Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anxiety and the Classroom Walk-throughs

A few weeks ago, I was visited by several individuals from our district office. They were conducting “walk throughs”, an activity that is exactly as it sounds: administrators, board members, and superintendents walk through classrooms to observe what is happening within the classes of the school. They will sometimes ask students what they are learning about on that particular day, or they sometimes just slip into the classroom quietly, whisper to one another in a very conspicuous way, and then slip out again as quietly as they arrived. When you revisit those moments in your mind, you often ask yourself if they were even there – as if they were part of a mirage or a group of specters.

It can be a little intimidating to teachers, when superiors arrive with an entourage of people to showcase your classroom and you feel like you are under the microscope. Many times, there aren’t formal introductions because these individuals don’t want to interrupt your instruction, even though you feel like these people are getting to know you and your classroom somewhat intimately. More times than not, I might only recognize 1 or 2 people within the group of observers and I am left feeling like I was just involved in a one night stand. And you often wonder what they thought of you and your kids – were they impressed? What do I need improvement on? Were they completely appalled? Having a summary meeting with them all might be a beneficial venture because I am all for constructive criticism. Alas, there is no official (or unofficial, for that matter) wrap-up session because I can only imagine how overwhelmed these observers must feel after being chauffeured around campus into dozens of classrooms throughout a school day.

Most of the time, the administration will alert you to the district’s presence on campus, sometimes the day before or the morning of. They remind you to make sure specific actions are taken which not only makes you look good, but it also makes the school look good – and c’mon, don’t you want to look good to the people who make the executive decisions?

I think it is important for those “higher-ups” to visit schools and actually observe what is happening within the district. I hear people mutter all of the time, “What do they know?! We’re down here, in the trenches, working our butts off and they keep asking more and more of us!” Yeah, we might be where the action is (the trenches, so to speak – albeit air conditioned and technology equipped trenches), but you can’t tell me the administration and the personnel at the Landings don’t work their butts off too. I think visitation is important, but I also don’t believe that a walk-through can provide a clear picture to what a school is all about.

A 5 minute visit (at most in some cases) only provides a snap shot of a teacher, their philosophy, their methodology and the interactions between students. And they’re lucky to see just one of those! What if a group of administrators walked in to see me working one on one with a student who has Tourette’s – but they wouldn’t know this just simply by looking at her. Or what about the amount of time it takes to hand back graded papers?

What I am trying to convey is that yes, walk-throughs are essential but always not reliable or should we even venture to say VALID?

The act of running might be cheaper than therapy...

... but the cost of the equipment might get you in the end.

I visited this fantastic running store called Fit2Run here in Sarasota and was amazed at the selection, the scientific procedures that we conducted on my feet and the knowledge the employees exhibited. I have been having knee troubles and I have visited an orthopedic doctor/surgeon only to be told that I can take Celebrex and be on a strict regimen of ice. I have had an MRI and x-rays done, with also the offer to get Rooster comb injections.

No thanks. I don't eat chicken, so I don't think I want any part of chicken injected into my joints. Besides, rooster combs just look gross. (PS - I know how vaccines are made using eggs, but that's ok in my book - I like eggs.)

So I walked into Fit2Run with just the goal of making sure I was running the right pair of shoes. They first analyzed my feet and determined how my weight is distributed throughout the foot. Then, they measured my feet. Lastly, they fitted me with a pair of fabulous shoes and conducted a gait analysis on the tread mill. It was pretty cool to see just your feet running on the television screen.

The good news was I am wearing the appropriate footwear for marathon training. The bad news was I ended up spending close to $300 on new equipment!

New running shoes: $120

Custom fitted orthodics: $60

Pink running belt: $25
(For my phone, keys, Gu and PowerBeans)

Chocolate Rush Gu: $8

Finishing the New York Marathon in under 5 hrs: Priceless

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Running is cheaper than therapy

On Saturday morning, a caravan of individuals made the trek to the Myakka River State Park to partake in the 1st Annual Myakka River Nature Escape, a 5K and 10K road run organized by the Manasota Track Club. It was a rainy, cool morning that turned muggy as the race continued, but it was in a state park, so the scenery was rather appealing.

I never knew how beautiful the Florida environment really is until this past year when my team taught the Florida Habitat Unit to our 7th & 8th graders. Honestly, I didn’t even know what a cypress dome or a roseate spoonbill was until last March. I couldn’t tell the difference between a red, white or black mangrove tree and I couldn’t describe how fires were actually beneficial to the survival of the scrub ecosystem. I know, I am a science teacher and I should have known this, but truth be told, I was too busy planning and teaching to actually go visit the park.

So while I was running, I wasn’t actually paying much attention to Huey Lewis and the News singing from my iPod or how my knees felt sore. I was looking at the trees, noticing the canopies we were running beneath, admiring the sunrise and the water off in the distance by the Bird Walk. It rained off and on for about 20 minutes, and normally I hate being rained upon, but on that morning, it really wasn’t that bad. I barely noticed it with my friend, Keith, running alongside me, smiling and singing to Bruce Sprinsteen.

I can't explain the way running makes me feel to those people who do not partake in a morning jaunt or an 8 mile therapy session with their dog. I love the feeling of accomplishment, the rush of endorphins and the ability to sleep the whole night through. To some, sleeping may come easy, but unfortunately, I have battled my inability to stay asleep for the past 4 years. So when I come home, exhausted and tired, sweaty and stinky, I am actually relieved to know not only that I finished my scheduled run, but that I will sleep well tonight.

So regardless that we had to each pay $1 to park outside of the entrance Saturday morning, or the fact that the race started at the North entrance (not the one off of Clark Rd), or how we arrived 10 min before the start and still had to put our shoes on, or how my knees felt after the run, I still have to admit that it was a pretty good morning. I would be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a cool Saturday morning than running with good friends in a beautiful park in Sarasota.

Running IS cheaper than therapy.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Advice for New Teachers

I was recently honored to become a SCIP (Sarasota County Induction Program) mentor for our middle school, and our homework was to compose a letter to a new teacher. This welcome letter (with some help of Bill Bryson - the opening paragraph is from his book A Short History of Nearly Everything) could have taken many shapes and many forms, but I decided to write some good advice to help a newly hired teacher feel a little more aware of what they were getting themselves into. Your first year of teaching will be forever imprinted on your brain and no matter what, you will never experience a true first year again.

Please note, I have only been in this profession for a short time, and I am by no means claiming to "know it all". I am a life-long learner and I will be the first to admit that I have a lot more learning ahead of me when it comes to being an effective teacher. And one of these days, I just might know what I am doing.

Dear New Teacher,

Welcome, and congratulations. I am delighted that you have made it here, and getting here wasn’t easy. I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

To begin with, for you to be here now, hundreds of experiences have come together in an intricate and coincidental manner for you to have become an educator. Thousands of dollars have been spent on your education, not to mention the years that have been consumed with homework, research and soul searching to lead you to your desired place in the societal cosmos. For the next many years (we hope!) there will be plenty of more positive experiences necessary to fuel your passion and drive to continue on in this profession.

