The 125th Blog Post: Dedicated to My Fifth Grade Students 2011 – 2012: Blue Joy, The Art of Moving On, and A Summer’s Morning in NoHo

Sometime ago, I read somewhere that publishing 125 blog posts is a big deal for a blogger.  I started writing this particular blog in August 2008.  Initially, it was just a way to let parents know what was happening in the classroom.  But somewhere along the way, the teacher morphed into a writer and the blog morphed into a reflective journal.  My first blog of this school year was my 110th and I spent the year with this milestone in mind.  Sometime during the year, I told the students about this milestone.  And about a month ago, they asked me if I had reached this milestone yet.  “No, I’m still one away,” I told them.  They wondered what my holdup was.  I told them that this had to be a special post, a meaningful post.  And then a light bulb went off in my head.  For two years, I had assigned them topics to write about.  This blog would be turnabout is fair play, they could assign me the topic.  Excitedly, they set off writing down ideas for me to write about for this blog.  They put them into the TOT box and I pulled out one slip of paper.  While there were many great ideas, the “winning” topic was for me to write about what it was like teaching you for two years.  So, since that time, I have been formulating this blog in my head.  It started off just being called “Blue Joy”, then on a nice Sunday afternoon, I added “The Art of Moving On” and finally today, after a walk to Moore’s Swamp to get into the mood for blogging, I added the third section.  So here goes….. the 125th post of this blog.

BLUE JOY

Blue

So, on the eve of the 180th day of 5th Grade, I am writing about an interesting topic.  Blue and Joy.  Two words that describe pretty accurately how I feel about being your teacher for almost 360 days.  Blue and Joy.  Usually, you all are a pretty astute group.  But for the past two weeks, you haven’t picked up on a pretty big clue about how I am feeling about you all.  I am pretty blue.  I’ve been wearing blue for the past two plus weeks because that is how I am feeling about your leaving Thoreau.  You have been an incredible group for the past two years.  But, I have to be honest with you.  Initially, you were a group that I didn’t want.  Having seen a great group go off to 5th grade, I feverishly played lottery tickets to be able to retire on this group.  Didn’t work and in you walked into Room 305B.  You weren’t easy initially.  But about six weeks into the school year, I knew that you all had a thirst for knowledge and were willing to try new things.  So, CBL became DPC and you know what happened there.  Yes, we were second in the nation, but the real story was how you became really Seekers of Knowledge.  You became the voice for the Blanding’s turtles.  You stood up in front of rooms of strangers and talked.  And talked.  And talked.  During each of these presentations, my heart swelled with pride.  It gave me so much joy to watch you talk about these turtles.  Your poise was incredible for 4th graders.  After we won, the Superintendent asked me “how are you going to top this?”  And you know, I didn’t know.  I began to think maybe it was time for me to change what I was doing.  I did a lot of soul searching.  And then an opportunity presented itself, to go back to fifth grade, but to go with you all.  It was a no brainer.  Moving was horrible, but I knew that I would have you all again and that gave me comfort.  We moved into our new room, made it our own, and picked up where we left off.  We were fortunate to have two new students added to the mix who mixed right in.  Many class discussions led us back to doing DPC again, and while we didn’t finish like we had the year before, you again gave me so much joy as we trudged outside to collect water from the storm drain in the pouring rain, as you presented at an All School Assembly, and as you talked to the NRC about the vernal pool.  Although you are probably the most accomplished class that I ever have had the privilege of teaching, the moments that gave me the most joy were the less flashy moments that happen in our classroom.  They are the moments when you sit on top of the climbing structures like sloths, they are the moments when we are scheming to prank Mrs. Dillon’s class, they are the moments that you help one another with a task, they are the moments when something spontaneous happens, like dancing to Double Dream Hands.  So, while not every moment of the 360 days has been joyful, you need to know how much joy you have brought into my life. So, knowing that I need to start all over again, I am feeling pretty blue.  The magic of teaching is that every year (or almost every year), you get to hit the reset button and start all over again.  When I have students like you all, who can do so many things, this can be overwhelming to think about starting all over once again.  So, I will be grieving your leaving for a bit, while at the same time, rejoicing in watching what you have become.  Blue Joy sums it up pretty well in my book.

