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A look inside

A few weeks ago I was asked to serve on a new committee our principal was forming.  It’s called the “Courageous Leadership” committee.  The mission, to create a new vision for the school.

Our first meeting was an open and honest conversation about how we were feeling and what we wanted out of the committee experience … as a member, a teacher, for our students, parents and the community.

It was at that moment, in the face of others, all that I had been struggling with came to the surface. I was the second person to speak.  I listened intently to what the other person had to say. Then it was my turn. What did I want from the experience? 

I wanted to feel … safe.

It came out of my mouth almost without really thinking about it.  For weeks, I’ve been struggling inside.  I realized the continued view and sounds of violence, fighting, even the verbal threat of harm was getting to me.  The “knife” incident had scared me at my very core.  I felt powerless over these children …. elementary school children!  “They” were in control and taking over.  This was not just in my classroom, but in the entire school.  My days have become a ritual of writing referrals to a revolving door of suspensions.

How can kids feel “safe”, if I don’t?   I asked.  With the presence of police now in the school (whom these students don’t fear or respect) what message are we sending to our students?  Yes, their presence makes a difference, but aren’t we also telling them we, as teachers, as a principal, aren’t in control?  We can’t handle them?

As Oprah says … “What I know for sure” … there are moments in the day I get to teach and enjoy it.  It’s what I came to do, right?  I’m hoping that through the committee and more honest conversation with myself, we will all begin to feel safe and I will get to do more teaching.

 

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Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”  Remember that?  I also remember thinking, “someone lied”.  I think we all have experienced the pain of hurtful words that weren’t so easy to bounce back from.

As a child, I remember being called names because I wore glasses and of course the name “Houseworth” left me open to a world full of jokes.  Kids can be so mean and cruel!   As a teacher, I hear it all day.  What can start as simple dialogue can erupt into cruel and unusual punishment.  They dig deep to hurt!  I have had to develop classroom rules that clearly state “No put-downs” and the classic … “if you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing at all.”

This week in particular, the exchanges forced a “No Talking” policy several times throughout the day in my classroom. Words exchanged were harsh and tempers flared quickly like firecrackers.  I was no longer teaching but playing referee in one fight after another … I began to notice, with the same players.

You wouldn’t have known it from outward appearances.  For one student, in particular, he presented himself as “tough” and able to handle himself.  However,  inside,  he was hurting from the words and deeds exchanged. He hurt so badly, he brought a knife to school to protect himself.  Imagine my shock and horror when I learned that all the fighting was in response to him being bullied by someone else.  A 6th grade boy, so frightened, he felt he had to be armed.

Despite hurtful words, thankfully no one was “physically” hurt. With the truth out, I hope he’s beginning to heal. 

 

 

The Open Door

This week I found out that I’m getting another student in my classroom.  No time to digest it. A first grader … to go along with my 4th, 5th and 6th grade boys.

A first gasp, I thought “You’ve got to be kidding me?  How can I handle it logistically, academically?  Why my classroom?” 

The answer took me down and over swift.  As a very close friend of mine would say … (and you know who you are) … “Isn’t this why you became a teacher?”  There’s no limit to the lives I touch, right?  My classroom door should be, and is, always open.

I’m always reading multiple books at one time.  I recently started “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff and was quickly struck by my “Eeyor” mentality of the moment.  I stopped for a moment to think of the other side of this story.

Here’s a sweet but troubled young boy who hasn’t had the best experiences with school. He’s a little thing and I’m sure he’s scared, facing a lot of unknowns … especially in a classroom of bigger boys.  What about the mom?  I imagine she has had many stressful days and even shed many tears wondering where is the best place for her son.  Imagine the weight she must feel lifted off her shoulders knowing she has found a place where her son can grow.  Yes, that’s why I became a teacher … to provide that “Open door” to all who need to enter.

As I approach the 24th day of school,  I am reminded that when you’re in the boat on the ocean, and you look down at the water … it will appear that you’re not moving.  If you look up and out towards the horizon, you can see just how far you’ve moved from the shore.  One step, one day (166)  at a time.

From the Tao of Pooh  …

“Through working in harmony with life’s circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others may percieve as negative into something positive.”

A short story …

A few of you may have heard this before, but I’m posting for feedback!   Thinking of submitting for a writing contest! 

 

How Wanda Cox got the Chicken Pox!

 

There was a mom and son … named Wanda and Sean Cox

He often wanted to hear the story of his chicken pox.

“Tell me again” he would say climbing up upon her lap

He sat real still and listened close, as he removed his baseball cap.

 

It happened a long, time ago.  You were maybe five or four.

I think it was September when you came running through the door!

“Mom” he said “I’m itching and I cannot seem to stop!”

He slowly lifted up his shirt and revealed a small, red spot.

 

“It’s ok” I said to him and gave a loving smile.

“Please don’t scratch” I went on to say, “Let’s check again in a little while.”

 

It was a bit later.  Sean came back.

He didn’t know what to do!

“I’m itching still!” he pointed “Now there are two!”

 

“It’s ok” I said to him and gave a loving smile.

“Please don’t scratch” I went on to say, “Let’s check again in a little while.”

 

Sean came back again, running faster than before!

This time he was yelling as he opened up the door.

“MOM!” he said “I’m itching. I CANNOT TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

He lifted up his shirt to reveal that there were more!

“You have the chicken pox” I said, “I know just what to do!”

