2020 Isn’t Cancelled

Well, the first half of 2020 is behind us, and what a historic six months it has been! At the beginning of this year, people were so optimistic and excited. A new year, a new decade, a re-visiting of the 20’s – which personally is my favorite decade in history. The promise of the future was everywhere. And then, just as quickly as that promise was born, it began fading away. First, there were the reports of a new virus spreading half a world away. The next thing we knew, that virus was making its way across the globe and invading our country. Seemingly overnight, America went from being “open for business” to “closed indefinitely,” and our lives completely changed. Businesses and schools were closed, jobs were lost, and people were dying.

And then, there was more. In alarmingly rapid succession, we were confronted with Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor – every day people who all died in horrific ways. Their deaths released a barrage of emotions, and people were challenged to really analyze their feelings, be informed, speak up, and get involved. Every day there were reports of protests and even sometimes violent riots as people who were hurting, grieving, and angry lashed out at a society that has failed to hear their voices for far too long. However, these actions caused people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures to come together and loudly proclaim that “Black Lives Matter,” and a glimmer of hope was born that maybe, just maybe, this time they really would.

So, here we are entering the second half of 2020, and in many ways the world seems just as uncertain as it was a few months ago. However, the difference is we have already gone through these last few months, and have hopefully become stronger and smarter because of them. This new normal has taught us many things – many job functions can be performed at home, essential workers need to be protected because they are the ones who keep this country running, teachers should be valued more because wow! Their jobs actually ARE hard, history has a way of repeating itself (especially when the original history was written in a way that hid so much of the truth), masks save lives, and Black Lives Matter. What we choose to do with our new knowledge is up to us. Every individual has a choice: to learn and grow or stay stagnant and die. My dad used to say all the time that, “all living things grow and change. The only time you aren’t growing and changing is when you’re dead.”

As this roller coaster year starts its descend toward the finish, let us all take time to really evaluate who we are and who we want to be. Have you tried to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Have you read or watched something that challenged you? Have you been purposeful about finding opportunities to show compassion or thankfulness to others? Have you spent time listening respectfully to someone with a different viewpoint than yours? Even more importantly, have you spent time engaging in a respectful dialogue with someone whose views are not the same as yours? Are you someone who is searching for ways to be united or are you a person who is fostering division?

I, for one, would like to believe that when 2020 comes to a close we as a people will be able to look back and see that the events of this year impacted us in a way that ultimately made us stronger and better people. That this year caused us to come together in ways we never have before. That systemic changes occurred in this year which will benefit the most vulnerable in our society instead of continue to cause them harm. This year isn’t over yet, and it’s up to us to decide what lessons future historians will teach about the opening year of the 21st century Roaring Twenties.

New Year, New Reforms

Hello, and Happy New Year! The Roaring 20’s is one of my favorite time periods in history, and I look forward to what this new decade has in store for us. It’s been awhile since my last post, but now that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over, I’m ready to get back to work and am focused on my goals for the year.

Interestingly enough though, this post is NOT about my 2020 goal agenda. I was actually inspired to write this post because of events that unfolded during our mid-year standardized testing that occurred upon our return from winter break.

I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and I have spent the majority of this time teaching special education. Even during the years I taught high school, although I wasn’t specifically teaching special education classes, as a dual-licensed faculty member of the English department, if you were a student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that qualified you for special education services, I was your English teacher. So as a teacher who has had to administer standardized tests to students with special needs every year, I am intimately aware of the fact that the overabundance of standardized testing, and the subsequent reliance on their results, has wreaked damage to a population of students who already have a plethora of obstacles hindering their educational success.

Just to be clear, standardized testing is not new. Ever since Alfred Binet developed an intelligence test in 1905, there has been standardized testing designed to determine if you are smart enough, performing to certain measures, and/or the right fit for the job (or school). However, when then-President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, the use of standardized testing proliferated, and is now present across all grade levels, even amongst our youngest students in preschool and kindergarten and our most fragile populations of students with special needs.

