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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

What a difference a week makes

September 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Last week in my mentoring visit we had to coax V to play Crazy 8s with us and then I had to give him a LOT of support as we played (including peeking at his cards so I could double-check his moves). This week it was just me and V in the library, and instead of reading a biography – his hands-down favorite activity – he asked if I brought Crazy 8s and if we could play. I dealt the cards, we played…and it went really smoothly. I never had to check his hand, he handled it gracefully when he almost won but then I changed the color, and he handled it gracefully many turns later when I ended up winning.

Not only have we never played Crazy 8s so well, we’ve never played any game so well. It was like he grew a whole year in just the last week – suddenly able to remember and follow the rules, make strategic choices, and be a good sport. I have no idea what caused the big change, but I’m incredibly proud of him.

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Seasons of change

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been pretty quiet online this year, largely because there were so many changes in my life, and so many big emotions about those changes, that I didn’t really even know where to begin.  But with the changing of the year, it feels like a good time to look back and reflect on the last 12 months.

I spent the first half of my year with an amazing, challenging, intensely emotional group of students who made a lasting mark on my heart.  Over our time together, I grew both more comfortable as a teacher and at the same time more unsure of my ability to ever be the teacher I wanted to be, or to gain the emotional distance necessary to make year after year of teaching sustainable.  By June I never wanted to say goodbye to my students and couldn’t imagine spending another day with them – or starting all over again with a new group the following year.

All of those conflicting emotions – plus some expert advocacy by my mother – led to a very different second half of the year.  In May I interviewed with my father’s boss for a position at the federal contractor he’s worked for since 2002.  Two weeks after school ended, I started as a Senior Business Analyst at the company – and it’s been great.  My day to day interactions are with the two VPs, the COO, and my father, and the entire leadership team has been shockingly open to my (many, many) ideas, suggestions, and initiatives.  I’ve been able to define my scope of responsibilities as we go, taking on projects I find exciting and that make a difference to the company.  In early fall, I led a recruitment process that added two new people to our team, making me a supervisor after just four months on the job.

It’s pretty different from teaching.

The new job brought a lot of other new things, including a new car, new apartment, new work wardrobe, new furniture, new commute.  I love my little red Prius, with my first-ever vanity plates, and its crazy-good gas mileage makes my marathon commute a little easier to deal with.  (Literally, it’s a marathon – 26.2 miles door to door.)  After spending all of August with my very patient mom and dad, I moved into a gorgeous one-bedroom apartment in September and spent most of September and October furnishing and stocking it.  (It turns out that after 5+ years of downsizing apartments, I had no tables, no dishes, no glasses…)

And running through the entire year, of course, was trapeze.  It’s grown from an important hobby that provided me with a sense of community to a defining part of who I am and a huge part of my social life.  I spent March through October intensely focused on building my trampoline skills (until my coach ran off to join the circus), and since September my flying has moved forward in leaps and bounds.  In the last few months I’ve taken multiple tricks and skills out of safety lines, which means I’m taking more and more responsibility for what I do in the air.  And it’s exhilarating. I’ve always been a confident person, but as I’ve progressed in trapeze, I’ve gained a completely different sense of confidence, one that’s rooted both in a better knowledge of my body and what I can do with it, but also in constantly, and successfully, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.  When I’m feeling uncertain at work or in a new social situation, there’s something very powerful about remembering, hey, I can do a back 1.25 tuck, drop safely from 23 feet in the air, or grab a return bar and go all the way back to the board.  If I can do those things, surely the day-to-day challenges of life are manageable.

All in all, it’s been a very good year, and there’s a lot more to look forward to in the year to come.

Celebration

April 19, 2012 2 comments

One year ago today I took my first flying trapeze class, and today, I took my first swing out of safety lines.

I’ve been working towards this milestone for months, passing conditioning requirements, trampoline skills requirements, and trapeze safety requirements.  I’ve stressed about getting to it, very nearly cried about not getting there fast enough, and worried I’d be too scared to do it once I was allowed.  But then today the instructors watched my first turns, signed off on all the required forms, I took the bar without safety lines and flew – and it felt great.  Not scary, not stressful, just right.  Everything my body’s learned how to do over the last year I did today without thinking or worrying, and it was exhilarating.

