Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lightning bugs

Some days are just not worth getting out of bed for! You know the type of day I am talking about. It does not just happen to teachers but it is part of human nature. Bad days all of us!

My problem is that more times than not the bad days are followed by worse days and when the worse days are followed by those terrible, horrible, very bad, no good kinda of days it becomes very hard to keep that even keel personality and not to let our shells crack. But crack they do!

And when they crack there are usually casualties involved....the innocent, the unexpectant, the ones who never did a thing wrong....the people of Pompey!  And like the people of Pompey, when our eruption of pent up rage and emotions are released all that remains are ash and cinders. And though we may feel relief it is only temporary because we soon realize that we have just destroyed an entire civilization...okay so maybe not quite that bad...but recovering from an emotional outburst or moment of unexpected rage is hard enough to do with friends and family. Trying to regroup and safe face with our colleagues or even worse our students can seem like an impossible task.

Fortunately, I have never reached the point of it fate, luck, or good self management I have always been able to step away from the situation either physically or at least emotionally and regroup my wits....sort of like creating a volcanic steam vent to release the pressure. These can take many forms.

For me one of the greatest release valves I have is my work friends. Knowing that I always have this core group to help me find my way is such a relief. Add to that a great wife who also works in the field of education and can understand my frustration. And finally there are the lightning bugs! Yep you read correctly...lightning bugs! You know those bright little flickers of light that can be seen on the darkest of nights. As children they caused to run through the darkness no longer fearing what is around us but instead fixated to capture that bright little light just to hold it for a moment. And when we did catch one we wanted to share it with everyone we could run to. As adults it just takes that first flicker of the lightning bug to recapture our youth and to cause us to be filled with childish joy and laughter. It is a magical experience.

So, on my darkest of days I look for lightning bugs. Those bright shining moments from my days teaching in which I have seen those lights shine in my students. Remembering when a child jumps out of line to run over and give me a hug and ask when can they come and read with me again. Or when a student comes over to ask for help and instead explains how to work the math all by themselves. Or the time when a child answers a question for the first time, gives a speech, gets an A, wins an award, or brings you a picture they made just for you. Each  of these are little lightning bugs....those bright shining spots in each of our days.

I guess it is all up to use when those bad days come. We can hang our heads and only see the darkness or we can look up and start to search for the lightning bugs.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Day of Retrospect

So, today was my first non work day of the summer! My children are still in of the advantages of teaching in a different county than were we live and my lovely wife was volunteering to get up and get everyone off to school because as fat would have it I am sick!

I had a doctor's appointment later in the day so all that I needed to do was sleep and sleep I did. If I stop to think about it I have spent probably 40 of the last 48 hours asleep. Not my normal pattern. But about two weeks ago I started to fell bad...really bad. You know the swollen glands, sore throat, pounding head ache kind of bad. The kinda of bad that when you add it to the fact that my teenage son had just recovered form a very rough bout of MONO equals one sick daddy! The problem though is that 2 weeks ago we were just entering our high stakes testing window and the only excused absence for missing work during testing would be a note from the undertaker being delivered by my poor widow! So instead of laying out and resting I pushed on! And I made it. Sailed right through testing week like a kite through a worse from the wear. Then we were down to the last four days. Four days! Anyone could buck up and make it four more days...and I did! I finished all of my grading, report cards, packed up my room and was ready for summer break...or more immediately a doctor....but my doctor was unaware of my situation and decided it would be okay to be out of town until the end of the month! Really...and teachers have to much time off!

But never fear, I go to an office with multiple doctors just so I can avoid such delays! So when I called Friday Morning I was given their next available appointment...ON MONDAY AT 1:15! Man did I feel sick....Of course my worst fear is that I have Mono....and the only treatment for Mono is to let it run its course and gets lots of rest. SO rest I did. I went to bed at about 2:30 pm on Friday and woke again sometime on Saturday. I took lots of naps and laid around when not napping that day. Of course it was my son's Junior prom so mom got to do the running around. I did manage to go and collect him at 2:30 in the morning since I had been sleeping all day. Sunday, I made my best attempt to trick myself into believing that I felt good enough to head to church. But, after a shower, shaving and getting dressed I needed a nap! So I took one...a long one. Let's just say it is a god thing that Sunday is called the day of rest because that is all I did.

Finally Monday was here. I am not sure what I expected from the doctor. After all, I already knew that if I had mono that I was doing everything that was to be! But, I wanted a confirmation so that I at least knew what was going on. But instead I went to the doctor. was seen right away! Even had a thoughtful nurse to send me down for blood work before the doctor came into see me. In the lab the swabbed my un-sore throat to check for strep and took blood to do a mono check. Then I went back and waited. To my surprise I did not have to wait long. The doc came in and reported that both tests came back which point I want to ask her about why I am sick...if I am not sick....but she went on to say that she was going to have the lab run a more in depth test to see what is going on. And with that I was sent away. Still feeling sick and knowing no more than when I first entered the doctor's office.

So in retrospect I really am looking at this doctors appt like so many of the required test we give our children in the educational field. Just like anyone who has worked with me in the last 2 weeks can tell you I am not well...something has to be wrong. That is the same thing we say about our struggling students. We know as educators that they are not getting it. But instead of trying to look closer and more in depth about why they are not getting it we simply keep moving on and continue to shake our heads and not understand why theses students are lagging behind.

We need to be more like my doctor was today. She did not look at me and say that I just needed to buck up and quit acting like I don't feel good. She empathized with me and decided that a closer, more thorough look needed to be taken to determine the cause of my trouble. This is what we need in education. It does no one the least bit of good to acknowledge the problem without understanding the cause or planning a solution. We can not wait for the morticians report to find out the cause of the problem. We must stop where we are, take a thorough examination of the problem and proceed with a strategic treatment plan that will move our struggling learners to the next level. Then and only then will we be meeting the needs of our students.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In humble admiration

It is interesting as I sit here and look back across the sands of time and try to study my own path and what led me to be a teacher. You see, I never intended to become a teacher. As a matter of fact, as a child I hated going to school and often would play sick to stay home. So, the thought of spending my life in a school was not my was my nightmare! As a student I was the child who would rather crack a joke than answer the teacher's question. I did not like doing my homework. I did not study for tests. I seldom paid attention in class. And, my grades reflected exactly what I was putting forth. Maybe I was not being challenge enough, maybe my teachers did not differentiate their teaching in order to meet my learning style. Perhaps, I was just one of those kids who did not really see the value of school and therefore I was unwilling to invest myself.Or maybe, I was not a student who had what it took to get good grades. Whatever the underlying cause I did not like school. I struggled everyday to get up and get through each day knowing that there was going to be sometime everyday I which on of my teachers was going to ask for me to hand in some assignment that I did not have done. It was a like living on the edge of a volcano that you know is going to erupt is unavoidable....disaster just waiting to happen. When it did I always had an excuse that allowed me to slide a little further along. Then it happened. It was during my junior year that I was sitting in a science class trying to just make it to the bell and hoping that my teacher would not ask me for my past do work. As the bell rang I quickly grabbed my books and headed for the door only to be stopped by those dread words...Mr. Wollam....I need to see you before you leave! ThereI stood trying to will my heart to start beating again as I turned to face my science teacher. He had pulled his chair over to my table and was waiting for me to come and sit down. I was ready for it...I was sure that he was going to I've me another Charlie Brown lecture and I would hang my head and beg for one more chance. Instead, here sat a man who was ready to offer a helping hand. He accepted no excuses and told me to listen. He described himself as a student and how it was not until he got to college that he finally learned how to study and do his work. He told me that if I would spend my time doing the work up front it would change how I felt about school and would also take less work than I was doing now while trying to avoid the work and trying to stay out of trouble. I listened....really listened. What he was talking about did not sound to hard and it made sense. So I told him I would try. He promised me to help any way he could. And so for the first time that I could remember I began to work. The amazing thing was that I did start to enjoy school. I was no longer worried about late assignments, tests or quizzes. By being a proactive learner I was changing who I was as a student. For the first time in my school career I was making the all A honor role! And to beat it all my last 6 grading periods of high school I had straight A's. I had not suddenly become smarter. It Was more simple than that. I had a teacher who met me where I was and found away to take me to the next level. I had all the tools I was just using them in the wrong way. This teacher help me to become the learner I am today. Those are foot prints from my past that still guide me today.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

So here I sit. A teacher on the first Saturday night of summer break. I sit here still awake at 12:30am (so technically it is actually the first Sunday morning of break) not worrying about getting lesson plans done or grading papers. Tonight, I am up pacing the floors because my son is currently at his junior prom! It is my appointed round to wait up and to go and gather him from his girlfriends house at 2:30am. So with time on my hands I have turned to the internet and the creation of yet another blog.

