping for a snow day.  There would be no snow day today.  Ruby stared back at me, and gradually a small smile started at the corner of her mouth.
            “I can’t write one if I don’t know what one is,” she said coyly. 
            Ruby sat directly behind Naomi, so I stepped to the left and again went through the steps for writing a food for thought concluding paragraph.  This was my third time and I was getting good at quickly summarizing the directions.
            “All right guys,” I said as I began passing out an essay they had begun last week, “I want you all to finish your essays with a food for thought concluding paragraph.  Does anyone have any questions?”  Naomi’s hand went up.  I stopped passing out papers and stared at her.  This was getting ridiculous.  “What’s your question Naomi?”
            “I don’t understand what to do,” she stated calmly.
            “What part of what I said did you not hear?” I said evenly.  I had developed a bad habit of slowing my speech down and over-articulating things whenever Naomi started claiming she didn’t know what to do after I had stated it several times.  I slipped into my bad habit as I asked the question.
            “I heard everything you said,” Naomi explained back.  She was over-articulating her words back to me.  Then she leaned forward, extended her index finger, and drew and huge horizontal circle in front of her as she said, “I didn’t understand the whole thing.”  Naomi also didn’t understand the sarcasm of “What part did you not hear,” and I should never have used that phrase with her.  In line with her understanding, she was showing me “the whole thing” she didn’t understand.
            I took a deep breath and asked, “Do you know what a concluding paragraph is, Naomi?”
            “No,” she calmly said, “But it’s something about food.”
            “Do you know what a paragraph is?”  I was going to find the starting point if it killed me.
            Naomi extended her arm in front, palm facing me, fingers stretched wide and announced, “Five sentences.”
            I began my fourth explanation of the concluding paragraph.  After I finished and asked Naomi if she knew what to do, she sadly looked back, shook her head, and sighed, “I don’t get it.  What food are we writing about?”
            I had deliberately left out the phrase “food for thought” with my explanation to Naomi.  I told her to write a sentence that would make someone think a little more about what she had written.  I had suggested ending her essay with a question for the reader.
            “We’re not writing about food,” I articulated.
            “But you said the paragraph would be about food,” Naomi said.
            Kylie laid her head back, looked at the ceiling, and blew a small air explosion.  Ruby decided to be helpful, leaned forward, and yelled, “It’s an expression!  There’s no food.  You just write!”
            When I got home from school that afternoon there was a half pan of brownies on the counter left over from earlier in the week.  I sliced off a piece, ate it, and kept slicing off pieces.  Two hours later when my husband arrived home to find me staring at the TV, he asked what happened to the pan of brownies.
            I stretched out my arm, extended my index finger, and drew an imaginary horizontal circle in front of me as I said, “I ate the whole thing.”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

For The New Teacher

Teaching is one of those professions where, as your salary is going up, it feels like your work is getting easier.  I’m not talking about the more you pay teachers, the lazier they get, although I’m sure you can find people who fit that description.  I’m talking about the huge difference in work loads between your early and later years teaching.

A friend of mine who is an engineer made the observation that in his field his first work assignments were quite easy.  He could have done most of his work with what he learned in high school math.  The more complex, challenging assignments were not given to him until he had some years of experience under his belt. 

In stark contrast is the experience of the first year teacher.  She is handed a classroom of 30 students and given the same teaching assignment that a 20 year veteran handles.  She is usually asked to take on several extra-duty jobs.  She is rewarded for her hard work with the lowest level of pay. 

I have yet to meet a teacher who would want to live their first year of teaching over again.  It is absolutely grueling.  You are desperately trying to learn and teach the curriculum because your students will be tested in the spring.  All of the students' scores will be scrutinized by the administration and parents.  On top of this you are trying to develop classroom management strategies that will support your teaching.  You are praying you don’t make any parents unhappy.  Your sleep is troubled with bad teaching dreams. 

My recurrent nightmare was that the wall between my classroom and the hall was suddenly glass.  All the other teachers stood in the hall looking in as I taught, and they were sadly shaking their heads at my ineptness.  Did you see the program following Tony Danza’s real-life first year of teaching?  One of the episodes showed the 58 year-old man sitting at his desk bawling like a baby.

The only light at the end of the first year tunnel is the promise of your fellow teachers that it will get better.  And it does.  In fact every year for me has gotten better.  You get very familiar with the curriculum and eventually you can devote more time to creativity rather than just covering material.  You can see most problems coming like a freight train, and you can figure out ways to stop them.  The blind side hits are pretty rare.  Tasks that took you ten moves to accomplish your first year, can eventually be done in two moves.  You might even have time to write a blog!  

Statistics show that if someone is going to leave the teaching profession, they do so within the first five years.  If you are a new teacher and are thinking of switching careers, here are my suggestions.

1.      Give teaching at least three years.  Is the discouragement and burden getting lighter each year?  If the work load is not lessening, something is very wrong.

2.      Consider switching grade levels, or schools, or even districts.  The difference can be dramatic.  There are amazing studies documenting the huge impact that the right leader has on a school environment.  Before you leave the whole profession, try working for a different “company” first.

