Weekend Work

For years I’ve listened to my dad debate whether or not to go into work on the weekends.  He works such long hours already, and yet, he is often pulled back on a quiet Sunday by the desire to “catch up” or maybe “get ahead.”

I always felt like he was doing too much, working too hard.  My contribution to the debate was consistently, “Appreciate your weekend–you’ll be back at work soon enough!”  I assumed, and not incorrectly, that working on the weekend wouldn’t mean less work during the week, and therefore I decided that it was not worth it.

In recent times, my perspective has changed.  Yes, I see incredible value in taking a break, and yes, I believe in making good use of the weekends for leisure, family, and friends.  I also definitely believe in putting a limit to work and simply deciding to stop even though the to-do list is never done.

But, more and more I find myself pulled into school on quiet Sunday afternoons.  I love the productivity that comes from having the building nearly or completely to myself.  I clean up without anyone making new messes, I organize without being interrupted and losing track of what I’m doing, I walk around my room, sift through my supplies, and brainstorm ideas.  I type up plans and print everything I’ll need for the week.  I lay out exactly what we’ll use on Monday morning, and then I leave everything in my classroom before going home for a school-free Sunday night.

Does the preparation mean that I spend less time at school or working on school during the week?  Not necessarily.  There’s always more to do.  But, spending Sunday afternoon at school does drastically change the quality of my work-time throughout the following week.  I start Monday without feeling rushed, flustered or overwhelmed.  I don’t have to worry about printers or copiers not working.  I spend more time talking to kids and their parents in the mornings and after school because I’m not focused on getting the nitty-gritty ready for the next day.  I can catch up with and help coworkers because my plans are already laid out.  I can better handle inevitable last-minute changes because I have plenty prepared, and it’s easy to rearrange when necessary.  The quantity of work-time doesn’t change, but the time becomes so much more pleasant.

It’s a careful balance.  I see how working on the weekend is a slippery slope toward not setting aside enough time for everything else that enriches and makes life what it is.  But working just enough gives me the peace of mind to appreciate and enjoy the small moments each day such that I am not completely burned out and longing for the next weekend by Tuesday.

So Pops, I feel ya.  Let’s just make sure to keep each other in check so that we stay on the better side of the balance.

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Curriculum Night

Last Thursday was Curriculum Night; parents were invited to come to the school sans their children at 5pm to hear from teachers about what is happening in the classrooms and why.  Powerpoints were standard, and logistics were thoroughly covered.

To add a bit of zest, of gusto, of oomph to my Curriculum Night conversation, I filmed each of my students sharing something they wanted to learn this year.  I started the evening with the parents by emphasizing that this year was about their children learning to learn and learning to love learning, that I wanted each of their children to feel curious, engaged, and empowered.  Then I showed the video.

Here’s the audio:

There were a lot of chuckles, a decent amount of “I could’ve predicted that!”s, and a lot of “What? Really? I didn’t know he was interested in that?”s.  Getting into the mind of your child was the evening’s continuing theme as I had parents try to identify their child’s “Who Am I?” riddle based on each child’s description of self.  There was a lot of misidentification: “Since when does he play soccer?”  “He thinks his family is big?!”  “I would have never found [my daughter’s] because she wrote that her skin was dark!  It’s not dark!”

A real highlight for me was talking about conflict resolution.  I hear a lot of reports back from parents that go something like this: “My son came home and said someone’s been touching his shoes,”  or “My daughter came home and said someone hit her.”  These are frustrating conversations because yes, I do my absolute best to make sure your child is happy, safe, and productive in school, but yes, conflicts arise.  On Curriculum Night, I emphasized that every parent in the room is working very hard to raise their child as someone who is kind, caring, helpful, and safe, and yet, none of our children will always behave exactly as we hoped.  I said that every child in our class will undoubtedly be on both the giving and receiving side of several conflicts throughout the year, and that I use those as opportunities to learn and grow.  I spoke about the goal being resolution, not punishment.  That even after a lot of anger and frustration, we all have to continue to live and get along in the classroom, so we all need to be able to move forward with fresh starts.  I gave some suggestions for ways that parents can empower their children to solve problems productively, and ways for parents to speak with their child about moving on after a conflict has been resolved.  I hope hope hope that all of the families in the room heard me, understood me, and will hang in their with me on this one.

