Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ten Truths about Teaching

Dear Readers,
    Below is an insight into the jumbled brain of a teacher who either a) drinks too much coffee, b) can't sleep or c) really needs to find a new hobby.  In any event, here is are my 10 truths about teaching.  Please comment below with your truths as I would love to hear what you think!

Top Ten Teaching Truths 
(In no particular order)
  1. A significant part of your job as a teacher is essentially being a surrogate parent.  This is especially true if you teach in an Elementary School as you spend more hours per day with your students than they may spend with their parents.  Thus, you are one of the most significant influences on your students during the time they spend in your classroom.  If that thought doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, I don’t know what will.  So much for wanting only two children.
  2.  You will get sick.  No amount of vitamin C, Echinacea, hand sanitizer or Airborne will save you.  Your immune system will become stronger, but never strong enough to combat an epidemic of the stomach flu that will sweep through your classroom.  Just the whisper of the word “lice” will send you running to the nurse for a head check and give you an irresistible urge to scratch your head.  You will become completely freaked out when the school nurse sends home notes about impetigo, ringworm and hand, foot and mouth disease.  Some days you will seriously consider wearing a HAZMAT suit to work.
  3. Teaching will both make your heart burst with joy and break it to pieces.  Sometimes this will happen in the same day or even the same hour.  Let’s face it; you work with humans, not with widgets.  The amount of emotions, problems and issues all combine to make your own emotions a hot mess.  You will experience highs and lows so often that you feel like you rode a roller coaster before you even got to bus duty.
  4.  Your contributions to your profession will largely go unrecognized.  You are a superstar in your small world but that rarely translates into the larger realm.  While you may experience the thrill of being a B-List celebrity when you run into a student or parent in the local grocery store, chances are that it will only happen when you are not wearing makeup or haven't washed your hair.  The good thing is that you won’t mind the lack of formal accolades, because it is often the small things that make the most difference in a child’s life rather than the larger gestures.  You make a difference even if you don’t realize it.
  5.   Teaching is political whether you like it or not.  Education and Politics are tied together.  It is the political climate that dictates how and what we teach.  It is educational policy, often crafted by non-educators, that defines how much funding schools receive, what the priorities are, and even how you are evaluated.  Teachers can no longer afford to be ignorant of politics.  Know this: it is never too late to get involved and to become educated.  After all, you are an educator.  Educating yourself is of primary importance.
  6. If you are in a Union, then You are the Union, not “they”.  As a member, you have a voice.  Your salary and benefits are a direct result of your bargaining unit.  Get involved and stay involved on some level.  A union is integral to a democracy and functions as such.  As part of this unit you can create change.  If you live in NYS, understand what the Triborough Amendment and Taylor Law are, what Right toWork means and how important opposition to a Constitutional Convention is to your livelihood and to your classroom.  Read up on tenure and social justice so you can throw some shade at your grumpy Uncle in the Make America Great hat at your next family gathering.
  7. You will not get rich.  You will make less than your college classmates who have the same or lesser amounts of education than you do.  Taxpayers will resent your salary and you will want to hide during school budget votes and November elections. You will cringe as politicians who want votes will hold up your salary as an example of why taxes in your community are so high.  You will also spend a significant portion of your hard earned salary on your classroom.  You may own your own laminator and every color Sharpie ever made, but you sweat out the end of August every year before your first paycheck in September.
  8. People will always think you only work 9 months a year.  Nothing could be further than the truth.  While school is in session from September to June (10 months - by the way), you will continue to work during the summer outside your classroom by taking hours and hours of professional development, writing curriculum, planning lessons, and preparing your classroom.  However much you work in July and August, your salary is for 10 months, not 12.  If your district pays you on a 12-month schedule, this means that you give your district an interest free loan every single week on a portion of your income.
  9.   You will always feel somewhat torn between your own personal children and your school children.  When someone asks about your kids, you will ask “My birth children or my kiddos?” or something to that effect.  You will drag yourself into work sick so you can save your sick days for when your own kids are sick and then worry every moment while you are home about what is happening in your classroom.  Every child that enters your classroom will be one of your kids for life.   Your kids will grow up as a teacher’s kid and will have insight into how a classroom functions unlike their classmates.  The good thing is that your own children will grow up knowing that your heart is big enough to hold all that love, and, hopefully, so are theirs.
  10. Last, but not least, Teaching is not a choice.  It is a calling.  It is a vocation.  Many teachers did not go into the profession or stay there because of the glamour, money and great schedule (sarcasm intended).  We do this because we love it, in all its beauty and all its ugliness.  15% ofteachers who enter the profession leave within 5 years and 40% of students with undergraduate degrees in education never enter the classroom at all.  Those of us who stay do so because we love what we do and truly hope that we will leave the world a better place than we found it.
* update:  This post was very popular on the Badass Teachers Blogsite.  It even became a podcast!  Listen here:  https://thericksmithshow.podbean.com/e/kate-saccos-top-ten-truths-about-teaching/?token=5aee596cadcf14a8b79e6eaddeaf11db

