beach babies?

In approximately 192 hours the school year will commence. Gosh this is a cliche but the summer flew by! I feel like I just got settled into a routine I enjoy (which includes iced coffees most mornings with Laura) and finally shook off the post-school year fatigue and now it is time to head back in. Yes, I know that the majority of Americans do not have the luxury of a summer vacation like a school teacher and believe me I am so grateful and appreciative of the time I do get off. But, it is always a little sad to say goodbye to the long summer days. As soon as I see the students and get settled into my classroom, it will be second nature and hard to imagine ever not being in the classroom with those particular students. The only really difficult part of the school year starting is the inevitable loss of summer’s sunlight that will be exchanged for winter’s snow.  Therefore, Laura and I set out on Monday to hold onto summer just a little longer with a full day at the beautiful Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester. At the end of the day, we packed up our little campsite and bid the sand and surf adieu until next year.

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Welcome to Good Harbor!Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 7.17.49 PM

Despite being a random Monday in August the beach was PACKED but we still enjoyed ourselves even though we had to share the shore ;)
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The obligatory feet in water shot. The water was freezing cold.  So cold that I felt my shin bones freeze and Laura and I dared each other to dive into the waves. Which we did three times. Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 7.18.24 PM

See those two mansions out there on the cliff?  Yes, that is where we live.Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 7.18.41 PM

Laura reading at our campsite for school.Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 7.18.58 PM

I brought The Art of Racing in the Rain and have fallen in love with this story. It is funny, poignant, and makes me want to snuggle my puppies ever closer. I am devouring the novel as my last summer read.

back to school

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It has started. The back to school commercials are in full force. Delighted parents run up and down the aisles of Target filling their carts with folders, pencils, clothes, and backpacks. Happy music plays in the background while their frowning children walk listlessly behind them. Of course, August is still the summer, but with the arrival of August comes the arrival of back to school anxiety dreams for me. These commercials don’t help either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I am so lucky not only to have the summers off to pursue my other interests, spend time with friends and family, and travel, but when I head back into the school year it is to a truly amazing school filled with superb co-workers and dynamic students.  But, even though I do actually work in Edutopia, I still get those pesky anxiety dreams. They are always the same. Imagine:

I arrive back to school to only find out that the schedule I have been following all day is wrong and I am missing all of my classes. Or, I arrive to class only to realize that I have not planned a single lesson and am frozen in front of the students and, of course, I am wearing my yoga pants too!  Or, and this is my favorite kind of anxiety dream, I walk into my class totally unprepared.  I stare blankly at the students who begin to roll their eyes at me and suggest my teaching ignorance, only to fall flat on my face and break a tooth and I am in my yoga pants! AH!  Waking up in a cold sweat, I remind myself that (a) I am such a type A personality that I could never not be prepared for a class and to just relax and (b) I am still 3 weeks away from the start of school and as with every year once I am back it is like riding a bicycle and the teaching muscles will remember what to do and the kids will inspire me and the summer haze will fade into a crisp Fall. And being at school will be the exact place where I am suppose to be.

Dear Summer,

Please go a little bit slower.

Sincerely,

An Anxious Teacher

“Dear Summer,

Please go faster.

Sincerely,

A Crazed Parent” @NikkiMoff

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professional development session 1

My school has been a fountain of professional development opportunities. Each year, I have been lucky to have the opportunity to attend one (but most often more than one conference). This summer, I will be attending three. My first session started this morning and it has been interesting. I signed up to learn more about the Flipped Classroom. I have played with this concept in my class and have found that it is a helpful tool for teachers though it is not a “silver bullet” in how every class should be run. It does add meaningful individualized learning opportunities when done well. Yet, when done poorly, it can come across as passive video watching. I like the idea of the flipped classroom because it creates an interesting way to break up the typical homework of reading in a history classroom and create an environment in which there can be more interaction and intention when student head home.

This session has been interesting although not groundbreaking. This was definitely an introduction level program and while it cemented my understanding of what the concept of a Flipped Classroom is, it did not share too many fresh insights, examples, or technologies. Nonetheless, I am pretty excited with a few new classroom technologies that I hope to play around with over the summer including: videonot.es, hapyak, and padlet.

