Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Holy Tests

I have had a challenging year. Alas, sometimes the challenging years are the ones that you come away from a little better.

Some days are better than others of course. And truthfully a lot of the challenges aren't necessarily anything I can change or revamp to make better. I actually like all of my students a lot, they are very fun and smart. Alas, the dynamic of them being together is not-so-good. There are some big personality conflicts. It is emotionally draining.

BUT there are days, like today, that they just bring tears to my eyes. Not tears of frustration but tears of joy.

As I mentioned in my last post, we MAP tested on Monday. I was disappointed in some of their results, but I also know that it's just a test. No matter what any government mandate is, I refuse to let one test (or several) make me feel inferior as a teacher. My kids and I are not a reflection of our test scores. It's probably the one thing I hate about teaching, how we are reduced to numbers and percentages.

So I wrote my kids a note on Tuesday morning.

Well let me tell you a little story about a boy named 11 (okay that really isn't his name but it is his number so I'll remember down the road who it is!). 11 is very quiet and shy. I was told that he was a non-talker. He talks, he just chooses not to do it during class. A true teacher's dream. 

11 has been featured on this blog before cuddling Scaredy Squirrel while taking a test. Seriously this child is every teacher's dream come true. He is absolutely fabulous. I really want to keep him and bring him to 3rd grade with me because he's that cool of a kid.

Well, this kid had like zero self confidence when he came to me. None. I'm tough on my kids but they also know without a shadow of a doubt that I love them to bits and that that is the reason why I hound them sometimes (tough love doesn't work for everyone but it definitely does in my inner city school). Anyway, this friend just didn't think he had what it takes.

So when he finished his MAP reading test yesterday and showed me his score, we had to have a celebration. This friend started 4th grade reading at a mid-2nd grade reading level. This is not unusual in my area. I often get ESL kids who are 1-3 grades behind in reading; much of it has to do with language barriers and such. By the winter MAP test, 11 was on grade level. Up 2 grades in a half year. Very impressive. I would have been stoked for him just to maintain that...but oh no. I instilled so much confidence and drive in this child....his end of year score was mid FIFTH grade! I asked him if it was okay if I shared his fabulous work with the rest of the class. We praised this dear friend for doing AH-MAZING and just having so much perseverance to keep going. 

I also pointed out that his phenomenal growth had very little to do with was him. I was just there to give him the confidence he needed.

Today we took our first M-Step test (new standardized test in Michigan). There has been a lot of BS about how horrible this new test is, blah blah. I'm not about to put that hype on my kids who have to take it. When they put practice out, we practiced. I told them the test helps ME as a teacher to know how I can teach better (not really true because quite frankly I could give a rat's furry little backside about this test), but I figured this little white lie was okay because it would keep them focused and not panicking about the test.

The test was supposed to be 90 minutes. HA! We learned when 5th grade did theirs that there was no way that it could be done that fast if kids actually a) tried and b) read the passages. 

My last kiddo got done at 2:40 today. In all some of the kiddos tested for about 3 1/2 HOURS on this ONE test.

And you know something? NOT ONE KID even complained about it. NOT ONE. They just did it. They amazed me, honestly. They can be a challenging group but they are mine and I was very, very proud of them today.

At the very end of the day we had circle and I told them that I wasn't going to give them homework (something I NEVER let go) because they did so awesome today. We talked a little about the test (not the content just how they felt it went) and they basically said that I was right....they knew this stuff and if they just focused, it wasn't so bad. *sniff* Not that I expect that they all will do well on it or anything but the fact that they FELT confident about it afterward means I did something right this year.

I gave them the confidence to know it's just a test -- it isn't a reflection of them as a learner. My kids are annoying sometimes but you know what? THEY ARE MINE. And I love them (and let's be honest, I'm annoying sometimes too so it's all good). 

Tomorrow they do the performance tasks for ELA and I'm quite excited for them because they really rocked the test today and I think they have even more confidence now...and that's a beautiful thing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

28 and counting (an honest post)

One of my colleagues pointed out yesterday how many days of school we had left. I was like "what?? No way!" 

So of course I had to look it up to see if she was pulling my leg ;)

It's been a challenging year for a lot of reasons. I am 100% ready to put this year to bed and move forward. That doesn't mean that I won't give my students my all for the next 28 days...but I'm pretty much done.

One of the hardest parts of this year has been that I've absolutely carried my grade level. It's not fair at all and I'm really quite done with it. Something I have always liked about my school is the teaming aspect...that has not really been true for the past two years. This year has been worse than any other. 

I've had really low kids and have busted my butt trying to keep things going for the other 4th grade class (not my job to do but I care too much about kids to just let the ball drop on them). I'm really disappointed that today when we MAP tested in math, my kids whom have had a stable teacher all year didn't do as well as some of those kids who have had a mess of learning (to be nice about it) all year. Of course, some of those kids came in much higher than my kids anyway but still. I have practically put myself in a grave to give my kids everything they need AND provided for the other class (lesson plans and whatnot) and there wasn't much of a payoff in that today. It's disappointing.

Thus, I guess my biggest lesson is to stop trying to take care of other people. It isn't my job. But I can't just be like "oh whatever, it's your problem, haha" and walk away. I'm not like that. Especially not when it affects kids.

To be honest, however, I am absolutely certain that the other 4th grade class it not going to fare so well on the reading test. I don't want to be all comparing my class to theirs but at the same time, I guess I want to feel like the extra work I did this year to make sure MY class was stable paid off and I don't see that (at least not as of the results of today's test).

I was reading back through the blog from the last couple of years and realize how absolutely sparse the blog has been this year compared to years past. Part of it is because I didn't create this blog to come online and be negative. I am frustrated much of the time and more times than I care to admit, I have wanted to just quit and walk away. That's how difficult this year has been. I didn't feel the need to broadcast that all over the internet, especially because I know there are people in my district who have discovered this blog. I don't want to be negative and make it seems like I'm shifting blame to people when it doesn't belong on them.  Even though I'm relatively vocal to colleagues I can trust about my frustrations, especially from this year, I don't think they really realize how close I have been, on multiple occasions, to having a breakdown because I just can't be everybody's everything.

The reality of being a teacher who has clinical depression and PTSD and no longer takes meds for those conditions is that sometimes little events feel huge. And huge events feel impossible to overcome. 95% of this school year has felt impossible to overcome. Add in "doctor school", where by some miracle I have managed to not only stay on top of my course-load along with everything else but also maintain a 4.0, and there are days when I just want to crawl in a hole and not come out. There are nights when I don't have homework (very rare) and I ignore the work I need to do for my job and I just stare endlessly at my computer...because I can just exist and don't have to be anyone's anything. My poor kids and husband just let me be because they just don't know what to make of where my current mindset has been much of this year.

Sometimes people think, very wrongly, that I'm overwhelmed because I'm in grad school and taking care of my kids and handling a job that doesn't end at 4 pm. It's not grad school at all. It's the never-ending task of carrying the entire 4th grade group. I just can't do it anymore. This is one of the main reasons I am moving to 3rd grade. I knew that if my principal wasn't able to move me around for next year, that I would have to leave my beloved school. I LOVE my colleagues very much and I am so, so grateful for the STABLE 3rd grade floor mates that I have....but there was just no way I could (emotionally) do this again next year. The upcoming 4s are even needier than this year. No way could I do it again. No way.

I guess there is no real point in this post. It's just really rambling. I wanted to just post and be honest. I love this blog and the readership I've generated in the last 5 years. People who have stuck with me through my grade level shuffle and the ups and downs of life as a teacher. I wanted to just be honest and tell you why my blog hasn't been that exciting this year. I don't have anything exciting or fun to share for the most part. I have spent a good part of this year just trying to survive. 

I'm hopeful that in 28 days, when I finally lay this year down to bed and can move forward toward next year, that my blog will be able to return to it's former glory. I want to be able to share happy, good and thoughtful things that I plan to do with my kids...but I also feel like it wouldn't be fair to just pretend that there isn't a valid reason why the blog has been so sparse this year.

If you've made it through this, I appreciate you reading. I guess I just needed to put it out there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Currently April

I haven't done a Currently in awhile and I'm kind of late to the party but oh well...better late than never, right? :)

Listening - We are resolutely loving our Spring Break here. It's chilly outside so the girls are playing the Lego Movie game on PS4 in the next room. I swear if I hear "Everything is Awesome" one more time..... 

Loving - I am totally loving being on break. No schedule, no demands. It's pretty awesome. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything but I don't even care. I'm happy to be able to relax. Let's face it, I barely have time to do that (ever) when school is in session.

Thinking - Despite being on Spring Break from school, I still have grad school to deal with. Ugh. I'm over it already. I just have zero desire to finish the projects for this class. I will obviously but that doesn't mean I have to like it :)

Wanting - I would do anything for a Fountain Diet Coke right now....seriously. Except get up and drive to get one haha Anything else though :)

Needing - My poor feet are begging to wear sandals and flip flops but until I have pretty feet again, it's probably not going to happen. Of course...getting a pedicure means I have to get up and leave my house....maybe when I finally do I can get myself that fountain Diet Coke too....

EGGS-plain - Nothing fancy. When I started this blog I decided that it should definitely be something I can relate to...and I am definitely caffeinated (hello Diet Coke). I am not a coffee drinker and never have been. You really don't want to be around me if I haven't had my beloved DC in a day or two. 

Head on over to Farley's blog and link's never too late, right? :) 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring Break

As of Thursday at 3:45 pm, I am officially on Spring Break :) Yay!

It's hard to be sad about not going anywhere for break when I just spent a week overseas. I'm good with a Stay-cation.

Most years we don't do much for Spring Break. I'm fine with it. We either stay home or go to our cabin. It's not warm enough to go there yet since we don't pay to heat it. It would be too cold and no one wants to go back to school on April 13 and be sick. Especially not me since I am the state testing coordinator in my building and it's pretty vital I am there for questions and support. Mr. Principal is available too but let's be real....he is often in meetings or observing or dealing with students who need a moment. It's smart to have a classroom teacher who can be a support too.

It would be even better if I had a student teacher right now but what're you gonna do? :) Everyone kind of panics about this test but I'm not. It's just a test. And for now at least it matters very little to my evaluation so I'm not going to stress it. My kiddos have practiced on the sample items Michigan released and it gives me pleasure when they turn to me, smile and say, "hey we did this with you!" and feel some confidence. That's what matters to me. I don't want my kids to be stressed.

So we decided that we would not ruin people's break with a meeting about the test. Instead we will jump to it when we return (because 5th grade starts the 14th). I decided it was more than fair to let everyone have their break and we can panic and stress when we come back (not that there is a need to panic).

We will spend most days here at home this week. Might take a couple excursions to local places but mostly....just chilling. I'm all about that. I need to finish up this grad course so I can enjoy my Spring Break from being a student too (that's in two weeks).

All in all, it'll be relaxing and relaxing. Just what I need before the strain of the last few weeks of school and the testing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

3.25.15 Friisila School Visit (Espoo, Finland)

On March 25th, we visited a small primary school on the outskirts of Helsinki in the community of Espoo. The school is very small with 120 children and 9 teachers. Probably the most interesting thing for me to learn was that in all Finnish schools, principals also teach. In this school, which they told us was "special", the principal teaches 16 hours per week. In all other Finnish schools, principals are required to teach at least 2 hours per week.

The school itself is extremely charming in it's design with a "bee nest architecture" (their description) and hexagon shaped rooms. The classrooms are very, very small (I would say my room is easily triple the size of any of theirs) but they do not waste any space AT ALL, utilizing the hallways for multiple purposes and ensuring that no excess space is going unused. It was quite interesting. I have been adamant for quite awhile that I would like to start my own school and this school provided me with much inspiration to what I would like my future school to be like. Who says I can't bring Finland home to Michigan? :)

Come along as I show you how they do things on the other side of the Atlantic pond.

This is the outside of the school. If you didn't see the edge of that swing set, you might not even believe it was a school, right? It's very low-key and blends into the surrounding environment.

This is immediately inside the entryway. It's a hallway and also the cafeteria area. They utilized the corridor as a multi-fuctional space by making it the cafe. The chairs also hook onto the underside of the tables for easy clean up underneath.

This super fun mural (notice the bee hives!) is just inside the doorway too, right before the cafe hallway begins.

This is inside a 2nd grade classroom. The rooms are teeny!

More artwork from inside the same 2nd grade room.

Front view of the 2nd grade classroom.

I love how they use the windows as extra wall space since the room is so little.

This is a 4th grade room.

Same 4th grade room. It's really not big at all. There is no extra "stuff" that we Americans tend to flood our rooms with.

My favorite part -- I LOVE these stairs. I am totally replicating this in my school some day :)

Why do they surpass us in everything? They use their whole brains. Primary school there is grade 1-6 and from 1st grade they have "wood crafts" (wood shop) and sewing class. They are hitting every aspect of learning styles from the very beginning. This pig was done by a 2nd grader independently with a sewing machine. Let me point out I'm 36 years old and can barely use a sewing machine but these 8 year olds did.

The hallway area where they hang up their coats. Notice the shoes underneath. They do not wear shoes in the classroom -- they wear stocking feet. We asked why and were told it keeps the floors from getting all dirty after the kids have played outside. I'm down with that!

Entry door. It's just fun so I took a picture.

Long view of the cafeteria area from the other side of the hallway.

They truly waste zero space. The library is in the hallway and is just a series of books on shelves that are labeled by level. No need to waste the space for a whole room, instead bookshelves are placed throughout in various hallways.

Even the sinks and utility area are in the hallway so as to not need to waste another room for that sort of thing. It might seem kind of weird at first but in reality it's quite charming.

Upstairs (at the top of those awesome spiral stairs) is a circular area that leads into some classrooms. In the hallway area you'll find many spots like this. Kids can just come out to work or read or study.

More coats/shoes

This was in a 6th grade class. I just liked the guitars so I snapped a picture :)

Every space is used for something. There is truly no wasted space. Everything serves many purposes.

I absolutely loved the visit to this school. It varies a little school by school in Finland because they have a ton of autonomy. When we asked the principal about teacher evaluation, she told us it doesn't exist. Their prep programs are such that once you get a teaching post, you know what to do and therefore, you do it. Everyone supports everyone and there is no need to check up on people. Yes, they discuss goals and progress but it isn't tied to unrealistic accountability as it is in the States. 

Additionally, one girl in our group asked about standardized testing and the principal said that when you give children a standardized test, you're trying to control them. I realize how very true of a statement that is. We are trying to control kids here in the USA and make them all fit into the same box, which is just not realistic. 

Their motto is "As long as we have children we have hope" and I think that is something the United States needs to think about. They go to school from 8-1 pm for the most part (although a couple of the students I did speak with told me that two days a week they stay until 2 or 3 and take extra classes but that's optional)...that 8-1 schedule also includes at least 45 minutes of recess and a lunch break. Yet they kick our butts on the PISA when their 15-16 year olds take it. 

We are doing it so, so wrong here in the USA. I'm pretty ready to learn Finnish and go teach there instead.