Sunday, November 23, 2008

National Board Certification

Friday, November 21, 2008 I was sitting at my computer just before 7 AM waiting for that magical moment that I could press the button and see if I had achieved National Board Certification after my second year through the process. My husband was by my side assuring me that he felt good about it, but I was mentally preparing myself to take on a third year. I was beyond delighted to see that I had succeeded!

I must say that I am thrilled beyond words to be Nationally Board Certified, but there is a tiny part of me that is sad this phase of the process is over. Going through certification has been the best professional development I have ever had. It was personal - about me, my teaching, my students, my classroom. I have changed a number of things over the last two years and really feel like I have grown as a teacher. I have learned much from reflection and it is a practice that I will continue.

I am excited that 16 members of our staff have signed up for Take One! this year. I am going to get to assist them in the process and that is very exciting. I hope they get as much from the experience as I have.

All in all, professionally, I am having a fabulous year!

Reflections on the Past Year and Some Current Thoughts

Last weekend I had to prepare remarks for the South Dakota Board of Education about my year as a Milken recipient. I love times of reflection because I truly grasp how fortunate I am. Not only did I receive the Milken and all that goes with that, I had a number of opportunities open up before me. I was asked to serve on the Governor’s TCAP Summer Study Committee and I learned more than I could have imagined from there. I am part of the first Teachers Advisory Committee to the Board of Education. I was part of the planning team for the Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference. While there I got to be part of the opening and speak to about 400 teachers. I was also presented a plaque from the Governor for my Milken award. I was introduced to the state legislature and asked to speak to the Board of Education at the beginning of my year. I had the opportunity to submit some of my lesson plans to Corwin Press for publication. (But since I haven’t heard back, I am not hopeful!) I got to witness the South Dakota Teacher of the Year process up close. I always knew we had some amazing teachers in our state, but having those teachers in the room was inspiring!
I was also names one of Black Hills State University’s 125 Accomplished Alumni. This was quite an honor. It was their 125th anniversary and they selected their top from everyone who attended the university. They treated us to a great lunch. Introduced us all with a short bio and gave us a medal. I was also asked to ride in the Swarm Day parade the next day and be introduced at half-time of the homecoming football game.
I have also had an impact on how my district recognizes and utilizes national award winners. We have the newest Milken in our state right in our district again and I suggested that we honor the fact that we have so many in our district and perhaps pull these people together to do some good for the district, particularly in the area of good PR. In this day and age, teachers need to be recognized in the public as the professionals they are!
I enjoyed my time with the board on Monday. They are always very receptive to hearing from teachers. I also enjoyed my time to reflect. It made me think about the growth I have experienced over the last year in particular!
I realized over the past year that I have gotten over my fear of public speaking. I also realize I have some pretty definite opinions on a few things about education. I worry about how prepared new teachers are fresh from the university and what kind of support they get when they get into the trenches. I worry that we are truly going to see the effects of the teacher shortage soon and it is going to cause things we really don’t want to see happen. There are already rural schools closing and overcrowded classrooms. I don’t think most teachers are doing a very good job of integrating technology in the classroom and we are currently teaching the students that are going to have to be proficient with that when they get into the workplace. I worry about South Dakota being lowest in the nation for teacher pay. I think it is going to prevent us from being competitive attracting new teachers and we are going to lose them to neighboring states.
Perhaps most of all, I worry that our profession as a whole is not as respected as it once was. In many ways, I think teachers are our own worst enemies on this one. Most teachers are very modest about what they do. We are called to serve and we feel no need to toot our own horns. I most certainly understand that. But it has led to people saying things like, “Oh, you are just a teacher.” It has also become the fall-back career – well, you can always TEACH! Sheesh! Where did this come from? When parents drop off their children at the school each day, they are leaving us with their most precious possessions. They better hope we are up to the task of not only caring for these children, but helping them become the productive members of society that we need for them to be. I know I take this responsibility seriously – as do most teachers I know. I think we should, at the very least, be respected for our choice to teach!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's been a tough year so far!

This is shaping up to be a tough school year. Two students that were in the other 8th grade Core last year have committed suicide this year. Two of my current students have been hospitalized for suicidal thoughts this year and five students in our school were hospitalized this week. This just terrifies me! We have heard about suicide pacts and I know a lot of our kids are feeling stress.

I think the economy problems must be playing a factor. I know it hurts all of us, but those in poverty situations must find it overwhelming. It is good to see gas prices coming back down, but I know that has caused a great deal of turmoil for many of my families. Food is more expensive and when you can barely feed your family how can you deal with that?

I try to keep my classroom a safe environment so that kids can stick to the task of learning, but they come in with so many things on their minds it’s no wonder they have trouble dealing with English. And that’s if they make it there at all. I had a student missing this week whose family is dealing with a fire in their home. Grandma is currently taking care of 9 grandchildren and they had a fire in their rental home. The oldest grandson awoke and alerted all the family and three of the boys helped get blankets and such and take care of the babies and little ones in the snow while the fire was being put out. Now they are displaced and have no money to survive on. He is supposed to be back in school next week, but only time will tell.

I have another student that has been a handful for a week – picking on other kids and generally just messing around. A few conversations with administration and I have discovered that his younger brother (6th grade) is struggling with cancer. I am certain that my student is worried and also probably not getting much attention at home right now.

Another young man’s house was foreclosed on and he has missed school to help his family move. A young lady had a note intercepted that discussed her first sexual experience. There is one that is struggling because English is not his first language and is not spoken in the home. I know there are several on probation or DSS is involved. My list of IEP students is very long.

Logically, I know that I must continue to keep my classroom a stable and nurturing environment. I know it is often the only constant place in their lives. While I empathize with their problems, education is the best way out for most of them and I must continue to not only give that to them, but to make them see the value in it for their lives.

Emotionally, I am struggling a bit this weekend. I know it is the suicide thing that is bothering me the most. I don’t know how to deal with that. Our two that are back from the hospital concern me. One is acting out a bit and everyone is afraid to come down on her the way we should. One is still in contact with the boy she has the suicide pact with. How much are we supposed to be watching her? And as I look out on the sea of faces, how many others are feeling that death is the only way out right now? What more can I do for them? Our counselor is overloaded and seeing students as fast as she can.

I try very hard to not take this kind of thing home with me, but this weekend it has not given me that option. Worrying about my kids is weighing heavy. Maybe I need to take a suicide prevention class of some sort. (Like I have any more time in my schedule to fit in more stuff.) Maybe something smaller, like some sort of Thanksgiving activity where I tell each of them how thankful I am to have them in my life and why? I don’t know if that would help with the big stuff in their lives, but even though most of them know I care, it never hurts to tell them again and tell them why. Hmmm…. Something to think about!

Thanks for listening to my ramble and I am open to any suggestions for my kids you might have.