Why people choose to become a teacher has always been a cause of puzzlement for most who are not in this line of work. Why would anyone want to subject themselves to working late on the weekends, dealing with defiant and rude children all day long and fulfilling a state mandated curriculum within 180 days of school for a salary that seems to be minimal at best? The truth is, teaching is nothing compared to how others people assume it would be. It is a constantly evolving occupation that is exasperating, fulfilling, exhausting, noble, and oh-so-rewarding! I am elated that you have chosen such a valuable line of work and will begin your journey on your very first day, in your very own classroom.

With all of that being said, I want to share some words of wisdom that I have learned and received from the wise sages and fervent gurus of this worthwhile profession.

Know your students. Ask them questions, sit with them at lunch, have students fill out questionnaires or ask them to complete a personal reflection form. You have no idea how much your students “carry with them” everyday – many of your students may have parents going through a divorce, may have a parent in jail or are simply homeless. You have to be sympathetic to what is going on in your students’ lives because school may be the only safe place they have.

Choose your words carefully. Harsh words and degrading remarks can cut a child down with a slip of the tongue or raise them up to the heavens with a kind compliment and a smile. You honestly have no idea how what you say can affect a child for a lifetime. Try talking to students one-on-one when they are being rude or disruptive as opposed to raising your voice and humiliating them. If you are calm, not only will it catch your students off guard and keep you in control by managing your own emotions, but most importantly it demonstrates that you respect them. Many students have had countless negative experiences with other teachers before you, and sometimes, they may feel as if they have never been respected by an adult… ever. According to Henry Brooks Adams, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

Surround yourself with positive people. In every profession there will be individuals who will drag you down with their negative commentary on their students, the other teachers, and even the school in general. John Wooden once said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Don’t allow those people to influence your attitude and remind you that you are a “young teacher” because you are a valuable asset to the school and are just as important as the teacher who has been teaching for 25 years. Choose educators who love their profession to be your guides, and ask them for advice when things just aren’t going the way you planned. Seek out the positive people in your school and they will listen while providing you with guidance you need most.

Not all children learn the same. Teachers tend to think too much about effective methods of teaching and not enough about effective methods of learning. Since each child is of a different mold, they do not all learn the same way and need to be taught with a variety of methods. If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns.

Reflect on why you are here. Think back to the 3 teachers who had the greatest impact on you as a student, regardless of the grade level in your school experience. Was it a positive or negative experience that affected you? What did they do that made you learn from them? What can you take from those personal learning experiences and apply it to your classroom? Who do you want to be remembered as?

There will be days where you feel as if you aren’t cut out for this demanding job and you question why you even thought you could become an educator. When that self doubt creeps into your mind, I beg you to remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that there is an immense amount of opportunity for you to be successful within the education system. Never, ever give up because if this job were easy, everybody could do it! To think that you will be a proficient teacher creating valid assessments and meaningful lessons that fulfill state standards in such a short amount of time would be to insult this demanding and gratifying profession. You will have days that you will crash and burn, but you will find a way to learn from those experiences and continue on because those students need you. Just remember this: You haven’t failed until you have stopped trying.

You have been chosen, by fate or providence or whatever you wish to call it and as far as we can tell, to be employed in the best profession there is. If this letter were to have an objective, it would be that you are lucky to have an opportunity for such a large number of triumphs through teaching the future leaders, doctors, lawyers, police officers and teachers of this country. I wish you the very best of luck as you begin your journey of a thousand success stories, a thousand memories and a thousand friendships.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

She said WHAT?!

Is Mercury retrograde this month? Is there a new or a full moon? Is the Earth magnetic field reversing? Are dogs and cats laying together in harmony? Has the Wailing Wall fallen? I am not sure what is currently going on within my little world, or even within the cosmos, but I am completely speechless and shocked at the many attitudes, comments and energies which others are “putting out there”.

One of my colleagues mentioned how weird it can be when you are trying to do something nice for somebody and that somebody misinterprets your kindness as something completely different… not kindness, but something more imposing… more misconstrued and twisted. And it is so hard to walk in someone else’s shoes in order to see it from their point of view when you really truly believe that you are doing something nice for someone else. You have genuine intentions, but somewhere along the course of communication, there occurs this glitch of misinterpretation. We have all experienced this at one point or another.

And it is frustrating.

You go back over the scenario in your mind. Over and over again, trying to identify where the miscommunication occurred or where you screwed up. You begin to see and understand the opposite point of view, even if you have to laugh or even scoff at how someone could mistaken your generosity. I thought I had experienced this uncomfortable situation in its fullest extent this month, until I was told by my husband of a comment made today.

One of our friends had presented at a county school district welcome back event. She was absolutely amazing! I was so proud of her for being calm, confident and animated in front of hundreds of people in person with thousands of people watching on TV. She demonstrated not only her ability to utilize the technology our county has provided all teachers, but she demonstrated how teachers can use that technology in their classroom. I heard dozens of compliments on her performance by fellow teachers, counselors and administrators and ALL of the comments were positive ones.

All until the hum-dinger I heard today.

A former Phoenix teacher was offered a position at a high school in the county and she was asked by her new colleagues how she perceived the welcome back presentation. Actually, it wasn’t even stated that nicely. I believe the statement was: What did you think about that last speaker, the one that made you feel like you were such a slacker?

I will give you a moment to pick your jaw off of the floor.

My friend was the last presenter and her objective was definitely not intended to make other teachers feel like they were BAD teachers. I am 100% positive that her intentions were no where near those sentiments. But somewhere along the line, there were teachers who received her amazingly put together and phenomenal presentation as an opportunity to make them feel bad about themselves.

So I have to ask, are the teachers who feel this way actually bad teachers? Or are they overwhelmed with the expectation of completing a vast set of state standards before the state standardized test in the middle of the 3rd quarter? Do they feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to complete everything they are required to do? Are these individuals the examples of teacher burn out that we hear about through the grapevine?

And let’s not even begin to broach the topic of technology… Are there teachers out there who feel like there is too much technology to learn and not enough time for trainings or practice? Do these teachers feel competitive with the younger models of teachers who know how to use iTunes, wikis and blogs effectively (and efficiently) in the classroom?

I will admit, I was astounded by the comment that high school teacher made in regards to my friend’s presentation. I felt several emotions wash over my body as I began to digest the comment in its entirety. I was shocked, then angry, then confused, and then astounded again. I kept thinking, how could somebody actually mutter those words when referring to that well planned and flawless presentation? How could someone possibly say that about her? That's my friend you're talkin' about!

But then, I began to wonder, why did that teacher say that? Are they feeling self-doubt about their talents and abilities? Do they feel obsolete?

What can we do to help that particular teacher find his/her spark again? Is there something we can do to help these people rediscover their motivations for entering this noble profession in the first place?

Whatever the reasons, I feel like we have an obligation to help teachers like those find their purpose in this very demanding yet gratifying profession. We need to help them realize that there are many of us out there who feel overwhelmed with the hefty curriculum and the state mandated testing. There are several of us out there who need extra time to try new technology and practice it. We already have a teacher shortage in this country and many individuals stay in teaching for less than 3 years! We are becoming "endangered" and we need to be placed on a "preservation" list!

I used to hate it when people would tell me, "You can't save them all."

They're right, you know. You can't.

But that still doesn't mean you at least shouldn't try.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Here We Go!

