Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Summer Isn't The Same For Every Kid

Every year around this time the collective cheers from students, parents, & teachers reach record decibel levels as another school year comes to a close.  Teachers are happy because they will finally get time to catch up. (Nope...they don’t have 10 weeks off like you think. That will be a different post!) Parents are thrilled because they can relax with some responsibilities for a bit. Students however have a whole new kind of joy. Reflecting back to my childhood, I remember the sheer elation that I had on the last day of school as I thought about 10 weeks of no school, no schedule, no nothing! The joy I felt was like Christmas, my birthday, and Halloween all rolled into one. Literally, as I type this my stomach is flipping with excitement at just the memory of the feeling. Oh, to feel that joy again. Admit it. You feel it too. You are thinking about pools, beaches, amusement parks, creeks, mountains, free time, etc. You want to have 10 weeks of unencumbered bliss where you can have all that fun and sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. Haha.. Too much sleep?? NEVER!

Wait… pause… something just happened… My brain… My heart…

You know what? Every kid didn’t grow up like me. I didn’t grow up like every kid. Every kid doesn’t have that same view of summer. Many of you may not have had that view of sumer. Every student doesn’t see summer as a time of freedom, a time of fun, a time to relax, a time to recharge, a time to “get away” from all that is school. In fact, many students are afraid of summer. I will never be able to unhear some of my previous students beg to stay at school with me because they thought that I lived there over the summer. Some of them cried...literal tears, not because they were gonna miss me, not because they wanted school work, not because the school lunches were so delicious, not because they couldn’t have P.E. in the yard near their residence, but because they knew what waited for them on the other side of the consistency of the daily school schedule. They knew what was coming was a time of isolation from their friends, of being away from the love of their teachers, of going without breakfast and lunch, of having nothing to do because their families have no money, of having to face fears, uncertainty, and the struggles of life that are dimmed by the happiness they receive from school.

I am a bit upset at myself, honestly. I have only been out the classroom full time for 2 years, and I was halfway into this blog post before I took time to remember them-- my kids, the ones I love like myself. The ones I still talk to on a weekly basis. The ones who need us to be their voice so someone will know their struggles. The ones who need us to love them no matter what. Sometime I write blogs for other people, but this one...this one is for me. I write this so I will never forget that my privileged perspective of summer isn’t what everyone is feeling this time of year. I hear you little boy A, little girl K, little boy M, and little girl S. Your tears and sadness weren't in vain. This teacher remembers you, your story, your fears. I am thinking of you now. I know it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine for you like it is for some. I will share your stories. I will continue to fight for you. Hang in there. I am coming to find you so we can do something fun this summer!

I must confess the intent of this post when I started writing was to talk about all the fun, free things that you could do this summer with your kids. I was gonna create a list of free and doable day trips. I planned to highlight libraries that are offering reading programs and businesses that have food specials during the week. I was going to list 10 reasons to avoid camps and over structured summers in favor of spending more quality time with your kids. I was in the process of conducting science experiments at home so I could tell you about fun things to try with your kids. I was planning to dig deep into my teacher brain and list lots of home ideas for learning experiences. Instead, my teacher heart pushed my brain aside and reminded me of those I became an educator for… the ones who need a teacher the most. Hopefully, I opened up your heart a little too.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Garbage Pail Kids, Silly Bandz, Fidget Spinners... Oh My!

When I was little, I loved Garbage Pail Kids.

I bought them every time I went to the gas station when we stopped to get my snack for school. I couldn't wait to tear open the pack and show them to my friends. Yes, they were a slight bit crude and tasteless, but I loved them! Everyone my age did. It was the “toy” to collect for quite a while. The highlight of every pack was that little stick of gum. I'm sure my teachers hated me and every other kid bringing those things to school. They were after all "sooooooo offensive" and most assuredly, a complete distraction to the rigorous learning I was supposed to be participating in. Imagine if the teachers had capitalized on those cards, allowing students to create our versions of them. What if Garbage Pail Kids were used to teach different ELA strategies? Personally, I think they would have made for a great lesson in supply and demand, marketing, advertising, etc. I digress. They missed out on a great learning opportunity. Instead, the cards were banned, marked as evil, and had no place in- well organized classrooms of desks in rows and worksheets in ready piles.

Fast forward to my classroom some 30 years later, and it wasn't Garbage Pail Kids that stormed my classroom, but Silly Bandz, Bey Blades, Tech Decks, and the almighty Hot Cheetos. We certainly can’t forget the great bottle flipping war that hit us all with such force that it shook us to our core.

With each of these fads, some districts, administrators, & teachers seemed to go into full on emergency preparedness mode as they drafted well thought out plans of attack to keep these education- killers out of the classroom. These "toys" have no place in the classroom. Only books and worksheets can teach you anything. Right? Along with a beautifully written lesson plan! I specifically remember hearing a school-wide announcement about the Silly Bandz ban and having to send  a note home to parents informing them of their banishment from the school.
Now that I think about it... how embarrassing that my 21st Century education delivery methods were threatened by a little piece of rubber shaped like an animal or super hero.

The same thing happened with Bey Blades. We labeled them dangerous and kids were told to never ever take them out of their bookbags. I will admit that I saw a kid get popped in the face with one, and there may have been some blood, but I've also seen kids stab themselves with pencils and eat the glue while making an art project, but we didn't put out a PSA about the dangers of pencils and glue in the classroom, nor did we ban them from the building. We simply developed strategies over time to teach children the correct use of tools. Kids do not come to school knowing proper math and science skills, but you don’t see us kicking those subjects out of the building do you?

