30 June 2012

A Day Destined to Create Nurturers of Children and Lovers of Literature

I happen to share my birthday with two other English teacher friends--only one of whom is still in the classroom.  Jana is a former student of mine and now a young and fabulous teacher at a local high school.  The title of today’s blog post comes from Jana in her comment to me on Facebook this morning. Cherry was a colleague and has been a mentor, of sorts, to me as I made a transition, even if it's temporary, out of the classroom.

This birthday morning, I awoke to greetings from family and friends and to read a new blog post at Edweek; this post links to Learning to Muse and has caused a flurry of online dialogue this morning among my colleagues and friends.  The post has also caused me to ask—am I lying to myself to think what I do now in public education matters because I am so passionate about teaching and learning? Is it a lie to tell myself if I still loved teaching I’d stay in the classroom “for the kids?”

A friend from graduate school, now an administrator in Georgia, asked: “I struggle, too…does it get any easier?”  My reply:  “I don’t know if it gets any easier.  In a way I hope not because I don’t ever want to stop loving the classroom, even if I’m not there and especially if I ever return.  My love of teaching inspires what I do daily and the input I provide to the field of public education. Tough, for sure.”

I had a telephone conversation and subsequent online conversation this week with another amazing English teacher who has been teaching for 20 years.  He said to me: “I will simply look at this as a delay…Someday soon!”

Another friend, who spent 5 years in the classroom before pursuing other interests, encouraged me by stating “while you may have stepped away from the classroom for a time, you have not left education.  Your work is vital, and its effects are far reaching—across many classrooms.”

Delicate balance.  After reading the Edweek post, another friend and colleague, who spent 27 years in the classroom, commented:  “We absolutely need the best teachers to remain in classrooms teaching our precious children.  But, don’t we also want the best teachers helping negotiate and mediate all of the mandates and dictates that are being imposed on districts/schools/classrooms/teachers/students?

An anonymous educator who retired in May at the top of her game commented on my blog: “The worst thing is for teachers to leave when everyone else knows s/he's ready. What next for me? God knows. But, at least I carry with me the joys and successes no one can take away from me. Leave before everyone wants you to go. Hard to find that kind of high" in the real world. Finding something half as satisfying will be a challenge. What a wonderful journey!”

Life’s great balancing act.  Indeed life is a journey and as I sign off to spend my birthday with my husband and sons, who just made me a delicious brunch, I’m grateful for family, friends, colleagues and others who are working daily to nurture children and create lovers of literature as I continue to do per my 8 year old son who gave me a Dr. Seuss inspired birthday card. 

24 June 2012

What a Liberal Arts Education Did For Me

 With all the talk about College and Career Readiness in our nation, I have been thinking  intentionally about my own college experience at a small liberal arts college in northeast Georgia.   My liberal arts education was not intended to train me for a specific job, nor did I even dream I would become a teacher until after I graduated.   A liberal arts education prepared me for life beyond the world of work because it taught me the benefits of lifelong learning and much more.

My values of tolerance, sympathy, and respect for others were enhanced in courses, internships and service learning projects where we studied cultures, people, humanity, literature, sciences, music, art, and philosophy.  At Piedmont College I learned to think critically and analytically, to communicate effectively, to solve problems, to collaborate, and to create--all integrated (not isolated) skills which are never obsolete; these skills allow me to thrive in an evolving global society.  These skills and the desire to continue learning enabled me to become a teacher who--

  • Established rapport with students
  • Engaged students in authentic learning opportunities
  • Employed effective instructional strategies
  • Empathized with students, parents, and colleagues
 Since I'm not currently in the classroom, these same skills--Critical thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Problem Solving, Communication and a desire for lifelong learning allow me to provide leadership and oversight of projects in education.

Sometimes I question myself and my choice for leaving the classroom, as I've blogged about previously, but colleagues and former students remind me of the possibility for impacting change in public education.  And, thanks to numerous esteemed colleagues, I am reminded that we need more lifelong learners making decisions.

17 June 2012

Thanks to my dad I enjoy learning through travel.

This Father’s Day I am contemplating my love of travel because my dad instilled this love within me.

