Thursday, October 21, 2010

Two Sides of a Coin

I was just putting the nozzle into my gas tank when I saw a man peer at me from behind a neighboring pump. “Mrs. Sabo? I’m Angela’s dad. You were her teacher a long time ago.”

His beautiful smile resembled one I’d seen on a first grader years before, so I replied, “Angela Bini? She must be in, what….tenth grade now?”
“Yes,” he answered. We proceeded to chat and I got all caught up on Angela’s life. He was justifiably proud of how well she was doing and thanked me for the role I’d played in getting her off to a good start.

I was still smiling as I crossed the parking lot to purchase my daily caffeine infusion. The woman in front of me seemed familiar, and when she turned around I said, “Teacher Lucille!” Lucille Kodama taught my two-year old daughter in a weekly preschool class. Now, 22 years later, she wanted to know all about Stacie and was shocked to hear she was old enough to be married and have a new baby of her own. My heart felt so full of love and gratitude toward this gracious, kind teacher who’d loved my daughter unconditionally so many years ago. We parted with a hug, and I walked back to my car thinking how amazing it was that within a period of 15 minutes, I’d experienced both sides of a coin; Appreciated Teacher/Appreciate a Teacher.

I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Education is taking a beating lately, but I want us to take heart. We are the hardest working people I know, pouring ourselves into the lives of children every single day. What we do matters….often far beyond this day, this week, even this year.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Finding Delight

After finishing the first three days of school with an extremely diverse group of first graders, I sat in a coma-like state on the couch until it was time for bed. Many of you can relate.

Then, to kick off a blessed three-day weekend, I headed to my daughter’s house to love on my brand new grandson (see photo…that’s me reading to him when he was four days old).

He is still pretty new, so his schedule consists mostly of eating, filling his diaper, sleeping, and repeating the cycle. Mine, when I’m with him, consists of holding him, smelling his head, and that rhythmic bouncy swing-and-sway thing we get so good at when we are parents.

I take great pleasure in watching my daughter and son-in-law relish their new roles as parents. They are relaxed, good-natured, and completely devoted to this new person who dominates their days and nights. That is as it should be. What inspires me though, is that despite the complete exhaustion they feel from lack of sleep and constant vigilance to meet his every need, they are completely delighted by him. They watch him with wonder, enchanted by every facial expression, physical movement and new advancement.

It got me thinking about my job. I lovingly and carefully prepared a classroom for children I’d yet to meet, much as a new parent prepares a nursery. Then, when they arrived, I launched into the flurry of typical new year rituals and left at the end of the third ten-hour day exhausted. But exhaustion doesn’t have to rob me of delight.

When I think about some of the teachers who have inspired me most, The Two Sisters (Gail and Joan), Debbie Miller, Franki Sibberson, and Rafe Esquith, I realize that this is one characteristic they have in common. They find delight in children. Like them, I want to be fully cognizant of the unique gifts, talents and interests of each child in my care. They are worthy of my eye contact, devotion and wonder. How about you? Are you tired, too? Despite the difficulties and challenges inherent in our days, let’s endeavor to be present and find delight.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Land Legs

I've never spent time on a ship, but I've heard that after months at sea, it takes awhile to get your land legs back. The adjustment can be a bit rocky for people, especially if they've been at sea for a long time. It reminds me a bit of our marriage phases.

We started with just the two of us…blissfully in love...(land legs)

Then our two kids came along. We sailed on that parent ship for 21 years and they turned out great. They are smart, kind, good looking...and I'm not just saying that because I'm their mother. Both are college graduates. No longer under our continuous care and tutelage, they have become visitors in the home where they grew up.

I'll be the first to admit that the empty nest was at first tortuously painful. Walking past their empty beds at night was more than I could take, so I learned to keep their doors shut, which allowed me to get to my own bed without passing the emptiness. But now I've got my land legs back, and my hubby and I are once again enjoying our alone time the way we did when we were newlyweds. We can have snack food for dinner, walk around in our underwear if we want to and work late without worrying about kids being home alone. It's bliss.

My children came over for the weekend recently and the visit was mostly filled with love and laughter. I say mostly because there was one brief, albeit painful instance, when they reminded me that time marches on and I am morphing into my parents before their very eyes. I am speaking of the moment when they came out of the kitchen with an amused mocking gleam in their eyes, each holding a bottle of something or other from the refrigerator that had expired long ago.

