An open letter to students...

Here we are.

Heading to the Blue Ridge Mountains for our over-night field trip. The big trip for 5th graders where we stand out as the oldest of the school. But even though we may be the oldest, we are still kids and this trip –well, this trip is a chance to be free; a chance to be 10 years old with no regrets.

I can hear your giggles from the front of the bus; the sleepy conversations that are wondering if we will see any snakes. The boys voted on the movie, but if we are honest, we all love a good superhero to bring justice – even if it is a cartoon. A few of you are arguing over who will get the top bunk when we reach the cabin, and a couple of you are being more quiet than normal because it’s your first time away from home for the night.

While we have a lot of questions about what this trip will be like, I hope you use this time away from school to your advantage. Enjoy this trip and find joy in the little things because we have a lot of standardized testing coming up and I know you are worried.

That’s okay. I get worried too, but let’s live for today.

A test, or group of tests, will never be able to tell us who we are. It is trips like this which define who we are. Weeks like this reveal our character, our joys, and our hearts. The tests in the upcoming weeks will never be able to tell that about you.

So, I thought I would let you in on a secret.

There is a lot that these tests will show about you as a student, BUT there is so much more they will never be able to tell. So, I want you to hear from me what they won’t show and that you should never worry about a test deciding for you:

1.       Your self-worth. There is no test in the world that will ever assess your self-worth. You and only you are capable of that. These tests may feel like they are able to determine your worth, but they can’t. They don’t know you. They don’t know what makes you laugh, what makes you tick, what makes you believe in greatness, and what will bring you to your knees with sadness. You are made up of more than answers to a test. “But what if I fail it?” Well, you fail it, but guess what? You are still you, and you are still loved. You are loved and adored by family and friends, and if you don’t know that, know that you have a teacher who does. You are an accumulation of your years and worthy of amazing things. Your worth cannot be measured on a scale of 1-4.

2.       Your passions. There are tests out there designed to help you with jobs and what you like, but what about those of you who love math even when you don’t understand it? There are those of you that are passionate about nature, animals, peace, and so much more. The tests coming up will not define your passions. There will more than likely not even be questions that have anything to do with what you like. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth caring for and pursuing.

3.       Your measure of joy. You bring joy and you give you. This is measured in laughs, hugs, secrets, and smiles. Paper and pencil, even computers, can’t show the measure of joy you give and deserve.

4.       Your future. Again, there are tests to help you with this, but in the next few weeks, these tests will not define your future for you. If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor! If you want to be a video game developer or YouTube star, do that! But work for it and believe in yourself. You have a dream – so go do it. Nothing comes free these days, but if you work for what you want, what you believe in, you will succeed and if no one else believes that, then come visit me. I am forever on your side.  

5.       Your story. A test can’t tell your story. Only you can. You have a story that is worth telling. I know for many of you, you have lived so much more than you have needed to in your short life. You have seen and experienced events that I can never define and yet you still walk in the door every day smiling. Don’t be afraid of your story. Don’t be afraid to share it. It is beautiful because it’s about you.

You all are so much more than a test could ever determine. You are the reason I wake up each day. You make this world bearable because of your laughs, your wonders, and your hearts. Watching you grow up is one of the greatest things because I get to learn about you and learn from you. Yep, that’s right. YOU teach me!

So try not to be worried. I will also try because life is far better when we wonder about who gets to sleep in our cabin and which night is taco night at camp rather than a number on a page.

becoming.

In a world that is constantly changing and becoming, I find there is a steadiness within my classroom walls. It’s only through building a community with my students that we are able to go through each day. Yes, some days are a lot more difficult than others, but every single one of them is worth it.

Especially now.

In the wake of all the despair that is happening in our world these days, teachers are even more aware of the safety or lack thereof in schools. My kids have a ton of questions and a lot of thoughts on what has happened in the past, as well as what is happening right now in our world. To help them get along with understanding their hopes and fears, I have made a list of what our kids need from us.

  1. Listening ears. Listen to our students. No matter the age, there are a lot of thoughts and feelings running through these children. It’s important that they know that we, as adults, are willing to listen to what they have to say. There are a lot of questions and if children are not given the chance to ask these questions and be heard, then what are we truly teaching them?

  2. A safe environment. Children love stability whether you see it or not. They crave it. I’ve notice students who are type cast as behavior students thrive in areas they feel safe. Leaving to go to a new school or being away for a long break is difficult for them and they may act out because school and the classroom is one of their main places of routine and stability. Opening up your room as a safe spot to nurture and grow minds only allows for children to blossom and become an even better version of themselves. They take risks, asks questions, and build community.

  3. Open-mindedness & not knowing all the answers. Yes, we know an unbelievable amount of information, but we don’t know it all. We are constant learners and I find that when my students learn I don’t know all the answers (but that I’m willing to find out with them) they are more open to me as their teacher.

  4. Be consistent. While this goes hand in hand with a safe environment, we must be consistent within the walls of our classroom & our lives. Whether that is behavior management, grading, scheduling, or showing up when you need to everyday. Our students depend on us for guidance and being consistent shows them we remain sturdy even if the school or the world feels otherwise.

  5. Stay positive. It’s easy to let the grading, parents, observations, arguments, and the overall lack of respect for education from what seems like the world these days to get us down. However, our students need for us to show up and speak out for them and with them every day. It’s funny how one little hello each morning can make a student’s day and change the course of what happens within the walls of a classroom.

