Feliz Navidad 2020 y Próspero Año 2021

Mentioning the year 2020 immediately raises most people’s blood pressure or instant grief or negative thoughts. It has inspired unique creativity in the meme world, which definitely helps relieve stress. Normally optimistic folks who take on challenges for fun have either stopped trying new things or complain more than usual. Granted, between 9 months of COVID living, racial strife, ugly political leadership, and so many changes to the perceived normal, we’re all a little on edge and a little more quick to pout or quit. Personally, 2020 will forever hold several monumental happy memories for me.

The first two events are intertwined. First, it’s the year my daughter and I spent nearly 24/7 together from February to August. Emily came home from China for Christmas break and the day she was set to fly back, February 9th, every airline cancelled all flights overseas – she was home to stay! Since I had just had my right knee replacement surgery on February 4th (positive event number 2), and she was completely my right-hand girl, this was not sad news to me. I’ve always pushed my children to go, go, go explore the world, try new things, go places! Since she couldn’t go anywhere, I felt personally blessed to have her with me. She did more than the obvious: drove me to physical therapy twice a week, drove me to school and back home, brought me things when I was too tired to get up, made me get up when I was too tired to get up. She watched funny shows to cheer me up, made me join her YouTube drawing lessons, walked with me, talked with me, drew with me, wrote with me, read with me. Replacing my horribly worn-out right knee could not have been more positive, due to Dr. Hanby and Emily Rose.

Event number three was left total knee replacement. Again, Emily was there for me and we kept learning new things, dreaming about what we wanted to do, watching more Taskmaster, and recuperating. By the end of July I was slowly playing tennis again – just standing and hitting at first – but I played my first doubles match in early August and it was a phenomenal feeling to play tennis with no pain in my knees! After not playing for 6 months, almost every other part of my body ached, but it was such a good feeling!

Next, my granddaughter Piper Joy turned a year old on August 5th. Julius and Nicole made the trip north to celebrate with GP Rains, Mama Elena, and Ganny Haynes and it was simply wonderful to see her after 8 months of separation! Julius and Nicole were wonderful about sending pictures, taking time to FaceTime on the weekends, and sharing her growth and changes with us, but seeing that beautiful, funny personality in our home in Arkansas was priceless!

After school started (crazy, blended, insane, sometimes illogical system that it has become), and I got a bit of a feel for what my year was going to look like, Fred and I decided to have our Vow-Renewal Wedding as planned. Well, not exactly as planned, but at the Christian Life Cathedral Chapel on our 30th anniversary, and live-streamed with limited, socially-distanced seating! My best friend Kristen Novotny planned and took care of about 90% of every detail, with Fred’s help on decisions. This left Fred and me free to meet with Pastor Ron Harris for counseling, growth, and planning for our Covenant Marriage ceremony. We enjoyed taking care of what details we could before we left for Florida, like shopping for outfits and buying lovely “past, present, and future” rings! With the benefit of two “Remote Learning” days which were designated “recuperation days” for teachers, students, and everyone involved in school, we headed to Florida. While there we had the time and separation from daily life to focus on our vows, the details of the ceremony, and ourselves. We chose songs to play with a slideshow we put together, decided on songs for during the ceremony (thanks to Aunt Nancy and Uncle David), and then a playlist for after the ceremony. With Pastor Ron’s direction, we discussed our Core Values, and took care of our extensive list of questions for homework. While some friends and family were able to attend the ceremony on Sunday, October 25th, most watched from the safety of their homes, sharing sweet comments on the FB Live Stream. The day was so special for both Fred and me: our best friends from college repeated as our Best Man (Gred McCone), and Maid/Matron of Honor (Irene Larson Dacus), my best friend organized everything, our daughter selected and sang “Tightrope” from “The Greatest Showman,” both my parents walked me down the aisle, and our friends Jared and Tanya Park carried a picture of Fred’s parents down the aisle. We have video, pictures, and a lovely framed picture with signatures to constantly remind us of this special day and our re-dedication to each other. Kristen collaborated with Fred, my children, Irene, Nicole, and others to ensure everything was wonderful for us. Fred made sure the day happened – for me, for him, for us, for our children. I have the most beautiful 3-stone diamond ring smiling at me every day as a reminder of our past, present, and future together!