It's not funny.

Ok, it's a little funny.

Now it's time for a new school year to begin. If you've spent your summer relaxing, refreshing and recharging, you will undoubtedly enter with that shiny hopeful idealistic attitude we do each time we get a fresh start. Don't forget that it will likely take awhile to get our school legs back again. Don't get discouraged when you are so tired after the first week that you can hardly see straight. It's bound to be a bit rocky as we get our equilibrium back, but we'll hit our stride after a bit and fall back into the wonderful rhythm and energy of learning together. I just know it.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Lori vs. Stick Shift

If my life were a TV show, I'd like it to be an uplifting and inspiring series entitled something like, "Life with Lori". Truth is, it more closely resembles "I Love Lucy". I'll skip the story about how I discovered I'd worn my dress backwards to church last Sunday and get right to today's episode; Lori vs. Stick Shift.

I am home alone for a few days, stuck with my husband's car. Most of you, when you hear that it is a Nissan 350z convertible, will hardly be thinking, "Oh, poor Lori." However, when you realize that I haven't driven a stick shift for 35 years, you may sense the comedy that is about to ensue.

I entered the vehicle in our driveway this morning with an inspiring little pep talk to myself…."I can totally do this. It's just like riding a bike. There isn't a single hill between here and my meeting…etc." I stepped on the brake, pushed in the clutch, and slid the gearshift over and back. After carefully releasing the clutch and providing enough gas to get the rig going, I was greatly surprised by forward motion. "Hmm. That must not have been reverse." I tried again, and was propelled 3 inches forward instead of backward. Following one more of these little gallops, I now found myself about one inch away from the garage door. Refusing to let the little bucket of bolts beat me, but knowing I was endangering our home, I opened the garage door and tried again. Same result. I got back out of the car, moved an old toilet, bookshelf and lawn mower out of harms way and tried again- nope, moving forward.

I was completely stupefied. The position of the stick shift was CLEARLY on the R for reverse, yet I was not travelling that way. The car was now halfway in and halfway out of the garage. I called my friend Joan because she has the tremendous ability of laughing with me and at me without thinking less of me. However, instead of just enjoying the folly of my predicament, she said, "Have you tried pushing down?" "What!?" "Try pushing down on the head of the stickshift when you move it over to reverse."

Oh my gosh! Newfound hope burst forth in my breast! Perhaps I wouldn't have to live like this, garage door up, for the next three days, exposing myself to burglars, killers and neighborhood questions and ridicule.

I tried the suggested idea and was elated to find myself BACKING UP! I blessed the sod Joan walks on and made it to my meeting in one piece.

It occurred to me later, how significantly my experience mirrors what happens sometimes in education. How often do we continue to try the same thing over and over while expecting different results? It seems so silly, yet in the throes of the experience, we just can't believe that what we are trying isn't working, so we do it again and again and again. We work really hard. We do everything we know to do. The result? Folly, frustration and failure to meet our goals. I'm not a bad driver. I'm actually a really good driver. But my knowledge base didn't match the vehicles need. Likewise, I am a good teacher. I work really hard. But if I am met with a child that my technique isn't working for, I can't continue to try the same thing over and over. I have to try something different. The good news is that something different might not even be difficult. We just have to reach outside the confines of our classrooms, confer with colleagues, and get back in there.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Right

I don't like the word fat. It's a little negative. I prefer to think of myself as a pudgy princess. However, two things have precipitated my getting serious about getting healthy. First…my daughter is pregnant. And while I am not yet happy with the term grand….grandm….I can't say it, let's just call it the "g" word, I do want to be around for a long time to love on this new life and any who may follow him. Secondly...this year's class picture...I was a little shocked by my photographic representation. In my mind's eye, I am both younger and thinner, not to mention better looking. While I am a tiny bit suspicious that there has been foul photoshop play, I doubt the company has the time or motivation to misrepresent me.

So, for a little over two weeks now I have been eating smart and exercising every day, reacquainting myself with our long neglected treadmill. I have set the speed at 3.0 mph and walked up and down virtual hills faithfully for 30-40 minutes a day. Yesterday, I realized 3.0 was no longer a satisfying pace, so bumped it up to 3.2 mph. This minor adjustment now felt just right.

