Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rain or Shine, Sleet or Snow

I get up early and I get to work even earlier. I know that's not really possible, but it sure feels like it sometimes. Despite the fact that I'm a morning person, my pre-dawn routine is a necessity and not entirely by choice. If I didn't beat my wife and high-school junior into and out of the shower every morning, my arrival time at school would be less than ideal. So my alarm goes off about 40 minutes before my good dog pup gets his first crack at breakfast at 6am.

My routine is efficient, if not automatic. The timeframe from covers thrown-off to car key turn is about the same every morning. Bleary-eyed, but not stressful. The drive to work is pretty uneventful. There's the first major stoplight where I pour my second cup of coffee, then after the second stoplight, I can hit cruise for about 3 minutes before I need stow my iPod and headphones for the short walk into school.

Shortly after I take my last left handed turn and travel down a stop sign-less boulevard, I pass by a fellow morning warrior and her small contingent of followers. The smallest, a baby, sometimes being carried, but is usually in a stroller pushed by Mom at what can only be called 'mach' walking speed. Following behind, or at least trying to keep the pace, a girl (about 6 or 7) and a boy (maybe 8 or 9).

I've never seen them in the daylight, but every morning they're there. Walking with haste to somewhere. Every morning pretty much the same, rain or shine, sleet or snow.

The boy is usually carrying something that hinders his pace, plastic shopping bags, diaper bags, and almost always his backpack, surely containing homework that his Mom made him complete the night before.

The girl, an energetic little thing, is usually burden free, except for the unauthorized sticks and other contraband that she has picked up along the way. She twirls, skips, and sprints spontaneously along the darkened sidewalk. Seemingly care-free. Like a child should.

Somedays the clan holds fast to a shared umbrella or they have their bare hands stuffed inside a pocket to shield the cold. Somedays the walk is more casual, but never without purpose.

I find my boulevard companions at different points in the mile long stretch, but the variances are due to when I leave the house, not this family's departure time. They do not have the luxury of sleeping in.

It is clear that they leave the house at the same time everyday. The mother, has to get her children to their morning daycare, friend or professional,  so that she can catch the bus to whatever job and its no doubt meager income that helps her to hold her family together. A first task of a demanding schedule.

If she doesn't get her children, my future students, to where they need to be, it could very easily start a downward spiral of events that could bring down this family. Loss of work, loss of housing, loss of security, loss of childhood. The stakes are high.

Many people don't understand the people of my school's neighborhood, where 80% of my students qualify for free or reduced lunch. They have a razor thin margin of error. Life on the edge.

I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the poor in our country. That somehow people have chosen to be poor. That they have chosen to live within a hair width away from catastrophe that even a random circumstance can inflict. That has not been my experience.

There are plenty of stories of folks that have made bad choices. However my classroom is filled with kids who need some help. Kids who need a safe, stable place for 7 hours of the day. A place where they can dream beyond their circumstances and see the possibilities within themselves. A place where they can learn that despite where their families are, they are capable of more. So much more.

I'm there to help them understand that.

Rain or shine, sleet or snow.

Thanks for reading.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Our Door is Open

photo credit: Aeioux via photopin cc

Recently a newly communicated rule by our local fire marshal drastically changed the culture of my school. We were directed to close all doors in the building at all times. No exceptions. Despite my hunch that these rules have more to do with said fire marshal's personal preferences and less to do with code, reason, or understanding, our school complied. 

Well mostly. 

I arrive at school at about 6:30am every morning and I was still propping my door open until about 7:45am for a couple of weeks until someone turned me in to administration which prompted a polite request to ask for my adherence to the directive.

I understand. No, not the petty and unnecessary tattling by a peer, or the wisdom of a seemingly arbitrary directive. I understand that by not following the order, I may put our school at risk for a violation or fine regardless of its validity. Despite the fact that a fire marshal's likelihood of inspecting our facility at such an early hour, I shut my door.

It's awful.

I already maintain an engrained resistance to 'no exception' policy decrees, but the unforeseen effects of the shortsighted "closed door" policy has only magnified my cynical eye toward absolutes.

Some of the smaller problems created.

  • The 1st grader with braces on her legs, heck any student under 4th grade, has difficulty opening the heavy school-grade doors. I've stopped counting how many times, I've thought "whew that was close" after intervening to prevent a heavy door from closing on a 'littles' hands
  • You always feel if you're interrupting someone or something. Even the copy rooms (really?!) and teacher lunchroom doors are closed. You always feel like you're intruding.
  • Several door handles have started breaking and are in now in need of repair. No surprise when you put a month's worth of wear and tear on a handle in a single day. 
  • I'm convinced that the closed doors have contributed to increased illness and absentee rates. When EVERYBODY is touching EVERY handle MULTIPLE times a day, the icky stuff is bound to get passed along a little more quickly and distributed more widely. We recently had about 40 kids out sick, or about 10% of our entire student body.

The big problem

The entire feel of the school has drastically changed. You walk down the hall and no longer hear the buzz of learning interactions or the quiet diligence of work. Only the sound of your own heels as their sound waves bounce off the brick walls and over closed doors. It use to be just a couple of teachers would shut their door and seal off the world at the beginning of the day. Now it's the entire school.

When every door in the building is closed, it feels like every door in the building is closed. Does that make sense? The vibe is just stale, dull, and lifeless.

My door is still open

Figuratively of course, I don't want to upset the resident Johnny-law or the more authentic bureaucrat with a badge and his clipboard, but my door is always open. We've got the internets.

Even though my class' door is shut, we've got our virtual door open to the the world though our use of technology.
  • We've shared our writing with classrooms and teachers around the world through our blogs.
  • We've talked with and to experts in their fields (#GLFish chat, #LTAB and pop stars (Usher) using our class Twitter account @LaSalleElem216
  • We interact and collaborate with classmates in our grade level using Edmodo,  Socrative, and Today's Meet.
  • We watch, read, and discuss great ideas being shared via TED Talks.
  • We read leveled text using Newsela and explore different viewpoints using Newseum to learn about the things going on in our world, like the incidents in Ferguson, and talk about how we can change the world.
  • We've gone on Virtual field trips to spectacular locations throughout the world.
You can ask me to close my door, but I refuse to close off my classroom.

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher