Birthday #8

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Eight years ago today I brought these beautiful babes into this world.  They were a little early, but seemed just perfect to us.  Three months later we learned that Jacob had Spinal Muscular Atrophy type I; he was only expected to live a couple of month; they gave me a death sentence.  And here we are, 8 years later.

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I am so proud to be the Mommy of such strong, independent, resilient children!  Here’s to a great year!

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Passion in Education

When did PASSION become a 4 letter word?

I have had several end of year meetings and in each, someone mentions that “People just don’t understand your passion until they get to know you- instead it comes across as aggression”. Well, isn’t that what the word PASSION means in a sense? Passion “strong and barely controllable emotion”. The suggestion is to temper my approach-and seriously, I don’t know if I can.

I have passion about teaching.

I have passion about engaging every single student in my classroom-and your classroom-and the classroom 2 floors down-because if those babies are engaged in your classroom, by the time they get to mine it will be habit. If I have to use a contemporary book or movie to address standards, I CAN do that-not because I like the movie, but because I can see a connection between the dystopian idea of conformity in Divergent and contrast that with the Transcendentalists’ idea of non-conformity and make Thoreau accessible to my kids. This doesn’t make my class easier because I have stepped away from the canon; it makes my students more aware that those who thought before still apply today-and they are engaged. And seriously, who really gets Thoreau in high school? When I have a student, who tried like the dickens NOT to pay attention all semester, sit and tell me about Transcendentalism because he CAN-that feeds my passion! These kinds of responses from kids is like a drug that I can’t get enough of. You want an addiction-try student engagement and success-you will never get enough of that!

 

I have passion about how teachers are perceived in my state. This is my career choice. I want to be respected by parents, friends, and the lady in the grocery store, just like I respected all my teachers. I don’t want people to look at me and think, “Sorry you couldn’t do anything better.” You treat teachers with little respect and you will run out of teachers. I am amazed at the number of second year teachers leaving the profession. And that is what this younger generation will do-if it isn’t for them, they don’t stick it out to see if it will get better. They make a change and fix it for themselves. Good for them, bad for public education.

 

I have passion about making changes in the way I perceive the world, so that I can appreciate the world my students live in. Yes, phones are annoying in class-except when I need to them to look something up. Oh and when I want them to respond on a Padlet wall or to a Socrative question-oh wait, we need to do SnapShot on Edmodo. So when is the phone annoying in class? When they get off task and check their text messages, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram…there are a ton of things to get them off task-and if I think about it, those things get us (teachers) off task in meetings or groups, right? So, if I want my students to learn how to be digitally responsible in my classroom should I get angry and ditch all technology? No, I reflect on my lesson and ask myself “Why did they get off task?” It may not have even been my lesson-it could have been that Katherine got a bad grade in her previous class or Mark broke up with his girlfriend, and they were using their form of stress relief – social media – to rectify the situation within. Or it could be my lesson was horrid and needs to be fixed-PASSION drives this reflection and need to relate with my students.

 

I have passion when working with my colleagues in our PLC. I spend hours each week reading about new technology, ways to differentiate, ideas for PBLs, resources for independent test prep, news ways of engaging students…I forward some articles, tweet some, some hit my Facebook page, and some I print out and bring to meetings. I am passionate about teaching and sharing the really cool things I find. Just because I want to share information about Edmodo every time they do something new and innovative that helps my students, doesn’t mean I am being aggressive. I have found a tool that works like a dream in my classes, and I want to share it with you so you can try it too. Every new app or tool on the site, gives me more passion to share the benefits. When a colleague complains about off-task behavior, and I share the newest buzz word “backchanneling” as a possible solution, this doesn’t mean I am saying your way doesn’t work and mine is better-just that this way might help. Believe me, everything I do in my classroom doesn’t work…sometimes I fail miserably. The first time I tried backchanneling with Padlet Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Yoda started responding in the online discussion-not the best experience, but they were engaged! I learned from the experience and will probably not try it again on the last day of classes-but I like the idea and want to share it with you.