Going back to our school’s recent testing window, our district was conducting Middle-of-the-Year NWEA MAP testing. Within my district, this same test is given at the end of the year as well. If you are in certain “benchmark” grades and you don’t pass the test, it is mandatory for you to be retained.

The MAP test in and of itself is not the worst test out there. It is an adaptive test. It is designed to either increase or decrease the rigor depending on the student’s performance. However, it also purposefully gives students questions on topics they haven’t been taught yet (supposedly to determine the student’s readiness for those topics). It is an untimed test, and students are allowed to take a break, pause the test, or even suspend it until a later time. All of this sounds great in theory. Until you have a student in the third grade on the Autism Spectrum who has extreme testing anxiety or a fifth grade student who has been diagnosed with significant emotional disabilities and is currently living with his aunt as his foster parent due to the emotional trauma he suffered when living with his mother. Both of these students are below-grade level. Their teachers already know that. Their cognitive and academic testing that was completed in order for them to qualify for special education services has proven that. The progress monitoring that is completed all throughout the year to determine whether or not they are on-track to meet their IEP goals shows their progress and keeps all of their teachers accountable. But yet, these students, and thousands like them, are required to take a test that creates undue stress and negatively impacts their self-esteem. My third grade student with autism was so frozen with fear all he could do was sit and cry. My fifth grade student had a complete breakdown in the testing room and had to be removed altogether. Why are non-educators so intent on forcing kids who already know what they don’t know (and feel inferior to their peers because of it) to prove on a test what exactly they don’t know?

For the parents who are reading this blog, please know that this unhealthy pattern of over-testing and developmentally inappropriate testing will continue until you band together and demand change. Teachers will support you if you demand testing policy overhauls, because teachers know that all this testing isn’t in the best interest of any of our students, not just those with special needs. The testing craziness began in earnest with politicians who didn’t have any teaching experience of their own trying to hold teachers accountable. (Oh, the irony, I know.) It is time to tell our current, and future, politicians that the harm we are causing our children must be put to an end. Let’s put policies in place that ensure that no student has to walk out of a room feeling broken and defeated. Now that would truly ensure that no child is left behind.

Waiting for a Truly Good Deal

This week, approximately 94% of Chicago Public School educators, clinicians, paraprofessionals, and school-related personnel voted in favor of authorizing the Chicago Teachers Union to authorize a strike if a satisfactory contract cannot be reached with the Chicago school district, and ultimately the newly elected Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Mayor Lightfoot campaigned under the banner of eliminating old-school politics. On her own campaign website, lightfootforchicago.com, the then-candidate stated that, “We must do better to halt the declining conditions of our neighborhood schools. We must do better to change an education policy that does not view parents, teachers, principals, staff or other stakeholders as valued partners. We must do better by insisting on a comprehensive plan to invest in families and neighborhoods, and to end the violence that plagues too many communities.” The contract that the CTU is currently fighting for is wanting to do just that. With their overwhelming vote this week, teachers are saying that it is time to eliminate the inequity that exists in Chicago schools, and it is time to prioritize agendas that research has proven will help children be more successful in school.

Let’s start with class sizes. Although there is a plethora of research proving that smaller class sizes are a fundamental piece of the academic success puzzle, schools all across the city are grossly over-crowded. I personally know of elementary school classrooms where anywhere from 32- 35 children are sitting in one room with one teacher and up to 37-38 middle school students are doing the same. If Mayor Lightfoot is serious about wanting students to achieve, then there should not be any hesitation on her part to include language in the contract that assures the district will begin taking steps to address overcrowded classrooms.

