Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It Won't be Easy {Book Review}

It has been eons since I did a book review here on the blog...but this one needs and deserves one.  

Quite honestly, I have no idea how I got connected to Tom Rademacher on Twitter. It's possible that it occurred when someone retweeted something of his and I noticed it. The name stands out to me immediately because there is a journalist by the same name in my hometown. This only matters to me because that journalist's brother, Dan, was my 6th grade teacher (who once lit up a cigarette in class to demonstrate a laser for us--it was the 80s, you could get away with that sort of thing back then). Dan was also my colleague for four years. The name kind of sticks out when I see it. 

Regardless of how the connection happened, once I saw that he had a new book out, I had to get it and read it. (Really, at this point, anything that distracts me from the dissertation is quite welcome since that sucker is All. Consuming. And. Never. Ending.)  

I was quite prepared for this book to not really be for me. I was sure it was written for new teachers (and it probably was)...but I will tell you after 11 years in the classroom, it still struck me in so many ways, so many times. I think the biggest reason is the profanity. I LOVE profanity. (For reals...the biggest criticism I have gotten from The Phoenix Rising is that I'm a teacher and swear too much.  As if teachers are such supreme beings that we can't have potty mouths too. Bonus: my new boss also swears like a sailor. So I'm not going to have to be too careful about those f-bombs...except around the kids of course. But I digress.)

Without further ado (or distractions), here is my honest review of It Won't be Easy:

The book is split into five parts: summer, fall, winter, spring and summer again. From the get-go, you're introduced to the "slightly unprofessional" side because the first chapter is called "welcome to the Shit Show" (is it horrible to admit that he had me at profanity?).

From the beginning, the text is filled with stories from the classroom and the life of a real teacher. Real kids, real issues, real situations that very well could have happened in my own school district. There are discussions about how you have to try to work together with adults (even when it sucks) because hey, guess what? It's not about you, it's about the kids. (That, in and of itself, was enough for me to really feel like this book deserves 5 stars...because I often feel like I'm surrounded by people who don't understand that it doesn't matter at all what we want or need or's about what that kid/those kids need in that moment that matters.)

At its core, what makes this book so powerful is the blatant love you feel for the students that are talked about in the stories. There are some downright crazy things that happen, but invariably, somewhere in there, Mr. Rad says something along the lines of "this kid is going places, just so you know." The complete and shameless belief in the ability of these students to go out and change the world is what kept me hooked in this text, without a doubt.

I think, hands down, my favorite part in the book is "Fall." It begins with a toolkit of sorts which provides practical things you should definitely make sure you keep handy in your classroom  at all times. (My own personal toolkit also includes chocolate and a travel size toothbrush and toothpaste that I replace quarterly--I am not a coffee drinker but news flash, diet coke breath isn't that awesome either.)  The next section is called "Do No Harm" and it's magical and should be printed and passed to every new teacher when they sign their contract. Seriously. Mr. Rad flat out tells you that you're less important than the kids. (Sorry, but I agree.) Again, it's not about the adults. Ever.

Honest discussions about racism, how to navigate (or not navigate) the slang of the kids and how to be mindful of what you say and how it might be interpreted by those around you abound throughout this book. From having to break a promise to a kid to not tell (but telling because you actually care about the kid) to owning the fact that every single teacher in history is going to feel like the worst teacher ever at some point, this book lays it on the line and doesn't sugar coat anything. (You're definitely not going to find a sunshine and rainbows narrative here and quite honestly, it is probably the biggest strength of the book.)

Just over halfway through the book (roughly 59% according to Kindle), Mr. Rad talks about the worst advice ever. Guess what? I have been given this advice many times in my career. I've also ignored it. I ALWAYS put my nose in where it isn't asked and yes, it gets me in trouble. Guess what else? I don't care (because again, not about me).

Obviously I enjoyed this book. It's worth the read, it really is....but when you cut to the chase...the last part of the book is the most touching. Instead of a simple acknowledgements page or two, you get multiple pages with multiple examples of students who have made a difference to this teacher. I actually kind of teared up reading it because it's so genuine.

Even if you're not a newbie, this is a book worth reading. I think it's long overdue that someone had the nerve to share the realities of teaching--that it can be and sometimes is a shit show--while always putting forth the proclamation that it is, indeed work worth doing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Don't be Yourself (A Rant)

Disclaimer: Normally I try to keep my ranting (and cussing) to a bare minimum on the blog but this just pisses me off and I have to get it out there for now and for the future. 

If I had a nickel for every time someone in my life accused me of thinking I was better than they are (or than anyone else is), I would never have to work again a day in my life. EVER. I mean, for real, I could buy a house along the ocean shore and never owe a single penny of debt ever again. 

