#teacherswrite experience=INSPIRATION

 

If you teach writing in K-12img_5103-1 you must experience #teacherswrite. Look for more information on Kate Messner’s Blog. This is a summer program (free) where teachers can experience minilessons, quick writes, and feedback, from REAL authors, to inspire teachers to write. Don’t you think you’d be a better teacher if you were a better writer? Makes sense right?!

I’ve always been afraid of writing. During my school experience, I was more confident with Math and Science. I felt okay about the rest. After becoming an avid reader in my adult years and seeing the positive impact on my teaching, I thought, “Why not become an avid writer?” This is what lead me to #teacherswrite. I fell upon it because I’m active on Twitter. (BTW, the best teacher professional development out there. If you are not on Twitter for education, you MUST be!)

Now I am writing every day. I am inspired. I plan to write at least half an hour every day from here on out. I will share my plan and my writing with my students. I am eager to teach writing. YAY!!

So, now for the hard part. I am posting below some writing I am currently working on. I know I have a LOT to learn and more I can improve on. But, I will not get there without practice, without failure. I need to be brave and share. Just like I will expect my students to do. If their teacher is taking a leap of faith, my students might just be willing to as well. I hope. Here it is. Feel free to comment.

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Three months later, I sit in the doctor’s office waiting for my name to be called. It is a nicely decorated with black and white photos of the city, but I stick out like a sore thumb. The waiting room is full of old people. Some with oxygen machines, walkers, canes. I believe I am the only one here below the age of 60 besides my mom. It is a rheumatology office, which apparently affects mostly the elderly. I guess Dr. Sail hopes this new doctor can figure out what is going on with me.

 

One old guy walks to the door when his name is called. He has one of those walkers you hold onto to help you balance. Every movement he makes looks painful. I cannot help but think, “Could I end up like him?”

“Liz.” calls the nurse.

My mom and I follow her like baby ducks into the examination room. The nurse checks my vitals and asks, “How have you been since your last appointment with your pediatrician, Dr. Sail? He sent us all your records and felt Dr. Pillman might be able to help you.”

“Have you watched any zombie movies lately?” I retort.

“No, why?” the nurse replies, looking at me like I am crazy.

“Well, you know how a zombie looks and acts in movies? That is how I feel inside. Dead.”

“O-kay,” and the nurse rolls her eyes.

“Except for the wanting to eat people of course!” I assure the nurse.

“Glad to see you still have your sense of humor Liz.” The nurse whispered as she shook her head. I could almost read her mind, thinking I am a crazy, mentally messed-up teenager. “Dr. Pillman will be in with you shortly.”

Waiting for the doctor is like waiting for the ketchup to come out of a brand new bottle at a restaurant. All I want is for the doctor to fix this and Mom is just sitting there reading a magazine. “Mom!” I shout.  His name is Dr. PILLman. Come on! Can’t he just give me a pill to make it all go away? Isn’t that what doctors do? I just want to move on with my life and get back to volleyball and friends and middle school.”

“Honey, some things are not so easy to fix. Don’t you think you might be over-reacting a bit? You should feel thankful this is not something deadly like cancer.” My Mom always looks at the bright side of things, puke!

“Thankful!” I shout. “I can’t do ANYTHING I use to. I am losing all my friends and YOU think I should be thank-”

Knock, knock. In walks a man who looks nothing like a doctor. “I am Dr. Pillman. Is everything okay?” My mom and I both look at him with no response.

“Well then, you must be Liz’s mom, Beth, and you must be Liz.”  

Thanks for noticing the obvious Dr. Pillman, who looks nothing like a doctor, more like a surfer.  He has long black hair pulled back into a tight pony tail. Instead of wearing a white doctor coat, he is wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt. Maybe I should be nice to him. He might be able to fix this. I hope, crossing my fingers.

“Hi,” I slightly wave to Dr. Pillman. He turns to my mother and introduces himself, sitting on his round black doctor chair with his clipboard in hand.

Dr. Pillman asks, “How have you been feeling lately Liz?”

I blurt out, almost shouting, “I feel like I am a 12-year-old in a 70-year-old body. I can barely make it up and down the stairs without my legs screaming in pain. My arms and legs burn. All. The. Time. My ribs ache when I sit down. I cannot write for more than a minute without my wrists screaming in pain. I am constantly nauseous. My stomach queasy, especially in the morning. Nothing helps the pain. It is crazy! It hits me so fast. One minute I can feel fine and I think to myself, ‘Maybe this is it. Maybe I will start to feel normal again.’ A couple of hours later it is like someone just flipped a switch. And I go from feeling normal to crashing on the couch. I think that about covers it.” I take a deep breath because all of that came out of my mouth super quick!

“Well Liz, I have looked over your charts and blood tests. I am here today to give you a diagnosis.” Dr. Pillman looks me directly in the eye. I feel my heart beating fast. Whatever it is, just tell me. Fix this.

“Okay,” is the only thing I manage to squeeze out of my mouth.

Dr. Pillman continues, “I believe you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS for short. We are not sure what causes CFS, but we know it does not damage your body. That is the good news. CFS is characterized by intense fatigue and pain. It can get worse with physical activity or mental concentration.”

