Monday, August 31, 2009

Every Kid Deserves a Ms. Kaune

You can't hang out too long with me before you hear stories of my great nephew, whom I call Superman. Last year, Superman was in Kindergarten and he had a very special teacher, Ms. Kaune. The thing that amazed me about his teacher was the reverence with which he spoke of her. Every time I was with him and the subject of school came up, he would ask whomever was in the conversation with him if they knew Ms. Kaune. Just a few weeks ago (nearing the end of summer vacation) we were at a park and another slightly older boy came and started playing with us. Soon, the kid mentioned school, without hesitation, Superman said, "Do you know Ms. Kaune?"

Well, it might be good to know more about her, only I don't know much.  I know her impact on the life of that little boy was immeasurable. . I went to Kindergarten graduation and watched Ms. Kaune present her class with their diplomas. Kid after kid beamed as they walked across the stage and were presented their diploma by Ms. Kaune....and she was beaming too. Here is the thing about young children.....they know who the sincere people are, there is no faking that sort of happiness. Ms. Kaune obviously has genuine affection for her students and they return that.

Here is some information that I didn't see myself... I know when Superman missed school that Ms. Kaune made phone calls and sent emails inquiring where he was. Seemingly not in a punitive way, but out of genuine concern. She even called during the summer to ask how he was doing. She doesn't even have him anymore and he won't be in the same school. What an amazing educator and person! I have been a teacher for twenty-three years and her level of concern for students goes way above and beyond.

I arranged a very small token of appreciation for was the least I could do. She took care of a most precious possession....and did more than the job required. She cared more than the minimum. She smiled a genuine smile and she apparently has a heart of gold.

So, when I was thinking about this, I determined that EVERY kid should have a Ms. Kaune. As I send my university class out in to the world of education, I always challenge them to be amazing. You see, I firmly believe that NO ONE launches into the world of education determined to treat kids with disrespect, or bore them to death with yellow handouts, or demean and demoralize them...  Every teacher, while they were sitting in a college class, knew they wanted to be good at what they did. The sad reality, which you know to be true, is that not everyone is a great fact, there are some really bad ones. How did they get that way?

I doubt Ms. Kaune will ever read this...though I am going to send her a link to it. Because, we need to be appreciating the people who make a profound difference in the life of a child. We need to hold them up as an example. Heck, I would be willing to throw a parade! If your kid has a 'Ms. Kaune', send them a note...let them know they are appreciated. You and I both know they are VERY rare.

I believe it is easy to be lazy, complacent, and bad. In fact, being bad at teaching is a heck of a lot easier than be amazing. I bet Ms. Kaune falls into bed exhausted every night. BUT, aren't the kids worth our very best? Doesn't every kid deserve a Ms. Kaune?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's the Same Thing Only Different

This year things are very different. Same school, same office, same chairs....but something is different. You see, the last few posts have been about the students who misbehave...This post is about the kids who become attached to my heart.

For the last few years, the chairs in the picture above have been overfilled every morning with kids who hang out before school starts. My favorite kids. Wait, did you just read that a teacher is admitting to having favorites? Yep, I said it. Before class starts and after class is over I have a LOT of favorites. They are bound by the same rules during class as everyone else. They are required to have the same punishment as anyone else  (  and sometimes actually held to a MUCH higher standard), but they are my favorites. The thing is, any kid has an equal chance to be on the be a favorite. They just need to show their warmth and caring (or be very funny) or just BE in my presence longer than just the class period.

So, what's new this year? The chairs sit empty much of the time. Their usual inhabitants have moved on to better things (college) and while that is wonderful and important and I am VERY happy about that, it makes things different for me. History has shown that, while there will NEVER be anyone as special to me as those that have gone before, there will be kids that will be very special. It's sort of the circle of life for a teacher. In my case, since I used to teach K-12, I have been with these same kids I guess it is normal to feel a little loss when they leave.

So, the word bittersweet comes to mind. I think about ALL the kids that have come before...the very special ones that make teaching a joy. While I am honored to have been part of their journey, I get a little sad. If you have asked me how the year is going, I have probably responded that it has been a struggle...and this is why. Just finding my new place...finding my next set of favorites...Wondering how the most recent set of favorites are doing in college....wondering if they think back to the blue chairs, and the warmth of this little office? Transitions are hard.

So, TJ is definitely on a journey this year.....but, I don't think it hurts to everyone once in a while, to take a look back and remember the people who have made the journey worthwhile. Really, in what other job can you have a student from ten years ago call you dad? Where else would you get random text message throughout the year that say, "I am thinking about you." Where else would you have Facebook chats that are so funny, you wipe your eyes from laughing? My wife (who has a big heart) has the same sort of relationships with special kids...I often say, "once you have been loved by a Shay, it's forever." So, yeah, I am SO very lucky. So, this year it's the same....only different.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tess's Tree

A tender story of a girl, a tree, and a community hits the shelves today. Hop out and get "Tess's Tree" written by Jess M. Brallier and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.  It's a beautiful story that you will want to read over and over.

You can also check it out online here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What's Missing is The Big Picture

The last time I posted, I wrote about seeing a kid and not only their behavior. At some point during this week, I was talking to a colleague and she mentioned someone not seeing the 'big picture' and it struck me that the ideas are related.

I have long been a fan of Ruby Payne's "Framework for Understanding Poverty." I read that book and felt like my teaching life had been changed. Although there are people who go on and on about how Dr. Payne uses a 'deficit' type model for poverty, I don't really care about that. What the book helped me to see is part of 'the big picture' of kids. I haven't jammed anyone into a pigeon hole, but I have learned that some of their behaviors are present because of a system that was designed to keep them where they are. As I read the book, I instantly saw pictures in my mind of some kids.

Want to know why a kid is acting the way they are??? Ask them. No, seriously, ask them. Dare to find out a part of the big picture. Find out a little about their life outside of school. Get some information about what motivates them. While you are at it, take an interest in the things that motivate them. I have resolved a lot of student misbehavior by just knowing a little about them and taking an interest.

Well, since I have spent three days in the classroom last week, I can admit it.....There are some kids that test my normally pleasant demeanor. In fact, in one instance this week, I was chanting inside my head, "follow your own words, bucko, it's the BEHAVIOR you are looking at....not the kid." Once, I almost laughed out loud...thinking that some of you might have sent that kid to test me, to see what I am really made of as a teacher. Fortunately, the calmer voice inside prevailed.

So, what is the 'big picture' of those kids you may or may not have sent to test me? The truth is, I don't know. Their story has not unfolded. A few kids, in my twenty-three years, have left a mystery. Then, you have to let go...once you have done everything you can, you let them fly.

One are bound to get hurt. I have already been bruised a few times this year, and it's only been three days. Some kids I have spent tons of time with have dropped out of my program or have said rude things. But here is the thing, when you see the big picture, you understand that it's not about rarely is. Kids sometimes lash out at the people who care the most about them...It's all a part of the cycle. However, I shall keep trying. I have to. I am a teacher and that is what we do. We look at the big pictures.....and we take "the whole package."

Making connections with kids is exhausting and challenging.....But, so rewarding and life-changing....your life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two Thoughts Before School Starts

Tomorrow I begin my nineteenth year in the same school and my twenty-third year in all. A few thoughts have been rattling around in my head this week and I wanted to get them out. If I do not, you might not hear from me in a while.

This first part is for my pal, GL.... Teachers, please try your best to see the student and not just their behavior. I know this is a tough one sometimes. It seems like there is always THAT kid who can't sit still, who can't be quiet, who rubs you the wrong way. Sometimes you might think his/her very mission in life might just be to ruin your life. But, think back to one of those tough students...It's the BEHAVIOR you don't like, not the student. That knowledge, in the heat of the moment, probably is of little consolation. But, try taking a step back and just let it soak in...Since it's about their behavior, we can work on that together. Being mean or talking to kids in a demoralizing way contributes to the problem, not solves it.

One thing I do often is ask the kid semi-privately 'what's going on.' You would be AMAZED at how many times they have an answer to the question. What would amaze you even more is what the trouble is. Even if they can't put things into words, you will eventually build a relationship. I also honestly believe that some kids can NOT control themselves in certain situations. Perhaps some compassion and trying to put kids in situations where they can be successful might be something to try.

I am positive I have made this comment before in this blog......but I always TRY to think that if I had lived the same life as the child has and had the same experiences, I would behave in the same way....How would I want to be treated?

The second major theme bouncing around in my head today is about change...and love. Two people that I have profound admiration are changing jobs. Two very sweet personal emails announced the changes. I replied to both with a heartfelt pleasure at their new journeys and sadness at the personal loss. I believe both people knew how much I appreciated the role they have played in my life...which made me MORE committed to my new personal mission of letting people know how much they mean to me. I have been working on it for a few years, but I am redoubling my efforts and ramping it up.

I try to let special people know that I care about them and love them. I think it's important. I think I neglect my family a little in that, but I hope they feel it. It's a big and crazy world and all we truly have is each other. So, hug everyone a little tighter....tell them your feelings....hold on to a few hands... and let's enjoy this amazing journey together. Put yourself out there...make the world a better place.

I read a Facebook update by a new online friend, Patti Digh that said she was intending on writing a thank you note every day for the rest of her life. While that is a little ambitious for me, I want to try to be much more grateful for the awesome people in my life. If you haven't checked out Patti's blog, 37 days, you need to. Be sure to read the story behind the blog.

Speaking of that.... thanks for reading this! I am not quite sure why anyone would want to read my ramblings, but I am grateful that you do.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Birthdays, Bread, and Buddies....and Burn Out

On Thursday, I celebrated a birthday. I am now officially, "half of 90 years old" as my wife so sweetly puts it. I did not mention my birthday to anyone and was intending on keeping it a quiet didn't quite work that way. My niece put a note on my Facebook wall, and I made a smart comment back.... five phone calls and many messages later, it was a birthday!

Today, as I was reading an article that was referenced in many blogs about a teacher who taught for four years and is leaving the profession, citing "Burn out." The author discusses many things that do lead to new teachers being tested to their limits. Administrators are always adding more work load and there are students who can't read. While she makes many good points, she misses the most important reason to NOT leave the classroom.....students. I remember a quote from several years ago and I apologize to the source, "Teachers who are burned out have probably never been on fire."

Back to my birthday.... Things that day started to take a sour turn. A present I had bought my great niece (and birthday buddy) was defective and, after a nasty phone call to customer disservice, I returned it to the store and purchased a different brand. Then a wonderful experience changed the increasingly bad tone the day was starting to take... One of my wife's students brought me over a birthday gift. It was a surprise and it's like that amazing girl knew me very well....A freshly baked loaf of bread. My favorite thing in all the world. The bread was still warm and, let me tell you, the best bread I have had in a very long time. But what was really incredible was that there was a gift at all. The student had been on a trip and brought back some special souvenirs for my wife also. Such an unexpected and wonderful surprise...

You know, teaching is a tough...SO many demands and SO little time. High expectations and low time contributions and concern from parents. Leaders who do not lead. A broken system that uneducated (in how schools work) legislators try to fix by increasing demands and enforcing bizarre testing rules. So, yeah, I get it, teaching is hard. But, you know what? It's dang rewarding.

YES, I get stressed out and tired and worn out... Yes, I even lose my temper and get disheartened. But, I wouldn't trade a loaf of bread from a great kid for anything in the world. That is why I keep doing what I do. I have had the privilege of working with some amazing students...and so has my wife. It really makes it all worth while.

SO, maybe sometimes we need to take a step back. Appreciate the AMAZING people we get to work with and enjoy our profession. If you are waiting around for other adults to 'get it', you will be disillusioned and sad. Kids get it. When you care about them, they return that. It's a pretty good way to spend your life.