Lessons that never end

and really they don’t. Just when I think all is in order I get thrown on my ass again.

Last week’s day in a sentence (hosted by Illya‘s EVO Blogfolio) was actually a year in a sentence and it called for reflective sentences on the year that is about to end.

I left the call for sentences post open in my browser for a day or so. I’d stare at it, go away, stare at it again, go away again, until finally I typed:

Learning about what is important to me – lessons that never end!

Beaver Lodge

Beavers don't build a lodge and they are done. It's constant - always building, adding and taking away - and necessary for survival. This picture and the lodge making story was found on Mon@rch's Nature Blog. Click image for source.

It always seems to be this time of year when I lose my focus. It’s run run run all the time with teaching. teaching. teaching. This year in particular – my days are long. very long. I leave my house at around 6am and sometimes don’t return until 13 or so hours later. My dogs are loving this schedule (not) as am I (again, not). At this time of year that means that my down time is all in darkness. Yuck. (And I am getting tired of telling this story over again year after year.)

For the past few weeks I have been an elastic ball of exhaustion, ready to snap apart at any noise, annoyance, divergence from plans. Not a good quality to have when a) I work with teenagers, b) I have 2 dogs and a cat who need more attention than I am giving them, and c) I am experiencing my first winter in my 100 year old home in the country. (stove pipe fell out of the wall last week, filling my home with smoke, on the same evening that my furnace ran out of oil, so I had to sleep with the windows open on a night with no heat in the house. Yesterday my pipes froze – apparently that can happen when you heat primarily with the (now-fixed) wood stove on really cold days. Really, this could be a funny movie if it were being filmed.) Oh, and d) I apparently have some health issues that my doctor wants me to check out in more detail over the holiday break.

I met with my principal just before leaving for the break on Friday and he pointed out that he was worried about me, that I need to know I can speak to him before I completely burn out. That I need to remember to take care of myself. On Sunday morning my boyfriend held me in his arms during a bit of a …moment… after I had put the dogs into the veranda because they were driving me crazy running around the house and soon after noticed they had torn up a garbage bag I had forgotten to bring outside and decorated said veranda with its contents.

So, what the heck have I learned this time that is important to me? Well, for one that it’s a continuous process this focusing on what is important shtick. That’s what they call keeping balance in some parts. One thing I sure learned in the past few days is that keeping people in the picture rather than on the sidelines helps everything else fall into place. When I was in my boyfriend’s arms he didn’t say anything but just let me blubber for a while until I found the words I needed to say. I get so frustrated with myself when I set myself up to fail, when I make choices that make my life harder than it needs to be –> Working and living so far apart. Putting the garbage bag in the veranda instead of directly out to the garbage bin. Not learning about the ins and outs of heating an old house in the winter. Not approaching people for help before I get overwhelmed.

I may be a little bit hard on myself as well. Maybe. A little. The little upsets and failures are being measured by my out-of-whack yard stick for success. I was teased this weekend about being slightly ticked off that I received an overall mark of 97 in the course I took this semester.

Time to reevaluate choices, create some of that hope for the future I’m always talking about. But guess what? I’m thinking of actually letting other people help me out with that. Novel idea, I know.

What does your best teaching look like?

I have a new blog. It’s called Teaching is a Verb and I want to collect stories about actual teaching practice there.

The long term goal of the blog is to connect teachers to teachers by providing a framework for us to visit each other’s classrooms. We have so much to learn from each other.

Anyone can register and share stories from their actual teaching practice there, or stories of teaching practice they have seen and admire.

I’ve started with my own story, and a question. I’m cross-posting it here.

What does your best teaching look like?

You know, this blog is called Teaching is a Verb yet when I answer the question I realize that examples of my ‘best’ teaching happen when I am not in the room, during those moments when I am seemingly not doing anything directly related to learning.

I spent much of one day last week, or maybe the week before, meeting with students in crises. Every once in a while we have a day like that (here’s a detailed account of one of those days from last year).

I walked into my Grade 11 CWI (Contemporary World Issues) class about 20 minutes into the period. They were quiet and had their laptops in front of them (we did a lot of fundraising last year and bought 18 mini laptops!). I figured they were taking advantage of the free time and were checking email, listening to music.

Get ready for this: they were ALL working on this assignment. I had not yet assigned it.

They went to our blog, read the new assignment, and began their research. The quiet dissipated as I walked in with, Tracy, I think I need to change my article, and Look at what I’ve found, I think there’s a connection here, can you look?, etc…

This was a class that only a week earlier had to be stopped numerous times during each period in order to regroup and address issues of silliness, noise, etc. I had taken away their seating privileges because they weren’t making smart choices in that area (sitting with friends who distract…), I spent time each class with one or another student in the den having conversations about their behaviour.

And then I realized it was about a month into the school year and that this was about the time that teaching and learning really starts.

So what does my best teaching look like? It ‘looks’ like nothing when it is happening but it is actually made up of at least a month’s worth of and ongoing consistent classroom structure, making connections with individual students, and providing them with work that they can find meaning in for themselves and create meaning from together.

The best thing about this is it eventually frees me up to work with individual students on either technical issues to do with assignments, personal issues that require some out of class intervention, comprehension issues, etc…

Here is an example of that kind of work for a course in Contemporary World Issues. It’s what they are working on right now.
Personal News Story Project

What does your best teaching look like?

Sunday Inspirational Video

Who would’ve thought that an old standard could be given new life?

My friend Jeff Hall, fellow Human Systems Intervention MA grad, Anglican Priest, and Independent Organizational Development Consultant, turned me on to this phenomenal reprise of Stand By Me via facebook.

