Changing Seas

You may know, if you've been reading here before, that I am on a job hunt this summer.  And despite my somewhat long hiatus from my teaching career (to be a SAHM), I aim to teach.  Each position I have applied for has had more than 100 applicants.  Oddly there have been 4 openings for first grade teachers this year, which happens to be my area of expertise.  I take that as a sign that I am meant to go through this process now.  Change is in the air for me and I know, whether or not I land one of these teaching positions, that I am capable of great things.  So with each interview, I go in and give the best that I know how at that given moment.  I come home.  I process the experience.  I dig deeper.  I learn.  I grow.  I am studying, researching and planning for the year as if I already have a job to plan for.  I realize that is the only way that others will see I am ready for this leap.  I must truly feel ready and confident.  The only way I know how to accomplish that is "Just Do It".

What happens, then, if I don't earn one of these coveted teaching positions?  After I spend the summer emerging myself in Core Curriculum Standards and pondering the best use of technology and methods for instilling, or engaging, or more aptly allowing children's love of learning to exist, develop, and grow. . . how will I handle it if I am not chosen for this role?  What will I do with all the checklists and organizers I have printed off?  I know I will be disappointed.  Yet I also know change will come this fall in any case, and for that I am ready.  I feel like I am poised on the edge of the ocean looking out and wondering what fine creature will crest and take me for a ride on this fine day.

Change is imminent for our family whatever the outcome.  My baby will be off to preschool, she is going to love it.  My oldest will start the year off knowing he is going to a place he is loved, for the first time since preschool.  My middle son is still standing on the edge of the ocean with me as I try to navigate our options for his education, a dolphin? a blue whale?  definitely not the shark, lest he fall off and become chum.  I want him to ride with someone who will not turn on him if he slips, someone who will lead him to great things and lift him up for air or to check out the view when needed.    Someplace he will not feel like a snail hiding in his shell among the pinchered crabs. Do we choose friendship? He is assigned to the same teacher as his best buddy at our local school. Or do we choose a better, kinder education?  I try not to be frustrated we have to make that choice.

Change is constant.  I can ride the waves of change to shore, or struggle against them, but they will come one after the other after the other. I know, sometimes, just when I think the tide has gone out and left me ashore, a rogue wave will come in to buoy me or at the very least, freshen the water where I stand.   So my plan is to try hard to swim with the current, not against it, and to see where it takes me.  Maybe there is a nice inlet full of sunshine, blue sky and glittering water just down the coast.  Maybe there is a ship headed to a foreign land who will find me bobbing along and pull me on deck.  Whatever the outcome of my search, wherever I find myself next, I aspire to embrace the change and all its dichotomous dependability and invigoration.


Look at Education Issues from an Outsider

I have been “out” of the teaching field now for 10 years.  I am very aware that is a serious strike against me in the job search process.  I also have done a total of 3 interviews in my entire life (a few weeks ago, that number was only one), and although I love to bring lessons alive for children, being put on the spot in front of strangers,  to answer detailed questions about my teaching, is not my strong suit.  That is not to say I have given up trying to improve, and I believe I am improving.  But I realize the area where I have struggled to make myself “heard” is the area of modern educational challenges, core curriculum, differentiation,  RTI and educational Technology in education.  One thing that has made that a particular challenge is that it can be difficult to know ahead of time which schools are up to their neck in which current education initiatives. 
 My personal strengths lie certainly in my ability to work with all kinds of children in a friendly, supportive way, my experience is grounded in in depth study of reading and writing instruction as 1:1, small group, and classroom teacher who has worked successfully as part of a team who made learning  to read and write possible for children who may otherwise have struggled.  I  also have a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction , the level of which Common Core and other current research in education seems to call for.  I am experienced in aligning and designing curriculum to standards that were in place at that time.  I am also practical, I know I don't have all the answers, that colleagues have a wealth of knowledge in the changes over the last 10 years and I will have some learning still to do to make this happen.  I am motivated to do so.

I am a lifelong learner who has continued to pursue education issues even as a stay at home parent.  As a SAHM I have participated in parent trainings and self study around diverse learners (those with ADHD, ASD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, social skills deficits, and executive function challenges)  I have been very interested in Positive Discipline Strategies and am intrigued by the combination of Responsive Classroom methods with PBIS.  The methods are surely compatible and an important step to making the classroom environment accessible to diverse learners.

So then it comes down to the fact that I just haven’t been in the schools in a role other than parent or volunteer,  for quite some time now.   Instead I have been reading about innovative schools who are having success.  I wonder about the wide range of schooling going on in our county.  Are the stresses and challenges put forth by MCAS and the need to make Adequate Yearly Progress motivating schools to teach progressively or are they digging into the “practice, practice, practice” mode?  My thinking is it should be a healthy, well thought out combination of both.  Certainly the kids who need practice should get it, but the others well they should be doing something else.  But that is not just my thinking really.  One method of dealing with this dichotomy in the classroom at a school I read about last year was to look at the data.  Have a time on a certain day of the week specifically to engage in practice or reteaching for kids who don’t understand the weeks material, and provide enrichment activities for those that do.  

I have read the common core standards and I actually like what they have to say.  Not just the standards themselves, which are quite comprehensive, but also the support materials and reasonings.  I like the changes that have been made and I believe they are valid and necessary to preparing our children for life in the 21st century.   There are calls to integrate curriculum, and use overarching themes and concepts to organize curriculum over the span of a year and across grade levels.   I also believe they serve as a guideline for reforming, and revamping the practice of teaching children in engaging ways that meet the needs of our children who we hope to become lifelong learners, able to solve problems and work collaboratively in an ever changing technological world.

 In the same light I believe RTI (Response to Intervention) may be a necessary evil.  I know the school where I worked already was screening children to identify ‘at risk’ students in reading and writing before they began to struggle.  The biggest plus from RTI as a parent is that the goal is to avoid the “wait for the child to fail” approach.  I have a child of my own who has been a struggling writer since first grade (but wasn’t enough below grade level to get help).  He now just finished 3rd grade and is finally identified as needing help.   Now, when the pace is triple that of three years ago.  I can see why something needs to change, at least in this system where we are.  But I have only seen this from the parent perspective, will I think differently as a teacher?

I gained in depth understanding of how children learn to read through a yearlong, intensive, and hands on practical study of teaching reading using the methods of Fountas and Pinell.  I am skilled at teaching reading and writing skills to new learners of all levels, and am experienced at identifying and meeting the learning needs of at risk readers and writers on my own and as part of a teaching team.  With response to intervention  the first tier is a high level of classroom instruction.  I believe my experience teaching children to read as  Reading Recovery teacher(1:1), Title I teacher (small group and teacher collaboration), and classroom teacher (managing differentiated reading groups for readers of all levels) qualifies me to provide a high level of classroom instruction at this level.

 The curriculum calls for an interdisciplinary approach, actually screams for it, how else could we possibly cover all that information within a year. . .and ensure children become lifelong learners prepared for the 21st century?  My Masters in Ed is in Curriculum and Instruction: Integrating the Arts in Education, from Lesley College.   This statement is not to be read as “Fluff Degree”.   This is a Curriculum major that prepared me with tools and lots of practice for designing interdisciplinary curriculum that engage children.  It focused on content areas and carefully planned  integration of the arts in order  to engage higher level thinking skills and enable or increase learning in students at all levels of ability.  I am highly capable of creating and teaching a curriculum that is solidly grounded in the learning goals of the Core Standards.   I recently attended an assessment course which among many possible assessment tools both formative and performance type, focused on inside out lesson planning.  I was refreshed that we were encouraged to begin with what we want and need to teach and design a learning experience to achieve the learning goals, and that method very much fits with my experience and what I know about designing curriculum.

Oy.  That question. “ What did you do in your classroom to incorporate technology?”  I thought, wow, it doesn’t seem like there was any technology available to use compared to today.  What was available, I used.  Internet access made a lot possible, we used the computer as an information resource mainly.    Just one or two classroom computers with no computer lab available was somewhat limiting.   Children could use certain programs to practice math or literacy skills or to research a topic of interest.   I used a digital camera to document student work, provide students with a prompt for writing about their learning, and in multiple other ways throughout the classroom.   One big change was the use of email to communicate with parents who chose that option.  It really streamlined information sharing. I also had just learned how to create a powerpoint as an instructional tool in the classroom.  Currently I use the computer to research information, keep in contact with others, and to communicate in a blog, but I also have experience with my own website and online newsletter, which I used to share literacy ideas to other parents.

 Now, there is just Soooo much more out there for teaching.  I am actually excited, not intimidated by that, because I believe if used to my advantage technology will make my life as a teacher easier, and learning for my students more engaging.  There are tools for teachers to design curriculum and create lessons with links to materials and online resources and core standards.  Tools for organizing class information, and keeping track of who has learned what.  There are sites out there and coming along with activities designed for children to help them learn and practice common core skills and  sites where teachers can find resources and lessons aligned to the common core.  There are sights that help children organize their writing, or express their ideas as comic strips, videos, and flip books. There are ipads, and laptops, and smartboards which put creating lessons and providing engaging, goal directed learning at the teacher’s fingertips and there are resources for newbies like me to access smart board lessons and ipad apps that can be readily used to teach core skills.  I have been collecting resources to use for all these purposes in and out of the classroom.  I hope to include them here in this blog soon.

I see the advances of technology as tools that I am already learning to use to build learning in my class, much as a builder uses a nail gun, a cordless drill, or a  level to create a house.  Like the builder, it is not merely how to operate a nail gun  or drill that is important, but also understanding how to use those tools best to create an operable, safe, well designed house.  I have a firm concept of how to construct learning experiences that are built on a foundation of imperative skills, and I know how to do that in a way that will engage the 21st century learner as an active and willing participant.  I do not look at technology or the arts as add-ons in education, but as integral to the creation of meaningful, thought provoking curriculum design.

If you are reading this as a parent or even just a community member, I hope you take a minute to investigate some of the core curriculum (which is a state led initiative-states working together, not led by NCLB or other Fed influence) as well as the parent page for the site for 21st CenturyLearners  and parent resource for RTI.  There is a lot of really good stuff that should be going on in schools these days and if your school doesn’t seem to be participating or perhaps they are just not being transparent in their efforts and including parents, you should want to know why, you should let them know you are interested in the changes going on in education today and that you want to know how they are meeting those needs and how you can support them and your children.  Strangely, and sadly, some teachers and schools are taking a somewhat backwards approach, bombarding all the students in a tidal wave of practice sheets, whether they need them or not.  They are taking a bottom up approach, and claiming there is no time to teach “extra” to students who already grasp the basic skills.  I don't write this to badmouth other professionals, only to make everyone aware that strong leadership and strong community support are crucial to helping our children succeed.  The core curriculum is clear, it is a minimum, and it should not be used to limit what is taught in schools.



Parenting in Public

Yesterday we were on a mission.  I had a child who wanted to build a store that he could go into and use to sell us apples.  He tried desperately the day before to use several small boxes, masking tape was strung around like spaghetti, but to no avail. . .and LOTS of frustration and tears.  So the mission was to get some BIG boxes.  We headed to a local appliance store and left happy and full of ideas for what to use the other two boxes for.  We talked about other important places in our town, and the kids narrowed it down.  Yes the Town Hall is an important place, but it is summer and these are kids, so our three most important buildings would be Mim's Market (kids think "candy"), Library (they love the library), and the Creamie ( I say no more).

After scoring the boxes, we headed to a small park for lunch under a big tree, then 15 minutes on the playground.  It was midday and the shade of the tree and the playground did not intersect.  I knew they would lose their play power shortly and be ready to go work on the big box project.  There were a couple guys on the caged tennis court nearby, and excepting the pong of the tennis ball and squeaks of their shoes it was quiet, till I sat down to read a teaching article on my iphone while the kids played.  Then one of the tennis player says loudly to the other.  "Have you noticed the decline in care since the invention of the iphone?!"  . . . He said it with the same self righteous tone I heard a teacher use with a child a few weeks ago when the child tossed a banana peel into an untraveled wooded area when he was done with his lunch.  The boy replied, "But it was just a banana peel.". . but that's another story.

I felt a bit of a sting.  Was he talking about me?  Just last summer I was praised by a stranger for actually talking to my daughter in the stroller while walking along the cove road on the lake.  The man felt it was such a rare sight to have a parent engaged with her child rather than in adult cell phone conversation that he just had to tell me I was rare and special. No sting. I might have even felt a little righteous.  Hmm. . .Then I had to wonder, "Why do I care what this stranger thinks?"  And I realize it is not so much about caring what one stranger thinks of my parenting as it is knowing that when I am in public. . .well, uh. . . hmm, darn. . .I care what a perfect stranger thinks.  The teacher in me wants to model good parenting skills.  The parent in me enjoys the little boost from positive feedback.  Plus, if I didn't care what others thought, just a little, I can't imagine I would be a very good parent.

On the other hand, I have been in some pretty tense parenting moments that happened to be in public places.    When as a parent I have struggled with what appears to onlookers as a misbehaving child, everything a I do or don't do in response feels like it is under scrutiny.  I have heard the term, "It takes a village. . ." most people have, but I don't think that is what is meant.  (Let's criticize them till they get it right?) Is it? Why do we (as a society) praise parents who are having a good day already?  Why do we feel it is alright to criticize or judge parents who are struggling? I can attest that the parents who are struggling need more kind words and encouragement than any of them will ever get in their lifetime.  Parenting is hard.  For some it is really hard, not neccessarily because they are doing it wrong, but because of their circumstance or the child's.

So, yesterday, I shut off my phone.  I pushed my girl on the swing.  I did some swinging myself, umm. . .blah... wish I didn't get motion sickness from swinging.  And we all went home to build Mim's store, a Library and a Creamie.  We played under a big tree in our yard all afternoon.  I ate 7 pretend icecream cones, drank lemonade and read real books at the pretend library.  My oldest came home and added crochet lessons on the lawn to the afternoon's activities. 

 I wonder when, or if, that man will learn to recognize his righteous side, and see that it isn't neccessarily a positive trait, I have learned that from people like him and have tried to loose that kind of judgement of others.  I wonder what more I have to learn about myself.  I believe every person we come across in life has something to teach us if we are open minded enough to learn it.  I wonder if that man will learn too. . .and I hope it is not learned in a hard way, like having his child melt down in a public place while onlookers glare disapproval.   


Looking Up

I have been away from my blog for a few weeks, and have been getting into the new summer groove.  I am planning to resume my regular writing as of . . .now.  So here goes.

The summer is coasting along smoothly for my little family this summer.  Kids spashing, screaching, and stealthily scoping out frogs in the bog makes for a little bit of time for mom, to watch a cloud or two wisp over the blue summer sky, or listen to the warm summer breeze whisper through the trees. 

The best looking up moment though had to be on the Scarborough Beach (near Old Orchard Beach in ME)  Zeus's fireworks on the 4th of July were just absolutely breathtaking while we waited for the manmade display to begin.  Imagine yourself on a crescent of coastline, waves surging into shore.   Dark storm clouds looming and circling, lighting up and letting loose, then crawling away to sea just in time for the more colorful displays of weeping willows, rainbow fountains, blossoming sprays, and a unique display my son dubbed "barnacles".  (It really did look like barnacles! and we had spent the day at the beach climbing barnacle covered rock in search of hermit crabs and other tide pool loving critters. . .perhaps he had barnacles on his mind.)  The lightning continued at a safe distance dancing from cloud to cloud occasionally stretching to earth in a grand show even as all the fireworks around the crescent celebrated our freedoms.

I skedaddled home a day earlier than the rest of the family to an absolutely lovely job interview for a first grade teaching position.  Wow.  They provided water and mints, and a quiet place with music and a list of the questions they would be asking while I waited.  I was welcomed and the conversation rolled along nicely.  I left feeling good and feeling like, even if this isn't "the" job, (but I hope it is), things are "looking up".