Try To Remember….


….the kind of September….

When I was a teacher. Try to remember the late August days that used to bring me anxiety, excitement, joy, a sense of purpose, lost sleep and far too many credit card charges at Michael’s Crafts.

I do remember.

I remember what it felt like to watch those precious days of summer begin to fade. I remember the excitement of facing a new school year.

I remember seeing my class list, and recognizing some of the names. I remember knowing some of the siblings of “my” kids. Knowing some of their parents. Recognizing the faces and thinking, “how can she be in fifth grade already?”

I miss those days. I miss them.

I miss the little heart flutters that used to come with printing out the tags to go in each hallway cubby. I miss the pleasure of opening up new boxes of clean, pure notebooks.  I miss throwing out the old broken crayons and replacing them with new, whole, optimistic replacements.

I miss the new books. The clean desks and shiny new pens.

I miss it.

I miss the long walks that I used to take in the week before school started, memorizing my list of students in alphabetical order. Walking, and reciting, and walking some more. “Adams, Bates, Cohen, Chevaliar, Dulakis…..”

I miss the first day of school, when I would look each child in the eye and tell them how nervous I was about meeting them. I’d tell them about waking up at night, worrying that they might not like me. I would laugh as I told them about picking out my first day of school outfit, and changing my mind five times before the first day.

I loved being a teacher. I loved the joy of taking a group of disparate souls and helping them to form a cohesive classroom unit.

Mostly I miss those completely unexpected moments when all 25 of us would break out in laughter.  I miss the hugs. I miss the snacks. The history lessons, the incredibly touching and surprising written words. I miss the smiles, the frowns, the pushing back against my “authority”.

I was a good teacher. I loved being with my students every day.

I wish that I hadn’t been pushed out of my classroom by an insecure and over controlling administrator.

I wish that this was that week when my stomach would fill with butterflies and my heart would skip some of its beats. I with that I was in my classroom, placing name tags on desks and getting ready to know and love and laugh with a whole new group of inspiring young people.

I remember what it felt like to come to the end of August knowing that you were about to enter a demanding and fulfilling September.

I remember.

And I’m sad.

I wish that I was one of those lucky teachers spending this week opening boxes of brand new markers.

I miss it.

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My old self……

Touching Our Lives


One of the things I loved best about teaching was knowing that I touched the lives of children, that I meant something important to some of them. After teaching for such a long time, I have had the enormous joy of hearing from former students who have grown up and who still remember our time together.

What I don’t think people realize, though, is just how deeply the kids impact and change the lives of their teachers. Good teachers care about their classes. We love our students. We laugh with them, grow with them, argue with them and hug them when one of us is sad.

That love and those memories stay with us at least as much as with the kids. Maybe even more.

And I know that this is a very improper thing to say, but some kids just stay with you more than others do.

For me, the kids who will always stay in my heart are the ones who struggled. Some struggled with learning disabilities. Some with hearing loss and language disorders. Some kids fought battles with depression and anxiety that made school a constant challenge. Some worked harder than any child should work just to keep their emotions and behaviors under control.

Many of my students became my heroes. Their willingness to grab their backpacks and come back day after day to the place of their greatest struggles was a constant inspiration to me. I knew kids who felt friendless and alone. But they still showed up, every single day, to try again.

I knew kids who expected perfection from themselves. When math came to them without effort, but writing felt beyond their abilities, I watched them swallow hard, blink back tears, and finish that story.

Those kids stay in my heart. They stay in my memory. I call on their example when I feel overwhelmed and unsure of myself.

Most of those kids have grown up and gone, and I can only remember them with fondness. With the miracle of social media, though, some of them have reached out and told me about their lives today. A few are friends who I get to see once in a while.

And some of them are gone. For some, the pressures of life were too much, and they chose to step away. They are still, every one of them, my heroes.

Some have been lost to accidents or to illness. For some the lifelong health struggles have finally come to an end.

They are still my heroes.

