Category Archives: elementary teacher

Comforting Our Students Through Tragedy

I didn’t feel very good today and knew last night that calling in sick might occur.

This also happened to coincide with the latest school shooting — this time at a high school in Florida.

It really bothered me that I wasn’t there this morning.

This news will no doubt have reached the ears of my third graders by the time the bell rings tomorrow when I hope to return.

What do I say when the topic comes up?

My little third graders will look to me wondering what to make of all of it.

As my colleagues shared with me when I chose to move to the third grade: they’re old enough to understand, young enough to still care.

They were right except now is the time I wish they were too young to understand, too young to grasp that the world around them isn’t the kind of place they can trust. A world that contains pain and suffering.

What do I say?

Two stories come to mind.

The story of a guy in a cardigan and there’s the tale of two birds.

A Man, His Cardigan, and His TV Show

Both at the beginning of every show and then at the end, the show’s host puts and takes off a cardigan.

For those that don’t yet know, the show was Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS.

You would watch this if you were in Pre-School, maybe Kindergarten. I remember watching it after school and I remember being enthralled.

There were guests: the Postman, the Firefighter, there was a good bit of puppeteering.

There was one specific episode that has been mentioned and the host’s words ring true.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” – Fred McFeely Rogers

Here’s an excerpt that includes his perspective on his mother’s words.

Here’s the episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

Three Birds

On my way to a Scout  meeting a few weeks ago I looked up and saw two small birds chasing a rather large crow.

I thought about school, school children and what happens at school.

Sometimes its the playground bully. Children who either choose to not get along or bring negative experiences from home into school. Sometimes it’s driven by a misunderstanding that to adults seems trivial, but to our students can ruin their day.

It’s frustrating at times, but so important to address if we are going to do more than teach state standards of math or reading.

I’m reminded of those three birds.

Sometimes it’s the big ol’ crow that wants to steal the eggs or terrorize the neighborhood tree where the little birds gather.

That’s when you stick up for others… there’s safety in numbers.

Just like those two other birds chasing the big bird away from their tree, from their home.

We have to stick up for each other. We have to remember that the student who stays to them-self, probably wants anything but to be alone. We need to teach our students the importance of thinking of others, of caring for people beyond themselves.

Perhaps tomorrow I will start the morning by putting on a cardigan – and hope to bring familiarity and comfort to my third graders, just like Mr. Rogers did.

The Sun’s Lesson (in the Midst of My Winter Moment)

If you’re like me, you’re human.

These last couple of weeks have been trying. Maybe for you as well.

I’ve been trying to convince my students to give me their best effort. I’ve told stories. I’ve shared my own failures. I’ve turned those failures into lessons learned. I’ve tried to impart those lessons.

I hope that it’s made a difference.

Yet one county benchmark, a couple of tests, plus a quiz or two and I wonder if all that time talking about grit and perseverance has made any difference.

It’s disheartening when it seems my best efforts haven’t resulted in a positive gain.

I know, I know.

Our effect as teachers can’t always be measured.

It especially can’t be measured as it relates to the most important lessons — kindness, being mindful of others, sincerity, the importance of honesty, proving to anyone and everyone that no challenge is too difficult to overcome.

Sometimes we just need a little encouragement that our best efforts aren’t falling on deaf ears.

So today in the midst of preparing my report cards for what has been days, I looked up at the television and heard this fable and thought of us.

Just a small reminder of remembering how to respond to our students when that frustration might convince us to do the wrong thing.


The North Wind and The Sun

The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.

“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak.”

“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.

With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler’s body.

But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.

Then the Sun began to shine.

At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders.

The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.


Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.

When it’s summer time. When it’s quiet. When the chaos has abated and the year has been buttoned up. It’s then that I can easily justify to myself how important it is to be that teacher who is relatable. I want to be the teacher who is even tempered. The person who is welcoming each and every day. The one who hears every story without concern for the instructional time that’s passing by.

But when it’s winter and it’s cold.