There is nothing greater than having 22+ faces eager (and not so eager) to start the day. Children, are the reason I get up every day. They are my passion. Even on the worst of days, there is something so wonderful about being surrounded by students and a community of other teachers who are passionate about what they do. We are a fierce tribe, us teachers. We constantly bend, break, & pour out to the future generations. It is my hope that the 5 learnings above are being crafted every day. Then, just maybe, we will see those students release their fears and all their hopes to take flight.

rubber bands, sticks & stones.

Resiliency. These days it’s not just another vocabulary to add to the list for my students, but a trait we are trying to learn in our little community. It’s hard. It’s hard to understand how the world will come at us and how to bounce back, but it can be done.

Recently, a student approached me to let me know he was upset and that another student knew a fact about him and he hated that she knew it. Now, in my eyes, it was nothing big, but to this little one, it was enough to break him.

I pulled a rubber band out of my desk drawer and asked him what he knew about the object.

“It stretches.”

“Yes, it does. What do you think will happen if I let go of it now that I have stretched it out?”

“Well, it will go flying.”

“Yes, but when you pick it up, how does it look?”

“It’s back to is normal position. It’s not stretched out anymore.”

Exactly.

I told him that there are going to be days where we are stretched to the limit. People will say mean things to us and know information about us we don’t want them to know, but we have the power to be resilient like that rubber band. We can choose to be stretched and break, or we can bounce back.

So often we allow others to speak into who we are when they have no authority over us, or our feelings.

Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Smart woman. But often it is so hard to bounce back, especially when you want to be loved so badly by others (like many in my classroom).

Resiliency isn’t easy to learn, but when we begin to understand the magnitude of it, we can see a change in our lives. A change that gives us peace in who we are. It grounds us, children and adult, to see that who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and how we handle situations is completely up to us.

It’s not always easy to bounce back when the world throws us for a loop. It’s not fun to feel that life is always getting us down, but I have to believe we were created in a way that when a situation arises that pushes us down or stretches us out, we are built to bounce back and try again.

Here’s to being rubber bands in a world of sticks and stones.

"until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

If you don't know the above quote, it comes from the one and only Jean Louise "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. I love this quote almost as much as I love that book and reading in general. 

One of my favorite things to do in the classroom is a read aloud. There is something magical about gathering together to read through a new adventure. Reading allows us the chance to slip into another world and learn about others. It also leads to great discussion and cliff hangers are every fifth graders worst nightmare, but favorite excitement. Because I love reading to the kiddos so much, I thought I would share books that became instant classics in my classroom, whether a picture or chapter book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

What Do Yo Do With an Idea? by Yobi Yamada

The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Chains by Laurie Halse

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Of course, there are so many more amazingly fantastic books out there! These are simply a handful my classes have encountered over the past few years.

I would love to hear what you all are reading with your classes! You can never have too many books!

forever fifth.

“You teach 5th grade? Oh, bless your heart! You are a special person to deal with all of that.”

A common phrase spoken here in the south, but also found as a common thought across many minds. Telling others you are a teacher feels a bit like telling someone you have some sort of plague that can only be handled with certain care. But for me, teaching (and teaching 5th grade) is second nature. It's a new adventure everyday with people you truly care about and want the absolute best for. There are good days and bad, but at the end of each year, you look back at the growth and change and love these little beings more than you thought you could. 

5th grade is my absolute favorite. Students are still young enough to depend on you, but want their independence as well. It’s an age to watch kids come alive in their personalities and begin to truly invest in their dreams they have been creating for years. It’s an age that shows maturity in those who are still to young to deal with some of the things they deal with. They teach you more than they know and more than you believe. It’s also a time of curiosity and testing limits. Don’t get me wrong, most ages are, but there is something special about these little (or not so little) ones.

An activity I love to do with my classes each year is the toilet paper challenge. It sounds like there might be a little TMI, but it's full of giggles and useful information. I hold a roll of toilet paper in the air and ask students to think of how much they might need if they were to use the bathroom (this is the giggly part). I then pass the roll around and students tear off what they need and try to figure out what in the world their crazy teacher is doing. Once the roll has made it around the room, I ask students to count how many pieces they have. The number of toilet sheets is the number of things they have to tell the class about themselves (i.e. 4 sheets - 4 facts, 24 sheets - 24 facts). Its definitely worth a laugh when you see the faces of those who decided they needed enough to TP a house :)

Students then go around sharing facts about themselves to all in the room to add to the classroom community. Of course you will have students who tell you obvious facts you already know, but every once in a while you come across those who are reflective and let you into their world. You find out information you might not have come across normally. This is what happened with my group this year. Within four students, I was aware of happenings at home, belief systems, and a yearning to understand why the world treats others the way it does at times. 

This activity is simple in action, but can be so impactful in learning about those in your classroom. There are "oh, you too?" moments that spark new friendships and lead to questions and answers that are desperately sought out. At the age of a 5th grader, though it's only been 10 years, it has been enough of a lifetime to see wonderful, beautiful, and tragic things. It's enough time to question others and even yourself. You start to wonder where you belong and why others don't always treat you as you would treat them. You start to see the world isn't all you thought it was, but also it is so much more and anything still is possible!

So, for me, it's not a "bless your heart" moment that I teach 5th grade, but an "I can't believe I get to do this everyday". Sure, we have hard days (but doesn't every job?), classroom management doesn't always work the way we want, and a child struggles on a test we thought they were ready for, BUT we get to invest time in a child and watch them grow! It may take a special person to choose to teach, but that is the same for others in all the jobs they may love. We are all special, unique individuals in that we have a job to do and others to love whether that is in a classroom, an office, or on the street.