Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Inspirational Influences

I was reading TJ Shay’s blog about what or who inspires him and it got me thinking as well. I think that from time to time it is something you should reflect on and, perhaps, take the time to thank those people for that inspiration. So have much pondering, here is my top five of the moment:

(1) Mrs. Lily Brown – Mrs. Brown was my high school History and Government teacher. I don’t remember a single fact I learned in her class (although I have a great love of history and always vote like a good citizen) but I can never forget how much she cared about each of her students and how respectfully she treated us. I know we all that that one – or if we are lucky, more than one – teacher that inspired us to go into education and Mrs. Brown is that for me. I try to teach so that each of my students will remember that I cared.

(2) Will Richardson – I heard Mr. Richardson speak at a TIE conference in South Dakota and he spoke with such passion and conviction about technology and our students! Not only did it make me look at my technology practices, I have become nearly as passionate as he is. I bought his book immediately and have the new one on order. I had the opportunity to speak with him this year at the NECC convention and even though he was hanging out with the Big Dogs in the Blogger’s CafĂ©, he took a few minutes to speak to me and give me some info about his new book. He was very nice and encouraging and made me admire him even more. His blog keeps me informed and thinking. We all need to have our beliefs challenged from time to time so we take stock in where our passion is leading us!

(3) Jeanne Burckhard – Jeanne is my principal and she is easily the hardest working woman I know. We have a tough school climate – 86% free and reduced lunches, transient population, and a lot of dysfunctional home lives for our kids. Jeanne thinks outside the box to help these kids because she knows an education is their only hope out of generational poverty. Jeanne also knows that a happy staff is better for the kids and goes to great lengths to maintain a positive working climate. She works long hours and most weekends. Being a Title I school, there is endless paperwork and phone calls. She has personally pushed me into leadership roles, even when I have sometimes not wanted to go. She brings out the best teacher in me and is truly and mentor and a wonder!

(4) Dr. Rick Melmer – Dr. Melmer is South Dakota’s Secretary of Education. I am not sure that many people would add the Secretary of Education to their lists, which should automatically say something for Dr. Melmer. This man believes so strongly in education and supporting teachers. Listening to him speak you can feel the depths of his caring heart. He is so intelligent and hard-working. He is modest in all that he does and has wondered if he does anything to make a difference. Teachers are stunned that he could even think that, as we all know how committed he is to making this the best place to live and teach. We are going to lose him in this current position in November as he moves to take over a Dean position at a state college. We are glad he is staying in-state, but will feel his leaving his government position for a long time!

(5) Mike Crofut – my husband! Mike is probably as big a workaholic as I am, so he understands when I have papers to grade or lessons to prepare. He supports me in the ventures I undertake, but also warns me when he knows I am stretching myself too thin. He is my sounding board when I am struggling and my cheerleader when I need that. He is the logical voice of reason – particularly when I stack more and more on my plate and is my rock that keeps me grounded.

I suspect I could add a number of people to this list, but I think each of these are quite solid in the inspiration arena of my life. I am grateful for the influence each has had in my life!

Thanks TJ for getting me thinking tonight!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Teacher Leadership Conference

Today I finished the third set of planning meetings for the South Dakota Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference that will take place in October in our capital city of Pierre. I am so excited about the agenda and the rich conversations and reflections that I believe will occur. The conference is undergoing a bit of a change this year and is being combined with our New Teacher Academy. I think this is going to be a great combination. Putting master teachers together with new teachers will be enriching for both and will encourage some wonderful networks to be formed. More information about the conference can be found on the SD Department of Education site here.

I love getting to be part of the planning committee, not just because I find the purpose and the work we do to be fulfilling, but also because I get to spend time with some of the finest educators South Dakota has. I find that our conversations inspire me and get those creative juices flowing. Last night, I had the opportunity to introduce some of the Google tools to Lisa, a most brilliant educator. I think I have created a junkie, but she got me so excited to plan the technology in-service that is fast approaching next month. Conversation with Lisa always causes me to re-evaluate my practice to be certain that I am doing everything I can to be the best teacher I can be. We had a great conversation last night about school climate and low morale. We discussed what we as individuals can do to change that. It is a topic that I still find myself pondering today. A happy school is good for teachers and students.

