school · writing

How to really appreciate your kids’ teachers this week (and all year long).

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Y’all. It’s May-hem. May-member. May-day. May the force of common sense be with you.

And Pinterest crafting isn’t in my wheelhouse this month. (Or ever, honestly. So if you love some sanding and painting and cutesy font notecards this post is not for you, and please, sell me your services next year because I have the black thumb equivalent of gift giving.)

I love my kids’ teachers. LOVE them. One math teacher gave us her cell so we could text if my middle schooler is on the verge of fraction-induced tears. My son’s kindergarten teacher has a son with the same name as mine AND THE SAME BIRTHDAY 10 YEARS REMOVED so she basically treats him like he’s hers. These are good, good people teaching my kids how to navigate Google and divide negative numbers.

However.

I can’t be all thanks a latte because you helped me grow into one smart cookie since you’re such a sharp teacher.

(For the record, I do appreciate the puns.)

Between my four kids we have TWENTY TEACHERS.

We’re all barely surviving May as it is. Teacher Appreciation week should be moved to September because HALLELUJAH! SCHOOL IS BACK IN SESSION AND WE REALLY APPRECIATE IT.

Also, teachers really need supplies. And support. And extra snacks because some of us (hangs head in shame) can’t be trusted to read the snack schedule.

So if you want to appreciate your kids’ teacher without feeling like a crap mom when everyone else (i.e. half my Insta feed) is cranking out adorable-ness on their Cricket, the best things to do are simply done all year long.

I taught school for years. Middle school mind you.

And this is what I appreciated:

  • Boxes of expo markers
  • Extra supplies for a kid in need
  • Cases of Lysol wipes
  • New books for my classroom
  • Kids who came to school on time
  • Kids who were picked up from extracurricular activities on time
  • Kids who said “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” and “please” and “thank you”
  • Ink cartridges
  • Tissues
  • Agenda signed
  • Homework done
  • When you have a problem and you come to the me before the principal
  • When your kid is dressed appropriately for school so I don’t have to measure their shorts with a ruler
  • When you see me in the grocery store and you say, “My kid really loves your class.”
  • When you see me at church and you say, “My kid really loves that book you made him read.”

According to my kids, what their teachers really want is:

  • Quiet
  • Good listeners
  • Mint chocolate candy
  • Pepper

Here’s what one third-grade teacher told me she wanted:

  • Parents to read her newsletter
  • But she’ll take a gift card

Here’s the thing. For years, teaching was my job. I didn’t need a reward for doing it because it’s the job I chose and the job I loved/hated and like parenting—my days were endlessly long but those years flew by.

I have a box full of teacher ornaments and magnets. They’re buried beneath a stack of letters from kids telling me my class was their favorite. I’ve long ago spent the Starbucks cards and broken the personalized tumbler (blame: toddlers) and lost half the pair of earrings.

But those parents who raised up respectful kids? Lovable kids? Those are the parents who showed appreciation everyday because they recognized teaching is hard and kids are harder and it’s a calling and a profession that commands respect—those are the parents and kids I remember.

And these days, in the grocery store, I go out of my way to speak to them.

P.S. That picture is from that time my students had a “stick it to ’em” day and stuck post-its all over our doors. BEST GIFT EVER.

P.P.S. In case you didn’t know (but your probably do) I quit teaching to write books and have this fourth baby.My debut, Still Waters, released last fall and is currently a finalist for three different awards. But thank you notes and reviews from readers (like thank you notes from students) are still the most appreciated.

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motherhood · school · writing

When Gilmore Girls Makes Your First Day of School Look Not So Bad

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We did it. Lined ’em all up on the front stoop (it’s not a porch though Joshua says he’ll build me one someday) and took the obligatory First Day picture and took them all to new schools.

Yeah, I’m a homeschool quitter.

I love a lot of things about homeschool. I love the freedom to travel. I love reading books with and to my kids. I love the library and the Dollar Tree practice books I discovered late in the season and all my homeschool friends who make it look so easy. But I also had to teach math and y’all, I know my strengths. There’s a reason I made it into college with a really high verbal score on the SAT.

So they went back to school. Little ones love it. There’s colorful classrooms and desks with their names and cafeteria food. My kids have really high standards, can you tell?

But the big ones… well, we sent them to middle school. Most awkward years ever and we sent them to a new school with hardly any friends.

We’re the meanest parents ever. Also, I’ve been told I’m incredibly embarrassing because, turns out, I do know lots of the teachers and there was hugging at Open House and talking too much.

They’re going to survive. I know that. But when your girls cry on you in the minivan and the first day isn’t easy, you do what you have to do to make it better.

We watched Season 1, Episode 2, “The Rorys Go to Chilton”. Because, truly, Rory’s first day was way worst than ours. I wore real clothes for drop off (actually Joshua did the MS drop off) and there was no girl on campus who even came close the rivaling Paris for mean girl crown. Which made my almost-thirteen year old smile and start naming the things that were good.

And that’s my parenting tip of the week. When times get tough and you’re at your wits end trying to make it better, use a little pop culture (pre-screened of course).

I’d love to hear about your first day in the comments here or wherever you have a login saved. And what did I do while they were all in school for a solid eight hours you ask? I worked on proofing the print and Kindle copies of my debut novel which releases next month. NEXT MONTH. You can preorder it on Amazon while you’re buying all the Gilmore Girls episodes. 

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. 

reflections · school

Dear First Time Teacher {who wants to change the world}

Dear First Time Teacher,

I know you’re excited.  I know you’ve spent days (maybe weeks) assembling bulletin boards and organizing shelves and color coding plans and reciting your “welcome to my class!” speech while driving across town to chase the best office supplies sales.

I know you think you’re prepared to change the world one first grader or eighth grader or graduate at a time.  You are and you will.  It just won’t be the way you think.

Your first year teaching will be both the hardest and easiest of your career.  The easy comes because it’s the year everyone around you nods in understanding when you say, “It’s my first year.”

Except the parents.

Parents don’t care if you’ve been teaching one year or thirty years, they want the best experience possible for their child because, like you, they’ll never get a do-over on this year.

Remember that when you think they’re your friends.  They’re not; they are your employer and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  You, likewise, should expect the same from them because in a conference you are there as the professional.

So be professional and understand, you can be a great teacher and still, not everyone is going to like you. 

But sometime later, when this year is over, and you establish a relationship that’s not founded on homework assignments or detention, some of those parents will become your friends and your greatest champions.

The scariest moment is going to come when you close the door to your classroom for the first time and realize you’re alone with close to 30 students who are waiting for you to make the first move.  They’ll size you up that first day and study you more that first week, and then they’ll decide how they’ll treat you.  And their decision will always be most impacted by the way you treat them.  


It’s your classroom, your routine, your heart that will give those lesson plans in that thick binder plenty of life, and before long, those students will be your kids.  You’ll love them more than you ever thought you could love someone else’s child. Of course, there will be plenty you’ll wish you could send next door to someone else, but when your colleagues see them in the halls and the cafeteria and they gym, they’ll be yours.  You’ll be responsible for them the whole time they’re on that campus, and there will be a precious few for whom the burden of responsibility will transcend an 8-hour day.

People will judge you by them.  This isn’t some new outcome of years spent with NCLB, it’s how it’s always been. You may not be able to control whether someone fed them dinner last night or if they got up alone in the dark to catch a bus just so they could get breakfast, but you can control your classroom.  You can make it a safe place and you can make it, first and foremost, a sanctuary for learning.  

I promise you can.

You just have to remember that you can’t save them all.

You are one person in a long line of educators and counselors and coaches and administrators, so sometimes all you can do is pray that someone else succeeds when you feel like you’re failing.

That’s okay.  You don’t have to be everything to everybody.

Chances are, when you’re a teacher, you’re everything to at least one.

Have a wonderful first year.  Learn from your mistakes (you’re going to make them).  Make new friends with those in the trenches with you.  Build a community.  Cling to grace.

You are a teacher.

family · joshua · just write life · marriage · school · writing

Yes, We Are Homeschooling This Year

I’ve been skirting around the proclamation for over a month. Dancing around the possibility for a few years. Making peace with the decision since we decided to jump the county line.

Yes, we are homeschooling this year.

Never thought I’d really say those words. Much less about having all three of my girls home a the same time. I figured if we ever did it, I’d be their middle school teacher for a few years and then back off to the land of textbooks and powerpoints where your teachers have more advanced degrees than I do for impossible subjects like chemistry and trigonometry. {insert shuddering at the idea of teaching that}

But they’re all home with me and homeschool is why we’re playing Barbies and drinking coffee in the middle of the day. Actually, no more coffee. I’m getting to that old age where caffeine after 2 o’clock makes me unable to sleep and I dearly love to sleep.

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School around here started the first week of August. Friday for one county. We went to the waterpark. Monday for another. I took Gus to preschool and worked all morning. They played games and Madelynne read Divergent for the second time.

Yes, Gus is going to preschool. I know my strengths and colors/letters/numbers/rambunctious boy while I’m trying to write aren’t in my quiver.

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I mean look how happy he is to be in PreK.

So we haven’t started yet and everyone keeps asking how it’s going, so it’s pretty easy for me to say, “Great!”

Yeah, I haven’t actually taught them anything yet.

Unless you count entrepreneurship because Annabelle and Amelia made homemade strawberry smoothies and went around the neighborhood last week selling. Half our neighbors are retired and home all day so they made $4.50. That capped off earnings for a new American Girl (Target knockoff) kitchen set.

Value of a dollar. I’ll jot that down as done.

The truth is we aren’t homeschooling because I think I can teach better than all the teachers who stuck it out in public school when I couldn’t anymore.

We aren’t homeschooling because I felt a religious conviction to give them a Christian education.

We aren’t homeschooling because I felt called to be their first and foremost influence.

Those are all great reasons if they’re yours. But ours is simpler.

We’re tired.

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The run around of four kids in so many places plus my freelance work and Joshua’s travel schedule and our volunteer commitments has meant school’s rigid schedule couldn’t bend to accommodate our needs. Our kids were going to bed too late, getting up too early, and our family time was always compromised.

Between the move and Amelia’s relapse of symptoms and our desire to travel outside the confines of spring break and summer vacation, we knew keeping them home this year was the right choice.

In some ways, the move made it easy. I don’t think I’d ever have left my safety net of a school system I know and love if I hadn’t been forced. And while Joshua ultimately left the decision up to me, and I all too often remind him he’s not the one saying no all the livelong day because our kids want to snack every fifteen minutes, the truth is my tipping of the scales came from him.

Because the person who will pick up my pieces on a bad day, who will  review the math I don’t understand, who will bring home the proverbial and literal bacon so I can feed it to these hungry children–is my husband.

If I’ve learned anything from this decision making process it’s that I was seeking opinions from all the wrong people. My friends are great. They’re supportive of me–which means some said go for it and some said I was flipping crazy.

But my husband supports our family and from the beginning he thought this choice was right. And I discovered there is great freedom in submission to my God-seeking husband.

Which I’ll remind him when he comes home to find us having an Anne of Green Gables marathon (literature) and eating popcorn for dinner.

In case you’re wondering, we do have an actual plan. We’re using Sonlight as a guide for Amelia’s reading, Math U-See because I have no skills there, and I’m teaching a middle grades language arts class for homeschooled students that will guide my big girls through grammar, writing, and literature. We will fill in science and social studies from a variety of sources, with our main focuses being American history, geography, and earth science.

We’re going on lots of field trips and I’m talking everyone into a cross country trek to visit my sister in Utah. I’m sure we will reassess almost daily and “regular” school might come back to us next year, but this is our year to embrace change.

Hopefully without losing my mind.

school

We Want Unique Kids, But We Teach Them Standard

This post originally appeared in The Northeast Georgian on April 24, 2015.

It’s spring. Farmers turn soil into bounty. Thunderstorms rush us inside. Fresh cut grass permeates the air. Teachers find their brave face.
Because it’s test week. This week The Georgia Milestones replaced the CRCT as the public school’s assessment and accountability tool for students and teachers. Those who conceived it say it’s a better test, more aligned with the new standards, more user friendly, more likely to give an accurate indicator of where a student and school stands against the other public schools in the state.
As a former educator, I was elated to lose the CRCT and its pass/fail requirement for certain grades. I was thrilled to hear this new test might actually assess students the way they are being taught. Until I realized that meant teachers are working with standards that lack creativity and are simultaneously above and below common grade-level expectations. For instance, students read excerpts of informational texts but rarely an entire book. The standards fit the test all right, and when followed should produce a nice standard score. But where’s the joy of learning in that?
When it comes to intellect, we are not one size fits all.
I know teachers have mixed emotions about the test. I’ve talked with them and seen the fear in their eyes when I ask how the computer administration is working. On one hand, we’re raising a technology-driven society. On the other, we’re still limited by server capabilities and physical equipment. My daughter retook a section of the test this week because her computer logged her out on question nine. She wasn’t stressed, but that night she prayed for her teachers, because she knows that incident worried them.
Teachers have put on their game face. They’re doing what must be done to keep funding in our schools, to keep schools run by local boards instead of state know-it-alls, and they know through it all, their own jobs ride on the scores those tests produce.
It’s a terrifying thought. What if doctors were assessed yearly by whether or not they had the same outcome for all their patients? Everyone who has a tonsillectomy should recover in three days with no complications. Oh, your patient now has neurological difficulties? Well, then, you fail.
My daughter’s surgeon would be out of a job due to circumstances he couldn’t control or have foreseen. 
That’s what we’re telling teachers. Regardless of a student’s domestic or socio-economic background, after a certain number of days in your classroom, all students should be able to perform the same. Including students with learning disabilities. After all, the computer will ensure a standard administration. No worries about cheating.
Except no one wants to discuss the pressure that drives an educator (like the ones convicted in Atlanta) to believe cheating is actually helping. They were misguided, sure, but ask any teacher and they’ll tell you a standardized test should be nothing more than a tool. One piece of the puzzle to  helping a student succeed.
The same breath that reads aloud the standard rules of test administration is the one that has encouraged our students. Don’t be like everyone else. Be yourself. Be unique.

