Begin Again

There are so many places that my mind goes when I think of what it takes to get my kids engaged in what I want to teach them, what I want them to be thinking about and what I want them to be able to do. There’s proper planning and standards alignment, differentiated materials to reach all learners in my room, creating activities and assessments that are both rigorous and accessible…so many things we juggle as teachers to make sure each and every kid is brought into the fold and is moving forward toward success and proficiency.

Sometimes with all of this going on it can be easy to forget why many of us came into teaching to begin with – because we love kids, we are creative and naturally interactive people, and our inner child is still alive and well within us! So in order to keep my creative and energetic side – well…energized, I look to the possibility of the space that I have to work with to create surroundings that will inspire, welcome, intrigue and spark the minds of all of the different children that spend time within my four walls. Every kid has a magical part of their brain where anything and everything is possible and wishes might come true if you wish hard enough. I want that magic alive in my room and in my children. And I have heard before that “if you build it they will come”…so my classroom, and how I chose to envelop my students in a visual and special experience attached to their learning, must be a place where those magical moments that bring the sparks and the bubbles and the fireworks which explode, float and crackle against the night sky of my children’s imaginations. That’s what I want. So now I have to build it, right?

My classroom is my canvas. Every year its blank and by the end of the year it teems with the evidence that the magic has been there. The colors multiply on the walls as more and more posters, awards, academic victories and memories of a true school-family grow like rainbow-paper-ivy on all available spaces. At the end of each year when I dismantle my creation I take down the papers and the bulletin boards and the various decorations and visual cues and I can hear the voices of the children that have spent the last year here asking questions, laughing, calling out, laughing, sharing their thoughts, laughing, yelling at each other, laughing, helping each other, and laughing. All of these moments, voices, thoughts, experiences etc. begin the moment those kids first walked through the door and look around my room. On that first day, in those first moments, those children will know nothing of me accept for my profession and what I have chosen as my – our – surroundings.

Is she mean?
Is she fun?
Is this class hard?
What can I get away with in here?
Is she boring?
Is this class boring?
Am I safe?
When is lunch?

This is what the minds of children want to know. I promise you that this is what they are looking for, both in their swirling awareness and in the backs of their minds where their secret brain whispers all of their inner observations. Knowing that this is what kids want to know means that its my job to tell them these answers not through words and through letters home, but through the way I make them feel when they enter their new classroom. What I have chosen for them will tell them much about what they want to know about me and about how they will spend their year in this classroom and with me as their guide. It is my job to set the stage and then to direct the show…but they are the ultimate stars of the production…and nobody has ever been inspired to take on a role fully in a place that sucks your most inspiring energy into an institutional vortex. No, we will make this a grand production – because through the opening of my creative vision to them – I invite the magic.

Over the next several weeks I will be specifically chronicling this process, designing and building my classroom for next year and sharing my ideas, wonderings, inspirations, triumphs and challenges. I hope you will follow along and share what inspires you!

Next Topic: Theme?!? Theme? Theme!

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About Me

Every year I say I’m going to do this.  Every year is THE YEAR!!!  But this time is different.  This time is special.  I think that a part of it is that I finally feel that after 8 years of teaching in a highly challenging urban environment I think I know what I am doing…or I’m definitely getting very close to knowing what I’m doing.  It has taken a long time and a lot of thinking and learning on my feet – but this year something changed.  This year I knew what I was doing because I knew what I WANTED.  Teaching has become the second machine that is now always running in my head.  I know what classroom setups will and won’t work, I can tell you exactly where on the materials cart you can find yellow colored pencils and I can spot a beautifully CCLS aligned task from a mile away.  In my “free time” I wonder which talk moves aren’t being used enough in my classroom discussions, I envision new data tracking matrixes and I search online for neon leopard tissue box holders.

This, along with many other things, is all proof that I have officially grown into my role as a teacher.  It really hasn’t been easy, I know that, and I think that maybe I grew into the place I am in now without realizing it because my job is so challenging and so in your face.  I mentioned earlier that I work in a high needs area, but to narrow that down for you, my classroom is located in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.  My kids are young children of color performing quite often below state standards when arriving to my classroom.  They almost all live in housing projects where they are exposed to the real life, day-to-day effects of poverty, racism and violence.  What I do is important because my kids are important.  If this job wasn’t important to me there would be no way I would go through the things I do with my students every day, but I do it and I’m happy to do it.  I want the best for my kids and that meant over the past several years I had to make myself the best I could be so their time with me was worth as much as possible to them.  I began seeing the things out there in the teaching world that worked for me and for my students and I began seeing things that didn’t work for us.

Last school year, I began to find the confidence to start building my own materials and I found that what I was doing was working.  My kids were more excited than ever and I began to see a different kind of engagement in my classroom.  I wanted to make learning fun and provide my kids with opportunities to be who they are and love themselves.  I wanted to find new and creative ways for my kids to open their minds together as problem solvers and dynamic thinkers.  I wanted to bridge the gaps between thinking and creating and I wanted to do all of this using big, bright, bold colors and shapes and ideas.

Eventually, I realized that these ideas that have brought so much positivity and love of learning into my room might be just as helpful and inspiring to others.  I hope that by looking at my products and checking out what we have to offer you will see that my work is focused on helping you educate, motivate, inspire and love your children as much as I do mine.  This year I will be blogging and sharing about my process, ideas, wonderings and products as well as sharing my teaching adventures.