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06 December 2004: That's What It's All About (2 of 5)

As many elementary school teachers do, I received many, many love letters during my first year of teaching. By love letters, I mean that my fifth graders often went to great lengths to create drawings, envelopes, letters, or even sculptures, with the messages of "Your the best teacher!" and "I love you!" At first, these letters were priceless treasures. I kept every single one--even the ones that were spelled wrong. (You think they would have sparked a mini-lesson on your vs. you're, but clearly I was just focusing on the positive.) I put these treasures on my bulletin board, my desk, in my planner, in my car, at home on bathroom mirrors, the refrigerator, even at my mom's house. They were my legacy. I believed they were my evidence that I was making a difference, building tomorrow, and doing my job well. My experience and distance from that time and place tells me so much more about my teaching. While these mementos were evidence of a sort, upon reflection I've decided they're not necessarily good news.

07 December 2004: That's What It's All About (3 of 5)

Now, when I think about those love letters, I am shocked. How did my students possibly have so much time to create these little masterpieces? It is to me a clear reflection of my lack of differentiated instruction. It is no accident that the students who tended to finish their work early, or not at all, were also the most prolific. For the ones who finished early, of course they loved me--I was constantly giving them work that was easy to do! What better way to spend all of their free time than encouraging me to give them more? I am so disappointed in my inability to recognize this at the time. Now that differentiation is essential to my teaching methods, it's hard for me to even imagine what it was like to give the entire class one assignment in one work period. Not only do I give multiple assignments for students to work on at their own pace, but I adapt even the assignments to be serving each student's demonstrated need. Ironic, I guess, but I am very pleased with how few love letters I have received in recent years.

08 December 2004: That's What It's All About (4 of 5)

I think there's another important lesson to be learned from my inexperience. The love letters I received were often glittered, pasted, cut, folded, painted, glued, colored, and embellished countless other ways. What do you think that says about my art instruction? Could one conclude that the students were so comfortable with art supplies from such regular use? Well, one may conclude that, but they'd be wrong. I am ashamed at how little I actually taught art that year. Of course, there were many contributing factors. For starters, I had zero training in teaching art, as it's not a requirement for credentialling in my state. Also, it was far from a priority in my chronically underperforming school. The end result is that I didn't teach it and I didn't feel guilty. At the time. After having pursued professional development in teaching art, it's now something that I enjoy and value in my classroom. But, it turns out to be just one more way that these love letters still are saying so much.

09 December 2004: That's What It's All About (5 of 5)

So, I get fewer love letters and I'm okay with that. The affection and correspondence that I receive from students now is far more meaningful, because it happens on their time, in their ways. The letters and emails that I receive from past and current students never go unanswered. Sometimes, they have academic questions. Often they want to discuss a personal issue with another student that I know. Lots of times, they just want to tell me about their day.

When Frank called the other day, he didn't tell me he loved me or he missed me. Just the fact that he called was enough. Enough to demonstrate that while those things are true, it also shows so clearly that he believes that I love and value him. As a result of this truth, I got inspired to get in touch with my favorite high school teacher. Now that I truly know what kind of an investment he made in me, I went back to thank him, and with tears in my eyes to tell him that I'd become a teacher. That's what it's all about.

10 December 2004: Cardinal Rules for Administrators (1 of 6)

Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself. Is it possible? Really? How could someone get as far as their second position as an elementary principal and still be making blunders like those I encounter from my current administrator? Itís as if someone gave her a list of the ten cardinal rules for managing teachers and she decided the best thing for the kids would be to start breaking the rules, one at a time. Now, to be fair, Iíve never been an administrator of a school. I have worked in management and administration for many industries; theater, business, technology, even academia. So, while my experience may not include running an elementary school, my perspective is well informed. So, letís explore the rules for running an elementary school, as I see it, and examine the way my principal is failing miserably.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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