Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thirty-four years. Thirty-four Christmases. Same house.

Waking up on Christmas morning and seeing all the presents under the tree, must be one of the single most exciting moments in a child's life. Well, that is if you are fortunate enough to have presents under the tree, a bed in which to wake up, or even a house in which to live. I, myself, have been blessed with that precious gift of a home, presents, and a family, all surrounding me on Christmas morning. I believe this has helped to shape the person I am today, and the thoughts that bounce around my head. This experience has made me a stronger teacher!

You see, during this Christmas Season I am probably experiencing something extremely rare in the world today. I'm getting ready to celebrate my thirty-fourth Christmas in-a-row at the same house in which I grew up. This indeed is a special experience for me, especially since the house in which I grew up is around 600 miles from my current home. It's like instant time travel. The bedroom. The bathroom. The living room. The basement (which isn't as scary now as I used to think it was). Of course, the icing on the cake would have to be the fact that both of my parents, after 45 years being together, are inside the house to help make it warm and inviting.

So what does this have to do with my teaching? Everything. I've finally realized that my parents have built a foundation for me that has kept me strong and encouraged. All the memories in this house - the good ones and the bad ones - have played a role in shaping me into the person I am today. I was recently named Teacher of the Year, and my mom flew from Erie, Pennsylvania to Atlanta, Ga to join me at the dinner in which I was invited. Having her there with me made sense. It was because of her, along with my father, and the rest of my loving family, that I could even be a teacher in the first place. They all have equally contributed to my success.

When I wake up in the morning on Christmas day, at about the same time I'm thanking the Lord for the true gift He has given us, I will also be thanking Him for my loving parents and family. I will be thanking Him for the wisdom and understanding He has bestowed upon me during this Christmas Season reflection - a time in which I am truly understanding the importance of a family, and the successes that result from one!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leadership Articles

I've been reading leadership articles for over a year now, and though these articles are basically intended for more of a business audience, I've found them to be quite useful and applicable to the teaching profession. The art of teaching can be broken down in the same way the art of leadership can be. A great leader has to possess the same qualities in which a great teacher does. The inspiration to look outside the teaching profession and education world for tips on becoming a better teacher and leader came to me about a year ago. Unfortunately, I don't have an exciting story that goes with this.

It wasn't like some great event caused my curiosity. I simply wanted to get better, and thought perhaps I could find some untapped resource that would assist me. Now when I say untapped, I mean with regards to the teaching profession and education world. Naturally, the articles I have been reading are well-known by business leaders around the world, but I wonder how many teachers are reading them. I almost feel like I'm doing something sneaky. I feel like I'm searching for a treasure that others don't even know about yet. I basically feel innovative. And in the teaching profession, whenever you feel innovative, it's a good thing!

When I'm done reading each article, I usually record the most useful information on a separate document. From time to time, I like to read back over what I have copied, and see how I can apply it to my teaching. I can proucdly say my teaching has gotten much stronger because of these articles. Hopefully I will be able to encourage other teachers to consider these articles as a resource. Maybe if I do a good enough job, they will want to know what my secret is. Then I will tell them...leaderhip articles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A True Test in Persuasion

I recently assigned a letter-writing task to my students. We were discussing persuasive writing and it just made sense to me to create an assignment that actually requred my students to be persuasive. Real-world applications are the new rage today (if you ask me). I mean, what sense does it make to create a writing assignment that is only shared between the student and me and noone else? No sense at all! So, in an attempt to truly challenge them, I presented the following task. They had to first find a picture of themselves with a family member when they were younger. Next they had to mail it to that family member and persuade them to write about their memory of that particular moment in time. Finally, they had to convince this family member to send the original letter, the picture, and what they wrote, to me, through the mail. This all had to be done by a designated time. I gave them an entire month to complete this assignment keeping in mind how long it takes to mail a letter and then have someone else turn around and mail it again.

Sound interesting yet? Wait, it gets better. Here is my favorite part. The student's entire grade relies solely on the response that I get in the mail. If the letter doesn't make it to me - they fail. If the letter doesn't have all of the contents inside - they lose points. If the letter is not descriptive enough - their grade will suffer. "That's not fair!" Was the typical reponse from my students. I had to reassure them that if I didn't get the letter in time it was their fault because they weren't persuasive enough to convince their family member to respond in a timely manner!

I created this assignment last year and decided to try it again this year in the hopes that it would help my students see how powerful their words are. You know just as much as I do, that people just don't write letters anymore. And the generation that misses it the most would be the grandmas and grandpas out there. That's why I recommended that my students write to their grandparents. I new it would mean so much to them to get an actual letter in the mail from their grandchild! Something even more special actually happened though during this assignment. As I read each letter, I learned more and more about experiences my students had during their younger years. Teachers only get to spend one year with their students, and often don't get the opportunity to hear about stories from their past. Each memory shared by an aunt or uncle, or grandma or grandpa, was heartfelt and quite sweet. The words on the pages ocassionally triggered my own personal memories of times spent with family when I was younger. And I'm proud to say that I even got emotional while reading many of the letters.

Yes, words are powerful indeed. And if you want to teach your students or children real-world lessons, give them real-world challenges. Trust me, they will rise to the challenge and learn something valuable at the same time!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unexpected Surprises

My Saturdays often consist of the usual things: errands, lunch dates, tennis, naps, laundry, grading papers, planning, working out, and much more. And though I try to somewhat organize and plan my days accordingly, I'm usually open to being sidetracked or deterred. Actually, my days turn out best when unexpected things happen.

It's funny how certain events in your life are a result of a chain reaction. Yesterday, what was supposed to be short visit with a friend, turned into an evening full of adventure and many laughs. And while my story could just end with that, because it was that good, there happens to be more. Let me explain.

I unexpectedly went out for dinner to a place in which I have never been before. And as I went to the restroom to wash my hands - not an unexpected surprise by the way - I bumped into a former student of mine. She is in her senior year of high school, and I taught her seven years ago in fifth grade. It's hard to truly explain what it's like bumping into a former student. I guess, if you're not a teacher, the best analogy would be the feeling you get bumping into an old, wonderful friend you did a favor for some time agao, and you haven't seen them since.

We shared some short conversation, and before I left she told me about a senior project she's working on, naturally I offered my assistance. A decision was also made - I could help her with the essays she will need to write for her college admissions, as well as any letters of recommendations she may need. This is why I love my job! These unexpected moments - more like surprises - motivate, inspire, and encourage me. They reassure me that I really can be a teacher for life for my students. I mean, how cool is it, that seven years after a student has sat in my class, I can still be a part of her life.

Being reunited with my former student was made possible because a short visit turned into an unexpected adventure. My day was simply awesome, and I have no doubt there will be many more to come. I can't wait to see what unexpected surprises await me today!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Teacher of the year...kind of like getting a hole-in-one!

I was recently selected to be my school's teacher of the year. And though I will make an honest effort to fully articulate and capture exactly what this means to me, I fear my words won't do my real feelings any justice. I suppose the best way to attempt this explanation would be by making an analogy.

My father, who is an awesome dad by the way, recently got a hole-in-one on a par three at a golf course where he has played for years. He was so excited! When we talked about it, we discussed how a hole-in-one is quite unique, and that most golfers will go an entire lifetime without ever experiencing one! Nonetheless, getting a hole-in-one is not impossible! I feel the same would hold true with being teacher of the year. It isn't impossible, yet many people will never experience it in their lifetime. Other professions don't really have this kind of recognition for their employees. I'm so proud to be the representative for all of the teachers at my school! I guess that's what I believe the role of teacher of the year is. I'm not the best teacher in the school; I'm just a strong representative for all the others.

How can I justify being selected for this great honor? (For myself, not for others) When I reflect back on my previous eleven years of teaching, I can honestly say I have enjoyed each and every moment. It may surprise many when I say there hasn't been a Monday when I didn't want to report to work. Sure, I've been tired and didn't necessarily want to get out of bed, but I've never dreaded coming in. Earlier in my career, more experienced teachers (old and washed up - just kidding) assured me that I would eventually get over my feelings of joy as I progressed in my career. Luckily, I've proven them wrong. Now, I do have a slight advantage. I'm single, have no children, no pets, and only have a plant to take care of at home, but I am involved in many things such as: teaching at my church, being a board member at a local theatre, performing improv at a local theatre, volunteering to do extra things at school, and other miscellaneous things. Most of my time does revolve around teaching in some way!

I'm sharing all of this with you because it supports my dedication to the profession. I hope to eventually teach teachers, and I really believe teaching is a beautiful mission in life.

I've had such joy in my heart knowing my peers have recognized my efforts, and this new title brings with it a drive to be better. Being teacher of the year is probably the second greatest honor I have ever experienced. The first one will always be the opportunity to change lives as a teacher.

So to close, I'll continue with the hole-in-one analogy by thanking all of the people who have helped me perfect my swing (teaching). Though I may never hit a hole-in-one again, I plan on swinging for the flag everytime. There's nothing wrong with even par!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Planning extra opportunity to show your students you care.

If you're a teacher, you are well aware of the value of your time. The average school day is packed with routines and unexpected, yet expected interruptions. In an attempt to keep teachers as sane as possible - a difficult feat in and of itself - we are awarded a well-deserved "break time". Technically the "break time" is referred to as "planning time". This "ideally" (I apologize for the repetitious use of quotation marks but feel they are necessary) is time used for planning instruction. What it ends up becoming is time for conferences with parents, meeting with the team about mandated information, going to the bathroom, dealing with a discipline issue that happened earlier, and the list goes on.

Now, I'm speaking based on my opinion, and I'm not exactly the most organized person in the world, but I think this holds true for most teachers. Though, as much as I could complain about not having enough time to plan, when I do have the time, the last thing I want to do is sit in my classroom and actually plan. Let me explain. In my school this time is called "connections" for the students. They go to Art, P.E., Band, Chorus, Health, and much more. Our connections teachers are awesome! They really challenge the students and create interesting projects for them to work on. I've found this out by poking my head in from time to time to see what they are doing. And because they are always doing cool things, I'm curious, and thus often spend more time observing.

What I've found happens in that time is quite extraordinary, yet very simple. The kids always seem to be proud to show me what they are working on, and, to be honest, so are the teachers! I even like to pitch in and help out when I visit. Recently, I spent my entire planning time visiting the different connections. I enjoyed short conversations with my fellow teachers and the students, and feel as though I built stronger relationships with both during the process.

When I returned to my classroom to prepare for my fifth period class that day, for a moment I felt as though I wasted my entire planning time. I then quickly reflected on my experience, which in turn put a smile on my face and a pleasant mood in my heart. And when my students filed in for class, I was motivated and inspired to provide them with an excellent experience. I guess I accomplished much more than I orginally thought! My planning time was spent showing my students I care, and in return, I reassured myself that I do!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Value in Spending Time with a Colleague

As a male teacher it is usually rare that you get to work with another male teacher on the same team. The teaching profession is, undoubtedly, inundated with females. Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad thing at all, but it does need to be mentioned to help my point. I'm lucky enough to work with another guy on my team, and if you ask me, that really makes a difference.  It's not like we are trash-talking others, being loud, and talkin' 'bout the ladies, it's more like we are able to share a similar perspective on teaching, and on life in general. The conversations we have are quite valuable, and there's a sense of unspoken accountability in the air.

In my school, there happens to be quite a few male teachers. We have a special bond, I would say, and that makes our working environment quite unique. Whenever the school talent show rolls around, you will surely see us spending more time together preparing for our skits. Though, that only happens once a year, and bumping into my fellow "male" teachers is sporadic at best - mostly consisting of a "hello" while passing by one another in the halls. Of course, I get to hang with my teammate daily, but I really do value the opportunity to hang with one of my colleagues after school.

I recently had that chance last week. Another colleague and I were able to meet for a coffee after school. This wasn't a collaborative meeting, a workshop, or a school-mandated function, it was just a couple of buddies chatting about life. And it may sound strange, but I feel like that time was more valuable to me, as an educator, than most workshops I attend. There is a special power, or value, in spending time with a colleague. There is so much gained when there are no expectations or formalities. I encourage more teachers to make the time to hang with their colleagues after work. It's amazing what can be accomplished!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It Would be Easier if a Recipe Existed

As a teacher I often end up working with students who have a variety of emotional baggage. It's important to always remember that most of them have nothing to do with their baggage - they have simply inherited it. Sometimes the baggage is a loss of a parent, divorce, poverty, abuse, neglect, a criminal past, and much more.

With each of the previously mentioned negative influences, different styles and methods are necessary in order to help and work with the student. I recognize that I need to be compassionate and understanding, and I need to "pick my battles," and though I'm aware of how the rules often need to be bent or "weakly" enforced, I fear that my other students aren't quite mature enough to recognize how the process works. For example, if I have a student who has a troubled past, and I see him with his head down, I may be a little less strict on him then I would with another student. Though I know much more about that student than the others do, what they see is either a student "getting away with breaking the rules", or even worse, a student who is being ignored by the teacher.

They don't quite prepare you in college for these experiences. And even if they did, I don't think young college kids could really appreciate and fully comprehend what is being shared. It would be much easier if a recipe existed! A cup of compassion, 1/4 cup of discipline, 1/2 cup of understanding, a pinch of humor, a dash of mentoring - mix it all together, and you have the recipe for success. You and I both know such a recipe doesn't exist, and I suppose, even if it did, like any other recipe, it wouldn't always turn out the same!

So I guess for now I will just do my best and always error on swalling my pride. I think most of the time it is a teacher's pride that gets in the way and causes confusion. I will do my best to show that I care (by actually caring of course) and letting them know that they have value, and that they matter. I will be quick to listen, slow to anger, and slow to speak. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

First Impressions

A new year has begun! With new students comes new worries, new joys, new stories, new emotions, new lessons, new ideas...and just about anything else you can imagine. It's amazing how quickly you learn their names and how quickly they become like family. They have so much to offer and so much energy bottled up inside just waiting to explode. I have found that most kids want discipline coupled with a challenge. They also want to be entertained and valued - both not easy to pull off.

The first week of a new school year is full of first impressions. You look the students over and observe their every move - the way they dress, the way they speak, the way they respond, they way they interact with others, and they way the listen. You can learn a lot by simply observing them. For example, I allowed the students to work in groups if they'd like and was immediately able to recognize who had friends in the class and who didn't. Greeting the kids at the door when they enter the classroom is another way to observe them. Some respond politely, while others simply ignore me. On a rare occasion I even have students who greet me before I have a chance to greet them. These moments are quite enjoyable.

First impressions can often be deceiving though. It doesn't take long to figure that out either. Like I always tell my students, make decisions about people based on what you see them doing, more than what you hear them saying. Empty promises are shared daily between people, and there is just no room for them in my classroom. I tell my students that I care about them and want this year to be like no other year they have ever had before. I follow that statement with a promise that I intend to show them throughout the year that this statement is true.

It will probably take a couple more weeks for me to have a chance to interact with all of my students in some way. Therefore I will be forming some more first impressions. I'm excited, and encouraged, and I hope to always remember that all kids share a common goal - wanting to feel valued and cared for. With this in mind, I don't think I can fail, and even better than that, I know I can make a difference.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I wonder if they think about me!

I just put together a collage of pictures from my summer travels thus far. I went to Walgreens and sat down for about 30minutes to place my favorite pictures onto one picture - a similar process people go through when they make their Christmas pictures nowadays. The next step will be to type up a summary of where the pictures were taken and what I experienced at each particular moment. And perhaps the most important, and time-consuming step, will be to place twenty-four of these pictures in individually addressed, stamped envelopes, to be sent to each of my homeroom students I just had in the 2010-2011 School Year.

This has become a tradition of mine that started about five years ago. All-in-all, it probably costs me about $25, and about 4-5 hours to complete the project. To me, it's a cheap investment to make in my students. Due to our increasing technology, very few people seem to be sending letters through the mail, and it's quickly becoming a lost art-form - almost like sitting at the table as a family to eat dinner.Therefore, I'd like to play my part in keeping it around. It definitely requires more time to do, and I feel the time I take is almost like a therapy as well as a bridge to the past.

The message I'm trying to convey is one that will hopefully show my students I think about them even when they are "technically" no longer my students. The summertime is a busy time, full of fun, travel, sleeping in, staying up late, etc, and I wonder if my students ever stop for a moment to think about what I'm doing. In their defense, I don't think I ever thought about my teachers when I was growing up! But then again, they never sent me anything in the mail about what they were doing over the summer!

Perhaps I will never know if they think about me - I'm sure they wouldn't admit it to their friends. It's probably about as cool as letting your parents pick out your first-day-of-school outfit for 7th grade! I suppose it doesn't really matter. Just as long as they realize that I think about them and I plan on being their teacher for life. And this simple collage of pictures and letter aim to be evidence of that.

Friday, June 24, 2011 that's a great treat!

One of my favorite experiences in life is bumping into students of mine outside of school. It doesn't matter if it's a former student or a currrent student, I enjoy seeing them nonetheless. It's even more enjoyable when it occurs in the summertime at an unlikely place! And that's just what happened to me two nights ago.

I went with some friends to Trivia night at a local sport's bar. I enjoy trivia, but wouldn't consider myself to be the greatest at answering the questions. Let's just say, when I offer a suggestion, the rest of the group quickly asks around to see what everyone else thinks! For some reason though, I actually answered the first four questions correctly - a personal best I might add. As excited as I was about that, my evening became a bit sweeter when I saw four former students sit down at a table across the room.

Bumping into former students is always an opportunity. First of all, I pride myself on the fact that I am quite successful in remembering their names (read my earlier post about the power in remembering a name). So just the mere fact that I call them by their names always seems to make them feel special. Second, it allows me to do something for them even though I'm no longer technically their teacher. I thought about paying for their meals, but then realized that might be a little too much. I quickly came to the conclusion that a dessert might be the way to go. And though the prices weren't too cheap for those either, I decided it was worth it. I saw it as an investment.

I called my waitress over, and told her what I wanted to do. When my students heard of my offer, they came over to my table and said hello. We talked for a moment, and they tried to talk me out of the dessert, but I continued to insist. My persistance paid off, and they agreed to split a dessert. Success!

It felt so good to see them and be able to take care of them, if even just in a simple way. I don't know who got the greater treat that night...them or me. For now, let's just say we were both impacted in a positive way. I look forward to my next encounter with a student! Who knows were it'll be!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Head Start

An idea came to me the other day. I was thinking about ways to get to know my students better, and to also get the parents more involved. I truly do want to be a "teacher for life" for my students, and that requires being a bit more unique or different compared to the other teachers with regards to the experience I provide for my students. To me, this means getting to know my students as much as I can throughout the year. For some, I won't really discover exactly who they are until the very end of the year - which may or may not be a good thing.

While reflecting on this in my head like a wet-behind-the-ears-ready-to-start-my-first-year-of-teaching-teacher, I got excited with the thought of  having my students' parents write short descriptions about their children's lives prior to the current school year. They could share their children's hopes, dreams, interests, etc. This would allow me a head start towards getting to know them. It would also allow me some great talking points and insights into who they are right away at the beginning of the year - which comes in handy when dealing with preteens who may not necessarily want to share about themselves infront of their classmates.

Now, I will have to be clear with the parents that this isn't a forum for them to share their child's strengths and weaknesses with regards to school; it will be more of a look into their personal journey so far in their lives. Yes, I am interested in their strengths and weaknesses in school, but those will become obvious after a few weeks worth of assignments; they are more of the external nature, and I'm looking for the out-of-school experiences that kids often fail to share.

So who knows what will happen, but I'm excited to find out. Maybe this will be the first time some of the parents have ever written down positive information about their children. And maybe, just maybe, they will experience the power of words - the power of their words.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What should I be teaching him?

In my last post I mentioned attending a former student's graduation party far from my home. Well, it just so happens that I also have some good friends who live in the same area. One of my friends is someone I grew up with and the other is an old high school classmate. Both of them have children, and they are both great fathers. I got into a discussion with my old high school buddy John about parenting. Though I don't have children of my own, I feel I do have something to share about parenting since I have interacted with over 1000 children in my life so far as a teacher.

