Today I lost an hour; thank you daylight savings time. One hour that could have been spent sleeping, reading, writing, working, or just goofing off. Yet, today was a gift. A rare, sunshiny Sunday in March, perfect for walking, imagining, and basking in the blue sky and cool breeze.
The blearing alarm sounds waking me on a frigid winter morning and I wonder if it is still the middle of the night. I drag my tired self out of bed blindly reaching for the coffee pot and sipping the miracle wake me up daily cup. As I try to move into efficiency mode, I look out of my kitchen window into the darkness and notice the sun beginning to rise behind the large, barren oak tree. The same silent tree waiting to greet me every morning. Hmm… I stand here every morning and never really notice how the sun slowly sneaks up behind that tree.
No time to waste, as I begin to assemble lunches for my teen and tween twins. Hummus and fresh veggies for the girls, overflowing meat grinder for my son. I grin at the three paper bags and think same, but so different. I stand at the kitchen sink, quickly rinsing my hands as the tree seems to say, “Slow down. Feel this moment of warm water flowing through your hands. Look at the sunrise. It is the same scene as yesterday and perhaps tomorrow, but take it in today.” I am no longer weary, anticipating another stressful day as middle school teacher and single mom. Maybe it is just the caffeine kicking in, as I realize that this moment is it, life is fleeting and meant to be enjoyed in this very small moment. Sensations of water, sunrise, and gratitude as my children tumble down the stairs, ready for a new day.
My children are now 31, 24, and 24. Sales executive and new mommy, artist-in-residence and bartender, electrical apprentice and HS rugby coach. I woke this morning, greeted the same oak tree as the sun began to rise, drinking my coffee with peace and knowing.
Simply writing every day, publicly, with a purpose, reason, and as part of a talented writing community has brought reflection and insight. I vacillate between “I cannot believe it’s only day 4!” and “I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings,” concerning my ability to develop a daily piece and the excitement of reading the inspiring work of others. A few things I have learned or rediscovered:
I am a procrastinator, leaning toward dilly dallying as I wait for ideas to flow
My best thinking, writing, and energy level is in the morning suggesting I need to rise even earlier to plan, draft, and get to work on time
My anxiety about perfection or not being good enough is gone because there is no time to waste worrying about it
The more I write, the more ideas I have
I can perform most times under pressure
I really enjoy writing to explore, learn, challenge, and grow my thinking
I feel more inspired, accomplished, and positive having joined this experience
I woke up this morning thinking about a teacher that stands out in my mind as someone who exemplifies all that is ethical and student-centered, and truly possessed the attributes of an exemplary teacher. Senora Fortunes was my high school Spanish teacher. She created relationships with students, knew them as individuals, but never crossed the line into friendship. She called me, “Miguelita” and knew that I loved dancing.
I was midway through senior year, and I was really beginning to struggle with Honors Spanish 4. I met with her to request a drop to a regular level class. She would not even consider the idea, having far more confidence in my capabilities than I had in myself. I was really worried about a poor exam grade and the research paper that was to be our midterm. As we talked through alternate ways for me to show mastery of the language, we agreed that I would teach the class something I knew well in Spanish. I was nervous, but had confidence that I could be successful because I could choose something that I knew and loved to do.
Ms. Fortunes truly knew her audience, communicated brilliantly the skills and knowledge she wanted us to learn, and gave specific and valuable feedback. She was everything I thought a teacher should be. Many years later , as a graduate student, I was studying the work of Markie (1994) who described her perfectly as someone who boldly exercised academic freedom; she created a structure but allowed me to proceed as a free inquirer. Markie describes the role of teacher, “We are obligated to promote intellectual inquiry, to aid those students who attempt it, and to make success in it a necessary condition of success in our course” (Markie, 1994. p. 42).
I was able to score an A on my midterm by teaching my honors Spanish class a dance, queuing the entire dance class in Spanish. After college, I became a professional modern dancer and then later, a middle school ELA and social studies teacher and leader in urban schools where my love of Latin culture and dancing continued. I am forever grateful Senora Fortunes.
The attributes that define an outstanding teacher are: passion and love for children and education, an open mind, and curiosity. Marzano says that studies show the number one indicator of student success is the teacher and whether or not the student perceives that the teacher likes him/her/them. A genuine, loving and caring teacher projects positivity concerning students, school, and community. A great teacher has an open mind, and is willing to change and grow. She is cognizant of the ever-changing demands placed upon educators today and is flexible, understanding that diversity in the world is a necessary and beautiful thing. Finally, a great teacher is curious about her students, the world, and has a thirst for knowledge that defines the life-long learner. An outstanding teacher is many things, but most importantly, is a role model for students, colleagues and the school community.
A skilled and knowledgeable teacher embraces diversity and different learning styles in all of her students. She plans lessons that are engaging, involve student discourse, and enable students to use higher thinking skills to solve problems. An excellent example is the Reader’s and Writer’s workshop by Lucy Calkins, Teachers’ College, Columbia University. In this model, students have choices, explore, and use the reading and writing process to explore and master skills in a practical and meaningful way. The teacher incorporates technology, hands-on learning, and real world experience to offer every student the opportunity to be motivated and find success. Finally, she is well-versed in meeting the goals and objectives of her special needs students and works to find creative ways to enable success for all.
My daughter baked a cake. Not an unusual or monumental feat; she takes after her father, possessing culinary talents that elude me. It wasn’t a birthday party, or a holiday, but a small gathering of family on an ordinary Sunday. I was confused when she asked her mother-in-law and me to cut the first slice together….from the hollowed center, out poured dozens of bright blue candies signaling that our lives would be forever changed when baby boy is born in August.