It has come to be that time of the year again, when we begin to meet with colleagues in hopes of planning a exciting year for our students, when we start hanging posters and bulletin boards in an organized fashion hoping to reduce the amount of distractions our kids might endure and begin to situate our desks to fit all of the files, pencils, pencil cups, pens, post-its, paperclips, framed photos, printers, paper, note cubes, trinkets, novels, magazines and DVD players.

School is about to begin.


Can’t you just smell the fresh pencils?

My husband made mention of this situation once, where he didn’t particularly like a very specific portion of this profession because most teachers can’t wait until summer break. Almost as if they are wishing their own lives would go faster just so they can have 2 months of rest and relaxation. Before you know it, your life has passed you by because you kept wishing for 2 months out of the whole year.

I like to look at it the other way. I get to have 10 months with some of the best people I could imagine spending my time with. I get to work with my best friends. I get to laugh and interact with awkward middle school students. And I get to come home to my husband and share the ups and downs of that particular day over an evening jog, a homemade pizza or with friends while out at Metro. Before you know it, the school year has flown by and you have only 2 months to prepare for the next year.

I love this time of year, with the exception of getting into my classroom. I don’t claim to be an administrator and I don’t ever intend on becoming one (because of ALL of the interesting situations they have to deal with on campus), but they must have some really good reasons to move people around the buildings, between teams and into different positions. I have to trust them to do what is best for kids – and I do. Unfortunately for us though, our team was one of the groups that had to move. I will be honest, I don’t think any of us went about it quietly, but we did move and we did pout around like 5 year olds for about a month after it was all said and done.

So we moved, and my friends got new carpeting and now have their rooms all put together while I wait for my tile floors to be stripped then waxed. Once that feat is finished, I can begin to set up my oasis. I don’t want my room to be too cluttered, because then there is no room for growth and no room to hang student work. I don’t want my room to be bare either, because I love color and motivational posters and framed pictures…. Ahhh, can you tell I am growing anxious?

After only 3 short years of teaching middle school, I have a feeling that this year is going to be better than the last.

This one's for you Simoni....


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book Reiview No. 2: Survival of the Sickest

I saw this book while I was researching Natalie Angier's book, The Canon. Before I even read the insert, I was hooked - the title was enough for me. It is a quick read (only took me about 4 days) and very intriguing.

Dr. Sharon Moalem wrote this book based on a very interesting topic – why the human population needs disease. Before you begin to assume that this book is about disease being a method to eradicate the weak and thin out the herds of genetically inferior, please take a deep breath… because it has nothing to do with that. But he begs the question - why are there genes still being inherited that are painful and potentially deadly? His hypothesis: some of the diseases that effect humans (diabetes, high cholesterol and even sickle cell anemia) have actually evolved to help humans survive.

For example, there is new evidence that there was a very recent (in geological standards) Ice Age called the Younger Dryas, and it came about very rapidly. So rapid in fact that some animals froze to death while in the middle of enjoying dinner – so how did humans survive this deep freeze? Why, have you ever heard of ice wine? Or cryonics (biostasis), thanks to Ted Williams? When your blood or grapes freeze, the water inside your arteries expands and literally tears your blood vessels to shreds – therefore, cryogenics cannot possibly work just yet. With ice wine, grapes rid themselves of much of the water they carry, thereby increasing the sugar levels within the fruit, making it harder to freeze. Do you see where this is headed? Our ancestors who were diabetic were able to adapt to their extremely cold environments… here’s how:

When you live in a very cold environment, your body stores what is called brown fat. When your blood sugar is delivered to a brown fat cell, instead of being stored for future energy as it is in a regular fat cell, the brown fat cell converts it to hear right on the spot. The brown fat process creates heat without muscle movement; shivering is only good for a few hours and can cause you to become more exhausted. Brown fat can go on generating heat for as long as it is fed and it doesn’t need insulin to bring sugar to cells.

Back then, food was probably limited, so dietary blood-sugar load would already be low, and brown fat would convert most of that to heat, so the ice age “diabetic” blow sugar, even with less insulin, might never reach dangerous levels. Modern-day diabetics, on the other hand, with little or no brown fat, and little or not exposure to constant cold, have no use therefore no outlet for the sugar that accumulates in their blood.

So today, diabetes is not a useful adaptation. But it was useful at one point in human history. Isn’t it odd that the Pima Indians of the southwestern U.S. and people of Northern European descent are more likely to have diabetes than the rest of the world?

In one word?


I truly enjoyed this book because I love studying evolution and the symbiotic relationships we foster with the rest of the living world. From plants to parasites to beneficial microbes, we are influencing and reacting to one another. Another interesting topic which Dr. Moalem touched upon was the subject of epigenetics – how there are literally genes upon our existing genes that can be turned on and off based on your environment as well as the choices your grandparents made. Weird, huh?

From cancer to hemochromatosis, Dr. Moalem writes with incredible insight and current research to bring forth a book that is both understandable and fascinating to anyone who reads it. He reveals a different and unique perspective on how we view disease and the human body. I strongly suggest this book to anyone – regardless of profession – who might be slightly interested in how human survival has adapted through time. This book will open your eyes to how the choices you make today will affect your grandchildren – before your own children are even born.

The Canon: A Book Review from a Science Teacher's Perspective

Ok, so my husband heard about this book from a podcast to which he is an avid and devoted listener. He immediately brought me up to speed on the author (Natalie Angier), the book (The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science), as well as the book’s purpose (do I really need to write it?). I will admit, it piqued my interests.

So he bought the book for me and it became a member of my summer reading list. Well, I finished it while vacationing in hot and humid Hilton Head Island, SC. Now, either Sarasota is having an exceptionally non-humid summer or Hilton Head is just having a really sweaty summer. I guess I didn’t remember it being THAT bad as a childhood vacation destination, but then again, I guess I was too much of a tomboy back then to really consider how the humidity would affect my hair. Needless to say, I read quite a bit on that trip – lounging by the pool, lying on the couch, lying in bed, you get the picture. And honestly, I wasn’t really “hooked” like I was when I read A Short History of Nearly Everything. Now, in Natalie Angier’s defense, Bill Bryson is a really tough author to follow. I mean, REALLY tough. And it probably doesn’t help that I consider him my favorite author. So the odds were already stacked against her before I even read the first paragraph. Besides, I am in no way, shape or form, admitting to being a fabulous book reviewer. I could really suck at it - so proceed with caution - what you are about to read could cause bodily harm (especially if you are reading this while sitting cross legged on the baggage claim belt at Sarasota Bradenton Airport).

But let’s forget about Bill Bryson for just a moment.

Natalie’s book, from a middle school science teacher’s point of view, would be a great book for adults. It is not suitable for middle school students, and I would honestly find it hard pressed to find too many high school kids that would thoroughly enjoy her witty analogies and sarcasti humor. When I picked up this book, I was hoping to find it to be a tool I could use in my classroom, just like A Short History, because (ALERT - Sarasota County buzz words ahead!) I am always looking to enhance literacy in my content area. Unfortunately, my kids would not understand a fraction of her humor or sarcasm because some of the jokes are before their time. With that being said, she is extremely witty (and I mean EXTREMELY), enormously eloquent and really quite passionate about science. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her in her effort to create an entertaining guide to the basics of science. Honestly, her writing is poetic.

