Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

#sol21 March 2: Teach Like Your Shawl’s on Fire!

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge! I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by.

Teach Like Your Shawl’s on Fire

I wanted to tell you that I’ve been trying to time my math class and teach like my pants are on fire – or at least like my shawl is.

But when I went to find the picture I knew I had, of me in my new shawl from my mama, I realized how helpful that shawl really is – because I no longer have to keep warm with actual blankets.

This is probably why my mom made me my shawl.

Because it’s hard to teach with urgency, if you are wrapped in a blanket and holding a cup of tea. (Don’t worry – I put my coffee away to teach.)

I wanted to tell you about this urgency because today I was rocking it! I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but my times were really within 5 minutes of what my plan said. I even started explaining the breakout room directions 3 whole minutes before the 1:45 goal!

Listen. If you’ve ever taught with me or next to me or down the hall from me, you know this is a big deal.

By 2:35 (ish) I was almost ready to send the kids off to their WIN time! I had my slide projected with the assignment! I was so excited to give them the rest of the time to work: They could sign off of google meet, or stay on to work with me.

I was so proud.

I said, “Who here can help anyone who doesn’t remember how to upload to google classroom?”

I looked around at their faces in the google meet boxes. Usually hands would be up. There are a lot of helpers.

“Oh,” I said. “I think you are all frozen…?”

And then my google meet went away.

And then my internet went away.

And then one by one the rest of my family came up, down, and around to tell me that their internet was down.

H said, “We were in the middle of a very important conversation! The teacher was very passionate! His screen froze like this!” And he posed, mouth open, eyes wide, hands up in the air.

I said, “But – were you in the middle of teaching a fourth-grade math class?”

And then I tried to text a parent so they could tell the kids that my internet was off. But the text wouldn’t even go through as a text.

So I told myself that these are fourth-graders. They can handle it. And I just waited for the internet to reboot. Which it did around 3:00. I checked in the google meet, wondering if any fourth-graders would still be there. (They weren’t)

I still had my shawl on, but I should have taken the opportunity to sit with my new back massager… I can’t teach like it’s on fire, but it is heated!

I mean, a teacher should take a 15 minute break when it’s handed to her like that, right? (Next time. I’ll do that next time.)

A Slice of Leadership

Slice of LIfe

Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

I teach math now.
I mean, it’s only day 2, but I’m totally calling myself a fourth-grade math teacher now.
And I’m totally in love with my students.
And I’m totally calling them my students – even though I only get them for 90 ish minutes a day.

These kids are all remote – and what it seems like they want most in the world in math class (aside from “no distractions” and “lots of fun and games!”) is a lot of time to talk in breakout rooms.

I happen to believe that talking in math is one of the best ways to learn math. . . and also that teaching kids how to have math conversations can be hard. Even if you aren’t remote.

So, I told the students that we would be working in groups, and that we would often need a group leader for those groups.

“Tell me” I said “if you are interested in being a leader soon, or if you’d rather wait a bit.”

I’m not saying that everyone’s answer surprised me. That wouldn’t be fair. I’m just getting to really know these kids. But, if I hadn’t asked I think I would have asked kids to be leaders who I now know aren’t interested in that yet. I’m glad I asked, because now I not only know who wants to be a leader soon, but I also got to know more about their personality because of their answers…

I mean, come on. You have to love the kids who know they’d rather wait. They said things like:

I would rather wait a little bit.
I don’t want to be a leader. For now…
Maybe I would want to wait because I’m very bad at using computers and also, I normally like following not leading
I would rather wait a bit.
Wait a bit.
Not now maybe at the end of math class so i can get to know the class better and feel more comfortable with being the leader

And you have to love the kids who know they want to be a leader now: They said enthusiastic and also well-mannered things like:
I would REALLY love to be a leader! I feel that I am most prepared when it comes to breakout rooms.
I would like to be a leader soon 🙂
I WANNA BE A LEADER RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m very interested in being a group leader!
Rather be one sooner than later

And you have to love the kids who are willing to do it, but don’t want to be pushy about it:

I am interested in being a leader. When ever works fine, if other people want to go first that is perfectly fine. Whenever will work fine.
I’m ok with it but i don’t want to do it all the time.

So. I’m a math teacher now. Fourth Grade.

It’s day two, and I love these kids.

A Slice of When I grow up

Slice of LIfe

Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I wanted to be an actress. 

Well, when I was young, I wanted to be a teacher.

But then I started drama class in 5th grade – and by the time I was in high school, I’m pretty sure I answered that question with “actress.” Although, once you get to high school, people mostly stop asking you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They start asking you, “What do you want to go to college for?” 

And I was in love with the theatre. I even spelled it theatre.

Always have, always will. 

I was a very serious theatre student. I even tried to join the choir — though I’ve never been able to carry a tune. (Yet?) 

“I need to learn to sing.” I told the choir director. And she looked at me like I had two heads, and made me sing The Star Spangled Banner while she accompanied me on the piano. 

I really can’t do that – sing to someone playing all those notes and chords. Not being able to sing was why I wanted to learn to sing. Duh.

It was embarrassing, and I remember thinking, Seriously, which of the thousand notes that she’s playing does she want me to sing? I told her I can’t sing! 

But, I was a serious theatre student, so I tried my best. For maybe one semester. And then I decided I could just be a lover of straight plays. Who needs musicals? People don’t just start singing their life, so I don’t need to sing on stage! 

(Once I did have to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in a play. I remember my director trying so hard to help me. I think I caught her rolling her eyes and sighing once. But I totally get it. I mean, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? I didn’t have the confidence to just sing Twinkle Twinkle?)

I only had one dream bigger than my dream of becoming a professional actress. I needed to go to Penn State. It wasn’t because my parents went to Penn State (They did). It wasn’t because I loved football (definitely not a football fan). It wasn’t for the parties (I’m not a big partier). But, I did grow up in State College until right before 5th grade, and I imagined that going to Penn State would be like going back home finally. I applied to the college of Education as my backup plan, and then got ready to audition for the Theatre program. Remember, I was a serious Theatre student! I sent in my video monologue, and drove to State College for my live audition.

Spoiler alert: I did NOT get into the Penn State Theatre program. Oh, I cried so much! I called them to see why, and that’s another slice entirely. But at the end of the conversation they said “Well, you were already accepted to the College of Education, so at least you have a place at Penn State!” 

Yay. So that’s what I got for having a backup plan, I guess! 

I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to be an actress. I remember enjoying it for sure. But I don’t remember why I loved it. It’s been a long time.

I do remember why I love teaching. I remember it every time I have kids in front of me, every time I plan a lesson, every time I collaborate with teachers, every time I lead Professional Development, every time I read aloud.

It’s almost like I was meant to be a teacher. It’s almost like the universe knew! That’s pretty cool.

The ironic thing is that when I’m with kids – just me and them… what I often do is… sing! I sing pop songs, I make up lyrics. I go all out. One year I had my 6th grade class pretty convinced that I was actually a famous singer, whose agent would be soooo mad if she heard I had sung in public without selling tickets. 

A while ago someone told me the world was lucky I became a teacher and didn’t become the next Julia Roberts. I think it was a backhanded compliment, but since she’s neither the next Julia Roberts nor a teacher, it just makes me smile. Especially because now whenever I want to, I like to say “Big mistake! Big! HUGE!”

There are, surprisingly, many times in life for that scene — even if I just play it in my head. 

The Teacher Across The Hall

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

Have you ever had a teacher across the hall like Mardi?

Let me paint a scene for you. Mardi at her desk, grading papers, checking things off of her to-do list one by one. The rest of our team is there too, chatting away. Sure we’d talk about things that needed to be talked about, but then we’d stay there chatting, Mardi would chat too – but while getting work done.

“Hey!” We’d say every so often. “How is this fair? You’re getting all your work done!”

“You guys came here.” She’d shrug, smile, and check something else off of her to-do list.

Mardi used her planning period exactly the way we were supposed to use planning periods. She’d grade and plan and get kids set up for success. It was maddening really. I mean, how dare someone be so good at all the things?

One of the last years we taught together, Mardi had a planning period right while I taught Social Studies.  It was right after lunch if I am remembering correctly.

At some point, I noticed a pattern. My kids would be settling down, I’d be passing something out, or I might even be starting my lesson. That’s when I’d notice Mardi. She’d be walking around my room, holding a post-it with kids’ names on it, kids with late math work. She’d walk around, telling those kids that they needed to finish that work at the end of the day instead of going to their last choice period.  Sometimes she wasn’t quite as quiet, interrupting the start of my lesson, telling kids in no uncertain terms that they would need to get the work to her.

(Mardi always knew who owed late work, like 30 seconds after it was due. She probably knew the night before she assigned it, honestly.)

The first few times I noticed her in my Social Studies class,  I probably just ignored her and got to the business of teaching. After I noticed a pattern, I think I most likely smiled at her and raised my eyebrows. Once I realized it was happening often, I started to welcome her with open arms as soon as I saw her. “Good afternoon, Ms. McDonough!” I’d cry with glee. “Welcome!” We’d laugh, and I’d not so secretly be jealous of her organizational and time management skills. I’ve always wished I could be like that, but alas I haven’t gotten there yet.

Then one day I realized that I had a planning period while she taught Science. So I grabbed my orange megaphone and marched across the hall. Revenge!

“Alert! Alert!” I said into my megaphone as I walked into her classroom. “This is an interruption. I repeat. This is an interruption.”

I might have scared a kid or two, but Mardi paused her lesson and we both laughed. I took a blurry selfie, which I will always cherish, and I left.

What I wouldn’t give to teach across the hall from Mardi again.

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#FindTheJoy

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

 

I’m not saying that it’s quite as easy to find the joy each day, remotely.

Even before pandemic times
Before The Quarantine,
There were days.

Days when
meetings overtook
people were mean
things got canceled
I didn’t see a child,
(other than my own and they were grumpy that day, for sure)

There’s a reason I have a wine glass that says
#coachingainteasy

On those days,
Before pandemic times
Before Quarantine
I sometimes had to look for joy

And maybe I learned that looking for joy
is how you find it

Now it’s pandemic times
The Quarantine

Now I have to look for joy
It doesn’t pop up on its own and wave its hands in the air as often as normal
(“normal?”)

But it’s still important.
Because I’ve learned that looking for joy
is how you find it

Even if you are looking into your computer screen at little boxes
reading emails instead of faces
walking down your steps instead of around a school

Some people have reminded me that I don’t have to keep finding joy
posting videos, sharing every day
“It’s a pandemic!”
“Cut yourself some slack!”
“You don’t owe videos to anyone!”

But I do.
I owe it to myself
I owe it to myself to keep looking for joy

#findthejoy

(Check out my #findthejoy videos on Twitter and Facebook @OnaFeinberg … and join in! See what happens when you look for joy!)

#sol20 March 18 A Slice of a list

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge! I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by.

 

some things that are getting me through…

kids doing (some of) their chores & school work, it’s a start
facetiming mom & dad, even though they are only 20 minutes away
slicing every day, and commenting too
texting with friends, stay connected!
zoom meetings with colleagues, zoom zoom!
funny memes on facebook, because you have to laugh or…
goodnewsnetwork, to balance out the other stuff
walking the dog, making the kids come along
the good place episodes, and telling netflix that yes, we are still watching
movie nights, a lot of movie nights

#sol20 March 15 A Slice of Day 1 Eve

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge! I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

Happy Day 1 Eve! 

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
I wonder what kind of first day of no school outfit I will wear.
Do we go to bed early so we can start the day off right?