On another professional note, we still managed to have a large number of students in Springdale apply for and earn the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy during the Pandemic – nothing will hold some people back! Young people are resilient. Don’t let them think this is completely negative – ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, you can! Making excuses has been a problem to deal with. Perspective: if everyone on the planet is dealing with masks & COVID, you are not unique and you can’t claim “adversity,” the meaningless sports claim. Not for everyday tasks that a person can definitely perform. Make excuses and underachieve all you want, but many people are completely overcoming every obstacle thrown at them – racism, COVID, extreme poverty, language barriers, lack of resources. With excuses, you will be left in the dust. [Note: I am very aware that many people who were already struggling with anxiety, stress, and other mental illnesses, or simply needed counseling to deal with life, were hit especially hard with the isolation and differences in a COVID life. This is NOT what I mean by “making excuses;” rather, I am talking about kids and parents who have no real excuse, but use them as a crutch.]

Finally, with the support of an excellent principal in the best school district in the region, surrounded by outstanding teachers and an especially team-oriented World Language department, and of course, my best friend Kristen Novotny, the fall semester was an interesting experience. I’m not a liar – there were definite moments, days, and even a few weeks of extreme frustration and mind-blowing, life-altering situations. However, we all felt “in it together” and sometimes together against the world. We were always supported to do not just what was right for the student, but what was best for me personally so that I could survive, continue, and not give up. So much support from so many sides made it all possible and even positive overall because, after 27.5 years, I learned a great deal.

Here we are, December 31, 2020. We celebrated Christmas with all our children, our sweet, perfect granddaughter, friends, and even with family thanks to FaceTime and Zoom. We watched Christmas movies, hung the lights, sang the carols, read the Advent Calendar posts, wrapped and opened gifts, and played with Piper. [My children are amazing aunts and uncles!] Heading into 2021, we have to face the reality that our COVID situation continues and we absolutely must be diligently safe for everyone’s sake, regardless of personal safety ideas or incorrect philosophies. A vaccination has arrived on the scene, but it’s so early in the process, we have to hold strong on mask-wearing, hand-washing (still can’t believe so many needed reminding to wash hands after going to the bathroom – gross – so please continue that for the rest of your life), and socially distancing regardless of supposedly-important shopping needs or desperate need for bars (is the need for strangers so important?).

We can do it, people! Remember that “freedom” does not mean that you can do whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want…because I have rights, too. We all do – so wear your masks, treat everyone (of every race, social status, religious belief, political belief), with respect and kindness, and continue to stay at home when you can. These aren’t “limitations” but rather “measures” to keep us safe while still doing, mostly, what we want or need to do. Family game nights, family pizza nights, and family movie nights are on the rise – keep up the traditions! If you don’t have a family to stay at home with, invite 2-3 people to be part of your bubble and go out of your way to plan weekly, fun activities either in person or through technology!

I wish you all a wonderful, positive, memorable 2021 – but hopefully memorable for different reasons!

#blacklivesmatter #2bilit2quit

March Madness o Copa Mundial

Para los aficionados de baloncesto, March Madness es equivalente a la Copa Mundial de los Estados Unidos. Especialmente el primer jueves y viernes del torneo cuando se juega 32 partidos: evitamos trabajar, los quehaceres y cualquier otra cosa. Nos sentamos pegados al televisor con nuestra quiniela gritando ansiosamente a un equipo, de vez en cuando algunos que jamás hemos visto en la vida. Olemos la competencia. Tantos partidos que nos frustramos de no poder verlos todos.

Alguna gente solamente con una quiniela llenada hasta el campeón, otra gente con competencias donde sea necesario incluir quiniela cada ronda y otra gente participando en los dos ¡para doble la competencia!

No es por nada que se llama March Madness el Camino Hacia los Cuatro Finalistas: nos vuelven locos con cada partido más cuando un equipo peor posicionado vence a uno en mejor posición. También nos volvemos locos cuando nuestros equipos favoritos ganan o pierden.

Las discusiones empiezan el domingo con el programa del sorteo en la televisión: ¿Por qué invitaron a este equipo y no a ese? No creo que merezca esa posición aquel equipo sino el otro. La “conferencia” SEC es más fuerte que la del Big 10.

Al fin y al cabo March Madness representa las mejores dos semanas de baloncesto en el mundo. No se puede comparar con el torneo del NBA porque el suyo dura más de un mes y cada ronda se gana con un mini-torneo entre 2 equipos para ganar 3 de 5 partidos. Al nivel universitario del NCAA, es “ganar o salir.” Cada noche hay lágrimas, de alegría o tristeza. Con cada derrota, es el último partido en la vida de alguien que nunca pasará a ser profesional, pero ha dedicado su vida al deporte, no solamente por los 4 años de la universidad, pero muchas veces desde su niñez. Otros lloran por haber ganado en el último segundito en un partido que nunca en la vida debieron de haber ganado [NC State vs. Houston en 1983; Villanova en 1985].