It’s only 264 pages long, has a reference section and takes you through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy, in that order. It is exactly what the title says – it describes the basics of those major categories of science. Now, I am just a science teacher, and it was a good refresher for me before the school year begins here shortly, but I honestly can’t say that I learned anything new. But, for the average American who probably struggled with physics and failed chemistry and isn't necessarily in a scientific profession, this book will make sense. I could also see it having potential with college freshmen or even for college students who are interesting in becoming a science teacher.

Sorry, I just can't find another book to trump Bill Bryson.

Bill Bry the Science Guy! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

Bill Bry the Science Guy!

Friday, July 13, 2007

What's the big deal? - Why cross curricular collaboration is so darn good for kids

I teach with a phenomenal group of teachers on our team. And I mean PHENOMENAL. They are truly some of my closest friends and very much like those beautiful orchids you find growing in the old oak trees of the Florida scrub – rare and amazingly evolved. Did you know there are orchids who have evolved to have petals that mimic the color/shape of specific insects in order to propagate their species? There are orchids who look like bees or wasps, and these insects with either try to attack the flower or, embarrassingly enough, mate with it, only to be covered by the orchid’s pollen. Pretty ingenious, if you ask me.

Sorry about that. I get a little carried away when I take a moment to realize how amazingly diverse the planet we inhabit really is. Now, let’s get back to the real purpose of this post – team teaching. We teach our units through collaboration and integration. What does that mean, you ask? Well, the integration we utilize really is a representation of how we think rather than simply an intersection of curriculum. The terms “transfer” and “connections” are embedded in every portion of the vocabulary we use with one another as well as in our curriculum. Our goal is to demonstrate that transfer takes places when a student is able to apply knowledge in multiple situations – so not just while in math, but also using the same skills while in science or social studies. An example of this would be a student earning excellent grades in Spanish class for 4 years, but still not be able to communicate at an effective level if immersed in a Spanish speaking society. That is where learning is compartmentalized and provides a boundary or division between learning and transfer.

To compound our ambitions, we also employ the multi-grade model, where 7th and 8th graders are meshed together in a team area, all learning the same curriculum and taking the same assessments. There are several benefits of multi-grade grouping, including the formation of long-term relationships, continuity, and a family atmosphere. Our team embraces the philosophy of teaching our students to become self sufficient learners, as self-learning generates more confidence and autonomy in the students. Students on our team experience a stronger sense of community and security, especially amongst the younger students who are new to the team because there are older students who have the opportunity to mentor them and "show them the ropes" of our mutli-grade culture.

So what’s the big deal, right? I mean, collaborating with one another is very time consuming and who wants to do that, right? Well, it might take time, practice, patience and flexibility but it is SO beneficial to our students. And that’s why we do what we do, right? For the kids, I mean. The benefits to curriculum integration are very strong and time tested, such as:

1. Curriculum integration fosters the ongoing reinforcement of skills and information learned in one area of study when utilized in another area.

2. Curriculum integration provides students a richer academic experience by broadening the context and applicability of information and skills that are learned.

3. Curriculum integration maximizes the utilization of learning time by “borrowing” from one area to support another. This is particularly important in the public school system where educators face time pressures in all curricular areas.

What we want to make understood is that just because students read the novel Night in language arts and study the holocaust in social studies does not necessarily ensure that transfer is taking place. An integrated unit is effective and appropriate when it promotes progress toward significant educational goals, not simply because it crosses content areas.

Of course, as with any program, there are some impediments to implementation. But, we believe (and have witnessed) that meaningful interdisciplinary instruction can take place when motivated educators are provided with ample planning time to successfully create and construct integrated units.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

To My Everyday Hero

You always hear how people are brought into your life for a reason, and those individuals leave behind footprints forever embedded onto your heart. They leave their lasting mark, a reminder of who they are and what they meant to you when you were together. I have met such a person, and this post is dedicated to her.

I had only been teaching for 2 short years before I left SMS to propel myself out of my comfort zone. I remember the end of the school year 2006, when we had to clean up our rooms completely, and I recall looking around at the bare, empty, emotionless classroom and thinking that I wasn’t going to be here that following year. I don’t know what made me think that, but it’s honestly how I felt.

When I applied for a position at Brookside, I honestly had no clue what was to be in store for me. My only point of reference was SMS, and believe me, SMS was not a typical school by any means. So I really didn’t know what else was out there.

I was told the position was an 8th grade science position on the Academy of Technology. I had been teaching 7th grade, but I figured I needed to challenge myself some more. Also, the teams at SMS were named after animals – there were no strands, just animals. I always felt so left out when our team name was the Spinnakers. (It seemed like the Mustangs and the Tiger Sharks team names were more powerful and attractive to me.)

Needless to say, my interview went rather well when my future team leader shed a tear when she flipped through my portfolio and read the letters students had written me. One student who had written me a letter of appreciation was actually cut from my volleyball team, only to walk into my classroom and ask, “What do I need to do better so that I can play next year?” I put her right back on the team that afternoon. There was something about the team leader that really inspired me. She was a veteran teacher, but you could tell by the way she articulated the team philosophy that she was passionate about her profession. Far too often I have seen seasoned teachers lose the drive and determination because it just becomes too much work. I have taught with those teachers before and it is disappointing to watch because the kids are the innocent victims.

My team leader is absolutely amazing. I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her for 1 year. She made me feel like my opinion mattered, which had never occurred to me or anyone else before because I was so inexperienced and many times my ideas involved too much effort. I have never felt more respected, valued and loved by a fellow teacher than when I worked with her. Her motivation, her insight, her experience – all of these things and more just motivates me to want to get to where she is someday and someday soon. She is like that wise sage who has tried everything, has seen the promise land and wants everyone to know how we can bring education there.

I know she feels like she could have done a better job this year, but what she demonstrated to me in those 180+ days was that she is an incredible educator. Thank you, Debbie, for being my inspiration, my coach, and my guide. I only wish I could have worked with you longer.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Argument for our Digital Learners

I just finished attending a differentiated instruction conference this week and I feel my passion for teaching sparked up to a new level. We can no longer educate our kids in a "cookie cutter" format - we need to reach all of our kids by gauging their readiness, by making the instruction rigorous and by making our lessons relevant to their own lives.

Please click on this video from TeacherTube to watch a 7 min clip on why we need to evolve with our students learning styles. If No Child Left Behind is to be affective, we need to embrace our student's differences and adapt our instructional practices to their learning styles.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Opportunities for Success

Albert Einstein said it best: In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

A handful of Sarasota’s finest educators and technology specialists have just completed a rigorous training on the newest tool that is being installed throughout our entire county. Promethean ACTIVBoards are an amazing addition to every classroom and also presents a new resource teachers can use to engage even some of the most stubborn and disinclined learners. Having this cutting-edge equipment installed in the schools presents an amazing opportunity for teachers and students to propel themselves into the 21st century. Ironically, installing the ACTIVBoards doesn’t necessarily pose the most difficult task for our county to tackle.

The biggest obstacle will be introducing the product to the disinclined teachers as well as convincing them that our schools NEED these ACTIVBoards. More importantly, it’s the students who need these interactive instruments the most.

