A Letter to My September 2013 Self: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #1

I am currently on medical leave from my job as I prepare for the arrival of my twin daughters. However, I have used some of my time on leave to investigate online resources for teaching, and I was fortunate enough to discover the Talks with Teachers website, and I have entered the Talks with Teachers May Challenge.

The challenge takes place on Facebook, and it enables me to connect and reflect with teachers from all around the country. I am so happy to have this online environment to stay connected with my passion for education.

The theme of the challenge for this week is REFLECTION – very appropriate for the end of the year. Each week, participating teachers are provided with resources as well as a project to complete. This week’s project is to write a letter to oneself at the beginning of the school year. Below is my letter to my September self.

Image

September 2013: Bending over, circulating, and actively interacting with students

Image

April Me: 7 months pregnant, posing next to affirmations in my colleague Melissa Shearer’s classroom

Letter to September Self from May Me

Dear Jennifer in September:

Do you remember the end of last school year when Ms. Lugira advised you to “sit at the table”? You have begun to take that advice to heart – beginning your metamorphosis from an inspired teacher to a teacher-leader. In the past, you did great work inside the classroom, but now you are expanding your sphere of influence at the school level and beyond. You are about to embark on a year of reinvention and achievement, a year full of change and surprise.

This year, you will finally became a union representative, something you had always thought of doing! After your election, you will help to organize your school’s first ever faculty senate. Every Friday morning, you and your fellow elected leaders will meet with the brand-new school administration to plan special initiatives and discuss issues connected to the faculty and students. Your collaboration will result in faculty senate breakfasts, teacher-led professional development, special events, long-term planning, and improved communication with the school’s governing board. You and your colleagues will bond more than ever this year as teacher voice begins to shape the present and future of the school.

You have begun your journey as a leader in other ways. You will formally mentor a fantastic second year teacher (Alice Laramore) who has masterfully transformed a seventh grade class with many needs into a community of scholars. You will receive notice that you have earned your National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. You will serve on the Teacher Advisory Board of the Boston Foundation. You led a PD for your colleagues on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.

But most importantly, this year, you will to be a creative and inspired teacher for your fabulous middle school students! This year, you will implement your knowledge from your reading specialist certificate into providing word study services to your students, and by April, your students will improve by 1 to 4 grade levels in reading! You will successfully engage students with language-based learning disabilities in learning phonics and building fluency – and all of them will build their confidence and ability in reading! You will connect with Boston Partners in Education to provide 1:1 support and attention to students who need it most – and you received the very best tutors! (Ms. Tarsha, Ms. Karen, and Ms. Moshay). You will organize field trips to 826 Boston, American Repertory Theater, and the Boston Book Festival. You will coordinate an author visit from local author Michael Patrick MacDonald, and you will host guest speakers Ms. Berta (your own mentor) and Ms. Emily (the fantastic librarian from the Uphams Corner Library). You will plan arts-integrated lessons for and publish writing projects with the students in your ESL class.

 

Image

Ms. Emily, Upham’s Corner Librarian Extraordinaire, with the 6A cohort students

But this year will not be without challenges. Your biggest challenge will be learning to rely on other people for help. Guess why? You will be the pregnant teacher. Not only will you be the pregnant teacher…you will be the teacher pregnant with twin girls. You will be exhausted, but you will also be very lucky.

Your students will help you carry your bags whenever you need it. The 8th grade girls will ask you a million questions about your babies, and you will be the center of attention. The boys will be disappointed when you announce that you are having two girls. The students will argue about your babies’ names. They will tell you to relax and promise that no one will behave badly because they don’t want to stress you out.

Your colleagues will remind you to take it easy, and they will help to cover you when you have to go to about a million doctors’ appointments. Still, you will feel guilty for the (less than 10) sick days you take when you are too exhausted or when you have back to back doctors’ appointment. You will cry when your doctor tells you (after hospitalization for pre-term labor) that you can’t go back to work and you will use your last ounce of energy to get your students’ grades in on time for report cards. Every morning at 9:25 am, you think about the smiling students at morning meeting, chanting the Academy 2 Creed: WHO is success? WE ARE SUCCESS!

You will realize that you have the best students and colleagues that anyone could ask for and you will realize how much you miss them. You will think – when I go back to work in January, I will be a teacher and a mother. And you know that your career has prepared you for your role as a mother because you will know how to educate your daughters and prepare them for school. You will be prepared for the turmoil and excitement of their adolescence. And you will better be able to connect with your students’ mothers because they will see you as a mother too.

Good luck and enjoy the journey,

Jennifer in May (31 weeks and 5 days pregnant)

 

Change Agency: 826 Boston, Egleston Square’s Inspiration Center

I was really surprised to find myself out on a school night, especially after the very first day of school last Thursday. However, the lure of free pizza, visiting a book store, and talking with writers at non-profit youth tutoring and writing center 826 Boston‘s Write-A-Thon launch party proved irresistible.

826 Boston’s field trips allow classes to create their own publications with each student writing his or her own ending.

“3035 Washington Street,” I told my husband,”It’s right by that Dunkin’ Donuts at Egleston.” We walked toward the building, right on the corner. “Oh, it’s right here at this bank,” I said, as we walked closer. GREATER BOSTON BIGFOOT RESEARCH CENTER read the letters on the front of the building. “Well, this is 3035,” said my husband, ringing the doorbell for 826 Boston. A smiling woman greeted us and quickly escorted us through the “research center” – which turned out to be the clever disguise for 826 Boston’s very own bookstore, full of books published by the organization’s students.

As we entered the back room, the center’s tutoring center, we were presented with hard-cover writing journals as well as name tages to write our pen names – our childhood pet’s name as the first name and our childhood street name as the last name. Assuming my new identity as “Birdy Thornbrook”, I sat down and helped myself to a slice of pizza while I scanned the room. I noticed a cartoon drawing on a white board, a story being typed and displayed on a projector, and another display of a Skype homescrren.

Before we arrived, the other partygoers had created the beginning of an extremely silly story – this particular story was about an animal named Petunia who hoped to become a shortstop for a Syracuse sports team. Then, each participant wrote their own ending to the story, and several of the endings were read to a bearded and bespectacled editor via Skype. It turned out that this activity is exactly what 826 Boston youth visitors experience when they come on school trips to 826 Boston headquarters, and they then receive a copy of the beginning of the story as well as a book with their ending. If the laughter and smiles of adults are any indication of what children experience at the center, it must be a very joyful place.

This assumption was affirmed by my conversations with 826’s volunteers and staff. Northeastern University student Toby Fox, age 20, volunteers at 826 as part of the Civic Engagement Program at the university. He says that he enjoys leading field trips and tutoring students, and he loves seeing the stories that the students write. Although Fox studies environmental science, he says that his experience at 826 has inspired the desire to continue volunteering with youth.

Northeastern University student and 826 volunteer Toby Fox feels inspired by the students at 826’s Egleston Square writing center.

When asked about her favorite publication in the Bigfoot Research Center Bookstore, Store and Events Coordinator Sarah Skolnick responded by showing me A Place for Me in the World, a collection of interviews and prints written by the middle school students at the Mission Hill K-8 School. The interviews focus on the theme of career, and the interviewees consist of professionals working in cake decorating, marine biology, and even government – the grinning jowls in the print portrait of Mayor Thomas M. Menino are immediately recognizable.

Store and Events Coordinator Sara Skolnick (left) and writing teachers Aria Hamada-Forrest (center) and Julie Drench (right) pose with the center’s latest publication, written by Mission Hill School middle schoolers.

826 Program Coordinator Karen Sama claims to face an addiction to the center’s students. She displays her favorite publication, a well-designed palm-sized volume titled A Handbook of Practical Knowledge for the Modern Spy, which I purchased for $5. The book is full of ciphers (I spent about twenty minutes trying the first one, and I plan to return to it later) as well as stories about spies. Sama recalls a memorable student: “His name is Kamari. I remember he never wanted to hear the feedback. He just wanted to finish his stories, and that’s it – just to get them done. Then, one day, he went to put his folder back. It was almost put away, and then he pulled it back close to him. He said he just wanted to add something to his story. It was a great moment.”

Program Coordinator Karen Sama sits among student publications holding her favorite 826 volume.

Note: I have set a goal of raising $250 for 826 Boston’s Write-A-Thon. Please support me in this endeavor if possible.