Thursday, May 14, 2015

Summer Slide

Inevitably conversations will begin to arise in teacher’s lounges across the country about how to avoid the summer slide. Brochures for summer school will be handed out and in some cases summer homework will be assigned. Teachers and parents alike will be worried about their children and students losing their hard earned progress from the soon to be ending school year. The summer slide will be on everyone’s mind and yet our focus may be on the wrong type of summer slide. 

As I walk the halls of school, I am already hearing the whispers and giggles about plans being made for a summer of camps and s'mores or vacations and parties. Kids are counting down the days to freedom and fun with their friends and family. I myself am looking forward to my annual road trip with just me and my sons. It is a time of bonding, fun and memory making that I cherish greatly. Yet, there are many students who are not taking part in these conversations and excitement about the end of the school year approaching. For them, the summer means something completely different. 

Rather than attending camps, some students will be at home caring for younger siblings because their parents are working or absent for other unknown reasons. Others will be forgoing any vacations because their parent(s) are barely able to survive paycheck to paycheck. Still others will be left to their own devices and roam the streets because there are no adults or family members around to care for them. Some of the students in our classes will go home to abusive or unloving homes with no joy or happiness. Even worse are those who don’t have a home at all to go home to. 

For these students, and many others, the countdown to the end of the school year is filled with fear and anxiety. For them, school is the best part of their day and often the bright spot in their life. They cherish every moment they are with their peers and caring teachers. The thought of taking  break from that is heart wrenching for some which often leads to misbehavior and acting out in the final days. 

With this in mind, don’t count down the last days of school. Instead, seek out those kids who you can see struggling to let go and fearing the unknown of summer. Support them and encourage them in anyway you can. Make plans to connect over the summer if even through an email or a postcard. For them the summer slide is not about a dip in reading scores but a drop in access to safety, security and love. 

Take a few minutes this summer and send that postcard or email to let them know you care and are looking forward to seeing them again in the fall. It may just be the thing to get them through their summer slide. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Teacher Appreciation

Teacher appreciation week is a great week to be a teacher. Lounges are filled with the smell of bagels and donuts supplied by thoughtful parents. Lunches are catered in and appreciative administrators pick up the tab. Students bring in treats and notes of thanks that never fail to bring smiles to teacher’s faces. Family members fill their social media walls with cute posters about how much they love teachers and support their work. It really is a great week and one I always look forward to. Yet, I wonder if there might be a better way to show appreciation for teachers in our country.

Instead of bringing in treats that add to our waistline, how about sending a letter to your state representatives asking for full funding for our schools? While sharing those cute posters about how much you love teachers on Facebook is nice, how about sharing something to raise aware about the absurdity of standardized testing? While I love the Starbucks gift cards as much as the next teacher, I would rather see that money used to fund a project for students on Donors Choose. Instead of the luncheons how about administrators do something to truly show their staff how appreciated they are?

While I love teacher appreciation week, I wonder if we as parents and community members can be doing more. This is not to say teachers are incapable of doing things themselves but they/we need help. Nor are they ungrateful for the gifts and nice comments and notes. Teachers work tirelessly to provide the best possible education for our students but it takes a village. We all need help with moving the needle of change in education to ensure our schools are the best possible learning environments they can be.  

I love my children’s teachers and my gratitude for the work they do will likely never be fully realized by them. Yes, my wife and I sent in treats and gifts. However, I also sent yet another letter to our state representatives asking for our schools to be fully funded and share content to raise awareness about school issues. I am donating to a Donor’s Choose project I believe will impact children in a deserving school. What will you do to show your children’s teachers how much you appreciate them and their work?

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Recently in my Language Arts class we watched a TED talk by a young man who was talking about hacked education. At the beginning of his TED talk he was discussing the question kid are always asked which is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Naturally kids will say things such as lawyer, doctor, fireman, policeman or some other occupation. Yet this young man said that the answer to that question should be pretty simple. When asked what you want to be when you grow up the answer should be, “happy”. I find this very interesting and refreshing that this young man answered the question in that way. I would hope anyone regardless of his or her age would have the same answer.

It then got me thinking about the work we do in schools and if we focus too much on college and career readiness and not enough on joy and happiness. We all know the crazy that we are in with testing and standards and all the other nonsense that we deal with as teachers. If I have one more meeting where we discuss the importance of data driven decisions, I just might toss the cookies. As any teacher knows, we don’t have control over much of what policy makers and local administrators demand we do. Many things we just have to get through and deal with as part of the job.

With that being said, we can take the approach of complaining about those things we can’t control or take advantage of those things we can. For starters, we have tremendous control over the activities we do in our class on a daily basis.  We also have nearly complete control over the environment of our class and how kids feel while they are with us. Most importantly, it is within our control how we interact and build relationships with students. With this in mind we truly can help a kid be happy or at least make a significant impact.