Dear parents of kids with extra needs and concerns, dear moms and dads of spirited kids and challenging kids and kids who push the teacher hard,

Please know that your kids are the kids who kept some of us coming in every day. Your kid was the one who made us throw up our fists and shout “Yes!!!!” when they finally finished that book report. Yours is the one who made us sneak into the bathroom to cry when he asked another kid to sit with him and was accepted. Your child is the one who made us think, “If she can keep going, so can I.”

Thank you, kids. Thank you, parents who trusted me with your kids.

You will all be a part of me for the rest of my life.

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This is how I saw myself sometimes…..

If I Carried a Gun


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I keep thinking about the idea of teachers carrying guns.

When the Newtown massacre happened, I was teaching fifth grade. Immediately after the horror of that day, the NRA and dozens of political leaders tossed out the idea of “arming teachers.”

Even now, five years after this stupidity was mentioned as an answer to school shootings, the idea continues to be thrown about.

There are so very many practical reasons why this is a completely idiotic idea, including impossibility of safely keeping a loaded gun in a room full of kids.

But one issue hasn’t been raised yet, and it is the biggest problem as far as I’m concerned.

It is the moral question of killing, even in defense of others.

What would happen to the spirit, the soul, the conscience of a teacher who successfully shot and killed another human being? How have so many come to believe that all there is to killing is pulling the trigger?

I was a pretty typical American public school teacher. I’m a mother, a wife, a grandmother. I loved my job because I loved being with children. I loved laughing with them, exciting their interests, forming relationships with each of them.

I have spent a lot of time imagining myself in an active shooter situation.

I try to imagine myself with a gun in my hand, knowing that my 24 students are cowering against the wall. Knowing that outside our door there is someone trying to kill us.

I imagine the door bursting open as I raise the gun, pulling the trigger, hitting the target.

I imagine the face of the young man in front of me exploding in a shower of blood and bone. I can hear the screams of the kids behind me as he collapses. I imagine watching him die in front of me.

What then?

What if he turned out to be a student I knew? Maybe one of the many struggling kids I had taught myself some years before? What if he was a former student at our school?

What if I knew his family?

Would I be expected to walk back into my classroom a day or a week later, ignoring the newly laid flooring where his brains and blood had damaged the carpet? Would I be expected to focus on my math lessons and recess and homework corrections?

What would I feel as I looked into the eyes of my young students? Students who had come to trust me? What would I be expected to say to them?

I would never be able to look at myself the same way. I’d never feel clean or whole again.

Oh, I know, the press would call me a hero, the survivors would cheer me, there would be articles in the paper and on and on.

But I would have been changed from a teacher to a killer. The very essence of my self would be smashed and reshaped into something unrecognizable to me or those who love me.

There may be times when it is reasonable to kill another human being outside of wartime. I don’t know.

But I do know that is deeply wrong for people to casually toss out the idea of “arming” civilians so that we can protect ourselves from each other.

It is morally wrong to lightly suggest that those who have not chosen to be members of the police or military could simply shoot to kill and then go back to teaching phonics.

I think we need to step back, away from the growing pile of weapons in front of us, and take a deep breath. We need to ask ourselves if we really believe that killing is anything other than a life changing, painful, horrific event for the killer.

Life is not a video game. None of us is Rambo. Causing the violent, ugly, bloody death of another human is not a joke. It’s not a part of life in civilized societies.

Where are our morals? What happened to our souls?

 

 

Here’s a Challenge


Donald J. Trump, the man whose “bone spurs” kept him out of the military, just told a room full of American governors that if he had been there, he would have run right into the school where bullets were ripping people apart. In fact, he said,

‘I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon’

What do I say about such an outrageously stupid comment? Most people move past their superhero fantasies by the time they reach High School. The proof of Trump’s arrested development and pathetic self-aggrandizing is part of my visceral reaction of disgust to these comments.

But more enraging to me is the fact that this overweight, out of shape, coddled, spoiled, rich brat of an old man can say anything he wants, because he will never, ever have to prove it.

On the other hand, if he sticks a gun into the hands of a classroom teacher, that teacher may very well have to prove their courage or die in the attempt.

