Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Chewing on the fish out of water…

This post is my inaugural post for this year’s #kinderblog summer blogging challenge, which I host over at the #kinderchat site. The first assignment:

Write the post that has been in your head (or your drafts folder) for a while now. You know the one. The one you write while you drive to work, or while you are in the shower. What is the question, or issue, or opinion, or emotions, you have been chewing on for a while now? Alternatively, what is the post that you have started a million times, picked away at, edited and re-edited, and almost trashed?  Did you read an article or a Facebook post that provoked a reaction, and that you can’t stop thinking about? THIS IS YOUR CHANCE.
Be Brave. Write it.

So. Here it is. The truth is, I have about 49 posts in my drafts folder, but this one has been there the longest. Almost exactly a year, in fact….

I started it last July, after returning from a conference:

I was recently in a situation where I was surrounded by teacher bloggers. Not teacher bloggers like me. Teacher bloggers with really cute sites with lots of clip art and custom site designs and handwriting fonts and polka dots. And owls. And chevrons (which, I have learned, is the correct word for what I have always called “zig-zag stripes). And blog buttons, and linkys (linkies? Will someone PLEASE tell me what a linky is? Seriously. I am NOT being snarky. I really don’t understand what a linky is. I know, my teacher blogger card is totally going to be revoked, isn’t it?)

Polka Dot Owl

Polka Dot Owl. Alas, no chevron available.

They were, mostly, girly-girls like I have never been: a room full of VERY shiny hair and VERY white teeth, and manicures, and I’m pretty sure there were some pantyhose and some pearls. It felt a little like what I THINK a sorority would feel like. And I’m not exactly a sorority sort of girl. In fact, until I actually LIVED in a US college town, I sort of thought that sororities only happened in movies.

LORDY, was I a fish out of water. I was literally itchy-on-the-inside. All of my long-lost junior high girl angst was suddenly right there at the surface.

I am not that kind of teacher blogger, but I was in a room FULL of them.

These were NOT My People.

But, there was also: a warm welcome, openhearted generosity, big smiles. Encouragement. Laughter. Curiosity. A person I had never met handed me a gift card when she realized she had two.

There were cookies. Did I mention that? Cookies always help.

But: I squirmed and wriggled. I am not, I was not ever: that kind of girl. I was a HUGE bookgeek (to be clear: *I* was not huge, but my bookgeek-ness was), I was a bunhead (not a studio dancer with competitions and sequins. A Ballet Student, at a Ballet School. Bun and tights and pointe shoes and turnout and class EVERY day and bleeding toes and broken knees.) When other girls starting sneaking into bars, I was at the barre, or too tired from the barre to go to the bar. (Barre/bar puns NEVER STOP being funny, it seems…)

Some of it is cultural – between being a Canadian girl and a West Coast girl, I tend to be an altogether more casual kind of girl than they were.

Some of it is temperament: I am, down to my very toenails, an introvert. Friendly, socially capable, but still: an introvert. And I am TERRIBLE at getting-to-know-you small talk. (This may be why I am also terrible at dating, but that is another story…). These girls (and they were ALL girls, because the only two dudes in the room were my buddies, who were even more out of their element than me): clearly extroverted, most with that very specifically American, even more specifically Southern, gift of being able to strike up conversation with ANYBODY. Seriously – do your moms TEACH you that? Because: wow. It’s amazing. (Again, I’m not being snarky; I sincerely wish I was better at chit-chat, more like some of those girls.)

And then, a very short while after that event, I stumbled into a blog, written by a kindergarten teacher, about a product she had tried in her classroom. I had a question, about a dissonance between two points she made, and I asked that question, in the comments of her blog. Because that’s what I do, on the blogs I read, and that’s what you guys do, here. I ask questions. You ask questions. Sometimes, hard questions. But we ask. And we answer, and we all become better because of it.

But this  time… my question hurt her feelings. Not just the content of the question, but the very act of questioning. She was hurt, felt attacked, by a member of her own profession. I…. was shocked, a little angry at first, and then oh-so-dismayed. I hadn’t intended to hurt, hadn’t wanted to hurt, hadn’t DREAMED that it might hurt.