This blog is meant for one purpose. To help my restless mind find peace on those nights when sleep escapes me which seems to happen more and more the older I get. Along the way I also believe that this blog might proof entertaining or even educational to some about what happens during the life of a teacher during their summer break. I also feel that in many ways as I reflect and share may days with you that I will also learn and grow and find much to laugh about. After all, if we can not laugh at ourselves then we truly lake a true sense of humor.

So for this night I will not look back to far. But rather just to the last week of school. We only had four days of school with the kids and one day to work with no kids at all. Sure sounds easy and 11 years ago I would have gladly joined you in saying that "those teachers sure have it easy!" I mean lets look at those four days of school. Monday was field day. Tuesday half the school went on a field trip to the park. Wednesday half the school went on a field trip to a movie. And Thursday, well all they did was awards day programs in the morning. Sure sounds like a piece of cake to me.

Well let me tell you how it went for me. Normally, I work with only a small population of the children that need special education services. I design lessons built around the strength of these children and constantly work to lift them to the next level of learning. Om Monday instead of only working with my small group I worked with 600 students and had teach them all how to do an activity they had never done and even though some of them were really bad at the activities I had to make sure that all of the kids had fun while being really bad. Also on this day I got the rare pleasure of interacting with 100 or more parents who felt that they knew how each activity could be managed just a little bit better....not that what i was doing was wrong. I started setting up at 8:00 and managed o have 45 minutes for lunch and a restroom break. And as soon as we were finished I got to clean up and rush off to car duty where 100 or so parents were waiting to pick up their children.

Now mind you...I love field day. It has nothing to do with me it it for the kids. As the teachers we fully understand this and it is the reason we do it each year. However, understand this, just because we were having field day that did not mean that all of the end of the year paper work was being rolled back. Nope. The last day was coming and all of our grades, Professional Development Logs and countless reports and files were still due before we could start our summer break. It just meant that all of this work was going to be done on our own time.

But that is okay. It is the nature of any job that has an opening day and a closing day. Before joining the teaching profession I was a home builder. I remember the first year that the company owner came to me and told me we were going to build a two story house inside the fairgrounds for the annual home and garden show. I was both excited and nervous. We would only have 11 days to build the house and have it ready for the thousands of people to pass through it. It seemed like an impossible task when spoken aloud. But, the house was not actually built in 11 days. In reality it took months of planning and preparation before we even drove the first nail. When we did start the house we worked for 11 days around the clock which in essence turned those 11 days into 33 days. On the opening day of the home and garden show we were ready. A brand new two story home had been built inside the exposition hall and even had landscaping and grass growing out front. It was a beautiful home. At the end of the 11 days we all patted each other on the back as the last of the visitors left and picked up our hammers, saws and shovels and dismantled that house in 3 days. We left no trace that we had ever even been there...only those who came and saw it during the show.

No one asked if we were tired. no one cared how much work it took. We did not receive a special award or any recognition. In the end, the owner patted me on the shoulder and told me to go home and get some rest. That was it. I had done the job I had been hired to do but before starting the next job I went home and rested.

Such is the nature of the life of a teacher. The few hours that your child is at school is like the home and garden show. They and you are seeing the long hours put in before school and after school by professionals who are not asking for any additional recognition or special accommodations. We know that to be at the top of our games it takes the extra time. Teachers care! They want the product to be the best it can be and they sacrifice everyday to make it the best. But the problem is that few people understand that the product that we are producing is not our lesson plans, power points, videos, our cool projects! It is more! So,so much more. We take a child who cannot recognize a letter from their own name and we teach the to read, we take children who are afraid to speak in public and teach them to sing, dance, and act, we take the struggling writers and watch them grow into poets, authors of stories and songs, we take a child who could not remember his own telephone number and help them become mathletes! We are teachers! We do not know the easy way, there are no short cuts, and we make no excuses for excellence. We believe in change and know that change does not come easy. We are dedicated. When others say it is impossible we accept the challenge and keep moving forward. When a struggling child picks up a book and reads for the first time on his own, it is not a miracle, it is the hard work of a dedicated teacher. No one is really a self-made man. Everyone, I mean everyone has a teacher who has sacrificed in order for you to be what you are today! That is what good teachers do!

So as stated above...I seek no new recompense or special recognition only that pat on my shoulder and the right to go home and rest for a few days before we take up the challenge of changing the world again.