Sharing my classroom and creating a learning community for EVERY kid – #SOL Day 4

I like to share.  I don’t have control issues.  But, when it comes to my classroom, I don’t like to share and I do have control issues.  I work on a three-person team, but we have never taught the kids as a team.  I would be more than willing to work together with the kids, but my teammates are not interested.  They are willing to do community building activities with the kids, which is ironic because we don’t teach/learn as a community, but they aren’t willing to do any PBL or inquiry projects connected to the curriculum.

In my nineteen years of teaching, I have only worked successfully with one teacher.  We worked on a team and did many PBL projects with the students, but the third teacher was not interested.  Unfortunately (for me, not the teacher), the teacher retired three years ago and I was left on an island again.  This wouldn’t bother me, but being a sixth grade teacher, there are so many learning opportunities (correlating science and math or history and ELA or all of the core subjects) that we could do with the kids, and I believe that they would have success.

Two years ago, I was scheduled to teach the Consultant-Teacher-Direct class with a sixth grade special education teacher.  I have known the teacher since I was in high school, but before a few years ago, I did not know her very well.  What I knew?  She worked hard.  She worked well with the kids.  She had experience at the elementary school level.  And she seemed to enjoy teaching.  Even with all of this, I was very nervous about having her come into my classroom.  For our middle school, this was the first time we were trying this model, and I could not stop thinking: Will we be able to make this work?  Will the kids in my classroom have success?  Will I be able to work with her and get along?

Well, after almost two years, which included a pandemic, the answer is, “Yes, yes, yes.”  Not only have we made it work, but the kids are finding success in our (no longer “my”) classroom.  How do I know that they are finding success?  They are turning into readers (not just because we want them to read, but because they want to read) and they are sharpening their writing skills, which is amazing because teaching writing in a hybrid/remote learning environment is almost impossible.  Most importantly, we work together better than I ever imagined.  We constantly talk pedagogy, reading and writing strategies to utilize with the kids, and the modifications that need to be made to lessons and activities so ALL of the kids find success.  For me, this is unusual because most teachers just want to talk about personal issues when they are not teaching kids.  We talk “school” at school and away from school.  Our students are so lucky to have two dedicated teachers.  I feel lucky to have this (especially this year).

She is the second best teacher that I have EVER worked with.  Her knowledge of special education is outstanding and her strategies that she shares with me and utilizes are effective.  We (not “me” anymore) have created a learning environment where EVERY kid is learning and growing as readers and writers.

This leads me to yesterday afternoon and my letter to the building principal.  I wrote to him asking for one more year with the CTD ELA class.  We have accomplished so much during a pandemic that I want one more year (or more) to utilize all of the lessons, activities, units, and modifications that we have created and used over the last two years.  I know that we will have new kids and new challenges, but I also know that we will do everything that we can to help ALL of them find success with reading and writing.  I’m getting better at sharing my classroom (thanks to this teacher), which is our classroom.  And, I’m even getting used to giving up some control in our classroom for the benefit of OUR students.

No longer will I be cold, wet, and annoyed – #SOLSC Day 3

Before reading this, I hope that you won’t think of me as a bad parent or bad father.  I love my children.  I am so proud of them.  To my family (mother, father, and sister), I brag about them a little, but in public, I don’t like to brag about them.  We joke about it and they state that it would be strange if I did brag about them.:)  Most of the parents we know are constantly posting on Facebook and talking about how good their kids are at everything they do, especially sports.  I don’t post anything on Facebook, and honestly, I don’t even love standing in the wind, cold, and rain to watch them play.  And, I know that they will share everything about the game or meet with me on the ride home or at McDonalds after a big game/meet.

So, with this written, I have to share the best thing about the COVID-19 protocols and regulations.  During the fall, my son played high school soccer and only two people could attend the game from each family, but the best part was that all of the games were televised on YouTube, Facebook, or through the school district’s athletic department website.  My daughter runs cross country and they even had live coverage of the meets (no audience was allowed at any meet).  It was awesome.  When I go to games, being a coach (of girls lacrosse), I stand along the fence very far from the stands or the finish line.  I am so impatient with adults/parents that yell at their kid and other kids from the stands.  I get so frustrated listening to the adults/parents belittling the head coach or the other team.  On top of it all is that it is rainy and cold in Central New York in late September, October, and November.  No more of this.