Doing trapeze for the last year has changed how my body looks and how I relate to it.  I’m incredibly strong now, and getting stronger, and I have become so much more aware of and in control of my body’s movements.  I’m still not graceful (or flexible), by any means, but I’ve become connected to my body in a way I never expected to be.

Earning out of lines status is a big milestone, to be sure, but I expect I’ll look back on this as just the beginning of my trapeze journey.  Each time I learn a new trick, twist my body in a new way, or figure out how to tense a muscle I’d never known I had I get hooked all over again, and I know there’s a whole lot left to learn.

Oh. Of course.

March 13, 2012 1 comment

On top of my dramatic kids in crisis this year, I also have a sweet, incredibly bright boy who, although he lacks a diagnosis, is essentially a selective mute.  He is cripplingly anxious about anything that would draw attention to himself, especially attention from adults.  Despite this, he is in many ways incredibly well-adjusted.  When he does talk, it’s usually laughing and playing with peers, or excitedly whispering his ideas “to the universe.” (The phrase I’ve come up with to describe his habit of sharing his ideas out loud in a small group setting, yet freezing if it becomes clear I’m actually listening.)

So, at the beginning of the year this boy was one of my two kids who took on our school’s running program with a business-like focus.  He ran everyday, for all of recess.  But then, suddenly, he stopped.  I’ve encouraged him to run, asked him (and his best friend) why he doesn’t want to run anymore, but he’s steadfastly refused to start again.

Then today I was sorting out a tangled heap of the class’s motivation charm necklaces for the running program.  I saw that he had 4 charms and had already run 10 of the 13 laps he needed for the special 5th charm, the one that the P.E. teachers celebrate by taking your picture and posting it on a wall of fame in the hallway.

And…oh.  Of course.

He would HATE having his picture taken and posted in the hallway.  The entire experience of going down and interacting with the teacher for the picture would be miserable, and then kids would see his picture in the hallway every single day.  He’s a bright kid.  He knows what he doesn’t want, and even though he liked running, he NEEDS to go unnoticed.  Playing this hunch, I mentioned to him at dismissal that getting your picture taken is totally optional – you can decide if you want it, or if you want to skip it and just keep running.  While he didn’t say anything (of course), he did smile, which is WAY more feedback than I usually get from him.

As I am constantly realizing this year, the academics are such a small part of what I really do.  Knowing the kids and their emotions is the key to everything good that happens in the classroom.

Is he dead? Or alive? Or did somebody shot him?

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

As I think I’ve said here before, I’m so immersed in my (somewhat crazy) class it’s sometimes hard to remember what’s normal and what’s quite odd.  I had another one of those oh-wait-this-ISN’T-normal moments today when we visited our 3rd grade reading buddies to hear their reports on famous Americans.  My between-presentation conversation with a student:

“Miss R, did Helen Keller DIE?”

– Yes, but she lived a long time ago.  She died when she was very old.

“She did not get shot?”

– No, she was just old.

“Oh, okay.  Benjamin Franklin, is he, is he dead or alive?”

– He’s dead, but he lived a long time ago.  He was very old when he died, too.

“Okay.  But Martin Luther King, Jr., he was shot in a hotel.”

– Yes, he was.

“And Abraham Lincoln, too.  But he was shot in a theatre?  Did his wife get shot and died too?”

– No, just Abraham Lincoln.

“Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have a wife?  Did she get shot?”

…and the conversation went on and on, going through the death (by old age or gun shot) of every famous American the 3rd graders had presented (and their spouses).  I thought nothing of it because I literally have this conversation every day, about every single real-life figure I ever talk about in class.  In fact, I’d sat this particular child next to me for the presentations because I knew he’d be intensely curious about what had happened to each person and wouldn’t be able to hold the questions until we got back to our classroom (he was literally shaking from the effort of holding the questions to the end of each presentation).

While I thought nothing of it, I did glimpse the puzzled look from the 3rd grade teacher by our 4th or 5th “is he dead or alive? Or was he shot?” conversation.  I suppose not all teachers actively research the deaths of all people they mention in their classroom, or give daily thanks for being a good student of history throughout high school and college, but we get the kids we get and we do what we need to do.