I wish I could conclude with the great idea that would change the system so that the work/pay ratio wasn’t so upside down.  Unfortunately it is what it is.  But I have never heard a new teacher say she was bored.  (And I have heard that from new professionals in other fields!)  Maybe that’s one of the perks of the teaching profession.  Your first student is yourself.  You get the entire load dumped in your lap on your first day and you spend the rest of your career sculpting your classroom into the environment you dream it to be.

The mayhem of your first year is one of the greatest teaching opportunities you’ll ever have to take chaos and shape it into order and beauty.  Happy second semester, and Happy Teaching.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Run-ins and Run-ons

“Naomi, you need to get out some paper and a pencil,” I whispered.

“I am!” Naomi hissed back.  But she continued to stack, rearrange, and restack her notebooks on the desk.

The day’s assignment was projected on the Smartboard at the front of the room.  Three paragraphs full of run-on sentences were displayed.  The kids were supposed to rewrite the paragraphs and correct the errors.  I looked around the room and saw everyone had already worked through two or three sentences. 

I continued walking around the classroom checking on other kids, but kept looking back at Naomi.  She was working on a new career in design, her desk being her first big project.  She took a break from her work to look around and watch everyone else work.  As she casually gazed around the room, her eyes eventually came to me, and she noticed I was staring back at her.  When Naomi just stared back at me, I started walking towards her.  She quickly opened her notebook and took out a piece of paper.  As I reached her desk, though, she suddenly stood up.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I have to blow my nose.”

I stood by Naomi’s desk and watched her leisurely amble through the other students to the tissue box at the front of the room.  After pulling out several tissues, she turned around, breathed in deeply, and gave the class a Shakespearian performance of blowing her nose several times.  When she finished, she regally walked to the other side of the room to deposit her tissues in the wastebasket.

I waited for her to come back to her desk, but Naomi had a second scene to perform.  She walked back over to the tissue box but reached for the bottle of hand sanitizer sitting next to it.  She carefully pumped the liquid into her hand and turned to show everyone her skills as she slowly worked the clear disinfectant into her hands. 

When she turned to pump another squirt, I called out, “Naomi!”

She startled and looked back, exaggerating bewilderment.  “What?”

I tapped her paper.  “Now.”

Several students had stopped working to watch.  As Naomi slowly made her way through the aisles back to her desk, she sighed and rolled her eyes.

She sat down at her desk, and I asked, “Do you know what you’re supposed to do?”

“Yes.”  She was hissing again.

I turned and started my cruise around the room again.  It took about five minutes to work my way back to Naomi.  Her paper was still blank.

“You told me you knew what you were supposed to do,” I whispered.

“I forgot,” Naomi hissed back.

“See those paragraphs up front.  They are full of run-on sentences.  I want you to re-write them and fix the run-ons.”

“Oh.  OK.”

I journeyed around the room again, but found Naomi’s paper still blank when I got back.  As I approached her desk, Naomi suddenly raised her hand signaling she had a question for me.

“What?” I whispered.

“What’s a run-on sentence?” she hissed.   

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year's Resolution

OK, I’m a week late – but I’m here!  Showing up must count for something.  I’m enjoying all the stories about resolutions for the New Year because it’s amusing how many words can be written about losing weight.  I can sum it up in three words – QUIT EATING COOKIES. 

One New Year’s blog that I’m really enjoying is Jon Acuff’s site.  He’s encouraging his readers to make 2012 the year they finish some projects.  I like that idea.  He has some very practical advice on setting things up to help the readers complete projects they’ve been contemplating, or even working on for years, and I plan to implement several of his ideas.

But when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I don’t make them anymore.  They got to be a burden – one more thing to make me feel bad about myself.  So I don’t do resolutions anymore.  I even take the completion goals with a little bit of caution.

From the comments posted on Acuff’s site, I can tell that most of his readers are young.  The good thing about being young is you bring an urgency to the task of reaching your goals that really helps.   You don’t want to waste any more time.  That urgency gives you a push to get things done that a grandma like me envies.  But the bad thing about being young is you bring an urgency to the task of reaching your goals that might make you fail to appreciate some pretty good stuff along the way.

The most important things I’ve learned in my life didn't happen when I was at a big completion party.  The lessons tended to be learned while I was standing watching the party cruise sail off without me.

You know that little clicking shutter sound a camera makes?  I have it in my head, and I think it when I’m in the middle of a moment that I want to remember the rest of my life.  My best mental memory pictures almost always caught me by surprise.  They weren’t planned.  They didn’t come at the completion of a big project.  They just happened, and I clicked the shutter in my head and captured them.  One of my favorite mental snapshots happened on a Mother’s Day when I was sitting at the organ in church.  I looked behind me to check on my four sons sitting in the front row.  As I turned and saw them, I thought, “You guys are the best thing I’ve ever done.”  Click went the shutter.

I grew up in a family that memorized Bible verses, and today I’m remembering Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”  (I used to quote that verse to my brothers whenever it was their turn to do the dishes.)  So while I’m working on “whatever” this next year, I’m thankful God will be by my side whispering those lessons He wants me to learn.  And I’m looking forward to hearing some shutter clicks go off in my head.

PS – Jon, I really, really am going to try and gather my ideas together for a book this year.  Promise.