“So, that is why I cannot play volleyball anymore and have trouble concentrating in school?” I ask Dr. Pillman.

“Yes, Liz. Currently, there is not a test telling us you have CFS. I was only able to diagnose you because you have been experiencing the symptoms of CFS for more than three months.

My mom interjects, “So, what do we do now? Is there a medication Liz can take to get rid of the symptoms? Is there a cure?”

“I am afraid there is not much we can do. No medication is approved for CFS in children. There is no cure,” answered Dr. Pillman, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “Liz will have to learn how to manage her symptoms by limiting physical activity and taking a lot of breaks. Essentially, she will need to re-learn her ‘new’ self. Most kids grow out of it by the time they are an adult. But it could take years.”

“What!” I abruptly stand up and firmly, slowly demand through my clenched teeth, “No. I need to get back to volleyball. It’s my whole life. You are a doctor. You are MUST fix this!”

“I am sorry Liz, there is nothing we can do.”

I slowly sit back down in my seat, thoughts swirl in my head. Mom and Dr. Pillman continue to talk but all I can do is think back to volleyball. No volleyball? Does this mean every time I feel better and try to be normal, I will feel awful later? How can I be a volleyball player when I cannot even practice. This isn’t fair. He said, “Grow out of it when I’m an adult.” What about my life now? My life is ruined! I feel the tears forming. No. I cannot cry. No.

My thoughts are interrupted by Mom, “Liz honey. Dr. Pillman asked you a question.”

I look up at Dr. Pillman. He repeats, “There is a local support group for children with CFS. Would you like me to give you the information?”

“Whatever,” I snap at Dr. Pillman. He hands me a brochure with kids on the front. Some are in wheelchairs.

Dr. Pillman looks at me and says, “Don’t worry Liz. Once you learn how to manage your symptoms and physical activity, you will crash less often and feel much better. I’ll see you in three months for a check-up.” And then he just walks out the door.

That’s it! I turn around to look at my mom and she’s crying. As I try to hold back the tears, I hug my mom tight and we both cry for what seems like an eternity.

 

* * *

 

The next morning I wake up in utter defeat. Inside I am still Liz, but my body betrayed me. Let me down like a mean, mean joke. “Ha, ha Liz,” my body taunts me, “You thought you were going to be an awesome volleyball player, a normal kid. Not anymore! Normal is something you will never know again.”

Why should I even get out of bed? I can’t do anything. I can’t go to the mall, too much walking. I can’t join my friends at volleyball practice, too much running. I can’t go swimming. I can’t snow ski. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t! “Agggggg!” I scream, slamming my fists into my pillow. “My. Life. Is. Ruined.”

Rage builds up inside me, ready to explode. Scrunching my brow, I look around my bedroom. My heart is beating fast. My hands are clammy. I stare at my wall with the collage of volleyball photos. All I see are memories of what I use to be. A wave of anger takes over. Throwing the comforter off my useless body, I rush over to the photos.  My anger rips off photo after photo. My rage tears them into little pieces. I can barely catch my breath. I scream. I weep. I collapse on the floor.

“Liz! What on earth is going on?” Mom shouts as she opens my bedroom door. “Oh.” I hear her say softly. Without saying another word, Mom lays next to me, holds me tight. We lay there and cry.

In between sobs I plead, “Mom, what am I going to do?”

“We’ll figure it out, honey. We will,” Mom responds tenderly.

#TeachersWrite Experience

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I am loving my experience with #TeachersWrite so far. After my first week, I actually have a piece of writing. Yay! I know if I want to be a better writing teacher, I need to write. The #TeachersWrite blog is just I need for guidance to overcome the fear I’ve always had about writing. If you are interested in checking it out, click here. It links to author Kate Messner and her blog. (By the way, if you have not read THE SEVENTH WISH, by Kate Messner, you must.)

Now, for the brave, getting over the fear, part of this process. My work in progress is below. Feel free to comment and share what works for you, what does not, and any suggestions for improvement.

 

He just does not understand! I do not want a dog, I need a dog. When I am terrified after waking up from a nightmare, a dog will be there to comfort me. When grief takes over my body like a disease, a dog will love me.

“Dad, I will pay the adoption fee, pick up the poop, feed him. I swear I will!”

“Rrr,” Dad grunted, shutting the office door behind him.

Defeat washed over me like a wave. I’m drowning. I slowly trudge up the stairs and plop down on my bed.

“Rrr,” I grunt.

Through the Eyes of a Student

 

Photo Credit: Sky Druffel

As I spend the first official day of Spring Break planning for the rest of the year, I reflect on the survey my students kindly filled out about our classroom and my teaching. I noticed a lot of trends and commonalities, but also many differences. 

Many wrote they love when I use humor and suggested I use it more. My goal is to plan at least one humor related item a day. Some of my ideas include jokes, stories, silly movements, and role-playing.

Students also wrote they needed more practice with math concepts. I plan on using a workshop model this spring to provide more practice time and small group instruction.