To her credit, that blogger contacted me, in anger at first, but I responded, and we, slowly, found a place of acceptance, if not quite understanding.

And now, a year after that particular situation, I still find myself bumping into these spaces – virtual and “real” where I am surrounded by people who do what I do, and yet… we may as well be from different planets. It’s like there are 2 kinds of Teachers of Young Children who are active on social media, and we just can’t find a way to HEAR one another.  And it is so easy: SO EASY, when we find ourselves butting heads, to throw our hands up and just walk away because “we are from two different worlds.” It is so much more comfortable, to go running back to Our People, who know us and get us and validate us and speak our language.

But that is not how we grow, is it?

And, after a year of reflecting on this, I truly believe: we have to find ways to bridge these gaps. We all go to the same conferences. We do the same job. We teach the same children, with the same love.We have to find ways to understand each other, to question ourselves, to dig deeper into the uncomfortable conversations, because the uncomfortable conversations make us all better, and US BEING BETTER is only going to help the children we reach and teach and love.

So. I’m going to go first. I’m gonna own some “stuff:”

Hi. My name is Amy, and I teach kindergarten. My classroom does not have a theme. I don’t know what a linky is. I don’t spend all summer re-decorating and re-organizing my classroom. I don’t hand-sew matching cushions for my reading corner every year. I don’t have a TPT account.

I don’t understand why you would blog if it was not to have great conversations; and great conversations include hard questions.

Maybe you don’t understand why I blog with so much… opinion.

I don’t understand why you would blog but not tweet.

Maybe you don’t understand how I have time to tweet SO MUCH.

I don’t understand why having a matchy-matchy colour-coordinated classroom matters SO MUCH.

Maybe you don’t understand how it DOESN’T matter to me.

I think that having a “theme” for your classroom setup and decor, before you even meet your students, is not such a good idea. What if they don’t LIKE owls? Or alpacas? Or baseball? Or cupcakes? (No, wait. EVERYBODY likes cupcakes, right?)

Maybe you have an awesome story about how having a classroom theme helps your kids.

I think that blogging about the many many many hours you spend decorating your classroom puts enormous pressure on new teachers.

Maybe you think that sharing your classroom set up process is your way of helping new teachers.

I don’t understand how you plan a year before the year even starts.

Maybe planning your year in advance is required by your district? Maybe it is what helps you have balance in your life as a teacher? (This is a tough one for me. Planning without knowing your kids seems so, so, questionable, but maybe we should talk about that…)

I think worksheets are ethically questionable, and behaviour charts hurt children.

Maybe you… Ok, I’m really not sure how we find common ground on this one. Maybe you can help. Or maybe we can just have a conversation that will make us both more articulate about our practice, and give us something to “chew on” for a while.

And I’m willing to chew, if you are.

Maybe we could start with some cookies…

 

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Homework for the “off season”

The other day, I noticed a new hashtag on the Twitterz: #eduoffseason. It seems to be about all the things we should all do in the “off season” so we can be better teachers come September. Ok. I’ll play. Here’s your off-season training plan, friends. This is the plan I intend to follow, to make myself a better, stronger, kinder, smarter, teacher and administrator in September. It’s pretty rigorous, and it is important that you fully commit to the program. If you cannot complete any of the assignments, I expect that you will substitute them with alternates that are of equal quality, quantity, and rigor. Items may be completed alone, or in collaboration with others. Collaboration with peers outside of the educational community is strongly encouraged. Your friends and family are permitted to help you with any of the assignments, as long as their participation will enhance (and not hinder) your own participation. After the first item, other tasks may be completed in the order of your choosing.

  • On the first day that teachers are off but the rest of the world isn’t, go for breakfast/brunch with as many teacher friends as you can. Sit in the restaurant for as long as you want, talking and laughing. Have appetizers AND dessert AND coffee AND wine.
  • Go to a zoo or wildlife park.
  • Go to a matinée movie during the week when hardly anyone else is there, and eat a big bag of popcorn.
  • Take a nap. Take  several naps. Take several naps a day if you want.
  • Go on a road trip, even if it is just a one-day jaunt to the next town over.
  • Give yourself a quest to find the best SOMETHING in your area. Vanilla latte, chocolate milkshake, hamburger, crab cakes, whatever. Use this quest as a way to go places in your town that you have never been before.
  • Stay in your pyjamas as long as you want. Do this as often as you want.
  • Take a walk every day. Unless it is a pyjama day, then you don’t have to.
  • Eat meals outside as often as you can.
  • Plant something and watch it grow.
  • Take at least a 3 day break from screen-based technology.
  • Go to a parade.
  • Go to a country/county/state/local fair/carnival/festival type event.
  • Stay up all night because you can’t put down your book.
  • Go out for a nice dinner on a weeknight.
  • Watch fireworks at every opportunity.
  • Go swimming outside, preferably NOT in a swimming pool. Let your hair dry in the sun.
  • Buy lunch for a friend who has to work all summer, especially if that work involves wearing business wear when it’s 847 degrees.
  • Pack an adventure bag with a water bottle, a snack, some band aids, a book, sunscreen, bug spray, and flip-flops, so you are always prepared to have an adventure, given the opportunity. Keep a towel and a hoodie in the car, for the same reason.
  • If  your school has a teacher dress code, put your work clothes away in the back of your closet and do not look at them.
  • Spend an entire day with just ONE child, of the age group of your choice, and do whatever that child chooses, with no learning outcomes or objectives or assessments or checklists (Who wants to loan me a toddler?).
  • On a rainy day, binge watch a TV show that you have been meaning to check out. (Mad Men.  Or maybe Lost, all over again from the beginning…)
  • Read exactly whatever catches your fancy. Read trash if you want because it is all your brain can handle (Hello, James Patterson, how nice to see you again…) . Read heavy literary fiction because your brain can’t handle it during school (Working my way through the Giller prize nominees). Read non-fiction about some obscure (this means NOT ABOUT EDUCATION) interest (Tudor England! Primate rescue! The social construction of childhood throughout history!).

There. You have 8 weeks to complete all the tasks. Or not. Document your progress, your process, and your product. Or don’t. Tweet, Facebook, Pin, and Instagram your results. Or keep them all to yourself.

VegasPool

It’s YOUR summer. Do what it takes to be a happier, healthier, kinder, stronger, smarter,  HUMAN BEING by September, and I PROMISE that you will also be a better teacher.

Now, go find your pyjamas and get started.

(This post was inspired by a homework assignment I gave to a student a few years ago, so: go find a heart-shaped rock.)

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The Luckiest People

I had a boss, a long time ago, at Internationally-Known-Non-Profit-Agency-of-Ill-Repute, who was a big proponent of having A Friend at Work, and encouraged us to get to know one another, socialise, connect outside of our workspace. She said everyone needed People. So we did. Socialise, get to know one another, connect outside of work. And from that came P and L, two of my long-time People: friendships that have survived and thrived through weddings and kiddos and grad school and career changes and new homes and big moves. My girls. My People.

When I moved to a new country for grad school, my dad loaded all my earthly belongings into his horse trailer and drove me down there. Once I was all set up in my teeny weeny apartment, he did the long drive home alone, and later told me he found it really hard to drive away and leave me in a town where I had no People. Funny thing is, I remember watching his truck leave my parking spot, and thinking: “Ok, I have a house, furniture, groceries, a sense of where to find things in this town. Next up: I need to find me some People.”

I found me some People, and they remain My People to this day.

A few years ago, my first year at This School, at a time when it was In Transition and longtime staff regarded new staff with the squinty eyes of suspicion. Hard to find People when no one trusts anyone. I found ONE: a grade one teacher, also new, also regarded with suspicion. If you can’t have People, have A Person. That grade one teacher is still My Person, although I have People now, too.

Today, straggling with My People (including my boss, who is totally one of My People) after a meeting… A colleague, relatively new to our school, an amazing teacher. She teaches some of my students from years ago, describes them in the very same words I used when they were kindergarteners. From her today: tears, at feeling alone in her desire to question pedagogy, at being at odds with her team, misunderstood. A realization: she doesn’t need advice. She needs some People. We get her. We love our students the way she does. We ask the same hard questions. We find the same quirky, sometimes dark, humour, in working with young children. She’s us. She’s People.

So, we’ll be her People. We’ll invite her to lunch and share our jokes and make note of her Starbucks order.

We all need People. We need to find our People. We need to be People to others. Your People may  be in the classroom next door or across the hall or up the stairs. They may not be. They may not even be in your school (or office or centre, or wherever you earn your  paycheque), although just like my long-ago boss, I think we all do better at work if we have at least a Person. Your people may be on The Twitterz (like some of my best People are). They may be commenters on your blog (hello, blog People!). They may be in a course you take or sitting next to you at a meeting.

Find your People. Be People.

This job is too hard to do alone.

People need People.

 

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To the PreK teachers: Thank you.

Three days into this kindergarten year. Three magical, crazy, messy, chaotic, exhilarating and exhausting days, for me, and, I’m sure, for the children. (Now that I think about it, it has probably been all of those things for their parents, too.)  Exhausted as I am, I love these days. I love figuring out a new group of kids, noticing their quirks both collective and individual, predicting the patterns that may emerge as the year goes on. I love sitting back and watching the kids as they figure things out: the room, the toys, their teachers, each other.
Watching this year’s crop of munchkins settle in, I have often thought of our preschool teachers. One of the things I love about my school is that many of our students start with us when they are just three years old. We really get to watch them grow up.  An increasing percentage of my students have been with us for 2 full years before even arriving in kindergarten. Our preschool teachers may be the hardest working people in our building. They work longer hours for less pay than K-12 teachers, pouring themselves into our very tiniest students. The things they teach are rarely thought of, and even more rarely noticed, by teachers are higher levels, but the value of what they do has left me breathless on more than one occasion this week.
And so, to the preschool teachers, at my school and everywhere, on behalf of all the teachers from Kindergarten onward: Thank you.
Thank you for teaching these children:
  • To push in their chairs when they stand up from their tables.
  • To open one item at a time from their lunch boxes.
  • To put their shoes neatly in their cubbies.
  • To carry 2 shoes in one hand.
  • To wash their hands with one (and only one) pump of soap.
  • To say “please” and “thank you” and “help me” and “can I go to the bathroom” and “hello” and “goodbye” in French, with such consistency that the kids who have never been to school in French are already saying them.
  • To try new things with courage and determination.
  • To write their name on their work.
  • To put their scissors and glue away when their work is done.
  • To love books, and to explore them with such an eye for detail.
  • To take care of books and put them gently back on the shelf.
  • To listen raptly to stories and songs.
  • To notice the colours and shapes of things.
  • To follow a visual schedule
  • To keep track of their own belongings.
  • To put their shoes on the right feet (at least some of the time!)
  • To choose a healthy snack.
  • To know the difference between snack and lunch.
  • To look out for one another on the playground.
  • To walk the hallways of our very large building with confidence and purpose.
  • To trust that school is a wonderful and safe place, where they belong and are welcome.

Thank you for showing these children, with everything you say and do, that the adults in a classroom are there to help them. They have arrived on my doorstep with perfect confidence that if they are unsure or worried or scared or upset or struggling, I will help them. Their faith is so perfect that they do not hesitate to ask for help, or to announce that they are having trouble. They are not embarrassed to be learning, they are not hiding their mistakes. They are hanging them out there for all to see, trusting that this is a place where mistakes are okay, where  second chances are readily available, and where there is always an opportunity to try again.

And above and beyond all of this: thank you, for loving these children so well and so thoroughly that their expectation of school is just that: love. For holding them and hugging them, smiling at them and laughing with them so often and with such enthusiasm that, when they arrived at my door just 3 short days ago, their love was right there bubbling at the surface. I’m just not sure that I can think of a better definition of school readiness than for a child to arrive at school prepared and expecting to love and be loved.

So, thank you, dear preschool colleagues. The work you do is undervalued and underpaid, but please, please know: it is not unappreciated. You have polished these little ones up so bright and shiny. The responsibility of keeping that shine alive is both humbling and inspiring.

Happy September, friends.

 

 

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#edcampkinder reflections: But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.

(Introductory note: #edcampkinder was a live meetup, in Las Vegas, earlier this week, attended by 10 teachers who are frequent fliers on the #kinderchat hashtag. Basically: we chose a destination, a hotel, and we hung out for 3 days. It was an ongoing conversation about What We Do, interspersed with pool-lounging and show-watching and buffet-eating, spread over the hottest 3 days in recent memory. A few of us had met in person before. Most of us hadn’t. It was amazing and weird and terrifying and awesome.)

I was telling a friend — a good friend, who knows me well and shares some of my homebody-introvert tendencies — about #edcampkinder, and she commented: “I’m impressed you went, especially all by yourself. I don’t know if I would be able to do that.” Fact: it never occurred to me NOT to go. The timing worked, the cost worked, the destination worked. I went. Not only did I go, I helped plan the thing. I chose the hotel (FYI: there was shade at the pool!).  I encouraged others to go.

With all of this being said, there is no denying: #edcampkinder was, for the most part, a big fat blind date. And, if you know me like my friend does, you know this: I hate dating. HATE. IT. I hate small talk and chit chat and all the things that you do to make it feel okay that you are sharing a meal with a stranger. I hate strangers. In university, I had a roommate who talked all the time about how she LOVED meeting new people. Me? Not so much. I like MY People, but I do not find myself on a constant quest to have more People. It makes sense that my friend was surprised at my trip.

World’s biggest blind date? Surprisingly non-awkward!

I do want to be clear, especially to my dear  #edcampkinder and #kinderchat friends who are reading this: I did not, for one moment in all of this, consider you true “strangers.” We know each other. We talk nearly every day.  We tweet and e-mail and Facebook and google doc. We collaborate and cooperate and dream and scheme and plan together.  In 140 characters, you can know a surprising lot about a person.

But also: in 140 characters, you know everything and nothing about a person. Ditto for e-mail, Facebook comments, and online chats. Far too many years of online dating and internet-based camp staff hiring have taught me that. Lots of people give good e-mail/Facebook/Twitter. But until you see them, face to face across a hamburger or a latte or a cold Corona, the possibility remains that it is all just smoke and mirrors.

You see, I believe in chemistry, and not just in a romantic setting. I believe that there is something that happens when you are smiling and making faces and raising your eyebrows and pointing your fingers and waving your hands around when you talk to someone LIVE AND IN PERSON. At least, if you are me, you do all of those things when you talk. It’s who I am and it’s how I am and it surprises some folks when they meet me in person, but there it is: I’m a hand-talker. If that doesn’t work for you, we probably can’t be friends. Or something.

For all that I hate “getting to know” people, I love KNOWING people, and I love when people KNOW me. I love that spark of “oh, wow, dude, you totally GET me.” I love discovering My People. And the very possibility – the still, small, hope of REALLY SEEING and being REALLY SEEN by another person… that’s what got me, with all of my weirdoms (or what my #kindertwin, @matt_gomez, generously refers to as my “quirks”) on a plane to meet 9 other teachers — 6 of whom I had never met — at a mid-range hotel on The Strip, in Vegas, for 3 days. The desert, in July. Dessert (preferably of the frozen variety) in the desert. With strangers.

And what did I find there? People I knew. People who knew me. Spine-tingling moments of “oh, wow, dude, you totally GET me.” I REALLY SAW, and was REALLY SEEN. Hand-talkers. Finger wavers. Eyebrow-raisers. Sh*t disturbers. Smartasses. Kind hearts. Generous souls. Shared laughter. Some of it inappropriate. Oh yes, these are My People.

I have a list, on Twitter. A pretty darn short list, called “People I Actually Know.” That list is a little longer than it was a week ago.  If you know me, if you REALLY KNOW me, you know: that, all by itself, is a pretty damn big deal.

Thank you, My People.

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