I have two other committee meetings next week in Pierre. I seem to be spread out all over the state in committees, but I am enjoying it immensely. It has been a true honor to be asked to serve in so many ways. My life is full of so many blessings!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Day of Unpacking, Reflecting, and Purging

I started my day with my three goals shining in front of me: (1) Move all the stuff from the small garage to the game room [clearing one of my storage areas completely]; (2) give the entire house a cleaning - leaving the weekend to have with my husband; and (3) organize my desk so I can get some schoolwork done. Yesterday, things went so well and my husband was so pleased that I was anxious to get started. But I think I am a little ADHD. I managed to get a little sidetracked. As I started moving boxes from one place to another. I realized that a number of the boxes contained clothes that the boys had long ago outgrown and some I wanted to get rid of. At one time I had thought to have a garage sale, but today I was being very honest with myself and realized that probably wouldn't happen. Our school - with 86% free and reduced lunch - started what we refer to as the Eagle Closet a few years ago. It is like a second hand clothing store where our families can come and "shop" for free. Now over the year I have bought my children some very nice clothes and I know they could be worn by other kids. I seem to have drifted upward in size (something I keep swearing I am going to correct) and have tons of clothes I no longer wear. So with all of this in mind, I set up the table on the deck and started sorting. I also realized I had two boxes of clothes in my closet that I had set aside for donations when I was putting things away in there, so I added them to the stacks. In the end, I decided that I cannot wait so long in the future to purge. Sheesh! Stuff stacked EVERYWHERE as you can see in the pictures. So I boxed it all up and off to the Eagle Closet it went - all six boxes and six lawn and leaf bags full!Okay, that felt good, so back to the garage I went. I decided to go back to the original plan of just moving it into the game room. I was cruising along until I hit the boxes of china and crystal. Stopped moving to sort. Again a little reflection. When my first husband and I got divorced, I split the china up - he got a couple of sets and I took a couple. (Okay, china is a weakness for me! And I did entertain a lot!) We had crystal glasses that could serve 100 because we used to have HUGE New Year's Eve parties. I split that 50/50. A few years ago he remarried and one day he called me and offered to give me all the china and crystal - as well as all of his mom's stuff. Turned out that his new bride didn't want any of that stuff in her house and he hoped that by giving it to me, it would eventually make its way to our sons. Plus, he knows how much I love the stuff and told me he couldn't stand seeing it go somewhere it wasn't appreciated. At the time I had NO room for it, so it went into storage. Which brings us to today. I went through all of it. There were some random pieces that weren't very nice and were mismatched. Those all went to a pile that I am saving. This fall our school has an annual rummage sale fundraiser. Those people buy everything and I know they are going for a good cause. I filled the china cabinet with glasswear until it can hold no more. Not sure about getting rid of that, so I put it on my list of thinking about it later. I took one very large set of my ex's mom's china and packed it for my son that now has his own place in Kansas. She wanted Chris to have this set and he said he will find a place for it if I bring it down at Thanksgiving. I also found all the dishes and pots and pans my husband had before he moved to South Dakota so I packed those nicely for the next boy that moves out. When all the dishes were dealt with, I finished off the garage. Well, unless you count the fact that I have a desk and a curio cabinet that need to have someone look at to refinish and a number of bicycles. Oh, my husband is going to be so happy with me!

Tony had to run errands this morning and Jamie had to work until 2. After they got home, I had them help me clean the kitchen and I sent them both off to clean their own bathrooms. I have cleaned my bathroom and ran a quick dustcloth, broom, and vacuum. On the whole, the house looks pretty good. I fear the desk will have to wait a bit for organization. So if you veer off your three goals and miss one, but you do tons more on another than planned, did you succeed for the day or fail. Either way, I am feeling pretty darn good about another day.

I promise, this blog will get back to reflecting on education and students and technology, but sometimes life gets in the way. Summer is a good time to clear the cobwebs literally and figuratively and I know I am getting that done. It will be so wonderful to start school this year feeling organized at home! I so needed this time. I hope my Three-A-Day Club is having as much fun as I am!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going through some of my personal history

When I was 23, I got married. I married a very nice man, but did so on the rebound from another. Being Catholic, I threw myself into the marriage. We had three sons and a fair amount of drama in our lives. I had a miscarriage the first time I got pregnant. While I was pregnant with my oldest son, my father-in-law lost a lung, and almost his life, to cancer. Right after I had my third son, my mother-in-law had her second bout with cancer. (Her first was before I met my husband.) We nursed her for five years and she died in our arms. After her death, everything changed. My husband worked for his mother and there was a great deal of stress on him to learn more about the business to take over. As my youngest went off to school, I went back to college and got my teaching degree. My first year of teaching was awful and I quit at the end of the year. It was in a private school and I also pulled my children and put them in public school. I was a substitute the following year in public school and that proved to be fabulous because when I applied for a teaching position the following year, I knew just where I wanted to be. During these years, my husband and I grew far apart. I am not terribly certain he ever wanted me to go to work. When I was a stay-at-home wife and mother, the house was always clean and dinner was always ready. We entertained extensively (something I really loved) and traveled with some frequency. His busy schedule added to the stress. After 17 years of marriage and a bit of marriage counseling, we divorced. As in most divorces, packing was not an easy time. Things got thrown into boxes and I went from living in a 5000 sq. ft. house to a small two bedroom apartment. The three boys made it clear they wanted to live with their father – a fact that drove me to counseling and almost did me in. (They all came to live with me eventually. Thank heavens my therapist helped me with patience!) Because of my much smaller living space, I rented a storage unit and stored most of my boxes.

Three years later I married my high school sweetheart – the love of my life! He had gotten divorced a few years earlier and moved from California to marry me. Neither of us came out of our marriages financially secure, so we rented a house for almost five years. Well, this year that has changed. We have moved into a beautiful house and have tons of room. But all those boxes have come back to haunt me. They are all out of storage and lurking in our game room over the garage and our smaller garage.

I am doing a pretty good job of getting rid of junk – using the old “if you haven’t needed it in 8 ½ years, you don’t need it now” theory. But there are some things that are just not that easy. When I used to entertain, I had tons of stuff – crystal, china, silver, linens – you know STUFF. We haven’t been able to entertain in the last five years as our house was way too small. But now? So do I keep the stuff? Pare down the stuff? I also used to cake decorate. I have made a number of lovely wedding cakes as well as other kinds. I have three or four boxes of cake decorating pans, cake plates, and other paraphernalia. Will I get back to using that? These are things I don’t feel quite ready to get rid of yet. At what point are you just holding on to the past? I find myself planning a New Year’s Eve party as I write this. I found all the stuff I used to do that with! Oh, my husband is not going to be a happy guy. He isn’t quite as social as I am!

I guess I will keep going through boxes and get rid of the easy stuff. I will have to think about the rest. And see what I can convince my wonderful husband I NEED to keep! Feeling pretty good about the day : 9 boxes of books gone (a few sold and most donated) , 7 boxes sorted and put away, 2 boxes filled with more donations, and three very large trash bags full. Thanks to my Plurk friend, Karen for getting me motivated on three goals for the day. I got more done than expected!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

High Paid Teachers!

How cool that I got this in an email today. Seems all things like this speak to me today!


Are you sick of high paid teachers? Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - baby sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan — that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now how many do they teach in day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE…. That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)


Guess I could be a babysitter for those wages! Maybe not.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer State Work

I have had the pleasure of spending the last two days with members of our Department of Education, state legislature, superintendents, and teachers discussing some money the state has allotted for teachers and the wages of the teachers of our fair state. I have learned so much during this process. It is so easy for one group to blame another for our woes, but when you put all in one room and give them the opportunity for dialog, so rich discussion comes forth. It was so gratifying to see that all in the room believed teachers deserved more money, but we have to be creative to find it. Change comes slow and I think patience will be necessary, but at least the conversations are in progress.

I am so honored to be included in this team. The group is genuinely interested in what the teachers on the team have to offer. I invited the legislators to visit my classroom at any point in the coming year. I think it is important that they see where they are looking to spend money. I do hope some of them take me up on my request. I would love to have them see our entire school.

I will not be able to attend the next meeting, but I would like to make a presentation for the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) that I learned about at the Milken conference. I think there is so much the program has to offer and that starting a pilot in our state could be a wonderful thing. Since I am unable to attend - but so strongly believe in technology - I am going to put together a presentation and have TIE (Technology in Innovation and Education) help me video tape it. I will have to spend the coming week working on my presentation.

I have two more state meetings this month. I am working on the Governor's Teacher Leadership Conference planning committee. This year's conference is being restructured to combine it with the New Teachers' Academy. I think it will be a wonderful experience for new teachers as well as teacher leaders. I am very much looking forward to it!

My final meeting of the month is a Teacher Advisory Committee to the Department of Education. This is a fairly new committee and the department felt that since they had advisory committees of both superintendents and principals, that it made sense to have teachers involved.

All of these committees are a direct result of my Milken award and I am so pleased to have the opportunity to serve the state in these ways. I love living in South Dakota and we have some truly amazing educators here. We overcome many obstacles and our students perform very well. I am proud to count myself among these teachers.

I still need to get boxes unpacked in my new house and I have so many lessons I want to work on for the coming year. Summer seems to go so fast! I am not sure how other teacher manage to handle it all. Some of them even find time for rest. I must be doing something wrong! :-)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

NECC Final Thoughts from a NYFB

By Tuesday, I seemed to have stopped blogging. I think I was overwhelmed by the number of people and the whole experience. I started Tuesday morning with a headache that showed signs of a migraine. Luckily, I brought medicine for that very purpose and only missed the keynote. I showed up 35 minutes early for Stephanie Sandifer's session, Marzano and Web 2.0: Ed Tech That Works, and was disappointed to find it was already closed. (This was not my first experience with a closed session, but I really wanted to hear this one!) I made my way to the Blogger's Cafe and ended up having a fabulous conversation with Kevin Honeycutt. I learned a lot from this man! I have some great ideas I am going to use and he was very encouraging. I am glad Stephanie put up her Ning page and wiki. I am going through them this weekend.

I did get into a couple of other sessions in the afternoon and then scolded myself for not doing better research beforehand. They were not what I was expecting and I simply didn't learn anything new from them. I will try to do a better job next time.

Wednesday morning, I went to two quick sessions before I had to get into my car for a 10 1/2 hour drive to Kansas. Again, I am not sure I took away much from either session, but I did get to visit with some people I sat with and that is always great.

I was really looking forward to Washington DC next year and then a conversation online made me rethink that. Scott McLeod posted about whether FB (Famous Bloggers) had an obligation to NYFB (Not Yet Famous Bloggers) and LR (Loyal Readers). As a NYFB, I could see his point, but as I was following conversations in his blog, Christian Long's blog, and on Twitter, I started worrying that I had offended someone by introducing myself. I had to think through it long and hard. Everyone I spoke to seemed really nice. I had a number of awesome conversations. I didn't introduce myself because I was starstruck, but because I really admire what they do and hoped to learn more from them. While in the Bloggers' Cafe, there were a couple of FB that did not appear to want conversation, so I stayed away, honoring their personal space. The conversations that occurred online really took me by surprise. I could have gained much information from the conference online, but the face-to-face connections are what really matters to me. I spent much of my drive back to South Dakota wondering if I even should go next year. In the end, I am still going to try to get to DC. I may revise my thinking a bit and make appointments with people I would like to get to know in a face-to-face meeting, but I know how outgoing I am and that I would probably still introduce myself to someone next year if I think there is an opportunity to learn.

Thinking back to last year's conference, I came back very excited and wanting to try all kinds of new things. I regret much of that didn't happen this last year. Learning two new content areas was fairly overwhelming and the death of both of my parents pretty much knocked the wind out of me. I feel better about what I teach and am again excited and ready to go. I have some time to work on lessons. I like that NECC is early enough in the summer to give me that opportunity.

All in all, I had a great time. I got to meet and spend time with Heather and Glynn. I got to meet a number of other people and am thrilled to have real faces to go with their online presence. I rediscovered the enthusiasm I had for using those 21st century tools. And San Antonio is a really cool place!

My deepest appreciation to those that challenged my thinking and helped me to grow! And an even bigger thanks to those of you that were willing to talk to a NYFB.