Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Can't Swim Across an Ocean....I Need a Boat


I love analogies.  As a writer, they help me bring people in to my feelings and give them an understanding of how I feel...or to relate to a situation I've been in.

So, look at that picture.  You see that person who's just floating around?  You see the big boat?  

For the past several months, I've felt like that person floating around in the middle of the ocean while everyone around me is smooth sailing on a giant cruise ship.  We're both trying to get to the same destination, but as the ship sails on past I've felt like I've been stranded...floating...swimming...just trying to stay above water.  Sure, on the outside I look like I'm just happily floating along without a care in the world, but on the inside I'm worrying how much longer I can stay there without going completely under.

Every day I've come home exhausted.  It's tiring to try and stay afloat.  And the sad part is, all that time that I spent swimming and floating and staying above water, I never really got anywhere.  I didn't have anything that made my trip any easier, and I've basically just kept myself in survival mode this whole time.  It wasn't about where I went, but just making sure I didn't go under.

But yesterday?

Yesterday, I was finally thrown a life preserver.  I was rescued from the water and brought aboard a different boat.  It's not the same boat as my friends are on, but it's going in the same direction to the same destination.

And for the first time in a very long time, I didn't feel exhausted at the end of the day.  I didn't spend all day trying to keep my head above water.  I was actually able to enjoy the ride, take in the sights, and feel like I was on the right path to smooth sailing here on out.

All of that imagery and analogy... I surprise myself sometimes.

But, that's really how life has been like for me.  Going to work everyday, nervous and worried and stressed how I was going to keep up with what was going on in the other classrooms, panicking and getting frustrated because I couldn't get my kiddos to understand what they were supposed to be doing, and just feeling like I was going around and around in circles.

While every teacher has their stresses and their worries and their hurdles to jump over, I was dealing with seeing the finish line hundreds of miles off on the horizon and wondering how on earth I was going to get there by swimming.

Until finally I realized that trying to swim is just stupid.  Nobody swims across an ocean..that's what boats are for!!  

I made the decision that something had to change.  My methods had to change.  It wasn't the destination causing the problems, it was how I was trying to get there.  There are always more than one boat heading for the same place...

I know that my teammates aren't thrilled at the idea of me heading off on a different boat, they want us all to stick together.  But, I don't think they've realized that I've never really been on the same boat with them since day one.  I've always been the one swimming behind....miles behind....just trying to catch up.

OK, I think that's enough with the analogy.

It just comes down to the fact that I had to make the decision that was best for my students.  And, I realized that what's best for my kids is to move away from the current reading program that the rest of the grade is using and come up with my own.  

Will it mean more work for me?  Yes.  In the beginning. But once the kids find their bearings and understand the changes, I think it will actually make my life a lot easier.  The kids will have more choice and freedom to show their learning and understanding, and I get to do what I LOVE doing.  Creating new ideas to keep them on their toes and developing their reading skills.

Yesterday, I explained to my kiddos what we were going to start doing.  In my class I have reading levels that range from kindergarten to 6th grade.  That's a HUGE range.  And it was impossible for me to reach all of them with one story written on one level.  So, I told them that they'd be choosing a reading book on their level.  Their reading goal for the week would be to read the book three times, and create different ways to cover the reading skills that were the focus for the week, in addition to covering the skills that have been covered in the past.

So, by the end of the week they may have summarized, or discussed the author's purpose, or identified character traits, made generalizations about the book, found facts and opinions, problems and solutions, and will maybe compare and contrast their book to a classmate's book.

The same skills, just a different way of understanding them.

These next two weeks the kids will be choosing any books they want to just get a feel for the new way of doing things, but starting in February there will be a main focus for the reading to help streamline some of the projects.

For February, I'm starting with Black History Month.  The kids will select a book they want (on their reading level), but it will have to fall in line with some connection to black history.  So, maybe a biography or a story about a famous black person, or a book about a significant event (slavery, civil rights, etc.), or a book written by a black author.  And, then, the theme for the month will revolve around the students learning and sharing and presenting their books with the same focus in mind.

The school librarian has agreed to help me out on my endeavor, and it feels good knowing that I'll have someone to help me work out all the kinks.  But, for the first time in a long time I'm really excited about what's in store, and even more importantly - the kids are SUPER excited about the whole thing.

When I explained to them my idea, there were actual cheers.  The thought of having books on their level and creating small projects an writing about their book and presenting to the class excited them.  THEY WERE EXCITED about what reading was going to be.  

And that felt fantastic.  To see their smiling, happy faces.  Some looked relieved, even.  

I'm also very excited.  

My creative side is firing back up, and I'm already thinking about future "themes" and projects that I can put in to place.  

I honestly don't think it will be much more work for me.  I come up with various ways for the kids to demonstrate their understanding of the particular reading skill, I have kids read to me in small groups or one-on-one while the class is working on their projects, and I'm set.  

Fun.  Creativity.  Learning.  Proof of learning.

That's it.  In a nutshell.  And, I can't wait to get it started.

So, my dismal, whiny, negative self can go away.  Drown, actually.  I'm jumping on a boat and setting sail for my destination and excited about the fun we'll have on the way.

It's impossible for me to try and swim across an ocean, and so I'm happy I've finally found a boat.


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