The really great part of PD though is being able to be a student again.  I forget sometimes what it is like to be a student.  How long have I been sitting here?  When is the next break?  How could I spice this up? Oh man, do I sound like that too? These are all just a few of the questions flooding in and out as I participate in this session. I learn so much as a student about the content that is being shared in the course but, more importantly, from how the instructor instructs and how the learning is learned. Observation is key in these moments and I am soaking up an array of divergent and interesting ideas to sharpen my own classroom skills and whether that is with the Flipped Classroom model or not is still under construction.

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happy birthday mom

The birthday celebrations that cram into the first week of June end with my mom’s birthday today. It has unfortunately fallen on my school’s graduation the past 4 years and I have not been able to celebrate with her personally. Hopefully, though she knows how much I love her and how much I wish I could be there to celebrate her birthday with her today.  At least this year, in just four days, we will see each other for a mini-Florida vacation. Growing up, my mom worked tirelessly to ensure that Bryan and I were not only basically well fed and sheltered, but truly loved, challenged, and thriving. She focused on our education and helped us hone our writing, reading, and critical thinking skills. Each day after school, we would make camp at the kitchen table while she prepared dinner and we worked on our homework.  There we munched on snacks, chatted about the days events, and struggled with Spanish, grammar and, of course, math. In between sautéing vegetables, she would quiz us for our upcoming assessments, help us create a variety of projects from scratch, and go over our work with us making sure we asked questions but more importantly that we could explain why we had the answers to her questions. I believe I am teacher today because she was always a present teacher in my daily life. She balanced this strength and determination though with a soft side and I can recall many times snuggling on the couch with her and talking about her own childhood memories. My mom was my partner in crime. Many afternoons we would sneak out to the mall together and shop for dresses for school dances. While we sometimes argued in the fitting room over the style of dress (I always aimed for something a little too mature and she for something a little more immature), we designed a veto system to turn these tiffs into productive discussions in which we explained why a particular outfit was unappealing to one of us. By the time, it came to buying my wedding dress, we had mastered our veto system and the experience of being just with my mom on the day we found “the dress” is a memory I will always cherish. My brother and I were so lucky to have our mother home with us each day. She modeled unconditional love, patience, support, and she always believed in the beauty of our dreams. I hope today my lovely mother has a truly lovely day.

the goodbye blues….

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At exactly 12:00PM today, summer vacation begins. In September, this day seemed to be years away. In between there would be quizzes, tests, and papers to grade. There would be students to get to know, knowledge to share, and challenges to overcome. Yet today after a full year of school saying goodbye for the summer is bittersweet. The teens are exuberant.  They bounce from friend to friend giving hugs and smiles as they sit for their last all school meeting and make plans for tomorrow. I sometimes wish someone would hold a finish line in the parking lot for all of them and us to run through and celebrate another year’s conclusion. Some students will receive awards for their tremendous work this year and we will all be so proud of their commitment to excellence. And yet, while in the throes of celebrating this momentous end, I am also sad to watch it. Never again will this particular group of students, with this particular energy, and connection meet as a collective in the way we have met everyday since September. Of course, they will come to say hi but this collective class (my class) will disperse and become members of other classes. By September, they will be taller and older (and hopefully wiser). Don’t get me wrong, I very much look forward to my summer vacation too, but saying goodbye to my students is so hard. I truly enjoy each and every one of them, even the ones that can be a little challenging from time to time are so important to me. As i wrap up my fourth year of teaching, I have learned so much from my students and my colleagues.  I am proud of how much I have grown this year as an educator and excited to set new goals for next year. Today, I will say goodbye to these students, to this year, and to this place…..until September.

goodbye senior class

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It was the last day of classes for the seniors. The halls pulsated with the intense emotions of saying goodbye (and for some saying good riddance). In many ways, it was a completely ordinary day. Classes started at 8AM and ended at 3:25PM. Lessons were taught and questions were asked. Homework was collected and projects were presented. Yet, this was a “special day” to be a senior. Those presented projects were final exams, it was the last lunch in the cafeteria, and the last time they would walk through the halls as the collective class of 2013. The Juniors excitedly assumed their position as the next oldest class in the building, each walking more confidently as they took the reins of the school from the seniors and flooded into the “cool place to hang out,” the school’s foyer. Many shed tears, hugs, handshakes, and other mischievous glances. The big fish in the little pond were ready to splash out of this neighborhood and be transferred into their new habitat.  The funny thing about fish though is that moving into a new home is a shock for any creature and particularly stressful for fish. I hope they all settle well into their new college environments in the Fall.

One of the school’s traditions on this momentous last day is “Senior Send Off.” The  entire upper school gathers, and the seniors take the stage to share where they are heading off to college next year and their favorite memory from their time here at our little private school. Dressed in their college swag, they approach the microphone individually and in pairs. Proud to be donning their new colors, they share inside jokes, shout-outs to teachers, gush about boyfriends/girlfriends, laugh about silly (and sometime sightly hazardous occurrences), and share other razbliuto with the school. During this assembly, I am teary-eyed. These students were freshmen when I was a freshmen teacher. Totally feeling out of place, unprepared, and distressed my first year of teaching, this little class taught me how to be a teacher. There is nothing you can google on how to do this job right. I was lucky when I was hired to this position with no experience and nothing but bright eyes and a promised strong work ethic to support my candidacy.

I remember that first day, what I wore, how my hands shook with nerves, and that I probably came across as mean, or at least as cold, since I didn’t want to give off the impression that I was clueless. These students taught me how to answer questions, plan activities, adjust to different learning styles, write tests, grade papers, but most importantly about how to build real and authentic relationships (friendships even) with my students. I laughed the hardest with them and probably cried the most as I figured out this emotionally demanding career. In some ways, their graduation day is my graduation day.  Some of these students I even taught for all four of their years of high school. I guess the best part of being a teacher is that everyday is different, yet comfortingly the same, every student is different, yet needs similar stuff like support, patience, guidance, and push to do the  heavy lifting with their brain muscles. I still have so much to learn and I hope that I will be saying this when I retire too.  But, even so, this class in particular will always hold a special place for me.  When I got a few shout-outs yesterday, my first in my four years of teaching, I was so proud.  Not because I wanted to toot my own horn but because it helped cement in me that this is the right place, this is the right profession, and that even when it is hard those moments of appreciation are soul warming.

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poetry month and processing the boston marathon bombing

April is national poetry month. I have dabbled in poetry from time to time but have not produced anything that gave me pause. Thankfully, my school honors the month each year by exposing our little community to live poetry readings by local poets. A part of the school for four years, I have come to expect the month littered with poet visitors sharing their conceptual stories of self, community, work, life, etc. with us during our Tuesday Forums. It is actually one of my favorite traditions, as it allows me to be creatively jealous of these individuals’ abilities to weave a tapestry of images with their provocative word choices. It was surprising then to walk into the morning meeting and see a group of seniors on stage and not an acclaimed poet.  The students were introduced as a Senior Elective on “Poetry in the Air.” Curious about their work, I settled into the meeting.  Each student approached the microphone in front of the entire school community and confidently spoke their poem with passion, interest, and earnestness. A few of them were funny including one on raccoons, one comparing a lover to kitchen gadgets and a series of haikus on the importance of Lululemon to the school’s fashion.  Yet, overwhelmingly the poems were focused on the theme of the “world come undone.” In these poems, students wrestled with their complex feelings about security, loss, power, control, violence, pain and suffering. Not expressing typical teenage angst, these poems spoke to the world they find themselves in, a world devastated by terror.

The last student to present was SW. She approached the microphone and nonchalantly stated, “I wrote this last night.”  I was skeptical of the poem following this omission. When, she started it became clear that she wrote this poem last night because she was grappling with and processing as best as anyone could the recent Boston Marathon Bombings. On a typical day, teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession. There is a rythme to an average day and a normal classroom by the time Spring arrives. It is this rythme that creates comfort and community while reviewing, questioning, and crafting understanding on the various topics discussed. Yet, after an event such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt and capture being a teacher is tough. Aren’t I suppose to have the answers?  When asked: What year was the constitution signed? How did the Khmer Rouge come to power? Why did the United States overthrow Mossadegh of Iran? I can answer these questions. I have the primary sources, quotes, stats, maps, videos, and knowledge to tackle these inquiries.  But, why did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother attack the city of Boston, use bombs to target bystanders, kill police officer Sean Collier, hold the city of Boston hostage while hiding out in Watertown…I have no answers, no clue, and nothing but my own personal sadness, fears, and questions.

