Fleeting

Written on November 23, 2010.

Today is one of those days when I sense change around the corner, and with good reason. Thanksgiving break starts tomorrow, kicking off our first holiday season as a married couple. And soon, my internship is over. My students barraged me this afternoon with, “How many more days until you leave? Will you come back for the mud walk? Are you going to cry?”

A few weeks ago, Cristina, while trying to wrap her head around the concept of an “internship,” asked, “What are you doing, retiring or something?” Today she asked, “When are you coming back to finish the rest of your internship?” Somehow, she doesn’t fully understanding that in four days, I am not longer their teacher.

This is one of the very hard things about this job. These students are mine for such a temporary, fleeting time. Then, I leave them (or they are taken from me) into someone else’s hands to be built up or to be destroyed. All I can do is hope that all I’ve done has not been in vain.

When I look back on my own life, elementary school seems like a blink, a hiccup. It was there for a moment, and then it was gone. Still, I somehow know that I owe those women–my teachers–so much o what I have accomplished and so much of who I am.

I can count the pennies in my bank account, and subtract the $4.66 for this frappuchino I’m drinking.

I can write a shopping list.

There are characters, plots, and lines of poetry engrained in my psyche and imprinted on my heart.

Even as I scribble these words across this page, their influence over my life is as clear as the ink from this blue ballpoint pen. I take these things for granted every single day. But as I think about it, it becomes clear that I could not do this, be who I am, or lived this life without them.

I am reminded that teaching, though separated by summer breaks and punctuated by FCATs, grade levels, and commencements, is not temporary.

And I almost hope my students will learn everything well enough that they can take it for granted.

On differentiated instruction and being mental

There are four students in my class with learning disabilities. They can handle the content and skills required of every fifth grader, but they need a little extra help to get there.

On a daily or weekly basis, that help might look like a lot of different things including hands-on activities, small-group work, as much one-on-one work as possible, or extra time to complete assignments. Often, they are allowed to have their tests read aloud to them, so their reading difficulties don’t interfere with their ability to prove their science or math knowledge.

Simple enough. Still, what sounds simple enough to implement is often actually much more difficult to pull off well. What happened today was a good example of this.

I called the group aside to read their quiz to them.

“I don’t need your help,” one student scoffed. “I can do this myself.”

“Well,” I replied, “that’s fine. But I’m going to sit here and read it, and I’d like you to follow along.”

“I’m not MENTAL! I don’t need this help!”

Ouch. Those words sting. Not only me, but the girl next to her who sheepishly admits, “Well, I do.”

I was sad that for any reason whatsoever, she had come to doubt her abilities. Even more so, I was sad that our students clearly have come to an understanding that students who get pulled aside to work with the teacher have done something wrong. Students who need extra help are stupid. As a result, their goal has become to never make mistakes and never need help.

This afternoon, we had a professional development in-service about inclusion. And I realized this: our system has taught our students that some are smart and others are stupid. Stupid people get extra help and different teachers. Sad.

My student and I talked. We fixed it, we’re good. She’s good. But still, it’s sad.

On a practical note: my homework today is about differentiated instruction. I’m learning that in my classroom, my students should be working continually in groups with different peers, of different sizes, and with and without teacher assistance. Always. Teaching and learning should constantly look different, exciting, and full of student choice. Then, when I do need to pull aside some students because they need a little extra help…it’s normal. It’s expected. And most of all, it’s ok.

Eyes open

I am being baptized today!


i thank You God for this most amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears are awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

–e.e. cummings

Sleepy girl

I could not stop yawning all day today. I hope my students didn’t notice, but I’m sure they did.

Today was an exhausting day.

It was a day that seemed dominated by talk of tests, test scores, grades, and, “Do I have to?” I want to be teach an engaging curriculum that doesn’t solicit, “Is this going to be on the test?” I want to assign activities fun enough to never hear, “Is this good enough? Can I stop now?”

Today, we had a meeting about our lowest students. Those who “struggle” were identified by their standardized test scores, and we talked (sort of?) about how to help them. The goal is to see growth, as measured by improved FCAT scores at the end of the year.