Using the single point rubric to provide feedback instead of giving a grade on formative assessments was a huge success with students this winter. Students wrote they want to keep doing this and feel it helps them succeed.

Finally, I noticed many individual differences which reminded me of the unique needs of each student. A strategy that works for one may not work for another. I am reminded of the importance of differentiation to meet as many needs of each student as possible. 

In my process of reflection, I asked my daughter today to tell me her favorite part of school (she is a first grader). Library was her response. I asked her to tell me why. She talked about books, the teacher read alouds and bringing rocks to her librarian. Rocks? Her librarian has a different theme each year, this year’s theme is rocks. She allows them to being in rocks they have found. I asked if she is funny. My daughter responded no, but said she is nice.

Nice. My daughter’s last statement brought me back to the most important word in education, relationships. If a child can see that you truly care (there is no faking it) amazing things can and will happen. We have the privilege to work with children everyday. Our relationship with each one of them makes the most impact. Notice them, listen to them, celebrate with them, love them.

5 Ways to Recognize Student Talent





I just have to get this off my chest. I have the most amazing, unique students this year in fifth grade. They are a mashed-up, crazy mix of the most unique personalities and I love them dearly. My class reminds me of the movie, “Little Miss Sunshine.” So many quirks, but we stick together and make it work through trial and error.

I love my class this year! They are an amazing set of individuals who have lived and gone through more than any of us could imagine. They are opening up to each other and supporting each other in so many ways.

It is important that each child know they are unique AND special. This class alone reminds me how important it is. How to recognize the talent in your class:

  1. Morning compliments: Have students meet in a circle and state a compliment to someone in their life. This helps to build a positive culture and recognize individual talents.
  2. Genius Hour: Let students have time to learn about and share their passions. This builds a sense of community and recognizes individual strengths.
  3. Time to Read-Foster the love of reading: Give students time to read books of their choice daily. Students learn so much about themselves through reading. They discover who they are as readers: what kinds of books they enjoy, recommending books to each other. Give them time to talk about books. We do class book-talks once a week to add books to our someday lists.
  4. Give Students a Voice: Survey your class on anything from how they feel about grades to what they would love to learn about. It is amazing what you learn about your students when you ask them intentional questions.
  5. Nobody is Perfect: Discuss this often. Model this often. Sometimes it is hard to be a person. Sometimes we deserve a high five for getting out of bed! Recognize struggles and celebrate diligence. Focus on learning as a journey. The process is the important part, not the product.

The inspiration for this post came from my own reflection as to where I am this year as an educator, and as a mentor, to all of my students. They each share their own unique individual needs and are the most amazing, inspiring group of students. 

All Things Smart-Insight from my Students

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Image from kizoomlabs.com

After participating in another Twitter chat on Saturday, #satchatwc, I knew I had to survey my students again. This time I gathered their thoughts on the word smart. Most of the educators participating in the chat believed there are many forms and definitions of the word smart. All of us have a talent/gift to contribute. All of us can be smart. But I wondered, does it really matter how we, adults, view smart, if the message is not getting across to our students? Here is what my fifth grade students had to say.

What do you think the word smart means?

“Someone who knows a lot of things.”

“You are good at all subjects. Intelligent.”

“Make wise decisions.”

“You get everything in Math, Reading, everything!”

What do you think makes a person smart?

“Learning, research, and also reading.”

“Practice. Lots of training the brain.”

“They know lots of things.”

“Learning.”

“Trying hard. Not giving up. Practice.”

“Mistakes.”

Do you think there are different types of being smart? Explain.

“Yes. There is street-smart and smart-smart.”

“Everyone is smart already in their own personal way.”

“Yes. You can be techy smart or life smart and that means you can manage your money.”

“I do not know really but if there is I did not know.”

Do you see yourself as a smart person? Explain.

“Ummm, no. I really don’t get math and science and stuff and it makes me really mad.”

“I’m in the middle because I don’t always get everything right.”

“No, but I have street smarts.”

“Yes, I know many things. I know a lot of math but especially technology.”

“Yes, I can build.”

Any other comments on the word smart? Thank you for being honest and open with your comments!

“I don’t like the word smart.”

“Why is it called smart?”

“Everybody is smart.”

“Would you consider me smart? Please be honest too. Thank you! (I promise not to cry. I just want to know what you think.)

My Reflection/Take-Away

As I sat down tonight reading over the surveys, I was pleasantly surprised at how many students understood there could be different types of smart. Many spoke of effort and practice to help get “smarter.” One even said mistakes make you smarter! I do not know if this message was gleamed from me, previous teachers, or parents, but I was excited to read their thoughts.

On the other hand, even if students viewed and accepted different types of being smart, some did not view themselves as being smart. They could not identify something they were smart, gifted, or talented in. This troubles me tremendously! I try to notice and recognize the successes in all my students, yet some do not see this in themselves.

I intentionally set those surveys aside. I’m making it my top priority to help those students discover, recognize, their own unique gift(s) they bring to our classroom and the world. If I can do that, I have succeeded as a teacher. Just maybe, I can help foster a life-long learner. A passion for learning. Hoping to plant the seed!