Me alegra simplemente pensar en el torneo más interesante en el mundo. No existe nada similar.

Aquí estamos. ¡Empieza hoy! Tengo mis “brackets” (y planes para mis clases por la tarde que me permiten prestar atención a la locura – soy maestra). ¡En sus marcas, listos, ya!

Social Media and District PD

…is causing schizophrenia. Marzano quote on Twitter recently: “too much content is the #1 issue in education today and teachers cannon solve this problem.” While I do not agree systematically (poverty, equality, funding, etc), I do agree from the PD perspective if you add to the “content” idea “resources.”

So many ideas, so many directions, so many expectations, so few clear, precise resources, or resources that “include it all.” Try this! Try this! I’m living in one, long infomercial!

Much like the need to clear out my house after years of being a pack rat, my teaching basket is overflowing and it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Technology is great, but being pushed to use it simply because it’s there when a simple, quick, effective old-school activity could be managed on scratch paper or on a white board (I think old-school would actually be a chalk board – anyone remember those?), is ineffective and bothersome. This particular phenomenon has also limited my normal spontaneity between class periods of the same subject in some ways.

What is the answer for me?

For example, this year I have one class of first year Language Academy students; they have been in the United States less than one year and are immersed in English all day, save their one period of Spanish with me for language support. By and large, they have little to no exposure with high-tech devices, so am I beating my head against a wall by trying to do digital exit-slips when it takes 20 minutes to get them logged in, find the right place to go, and then to slowly type a reflection, which in itself is a foreign concept for most? What is the point of the exit slip? Is it for them to use technology or for them to reflect and for me to understand what they’re understanding from a lesson? Also, I could use this digital exit slip with my other two classes of the same Native Speaker level, but then I would have some paper results and some digital results which to me is inefficient and unhelpful. I try to tell my Language Academy students that I’m pushing them so hard with technology so that they will feel competent when they eventually move to mixed classes with the general population, but in the meantime I’m failing them in their language instruction because we spend entire class periods, even with the help of my excellent TA, volunteers from Spanish 3 and their teacher, and volunteers from my AP classes. Again, I must reflect on the true goals of the class to find my responsibility as I’m drowning in ideas.

Do their grades, assessments, and evaluations reflect learning, development in the language, or the ability to complete tasks digitally? I’m the one who has to balance this and have not managed very well so far. I have improved on asking for help from the younger gurus who, luckily for me, are both geniuses and have great perspective for such young educators, but I also feel like I can only manage so many changes in one school year: Genius Hour, Advisory, 45-minute classes that are constantly interrupted, Redesigned Classroom, district technology help/suggestions, new District Curriculum, new District Assessments, Twitter, Facebook (talk about old-school!), Instagram, EdTech, Webinars, etc.

All these changes don’t even take into account any changes in my personal life – wait, I’m supposed to have a personal life? Darn! Now I have to start all over again, because to keep up with all the technology suggestions alone I have to either work past my normal 12-hour work day if I want to spend any time on my content area and/or collaborating with my colleagues about my content area, or ditch content and hope that all this cute technology distracts from the fact that my students are not actually learning. “But look at all the entries I have posted in gClassroom!” My new personal change, a dedication to being healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually, now takes a back seat! No way! So what goes in that back seat now? This is my idea of professional schizophrenia, I guess.

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Though I’m excited and pleased with many of the changes currently shared and popularized through Social Media, the bottom line is still that human factor. I can’t hide behind the computer screen or other device and pretend that I’m building relationships by sending a Remind or posting comments on a gDoc, or even providing more feedback than ever before because it’s easier digitally -remember sensitivity? It’s so much easier to critique digitally rather than face-to-face; no taking into account how the student may feel. I must remember to speak to my students, live and in person, to see their heart in their reactions and to encourage them to be human and step back from the technology and engage, not as an android, but as themselves, human beings. We do complain often as teachers that “those kids are constantly looking at their phones!”, but then, usually in the same breath as we turn red in the face, tell them to get on their Chromebooks or other devices and learn. Ironic? Who’s in charge here? Oh, wait! That would be me=)

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” –Albert Einstein

Maybe that quote will help be find the balance?

**Disclaimer: none of my comments are intended to be a reflection on my district, my friends, or any Social Media, but rather demonstrate my own incompetence at filtering through it all and finding balance in my professional and personal life.

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