First Day of School Kindness #BeKind21

Day 4 – Setting Up a Classroom Peace Area

On Tuesday, I set up a peace area for my students. A classroom peace area is a space set aside to aide students who are experiencing uncomfortable emotions, including anxiety, fear, and sadness, and it is also a space for a student to simply relax and gather oneself for a moment.

In my classroom peace area, a student (or a teacher) can sit and rub on some lotion, play with a little stuffed animal, explore a basket full of peace rocks, look at a model of the heart, and look at soothing images.

It is just a little corner of respite for anyone who might need it. I actually love sitting in it myself, and students can even just bring something they need from this area to their desk.

Day 5 – Cooking for My Family

On Wednesday night, I made bucatini and homemade tomato sauce for my family. I love the tomato sauce recipe from Diane Seed’s Top 100 Pasta Sauces. I used to make tomato sauces that were too spicy for my kids, but this recipe is one that everyone loves. It feels good to nourish my family before the first day of school.

Day 6 – The First Day of School with a New Ritual

I always wake up early on the first day of school. This morning, I was up at 5 am. I resisted my phone and computer for some relaxation. I filled the tub with hot water and bath salts, made myself this tea, and read a bit of Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom –

Many people mix up happiness with excitement, but excitement is not exactly happiness. When you’re excited, there’s not enough peace in you, and the happiness isn’t real.

After the bath, as my family awoke and we started bustling around, I felt a little more reserved than usual – a good thing for me. This quotation resonated with me throughout the day and helped me to cultivate the presence I wanted to have for my beginning ESL students and for modeling my best self for my student teacher. You can see in the latter pictures that my students and my student teacher are working together collaboratively, purposefully, and deliberatively on a writing task.

#BeKind21 Day 3 – Putting Myself in Middle School Shoes

Once upon a time, though not terribly long ago in my adult life, I dismissed literary fiction as a fluffy waste of time. Why read it anyway? It doesn’t tell you or teach you much of anything. Until the science (and my obsessive reading of the New York Times) told me a different story – reading literature actually increases empathy. And so I returned to the fiction I loved as a child and that I had rejected in my cynical twenties.

After a summer with my preschoolers and a fair bit of getting to be a thirty six year old woman, I spent Labor Day reconnecting with the middle schoolers I teach through the power of literature. I had picked up The Skin I’m In from the library earlier in the week because it’s a book that many students in our school would read later this year, and I happened to have a copy of Blubber that I grabbed on my way out to door to an 120 minute ride to New Hampshire and back. I finished both yesterday – staying up until midnight on the last pages of Blubber.

These retro reads (1998 and 1974 respectively) were certainly not a warm recollection of young womanhood but rather a prominent pinch of nostalgia (read: pain from an old wound). While The Skin I’m In and Blubber differ very much in their settings (urban vs. suburban) and the race of their protagonists (black as opposed to white and Asian), the theme is identical – A bully is someone who controls another person and requires that he or she in doing harm to others).

For a teacher, these books beg the question:

Will I be an out-of-touch denialist Mrs. Minish (Blubber) or a seeking-to-understand Miss Saunders (The Skin I’m In)? The obvious answer is a Miss Saunders, but Mrs. Minish teaches some valuable what-not-to-do lessons to the teacher-reader.

The lessons in empathy offered up in these two young adult novels are essential in tapping into the experiences of young women in middle school, but perhaps the greatest lesson for a teacher comes from Miss Saunders’  more experienced teacher-buddy Tai:

“You are a great teacher, with good ideas. The kids will like you no matter what you look like. But it’s your need to be perfect that will ruin you here.”

That is profound advice for any teacher to avoid burnout. The more you forgive yourself, the longer you will stay in it – caring for and loving our students, developing the expertise they need –  rather than worrying about our own imperfections and misgivings.

 

Back-To-School Radical Kindness with the Born This Way Foundation’s 21 Days to Be Kind

This September, I am working on practicing radical kindness through the Born This Way Foundation‘s 21 Days to Be Kind initiative. As a parent and educator, at this extremely busy time of year, I believe that deliberate and strategic kindness with support my inner self, my family, my students, my colleagues, and my community through this time of transition.