The next item on the agenda? School nurses. I personally do not know of a school on the south side that has a full-time nurse at their school every day with the exception of schools that have a large population of students with special needs who require medical assistance during the day. I currently have students with a myriad of medical conditions such as allergies, asthma, and seizure disorders. If one of these students has a medical emergency, we basically know to call 911 and hope for the best. Medical conditions aside, if a student falls and hits his/her head on the playground, we do not have a nurse to determine if a severe head injury has occurred. However, talking to parents of students on the north side, many of those schools have the discretionary funds due to parent and community donations to pay for a nurse themselves. Instead of stating that there is a nurse shortage all over the state, why won’t the mayor show her commitment to finding solutions to the problem by including language in the contract that addresses the situation?

Let’s also talk about those social workers the union is calling for. Currently, most schools on the south side do not have a full-time social worker. In fact, most of these schools have a social worker who only comes one day a week, with maybe a second day every other week. These are the very schools that are serving students who experience trauma, violence, and the effects of gang violence along with that of drug and alcohol abuse. It is very difficult for students to focus on their education when they are worried about whether or not they will be shot on their way home from school. To truly be committed to ending violence in this city means that we must truly be committed to helping support the students’ social/emotional and mental health in the very communities where the violence has caused the most damage.

Lastly, let’s bring to light a little-known fact about the current “good deal” that is being offered to Chicago teachers. The current proposal is calling for a reduction of planning time for teachers, who already often lack the proper planning time necessary to adequately teach students. However, this proposal is being buried by both the mayor’s office and the news media who are endorsing her deal.

The very fact that Mayor Lightfoot, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times are all urging teachers to just take the deal because the financial terms are “generous” (Chicago Tribune editorial, 9/13/19) shows the lack of understanding as to what this fight is all about. It’s not about money (although more money would be nice). Chicago teachers, so by default the Chicago Teachers Union, are not strike-hungry as those in the media are stating. In fact, the overwhelming majority of teachers do not want a strike. We want to be in our schools with our students. To be honest, having just come back from the summer break (which to make very clear to the public – we DO NOT get paid for; nor do we even collect a check….for about two months), teachers really can’t even afford to strike. However, we cannot support a deal that continues to put our most disadvantaged students at an even greater disadvantage and has no real plan for how to remedy the situation. That is how important this struggle is to us as champions of our youth. We are willing to risk financial strain and the possibility of negative opinions from the public as we fight for what our students so rightly deserve.

If you are serious about halting the declining conditions of neighborhood schools and changing educational policies, then address these issues, Mayor Lightfoot. Be willing to be the mayor that the overwhelming majority of Chicago citizens believed you were going to be when you won the election. Then, and only then, will we truly have a “very good deal.”

For further opinions on this topic, please read my colleague’s editorial which can be found at https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/9/26/20885381/chicago-teachers-union-strike-vote-class-sizes-social-workers-librarians-letters-to-the-editor

Run Your Race

Image result for running images

Over the years, I have consistently stated that running is one of the best analogies for life. A fantastic example of this occurred just this past weekend. About two months before my vacation, I had signed up for a 10k on Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday. Both of the races were ones that I had done previously and really enjoyed. Also, the 10k had a really awesome long-sleeved technical running shirt and as a runner in the Midwest, I need all the long-sleeved shirts I can get! Anyway, let’s just say that it might not have been one of my smartest ideas. During the month of August, I really did not run as much as I thought I would. Although I had brought my running shoes with me on my trip, I only had a chance to use them once. My itinerary was just too full each day, and let’s be honest, I was walking anywhere from 10-12 miles per day just exploring and really didn’t have the energy for it. Plus, when I returned home, it took me awhile to feel rested and ready to get back into the swing of things. While I had completed a couple of five mile runs here and there over the summer, the last time I ran ten miles was for a race over Memorial Day weekend. Furthermore, I hadn’t even taken into consideration that these races would take place right after the beginning of the school year when I was still adjusting to those 5am wake-up calls. However, despite all these roadblocks, I was determined to complete what I had committed myself to at the beginning of the summer. Over the course of two days and a total of 19.3 miles, these were the thoughts that came to me as related to life and running.

