Letting Go of Expectations

We are well into the start of the school year. Things may or may not have slowed down. Stress levels may be even higher than they were before the start of the year or they may have remained the same. 

I always learn something new every year about myself and how to be a better teacher. Usually, this takes about 4 months into the year or even until the end of the year for me to realize what I’ve learned. This year I have to pause and reflect on the work that I am doing much earlier than expected: 

  • What is working? 
  • What format do we use for assignments? 
  • How do we let students know about work? 
  • What about parents? 
  • How do we keep track of what class is doing what? 
  • What day is it? 
  • Who am I? 
  • Am I sure I want to do this for a career? 

These questions are accompanied this year with a lot of frustrations, fears, anxieties, anger, and tears. (Wine too) All before school even started, I questioned staying in my job A LOT! I wasn’t trained to teach this way: hybrid model, masks on, virtually, students on computers all the time… The whole process has been confusing and nerve wracking; even before it started. 

During our training we did an activity where we looked at our expectations in a new way. We took a cup of various colored paint and a plain white canvas and were told that these two things represent our expectations for the year. The cup of paint was filled with various colors to represent all of our expectations- in person learning, no masks, perfect lesson plans, students that listen – (we can wish right?) – all perfectly contained in this little cup. We were then told to take the cup and dump it in the middle of the canvas, move the paint around until the whole canvas was covered.

It was messy. It wasn’t an “art” we are used to. We had to let go of the rigidity of our perfect expectation in a cup and let them go where they wanted to go. The results were stunning. The marbled look of the different colors blended together, yet still having distinct boundaries was amazing. When the canvas was dry, we were all amazed at the work of art we created by just letting go of the control and seeing where the paint ended up. Some teacher’s looked like galaxies, others glaciers with various colors of ice, there were some sunsets, and even a few that resembled the rock formations at Arches National Park. 

The point of this exercise is an obvious one. However, it has taught me a lesson early this year about my own abilities as a teacher when I reflect on the start of the year. 

It has taught me that I can still have the structure in my classroom I know my students need, but it also allows me to be flexible in the structure I use to help my students learn. It has taught me there is a tried and true way of doing things, and while change is hard, sometimes it brings out some of the best teaching and learning. It has taught me there is beauty in this struggle, and the outcome is going to be amazing regardless of the hard things. 

So take a breath, we got this. As teachers we may not have been trained on teaching online, but we were trained to adapt and be prepared for anything. Find the beauty in this mess of a school year, I promise it’s there, even on the hard days.

The Pressure of a Label

When we label kids, it often becomes their identity through and through. This is hard when they are younger because their not given a choice. 

A label can dictate who they are friends with, the things they are interested in, the work ethic they have. This label tells teachers what to think about them before they even meet your kid. Many times this label can make or break a kids school career. 

So why do we try so hard to label students? Well, there are a lot of kids who need to have specific needs met in order to be able to function in society after high school. This allows schools to help better prepare future generations. These labels help more than they hurt. (Majority of the time) 

When a child is labeled as gifted in the second grade (more than likely that is when they were first identified) teachers are asked to help these students grow into their already big brains and wit. While some teachers are able to foster this and help a gifted child grow, there are some who unfortunately just continue to teach to the middle of the road or the low end because “Every child is gifted.” 

Parents of gifted kids, you know every child is special in their own way, but a gifted child…. That is a whole different animal. 

 The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as such: 

“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents: 

• Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata. 

• Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential. • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.

 • Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

 • Require varied services based on their changing needs.”

This definition alone shows that gifted children are very different from their peers and need to be treated as such. So when this label is tacked onto a student they are looked at as if they should be performing better and above their peers academically. This is all well and good until teachers and parents forget that their child is still just an eight year old who is capable of doing pre-algebra. Teachers and some parents tend to forget that while their child might be capable of higher level academics, their emotional needs and social needs are still that of an eight year old. 

We can expect them to understand big adult emotions or high level emotions because they just aren’t there yet in their brain. A big reason we tend to think that they can handle these emotions is because they are functioning at a high level and we assume that they are able to handle it. Most of the time they aren’t. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the emotional load their students can and cannot handle. They are dealing with a lot of social/ emotional experiences and needs already. 

Students who are gifted struggle with being gifted and being different from their friends. They struggle not being in classes with their same age peers. They worry about being too smart. They worry about looking different. They worry about getting perfect grades, scores, and excelling at homework. Then you add in the peer groups, relationship drama and ever changing hormones. There is no way they can understand the raw emotions of a psychological thriller movie or the roller coaster of sensations experienced when watching the news everyday. 

Watch what you are exposing them to. They may appear that they can handle it based on their intellectual ability, but they are more likely to have a melt down emotionally. Parents and teachers need to keep this in mind when it comes to school work too. Make sure the assignment is still emotionally appropriate for your kids. Never let the pressure of being labeled gifted cloud your judgement on if they can handle the material on a social/emotional level. 

Social-emotional needs of gifted, why their needs are different.

Gifted children have so many needs when it comes to their academics. 

  • Are they being challenged in the right way? 
  • Are they allowed to think creatively? 
  • Do teachers allow gifted students to suggest an alternative assignment? 
  • How do we know if they are at the correct level of challenge that they need? 

The list can go on and on. 

While we may worry about the academics of our gifted students, they have very different needs when it comes to their social emotional needs. Many parents that I have had contact with are always worried about their students social life, emotional needs, and ability to communicate their needs to others. 

These are very valid concerns to have when you have a gifted child. Often, gifted students have a hard time communicating with peers their same age because they can’t hold a conversation about football or tv shows since they are busy working on coding a new game or collecting bugs to analyze. Sometimes gifted children look down on their peers because they can’t hold an intellectual conversation with kids their own ages, so they gravitate to adults and their conversations. 

The problem with this is while they might be able to partake in the discussion, it doesn’t mean they can cope with the emotions that conversation may bring up for them later. As adults, we have probably been talking about COVID-19 a lot in front of our children without really understanding how this might impact them emotionally. (Or we have the news on in the morning and just let it play while they eat breakfast.) Our kids, gifted or not, are absorbing this information, but they don’t know how to process it emotionally. My five year old is constantly asking about the virus and why I have to wear a mask in the store. She sees it and knows something isn’t right, but cannot understand emotionally why something is wrong. We are now dealing with being afraid of the dark and watching the Storybots episode on viruses on repeat to assure her that our bodies know how to keep us safe and healthy. So while she understands the conversations and asks questions, she still has the emotional capacity of a five year old. 

Even as an educator, I forget sometimes that gifted kids are still just kids. I work on processing big things with my gifted students when I can tell they are having a hard time with something going on in our world or our school. I allow them to ask me questions and I do my best to answer them. I do my best to create a safe place for them to express their emotions and interact with their peers on that level. 

My advice for parents is this: Set up playdates with kids their own age and encourage conversation through a game or toys. This allows them to be a kid still and learn that they can interact with kids their own ages. I would also encourage you to have conversations with them about how they should respond in different situations through demonstrating with dolls (or if you have an older gifted kid, just a scenario conversation.) Talk through different scenarios you have witnessed or teachers say they have witnessed with your student and how they interact with peers. For example: “Let’s pretend we are at the park. Your friend is there and wants to ride their bike, but you just want to sit on the swings longer and talk about bugs. Your friend starts to get mad and walks away. What should you do to be a good friend?” Now your kid may be fine with a friend’s reaction like that, but we want to encourage them to think about what would be a socially acceptable response. We would help guide them to answer something like, “I would go and see if my friend was ok and take time to ride my bike with them since we did what I wanted for a while.” Oftentimes we have to slow it down for the kids so they can see where the mistake was made and how to correct it. 

When it comes to their emotional needs, you know your student best. If your gifted child is acting out or acting out of the ordinary, there may be an underlying emotional need that needs to be addressed. Take time out of your day at night before tucking them in to ask them how they are feeling about their day, an event, or something they may have heard that is impacting them. While our gifted children might be able to solve the most complex equations, they often can’t solve what their emotions are trying to tell them. They still need us to help them process those things even if those emotions might seem silly to us, they are very real to our kids. 

The biggest thing you can do for your gifted student or child is be present with them when they are having a hard time connecting with age appropriate peers or dealing with big emotions. Find out the best way to have them share and let them share.  This can be through play, through research, going for walks, horseback riding… Kids seem to be more apt to open up if they can be busy with something else as they talk. If they need someone else they trust to share with, then they help them get in touch with that person. A licensed child psychologist that is familiar with the needs of gifted students can help and do wonders for a kid because it’s someone they trust and not mom and dad telling them what to do. Like I said, the biggest thing you can do is be present with your kids in those moments and encourage them to keep trying to socialize with their same age group and express their big emotions when they can. 

Student Advocating Tools

It is often intimidating to speak with teachers about students learning to advocate for themselves. I get it. Even as an advocate for GT students I am intimidated to ask veteran teachers to come up with alternative assignments for students who need more of a challenge. The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you let the teacher know you appreciate the work they put into creating the assignment and you want to do the work for the grade, but would they be willing to work with you on a different level. 

If you let it be known that you are willing to partner with them to create the assignment and it will be able to be graded against an existing rubric, they will be more willing to consider it. (If not, then I would get in contact with the GT specialist in your building to help you work with this teacher.) 

The other thing to consider is to ask the teacher if you could take the tests to show you know the material. This way you can still get the credit for the class and not worry about not having enough credits to graduate (if you are in high school). The other reason you might consider asking the teacher if you can test out of a unit is so you can move into a class that is better suited for your ability level. The pro of this for the teacher is you won’t turn into a behavior issue later in class when you are bored. 🙂 

Sometimes in class you are inspired by a concept or theory where you want to dig a little deeper or create some sort of informational piece. When this happens, tell your teachers that you want to take a different approach and learn more in order to gain knowledge on the bigger picture. Ask the teacher if you can create your own assignment if you are inspired to look at the problem differently. It might be taking a concept or theme of a book and expanding on how it relates to our world today versus finding the theme of the book and supporting it with textual evidence. If you are artistic, ask if to create a piece that encompasses the overarching concept the teacher is wanting you to show along with a written explanation. 

Let’s tackle  probably the hardest situation. Let’s say you are given a baseline assignment at the end of a unit, and you think to yourself “This is a joke, I could do this in my sleep.” While it may be tempting to do the assignment in your sleep, you probably should ask your teacher for an assignment that makes you think. Ask the teacher if there is something more challenging you can complete rather than the baseline assignment in a polite way. Approach the teacher about the assignment and say something like, “I really like this assignment and I am wondering if it’s possible for me to do _______ for the assignment. I think it would add to me knowledge of the subject and provide me an opportunity to complete the project in a new way.”  If they agree, make sure that it doesn’t feel like more work. It should be something that challenges your thinking and your skills in that area rather than the generic assignment given to the rest of the class. (If it feels like more work, you need to say something.) 

Again the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you are polite about how you approach the situation and how you react to the teacher’s answer. While most schools or districts have a gifted and talented specialist, I want you to go to them as your last option. As a gifted student and eventually a gifted adult, you have to learn how to stick up for your needs now, because it gets much harder in the real world when people might think you are just being demanding or non-compliant. A GT specialist is there to help you, when you feel you’ve exhausted other options, and also to make sure you are getting the appropriate amount of challenge in your assignments – so use them when you have to.

Dear teacher…

I was going to save this for my first post in May, but this has been so very heavy on my heart that I couldn’t wait.

Dear teacher, 

I know you are there. Staring at the screen wondering if students will “show up” today. I know you know how to do this, but it is unknown. I know there is a doubt in your ability and if you can really call yourself a teacher anymore. 

There is a piece of the puzzle that is missing for you. This piece is at the core of why you do this thankless job day in and day out. You don’t feel like a teacher as you sit in your home office thinking about the chores to be done. The odd feeling of wanting to just watch Netflix in between meetings rather than sending out yet another email to connect with your students. 

And that’s just it… You are missing the connection. 

Connection of watching students understand concepts for the first time. Seeing their faces light up with “Oh, I get it now!” 

Connection of conversations being had that go so much deeper than your lesson plan. Realizing your students can have deep thoughts and questions when given the opportunity. 

The simple connection of taking daily attendance and being glad they made it to school today. Knowing they will get at least one hot meal, human interaction, and hopefully some laughter before they head home to an empty house. 

The grief you are feeling over this is ok. Be in that grief for a moment and mourn the loss of not getting to say, “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” You became a teacher to see your students off onto their next adventure and prepare them to take that next step. This year you won’t be able to do that… and it sucks beyond anything else. 

You pour out your life and soul for this job, and while the pay is terrible, the reward is seeing students succeed in the next phase of life. Student’s succeeding and thriving is your biggest payday. 

The simple fact is as a teacher we crave the connection with our students and it is at the core of what we do on a daily basis. Just because you have to miss out on this for the rest of the year, doesn’t mean you are no longer the teacher you thought you were. 

You can still kick ass at teaching online and make those connections with your students through the screen. 

You can be the person that gives them something to laugh about that day, and check in to see if they were able to get lunch from a drop off location. 

You can still tell them “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” As the year wraps up whether through a screen or a postcard.

You can still do your job and reach students. You can and I know you will. It’s what you were made to do. Don’t let this loss of identity as a teacher disappear. You’ve got this. Now, go be the teacher I know you are, your students are waiting. 

Sincerely, 

A fellow teacher

The one kid we want to save, but we aren’t sure how

As an educator, I believe we all have that one kid we are trying to save

When I say the word “save”, it holds a lot of meaning. However, in this case I mean it in the sense of trying to save a kid from themself. There are many kids that we have throughout our career, who could be so much more than what shows in the effort they currently put forth at school and home. 

I have been a teacher for eight years and I have had plenty of kids throughout my career I tried to save. I can’t say I was successful in saving all of them, but I pray someday they will look back and see I meant well. 

My first year in the classroom, I worked so hard with a student to help her with the confidence to believe that she was fully capable even though she was on an IEP. I gained her trust through simply getting to know her, her interests, and allowing her to use my classroom key as a fidget. The literal key she held onto in class was what unlocked that trust and she started to produce work and understand concepts in my classroom. Her confidence grew and she is not successfully in college and getting ready to graduate to be a teacher herself. Trust me there where many times I wanted to throw my hands up and give up. The fights and conversations I had with her would frustrate me beyond measure, but something kept pushing me to breathe belief into her. I am so glad I did. 

My subsequent years in the classroom I had a lot of behavior issues in class. I have and will work hard with students to understand they need to think before they act and their actions have consequences. However when I was working in a middle school setting, knowing students’ prefrontal cortex is not nearly as developed and therefore would not truly understand the concept of “their actions having consequences.” 

I struggled to impact these behavior students, but I hope they look back at my best efforts and see I had a point in all of it. There were many phone calls home, trips to the office, and consequences with grades. Some of those students got it together as an 8th grader, while others took longer to understand the concept, some even took until their senior year to really understand that their slacking off early in high school took away opportunities for their future. As an educator, in my peer network, I hear stories about lack of understanding in regards to actions having consequences leak into students’ college years.

Last year as a GT specialist, I had a high school student that was very into the drug scene, ditching classes, and running his poor single mother crazy with his behavior. His mother at one point asked if we could just handle it because she was done trying. As a mother and a teacher, this broke my heart. I knew I had to do everything I could to try and pull this kid back out of the trenches he was stuck in. Needless to say, I couldn’t. This was a reality I knew very early on in my career, but my heart ached knowing he knew his own mother had given up on him. He was one that was too far gone and I tried everything I could to get him back because I know very deep down he still had good in him. The fact his mom had given up on him simply enforced he didn’t have the sense of anyone caring about him. 

This year I have a student I know I have to make a difference with. He is so stinking bright and is a great kid, but he is fighting with doing things to get the attention of his peers versus using his gifts for good. I have had numerous conversations with him about what he needs and how I can possibly help him. The hardest part about working with this kid is I totally get what his home life is like. I lived a very similar life growing up. The only thing I can tell him is my story and it doesn’t have to be this hard. I try to tell him things I wish I would have done instead of doing the wrong things to get my parents’ attention. 

It breaks my heart when I see kids going through something similar to myself in middle and high school. Now with distance learning happening, I can’t actually check in on him or many of my other students physically. I can’t give them a safe place to escape home life troubles for 55 minutes everyday. You can bet I am going to do everything I can to reach this kid through distance learning and “save” him as much as I can through our distance learning and weekly check-ins. 

As an educator, the only thing I know to do to try and save a kid is to not give up on them. We have to let them know we still believe in them and they can be good. Even if we are the only cheerleader they have, we have to do our best to keep cheering them on. There will be a lot of kids we can’t save, but that shouldn’t stop us from saving the ones we can. We make a difference. Whether it’s now or ten years from now, we make a difference. 

Be safe. Be healthy. 

ALPs, What’s the Point?

I recently had a parent contact me about their student’s Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) wondering about the whole point of an ALP in schools. Naturally, I was eager to meet and tell this parent about how the ALP works in schools and how they can use this document at home to have conversations with their students about their goals for the year. 

The day of the meeting I started to have some second thoughts about the meeting going well and really proving to this parent that ALP’s serve a purpose. Why? Well when I really took the time to think about how ALP’s are used (or not used) in schools I could start to see where this parent had some concerns. 

Majority of the time, in secondary schools, ALP’s are for the benefit of the GT Specialist and being in compliance with the state requirements of having to prove that we serve these students. Now parents who are familiar with ALPs and know of their importance to their students’ growth and development appreciate this document and check in with their student on how things are going. Teacher’s might appreciate the document, but it is often put in the file cabinet next to the previous years ALPs. Now I am making generalizations as I write this because there are some teachers who do look at these plans and use them or support them in their classrooms. Teachers are overwhelmed and overworked on a daily basis, I truly understand why these plans are often not utilized. 

Here is my point: Specialists create these plans and check in with our students in hopes that parents are actually checking in with their kids on goals at home. When I see a parent look at an ALP and assume that their child is fine or they don’t need to check in with them; it frustrates me. If parents don’t see the value in these goals or plans, let’s make some changes to the ALP. It’s a working document for a reason. Goals change. Social emotional needs change.  I try my best to make sure students are on track, but I am one person with 86 kids plus my classes that I teach daily – all to keep track of. I need parents’ help to hold their children accountable because really the children need to learn self accountability in making sure goals are met. 

If parents show an interest, I can promise your kids will own the responsibility of taking them a little more seriously as well. If students are investing in their goals and asking teachers for support they would be able to achieve growth at a whole new level. Why not sit down with your kids and have the conversation about their goals and why they choose them, check in with them and help them develop accountability and discipline for setting and achieving these goals. 

In a world full of distractions – we are distracted from our children and from what is happening in their education. I believe we need to be more aware of what is happening with our students through asking questions and supporting our kids in their goals. We are always looking for ways to connect with our kids in this technology connected world, so why not try and connect with them over things they are passionate about in the ALP? 

Take the time to read over their ALP with them and discuss how their goals are going to be achieved? Why did they choose those particular goals? Ask them how you can support them at home with their goals? It might give you some insight to their drive and motivation and individual intellect. It will also let you in on their social emotional needs. 

As a GT specialist, I may not have a ton of pull for the ALPs other than making sure they are getting done. If you are a parent of a GT kid, you have the power to work with your kids and see that their goals are accomplished. In an ideal world, I would hold formal ALP meetings with parents, students and a teacher (similar to an Individualized Education Plan meeting in Special Education) so that everyone who works with the student at school and home is aware of the support the student needs in various areas. Someday I hope to do this, but for now the system in place is going to have to work.

No School, Now What?

Most of the country is canceling school for several weeks at a time and this has parents in a panic of what they can do with their kids in the midst of “social distancing”. As a parent to younger kids, I am worried about this as well, so I have been trying to find ways to have some structure to our weekdays in the midst of not being able to go anywhere. As a middle school teacher, I am panicking about my students ending up with screens in front of them all day long and worried they won’t pick up a book to read while their parents are still required to go to work. 

So I have been gathering some resources for my own kids and I wanted to share them all in one spot to help parents looking for some things to keep their kids engaged during school closures. First up is a schedule for you to follow with some ideas of what to do for each activity. 

This is from NESCA and I personally will be setting alarms with labels on my phone so I know where we are in our day. I really like the additional suggestions because I run out of ideas for my five-year-old and this helps me not just sit her in front of the TV while I stare at my phone. As a secondary teacher, I think this schedule works well for older kids too. This allows them to do productive things and still have some of their own screen time. NESCA has some great suggestions in their blog post here

Resources

Up next are some websites with FREE access to their learning materials for parents to use with their kids. I have looked through them with a parent’s eye and they are easy to understand and fun to do with your kids. (Plus this will keep you off your phone or watching TV all day too.): 

  • Scholastic has lessons and units broken down by grade level.  
    • “Even when schools are closed, you can keep the learning going with these special cross-curricular journeys. Every day includes four separate learning experiences, each built around a thrilling, meaningful story or video. Kids can do them on their own, with their families, or with their teachers. Just find your grade level and let the learning begin!”
  • Virtual Tours – Take a tour from home as a family! 
    • “But there is a way to get a little culture and education while you’re confined to your home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums around the world.”
  • Science Activities– these are broken up by grade level and are broken up by the amount of time each lesson takes. 
    • “All of the lessons below are expertly designed to engage students, achieve learning outcomes, and be easy for teachers to use. We have short mini-lessons that are completely digital and full lessons that include an activity. All of the activities are designed to use simple supplies a parent will likely already have at home.”
  • Language Arts Challenge
    • “The materials will allow students to work at their own pace. I know many students don’t have access to a computer or to wifi, so all of the resources can be used without any tech.”
  • Homeschool Curriculum
    • “To support all quarantined families, our charter school-approved curriculum is 100% free for the next 3 weeks. Just use the button below, create a profile for your kids’ ages (2-7 yrs), and get started with super simple, no-fuss, easy to implement ideas or lessons for the kids to try each and every day.” 
  • Activities for kids 
    • “They’re a way for me to help break up the day, keep the kids from asking 47 “but why…?” questions, buy myself a chance to unload the dishwasher or hit the reset button if things aren’t going so well. Activities aren’t a must to make life work at home – but they are a great tool when you need them.”
  • Amazing Educational Resources
    • This is a good doc with links to sites that are offering FREE access to their materials while schools are canceled. She is updating the site daily! I would recommend reading the descriptions of each link and using the ones you feel are most applicable and user-friendly. 
  • Finally just a quick graphic with some websites: 

While these times are unknown and our day to day “normalcy” is turned upside down, I encourage you to look at this time of a way to reconnect with your kids. Let them show you some of the things they are capable of that we don’t get to see in action. Reconnect with them and show them they are safe. (Especially our empath kiddos, they are absorbing a lot of the stress from the outside world and they need a soft place to land.) 

In the end…

I would also encourage you to limit your conversations about this virus around your kids because I can guarantee they are listening and absorbing your attitude towards “social distancing”, precautions, panic, stress, anxiety, etc. I also really encourage you to keep in check your own exposure to what you are reading, watching, and talking about. We can’t expose ourselves to the negativity and panic without starting to absorb and project those things to others.   

I hope these resources are helpful and encourage all of us to take the time to focus on our kids and what they need from us right now. I hope it also helps us not remain so hyperfocused on panic and unknown happening in our world. Be safe, Be kind, Be well.

The Voice

I recently assigned a poetry project in my Advanced Language Arts class. Students had to find ten poems that had some significance to them either literal or figurative. I of course pre taught figurative language, stanzas, rhyme scheme, and how to interpret a poem. Then I let them have at the books of poems I grabbed from the library and poems they found online.  

The biggest part of this assignment was they had to reflect on why they chose a poem identifying it’s meaning to them and supporting that with techniques the author used to help with the meaning of the poem. This was like pulling teeth for some students because most students are not taught how to read and interpret poetry. They are simply given the poem and told how to identify parts of the poem or the figurative language. 

I personally love poetry and I write my own poems for fun. It’s an emotional outlet for me when I feel the need to scream, cry, yell, or just try to understand my own complex feelings. So when I teach this unit, I try to show students that poems are not just a jumble of words or weird paragraphs. I slow down in my teaching and really help them look at the poem on a deeper level. Students are in such a hurry to move onto the next thing and just have a straight answer in their school work, but I teach them how they can each have a different reaction to a poem. This drives some students insane, but my job is to teach them as humans we all have a different reaction to the things we read and we all bring something different to the table. 

Fast forward to grading these projects and I started to notice this poem by Shel Silverstein over and over again: 

Now just as a reminder I teach middle school students, so Silverstein’s poems are some of the more popular because they are easy to read, funny, and most kids can relate to what he is writing about. However, when I read their reflections for this poem I was impressed and amazed at what some of them had written: 

“I can relate to this poem because I feel like I  let other people’s words create the decisions I make. I feel like this is a bad trait to have but sometimes I can’t help it. This poem changed my perspective on how I look at the things I think compared to what other people think I should do. I have always been the insecure girl that lets people’s words get to her but I have come to realize that it won’t all be that bad if I just do what I think. In conclusion I think this is a very important poem because it could really teach people that they don’t need anyone else’s opinions on you.”

“No one besides you can make decisions for yourself.Only you can make your decisions because you know what’s best for you. This poem is about a voice telling you to do one thing, but you know deep down that you need to follow your heart and your mind. I have had this happen where someone is doing something that I don’t want to do, but  I feel like in order to fit in I should do it. I always follow my heart and know I shouldn’t do it though. In conclusion, I need to make decisions for myself and not listen to others’ opinions.”

“Sometimes the voice inside you is more powerful than your brain that tells you what’s wrong and right, or your parents advise. This poem is about how you sometimes have to stop listening to everyone else and start making decisions for yourself. I like the end rhyme and the imagery. I relate to this poem because sometimes I have to stop listening to everybody else and listen to what I am thinking. This poem makes me feel good inside because it is telling you a very important lesson. You have to consider what you are saying, not just take the advice of what everyone else is saying.” 

And this one is from a kid who I know has some of their own demons they are working on, but is starting to succumb to them: (edited)

 “I picked this poem because the message of it is about your conscience and I feel I have a very strong conscience. This poem is about your conscience and to listen to it…I also liked how the author used quotation marks to make it seem like the person is aiming towards your conscience speaking…” 

So what is my point in sharing this with you? Our kids are crying out for help to listen to this voice and not be influenced by others or “the cool” thing to do type of people. They are wanting to find a way to listen to their own subconscious when it comes to decision making. Yet, I know for a fact the last student lets the pressures of bad influences get inside their head and causes them to make poor decisions. That students would rather have some sort of title as a “badass” than a “smart kid.” These students want and desire a way to make their own positive decisions for themselves, but they struggle because of all the noise happening outside their subconscious- sports, school, peers, social media, constant connection to people… 

How do we help our kids disconnect from the world outside of them and listen to what is going in their head? How can we as parents and teachers help them understand the weight of their decisions? It starts with teaching them executive functioning skills. We often don’t take the time to teach our students how to make decisions or slow down long enough to make a proper choice. As adults, we just make these decisions and we make a million decisions throughout our day. Our students don’t know how to do this because we haven’t explicitly taught them how to do this. We can start out with small decisions they need to make with us and then start to add in bigger decisions to help them really understand how to make a conscious decision regarding an activity, vacation, or consequence. 

I am not suggesting you sit down with your student and say, “Today we are going to make a decision. Step one…” I am suggesting you work through the problem of making a tough choice with them, allow them to use you as a soundboard and create an open line of communication. This will allow them to feel like they can come to you and open up about issues they are having with peers or at school, and it will allow them to practice make decisions in a safe place so if and when they are in a spot where they need to make a quick decision among peers they can be confident in doing that. 

Really what it comes down to is being present with our kids in moments when they are struggling. Let them know you are a safe place to fall when it comes to making decisions and looking at the influences in their world. 

2019

If I had to pick a word to summarize this year it would be “change”. This year has had a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns, and has just been a whirlwind. 

In March we welcomed our second baby girl and I decided to make a career change while on maternity leave. 

This summer I spent time learning how to be a mom to two kids while still trying to keep my aspirations alive. There are a lot of things they don’t tell you when you become a mom in general, but then you add another one and it’s a whole different set of things they don’t tell you. I truly love being a mom and it’s been one of my greatest adventures yet. 

I also made the decision to put my PhD on hold. I’m not sure for how long or if I will finish it honestly. I love to learn. I feel at peace when I am researching and putting a paper together- even though it’s stressful because it’s for a grade. I came to realize that I want to spend the time I would stressing about grades and research with my kids and creating memories with them. I want to spend time with them while they are little and as a family of four. My husband had to take on a lot of the parenting while I was in school and I never got to spend time with him. It affected our relationship a lot. It’s not how I want my marriage to feel, so taking a break from it needed to happen. It will be there when and if I’m ready to go back to it. 

I left the field of GT to go back into the classroom and I fell in love with teaching and working directly with kids all over again. I missed classroom teaching more than I thought I would. It’s been amazing to make connections with students and even help a few of them learn to like Language Arts. I have experienced joy in working with these students and telling their parents about their successes. Yes, of course, I have had some really hard days with some really tough students, but overall I have had a really good year with these kids. 

Now it’s time for yet another change to wrap up 2019. We have had a really hard time keeping and finding a quality GT Specialist at my current school, so when the position opened for the third time in less than 4 months I had to do some soul searching. The fact that this position continued to be put in front of me had to mean something. I told my principal the first two times I wanted to stay in the classroom because I missed working with kids these last four years. She understood and was supportive knowing where I was coming from and my background. Well, third time’s the charm I suppose because after a lot of thinking, praying, and soul searching I decided to step back into the world of Gifted and Talented. 

I am excited and sad to go back into GT. I know these kids need me after the rough year they have had, but I will miss a lot of my kids I have been working with since August. This position is different than what I had been doing in my previous GT role which is exciting because I still get to teach kids. I am hopeful that I can make a big difference with this program at my school and help these kids.