 
I have passion about data. Data tells me what I am doing right in my classes and what I need to do better. By comparing my data with the data of my peers, we can determine who has the best resources for any particular standard or whose approach might be working the best. Data is important, and I might go beyond passionate and be aggressive about data. But, after 11 years in teaching, I know what to do with data and the importance it has in my lesson planning and decision making. So if I insist that my PLC (of fairly new teachers) work within the data model, it is because I have a passion for this part of teaching. I don’t want to shove it down their throats, I want them to allow me to show them “how” to use these endless checks or meaningless numbers to make them better teachers. I am passionate about helping teachers understand the benefits of data.

 

Passion is a valuable trait in today’s education. Things are moving quickly. Times are changing. The way we communicate is changing. The skills these kids will need in the world are changing. And having the passion to reflect on the profession and see what changes need to made is important. So, maybe instead of being irritated by that teacher who is constantly posting, presenting at meetings, or copying articles about education (educational change), we should appreciate her passion for her career, her kids, her school, her colleagues-give her a minute to get it all out and figure out what we can take from her passion to make us better in our professional pursuits.

Teaching isn’t a competition, it is a collaborative experience among like-minded people.

And, honestly, PASSION is a 7 letter word.

 

A Teaching Issue

Today I re-posted 2 pieces on Facebook; one had to do with letting go of the pressures of testing and “being” a teacher and the other focused on why teachers were leaving the classroom.  They both were focused on the pressures of testing and the desire to relate to kids, and I started to wonder why teachers all across America are having the same thoughts?

These blogs show up in every state, union states and will to work states.  States where teachers are paid well and state where the teachers are struggling.  They all say the same thing: The joy of teaching and connecting with kids is being replaced with the need to have higher test scores.  And the blame is landing on the Common Core.

I have a problem with where we are laying the blame.  I see positives and negatives with the Common Core.  As a high school teacher, I see so many positives with this document.  To know that you are going to a university with other students of the same caliber who have learned the same skills is empowering.  I went to college after having a sub-par science background and floundered and changed my major after the first semester.  The Common Core would have, or should have, ensured that wasn’t the case.  I wish there had been a national standard when I was in high school.  I would have been better prepared for college.

On the other hand, I can see issues in the elementary level.  These kids are learning FANTASTIC methods for understanding math…my 4th grader showed me a way to do multiplication that she understood and I thought was fabulous!  BRAVO! Mrs. Jackson and the math curriculum!  On the other hand, how do you tell a kid to draw a thousand circles to show how they do a problem and then ask them to do speed multiplication and expect an average kid to get that transition.  Then you throw in some perimeter and area, oh by the way you have to figure it out backwards using that speed multiplication while drawing circles…and you can see how these kids are completely lost. There are issues with the Common Core, but there are also positives.

What I take issue with is the testing.  This year the State provided every core class with final exams in high school.  So this was the year that as a veteran, experienced teacher I had to remove the fluff and focus on the REAL stuff.  Every activity has a purpose.  Can you imagine how difficult that is with a group of 16-17 year olds?  Everything has a purpose; there is no time to just shoot the sh%t because it develops relationships or the kids like it.  Then think about working with first year teachers who have these fun, exciting ideas, and, as a team lead, I have to challenge every one with “how does it connect to the curriculum and the Common Core standards?”  I know my administration loves hearing us go back to the standards, but can you imagine the way it makes that new teacher feel?

Then there is the stress on the kids; my kids, the overachieving, I have to be the best, can I do extra credit even though I have a 95 in your class students.  We gave state finals in classes that were outside of our curriculum to ensure “Ethics Codes” were in place.  I almost cried when a  kid in a Math II Honors class asked if he got extra time past the 2 hours, and my response was “no”.  That child had worked steadily throughout the 2 hours and was faced with a mere 15 minutes to do the 2 Constructed Response Questions.  All I could think was, “I teach in one of the best schools in the area, I am giving a test to honors kids, and 5 of them have asked for more time.  What must this test look like somewhere else in this state?  Have the kids given up?  Are they sick from the stress?  Are they crying because they know there is no use in going on?”  This test is 25% of their grade. I feel for these kids; I have been there. I cried during a Chemistry test at Rice University when I realized that after 75  hours of 1:1 tutoring by the professor’s TA that I was going to fail this test; I just didn’t have the understanding of the subject that I needed to be successful…I probably stressed myself out and could have done it, but I didn’t.  I know that stress.  I felt so bad for those kids.  A friend of mine at another school was talking about how her student threw up on his shirt and kept on testing because he was afraid to raise his hand and leave the room.  Why do we need to place that much stress on a 15 year old?

