Some days in the classroom are challenging. Some days you go home and stress eat all the pizza. And some days a teacher friend sends you a thank you text right when you need it the most.
Have you thanked a teacher friend today? Told them that they're awesome? Let them know that they inspire you? Encourage you? Keep you sane?
I've been blessed with a lot of great friendships in my life, and every single day I am grateful for those friends that I can also call colleagues. In my classroom I'm never alone and when I am it's likely that I'm scarfing down a granola bar, running to the bathroom, and having a disagreement with the copy machine. I'm constantly surrounded by 25 8 year-olds. They are genuinely funny people who challenge themselves daily. However, it's also cool to talk about things that aren't Minecraft, unicorns, or 25 different Elf on the Shelf locations within the first 30 seconds of the day.
Teacher friends: I salute you. Thank you for waving when you walk past the door. Thank you for chatting while we make copies. Thank you for going to the diner for Friday lunch. Thank you for texting, for facebook-hearting, and for being there when the going gets tough and even more for recognizing when the going is great.
Once upon a time I won my third grade speech competition. Technically I think there was a four way tie, but that's besides the point. The point is that the topic of our speeches was "what you want to be when you grow up." That answer was easy for third grade me. I wanted to be an author. Ever since I stapled together a few pages about a family of tigers, I knew I wanted to have that feeling over and over again.
So, I gave my speech (heavy on the Roald Dahl quotes), collected my participation trophy, and went on my way. I wrote a lot when I was a kid. In journals, a few more stapled books, but as it too often happens, the habit fell by the wayside. High school and college happened and most of my time was consumed with sports, concerts, studying, and friends. Writing wasn't a real thing anyway.
I graduated with a degree in education and embarked out into the world of teaching. I love teaching. I get to teach young kids how to read and share so many cool things about our world. I wouldn't take that back.
But I wish I would have realized sooner that it's not one or the other. You do not have to be just one thing when you grow up. You do not just have to do the job because it pays the bills. Okay, maybe you have to do the bill-paying thing, but what I mean is that I should have been writing this whole time.
A few years ago I got back into it. I joined SCBWI and met up with local writing groups. I have approximately 10 works in progress and I never know if that's too many or not nearly enough. Some weeks I write a lot, some weeks have more of a Netflix vibe.
This September a piece of my writing was published for the first time. I wrote a poem called IN MY YARD and submitted it to Root & Star Magazine. I still can't believe that I can open it up and see my piece in front of me. The feeling is just the same as it was when I stapled those notebook pages together. I hesitated to call myself an author until I had something in print. But, really, I've been one all along.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez and Lydia Lukidis are hosting the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy Contest! It's happening now! If you're a kidlit writer who's into awesome prizes, you should join! Thank you for putting this together and to everyone who is contributing a prize. I appreciate you and I hope you appreciate my entry below.
Word Count: 188
I found it. The trail grandma told me about before she died. I didn’t think it was real.
The trees haven’t changed color since 2034. Grandma said autumn was back. The autumn of her childhood. Grandma showed me photos of forests. Red, orange, purple, yellow, gold, and brown. I haven’t seen that in my lifetime. Trees are green. Or dead. Or gone.
But the trail is here. One row of orange trees. Defying what has happened in decades past. Grandma said there was autumn. She longed to bring it back, but she couldn’t tell me anything else. She marched down the trail last October and never returned.
So, here I am. No one found her. Investigations for an entire year and no one knows. I think they’re lying.
I didn’t tell anyone I’m here. Or that I’ve packed my backpack full of enough food to get me through the winter. Autumn is back and Grandma isn’t gone.
It’s me and Grandma’s dog, Goose. If we can’t find her, no one will.
Well… it’s me, Goose, and that tall man holding a shovel near the end of the trail.
I had the incredible opportunity to spend the last ten days in Helsinki, Finland. And by opportunity, I mean that I paid for a trip through Bookbag Tours. Nonetheless, this is one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. I’m so glad I took the plunge a year ago and decided to go on this trip.
First things first. I heard of Bookbag Tours through a good old fashioned Google search. I had the travel bug and was looking to see if I could find any travel geared towards teachers. I was also hoping to find a teacher discount along the way. Enter Bookbag Tours. Only a few years old, I did some research and looked up photos and stories from the previous summer’s trips. I saw a lot of happy teachers, cool places, and friendships forged. After checking the bank account several times, I clicked deposit just under a year before I would leave for Finland. I was 100% nervous about going on my own, but was settled by the fact that I would be traveling with other teachers. You know, people who are trusted with children all day long.
