Five Years Later.

Five years ago, I was wrapping up my first year teaching third grade at Parkwood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina. It seemed like any other day — I was running copies in the morning, going through social studies lessons about different winter holidays in the afternoon, wrangling kids from recess to the cafeteria to specials. Once the last child in my class got on the bus, I looked at my phone and saw a couple missed calls and a text from my younger brother.

“hey, are you okay? I love you”

I read the text and thought, Well this is both nice and strange.

Before I could even put my phone down, another teacher on my hallway came into my room and told me about what happened at Sandy Hook.

We spent some time together processing, reading some online news articles and checking Twitter feeds for more updated information before I had to pack up my stuff and go babysit for the evening. I didn’t have cable in my apartment, so when I put the kids to bed I turned on the television. I’m not a huge television watcher, but knowing what had happened in Massachusetts earlier in the day had me wanting to turn on the news.

Every single news channel flashed faces on the screen. Photos of families, love, and unity; children with their siblings, in soccer uniforms and dance gear and smiles.

I felt a deep, all-encompassing sadness. Tears welled in my eyes and barreled down my face as I wept silently for the 20 children and six educators who were gunned down in their own school.

“hey, are you okay? I love you” had a new meaning.

It meant that my brother, and many others in the world, realized that teaching is more than just disseminating content to children; it’s also keeping children safe at whatever cost.

I considered this during every lockdown drill my school ran after Sandy Hook. There were windows by the door coming into my classroom — how was I going to cover that up so people couldn’t see inside? My classroom was right next to an external door — how could I be sure that a random person from the outside wouldn’t just enter the building? Even after I left Parkwood, the thoughts still persisted.

In my second year teaching, I taught in an old building that was constructed in the 1960s. We had a lockdown drill and the lock didn’t work on my classroom door. The handle jiggled as I sat silently with my third graders lined up against the wall of my classroom library, and in an instant the police officer applied just enough pressure to push open the door. I stopped breathing and my heart skipped a beat. I closed my eyes to pause for a moment emotionally. I debriefed the situation with my kids, telling them that it was good to learn about the lock now rather than later, that the principal would have someone come out to fix my door as soon as possible. A student asked what would have happened if that wouldn’t have been a drill.

I explained that my top priority was their safety first, and then their education, that this is why we have drills — so we can practice what would happen in times of danger. We outlined the path where we would run if needed and where students could hide. I felt cracks form in my heart with every word I had to use to reply to their questions about their feelings of safety at school.

If that would have been reality, a duplication of Sandy Hook, a repeated Adam Lanza circumstance, I would have done everything in my power to keep my kids safe. I would have ushered them outside to the field, I would have fought with everything in me against any offender, I would shield those children with my life to keep them safe.

This is my first year out of a classroom and I still feel that way about all of my students who have graced my rosters in the last five years.

With the high number of school shootings and overall violence in the United States, the cracks in my heart continue to deepen knowing that children are entering school buildings where they may feel unsafe. It is my sincerest hope that we can make good, sound policy surrounding things like gun control and bullying so that kids can feel like school is a safe place, and it is my sincerest hope that we do not become numb to these happenings.


Hypothetically Speaking…

At last week’s Education Innovation Lab presented by BEST NC, a question was posed that got me thinking —

What do you want education in North Carolina to look like?

I sit and ponder this question with great intentionality.

There would be more technological resources, as well as old school resources (because honestly, children basically eat at least one glue stick a day and take the markers home for snacks). There would be more human capital in schools to work with students, such as social workers or therapists, in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. There would also be human capital like TAs to help with daily tasks so teachers can focus on actually doing their job (which is teaching in case anyone forgot). Standards wouldn’t be so constraining and there would be a huge focus on soft skills/people skills in curriculum.

(Side note: do we even need science and social studies standards, anyway? I understand language arts and math standards need to be a little tighter based on developmental needs, but why can’t we just let kids choose which topics within science and social studies they want to learn about? This would allow for deeper content knowledge and the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice somehow with an application phase of coursework perhaps. Just thinking “out loud” here and would love to hear some of your ideas with this, too!)

Essentially, everything would be centered around a problem. Students would have to find solutions to real world problems in a PBL setting in their classrooms. Everything would be framed around relevance for students, with an emphasis on current events, too.

I’ve always been a believer that I want my students to leave my classroom better people, not just better students. I care more about them learning how to collaborate with one another than whether or not they remember how earthquakes occur — that’s why all of my projects are in a group/partnership setting.

There are studies showing that many high schoolers don’t feel prepared for ‘adulthood’ when they graduate because school didn’t prepare them for the real world. That, to me, is an extreme disservice. Our schools should absolutely be preparing students for what’s to come down the road, whether that’s college or instant career experience.

Needless to say, you can bet that I’ll ask my students this question upon our return from fall break next week.

So now I ask you, friends, both in and out of North Carolina: what do you want the future of education to look like?

Drill Time.

At the beginning of every school year, school are supposed to take part in drills of every kind — it’s imperative that we practice safety protocol with our students in order for them to understand how we can best handle a crisis situation.

Today was my school’s lockdown drill. My school last year never even had a lockdown drill, even after the events that transpired in Newtown, Connecticut. Isn’t that absurd?

This morning upon arriving at school, I felt a little nervous about the drill even though I knew it was just a drill. I had everything ready — my crisis folder was prepared, I locked the door before the kids got to the classroom, and I even put my green room number cards in appropriate places so I wouldn’t forget to display them. I was feeling confident.

The announcement came over the intercom saying we were in a lockdown. I had already explained to the kids where we would sit and how we would sit and why it was important to follow those directions during this time. As the principal got off the intercom, the kids moved directly to their spots along the cubbies of our classroom library and I went to the door to check the hallway for any stray kids before closing it and shutting off our lights.

I was (and still am) so proud of those kids — they were so quiet and calm and followed directions so beautifully. I couldn’t have asked for better direction followers! As we sat in the dark room with rainbows on the floor from the paper on our windows, the door handle jiggled.

See, I knew this would happen, and I explained it to the kids. “The police officers are just checking to make sure our door is locked — you don’t need to be scared about that if you hear someone trying to get in — remember, this is just a practice.”

Thank God it was just a practice.

As the door handle jiggled, force was applied to the door and the officer was able to enter the room.

Despite the fact that I knew it was a drill, I think my heart still skipped a beat.

I was so impressed with how calm my kids stayed — a whisper from the group asked how the police officer got in when the door was locked. I didn’t really have an answer.

After the drill was over, I explained to the kids that sometimes old buildings have doors that don’t lock properly anymore, and that someone would fix our door as soon as possible. They had a lot of questions about lockdowns in general, and we had a good discussion about staying safe in school (even though that discussion might not have covered the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts).

The kids went on their way to specials soon after the drill. When I had my time alone I just kind of sat in disbelief.

I went to the door and made sure it was locked — the handle didn’t move. I closed the door and stood in the hallway staring at the handle, then at the rest of the door. I jiggled the handle — nothing. I used more force when trying to open the door and boom — wide open.

All I could think about was what would have happened if that hadn’t been a drill. What if that was real? What would I do? How would I keep those kids safe? I tell them that my top priorities are educating them and keeping them safe.

My biggest fear was that they didn’t feel safe in our classroom anymore.

I’ve spent the last four weeks with these kids building our classroom community — making a safe, comfortable environment where kids can learn and make mistakes and share with one another. I feel like that classroom community building has gone quite well thus far to be honest. I have a student who just moved from Costa Rica this year who doesn’t speak much English, but his mom says that he feels more comfortable in my English class than his two Spanish classes. I learned just how comfortable he felt when today he decided to volunteer to lead the class in our main idea chant (complete with hand motions) and read our learning objectives for the day. Not only did he do a great job participating, but he read the words on the screen perfectly.

Community building is a key component to having a safe, successful classroom.

All of this work we’ve done as a class to make one another feel comfortable and safe — had that all been compromised now?

I’m still thinking about it. I know it wasn’t my fault since the door was locked and I did everything else right (the police officer praised my class for following protocol so well), but what would I do to keep those children safe? To what extent would I go to ensure their safety?

This school year alone, there have been five school shootings in the United States. Just this year! You might think, “Oh, well it’s already the middle of September, so that is kind of far into 2013” — no, my friends, we’re talking about this school year that started four to five weeks ago.

It’s silly to ask, but — what is WRONG with people? It’s obvious that there is evil in this world. Truly, my heart hurts for those who seek to hurt children.

Praying so much for our schools, our country, and our world.

A Little Arts Integration…Part 1.

So this is a response to an article I read ( for my literacy class. I just thought I’d share since arts integration in the classroom is something [else] I’m really passionate about. Enjoy!
Let me first start by stating that I am one of the biggest arts advocates you may ever meet. I LOVE the arts and totally revel in all of the magic that the arts create and bring to students.
Yes, the arts have magical powers.

One of my favorite quotes from this article is “The arts are important human ways of understanding and knowing, no less important than the sciences. Studying the arts should thus never be a frill, but should be a basic part of what we expect our children to learn.” (Winner & Cooper 2006) I love this mindset that the arts should be a basic part of what we expect children to learn!
Reading this article made me think back to the English/Language Arts teacher I had in middle school. I was in her AIG English class for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade and at first didn’t really appreciate how great her assignments were until I got to high school English when all we did was sit at desks and do grammar reviews from an overhead projector. Mrs. Crowell TOTALLY integrated the arts into almost every assignment and project she gave us — we were either filming movies, writing scripts and songs, making powerpoints, etc. I am so incredibly thankful for her use of the arts in class; I definitely know I benefited from it.
Today in the classroom, there are so many new ways to integrate arts — how fantastic! Using glogs, blogs, wikis, and more, students are able to be creative with this visual media. Technological advances provide countless ways for our students to thrive in the arts and I think that that should be encouraged both in and out of the classroom. In relation to this, I liked how the article pointed out that if students are only receiving exposure to arts-related programs once or twice a week through an hour (if that!) of “specials” then the arts will be marginalized and the students’ full potential will not be reached. Why would we deprive our students in such a way!?
When I first entered the Elementary Education program here at Carolina, I was an Arts focused major; now I am a Spanish language focus. I am happy with my focus now, but I know I would be ecstatic with an Arts focus. I decided to change to make myself “more marketable” and I knew arts programs were the first to get cut if schools were losing funding (this makes me sound like a terrible person switching to be more marketable but I swear to you I LOVE Spanish and I have such a heart for Hispanic students it’s not even funny). I HATE that arts programs get cut in schools. I think it’s ridiculous. Because funding for arts programs are low, I find it to be my responsibility (and I do hope that you find it to be yours, too!) as a non-arts teacher to integrate the arts into whatever it is that I may be teaching.

Okay, stepping down from my soapbox now to make one final comment: ARTS INTEGRATION RULES.