I know we all want to know how much these kids have learned, especially if we are all suppose to be teaching the same standards across America.  And, we all have opinions about how this can be accomplished.  Taxpayers have opinions, elected officials have opinions, and teachers have opinions…all about the importance of how to tell if these kids are learning. But, does having a National standard mean we have to test our kids and our teachers to the point where the kids are sick from stress and the teachers leave the profession?

I am a teacher and a mom.  I see the importance of the education system and the importance of keeping good teachers in the classroom…I won’t be going anywhere.  I cry over the teachers who are contemplating leaving the classroom, because, although these evaluation measures are in place, it is usually not the bad teachers who leave peacefully.  I simply wonder, if these issues are in every school across the country, why aren’t our politicians looking at what’s going on?  We aren’t asking you to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We are asking you to look at the process, look at the system, look at the evaluation tools, and make some adjustments to fit the needs of all kids. 

At the end of every semester I do a course evaluation for my kids and ask them, through specific questions, what they liked, didn’t like, and the whys.  I would ask for the Department of Education to do the same…and then self-eval, it is cathartic!

Back to the Gym

Went back to the gym today for the first time in 5 days.  I had to take a break because I had worn a very deep, very sore blister into my heel.  I spent the entire weekend and two days this week either with my foot in a salt/epsom salt bath or with a salt paste tape to the spot.  That booger was deep and hurt…hurt…hurt!  Well, today I got home from school and took a peek at that very persistent blister and viola!  It had popped and all the infection had come out…and it was gross! So, silly me put on my gym clothes (because I swear I have gained a small child with all the holiday eating and now a long break from the gym!) and bandaged that heel and headed to the treadmill…where after 20 minutes and a mile and a half, I stepped off the treadmill.  Seemed although my head said, “Go forth and purge the stress of the day!” my heel said, “Have you lost your ever-loving mind woman?  This is a hole in you heel that you could park a Prius in!  Get off the treadmill!!!”  and because there was blood, I listened to my heel and got on the stationary bike!  HA!  Take that you tenacious Pain in the Foot!  Ummm..PITF doesn’t really spell anything does it?  Not a great workout, but anything is better than nothing!  Oh, and I got started on my new mind-candy novel Surrender Your Love by J.C. Reed-nothing like reading about ridiculously beautiful people who fall in love and have an implausibly romantic bedroom life to make the pain disappear!  Oh yeah, and at 26 she gets the job of a lifetime and gets to go to Italy on her first day at work!!!!  I know, I know, you were thinking this mirrors your life to a tee-me too!  That’s why I keep reading!

How Has Having a Child with a Terminal Illness Affected My Life?

You know, you read all these posts on social media about how God doesn’t give you more than you can handle…heads up, He did. I simply survived.

How God gives special needs kids to special parents…really?  What did I do to deserve this?  I was a pretty selfish person who had goals and dreams that were crushed by my son’s diagnosis…don’t think I was that special.

How He gives the biggest battles to His best warriors…they are children.  They are NOT born warriors, that are built that way through their lives.

I responded to a parent tonight of a newly diagnosed SMA type 1 child.  He is a twin to a sister, just like my Jake.  He has an older brother; my Jake has an older sister.  The similarities between their family and mine are epic.  I see myself in this mother, with the exception that she has social media and I had to travel to California to learn about other parents who could support me.  So, basically she has it easier…and yet it doesn’t get any easier.  The dream you had for your son: he would be a football or soccer player; he would be handsome and make all the girls’ hearts beat a tad bit faster; he would be the next Bill Gates, Brad Pitt, Troy Aikman…they all just bit the dust ad you are left with the devastating news that your son would not live to see his first birthday.  Now, you mothers and fathers take a moment.  You go in for a well appointment and the news is there is something wrong with your child; a couple weeks later you learn it is SMA and that your child-the vessel that holds the essence that is you and your spouse and that will fulfill all those goals you did not-is going to die within the next 6-9 months.  Take a moment and suck that puppy in…because it took me hours of researching WTF SMA was to get the entire picture and then I cried.  I cried for 3 days solid while I looked through web page after web page of children who HAD died from this awful disease. WE went back to the neurologist only to have him promise to look into alternative treatments and then NEVER call us again. 