Except of course on the test. Then, just be standard.
reflections · school · thankful Thursday

How A Teacher Keeps Her Optimism

 

When I left my classroom two years ago to stay home and raise babies and blog stats, I didn’t expect to miss teaching much.  I didn’t expect that this time every year, I would get a little wistful for new pencils and Expo markers and highlighters.  I didn’t expect that this time every year, I would miss the anticipation of readying my classroom for a new group of silly, rambunctious, and yet, ambitious young teenagers.  I didn’t realize that even though I had left the classroom, that my teacher optimism, that beautiful gift teachers have to believe every new year will be better than the last, would remain so deeply embedded in  my heart.

You see, it never occurred to me that I could miss teaching because by the time I left, I had allowed myself to be so beaten down and discouraged that I had no hope the next year would be any better.

 

Teaching is an ironic profession.  In the same day that you can spend all your extra planning time helping a student organize their backpack and locker in order to find three weeks of lost homework, you can sit at a conference table with parents and have profanity hurled at you for not giving enough of your time and energy to have made that same student successful from day one.
One thing that drove me away was the feeling that I wasn’t doing a good enough job raising my own children, because I was so afraid to fail at raising someone else’s.
A teacher’s career is filled with accolades and rewards, but that career is forged in the fire of expectations from lawmakers and parents that are often unrealistic and unachievable for our current system.
Teaching today is an intense, data driven, marathon.  There is always some new piece of technology or curriculum on the horizon.  Textbooks are becoming obsolete, and classrooms are equipped with laptops and iPads.  Email is the new parent contact, and weekly, if not daily, updates of grades and reports are expected.
When I was teaching middle school, I could use my 90-minute planning block to attend a parent conference, help write an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), analyze benchmark test scores to determine our Response to Intervention (RTI) tiers, administer a make-up test, pull novels for my students’ next library check out, and grade half a dozen essays.
There was nothing easy about it, but one thing that made my days worthwhile, and kept me going through eight years and five certifications, were the all too rare times a parent was supportive.  When a parent took the time to acknowledge the work I was doing to bring education alive for their student, that’s when I knew I was in the right place.
So, this fall when you take your student to Open House, when you meet their teacher for the first time, when you attend a parent conference, or chaperone a field trip, go out of your way to thank your student’s teacher for all they do.
It’s those few and far between accolades of support that fuel a teacher’s optimism, that reminds them, indeed, every year can be a little bit better than the last.

 

 

birthdays · motherhood · school

More than Flowers (What May Brought)

So it’s occurring to me while I’m working on a (hopefully) profound post about how I need to slow my life down, that I haven’t done a lot of casual blogging lately about what’s been keeping us so busy.  May is marching on by with its cold snaps and thunderstorms and heartaches too big for words, but here’s a bit of what we’ve been doing.

Gus turned one.  I didn’t even write about it. I wrote this the week before and the week of I was busy with this.

That’s the incredible Mrs. Gibson and her talented students and crew.  Blessed that she allowed me back in the school to help with the annual spring musical.  I almost missed teaching that week.  But then I came home to this and remembered why I left.

We named our children like dwarves last week: Sleepy, Whiny, Sassy, and Screechy.  Guess which one she is?

We’re digging the CSA that’s started up in the past few weeks.  Now I just need a more expansive repertoire of what to do with collards and turnip greens.

Oh, here she is again.  Joshua wants to know why we’re not marketing her so that at least one college education is paid for.

She likes to dress herself, can you tell?  Tomorrow is her last day of preschool this year.  Insane how fast it goes.

That’s my sweet friend Shanna giving Gus his first haircut. I almost cried and she told me I’d be fine.  This from the woman who had to let someone else cut her baby boy’s hair because she didn’t think she could do it.  Love you Shanna!  Thanks for making sweet boy look good.

It’s been field day and field trips and general chaos around school these past couple weeks.  Glad I get to hang with my big girls sometimes!

When I was teaching, we used to have faculty meetings and brainstorm how we could move some of the craziness out of May.  Yes, please.  Let’s figure out how to do that.