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
My meetings will all be zoomed.
Will my learning curve zoom-zoom-zoom?

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
Only time will tell if my kids do any of the things I ask.
Should I make a chart? Have rewards? Have high expectations… or none?

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
So today is Day 1 Eve
How exactly do we celebrate that? Another movie night you think?

#sol20 March 7 A Slice at the Grocery Store

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

At the grocery store, I stare at my items on the conveyor belt. I didn’t think I needed this much for our spring break, but I guess it makes sense.

Veggies
Chips
Dip
Vegan Mac & Cheese
Strawberries
Wine
Firelogs
Dark Chocolate
Wine
Vitamins
Zinc
Laundry Detergent…

I wonder if people think it’s an odd assortment of items – I even try to take a picture to show off how strange it is.

Or maybe anyone passing by can just tell that it’s a mom’s conveyor belt for Spring break:  Snacks by the fire, easy dinners, let’s not get sick, there’s no more hand sanitizer on the shelves, and by the way, we also need to keep up with the laundry.

One of my items doesn’t ring right, and I joke with the clerk, “I’m just here to make your day more exciting!”

“Oh, that’s just what I need,” she says, “after that last family with an $881 order! Three carts worth!”

“Wow,” I say. I feel better about the size of my order.

“Yea, I don’t know if they were one of those people in a panic, stocking up for the pandemic or what,” she says.

“Well, I’m just stocking up for Spring Break!” (Aren’t I witty with the checkout banter?)

And then we talk about hand washing, and how shouldn’t people be doing that anyway? I tell her I’m a teacher, so hand washing is kind of second nature to me.

“Oh, yea,” she says. “That’s what I did too. I was a teacher. I remember back when we had a flu scare. The county brought in gigundo bottles of hand sanitizers and huge boxes of tissues. But then they took us teachers aside to tell us that we shouldn’t use the hand sanitizer too much, or it would stop working against the germs. Soap and water are the best.”

I agree that soap and water are the best bet, she hands me my receipt and we say goodbye,  wishing each other good health.

I feel kind of weird about it, but I take a squirt of the hand sanitizer on my way past the bottle attached to the end of the counter. I mean, better safe than sorry.

#sol20 March 4 A Slice of a Poem, I Guess?

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

I don’t usually hear owls in the morning.

Do I?

This is what I am thinking as I arrive at school, balancing my coffee and bags and a water bottle, and my phone so I can speech-to-text a note to myself to remember later. Only, my phone thinks I’ve said, “I don’t usually hear about it in the morning.”

So I have to rebalance my bags so I can correct that in the note– because it feels like a slice. If I go home hours later and see a note that says “I don’t usually hear about it in the morning,” I’ll never know what I was talking about.

I breathe in the cool morning air, that feels both like it’s spring now, and also like it could snow any day.

Maybe this will be the kind of day where there are slices all around me, I think. Maybe I’ll fill my note on my phone with amazing inspiration for a poem that starts with

I don’t usually hear owls in the morning. 

I can add something about the cool morning air.

I don’t usually hear owls in the morning
Cool morning
Spring air
Snow soon

What a poet I am! I write a little in my mind while I walk to my room.

It will be a day full of slice inspiration. Slice-piration! 

Only I’m pretty busy, and the only other note I write is scrawled on a post-it on a page of the 5th-grade literary essay book. It’s a comment a student makes during the connection of our mini-lesson, and I have to write it down because I need it for my #finthejoy video.

I had reminded the class I was there for writing yesterday, and that today we were going to continue growing ideas about our stories to help us with interpretations for our literary essays.

“Wait. You were here yesterday?” A boy asked. “Morning or afternoon?”

“Afternoon.”

“You’re like a ninja!” he said.

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So, that’s my poem for the day, I guess. It must mean something, right?

 

I don’t usually hear owls in the morning

Cool morning
Spring air
Snow soon

Like a ninja