Because my son is a sophomore, I gave away my tickets to senior parents (so friends and grandparents could attend).  I gave them to my younger daughter who loves watching her big brother play.  I sat in my warm house with my iPad hooked up to the television and watched almost every soccer game and cross country meet.  It was beautiful.  I only sat outside for three games all season.  My parents, who were nervous about going out into public too much, could watch the games at home.  My sister and nephews, who live in Maryland, could watch the games.  It was awesome.

Well, they are now doing it for the basketball season because people are not allowed into the gyms to watch the games.  He’s not very good at basketball, so I can be home half watching and doing other things.  I am really hoping that they keep it going for the lacrosse season, but my dream is that when they allow people back to the stadiums and gyms to watch high school sports, they will keep the cameras rolling so that I can watch from home.  With my 8th grade daughter getting ready to attend the high school and play fall sports, I will have to set up another television, but I will never be cold, wet and annoyed again.

Green Beer Sunday – #SOLSC Day 2

Tipperary Hill, which is located in the western part of the city of Syracuse, is an Irish neighborhood known for the upside down traffic light and the bars/restaurants.  The most famous bar/restaurant (not just in New York, but also the northeast) serves green beer three weekends before St. Patrick’s Day.  They have been serving green beer for over fifty years.

Back in March of 1994, I attended my first Green Beer Sunday.  There was a parade and wall to wall people in the bar.  There was food, music, and of course, green beer, which is Coors Light (or some light beer) with food coloring.  I would attend six straight Green Beer Sundays and all of them would be memorable (at least the parts I could remember).

Flash to 2021.  My oldest daughter would be working her first Green Beer Sunday as a hostess at the bar/restaurant.  She is a high school junior, so this was going to be a memorable day for her.  With the COVID-19 protocols, the bar capacity was very limited (sold out in twenty minutes), there was no band and no parade, but there was still a line at the door and still die-hard partiers (mostly young like I was).  She was going to spend the late morning and all afternoon working at the door, and I could not wait for her to get home, so I could ask her questions about her time working at her first Green Beer Sunday.

I waited by the side door for her to get home.  Of course, when she walked in the door she said that she needed time to unwind (lots of 17-year-old drama), but within minutes, I had her talking.  She started with, “Everyone was being so loud.  Were you like that, Dad?”  No way, I replied.  “People were drunk by 3:00 in the afternoon.  Some couldn’t walk that well.  Were you like that, Dad?”  Another no way, but I was coming unglued.  “A lot of the younger people were flirting with each other like crazy.  You didn’t do that.  Right, Dad?”  No way.  “People were even bragging about drinking all day and calling into work sick. You weren’t like that.  Right, Dad?”  Another no way, but on this one, she almost sensed my sarcasm.  As I quickly walked out of the kitchen with a sly smirk on my face, I could see the reflection of my wife, who I met at this exact bar, in the front window.  She was shaking her head and rolling her eyes.  I guess my oldest daughter would not have been impressed by my shenanigans as a 21-year-old, but I am thrilled that she is annoyed by this behavior.  I just hope that her feelings don’t change when she gets to college.:)

It sure wasn’t the same kind of Green Beer Sunday that I had 27 years ago (I spent this Sunday doing hours of school work to get ready for another week of hybrid/remote teaching), but I certainly enjoyed my daughter’s rendition of Green Beer Sunday, and there is no way that I could spend an afternoon drinking green beer – I would have to take three days off to recover.

Oh, it feels so good to be back!

Oh, it feels so good to be back!  Last March, I used the writing challenge as a way to mentally prepare myself for a few months of quarantine.  I knew that I would be quarantined until the end of May, and in the back of my mind, I worried that quarantine would last until the end of the school year (the end of June) and into summer vacation.  My worries came true, but I was ready after a month of writing during the actual month that COVID-19 shut down the nation.

Now, it is March 2021.  Vaccines are becoming more available to people.  Children are making their way back to the classrooms.  The government has someone new in charge.  The nation seems to be getting healthy.  I am a very optimistic person (ask my teaching colleagues and family), but EVEN I KNOW that although things seem to be getting better, we, as a nation, still have a long way to go.  I am going to use this month to help prepare me for the great changes and healing that is going to come over the next few months.  I am even going to sprinkle in my optimism and hope into my blog posts for March 2021 and prepare myself for an awesome end of the school year and a summer vacation to remember.

