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A Long Overdue Letter to My Son as You Begin Your Fourth Year of Teaching

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew,

 I felt there were things that I wanted to say to you and the letter format worked best for me. So I did what good teachers do, borrowed an idea.(from you!)

I’m the one who told you that good reporters make a difference and help people.  I remember that conversation like it was yesterday, you were in your final year at the University of Maryland, a journalism major, a talented writer and enjoying a great run as the director of WMUC radio station as well as doing sportscasting for many UMD  teams.  We were talking online and you told me that you wanted to do something to help people. I knew what you meant and wasn’t shocked.  I knew that you loved NY and you would never leave it to do a journalism stint in a small town. I knew that you enjoyed your summer work at camp and that you really made an impact on the children that you worked with. I knew that you learned quickly, and absorbed and applied whatever was presented to you. I knew  that you were insightful, introspective and reflective. You had many qualities of a good teacher, so why was I concerned?   Going to school again and postponing your entry into the world of work was a part of it, but only a small part.  As someone in the system for over 30 years,nearing the end of my career, I saw that things were changing and not for the better. We were led by a chancellor and mayor who were business people with no knowledge of education. We were being inundated with new programs, mantras, buzzwords, etc, that weren’t educationally sound for the children. Teachers were demoralized, blamed for things that they had no control over. New administrators from the Leadership Academy were selected to run schools. Many of them had limited experience in a classroom, no less out of a classroom as an administrator. Seasoned principals were frustrated and those who could retire, did. The chancellor got rid of the true educators in his cabinet and replaced them with people who were smart and savvy about business, but not about educating children.  Yes, the climate was changing and not for the better, and I was concerned about you being in the middle of this muddle. I knew that you, as a new teacher, would go in with your idealistic view point and a headful of fresh ideas of how education should be.  I was worried that you would be hit by all of this and not be able to plod through it.  But you showed me differently. You showed me that you were there for the children, that they were your focus.  You showed me that you were a natural.  You embraced the children and took responsibility for their learning, academically and socially. You instilled a sense of values that would help them to succeed, not only in school, but in the world at large. You led by example. You quickly learned that a teacher wears many hats, and you wore many of them.  You spent hours with the guidance counselor, discussing the issues that your young charges were facing, trying to figure out how you could make it better for them. You baked for them, you laughed with them, you sang with them and of course, you taught them.  And after your very successful first year, due to the hiring freeze in general education, you were without a job.  Your co-workers rallied in support, the assistant principal called her contacts in her union and your principal tried to figure out a way to keep you. She knew what she would be losing without you being there.  In one year, you made an impact that was felt by many. Without you even realizing it, you were a change agent in your school.  All that being said, you were without a job until someone left and your principal was able to put you into a class, full time, as a day to day substitute. You were paid daily and were without medical benefits. Not the ideal situation but at least you were working and continuing to make an impact on kids. You grew this year, you were more confident.  Your lessons were more creative and crisper. You wrote a play that your class performed to rave reviews. Again, you instilled a sense of values in your students that would help them to succeed, not only in school, but in the world at large.  And, after your very successful second year, due to the hiring freeze in general education, you were again without a job.  You realized that if you wanted to stay in this profession that you loved, you would have to get enough credits in special education and quickly pass the needed exams  Since there was no hiring freeze in that area, your principal promised you a job, as long as you met the needed criteria before school began.  So back to school you went. You took your coursework very seriously and learned and absorbed whatever you could.  You passed the exams after taking one class and garnered the necessary credits in order to be hired.  And you were. Oh boy, as worried as I was when you first entered the profession, I was more worried now, but for different reasons. The world of special education was new to you and as much as your sister and I tried to help, you weren’t ready to hear what we were saying. You had your own ideas about how things should be done, which was admirable, but not necessarily the best for the children in your charge. You taught similarly to the way you taught the past 2 years because that’s what worked before.  Your rude awakening came after the first formal observation by your principal.  She knew you were a talented teacher but pointed out that different strategies needed to be used with the children in your class.  She wasn’t thrilled with what she saw.  When you met with her, you reminded her that the qualities that she saw in you over the last two years didn’t go away because you were teaching a group of younger children with disabilities.  You realized that this observation and meeting was a wakeup call. You regrouped, sought assistance from the coaches and more experienced teachers, reached out to your assistant principals for support and did intervisitations to observe the best practices of other teachers. You even let your sister and me help you out with lesson planning and  teaching strategies. You changed your way of doing business and your students benefited, as did you. They experienced a year of growth, academically and socially.  Again, you instilled a sense of values in them that would help them to succeed, not only in school, but in the world at large. Your principal saw the improvement in you and acknowledged it.  It again, turned out to be a  very successful year.

  So now you are entering your 4th year of teaching, and  for the first time, you are on the official organization sheet and know the room you’ll be in. Although you are teaching a different grade, you will have some of the same children as last year. Your teaching is much more solid and focused.  I am not worried about you, I know that you will do a wonderful job and have another successful year. What’s most exciting for me,though, is to see a marked difference in you. You have changed. You have embraced a philosophy and mind set that I am so proud of.  You have become the advocate that your students need. You believe in them and want them to succeed and with your support, they will.  You will show those colleagues who are naysayers, what your students can do. Your plans to introduce the world of blogging, to continue to skype and to have your students become photographers, reporters and scientists, will blow the minds of those who think kids with disabilities are not capable.  Your theme, “Field of Dreams,”opens up endless possibilities for your students.  Endless possibilities for you as well.

So what’s the purpose of all this? I guess that I wanted to let you know how happy I am  that you followed your heart and made the decision that was right for you. I am confident that you are in the right profession. I know this is going to be an exciting, creative, innovative year for you and your students.  I can’t wait to watch it evolve and hopefully be a small part of it.  I would be remiss in my motherly duties if I didn’t offer some advice, so here it is. Don’t get frustrated with some of the things you’ll have to deal with. As hard as it may be, realize that there are things that you can’t control. Just stay positive and focus on what you want the outcomes to be. Take charge of what you can control. Remember, changes don’t happen immediately and often they are measured in baby steps. But that’s okay.  Positive changes are worth waiting for. You know that.

I am very proud of you.

Love,

Mama Ray

Categories: Uncategorized

The Excitement is Contagious

August 15, 2011 2 comments

It’s back to school time and the excitement is contagious. Members of my PLN are tweeting their wonderful ideas for this coming school year.  As I read their blogs, I borrow some ideas and links that I will share with my student teachers.

I am experiencing this excitement on a personal level as well. My son, @MrMatthewRay,approached his principal about using Twitter as a tool for professional development. Her receptive response spurred him to action and he is in the process of developing a presentation for the staff in his school.  Aside from that he is planning for his new class, intent on having them become bloggers, participate in the global read aloud, skype with another class and use flip and digital cameras to record their observations, work and to just take pictures.  My daughter, @teachallkids, just completed a user friendly IEP manual for the staff at her school. She went to advanced training in the use of the Smart Board and already wrote some interactive lessons for her students.  She also attended a class where she could learn to use her iPAD more effectively with her students.

As I read, watch and listen, I wonder how I fit into this.  Being retired, I don’t have the thrill of planning for a new school year for my staff and students.  That’s okay,though, I did it for many years, and though it was exciting and fun,I am glad that it’s not my responsibility any longer. I’m also grateful that I don’t have to worry about how the common core standards  fit into the curriculum of children who do not take standardized tests. Enforcing things that are not educationally sound for the students is over. Spewing “the party line” and saying things that I don’t believe is a thing of the past.  Truth be told, I don’t miss any of this.

What I realized is that, I do fit into the excitement of the approaching new school year.  Being retired I still  have the thrill of planning for a new school year, not for a school of staff and students, but for me.  So what will I do?  I want to be realistic in my expectations of what I can accomplish, so I will start small, hoping to surpass my goals and add to them as I go through this year. 

Since I work with student teachers,I need to do some planning for them. I want to expose them to the wonders of Twitter and the benefits of developing a PLN.  I hope to borrow my son’s PD on the topic so they can have a brief overview.  As part of their assignment, they will be asked to join Twitter and follow some people.   For each topic that we cover in our weekly seminar, I will ask them to find a blog that is related to it and share their thoughts  in their journal. I will encourage them to write a blog post once in a while. I will alert them to the chats that are available and hope that they partake in some. I will tell them about the free webinars and hope that one or two fit into their busy schedules.  I will introduce them to the incredible wealth of materials from @cybraryman1 and the world of advocacy from a parent’s perspective @specialedadvice.  I will ask them to think about how they can include their new found knowledge in the classes they are student teaching in, and in time, their own class. I know that during the term, more will come up and we will add to our bag of tricks.

So I guess, in planning for my student teachers, I outlined a plan for me as well.  Since teachers lead by example, I will do all of the things that I am asking them to do. We will learn from each other and with each other. Yes, the excitement is contagious and I, too, am looking forward to the new school year.