At the end of those LONG 3 days…I swear I may have slept a total of an hour…I got a call from a church friend, now minister, who offered to come and help me.  How?  How do I need help?  MY parents and in-laws were helping with the children while I was a puddle…how do I accept help?  But Martha had ideas, and she came over and helped me construct a letter to EVERY SINGLE person associated with SMA in the world!  Okay, that’s an exaggeration….but she helped me get the ball rolling.  Then one of my students came over and offered to take Scarlett to see the movie Cars.  I couldn’t stay in that house one minute longer, nor leave without my Jake, and so the three of us jumped in her car and went to see Cars at the dollar theater…I accepted help again.

When we got home, my husband ran out the front door and said there was a man on the phone from Stanford University who said Jake could qualify for their clinical trial if we were willing to transport him there and back…i accepted the help.

To get there, we needed plane tickets.  There were charities that would help us.  I applied and accepted help again.   Once we got there we needed a place to stay and the hospital had a deal with a local joint-the motel was odd, cute, eccentric…not MY style, but I accepted the help and made new lesbian friends.

So when I was telling this newly diagnosed family about our journey I told them it was hard.  It almost killed me those first two years.  I was the most depressed fighting zombie you have ever met.  I once had a nurse describe me as the most depressed lady on anti-depressants she had ever met.  I was a mess!  But my son was surviving and I SERIOUSLY DIDN’T MATTER.  It didn’t matte that I could go for days without a shower and not ever notice!  The 75 pounds I put on were a shock to me when right before Jake’s MAW Scarlett and I went to Carowinds and I was kicked off a roller coaster for being too fat.  All that mattered was that he was doing well, that he wasn’t sick, that he wasn’t going to DIE on me.

So, what has being the mom of a kid with a terminal illness taught me?

1. We all have a terminal illness-it’s called living!  You are dying right now…so you have to get over it!

2. Don’t sweat anything!  Forget the small stuff…you just have to face it and move past!  Otherwise you get caught up in a Polar Vortex that will delay you two hours! 🙂

3. If there is a big pink elephant in the room-face it, call it out, and move past it!  It doesn’t win me any friends, but I swear it makes the bad go away faster!

4. Love your kids-all your kids-even the ones that are the biggest PIYA!

5.  Tell them you love them every day-several times a day-especially when they are being a PITA!

6. Go to the gym…it may not make you thin, but it will definitely work off all the frustration!

7. Accept HELP!  All kinds of help…whether you really want it or not!

8. Tell people THANK YOU!  God, those words go so far in life!

9. Make peace with your Maker.  God and I were on a tilting platform for a couple of years and although I still don’t think I deserve such a gift, I am so glad He gave it to me!

10. SMILE!  It takes years off your face and makes everyone around you feel so much better!

Jake and Darth Gator

Jake and Darth Gator

So, Murphy’s Law is totally in effect tonight! Tomorrow is our first day back to school after break and Jake was falling asleep, sound asleep, at 6:45 so I asked Bridget to put him to bed before she left for the night and I popped some melatonin to help me get to sleep. Believe it or not, teachers get anxious and excited about going back to school just like the kids. Bridget got him in bed and we fed Darth Gator and took some pictures. And Jake woke up! Now my poor son is laying in his bed crying at me to get him back up….this is no easy task and I have already taken the melatonin-so now we wait…and pray my poor boy decides to crash again. This is one of those moments when I HATE SMA the most! Any of my other kids I can pick up and cuddle; have them slip into bed beside me and watch some Disney; brush their hair until they get lulled to sleep. Jake is in his bed with a feeding system hanging over him so he can eat his food all night and not throw up, hooked up to his bi-pap with his pulse ox on his toe and his DVD player in front of him. To get him up would be 10-15 minute ordeal and then I just get to hold his hand because cuddling him could choke him. I am rubbing his hand while I pick and punch out this blog and thank goodness my boy seems to be calming down…silver lining I get to go to sleep too!