That’s a wrap 2018-2019…

All across America teachers are taking down, boxing up, and cleaning out their classrooms. Another year has ended and we, educators, are saying good bye to 2018-2019 school year and hello summer break and no we do not get “paid” summers off. If you do not know each teacher has to pack up the entire classroom and move everything into the hallway, so maintenance can strip and wax the floors. This is done at the end of every school year. This task for me is generally a time of reflection. A reflection of what went right, what went wrong, mistakes made, and great memories made to last. It is a time to say farewell as the walls become emptier with each passing day.

The school year lasted 180 days at 7 hours and 30 minutes per day. That is 180 days to hopefully help open the mind of a child to the joy of learning that will continue for a lifetime. It is also 180 days at times filled with laughter, a-ha moments, groans and moans. As I reflect on the past 1,350 hours spent with 21 3rd graders I think back to mistakes I made and wish I could have a do over just as students wish they would have paid attention just a wee bit more, at times. I reflect back to maybe an occasion when I spoke a bit harsh or should have really listened instead of hurrying little Sally along because we were late for lunch, again. Maybe I forgot to list a child who made the honor roll or forgot to return a parent’s phone call or email. Maybe I should have tried one last time to reach that unreachable student who seems to push everyone’s buttons on a daily basis and the list continues on and on. You see teachers are human and we make mistakes.

My mind now shifts as I find a beautiful drawn flower with a note that says “I love you, Mrs. Dasinger, best teacher ever!” I remember the laughs we all had as I explained everyone farts, so let’s not all chime in on who did it every time we hear a fart. Oh, the laughter that comes from an 8 year old when the teacher says….FART. I remember the smile on George’s face when he made that first 100 on his reading test, but he quickly reminded me he still does not like to read. Okay, George. I giggle to myself as I remember a spunky little girl singing the theme song to Mr. Ed, The Talking Horse. I hold deeply in my chest every hug that was shared each morning for 180 days.

I have said good bye and as I moved the last desk into the hallway a sheet of paper fell to the floor. The paper contained words written to no one in particular just words from a student expressing his sorrow and feelings of abandonment because his mother has left him behind. I lock the door for the last time as a tear falls down my cheek and I hope he knows how much his teacher has loved spending the last 180 days with him. I hope all my students near and far know…..Dandelion Dreams

Teacher, Take Care of Yourself

I have been missing in action for the past few months. My goal has been and is to write a new post at least once a month. I would love to write two, but life does take over at times. Anyway, let me explain my absence and reasoning behind my post.

On Feb. 25 at approximately 5:40 p.m. I was attacked by a rottweiler while walking in the neighborhood across the street from my home. I suffered multiple serious injuries that required being taken to the emergency room and 16 days later surgery to repair the damage. I spent 35 days confined to my home while I was healing. Finally on April 11th, 47 days later, I was released from the doctor’s care. I have horrible scars and even a full 2 months later deal with problems where one wound is not healing properly, so back to the doctor I go. I could go into more detail about the physical healing along with the emotional/mental healing that is taking place, but I want to turn in the direction that teachers need to practice self care regardless of circumstances.

Teachers typically spend I would estimate 15 – 20 hours a week outside of normal work hours, 7:20 – 3:20, grading, planning, and gathering or making materials for class. This time does not include time spent worrying or thinking about that one student that seems unreachable. This time also does not include responding to emails or calls from parents. Now, I was forced to slow down, rest, and concentrate on myself. During the 35 days I was at home I did worry about my students. Were they behaving? Were they learning the material needed to be successful in 4th grade? Was the substitute following my plans (yes, she was wonderful) and the questions continued. Side note, I could not have gotten through those 35 days without my wonderful co-workers keeping my classroom running. Finally, I had to tell myself to let it go, concentrate on getting better.

Teachers, we have to take better care of ourselves. Teaching is an overwhelming profession and can become all consuming. Let us admit it, trying to meet the academic, emotional and mental needs of children is hard! This does not include the constant changing laws that politicians seem to dream up without consulting with educators and we are forced to confront those in power to have our voice heard, but that is another post for a later day. I digressed. We can not be all we need for our students if we do not take the time to rest and recharge.

I learned while at home that rest is very important and undervalued. I decided to make changes for when I returned and I want to share the three simple changes I made. First, set definite work hours and leave work at work, the majority of time. I normally work until 4:00 or 4:15 p.m. three days a week. I do not bring work home with me any longer. It will still be there when I return the next morning. I do not answer emails or work related phone calls, unless an emergency, after 4:30 p.m. Secondly, reserve the weekends for yourself and family. I do not check work email on the weekends. I do not do anything work related on Saturdays. I specifically said Saturday because I do reserve roughly 2 to 3 hours on Sundays for preparing for the upcoming week. Let me add, I do not have small children at home any longer and if you do let work go on the weekends completely, if possible. Your children are only little once. Enjoy and soak up every moment. Lastly, disconnect from social media from time to time. Your classroom does not have to look like Pinterest nor does every lesson have to be a song and dance. Social media can become overwhelming for teachers because there are educators that look like they have it all together. As Hope King states so eloquently at Get Your Teach On, the pictures on social media are just a snapshot of a day. If needed hit the unfollow button for a little while.

I am proud to say that since returning to work I have stuck by my changes. Please, if you are like me and have a hard time turning off the teacher brain, make changes for your health. Do not let an emergency, accident, or sickness take place to force you to rest and recharge. Students love a happy, smiling teacher that enjoys teaching because he/she is refreshed, focused, and rested.

Now off to plan a rainforest unit for the week! Until next time….Dandelion Dreams

Dandelion Dreams….Dreams

I’ve had some thoughts for my next post for a few months now and decided it is time to share what has been bouncing around in my mind…..dreams or what has happened to dreams in the education world? Let me state, I am not advocating for the abandoning of standards or curriculum. We must educate our students to the very best of our ability every day within our classrooms. Okay, now that the disclaimer is out of the way I can begin.

Many years ago my mom told me a story of myself as a young child and it goes like this. One day she was walking down the hallway of our home and heard cheering and applause coming from my bedroom and as any mother would do she decided to peek in on me. The scene she observed was me performing for all my stuffed animals. My animals were lined up side by side to enjoy the show. Of course, I was also making the sound effects of my audience cheering at my performance. I am sure my animals were giving me a standing ovation (I am embellishing). You see I was a spirited little child and truth be told probably a hair challenging, at times. I also had a big imagination that was filled with hopes and dreams. I can not recall what my performance was for my lively audience. I may have been a singer, gymnast, figure skater or anyone my little imagination could conjure up at that particular time. My point to this trip down memory lane is whatever I was doing that particular day was a dream.

Dreams are an integral part of childhood. One definition of dream is a cherished aspiration, ambition, or goal. Children begin their educational journey at the tender age of 5. They are wide-eyed, full of excitement, wonder, and dreams. Dreams of digging up dinosaur bones, walking on the moon, living among the woodland or jungle animals, seeing the wild mustangs runs on the beach, swimming with whales, studying penguins, and saving a kitty stuck in a tree. The few dreams I have mentioned are cultivated in a classroom many times through play. A child sitting at a sand table watching the sand pour through his/her fingers plants the seed for a new tool that will move or sift sand in a more efficient manner, but at the time discovering a dinosaur bone was the dream. Another child is standing at a table building a rocket out of cubes, legos, or toothpicks and marshmallows and the seed is planted for a new spacecraft or just a small part that is necessary for the spacecraft to lift off, but at the time landing on Mars was the dream. In the back corner, two students are sketching and creating with markers, glitter, sequins, or just an 8 pack of crayons. Those creations may be the next new clothing line or illustrations for a children’s book that will be written 20 years in the future. You see these are dreams. The hopes, aspirations, and ambitions being brought to life in a classroom that is cultivating the little mind of a 5 year old.

Unfortunately, the scenes described above are not those being played out in classrooms around the country. The scenes are students completing mindless worksheets or test prep material in hopes of reaching a magic test score that exists somewhere out there in the universe. A score that in all reality means very little at the end of the day. I teach 3rd grade and have heard many times over from various students over the years….I hate school…another test….I’m not a good reader because I am still a yellow dot….do we have to. It saddens me to hear those phrases from a child who is only 8 years old. I ponder those sad phrases and wonder where have the dreams gone in education? What will we do as educators to be sure our students are able to dream? I am reminded of a quote from Mister Rogers “Children’s outside world has changed, but their insides haven’t.” Those 3rd graders didn’t change, but somewhere along the line we in education decided to change. I read a statement this morning as I was scrolling through Instagram by Matt Halpren that goes hand in hand with my blog post and I asked if I could please share his thought “Kindergartners should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.” Blowing bubbles like a dandelion blowing in the wind.

I close with a scene from my own classroom earlier in the school year. I read the book The Raft by Jim LaMarche as our mentor text for the week. (You can find the overall lesson by Amy Lemons and Katie King creators of Rooted in Reading by googling their names.) I decided to take the lesson a step further and transform the classroom into a woodland wonder and on the last day I brought in cardboard to create a pretend raft. The students were able to sketch, color, and write on the raft just like Nicky from the story. The students were abuzz with laughter, joy and wonder. I am not sure if that one activity will increase one child’s test score, but I am sure that at least one of those 3rd graders loves animals and was dreaming of being the next Jane Goodall, Jeff Corwin, Dr. Laurie Marker, or Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Hopefully, that child will look back and remember being in a classroom on a makeshift raft of cardboard remembering his/her 3rd grade teacher planting a seed to fulfill a dream.

“The duty of an educator is to let his/her students dream, help them find the thing that captures their heart and seems worth devoting the whole life to.” tweet by Shilpi Mahajan.

Let me share my dream. I have a dream to write a children’s book about the little girl dreaming in her bedroom that will be titled “Valerie’s Dandelion Dreams” dedicated to my mom and dad who let this little dandelion dreamer dream. I love you both!

The Sacrificing of Social Studies

I would like to begin with stating that I did wrestle for a couple of days with my thoughts for writing my 2nd blog post. In light of the recent events that transpired in our nation’s capital, I am compelled to address a growing trend in elementary schools around the country. The event I am referring to is the video circulating of the teenagers from Covington Catholic High School mocking Nathan Phillips, a Native American who is also a Vietnam veteran, who served this great country of ours. There are various videos and opinions concerning the actions of all involved and I am not addressing those actions in this particular post, but I am going to address the lack of teaching social studies in the elementary grades.

As I have attended various conferences and connected with over a hundred elementary educators through social media the same words have been echoed…teach social studies during reading…social studies is not a tested subject, so we only focus on reading and math….our social studies is on paper only…social studies is replaced with more and more intervention time for the hope of higher test scores. I could ramble on with more statements similar to those mentioned, but the message is the same. The message that social studies is not viewed as an important subject matter in lower grades. I do have a difficult time wrapping my mind around why we have arrived at the thought that teaching children about history, economics, geography, and sociology is not important. Now, I do know how we arrived at this conclusion. We have sacrificed social studies in many schools for the hope of raising standardized test scores.

“Social studies is NOT a vehicle to help us arrive at our reading goal” as stated by LaNesha Tabb at the Get Your Teach On conference in Charlotte, NC. This quote has become my motto when faced with opposition in stressing to administrators and fellow educators the importance of teaching social studies. As educators, we give the world an education. If we truly understand the weight of that statement we realize we must do a better job in educating our students in the area of social studies. Social studies should and deserves its own dedicated time where learners as young as kindergarten explore and learn about the world around them. The National Council for the Social Studies states “If the young learners of this nation are to become effective participants in a democratic society, then social studies must be an essential part of the curriculum throughout the elementary years. In a world that demands independent and cooperative problem solving to address complex social, economic, ethical, and personal concerns, core social studies content is as basic for success as reading, writing, and computing. Knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for informed and thoughtful participation in society require a systematically developed elementary program focused on concepts from the four core social studies disciplines: civics, economics, geography and history.”

I close with this thought, the students from Covington Catholic High School sat in a elementary classroom many years ago and I question what type of foundation was laid for these students. Was the foundation steeped in knowledge of other cultures that make up this great land, was it laid with bricks of tolerance, was it whitewashed or built upon truth of history? The foundation is laid in elementary school, so we need to make sure we are laying a solid one to build upon. Until next time….Dandelion Dreams

Reflections/Decisions

As I begin this post, we will be saying goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019 in about 8 hours. This is a time to reflect on the past 365 days and decide how to write the next 365 days.

Reflection – 2018 was a wonderful year for room 119. I decided to throw convention to the wind and step even more outside the box (my husband says I don’t even have a box). I attended Get Your Teach On twice, once in Jan. and then again in Oct. and visited the Ron Clark Academy for the first time. These experiences helped me to grow as a teacher and confirm truths I hold dear when it comes to educating young minds. I dove into The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Game Changer by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp. I can not say enough wonderful words about these two educators. These two are my go to experts in the field of ditch levels or color coding of books and free reading for all. I have probably quoted from these two more than I should to teachers around me…forgive me. Also, I tried every day to bring learning to life for my students. I cried while reading The One and Only Ivan for the third time. I cried explaining how wonderful The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is to a sweet little student. I laughed while making voices for each animal in Creature Features especially when a student answered a question on the test that he learned his teacher speaks blobfish. I hope my students saw in 2018 how much I love them and my passion for learning which will hopefully enable them to fulfill every dream they have for life.

Decisions – 2019 has yet to be written and with that comes decisions on how to fill the 365 pages that await. I have already made a few decisions on how to write a chapter or two or three. Chapter One, will be confronting inequality in the classroom especially for students of poverty. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 21% of children live below the federal poverty threshold which is approximately 15 million children. This percentage does not include the combination of poverty/low income families. I will dive into research and thoughts concerning students of poverty/low income in a later post. Chapter Two, I want to become a culturally responsive teacher. I have failed in this area over the years…no more excuses. I must open my own eyes to see and embrace the wonderful diversity that is represented in room 119 and educate myself first and foremost. Chapter Three, I will not settle for mediocrity and accept excuses. I am weary of listening to excuses of why this, we can’t do that, these kids, and so on and so on. No more….room 119 is a no excuse zone! Lastly, I strive to continue to bring back the wonder of learning. Childhood should be a time of amazement and excitement. Is there a better place for this amazement and excitement than in the context of learning? I have become discouraged with the test, test, test scenario of education that has zapped the joy of learning and it is a disservice to children (I’ll also cover that in a later post). May my decisions for 2019 in room 119 impact you to make some decisions about the chapters you choose to write in this new year. Happy New Year! Until again…Dandelion Dreams