Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Finding inspiration in the past

As I set my sights ahead on my new adventure as a Technology Integration Specialist, I can't help but look back on the past (partly because I'm remembering where I came from and adjusting for where I'm going, and partly because I'm cleaning through and trying to organize everything).  It's from this purging that I stumbled upon something I wrote during the summer a few years ago.  My principal, at the time, gave us homework that summer.  We were asked to write about our biggest success story from that year, and while I knew I was making a difference, I really had to ponder the assignment.  I haven't blogged in a while, and it might be cheating a little, but I thought I'd share my old assignment.  Here's what I discovered:

Choosing my success story was not an easy task, not because I don’t feel I make a difference in the lives of my students, but because I see them in such a different capacity than a “regular classroom teacher.” Throughout the course of a week, I have about 600 students pass through my doors, and throughout the course of a year, I’m lucky if I see each of those students 36 times. The opportunity to bond and connect is different from the traditional classroom. Of course, sharing in music allows for a natural bond that bridges some of the gaps created by our lack of time together. Still, it’s hard to quantify success in the music room, and although I know the research and believe in the importance of instilling a love and appreciation of music in our students, I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling that I am just a teacher’s conference period. What can I do to change a child’s life? Apparently, a lot.

Thinking over the course of the year, one student kept popping into my head. The story I’ve decided to share isn’t about a troublemaker in my classroom.  Her grades outside my room were usually pretty good. She was always attentive, and tried to do her best whenever I saw her. She was also in choir. She would come before AND after school. Although she was never “bad,” so to speak, when we would sing, she always seemed to have an exorbitant amount of energy (especially after school). She literally could not sit or stand still. She would hop and wiggle and move, even if we were just doing warm-ups or singing a ballad. She also liked to try and sneak up behind me when I was writing things on the board and “conduct” the group. Cute at first, but I’ll admit I sometimes got annoyed. I wanted the kids to be happy and excited, but this student was sometimes pushing my limits. I always attributed her excessive energy to the fact that the students had been in school all day, and this was just her way of releasing. I discovered the true necessity of choir to this student on her last day in my class. Unfortunately, by then, I couldn’t do anything to capitalize on my new enlightenment.

After choir one day, she came up to me and told me she would no longer be able to come to choir. I was surprised at first; I didn’t think she was being pulled for tutorial, and she was always one of the most excited students in my room. When I asked her why, she told me that CPS was coming to pick her sister and her up the next week and she would no longer be at Heritage. To think of her as an individual, I would have never guessed. I realized that in my room, this student was able to feel safe. When she said, “I love choir,” it wasn’t the same as when a little girl says, “I love pink.” She truly felt like my class was a haven. I provided her a place where she could be herself. She taught me a big lesson that day, but then again, isn’t it those success stories that normally teach us most.

I often times wondered if there was a reason for keeping choir going, especially as the year lagged on and more and more of my students were pulled for tutorial or baseball or whatever else. “Perhaps I’d be better off helping with tutorial or just going home at the end of the day,” I’d sometimes think. Until I realized the choir was so much more than just a group of kids singing. Music was (and is) my outlet, as it is for so many others. Although it’s not directly academic, music fulfills a need, one that will still be there long after the 3 “Rs” are gone. When I stop to think about the 5 most influential teachers in my education, at least 3 of them were music teachers. So why wouldn’t I make a difference? Sometimes it takes a special student to remind us just how important we are.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You never know what you've got...

I can hardly believe it's been over a month since I last walked through the doors of Heritage Elementary.  Much like the seven years I spent there, at times my last day seems like a lifetime ago, and at times, it feels like only yesterday.  Summer has a funny way of launching one into a time warp, one in which I've spent much time, myself, submerged in self reflection.

When I made the decision to move on, I had no idea it would affect me so much.  I was in denial about how many tears I would shed.  I should have guessed.  I mean, in my entire life, I have never been anywhere more than 4 or 5 years.  My own educational experience included 5 elementary schools.  Growing up, my family could be classified as somewhat nomadic, never staying in one place more than a year or two.  So the fact that I was part of the same community long enough to watch my first 5th graders become seniors in high school is a pretty big deal.  I was able to grow with families, and some of my students, I can remember their older brothers and sisters coming to me excited about their birth.

Of course, it wasn't just my students and their families that I watched grow.  I was so lucky to meet amazing educators who pushed me to become the teacher I am today.  I was one interview away from quitting teaching altogether when I stumbled upon the classified ad a week before school started in 2006.  I literally owe my career to this school.  While it is not perfect (no place is), I learned so much from the people who surrounded me for 7 years, and I made friendships that will last forever.

"Thank you" does not seem enough for all the well wishes and words of encouragement I've received since I announced I wasn't returning, not to mention the cards and cake...I didn't give much notice, and was overwhelmed by the sincere emotions shown to me from children, parents, and faculty. I assure you, these are things I will not soon forget, and at times when I doubt my abilities, I will remember the things shared with me in these final hours.

