Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Technology Trouble

I've come to realize something as technology has started taking over the world. It is destroying communication, people, and relationships. Most of you are probably thinking that I am a hypocrite. After all, don't I use cell phones, iPads, laptops, "apps," and search engines on a regular basis? Don't I prefer to text people rather than call them on the phone? You bet! And that is the problem.

For those of you who know me, you know I've never been much of a phone-talker. I generally get flustered, forget my words, or interrupt the other person awkwardly because I'm never sure when he/she is finished. One of my best friends is like this, too. We've talked about the fact that we prefer to text each other to avoid the awkward talking dance that encompasses us when we are trying to figure out how to make a conversation flow naturally. Texting has become one of my main forms of communication. I am better on paper than I am out loud and I always have been. Unfortunately, I feel like this is kind of destroying me as a person. Allow me to elaborate.

When I try to remember life before texting and the social media, it is hard to remember how I got by. How did I invite my friends places? How did I get asked on dates (well wait a minute, that never happened so I guess that's why I don't remember it)? How did I communicate with my friends? How did it feel to never worry about Facebook notifications or how many messages I had in my inbox? Honestly, it's getting harder and harder to remember a time when I actually had to communicate face to face with anyone. I rarely call my own mother on the phone. We text. And my sister? Texty texterson. My friends? Well, I can just get in touch with them via Facebook! No need to sit down and have an actual conversation!

Do you see my point a little bit?

Let me go a little bit further with this.

I was talking to my cousin, Ashley, yesterday about love and relationships. We were discussing our "troubles" and commenting on the woes of our good friends and family. When I got home last night, it occurred to me that perhaps the reason so many relationships go down the toilet these days is because there is no mystery anymore. Think about it. Girl likes boy. Girl finds boy's Facebook profile. Girl requests to be friends with boy and boy accepts. Girl frantically clicks through every photo of boy on his profile to check, rather than ask him, for potential girlfriends. Girl instantly loathes any female in the presence of boy in Facebook photos. Girl starts a story in her head about how boy led her on and probably doesn't even like her. Girl gets furrowed brow and decides she doesn't need boy and rather than talking to him, she will stalk his Facebook and see who he communicates with. Boy, meanwhile, has no idea any of this is happening since girl is going through a mental breakdown over a few harmless photos. Girl and boy may date, but it never works out because girl is so absurdly jealous by everything put up on Facebook. Because girl can communicate with boy via text message at any point during the day, she flips out when boy does not return messages in a split second and jumps to all the wrong conclusions. He must be with another girl. He must not want to talk to her. He must not actually want to date her. Screw 'im! Boy and girl get in fight later about "lack of communication" (how ironic) and boy walks away wondering how he could have done something wrong when he really did nothing at all.

You know this sounds familiar.

Think about when our grandparents courted (yes, courted) each other. What life must have been like to not have a permanent and instantaneous connection to a potential lover. If a boy liked a girl, he asked her on a date. The girl would have to go through the process of getting ready for the date without speaking to the boy until the moment he picked her up. How exciting that must have been! Getting ready for a date, allowing your heart to race in anticipation for what you might discover about the other person. After going on a date, the boy (or girl) would have to decide if another date was in order. Right then and there. Or they would have to call one another to set up another one. During the day, neither one would be communicating constantly. Boy and girl would have no idea what the other had been up to (scary and exciting all at once), so if there were a second date, there would be plenty to discuss at the dinner table. What did they do that day? Where did they go? Who did they meet? I can't imagine this type of interaction ever occurring anymore. Why? Because technological advances make it almost impossible. Unless you and your partner make a conscious decision not to use technology with one another during the day, this scenario can never exist.

