A Priceless Gift

Well, I’m halfway through winter break. It’s days after Christmas and soon, the New Year will be rung in. I’ve been thinking a lot about myself as a teacher and the many scholars I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. Have you ever wondered if you have really made a difference? How often do your scholars tell you, “You’ve really touched my life. I get it now! Thank you!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a scholar tell me this during the year they were on my roster. In fact, I may have received a few side eyes and under the breath name calling instead and well, that’s okay. I’ve always been passionate about all of them, regardless of how they may have received my presentation. Oh, yes. Of course I received cute little letters and nice pictures telling me how wonderful I was, but nothing that revealed a life changing epiphany for any of my scholars. Something amazing happened during this break which seems to be happening more and more frequently. I was with my family making some Christmas gift exchanges, when I heard my name, “Mrs. Daugherty! Mrs. Daugherty!” I turned around to find a handsome young man walking up to me. I tried to distinguish his face, but man… our scholars change so dramatically as they mature, it becomes difficult to distinguish their matured look. He forgave my puzzled expression and politely greeted me with his name, “It’s me. Justin.” (Justin is a pseudonym provided for confidentiality purposes). My eyes grew big and my heart filled with such joy! I’d taught Justin in the fourth grade. He shared that he is now a senior at an out of state prep school, but he’d recognized me walking through the store. We talked for a moment and my heart inflated with so much pride in that moment listening to all he has accomplished. He was always a bright young man and I knew he was destined for greatness, even in the fourth grade. I must admit, I wouldn’t have recognized him if he hadn’t said anything to me first. I’ve taught hundreds of young people, in three different systems. Names and faces tend to run together for me after so many years. But young Justin, I remembered. He’s excelling just as I knew he would 8 years ago if he remained focused. He is a scholar athlete being looked at by local colleges for entry next year. Another one that made it and was compelled enough to share his successes with me. Needless to say, after we went our separate ways, I couldn’t stop smiling! Later in the evening, I began to think to myself “Who the heck was MY fourth grade teacher?” For the life of me, I cannot remember! In fact, there are only a handful of teachers that I do remember. I remember them because they either said something that made me think or they did something that caught my full attention! These teachers helped mold my life. They helped me think about whom I was and who I wanted to become. They had fully invested in me and my future. Here’s my point. As educators, we work hard, day in and day out, to make a difference in the lives of children. We make plans, we grade papers, and we work long, hard hours, for little to no pay or respect for any of it. We demonstrate, encourage, motivate, and mediate. We watch over and protect, wipe tears and reassure. We realize that some have never received a caring touch or a kind word before we entered their lives. We do all of this because most of us are in this for the outcome, not the income, knowing that more often than not, our scholars will leave us never disclosing the impact we’ve made on their lives. It dawned on me in that very moment that I was one of the teachers Justin remembered. I had said something or done something to make him remember me. It is, in my opinion, the highest praise a teacher can possibly receive. To be acknowledged by a young person you’ve taught and to hear of the wonderful things that are happening in their lives is very fulfilling. To hear that they made it, against all odds and despite their circumstances because I said it was possible all those years ago is the most priceless gift this teacher, or any teacher, could receive.

The saying goes, to whom much is given, much is required. Our purpose is to help our scholars see beyond their current circumstances. We are tasked with leading them away from poor choices and the path of destruction towards better choices that lead them to the path of their desired destiny. I’m here to tell you that this is not an easy task by any means and yes, we will, unfortunately, lose a few along the way, but not for lack of trying. We simply need to remember that there are many more “Justin’s” in our classrooms than not, waiting and wanting to learn how they too can make it. They may or may not tell you that you have had an effect on their lives. Well, at least not at that moment and really, that is okay. But, when that day comes, when you’re walking along in the store, and you hear your name being called by that one scholar you reached years before, you too will receive the same gift that Justin afforded me just the other day. And that gift, I assure you, is… priceless.

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A Special Thanks from Transitions

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A year ago TODAY, I launched this educational blog. Twenty-eight posts later (24 of which were written exclusively by me), I continue to transparently share my educational experiences and life lessons. It remains my incessant hope that through my sharing, I will incite other educators to reflect upon their own instructional practices and, in turn, result in a change or modification of those current practices as well.

I have grown a great deal through writing this blog. Opening myself has not been easy, however, it has helped me to learn more about myself as an educator and as a person. It has helped me to look at my instructional practices differently. It’s helped me become a stronger educator without a doubt.

So, today, on this one year anniversary, I want to say thank you on behalf of Transitions Educational Consulting. Thank you for engaging with me through my blog. Thank you for following and offering comments of support and encouragement. Thank you for sharing my experiences with others. Thank you for helping me grow and opening yourselves to new opportunities for growth as well.

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Your support is very much appreciated! Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing. Thank you again.
#Transitions #ExpectGreatness

 

Transitions

A Note of Gratitude

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I don’t know what it is, but these last three months have felt more like six! If your classroom is like mine, then, the honeymoon is OVER! My scholars have turned from the quiet, unsure fifth graders they began the year as, to a group of 20 extremely rambunctious, moody, narcissistic children! Oh, there are some great character traits in the room as well. There are talented athletes, great senses of humor, very bright young folks in this classroom. But, man are they selfish! I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before! I know, I know…it’s the age. The fact remains that it is still a source of great frustration, especially when you work so purposefully every day to teach school and self PRIDE, which in this case, is an acronym that stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Empathy.

It happens every single year… I find myself comparing last year’s class to the current. There are as many similarities as there are differences. While I don’t have as many behavior challenges, I have one that requires a lot of energy! I’m exhausted when I get home every night from all the energy that he requires! I have many that love to read, love to do math, just plain love to learn. Then, there’s the handful that have great difficulty sitting still long enough for a 5-10 minute mini lesson. I can’t help but to stop and think about how my scholars are progressing this year. The year started out awesome! So, why in the world am I burned out already!!

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I was speaking with a coworker recently about how drawn I am to the struggling students. He shared that he could really tell how invested I am in my students. That I really have a deep love for all of them that he highly respects. What an amazing compliment! He added, however, that I cannot save them all (I think to myself [with a heavy sigh], “Why not??). Trying to save them all, he explained, will leave me exhausted and disappointed. He’s never been more correct. While I wish I could, I just have to realize, I do not have a cape big enough to accommodate every single trouble my scholars have, let alone every single child. I’m simply not equipped to.

I dropped my scholars off at their Related Arts class feeling exhausted and defeated, just as my coworker suggested. As I dragged myself to the mail room to pick up my mail (yes…I must say, I was a pitiful sight), I began to open my mail while reflecting on the day. Did I make my scholars learning meaningful today? I wonder what my scholars learned about themselves today? What did I learn about myself today? Did I do everything possible to make today’s learning better for them than yesterday? Today…{sigh}…I just wasn’t sure. It was at that moment that I opened an envelope that contained a handwritten letter. To my surprise, it was from VICTOR!!

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A note of gratitude from Victor! Not many words, but a very large message received!

If you remember, Victor was my “challenge” (and also my blessing) last year. He’s a very bright, yet troubled young man. I put every bit of my being into teaching him basic life skills and self worth. As you can imagine, my eyes welled with tears. My cheeks hurt from the smile he put on my face with this letter. What an amazing confirmation! While I read that Victor was thankful for me teaching him multiplication strategies, I believe in my heart that he was thanking me for so much more than that.

I’ve been fueled a bit by Victor’s letter. I felt good knowing in that moment, that even though he displayed a nonchalant attitude towards me and learning at times, he let me know that he heard me something, AND…was GRATEFUL! I exhaled in the moment of gratuitousness.

Just when I thought my teacher tank was filled up, a kindergartner stopped me in the hallway during dismissal. She is the younger sister of another scholar I had last year. She gave me a hug, then handed me a handwritten letter from her brother. What?! ANOTHER letter of gratitude?! If it weren’t before, my tank is definitely full now!

https://mail.aol.com/38815-816/aol-6/en-us/mail/get-attachment.aspx?uid=30457906&folder=OldMail&partId=3

Another note of gratitude from a past scholar! He inspired ME more than I inspired him! I’M grateful for HIM!

Here’s the takeaway… Be not dismayed by the seemingly unresponsive attitudes that some of your scholars may tend to display. They are struggling with a great many pubescent emotional and social battles. There is a strong need to belong and to roam among the “in crowd”.  For boys, there is the need to show they are the strongest and bravest. It’s like these boys are vying for the Alpha Male position on the playground! Even more concerning, the temptation to join gangs is prevalent among these young men. For girls, they begin searching for love in all the wrong places. Flirtatious behavior is booming among these young ladies!! They want to be the prettiest and the most popular. Sadly, academics don’t seem to find a place anywhere in any of this at times. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Now, add to that the abuse that is either witnessed or endured. The noticeable struggle for parents to make ends meet in order to provide adequate food and/or shelter for their families. There’s also the threat of families being torn apart by deportation and/or simply abandonment. There is the simplistic, intrinsic need to receive a hug, a pat on the back, an encouraging word, to simply feel…LOVED! These scholars are dealing with so much! More than any one of us could possibly imagine.