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Watching and Listening

I'm overwhelmed.  Totally and throughly overwhelmed.  So much has happened in our world in the past week that I am on news overload.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.  Several times in the past few days, my family has had to tell me to "step away from the internet".  There is so much news, so much spin, so much hate and so much confusion that I can barely process it all.  It is becoming surreal.  It has become challenging to know what is real, what is fake, what is hype and what is "alternate facts".

Here is what I know:  what is happening now is a direct result of many years of political apathy on the part of American citizens.  Politics is a dirty business so many of us have chosen to allow others to play that game.  And now... here we are.  As my father would say, "Up shit creek without a paddle".  He has a way with words, my father.  I'll admit it, I am complicit in this situation.  After having grown up in politics, I had developed a distaste for anything remotely political.  I shied away from it, choosing instead to focus on what I could manage, namely raising children and surviving.

Like many others, I feel that I have awakened into a nightmare.  Big money controls our country now more than ever.  This president, unlike other career politicians before him, is too impulsive and naive to even attempt to mask the situation.  His cabinet nominees and his White House staff are a testament to how he and our government has been sold to the highest bidders irregardless of their qualifications or their conflicts of interest.

We live in a large and diverse country.  The wheels of government turn slowly and the legal system will manage to, hopefully, temper some of what is happening.  In my opinion, it is a good thing that our citizens have been awakened.  It is important that not only the momentum continues, but that we remember that our President works for us, not vice versa.  We need to stay awake and not be lulled back into complacency.

We also need to remember that our children are watching us.  They hear and see more than we think they do.  Just last week my boys took out every building block I had available to build what they called a "Trump Wall".  It was funny but it was also sad.  They built a wall and decided who could be on which side of it.  This is not what I want my Littles to think is OK.  I teach them to tear down walls, look outside of skin colors and differences and to accept each other for the good in each of us.  Our children are watching how we behave.   We must be cognizant of that fact.  We must conduct ourselves in a way that is positive.  We must use this as an opportunity to teach them about discrimination, how to object in a way that is fruitful, how to stand up to a bully, and how to handle conflict.

Our children are watching.  We must remember not to lower ourselves to the level that our elected officials would like to take us.  Try watching the news with the sound off.  Look at the angry faces.  Read the signs.  So much anger.  So much hate.  So many bad words.  This is what our children are seeing.  While they may not understand the words, they see the anger and the hate.  They hear our discussions and our opinions.  I know this because of how I hear my Firsties speak to each other at recess and playtime.  They use angry and loud voices.  They shout to be heard.  They say bad words that they hear at home or on TV and the internet.

We have a chance, one chance, right now, to teach our children how to understand what is happening.  We can teach them to be active in their community.  We can teach them the power of voting.  We can model for them what a peaceful protest looks like.  We can demonstrate the power of words.  We can teach them how to be kind.  They are watching.  They are listening.  Never underestimate that.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Remembering a Friend

Some people come into our lives for a reason.  They make their mark, change your life in some way and then leave.  Sometimes they stick around long enough to see the end result. Other times, they just set the pieces in motion.  

When these people arrive, they never creep in.  No way.  They come in loud and proud, demanding your attention.  You are often enthralled with their energy.  You have no choice but to join them on their journey as it becomes your journey too.

One of the talents of these amazing people is that they see something in you that you didn't see in yourself.  They know how to draw out qualities that you may not believe you have and help you to develop them.  They become your cheerleader.  They love you for who you are and who you can be. 