If you take a look at Gardner’s 7 intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal), you suddenly realize that there needs to be an 8th addition: digital. Today’s students have spent over 10,000 hours on their cell phones and an additional 10,000 hours playing video games by the time they graduate college. 70% of our nation’s 4 to 6 year olds have used a computer! That statistical data alone should alert teachers to the fact that textbooks are not the only source of information which can and should be utilized in the classroom.

From my teaching experience, I have noticed the kids that have shorter attention spans and possess the need to get up and move around during class are becoming the norm. (Actually, the short attention span of today’s kids may turn out to be far from dysfunctional for future work worlds.) Students that are not engaged in instructional activities become distractions to others and negatively affect other student’s classroom experiences. These ornery kids are the ones that will benefit most from getting up out of their seat in order to demonstrate a skill using the ACTIVBoard pen or will enjoy taking an interactive quiz using the ACTIVotes. Check out the latest news report on a school here in Sarasota on Tampa Bay 10 to see what the kids say.

Yet another advantage to this county-wide installation is the ability for teachers to share their flipcharts, their ideas and their assessments with one another via the internet. It takes time to develop a great lesson plan and a valid, meaningful assessment. Having these resources on the school network or by employing the use of the Promethean Planet website, teachers have these fantastic resources at their fingertips which makes the development process that much easier when you can don’t have to “re-invent the wheel.”

Another learning characteristic we have identified with today’s digital learners is that our kids just dive right into new “toys”, such as video games and the Web. My parents (retired teachers, by the way) tend to not want to try new things, such as online banking, unless they already know how to use them. They are apprehensive about technology because they are so worried they will make a mistake and the computer will go through a countdown before it ignites into a fiery inferno only to die down to a puff of smoke. More experienced teachers and adults are the ones who enlist the aid of a manual whereas the students of today would rather jump right in, play around, “get their hands dirty”, and see what works and what doesn’t. By experimenting and watching others “play” with technology, our students are demonstrating that they are discovery learners.

So why shouldn’t today’s teachers evolve with their students? Isn’t that what goes on in the business sector, knowing your clientele? As hard as it is for me to admit, education is becoming more and more business-like. In order for educators and students to be successful, we need to utilize the valuable techniques used by lucrative businesses. In order for our students to have better opportunities to compete with countries overseas, we need to utilize the technology our county has so graciously bestowed upon us. Trust me, I have seen how the technologically prehistoric school district teach and it is a scary thought to wonder how these students would fare against the type of education we (Sarasote) are providing our kids.

I know many individuals (parents, students and teachers) question if this tool is necessary to educate the students of Sarasota County. In order for our students to be competitive in the real world following graduation, we must utilize tools that will help them become successful. More importantly, we need to understand our clientele of learners and continue to progress and evolve with them. We cannot ignore the pace at which technology is advancing daily and it is ignorant for us to believe that we can teach the students of today with materials from a decade ago. The installation of these boards presents an opportunity to be successful and if teachers, students and parents of this county continue to bury their heads in the sand then we are doing a disservice to not only the future success of our schools but the future generations of this country.

Monday, May 28, 2007

And so it begins. . .

Another school year, another summer vacation. I remember hearing my parents joke around with their fellow educator peers about the 3 favorite parts of teaching: June, July, and August. Not until the end of my 3rd year in education did I finally understand their sentiments.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t better or more rewarding components to the teaching profession, it’s just that those 3 months we have off are not entirely meant for the students to shut off their brains from learning. Those 3 months are VITAL to the survival of teachers. Without a break, I doubt I would stay in this profession much longer.

Granted, this year wasn’t exactly easy. I can honestly say that I have never worked harder in my entire life, but I also feel that I have never felt a greater contribution or a have influenced a greater amount than this year. July of last year, I transferred schools. I was at a very accomplished middle school here in Sarasota County and felt that if I stayed, I wouldn’t be challenged (the school is 98% Caucasian) and I wouldn’t therefore be able to move up and accomplish much else. When I sit back and digest my 2 year stint there, I realized that there just wouldn’t have been much room for advancement. So I applied for a multi-grade position, 7th and 8th grade science, at a more diverse campus. After being notified that I was offered the position, I now had the new task of packing up my science classroom. You want to know what the weird thing is? I had a feeling I would not be back in my old classroom after school let out for the 2005-2006 school year, so I had taken down most of my things.

Oh yeah, did I mention I also got married last summer? That is in itself a major change, especially since I am an independent brat.

Before I was able to move into my new classroom, I hit a snag – the science room was not ready. I had packed up all of my things, loaded up my Trailblazer and drove across town to find that my room was for Arts & Crafts time for the YMCA summer camp. YEAH, my room was a freakin’ disaster. Luckily, my friend, the guidance counselor, allowed me to dump all of my crap into her office. Thank heavens she had a large office.

So the night before Parent Night or Welcome Back to School Night (or whatever the heck it is called, doesn't really matter), my floors were waxed and dried and finally ready for me to move in. I was at school until 10PM then back in the morning to finish at 8AM. We also had the last interview for the math position on our team. Yeah, the d-bag who was supposed to return as our math instructor decided to take a leave of absence 2 days before school started. Thanks a lot, d-bag.

Oh yeah, did I mention I had high school volleyball tryouts that week? We found out last minute that the tryouts had to be moved because they were resealing the gym floor. Then, we had to change the tryout time to the afternoon because the Boys and Girls Club had double booked the gymnasium.

Ok, so the whole transition between one school to the next wasn’t exactly smooth, but I was finally on a team that worked together to create integrative units of study! My team was awesome – we had a very experienced LA teacher who was ready to disseminate all of her collaborative knowledge, a young and hilarious Social Studies teacher who quickly became my best bud and a rocket scientist (literally) for a math teacher. We had the recipe for success.

When I look back on the all great things we accomplished with the students, I shake my head in amazement. Creating collaborative and integrated units takes a lot of work on each team member’s part. A LOT. I cannot even describe the amount of hours it took for us to plan out schedules to complete certain aspects of each unit. The good thing was, the framework was already done for us by the previous teams, we just had to tweak it and make it work for us.

We tie-dyed t-shirts for chemistry and studied Edgar Allen Poe. The students researched the gold rush, careers in science and created websites on our solar system. We transformed our classrooms into 4 major habitats found here in Florida and lead groups of 4th graders through our habitat museums. We read To Kill a Mockingbird, a Short History of Nearly Everything and My Brother Sam. Our students even reenacted the Ellis Island experience for our immigration unit, complete with checkpoint stations and costumes.

And just for the record, we didn’t have any gifted students, for those of you who wonder if we were able to achieve so much because of the caliber of kids we were given. All kids can be successful, it just depends on the environment you provide for them to learn.

Like I mentioned before, I have never worked so hard in my life but I have never felt better about what we were able to accomplish with our students. This is the first summer that I have truly needed so that I can recharge my batteries, collaborate with my peers (that’s right, plan for next year!), write grants for my classroom and just relax. It is so nice not to have a schedule to follow or papers to grade or lessons to plan. I can talk with my fellow educator friends about new ideas and gossip on who our principal will be for next year.

Well, I suppose I will have to take the “no schedule” comment back because our team has to move into new classrooms and we can’t move in until the walls are painted, the floors waxed and the prior inhabitants move out too. At least the YMCA won’t be in my room this summer. I am also taking classes for my gifted certification, am beginning my +45 courses, am being trained on the ACTIVBoard so that we can train the others at our school and am going to be presenting to the county principals on how to effectively use the ACTIVBoard in the classroom. I guess I am going to have to retract that relaxing statement too.

Ok, so maybe my summer won’t be as relaxing as it seems, but I swear to you, it is so nice to be able to do the things I am unable to do during the school year. Dentist appointments, pedicures and taking my dog to the Venice dog beach are just a few of the things I am able to do on my own time, without too many restrictions.

This is going to be a good summer.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Animal Farm of Education

On Friday, my best friend (Simoni) and I accompanied our 8th graders to Adventure Island for their “end of middle school” field trip. Within 10 minutes of being there, I got in trouble. Not 10 minutes later, Simoni got in trouble. It was great! We were worse than our students – pushing one another off of the rafts, tipping kids in the lazy river, and running up the stairs with inner tubes. My voice is still recovering from all of the laughing and screaming… and I don’t mean the kind of screaming you hear when our white trash, cigarette smoking, overweight neighbor curses at her own toddler for being loud (and those descriptions are an understatement). I mean the kind of screaming you hear teenage girls howling out when riding anything remotely frightening. Roller coasters, water slides, the occasional spider, you get the picture.

Somewhere in between the fun we had on Friday and today at school, something really got to me. I started to think about a comment someone made to me about making sure we “pass on” certain kids. I couldn’t help but be perpetually bothered by it.

When did schools stop focusing on what’s best for the kids and start functioning like a mindless and emotionally inept factory?

I do feel sometimes that American schools have eliminated the closeness and security kids might be feel in a classroom and replaced it with standardized testing and stricter standards. Don’t get me wrong, I think standards are vitally important for not only the students, but more for the educators because we need to know what exactly we are to teach them. But, somewhere along the line, I feel like we (teachers) are required to evolve into factory workers, churning out kids like machines in hopes that one day, those kids will move onto the next level of schooling. All of the requirements that it takes to become an educator is rigorous, time consuming and is very similar to a dog chasing its own tail at times, but once you are in, you’re IN. You then have a checklist of things you need to accomplish in order to earn tenure and unfortunately, there are people in this profession who do not take their jobs (or their own personal effort) seriously and therefore pass by the skin of their teeth. I have seen first hand how difficult it is for administrators to remove crummy first and second year teachers from the classroom and it makes me nauseous to know that I have the drive and desire to be good at what I do while these schlubs just do what they have to get by. I get sick to my stomach because these “factory workers” have too much of a negative influence on a child’s learning experience.

On top of feeling like we are to be essentially robotical, there are some individuals out there who feel that all educators are the same, as if we are interchangeable gears that can all perform the same task. No offense, but I know for a fact that I would not be a good language arts teacher and I know there are plenty of teachers out there who would hate to have to teach physics, human anatomy or even geology. The American education system needs to embrace the diversity EACH teacher brings to the classroom because that is what enhances a child’s classroom experience and encourages cross curricular comprehension.

I know America is different than other nations because we actually attempt to educate every child whereas other countries might educate the top 25% of their population. I have read articles stating that the national graduation rate is rising by 4 to 5% a year, so our high school graduation rate really isn’t that bad considering we do educate a larger range of students… but I have to ask, is our graduation rate higher because we have continually passed kids on? Have we lowered our standards for graduation so that we don’t have to deal with the problem students any more? I feel as if we are passing on kids because we don’t want to deal with them any longer because if the student earned a failing grade and more importantly, we record the failing grade (notice how I didn’t say we GAVE the student a failing grade), then more likely than not that student will end up in your classroom again. It’s like we are passing kids onto somebody else, so they are no longer our problem. I have a personal problem promoting a student when I fear for their future - would passing them on actually benefit the student when I know they lack the experience and the maturity to stick it out through high school?

Having said this, I am fully aware that not every one of my students will be college bound. Only 27% of adults over the age of 25 in the United States actually have a college degree, but I am not even using this data to support my awareness. Some kids just aren’t meant for college. Period. At least 1/3 of my students won’t make it to high school graduation, and sadly, I could probably identify those middle school kids in my classroom right now.

To address this problem, Sarasota has created an amazing school which I identify as a “pre-dropout” prevention program. The Phoenix Academy is one of the few schools I am familiar with who actually adhere strictly to the rules – if you don’t pass, you don’t move onto the next grade and you do NOT collect $200. They have a smaller school setting with a maximum number of about 150 students and almost 15 full time teachers. The student to teacher ratio is the lowest in the county (including the support staff who will drive to the student’s home and pick them up if they decide not to attend school that day) therefore they have probably the highest expenditure of any school in Sarasota county. Yes, it is expensive to run the Phoenix Academy. But is it worth it?

Hell yes it is.

Why, you might ask? Because they are doing what is best for the KIDS. (What a concept!) They do not promote students if they are not fulfilling requirements. They work with at-risk students to get them onto the right track and get them prepared for high school because the teachers and staff at Phoenix genuinely care.

It irks me when a teacher says, “If you were able to reach one student today, you need to consider yourself successful.” Ok, so if I worked at a car manufacturing plant, putting together automobiles and I successfully installed 1 airbag out of 100, don’t you think I would be fired? More importantly, wouldn't a normal human being have enough of a conscious to realize how many people I could harm or potentially kill? How on earth can we measure success by only reaching ONE student?! Would a doctor be considered successful if he saved 1 out of 100 patients? Would a lawyer be thought of as competent if she won 1 out of 100 cases? How about a plumber or a coach or a farmer? How is not alright for these people to have a higher expectation and definition for success but teachers do not? Was there some universal law created stating that since we don't get paid huge sums of money we therefore have the permission to be underachievers? We need to quit lowering our standards because what happens is, our students begin to lower their own and will do just enough work to get by and pass.

Can you imagine what this world would be like if we all did the bare minimum just to get by? What if we were all interchangeable parts? Why don’t we just put on our blue factory suits with our names stiched in cursive and work goggles to generate and build some average learners who have to fit the rigid mold that we make? (And if they don't fit the mold, they are labeled DEFECTIVE or IRREGULAR.)

I shudder at the thought.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good-bye to You

I don’t claim to be fully psychic by any means, but I believe that my body and mind are in tune with one another. No, I don’t mean that I have grown out of puberty and no longer bump my knees and head into things because I am still attaining body awareness and coordination. The in tune that I am talking about refers to how I feel things before they actually happen or I become aware of positive and negative energies, winds of change and sometimes, even death.

I remember the night my brother was attacked and murdered. I stayed up late that night, waiting for him until 1:30AM. I awoke the next morning to an empty house, my parents’ bed unmade and a car gone from the driveway. I didn’t receive the hospital phone call until 11AM even though what woke me up in the first place was my dad calling the house. I didn’t answer the house phone because it was never for me, we had an answering machine and if someone wanted to get a hold of me, they would call my cell. I remember everything not feeling right and went about my morning, went to work even, but things just felt different.