His son is one and a half years old, and he was wondering how much he could actually be teaching him now in his life. I read somewhere that children learn more during ages 0-2 than they do in any other stage of their lives. That being said, I've also learned that you shouldn't try to force too much on them since they may not be developmentally ready yet. We discussed the importance of teaching his son the names of different household items, colors, numbers, etc. when the opportunities arise. Also we talked about how it is good to play matching games and other games where learning can occur. But most importantly we decided that loving his son and making sure that all of his essential needs are being met, is perhaps the best way to be teaching him at this time. The ultimate lesson he needs to teach his son is that he is loved!

And that got me thinking. Our discussion made me reflect on how I should be teaching my own students. I need to make sure there needs are being met, they are feeling loved or cared for, and I am not trying to teach them lessons they are not developmentally ready for. Now, I may not be able to completely provide students with the love and affection they need in their lives, but I can at least show them I care. The hard part is figuring out the balance. I want to challenge my students, but I don't want to push them beyond what they are capable of. I suppose the same holds true for parenting, though parents have a much more intimate and complete relationship with their children. This relationship allows them to really know the talents and abilities their children have. I only see my students for about an hour, five times a week, so I am a bit limited.

Nonetheless, I hope to start the next school year by learning what needs of my students are not being met. And then, I will need to aggressively figure out what I can do for them - all of them! I believe this will build a trust, and it will ultimately show my students I really do care!  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Special Graduation Party Far From Home

In a few hours I will be celebrating a very special graduation far from my home. The graduate is one of my former students. I taught her in 5th grade and she is now graduating high school. She moved to Florida several years ago, but I've been fortunate enough to remain in touch with her and her family. It makes me proud to spend this day celebrating with her!

Unless you are a high school teacher, you rarely get to attend the high school graduations and graduation parties of your former students. And if you teach in the elementary grades it seems even more unlikely. And if your students move away, you can go ahead and mulitply that unlikeliness. But well before I started my first year of teaching, I quickly and boldly decided that I didn't want to be like every other teacher. This would require finding a way to remain in my students' lives forever. Yes...that's right...forever. For most, that is a tall order, but I gladly accept the challenge.

So on this day today, June 12th, 2011, I will be raising my glass to a young lady who once sat in my classroom many years ago, but will forever remain one of my students.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Power of Remembering a Name

So there I was, sitting outside of Starbucks, with a friend, enjoying a nice evening breeze, fun conversation, and of course my coffee. Fellow Starbucks' patrons surrounded me and constantly walked in and out. And then, a young lady with a familiar face walked by. We didn't make eye contact, but my "teacher" mind instantly went into "I think I taught her several years ago" mode. This happens to me quite regularly, and frankly, I embrace the challenge. I've always prided myself on the fact that I can remember my former students' names regardless of how long ago I've taught them. It was easier at the beginning of my career, but now, after eleven years, and over one thousand students, it has become a bit more of a challenge. And though I struggled at first recalling her name, it came to me after about ten minutes.

Thankfully, she came outside with her friend, and I greeted her by saying her name - not just her first, but her entire name. I could tell she was impressed. After catching up for a bit, we realized it had been over nine years since we saw eachother last. As the evening progressed, I learned more and more about her, and thus became more and more proud to have played a small role in her life. She spoke of her hopes and dreams, as well as times remembered from my class. It was a joyful moment that inspired me even more to appreciate the value in remembering another person's name.

Yes, I believe we still would have had a nice chat if I didn't remember her name. But that simple, little thing, I believe was very powerful, and showed her that she had value in my eyes. She was more than just a face that looked familiar to me. She had a name, and there's power in recognizing that.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Great Tradition

Today, because it's summer, I continued a long-standing tradition I started about eleven years ago. It's not that complex; it's actually quite simple. It involves a trip to Barnes & Noble, and the purchase of a book. It can't just be any ordinary book though, it has to be something in the field of education. I actually prefer books that share individual stories about teachers making a difference. I do this mainly to stay motivated and inspired over the summer. I love reading the stories about real teachers and thinking to myself, "Hey, this could be me!" I am proud to say that I've kept this tradition running since I finished my first year of teaching. I have made it almost like a hobby. It's fun for me to search for new books on the bookshelves. It's getting harder and harder though because I have purchased so many!

