I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Trip to the Art Museum: A School Year Analogy

My family and I took a "field trip" to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum on Wednesday. While taking in many intricate paintings and trying to make sense of the various eras and styles, I started thinking more and more about school. It dawned on me that a trip to the art museum was a pretty good analogy for the school year.

I know, crazy right? You're probably thinking that this girl has gone off the deep end in planning out her classroom, thinking through her first days of school, etc. But bear with me...

1. First Timer vs Old Timer:

Art Museum --> Whether it's your first visit (which may or may not have been the case for Marisa and me, we can't quite figure that one out) or your five hundredth visit to the museum, everyone is there to see the museum. Some may have trouble finding their way to a certain hall, the gift shop, or even the bathrooms, so it's the duty of the guides (or one of the 500+ time visitors) to help point the newcomers in the right direction.

School --> Each school year, there are going to be some new kids - if not in your classroom, there will at least be some wandering the halls of your school. Wouldn't you know it, things look foreign to them - it's up to the teachers, principal, and fellow students to extend a helping hand and make all the new kids (and teachers!) feel at home.

2. Same Trip, Different Experiences:

Art Museum --> After the first exhibit (which had something to do with Costa Rica and Native Americans), my family split up. My parents went one way, and Marisa and I went another. It's not that we didn't want to stay together; it's that we had different pacing and different goals for what we'd like to see. It worked out just fine - we saw pretty much the same exhibits (but in a different order and in a different amount of time) and no one got lost. (We found each other about an hour into our visit in a special exhibit on the 2nd floor.) Then, we split up again but ultimately rendezvoused at the gift shop. We all took the same trip, but if you asked each of us what we saw, I bet we'd give you a different account.

School --> You and your students are in the same classroom, but you're not all going to take the same learning path this year. (GASP!) You'll start together and (hopefully) end together, but what happens in between is somewhat magical (and, as a teacher, admittedly frustrating). Some kids will ace certain assignments and need enrichment while others will struggle to master the basics. Some students will eagerly devour your entire classroom library, allowing them to spread their wings in the world of their imaginations, while others will drag their feet in reading, thus limiting their ability to build background knowledge and stretch their thinking. Some may choose to complete certain types of projects based on their learning styles and preferences while others may choose the "easy way out" on projects. Some will need less time, some more time. There's no perfect formula; there's no easy balance. Start together, end together, and be sure they're learning something and enjoying the journey along the way.

3. What speaks to me vs. what speaks to you

Art Museum --> There are those select few pieces of art that tend to stand out to (just about) everybody. But most strike a nerve on a more individual level. For example, tucked away in a corner of the Native American exhibit, there was this piece of artwork:

It's nothing much, I would admit to that, but I stood and stared for longer than most people probably would. Maybe it's because it reminded me of the Southwest, or maybe it was the artist's use of light and natural colors. Who knows? I saw a lot of incredible art on Tuesday, ranging from religious to renaissance and from impressionist to modern, but this is the piece that stuck with me. If you ask anyone else in my family, I bet each of them would have their own favorite. 

School --> And so it is in the classroom: Jane's favorite read aloud is going to be different from Tom's; Susie is going to remember different activities from math class than Johnny (who is, meanwhile, going to do his best to blot out math class from his memory); Rachel will remember the field trips while Sam will remember the science experiments. You never know what's going to make a difference for each child. And you may never get any acknowledgement or verification that anything did, in fact, make a difference. But each year you keep on keeping on because the experience matters. The kiddos are learning, though not in a standardized, stringent way of thinking. And that's okay. In fact, it's more than okay - it's absolutely beautiful.

I'll leave you with these thoughts for now. There are probably more ways I could have drawn on this analogy, but that would have exhausted too much time (and finger dexterity). It's time for me to get back to reading some more PD books and thinking about planning for this year's incoming students. Let's go!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bracing the Issue of Homelessness with Teens

Homelessness. That's a pretty raw, tough topic. But I have faith it's a topic that's becoming more visible for kids thanks to the beauty of some young adult books...

1. Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson:
Ari's parents are dead, and she has a choice to make - stay with her caretaker or go with her older brother, 19 year old Gage. She opts for the latter, not realizing at first that her brother has no place to call home. Instead, he "couch surfs," staying with various friends or at shelters from time to time. Not sure where her next bed will be or from where her next meal will come, Ari's school work and grades start to suffer. That's bad enough, but when you add the idea that she needs to be competitive to get into the middle school her mom and brother went to, the pressure starts to build. She's not sure where to turn because she hasn't told anyone about her "home" situation. So many struggles, both internal and external - what's a girl to do?

Book cover design
Jennifer Jacobson & me - book signing @ ILA Conference, St. Louis 2015
2. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (AR copy - release date = September 2015)
A large, black-and-white, talking cat named Crenshaw comes to fifth grader, Jackson, when his family falls on tough times. He talks, takes bubble baths, and is imaginary. It's not the first time Jackson's family is facing homelessness - it happened about four years ago, which is when Crenshaw appeared for the first time. Jackson's parents are musicians who have lost their jobs and have had to take up a combination of part-time jobs to try to make ends meet. However, they fall short of making rent and providing enough food for their family, including Jackson's younger sister, Robin. Though he's imaginary, Crenshaw helps Jackson learn some important lessons about family, courage, and telling the truth.

I can't wait to share both of these books with my 6th graders this fall, preferably through the form of class read alouds. They seem like they would both be strong discussion starters...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chose or Chosen?