Find solace in the fact that, in those heated moments, when your scholars tend to make you feel unappreciated, devalued, and disrespected, that there are one, two, or maybe more that you’ve left behind who feel a sense of gratitude for everything you’ve taught them about reading, math, and most importantly…LIFE. Know that they just don’t no how to tell you.

https://mail.aol.com/38815-816/aol-6/en-us/mail/get-attachment.aspx?uid=30457906&folder=OldMail&partId=4

As I was composing this blog, I received yet ANOTHER note of gratitude from this young lady. My goodness! I didn’t mean to “make her an over achiever”.  I only wanted to teach her to always strive to be the best SHE could be…ALWAYS!! I think she got the point.

Common Core or Common Quagmire?

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The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. (Retrieved from http://www.core standards.org)

Recently, I’ve been battling my feelings about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I feel like I have a good understanding of children’s learning styles and the importance of nurturing their young minds. By definition, the CCSS support this notion. So, what’s the problem? It was after a recent baseline math assessment that I really began to feel differently about this new national initiative. On a particular set of questions, points were not given if a student did not use an algorithmic strategy, even if their process derived the correct answer.  I was so annoyed by this and thought, is THIS how we are assessing CCSS? Are we really stifling students autonomous thinking for the sake of what state and national reformers believe is the best indicator of our children’s futures?

We, as educators, all know the intent of the CCSS is to delve deeper into students thinking. To go beyond surface level learning and extend students foundational knowledge. Learning should shift from the traditional, basal instruction curriculum, to one that is more rigorous and relevant in application. We are to provide a variety of strategies for students and encourage individuality in learning and thinking. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought until I began investigating the expectations of the Next Generation Assessments, such as those developed by the Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers. These assessments seem to be requiring students to display much more thinking than is seemingly necessary. One particular video stood out to me. Watch as a 3rd grade student proudly explains a math problem using a strategy from the TERC Investigations curriculum for solving an addition problem. She shows two ways to solve the problem, one way by stacking, the traditional standard algorithm using regrouping, and the other by using a written or visual method that is meant to display mathematical thinking. I’ve attached a link below (retrieved from Math Foundations, LLC, September 23, 2014):

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The unintended consequences of the TERC Investigations: http://youtu.be/1YLlX61o8fg

Quite a compelling outcome, wouldn’t you think? She began so confidently, and by the end looked so confused and disappointed as if she were tasked to solve some unearthing mathematical dilemma rather than a simple third grade addition problem. Is this really how we are expected to prepare our students for common core assessment? Or is this type of assessing progressively becoming more of a common quagmire for our students?

Here’s another example from an Arkansas mom who presents her reservations (and speaks for hundreds of other parents in the area as well) over the common core initiative to the Arkansas State Board of Education.

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Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in 4 Minutes: http:// youtu.be/wZEGijN_8R0

Hmmphf! I wonder what that school board member thought after finding that her thinking did not align with the expectations of the CCSS? Why do we continuously subject our students to that which makes little to no sense? Our children think differently, understand differently, LEARN differently, but yet we force them to learn in a way dictated by people that hide behind degrees and acronyms and have more than likely never stepped foot in an urban school classroom! Now, I don’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that fulfilling a personal philanthropic obligation within a chosen urban school district does not make you an educational expert on best practices in instruction and assessment! I’m sorry, but it doesn’t!  As you can tell, it makes me a little frustrated.

Where does Ohio stand? In August 2014, state legislators began the process of eliminating Common Core education standards in Ohio which would mean students would go through their third set of standards over the course of the next four years. Under this new bill, students would keep the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts this year, without the testing that goes with it. Schools would then switch for two years to Massachusetts Common Core standards (adopted in 2010) prior to implementing new state-developed standards in those subjects plus science and social studies starting in the 2017-18 school year (retrieved from The Columbus Dispatch at http://www.dispatch.com on September 26, 2014). Are you kidding me?! The assessment may change again…already?? How is it that the state is unable to make a firm decision about the state assessment and yet our students are expected to perform proficiently on whichever assessment is decided upon? Granted, if educators are effectively teaching to the Common Core, the assessment shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it does matter because the standards and the assessment are not developmentally sound.

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Honestly! This has gotten to be too much to think about! Are we really providing high-quality academic standards with the common core or are we setting our children up for failure and further holding them back with what seem to have become common quagmires? It’s something to think about, that’s for certain. As I continue to fight my internal battle between being for or against the Common Core initiative, I do what my passion leads me to do and work for those whose voices are never heard within the political realms of our educational reform, my students.