I try to think about my own children and how happy and joyful they are when they are at home. When my youngest entered first grade, his teacher asked what our goals for him were for the school year. My wife wanted to put something down about improving his reading and math skills. I convinced her to write on that sheet that our goal for our son was that he left first grade as happy and as excited about school as he was when he entered it. A teacher or a school should never extinguish kids’ joy and happiness about learning and life. Lighting and protecting that spark of joy and happiness should be every teacher’s goal for every student.

I wonder if we do enough to make kids happy or allow them to pursue learning that makes them happy. I am an advocate for choice, autonomy and passion driven learning and yet I am often a slave to the curriculum and the standards. There is only so much a teacher can do and yet many of the small things can help spread that joy and bring happiness to a child. For more kids than we willingly admit, school is the best part of their life. There is often little joy and happiness in their home lives. Yet, while they are with us at school we can do everything in our power to ensure it is a positive and joyful experience.

What are you doing to bring joy and happiness to the students in your school? Seriously…leave a comment and share as we can all use some joyful and happy stories.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Done With It

As a human we get frustrated with things and are often pushed to the point of declaring, “I’m done with it!” For me this often comes when I am trying to fix something around the house. There are only so many times I can electrocute myself trying to fix a ceiling fan before I say “I’m done with it!” and call in a professional. I am sure all of us can relate and think of a time where our frustration led us to tossing in the towel.

However, as teachers we don’t have that luxury when it comes to working with kids. Or at least we shouldn’t. Yet, I have heard teachers say, “I’m done with that kid.” Now, I will freely admit there are kids who have pushed me near my breaking point and tested my limits and patience to the extreme. Yet, I never give in or give up on that kid. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to at times. For sure, there are students for who it would be much easier to write off and be done with than engage and dig in.

It is much easier to say I am done with a kid’s lazy attitude than engage and learn about why they are lazy or disengaged. It would be simpler to say I am done with a kid because their parents are difficult to work with than it would be to work to bridge that gap and foster a relationship. My life would certainly be smoother if I said I am done with a kid who continually fails in school than trying to mentor, teach and guide them. There are literally hundreds and thousands of reasons we should and could say I am done with a particular student. Many of which might be justified and indeed legitimate. Yet, is that the right thing to do?

If we say we are done, it means we give up. If we give up on a kid, we lose and we fail. This is not the kind of failure we celebrate and think of it as a great learning moment. When we say we are done with a child, we have failed as a teacher. No matter what a student does or says, we have to be there. We have to be there for them for the sake of any potential future they might have. In far too many cases, we the teacher, are the only individual in their life who cares about them and wants them to succeed. Regardless of how many times a kid tries to force us to give up on them, we can’t. We must try and persevere and do everything we can to keep at it. When we think we have nothing more to give, we go further and give more. We do this because we never can truly know the impact we will have on their life and if tomorrow will be the day it finally clicks.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Their Moment

Every year in my school we run a 6th grade volleyball intramural. The kids compete with their homeroom classes during a season where their records are tabulated. It is really a fun competition and gets kids excited to compete for their home room teacher and bragging rights. The top 4 teams then play in a final four where the final match is played during the school day in front of the entire grade level. It is one of the highlights of the school year as the kids get really fired up to support one of the teams in the finals. For the kids that play in the final game, it is certainly a big deal to them. It is more so for the team that wins and is recognized in front of all of their peers. They even get a chance to play against the faculty in a fun game of volleyball. I can't help but think that for some of those students it is their moment; the moment where they truly shine. A moment they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Many of our students will never stand as valedictorian or be an all-conference athlete. They will not experience standing ovations during a concert or have their work published in the local paper. Some will, but most will not. However, their “moments” occur as seemingly insignificant events on any given day but stay with them a lifetime. While most of us would not think playing volleyball in front of a gym full of junior high kids is a big deal, for some kids it is an enormous deal.

I am confident that all of us can think back on our school days. Likely we reflect on our moments. Those times where it felt like we were on top of the world and everything was going our way. Some of us have more of those moments than others but I'm sure we can all name one time will the world seemed on our side and we were “IT”. As I think about this and those 6th graders that had their moment in front of their peers at school I wonder how we can help students have those moments.

I've always said that the smallest gesture or insignificant comment can stay with a kid for a lifetime. It is because of this that I'm always intentional and what I say and do around my students. However, I wonder if we can help kids experience a moment; a moment where they stand out and are truly special. Now I don't want that to be confused with the idea of every kid deserves a ribbon or a medal. I truly want every kid to be able to experience that moment or joy and success in a genuine manner. Every kid in our building has a talent or a skill. I just wonder if we do enough to allow those kids the opportunity to have that moment. The moment where all of their peers look to them and celebrate their actions. What are we doing to help kids have their moment?