40 days, and the freedom to be an imperfect teacher.

Spring break ends tonight, and tomorrow marks the 40 school days countdown to summer break. Hallelujah! This year for me has been the most challenging, and at times I truly wanted to quit. It felt like the odds were stacked against me, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for this year to be over.

This year, I had high expectations for the year, I was going to try a classroom completely built on respect and caring, where learning was the center, not behavior. So I threw out my ideas of rewards/non-logical consequences. I was also excited for some new curriculum and a new whole-school management program.

My optimism and enthusiasm for the year popped like a balloon barely through the first part of the year. It seemed everything to be hitting me at once, escalated/violent behaviors in the classroom, new curriculum that was harder to teach than I anticipated, not everyone being on board with our new management program. It all came down and I was ready to throw in my hat. The behaviors in my classroom specifically were incredibly hard to deal with, and it was overwhelming. I never thought I would have the thoughts of quitting over behavior, but those thoughts were real. I was unhappy with how things were going in my classroom, I wasn’t being the perfect teacher.

I finally realized I am not a perfect teacher, and I will never be. But I won’t stop trying, and I didn’t stop trying this year. I tell my students that I am still learning too, “I get many years in third grade, but you only get one, so I want to make it the best.”

There were good and bad times in my classroom this year that I will tell you about because being honest is important:

  • I took away recess for non-recess related things
  • I took up small, petty arguments with students about the most ridiculous things [then realized I wasted 5 minutes of my life arguing over a pencil]
  • I yelled
  • I did not model respect

There are other examples, and it hurts to remember the times above. I am writing this because I need to emphasize the point that I am not perfect, and I still have a long way to go. Should have I taken away those few minutes from that child’s recess? No. Should I have stopped to think first? Yes. Should I have done any of the above? No. So why did I do it? Because I am an imperfect teacher, and I am still learning how to become a better one.

But this year also gave me something else. As mentioned, I decided to give up on what can be referred to as “traditional classroom management” which includes clip charts/behavior apps/rewards, etc. And it was the best decision I have ever made. My classroom is a classroom that thrives off respect/care/community.

Let me highlight some positives that happened this year because of that decision. Among the biggest, I was able to address roots of larger problems and solve them accordingly. [Also, in order to protect student privacy, names/identification are omitted].

  • I have become a happier teacher, I am able to laugh, smile, and joke with my students
  • I am able to see them for who they are, a human, with real emotions and feelings, and not a clip with a name on the chart performing at “green.”
  • My students are free to be themselves
  • We have been able to solve problems as a class together
  • The students have more say in how the classroom is run, and thus I have more buy-in.
  • I have spent less time on behavior as a whole class, and more time teaching
  • I get lots of letters and drawings from students telling me how much they like our class, and I have gotten generous compliments from parents/guardians about how well their child is doing in my class, and how much their child enjoys coming to school
  • A student at the beginning of the year threw fits, wouldn’t complete work, and ran out of the classroom at least once a day. As of today, that student hasn’t ran out of the classroom since December, completes work, and is one of the classroom’s biggest helpers, and has since become a very caring individual.
  • A student who would backtalk, roll eyes, disrespectful, etc has been working extremely hard on respect and has become a more caring individual. This student even stood up for another student which made me very proud.
  • I have grown to truly love and care for all of my students. (The word love can be interpreted to mean many different things by many different people, so I am cautious to say this word to my students)
  • All of my students have grown in ways I couldn’t fathom.

I had some bad days, and I might have a few more within the 40 days. I recognize I am not a perfect teacher, and it is okay. I am learning and growing. I had some great ones, and I determined to have more of those, because I am ready to end this year strong so I can look back and say “that year was well worth it.”

Our students understand, what can we learn from them?

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* This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, oops! It is amazing how fast time gets away from you. *

I recently found this poster (above, courtesy of Aram Kim, PDF version here). A beautiful piece of art about how reading brings us together.

The read aloud portion of my day is my favorite part of our day. My students and I take turns reading to the class each day, as a way for them to build fluency and oration skills, and a way for all of us to build community.