While I have thought and reflected upon these things daily, I have at the same time tried not to...not because I want to forget, and yet, you never know what you have until you don't have it anymore.  I know I will always be welcome, and I know that my next adventure will be wonderful in its own right.  Still, there are feelings of loss that I never imagined would be there.  So for any of my Heritage family stumbling upon this little ramble, please know you always have a special place in my heart, and trust me....I know what I have in you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I am a rock, I WAS an island...initial ISTE reflections

I can't believe that it's already been over a week since I sat at the Opening Ceremony for the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Convention.  At a point in my life when I’m at a crossroads and consumed by personal introspection, this conference could not have come at a more perfect time.  I have yet to intensely review my notes or read others’ ISTE blog reflections.  I want to make sure my initial insights are truly my own.  Of course, this is only phase one, and I am just beginning to peel back the layers of everything that has transpired in my head and heart over the last few weeks (both ISTE and nonISTE related).  As I review and reflect and defragment and discuss, I know these insights will continue to shape and grow, but I’ve got to start somewhere. So what did I learn (or relearn) at ISTE?  Here are my primary thoughts and ideas.

1)   I’m doing some things right!
Let’s start with the positive here.  I might not be making headlines with all my educational accolades, and I still have a ton to learn, but I’m on the right track.  While it was a technology conference, more importantly, ISTE was a conference about best teaching practices, and my feelings that we need to instill social skills and creativity back into our children isn’t some crazy, out-there idea.  What an amazing experience it was to be surrounding by like-minded educators, excited about teaching the whole child, not just state mandated bits and pieces when time permits.

2)  There’s room for improvement.
While I know this, I haven’t always taken every step necessary to make sure it happens.  In my music classroom, it was easier to defend creativity and the organic process of learning.  Even so, sometimes it’s hard to venture out of the security and comfort of doing things the way I’ve already done them, knowing that this will get me desired results.  But are they really desired results or just safe results- results that will pass, but that could be better?  How will this change as I try to make my way into general ed?  I have so much I need to learn.  In the past, the flood of fear and doubts has overcome and allowed me to push away true innovation and moments of genuine learning in my classroom, but that leads to the next thing I’ve been dealing with in my introspection, and an idea that was crystallized while at ISTE…

3)  If I expect my students to face their fear of failure, I’ve got to be willing to do the same.  I’ve always been a perfectionist, and sometimes, I fear trying something because I don’t know if it will turn out exactly the way I want it to (case and point-I’ve been writing and rewriting this post for the past 3 days…).  But what better model for my students than seeing me try, fail, try again, fail again, persevere, try again, and eventually succeed.  More and more, teachers are becoming a guide and a facilitator of learning, but we will never cease to be models of what we want our children to aspire to be.

4)  Regardless where I end up, as the new school year begins, I need to remember the excitement I’ve felt connecting and creating with other educators- the newfound joy of my voice.  If this 30-something is reviving and invigorating her learning through collaboration and being heard, just imagine how my students, who still naturally crave this kind of curiosity will feel being able to explore life in an open and collaborative classroom.

While I’ve still got so much left to learn, it’s okay because 1- I’m a life-long learner, and 2- I don’t have to do it alone.  Perhaps one of the main reasons it seems like ISTE was just yesterday is because of all the connections I’ve made and been able to foster even after leaving the convention center.  Despite the uncertainties of my future, I am so excited of the teacher and learner I am becoming.  And regardless of what challenges I might face, I can continue to be a rock, but I no longer have to be an island.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Life is like riding a bicycle; In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving."

And moving, I am, even if at a wobbly, just got my training wheels off kind of pace.  After seven years in the same position at the same school, I decided to change everything up.  When contracts were handed out, I didn't sign mine.  There were many tearful goodbyes at the end of the year when I made the announcement to my colleagues and students (I'm still defragmenting this part of my journey, and will write a more in depth account soon; I have come to realize how many people I truly have in my corner, and it's amazing feeling). So I'm on the hunt for a new job.

But I'm moving on, and making some significant and wonderful changes in my life.  I've been accepted to the Reading and Literacy Master's Program at UTSA.  I met with my advisor this week, and I'm incredibly excited to begin (if I could only get my crazy passphrase to work on ASAP....)

After discovering that my resignation from the district made me ineligible to teach GT Summer Camp, I also made a last minute decision to go to the Tech for Tots Conference in Galveston...one of the best decisions I've made in a long time(another reflection I need to stop and write about).  While I've been working hard to learn and incorporate technology in my classroom, all the while trying to help the teachers around me do the same, I still have that feeling that I'm on the cusp of something amazing that I can see, but I just can't quite grasp.  Tech for Tots opened my eyes to a whole new world.  I've been following some amazing people doing some amazing things, and those people are about to become my reality.

Because this week, I'm going to ISTE for the first time (again, thanks to not teaching summer school; guess the adage is true- everything DOES happen for a reason).  I have a feeling I'm about to be blown away.  I can sense that everything is going to fall into line, and I am so ready for the ride.  My bike is about to get blinged out with streamers and those cool noisemakers for your wheels.  I'll probably still wobble, but I'm about to look a lot cooler doing it (or nerdier, which, by the way, is making a comeback).  So first thing on my ISTE agenda- volunteer to stuff bags.  Here I go....