Do-Over

It was only my second year teaching and the third time my principal formally observed me.  I was ready to show him my best.  In most cases, when the principal is in to observe the teacher, the students’ behavior is better than average, but not on this day.  The topic was the four states of matter, including the elusive plasma state, and how energy affects each.   Having taught the concept the previous year, I expected the students to struggle again with understanding plasma and planned to teach that state after solid, liquid, and gas.  As all experienced teachers know, what we have planned isn’t necessarily what the students follow. But I was only in my second year.

As with many traumatic events, I only remember pieces:

My students followed the plan during the first three states of matter.  

The mention of plasma started the downward spiral.

Martin could have cared less about the principal’s presence.

Plasma = a moving blob = the movie The Blob.  

“I’m failing. What am I going to say after school in my follow-up meeting with Dr. O?”

Come on bell…ring!

I fretted for the rest of the day knowing my 3:00 meeting would be a disaster. But I should’ve known better.

When 3:00 arrived, I begrudgingly entered Dr. O’s office, immediately sat down, and waited.  

“Want a do-over?”

I looked up to see his smile and the understanding twinkle in his eyes.

I smiled back and started to ramble…“I don’t know what happened. I tried and tried to get the kids back on track, but they kept going back to the movie.”

He chuckled, tore up his observation notes and said, “I know you did.”

And that was the thing about Bill; he understood teachers and students and the dynamics between the two, and he knew how to help his staff with those dynamics.

I am thankful for the twists and turns in life and wonder what would’ve happened if Bill hadn’t asked me to apply for an open position in his building the spring after my student teaching. I never expected an open position in the district, let alone at Bill’s middle school.  MAPS teaching positions are highly competitive, so I figured, “It’ll be a good practice interview for when I move out West”  Needless to say, I never moved out West and spent my first six years under Bill’s wings, not truly understanding the positive influence his guidance provided.

Dr. O.’s guiding principles still influence me today. He knew the power of positive first contacts and “highly suggested” his staff make those contacts for every student within the first marking period. I remember him saying, “A phone call works, but the physical postcard makes a difference. It’s hard for a child to complain, ‘Mrs. Diedrich doesn’t like me’ when there’s a positive note tape on the family’s refrigerator from that same teacher.”  Thanks to Bill, in my 23rd year of teaching, I continue writing postcards to each of my students and require all my student teachers to do the same, because it works.

What else did I learn from Bill?

  1. A well-timed article, with underlined sections, is a gentle way to nudge your staff into trying student-led conferences or reminding the staff of the parents’ perspective of parent-teacher conferences or the students’ situation if living in poverty.
  2. Picking up the trash in the hallway models what students should do too.
  3. Being firm but fair works.
  4. As holiday breaks and the end of the year approach, it’s not the time to loosen up but to tighten up.
  5. Students will excel, especially if they know there’s a chance for a do-over.

 

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Outside Streaker

Most, if not all, parents have heard it, “I promise I’ll take care of it. I’ll walk it. I’ll feed it. I’ll clean up the poop.”  Yes, my children wanted a dog, but did we, the parents, the ones that would ultimately be the caretakers, want one?  The answer for me was, “Yes!” for one particular reason–I would be the dog walker, especially in the cold, winter months.  The dog became a motivator for me on most days, but I still used the, it’s-too-cold-out excuse a few too many times. 

When a friend asked me last year to join a team for Run 2017 in 2017, I did.  Along with the goal of running (or walking) a team total of 2017 miles, there were monthly challenges.  January’s challenge was to be a “streaker” and log miles every single day of the month.  I missed a few days due to sickness last year, so this year I decided to tweak my challenge.  Regardless of the weather or my schedule, I will be an Outside Streaker.  As of today, I’m 16 for 16.  The bonus of being an Outside Streaker is I’m reaching a few of my other 50-4-50 goals such as being outside 50 minutes a day and choosing walking over the car.  As the year progresses, I can accomplish a few other 50-4-50 as I continue my Outside Streaker streak. And on those not-so-nice days? I’m certain this face will motivate me to get outside. 

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Other 50-4-50 updates:

Violin bow holding is still a struggle.

Up to 30 push-ups with a quick break after 20.

Received offers from friends to help me explore the South Trails and learn to crochet

50-4-50

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about three types of people who help change happen: connectors, mavens, and salespeople. My friend Lisa is a little of all of these for me. Across distance and lulls in our communication, she inspires me, so it’s no surprise that in a quick moment, and without her knowing, she challenged me to push myself (again).  Both Lisa and I turn 50 this year.  When my dad turned 50 he ran 50 miles in one day.  My sister ran a half marathon.  I’m going to run a 5.0K (purposeful decimal), and thanks to Lisa who mentioned her idea of 50-4-50 a while back, I’m going to knock off 49 other to-dos.  

Here’s my 50-4-50

I will continue to:

  • write a daily list of 10 items in my gratitude journal
  • 50 Random Acts of Kindness
  • Volunteer 50+ hours
  • Vote in every election
  • Trying new recipes (50?)
  • Read books (50)

Be healthy:

  • eat 5 vegis a day (already eat plenty of fruit)
  • 650 intentional miles of walking/running for my Run 2018 Team
  • 5K race
  • 50 push-ups daily (need to work up to 50)
  • Kayak at least 10x this summer
  • Choose my bike or walking over the car
  • 50+ minutes outside at least 5x a week

Revisit:

  • Playing tennis on a regular basis
  • How to change oil on a car
  • Sewing (unpack the machine I bought over a year ago)
  • Planning the neighborhood block party
  • Posting to my blog (50x this year) which will also keep me accountable
  • Writing letters/notes to friends
  • Inviting friends over every 4-6 weeks for dinner/games

Learn:

  • to play the violin (with Ali’s help
  • to crochet
  • some foreign language
  • a dance (Salsa anyone?)

Explore:

  • the trails in South Marquette
  • Hogsback
  • The Iron Heritage Trail from Ish. to Mqt.
  • Brockway Mountain Drive
  • Triple A to see the fall colors

Travel:

  • 250+ miles to spend time with Lisa
  • Mackinac Island
  • Duluth
  • Niagara Falls and hopefully NYC
  • The backroads of my childhood/teen years

Firsts:

  • colonoscopy along with my usual annual check-up
  • Pedicure
  • Facial

With Todd:

  • Watch a horror moview
  • Jump off Blackrocks (1st time)
  • Schedule weekly date nights (again)
  • Drive the Razor instead of always being a passenger
  • Shoot Archery

Bucket list:

  • Skydive (with Ali to celebrate her birthday too)
  • Zipline

Because I can and just want to:

  • Plant 50 gladiola bulbs because they’re my favorite flower
  • Watch 50 sunsets/sunrises
  • Purge 50 items at once from my home
  • Smile more
  • Binge watch an entire series of a show, undecided on which one still

Celebrate my Lucky 50 with some family and friends on Friday the 13th in a few months.

PS: I’m giving myself until my 51st birthday to complete this list, and I already started.

1st violin lesson

1st Violin Lesson: Just learning how to hold it was a challenge.

Welcome 2017: The Year of Me

It’s the time of year when people make resolutions or goals to make themselves and their lives better, but what’s wrong with being happy with the self I’ve grown to be?  I’m tired of seeing quotes and articles saying, “13 Ways to Make 2017 Better,” or “Simplify Your Life and Be Happier,” or “Reach for the Stars by Setting Goals.”  Then there’s the other side of the story: “Be Content with What You Have in Your Life.”  For the past few years, I’ve vacillated between looking for something more and being happy with what I have, so this year, I’m going to trust my gut.

If I get the urge to take the dog for a walk even though I’ve walked her already once or twice, I’m going to do it.  If the book I’m reading is calling to me, I’m going to read it.

I’m going to revive long-ago hobbies: Playing the piano. Sewing. Baking goodies for others.  Volunteering. Cross-country skiing.

I’m going to revisit some routines: Read a devotional every morning and write about it. Write in my gratitude journal every night.

In 2017 (and the last few days of 2016) I’m going to be me.  The me that my gut tells me to be.

If You Give a Student a Chromebook…

I have many colors in my hat with one of them being a proud union member.  Our local union suggested each school take a turn attending two school board meetings per year. It was my building’s turn tonight.  Earlier, someone suggested sharing a highlight or two from our classroom. I immediately thought, I can do that.  Then came the hard part–deciding what to say and how to say it.

When my students encounter this same struggle, I suggest they use a mentor text.  Many times I provide a few or sometimes they find one themselves.  I decided I would take my own advice, and I’m generally happy with the end result.

Thank you to Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for inspiration.

If you give an 8th grade a Chromebook…

They will use it to find additional information such as statistics to support their argument.

When using those statistics, they will be reminded by the teacher to check the credibility of the source they are using.

When checking the credibility of a source, they will use higher-order thinking skills.

When using higher-order thinking skills, they become critical consumers.

When they are critical consumers, they learn to question everything, including the teacher in the room.

When questioning the teacher in the room, they are reminded to think about their audience and purpose.

When thinking about audience and purpose, they will determine the best method of communicating their message.

When communicating their message, they might decide a note on paper is best.

When thinking about writing a note on paper instead of on the Chromebook, they will be reminded of a favorite class period–Monday Reading Zone.

When thinking of Monday Reading Zone, they will pull out their Chromebook and use the MeL.org database NoveList K-8 to find a new book to read.

When looking for the new book and not finding it in the classroom library, they will ask to visit the school library.

When they visit the library, they will find the book.

When checking out the book, they will be thankful for books printed on paper because the majority of them still prefer the paper copy.

When they return to the classroom, I am thankful for the support our Board has provided. How?

By allowing me the freedom to not use a required, scripted program;

By allowing me to provide students time to “just” read;

By staffing our school library with para-professionals, and

By supporting 1:1 technology.

Your support in these areas have helped me be a better teacher for the students who enter my classroom.  Thank you.

Definitive Answers

On most days, I appreciate the messiness of life and the myriad options available.  Other times, I wish there were definitive answers, but there isn’t.  I’m labeled a Catholic and consider myself religious, but I certainly can’t quote Scripture nor do I know the names of all the saints or even the books of the Bible.  Previously I wrote about my wavering faith in the Catholic church.  Since then, I accepted an invitation to attend a different congregation which has resulted in a developing affirmation of the Catholic teachings.  Why the change of heart? Basically because the priest’s sermons are not telling me exactly what I should think. Instead, he uses his own life stories to share how he values the Catholic views of the Bible.  He shares his sins and validates how difficult life’s decisions can be.

Growing up, I heard the parables Jesus used to enlighten those around him. I grew up learning to be kind-hearted, giving, and grateful for what I had because my family and friends’ families modeled the teachings we heard in Bible and the preachings of our Christian leaders.  Yesterday I attended church on Thanksgiving for the first time in years.  As I listened to the sermon, I found myself struggling between the word acceptance or tolerance.  I’ve read, and continue to read, numerous pieces about why people voted for President-Elect Trump so I can understand their choice.  At some point during the sermon, (yes, sometimes my mind wanders during the sermons) I realized that it’s not acceptance or tolerance that is asked of me but empathy.  Jesus empathized, and in my basic knowledge of other religions, I believe empathy is a core foundation across all of them.

The idea of having either acceptance or tolerance explains my struggle with having a definitive answer when asked my opinion on abortion or right-to-die legislation or testing of amniotic fluid for genetic disorders or a lengthy list of individual choices. Life is complicated to say the least.  I cannot infringe upon other’s rights and beliefs.  It is the reason I love America. What I can do is support the people as they make these difficult decisions.  I can trust they will make an informed decision because they have been given information, not one-sided propaganda. I can be thankful I do not have to make the choice myself.  I can, and should, have empathy for them.

Just Reading?

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I hear it often, “All your students do on Monday is read a novel of their choice?” I then wonder, why is choice reading being questioned but not:

1. Runners running laps, trails or miles on the road,
2. Basketball players of all levels attending open gym,
3. Teachers providing Genius Hour or 20% Time,
4. Math teachers flipping their lesson so kids use class to work on problems?

Recently I met with a group of fellow English teachers four Thursdays after school to discuss Wilhelm & Smith’s book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them. Every one of us knew we were doing the right thing by allowing our students choice in reading material but this research study validated our choice.

What did I learn?
1. There are four types of pleasure readers can experience when reading.
2. Each of the pleasures provide opportunities for my students to become stronger individuals.
3. Readers choose to read what they need at that moment in their lives.
4. I can continue to support my students as they make their way through the challenges of being a teen by validating their reading choices.
5. I must continue to provide “open gym reading” for all my students so they can move forward from where they are.

Thanks for researcher and writers such as Wilhelm & Smith, who continue to prove the importance of choice reading,  my students will “just read” on Mondays.

Murder or Imagined?