That was how this week has felt for me. I mentioned this feeling of restlessness and unease with a good friend of mine who I also believe is aware of these sorts of things. I told her that I feel like everything is in a state of change and things just don’t feel right… like I just felt uncomfortable and almost nauseous.

We had a meeting this morning at 7AM and that was when the gut-punch feeling really set in. Our principal, an absolutely amazing and talented woman, announced that she was moving to another middle school in the district. And not just any middle school, the school that I had in fact just left the year before. The entire staff appeared heartbroken when she spoke, happy for her but at the same time (and selfishly, of course) sad for ourselves. I absolutely adore this woman and I feel completely confident that she will be successful wherever she is placed. When my former principal asked how I felt about this transition, I replied “You have to place people where they will be most successful.”

And I meant what I said.

From what I hear, this lady really turned an entire middle school around. She implemented new programs and effectively improved the school’s writing scores with once-a-month Florida Writes practice tests. She hired fresh and talented teachers, and built up the team mentality amongst her colleagues. I have a tremendous amount of respect for this woman and she will be surely missed.

As for us, it is hard to tell who will step in and assume the principal’s position for the upcoming school year. We all have our favorites, and some will follow her to her new school, but ultimately, I still wish we had Karen back. I can admit that I am being selfish but I am positive that she will do a fantastic job wherever the district needs her most. Her secretary actually said today that we only need one day of mourning when tragedy strikes, and then we need to move on. She’s right, you know. Spending time mourning takes away from the time you have with your loved ones and time away from enjoying this beautiful experience called life. With that said:

Today is my day of mourning.

Tomorrow will be another day.

You have to place people where they will be most successful.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Science Textbook is Written by Bill Bryson

I just love reading the book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, with my students. Even though the terminology, the lexile and the humor may be a little over their heads for their immature minds, they simply enjoy reading about the crazy and interesting antics of some of the most famous scientists. Students who are usually a handful in the classroom and have attention spans like that of a mosquito, will literally sit there and read along as the audio book reads this novel in its English accent to them. Of course, as with every classroom, you will have a few that just do not seem to participate no matter what you do, but for the most part, my middle school kids just eat it up.

For example, so many students are just taken aback when they learned that Sir Isaac Newton, the man behind the Laws of Motion, stuck a bodkin behind his eyeball “just to see what would happen”. This genius also stared at the sun for quite sometime to see what sort of damage would be done to the human eye. Luckily for him (and us), nothing did happen, except for a sore eye and having to remain in a dark room for a few days until his eyes forgave him from the burning sunlight.

Or how about Hennig Brand, the German scientist who thought that he could purify urine into gold (the similar color must have been behind this idea). Besides making his humble abode probably smell like the inside of a kitty litter box, the urine eventually formed into a paste and began to glow. Brand had become the discoverer of phosphorus.

Today, the students learned how Carolus Linneaus, the Swedish born scientist and father of taxonomy, was a cocky and sex-obsessed fellow (he went so far as to name one genus of plants Clitoria). He was very comfortable with own greatness to the point of painting numerous, flattering portraits of himself, and declared his system of classification as “the greatest achievement in the realm of science.” Being middle school students, they were especially glued to the book when reading about how plants were previously named mare’s fart, hound’s pissopen arse. Whatever it takes to keep them reading, right?

We finished up today with the final chapter of book, Chapter 30 “Good-Bye”. Since they have such short attention spans, we had skipped around the book quite a bit, focusing on the chapters that coincided with whichever unit of study we were currently involved in. “Good-Bye” is about how humans have caused the demise and extinction of more animals than can possibly be counted. Students were dumbfounded to learn that the last and only remaining specimen of the dodo was ordered by the museum director to be thrown onto a bonfire because it “began to smell a bit musty” in 1759. We no longer have any idea what a living dodo looked like and have more evidence that the Apatosaurus was around, even though the bird lived in modern times. Bill Bryson continues with a description of the eradication of the Carolina parakeet, the Greater Koa finch, the Steller’s Sea Cow and the Tasmanian tiger, all animals that really didn’t cause any harm to human beings but were simply obliterated for the sake of being killed. How amazing is it that species can unlock the secrets of the universe yet still have the capacity to kill animals that haven’t done us one bit of harm?

What I find to be so interesting about this book is that it is a science textbook written for the typical modern American. Most scientific text are so mundane, can be rather boring and just don’t get into the nitty gritty details behind the scientific discoveries and inventions. Bill Bryson notes that the science textbooks he had read as a child were not only hefty and dull, but the authors appeared to keep the “cool stuff” a secret. This is honestly my reasoning behind not using the textbooks provided by the school district as much as some other teachers do. My kids actually enjoy reading in science with Bill Bryson’s book! I cannot count the number of kids who have informed me that they have asked their parents to purchase this book for them. A few of my students are reading this book for their book report in Language Arts too. I just think this book is an absolutely amazing teaching tool that all middle school and high school science teachers should utilize in their classrooms.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Running on Empty

On Sunday, March 25th, my husband, my best friend and I all set out to defeat the impossible: we were running in the ING Inaugural Atlanta Marathon. My husband had been injured since the Miami marathon in late January, so he hadn’t actually trained for about 2 solid months. Regardless, his awesome attitude was so refreshing – he just wanted to finish the half marathon. I was so proud of him because he is generally an extremely competitive individual. EXTREMELY. And I don’t mean competitive with just other people, he is competitive within himself. You would think that this is a good trait, and generally it is. But I have witnessed some grizzly bear-like behavior from him in the past because of this competitive streak. The man would probably eat his own young when in this competitive trance. I have to smile when I think about how laid back and relaxed he was about Atlanta though. He finished in less than 3 hours, which is pretty darn good given the fact that he didn’t train a lick the 2 months prior! Way to go Meat, I am proud of you!

As for Jason Simoni and I, the race definitely tested our limits. I am a goals oriented person, so I prefer to be running FOR something or FOR someone. The Miami half marathon, for example, I ran for me because I hadn’t run for myself yet. The Atlanta race was indirectly for me because I ran for my brother, Paul. Paul was killed 3 years ago in Ohio and the tragedy has forever changed our family dynamic. I do not have any other siblings. My parents do not have any other children. Every day is a constant reminder that we no longer have Paul with us here. He would not graduate college. He would not get married. He would not have his own children. He would not be there with me when my parents pass away. Paul is gone and he is not coming back.

The first 18 miles went well, given the fact that Atlanta is covered with hills. Simoni and I attacked the hills going up, and coasted/relaxed on the way down. The problem was, after you ran down one hill, you found yourself going up another… and another… and another. The Atlanta course was by far one of the prettiest and friendliest races, but it was also extremely challenging. I had on a shirt that said “FOR PAUL” on the back, in green to represent the organ donation ribbon color. My shoes were also green with a lapel green ribbon pin I had attached to the right one. My reasoning was that when I wanted to quit, I would probably look down at my feet. That pin was there to remind why I was doing this and whom I was doing it for. People would pass us and say such nice things like “C’mon girlie, you know Paul wouldn’t quit!” and “Paul would be so proud of you.” Every time someone said anything, I would get choked up and I would fight back tears. Simoni would literally hold me up (he was helping me walk for a few miles at this point) and there was a time, at mile 25, that Simoni was holding back the tears too.

