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Putting things– tangible things — real things — into the hands of  students when asking them to write and to learn, works.  And works well.

I am blessed with a mother who shares willingly so that I can be a better teacher.  In 4th grade in California, we cover California history in Social Studies.  I asked my mother to please share some of her bagillions of pieces of broken arrowheads and knives and spear points and pieces of half-worked obsidian so that I could bring this alive to the students.  And, of course, she did.

So, last week, I put the pieces of obsidian into the hands of the students.  We talked about it — how the rock itself was made, how the Piutes (who are the local tribes where my mother lives) made them, how the always found a beautiful place to sit and look for them, how my mother has a gift for finding them and I’ve never found anything other than chips.

And, then I asked them to write.  To describe with vivid, juicy details their piece of obsidian.  I asked them to make it come alive in their writing.

We brainstormed things we could say together.  How they looked, felt, sounded, smelled, and made us feel.  I asked the kids to please not taste the rocks!  🙂

And, then, they wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.


Even better was the next day when they drew.  I asked them to please draw a piece of obsidian.   Their excitement level was huge.  They drew and drew and drew and drew.  They added details and texture and drew.  Some drew more than one version . . . one side and then the other, what it looks like when you hold it to the light.  They were so fully engaged that when I asked to stop for lunch . . . they were disappointed.

So, yea, hands on stuff . . . that works!


One of the surprising bits of being a new teacher is all the aspects of the job that you don’t expect.  Yesterday, one of our school volunteers — a volunteer grandfather — came to see me during my prep period.  He wanted to tell me about something good that was happening in his life, some recognition he got from an unexpected source.  He was proud and wanted to brag a little bit.  I was happy to be there for him — his beaming pride was very similar to a student who has just gotten an unexpected A+ on a paper.  I was also touched that he trusted me enough to know that I’d listen and that I’d be supportive.  Yay for him and yay for me.

I’ve had that feeling before and it’s a good one.  Recognition of your skills from an unexpected source — perhaps one so unexpected you didn’t even know you hoped for it.  Wonderful.  For me it happened when I was invited to deliver a seminar at a technology workshop for higher education.  It was empowering to have this group come to me and say that I was the one to teach poeple skills that I took for granted.  It was a long term goal — and one I could check off with pride.

Feeling big is such an amazing thing.  I have had a chance to feel big and to give that feeling to my students lately. Last year, I helped to create a leveled math program at my school.  We ran it for the 4th grade and I had the low-performing students in my group. I had a group of 10 students and I taught them their math, modified it so that they learned better, gave them their tests, and graded them.  We stayed with the other levels of math groups in 4th grade.  This year, I’m teaching 5th grade and I have the low group again.  I love it.  Having the same group of kids for 2 years is wonderful.  The growth that I see in them is phenomenal and I feel like I have really made a difference in their lives — watching them turn from students who hated math to students who feel confident about math makes me feel big!  We have been doing several weeks of division — straight long division review, then dividing decimals, then dividing fractions, and more and more and more.  My students are acing it — A’s and B’s on tests.  Huge successes.  I have been so proud of them and I have been lavish in my praise.  Watching them beam with pride is an amazing feeling.

Giving my students that feeling of being big is another surprising aspect of teaching.

Despite my extreme — and ridiculous — bout of nerves, I survived the observation by my principal this week.  It’s really pretty ludicrous because my principal has never been anything but supportive.  I suppose I wasn’t as nervous about being judged or evaluated by her as by having her come in and think, “Wow!  What a mistake I’ve made!”

Thankfully, she didn’t.  The lesson went well.  The objective was met.  The students were on their best behavior — for the most part.  And, she has given me positive feedback.

Still, I allowed one lesson to overwhelm my day — in some ways, my week.  I put so much effort and importance into that one lesson that I’m still reeling from it two days later.  So, let’s focus on the mindfulness side of things and what works and what doesn’t work.

What doesn’t work is that no one has the time and energy to put that much into any one lesson.  I teach multiple lessons a day and couldn’t possibly plan each one the way that I did this one.  So, I need to let go of any expectation that each and everything I teach should be planned down to each final detail — the way we were taught to do in school.  It’s an impossible expectation.  Let it go.  Let it go.  Let it go.