The Art of Moving On

Kachua on the Move.  Several Sundays ago, I had Kame and Kachua home with me on the weekend.  Since they have been on their exercise program, I have tried to bring them home and get them outside.  They both enjoy the opportunity to walk around on the grass, dig a little, and investigate their surroundings.  On this particular Sunday, Kachua was particularly interesting.  While looking at her cruising around the yard, it hit me, she’s ready to move onto the wild.  Just like you all, you are ready to move on to 6th grade.  I shot this video of her.  She looked so confident of herself and it reminded me of you.  I remember when I first gave you a multiplication facts test.  You freaked out.  Now, when you just had a facts test two weeks ago, you weren’t ruffled whatsoever.  No issues.  Confident, just like Kachua in my yard.  You are ready to move on.  You are ready to tackle more complex academics and social situations.  You are ready to take what you have learned and apply it in a more deep manner.  Just like Kachua, you are ready to move onto a larger “pond”, where more opportunities present themselves.  You need to continue to be confident in yourself.  Even when you are not quite sure, just walk like you are sure what you are doing.  No negative self-talk.  In the book of pictures you gave me, there was a great Thoreau quote about change.  “Things do not change, we change.”  Just like Kachua has changed from September to June, you too have changed tremendously.  It is incredibly rewarding as a teacher to be witness to your changes.  Those who doubted their abilities are soaring, those who could never even look me in the eye are talking to me on their own free will.  Sure, you are all taller, but your inner changes into mature, caring students has been extremely gratifying.  So, you are ready to move on.  The world awaits you.  Do good things.  Continue to ask good questions.  Continue to push yourself to get the best out of yourselves.  You don’t deserve any less. Continue to re-invent yourselves.   As my college coach once wrote to me when I was transferring to another college, “good-bye is not being said in this letter.  I will say see you later.”  And you know kids, last June, about 23 years after I last saw my coach, I did see him again.  So, the art of moving on consists of the fact that I am not saying goodbye, but see you later.  As I said today, you will always be my students even though you won’t be in my physical space again.  You will always hold a very special place in my heart, but both you and I need to open our heart to new students, new teachers, new spaces, and new opportunities.  

A Summer’s Morning in NoHo

Last summer, my husband and I went for a weekend to Northampton, known as NoHo to my son.  On a hot early Sunday morning, I went out for a walk.  On my way back to the hotel, I passed a shop where this artwork was in the window.  I was mesmerized by it and when the store opened, I went back to see how much it cost.  I thought it would be a great addition to our new classroom.  However, it cost $350.00.  I could not justify spending that amount of money.  But I loved the message.  I took numerous shots of it with my iPhone.  I think it totally speaks to me on my last words to you:


Remember when you go into the world to keep your eyes and ears wide open.

And be kind.

Love one another.

Take care of each other.

Tell the truth.

Always do your best.

Listen to the big people and the little people.

Explore new paths.

Have fun.

Know that you are loved like crazy.

I love you all and will miss you next year.  But, I know you will accomplish great things in your lives and I can’t wait to hear and read about you all!

I hope you all enjoy this 125th post 🙂

As Good As It Gets

It’s been a hard stretch.  These are the days of MCAS, the days of MCAS prep, the days of pre-adolescence angst, the days of recognizing that the school year is coming to an end.  I’m seeing behaviors I’ve either never seen before, or that I haven’t seen in a while, I am seeing students gaining on me in height, I’m seeing students getting short with each other and I am seeing students really bonding.  I’m witnessing attitudes, witnessing some students checking out, and witnessing the continuous chatting that prevails morning, noon, and afternoon.  But despite all of these changes, I am proud.  Tonight’s meeting at the Natural Resources Commission was about as good as it gets.

With Math MCAS, reviewing for Science MCAS, and Science MCAS, the 16th snuck up on us.  I put out a request for the parents to sign up on the Wiki if their child could attend about ten days ago.  Delia Kaye, the Natural Resources Commissioner wrote me a week ago requesting our report by last Friday.  In between tests and make-up specials, each group of students got their write-up done and I put it together and sent it out to meet our deadline.  Then it was Monday the 14th and time to get our presentation together.   11 had signed up by the Friday deadline, so I broke the presentation up into groups.  By the end of the day on Tuesday, two more signed up and needed to be inserted into the presentation.   During MCAS on Tuesday, I took all of their powerpoint slides and inserted them into a master power point.  Wednesday morning, I had scheduled a practice time.  As each child got up, some incredible things happened.  They were ad-libbing.  They didn’t need to totally read off their scripts.  One of them asked me if it was alright if they didn’t go right off the script.  “Absolutely” I replied.  I was in awe of how these students have grown over the past two years.  My two new students in the class got right up there and looked like seasoned veterans as well.

Wednesday night, every one was there right on time, attired “smartly” in professional dress.  One student had brought a pointer.  They were excited to do this, no nerves at presenting in front of an audience who consisted of their parents, the commission, and other guests.  I played “Vanna” and advanced their powerpoint.  And they shined.  Again.  Watching them, my heart swelled once again with pride.  Their poise, their passion, their knowledge, their ease in presenting was incredible.  They answered questions thoroughly, they spoke clearly, and it was evident that they care about their world.

Leaving the building, I said to one of the parents, “this is as good as it gets.  I ought to start playing lottery tickets again as I don’t know how I am going to replace these kids.”  It’s been a heck of a ride with these students over the past two years.  As one student told me the other day, “I’ve had you for 336 days.”  I know that despite some of the behaviors mentioned in the first paragraph, that I am going to cherish the next 23 days with these students.  It is about as good as it gets.  And yes, I bought that lottery ticket on the way home.

Why I Am Glad That I Did Not Win the Lottery

Last June, I spent some time and some money buying lottery tickets.  I was in the mourning part of the teaching profession, giving away a marvelous group of students.  If one was going to retire, this would be the group to say adios to teaching.  So, I bought Scratch tickets and Mass Millions ticket in the hope of hitting it big and going out with these students. (Mind you, I entered teaching late, have two kids of my own in college and can retire no time soon).  By the end of June, the students had left, and the only other change was that my wallet was a little lighter from buying the tickets.  I was going to have to go back to teaching and this new class would have a hard act to follow..  I blogged about this both in June and in August before the new school year started.   The new school year started, and I, fresh with new ideas from BLC10, started teaching again.

And then, a funny thing happened.  A great new idea called CBL (Challenge Based Learning) caught on like wildfire with this new group of then 21 students.  I started seeing the spark in their eyes, the enthusiasm in their voices.  Our two Blanding’s turtle hatchlings, Bowser and Yertle, amazed us all.  In early November, we decided to enter a nation-wide contest, Disney Planet Challenge (DPC).  On a long November afternoon, as I listened to the children’s discussion on creating a goal for DPC and then developing guiding questions.  This afternoon was a turning point for me as I started to fall in love with another class.

DPC was a simply amazing experience for us all.  Students who didn’t like to write, were writing webpages.  Students who were naturally shy were standing up in front of town boards talking turtles.  A real deadline united us all with getting our portfolio done.  Students who wanted to be in a certain group were fine with being a team member and doing what needed to be done to meet our deadline.  This project gave learning a new purpose and these students rose to this challenge beautifully.

Along the way, other magical things were also happening.  Blogging.  The kids blogged all the time and responded to one another so naturally in such a respectful manner.  Writing.  Trips to the river made the students’ writing more and more descriptive.  As the seasons changed, so did their writing.  Confidence.  Watching the students blossom as they progressed throughout the year was extremely satisfying.

The year also had its share of trying moments for both me and the students.  Our turtle Bowser died during his laproscopy.   During the fall, a series of freak accidents left me with a severe nerve injury that later required surgery, and a concussion that left me rather dizzy for a bit.  This spring has been particularly trying for me after being asked to go to 5th grade, a change that I am very excited about.

So, today was day 179.   At 6:50 in the morning, my buddy and I both cried over this particular student’s blog

(http://kidblog.org/Room305b/Alexander230/1520/  At 7:45 a.m. was our robotics demonstration.  Wednesday’s dress rehearsal was as bad a dress rehearsal that I have ever witnessed.  Needless to say, both myself and Ms. Howard were very nervous.  However, in front of quite a panel, the students’ performance was flawless.  As I sat scrunched on the floor, I beamed across the auditorium at Ms. Howard as group after group

My beautiful gift

totally nailed their presentation.  After the last group, my room parents came up with a huge box.  They said it had really special meaning.  Tracey was right on with that assessment.  As I unwrapped the box, inside the bubble wrap, was an absolutely stunning ceramic platter that was personalized with 22 different turtles.  This platter was complete with the DPC logo as well as quotes that the kids said about DPC.  I was stunned beyond words.  It’s not very often that I am speechless.  But this did it.  Tears welled up in my eyes, and as my principal came over to see my gift, she noticed I was pretty emotional.  She hugged me and said, “isn’t this the best job in the world?”  It was pretty easy to agree with that statement.

At lunch, I went to walk one last time with my fifth grade student Justin.  His teacher asked me if he could hang out with his class, which was a pretty easy question.  I’ll be walking with him this summer.  So, I started back up the stairs, when four students from last year, Owen, Henry, Trevor, and Julian, asked me if they could have lunch with me.  I quickly said “sure”, and we headed upstairs.  I got to tell them that they were a special group for me and that they were going to do great at the middle school.  Trevor, who moved in during the school year last year, thanked me for doing what I did for him to welcome him into our class.  Jason joined us with his yearbook for me to sign.  It was a wonderful lunch and during it, I received a call from the office saying that

Gift from David and Sam

someone was coming up to see me.  I wondered who, and soon enough, Sam and David strolled into my room, carrying the canoe paddle that they had used in the Community Chest Challenge.  I had sponsored them, and at our reunion several weeks back, they thanked me for sponsoring them and said they had a paddle for me.  I forgot about it until just then.  It just seemed like the other day that I had these two boys as 5th graders, and here they were, both heading off to great colleges, back visiting their old 5th grade teacher.  Sam had written on the  paddle “Thanks for teaching and inspiring us from 5th Grade onwards;” and David had written “Thank you for everything.  Your mark on me is deeper than a pen on paper;”

So as this school year is coming to a close, I have to honestly say that I am glad that I did not win the lottery last June.  This year has been full of challenges, both good and bad, but as Kelly said, this is the ultimate job in the world.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  I overheard one of my students tell his father during our slide show, look how the turtles have changed since September.  I think its safe to say that both the students and myself have also changed throughout the year.  Their river writing on Wednesday, was extremely reflective.  http://riveredge.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/the-river-and-me-june-2011/#comment-265  Just as the river never stands still, my students past and present continue to inspire me to be a better teacher next year and to keep moving to find new ways to engage them as learners.

Have a great summer and I’ll be blogging about all the great classes and conferences that I will be attending this summer.

Pushy Toads, Sand, and Empty Chairs and Empty Tables — Ruminating About Day 180

Who Can Be King of the Toad Hill?

June 21, 2010.   Day 180.  The last day of school started as many of my mornings on the other 179 days do.  Arrive between 6:40 a.m. to 6:45 a.m., talk to my Buddy for a little bit, and then head upstairs to Room 305B.  But on this day, it was different, because it was the last day of this school year.  The last day is always really unsettled for me–everyone in the room knows that there is soon to be a change.  On this morning, it seemed like our Eastern Spadefoot Toads felt it as well.  When I went over to their tank, it seemed like I saw some behaviors that I hadn’t witnessed before.  There was some “pushing” going on, and it looked like they were jockeying on who would be the King of the Toad Hill.  I stopped and thought about what my husband said about them, “soon they won’t have their tank cover opened and crickets and fruit flies dropped in.”  They will be heading back to Sandy Neck Beach at the beginning of next week and I started to wonder how they would fare in the real world.   Would they be able to find food on their own?  Would they survive the rough and  tumble world?  I felt far more confident about my fourth graders becoming fifth graders with their upcoming transition.

The students finally arrived and we set off to work on our robots for the Second Annual Great Thoreau Robot Race, saving digital farm projects to a server folder, and flattening our ball chairs.  After our race (congrats to EC 18 and EC17 for winning!), we did one last fractions lesson.  During snack, I showed the student “The River and Me” (I need to upload this still).  They asked to see the movie I had made them last week, so we watched it again.  Several of the other adults in the room had a running bet when I would fall apart.  So far, so good for me.  I then showed the movie we had made “Project K”.  This touching movie was made for a child in the class who is moving in several weeks.  Seeing what her classmates said about her touched her to no end.  The goodbyes were heartfelt and wonderful. Watching her wipe her eyes, I brought her over a copy of the movie, and several other presents to remember us.  Still no tears for me, I had to be the adult and be there for my students.  Since four of our original Kiva loans had been paid back, we reinvested in four more micro-loans.

Our Sands Combined to Make a Beautiful Beach!Next it was time to create our class “beach”.  At the beginning of the year, each child received a sample of sand from me.  It was now time to take each child’s sample and create a beautiful sand jar.  Each sand represented the individuality of the student, but together it represented the class.  I told the class how quickly they had become a “beach” in my mind.   I talked to them about how many wonderful things they had accomplished this year.  Yesterday, I spent time in the aisles of Roche Brothers searching for the perfect jar that would represent this year.  After seeing the jar filling up, it was just the perfect jar for this group of students.  Our finishing activity was to read “The Seeker of Knowledge”, a book that I had read to them on the first day of school.  The underlying message was to always believe in themselves,  to not give up, and to always have the spirit of discovery and imagination.  With that, we played our math game for one last time and headed down to the buses.  A friend calls this “Wave Day” as after the students get on the buses, all the staff lines the sidewalks and waves the students off.  After hugging each child, I joined my colleagues in waving the students off.  Still no tears, but I was certainly feeling melancholy as I headed back to my student-less classroom.

Empty Chairs and Empty Tables

Declining an invitation to go out to lunch, I decided to work on paperwork as I was not mentally prepared to pack up this year yet.  I quietly set to work on progress reports, getting them done in record time.    The room felt empty, lifeless as I kept on plugging away on the paperwork needed to be done at this time of year.  Finally at the end of the day, I decided to do a little cleaning and putting away of materials.  Feeling like a limp dish towel, I decided to leave around 4:45 and tackle the rest of the room another day.  Turning off the lights, I locked the door, and closed the door on another school year.

And for the record, I made it until 5:00 p.m. before crying.

Torn

Sunset in Bermuda

As the sun begins to set pretty rapidly on this school year, I am finding myself pretty torn.  There is nothing more beautiful than a simply gorgeous sunset.  You savor the quickly changing colors of the sky, sipping in the sight like a drinking an excellent cup of tea.  When the sun disappears for the evening, I can feel many mixed feelings.  If it is the late spring or summer months, I savor the brilliant oranges and pinks and look forward to another beautiful day tomorrow.  If it is the winter months, I dread the long cold night ahead.

School years can be like sunsets in my mind.  When everything is clicking, you revel in the learning that is going on in your classroom.  All the different learners in the classroom blend like the beautiful oranges, pinks, and purples found in the western sky in the evening.  This year has been one beautiful summer sunset after another.   So with just 3.5 days left in this school year, I am feeling quite melancholy about the school year’s coming to an end.

Every day now is “the last”.  The last Monday lunch, the last art class, the last math test, the last half day Tuesday.  The mood in the classroom fluctuates through these days, both students and myself well aware of the final sunset that lies ahead.   I want to enjoy these days, to experience them as I do a cup of Chai tea, with all of its distinctive flavors.  Why they call the month of March “March Madness” I can not understand.  These days of June are just brutal with one assessment after another, one more activity after another.  The pace makes it difficult to enjoy this fine cup of tea.

