There were more than a few times when I told students that I was not a television, video, or YouTube star, I was a human, talking in real time, and to actively listen and practice solid metacognitive thinking, having a dialogue/exchange is one of the ways we learn from each other. Face to face. In person.
I joked with my students (we started school on September 9) that now I am a YouTube star. One student said WHAT IF YOU DID MRS. LOVE?! What if I did indeed. My chubby face, grandma-wave-bye-bye-arms, and extremely warm workspace (yes, that’s the shed payment on my bar so I don’t forget) is not the makings of movie and screen magic. I gave them the metaphor it’s like they’re on Jupiter, I’m on Mars, and I’m their teacher in space. That analogy seemed to help frame our current situation.
But I am lucky. And I wish “luck” had nothing to do with it. My district and several neighboring ones are working remotely. Reading about the lengths teachers and parents are going to around the country, many schools opening to face to face instruction, closing right back up again, etc. I’m seeing tweets about being “allowed” to wear scrubs to school (!!!!!) and which ones don’t get wrinkly. My pitch for my novel: the future is a hybrid of schools/hospitals where the sick and dying are cared for by women in scrubs providing rotating read-alouds. Forever. The End.
Yes, teachers are asking for scrubs recommendations. And wondering about classroom management so kids keep their masks on. I can’t even get a Ford Dealership service manager to keep his mask on, what makes us think we can expect our colleagues and students to do so?
The big things: the skies are thick with smoke, hazy and orange, visibility and air quality down to nothing, somewhere in an orange man is plotting his return by lies, cheating, and stealing with complicit minions, fires are burning, COVID keeps killing, and there is not a thing I can do about it. Oh, and white supremacists continue to spew their toxic, hateful, racist, immature garbage for their trolls. And get published by Education Week.
The little things: my students did log on this week, by and large. I kept the cognitive load low. I helped a student with her science homework. I helped one student work out a flexible schedule so he could work 40 hours a week and still go to school (I know this doesn’t sound like “help” but I will do whatever I can to help this young man graduate and support his family.) We had great conversations in drawing class, and we now have a mermaid skeleton naming contest for next week.
I’m going to keep focusing on the little things. They are large in my heart.
The lingering, nagging question during our PLC this morning was: “Are you feeling like you’re really teaching during this time?” and my mind flipped to reframe the question: what are students learning? Because that is what the question should be, always. And acknowledging that what we’re teaching is different in other content areas with more strict guidelines and assessment accountability, too. One teacher who runs the local native tribe’s school who is an important voice in our PLC spoke up about how her students are learning many life skills and contributing to the community. She even pushed back on the notion, her words, “Euro-centric content.” I could have hugged her. Because when she speaks, we listen.
It occurred to me, and I hadn’t given this a voice before, that what I miss is what my students provide to the conversation.This one-way interaction gives me a deeper appreciation and love for what they say and their thinking, when they offer it. I’ve done the best I can with my messages in the bottles, the weekly question and the curated materials to help launch their thinking. It’s like sending a do-it-yourself model kit to them and hoping they make something cool, but after I manufacture the pieces and plans it’s up to them whether or not they construct something of substance. They’re not going to Google Meets for a variety of reasons, and reasons I respect and understand. But it’s not the same, anyway.
But I keep checking the intangible nooks and crannies to see if they’re getting my messages, and though I just put out this survey this morning, already one student replied:
So, I’m off to my book stashes and will find some things she might want to read. She can keep whatever I send, of course. We have five more weeks of school. The weird school. The abstract school. The shadow school, where I puppeteer avatars and ventriloquist myself in quick videos. And keep finding ways to make meaning for myself, and continue to rediscover purpose.
I have a new gig, one I’m excited about. My feelings and response to the next phase are filled with gratitude. Closure, however, is healthy. Some of the things that happened this past year act as a wedge, preventing the door from fully closing.
The year began so positively:
What went wrong? (and what can go right)
Evaluation biases: Someday I may obtain my administration credentials. Not sure if I want to be a building principal; however, when a colleague who’s older and mostly certainly wiser than I told me she saw me in that role, and how good I would be, I took notice. She said I had a way of understanding how to support teachers and students alike. Maybe I am couching this next bit, or hesitating to sound too critical versus a critique, and there is a tinge of fraudulent intent in this next piece: my evaluator this year struggled with the evaluation process and her own newness in administration. Her understanding of the process came from last year’s work where, in her opinion, many teachers in the building received inflated “Distinguished” ratings, and she could not justify Proficient or Distinguished ratings when the school’s test scores were (and remain) low. And though I provided ample evidence and coding about practice, we never spoke to those artifacts or evidence in our discussions. At one point, we union representatives invited an HR representative to our building to discuss, with transparency and objectivity, how the evaluation systems are to be handled. I have yet to get a definitive answer why this didn’t happen, and we were sent an email instead. There is that old joke about meetings that would be better in an email, but this wasn’t one of them. The staff needed to hear directly from him how the evaluation system works. It is very similar to how my previous district handled it (the protocols) and yet in practice, in the building, became a professional boondoggle. For next year: over the summer, one area of practice is to create a means for my own style of work that combines the evaluation system and solid pedagogy. I’ll share. The current evaluation system and how it can be mishandled and weaponized is a hill I will die on. I believe it we can do better to create better teachers and learning.
Note to self: keep track of lessons and artifacts for the TPEP evaluation for next year. Keep a journal of practice, and strive for personal objectivity and reflection.
Building: The space is old. Decrepit, even. I didn’t realize how much that would affect me. The previous building was also old, but had been remodeled and updated. Now I understand how children around the country feel about the crumbling infrastructure of the schools they attend. The carpet is filthy. There is no central air in most of the buildings. The bathrooms have no ventilation. The ceiling rains dust (asbestos?) The staff bathroom comprised of three stalls, one for disabilities, so the other two are so narrow a larger woman such as myself can’t turn around in them. The staff bathrooms are by the front office, so a quick trip to relieve oneself is impossible (we had two minute passing times). But this isn’t about my comfort or convenience. It’s about how students must feel, day in and day out, and how no matter the bulletin boards, posters, etc., they feel disrespected and marginalized every single day: the destruction of what others create is relentless. No bulletin board stays unripped. Well–okay –except for the HOPE(squared) one–interesting when students put up work there is less of a chance it’s destroyed.
If a building is old, make sure the students are given as much opportunity as possible to create cleaner, better, improved spaces. Work alongside them to create the space. The goal is space for them, their work, their ideas.
Guaranteed Viable Curriculum (GVC): I’m not going to spend too much time on this one because I might go insane. The district adopted the EL Education curriculum. The idea was to keep everyone within a two-week schedule, four novel studies per year. Lessons that require full week(s) would be scheduled for one or two days. Learning was rushed. Students in a constant state of confusion. I longed for the simple framework curriculum of my previous district and feel embarrassed for having any issues with it. A huge ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment. Academic freedom trampled, and no in-depth learning happening. The woeful lack of writing instruction is academic malpractice. But due to the GVC standing as a behemoth between me and my students, the reading and writing workshops suffered grave harm.
Make a curriculum framework for next year, and then continue to work with colleagues and district leaders for the best, most equitable access for all. (Since I’ll be teaching high school ELL, be patient with self, and enjoy this new challenge!)
Reading: Never having taught a whole-class novel before, and knowing the GVC included 4 (we got through 2), I immediately purchased A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts (which I highly recommend whether you teach whole novels or not). The best success I had once when I went rogue and used The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas paired with the mandated text, To Kill a Mockingbird. My schedule included two ELA classes, and three History/IRLA classes. We were given 1/2 hour for US History and 1/2 mandated IRLA time, to be used for silent reading, conferencing, and tracking students’ reading progress. There are a lot of positives about IRLA, but “leveled books” translates to “leveled readers” in the minds of students. Breaking down that concept that books are meant for burning questions and purpose, not for levels, was next to impossible. All of the time and energy spent reading Donalyn Miller,Pernille Ripp, (and more than I can name right now) felt put on hold.
However: I am not giving up. The cataloging of great reading resources is a passion project for me. #ProjectLit,#disrupttexts, #educolor, #decolonizeED, #NCTE, #IBPOC #writingproject are top search tags for powerful conversations about equity, anti-racist. Follow each woman who began Disrupt Texts. Follow @mrpranpatel. Follow @larryferlazzo. Follow @TheJLV And for love and inspiration, follow @MrsHallScholars (!) (I am following almost 3K on Twitter, so a shortcut to these and other amazing educators @mrskellylove)
Keep following those who help with curating excellent books!
Advice: start your own blog and keep these resources handy. Twitter and other social media sites become tangled and distorted.
Writing: There is little or no writing in the curriculum. No space. No time. Misunderstood. Things that worked in my “studio” space of creativity (workshop) withered on the vine this year. I am distraught. That’s all I can about this now.
Make a plan. A REAL plan for writing instruction. Guard it. Protect it. Fight for it. (And keep writing that book. There is space for it.) For me: keep writing and replenish and return to my writing life.
Is anyone going to understand, aside from other teachers, how amazing what happened is? For all the ills of social media, there is so much good. Note to new and veteran teachers: find your PLN (professional learning network) via social media, and expand your thinking and horizons.
Here is what happened: my district uses packaged novel units based on another district’s work, or now a business, called EL or Expeditionary Learning. The program has many benefits, one of which each student (or scholar as they are known in the district) receives a copy of the central text. There are four modules, each with more lessons than is possible, and the intent is to provide some flexibility and professional judgment in the how to teach, but not the what, and the assessments are ironclad. We first taught Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and I followed the pacing guide and time frame and came out of it three weeks ahead of my PLC colleagues. No matter–I forged ahead with more essay and creative writing until winter break began on December 21.
Well, break is over on Monday, January 7th, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is our next Module of Study, titled “Taking a Stand.” Being a Grants/Wiggins fangirl, I am all about the concepts of Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions. But–
…but–To Kill A Mockingbird?
My relationship with the novel is probably typical of a little white southern girl with liberal, progressive parents–I loved it. I loved Scout. I loved the bravery, and the characters, the mystery, the strength, and the suspense. I can’t remember when I first read it if it was a choice or assigned, but I see a wavering fog of memory of some teacher and I connecting over my lightbulb moment of why Mrs. DuBose chose to go off her morphine toward the end of her life. The novel taught me so many things, and I am grateful to Harper Lee for this novel. And to this day, it holds a special place in my heart. However, we paradoxical humans can and should hold two or more truths at once, and over the past year or so (long before I knew I would switch districts and be mandated to teach the novel), many respected educators questioned and criticized this novel. I learned and listened to new perspectives and considerations, many of which hold important truths. Truths about race, racism, misogyny, and injustice masquerading as justice.
I had this amazing professor in college. He was Sri Lankan, teaching the required Brit Lit class from the POV of colonized people. He gave us “Heart of Darkness” and said:— Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) January 2, 2019
“This book is a racist piece of crap. I want you to read it because I want you to know what a racist piece of crap it is.” We read the book and had amazing discussions, using it as a central text to talk about white gaze and other things. So, teach, but teach context.— Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) January 2, 2019
I’m just listening in but I do think if you have to teach a problematic text, then you teach it as a vehicle to learn a critical reading process that allows kids to identify other problematic texts out in the world. Because they WILL encounter them.— Jess (@Jess5th) January 2, 2019
When Jess@Jess5th tweeted this –I knew I found the center focus.
The responses received fill my heart. With the deepest of gratitude, I must acknowledge @MrTomRad, @Jess5th, @debreese, @Ebonyteach, @CrazyQuilts, @Caitteach, @ShanaVWhite, @JenniferBinis, @spencerideas, @TheJLV, @ValerieBrownEDU, @triciaebarvia and if I missed anyone, my apologies. You all came to the conversation, and this-this is what I’ll share with my scholars first — we are all learning together, and trying to do better, and ask the big, tough questions.
The plan, such as it is, when we come back on Monday, January 7, in the midst of adolescents who’ve been homebound for two weeks (most of them) caring for younger siblings and doing whatever it is kids do over rainy breaks when resources are limited, and the building expectations PowerPoints that must be shown, is to let them first take and get reoriented, but also–share what happened. How other teachers discussed their ideas, openly and freely. I intend to pair this text with my #projectlit collection, of course, and allow students to find their own relationship with To Kill A Mockingbird along with other paired texts and discussions. I want so much for them.
If you would like the resources and ideas shared, please go to Twitter and follow me, and click on the discussion thread: @mrskellylove
Ah, what would the world be like if bullies were easily identifiable? What if, when a bully spoke, a brackish green cloud formed with every word, and their bodies glowed eggplant brown, a visible aura to show their words were angry and full of fear? That ugly beacon of fear would shine from me on occasion, and at checkpoints throughout the year, and my students would know I am Angry and Afraid, the twin spawns of dictatorship.
What am I afraid of?
I am afraid that when I am refining and honing my craft, the art/science of teaching, time will be stolen from my students so they won’t see the full benefit or be able to work on a continuum.
I am afraid of being misunderstood, under-appreciated, and patronized.
I am afraid of others taking credit, not collaborating or building.
I am afraid if I speak up. share an idea or insight, even build on another’s in a collaborative spirit, I see the inner (and sometimes overt) eye-rolls from others who dismiss my ideas.
And I am angry that many educational cultures around the country foster this paranoia, insecurity, and fear. And the fears are real. We are afraid of losing funding. We are afraid our schools will be bought out and privatized, and someone will profit (but not students in the long run). We are afraid our children will not have access to the jobs and opportunities in our own nation.
Whew, that’s a mindful. I should say mind-full. Mindfulness is the jargon word of the moment. Not a bad one, but one.
We are given pathways and signals on how to be, how to think, how to move forward. And with any of these wonderful tropes what may be lacking is the how – how to overcome when our best practices grow carbuncular obstacles?
If you ask coordinators, coaches, supervisors, professional development trainers, co-workers, office staff, or my students you will get a very different review of my level of flexibility. (Which, isn’t that paradoxically the very essence of flexibility? Knowing your audience?)
I am still experiencing thought thieves, and worse, time bandits. And not cute Terry Gilliam ones. Recently I asked my Facebook community if there is one thing they could change about teaching, what would it be, and their answers are thoughtful and wise:
I realize this is a very small sampling, but do you see a theme? Time.
This past month, I tried something new. Though I have always taught to the highest standards, provided the highest expectations, and worked to craft scaffolding that was supportive and upward bound, I took a risk and thought I would try to jigsaw The Hobbit. It’s not a bad idea. (If you would like the full unit, email me. It’s yours.) It’s chock-full of Tolkien goodness (sounds like a brand of nougat), and most of the students were getting it: close reading, annotation, etc.
Where the wheels have come off the bus lies in one simple truth: I haven’t been there, and won’t be there. I have more professional development tomorrow, and have a personal issue on Wednesday, so whatever continuity of instruction I sought is dashed against the rocks of others agendas and poor timing once again. In order to get students engaged, I need compliance. And in order to get compliance, I need flexibility from them and from my supervisors. I’m in the middle, feeling pinned in. If I say “no,” as we adults are often advised to do, there may be retribution and passive-aggressive fall out. If I say “yes,” I am working nights and weekends to make it work for everyone else, because my students are the ones who are ultimately short-changed.
And one more thing: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. With all the ‘how to reach introverts,’ (which I excel at because well, I know that world too) I am concerned about the extroverts. (I would wager most of us are ambiverts anyway.) They are often told to just be quiet. I tell them, too. One thing I’ve learned is constantly remind them of reciprocal needs: last week I held up my hand with three fingers up. I had three teaching points to make before they started working. As I made a point, I put down a finger. This way the extroverts had a visual cue to check and monitor their listening, and I kept my promise of not talking too much. We maintained a balance of power and mutual respect. (Students in a crowded sixth period class are done. I’m done.) Every year is different, every class community varies, and every student comes equipped with their own grooved brain. This tip might work for that class now, but not sure about next time.
So back to the color-coding of emotions, an overt ‘mood ring’ of inner monologues: when we see someone is in the red-line, their amygdala is wigging out, and the lizard brain is in charge, maybe we could be more compassionate, slow down, and learn how to process and calm down. If we only had time.
How do I know I’m mad, indeed? Well, I keep coming back for more. I am tired, I am somewhat exhausted, and I smell smoke; a sign of potential burn-out. Too many voices in the forms of e-mails, tweets, blogs, push-back, cattiness and manic, agenda-fueled piracy. Leave me alone. I’m fading out and leaving only an enigmatic smile behind.
But lately I’ve been thinking that true satisfaction, smug, self-reliant satisfaction, is possibly the best option for sanity. Or survival.
The other day I just got so teary. Voices I respect are telling me I don’t have the right to be tired, or telling me I am not being professional if I’m feeling exhausted. I realize it’s ‘only October,’ but I need to find my reset button. I haven’t been teaching that long, to be sure. I am not a veteran or old war horse. This is only my fifth year; I counted up the number of students I’ve had, and it’s close to 800 collective souls. They came in waves of years, each class thinking they are the only ones who have tried a trick on me, or been disrespectful with their special, unique brand of sass, or proudly waved their illiteracy banner, or alliterate masthead, of “I hate to read! Ha! Now try to reach me! I’m falling through the cracks, and you can’t reach me…neener neener neener!”
Everyone is working their fannies off right now. And at the risk of sounding like an entitled, whiney, unprofessional teacher, there are many colleagues who would testify on my behalf that I have done and given more than my fair share. I have spent hours creating meaningful, relevant, and engaging curriculum–nights, weekends, planning time, mornings, vacations — you name it. I have neglected balance and health in my own life to ensure I am “prepared.”
It is with some sense of satisfaction that I can dutifully and happily report that all the hard work is paying off, that I am reaping the educational harvest I have sown. Lots of creative lessons, on-line, technologically integrated lessons, rubrics and checklists galore, along with the big questions and the targeted assessments.
So why the frown, clown?
The half-lit thought of change has crossed my mind. I don’t really want to teach anywhere else, though. What I do want is for you, my friends and colleagues, to tell me how you keep things fresh, avoid burn-out, and still maintain strong, foundational instructional practices for all students? I remind myself that even though that even though this may be my 786th student, this is Student #786’s first time in 8th grade.
We are all balancing families, friends, health, happiness, and hope. Maybe seeking satisfaction isn’t the answer. But a little more peace and creativity sure would help.
Waiting for Superman? Nah. Lois Lane already had a life before he showed up.
Before, during, and after last night’s meeting with the Kent School District teachers, I have thought, meditated, wished, weighed and measured all aspects of this situation, and I’m not totally ready to write about all of it, not quite yet. I should let my thoughts simmer a bit more, not react, over or under, and collect my points.
But I will bear witness on how painful it was. To see so many parents, children, teachers from other districts cheering us all on, not caring what our opinion may be, who we were, or what quality of teacher we may or may not be. We could have been the worst teacher ever-sarcastic, lazy, not interested in our students or ourselves as professionals. They didn’t care if we were National Board certified uber-teachers with umpteen hours of extra time spent away from families and other duties. They clapped nonetheless.
And if truth be known, the majority of teachers in the Kent School district are uber-teachers. They are among the best and the brightest; hard-working, dedicated, moral and conscientious citizens. They did not come to any conclusion or decision lightly; and, I would guess the majority of them have never had to face a legal or ethical dilemma of this potential magnitude before.
Whatever you believe, think happy thoughts for all of us, no matter what. We seek guidance and support. Know that none of us reaches decisions lightly, or frivolously. We’re teachers, after all. That means we’re learners, thinkers, reflectors, and dreamers. We seek to inspire children, and motivate them to be the best citizens and critical thinkers in a difficult and dangerous world.
So, I wasn’t surprised this morning when I woke up to read a front-page story on the Seattle Times Internet page regarding that the teachers’ union and the school district still haven’t reached a compromise. Maybe the word “compromise” is too generous. Compromise suggests that both sides are willing to give up a little bit to gain a little bit to make everyone happy, or at least satisfied. I’m getting the sense that both sides have become entrenched and are not willing to budge. This is my impression, and I don’t know what the truth is.
The individuals in groups are usually well-intentioned, caring people. And when you get them in a large group, sometimes mob rule can get out of hand, or “group think.” As Agent Kay said in Men In Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”
When the union called for the strike and the majority of teachers voted for it, I knew from my gut and experience that it would take a few days for it to really “sink in” to feel the effects of this. Check that one off the list.
When we receive updates and new information, I knew from my gut and experience that the information presented would still be unsatisfying, emotional, full of rhetoric, both useful and trashy, and not very detailed. Check.
Detailed? That’s where my personal control issues come in, and why I’m a little emotional right now. The ‘nuts and bolts’ of what it means to go on strike were not presented in a very clear manner. I keep thinking I missed something, didn’t get enough information, that maybe somewhere, somehow, there is a clear list of what precisely happens when a teachers’ union strikes. The information presented from both groups is murky, riddled with inaccuracies, and covered in muck. My instincts are to dig deeper and ask more questions. For example, why are teachers required to belong to the union in the first place? Are there alternatives? Who decides when things have gone far enough, and in order to ‘save face’ what are the two sides willing to do? When does strength in unity become stubbornness?
Well, here’s what I do know: The only things I can control are what I’m doing today. I will move forward with organizing lessons. I will go ahead and write my congratulatory notes to some of my students from last year, and get them ready to mail. I will read more regarding National Boards and start to organize my thoughts on the portfolio entries. And, I will empty the dishwasher and fold some laundry. Check, check, and check!
And I will keep waiting for tomorrow, and what I’ll know.
mrs-love_help-me-obi_2Well, my wonderful MC students, we’re at a juncture, and as your fearless leader, even I am scratching my head, wondering where to go next. Do we take a left, struggle with Charybdis the whirlpool, or venture past Scylla, knowing a few of our crewmen are bound to be chomped up?
Well, how many times have you heard it’s about choices? You’re given a set of options, and you determine the best course of action. As my students know, we are very fortunate to have technology at our disposal – to use to enhance your learning, and my teaching. I thoroughly enjoy using technology to learn more about topics I’m interested in, how to become a better teacher, how to develop interesting lessons, etc. And you, my students, can choose to teach me new things, interact, and grow as a people, too.
That’s one path.
The other option is to use the laptop like an expense See and Say toy, something to push buttons, and try to hide as much of your distracting, off-task behaviors as possible, from a simple music file to something that is completely inappropriate and possibly even illegal. To say I’m disappointed and discouraged by those of you who have chosen this path is not only an understatement, but it feels defeating – like you wanted to “win” a game by not having your laptop available to you, but “losing it” you would “win” at some imaginary game only you were playing. I’m not sure what rules you came up with for your game, but as your teacher, I can only tell you that you are in true danger of losing.
So…do you want to go 100% doom of Charybdis’ whirlpool, or take your chances at surving Scylla? I will continue to do what I can to help you survive, to succeed, to learn, to grow, to prepare for your present and your future.
What’s around the bend, the corner, the towering rocks? Well, it’s your choice.