With Open Arms

This morning the commute marked the last 40 minute long journey of my ninth year of teaching! And with Journey on my mind, I cannot help but think of that great 80s band. While I won’t stop believing that summer is really, finally, beautifully hear, it is their song “Open Arms” that is playing on repeat this morning. An odd choice you might at first think, but then when you realize the destination is summer vacation, an almost 11 week hiatus from the daily grinding commute, endless e-mails, piles of grading, and consuming lesson planning, there can be no doubt that I am charging into summer with these words on my lips:

So now I come to you
With open arms
Nothing to hide
Believe what I say
So here I am
With open arms
Hoping you’ll see
What your love means to me
Open arms

Do you hear Steve Perry too? And then the school threw 8 hours of training on Canvas at us this morning and summer vacation could not start fast enough! Each summer I worry about what we will do to cherish the time, it would be so much more fun too if David was home everyday. But with Labor Day’s inevitable return, I am going to just try to soak it up, recharge, and check my attitude both for the sun-soaked happenings of summer and for a positive restart for the 2018-2019 school year.

You can find me in the sand until then!

Goodbye Class of 2018

Each spring, the seniors leave campus about a month before the year ends to go off and work on fun projects or in internships. Prior to their excited departure, we come together as a community to wish them well and bid them the beginning of a number of escalating adieus. The first is called “Senior Send-off,” and it is one of my favorite events. The students dress in their college gear, faculty share some encouragements and wisdoms, and the sixth graders sing to the departing class and give each member a white rose, and they are off. This class was special. But I probably feel that way honestly about each class. There is something so beautifully sad to watch a group of young people grow, learn, challenge, and then move on. Some of them we will know about their next steps and others will choose to move into their future without turning back. Regardless, I will miss this group and wonder what they are up to and what cool things they are trying out and who they are becoming. It was a complete honor to address them yesterday. It makes saying goodbye even harder:

“Nine years ago in my first year of teaching here at Beaver, I used to have this recurring dream, or nightmare really. Standing in my classroom, working through some lesson about how History is the most important subject you will ever know, Mr. Hutton would walk into the room and say, “That’s enough. Thank you for trying.” I was suffering from a severe case of “Imposter Syndrome.” Being a teacher was new, different, and uncomfortable and everyday I felt like I was making mistakes, lots of mistakes.

That is where you come in, as your Grade Team Leader and teacher, you have been my greatest teachers in the art of perseverance. Recent pundits have described you, the Class of 2018, as risk averse. They say that as “young people raised in a post-2008 Recession America, you witnessed the loss of 9 million jobs along with 8 million homes due to foreclosure.” You have seen that the cliff really does have an edge. They describe you as “careful realists.” After reading this, I got defensive. The pundits have it all wrong. I have learned to make mistakes and be risk-ready and risk-willing by watching you embrace the line between the well-beaten path and the unexpected outcome. These last four years, I have seen first-hand your self-directed and confident pursuit of your academic passions. It is cliche for an older generation to be concerned about the rising one. But I am not concerned about you.

You have shaped this community. Your imprint on Beaver will be long-lasting because you drive the change we see in the hallways through your willingness to take on new initiatives, to become entrepreneurs, to adhere to service, to attend conferences that challenged your perceptions on race and identity and inclusion, to lead dialogues, to walk out, to get messy in a design process not knowing exactly what your deliverable would be on the other side, to travel to distant places in order to bridge relationships, to build teams on the turf, to share your soul on the stage, and to always make it to class on time (mostly).

Harvard Business Review has noted in various articles that “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” When the women were asked about this, it was discovered that those who weren’t applying believed they needed the qualifications not just to do the job but to get hired in the first place. They didn’t see the importance of advocacy, relationships, and a creative approach to framing one’s expertise. These are three skills you have in spades.  As someone who was once quite risk averse and as someone who is lucky enough to watch students every day question, react, respond, and defy, I know you have that mindset. So I have a few hopes for you the Class of 2018:

That you remember the relationships you have fostered here.  That you continue to trust yourself. That you never stop asking questions, lots and lots of questions. That you are not afraid to ask for help. And that you never take yourself out of the game, even if you don’t feel qualified. In teaching many of you this senior spring, I saw the importance of laughter and of not taking ourselves too seriously. Because let’s be serious, our classes together got a bit ridiculous and your pranks made us all laugh (and roll our eyes). So stay playful. It’s your best quality. And remove from yourself that false expectation of perfection.  As the author Daniel Pink notes, “Make excellent mistakes.” It will bring you closer to yourself, to others, and to that destination you feel yourself moving towards every day. Dare to dream, dare to reach, and dare to be daring. Thank you.”

six days

Teaching seniors in the spring feels like herding cats. It might seem like an easy under-taking but once out there in the wild, getting those cats to stay together is impossible. After 6 weeks of teaching seniors, I feel exhausted, defeated, and hateful towards cats. This was the first year, I had to call home to a senior parent and say, “Hello, your cat-like child is avoiding me, avoiding their work, and doing their darnedest to appear distracted and skittish.” The parent was shocked, but by the morning light the assignment was turned in. I don’t get senioritis.  In High School, I was too much of a “good” student to even consider slacking and I felt so lucky and excited to have gotten into my dream school that I wanted to ensure I never jeopardized it with a poor grade. Who knows if the threat of retracting the entrance offer was real or what college counselors say to their seniors, but it worked on me.

So I have 6 days left……

I am going to miss them because I know these students well. I have taught most of them for two or three of their high school years which makes this time of year a bit bittersweet. I want to enjoy their company, their intellect and their humor, but I also don’t want to chase them down for work or feel like if one more persons says, “can I have an extension” that I will instantly combust! These last six days will be a true test of stamina so how do you prepare?

Slip on your pajamas

Open the biggest can of beer

Grab a bag of munchies

Turn on the TV

Fall asleep before 9PM

Repeat for 6 days

Well maybe it won’t go down exactly like that but a teacher can dream!

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Seven in education 

It’s really hard to believe that this year will commence seven years as a classroom teacher! That very first day of year one continues to remain a vivid memory as I stood before my class inwardly shaking and outwardly scared. A lot changes in seven years in a classroom. In many ways, I am more confident than ever to start and in others I still feel fresh, new, and inexperienced. Perhaps that is why this profession is so exciting. No year, no class, no single day is ever the same. I might be teaching United States history again, but each time it’s better, each time it’s different, and each time the context around the course shifts and provides an excellent landscape to tap for real world applications. The impending primaries and elections are ripe for teaching American history. To say I am excited is an understatement. Cracking open my neat, new notebook to jot down project ideas, field trips, and lessons is the most satisfying first act of the school year. After a long summer break, I do feel rested, I feel more creative, and I feel ready to meet the new kiddos, their questions, their challenges, their curiosity, and their passions. 

  
And just when I am ready to race my car over to the school, hop out and charge up the hill to that first day of classes, I think of my little boy who I will have to drop off at daycare and I cry. I weep. My throat closes in saddness.  Mommies, does this ever get easier? I feel so much guilt and grief for leaving Henry and pain for missing him and the first day hasn’t even started yet!

advisory party

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This afternoon I was anxious about lunch. My advisees, (9 students who I support and advise throughout the duration of their high school experience) wanted to go off campus for lunch. Not just that, but they wanted to go to Shake Shack which is notoriously crowded.  Of course, the idea of lunch off campus was totally appealing, but the reality of getting everyone there, fed, and back in time for their next class was intimidating. Despite my concerns, I went with it. Why not?  I mean my time with them is so limited and we enjoy our time together so much that I got in the car and drove over to our luncheon.

Once there it became apparent that they not only invited me to lunch to enjoy burgers together but also to celebrate the baby-to-be.  They brought “It’s a Boy” balloons and a celebration cake that said “Congratulations” in blue to the table and were too cute with their surprise. They giddily shared how they planned the whole thing and how they tried so hard not to ruin the surprise. There thoughtfulness was truly touching.  The night before this surprise, I had shared with David how hard it feels sometimes to be the first friend in my primary friend circle to have a baby. Not only will a baby change the friend dynamics but I sometimes feel like this momentous event in which my body and my life will forever be defined as “before” and “after” baby is moving by fairly unnoticed. Of course, I in no means expect constant celebration but it sometimes feels that talking about the baby-to-be among friends isn’t always popular.  Rationally I know that life gets in the way of life and that everyone is busy with the events, family, and moments that are most directly connected to them, but it meant so much to me today to celebrate and share with my advisees.  I am going to be devastated when this group of talented, kind, and funny students graduate in another year but I am so thankful to have gotten to know them so well and to share in their journey, just as they have shared in mine.

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hr of code

Anybody can learn to code is the mantra of Code.org and it became ours on the morning of December 9, 2013. From 9:00AM-10:00AM teachers throughout the school led students through a variety of tutorials and activities that connected their specific course content to coding. Simultaneously, teachers throughout the United States and beyond worked in a similar fashion to highlight not only the significance of coding in today’s world but the practicality (and necessity) of it.

 

While December 9 represented a synchronized effort to coordinate the entire school’s coding experience, it was not the first time Beaver students and teachers implemented code into their classes. Visual Art teacher, David Ingenthron, worked with students in the first term of school on developing their student portfolios. When one student asked if he could incorporate designs he composed using Pencilcode.net, David not only said of course but asked the student to demonstrate his work to the class and help facilitate a lesson that inspired his peers to code and design alongside him. The final products were quite surprising. Here is one example Swirly Thing. Similarly, in Joe Christy’s math class students not only engaged in coding from a math perspective but also coded data that was not exclusive to a “calculus specific” course (i.e. Wiretapping). By allowing coding to live outside of its stereotypical comfort zones of math and science, students at Beaver are able to not only learn the mechanics of a coding language but create and imagine new possibilities for coding.

 

So what did teachers do on December 9 exactly? Many members of the faculty started at the very beginning for their students with questions such as: What is coding? What are some coding languages? Where do we see coding today? Why do people code? Why does Beaver code? These conversations set a context for the hour of code, generated ideas, and provided insights for the teacher on how exactly to implement and differentiate the coding activities that were about to follow. A number of teachers used the tutorials provided by the Khan Academy for the day of coding, including tutorial I and tutorial II for some members of the English Department. Josh Rilla, in the English Department, “Experimented with Codetry.” In Visual Arts, teachers used pencilcode to design line drawings and challenged the students to reflect on incorporating coding into their creative process. In performing arts, teachers used both activities from Khan Academy and Code.org. In the Middle School, Yolanda Wilcox-Gonzalez, Michelle Wildes, and Lindsay Rich turned the hour of code into a day of coding for their combined 8th grade classes.

 

They started the day with introducing the kids to what coding was and had them use the tutorials provided by Khan Academy to begin.  During the next two classes, they provided two challenges, one that was History-English related, and the other related to science. For History/English, students had to code a program that allowed them to create an infographic showing statistical data of the migration of Puerto Ricans and Polish people to the United States from 1879 until 1970.  Students are currently reading West Side Story in English class and they thought giving students an idea about the migration of these two groups into the United States would provide some background knowledge of the experience for each group while also exposing them to practical and authentic coding. For Science, Michelle taught students about ocean organisms and students created codes for programs in which they drew and animated one of the ocean organisms they studied (fish, turtle, whale, shark, sea star, jelly, lobster).  Here are a few examples of student work: Ben – Fish, Ryan – Sea Urchin, Kalala – Immigration.

 

It was clear after my own hour of code that once the students overcame their initial hesitancy around “doing it right” and just dove in, they were willing to play with coding, make mistakes, and rework their understanding, initial goals, and outcomes. The students that started at the very beginning with a simple drawing of a square were proud of their accomplishments and eager to push further into coding and brainstormed excitedly about how they could use coding again. It was an excited morning as students from 6th through 12th grade grappled with coding, created something new, and challenged themselves and their teachers to think critically on how to make coding an authentic and consistent part of everyday.