Keep your commitments. I tell people all the time that one of the main ways I help myself stay motivated as a runner is by signing up for races. There is something about the camaraderie and energy about a race that is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Runners respect each other as runners because they know how hard the work is to get to that starting line. It doesn’t matter if you are a 5-minute miler or a 15-minute miler; it took training and focus to be able to toe the line on race day. So when I sign up for a race, that is a commitment that I know I need to keep. It is a commitment to myself because I’ve invested my money. It is a commitment to others because I almost always talk one of my friends into running the race with me. And it is a commitment to the running community, because anyone who hosts a running event wants to see as many people there as possible. If everyone just paid a race fee and then never showed up, the event would not be considered a success – even though the money had been raised. In life, we need to be just as diligent about keeping our commitments to those around us. Both my biological children and my student children over the years used to get so frustrated when they would ask for permission to do something and I would answer with a, “Maybe.” After awhile, they would all understand that “maybe” usually meant “yes,” and they would call me out for never giving them a straight answer. I would explain to them (and still explain to my students today), that I often said maybe in response to requests because I needed to be ensure that I could honor my word. If I answered a request with a yes, then they could count on it happening. On the other hand, if I answered a request with a no, they understood the answer wouldn’t eventually change to yes. Over time, they grew to appreciate those “maybe” answers a whole lot more!

Stay focused. Anytime I run a race, or if I’m having a hard time on a training run, I choose a marker of some kind up ahead to focus on while I am running. I will tell myself to get to that light pole, park bench, stop sign, etc. It’s amazing how just zeroing in on a specific goal helps me to be able to keep going. When running longer races, I usually break it down in chunks. I don’t think of the 26.2 miles I need to run. I think of the first 5k, and then the second 5k, the third and so on until I cross that finish line. Our lives are the same way. You must find some way to stay focused on some thing in order to not just drift through life aimlessly. It could be that you’re focused on a big picture goal, so you understand you have to break it up into manageable steps in order to create an action plan. Perhaps you are focused on a selected group of small tasks that you just need to get accomplished. Either way, by keeping focused you will achieve your end goals sooner and with less unnecessary frustrations.

Know the rules of the road. At the half-marathon I ran on Sunday, they had pace groups – as is usually the case at longer races. A pace group is a group that has a leader running a certain pace throughout the race. As long as you stay with that group, you should finish in that goal time. When I run longer than a 10k, I actually have to do run/walk intervals due to a previous back injury. So I will run for three minutes and then walk for one. I have trained myself to be able to run fairly even splits with this method; therefore I will often pass/fall behind a pace group with each interval. However, there was one particular pace group where the leader obviously had not explained to them the most important rule of racing and the most important rule of running with a group. Slower runners stay to the right, and when running in a group don’t block the path. This particular group was spread out across the whole trail so that passing them was next to impossible. I would keep getting penned in behind them which was very frustrating and was affecting my ability to pace correctly. While our lives may be governed by a variety of laws that can change depending on who has the power to change them, there is one very basic rule to which we all need to adhere. It is so vital to our overall well-being that almost every type of religion has a version of it. Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. If we all followed this principle in our lives, the world would be a much happier, safer, cleaner place.

Be in the moment. I often tell others that whenever I’m out running, it is a time for me to just be. The world is a loud and busy place. There are so many things pulling us in so many directions. It is quite possible for someone to go through an entire day on autopilot just trying to get things accomplished. When running, that same danger is there. The run is just something we need to complete so we cross it off our list. I’ve caught myself doing both – just getting through a day checking off a to-do list and pushing through a run just because I needed to burn off the pizza I ate last night. However, my running has helped me to really zero in on the right now. As I focus on my breathing, rock out to a great playlist, and take in the world around me, I am reminded to count my blessings and find the stillness within me.