Last night, I participated in #TitleTalk on twitter, and the topic was fostering awareness empathy. It was a fabulous discussion, someone had suggested reading the book Red, A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. I hadn’t read it before, but I was excited, I could tell by the cover, this was a story that needed to be told. I checked the book out from our school library, called the students to the carpet, told them I hadn’t read this book yet, but I had heard great things about it, so let’s take this adventure together.

bk_crayon_157(Michael Hall’s statement about the book)

On a side note, I love reading a book for the first time with children, we all experience the magic of it together. As the teacher, my reactions to the book are genuine. (I don’t recommend this for all books,  I can tell you a few times that has majorly backfired! But I digress.)

The story of Red follows a crayon who is actually blue, but is labeled as “red.” Red tries his hardest to be red, with the help of his teacher and family and friends, but it doesn’t work, he still colors everything blue! Along the way, he meets another crayon that helps give him a new perspective on himself, and learns that no matter what his label says, he is blue!

As my students and I experienced the story together, I could see their hearts as we read the story. They knew he was blue, and they wanted him to accept this. This book was enjoyed by my class, and I already have bought a copy for my classroom collections. What really amazed me though were the responses to my question for them: “What can we learn from this story?”

“Red wasn’t really red”

“No matter what kind of person you are, you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it.”

“It taught us the [different] names of the crayons.”

“Be who you are.”

“Do what your heart says to do.”

“No matter what you do, you are always special.”

“You are perfect no matter what.”

“See past the color or label and see the person for who they really are.”

“You are good no matter what”

“You should appreciate who you are”

I was so moved by their responses, they get it! They understand!

How can we be like them and learn to accept others for who they are to create a more caring, and accepting world?

Profile of me as a reader

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The other day I sat down to read Dog man by Dav Pilkey and after I read it, I began to think about how much I enjoyed Dav Pilkey’s books when I was in third grade, and that led me thinking about who I was as a reading growing up, and now as an adult.

I remember the time when I was staying over at my best friend William’s, we were in the clubhouse and he had brought some of Captain Underpants books up there. I stayed up way late to finish reading Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (still one of my favorites). By this point, William was fast asleep and I was pulled into the world of Harold and George and their quest to save their school! I couldn’t put it down, I had to finish it!

When I was a young child, my mother took me to the library at least once a week and I always had a preference for “feel-good” stories, especially Apple Juice Tea and White Rabit’s colors. I managed to check these books out at least every other week, I liked other books, but these two managed to always make it into my stack. I never had any restrictions by my parents or other adults as to what I could take out of the library, I was free to roam and gather whatever I could get my hands on. I should mention too that I had quite the Berenstain Bear’s collection at home that I read religiously (probably more than my bible!) I am happy to say that same collection is delighting my own students in my classroom today.

My parents delighted me in the magic of audiobooks and we listened to several of them on the road when we were traveling across the country. I fondly remember “Monster of the Month Club, The toothpaste millionaire, Fig Pudding, The Henry/Ramona series”, to name a few.

I started enjoying beginning chapter books in third grade, thanks to my teacher, I became quite fond of Junie B. Jones.

As I grew older we still regularly went to the library, it was one of my favorite places to be (and still is). I started expanding my horizons in the library and branched out into non-fiction, specifically in the “grown-ups” section. I would quite often take out these wonderful books filled with lighting styles of different houses like these here:

      

I would also read how to transform your backyard into a lush garden with a pond (possible minor obsession when I was around 9) I had even dug a huge hole, I was ready to go!

    

When I was in 5th grade I had just started playing “The Sims” and OH MY I can’t begin to tell you how obsessed I became with that game (it was probably borderline unhealthy). I also used the library to help me with this game, I would check out floorplan books and draw them on grid paper and construct them in The Sims.

Image result for floor plan books   Image result for house floor plan book

I guess I was intent on becoming an interior designer, pond builder, and home builder extraordinaire!

I checked out whatever I could get my hands on, and I let my interests guide me all over the library. I never was restricted by any means (except my library check-out limit). I never knew my reading level, and I was never told that I could only read certain books, which is why I would check out books from the adult section, because in my mind as a child, books are for everyone! In the library, I was free to be a wild, and wide reader.

It was in 5th grade that I remember falling in love with my first novel, Abel’s Island. Our teacher had us create our own book study and we could choose from several books. I didn’t know much about the book when I was choosing, but when I read it I was captivated by the adventure of the story. It is still one of my favorites today.

In my middle school years, I lost touch with reading and my only reading those years were the mostly boring “whole class novels”. I didn’t have anyone to show me books that were written for middle schoolers, and to be quite honest I didn’t know at the time that books for middle school students existed. In the public libraries, and most that I have visited, middle-grade books are mixed in with the children’s section. I no longer identified as a “child”, and subsequently, I left the children’s section of the library. But I didn’t have a new section to go to, so I left reading behind for a bit. I wish that middle schoolers could have their own section or shelf of the library.

I still used the library as I entered high school, but I still wasn’t the avid reader I had been, but that changed once I had a lot of free time to read. In 11th grade I got a job at a hotel cleaning at night, and the cleaning only took me an hour so I had several hours on my shift I could sit in the laundry room and do nothing, so I decided to pick up some books from the library. At this time I had this sudden fascination with books that were emotionally intense, and books in which characters would die. Several books that I read were: Mick Harte was here, The Rules of Survival, A Summer to Die,  Twisted,  Zach’s lie. I don’t know what drew me to these books, but they satisfied a curiosity in me that left me bawling for hours. I was content. Books were mixed in age range, some were those middle-grade novels I could never find, and some in the newly discovered young adult section.

After discovering the young adult section in high school, I continued reading this genre well into college and after. As I became older and started college I had less time for reading, but I made time for it and read when I could, on the bus, between classes, lunch, etc. I did take a class on Children’s Literature and I enjoyed reading several books during this class I hadn’t read before such as Esperanza Rising, The Tale of Despereaux, Seedfolks, to name a few. The spark of reading was starting to revive. It was during this same time that I also had become a huge fan of Laurie Halse Anderson. I had read Twisted back in high school, and in college I discovered more of her work. Speak is one of my favorite books of all time.

After I graduated college I began teaching, I didn’t read as much as I wanted, and even though I continuously have always used the library, I didn’t feel like I loved reading like I once did. One day at work, I was passing through our school library in the Spring of 2015 and my librarian had told me about this great book The Book Whisperer By Donalyn Miller and how we can get our students reading more. I was intrigued. So I went to the library and checked it out. I read it in two days. I had more answers about how to get my students to love reading, but I also re-fell in love with reading myself, since that day I have been more of an avid reader, returning to my roots as a “wild reader”.

In my classroom, I strive to give my students the same reading experience I had so they may experience the world of reading. Some of my students don’t have access to the public library, so I bring the library experience to them! I give my students freedom to choose, time to read, and a well-stocked classroom library with books of all topics and readability. I do this because I want my students to see the magic of reading, and I hope one day they too, will stay up late “because I had this finish this book!”

To my students now and in the future: A new year’s promise.

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When I launched this blog I intended to have more posts than I currently have, but I am content that I have a handful of posts and I have been able to reach people across the globe. I hope this next year I will be able to write and read more, and reach more people.

This is a latent letter to my students that I have been wanting to write for some time. Times are uncertain, and how we care and treat for our children now, will speak volumes about how we view our future generations. as people. In this letter, I am making a promise and declaration to serve and care for students so they may care for themselves and others, and to help create a better world. As my last post of the year, here it is.

To my students,

I don’t know what this next year will hold for you, our classroom, or myself. There are changes happening, and as your teacher I have to be ready for them so that I can make sure you succeed in our classroom, and beyond.
There are a lot of people out there who are trying to make decisions about how schools are run, and I don’t agree with a lot of those decisions or reasons. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of power to make decisions beyond our classroom, but while I fight on the outside for you, I want to give you some promises that will always be true in our classroom.
I promise to make sure I welcome you with open arms every day you walk into our room. You are safe, and welcome here.

I promise to help you know what true and factual information looks like, and how to seek it out for yourself. There will be people out there who will try to deceive you, I hope one day if that happens you can look that person in the eye and say “That’s false, and here is why.”

I promise to show you how magical reading can be, and how it will change your life forever! I will never restrict your access to literature by any arbitrary means. 

I promise to give unconditional love and acceptance, and to treat you as human beings when it comes to discipline. I will not use systems that offer anything less than respect and dignity.

I promise to always be there for you, well after third grade. Whether you come see me years after you leave elementary school, or if you send me an e-mail later in life. I will answer.

I promise to look at any curriculum with a discerning eye and use it in a way that I know is best. My “fidelity” is not to a curriculum, it is to YOU.

I promise to be open and transparent about anything you ask, you are human and are capable of hearing the truth (kid-sized of course).