Chair Awaiting Some Company

Yet, I am torn.  My body feels like it is at the end of an ultramarathon through the desert.  My right knee is balky, my left foot is sore, my right shoulder is tight.  I go through the day constantly tired, another e-mail to answer, more summer work forms to fill out, assessments to score, progress reports to write.  And somewhere in there, I’d like to throw in some time to simply sit back and enjoy my students during these final days in June.  I look at my house, there is dusting to do, grass to cut, clothes to fold, books to read, gardens to weed, and  friends and relatives who could also use more attention.   Right now, June 22nd seems on one hand very close, and on the other hand, really far away.  I tell my students that they will always be my students regardless of whether or not they are physically present in Room 305B.  The transition is tough on us both.  We are both torn.

The Inner Biologist and The Art of Letting Go

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a science nerd.  It all started in fifth grade when I received a microscope for the holidays.  I spent hours looking at amoebas, paramecium, and water fleas.  My Studies of River Water won first place in the Hudson Public Library’s Hobby Fair.  Fast forward 40 years.  My fourth grade classroom has become a really “alive” classroom.  First came the salamander eggs, then came the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles.  Watching how excited my students have become brought me back to those days when I spent hours looking at my river creatures and doing detailed diagrams.   Some students will spend as much time as they can just observing.  They will call me over or come excitedly over to share an observation or a thought.  Give them a digital camera and they go to work, creating videos of the ever-changing tadpoles.  The students chatter to one another — “look at that one, I wonder what happened to its tail?”  I find myself drawn to their conversations, to observing the tadpoles and salamanders with them.  Yesterday, we had Dr. Windmiller visit us to discuss the Eastern Spadefoot Toad and Spotted Salamanders.  When he asked why did we have the tadpoles, one student replied “to jumpstart them.”  It was great to have a professional biologist in the room, acknowledging the efforts of the students in saving these tadpoles from what would have been a sure death.  One student observed that the spotted salamanders were kind of boring.  “You might think they are boring, but in reality they are being pretty smart.  By lying still, they are not allowing predators to want to eat them because they think they are dead.”

Day 14 of the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles arrived.  After completing day one of MCAS Math, the students sat down to work on their comparison essays, comparing the Spotted Salamanders and the Eastern Spadefoot Toads.  One of my students, who is just fascinated by both creatures, asked if she could write one paragraph comparing in-class observations of both species.  “Sure” I told her as she took out her journals and headed back to the salamander tank.  Patiently she sat there, looking at the tank, taking it all in.  I went over and stood in back of her, looking at our “boring” salamander larvae.  Suddenly, one of the little salamanders excitedly swam in a spiral, up to the top of the water.  My student was so excited and I was pleased to share in her excitement at the salamander’s swim.  I thought of my students and how during this school year, they have grown and evolved into learners who are excited to learn.  They are always “swimming” towards bigger things, and like the salamander, not going in a straight line, but down much more interesting paths.

This afternoon, while the students were in gym, I began separating out 40 tadpoles that we would raise to toadlets, while the rest of the tadpoles would be brought back to Dr. Windmiller, who would be taking them back to Sandy Neck to be released.  Even though intellectually I knew that this was going to happen, I still couldn’t help but compare it to the end of the school year.  I knew we would only have the majority of the tadpoles for two to three weeks, just like in September, we know we only have these students for 180 days.  Just like the tadpoles were being released back to their natural environment, my students would also soon be released to fifth grade.  I dislike the process of placement, of giving away your students.  You hope they will continue to flourish as students and as people, just like the salamanders and the tadpoles have been doing in our room.  There is a lot of growth happening in Room 305B, both physically and emotionally.   One of the many positives about being a teacher is raising these students, from basically third graders when I get them in September to tadpoles with both sets of legs in June who are self sufficient.  When I brought the tadpoles back to Dr. Windmiiler’s porch, I carefully placed them into the cooler.  Once the last one was in the cooler, I took one last look at my happy and prospering tadpoles, I got back in my car, and drove home.   One of the good things about being a teacher is that you get a new set of tadpoles every year.  But, one of the bad things about being a teacher is that you get a new set of tadpoles every year.