Put it in the bank account for later

I haven’t had the mental facilities to complete many sentences since students returned two weeks ago. I am beginning to find time and words again. If you work in a school……

For those of you who have ever had a burning curiosity to know what it actually feels like to experience the first weeks of school, it feels a little bit like this for me. ( I encourage all you school friends, chime in if you have any good metaphors or similes!)

The first two weeks of school are like –

  • wearing an egg beater for a hat. By the time you get home your brain is scrambled.
  • living only in your short term memory. There is so little time to reflect that before 30 seconds is up I typically have heard 3 more conversations and at least that many questions. Moving information from short to long term memory gets hard!
  • taking a trip to a very noisy desert – I am turning into a prune because I can’t get enough water.

I am a whirling dervish waiting for the copier to spit out the papers I swear I pushed the button before coming all the way down here to wait but perhaps I should go back to my room and push print again I might as well stay but they aren’t here yet so I will turn and go all the way back but wait, was that the copier I heard coming to life?

Teaching forges a spiritual bond between people – there comes a point that you will see a fellow colleague across the hall or across the table and you will share the exhausted, empty stare that confirms their brain can’t process any more information either and both of you will instantly know that neither of you is actually conscious on this plane of existence but somehow you occupy the same alternate dimension.

These metaphors have been fun and I am excited to hear others! I love to write and it is such a pleasure to find my words again.

I love to share my love of writing with others, too. I have to be careful sharing my enthusiastic bias with kids because I forget that writing is NOT something some of them enjoy. In fact, some of them “DON’T LIKE” to write at all. I was vehemently reminded as such today while trying to get a paragraph out of my students.

  • The first two weeks of school are like being a dentist. You know that sentence is ready to come out but you have to wrap a string around it and pull really hard when they least expect it to get it to pop out. But then you get to be the Tooth Fairy and give students a reward (that is valuable to them but hopefully doesn’t break your bank).

I got to be the Tooth Fairy today. Today a kid, who showed me on day 3 that writing was really hard for him, pulled that metaphorical paragraph tooth all by himself. He worked so hard to make that paragraph appear! He, of his own volition, gave up 7 extra minutes of recess while his classmates played ultimate tag and pulled that paragraph out of his head, without my string! I was so proud of him!

When I called home this afternoon, his mother answered with the hesitant hello of typical of someone who is accustomed to getting fierce conversations about their boy at the end of the school day. She was surprised that all I wanted to say was how proud I was of her kid who has such a difficult time writing (or sitting still or not using scissors for strange tasks). I am going to confidently predict that kid is going to show me his very best writing on the beginning of year assessment tomorrow.

And that brings me, rambling, to this week’s best bit of advice for teachers.

Don’t forget, early in the year, to call the parents of your hardest kids (you know who they are going to be by now) and put a little in the bank for later. Really see their kid for the child that they can be and want to be and praise them genuinely to their parents. Later, you are going to have some hard conversations with these parents and they will remember that from the start you knew exactly what their kid has inside them to be amazing.

It is money in the bank for later; you are really going to need that parent’s support and expertise when that same kid is making you feel confused, frustrated, insane, or (fill in the blank). Instead of questioning the choices that brought you to this crazy profession, you’ll be able to draw on that resource you planted in September and harvest a positive outcome for a gummy situation.

I promise that it will pay off with interest if you just think about those kids now and make an effort, before the week is out, to make the investment.


What keeps me up at night

One of the most challenging aspects of going back to school is readjusting my sleep routine. I assume most people can relate to that. Summer nights are Colorado’s nectar. And binge watching adult television is a luxury that happens after my young son goes to bed, throughout the year but especially in the Summer. I love catching up on all the superheroes, dystopian drama, and mystery shows I missed last fall while drafting emails, cross checking standards in my lesson plans, or crunching data.

Going from having so little empty time during school (like 5 minutes to eat while standing- yeah, that’s a real thing), to so much empty time in June can leave my brain feeling clunky. By the time August rolls around I usually have managed to slip comfortably into a routine that certainly does not include going to bed before Midnight or waking up at 5 a.m.

So here we are. It’s August. I have just completed my first week back to school and I am tired. I haven’t done a lot except attend meetings and bond with the new staff. I’m not so tired because I can’t handle the rigor of the day, yet. It’s just hard readjusting my sleep schedule. I don’t really want to be awake before dawn or go to bed at a reasonable hour.

So, what keeps me up at night this time of year? Until utter exhaustion and routine kick in sometime in October, it might be thinking about a kid’s anxiety over seating. Ruminating over a kid who I suspect knows more but won’t show it to me, no matter how nice I am will probably keep me awake.  Pondering how to group kids for a challenging activity so they don’t melt down definitely keeps me awake.

And this brings me to my inspiration for today’s blog. It’s Sunday morning and I was reading the news and came across another story of Senator Cory Booker inviting conversations on the U.S. Capitol steps and live streaming the events. What I think of Booker’s politics aside, I admire his efforts to bring respectful discourse to more Americans. I watch the enthusiasm of the audiences his impromptu meetings attract and get all weak in the knees when those audience participants become leaders of the discourse as the live stream rolls on after the career politicians go back to their offices.

Let’s be clear – I don’t talk politics in depth with most people and never my students. As a teacher, I must maintain very clear boundaries and objectivity in many situations.

I definitely teach American Civics, forms of government, and the historical context of our current political climate, but my personal politics have no place in the classroom. That can be a very difficult thing to navigate. Last year was an election year. The student conversations around politics were fascinating ( I teach middle schoolers). Most students don’t yet have the tools to practice respectful discourse and they tend to mirror their parents’ views. This August, keeping me up at night is a determined brain wanting to encourage skilled discussion and mutual respect for broad perspectives in my classroom.

This year will provide fertile ground for debate if today’s news headlines are an indication. I hope I am skilled enough to guide their conversations to be productive and respectful. I have a couple of go-to resources that I really love using.

A Socratic seminar is typically an excellent tool when implemented skillfully. It provides a structure that is predictable and layered in its complexity, requires participation from students who are not speaking, and can be used when talking about ANY topic where someone has an opinion to share.

Another great tool is respectful discourse sentence stems. I have them available from the first day on the bulletin board or students have them in their hands when we use discussion as a learning platform. When kids don’t know what respectful debate sounds like, they don’t independently generate it in their own interactions. It really is like Lord of the Flies teaching in a class where respectful discourse has failed and toxic conversations are the norm.

Hats off to Senator Booker for seeking to invite discourse on our nation’s toughest issues. Hats off to the people encouraging the healthy debate of complex perspectives and for doing it on the Capitol steps. I would encourage those who disagree with Senator Booker to join the debate instead of deriding it. Live streaming these conversations allows the millions of teachers going back to school rich primary sources to share with kids on how adherence to respectful discourse advances, not only our representative government but productive society as a whole.

It is typical that as adults we typically seek the company of people who believe the things we believe and who value our values. As we return kids to classrooms where they have the unparalleled advantage of sitting in rooms with broad perspectives and backgrounds, let us dedicate ourselves, as teachers and parents, to a little bit of lost sleep over how to encourage them to hear all sides of an issue, vigorously defend their viewpoints, and incorporate each other’s perspectives into their growing understanding of themselves.