Thursday, August 21, 2008

Teaching with Fire

Fire by Judy Sorum Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

I start my blog this evening with this poem. I first read this poem during a Courage To Teach retreat and it had such an impact on my life that I make certain to revisit it as often as possible. When I read this for the first time, I was working on my Master's Degree and National Board Certification. I also served on several committees in my school and district. I had three sons living at home and a husband of three years. I was encouraged to do Courage to Teach by a wonderful that I have come to truly love. I wasn't sure I could put one more thing on my plate and she assured me that this was the only time in the year that I was going to take to nourish my soul. She was right. I had so many logs on my fire that I was truly going to burn out. This poem made me look at the spaces. From time to time, I need to think about those spaces and make certain my logs have room to breathe. This summer I chose to not take any classes because I knew I wouldn't have enough space. A few years ago that wouldn't have been my priority. This year I am going back to school feeling rested and recharged. I still have a lot of logs on my fire, but since I have been taking care of myself, I see that fire only getting brighter.

Courage To Teach truly changed my life. I am bonded to my cohort and have support like no other. I find peace when I reflect and get in touch with my inner teacher. It is an experience that I wish more teachers would have the opportunity to have.

The final part of the poem mentions that the fire knows how it wants to burn. I have a plan for my next five years, but I keep my mind open to how the fire wants to burn. My path has changed since I first became a teacher and it may change again. I must follow where the fire takes me. I wish for all teachers to take care when laying their logs this year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Everything In Its Proper Order

In the past few weeks I have been saddened at the thought of my youngest son going off to college. I know this is tougher for me this year after having lost both of my parents and having the oldest son graduate from college - while living at home - and moving to Kansas. Tonight I am sitting in a motel room in Marshall, MN watching my son sleep and instead of being sad, I am feeling like a very lucky woman. Jamie is 18, focused on what he wants to do in life, and very passionate about getting the education that will move him towards those goals. He is mature and ready for this phase in his life. His choice in colleges was a well thought out and logical decision on his part. We arrived here this afternoon after a six-hour journey in two cars. We explored the town and went out for dinner. He made me laugh until tears were literally streaming from my eyes. He is so excited about college and is approaching it with curiosity instead of fears. I will miss him and he may experience some feelings of home sickness, but this is the way life is supposed to work. If I shed a tear tomorrow on leaving, I will do so steadfast in the knowledge that this is right.

I have further reflected on my other two sons tonight. I suspect that is normal during a pretty life-altering event. Chris is in Kansas working in an aerospace engineering company. His actual project is secret, but when he mentions it at all, he does so with pride and enthusiasm for what he does. He is taking advantage of the tuition-paid college classes his company provides him and is working on his engineering degree while working about 60 hours a week right now. A few years ago, Chris had trouble deciding which direction he wanted his life to go in and now he is thriving. Again, he is farther away than I would prefer, but what mother could want more for her child than to hear absolute joy about what he is doing? I am proud beyond words.

Tony has also struggled at finding his path in life. He is in his third year at our local technical institute and on his third program. He is studing auto mechanics and has taken a second job working in a garage. Tony has ADHD and to be honest, I am shocked he is continuing his education. He struggled in school every year and graduation was a major accomplishment. He still struggles, but firmly believes that he has to have an education to get ahead in life. Tony often presents me with challenges, but when I take a step back and realize how far he has come, I can only be amazed.

Do I sound like a proud mother? Well, I am. Day to day life with three sons has had its moments - good and bad. My divorce from their father 8 1/2 years ago was traumatic and trying for all of us. But we all survived and have gotten to a point where I am watching my little boys turn into incredible young men. While I would like to take the credit, it isn't that easy. The one thing I do seem to have passed on to my children in my love of learning and my belief that education unlocks doors. Seeing it in action only inspires me to pass that on to my students. I know they short time I have within the classroom makes it harder than with the long-term relationships with my sons, but I still believe I have the power to influence and that makes getting up each morning exciting.

Tomorrow I leave this college freshman in his dorms and go home to prepare for my 8th graders. How sad can I really be?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Reflections

It is hard for me to believe that summer is ending. It seems like we just got started. It has been a busy one for me and before I start school, I feel I must take a few minutes and reflect.