I was lucky enough to meet one of those people a couple years ago.  It was a chance meeting at a union event.  Through a series of random coincidences, I ended up at a conference in Saratoga Springs, NY for NYSUT.  There, I met Sonia Basko.  Sonia had recently moved to the Albany area to work at the NYSUT headquarters in Latham.  I wasn't sure how to take Sonia.  She was brutally honest, somewhat foul-mouthed, outspoken and totally confident.  Nevertheless, our paths continued to cross.  Sonia liked my blog and often tweeted out the link to her large group of followers.  She encouraged me to take on larger roles and to become more active in the union movement.

Sonia was a force of nature.  She could move mountains and often did.  She was a connector.  She connected people and events.  She believed passionately in social justice.  She was a true unionist and incredibly knowledgeable about how to use social media to promote her causes.  

Sonia was in my life for a relatively short time.  For others, she was there much longer.  I call her a friend because she was kind to me, made me laugh and believed in me.  For so many others, she was so much more.  On Saturday, we said goodbye to Sonia.  Sonia lost her battle with cancer at 43 years of age.  She was a bright star that burned out far too early.  

Sonia's life should inspire us all.  Sonia lived life out loud.  She followed her passions, inspired others and believed that she could make a difference.  And she did.  She made a difference in my life.  She made a difference for so many people that knew her and many that will never know her.  

If there is any message to be learned, it is this:  Take Chances.  Get Messy.  Believe in Yourself.  Live Life out Loud.  Say What You Mean.  Go Beyond Yourself.  Tell Others You Love Them.  Be You.  And, most of all, Leave this World a Little Better than You Found It. This is what we need to teach our children because this is what matters.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Begin Again

For teachers, the new year begins in September, not January.  September brings us a new class, new supplies, new school clothes, new schedules, new faces, and new names.  Our students count on us to be their guide into the brave new world that each child faces as they begin their journey each school year.  There is so much novelty that September brings, that when January arrives, the year hardly seems new anymore.  Instead, January signifies a shift.  For young learners, January is when many children start to really show significant growth.  In my little world, I refer to it as the "January Jump".  The kids arrive back at school after the holiday break a little taller and with a few less baby teeth.  Somehow, they look older to me even though we were apart for just 10  days.  By the end of the month, they all have made such significant progress from where they were just 5 months previous that it often astounds me even after all these years.  They are no longer climbing the mountain by learning to be first graders, but rather, they are cresting it and continuing their journey toward being second graders. 

January isn't a new year in my world, but rather a time for rejuvenation.  It is a time for renewing promises and for regeneration.  It is a time for examination of priorities and making promises.  As such, I find myself back at my keyboard after a 6 month hiatus.  During those 6 months, I changed schools and shifted my focus.  I took some time to start over with a new school year in a new school building.  While it has been an overall positive experience, I do miss the students, families and friends at my previous school.  Adjusting to a different school, with a new schedule and responsibilities impacted the time I had previously used for reading and writing.  In addition, the political climate made me feel overwhelmed.  My desire to be informed and politically active was in direct opposition to my desire to maintain my sanity.  

As a nation, we are about to embark upon a tumultuous journey in this new year.  As we entered the new school year in September, we found ourselves facing a truly historic time as the election drew nearer.  We were confronted with a choice between two candidates, neither of whom would address the issue of what the future of education would hold for our children.  Education was barely given a passing remark in the debates and was not in the top 5 issues in the election.  In the end, we now are about to be led by a man who has no interest in and no understanding of public education.  His choice to lead the DoE is actually worse than John King.  His promise to "get rid of Common Core" will lead to a simple rebranding of an already bad idea.  I shudder to think of what will happen to our children and our teachers under this coming administration.

As a result, I felt that it was time to resurrect my writing.  It is time to renew that promise that I made to myself to always be an advocate for children within and beyond my classroom walls.  During this new school year, I have witnessed first hand what happens when when educators work together to create change.  I feel that we are at the edge of a new beginning in our corner of the world.  We worked hard to make our voices heard and it is making an impact along with some positive changes.  Now, we must work together to make our voices heard on a much larger scale in this new year and in this new era that we are facing.  The only way we can do this is to speak loudly and speak often.  We must be what we want our students to be:  informed, confident, capable and strong.  It is our time to shift our thinking and embrace our strength.  Our children are counting on us.

#BeTheUnion #United #SpeakUpSpeakOut #BeTheChange