June 28, 2015

Saying Goodbye

A friend of mine called this an Irish Goodbye, the kind of leaving where you just sneak away (usually to avoid being dragged back in for one more round:) I am saying goodbye to a place that has been life for nearly a decade.

If you are just reading my blog, you may or may not know I worked in an inner-city school for many years. When I graduated from RISD I said if I was going to work in education I was going to go to an urban district. At RISD I had worked with kids after school in South Providence and bribed them off the streets and into my art classes with prizes and candy. Most of my kids used the free stuff as an excuse to come to my classes, but I know they really came for the art. In our little safe classroom, in the public library, they brought in their film rolls and I developed them. They wrote about their life and took pictures. They let me into their homes and lives through these pictures. We studied famous photographers like Robert Frank and Lewis Hines. They took pictures of their mother under hair dryers while their sisters looked on, their rooms messy and unkept and their dogs protecting their yard from behind steel fences. Sometimes they dressed up and pretended they were someone else, somewhere else, kings, queens, ninjas and they wrote in that voice. My best friend would come to translate their stories and teach them English, patiently one kid at a time while I taught them how to develop their film.  Selfishly I thought I was "making a difference." I did this for two years. Every once in a while, a kid would stop coming and I would see them hanging on the streets with a group of kids way too old and it was like someone kicked me in the stomach.

I never really wanted to be a teacher before that, but because of them,  I decided I would only work in an urban district.

I wanted to feel like I was making a difference, again selfishly.

When I first got to my first assignment, a middle school, in the worst part of the city, I'm sure teachers put money on how many days I'd last. I walked into this middle school that was "between" principals, was given a key to the room and that was it. Literally. The key did not open the supply closet, so I ran to Walmart and bought supplies the night before (I was hired only a few days before the start of the school year). "This is exactly what I signed up for" I thought. Blonde girl in cowboy boots (before they were cool) who hadn't been to a public school in about 10 years was going to "make a difference." I had an angel step in who took me under her wing and I had the privilege of calling her my mentor (thank you Meg!) and she understood me. She let me figure it out without falling too hard. She sat at my kitchen table while I put together my teacher evaluations and went over it all line by line, lesson by lesson, SHE LET ME WATCH HER TEACH and she was amazing! That is huge! For some reason no one lets you watch them teach as a new teacher. She listened to me cry and told me to pick "one kid",  all I needed to do was make a difference to one. One, naturally turned into two, three, and I am forever grateful for her advice. For a solid two years, I came home hardly able to get the energy up to eat, fell asleep whenever I could and got up to do it all over again. No one told me about that part, the pure exhaustion, I never felt anything like that! As I got better, the job got harder, because I was no longer trying to survive, but truly teach and listen. I had a lot of successes little and big throughout the years, but none of those stories seem to matter too much.

There are so many stories I could tell about my 10 years in urban education but I need something to do when I eventually retire;);) Leaving this city is so anti climatic. I could write a story about how I turned lemons into lemonade very easily, but I don't think that would be authentic. I don't think it is any different now then before I came despite tremendous efforts by many.
This is my daughter in my class on a snow day
 (we couldn't make it to her school so she came to mine since we live in walking distance.)
My students and the teachers I work with have become part of my family.
The students helped me tremendously when I was pregnant, never letting me open a door or lift a thing.
The teachers showered me with gifts for the "new baby".
Her babysitters have always been kids in this neighborhood.
Everyone treats her as one of their own and I treat my students  as my own too!
This class in particular had been with me for many years (our population was transient so this means a lot to me.)
I absolutely loved being their teacher and they always begged me to bring Stella to their class.
Now I'm going to cry!

So as I move onto my new position it is bitter sweet. There won't be a goodbye and it really is better that way. Kids don't remember too much and our students are transient and not used to anyone staying in one place for too long anyways. This will be harder for me then it is for them!

I am so proud to be moving to a place that will value my work, I can feel it already! I am beaming with pride to be joining this special school which is supported in their profession by administration and the community. It is full of smiles, kids who stay their whole elementary career and parents who come in to truly help (and I haven't even met the staff yet!) This week I am going to give myself permission to be excited about this amazing change by going to my new classroom and setting it up. It is with such a heavy heart that I say goodbye to this city, I have no idea what is out there, but I'm brave enough to find out! I will continue to develop lessons on this blog and let you know what ideas inspire my students. Stay tuned, because I feel like the best is yet to come!

June 8, 2015

Showing Growth in the Art Room

Every time I write a post a song starts playing in my head. . .

It's been a long time, shouldn't have left you. . .
without a dope beat to step to.

So here it is . . . a dope beat to step to aka an art project that works.

Here's an idea to start next year. This year we had huge Kindergarten classes coming to us at all skill levels. The drawings you see on the left are from October. The first month (when I usually do this project) I had to focus on teaching children how to raise their hand and identify their name during attendance, how to find their seat and use supplies. These October self portraits on the left are actually a result of a lot of hard work. Some students learned to write their name or speak it by this time, how to follow directions and use supplies independently. The self portraits on the right are from a week ago, June. If you are an art teacher you can see the progress, especially in the last self portrait.  This was instant (or not so instant!) gratification of growth in the art room at a time when I needed to see this. It was powerful. For next year I will try to have students who come in later do the same self portrait so I can see their progress as well. In one class there was nearly half who didn't have a before picture. Note to self. . . have new students make a self portrait!

Have a wonderful summer and think about starting your year off like this next school year!

February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day

Today was Valentines day at school! I believe today was a form of payback for not allowing the kids to celebrate Halloween at school. The candy was flowing and the kids were pumped!  Despite being surrounded by 3+ feet of snow at all times and people under 3 feet at all times, I am happy to report all teachers survived! And I'm pretty sure the kids had a great day.