I just got home. I’m jet lagged and confused about what meal I should be eating and I can’t get over how happy I am that I traveled to Finland with 25 strangers. It’s hard to sum up what I learned, saw, and experienced in Finland. Not only did I get to tour the beautiful city of Helsinki, but part of the trip was Professional Development. More than one person questioned if I wanted to spend 3 days of my trip in a learning environment. “Don’t you want that time to see more of the country?” But when you put 26 educators in a room together, learning is our jam. Top that with being able to learn about one of the top educational systems in the world IN that country by experts in the field? Sign me up.
I have a lot to say about Finland and I plan on writing a few separate posts about my experience. For now, let me just say that if there’s a risk you want to take, take it. You might just end up in Finland with 25 new friends and a suitcase full of birch souvenirs. Worth it.
The powers of the internet just informed me that it's National Handwriting Day! Don't you love when those creepy advertising algorithms actually tell you fun facts? Thanks to the Google gods, I came across the infographic below from National Pen. It got me thinking about handwriting, why I love it so much, and why I've found it to still be a beneficial practice in my classroom.
Let me begin with my own handwriting adventures. I went to elementary school in the 90s. Yes, we're going all the way back, my friends. I know this isn't exactly the stone age, although my current 2nd graders would disagree. I remember getting our first computer at home when I was in 1st grade and I remember my school adding about 6 computers to the library around that time. Are you telling me I can type up my story into an actual book!? And then add a tiny pixelated illustration? I can also make banners that take up 25 sheets of paper? Awesome.
As much as I thought this was the coolest thing about life in 1992, I also remember writing all of my assignments out by hand. Once we got to upper grades, they had to be in cursive. I'm not saying this in a "we walked up hill both ways" kind of way, I just remember that we would occasionally use the computers, but until I reached 6th grade we still wrote most everything out by hand.
Honestly, for me, it wasn't really until college that I used my computer regularly. I was still that kid who wrote out her English papers by hand before typing them up. There was something about actually writing it that helped me form my thoughts and get things in the right place. In college, I discovered I didn't have time for this and made the transition to just typing. However, all of my notes were still written by hand, and that was the norm. Only a few people at that time had laptops and were bringing them to class. Writing things down worked for me. It always has and I'm guessing it always will.
Fast forward to my teaching career. I know that what worked for me growing up will not work for all of my students. There is technology around every corner. My students have grown up using iPads and smartphones and don't know what a computer mouse or a CD is. I really freak them out when I bust out the books on cassette I still have. We as teachers are encouraged to integrate technology whenever possible, and for the most part, this is really cool. It's truly amazing what we can do with a few apps in the classroom. We're making connections and creating projects that weren't possible when I was in 2nd grade.
With all that being said, I love me some good old fashioned handwriting. Hand-lettering has even become a hobby and creative outlet for me. Handwriting is a skill that I think students still need in spite of ever-present tablets and technology. Here are some things that I've heard to the contrary:
1. "But, why? No one writes anymore."
2. "There's no time."
3. "Just teach them how to sign their name."
To which I say:
1. Maybe not as much, but they do! You don't have to be writing a novel. What about a grocery list? A quick note to a friend? Yes, you can also do these things on the phone, but not everyone does. I'm not even talking about cursive here, I know that students need printing practice, too.
2. There really isn't a lot of time. I agree completely. It's exhausting to fit something into the school day that is no longer in the actual curriculum. I incorporate it into our writing time or reading centers when I can. Towards the end of the year we do some introduction to cursive when I need an activity to keep them engaged when the weather breaks. They are into it. Tongues out in concentration, they beg to learn "fancy writing."
3. I think there are so many other reasons than just your signature to be able to use handwriting and be able to read someone else's. Already, we have a tough time reading historical documents because the style of writing has changed over time. In a couple of my chapter books in my classroom there is a little note from mom or a friend and it's written in cursive. Without fail, a student who can otherwise read the entire book comes to me so I can read the cursive part to them.
All in all, keep writing. I know it's helped me and I can see how much my students want to be able to do it. I'm no expert, so take a look at some of the facts and research in the infographic if you're still here.
How do you set classroom goals? Do students set goals? What does that look like?
I'm asking for a friend and that friend is me.