The quarantine of the last twelve months has been difficult.  COVID-19 has been awful as it has taken many of our loved ones or has put many of them in the hospital.  We have longed to hug our family members and friends, especially the ones that are older and more fragile.  We’ve longed for the day that we can go out to a restaurant or to a movie.  But, the quarantine has also brought some positive changes.  It has slowed life down.  Families are eating dinner together again.  Children are realizing the importance of school and many even miss the classroom.  A few students even found successes during remote learning (with less homework, my eighth grade daughter started to bake, is writing a book – over 200 pages in, has started boxing to stay in shape for her team sports, and started sewing her own clothes).  The fast pace life that many families had with sports, music, and dance, slowed down and because of this, the quarantine created more family time.  The quarantine has made us appreciate all of the good things that we had before it started.  We need to remember these things as we go forward.

March 2021 of writing is going to be awesome.  I won’t lie.  I have been waiting impatiently for it to start.  I have been writing down ideas of what to write about.  And after a VERY, VERY busy six months of hybrid teaching, I am ready to reconnect with my writing.

Play ball – SOLSC Day #31

There is nothing that represents the beginning of April more than “One Shining Moment” (after the National Championship basketball game).  There is nothing that represents the middle of April like the crack (or ping if it is aluminum) of a bat.  There is nothing that represents the end of April more than watching the lacrosse ball hit the back of the net (and just hang there for a second).  While all this happens, cue the crowds jumping to their feet and roaring in the background.  It is all that is wonderful about sports.  It is all that is wonderful about April.

As I walk by the local elementary school (and park), I notice that the basketball rims have been taken off the backboards.  No Shining Moment.  As I drive by the community baseball field (gripping the dashboard because my daughter is driving me), I notice that the entrance gate to the field is locked and a sign is posted on the pitcher’s mound that reads “Closed Until Further Notice.”  No crack or ping of the bat.  As I run by the local high school, the varsity football field is closed and the lacrosse nets are locked to a fence behind the far goalposts.  No ball in the back of the net.  This April there won’t be any fans jumping to their feet and roaring.  The courts and the fields will remain quiet.

But at the end of March, there is a glimmer of hope that sports will be back.  As I walk by a neighbor’s house, there is a pickup basketball game going on.  Dad is trying really hard, maybe too hard, as he takes on his three little kids, but there is laughter and there is “One Shining Moment” when the littlest girl shoots the ball over her dad’s outreached hand and it swishes the net.  As I run by a house near the school, I hear the ping of a bat.  Could it be?  Yes.  There is a middle school girl in her driveway hitting a softball off of a tee and into a net.  She’s crushing it.  As I drive by a house in another neighborhood close to my own, I see a boy getting ready to attempt to score a lacrosse goal against his little sister.  You can barely tell it’s a little girl because she’s in a football helmet, chest protector, lacrosse gloves that are way too big, and she is wearing arm and leg pads (the cutest part is that she is wearing a skirt).  She is looking like a true goalie, but her skills aren’t sharp enough because her brother rips one by her and the tennis ball (I hope its not a lacrosse ball) hangs in the net for a millisecond.  With every scenario, I wanted to jump up and roar, and in fact, I imagine a crowd jumping up and roaring.  It leaves me with the hope that there will be something to cheer about soon.

Believe me, I have been cheering.  I have been cheering on the nurses, doctors, police officers, mailmen/mailwomen, grocery store workers, firefighters, teachers, and all of the other people who have been helping through this difficult time.  Sports aren’t life, but it provides life with competition, determination, passion, teamwork, self-esteem, accountability, leadership, and physical health.  It provides balance.  So, April might be as “normal” as March, but there is still hope for May and that we will hear those two beautiful words, “Play ball.”

Things I miss vs. Things I don’t miss – SOLSC Day #30

This morning, as I communicated with kids and teachers, I started to create a list of things that I miss and things that I don’t miss while being stuck in my house.  Here is the list of things that I miss: my students, friends (other adults), daily routine, outings (concerts, museums, libraries), Wegmans (grocery shopping), coffee (from my favorite local spot), and watching sports.  Here is the list of things that I don’t miss: driving my children to dozens of sporting practices and events a week, eating take-out or at a restaurant, waking up at 5:15 AM, the hectic weeknight schedule, (useless) meetings at school, listening to people complain (about school, students, their schedule, etc), nightly trips to the grocery store to buy things I don’t need (example: chocolate), and wasting money on coffee and treats (that I can make at home).

I found it very strange that my lists were almost even (7 things that I miss and 8 things that I don’t miss).  I guess in my mind, before creating the list, I predicted that I missed more things than I didn’t miss.  This leads me to a quote that I read on Saturday.  It reads:

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”                                          – Dave Hollis

Is it normal that I drive anywhere between ten to fifty miles a night driving my children to sporting practices and games?  Is it productive to sit in a meeting for thirty to one hundred and twenty minutes if nothing is getting accomplished?  Do I need chocolate every single night of the week?  Why do I arrive at 6:20 AM to school when the day starts at 7:45 AM?  Can I ask a fellow teacher not to include me in all of the negative talk about school and students? 

While I contemplate these questions (on runs, long walks, laying awake in bed), I am starting to find answers to these questions and my goal is to return to normal a different person (not better, not worse, just different).  My goal is to have a different “normal” and more focus on what is important.

What do you miss?  What don’t you miss?

April is coming – SOLSC Day #29

A soft, warm breeze,

wind chimes singing.

Tulips budding,

and blooming.

Long blades of green grass,

growing again.

Warm spring rains,

worms swimming in puddles.

Bicycles racing,

up and down the street.

Baseball fields.

come alive with action.

Birds chirping,

building homes as nests.

Squirrels scramble,

from tree to tree.

Longer, brighter days,

with a warmer sun.

Windows cracked open,

laughter in the air.

We’ve waited all winter,

for April.

For the most part, the weather has cooperated in Central New York.  Outside of a stray snowstorm, we are moving in the direction of green grass and warmer breezes.  Another winter snow is possible in April (can never be ruled out), but the day-to-day weather pattern promises for a more typical April.  I hope.

Almost a bad parenting moment – SOLSC Day #28

“My gratuitous two cents, see if you can’t find a silver lining in all of this.”

                                                                                                – Governor Cuomo (NY)

On Thursday, I had my first virtual faculty meeting on Zoom.  The meeting ran for an hour, and then, my teammates texted me to see if I could set up a meeting for 1:30 with them (the first meeting that I’ve ever hosted).  At the same time, my wife was on a sixty-minute webinar with the head of her school’s technology department.  While we were both working, something important slipped our minds and made us question our parenting abilities.

The door to the television room in the basement opens and my wife has a panicked look on her face.  She has her computer in her hand and ear phones on, but she slips me a piece of paper.  It reads, “Where is Fiona?  She has a Google Meet visit with her teacher scheduled for 1:30.”  Obviously, now I am in panic mode, so I calmly tell my teammates that I will be right back.

I head upstairs and check out the front window.  No Fiona.  I head to the back sliding glass door.  No Fiona.  I run upstairs and check her bedroom.  No Fiona.  And then as I head back down the stairs, I hear her voice.  I go back upstairs, into her bedroom, and open the playroom door off of the bedroom to find her sitting in front of the computer screen talking to her teacher.  She has a huge smile on her face.

After our meetings are done, my wife and I find out that Fiona did tell my wife that she was heading upstairs to talk with her teacher.  My wife was in the middle of the webinar and shook her head but didn’t really hear her.  She had set an alarm on her watch for 1:20.  She came in the house (she was drawing with chalk on the driveway (art class), washed her hands, grabbed a Chromebook, and went to her meeting for a virtual meeting with her teacher.

This begs the question: Does she really need us?  She’s in fourth grade. She’s the youngest of four.  She tests our pool and puts chlorine in it each summer day (completely shocked a teacher friend that was over one morning), she puts away her laundry (sometimes does it), she makes her own lunch (and sometimes her siblings’ lunches), and does her homework without being asked (she sometimes helps her ninth grade brother by saying, “Did you read the passage before answering the questions?”).  She is more independent than all three of her older siblings.

There are so many things that are awful about the Coronavirus and the sickness that it is causing in the world, but I do agree with the governor on his quote from today.  There is a “silver lining”.  I know that Fiona is independent, but I have taken it for granted.  I am noticing so many things about my family that I did not notice before.  In the hustle and bustle of life, you take so many things for granted, so for me, the “silver lining” of this time of quarantine is that I’m seeing all of the wonderful aspects of my family.