We ended the night by sharing goals–this time it was the parents speaking about what they hoped their children would get out of the year.  The standard was “I want my child to be better at math, reading, and writing.”  Then there was “I want my child to be a great speller,” and “I want my child to have good handwriting.”  Those are examples of things I honestly don’t care much about, but that’s ok, they weren’t my goals.  Some other interesting ideas were, “I want my child to know when to play and when not to play, like to be able to use his on/off switch,” and “I want my child to know when not to follow the crowd and to be ok with that,” and “I want my child to be comfortable speaking with adults,” and “I want my child to love coming to school everyday.”  It’s powerful for parents to hear other parents share these goals, and I love hearing them too.

After all, we’re all on the same team here.  Team get better at lots of things, including being friends and collaborators.  Team get the most possible out of our year.

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A more abstract to-do list

The kids showed up at my classroom door exactly three weeks ago.  Some ran in and started jumping, spinning, and yelping.  Some cried and clung to their mothers’ legs.  Really, both were displays of the same emotions: anxiety, uncertainty, excitement.  Most everyone was overwhelmed, and we all have our defense mechanisms that kick into effect when feeling overwhelmed.  Myself included.  I don’t necessarily yelp or cling, but I do keep an unusually close eye on my clipboard, and I drink more water than typical.
In some ways, despite all of the newness and hype, those first few days are easy.  Long and exhausting, but also easy to plan and fill.  I know that within the first few hours kids need to know where the bathroom is, where the tissue is, where the pencils are, where the paper is, what to do if they have an idea to share, what to do if they feel upset, how to find a spot to sit on the carpet, how to find a spot to sit at a table, how to line up and move through the school, how to get their lunch from the cafeteria, and how to ask for help.  They also need to the know my name and at least a couple of their classmates’ names.  And that they’re expected to be safe.  And kind.  What exactly that means comes a bit later, but they need to know that it exists as an expectation right away.

Cram all of that into a daily schedule that also includes large volumes of singing, dancing, and playing, and it quickly becomes clear that there is plenty to accomplish at the beginining of the year.  Whether or not those things have been accomplished can essentially be determined with a my favorite tool: a to-do list.  I schedule in this here, that there, and suddenly there are a lot of checked boxes, the week passes, and we’re on to the next.

But now we’re a few weeks in, and the to-do list becomes more abstract.  We’ve learned names, we’ve used the bathroom plenty of times, and we’ve settled on a set of classroom agreements that we’ll all work towards.  Everyone knows where the pencils are, and everyone can explain how we’re supposed to sit on the carpet.

Now my to-do list items are more like “help everyone learn to manipulate small numbers,” “develop strong relationships with families,” and “show students that they are all authors.” Also: “make sure everyone learns to read.”  Much harder to check off.  Much more complicated.  Much more daunting.  Also much more exciting.  The oh right I’m here to ensure a productive year of growth and learning for these children feeling has returned.  Singing silly songs and sending everyone home smiling isn’t quite enough (though it’s still critical of course!).  Now we’re ready to dig in, and hopefully the fully-packed beginning and the continuing community-building will make the road all that much smoother as we move forward.

So: L’Shanah tovah u’mtukah!  May we all have a good and sweet and productive and engaging and exciting and challenging and loving new year!  Hopefully it will include some checked boxes, even if they are a bit more abstract to start.

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The grand battle

And we’re back.  Teachers opened the classroom doors on Thursday morning, took deep breaths, grumbled at the realization that summer vacation is over, smiled at the sight of their favorite resource books, and then grumbled some more when it became clear that the first staff meeting would begin in 10 minutes.

It was the start of the annual grand battle between Negative Nancy and Positive Polly, between Tired Tina and Refreshed Rita, between Over-done Olivia and Newly-minted Nelly.  Who will dominate the beginning of the year?  Who will crush and who will be crushed?  How long will it take for a winner to be determined?  Do I have any say in the matter?  If yes, how much say do I really have?

I’m trying to have a good bit, but when I say grand battle, I’m not overstating anything.  Teachers returned with a lot of different summer experiences, a lot of different ideas about this coming year, and a lot of different emotions about being back in the classroom.  Navigating the mix takes energy, determination, and persistence.  I could be pulled in any direction, and undoubtedly, Nancy, Tina, and Olivia will strike with vengeance.  But I don’t want them to be victorious.  I do have excitement, I do have plans and dreams.  I want to feel good stepping into the building each morning.  I want to feel motivated to take instructional risks, to attempt something complicated and untested. I want to be telling the truth in a week and a half when I say to twenty-four children that I’m glad we’re all together, that I’m glad to be starting a new year with them.

Therefore, I’m ready to partner with anyone willing to contribute to team Polly-Rita-Nelly.  The more support the better.  Together, we can prevail!

 

 

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I love coffee dates

I love coffee dates.  I can’t think of many more productive ways to use my time than to catch up with someone while sipping something delicious.  I feel so inspired after an hour or so of sitting across from a wonderful person at a bound-to-be shaky table.  Good ideas, funny stories, shared wallowing, and mental high fives abound.

Thanks to everyone who has joined me at a coffee shop recently.  Summer vacation is the best.

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On and off

When it comes to thinking about and planning for next year during this lovely period of summer vacation, I seem to function like a light switch.  There are two options.

On

Off

By that I mean this: Yesterday, I sat down and got a ton done.  I sketched out the entire year in 6-week blocks, thinking about big questions, big goals, and connections within each academic discipline.  I looked back through state standards and official curricula and aligned them with the blocks as well.  I brainstormed specific activities, potential visitors, and feasible field trips.  I was on.

But once I closed Microsoft Word for the night and set my school books aside, the feeling of being accomplished took over.  Now it is as if, at least temporarily, there is literally nothing else I can possibly do to be productive.  What’s next on the to-do list?  Who knows?!  How can I ever beat yesterday’s productivity?  I can’t.  Therefore, there’s no reason to even try.  I can’t bear the thought of planning anything else.  I am off.

I don’t seem to have one of those more modern transitional light switches that let you pick exactly how bright you want the bulbs to shine.  In fact, I’m not even sure how to control my simple on-off switch.  So, I’ll take the on moments I can get and relish in the off.

Cheers to summer!

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Blank stares

This year, I’m teaching summer school.  It’s the first time I’ve done it, and it has undoubtedly brought up some interesting reflections.  I have six students in my class, all who just finished first grade.  Going in, I thought “6 kids?! This will be pleasant and relaxing.  They’ll work independently, and I’ll rotate through working with each of them one-on-one.”

That sort of works.  But there’s a reason that these six kids are in summer school.  They aren’t ready to dive into a lot of independent work and push themselves to get their checklists done.  They struggle.  School has already, in their short experience, proven to be difficult for them.  That means that these six kids, 1/4 of a typical classroom, require far more planning and preparation than 1/4 of what I do throughout the year.  They each need a lot of support, a lot of encouragement, a lot of reminders, a lot of structure, and a lot of redirection.

Yesterday, we sat down to read a story together.  Midway through, I posed a question that required them to infer a bit about the characters.  No one responded.  Not one hand in the air.  I waited.  Still no one.  Blank stares.  I rephrased my question.  Still no response.

During the year, never do I ask a question and then have absolutely no one ready to participate.  There are always a few kids who want to speak all the time, and then most kids want to share their thoughts some of the time.  To have no one confident enough to speak up was a bit jarring.

While teaching, I often call on students who aren’t raising their hands.  I try to mix up who is speaking and who is listening.  I intentionally reach out to hear the thoughts of the students who hesitate to answer.  But probably, even though I do all of those things, these six kids far more often than not sit without participating.  They might not formulate their own opinions during class discussions, instead latching onto the ideas of others.  They might not think that when I ask a question, I am really asking them.

But now they’re in summer school, and it’s just the seven of us.  So, we will definitely all do some thinking, some listening, and some talking.

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