This is one of those many aspects of my daily life I give little thought to until I see it from an outsider’s perspective, but then I wonder…what must they think?  To me this is one of the student’s most benign behaviors, but to others, I’m sure it seems bizarre.

A new normal (kind of)

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

After spending a few weeks in absolute crisis, my classroom is feeling calm and stable again.  It isn’t until I discuss my day with someone else, though, that I realize our room is not normal, and probably never will be.

For instance, describing this morning, I told a colleague “it’s been a good day.”  By this, I meant that we had a good morning meeting, the class calmly made their independent reading choices, got started right away, and didn’t interrupt me while I was teaching a good lesson to a guided reading group.  They had a great time “putting a poem in our heads” (memorizing a poem) during our first reading lesson, and did a great job on their second reading choices.

BUT.

This doesn’t take into account that when we came to morning meeting, one of the boys didn’t get his preferred spot and stood, sobbing, outside the circle.  Another boy shrieked randomly throughout every whole group meeting and lesson of the morning, sometimes throwing himself backwards and hitting the carpet repeatedly with his arms.  A third refused to do any reading choice, instead kicking a foam block around the room, saying “I don’t do NOTHING! It so BORING!”

All three boys are on behavior plans, have daily updates sent home, meet regularly with the counselor, have well-established relationships with me, both assistant principals, and other first-grade teachers, have been observed by the county behavior specialist, and are being jumped to high-level intervention committees.  And as crazy as their mornings sound, it is so much better than before.

And as crazy as their mornings sound, I would still prefer to have this class, hands down, than last year’s class.  This group is so bright, has such a (relatively) strong grasp of English, and they’re so curious and willing to explore with me.  Almost every one of our days is good, even when our days are awful.  And these three boys are tough, to be sure, but they’re genuinely good kids, and I have to believe we will eventually find a way to help them be happier.

Heated molecules

January 28, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a hard week. One of my boys is in total meltdown (the counselor, who adores him, says, “oh yeah, he’s a hot mess right now”), one is continuing his desperate search for attention, and their combined meltdowns seem to be upsetting the very delicate balance I had found with my emotionally fragile child.  When relatively stable and healthy, these three boys take about 40% of my attention.  With all three crashing and burning together, they’re taking about 98% of my attention.  This leaves 2% for the 13 other six- and seven-year-olds in the class.  They’re a good group of kids, but no group of six- and seven-year-olds is good enough to go through an entire school day – let alone a full week – with almost no guidance or attention, especially surrounded by three constant crises.

So the rest of my class is melting down.  I have not taught anything new this week.  The only teaching I managed to do – introducing them to Eleanor Roosevelt – I did with one of the boys in crisis sitting on my lap, hugging my arms tightly and rocking.  It’s a good thing I can spin dramatic, spur of the moment stories about historical figures, because I definitely didn’t have a hand available to hold the book we were supposed to read.  And I managed to spin this story while one of the other boys shrieked repeatedly from a corner of the classroom (the third, miraculously, sat quietly and raised his hands to ask attentive questions).

The only bright spot of this week is that it’s been so incredibly bad that I’ve finally gotten the attention of other people in the school and we’re finally moving forward aggressively to get these boys help.  No more “have you tried giving him more one-on-one attention?”  “Have you tried teaching him to take some deep breaths to calm down?”  Now we’re bringing in counselors, we’re bringing in parents and translators, we’re getting formal documentation and referrals submitted, and – thank god – we’re skipping the rest of the 30 committee meetings that each suggest six-week interventions before I can talk to the next committee and we’re moving straight to “we need to figure out a solution for this child and his family.”

For the first time this year, I’m feeling optimistic that we may be able to get help for my three boys.  I’m consumed with guilt, though, at how little attention and patience the rest of my class has been getting from me, and worried about if and how we’ll be able to reestablish a peaceful, supportive classroom community once these crises are dealt with.  And I am tired.  Thank goodness for the upcoming teacher workdays; I need some time to take a deep breath and figure out my next steps.

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