Singing from the Windows – SOLSC Day #27

After reading a wonderful Thursday post (Morning Reality) from my friend, Amy, I spent so much time thinking about the power of the written word (the meaning that it presents and the meaning that is lost).  So, last night, when I sat down to enjoy a free concert by Dave Matthews (from my basement and his garage), all of my writing thoughts came full circle.

I found inspiration is Dave’s words and music.  I was inspired to buy local and help the small businesses get back on their feet when the nation is ready.  In fact, I plan to place a craft beer order tomorrow at a former student’s local brewery.  I was also inspired by his song selection and his approach.

Dave stood in front of his computer with his guitar and microphone, but you could tell that it felt awkward to him.  He didn’t know who was in the audience (come to find out there were approximately 1.7 million people in the audience), but it was evident that he wanted his music to comfort them.  Isn’t this the same with us as writers?  I don’t know who will read my words today or any day, but I just hope that I can provide the reader with a smile or a tear (depending on my intention).

Dave picked specific songs to sing (evidence: Virginia in the Rain, Singing from the Windows, Don’t Drink the Water), and he wanted them to sound good (evidence: he critiqued himself for missing a verse in a song).  Isn’t this the same with us as writers?  We pick topics that we hope will have meaning for someone else, and we want our words to be perfect (at least as perfect as they can be).  We want people coming back to read more of our words.

I couldn’t help but to find similarities between Dave Matthews performing a concert in front of his computer to us, as writers, typing posts into our computers each day.  I was inspired to write.  I was inspired and hopeful that my words will make a difference (even if it’s for just one reader).

Side note: I’ve been to MANY of Dave’s shows, and for the next show that I attend; I will be wondering why he picked the songs for that specific concert.  I’m sure that there is a message.:)

A visit with Gram and Pop – SOLSC Day #26

“Do you want to take me driving, Dad?” My oldest asks.

Before I can even answer, the younger two have already stated that they are also going and are calling out their specific seats in the van.  My kids still call their seats.  My son would have to sit in the back, so he decides not to go.

In my mind, I have the perfect place to visit.  “Let’s go to Gram and Pop’s house for a visit.”  And this is met with cheering from the back seat.  The kids haven’t seen my parents (their grandparents) since March 4th, which might be one of the longest stretches without seeing them in a long time.

We make the two and a half mile drive over to their house.  With every new mile that I drive with my daughter, I feel a little more at ease.  Not completely at ease – I still need an adult beverage after a trip, but it’s getting easier.  While driving over to their house, I send a text to my mom that we were coming.  Obviously, they are at home without a ton going on, so as we pulled into the bottom of the driveway, the front window slides open immediately and there is my mother hugging herself.  She actually knocked my dad out of the way so she could get a better view.  The first thing she tells the girls is that she is hugging herself as if she is hugging them.  She is a real hugger, but because of their age and some health issues (my mom has been a life-long diabetic), we aren’t taking any chances.

So, our family reunion happened on their front lawn.  All four of us (the three girls and I) were gathered on the lawn, and Gram and Pop from the front window.  It was wonderful to see them.  I could tell that they needed a visit, and as we talked about the visit on our way home, it was evident that we also needed a visit.  My poor dad barely got in a word while my mother told us about everything that they have been doing, which is basically eating, cooking, reading, and watching television.  She even took a picture of us on the front lawn to put on her Facebook account (She tagged me.  The picture has hundreds of likes.  I don’t even have 100 friends.  Who knew that she was so popular?).  Never in a million years did I ever think that I would be visiting with my parents through a front window.  It was definitely a sign of the “current” times.

We were about a mile and a half away from their house (my daughter wanted to do some extra driving, so we took the LONG way home), when my oldest daughter said, “Gram and Pop are so awesome.  If I had to live in quarantine with my future husband, I’d kill him.”

The little one in the back pipes in, “Well, Mom and Dad haven’t killed each other yet.”  A huge smile on her face.

And my oldest, mind you has been driving me nuts lately, answers, “Well, they’re like Gram and Pop.  They’re soul mates.”

This made my night.  We may be struggling with the fact that we are confined to our houses without our students, but at the same time, I’m learning so much about my family, and even a bit about myself.