Why must my success and striving to be better mean that I think I am better than anyone else? Why is it always, and I mean always, quantified in this way? Why can't I just be trying to be a better me? Why does it always have to be about the other person and thinking I'm better than they are? I will never understand it.

Over the past six years, I have been accused, multiple times, of thinking I believe I am better than other people. "People" would include family members and colleagues. Apparently I earned National Board Certification for the sole purpose of one-upping everyone around me. It couldn't possibly be because I saw/see weakness in myself and want to get and be better. 

Apparently I have busted my ever loving ass working on my doctorate for the last three years while teaching full time and managing a household simply so I could be better than everyone around me. 


Let me lay it on the line. I am probably the most insecure person you will ever know. Truly. I can talk a big game and probably do sound completely full of myself to people who don't know me very well. But actually have a conversation with me. Engage in dialogue with me about the same topic over a period of several days/weeks/months. I guarantee that if you actually listen, you will hear my insecurity. Some people never do because they don't actually listen to hear and learn. They listen to respond. If you actually listen to my message, you'll hear (and likely see) my insecurity. Many times over. 

I hold people to an incredibly high standard of success (and quite frankly I have probably screwed up relationships because of it) because I can't stand mediocrity. I don't want to be around mediocre people because I'm afraid their mediocrity will rub off on me. For a huge chunk of my life, I was told I wasn't good enough. Every single thing I did was questioned and analyzed and told that my motivations were selfish. I was doing things just to give the finger to the man. 

I rid my life of the person who gave me that message in the summer of 2011. Six entire years later, I still hear that voice. When I earned National Board Certification, that voice told me that I didn't deserve it, that I was a fake and a loser and people would find out about me. As I have pursued my doctorate, that same voice has constantly snuck into my ear and told me that I'm a fraud. 

People closest to me know who this voice belongs to and why it is so ingrained in my head. They also know why I finally had to take out the trash in my life and cut ties with this person. In fact, most people who have been around me for more than 3-4 months know the truth about that person. I don't hide it. I own it because hearing that voice, still after all of these years, makes me who I am. Whether I like that or not. 

This is why it is so damn frustrating when the people closest to me, who should know better, accuse me of thinking I'm better than they are. The message I get, loud and clear, when I hear this is "Don't be Yourself. Be who I want you to be." 

Most recently I have proclaimed that I dislike most people. It's not a lie. I DO really dislike most people. They are fake. They go along, they try to fit a mold. (Someone I hold near and dear told me awhile back that mold is for cheese and I don't need to try to fit a mold. And I love her for that.) I'm sure these people mean well but they conform. I am not a conformer. I never have been. This is why people either like me or they don't. It's one extreme or the other. There is no in-between. 

I don't care if people don't like me. I am not fake. I am who I am. Take it or leave it. 

What I do care about, however, is people who are supposed to actually care about me turning around and telling me I think I am better than they are or better than anyone. It's the same message. "Don't be yourself because I can't handle it" or more likely "Don't be yourself because I can't compete with who you are becoming."

Why do you need to compete with me? Why can't you recognize that I am still, every single day, trying to convince myself that I'm good enough. That I'm worthy. That the voice in my head is wrong about me. 

So to those people...I say this: Screw You. You should know better. I thought you did. It's a real shame to discover you are just like everyone else. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Apple vs. Google

I don't consider myself to be especially tech savvy but put a device in front of me, allow me to play around with it for awhile and chances are, I can figure out how to make it useful in my life. 

In my teaching life, I have had very little technology to speak of unless I go get it for myself (I have written grants for iPods and tablets for use in my classroom). This year, with some extra laptops and some tablets from Donor's Choose, I was able to actually integrate technology more than I ever have. (I suppose you can really only integrate technology when you have some, right? :)

We experimented with Google Classroom a bit and I liked the capabilities it provides me, but didn't end up really doing much with it because it was really challenging to try to get the kiddos to remember directions once it was there turn to have the devices/laptops. I still used it some but lamented (often) how much easier it would be to integrate GAFE (Google Apps for Education) if I actually had 1:1 devices.

Fast forward a few months and suddenly....I do have 1:1 devices. (Or I will.) Last week when I popped into my fabulous new space, I got a good look at my new classroom but also at the technology I have. I was given a MacBook and a new iPad mini. All of my students will also have an iPad mini to use. (I even discovered we have some cute little wireless keyboards that go with the iPads.) 

Along with my new teacher devices, they said I needed to get Apple Teacher certified. Basically I need to read up on and practice using the different Apple apps/programs and then take short quizzes on them to become an Apple Teacher. There are 8 badges for iPad and 8 badges for Mac (basically the same applications but for use on the two different devices and they aren't exactly the same going from the tablet to the computer). 

I have already finished the Mac badges. This means that technically I already am Apple Teacher certified. But I will also complete the iPad ones just to ensure I know the differences between using them on each device (because while I have the Macbook, the students do not and our computer lab has PCs so I definitely need to know the nuances of each device). 

That all said, before getting this devices and learning about the Apple training, I was gung-ho about fully integrating Google Classroom into my teaching this year. Now, I'm not so sure I want to do that. The iPads do have Google Classroom and all of the GAFE on them (at least I assume they do since mine does). Before we went on summer vacation, I even made folders for each subject area in Google Classroom for this upcoming year. It would certainly be nice for the kiddos to be able to access their files from the PC when we are in the lab as well (which means GAFE would be the way to go)...but I am learning some pretty neat features of the Apple programs that I didn't know about.

It's kind of embarrassing how little I knew about what the iPad can do since I've had one for many years (although both of mine are old and I'm not sure they can do what this wicked little mini can do since it's almost brand new). 

Perhaps I can use some of the Apple apps/programs for certain things but still integrate GAFE for others. I do definitely want to explore hyperdocs more this year for social studies (it will be the only curriculum I have this year that isn't brand new to me). 

I don't think, at this point anyway, that Apple or GAFE are better than the other. I just think each have features that I really like (love that GAFE will be there on any device, any time!). I will just have to figure out which ones to use when as I navigate the path toward being a 1:1 teacher.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Space

Yesterday I got to pop into my new school and see my new space. All I can say is L-O-V-E. 

The school was renovated between 2007-2009. Some of the old rustic charm has been kept while it has received many modern upgrades. Perfect example...the library used to be an outdoor playground that was in the middle of the school. They put an opaque roof over it and adding flooring and lighting. It is my favorite thing about this school. It is so neat! (Bonus: my classroom is on the perimeter of said library :D)

I can't even say how much I just LOVE this new space I get to spend my days in starting in August. Don't get me wrong, I didn't have a horrible space previously...this is just different. I think, for my purposes, it is different better. One of the things I hated the most about Former School was the shared bump out space. Mostly because it took out room that I could have used for students (especially when I had 30 kids!) and if you have a big mouth like I do, voices carry through that bump out from the other room. One year it was me next to another louder teacher and was kind of a disaster. Neither of us meant to be loud, and it's not like we screamed or anything. We just have voices that really project and it can be a big problem. Or if there is a sub who isn't handling behavior well, it can get super loud and be really distracting and annoying too. By far that was my least favorite thing about Former School. I really came to resent and hate that wasted space.

At any rate, there are also drawbacks to my New School. One is that because of its unique U-shape (which I actually like) there aren't any windows in the hallway area and so it seems dark to me after being in a space where there is a ton of natural light. It's a trade off, I suppose.

Alas, I was able to stop into New School yesterday and get my class list and my Apple devices for the fall (I have some homework to do to become an Apple Teacher). I was able to see my room and check out the school a little better than I did before because there were no kiddos around this time.

This is what you see when you walk into the room. Immediately to the bottom right (so if you're standing here and you looked to the right), you'd see the closet area. Didn't think I needed a picture of that LOL This back space of the room is HUGE and so perfect for the meeting area and circle time in the morning. 

More of the meeting area. LOVE the wall space. Hello anchor charts! Ms. Principal was not sure if this carpet belonged to the room or to the teacher. I'm hoping it stays in here...30 squares means all 25 of my kiddos will have a spot for their little backsides and they are big squares. Plenty of space without drama. AND this space is so big we will be able to have a real circle that isn't all smooshed together. 

The end of the meeting area. You can see the classroom library shelves too. They are blissfully empty and just waiting for me to fill them with all of my fabulous books. I love that I have 3 double sided shelves...believe me, they will all be filled up! You can also see the windows. Natural light here I come :) It's hard to tell but the bottom of the windows are opaque because our room faces the library. 

A longer view of the classroom. I am DEFINITELY not keeping my kiddos in those rows. Not sure how I'm going to rearrange the furniture yet, but it definitely will not include rows of any kind. 

This is standing in the meeting area and looking forward. I love that the teacher left the bulletin boards decorated so I don't have to do it :) You can't see it well but the ELMO is up there along with the kidney table that will be removed so I can use my own awesome table instead with my stools. 

This is immediately to the left of the projector/white board area. The cart on the right holds my class set of iPads. I'm actually thinking this cute little corner would make an excellent classroom library. Or I may make this the "teacher space" since the cabinet is already there. I could move the cabinet against the white wall instead and then have my desk and my student teacher's desk there. We shall see. 

This is the other side of the room across from the windows. The stuff on the top of the shelving will all be gone. She said she'd leave the book tubs but I have my own so I'd prefer they go to someone else who actually needs them. I am not a fan of that flip the card chart but I noticed them in multiple rooms so I will have to ask about that. I much prefer my clip chart where kiddos can clip up for their excellent behavior too. It doesn't mean as much when you're ALWAYS just on green...when you can move up, other kids do pay attention to that and follow suit. Also if you look carefully under the counter you can just see the lap boards. I hope they leave them behind...because that teacher used them for the kiddos to be able to work around the room on their iPads. I LOVE that! 

Isn't this space fabulous? I am totally in love...and very glad only one wall is green because otherwise I think I would die LOL It's just not my favorite color.

I am going to take my well needed and deserved summer break but once August hits...that's it. I'll be in here playing with my new space. I'm super duper excited for this fresh start. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The End

Today was my last day as a teacher at a school that has held deep meaning for me since I was 8 years old (thirty years if you're keeping track). 

It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be to say goodbye. In fact, if we're being totally honest, I didn't even bother to say goodbye to most of my colleagues. I have known for quite some time that I do not belong there...well before The Husband told me last fall that I had outgrown the school. I didn't really understand what he meant when he said that, but over the course of this school year, I came to really see and believe that he was correct.

I have always been an anomaly. I don't fit anyone's mold. I don't conform. I don't do things just because someone else told me to. I don't believe I am better than anyone else (believe me, I still screw up, a lot, and in huge ways). I just try to face every day with the goal of being a better me than I was the day before. That's all. 

Yet there are many adults I work with who think I believe I am better than they are. I MUST be full of myself because I dared pursue National Board Certification. I MUST think I'm better than others because I'm working on my doctorate. There has been no such thing as genuine all comes at a cost. All of it.

So, it was time to go. I really thought today would be harder. I did. Several years ago when I got moved erroneously, it was SO HARD to pack up on the last day. It was unfair and I was not happy about it at all. I cried. The kids cried....but this time, perhaps because I left on my own terms...there were no tears, no sadness. I mean, I AM sad to leave a school that has meant so much to be. But I'm also not sad...because I know I am needed elsewhere. The promises of a fresh start and a bright future are amazing and I think that's enough to buoy me forward. 

Has it all been terrible? No, of course not. I have told people the only person I am leaving that school because of is me. I see my (now former) school going in a direction I don't agree with. Does it mean that direction is bad? No. It's just not what I think it should be. That's fine. It doesn't make me right and them wrong. It doesn't make them right and me wrong. It just means our goals and our vision are no longer aligned...and I'm smart enough to go before things go even further in a direction I don't want to be part of. 

I have learned a lot there. I have, without a doubt, literally saved lives. I have made a difference. That is what I set out to do...and I did it. Now it is time to take my talents, my passion and my tenacity somewhere else and make a difference there. 

I have always believed God would tell me when it was time for me to go. The stars would align and things would happen as they were meant to...and not only did I get my first choice school, I also really hit it off with my new principal (and I am EXCITED to work with her because I think she sees that I have so much to offer) and my new school is five minutes from The Oldest's new house. This means I will get to see my grandson multiple times per week....a luxury I currently do not have due to schedules and her place being in an inconvenient location. 

It will all work out. Things will be fine. Former School will move on with its bad self and continue to do amazing and great things for kids. And my New School will welcome me, embrace me and help me to find a new and better purpose and direction for the passion I have for children. The only way to go from here is up. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Day of Lasts

Today was the last full day of 3rd grade for the 2016-2017 school year. How is this possible?? I think this year just FLEW by. 

It was a day full of lasts: the last full day of school (we have 3 half days next week), the last day we had art, the last day we had computer lab, the last day of our YMCA presenter,  the last big test of 3rd grade, the last brag tag celebration, the last Fun Friday, the last big writing assignment for the year.

It was a bittersweet day for sure. 

Because I am transferring to a new school, I have to clean out everything from my classroom. This means files, organizers and much more. (So.Much.Stuff.) As I was cleaning out my cabinet this morning, I came across this gem and it gave me a huge chuckle. 

During our last YMCA presentation, we made fruit and veggie bugs for snack. Here is mine :) 

And of course, it wouldn't be the last full day of 3rd grade without a Super Ultra Mega Brag Tag day :) The kids were SO EXCITED to get their last big set of brag tags today. (They will get one on the last day too but this was the last big celebration for this year.) 

We ended the day with a Staff vs. 5th Graders kick ball game. It was a super fun last full day of school.