Thursday, August 11, 2016

What I did (learned) during my summer vacation

Just like the kids, I want to share what I did (learned) during my summer vacation.  New adventures, scary events, and some down-time all rounded out the summer of 2016.

In June Craig and I were able to take a trip of a lifetime.  We took our first cruise to Alaska, and I'm hoping it isn't our last one.  Just a few highlights from the trip: a visit to the Space Needle, zip lining through a rain forest (who know Alaska had a rain forest), whale watching (beyond cool), hiking, trying foods I never thought I'd eat (reindeer stew is scrumptious), and practicing my hobby of photography.  It was truly an amazing trip.

What did I learn from our Alaskan Adventure?  Look for the adventure.  Granted we took a trip that many might not ever experience, but adventure is always around the corner.  My mom used to wake us up on a Saturday morning, and she would ask, "Which direction do you want to go today?"  We would pick one and end up at an orchard, an old Indian fort, fishing with our grandparents, visiting DeSmet, South Dakota - all adventures right in our own backyard.  When I was in Alaska, I tried to experience it all.  I need to do that every day.  What adventure will this school year bring?  What direction do I want to go?  How can I instill that sense of adventure in my students?

I also learned to appreciate the incredible beauty of God's Earth.  Every time I snapped a picture of something breathtaking, I'd turn around and see something just as inspiring.  But you know what - I can do that here in George.  There are countless times I'm walking the trail and see a sunset that simply takes my breath away. Or kids playing on the playground and their laughter makes me smile and laugh right along with them.  I don't need to travel to Alaska to see God's magnificence, it's all around me.

In July the lessons were a little harder to swallow.  My husband Craig became very ill.  In fact, this will be a challenge to face throughout this upcoming school year.  He was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that will require immune suppression therapy.  In a word chemo.  Lessons from this - value your health.  Take care of your body.  Nothing Craig did caused this disease - it's just a rare occurrence, however, we are watching what we eat, the amount of exercise we're getting, the hours we need to sleep.  All these are lessons we've learned before, but now we need to master them.

And time.  Time is precious.  Take the time to visit with loved ones, play cards, laugh - a lot.  Time is the most precious of commodities.  A lesson I needed to be reminded of, but I truly wish I didn't have to learn it this way.

At the end of July the Speech, Drama, and Music Departments traveled to Washington, DC and New York.  Ask us what we did and our response will be - all of it.  We saw the monuments, Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum, two Broadway shows (orchestra seats!), the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Carlos Bakery, and the list goes on and on.

What lessons did I learn?  First it was hot.  It didn't help to complain.  So lesson #1 - suck it up.  I also learned a valuable lesson about watching my tone of voice.  I said something that wasn't meant to be disrespectful, but because of my tone it was taken that way.  Lessons like tone of voice, even old people like me need to be reminded.

I learned that a simple gesture can mean a lot to people.  Our visit to Arlington involved laying flowers on the graves of people with connections to our home communities.  This was meaningful for all - the students, the adults, our guide - and maybe more importantly - the people back home.

So it's August 11th.  Supposedly there are a few more weeks of summer vacation.  Every teacher in America knows that when the calendar switches to August, summer is over.  Planning is in full swing.  So what lessons can I learn from the "end of summer"?

I still love what I do.  I know that it can be disheartening to be sitting at my desk already looking at Pinterest, reading blogs (and writing them), when all I would like to do is read my novel and curl up on the couch.  Then again, I'm excited.  What can I do this year that I've never done before?  What exciting things will happen in Room 111?

Twenty-five years at George, twenty-nine total.  This is my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Appreciate your life's choices.  I was meant to be a teacher, I know that.  Sometimes I doubt it, but sitting at my desk looking at my new bulletin boards, planning some new units, and getting ready for an amazing new year - I definitely am right where I'm supposed to be.  A great lesson learned!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

End of the Year Reflection

Twenty-seven years.  Twenty-seven years?  Heavens, where did 27 years go?  How many students is that?  I know I don't want to do that probably involves an "x" and a variable and an exponent.

As the year comes to a close, what observations can I make about 2015-2016?

* It was a creative one.  I used several strategies I discovered in a book entitled Teach Like a Pirate.  My Literature 9 class had a dinner party investigating the information found in the short story "The Sniper".  The government class had several round table discussions on current events, developed vs. underdeveloped countries, and budgetary decisions.  English 10 used StoryCorps to record some valuable conversations with the important people in their lives.  And Law...well we solved a crime - actually it was an accident that looked like a crime.

* This year was an exhaustive one.  During the month of January I believe I was at school until 2:00 AM several nights.  That's not even counting the numerous late nights in February.  The Drama Department produced The Music Man, we had over 19 groups out for Large Group, we won a state title with Television News, we hosted a District Speech Contest, we had two qualify for individual events.  And that's just the extra-curriculars.  I think I need a nap!

* 2015-2016 was an informative year.  Each classroom made huge strides in learning to become life-long learners.  I focused on vocabulary development, reading strategies, and some higher order thinking with some questioning strategies.  It was my goal this year to increase the rigor and relevancy, and looking back, I feel that we did.

So looking forward to next year, what does 2016-2017 look like?  Yes, most teachers are already looking ahead to next year.  We spend our summers scouring through blogs, reading professional development books, searching through Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.  No we're no martyrs - we do take time out to be with our families, go on those much needed vacations (where we look for things we can use in our classrooms), and sit on our patios soaking up the sun we'll never see after September.  However, a good teacher is always on the prowl for another classroom idea, another unit of study, something that can make our classroom "POP"!

Next year I will be a model teacher.  I asked the administration, what does that mean?  They simply turned it around and said, "What does that mean to you?"  (By the way, I hate it when people do that to me.  I do it to others, but I hate it when it's done to me!)  What does it mean to me?

First I think it means that my classroom has now become a laboratory.  I hated science, but now my classroom will be the place where I will experiment with various strategies.  And I'm excited! I've always liked to try new things, and now I have the thumbs up to experiment, and if it works, share it.  I hope to "visually showcase teaching strategies, tools, and decisions." (New York City Department of Education definition of a model teacher).  That excites me.

I also see my position next year as one who will learn from you, my colleagues.  You all do such amazing things in your classroom, and I want to bring that back to my courses.  I know that as a model teacher, I'm not expected to travel to other classrooms, but I hope we can set up a dialogue where we're sharing ideas, resources, and even co-teach.

I hope everyone will feel welcome to come to my classroom and observe.  Sometimes there will be an invitation sent out formally, but the doors always open.  Just pop in, sit a spell (I'm sounding like the Clampet's), and together we can "make a dent in the universe".