What a pile of bloviating, steaming, fly infested bull shit.

So I have a challenge for Trump. I’ll issue the same one to Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch, those shameless apologist whores for the NRA.  All three of them have called for arming teachers in order to protect our students from the bullets being sprayed out by military weapons.

I challenge all three of these people to take up a gun themselves.

I challenge all three of them to take part in a simulated active shooter drill. They should carry a loaded gun in a classroom.  The classroom would be filled with real, live, active, bouncy, excitable children. Like most classrooms in this country, it would be overcrowded.

I’d put them in a sixth grade class, since sixth grade is halfway through our public school experience. The kids would have all of the real issues of real kids. ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, hearing loss, physical disabilities, crazy-out-of-control hormones, allergies, divorced parents, hunger, poverty, autism….You know. The regular public school classroom.

I would ask Loesch, LaPierre and Trump to teach math, science, literature, social interactions, civics and history to those kids for a few weeks. They would need to manage recess, lunch, homework corrections, testing, lesson planning, modification of the curriculum to meet the needs of each child.  You know, a regular public school teacher’s job.

At some point when they least expect it, the school should be fake attacked, with a bad guy breaking into the classroom.

Let’s see how well the three Stooges would do in countering an attack with an AR-15 (armed with blanks, of course! We wouldn’t want to hurt anyone!).

Is there anyone on earth who really thinks they would manage to calmly organize the kids, face the shooter and get off a shot? A killing shot?

I dare them.

I challenge them.

Let them try take on this challenge before they have the unmitigated gall to tell me that my daughter needs to carry loaded weapon in her classroom.

If they don’t, then they really need to shut the fuck up and find a REAL solution.

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Put up or shut up, you big fat jackass.

 

THIS is the kind of thing I’d like to see these idiots try.

Proof That Concealed Permit Holders Live In a Dream World

Oh, Those Kids Today


You know what I loved about teaching? It wasn’t the enormous salary or the fabulous overtime pay. It wasn’t the big clunky desk with the three stuck drawers, or the little bathroom that I shared with 25 other adults of both genders.

Nope.

I didn’t love teaching because the 14 meetings a week were so riveting or because the sound of the copy machine was music to my ears. It wasn’t the 15 minute lunches eaten at my desk or the joy of lugging 20 pound curriculum boxes up and down stairs.

None of that was what kept me teaching for three decades.

I loved teaching because there is nothing as exciting as watching children discover their inner power. I loved being in the presence of children who were learning to stretch their tender wings. Watching them learn to take risks, to open themselves to the possibility of failure, to push themselves to take on challenges that loomed so large in front of them…those were the moments that made me catch and hold my breath. Those were the moments that brought tears to my eyes.

 

Children grow, and stretch and carefully inch their way into adulthood. They do it with joy and fear and a constant sense of wonder. When you are in the presence of children, you are filled with the sense of the possible.

In the past week, I have watched hundreds of children turn their rage and their grief into powerful action. The young people of Parkland Florida have humbled me and brought me to tears over and over again. They are articulate, using the force of all that emotion to perfectly express what so many of us have been feeling for years.

They are unfiltered, because they are honest. They don’t know how to twist the truth of what they lived. They don’t try. They lived through their worst nightmares, and they are determined to make us understand what that was like for them.

They are powerful. They believe that they can change the world, so they will. They are still innocent enough to believe that there is justice in this country, so I will believe that for them. They have faith that there is honor in those who sit in our seats of power. But they are wise enough to know that if that honor doesn’t shine at this terrible moment, those seats can be taken away.

Like every one of the children I taught, these young people humble me.

The future belongs to them, and they are beginning to understand that. The students of Parkland, Florida, the students of my home state of Massachusetts, the students in Newtown Connecticut…all of them lift me up. They give me the courage to stand beside them, to keep on fighting, to speak truth to corrupt power.

Children are what keeps this very sad, discouraged old teacher lady going.

Kids today.

Thank the good Lord in Heaven for kids today.