When those state assessments seem to be coming toward us quicker by each passing week.

When I’ve told what I’ve always thought are inspirational stories that will bring out the best in my students. It’s now that I look out and see bored students who are obviously far less interested in what I have to say. It’s now when I fall back to the basics and am feel too tired to be that enthusiastic cheerleader.

Let me remember that kind words have an effect that no harsh ones ever will. That children will always immediately scramble when they’re uncomfortable, but that moment will quickly pass.

Let me remember that that’s not who I am and not the teacher I want to be. I resolved that many years ago when I decided to return to the idea of being a teacher.

Let us remember that the children that arrive each day may definitely need structure, but it should be complimented by a heartfelt smile and kind gestures — Aesop says so too.


Interested in sharing this lesson with your class? Here’s the link to the Library of Congress document.

Teacher’s Lesson: Phone Calls Unanswered

“If you’re hearing this message and we didn’t pick up, we’re making some changes, and you’re one of them.”

What did I just hear?

That’s not the kind of message I expected when I called one of my student’s parents.

He wasn’t doing as well and I was doing what every good teacher should.

I was calling home for some help. I was calling home to share that I cared about their son.

I admit, not only did the message confuse me, it made me a little mad.

Why was I cut off? What did I do?

It was my third year of teaching. I had just transferred to the county in which I live to cut my daily commute from over two hours to about 40 minutes.

No more leaving the house at 6 am and more time at home with my family which now included a one year old.

It wasn’t the first time that parents wouldn’t call me back and it definitely hasn’t been the last. I know it happens at all schools, but I seem to be experiencing it more lately.

And it still annoys me.

I share this with you because I’ve had a hard time understanding when a parent doesn’t call back. I don’t understand when numbers don’t work. It frustrates me when I can’t leave a message.

It probably frustrates me as much as it has when my own children’s teachers don’t get back to us when we have questions.

I can’t relate. Maybe like my students when I try to relate a story or lesson.

I was telling my students just yesterday about the tv we had in our house. It had a handle. It was a black and white model similar to the one above. It wasn’t just small by today’s standards — it was tiny.

It was what we had in my house.

When I explained this phenomenon of the tiny tv that was normal to me when I was my students’ age their faces told me they couldn’t picture a tv that could be moved from one room to another. I told them I had, at most, 5 channels which ended around 11:30 with a band of color and an unappealing shrill of a beep.

Yeah, I suppose I was showing my age.

They couldn’t relate to me, and I’m sure that sometimes I can’t relate to what is or what happens in their home.

Here’s my point.

I’m sure that my students don’t know about my being raised on what used to be the local neighborhood landfill — my dad admits to me that even his friends thought he was crazy when he bought that land.

My students don’t know about my asking Santa for one thing at Christmas because that’s what we did, we asked for one thing.

My students don’t know that my skin color made me a minority in my neighborhood, even though I check off caucasian on government forms.

My students have no clue what it’s like seeing your cousin and best buddy get hit by a semi trailer. I do, and it’s taken a long time for that memory to fade.

They don’t know about the lessons taught to me by father — some tougher than others; and there is no way I can completely share how I felt when my parents divorced.

I share this with you because I’ve caught myself being frustrated again lately when I can’t reach a parent just like that moment many years ago.

This time however I’m trying to remember that I really don’t know what my students and their parents are enduring.

What I shouldn’t do is continue to react with frustration and instead, try to remember that every student I meet in my classroom is affected by the struggles that happen at home.

And these struggles aren’t just real for my students, but they affect their parents in ways I don’t know and of which I’m unaware. It can’t but affect  how available they are when I call home.

So this is a reminder for myself that I do not know what battle occurs on the other side of that phone call or email.

I will do a better job that when I reach out to my parents and they’re unable to call me back, and when I react, I will do so with more of an understanding heart.

 

Thanksgiving Appreciation for Teachers

Thank you for who you are as a person. Thank you for your unending efforts to impart upon others the need to succeed. Thank you for feeling miserable when your students didn’t do well on that last test – it’s because you want them to succeed. Thank you for your care when others might not. Thank you for learning new approaches when old ones aren’t effective. Thank you for taking the time to listen to a student’s story when time is tight and your lesson demands you move forward. Thank you for deciding years ago that teaching is a noble profession and that you wanted to be a part of it. Thank you for recognizing that some students just need more encouragement. Thank you for recognizing that what was once new is now old, but someone will think it’s new again… and you will be tasked with revamping your teaching style yet again…. thank you for recognizing that you do indeed know what’s best for your students. Thank you for showing up when you didn’t feel well, but knew that your students wouldn’t get anywhere near the same experience if you weren’t there. Thank you for giving up your lunch that day to counsel in between bites of your sandwich that you never finished. Thank you for organizing your room before your students ever arrived, before your professional development began, before your first meeting that first week of school. Thank you for going to that meeting even though you really just wanted to be in your room grading papers. Thank you for making students laugh, even when you weren’t laughing inside. Thank you for arriving early and staying late because you wanted to do it the right way. Thank you for creating a better lesson even though you already had one written down and ready to go. Thank you for recognizing the student having a bad day and saying a kind word. Thank you for pushing students when they don’t think they can be successful. Thank you for taking the time to go back and fix that grade because you don’t feel like you covered the material well enough. Thank you for asking your students the type of questions that make them pause. Thank you for not being ok with mediocracy. Thank you for showing up in the morning and recognizing that today might just be the day that you finally get through to that student who just never seems interested. Thank you for wanting to impact your students in a way that makes a real difference. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for being an awesome teacher.

A Simple Story About A Farmer And A Pig

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

Last Wednesday my class had just finished another benchmark assessment which was intended to determine who was progressing adequately according to our county’s learning objectives.

My students had taken them on laptops and gotten their results immediately, so they knew their score and knew which specific problems had stumped them.

This is the story I told to my class the next morning which I remembered first hearing from my former colleague Will. It seemed appropriate and timely.

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

You see, a farmer doesn’t buy a pig or doesn’t allow a piglet to be born in his barn without a reason.

He feeds that pig and over time that pig gets larger – some would say fat.

The farmer keeps doing what he’s doing and waits it out. There’s cleaning, there’s worry about the cold or heat, and there’s quite a bit of anticipation.

And every day: food and time, food and time.

And then one day the farmer decides that enough time and feed has been fed to that now very large pig. The time has come.

The time has come to make sausage.

Because, again, the farmer doesn’t just raise that little piglet to become a very large pig because he likes pigs, or thinks pigs are cute, or is a fan of Charlotte’s Web.

The farmer instead knows that with enough time and enough food, his pig will one day be ready to become some very yummy sausage that he will use to feed his family.

Teachers are like farmers is what I told my class.

We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on students. We spend this kind of energy because we have a goal too.

Our goal is to get you to learn and understand.

And we do it all kind of ways.

We do it by being creative in our lessons, having you help one another, and having you complete projects. We talk in front of you, tell funny stories, use videos, remind you to stay on task, and ask you a lot of questions.

We do it because we know that time will run out and if we’ve done our job, you’re supposed to know what you have been taught.

And then it will be time to make some sausage.

Except the sausage we’re making will be how you do on your SOLs.

I expect all of our effort to pay off.

I’ve worked hard every day, listened to when you didn’t understand, and tried again in a different way to help you understand better.

Now the farmer out on the farm might be able to spend some more time getting that pig ready. Maybe give that pig some more feed. Maybe wait just another couple of weeks or months.

We can’t do that here at school – and I know that might seem pretty unfair.

So instead I need you to understand that we only have so much time to finish what needs to be done.

Our day of sausage-making will be here soon and I guarantee you and I will both be disappointed if all this effort won’t have worked.

Just like you can imagine the disappointment of the farmer whose pig isn’t ready, even after caring for him for months and months.

So if you know you’re not ready to sit down in front of a computer and prove what you know answering forty questions about math or reading. If you feel like you haven’t understood it no matter how hard you’ve tried.

Well, then it’s time to spend more time asking questions and trying to understand why you don’t understand.

Oh, and let’s forget about the SOLs for a second.

If you haven’t left this classroom understanding more than when you came into this classroom in September. If you have been waiting for time to just tick on by every day instead of really trying your best. If you still aren’t kinder toward other people in this class because you’re now a whole year older than you were last year…

Do you think that you’re ready for 4th grade?

I ask each of you that question because I cared about each of you since the first day of school when you walked into our classroom. Each day since I’ve done my best to make our classroom a place you would want to come to.

If that didn’t help you get ready for what’s coming in the 4th grade then I either didn’t do my job, or you didn’t do yours.

Which do you think it is? And would it be fair to you if we sent you to the 4th grade and you weren’t ready.

This is really, just a very simple little story about a farmer and pig.

It’s about working day after day and getting ready for something much bigger. It’s about working on yourself to be better tomorrow, than you were today.

So, how will you spend today?

Faith in the Classroom

Almost every week we find ourselves in about the same place.

Four rows from the front of the auditorium, stage left.

My wife and I are fortunate to have found the type of church that when the sermon is over, we’re glad we went because the message spoke to us. It is almost always exactly what we needed, at exactly the right time.

It’s after the three songs are sung, the offering is made, and the pastor begins that I get out my phone.

Not to check Facebook or Instagram, but instead to try and keep up with the thoughts running through my head. Whatever ideas surface are jotted down.

This usually doesn’t happen immediately after the sermon begins, but after some time thinking about, well, what I’m thinking about as I try to keep listening to the message from the stage.

It’s the only time this happens during the week.

Perhaps because I get so little time to think about what’s going on in my little head.

I’ve read about listening to God’s message.

I’m no evangelist.

I don’t hold signs on your neighborhood corner. In fact I’m careful to not put others in uncomfortable positions because of my faith – I’m convinced that’s not the intent of faith.

In class I recognize that I teach in a public school and so faith doesn’t come up in conversation – as it shouldn’t.

Instead I hold it close like a great hand of poker.

When anxiety hits teachers and students alike, when those around me worry about what might be coming in the days, weeks, or months ahead, I turn to my faith. I know that I’m not alone in battling the often overwhelming feeling of panic. I have some help.

I also remind myself that what’s ahead these next few months as we get ever closer to the SOLs has been achieved before.

This isn’t my first year, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Call it an act of faith, or call it my attempt at keeping anxiety at bay. It’s what I do as the weather warms and the calendar reminds me that while summer is closer, so is this year’s testing.

And if I knew the magic involved in getting every student to be awesome, every day of every year, I would share it right here with anyone who would take a moment to read it.

However I’m not a magician and I don’t have that kind of skill level or knowledge. In fact there are many days in which the awesomeness doesn’t happen. However what I do have is a bit of time at the front.

I place value in the side conversations about interesting facts. I believe in listening to a child’s story.

I know it’s important to remind students that no challenge is too great, no obstacle too overwhelming.

I place faith in the fact that while there are days in which my lessons are followed and completed without compromise, there are also days in which there’s real value in getting off track and sharing a funny story.

Here’s why.

The success in my class doesn’t come from repeatedly and consistently presenting an endless of amount of information. It doesn’t come from a barrage of facts that must be memorized.

Some teachers do exactly that, but I believe that doing so eliminates the fact that we’re in an endeavor involving human beings who want nothing more than to be happy and feel valued.

Instead I believe that if my students prove successful on a state assessment, it’s because they believed they could be and I played a part in reminding them that they had the ability within themselves to overcome. I have faith that my incessant desire to have them understand their abilities will in the end prove successful in a world of naysayers.

It will prove valuable far after they leave my classroom.

And that’s something I believe in wholeheartedly.