Run your race. I am finishing this list with the very same thought that started this post because it might possibly be the one we all need to remember the most. “Run your race!” is a phrase you will often hear coaches yell out to their runners, especially when a race is particularly close. Every runner needs to focus on what they are doing in their race, not on the runners behind them. How many of us have seen the runner turn around to see how close someone was behind them only to be overtaken or even injured? Some runners have a strong start and are able to maintain a steady pace throughout. Other runners start out at a more even pace but have the ability to kick it in gear in the end. No matter the race, as a runner, you have to focus on you – your training, your strategy, your game plan. And the same is so true of our lives. No matter what others are doing around you, you must stay focused on your race…your goals, your path, your own surroundings. Because even though we are all running a course, we are not running the same course. Some runners may be faster, others will be slower. You might come across an obstacle that wasn’t there for the runners in front of you. However, your race is yours alone. Don’t get caught up on whatever is happening around you. Listen to your coaches and your inner voice while keeping your eyes on the finish line, cause you’ve got this.

Do you want someone to help coach you to your personal finish line? Email me at kimberlyfreyconsulting@gmail.com so we can tackle your life race together!

If Planning a Trip to Italy or France…

I did it! After all the planning and preparation over the last several months, I have just returned home from my very first solo international trip. I spent a week in Italy and a week in France, and it was even more than I expected it to be. In the months leading up to my trip, people would often ask me what I was most looking forward to, ask about my plans, even inquire about whether or not I was nervous to go alone. No matter how many conversations I had, books and websites I read, or research I conducted though, nothing could adequately prepare me for this journey. It’s much like having a baby. You can read about it, go to childbirth classes, and talk to the hundreds who have had this same experience before you, but it still does not prepare you for the reality of your own child birthing process and when your baby arrives. Many people have asked me about my trip though, so I am going to attempt to share some of my process with all of you.

To start with, I knew I wanted the bookends of my trip to be Paris and Rome. I eventually decided to start in Rome and finish in Paris because I knew I would be tired at the end of my trip and wanted to have more energy for Rome. I stand by that decision. Rome (all of Italy really) was hotter than France, and seemed to be more crowded and frenetic than Paris. Furthermore, in Rome I did a lot more walking (11-15 miles per day). I think if I had done it the other way around, I definitely would’ve regretted it. In all, I visited Rome, Florence, Venice, the Cinque Terre, Avignon, Versailles, and Paris. It was a whirlwind tour!

I chose to use Air BnBs as they were cheaper than hotels but nicer than hostels. With the exception of one location, I had entire apartments to myself for less than the price of a hotel room! I only used locations that were verified Superhosts, carefully read about the amenities, and researched the locations. I ended up with a view of the Colosseum in Rome, right in the middle of one of the most popular areas in Venice, the most perfect view in Manarola, practically next door to the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, and next door to the Picasso Museum and around the corner from public transit in Paris. It pays to do your research! The only time I wasn’t in the middle of things was my one hotel in Florence, and I had booked that based more on its price than paying attention to its location (a major mistake I won’t ever make again!)

Navigating the trains from city to city was much easier than I had expected it to be. After the first couple of times, I felt like a pro arranging my transport from one area of the country to the other. It is definitely cheaper to just buy as you go versus using the rail pass if you are just doing a couple of countries. Also, buying your tickets along the way allows you to have flexibility of staying longer in one area or leaving sooner than you had originally planned. The trains are generally clean inside, although many of the one in Italy have graffiti all over the outsides of them. Here’s a tip – the train stations (and actually most public restrooms) in both Italy and France charge one euro to use the restroom. There are bathrooms on the trains, and they are free (although they are just glorified portapotties).

For those of you planning your trips overseas, bring a water bottle! There are public water fountains everywhere, and the water is usually just as cold as if you bought it from the store, especially in Rome where the fountains are fed by aqueducts. It’s an adventure just exploring all the different fountains in the city, as there are hundreds – and all of them unique and beautiful in some way.

Lastly, I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about my trip was allowing myself the freedom of flexibility. If I wanted to sit in a sidewalk cafe and write in my journal for awhile, I did. If I saw a church spiral off in the distance I wanted to see up close, I’d figure out how to navigate myself to that point. Don’t pack your itinerary so full that you feel pressured to get it all done. Let the magic of the moment guide you at times and be willing to try new things. Do what matters to you, not what everyone else says you just “have to do while you’re there.”

