Saturday, August 31, 2013

Doing My Rounds

Well, after many days of work and preparation, I am ready for the big day!  The first day of the 2013-2014 school year.  This Tuesday, all the little darlings will arrive and see their classroom for the first time and meet their teacher (many for the first time.)  It is always a very exciting and emotional day.  It is one I look forward to every year.  Like many of the students, I'm nervous, can't sleep much the night before, and am extremely excited to see my friends.

My amazing dry erase kidney table for group work
New tables!
This year I have made a drastic change in my classroom.  I got rid of my desks and went to circle tables.  The fact that my desks were always arranged in table groups got me to thinking of how much easier it would be just to have tables. It also would be great for group work and for students to have flexibility to move and learn around the classroom.  So, last April, I put on my brightest smile and approached my principal to see if he would be as enthused with my idea as I was.  Luckily he was supportive and told me he'd see what he could do.  So, I pushed my luck and I also asked for a kidney shaped dry erase table.

As you can see from my classroom pictures - I got what I asked for!  I have spent lots of time making sure the room looks its best.  I know this change will be different for both me and my kids.  But I'm confident it will be a positive change in my classroom.
So there I was, last Thursday, mumbling to myself (any teacher knows what I'm talking about here), amidst a pile of books as I organized my classroom library, with Pandora blasting through the sound system, when I looked up to find a hesitant mom and darling little girl peeking into my classroom. 

"Are you Mrs. Jeppson?" the mother shouted in order to be heard over the music.

"Yes! I am!" I replied as they stepped tentatively into the room and I headed towards the door to greet them.

The mother introduced her daughter, one of my new students for the upcoming year.  I smiled at her, shook her little hand, and asked her what she thought of the classroom.  I waved my arm channelling Vanna White in a broad sweep of the classroom.  She smiled brightly as her mother nodded her head. I told her I had made lots of big changes over the summer.

"It looks so warm and inviting," began the mother. "I love the tables."
"It's pretty!" added the sweetie.  I could see her eyes darting around, trying to take in the new things and relaxing a bit as she seemed to like the room.

"Thank you," I told them.  "I've been really working on making some changes so that all my students can have space and comfort to learn and think."

"It's so bright," continued the mother, eyes still taking in the room. 

I looked at the little girl, who no doubt was worried and nervous about the upcoming year.  I think seeing the room and meeting me was helping a bit.  But she still seemed to have doubts as to whether I was the "crazy teacher".

I bent down a bit in front of her.  "I love your hair," I told her, smiling. Her thick, curly hair was tied back in a hair band, and humidity was pulling strands here and there.  "You have wonderful curls!" 

She couldn't stop the big smile from spreading, as she touched her hair.  She looked me right in the eye as I touched my curly, but rather frizzy and no doubt frazzled hair.  

"Don't worry," I added.  "My hair isn't usually this funny looking!"  

They both laughed and politely excused themselves so I could get back to my preparations.  

"See you soon!" I told them both as the little girl waved and smiled.

Just meeting one of my incoming students put me in a terrific mood the rest of the day.  It reminded me of all the new little faces I will see arrive in my room, tentative and hopeful for a great school year.  It reminded me of the excitement of a new year and all its promise. 

So, although I'm certainly no doctor, I will be 'doing my rounds' as I get to know my students in the next few weeks, and as we learn together this year.  

I even organized my books this year!

Another view of my classroom table groups

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

B Positive: Guest Blogger

It's only our fifth day back to school and already a teacher friend asked me if I was interested in her as a guest blogger.  The fact that I have been practically shouting from the rooftops, "Does anybody want to help me out this year and guest blog?" probably hasn't hurt.  So, thank you, teacher friend for being brave and stepping up. 

This guest blogger is one of the most positive people I know, always greeting everyone with an exuberant smile.  After I read this story, I realized that it really is true.  You can help people be more positive by simply being more positive yourself.  Even in the face of death, this woman chose to not let things bring her down; instead she clung to the positive.  I wonder how many of us could do the same.

B Positive

To some of you, this will be a very strange blog post on positivity, but I urge you to keep reading, hang in there, and you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a picture of my friend and I on her wedding day.  What a wonderful day filled with love, laughter, family, and friends.  Sadly, she recently passed away from breast cancer at the age of 43.  What could this possibly have to do with positivity?  Positivity is what enabled this young woman to live much longer than expected, to see her kids accomplish goals, snuggle them in bed at night, to enjoy her parents, to hug and hold her husband, to have lunch with her girlfriends, to fight with her sister, to laugh and be laughed at, to love life.

My friend was always positive; always the glass is half full kind of girl.  We used to tease her because she was a Gold Tour Guide, leading nervous freshmen and easily as nervous parents around the campus of Western Michigan, never ceasing to smile, laugh and put them at ease.

My little, Italian friend (as we often called her) was very strong in her faith in God and the promise of eternal life.  It was this belief that gave her strength in accepting what was to come next and I daresay, looking forward to it.  Her positive outlook on life and death has been inspirational.  You see, I could never wrap my head around the words, "at peace".  It just seemed like something you say when someone dies, something to make the event seem more bearable. My dear friend exemplified  at peace, and in turn made everyone who loved her feel at peace.

On one visit to the hospital, shortly before her passing, I asked her blood type.  She said, "What do you think?"
As I contemplated, she replied, "B Positive, of course."

Of course - her mantra!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy Camper

We (teachers only) went back to school last Thursday, August 22nd.   Our first day back was filled with lots of catching up with other teachers, organizing and setting up our classrooms, and the inevitable hugfest.   Let me clarify for you -- it's not that I don't like to hug people, it's just that I think it is often overused.   Of course, my teacher friends that know me best, upon first look at me, raised their arms in an exaggerated hug and headed straight for me, grinning ear to ear.   You teachers! 