I know goal setting is important in the classroom. I also think it's an area in which I can be stronger. What better time to think about setting goals than on New Year's Day?
The reality is that I have lots of good intentions each year in terms of student goal setting. When I am consistent, I see that it makes a big difference. When students set their own goals they are motivated and (mostly) eager to reach them. However, I struggle with the organization of student goal setting. I want it to be meaningful, and not just busy work where students are filling out charts and graphs of their own data. How do we, as people in the real world, set goals in our daily lives?
For me, I need a checklist. I am not known to love doing laundry, or vacuuming, or chores in general. So, I make myself a list and it helps for me to know what needs to be done. There's also something satisfying about crossing an item off that list. And, yes, I am that person who completes a task, realizes it wasn't on the list at all and then adds it just to cross it off.
I also like when I can see my progress towards a goal. For example, I just set my new Goodreads reading challenge for 2019. I like watching that percentage bar get higher as the year continues. On the flip side, I am not motivated by graphs and charts and picking apart details. I know people who love that stuff, but it's not me.
The moral of the story is that everyone is motivated differently. I think setting goals is universal, but getting to that goal is personal. As all of you teachers out there know, your students come from different backgrounds and have a variety of learning styles. What will make them tick? What will help them reach a goal whether it's big or small?
This year, each one of my students has a portfolio. It's in an old-fashioned folder and they can add writing pieces and other things that they are proud of. I also have some goal setting forms in each portfolio to help each child reach both reading and math goals. I'd share a picture, but I'm still on Winter Break, so deal with it!
I am truly asking for others to share what they do with their students in terms of goal setting. Do you have folders or binders? What works? What's frustrating? Do you have checklists and charts, or do some students thrive off a little healthy competition?
When I return to the classroom next week, I want to check-in with students on their goals. I want to help them see their goals to fruition and I want to be able to do that in a meaningful way. So, my own goal is to tackle setting goals.
What does that look like for you?
I don't know why I love the water. Maybe it's growing up in Michigan where there's plenty of lakes to go around. Maybe it's because of the family vacations we took up north or to Florida. In either place I'd hear the comment "she swims like a fish!" To which I'd obviously reply by pretending to be Ariel, flipping my hair dramatically (spoiler alert: it never worked like it did in the movie).
At any rate, being by the water has always brought me comfort. If I've had a stressful week, I head towards the lake no matter the season. Give me a good book, a sunny day, and a body of water and you can forget about interacting with me for a while.
Right now, I'm on winter break from school. My family's celebrations are over and like the good introvert I am, I needed a day or two to decompress. What did I do? I took advantage of a weird 45 degree day in December, loaded the pup in the car and drove towards the water. I live about 25 minutes from a lake that has a pretty walking trail. This is just what I needed. I stopped at the edge of the lake during my walk. It looked like glass. The small ripples at the shoreline created a comforting sound as they slowly broke against the rocks and pebbles that lay there. I took a few deep breaths and planned to continue around the loop. However, about 3 feet to my left there was a small indentation in the ground from a man-made storm drain. Presumably this is to keep the grounds from flooding, letting the excess water travel back to the lake. The mouth of the drain was littered with plastic caps, bottles, bits of leftover fireworks, cigarette butts, and more.
Just last week I watched a piece on 60 Minutes about the amount of plastic that exists in our oceans and waterways. This isn't new information, but there was a point during the report that stuck with my family and I after we watched it. To prove it, we all received reusable veggie bags to take to the grocery store for Christmas from my mom. The report said that while recycling isn't bad, it's not doing what we think it is. A lot of the plastic we recycle is being shipped off to other countries, where we don't know exactly what is being done with it. Based on the interviewee's response, a lot of it isn't being recycled at all. If you want to check out the report, here's the link:
I stared at this little piece of beach with plastic strewn about it and it hit me in a way it hasn't before. We can do better. We have to do better. A trip to the grocery store the next day, reusable bags in tow, made me realize just how much plastic we're using. Seriously, go to the store and try to buy something that isn't contained in plastic. It's no easy task.
We here in Michigan are surrounded by 1/5 of the world's fresh water. We love going to the lake. The lakes account for a large part of our economy. But even we Michiganders aren't taking care of our lakes the way we should.