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What I miss every day


 

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“Hand in that homework or else!”

I retired from teaching almost two years ago.

It wasn’t exactly a planned retirement. In fact, the decision came in mid May of my last year. It came after my evaluating administrator made it real clear that I was going to be rated as a bad teacher, even though for the previous 21 years I had only had great evaluations.

It came after the Principal at my school accidentally let it slip that I was on his short list of “old teachers who need to be eased out the door.”

The timing for me was good. My first child, my daughter, my teaching colleague, was due to deliver her first child. The problem of finding good childcare was on all of our minds.

When I realized that I was going to be the target of intense pressure to move my old fashioned ass out of our school, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to retire and take on the role of full time daycare provider for my new grandchild.

I made the move. The year ended. I left.

I took on the role of Nonni with love and joy and a huge sense of gratitude. I had never been able to be a stay at home Mom, and now I was able to give myself fully to the daily raising of a beloved child.

But.

I miss teaching. I miss it so much.

I was a good teacher. I was a teacher who connected with kids. I loved my job. I loved my students, so much. I loved their humor, their warmth, their vulnerability.

I remember so many kids who made me smile. Kids who only wanted to sit beside me. Kids who thrived because I greeted them in the morning and asked them how last night’s game had gone.

I loved their sassiness, the way that they challenged me. I remember kids who sat in front of me with tears in their eyes as they said, with shaky voices, “Yeah, but I disagree.”

I loved helping them find the best parts of themselves. I remember the shy children who lead the morning meeting. I remember the unpopular kids who directed our class plays. I remember the moments when the very cool kids independently reached out to the struggling kids.

Every night, I dream of school. Every night. I dream of teaching. I dream of my colleagues and my friends. I dream of rooms full of smiling kids.

Every night I dream that someone is trying to keep me out of my classroom. Or that it is my last day of teaching, and I have to say goodbye to the kids, but in every dream there is no real way for me to do that.

I dream that I am on the outside of school, looking in at kids I loved so much. I dream that I am a substitute teacher, but that no one one knows I’m a “real” teacher inside. I see myself on the edges of my old life. I feel myself sobbing as I say goodbye to a line of children I once knew.

I love my new life. I am happy to be at home with Ellie.

But, oh, man. I so miss read aloud. And birthday songs. And recess. I so miss those moments when the kids light up about a history lesson.

I miss the social connections. I miss the afternoon game. I miss the greetings. The math lessons. I miss the bursting out laughing with 24 people who all share the joke.

I was a good teacher.

It should have lasted longer.

 

Memories of a snowy school day


Happy snow day to everyone living in the Northeastern U.S. It’s been pouring down hard all day, and we’re enjoying time by the fire.

Of course, now that I’m retired from teaching, a snow day is a mixed blessing. I get the day all to myself…yay! But I get the day with no beautiful granddaughter…boo.

I was lying in bed this morning, watching the snow falling out my window. I was thinking back on past storms, past snowy memories. Thinking of the times I enjoyed the snow with my own kids and the kids in my classroom.

There is one particular school day memory that still makes me smile.

It had snowed hard the evening before, but the roads were clear by dawn, so school was open. It was the first significant snow of the winter, and everyone was talking about it when they arrived.

I was standing in my classroom, teaching math, I think. The kids were restless. Feet were tapping, pencils were being rolled on desks. They weren’t misbehaving, but their minds were clearly not on multiplying fractions. I tried to pep things up a bit with made up word problems using their names, but it didn’t help.

I caught one little boy sitting with his chin in his hand. His face was aimed at me, and he was sitting quietly in his seat. But his bright blue eyes kept cutting to the window.

I looked outside myself.

The sky was the same china blue as my student’s eyes. The sun was shining down on a scene of perfect, pristine, sparkling snow.

Our playground didn’t have a single footprint on it.

I glanced at the clock. Two hours until recess.

Without saying anything, I suddenly closed my math book and snapped off the Smartboard. The kids sat up straighter in surprise. Every eye was on me.