I'm not saying technology isn't great or that it isn't fun to post photos on Facebook or to "check in" when you've arrived somewhere spectacular (I'm guilty of it just as much as you are), but there was a time when people had to rely solely on the art of face-to-face interaction to decide how they felt about one another. Marriages are ending left and right these days and I'm sure part of the reason is due to a lack of good and true communication. You can't say you communicate with your significant other if you are watching Facebook throughout the day. You can't say you know how he/she is feeling just because you got a few texts every couple of hours. You can't get jealous about pictures that have been posted if you haven't asked the person any questions about his/her life.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I guess I was born in the wrong era. If you don't give yourself a chance to truly miss someone, you might miss out on an opportunity. Spending too much time with one person can often be maddening; everyone needs a break. So why do we refuse to take one?

And is it hypocritical that I am posting my thoughts about this issue on a blog, which is a tool given to me by the power of technology? Of course. Unfortunately, it's the only way I felt anyone would "listen."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Music Makes Me Make Sense

There are a few things you need to know about me if we're going to get along. First, I am extremely passionate about teaching (as previous posts have probably shown). Second, I am stubborn and impatient (to a fault). I have made so many mistakes because of my inability to delay gratification, but I won't get into that right now. Finally, music and movement are the only two things in the world that make sense to me.

I have been a dancer all my life. I used to think it was dance alone that defined my existence and controlled my emotions, but now that I have gotten older and no longer dance every day, I see that I was wrong. Being able to move my body and to control the softness, sharpness, pace, and precision of each movement has given me ownership of my complicated emotions throughout my life. Going through my formative years without my gift and love of dance would have shaped me into an entirely different person. Dance was my discipline, my passion, my responsibility, my integrity, my empathy, my perfectionism, my obsession, my flexibility, my control, and, above all, my existence. Now that I am unable to move as fluidly as I once was, I feel a bit lost. When I think of dance, I think of love; but until recently, I never realized that my love for dance was enhanced by another art form that stole my heart long ago: music. 

I have a memory I think of often. It was a Saturday and I was at my dance studio rehearsing a contemporary ballet piece. Saturdays were often the longest days of the week for me. After a week of going to school, doing homework, and having three hours or more of dance classes each night, Saturday would come and we would work for six hours or more rehearsing for an upcoming performance. To some, this may sound brutal. To us, it was heaven. I would give anything to have those Saturdays back. 

This particular Saturday, as I mentioned, we were rehearsing a contemporary ballet piece. My dance teacher, Heather, selected a romantic Josh Groban song for us and explained her vision. She wanted the movement to match the beauty of the music. Although all of us felt we were working extremely hard, our teacher was not satisfied. In fact, she was clearly upset at our blatant disrespect for the music. She expressed how she had felt the first time she heard this piece of music. She emphasized that we clearly were not listening to it because the movement we portrayed lacked integrity. At first, we were unsure of how to take this news; after all, we had been working hard all day. How could she tell us we weren't really listening? We had heard the song a million times in rehearsals! 

Heather had us run the piece from the top again and again, but we were leaving her dissatisfied every time. No amount of lecturing was changing how we were moving across the floor. Finally, Heather stopped us. She told us we needed to take a break to really hear the music we were dancing to. She turned off all the lights in the studio and told us to lie down with our eyes closed. We did as we were told and that was the first time I truly heard the piece of music.

The music moved from the tips of my toes up through my beating heart. I felt tingles everywhere. I heard the melodic layers in the background and realized this was the first time I was really listening to the beauty of the music. The next time we ran the piece, I felt completely different and so my body moved differently, too. From then on, every time I heard that particular piece of music, I was reminded of the moment during a typical Saturday dance rehearsal that music spoke to me.

I have always had a special relationship with music. My style is eclectic (it ranges from The Beatles to Wicked to Justin Timberlake and Adele) and I like to think I have pretty good taste. However, what I love about music is how it makes me feel about life. Music has a specific quality where, like dance, it can take you away from your life for a while. How many times have you put on a Pandora radio station and completely forgotten what you were working on? Music can take you away and remind you of where you have been. It affects your mood, your demeanor, and the choices you make on a daily basis. On a rainy day, I may choose John Mayer or Coldplay as I'm driving down the street. If it's bright and sunny, I'll be listening to surf tunes from The Beach Boys or the uplifting songs of Jack Johnson. Music defines me. I always thought of myself as a dancer, but what is a dancer without music as inspiration? 