Always on a tight budget growing up, our family still did not lack for travel.  Dad always found a way for us to explore various regions in the United States.  In fact, we not only traveled, we also resided in four different states in the first sixteen years of my life--Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida  (When I left for college, the family moved to North Carolina, where they still reside).  The whole family (6 of us) traveled to multiple other states, always by car, but we were continually looking for adventures to as far-away places as Mexico while traversing Arizona and the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Canada while driving through New York, Washington D.C., the White House, all the memorials, and the Iwo Jima motel (infamous story in our family), St. Louis and Houston to visit relatives,  see the sites and Disney World, Sea World and various beaches in Florida, in my birth state, the Great Lakes, and Mackinac Island.  Through all these adventures, my dad instilled in me an intense love of travel and, to this day, he loves to go, to see, and to experience learning through travel, and so do I.

What did I learn from my childhood traveling experiences?

To dream.  Dad is a dreamer, and his dreams are often realized because he works hard to achieve them.   I am a dreamer because dad is a dreamer and working to achieve dreams brings me satisfaction and enjoyment.   Many of my travel dreams have been realized, and I continue to dream of adventures and journeys I will have in my lifetime, adventures I will provide my children, and adventures my husband and I will have as we live our life-long journey together.

To keep a positive attitude.  Dad taught me to always look on the bright side of life when we traveled and when we were at home.   Even when life was sometimes tough financially growing up, dad always modeled a positive attitude by being grateful for our close family and by (forgive the cliché) turning sour situations into lemonade.  We still joke about the trip to Washington, D.C. when we ate fast food three times a day in an effort to keep travel inexpensive.  Boy, were we sick of McDonald’s!  But we had a positive attitude about the very fact that we were exploring new places and learning about our country.

My reflections and pondering in education frequently include musings on various in and out of state travel experiences because I enjoy traveling as much as I enjoy learning, and I believe you can learn through travel.  

10 June 2012

Ruminating on Aki Kurose and Seattle

Generally when I travel out of state for work, I fly in to the destination, spend time working and meeting with colleagues and fly out with little time for exploration.  Last week, however, my friend/colleague and I traveled to Seattle, Washington for work.  Since it was my first visit to Seattle, my friend decided to utilize her hotel points so we could arrive a day early and do some exploring. 

We visited many of the Seattle tourist spots including Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.  Still trying to keep our spending low, we skipped the ride to the top of the Space Needle and instead walked around the perimeter of the attraction, taking in many of the gardens and sculptures surrounding the Space Needle.

One of my favorite observations of the day was in a garden where we saw a stone with a quote by the late Seattle educator and peace activist, Aki Kurose.  “If you don’t have peace within yourself, learning cannot take place.”   Aki Kurose lived from 1925-1998.  Her rich life included time as a teenager in a Japanese internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but she learned not to harvest hatred toward the guards at the camp.  According to Jennifer Ott, writing for HistoryLink.org, Kurose spent much of her adult life teaching children and learning from children, and she became excited about what she learned from them.  This sounds to me like a woman whose work to embrace differences, create peace and promote justice is work from which we could all learn.

02 June 2012

Reflections from a trip to Washington D.C

A recent trip to Washington D.C. left me feeling thankful for the country in which I live.  The United States of America is a diverse place with a rich history of both acceptance and non-acceptance of people for who they are.  Though I am not proud of the parts of American society that produce hate or un-acceptance, I am thankful that I live in a place where diverse opportunities are available to average citizens like me.

During my K-12 schooling, I moved many times and never had a consistent schooling experience.  In fact, my high school counselor told me it was unlikely I would even graduate from college because I was on the “general education” track due to losing credits and having to re-earn credits over and over from state to state.  I never failed a course and never even earned a lower than average grade.  That counselor’s statement has been with me for over 20 years and actually became the impetus for me to not only graduate from college but to also obtain a Master’s degree.

I didn’t go to college with plans of being a teacher, but I did believe I would work with people because I like people.  I like learning from people.  I like that everyone has something different to bring to the table.  I especially like conversations. Conversations with teenagers were a driving force for me to pursue the field of education after earning my Bachelor’s degree in psychology.   Plus, I was adamant about being a resource for teens that needed support—I didn’t want any other teens to be told they had no hope of going to college, if they desired to go. 

No matter the school where I taught, there was always a common factor—teens who were waiting for adults to believe in them.  For the past 14 years, I have devoted my professional life to education.  With four diverse experiences under my belt, I continue to seek opportunities and challenges as an educator and learner.   If you are interested in learning more about how I’ve spent the past 14 years, feel free to check out my updated bio page (tab at top).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

(Note:  I have citizenry and government on my mind because I was in D.C. for a meeting of states to discuss the common social studies standards being developed)