In closing, my trip was all I wanted it to be and already has me planning for another. Thank you to all who read this quite lengthy post. Please feel free to comment or ask questions below and to share this post with others. Ciao! Au revoir! Until next time, I leave you with one of my favorite pictures from my trip.

Status Update

When I last wrote to you all, I had presented my summer “to-do” list. This being only the second time in my teaching career where I have a full summer break, I was purposeful at the beginning to make sure I would be using this time wisely. Fast forward three weeks, and the status update is as follows:

  1. Half-marathon training: I have been running more consistently than I have in probably a year. In addition to my running, I have been going to yoga and other workouts designed to help me build my strength and speed as a runner. My pace is still slower than I would like it to be, but as I focus on more speed workouts in the upcoming months, I am hoping that will improve.
  2. Organizing/Cleaning my apartment: I am happy to report that I have made quite a bit of progress in this area! When I look around my apartment, I can see the areas where there has been improvement. Alas, I can also see the many areas where I need to get it in gear, especially since I essentially only have two weeks to finish up these projects before I return to work.
  3. Focusing on writing: At the beginning of this summer, I set an ambitious goal to write a new post for both of my blogs at least once weekly. Well, that hasn’t quite happened, although in addition to writing for my other blog, I did also get quite a bit of journaling done. Next week I will be leaving for my vacation. I am bringing my laptop and plan on blogging about all my adventures, as this will be a first-time experience for me and many of my friends have asked for me to share my stories.
  4. Getting ready for my trip: I feel that this is where I have made the most progress. I did not realize how time-consuming planning a solo two-week European vacation would be. Not only did I book all my Air BnBs, but I have also researched and booked all of my tours, excursions, experiences, etc. While this has taken quite a bit of my time since I last wrote you, it has been very fulfilling. I am so excited for my trip and can’t believe that I will be heading out in only eight days!
  5. Preparing for my new website launch: This is probably the area where I have made the least progress, which is ironic because it is definitely the one I thought I would most focus on when this summer began. However, I still have some time to be more productive in this area and have made sure to include it in my schedule to ensure that I do just that.

I feel that going through this list, the wins/losses columns are pretty even at this point. Because of some work commitments that I have going on next week, I will only have two or three days before my trip to devote to anything. Upon return from my trip, I will have one week of vacation left before returning to work. I understand that it’s crunch time, which is why I am sitting in a coffee shop on a beautiful summer day writing to all of you and creating new content for my website. Thank you for supporting me as I focus on achieving my goals. Feel free to comment/share what you are currently focusing on so I can return the favor!

Trying Something New

Hello, summer! I realize that summer vacation for the majority of teachers is already almost halfway over, but my school district didn’t have their last day for students until June 20th. So for me, summer vacation is really just getting started.

Initially, I had planned on finding a job for the summer to supplement my income since my school district distributes our salaries over a 10-month schedule instead of a full year. The thought of not having a steady income coming in was very nerve-wracking for me – even though I have money saved and my regular bartending gig. However, as I sat and went through my actual income vs. expenses, I realized that I would be able to swing not taking on (technically) a third job. Furthermore, not getting another job would give me the time I have desperately been needing to check off some major items on my to-do list:

  1. Half-marathon training (trying to run a sub-2 hour race this year)
  2. Organizing the piles of papers that have taken over my apartment (plus maybe even some deep cleaning)
  3. Focusing on writing (for both my blogs, my novel draft, and my personal journals)
  4. Getting ready for my trip (longest vacation ever!)
  5. Getting everything ready for the launch of my new website (can’t wait to share with you all!)

Looking at this list, it doesn’t seem that long. Just five items, right folks? Breaking down each item on the list though, makes it seem daunting for even a fierce goal-setter such as myself. My planner and I have become best friends as I have spent time breaking down each of these tasks into manageable chunks for each day while making sure I also have time to catch up with family and friends. I am excited about all the opportunity this time is presenting for me since this is only the second time in my teaching career that I haven’t taught summer school. I guess since item #3 on this list is to be more focused on my writing, you should be hearing updates on my progress on a more consistent basis. I look forward to sharing this summer with you as I try new things, explore new places, and begin new ventures. Hopefully my tales will inspire others out there to attempt something new as well, and if so, I hope you will comment here so I can join you on your journey.

Let the adventures begin!

The Beginning of the End…and the End of the Beginning

Although it seems as if school has ended for everyone, the district where I teach still has another week to go. The last day for students is next Thursday, the 20th. For teachers? Well, we have not only Friday the 21st to go, but also Monday the 24th. However, it is close enough to the end of this year to finally feel it is the right time for reflection.

This year was one of major changes for me professionally. It was my first year in a new role and with a new district. I had to learn all new systems – and am still learning them. I had to get to know new administrators and teaching staff, and also learn how I fit into this organization. It was my first time not having my own classroom or a home room of my own students, but instead being a part of multiple classrooms and working with a variety of students in all grade levels. It was a year where I often felt I didn’t quite fit in, even though I was serving in exactly the role I wanted for myself. I was no longer a classroom teacher in the traditional sense, but I also was not technically an administrator. It has been a year of challenging myself in new ways and identifying new goals. On top of that, as I shared with readers in a previous blog, this past year was one of great loss and deep grief. Managing all of these obstacles has been hard, but I’ve made it. This is just the beginning of this chapter of my life, so I look forward to how the rest of the story will play out.

For all my fellow educators, I hope you have time this summer to pursue the things that are important to you. Parents, take the time to make memories with your children. Students, be open to explore new places and ideas because you are only young once. Congratulations to everyone for closing out another school year, but remember that summer is just the start of yet another adventure. Let’s go write the next chapter of our lives.

Spring Fever

It’s May. Mid-May to be exact. While spring is a time of freshness and excitement as we leave behind the bitterness of winter, for teachers it is probably the hardest time of the year. For teachers, spring means students who are so close to summer vacation they struggle even more than usual to pay attention in class. Spring means students getting a week off from school and returning to class saying they don’t remember anything from the week prior. Spring means lots of rainy days where kids can’t go outside for recess. And spring means end-of-the-year testing – which will often determine whether or not students are promoted to the next grade and is also a large factor of a teacher’s performance evaluation.

Generally speaking, teachers are fond of assessments. We understand that in order to determine what our students learn, there must be an assessment given. We know that analyzing student assessments will guide our future instruction to make it more meaningful for our kids. We firmly believe that educators need to be held accountable for the education they are providing. No truly good teacher wants a bad teacher tarnishing the profession and creating an increased workload for his or her co-workers. However, the increased amount of standardized testing, the pressures it places on our students, and the degree of importance it now has been given to both students and educators is overwhelming. Children as young as eight and nine discuss being scared about testing because they’re afraid they’re going to fail. Teachers lose over a month of instructional time a year due to students taking standardized tests. Because these tests are now used as promotion criteria for many students, they usually take place about a month ahead of the last day of school. So teachers lose even more valuable instructional time because once these tests are completed, students simply check-out mentally seeing as they have already taken “the test.” And teachers who work with some of the most challenging populations are penalized on their evaluations because their students did not perform well due to a myriad of factors that were out of the teacher’s control.

Teacher Appreciation Week was already held at the beginning of May, but if you didn’t get a chance to thank a teacher, it’s never too late. As the school year is winding down, take time to acknowledge the growth your child has shown over the course of the school year and to appreciate your child(ren)’s teacher(s) for the part they played in it. If you don’t have school-aged children, send some encouragement to your friends who are teachers or maybe even drop off a surprise at your local neighborhood school. It will only take a few minutes of your time, but will mean a whole lot more than you know.