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Failure is Not an Option!

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Well, I’m through my third week of school. Things are going well for the most part. Probably one of the best starts to a school year that I can recall. I have 20 WONDERFUL scholars who, in these first few weeks, have reminded me why I remain in the classroom.

Initially, I had 18 scholars on my roster. I had looked over my roster prior to the first day of school and was excited to see that I was apparently receiving a break this year from some of the customary behavior challenges I’d been used to. After working with some very challenging children in the recent past, including a visually impaired child with a sharp tongue and a tenacious attitude, I welcomed the break. Educators working on the front line will be able to relate to my exaggerated exaltation. However, as expected in the world of education, things change ever so quickly and as such; I received my nineteenth scholar on Meet the Teacher night. He is a returning student who is extremely excited to be back with us! He shares his love of school and especially reading with me on that evening! This is too good to be true!! I have to be the luckiest teacher of the year!

My twentieth scholar arrived bright and early Monday morning just after I began my introductory instruction. He is also a transfer from another school in the district. I have not received his permanent records as of yet, which is not uncommon with transfers, but in conversation, he shares with me, in a rather boisterous voice, that he is not good at math and he is very shy! This statement left me looking confused since he is far from shy and has displayed some mathematical problem solving skills. Yet, these observations, coupled with his over activeness and frequent off task behavior had now become an all too familiar scene to say the least. A prologue to the main event if you will. As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. This scholar requires a lot of time and attention and I slowly realize, HE is my purpose this year.

On the first day of school, I read a book to my scholars, entitled “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day” by Dr. Seuss for our first morning meeting. I used to read this book to my own children when they were younger. I found it appropriate for my fifth graders because every year, a handful of scholars enter my class claiming they don’t know anything, much like my twentieth scholar. The story is about creative teaching and thinking. The tale celebrates originality, differences, and uniqueness, but also reassures that each of the scholars in the story has everything they need not only to be successful when taking high stakes assessments, but also to be successful in life. What an amazing way to begin the school year! We acknowledged each other’s differences but I also assured all of them that they too are bright, intelligent scholars that can and will be successful, but they had to trust me, trust each other, and most importantly, trust themselves.

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In the days to follow, we would talk a lot about our school “PRIDE” (that is, Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Empathy) and our Scholar Statement. We would discuss in great length each attribute of PRIDE and each line of the Scholar Statement. This is my second year using the statement and I have found it to be a great guiding principle in my classroom. The statement reads as follows:

I AM A SCHOLAR!
I can DO anything, LEARN anything, BE anything.
I CANNOT fail and WILL NOT fail,
because failure is not an option.
I am in control of my future and my destiny.
I AM A SCHOLAR!
I AM THE FUTURE!

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I had no idea what a powerful impact this would have on my scholars. I mean, last year, we (my colleagues and I) always spoke of the attributes of our PRIDE principles, however, most of us assumed our scholars inherently knew them, especially by fifth grade. We were very wrong in our thinking. This year, our PRIDE principles are more visible around the school and in each classroom. The attributes are discussed and modeled frequently throughout the day and school year. I have noticed this year that the school wide PRIDE attributes, coupled with my statement, had begun to do something amazing to my scholars. Something I didn’t see or hear last year and something I hadn’t seen coming this year at all. They instantly began holding each other accountable for displaying PRIDE and never giving up. I was in absolute awe the first time I heard it. Let me frame this for you by offering just one example.

Every afternoon, we do a spiral math review. This review is a culmination of skills previously learned and some newly introduced skills as well. Because math is so intimidating to most of my scholars, their initial reaction to any questioning of their knowledge results in a shrug of their shoulders and the response “Um, I don’t know.” Oh no. Here we go again! I think to myself, “I just wish these children would believe in themselves the way that I believe in them.” I proceeded to respond encouragingly when from the back of the room, I heard, “Don’t give up! Failure is not an option. Persevere!” I stopped in shock as I slowly looked to see who was speaking. Someone heard me! Someone understood me! It felt like for the first time, my scholars got it because they all chimed in to encourage their peer! Since that moment, when anyone gets stuck, including me, and we feel like giving up, we support each other by saying out loud…”failure is not an option”! This has become our daily reminder to keep trying.