I promise to be the best teacher I can be, because while I will get many years as a teacher, I only get one shot at being YOUR teacher, and I want to be the best that I can be for YOU.

I promise all these things to you and more, because I want you to know how much I care for you and the world, and in turn I want you to care for yourself, others, and the world. Because we will need you to make this world a better place. 

With all my sincerity, may this next year be our best!

– Mr. Henderson

Books I loved! 2016

This is my first list of books that I would declare are some of my favorites from this year, I read a lot more than what is listed, and your favorite book may not be on here, but I hope you enjoy this list.

Some of these books were published prior to 2016, but I didn’t get around to reading them until this year. (Which I keep telling myself is normal)

Picture Books

I have a harder time reviewing picture books because they are so vast in content that it is hard to choose which ones really resonated with me. Here are my three:

Don't Call Me Grandma     The Night Gardener  Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Don’t call me Grandma by Vaunda Michaeux Nelson – This book was beautiful in every way. It’s certainly not a “feel good” story, but a real story about love between a great grand mother and her great grand daughter. The author, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson always holds a special place in my heart, she was my librarian in my hometown growing up.

The Night Gardener by Terry Fan – The pictures in this book are absolutely captivating, and I truly think this has a shot at the Caldecott 2017. The story follows a boy who wakes up and sees that the tree outside his window was sculpted into an owl! As the story goes on, more sculptures appear and makes this town beautiful. 

Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glen Ringtved – Beautiful and sad in all the right ways, this book deals with death and why sadness occurs with death. Four grandchildren are visited by death when their grandmother is dying, and they come to terms and understanding of why it is important to grieve and say goodbye. I cried reading this book and I think this book should be shared with all children.

Children’s

 The Wild Robot

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (2015) – This book was one of the best books I have ever read, hands down. I am in astonishment of how well this book was crafted. The way the three children’s stories are intertwined by a thread of destiny, makes this a story that I will read again and again! Did I cry at the end? Yes. 

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – A captivating story about a lost robot who has to adapt to survive in the island she becomes lost on. She is met with hostility by the animals on the island, but over time is accepted. At the end of the story, she and the other animals have to fight with everything they have to save her. I do hope Peter Brown creates a sequel. This book is a must read. 

Middle Grade

OCDaniel  Ms. Bixby's Last Day  Ashes (Seeds of America, #3)  Wolf Hollow

OCDaniel by Wesley King –  As someone who suffered from severe OCD when I was the same age, this book was so well written. The characters were wonderful, the plot was engaging, and how the author chose to include the OCD was absolutely well written and I truly connected with Daniel. This is a book that I saw myself in, and could be a window for others.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson – This story was beautiful. Three boys who together make a plan for their teacher who announces she is sick and won’t be finishing the school year. Throughout the story, each boy describes what Ms. Bixby meant to them. And yes, I cried at the end.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson – The final book in the Seeds of America trilogy. I loved reading this series and this book perfectly ties the remarkable story of Curzon and Isabel together that will make anyone want to read this series again. What I loved about this series is the historical accuracy and the primary documents that the author includes at the beginning of each chapter that makes the reader feel like they are really there during the American Revolution.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – This book takes place during the aftermath of World War II and the bigotry and hatred that ensued because of it. This book takes a sharp turn towards the end, and it reminds the reader what it means to love your neighbor, and to stand up for what is right.

Young Adult

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It’s not me, it’s you  by Stephanie Katie Strohm – There are a few books that make me laugh out loud the whole time, and this was one of them. I fell in love with Avery Dennis the moment I started reading her “oral history” and I couldn’t put it down when I started.  I absolutely loved the format this story was told in and I died reading the “editor’s notes”! If you are looking for a comical relief type of reading to escape reality, this is the book you need to read!!

The distance from me to you by Marina Gessner (2015) –  I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and reading a novel set there was amazing and the story the author crafted was just perfect in every way! The story follows McKenna who sets out to hike the trail alone, and the adventure she has takes her off course, literally. This book paints what it means to be resilient and following your heart.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – There are some stories that will stay with you for a very long time. For the “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner, I have few words to describe this book, it was remarkable. I know this one will stay with me for a long time to come. Dill, Lydia, and Travis: I will miss you all very much.

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins (2014) – I have read almost the entire bibliography of Ellen Hopkins (I should seriously dedicate an entire post to all her books) and this book resonates with me the most. The story follows Matt who has to come to terms with his brother’s death and his own battle with the question “is God real?” 

Adult

I am new to literature for adults, and I hope to read more in the coming years.

Underground Airlines    My Beloved World

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – A dystopian USA where the Civil War never takes place, which means slavery is alive and well. Victor has to go undercover to take down an abolitionist movement, but along the way makes a surprising discovery about the future of enslavement in the USA. 

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (2013) – A wonderful, authentic story of Sonia’s life and how she got to where she is now. Sotomayor as an author does a fantastic job writing her story, and the way she wrote it makes it feel like you have known her your whole life. Must read!

There you have it, books I loved this year. There are many other books I enjoyed reading this year, and if wrote about all of them, I would be writing for a month. If you are interested in seeing what else I read, follow my Goodreads account

-Jeremiah

Dear fellow teachers: Don’t wear the “Santa Cam.”

My fellow teachers,

We are here! The homestretch of December, just one more week and we are off for winter break! I plan on “traveling” to the couch and reading the whole time without the constant “Mr. Henderson!!” in my ear. I love my students dearly, but I am ready for some peace and quiet.

I have been wanting to write this post for a while because I saw this disturbing image on Facebook:

Look, I get it. We want our students to behave and be good people, but at what cost? This picture shows how deeply rooted this culture of “surveillance and shaming” is in our schools. This photo implicitly says “You should only behave because an imaginary figure who watches your every move will grant you with rewards.” Why are we as teachers handing over our classroom management to imaginary figures? Even elves on the shelves have turned into a staple of households and classrooms that I would argue force children into behaving for the sake of their name being reported to Santa Claus if they aren’t behaving. Take away the cuteness of the holidays and the idea of behaving for the “big man” and doing what you are told or suffer the consequences is an idea that reminds me of an oppressive regime. How on earth is this setting up our students for success?! It makes me angry that as teachers we think that students should behave for someone they have never seen/met, and yet we pass along the idea that they shouldn’t do well because it feels good, or even for the real people in their life like their teachers or family. Why do we continuously need to rely on outside and extrinsic motivators for our students to do well?

I urge you fellow teachers, to leave the elves on the shelves in the boxes, throw away the Santa Cam, and focus on love and relationships in your classrooms. Show your students that YOU care about them, and that REAL people in their school care about them. Will this next week be perfect? Probably not, I know mine won’t, but I will not resort to using fake, shameful devices to trick my students into doing well. I will use love, empathy, and care to finish out this semester strong, and I hope you join me.

– Jeremiah

P.S. I am attaching a free document from Pernille Ripp entitled “Common Misbehaviors and how we work with them“, from her book Passionate Learners. This is a wonderful guide to using care and love to help our students. (This file came from Routledge Publishing)

The importance of critical thinking (Election post 2)

48 Hours since the election and not a word from my students about it. Let me tell you, I think eight and nine-year-olds haven’t totally established object permanence (out of sight, out of mind!)

My post today is about another conversation I had with a student yesterday who told me that on Facebook he saw that a rapper was going to assassinate Trump. I had to think quickly the best way to respond because there are many things about that statement that needed to be addressed. The first thing I told him is “Does that sound right to you?” And my student just gave me a little smile, so I offered some more advice “You can’t always believe everything you see on Facebook or the internet. When you see something like that, you need to tell yourself ‘Stop! Does this sound right? I better check this with another source.’ ”

I worry everyone!! I worry about our students’ instant access to information, especially because young children have the ability to believe almost anything they see or hear. (Jaswal. 2010) I worry that students will be taken advantage of by false information.

As a future school librarian, I see the need for our students to think critically and evaluate information to seek the truth. And with increasing access to information at students fingertips (literally) we need to help them learn to think critically! I don’t have all the answers of how to do this, but I know many in the library science field in both school and public settings are working hard to help students and adults evaluate information. But what can we do in our classrooms? Teach students the stop step.

When you read something that doesn’t seem quite right, the first thing to do is say “Stop! This doesn’t sound right. I better check this with another source.” OR “Stop! This sounds too good to be true. I better check this with another source.”

The other important step is to advocate for school librarians and certified library personnel in ALL schools. This is a critical component for our students to learn how to evaluate information.

Learn more here:

School Librarians Matter!

AASL Kit for promoting school libraries

Scholastic: School Libraries Work! 2016