Posts Tagged ‘elementary teacher’

Slice of Life Tuesday: Lessons from the Chocolate Stash

February 2, 2021
The stash, after a single day. Learn what you will.

Upstairs, at one of my two schools, in the copy room, there sits a green plastic basket under a sticker on the wall that reads, “Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions. Chocolate UNDERSTANDS.”

Can you feel the love?

There are a few of us who tend to be the chocolate fairies of this particular basket. For my part, I like to purchase a big fat ol’ bag of candy favorites from Costco each time I go. I find that I can fill the basket about three times from each bag. Here’s what I’ve learned from years of filling the chocolate basket:

Non-chocolate in the chocolate basket is an abomination. You *might* be able to squeak by with snack packs of Skittles, but seriously, folks. Don’t be putting your SweeTarts and hard candies in here. No one has the time for that kind of negativity in their lives.

The pacing of chocolate consumption is a barometer for staff morale. Sometimes, the goodies I dump in will last a full week. During report card, conference or standardized test seasons, I can fill the basket in the morning and it’s slim pickin’s by lunchtime.

There is a definite pecking order. I have found, when observing the progress of the chocolate basket, that certain treats get snapped up faster than Springsteen tickets. In order of popularity, we have:
Peanut M&M’s
100 Grand Bars
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Just about everything else
Milky Way

Milky Way is the scourge of the chocolate world. It never fails. No matter how quickly the chocolate stash gets depleted, there are always five or six Milky Way bars that refuse to find a home. I mean, eventually the chocolate ecosystem balances out. SOMEbody likes Milky Ways, and people end up grabbing them. Some day I’d love to buy a big value pack of Milky Way bars, dump it in and see what happens. But I don’t, because I love my colleagues too much.

Chocolate is bad for us. And that doesn’t matter. Even if we don’t partake of the goodies in the copy room, sometimes it’s enough to look in that basket and remember that there’s someone who wants to take care of us. Someone who knows the contents of that wrapper won’t bring contentment, relief from the unrelenting obligations and pressure of teaching, or a sense of agency when we feel powerless – but knows it will brighten our day nonetheless. And that knowledge brings with it a satisfaction similar to the crunch of that candy shell.

A Teacher’s Guide to Inauguration in 36 Easy Steps

January 19, 2021

or, Reflections from the Evening of January 19, 2021: How to Manage to Stay Afloat for the Next Eighteen Hours and Hold up the Walls of the World While it Watches, Waits, Breathless

  1. Pull yourself away from noise.
  2. Pet your dog.
  3. If you don’t have a dog, pretend to have a dog.
  4. Drink something warm.
  5. Listen, just for a moment, to tomorrow’s poet, Amanda Gorman.
  6. No. I mean really. Go listen. It’ll take you two minutes.
  7. Pass the tissues.
  8. Get a good bedtime.
  9. Wake up. Look at yourself in the mirror.
  10. Don’t just find the visage in the glass. Find the PERSON behind it.
  11. Don’t tell yourself “You’ve got this.” You’re tired of hearing that.
  12. Don’t tell yourself to breathe. You’re tired of hearing that, too.
  13. Tell yourself that you will get through today.
  14. Just like you do every day.
  15. Even the most difficult ones.
  16. Because that’s what we do.
  17. Get yourself to school, or to your Zoom, on time.
  18. Or not. Folks aren’t taking tardies today.
  19. Remember that our children are the reason we get up each day.
  20. Put your suffocating dread in its own breakout room.
  21. Tell your students you have faith in them.
  22. Tell your students you have faith in this world.
  23. Tell them again. Most of them won’t believe you the first time.
  24. Tell them they are part of history, that future children will hold their lives between the pages of a textbook.
  25. You will get through the day.
  26. Just like you do every day.
  27. Even the most difficult ones.
  28. Because that’s what we do.
  29. Close your computer and walk away.
  30. Do what you need to do to unclinch your white-knuckled grasp from your fear and anxiety.
  31. Because tomorrow your children will be waiting for you.
  32. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in the world.
  33. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in them.
  34. And again.
  35. And again.
  36. And again.

One Little Word…For Now

January 12, 2021

I’ve been a member of the Slice of Life writing community for nine months now. It’s been a source of inspiration, support and validation as I work to become braver in my writing.

As time goes on, I learn more about the rituals and traditions that “slicers” have. Most recently, I learned that each New Year’s brings with it the challenge to come up with One Little Word to frame ourselves for the new year.

I didn’t know that was a thing the week most folks posted, but I promised myself to write a post with my own One Little Word. Which is…

gather.

For me, for right now, I have come to rely on the power of gathering.

Which, now that I think about it, is strange, given that the literal meaning is so very impossible right now.

But in the metaphorical sense, I have come to rely on gathering…

Thoughts. Some days, it takes everything I have to bring my attention and focus to heel. My brain slides in one direction and the other. Like right now, for instance. I feel in my bones…how I feel, which means I feel…how? I can’t name it. My thoughts slip past and that’s strange to me. I’m used to being able to spend time with my thoughts. I’m used to being able to stop and articulate what’s going on in my inner self. And lately, that’s been tricky.

Life. These past months in particular, I’ve experienced shattering and loss. For several weeks, I sat, cross-legged and dumbstruck, among the wreckage. I’m finally standing now. Tentatively. And as I look around the room, I’m witnessing all of the routines and habits and structure I’ve let fall to pieces. And seeing them reminds me of ways I’ve failed myself, or those I love most. One by one, I’m gathering those pieces. It’s still an armful, so this one is going to take a while.