This was a powerful moment for me. There are so many times I become discouraged concerning whether I am making a difference in the lives of my scholars. I wonder whether my expectations are too ambitious for them and whether I am doing everything I can do to help them succeed. How many times a year do you do the same thing? We do this all the time because we are passionate about what we do and we believe in the capabilities of our scholars. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking about who’s life we can screw up today. That is not the case at all. But on this day, at this moment, it was that voice. It was that very moment when that young scholar’s voice in the back of the room reminded me why I am still in this classroom. I actually knew exactly why that Monday morning, when that twentieth scholar entered my room. I still have some lives to change. We ALL have some lives to change! Our scholars believe in us and they depend on us. No matter what the obstacle, we need to remember not to EVER give up on them because their failure…our failure… Nope! Failure is just not an option!

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Time Flies

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I absolutely cannot believe summer has gone by so quickly! The last time I shared something was the end of June! My intentions were good people. They really were! But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t feel that bad about it. In fact, I think you will probably understand once I share with you my ever lingering “problem”.

As many of you know, I completed my doctoral degree in April 2013. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year and a half since I earned that accomplishment!

imageThat’s me on graduation day!

I think back to all the late nights, the long hours of studying and writing, and the summers spent at little league football or baseball games with books and homework in tow. Summer vacations during those six years always included long periods set aside to research, write, and hardly ever time to rest my brain. I was always thinking, always worried, always on a deadline. My laptop and study materials were always among the first items packed if we found time to travel at all. I’d stopped participating in many things I enjoyed doing and replaced them with hours upon hours spent in the library or locked in my room instead. Since my children were young when I entered the doctoral program, my studying was a normal fixture in their minds. It’s what they were used to.

imageYep. That’s me! This is what taking a break from reading, searching resources online, & studying looked like during my doctoral studies!

Last summer was the first summer in six years that I was truly FREE to do anything I wanted. I took a vacation with my husband, traveled with the entire family, sat at little league baseball games and actually WATCHED every inning of every game! I enjoyed myself tremendously! It was all so exhilarating…and awkward at the same time. But guess who enjoyed it even more. My babies. Yes, my husband was pleased as well, but my children made it very clear that all they wanted was their mommy back! I wouldn’t dare disappoint.

This summer, I’d planned to connect with all of you at least every 3-4 weeks in some capacity just to let you all know I was still around. Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC continues to grow and education reform continues to define and shape our practice. I had a clear, definitive plan for growing and developing Transitions this summer. However, what happened instead was I chose to be present for my children entirely because there was a moment this summer that I connected with each of them, and I could see the time flying right before my eyes! You see, for six years my husband and children could say, “Mommy, let’s watch a movie.” and I would have to respond, “Okay. Right after I’m done studying.” I suppose I still feel some guilt about that, but I know that they are the reason I pushed so hard in the first place.

At the same time, amazing things were happening and I was missing it! At some point during those six years, my oldest son grew taller than me! How in the world did I miss that?! My middle son…he had started wearing men’s size shoes! He was on his way to the fourth grade then! Oh, and my daughter? She’s the baby of the three. She was reading picture books the last time I had noticed and then…all of a sudden, she was reading chapter books and having high-level conversations with me that left me in awe! I mean, it feels like only months ago, although it’s been 7 years passed now. No way! Not another second will I lose.

imageMy children and I at their district track meet over the summer. I coached them!

I have missed my Transitions blog a great deal, but I’ve enjoyed the time with my family this summer so much more. Every time I prepared to write or visit my blog site, send a Tweet, or post on my Transitions Facebook page, one of my children would require some attention. I admit, I put every task on my “to do” list aside right at that moment, just to watch a movie, to take a walk, play a game, or just to cuddle with them. I loved every single second of it, too. Now that’s a lingering “problem” I’ll endure any day!

imageFamily night at a baseball game.

My fellow educators, we have a very tough job. Tougher than many others. Yes, we get time off in the summer to recuperate, but realistically, many of us spend it preparing for the following year, attending professional developments, or collaborating with coworkers. I implore you…take a break when time permits. Laugh with friends, reminisce with family, or do nothing at all! It’s really okay. In the end, you cannot go back and get that time you lost.

So I respectfully ask that you please accept my apology for being absent for the summer. Transitions has great things in store for this year, so be on the lookout! But, for these last days of summer, time continues to fly by…and I choose to catch every last second while I have them.

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“My Wife is a Lazy Liar” (a reblog by smithdeville, the spouse of an educator)

My husband asks me all the time about all the meetings and paperwork I do. I just tell him, “Sweetie, I do more than just teach!” This was a great read! Thanks for sharing and for the chuckle. 🙂
http://smithdeville.com/2014/06/06/my-wife-is-a-lazy-liar/