One student recently moved from Arizona and has no previous FCAT score. The argument was made we therefore can not show growth and should assume whatever help he ¬†gets is good enough. We should focus on the other kids first. At this same meeting, it was stated that we need to make sure SLD students make progress. There are also struggling students who do not have a learning disability, but whether or not their scores go up don’t matter as much because the state won’t count them as their own subgroup.

These ideas demonstrate several implicit beliefs:

  1. High-stakes, standardized test scores are the only way to measure student growth or learning.
  2. Students with learning disabilities should be entitled to accommodations and intervention, but no one else.
  3. We should not worry about student progress until they have attended schools in our state for at least one year.

Sound education policy?

Of course not. Unfortunately, these are the procedures our principal deems necessary as a result of various mandates handed down from the state and federal government.

Listen.

Every student has a right to free and appropriate (i.e., effective) public education. Not just those with disabilities. Not just those who are lucky enough to stay in one place. Not just those whose standardized test scores don’t meet our expectations.

On days like today, I find myself frustrated.

And so I need to be reminded that teaching is not just a job. It is a calling from God to love and serve these children and their families. Even though I am anxious to soon have my own classroom, I need to be reminded that I still need to work hard and give it my all. I need to be reminded of my inadequacies and the necessity that I lean on Jesus.

On days like today, I need to take a deep breath.

Fifth grade boys

Prior to this internship placement, I was more accustomed to working with primary students (grades K-2). I preferred the little guys, and I was really worried. I wondered, “How will I relate to these kids?” I was especially worried about the boys.

I quickly learned that a little sports knowledge goes a long way towards earning their respect. (Keeping their respect is another issue altogether and has a lot more to do with my teaching, but loving Tim Tebow set me heading in the right direction.)

I also learned that I should always pay attention to the sports jerseys they wear.

That way, when the name Cam Newton starts showing up on our bathroom sign-in sheet, I’ll know who to talk to.

Right now, I am…

life.love.paper is one of my favorite scrapbooking blogs. I love her laid-back style, and I have borrowed her ideas and techniques in my own scrapbook pages lots and lots of times. Today, I’m borrowing the format of her last blog post. I’m just feeling so restless and there’s so much on my mind. So this is simple.

listening: The National, on grooveshark. I needed something new to listen too. I was feeling bored.
eating: Chips Ahoy. Trying to decide on dinner.
drinking: cold class of water.
wearing: my favorite Gators t-shirt, khaki shorts.
feeling: anxious and restless. the wedding is only 8 days away!
weather: miserably hot outside. it keeps getting cloudy, but no rain! I’d love a good thunderstorm.
wanting: to relax a little, but for that to happen, i need to cross more things off of my to-do list.
needing: to plan our honeymoon a little bit
thinking: wedding, wedding, wedding. marriage, marriage, marriage. all the time.
enjoying: These two great posts by Shaun Groves: one (about what may be my favorite song EVER) and two (about friendships and relationships)
wondering: whether Evan and I will like the apartment we’re going to see tomorrow

Trying to be still.

I love sleep.

I mean, I really love sleep.

I sometimes joke that I am borderline narcoleptic, and most people who know me will say that I can fall asleep anywhere, any time, regardless of my circumstances. Evan once joked that I am “very conducive to napping.”

But the past few nights, I have struggled to fall asleep. There’s just too much excitement going on, to much to plan and think through and wonder about. Normally, I’ve turned back on the lights and picked up a book or turned on the televtion.

Tonight is no exception. In fact, tonight my mind is more full than usual. My thoughts are running marathons, with no signs of slowing. I turned on my computer and planned to watch an old episode of The Office.

But I think Jesus had something else in mind. Earlier tonight, I read Psalm 37. It’s had me thinking about finding refuge in Jesus, delighting in His presence. It’s had me thinking about the peace, joy, and rest that Jesus promises when we are faithful to abide in Him.

Then, when I turned on my computer, I read this post about the importance of being still. Admittedly, this is something I’m not good at and usually I’m too lazy to even attempt it.

(Even now, I felt the need to write about it rather than just do it.)

So off I go. I’m going to turn off my computer and lay here in my bed. I’m going to try to be still, and seek my peace and refuge and rest in Jesus. Lord, help me abide in You. Please quiet my anxieties and help me find rest.