24 hours in the life of me…Oh, and BlogHer 08

I’m off to Blogher o8 – The Reach Out Tour in Boston. I’ll be leaving after work – luckily it is a PED day today so I won’t be too exhausted for the 5+ hr drive once the day is done.

I’m a bit relieved to not have a Friday this week, after last Friday’s….activities :)

This is what 24hrs can look like sometimes:

Underwater dust storm. Thats what the day felt like. Image by Karen Glaser (click image for source)

Underwater 'dust storm'. That's what the day felt like. Image by Karen Glaser (click image for source)

2-4:30 – Thursday
Conversations with a student we suspect of being high. Denials. Silence. Caring. Silence. He runs out. Returns. Tells the truth – he gets high every single day. More conversation. He agrees to talk to Dad. He goes home. We decide that, even though he has made a breakthrough – we can not let him back into the program. He’s broken one of the absolute rules – no drugs or alcohol on you or in your system.

HPT – Human Performance Technology. I had a test. An hour and a half of application of knowledge to different situations and a bit of definition of terms. Test was conducted on a mac, which I (yeah, I know…) have never used before. I couldn’t right-click, I couldn’t format…frustrating. Test was followed by regular class time.

7:00 Friday morning
Back at school. Happy to know that it is a) Friday and b) Day 6, which means the students have Phys Ed first thing, so I can ease into the day. Kids come in at 7:45, they get changed and head off to gym. I walk around with my list of To-Dos….

We notice a girl sitting in the hallway looking morose. Collin asks why she isn’t at gym, she starts to cry. They go into the den to talk.

8:30 – 9:00
I hear loud crying. Go into the hallway, a 2nd girl is sitting cross-legged on the floor, weeping. The den is being used, so we go into the lunchroom, where we have a couch. Other girls were ganging up on her in dodge ball (man, I hate dodge ball). She then goes on to tell me her story – of girl drama, cliques, allegiances, friendships that come and go, how she doesn’t care that she is a loner sometimes (you sure about that?). We talk some more, she goes back to the gym.

The gym class comes back 15 mins early. Got one item on the long To-Do list done…

Morning break. The drama and tears between girls continues, accelerates. There are many discussions in the den that continue throughout the day. Some try to deal with things by themselves in the bathroom. Meanly. So I cough a lot outside of the bathroom door and send girls on their way.

History study hall. I set the kids to work on old history tests and try to get my presentation finished – the one I wanted to do during my morning prep period. I’m cranky because the kids are edgy after the morning’s activities and I need a silent room. Takes longer than usual to get them settled. I type up to the end of the period, but the other class still isn’t released. 5 minutes later I go to check.

10:45 – 11:30

A girl (different one) has passed out in Science class – that is why they were late. She is out for a good 10 minutes. She stood up and fell down, hitting her head. The nurse is called. She finally comes to and we find out she has taken too many Robaxicet for her back pain. We bring her to the hospital, Collin waits until her parents meet them there. I’m with both grade 11 classes in the lunchroom. (Good thing I finished that presentation, eh?) Students are a combination of worried for their classmate and worried that they will lose some of their lunch break. It’s like herding cats keeping them in there until Collin, the girl, and her boyfriend leave for the hospital. I run to the cafeteria to get some food, come back up and sit for a few moments.

I hear keening. Seriously. Loud peels of uncontrollable wailing. It’s yet another girl. One who gets very anxious. She is shaking, has a hard time catching her breath. Shaking, crying. I go to the den with her, ask the girls who are there discussing morning events to use my classroom. She keeps repeating ‘It’s so hard’. Shaking. Another girl comes in with me, they are cousins. I ask girl 1 to hold my hands, to squeeze them hard. Girl 2 is stroking her hair. She shakes even more. She asks for her mother. Wailing. 15 minutes of keening. I am close to tears myself. Girl 2 is holding her close. Has her arms wrapped around girl 1. Tears streaking mascara down her face. I am struck by her kindness, by her non-judgmental offer of solace. The room’s air is thick, full of tears. I leave to ask Walter to call her mother. He looks concerned about me. I grab a stress ball, go back in. Her mother refuses to come, says she needs to calm herself down. Meanwhile, yet another girl (girl 3, let’s call her) works her way through her own bout of panic. She manages to calm herself down with the help of Sharon, our technician for the day (Marie was out…). I leave girl 2 with girl 1. They are holding each other and rocking, getting calm. I go out and try to get some more food in. Girl 1 comes out, Walter offers her a hug. The wailing starts again. This time I send girl 3 in to the den with her. She knows about panic attacks. She brings a paper bag to help with the breathing.

We start afternoon classes a few minutes late. I have a math test planned and decide to give it. I figure the students have not had anything they expected yet that day and they needed something they expected. Girl 1 comes in to class 10 minutes later. Girl 3 has calmed her down. She writes the test. The room is quiet. Students are working diligently. I’m glad I decided to give the test.

2:15 – 3:30
The day is done. We find out that girl 1’s doctor was supposed to call us to let us know what to do in event of panic attack. Oh well. We also learn of a teacher, a friend of ours, who is upset, torn, because she is getting married at Christmas time and the school board has taken back their offer of an extra 3 days leave before the holidays. We plan our next week. We talk, de-brief. We go for a beer.

So, yeah. 24 hrs can seem much longer at times….

It’ll be good to re-charge at a conference. Meeting with people who share my interests and goals, being reminded of the power of community, always manages to energize me. Plus, 2 nights at a hotel can’t hurt. I think I’ll treat myself to some room service when I arrive this evening.