“Some lotion and an oatmeal bath will have you feeling good as new!”

 

“It’s ok,” I said to him, and gave a loving smile.

“Please don’t scratch,” I went on to say. “Let’s check again in a little while.”

 

Sure enough, day by day, the red spots went away.

Sean was feeling better and able to go out and play.

Then one day I was feeling a little different than before.

I noticed I was itching and scratching more and more!

 

“Sean” I said “I’m itching and I cannot seem to stop!”

“Do you think that I may have … OH NO!”

“THE CHICKEN POX?!”

 

“It’s ok,” he said to me and gave a loving smile.

“Please don’t scratch” he went on to say. “Let’s check again in a little while.”

 

 

 

It’s the first week back to school.  While my students enjoyed the comfort of having the same teacher for another year, the staff received a new principal.

Let’s face it, change is hard.  It’s uncomfortable.  Whether it’s a political position or the a buy-out of a company, when a new administration is in place, things are going to be different.  I’ve experienced it many times, but never as a teacher.

This summer, I reread the book “Who moved my cheese” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.  I probably should have reread it before moving to South Carolina, but timing couldn’t be better.  “Who moved my Cheese” is  a short story primarily about two characters named “Hem and Haw”.   These characters live in a maze and look for cheese daily only to discover one day, that the cheese was gone!  The “cheese” can represent anything in life.  In this case, my “cheese” is my job.  I thought this year might be easier relying on the comfort of “knowing” everything I didn’t know last year.

I’ve had many bosses, many managers.  I can count on one hand the ones I have come to truly admire and respect.  I can also vividly remember the people I thought were difficult to work for.  This week, the “changing of the guard” brought out many “Hem and Haws”.  While one week surely doesn’t account for much, I must admit, the staff, myself included,  are having a hard time with the changes.

We all know that change is good.  As I’ve said before, for some of us, it’s better in small doses.  Sometimes we need an announcement so we can “brace ourselves for the turbulence”.  Some change, like it or not, comes like a knife … swift and sharp.

When it’s all said and done, we have to respect the nature of the position (a new boss, step parent or marriage).  No doubt,  it’s not easy to create a sense of  family, get buy-in or get everyone on board.

Sometimes it’s not the messenger, but the message being delivered that we need to pay attention to.  Maybe it IS time to move the cheese!  In the story, “Haw” found new cheese while “Hem” kept expecting the missing cheese to return.

I keep telling myself  … I know it’s best to “Move with the Cheese and Enjoy it”.   Who knows?  It may taste even better!

Bon Appetit!

Almost 50 …

A week from today is my birthday …

Like the odometer on my car, my number is quickly coming up … yep, the big 5-0!!!  Not sure about the warranty.  I can say the parts are working … just not working quite the same!

What I’ve learned so far?  Your health really is “everything”.  As much as I LOVE waffles and butter, ice cream, creme brulee and a good cup of coffee with cream, my quality of life without caffeine, carbs and lactose is still wonderful!  As Patti Labelle says … “I got a new attitude.”

Exercising “can” be enjoyable – I just don’t remember signing up for a “lifetime membership”.  No time like the present to keep it activated!

Change is good – Although I prefer it in “small” doses.  We really are never too old to learn, and in most things, I can find the “good” … even in greek yogurt, soy milk and whole wheat pasta.

It’s hard to lose things … I can’t always seem to remember the small things of the present at times, but I can always recall the past.  This includes losing treasured loved ones and good friends.  Sometimes it makes it hard to keep going, but in their memory, we must go forward.

Lastly, I’ve learned … that “all” things are possible with God.  My every hope and prayer has been answered through my faith.  That  by remembering at the end of the day, it is my desire to make a difference, I know to be where I am, right now … I am blessed.

Adopt “My” Classroom

In less than two weeks, school will be back in session in South Carolina. Like other states across the country, budget deficits in public education result in cuts that leave items such as pens, paper and textbooks as precious commodities.

One lesson I learned last year, as a first-year teacher, many things … basic things … are (and were) purchased out of your own pocket!  I fondly remember “Back to School” shopping, picking out my favorite lunchbox, notebook and school supplies. It was a double blessing to watch my son pick out his!  For the students I work with, their families can’t afford school supplies.

Now, schools provide a “bare minimum” of supplies for the classroom.  I was given a “box” of copy paper allocated for the entire school year!  Granted, we probably have been careless with the use of paper.  Recycling unused sheets and becoming more efficient with 2-sided copies began to make sense, despite our “go paperless” objectives.

With custodial cuts, cleanliness in the classroom often comes down to personal purchases of tissue, sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer … and even a broom!  This, despite the “gasp” we let out in 2009 when schools with “no toilet paper” were making the headlines.

In school districts with affluent communities and strong a PTA, fundraising can provide classroom furniture and playground equipment. Schools made of low economic, underprivileged students, can participate in federally funded programs that allow purchase of bigger items. However, not having the “bare essentials” for daily classroom learning is a reality.

As a teacher, you want to do whatever you can to provide what a student needs! School may be the safest place they know. Those who know me, know that I am more sensitive to the educational needs of special ed students who can get lost in the big picture. 

With that said, and in the spirit of “It takes a Village …” I have signed up with the program called “Adopt a Classroom” to assist with donations that allow me to purchase classroom needs. I hope you will join me. 

Living the dream of my favorite quote by Gandhi … “Be the Change you want to see in the World”

http://www.adoptaclassroom.org/index.aspx