Were they in trouble? What was going on? Why would a fifth grade teacher suddenly stop teaching in the middle of a math lesson?

“OK, gang.” I said, reaching under my desk for my boots. “Get your coats and snow gear on, quickly. If we move fast, we can be the first ones to hit the playground.”

The sound and the sight of those 24 ten year olds bursting through the back doors and racing across the snow has stayed with me for the past 10 years, as clear as can be.

They were the embodiment of pure joy.

I just stood there in the sun, watching them jump and kick and roll in that perfect snow.

For a little while, I felt like the greatest teacher in the world. I felt like a hero.

I hope some of them remember that morning. I hope they remember what it felt like to let go and just give in to happiness.

I’m sure they all went on to eventually master fractions.

But I hope they remember that sometimes it’s important to drop the book and just get jump in the perfect snow.

 

We’re Cooking Now…..


IMG_20160706_151018I just finished a week of teaching a summer camp class called “Cooking Around The World.”

I got home two hours ago. I have already sobbed, taken a soak in the hot tub, washed a load of soaked/greasy/filthy/chocolate covered laundry, washed, dried and put away a load of dishes, eaten a plate of Chinese take out and had two glasses of wine.

My feet are up, the ice pack is on my lower back. It’s 7:45 and I’m struggling to stay awake.

Well. That was fun!

I had two groups of children, a morning class and an afternoon class. Each had 10 kids in it. They ranged in age from 5-12.

The day went something like this:

Arrive at 8:45, find 4 kids and 2 parents waiting in the classroom for the 9 AM class. Chat, smile, pull out apples, potatoes, onions, place on tables. Greet kids, get them seated, take attendance, get ready to explain the day’s recipes.

Smile through: “What are we making? Can I go first? What country is it going to be? Is there bacon? Why don’t we use more cheese? Do you like my stuffed dinosaur? Can we go out to play? When will this be over? I have to pee! Can I chop?”

Hold up hand, use old teacher tricks “If you can hear my voice, clap once.”

Explain the first course. Give out knives. VERY carefully. Explain the plan to fabulous, patient, kind high school volunteers and get them to supervise the potato chopping.

Run madly around the room for the next two hours chopping, mixing, helping kids to pour, mince, shred, slice, sautee and bake. Do the frying myself while looking over one shoulder to give instructions on making bread dough. Intersperse casual conversation with 4th grade future chef to yell, “Get off the chairs! No ice cubes in the oven, please!”

Smile through: “Why does it smell funny? Can I lick the spoon? My mother makes this better. When are we going outside? Can I eat the garlic? I have to pee. When can we eat?”

Finish the frying, wash another giant load of dishes and sweep the floor while the volunteers watch the kids outside. Get everyone seated, serve the food, smile, pat heads.

Start the clean up. Wash more dishes. Dry. Run across the room to put them in the dish pile.

Serve dessert. Make yummy noises. Smile. Send the kids outside again.

Wash dishes, tables, chairs, counters. Get out supplies for the afternoon class.

Call the class back in, smile, thank them. Explain why they can’t take home latkes for all their friends and relations.

Spend my lunch half hour desperately scrubbing, cleaning, putting out bowls, apples, potatoes, onions, knives.

Greet the kids. Repeat the entire process.

Do this for one full week.

Finally get to Friday afternoon and send the kids outside to play ten minutes early so I can clean the ovens, stoves, counters. Drag over the giant overstuffed trash cans that haven’t been emptied for a week and smell like Crap Around The World. Drop one on the top of my left foot. Hop around in circles, sniff back tears, debate about whether or not there’s enough time to put ice on it. Decide to wait on the ice and keep scrubbing. Wrap up last remaining onions, apple dumplings, pizza, chocobananas from the week. Clean out the fridge.

Call everyone in, thank them, greet the parents, limp up to the front door to say goodbye.

Kneel down to receive the world’s most heartfelt hug from the beautiful 5 year old who kisses my cheek and says with complete sincerity:

“I think you should come to our house. I can make you some fry bread.”

Wow. What a week!

