Appreciating Transition.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week; a much awaited week by teachers everywhere, full of free food and “thank yous” from many. It is during this week, this very day, that I find it appropriate to write this.

I am finishing my fifth year as an educator this year. I have worked in three schools and districts, in magnets and in neighborhood schools, devoting these last five years of my life to teaching children in Title I schools around the Triangle. There have been times it has been thankless, times it has been overwhelming, and times when it has been inexplicably rewarding.

One day, I really do think I’d like to write a book about all of these moments, but I’m sure if you read my blog you’ll get the gist. 🙂

It is with a heavy, excited, terrified, and overjoyed heart that I share with you that come fall 2017, I will not attend Open House or spend countless hours reorganizing a classroom to house children.

I have formally accepted my admission to Vanderbilt University, and in August, I begin my graduate studies in the field of Education Policy.

I honestly don’t think I can tell you how many tears I shed over this decision — happy tears, sad tears, anxious tears. So happy that I have the opportunity to study something about which I am so passionate at a place that has the strongest program in the nation. So sad that I am leaving a place that I love so deeply; a place full of friends and family and sweet memories. Anxious that I don’t have logistics fully realized yet, like where I will live and when I will move.

It is very accurate (and mildly clichéd) for me to say that I would not be in this current position without the educators in my life. Without Sanchez Johnson telling me that leadership isn’t about titles but about the way you life. Without Alex Drake assigning a crap-ton (technical term) of Brinkley APUSH readings regularly, which probably ultimately prepares me for my moment in graduate school (hindsight is always 20/20). Without Gary Mace pushing me to become a better writer. Without Joan Gale giving me a chance to be a peer mediator/helper, equipping me with skills to listen and communicate effectively in the midst of crisis (for whatever it’s worth, middle schoolers go through a LOT of crises regularly — both silly and serious). Without Lana Siefring sketching pictures in class and reading stories, cultivating creativity and showing me what an outstanding teacher looks like and inspiring me to be one, too. Without educators in my schools having high expectations for me, there’s no way I would have accomplished half of what I have today, and for that I am humbled and grateful.

I found it appropriate to share the news of my graduate studies pursuit on Teacher Appreciation Day, for it is precisely my deep love and respect of this job that is pushing me outside of Lab 209. I love what I do too much to continue to sit idly and watch students not receive appropriate services because of poor legislation and to see my colleagues work long hours at school only to drive to a second job after the bell rings.

To my former teachers: thank you. To my current colleagues, friends, and family in the world of education: thank you. To my students and their families: thank you. I am beyond grateful for your love, your support, your time, and your dedication to bettering the lives of others. May we continue this service for many years to come, in any capacity we can.

Showing Appreciation.

Last week, the third grade team put together our bi-monthy newsletter to go home with students. We always have a little “upcoming dates” section in our newsletter, and we realized that next week is Teacher Appreciation Week.

This evening I’ve had the time to sit and think about how grateful I am for the teachers I’ve had in my life. I probably wrote a post similar to this at some point, but I feel like as I draw nearer to the end of my first year in this profession, showing appreciation to those who have taught me means so much more.

I watch this video and feel so much emotion. It reminds me of how much my teachers had an impact on me throughout my education.

Julie was just the coolest professor I think I could have imagined. She’s feisty and always full of love. She taught me about literacy, and how it’s so much more than just reading from a book. She let me babysit her son when he was only weeks old, and I had the absolute honor of reading him what I call baby’s first poems (Billy Collins, so quality). The greatest thing about Julie is that I know she believes in me as not just a teacher, but as a human being, and that means the whole world to me to know that she’s behind me 100%. Thank you.

I attribute my love for writing and my blogging success to Mr. Mace. He always pushed me in Honors English 2 to be the best writer I could be, and thanks to his meticulous comments on all the papers I turned in, I made a perfect score on my writing test in tenth grade (I think you still owe me a steak dinner for that?). I truly felt like I could write whatever was on my mind in that class, and my creativity was always encouraged. Thank you.

History has always fascinated me, but it really latched onto my heart when I took APUSH with Mr. Drake. The class was extremely rigorous in comparison to all of the other high school courses I had taken, but I willingly accepted the challenge (because I’m your classic student/LIFE overachiever — show me the gold stars!). I’ve never been more driven in a high school class, and his extensive readings and DBQ gradings truly helped prepare me for college. What’s even better is that now he’s my neighbor in the Triangle and we’re friends — TEACHER FRIENDS. Thank you.

For a really long time, I wanted to do something science-related with my life. Actually, I think for the majority of my life I always wanted to pursue a career in science. Mrs. Hurley made me love chemistry so much that I didn’t just take her Honors Chemistry class, but I also took AP Chemistry with her, too. The class was hard, but I have some of my favorite high school memories from her class — I don’t think I’ll ever forget the time when I accidentally made something shoot out of a test tube, consequently breaking the test tube. Thank you.

Sanchez taught me what it meant to be a leader. Leadership is a lifestyle, not a title. It’s about what you do, and good enough is neither good nor enough. I spent hours upon hours investing my time into bettering my school, and that taught me a lot about what it means to be a servant leader. I also started watching The Office during my time in Leadership, which has been pretty crucial to my development as a person. Leadership isn’t about speeches and dances and rallying the troops at home football games; it’s about relationships. Thank you.

It wasn’t until middle school when I really started finding my way musically. I took chorus for two years with Mrs. Skeen and really found my passion for music and singing. It was her who got me to try out singing the National Anthem in seventh grade for our basketball games, and almost ten years later I’m still singing the Anthem anywhere I possibly can. She taught me that it’s okay to not be a soprano, and I’ll never forget how affectionately she spoke of us altos — we’re sultry and often the comic relief of the show, so how could people not love us? Thank you.

In 1st grade, the teacher seed was planted. I remember always wanting to pass out papers and help Mrs. Cropper, and I thought she was so pretty with her cute teacher clothes and so nice and just the most wonderful person imaginable. I also remember cutting my hair and making bangs because RJ dared me to…ah, to be young! Mrs. Cropper proved to be a great example of what a teacher should look like in my mind. Thank you.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget anything about fourth grade. I remember my first big crush and having code names for him that changed every month and my teacher dropping those code names in casual class discussions (all the girls freaked out, of course). She would spend afternoons just reading to us, and my favorite book she read was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (who soon after became one of my favorite authors of all time). I read that book to my third graders this year, and now we’re reading our third Roald Dahl book — per their request! Math wasn’t my strongest subject, and I remember hating long division. Ms. Siefring actually took time to sit with me at her desk and go through problem by problem on a worksheet — step by step. I taught a remedial group of my fourth graders last year about long division, and it was such a neat experience coming full-circle and sharing my struggles with the topic with my students. Her patience was incomparable and she truly taught me how to problem solve, not just in math but in every aspect of my life. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t know half of what I know about North Carolina history since we did the coolest project about the state. I also wouldn’t know about plagiarism (I still feel awful that I copied and pasted so much on that project — I’m glad I’m aware of the repercussions of poor research!). Thank you.

You know, if I’m being honest I think I could write a book chronicling my experiences with every teacher I ever had. Teachers are so important, and I don’t say that because it’s my current job — I say that because it’s true. They’re invaluable. A teacher is a game changer. Every teacher I had shaped me in some way, and I can look back and see how I have evolved as a learner throughout all these years. I’m so eternally grateful for that.

To my friends and peers who dedicate their lives to living in classrooms and fostering out-of-the-box thinking, thank you. The path you walk is not easy, but know that this is a gift. What you’re doing matters. What you’re doing makes a difference, whether you see it or not. This profession is not one of instant gratification, but rather of lifelong application. Stop for a second and think about why you became a teacher — think about how the teachers you had changed the way you thought about problems or breathed new life into a subject you thought was dead. You have so much power.

So, to all of my teachers and every educator out there — gracias, merci, شكرا, danke, ありがとう, спасибо, gràcies, 감사합니다, obrigado, dziękuję — thank you.

Reminders.

At this point in the year, I will be very honest: I’m struggling. My motivation isn’t very high and I’m getting a little worn down. We have been doing test prep at my school since spring break (which was about a month ago) and I’m getting bored with it. I’ve never really been a huge fan of direct instruction, and going through these test prep workbooks every single day is getting so monotonous.

Let’s be real here. If I’m bored with this test prep I’m teaching, I KNOW my students will be bored with the material, too. I feel like I’m almost stuck in some kind of bubble-sheet-number-two-pencil-EOG rut, and I’m trying my hardest to make class fun again; however, lately it has proven at times harder for me to remember what got me so passionate in the first place about this profession.

While I have been doing test prep, there has been a small team of resource teachers pulling third graders in the afternoons to conduct reading tests. We are blitz teaming these end of year tests so we don’t have to drill testing more than we already are, which I can appreciate.

The librarian is one of the teachers who is testing some of my kids, and she pulled one of my hardest working students yesterday for his test. This student moved from Honduras to the United States when he was in first grade, and entered third grade at a reading level K. For any non-teachers reading this, that puts the student at a first grade reading level. I watched this boy soar as the year progressed, and was thrilled when January came and he was reading on a level M (this is the level on which students should enter third grade) and I referred him for AIG math services. His hard work and dedication have been a breath of fresh air, and his love for learning has been so evident as we have maneuvered through the various learning targets and standards for each subject.

Yesterday, this child was pulled for his reading test. I have been excited (and honestly kind of nervous, too) to see how my students have progressed, but I was especially intrigued by this particular student. He was gone for a long portion of the afternoon and he returned to class saying that he “passed the P.” Now, what does this mean, you ask?

In short, it means that this child is on grade level. My sweet little Honduran nugget is a rockstar and he’s reading on a level Q, which is bordering above grade level reading.

Summary: he went from a level K to a level Q in a year. This is incredible.

When he told me about his final results, I teared up. He hugged me and I told him how proud I was of him and reminded him how hard he’s worked this year to get to where he is with his reading (and math, too!).

I pulled another one of my ELLs out into the hallway this morning before class started. I wanted to tell her that she passed both her reading and math practice EOGs and congratulate her on her hard work that is now so obviously paying off. When I told her, she started crying (which obviously then made me shed a tear or ten with her) and could only say, “I’m so happy, I’m so happy!” This girl has done extra work in workbooks at home, she’s one of the few who knows the majority of her multiplication facts by heart, and she’s always trying to push herself to learn more. She asked if I would write a note to her parents, and she said, “I can’t wait to tell my mom — she’s going to be so proud of me.”

(Insert a break here for a moment of tears — it’s okay, just let it all out right now.)

These anecdotes of achievement and hard work make my heart the happiest. I literally could not be prouder of these children. I am thrilled to see what their educational future holds, and I’m so honored to have gotten the opportunity to be part of their lifelong learning experience. When I think about Teacher Appreciation Week coming up next week, I can’t help but stop to wonder how appreciated teachers would feel if they’d focus on positives. I often think to myself, “Hey Allison, you work really hard and you spend hours outside of school working on lessons and other things for school — does anyone care or really even benefit from it?” Taking time to reflect on my year, especially in lieu of the progress that these students have made, it’s just so obvious to me how much it does matter and how much my students do benefit from it.

I find it imperative to be reflective in this profession. I truly don’t know what I would do without my amazing third grade team and all of the priceless friends and family I have who support me, and everyone’s encouraging words throughout this year have meant more to me than you’ll probably ever really know. It’s so easy to burn out, but if we take the time to remind ourselves of why we do what we do and how much even the smallest things impact our students, I think we’d all get a new perspective to see how much we make a difference every day.