Back To School Night

Tonight was Back To School Night for my youngest daughter who is in middle school.  I get to take the teacher hat off and be a mom on this evening.  I was amazed by the energy and enthusiasm of my child’s teachers.  Every single one of them talked about how they wanted their students to succeed.  I feel like my daughter is very lucky to have such wonderful teachers for her first year in middle school.

My own Back To School Night is tomorrow night.  I hope to bring that same energy and enthusiasm to the parents of my classroom.  This is going to be an exciting year of learning, and I hope I can show that to parents.  I want to encourage my parents to let their child take more responsibility for their learning, and I want them to know that their children are capable of doing things independently.  I realize that it is hard to let go and trust that your child will figure things out.  But, they do.  I want my parents to understand that I have high expectations, and I believe all my students can reach them.

Tomorrow will be my twenty-sixth Back To School Night.  I can’t believe it.  You would think that after twenty-five years Back To School Night would be easy.  The truth is I still get nervous.  My heart beats fast.  My palms get clammy.  I break into a sweat.  I have to do a lot of self-talk before the event.  I know what I am doing, and I know what I am talking about.  Nevertheless, I will be happy when tomorrow night is finally over!

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Happy Friday!

As one of my co-workers said, “Only 177 more days to go!”  🙂  Ha!  Is that all?  The first three days of school are done, and I am exhausted!  I keep thinking that it wasn’t even a full week of teaching.  The students just arrived on Wednesday.  Next week will be a whole different story.  Five straight days of teaching, but then we will have a three-day weekend due to Labor Day.

I have to say that I am enjoying my kiddos thus far.  They are very sweet and listen well.  But, it is only day 3.  I have to share one incident that happened today.  I called my students to the carpet area to read them a story.  It was a book by Julia Cook called, The Worst Day of My Life Ever!   It’s a story about listening and following directions.

Anyway, the kids were all seated on the carpet waiting, and I could not locate the book.  I had it in my hands and placed it somewhere so I would remember where it was.  But, I could not remember where I placed it!  I began walking around the room looking in all the spots where I might have put it down.  In the mean time, my students sat on the carpet quietly, watching me walk around the room, patiently waiting until I found the book.  WHAT???  That happens very rarely.  Most of the time, students will take the opportunity to talk to their neighbors.  My class just sat there and waited.  It was pretty amazing, and I told them so.

I hope that was a sign which points to a fabulous school year.  I have to be honest and say that I miss my students from last year.  Many of them came back to my class to say hello and give me a hug this week.  One of the fourth grade teachers told me a cute story about the students I gave to him this year.  They were doing some kind of human graph where they had to go to a certain spot when the name of their last teacher was called.  When my old students got in a group, one of the boys said, “Okay Kozak Kids, we have to stick together!”  That made me smile.  I spend a lot of time trying to build community in my classroom.  These kids had been with me for two years.  It felt like we were a family.  It made me feel wonderful that they still considered themselves a part of my class.  Sigh.  I am hoping to get that feeling again with this group of kids.  I am going to work hard to make that happen.

Small Surprises

Yesterday I had to go to our district’s offices to attend an inservice about a new computer program we will be getting at my school. It’s actually an old program that is being updated, and I am expected to train the rest of the teachers at my site. The new and improved program is different than what teachers are used to doing. So, I bet there will be a lot of moaning and complaining over it. But, hey. My response to that is to “suck it up.” The change is here, so we all better learn how to roll with it.

Anyway, this post is about small surprises. The first of my small surprises came at the end of the inservice when I was given a time sheet for attending. I was able to claim the hours I spent in the inservice and will get a little monetary bonus. It was a nice surprise and something I wasn’t expecting. My friend told me that we were getting time sheets, but I wasn’t sure. It doesn’t always happen. Most of the time I have to pay to attend an inservice. I was glad that I would be compensated for my time.