Last weekend the ND campus (well, at least the ACE office) was filled with the ACE 20 graduates and their families. On Saturday, a graduation Mass was held in the Basilica. Marisa and I were invited to sing for it, and I am so glad we went.

Afterwards, pizza was given to the choir, as we had not had the chance to grab dinner at the dining hall due to practice. I engaged in conversation with the ACE 22 teacher next to me - it turns out he will be going to one of the new sites at Peoria, IL, for his placement. What started out as a light comment soon became a very interesting conversation - I asked him if he chose ACE or if ACE chose him. He gave a little laugh and actually picked the latter.

It turns out that during his senior year he had served as a research assistant for Fr. Sean McGraw, CSC, the co-founder of ACE. Meanwhile, he cantored at the Sunday Basilica Masses, where Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC (the one who founded my ACE school and who is leading the charge for improving Latino enrollment in Catholic schools), often celebrated. It seemed as if the stars were aligning - both invited him to take a look at the ACE program and to consider becoming part of it. "What would you teach?" Fr. Sean asked him, to which he replied, "calculus." And I think he's doing that...along with some other high school math courses.

Pretty neat story, huh? I sat listening in awe of his story. And I thought about all of the other ACErs too - how many of them have a similar story to tell?

And what about myself and other ACErs of old? Is it mere coincidence that I had ACE teachers back in high school? Is it coincidental that many ACErs have parents or siblings in the field of education?

I have to believe that coincidence is not the right term here - no, it's not even close. I fully believe in the guiding hand of God, the breath of the Holy Spirit.

At least in my book, there's no other explanation possible...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Right Book, Right Time

I feel that it is so fitting that I was packing to go to ILA's annual reading conference when I came across the following (excerpt from a) blog entry from one of my 6th graders on his summer reading -->

He did it! He found a book that he actually enjoyed. (In case you're wondering what book it is, it's called The Crossover.) And, while the process to fine-tune our summer reading list took quite a bit of effort and the book recommendations I wrote for each student took quite a bit of time, it paid off for at least one student (and likely others who either haven't blogged yet or who won't admit it).

I just can't stop smiling - as a teacher, this makes me so happy! Getting the right books to kids is truly something magical...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

No more posters...

Happy Poster Projects Day, ACE 21!

Scratch that. There are poster projects no more. The members of the ACE 21 class were the first to hold their very own Teaching Fellows Conference - and it was amazing! They were so well-prepared, and the topics were so diverse (and relevant). From how poverty affects student learning to holding morning meetings, from embracing social media for middle/high school use to helping students think about their thinking, I really did learn a lot from my students today.

Congratulations ACE 21!

Poster Projects - R.I.P. (I think this conference is here to stay...)

(In memory...

Twas the night before posters
Miss Kelly M Foyle (ACE 15 Phoenix)
from July 13, 2009

Twas the night before posters
and all through the hall 
all the ACErs were scrambling - 
felt they'd hit a brick wall. 

Empty posterboards sat 
staring them in the face, 
while some tried to remember 
why they'd even joined ACE. 

Citing standards and lit 
caused stress hard to handle. 
ACErs sent up prayers, 
at the grotto, lit candles. 

Then came screaming, frustrations, 
heck, some even cried, 
but they soon asked themselves, 
"Really, would Clark eat us alive?" 

So the stress eased a wee bit 
as the sun started to dawn, 
"Sleep's overrated," 
ACErs joked with a yawn. 

Now, some posters were finished, 
others, eh, not so much, 
some ACErs sighed with relief 
adding their final touch. 

But the important thing was 
at the end of the day 
each ACEr would finish 
in his/her own special way. 

And at posters that evening 
they would answer each question 
professors would throw 
even near their direction. 

And after it all 
with their drinks and their beers, 
they'd celebrate heartily, 
"Everybody in, cheers!" )

Saturday, July 11, 2015

ACE = good for the soul

It's ACE graduation weekend here at ND. It's hard to believe that 5 years ago Marisa and I were sitting in the ACE 20's shoes...

Marisa & me (post-graduation)

ACE 15 Phoenix

My clinical supervisor

So, we like Harry Potter...

ACE 15 classmates at graduation dinner/dance

Five years ago? Really? Time sure flies.

As I sat back and listened to the ACE 20 class speaker's address and watched their video, tears brimmed in my eyes as I thought of all the ACE teachers that have gone through the program over the past 20+ years. How many lives have been touched, students' and peers' alike? How much faith and love has been shared? Too many and too much to be counted or measured, that is certain.

Oh, ACE, you are so good for the soul...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Good morning! My name is...

Good morning, my name is _____. One little known fact about me is ________.

Who would have thought that such a simple activity would lead to so many smiles, chuckles, and insight into other people's lives, people with whom I interact every day?

Every morning supervising the ACE elementary students at Practicum, Marisa and I strive to provide usable tools and helpful strategies they can use both now in their summer teaching positions and in the fall at their sites. In doing so, we usually model a short community circle/morning meeting, where we do a greeting or activity. Yesterday's was the one above. I shared that I love to swing dance, to which one of the ACErs replied, "Show us your moves." (I respectfully declined.) Some of their shares involved fun facts about their families, sleeping habits, and things they do for fun. I learned quite a bit, and it seemed to get everyone relaxed before I sent them off to work on that day's task, which involved making a plan for implementing different strategies for engagement in their classes this week.

It's good to have fun, to reduce the stress, to take a break. There was still plenty of time for work, too, and I would like to think that work they did was more productive than they would have done without it...