Joy. Thankfully, I haven’t lost my ability to notice and name those things, big and small, that provide me with delight, that offer reasons to get out of bed each day, that fill my heart to bursting. I can’t forget to bring these things in and together.

Strength. Remember what I said about how all those pieces of my life were an armful? It’s a LOT to carry. I am indescribably grateful for the amazing humans who situate themselves near me in one way or another. It is through the care and compassion of others who help me with the heavy lifting.

Gather. I’ll always need this word, for sure, but I’m hoping that I’ll be ready for a new one before I know it.

Stepping Back Up to the Soapbox

September 15, 2020

I have a lot of soapboxes to stand on when it comes to education.

I mean…c’mon. Just look at the name of my site.

from Etsy.com

It’s easy to get riled up about things when you feel as passionately I do about teaching, when you have as much faith in public schooling as I do.

One of my soapboxes is storytelling. It’s an incredible medium for sharing text that we don’t give enough credit to. People, the number of things that happen in our brains, big or small, when we hear a story being told? You could track the research here, or here, or here, or…

Aaaugh, I’m doing it again! All right, Lainie. Inhale. Exhale.

Now.

One of my storytelling soapboxes? Using storytelling as a way of crafting narrative. The way I put it is this. Our brains our lightning fast, like cheetahs. Our hands are super slow, like turtles.

When we ask children to write, we tell the cheetah and the turtle to keep the same pace.

No wonder so many kids struggle.

Oral language is that bridge, and it links our thoughts and words together in a manageable way. Think of it this way – how often do you have to talk through a problem to find a solution for it?

Through storytelling, writers at all stages of readiness understand that they hold the power of composition, even if their handwriting or typing skills don’t yet demonstrate it.

And yet oral language largely goes ignored at school, despite the fact that it’s one of the most powerful tools we have.

It’s why I had such a WIN when, a few years ago, I was able to bring a storytelling unit to one of the grades I work with. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be in good hands with my colleagues.

Boy was it ever. I got the most amazing affirmation of my efforts in a planning meeting today, as teachers discussed their upcoming unit on personal narrative. Here are a few highlights…

Me: This might be a place where storyboarding would be great. It would help your writers use oral language to draft and organize your thoughts.

Them: Oh, we already do that!

Me: I find it helpful to sketch the first and last squares of the storyboard, then fill the action in between to build the story.

Them: Oh, we already do that! You taught us that.

Me: One trick for kids working on dialogue is to make quick puppets out of pencils and let them play with the characters.

Them: Oh, we already do that! That’s what you taught us.

Me: … (smiles inwardly, shuffles feet) …

What do I love best about these exchanges?
1. I love to learn and grow. I feel lucky to see colleagues do the same.
2. It’s affirming to know that things I see as good teaching…ARE.
3. I love making myself obsolete because others have pushed forward.

…I’d probably better stop before I get on another soapbox. Like I said, it’s easy to get riled up about things when you feel as passionately as I do…

On Gathering Moss

August 20, 2019

Elementary teachers have a solid reputation as pack rats. And for good reason. The sheer amount of STUFF it takes to teach elementary school is mind-boggling. Here’s the tip of the iceberg:
-books for reading
-curricular materials
-office supplies
-student supplies
-teacher files
-games, puzzles, activities, art supplies, writing supplies, room decor…

…and that’s only for one grade level. Those of us who have bounced around from grade to grade are well aware that the unit on earthquakes isn’t what our kids need NOW, but may be next year when we have to take on a completely different assignment.

This year, I begin my twenty-fifth year of teaching. It surprises me to say it, and it REALLY surprised my mom to hear it (no, she hasn’t gotten any older since I left college – why do you ask?).

Just imagine the incredible amount of teacher stuff I’ve amassed in the last two and a half decades. Just take a peek:

…not quite what you expected? I figured. To be fair, this is exactly half of my stuff. I have a duplicate set of these materials at my second school. But no. I don’t have much stuff.

Perhaps it would help you to know that this year, in my twenty-fifth year of education, I will have tallied more instructional spaces than I have years of teaching.

Which means that I’ve moved. A lot. So now I’m trained. Each August and June signals my twice-yearly ritual to de-clutter, to lighten my load so that my footprint remains small.

Some of my spaces have been generous, open, well-lit, welcoming. Others have been glorified closets, or hallways, or hastily-devised spaces, or meeting spaces, or repurposed storage areas that were never meant to be places for instruction.

I generally don’t mind moving, sharing space, or being asked to foster learning and development in the strangest of places. Ten years ago? I took it personally. Now? I don’t mind as much. And I think it’s because getting lean with my belongings has taught me:

-It’s not me. It’s easy to equate space with power, or priority.* It’s easy to think that I’m pushed out of one spot or another because I – or even worse, my students! – am not valued. But that’s generally not the case.
-Community is community. It doesn’t matter what’s on the walls. Or where I keep my books. As long as my loveys have the space and the materials they truly need, we can create a place where they can explore and thrive. And that’s what matters.

Granted, if you came to me with a space that’s generous, open, well-lit or welcoming, I would take it in a heartbeat. But now I also know that that’s not everything. I’m happy to be where I am. I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Now if you need me, I’ll be packing. Or unpacking. Or maybe packing again…

*Ahhh….the power dynamic within elementary schools. This is a BIG idea. One I should explore in a future blog post. Stay tuned.

©Lainie Levin, 2019