Simoni is truthfully the real reason I didn’t quit. After stopping at a med station at around mile 24 or 25 (I truthfully don’t remember which because I was dehydrated, shaking and delirious. Papa Smurf could have been the doctor checking my pulse for all I knew) Simoni and I informed the doctor that I wasn’t stopping now. “I’ve made it this far” was my response. And Simoni wouldn’t let them take me either. After that brief pause, Simoni continued with his motivational speeches. He wasn’t necessarily yelling at me, but he would speak in an intense tone and use cuss words to express his seriousness. “I’m serious, Timmons. You’re not going to quit! If I have to carry your f*+%ing @ss across that damn finish line! I am going to punch you so f*+%ing hard!” What are friends for, right? At that time, I would just nod my head in agreeance, half wondering if he would in fact hit me so hard in the kidney that I would piss blood for a week and half wondering if the Snorks and the Easter Bunny would be waiting for me at the finish line. If I didn’t have Simoni, I probably would have laid down in the grass and wished for the slow van, an ambulance or the Mystery Machine to come pick me up. I am not sure if it was because of the hills or the heat (they had record highs that day. Go figure.) Or because people kept reminding me why I was there, but that event was the single hardest thing I have ever done. I have never wanted to quit anything so bad before in my life – and I am not a quitter. My mother would never let me quit anything I started (including softball, but repressed memories from little league sports might have to be its own post someday), so I couldn’t quit then and I wasn’t about to start now.

Upon finishing, I slammed on the brakes and began my staggering descent towards the asphalt. Yep, I was going to be one of those weenies who has to get wheeled off the finish line. I was shaking and couldn’t breathe because Simoni and I ran the very last mile together. He was so positive and strong; I have a tremendous amount of respect for him for what he did for me. As if being wheeled away in a wheelchair wasn’t embarrassing enough, a man with prosthetic legs beat Simoni and I and was being treated for his sores in the medical tent right next to me. There were people being given fluids with IV’s, people were getting ice wrapped to body parts and the man with no legs. There were 400 people treated in the med tents and I was one of them.

I guess the funniest thing is, once the marathon was over and we had a day or two of recovery, we already started discussing which marathon we were going to run next. I remember telling my mom that I wasn’t entirely sure why on earth I continually do this to my body, but somewhere in the depths of my brain and my muscles, I must like doing it. Otherwise, why would I want to do it again… and again… and again? Our next race will hopefully be New York. I hope you are proud, Paul.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Where does it get me?

I was sitting at a student desk, waiting for a meeting to start today, when I announced that I had set up a new blog. My colleagues were interested and even one decided to read it right away. (I felt so special!) Rather than appreciate the blog in its entirety, the others simply asked what it was about. I informed them that I had an awakening, literally, on Sunday morning when I got out of bed and nestled into the couch to watch CBS Sunday Morning with my husband. I had come to the realization that teaching is just “hard”. It takes a lot of work to be good at what you do in anything, and I am not trying to convince others that my profession is more difficult than theirs, but we as educators are taking on more and more with the different (and sometimes difficult) situations our students are facing at home.

The “student and home life” situation will need its own blog entirely! Rather, the comment that caught me off guard is as follows: I was telling my fellow teachers that we have to work very hard in order to be good at what we do. A particular individual responded with “And for what? Where does it get you?” Where does it get me? It doesn’t necessarily transport or move me anywhere in particular, but I began to digest his comment right away and over the next few hours, it "got" me somewhere.

Why do we do anything? Seriously! I mean, why do I run marathons? When you really think about it, why on earth do I torment my body over 26.2 grueling miles in half a day’s time? Why do I spend the time and energy over months and months to train and prepare myself for just 5 hours? Why do I run so hard that I am sore for 3 days and my heel bleeds from running in the rain? Why do I set goals for myself? Why do I get excited when it gets closer and closer to race time, when they shove you into chutes like herds of wild mustangs waiting to be branded? Why do I even bother?

Maybe I’m just a competitor. Maybe I enjoy challenges. Maybe I like the sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s all or none of these. But, knowing that I tried my hardest and did the best that I could on that particular day, well, I just sleep better. My mind is more at ease, my stress levels drop and I don’t beat myself up for not trying harder. There is nothing heavier than regret – regretting not to say something to someone, regretting not to plan better, regretting not taking advantage of a situation that could make use of your full potential. My college volleyball coach gave me some advice that still sticks with me to this day. I was just having a rough week in practice, and I guess I wasn’t performing up to his standards, so he called me into his office. He sat behind his huge cherry desk and informed me, very nonchalantly, of all of my shortcomings and imperfections on the court. I truthfully don’t even remember him saying anything positive. I sat there for a moment, stunned and trying to think of how I could defend my efforts, so I simply told him that I was trying my best. His response: Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. You know what? He was right.

Sometimes your best isn’t going to be good enough, but at least you have the peace of mind knowing that you tried. I am not sure if that is enough for everyone, regardless of their profession, but it’s good enough for me. I don’t need the mansion, the Benz, the fat bank account and the recognition… I just want to do my best.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When your tail is so short...

It happened. I have been bitten by the blog bug so now people can finally take a glimpse into the simple and sarcastic world that my brain inhabits. I have given it much thought, about what to write today, and I have finally landed on a theme that I know some people will truly understand.

I am in my 3rd year of teaching middle school science. I absolutely love my profession and I readily enjoy working with my team of teachers and the kids we have. But (and there is always a BUT), I have never worked harder in my entire life to make meaningful lessons and projects, to ensure that I am reaching the most students I possibly can as well as creating applicable assessments. Our planning times are muddied up with meetings, student-parent conferences, training segments and committee obligations. Don’t get me wrong, I fully comprehend the importance of each and every one of these events, but it cuts into the time I feel is needed in order to me to “be” a successful teacher.

Regardless of the time constraints, the weekend planning and the late night grading sessions, I still want to be good at what I do. And honestly, I feel like I am finally becoming a real teacher. Experienced teachers always told me that you really do not start "coming into your own" as an educator until about your 3rd year. I remember brushing that advice off like a gnat at a barbeque, you know, as if I "knew so much with my tail being so short". I have no qualms admitting it now though, Dad - you were right.

Nothing prepares you for your 1st official year. NOTHING. No college degree (and no masters degree for that matter), no student-teaching interning experience and no amount of preparation even comes close to priming yourself for your own classroom with your own kids and your own activities. All of the above mentioned activities are simply warm-ups for what your classroom might be like.

I liken the 2nd year of teaching to your beginning teenage years. You still feel awkward, clumsy and question whether or not you are going to amount to anything, just like at that middle school dance where you wanted to slow dance with an 8th grade boy named Matt but you were too nervous he would say no. You want to be a good teacher and you want your kids to be good students, but there is still something lacking in that final equation: experience.

My 3rd year is coming close to its end and I can vouch that I have finally blossomed into something. Something great? No, not yet. But I will get there, someday. I think another important aspect of teaching is that you must never be completely satisfied, you must never feel like you are the epitome of the perfect educator and you can never stop teaching and learning yourself.

To all of you teachers out there, young or experienced, aspiring or retired…

Thank you and good luck.