Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I was a Crappy Friend

As I drove home from attending two days of an education technology conference, I reflected on my time spent with friends this week. I worked at the registration table each morning and it was a joy to see so many friends - old and new - pass by. 

Last year was a hard year for me. I'd lost my teaching mojo. Despite the fact that I was working with my three bestest teaching pals and despite the fact that I have the world's best husband, I could barely get myself together to really enjoy my job at all. These fantastically understanding people kept me afloat, but just barely.

You see, I had a hole in my heart. And it was a big one. No matter how much love the people around me put into it, the leak was always faster. Oprah frequently talked about the Universe sending messages which would gradually get louder (and more painful) until acknowledged....I totally believe this now. I ignored the small messages over the last couple years and the Universe came a knockin' with its full force this year. Ultimately, it is my fault that I allowed this hole to grow (to form at all!)...but through this experience I have grown.

Flashforward to this week - I had lunch with a bestest teammate that I taught with at another school a few years ago and we discovered that we'd had similar experiences this year. I ended up buying her lunch and apologizing to her for being a crappy friend this year. Then it hit me...I wasn't ABLE to be a good friend to anyone this year (family included). She and I were both afloat on a sea of depression...paddling separately, barely keeping our chins out of the water. Neither of us was aware of the severity of the other's struggle - we'd only exchanged calls a couple times this year. I guess that should have been a sign for us both. When friends drop off your radar, you should probably check on them. This is a skill I'm working on.

Nothing cements my belief in teamwork more than my experiences this year. I was lost. My team held my hand and bolstered me every step of the way. They listened, encouraged, and dragged me along even when I wasn't being a good sport. I don't think I can ever repay them for walking through it with me.

With the start of a new school year fast approaching I find that my 'well' is once again full. I've been working with an awesome career counselor (I actually questioned my choice of careers this year!!) and she has helped me rediscover myself. I didn't need a new career - I needed to uncover the root cause of my dissatisfaction with my job and also how to keep my 'idea monkey' brain challenged. I uncovered truths about my situation, set goals, the planets aligned, I took the bull by the horns....etc., etc.!

Although I am sad that I will not be working with any of my previous bestest teammates this year, I am looking forward to finding bestest teammates at my new school. I know they're there....they are everywhere and I have mojo to share once again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Inspiration from Unexpected Places

One of the great things about teaching is that we can draw inspiration from anywhere. Teaching is an art. And just like an artists, we teachers never know where the next amazing idea might come from.

One of the biggest drawbacks of being a teacher is that we rarely (if ever) have time to observe our colleagues in action. Seeing a great lesson enacted by a fantastic teacher is a treasure box of information, skills, and techniques. Even visiting another classroom for a few minutes can yield tons of ideas for my own classroom.

I have two children of my own and I have learned a few things from observing them in action. It has been fascinating to me to watch their various instructors in dance, karate, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. Most parents are watching their kids...I'm watching the instructors! 

I've been taking my kids to the weekly programs at the library this summer. We've seen a magician, juggler, story teller, and a musician. These people are professional performers and the audience usually encompasses a wide range of in babies in laps all the way to 5th graders. The main thing I've noticed in all of the performances is that the show must go on...even if there are toddlers wandering around making noise, parents on cellphones, random comments from children. All of which stresses me out, but I have been inspired seeing these professionals carry on with their shows. It's such a great reminder for my classroom!

We are trained to wait for all eyes to be on us before proceeding because we all know good and well the kid talking in the back will be asking what the directions are before we've finished our last sentence. But is this really true? Do I really need every pair of eyes on me? A goal for this year is to train the students not only to listen during those few moments when instructions or information must be given, but also how to use their peers as information resources.

The next thing that I've noticed with these performers is that they naturally grab the kids' attention by just starting. The juggler played music and began juggling. The magician performed a series of simple tricks with interlocking rings. Now I know that we're supposed to begin with an attention grabber, but it's hard coming up with little tricks and songs and whatever else on a regular basis. However, having seen this technique in action several times this summer I think it is well worth my time to investigate attention-grabbing options.

Now, in the sports arena I've witnessed that sometimes you have to break inattention with physical activity. My son's first soccer coach was great at this. When the boys (all 5 or 6 years old) got distracted from the soccer lesson he'd have them run a lap. There was no yelling or irritation, just a sense that the players were mentally tired, they needed a break, so let them run. They loved running and laughed the whole way around the field, but when they returned (out of breath) they were much more focused on the lesson.

My son's karate instructors were amazing at creating structure, discipline, and natural rewards. Every lesson began with the same series of exercises - a routine. The goals were crystal clear and their progress towards the goals was evaluated at every class. Every student was held to the same expectations in terms of respect for their peers and the instructors as well as performance of the assigned tasks. Disrespect was met with discipline in the form of a quiet reprimand with the offender sitting quietly on the edge of the mat or running a couple laps. Time out was always followed with brief personal instruction and reflection over what happened to result in punishment and how it could be avoided in the future. Every class concluded with a game. Of course the kids didn't notice that the games were simply skill practice presented in a fun way.