 

A Teacher At Night


Oh, holy Lord…….

I remember that when I was teaching it often felt as if I spent 10 hours planning for 4 hours of teaching.

I remember feeling that the morning was like being on the runway. Getting ready to fly.

Thinking about the kids, planning how to group them. Picturing which kids would instantly succeed and which would struggle . Counting out the sets of cups, spoons, salt shakers, tins, dishes and hand lenses to arrange on the back table.

Thinking about the kids. Copying the checklists to match the lesson. Double checking the colored pencils.

Thinking about the kids. Making a list of vocabulary to give to the ELE students. Finding some pages of extension work for those who would finish quickly.

Just thinking about the kids.

And all that planning would find its fruition in the moment when the kids came through the door, smiling, frowning, teary, giggly, pale, ruddy, eager, shy…….They would appear and I would flip that internal switch to “on.” The day would begin, with me on stage, and I would coach, coax, encourage, stop, redirect, prompt, caution, cheer, lead, follow, observe, record and silently celebrate every students’ accomplishments.

I would be thinking about the kids.

And I remember that after the day was over, and the last child had gone home, I would spend hours filing, washing, emailing, copying, cutting, displaying, correcting, and planning for the next full day.

And thinking about the kids.

Now here I sit, more than halfway through a one week drama camp for little students. I am planning for tomorrow, checking my list of props, hanging up a reminder to bring my fan to our stifling upstairs classroom.

I am thinking about the kids. I have met them all, and have smiled at each one and made all of them laugh. I won’t ever get to know them, though; this is after all only one short week of 3 hour classes. By the time they put on their first day of school outfits, these children will have forgotten me.

Yet I sit here writing out plans for the morning, checking my online sources for ideas.

Thinking about the kids.

Wearing My Own Skin.


Guess what?

I was a teacher today!

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My old self……

Actually, I’m going to be a teacher every day for the next 2 weeks, and maybe for a couple more after that.

It isn’t really teaching teaching, because there is no curriculum or academic work. I don’t need to test anyone or keep careful records or anything. But it still felt good.

No. It felt great.

It felt like I had put on my own skin again and walked right back into my world.

In the district where I taught for 22 years, there is a fabulous summer program for elementary aged kids. The teachers run classes that we think would be fun and the schools advertise them in the spring.

One friend of mine is teaching “Sculpey charms” so she is spending the week with a small group of girls who are making art out of clay.

I’ve seen classes in “Wizarding”, “The Science of Building”, “Baking with Books” and even “On Broadway.” Its pure fun.

This week I am teaching “Improv Theater” and next week will be “Cooking Around the World.”

See? No state tests!

But here’s the funny thing. When I walked into the school building this morning and entered the classroom, I was swept right in my old familiar role. I became my old teacher self.

Without any effort at all, without even thinkings, I welcomed my group of five young children, smiled, laughed, and put them all at ease. I created a circle, set some expectations and we took off. The kids, I’m sure, thought that we were all playing games. They most likely thought of it as silliness and fun. Certainly not real school.

I coaxed a bit, I set some limits, I adapted as we went.

It was so easy and familiar. I felt like I was wearing my own skin.

There was no testing. There were no standards. No one was observing me or the kids.

But guess what?

I was a teacher today!

And that means that tonight, as I sit here and look forward to tomorrow, I can tell you this about “my” kids, with whom I spent 3 hours.

Two are more visual than auditory. One has auditory memory and sequencing concerns. One misses social cues because of internal distraction and because he hyperfocuses on small details. One struggles with nuances of language, but is quick to ask for clarification.

As a group, they do best with a lot of clear, frequent positive feedback and very concrete expectations and goals.  As a group, they will get the most out of the week of “fun” if I can gently coax each of them to take a few steps outside of their comfort zone.

I could go on, but I need to do some quick planning for the week, based on what I learned by observing and assessing today.

In an age of data, data and more data, isn’t it refreshing to see that a teacher can step right back into her old skin and do a real evaluation of student learning even without a bubble sheet?