The next small surprise came when I left the training room which is on the second floor of the building. As I made my way to the stairs, I noticed this interesting shadow on the wall. I thought it would be a great photo for my photo of the day challenge for SDAWP Photo Voices. This week’s challenge is on angles.

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I thought the shadow made a great design. I liked all the angles in the shadow. I had never noticed that shadow before, and I have been to the District Office many times before. I don’t know why I never noticed it before. Maybe I was not in the District Office at the time of day where that shadow would be cast on the wall. Or, perhaps that shadow had been there before, and I just never paid attention to it. I stood there for a moment with my iPhone and wondered where that shadow was coming from. That’s when I looked up and saw my third small surprise.

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It was the sky light in the ceiling of the building. I did not realize that the building had a sky light. I just thought it was well-lit. Wow. It is neat to discover something  you never knew before. It’s like finding a secret treasure.

If I had not been participating in the SDAWP Photo Voices challenge, I would not have been looking for angles, and I would have never looked up. I am glad I took the time to slow down, stop, and look around before I hurried out of the building to my car. I think this is a great lesson to teach my students. If you slow down long enough you might learn something new. There are lots of small surprises waiting to be discovered.

Love What You Do

Yesterday, at the grocery store, I overheard the tail end of a conversation between a customer in front of me and the cashier.  The customer was telling the cashier how much he really loved his job.  The cashier responded that she loved her job as well.  I am not sure what this man did, but I wish I knew what kind of job he held.

I got to thinking how much I really love my job as an elementary school teacher.  I feel great that I can make that statement knowing there are a lot of people out there who are working a job they dislike.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do a job that you don’t enjoy.  I would imagine you would burn out very quickly.

At the end of the last school year, I had the opportunity to read a book entitled The Radical Leap Re-Energized, by Steve Farber.  The book is about how to be an effective leader.   It was written with the business person in mind.  However, its advice can also be used by someone like me who is in the business of education.

Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.

This statement addresses exactly what I do on a day to day basis during the school year.  I am definitely doing what I love.  I enjoy working with my students.  I learn something from them every day.  My students, parents, and school community are the people I serve.  Each year I have to remind myself that we are all in this together.  We all have to support each other if we want to have a successful year.  Finally, I can’t just expect love to come to me automatically.  I must remember to give my students and parents a reason to love me, too.  It’s best to deal with parents and students in a respectful way.  I have to keep my attitude in check.

Sure, there are some days when I question why I got into the teaching profession.  It is a hard job and can be very stressful.  It bothers me when people tell me that being a teacher is a cushy job.  They say things like, “You get the weekends and summers off.”  But, what people don’t realize is I don’t get paid for the months I don’t work.  And, I continue to work over the summer by attending workshops and inservices.  I also read many professional books over the summer to help me improve my teaching skills.  I don’t have much time to do this during the school year.

Recently, I read an article in which Sir Ken Robinson, educationalist, author, and speaker, was being interviewed (Your Start Up Life:  Fail To Succeed).  He was asked to give advice to people who were trying to find their passion while trying to earn a paycheck.

Don’t give up. Being in your element is where your talents meet your passions. The two are important. To be in your element it’s not enough to do something you’re good at. I know plenty of people who are good at things they don’t care for. To be in your element you have to love it. ‘It’ can be anything; teaching, carpentry, law, nursing, graphic design, pathology, working with animals, snow-boarding. You name it. Human culture is as rich as it is because our talents and passions are so various. Some people can make a living from being in their element, others can’t or don’t want to. They just do it for the love of it. Whatever your circumstances, you need to find time to be in your element – to do what gives you energy rather than what takes it from you.

It is interesting Sir Robinson talks about loving what you do.  This kind of passion will give you energy to keep going instead of draining it from you.  I will definitely keep this thought in the back of my mind as I enter this new school year.  Whenever I feel like the energy is being zapped out of me, I need to think about all the reasons I love teaching.  That will be a very long list.

Establishing Routines

It’s the week before school starts, and I’ve been thinking a lot about routines.  I have been thinking that I need to start getting back into the “routine” of school.  Part of this routine means I have to start getting up early to exercise.  On a school day, I usually get up between 4:00 A.M. and 5:00 A.M. to workout.  Depending on the day, I will go for a run, swim, or do CrossFit.  The exercise I do dictates what time I get up.  I have to be honest and say that since it is summer, and I am on vacation, I have enjoyed sleeping in.  Those extra few minutes of precious sleep have been a treat.

In any case, I like working out in the morning because it wakes me up and gets me ready for the day.  After a long day of teaching, I come home and get busy being a wife and mother.  I am usually too tired to exercise.  Once I sit myself down on the couch, I am not motivated to get up again to go to the gym.  This is why I exercise in the morning.  Today was a CrossFit morning.  I got up at 4:15 A.M. to get to the 5:00 class.  Now I am ready to start my day.

I have also been thinking about routines of my classroom.  It is important that I establish these routines right away with my students.  For the last two years I have taught a combination 2/3 grade class.  The best part about teaching a combo class is that the veteran students in the class become the models for the new students.  They know how to operate in the classroom and it makes my job so much easier.  I don’t have that this year.  I am fortunate to be able to teach a straight grade level this year.  But, that means I do not have my built-in role models in class.  I will have a new group of 2nd graders so I will have to show them how to do everything from where to line up after lunch to where to get a new pencil if their pencil breaks.  I spend a lot of time going over expectations.  It is worth it to spend most of my time going over routines in the first few weeks of school.  That way, the students know my expectations.

Of course, I want to establish new routines this year, especially where curriculum is concerned.  I have so much new information in my brain that I want to try out with my students.  My brain literally feels like it is going to explode with all the new ideas I learned over the summer.  I already know how I am going to change up the way I teach reading and writing.  Do I know if these things will work?  I don’t know yet.  But, I am giving myself permission to change whatever doesn’t work.  Eventually these new routines will become automatic.  When that happens it will probably be time to change them again.  But, that’s okay.  A change in routine can be a good thing.

Have No Fear

This year one of my daughters decided to become a member of the competitive marching band at our high school.  If anyone has ever had a child in marching band, you know it is a huge commitment.  My husband and I encourage our kids to get involved in school activities, and we want to support them in any way we can.  We were happy that she wanted to be a part of the band.

If you knew my daughter, you would know she is the type of person who likes a bit of control.  She likes to know what will happen ahead of time.  She doesn’t like to be surprised.  As an incoming freshman, the marching band thing is causing her a bit of anxiety.  She doesn’t know what to expect.  Everything is brand new, and it is upsetting to her.  Yesterday was the first day of band camp.  When she got home, she said she wanted to switch to the non-competitive marching band.  Somehow my husband and I knew that would be coming, but we encouraged her to continue for the rest of the week.  We had already committed to competitive band emotionally and financially.  We tried to explain to her that it was her first day, and that it would get easier as time went on.  I think she just felt a bit overwhelmed by all the new information.

My daughter’s experience reminds me of what I am going through right now.  For a teacher, the beginning of the school year brings excitement, but also anxiety.  I think it is that fear of the unknown.  My friend, Linda, a kindergarten teacher and SDAWP fellow, made a comment to me the other day.  She said she was the kind of teacher who was not afraid to take risks.  She said she was not afraid to “crash and burn.”  I love her attitude.  I wish I could be more like that, but the truth is that I have a fear of crashing and burning.  Linda says those moments when things don’t quite work out is when she learns the most.  She becomes a better teacher.

I am also thinking of my students who are probably feeling a bit of anxiety as the new school year approaches.  It’s a new year with a new teacher, so I am really going to try and remember not to be too scary in the beginning.  I have to remember to bring that positive energy into my classroom.  I cannot let my fear of the unknown overwhelm me, because I think my students can sense that.  And, I am going to keep my friend, Linda, in the back of my mind and have no fear.  It is okay to crash and burn.  That’s how we better ourselves.