We had our first staff meeting of the year, with a run-down of important dates, opportunities to learn, new staff introductions, and the all important *class list*.  This is our first look at our kids for the upcoming year.  I quickly scanned my list of twenty-five little darlings, looking for a familiar last name.   Lucky for me I have one of my favorite friend's little boy and a few other siblings of former 3rd graders in my class. Just like kids, teachers like to see some familiar faces that first day of school too.

By the end of the day Thursday, many teachers had their rooms prepared and looking spiffy for opening day of school.   I headed home exhausted but excited about the new year.  My daily summer exercise committment was set aside as I collapsed on the couch.

On Friday morning, the early bird teachers, a.k.a. the "Breakfast Club" met for our first breakfast to continue our tradition of every other Friday breakfast get-togethers before school. (see post from last year about our breakfast)   "The Usual"  It was comforting to have our familiar waitress greet us and welcome us back.  It sure didn't seem like we had not been there for ten weeks.

After breakfast it was off to school, where everybody gathered in the gym for our day of professional development, camping style.   Our fearless camp director (principal) announced and explained some games we were going to play to get us excited, energized, and bonding with one another for the upcoming year.  The first game, called "The Killer" was fun and funny and had teachers overacting their death when the killer winked at them.  Then we played a partner game where we were blindfolded and finished up with some balloon fun, and "Fire in the Hole".  A few hours of playful games and lots of laughter kick-started us all and had us ready for an afternoon of learning. 
The fire for our kindling

Our camping tent
After lunch our camp themed day continued in our Media Center where a tent was pitched and treats were on every table.   Throughout the afternoon, we had wonderful conversations.  There was a lot of thinking going on.

The concluding activity was for each teacher to throw some kindling (crepe paper) with something they were letting go of this school year on to our campfire.  Each teacher confidently announced their "thing" and tossed the paper into the "fire".   In case any of you are curious, my kindling was "desks" as this year I have let go of all my desks and am using round tables in my classroom.  It's an experiment I'm both nervous and excited about.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the year regarding my new classroom setup.
S'more treats! Yummy!

Have I mentioned we have a wonderful ex-teacher, coordinator who makes PD's fun?  She puts us teachers to shame with her cute little PD activities and decorations, AND she even bakes us treats every PD.  Since it was a camping theme, she made us little s'mores.  Yum!    

Back to my room to utilize the last thirty minutes of the day to laminate, organize some cabinets, and pack my bag for stuff to take home and do over the weekend.  

As I headed home, I began to think of how lucky I am.  I work with a really spectacular group of professionals.  They are people I am proud to call my friends.  Our PD's provide us with the support, knowledge, and resources we need to become better teachers.  We have a principal who encourages us to play games.  Our PD coordinator makes the sometimes long days of PD fun, entertaining, and bearable.  Everywhere you look there is a person to listen, help, support, and laugh with you.  Even on the darkest days, you do not feel alone.  

There is always a warm, comforting glow from our campfire.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

T-Minus 1

Well, let's see. It's been sixty-five glorious days filled with sun, relaxation, travel, family, friends, and fun.  Sixty-five days, of which, many passed without a thought about school, or kids, or curriculum, or stress. But now, there is only one precious day remaining of summer vacation. (insert violins)

It's time to be professionally developed. It's time to prepare our rooms for the "big day". It's time to copy and staple and get ready for a new class.  It's time to change out of shorts and flip flops and put on "real" clothes and shoes. It's time to wear make-up again and use a blow dryer. It's time for the early morning sounds of an alarm clock.   As a teacher friend comically pointed out to us all on Facebook the other day, "It's time to make the donuts." If I haven't mentioned it before in previous posts, if you want a good laugh, hang around teachers.  They are, without a doubt, the funniest people on earth.

Like many other teachers, I've already been to my classroom several times to get things ready.  I've made some big changes in my classroom (pictures to come) that have me, dare I say it, excited to be back to school.  In one day, teachers will gather to share conversations about summer adventures with a far-away look in their eyes as they relive their good times. We will be tanned and refreshed, something that will fade quickly in the first few hectic weeks of school.  We will welcome new colleagues and miss the ones who will not return this school year.  

With so much negativity around the teaching profession and education lately, this year I will continue my quest to see things in a positive light. And no matter what people say about what I do, I am proud to be a teacher. 

I am proud to be a teacher.  To spend roughly 1,250 hours a year with children.  To teach them.  To inspire them.  To motivate them and encourage them.  To nurse them and nurture them. To pull out their best parts and minimize their worst.  To laugh with them and dry their tears.  To watch them grow.  To give and show respect.  To listen and to laugh with them.  To color and to play with them. To allow them to question and to think. To be patient.  To protect them as if they were my own.  To show them how important they are. To look for the good. To share in their accomplishments.  To brag about them.  To grow their love of reading. To compliment them and critique them.  To enjoy their curiosity.  To show them how to be nice to each other.  To give them skills to make friends and be a friend.  To demonstrate perseverance and integrity. To insist they give me their best.  To let them dream and daydream. To show them we all make mistakes and let them make mistakes.  To learn the value of, and appreciate differences. Above all, to model the importance of kindness and being a good person.  

Because, in case you didn't know it, each and every day teachers arrive at school and turn into real live superheroes. Simply put, summer gives us the time we need to perfect and increase our powers.  Really.

So, as we get ready to begin a new school year, full of promise and hope, I am reminded of a quote by Helen Keller:

  "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

As summer comes to its inevitable close, what do you say, teacher friends?  Can you help to make this the best school year ever?  

Because, I'm positive that together we can.