This summer has seen me in my car more than any other. I have been on numerous committees. I was honored to be on the Governor’s Summer Study committee to examine our state’s Teacher Compensation Assistance Program (TCAP). I learned so much through this process. I always feel torn when we discuss teachers wages in the state of South Dakota. I know I don’t teach for the money – I love what I do. But I also believe we deserve more than being 51st in the nation in pay. I know that we are losing teachers to surrounding states that pay more. I know that we are struggling to find good teachers to stay in our state and that it has been through creative problem-solving by superintendents, principals, and the DOE that we have avoided a full out teacher shortage so far. I don’t think that is going to be enough in the near future. I know a number of excellent teachers that have left the profession to do something else to be able to support their families. It is our students that pay the ultimate price for that. I also understand that our money in the state can only go so far. We are one of six states in the nation that does not have a state income tax. That limits us even further. I remember when limited gaming came to the state and that was supposed to be the savior for education. What happened there? It was rewarding to see that all members of the committee – teachers, superintendents, legislators, association leaders, and the Department of Education all agreed that teachers deserved more, but I think it is going to be a long time in the making before there are any real solutions coming.

I was also on the Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference planning committee. I have taken part in the Governor’s New Teacher Academy for the last couple of years and this is being combined with the Leadership Conference this year. I think it is a good melding of two ends of the profession that can learn a lot from one another. I love being with the new teachers and witnessing their enthusiasm. It rejuvenates me in ways I just can’t explain. South Dakota has some of the finest teacher leaders around and they also give me the boost I need to try new and innovative things in my classroom. The conference is in October and I am so looking forward to it!

I had the opportunity to meet with the seven regional teachers of the year that are in the running for the state TOY. What a talented group of people! That will be announced in October at the Teacher Leadership Conference as well!

I serve on a teacher advisory council to the Department of Education. It is so wonderful to meet with our department and know that they truly care about what teachers need and work to provide that if at all possible. They care what we think and really listen when the council meets. I feel like we have had some input on what should go into the highly qualified teacher standards in the state and I know we want high quality teachers to be in classrooms.

I had the opportunity to go to the NECC conference in San Antonio this summer. This was my second year and I find it to be an amazing experience. I get tons of great ideas and feed off the energy of the thousands that attend. I am so inspired that I am looking for a topic to present at NECC next year. Okay, I want to present so I can be certain my district will send me to Washington D.C., but I still want to present!

While at NECC, I learned about Plurk. I have been a Twitter girl for a while now, but think I may have totally switched. Plurk is a micro-blogging site that I have made great connections at. I have this fabulous PLN (personal/professional learning network) that inspires me as well as shares great educational ideas. I know I spent too many hours on Plurk, but it has been worth the time!

On a personal level, there were many wonderful highlights. We moved into a new house and I made some gains in getting some things sorted, purged, and organized. (If only I were finished!)

I got to go to Kansas on the way to and from NECC and see my oldest son in his new surroundings. It is such a humbling experience to see what was your child become this amazing man. I am so very proud of him and all that he has accomplished. I am glad I got to see where he is living. I hate that he is so far away, but I have no worries that he is going to do great things!

While at NECC, I got to finally meet Heather and Glynn. After several years as online friends, it was beyond wonderful to meet these two wonderful people. Heather and I are truly Soul Sisters and kindred spirits. They were both everything I expected and more. What a blessing they are in my life.

I just got back from a vacation with my husband. Michael and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary this month and this is the first real vacation we have taken together. It was much needed and long overdue! We drove to California and, while that is ever so many hours in the car, it gave us many hours to just be together. We stopped on each end in Las Vegas and played in a couple of Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments. I do well when we play in our local home game, but I just don’t seem to have the hang on the Vegas scene. Michael finished in the money in one tournament and 12th in another. We went to California to visit his family. His brother had a heart transplant in June and it is simply amazing at how wonderful he is doing. He is living with their mother and I needed to see for myself at how she was holding up to the stress and worry of the situation. She is a strong and resilient woman who is doing just fine. I will still be glad when things get back to normal and she has more of her own space. The vacation was wonderful in all aspects!

I have one more bit of business before I am all about school. My youngest son is heading off to college this week. We will drive over to Minnesota on Wednesday and he moves into the dorms on Thursday. I am not particularly looking forward to this, but on the other hand, he is excited and ready to move to the next phase of his life. I will only have the middle son home finishing school here locally. Not quite an empty nest, but given how little we see of Tony, just about!

I am going to start my principal internship this week and will be working on it all year. This is part of my doctorate program in Educational Administration. I hope to spend a few years as an assistant principal and then go on to prepare teachers to enter the profession.

While I have truly enjoyed my summer, I am really eager to get back to school. I miss the students and I am excited about starting my second year as an English and Social Studies teacher. That still astounds me after so many years as a computer teacher. I have a lot of ideas and I can’t wait to implement them. I get to do a Technology In-service for our teachers on the 26th and I have been working on my presentations. I hope they enjoy what I have to offer as much as I have enjoyed preparing it. I won’t get students until September 2nd, but I am truly looking forward to that day!

Let the school bells chime! And a special thanks to Terry Shay for encouraging my finishing this post!