As I continued to walk, it occurred to me that I'd stumbled upon a beautifully clear analogy for the parents who insist that I challenge their child with difficult books. Had I begun my new walking regime at a 4.0 or higher, I would not have had the strength or stamina to stay with it for very long. I would certainly not have enjoyed it and may have even injured myself. Parents who insist their child spend time in difficult books are risking the same results. Instead of being afraid that their son or daughter will apathetically linger in easy books for the rest of their lives, they can rest assured that their young reader will be highly engaged, successful, and will continue to grow in appropriately challenging increments. We can encourage them to embrace the concept of 'good fit' books since research proves, and our experience confirms, that it's the best way to maintain the growth and momentum already established, as well as create lifelong lovers of literature.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let's Be Clear

Last time I was at the chiropractor, the receptionist gave me a preliminary screening before leading me into the exam room. After lying down on a table, she punched a few things into a laptop, then held a device to various places on my body and asked me to provide resistance. It took less than two minutes, after which she led me to the small room to wait for the doctor. After he bent, folded and manipulated me into alignment, he looked at the printout from the previously mentioned procedure and said, "Wow, you are weak! These numbers are really low."

I was dumbstruck and embarrassed, too stunned to defend myself. Here's what raced through my head as I walked mutely from the room. "I didn't know it was a strength test....had I known it was a strength test, I would have pushed a lot harder, but of course it was a strength test...what else would it have been...I certainly should have inferred that, but I didn't....and why didn't she tell me what she was measuring...." The silent diatribe continued all the way home, and to be honest, I have been mad ever since. Looking back, the purpose seems obvious, but had she said, "Push as hard as you can," I'm sure the results would have been considerably more favorable.

This frustrating experience led me to wonder if I have ever been guilty of assuming that my students know what I am measuring on various assessments. If it's a reading test, do I assume, perhaps incorrectly, they will read the passage the best they can? I decided to be explicitly clear when we encountered various end of year tests. For instance, our district requires we submit correct words per minute rates on a grade level text. When my darling little readers stop to read a picture, look up to chat about a connection they just made, or pause to remark in any way about the text, their rate decreases and it makes it look (according to this measure) like they are not proficient readers. So this year, as they sat down, I was very clear. "Patsy, on this reading test, I really want to see how smoothly and fluently you are reading. So I want you to do your best to keep going. We won't stop to talk about it until the end. Ok? Do your best."

The set up was brief. Most of my kids performed exactly as I anticipated, but a few surprised me with their achievement. I can't help but wonder if it's because the purpose of the test and their role in it were clearly articulated. I might get a chance to redeem myself next time I go to the chiropractor, but our students don't get a chance to retake district and state assessments. If we want to be assured that they are truly giving us all they can, let's be clear about what we are measuring and how they can best succeed. They deserve it.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

"The Teacher" or "My Teacher"

I recently had an experience as a learner that made me carefully consider how thoughtful, targeted and intentional my own teaching is. I was attending four days of training where the content was outstanding and the presenters were charming and above average. So….what was the problem? Well….I love good professional development, but I wasn't learning very much. I realize upon reflection that the presenter was "the" teacher, but she wasn't "my" teacher. She had a set agenda and carefully prepared and researched curriculum which she ticked through in a precise and efficient manner. She did not evaluate or assess where I or other participants were in terms of the content. So at the end of day two I thought to myself, "It doesn't really matter how outstanding the content or presentation is; if it does not meet the needs of the learner, there can't be growth."

Then I began to wonder if I am ever guilty of the same thing. Do I ever follow the curriculum I've been given, plowing from lesson one through lesson whatever without regard for whether or not my students are ready for it or already know it? Do I want to be "the" teacher…..or "their" teacher? If I want to be their teacher, I have to know what they need. I have to let assessments drive the instruction for every boy and girl in the room and I am determined to do just that. I want to be assured that how I felt for four days as a learner is not how a child in my room will feel for 180. I want to be confident that should a guest visit our room, a child will point to me and instead of hearing, "That's the teacher" I'll hear, "That's my teacher."

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