This brings me to the latest weapon to launch its war against classroom learning... those dreaded fidget spinners. If you've lived under a rock and haven’t seen one in action, check them out here. According to Wikipedia, the spinners were invented in 1997 by an American woman named Catherine A. Hettinger, but only recently have they become popular amongst students.

Oh the stories and complaints I've heard from some educators. "These things are nightmare," exclaimed one teacher on Facebook. Another complained from her blog, "I'm just trying to do my job!" Another wrote that the fidget spinners were a “threat to America.” I'm sure she didn't mean a literal threat to our democracy, but that's quite a big statement to make nonetheless.
It seems appropriate here that I remind everyone that I'm not currently in the classroom for this latest battle between teachers and an evil toy, but as mentioned above, I did face the battle of Silly Bandz, the attack of the Bey Blades, and there was even a surprise resurgence of Pok√©mon cards while I was at the helm of the class. I do have a bit of expertise in fighting off all that would threaten our sacred educational norms. What norms? You know… kids should be sitting. In silence. Working. All day everyday. No exceptions. That's the only way they will learn. Ever. Anything that challenges those ideals must be stopped immediately. Thus, all the bans of fidget spinners and anything else that may take away from our talking all day.

As a professional development leader for teachers across the country, I’d like to help develop us all a bit in regard to our knee jerk reactions to situations in education. So often we overreact rather than capitalizing on teachable moments.  Think of the impact our perspectives have on learning and pedagogical best practice. Let's talk about the real reasons we want to ban these spinners (and other items like them).

  1. It's May. To every non-educator reading this, let me help you understand… May to teachers is akin to driving a long road with the fuel light lit. Teachers are tired. Our jobs are emotionally draining in a way the non-education world will never ever understand. 180 days with students can cause just about anything to drive you batty… Thus, Fidget Spinners equal death to teacher nerves.
  2. It's distracting teachers more than other students. End of course tests, state tests, district tests, permanent records, grades, report cards, IEP meetings, etc. etc. We are so busy this time of year, the last thing we need is one of those things spinning.
  3. Teachers are intimidated by them. For 180 days we try to hold the attention of your kids and here these little plastic spinny things have captivated them and taken them away from us. We are insulted, offended, and absolutely fed up. They must be banished!
  4. It challenges pedagogy. What? It is a fancy word that just means the way teachers approach their teaching. When non traditional educational items such as fidget spinners, Silly Bandz, iPads, robots, etc. make their way into classrooms, it scares some teachers because it forces them to examine their work closely. When technology began changing from overheads and film projectors to iPads and laptops, the same thing happened. Educators had all kinds of questions to ask themselves. Are lessons effectively meeting the needs of students using the art and science of teaching? Are lessons meaningful and relevant to the kids? Is the teaching delivered based on their interests rather than our personal likes? These spinners are challenging the traditional mindset. Chances are great that those who are the least effective in the art and science of teaching are the ones who are scared the most of things like spinners, funny shaped rubber bands, Cheetos, and ________ (whatever else may come next.)

I know that last point may ruffle some feathers, but pause for a moment and let’s reflect. My job is to help develop educators professionally. Development, often times, requires a good hard look in the mirror, and sometimes what we see isn’t what we want.

Rather than complaining on social media and banning everything fun from the buildings, here is what I think we should let the world see and hear from us as educators when one of these pop culture fads, like the spinners, invades our space.

A fantastic, super-duper, awesome educator would figure out how to connect these spinners to classroom learning experiences and make the most of the last few weeks of school.
  • They would Skype with the creators of spinners.
  • They would find websites, Youtube videos, and books to show their kids all about spinners.
  • They would find expert student spinners and use them to mentor those who couldn’t spin so well.
  • They would develop an inquiry-based learning unit on the who/what/where/when/why/how of spinners.
  • They would collaborate with other super-duper educators to create group projects based around spinners.
  • They would most certainly host a school wide “Fidget Spinner Day” in which all students would bring their spinners and spin all day.
    • Of course, this kind of day would require lots of extra work. They would first write a grant to guarantee funding to purchase spinners for all students.
    • They would create lesson plans to fill the day with math, science, social studies, and reading connections to the spinners.
    • They would work with the art teacher so that students could make drawings, sculptures, and paper mache´ spinners.
    • They would meet with the music teacher the week before to write a song about spinners.
    • They would go to the gym on their planning period to create a game all about spinners with the P.E. teacher.
    • They would make sure the library had lots of books available about things that spin, gravity, force and motion, Newton’s laws, etc.
    • They would ask parents to attend the day and spin with their kids.
    • They would contact local businesses and professionals to attend the day and share about how spinning objects may be part of a possible career path.
    • They would contact the local media asking them to highlight the event as an innovative day of learning on the evening news.
    • They would even email and phone local legislators to invite them to see the true power of an effective educator who does whatever it takes to teach students.
    • Before they left school they would upload pics from the day to the class blog, class website, and social media to show the world how awesome “Fidget Spinner Day” was.
    • When they finally made it home, they would think about every aspect of the day and immediately start making plans to make next year’s even bigger and better… of course maybe they’d do that after a tall glass of something red.

The next time May rolls around, and you’re distracted by all of the end of the year work, and some new fad tries to attack your classroom, think about the fantastic, super-duper, awesome educators, and choose your response wisely. Don’t overreact.