Today the two books I purchased were: Tales from the Teachers' Lounge by Robert Wilder and Fires in the Mind: What kids can tell us about motivation and mastery By Kathleen Cushman. I'm looking forward to reading both of these books, and hopefully I will pick up a few tips for the next school year. I believe wholeheartedly that teachers should constantly look for motivation and inspiration.

Something else has happened during this tradition that really excites me. I've shifted from being a reader to being a writer. Reading all of these different books has inspired me to want to write one of my own. I guess after eleven years of teaching I've logged some great experiences and stories that might just be valuable for others to hear. And shouldn't that be the ultimate goal for a teacher! Create something good, something worthwhile, and share if with others so the process will continue for many others. The catch phrase nowadays is Pay It Forward. The book I am currently working on seems new and innovative, and I haven't seen anything like it on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or anywhere else. Perhaps one day someone will be inspired by my words!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Great Timing

On the last day of school, when I finally finished packing up my things, I sat down at my desk to go through some emails. I was pleasantly surprised to see an email from one of my former students. She is now in high school. This is what she wrote:

I was reminiscing the other day about some of my favorite teachers I've ever had. I simply want to thank you for making a difference in my academic life. You care about your students more than any other teacher I have ever known, and having you twice was definitely great.
In seventh grade, doing YCMAD made me feel like a good person. That year I went into a rough part of Atlanta with some church friends and passed out food to the needy. I decided to do something charitable recently. My sister, dad, and I donated about twenty pieces of clothing each to the various states affected by tornados. Honestly, I wouldn't have thought about it if you hadn't assigned YCMAD two -going on three- years ago.
You, sir, have definitely made a difference. Thank you for being a fantastic teacher.

Have a good summer!

Wow! What an amazing email to receive at the end of the year! Her words were so powerful, and helped me realize that some of the kids really are inspired by what I say and do. I love my job!

Friday, June 3, 2011

All I Had To Do Was Show Up

Last night I attended a 3 hour dance recital in downtown Atlanta. It was simply a perfect evening! I went to watch two students I just recently had in my classroom this year. I was so proud of them! I was surrounded by proud parents and family members of the dancers. I sat alongside another teacher I work with and one of the student's parents. Though the evening was quite long, I was reassured why it was worth it when my student's mom said over and over again how thankful she was that we were there. Even more confirmation came after the show when I saw the joy on my students' faces while we took pictures on the stage.

All I had to do was show up! I didn't bring a gift. I didn't even have to buy a ticket to attend the performance. What a great gift anyone can give to another person - just be there for them. Though both of my students had family in the audience, I can't help but think their evening was a bit more special because I was there. And though I don't have children of my own, I'm sure I felt just as proud as a parent probably does.

To make the evening even more rewarding, I also got to see several former students perform. There were students I taught last year, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, and even one I taught six years ago! Being able to see them again and talk to them again was simply amazing!

When driving home after the show, I had the opportunity to reflect on the evening with my teammate Daniel. He is a first-year teacher, and this is the first time he was able to attend an extra-curricular event of a student. I'm excited for him to have had this opportunity. I could tell the evening was just as special for him!

What a great evening!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Words Are Powerful

This is my very first blog, and it brings me great joy to have the opportunity to share my words with the rest of the world. I am a teacher, and I believe words are powerful. In fact, for the entire 2010-2011 school year, I told my students just that..."Words are Powerful!" I used this phrase in an attempt to rally my students around the concept that their words are powerful, and that they can make a difference when they use them correctly. This realization, I hoped, would get them excited about learning the English language more in depth. I don't know what your experiences with English were, but most people seem to turn their noses up when they think about theirs!

This blog will consist of a collection of my experiences with how words are powerful in my life and in my classroom. I will share activities I do with my students to help them see how their words can make a difference. I will also attempt to support how I believe it's vital to stay connected to all of my students even when they leave my classroom at the end of the year. Afterall, I consider myself to be a teacher for life! Once my students have sat in my classroom, and have shared a piece of themselves with me and I with them, we will forever be connected.