Friday, January 30, 2015

Bad Days

Sometimes I have such a bad day in the classroom that I am astounded that anyone saw fit to give me a teaching license.

Yesterday was such a day, particularly during one class period.  During this hour we do stations- the students rotate around to different centers and do reading, writing, vocabulary, computer work.  This can be challenging, because it involves a few transitions and kids remembering where they are supposed to go.

At the beginning of this hour yesterday, everything that could go wrong was going wrong and then some.  Two kids were arguing, a few had disappeared without permission into the hallway or bathroom, one trouble-maker was writing a mean comment about another student on the board, the kids who normally challenge me had upped their game to a new level, and worst of all- the students who are normally angelic were acting a little wild too.

For a few moments, I surveyed the scene with panic.  I felt confident that if a principal walked in at that moment, I would likely get fired on the spot.  I actually wondered if perhaps I was on some sort of show like "Candid Camera" or "Punk'd!" and the producers had instructed the kids to act as bad as they possibly could and see how the nice teacher would react.  For one low and paranoid moment, I even glanced at at the corners of the ceiling to see if I could spy any hidden cameras.

So, I did the only thing I could do.  I took a deep breath and started to deal with 1 catastrophe at a time.  First, I got the normally well-behaved students under control, guilting them a little about how I needed them to do their work and be leaders in this particular moment.  I got the two kids to stop arguing and start their work.  I gave the student at the board one of my best lectures of all times about being nice to others and imagine if someone had written that about you on the board, how would you feel, etc., etc.  He was sufficiently chastened and retreated to his work station.  I then located the escapees and delivered another stellar lecture- I need to know where you are at all times.  I'm responsible for you.  Then I threw in a few dramatic flourishes about what if we had a fire and I got all the kids out of the building, and I didn't know where you were- I would be forced to risk my life and go back into the building for you.....  I said those last few things in a funny,sarcastic way that these kids understood- in case you think I'm completely heartless.

What happened next?  Everyone got to work, more or less.  Some even learned a little in that hour. My principal didn't visit, so I still have a job.  Ashton Kutcher never did burst through the door, yelling:

In short, we all survived.  At the end of the day, I vented to my colleague and she vented to me- turns out her morning across the hall had some pretty big bumps too.  We recounted our stories and made each other laugh, which is really the best medicine most days.  

When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would write about the bad days as much as the joyful days, so there you go.  I want this to be an authentic and real space, and since every day in teaching, and for that matter life, is not stellar, there will be more blog entries like this one.  

At the end of the day, I packed up, got on my coat, locked my door and headed out, reflecting on the wise advice a volunteer had given me earlier in the year on a similarly bad day.  
He said, "Do the best you can and then go home."  

So, that's what I did.  

Do you have any good bad-day stories to share?  How did you cope?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Finding Light in the Darkness

I know that our memories are short in the 24 hour news cycle, but it was only a little over a month ago when gunmen walked into a Pakistani school and killed 132 students and 12 educators. When I learned of this, I just went cold inside. This is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night, my heart beating fast, my mind racing, wondering what kind of world we live in where something like this could possibly happen. I kept thinking about it in the following days- reading about it, trying not to read about it…

Sometimes you strangely get exactly what you need to help you deal with something. For me, that came in the form of an e-mail from a family member who had a contact in Pakistan who was wondering if some students in America might like to write letters of support to the children in Pakistan.

So, I sat down with my students and talked carefully and gently with them about the massacre in the Pakistani school. I tried to answer questions as best I could. Then I told them that I had a contact in Pakistan and we could write letters of support and concern and send them to students there.

They just embraced the project. I have not seen them work so hard in a long time. They would not stop writing! Here is what they wrote:

We are with you, Pakistan. People care about you.

I’m very sad because kids should feel free at school.

I wish you will be happy and not scared. Please don’t stop in your life.

I know the feeling of losing someone you love. Don’t give up.

My county had a lot of problems and many people died. I’m very sad about that so I can really feel your pain.

Be strong.

Kids can be so amazing. They have depth that surprises me. These letters helped me find some light in the darkness of this story.

Then we got this response from a Pakistani girl. I didn’t correct the English in it. It seemed wrong to do that.

i am from pakistan amd i am studing in IM sciences schoool of american enlish language.unfortunately our institute is closed after 16 december .we cannot goes to school .but we want to read we want tp learn .because we want to make our future bright .we are very happy that in this time you people are with us

Here is an update on how the school in Pakistan is doing…..

Saturday, January 24, 2015

FIRST POST and What I Mean By Teaching With An Open Heart

Since I'm not sure anyone will actually read this blog, I have this weird feeling I might be writing to myself.  I'm okay with that.  As I have contemplated the idea of writing a blog, I definitely considered the fact that it might not be popular and I decided I didn't care.  :)  Writing helps me sort things out and I want to remember all the stories of my teaching days and this is now a place to record them.  If nothing else, I can read this blog when I'm an old lady and smile and cry.  

However, if you're a real live human being and you're reading this right now, here goes.  I'm writing this blog because I love being a teacher.  I love it so much. But, at this moment in our society, being a teacher has become a pretty complicated enterprise.  There are a lot of demands and sometimes it feels like we're expected to accomplish miracles without a lot of support. I see a lot of amazing teachers who are discouraged and leaving the profession or seriously wondering how long they can do it.  And, that breaks my heart.   So, I want to offer some hope to my fellow teachers.  I'll be honest about my joyful moments as a teacher and I'll also write about my darker days.  

My firm belief about this world is that there is nothing more important than connection.  We all need to be understood, to be validated, to know that we're not alone, to know that others are on our side, to feel we have a tribe we belong to.  Maybe this blog could be a place that could give teachers a little bit of that. That's my hope.  

By the way, I think if you're a human being who is not employed as a teacher, you could very well still like this blog.  In the end, it will be about human connection and stories.. and those things are really for everyone, right?

What's the title all about?  I think the most important quality a teacher can have day in and day out is an open heart.  If your heart is open, a lot of great things can follow- an open mind, compassion, creativity, passion, understanding, patience....I'm not suggesting for one minute that I always have an open heart when I'm teaching.  It's what I aspire to, though.  When I am teaching with an open heart, everything goes better- my lessons flow, I connect with students, we all have fun, kids are learning. If there are problems, I'm more patient and able to cope with whatever comes up.  

If my heart is closed on a particular day- I'm just grumpy or a students is really on my nerves or I'm dwelling on some difficulty related to my job, the teaching does not flow.  When my heart is closed, the pain sets in- for me and my students.  So, I try to teach with an open heart.... I try......

One more thing before I sign off today and hit the scary "Publish" button for the first time.  Why the name "Miss"?  First, I want to remain as anonymous as possible so I didn't want to  use my real name. Obviously, my friends and family will know who I am when they read this but I'll ask them not to use my real name if they comment.  The main reason behind the name- I teach middle schoolers who are new to the country and they most commonly address me as "Miss".  In fact, sometimes I hear it so many times in a day, I want to scream.  But then I remember how lucky and privileged I am to teach these incredible kids, so I crack my heart open a little more and decide I love the sound of "Miss!"  

So, I invite you to read and I invite you to comment...  More to come....