On Election Day 2016, my students held a debate not about any election being held but whether the murder in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” was an actual murder or was imagined/dreamed.  I want my students to be active listeners, something I struggle with myself, so I knew I would require them to paraphrase or somehow acknowledge something someone else stated. I also wanted to somehow ensure everyone’s voice was heard.  Luckily I found the idea of students folding an index card each time they spoke. (Thanks UNC School of Education!)   There are no better words than my students words to explain their learning:

“When you had to listen to other people for me it made me question my thinking. I doubted my thinking. I questioned my own thinking about it.”  Jakob

“The debate was interesting. The rules made it a little bit harder. Although it was better. Referencing someone else’s thought made it better because you actually had to listen. You couldn’t just blurt out which made it a good learning experience.” Natalie

“I liked the debate–it allowed everyone to talk not just the ones who shout out.  It helped me understand other’s point of view.”  Tyera

“It made me really think about how to rebuttle (sic) and see different sides of the story.  During the debate you had to restate something that someone said and it made me think do I agree or do I disagree?”  Averie

“I learned I need to take a chill pill and l learned how to deal with other ideas.”  Austin

My job as a teacher is to help students be successful beyond my classroom walls.  Having this debate and then continuing to reinforce the skills of listening and acknowledging other’s ideas is one way I’m doing just that.

Emma’s Reflection Poem

We could go on forever

Forever I say.

It’s undecided

There is no truth

No right

No wrong.

Forever, in the back of our mind

A question grows, and grows, it will

Never

Fall.  We will

Never

Know what happened in that home

At 4:00 AM.

Picture Books & Eighth Graders

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Serendipity. Even before I read the Katie Wood Ray quote on twowritingteachers prompt for today’s Slice of Life, I had decided I’d share an activity I used in class today based on Katie’s book Wondrous Words.

For the past four weeks 24 of my eighth graders spend 3 days a week writing for the sake of writing.  Today we wrote, but we also read picture books.  For 30 minutes I watched as my eighth graders read to each other and flipped through colorful picture books.  For the entire 30 minutes, conversation about books and writing took precedent over social events.  Talk about engagement!  I walked around the room, gently guiding their study of text structure, but mostly eavesdropping and smiling. 8:30 am and they were awake, reading, discussing, arguing over picture book structures.  Sometimes I answered a question such as, “What if the book fits more than one of these?”  But the best moment came with a few minutes left to class. “Are we doing this again tomorrow?”  I hadn’t intended to do so, but how can I say no to begging 13 and 14 year olds who usually are so intent on acting older than they are?  Their enthusiasm and the joy of watching them act like young(er) children is certainly a reason to read more picture books tomorrow and then write for the sake of writing.

Transition I–Sometimes I’m Still Angry

Summer has passed and the fall weather surprises me with the warmer than usual temperatures, sun and no killing frost. I’m having a hard time realizing over a month of school is behind us.  I didn’t take any official courses to further my credentials this summer, but the experience I lived through, and continue to live, certainly did educated me.

As I wrote in my last blog post back in May, I am a forever-parent. A parent of a child with special needs that resulted in me diving into the realm of filing for guardianship and SSI benefits.  What an educational tour it was.  Each time I thought I’d filled in every piece of paperwork, made the necessary calls, and finally understood the system, another piece of paper would enter my mailbox, another message would blink on my answering machine, or another hour or more was gone from my life as I tried to determine the next step or what I’d missed in the previous step.  As an educated adult with four college degrees, I felt uneducated, unprepared and just plain dumbfounded many days this summer.

I waited to file for SSI just because I wanted to concentrate on the guardianship portion and wasn’t quite sure if we really should apply.  Numerous people gave me their opinions which I appreciated, but I still waited while thinking, I’m educated.  I teach people how to read and write.  I have friends who know pieces of the system. How can I not figure this out? How do people that aren’t as educated figure it all out?

With nervousness rising to the top, all the emotions the morning of the guardianship court date took me by surprise.  There was the humorous moment as Amy said, “I don’t know.” when asked by the judge if she will listen to me, her mom and newly-appointed guardian.  And the proud moment as Ali helped Amy through the proceedings even offering to be sworn in by her sister’s side and answer questions too.

I’m still working on learning my new role as guardian and registered payee, and we are all still processing Amy’s new placement in the Transition I program.  She’s struggling a bit at home. Her daily routine requires more independence since she’s out in the public more than the school environment, so I’m not surprised. We work through those moments, but I still find myself getting angry wondering if life will get easier as she continues to mature and grow. Then I remember “Little Things”   and smile.  (Thanks Kinetic Affect.)