This brings me to the part about books. Think I'd get through a post without mentioning them? There are a lot of great books out there about the importance of water, water conservation, and pollution. As teachers, I think it's up to us to use the power of literature, knowledge, and learning to seek out answers to large problems and share what we can with our students. Maybe they'll be one of the people to come up with a solution one day. Listed below are some books that I've come across and read with my 2nd grade class. I know there are more out there as well as other books for older students. I would love if you shared any others that you love!
The Water Princess-Author: Susan Verde Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
One Plastic Bag- Author: Miranda Paul Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Water (National Geographic Kids)- Author: Melissa Stewart
Why Should I Save Water-Author: Jen Green Illustrator: Mike Gordon
Young Water Protectors-Authors: Aslan Tudor & Kelly Tudor
All The Water in the World-Author:George Ella Lyon Illustrator: Katherine Tillotson
Water is Water-Author: Miranda Paul Illustrator: Jason Chin
Is there a book on your shelf that you can't help going back to time and time again? That one book that even though your to-be-read pile is a mile high, you get it out and cozy up with it for a few days?
For me, it's usually Little Women or Harry Potter. It's generally this time of year that makes me want to go back to something familiar. Too often we read a book, put it back on the shelf and it either stays there for a long time, or gets put in the box for the next donation. Obviously, I don't re-read every book I've read, but honestly I'd like to do it more often. I watch my favorite movies time and time again, why not read my favorite books?
Students in my class often drift back to their favorite books. I know that feeling of wanting to encourage them to read other things and move past the books they've nearly memorized. I think it's okay to keep suggesting things they might also like, but I think it's important to fall into a familiar book as many times as necessary.
I've not done the research, but it seems to me that when students re-read their favorite books, they can build a sense of story structure, character development, and find meaning in the book they didn't catch the first time around. Most importantly, if a student is reading their favorite book, then they're reading! I would never want to force a book on a kid only to have them lose interest. Eventually they WILL read other things. They WILL move on. But how nice that they will always have that old favorite to find again when they need it.
"What's that? Put the book down? I thought this was a blog about reading!"
It is! You should still put the book down if you're not feeling it. You're the boss of what you read and kids should be, too.
I recently had to put a book down that I just wasn't getting into. Sometimes that's hard for me, but I'm here to tell you that it's okay. No, I'm not going to tell you what book it was. Number one: it's not fair to the author who spent so much time and effort writing that book. Number two: just because I didn't like it doesn't mean that it's not going to be somebody else's favorite book. I mean my sister didn't like Harry Potter when it first came out and I was all like, "WHAT?!?" I eventually wore her down and now she's full-on Hufflepuff, but my point is that not every book is going to be right for every person. There are too many great books out there to not put one aside and start something that you're going to enjoy way better.
I know there are a lot of people who HAVE to finish the books they start and that's cool too. You do you. However, it's okay to put a book down rather than sludge through it so you can start something new. What if kids don't know it's okay to let a book go and then they become wary of ever picking up another?
I think this is an important lesson for the kids we teach. Think back to a time when you were forced to read something you hated. For me it happened in high school. Some people may love The Heart of Darkness (yes, I name dropped the book...sorry Joseph Conrad) but I really didn't like it. It was tough getting through that one and then analyzing it for symbolism. I would have been happier searching for symbolism in a book that I actually enjoyed. The same reading skills apply to more than just one book.
How are we presenting books to our students? Do they get a say in the matter? They should! They should be able to make book choices based on their interests and own reading goals. And if they want to put a book down? Let them do it. There are libraries FULL of more.
For some reason, my students this year love checking out cookbooks from our school library. I've had a few students in the past who will check them out from time to time, but right now we are on a serious cookbook kick. I love that cookbooks are an option for our students to take home to read for the week. It's reading that is applicable to everyday life. People who don't consider themselves readers, will inevitably need to read a recipe, a nutrition label, or put together a meal plan. Reading and literacy is important beyond reading novels because the way you read a recipe differs greatly from the way you read a novel. You have to process the information in different ways, and you are reading for separate purposes. I think that the readers who choose cookbooks to take home like the accessibility of the text. It's often in a list format, contains short paragraphs, and at the end you get a delicious treat. I mean, what's not to like? I've already been told what I should make for dinner on multiple occasions. It's not a great diet plan, since the majority of kids' cookbooks are dessert-based, but I'm not arguing. I think that our class might have to write some of our own cookbooks this year. I'll let you know how those recipes turn out...
Teacher, reader, tea drinker, and dog mom.