My hope is to improve my ease with myself and the way I treat others. Because of my misjudgments, impulsivities, and wrongs that make me downright human. Because I can get so caught up in schedules, chores, should-haves, paperwork, social media, gossip, I am committing to 21 Days to Be Kind to focus on what truly matters – the way I treat myself and others.

A lot of my focus this Labor Day weekend is on self-care – this is setting the stage for the upcoming and potentially very stressful week. I am counting down until Thursday – the first day of school – when I need to bring my biggest smile and maximum energy to greet all of our students and get them off to a great start.

September 1 – Run

Running is my ultimate stress release and the one non-work non-family all-by-myself commitment I make three times per week. My husband and I are training for separate half marathons this fall – and I am doing my first full marathon in February.  It has benefitted our relationship so much – we have fewer arguments and a hobby to discuss and geek out on. I love making my playlists. My current one is music from the 60’s that I loved as a child – the Monkees, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Fifth Dimension. On Saturday, along my 9.5 mile run, I smiled at strangers and greeted them with good morning. It felt good to get so many smiles back. Literally – smiles for miles. I was also treated to Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog X FLO sculpture at Jamaica Pond.

September 2 – Healthy Food 

Today I made a meal plan and got groceries. It makes me feel really good to be organized with a refrigerator full of healthy food and a plan of how to use it.

I became a vegetarian in December after reading Tracy McQuirter’s By Any Greens Necessary. As I ruminated on the practice of non-violence, I decided that being vegetarian was one choice I could make to slow unnecessary cruelty – to animals but also to the people who work in the dangerous meatpacking industry. I ate a lot of vegan junk food in the beginning, but now I am learning how to make better choices. I like to get cookbooks from the library to get inspiration and ideas. My family is currently enjoying recipes from Phaidon’s Vegan cookbook as well as from Eat Greens and Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker.

This plan is especially important this week – school starts on Thursday, and the next few days will be jam packed with preparations.

We Need Your Help – Building Tetrahedron Pyramids to Build Community in ESL

Update: This project was fully funded on September 1, 2018. Thank you to all of our generous donors! 

Dear Readers: Please consider making a donation to my classroom via Donors Choose. Click here to donate and to get some very good karma! I need your help!

Support Our Tetrahedron Pyramid Project!

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Inspiration – a beautiful tetrahedron sculpture build by the Alexander Hamilton Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio

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Flashback Friday – Tetrahedron Building with students in my classroom back in 2013.

My students need paper, markers, tape, and colored pencils to create and connect tetrahedron pyramids that show their identities. The books will supply background knowledge about pyramids and provide reference for symbols.

My Students

I teach middle school ESL to students new to the United States. My students are highly motivated to learn; they are eager to learn all they can about the English language, as having proficient academic English is a marker of success in their new American lives. A challenge I face is ensuring that each and every student feels connected to the classroom and school community, as my students are completely new to the United States and the English language. My students come from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Somalia, Cape Verde, and Vietnam. They are typical middle school students – energetic, funny, and eager to figure out who they are. Our school is an urban 6-8 in a large city school system. It is a loving place where the staff does all they can for the students, and the students work hard to achieve success.

My Project

My students will draw symbols to represent their personal identities on the brightly colored paper, which they will fold to create tetrahedron pyramids. The small pyramids will then be connected to one another with tape to create a sculpture.

The pyramid sculpture that the students create will become a classroom display representing the power of community and teamwork that is necessary for all students to feel comfortable in a new country and language.

As I get new students throughout the year, each one will add a tetrahedron to the sculpture. Through building something as monumental as a pyramid, students will recognize that they are an important part of the classroom community.

The books about pyramids and symbols will serve to build background knowledge about pyramids and pyramid builders, and the book about symbols will provide ideas for drawing.

Bringing My Preschool Age Daughters to Charleston’s Old Slave Mart Museum

For the past few weeks, after my kids are in bed, I have had my nose buried in Ned and Constance Sublette’s quintessential soon-to-be-required-reading The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry. (My thoughts on this book will be a whole nother post…) Through reading this, I came to understand that few images exist of slave auction houses, and the historical remnants of slavery have been persistently concealed.