Today, we sit as a community, we sit as Bostonians, and we are patient with one another while we each process, cope, and question the events. Being a teacher at this time is heart-wrenching as I imagine a future for these students that is riddled with violence and terror. But, then I am reminded of the humanity and strengthen that Boston demonstrated despite the terror and I am hopeful that these kids can continue to infuse love, hope, and kindness into an aching city…and world. So back to SW.  She started her poem and I was speechless. Poignant, powerful, complex, tangible, frustrating, beautiful, and resonating. SW’s poem has haunted me since hearing it at 10:05AM.

The Land Of Things Come Undone by SW

Boom. Boom. Goes the finish line

And I’m on the road

Driving towards the only home I know

And I’m calm

Scroll goes the social media

And I’m home

Clinging to the smells I hold so deeply

The smells that linger on my clothes

Intertwined dog hairs and Momma’s home cooked meals

I’m waiting for panic to set in, but like the trains underground, my mind won’t let itself venture

Click goes the Television

Blurred shots from panicked video men at the scene

Anger sets in as I pick up the shoes which lie, sporadically strewn across the road

as if a bomb hit Foot Locker

and I remember the girl who I will never see at the dance studio again

her legs torn – almost to the point of amputation

and I’m coming undone

But wait..

Static sadness rushes through my veins

And I’m coming undone

Days filled with “i’m glad you’re okay” and “how you holdin up”

But it’s not over

And I’m waiting

Lying awake in my bed I can feel the tension as it boils, entering my heart’s different ventricles I hear it

Soft but sturdy,

Loud but bearable

Boom

And I’m coming undone

Blood stirring, heart spinning I count

One, Two, Thr- Sirens

Brain expanding, pins dropping

And it speaks again

Boom

and I’m down the stairs, calm and swiftly

Click goes the television

And the chase is on

Clinging to my father’s steady beating

As shots fire blocks away

I murmur the words I never thought I would hear myself say

I don’t feel safe here..

But the search is on and I’m still beating

The search is on and I’m not the only one scared

I must remain calm

Rise and shine and the photos are up

Rise and Shine and the spa music has halted abruptly

Leading me to answer the only other noise that I can bear

Ring, Ring

“I know him”

Buzz Buzz

“He’s my friend”

Click Click

“He’s one of us”

Scroll goes the social media

Killer on the loose Everyone stay inside

But I don’t feel unsafe

Because he’s one of us.. isn’t he?

And my mind is expanding

Neurons are connecting and I realize we can’t be one in the same

But we are Cambridge

We are open minded hipsters and bad mouthing “real talk” rappers

We are Ethiopians, Brazilians, Japanese, Chinese, and yes, Muslims..

And here I am stuck wondering if he’s at his best friends- three houses down from mine

And if so, what is he thinking?

Are you thinking about Ms. Davis and how she always told you you had a bright future?

Are you thinking about last saturday?

How your friends dapped you up and said peace out for the last time

Pondering the words that were ingrained in your mind from the past 4 years

Diversity. Opportunity. Respect.

Are you thinking about izzy’s jamaican patties?

The way your mouth watered as your teeth bit into the after school treat

Lockdown is lifted and I’m still not petrified

Because

my brother was friends with him

And my neighbor had sleepovers with him

And my crushes played video games with him

So he must be one of us..

And I’m coming undone

Bang Bang goes the gun

And I’m back inside

Click goes the television

And there’s his face

Staring at me as if I should have known all along

And I’m torn

Torn between the person we knew from our streets

and the person we now know on the screen

Lying there, bleeding and surrounded- I find myself praying they don’t shoot

Because more than the hatred,

more than the sadness, fury, and bewilderment I feel

I want to know why

And I’m coming undone

Off goes the siren

And I know he’s alive

He’s caught, were safe, and the mystery is over

And yet, as I take it all in,

I am finally unraveled- and the anxiety sets in

Heart pounding

I am left with the overwhelming urge to ask one question

Jahar, why would you do this to us?