I love being able to feel so many emotions as I listen to music. I am reminded of who I was, where I've gone, and who I am starting to become. I am reminded of the choices I have made, of mistakes I have tried desperately to fix, and of relationships that simply needed to end. Music makes me sad, happy, excited, ecstatic, somber, brave, and independent. Music makes me make sense. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Challenging

Since the start of the school year, I have noticed some interesting things about my students. I was able to loop with them (bring them from kindergarten up to first grade) and it has come to my attention that there are definite pros and definite cons to the whole "looping" idea. First, the pros.

Pros:


  • Enhanced social-emotional development. My students know each other very well and are comfortable sharing information with me and with their peers. Even students who were very shy last year are starting to come out of their shells.
  • Students already know what I expect. I mostly had to review my expectations in the classroom so that they could be reminded of what I am looking for.
  • I know where the students are academically. I know their strengths and I know their weaknesses (which will soon turn to strengths!).

Aaaaand now for the cons.

Cons:

  • Enhanced social-emotional development. As I said, my students know each other very well. They are so comfortable with one another that they often get too silly or out of control. Their personalities are enhanced times two, which makes it a management issue all day long.
  • Students already know what I expect. Because the students are so comfortable with me and with what I expect, I have noticed that I have "mommy syndrome." The students are starting to tune out when I speak, often continuing their own conversations rather than listening to what I have to say. There are constant interruptions and distractions during lessons. My old tricks are not working as well as they used to.
  • I know where the students are academically. I know their strengths (and there are many). Unfortunately, I am not very familiar with the first grade curriculum and don't have a lot of additional work to choose from to challenge the students who need it. I feel so stunted with what I can do with my students. It's almost like I don't know how to challenge my students because I am out of ideas. 
You will notice that the pros and cons are very similar. I think the biggest challenge for me is managing these students. I feel awful because I can see how bored they are with what we are doing. All of this beginning of first grade curriculum is too easy for the vast majority of them, but I run out of time to come up with better plans. I know that "looping" with students is supposed to benefit them socially and academically, but I feel more like I am preventing them from becoming their best selves.

At this point (it has only been a few weeks), I already feel like I am not doing the right things for my students. I want them to have a sense of teamwork and cooperation because I know that it is going to be hard for them to continue as a close-knit group since they will eventually begin to squabble like siblings. I want them to feel challenged and excited to come to school. I don't want to have as much control over them as I do right now. I want them to think critically, to trust themselves, and to solve problems on their own. I don't want to be so frustrated. I don't want to be constantly interrupted. I just want my students to trust that I will lead them down the right learning path and, more importantly, I want to trust that I can be the leader they need me to be. I know I am not perfect. I know they are not perfect. I just want to be the best teacher I can be for these kids and right now, I don't know if I am. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Thoughts on the Approaching School Year

Last year was not one of my best. Teaching was wonderful and I loved my students, but there were certain barriers blocking my self-confidence, enhancing my self-doubt, and causing me to spend the majority of my after school days working alone in my classroom. I felt disconnected and self-conscious. I will not bore you with the details of how these emotions came into play, but the point is that I was unhappy, stressed, tired, and lonely. I had no idea just how lonely I had been until I began preparing for  school earlier this month.

I taught kindergarten for three years (one year I was an intern, so I suppose it doesn't "count" in many eyes, but I know how much of my time, energy, sweat, and tears I devoted that year, so I say it is still considered a year of experience). Last year, my principal and vice principal indicated that I would be moving to first grade in the upcoming school year. To say I was ecstatic at this news is an understatement. For a few years, I have witnessed how the first grade team works. They are always smiling, happy, and supportive of their members. As I have watched them, I ached for that sort of closeness and wished I could be a part of a team as close-knit and caring as they always seemed to be. I loved my kindergarten team, but I definitely felt ready to take on a new challenge and free myself from the depressing life I had been leading. I accepted the offer and began packing.

As soon as August rolled around, I started getting the "first day of school blues." As summer vacation comes to an end, most educators feel a bit of anxiety at the thought of coming back to school. Our classrooms are not left, as many of you may believe, in pristine condition. At the end of the school year, we clean up, put materials away, stack chairs, erase boards, and remove former student names from our bulletin boards. When we come back, our rooms are completely flipped upside down; nothing is left in the same location and it becomes a scavenger hunt to see how quickly you can find an item you once prized. This year was no different. I walked into my room to see a stack of fifty or more boxes from my kindergarten classroom, desks flipped on top of each other, chairs stacked haphazardly around the room, a few cabinets gone, and a new (heavy) bookshelf sitting in the corner.







 I wasn't exaggerating.
       











I was a bit stressed at the sight of my classroom. I knew I needed to get started with my unpacking, so I did what I could and tried to keep everything as familiar as possible. After several days of sorting, tossing, and organizing, the boxes were finally emptied. I felt a huge sense of relief and accomplishment followed immediately by dread. Now that my room was together, I had to worry about  teaching an entirely different grade level. I didn't even know where to start.

Many of you are probably thinking that since I am coming up from kindergarten, the difference in curriculum won't be too different. Everyone keeps telling me, "Oh you'll be fine! You have the same students you had last year." This is pretty unhelpful. I am so happy that my colleagues, friends, and family have so much faith in me, but I lost a lot of faith in myself last year. All of my anxiety and sadness was starting to resurface and I wasn't sure what to do to make it go away.

I started working with my new first grade team (they are the best, by the way). They have been so supportive of everything I have done in my classroom and have done their utmost to make sure I feel at least slightly more at ease by the time school starts. First grade standards are much more challenging than kindergarten standards. Students go from needing to know their numbers from 1-30 to needing to know their numbers from 1-100; they must be able to read and write contractions, tell time to the nearest half hour, recognize common vowel diphthongs, and so much more. I have not been this nervous since I started my first year of teaching kindergarten. That year, I had a difficult class both academically and emotionally; I received virtually no help and had very little guidance from those who were supposed to be checking in on me. I felt lost, alone, insecure, and afraid I would lose my job.

As I have been preparing for teaching first grade, I realize that my fears are stemming from that first year of teaching. That first year of teaching I had no one to turn to, I cried myself to sleep almost every night, and I had three of the most challenging students I have ever met. I never want to feel as helpless as I did my first year teaching. I have been panicking that my first year of teaching first grade will be just as stressful; the thought of it is terrifying.

The more I have fixated on this, the more I have realized that there is no way this year will ever be like my first year of teaching. My first year, I had no one to advocate for me; this year, I have six other first grade teachers who are supportive and encouraging. My first year, I had no help; this year, I will not be afraid to ask for it. This will be my third year as an "official" teacher, so I have learned when to speak up for myself. My first year, I had so many behavior problems that I felt I would go mad by the end of the school day; this year, I know my students and I love them with all my heart (despite their mischievous personalities). I may be teaching first grade for the first time ever, but this is not my first time teaching.

Yesterday, the class lists were posted at school around 4:00. Most of us hid in our classrooms, not wanting to see any children until Monday. At around 6:00 (yes, I was still there), I opened my classroom door to let in some fresh air. As I was working at one of the student desks and stressing about the next thing I hadn't done yet, I saw a tiny face peek into the classroom. One of my former kindergarten students, Amanda, smiled at me and quickly dashed away. When I walked outside to greet her, she ran to me as fast as her legs could carry her and gave me the squishiest bear hug I have ever received. I talked to her and her family for a while and then we said our goodbyes.

As soon as I got back into my classroom, I couldn't help but smile. This entire month, people have been telling me "not to stress" and that "everything will work out." None of these words meant as much to me as Amanda coming in for a visit yesterday. As soon as I saw her little face and listened to her talk about all the fun things she did over the summer, I knew I would be ready. I would be ready to teach on Monday. I would be ready for first grade.