While looking up sites to visit on a family vacation to Charleston, I came across The Old Slave Market Museum  I was enthusiastic to visit this rare preservation of an auction building, but I hesitated because I would need to bring my three young daughters with me.

I worried: Is it appropriate for them? Is it going to be too scary? 

But I really wanted to go. I really want my daughters to be educated about history and justice, even in a small way at their age. I want my daughters to see the joy I take in learning and the seriousness and purposefulness that I approach learning in my life.

And so we went. It was $8 per adult and free for children, so I knew that even if we spent a short time, it would be fine – not too expensive.

And so we went. My daughters love to look at maps, and we spent a little time discussing a map which showed how slaves were transported from Maryland and Virginia to other parts of the South – by chattel, train, river, and ocean.

My daughters mentioned that the people in the photos looked sad, and they didn’t like that people had to leave their families. They asked me about the shackles and told me that they didn’t want to wear them. They studied a plaque that showed how people who were enslaved were prepared for the auctions – shaved, dressed nicely, being fed more food in the weeks prior to sale.

I used some very simple questions (taken from Visual Thinking Strategies) to start discussions about the museum’s features: What’s going on in this picture? What more can we find?

We spent twenty minutes in the museum, and I was proud that I took my children, proud that they behaved well, that they were curious, and proud that I overcame my hesitation of bringing them.

After they went outside, I had the pleasure of speaking with History Interpreter Christine King Mitchell, who provided me with some wonderful booklists. She is working towards publication of a book of primary source materials, and she showed me a few copies of posters announcing slave auctions that will be included in her book.

Later that day, my oldest daughter informed me: “I want to be brown.” I realized we had not discussed the skin color of people displayed in the museum. She had also played with two girls who were black in the Charleston Waterfront Park Fountain that day. (Not unusual – my daughters go to a fairly diverse preschool and have played with children with all shades of skin.) So, I wondered why she wanted to be black. “Mom – I could wear bright pink lipstick if I was brown.”

She is interested in race, so it is my responsibility now to find some books about this and start talking a bit about skin. I don’t feel comfortable with the topic at all, but I know it’s important.

Guerilla Art No. 2 – Mental Health Coupon Poster

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I spent some time researching and making this mental health coupon poster this morning, and I will print them, cut along the dotted lines, and (the most fun part!) post them around the neighborhood. If you want to try this, here is a pdf version you can print yourself. Or you can make your own – there are lots of templates online.

This feels like a community service project – if I saw this poster, I would definitely want a coupon from it. While I was creating this, I was thinking about my own well-being and about how I can better care for myself, especially once the school year begins. I think a poster like this might help someone to feel a little bit better or even just get them thinking about their own self within a crowded life.

This project was an assignment (really just a super fun idea though) from The Guerrilla Art Kit: Everything You Need to Put Your Message Out into the World by Keri Smith.

References

Developing a Self-Care Plan (ReachOut.com)

45 Simple Self-Care Practices for a Healthy Mind, Body, and Soul (TinyBuddha.com)\

10 Self-Care Moves You Can Do at Your Desk

They’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

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A powerful reason to tell your story. I created this poster this morning using Canva. Speaking of brave storytellers, I have so much respect and admiration for the storytelling and advocacy of the women in The Keepers. Last night, I watched this compelling video from the Johns Hopkins 2018 Moore Center Symposium on Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Institutions and Organizations. The most infuriating part of this video was seeing how much individuals in organizations that are supposedly working to serve children will often go to any length to protect their own jobs and those of their colleagues or subordinates. I see this “cover up” of mistakes (those not of this caliber) in my own profession as a public school teacher, and it is incredibly stressful and disappointing. As a mandated reporter, I have had to make decisions that made colleagues uncomfortable, but I am of the philosophy that if you see something that harms a child or if a child comes to you with a story, then you must follow protocol to report this immediately to someone who can help that child or at least investigate. And no, knowing these stories is in no way enjoyable, but it is cathartic to share them. I sometimes live with a heavy heart and mind.

Note: I read Hurston’s quotation in Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir