Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rapunzel in the Red Rain

My daughter Kate wants to be an author and illustrator someday. And I have no doubt she is going to be one. She writes. All. The. Time. Buying notebooks is a weekly occurrence in our house. I just can't say no; I would feel like I am squishing her dreams. She also makes things. Cardboard is her current favorite medium and has been for a while. I always say she can make anything out of nothing because she can see the finished product before she begins to create it.

An excerpt from Kate's book
One of Kate's first stories she wrote was in preschool. It was called Rapunzel in the Red Rain.  She still proudly carries it around and recently read it to her fifth grade teacher.

A few days ago Kate came home from school and showed me the book she checked out from her school library: The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner. This book was a favorite of many of my own fifth grade students last year, and I was thrilled that my daughter was reading it.

I am a huge Kate Messner fan. I was turned onto her books when I read Capture the Flag to my social studies students years ago. All my students were engaged and would beg for me to read more than the time I allotted for. What strikes me about Kate's writing is the way she develops her characters. My daughter is at the age where I am hoping she starts noticing how other authors write and can continue to develop her own style based on the clarity of their work.

So last week I posted this picture of my daughter on twitter giving a shout out to Kate Messner.

And not too long after, came this reply: 


This small act of kindness from an author has transformed my daughter. Kate feels special because someone she looks up to (a writer) made a connection with her with four simple words "from the other Kate!"

As a parent, I can't think of a better role model. Thank you Kate Messner for taking the time to respond. Even when you didn't have to. 


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Beginning of the Alphabet

I was raised in a home where grades didn't matter but effort did. I am not sure if it was because my younger sister and I struggled in school, the decade we were raised in, or because that is what was important to my parents. Needless to say, my report cards never saw the beginning of the alphabet.

I started school in the late 1970's before developmental kindergarten, pressure and demands. Before competition and that's not good enough. I have vivid memories of my father dropping me off  where nap time was a staple and "playing" was a way to teach cooperation and social skills. I remember bringing my beloved tinker toys for show and tell and then being allowed to build with them.

In first grade I learned how to hold a pencil, form my letters, write and read. I also learned that if I took too long to go to the bathroom the nun that I had was not having anything to do with it. There were consequences and a ruler would suffice.

You didn't argue, let alone talk back to any adult. You were at school to learn social and academic skills.  And as the grades increased in school, so did the content.

The earliest memory that I have of things not going as planned was in second grade. I remember being in the lowest reading group and barely being able to read.

And I felt stupid.

For many years.

Until I met Mrs. Teles.

Mrs. Teles was one of the first teachers to meet me where I was at and bring me up from there. I was lucky enough to have her in fourth and sixth grade. She knew right away that something was not right.

There were meetings.  A lot of them. Between her and my parents. I was tested; I didn't qualify.

But if you fast forward 35 years and tested that same little curly haired girl today, there would have been a different outcome.

Education has changed dramatically since I was a student and even a new teacher. So many more demands. 

Better.
Faster.
Quicker.

What happened to reading for enjoyment? Playing outside? Homework beginning in middle school? Letting kids be kids?

I hope we can find the answers to those questions because I don't have much longer before my own children are grown and gone, and I want to enjoy their company as much as I can.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Encouraging Creativity

"Hi, Mrs. Waugh. Are you putting things on display?" a first grader asked me as I was walking past the display case towards my room. The students entered school on Monday to a new display up in the case: The Global Cardboard Challenge. For the past few weeks, students in my K-1 building have been participating in the cardboard challenge but taking it one step further by bringing me things they created at home out of cardboard and various other items. If it was made out of cardboard, I put it in the display case. If it was made from different material, it is displayed in my STEAM classroom.

My STEAM students take part in a monthly maker mat challenge. I don't remember where I first read about it or who I bought the maker mats from, but they are definitely something I will do in coming years. The maker mats are optional. There are nine squares like a tic tac toe board, and I require at least four activities to be completed during the month and the return of the mat to receive a certificate. I chose four because on average there are four weekends a month. If I can motivate kids to create instead of watching tv or playing on a device, I have succeeded. I then take a picture of the student and put it up in the hall by the Master Makers sign. By the end of this week, I will have 75 photographs on my Master Maker wall for September.

Seventy-five. That means 75 kids used their imagination and took the time to create something. I shouldn't be surprised but I am. It seems to me as though spending Saturday afternoons at the dining room table with crayons, paper, scissors, and anything else parents put out so kids can make something is becoming obsolete. And I am going to try to not let that happen.

I love that my students (all 400+) are so excited to bring me things they make at home and with each treasure, we celebrate.

If it wasn't for my creativity and wild imagination, I wouldn't have made it through high school and further more college. I was the kid who just didn't get it. Academics were a nightmare but throw in some art with a dash of create, and you had me hooked. So when I became a classroom teacher, I was determined to incorporate a lot of art into my lessons.

And I did. Until I couldn't.

As my teaching years added up, the demands placed on teachers were in fierce competition. Data, core programs, 3rd grade reading law. The list goes on and on. After 20 years in the gen ed classroom teaching mostly upper elementary, I took a leap. I left for a creative arts position teaching K-1 STEAM in an early childhood building.

And oh my goodness. This job was meant for me! I am having an absolute blast teaching my students how to use their imaginations, collaborate, try, fail, try again, and be proud of their creations.

Today I was searched for. Needed in a first grade classroom because one little boy made two unbelievable things at home that couldn't wait until I saw his class on Wednesday.

First, he made a maze. Out of legos. And covered it with saran wrap so it was a handheld maze. It is so fun to play.

And second. A robotic hand. Made from cardboard, straws, string, and plastic circles. It moves. And works. He explained to me and his class how he constructed it. He was so proud.

He is six. Let that sink in for a minute. Six.

Someone at home sat with him, talked to him, and was just there, encouraging creativity. We need to do more of that. And I am so glad that I am in the position to do so.


A Lego created maze

A robotic hand made from cardboard

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

For Carolyn

A few weeks ago I heard something on a radio commercial that I have been thinking a lot about.

"People don't remember the days, they remember the moments."

While most people know exactly where they were on September 11, 2001, I wonder if they remember everything about that day. For me, I remember many of the day's moments. During my fifth year of teaching, I was a third grade teacher in a small rural town and had three students celebrating their birthday that day. It was also the day that I was getting my leg cast off after a long three months. I worked a partial day, and as I was leaving, my principal and I watched the horrific events that were unfolding on the tv in his office. And I remember the car accidents on my drive to my doctor in Ann Arbor. There were so many. People were distracted. They had just heard the news. But I don't remember getting my cast off. There was a bigger moment that overshadowed it.

Another moment that I strongly remember was when the Space Challenger blew up. Mrs. Moran, my sixth grade teacher, had just wheeled the tv into her classroom so we could watch this historic event. I remember the brown tv and the squeeky wheels. I remember the excitement as the Challenger took off and the silence as it exploded in mid air. But that was it. I don't have any other memories from that day.


And this really had me thinking. These moments were tragic. So tragic that they have stuck with me. But what about the happy moments? And I started to reflect on my 21 year teaching career.

I remember Shannon from my first class that I used to call Grandma because she was loving, nurturing, and calm. She was seven.

I remember Kameah's journal entry when she wrote about how proud she was of all the A's that she received on her report card. I kept that entry for years before I mailed it to her when she was an adult.

I remember Jasmine who used to read inside her desk, very sneakily, while I was teaching.

I remember Aaron whose mother was so proud of him. She introduced me to her entire family as "his teacher."

I remember Zehlin, as a first grader, walking home from school because he was the oldest and could do it. I would keep an eye on him from my classroom window even though he only lived four houses away.

I remember Kelsi's life size metal Albert Einstein, complete with a wig that I would tell to go sit back in his seat because it looked so realistic.

And I remember Carolyn. A third grader that I had. She was smart as a whip but rushed through everything. I showed up at her house one day after school with a "magic" mechanical pencil. Anyone who used this pencil would automatically write neatly. And it worked for her.

There were so many days when I worried that I was not getting through the curriculum at the pace I needed to be. I was stressed for years at the demands I placed on myself. But when you really think about it, what are your students going to remember from your teaching ten years down the road?

Although I remember many moments from my years, I wondered what, if any,  my students remembered from having me as a teacher.