However, what works about it is that planning that carefully leads to success.  It also brings to mind my old days teaching adults to work on computers.  I could put hours and hours and hours into each lesson, plan it down to the last little detail, write amazing materials for each class I taught, and focus all my energy — and some of my colleagues’ energies — into those lessons.  Why?  Well, each class I taught would be taught multiple times and I was paid both for my teaching and my curriculum development skills.   I was also given time to do both sides of the job.  It was a different world.

However, I think I need to tap into those skills that I know very well I have a little bit more.  It felt good to clean up the haphazard materials that I’d cobbled together from various sources.  It felt good to plan a lesson, prep the materials, and use those old skillz again.  The one thing that I wanted to do but couldn’t was to have ready access to a slide presentation and use that to guide my teaching — back in the day (when I taught in an auditorium to a couple hundred adults at a time), that was how I did things.  Maybe I need to tap back into those skillz too.  I think I’ll talk to my boss about some ideas brewing in that arena as well.  Hmmmmm.

This mindfulness thing is pretty good!

Reading an online acquaintance’s blog {click} this morning, I was filled with so many rampaging, conflicting feelings that I couldn’t leave a comment.  I had to come and blog about it myself.

She homeschools her 10 year old.  I, personally, have no problem with the homeschooling situation if it is done well and, from what I can judge, this family is doing a good job with it.  Yay for them.  Seriously, I couldn’t do it.  I don’t teach my own children very well — I get too impatient with them which is a terrible way to teach.  Odd though it may seem, it is much easier for me to take on 30 kids than 2.  My little quirk.

I also completely understand the desire to homeschool children in order to protect them from what goes on in many schools.  I have worked in schools that I would not send my children to — if it were my only choice, I’d homeschool — impatient or not.  My impatience is nothing compared to first graders getting in slapfights and calling each other f*ing b*tches.  And, when I think about sending my sweet babies off to middle school, I get the heebeejeebies big time.

I’m lucky, however, in where my children go to school.  They attend the school where I teach.  It’s a small town school with an amazingly caring staff of true professionals.  From the principal on down, we have a staff that gives its all to the kids.  We actively fight bullying and simply do not tolerate it.  We have a huge emphasis on lifeskills and appropriate behavior.  We are doing it right.  I’m proud to work there and happy to have my children there.  Yay for us.

So, all of that is background to a story I want to tell.  I have a student who is quirky to the extreme.  He’s exceptionally bright — smart to the extreme.  He effortlessly scores well on tests, writes beautifully, is an artist, a musician, and an avid reader. He’s also gifted in mathematics and science.  In another era, he’d be a Renaissance Man and admired by all.   He is out of step in modern life however.  He has long red hair that he wears down and hanging in his face.  He’s not athletic so he doesn’t have a strong, physical body.  He is sensitive, smart, creative and really nice.  He doesn’t have any close friends but does tend to be drawn to the other odd eggs at our school.  When I say he’s smart, I mean it — there is very little required to teach him.  He learns sort of haphazardly.  He’s usually drawing in class and lost in another world but then scores the top score on a test.  He is truly amazing.

That said, you might imagine a life of misery for him.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I won’t say that his life is easy and one giant walk in the park.  I’m sure he has his fair share of 5th grade angst.  I’m sure he wishes things were better.  However, he has friends.  He is not ostracized in any way at school. Most kids don’t understand him  but they don’t use that as an excuse to treat him badly.  We have this learning/social activity at our school for 5th graders.  They can create a business and sell their wares to the other students using classroom money that they earn throughout the week for good behavior.  He created an art business where he sells his art.  I’ve seen his art so I knew he is talented.  I was worried how much art he would sell and if his extreme enthusiasm would end in disappointment.   I have never seen such a dedicated businessman, though.  He created the business, tracked his expenses and sales, prepared black and white and color versions of his artwork for sale.  He really thought it through.   And guess what?  His booth was busy.  Kids bought his pictures and told him how wonderful they were.  He had a huge grin on his face the entire time.  And, at the end of the class when we talked about the experience and I asked the kids what they learned.  The first person to share said, “I learned that J is an amazing artist.”  Nods and sounds of agreement came from the whole room and J’s face lit up with pride.

Schools CAN provide safe havens for quirky kids.  And, I’m proud to be a part of one that does so.


May 2018
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