My daughter was involved in her first dance class last fall. Again there was structure and discipline even within the class full of precious, easily distracted, tutu-adorned 4 year old girls. Class began and ended with a set routine. Students were expected to listen respectfully and practice the moves to their best ability. The performance (even after only a handful of practices) was joyful despite the fact that some kids went the wrong way and did the wrong thing. 

My take-aways from these varied experiences and venues is that structure, routine, and discipline are the keys to a successful classroom. There can be no excuses. If a magician can wrangle a group of 40 kids ages 18 months - 10 years old, then surely I can effectively manage 25 students in the classroom. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did That Teacher Just Cut Me Off??

Reading this blog about driver etiquette caused me to consider "When is it okay to cut in?".

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction is "Never!". However, I find myself cutting in fairly frequently.

Here's my basic gripe: We would all get to where we're going safely and efficiently if everyone USED A LITTLE COMMON COURTESY and PAID ATTENTION while driving.

Sure there are signals and intersections and certain exits that are prone to back up because of the sheer volume of traffic. However, I believe that if everyone was paying just a little more attention to their driving, congestion would ease. My biggest concern with traffic back up on busy exits in particular is that  taking that last spot at the end of a line of cars hanging out in traffic could cause a major accident. I'd rather be considered rude by taking up some slack in an available lane than risk getting rear-ended by traffic moving at highway speeds. (FYI - I think Lexington, KY is the capital of backed up exits...thanks New Circle Road!)

I'm probably what most would consider an aggressive driver (goodness knows I've been flipped off and brake-checked by other drivers a few times). But do you know what my number one priority is on the road? Staying out of everyone else's way. That's it. I'm always on the lookout for ways I can ease the path of a fellow traveler. Generally that means staying out of the left lane unless passing, using my turn signals (religiously), going the speed limit (usually just a little over), and keeping an eye on my mirrors for faster traffic.

The most problematic situations I encounter are drivers who are:

  • Hanging out in the left lane
  • Driving well under the speed limit
  • Failing to use turn signals
  • Unaware of cars in the vicinity
  • Talking on the cellphone while driving
  • Texting while driving
  • Not keeping a constant speed
  • Hanging out in other drivers' blind spots

Drivers who are guilty of any of the above will be passed, even if that means passing on the right. I don't want to be near anyone doing any of those things. 

So, watch out...if someone with an educator plate cuts you off, it could be me. But don't take it personally, I don't - I'm just happy to be on my way and out of yours.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yeeeehawwwww! Channeling the General Lee

Inspired by this weekend's road trip to Ohio and back I thought I'd share a handy driving tip.

First, my credentials: I have attended Bondurant High Performance Driving School, Skip Barber Racing School (3 day session at Indianapolis Raceway Park), BMW Club Schools (at Road Atlanta, Putnam Park, and Mid-Ohio), and Porsche Club Schools (at Putnam Park and Road Atlanta). I can heel-toe downshift, drive the racing line on a track, and most importantly AVOID trouble. Granted, I haven't participated in a driving school since the 1990's (they cost money and I have two kids now), but not much has changed.

The most important, number one thing you can do to keep yourself and everyone else on the road safe is to KEEP YOUR EYES UP!! 

I cannot overstate this. If you are looking through the cars in front of you then you are ready for that random piece of rubber that flies up in front of you or the jerkwad on his phone that you noticed miles ago was weaving. Too many people fixate on the bumper in front of them instead of looking beyond the cars they're following.

To see farther ahead, you can do several things. My personal favorite is to ride the left lane line. If there's a big ol' SUV or semi-truck in front of me I simply scooch (no, it's not an official driving term) to the left. You'd be amazed how far up the road you can see by moving a little to the left. You will know that the car five cars up the road hit the brakes even before the car just in front of you realizes it! You will see the cop sitting in the median well before the people in line in front of you! You will be READY for anything that transpires in front of you. 

This is probably a little warped, but I can't help but feeling a little smug when I see a situation occurring way down the road before the driver in front of me sees it. I'm able to take action (accelerate, change lanes, swerve, brake...lots of options here) and shazam! I'm on my way while unprepared, unfocused driver in front of me is left to deal with the obstacle. I imagine unfocused driver to be like the stereotypical Dukes of Hazard protagonist...shaking his fist as his car sinks into the swamp and I in my General Lee escapes....mwahahahahahaha!!

Looking ahead is probably the easiest thing drivers can do to stay safe. I urge you to practice it the next time you are behind the wheel. How far down the road can you see?