So I reached out to them.

This is what they had to say:

Kayla: "A love of learning. You made learning fun, and helped us get excited about learning new things. I was just talking to someone yesterday about the Living Museum project we did in your class. Fourteen years later and I still think about your class and use your creativity to help me with my path to becoming a teacher."

Madisen: "I have decent posture because of you."

Stephanie: "You taught me that there is no "right" way to learn. More-so, breaking the mold of textbook reading and doing something interactive/creative to reinforce topics like no test can."

Sarah: "I first think of the multiplication master. I remember you were on maternity leave and when you came back, the first thing you did was congratulate me...I remember feeling special. And I remember once you had your baby, you let the whole class take turns holding him."

Kelsi: "I have so many memories of being in your class that stand out, it's hard to pick. One random silly one that always makes me think of you is I was doodling in class one day and you showed me how to draw a rope, like vertically with the letter "s." And I still draw it that way and every time I do it, I think of you. Probably more important than drawing rope, I credit a massive amount of my writing skills through the rest of my education to you. I learned so much about creative writing from you. I also felt that you were one of the few teachers who challenged everyone in class, no matter how well they did."

Charlotte: "I wanted to tell you that you are one of the reasons I became a teacher. I can remember the golden plunger and countless other things I did as your student. One thing I know for sure is how supportive and kind you were to my mom while she was going through getting her degree and you always believed in our family. You always had the highest expectation for us and made us truly feel like more than just your students. I still carry with me how much of an impact an educator can have when they truly care and accept what a family is going through, and I do everything I can to be that kind of mentor/advocate for each and every child and family I encounter. I believe in the power of people and I have no doubt you played a part in that."

And Carolyn: "A sense of responsibility and ownership. And a love of writing that I carry with me to this day. And I still use the same kind of mechanical pencil  because of the "magical" one you gave me."


In this teaching age of testing, testing, and more testing, take some time to make moments that your students will remember long after they have left your classroom.






Sunday, August 19, 2018

Unicorn Feed and Supply

If you have a child at home between the ages of six and ten, chances are unicorns have taken over your life.  They have in ours. Because, well, I have an eight year old. She lives in a world of unicorns, glitter, rainbows, and all things happy. She has already started planning for her next Entrepreneur Night at school. Her table will be decorated with unicorn cards, unicorn tears, unicorn skin, and anything else unicorn that she can think of. It isn't until February.

I recently came across a friend's post on facebook. She had visited a store in downtown Ypsilanti called Unicorn Feed and Supply. I showed it to my unicorn obsessed daughter and right then we decided to start planning for a special trip to visit this place.

And last Wednesday we went. Adorned in their unicorn garb, my two daughters (the younger more unicorn obsessed than the older) were more than excited to visit this magical place. My son, not so much, but he didn't really have a choice. After having lunch with my father and step mom at one of the best places I have eaten in a while (Beezy's Cafe), we made the two block trek to a store that is every unicorn lovers dream.

When you first enter, you are greeted by this large white unicorn that has yet to be named. Then, you look around. Unicorns, unicorns, unicorns. Unicorn pencils and markers and lights and decorations and this and that. The store is a modest size and the owner, Jen, has done a nice job with the space. There is a little something for everyone. Funny little cards for adults, metal art, facial supplies, little trinkets, Mrs. Grossman's stickers. It was these stickers that brought me back to my childhood. I had found my happy place. You could even purchase them by the sheet!

Since we were the only ones in the store at that time, I talked with the owner. I asked her how this store came to be. She quickly reached under the counter and pulled out her sticker book from her past. It was almost identical to the one I had. She opened it up and there I saw the puffy stickers I had saved my money to buy, the smelly ones that  never lost their scent, and the gel type ones that I so badly wanted but was never able to purchase. I was instantly jealous of that sticker book. What a reminder of my youth.

Jen continued to talk and told me that this sticker book was the only thing she had saved from her childhood and questioned herself why. She remembered buying Mrs. Grossman's stickers by the sheet and wanted that for other children. So the idea of this store came to be and she put her idea into action. The rest is history.

I only find it fitting that as I type up this blog post my two daughters are outside riding scooters in the rain looking for rainbows because that is what happens when the sun is shining and rain falls out of the sky. And they, are happy.

Unicorns Galore in Downtown Ypsilanti

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Power of Asking Questions

I spent the last two days at new teacher training with my new district. This is not my first year teaching. In fact, this is year 22 for me. And I was so appreciative for having the opportunity to come together with all the other new teachers, some truly new to teaching, because I had a lot of questions.

And I wasn't afraid to ask them.

Growing up I never asked questions, especially in school.  I didn't want to appear as though I had no idea about what was going on with the lesson. I listened and tried hard to understand the content, but I just didn't get it. And this became routine. In each class, I sat trying to make sense of what my teachers were teaching me. It didn't work. No one bothered me though because I was quiet and well behaved. I was good at looking the part of a confident high school student, but inside, I was a ball of confusion.

Eventually, I fell through the cracks.

Almost.

Good grades and test scores did not get me into college but rather a recommendation letter written by my high school math teacher. I know this because I asked the admission's counselor during my visit to Albion why I was accepted.  This was the  start of my question asking. For so long I had remained silent and decided that day I wanted to hear my voice. So I asked another question: May I read the letter? In my mind the worst thing he could tell me was no, and no really wasn't that bad. He showed it to me. My high school math teacher saw me for who I truly was. Fierce, competitive, and extremely hard working.

Today, I am a go getter, doer, maker, writer, and athlete. I continue to be hard working. and I ask questions.  A lot.

I ask questions because sometimes I am confused.

I ask questions because there are a lot of things I don't know how to do.

I ask questions because I need help.

I ask questions because I want to grow as a person.

I ask questions because I need to know what is going on in the lives of my children.

I ask questions because if I didn't, then I wouldn't be the teacher I am today.







Tuesday, July 3, 2018

One Last Gift

There is something about camp friends that is different from your everyday friends, the ones that you see on a daily basis for most of the year. If you've ever been to a sleep away summer camp, you know what I am talking about.

Maybe it's because you live and see one another for 24 hours a day for up to ten weeks. 

Or maybe it's because you are immersed in nature, a calming safe place that seems to clarify the mind. 

Or it could be because you need to cooperate and learn from one another. 

Whatever the reason, camp friends are just different. You can go years without talking and pick up right where you left off. The memories you shared are more vivid and don't seem as far away as the years indicate. 

I went to many camps as a kid. Day camps, sports camps, and sleep away camp. When I was 17, I started working at day camps as my summer job. And when I was in college, I worked at two different sleep away camps that have impacted my life greatly. 

Crystalaire (and later Camp Lookout) is an independently owned co-ed summer camp that helped me to come out of my shell and let me see my potential as a leader.  I gained so much from the experiences I had there and the people I met. Years later, I would meet my husband, for a second time, at Camp Lookout, ten days after my mother had passed away. If anything, I saw that as a sign from my mother. She always knew how important camp and nature were in my eyes. This was her last gift to me. 

The other camp that had a huge impact on me was Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha, which is located on the outskirts of Traverse City. This camp is an all girls trip camp run by all women. I enjoyed being part of the staff because I felt as though I were a strong role model for many girls. I loved showing them that confidence is built from within. 

As each summer came to a close, I would count down the days until next summer. After my first year of teaching, I went and worked at camp. That was my last summer as a staff member. It was just too much for me. I started the school year off exhausted, and I knew that I couldn't continue down that road. 

So I started taking my students to camp. Of the 21 years that I have taught, I have taken 19 classes to various camps ranging from three days to a week. Upon return to school after camp, the students view you differently. There is a closeness that wasn't there before you left. Camp just does that. 

This past Saturday we dropped my daughter off  at Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha for two weeks. This isn't her first experience with sleep away camp, but it is with this one and for this long. To say she was excited would be an understatement. 

Kate is a camp kid. She loves being outside and the independence of being on her own. She finds joy in the traditions of camp and the relationships that she builds with campers and counselors. She was quick to set up her bunk and make it her own. 

Although I miss her, I know she is in good hands. And I know that when she returns, she will have many stories to tell. About the activities, her experiences, and her new camp friends. 


Kate at Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha