TPT Debate: On Teacher’s Personal Generosity

Earlier this summer, Adam Hill wrote about his views on resources like Teachers Pay Teachers. It was a fascinating discussion, and one I’ve continued to mull over ever since.

One comment that especially stood out to me was from Tonya Kipe:

“I would rather eat the cost just so others could benefit from the resources because most of us already have serious financial obligations to deal with and shouldn’t add work issues to it.”

This is interesting to me, because when you really think about it, the “serious financial obligations” works in both directions — both for the teachers who are trying to obtain resources for their classrooms on minimal budgets, and for the teachers who are trying to make money on TPT because of serious personal financial obligations.

So is it really such a bad thing for teachers to benefit financially from their resources they share?

It’s a complex question that gets really personal for me, so let me share some background…

My first few years of teaching were while my husband was in school. We had an infant. I was commuting through a massive construction zone for over an hour a day, and our evenings together as a family were scant.

When I heard about all the extras that other teachers were purchasing out-of-pocket for their classrooms because their budgets were just too tiny, I felt a bit ashamed. Our little family had only just made it above the poverty line with my new job — our eligibility for WIC (Women, Infants, & Children which provided basics like milk) still hadn’t even expired. There was no way I was going to be able to spend any of my own money on my classroom.

(eventually, I came to realize that my inability to personally supplement my classroom budget was something I neither could nor should worry about. Instead, I endeavored to engage my students in the creative problem-solving process using our existing resources — which certainly had its own merit).

Now, going back to the debate. Had I ventured into TPT to earn some extra money to supplement our supplies, or even our family’s finances, would anyone have accused me of greed?

But of course, I had neither spare money nor time, so that wouldn’t have been a possibility anyway. So, when I instead utilized free resources other teachers had publicly shared, would anyone have accused me of laziness?

I doubt it.

So here’s my take-away from it all. There is a season for everything. Right now, I’m away from the classroom, so I have much more time to fulfill a contributor role, which I love. And when I do return later, I will be in a much better financial position than I was during those first few frenzied years.

Give when you can. Don’t worry when you can’t. And avoid making assumptions and pressuring others. As long as this country habitually underpays and under-budgets teachers and classrooms, understand that no matter how earnestly we all want to help as many students as possible with our ideas, teachers’ personal financial generosity can only go so far.

P.S. As always, whether selling, shopping, sharing, or borrowing, remember to be wary of the resources that “have all the glitz and appearance of learning, but that really promote something…else.” (see An Open Letter: To Pinterest, from a Teacher).

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My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

Jonathan So recently had the brilliant idea to share his “top 5 defining teaching moments.” I love the opportunity to reflect, so I’d like to share mine as well. Obviously, I have much less experience — only 4 years of teaching, and 3 years into my longterm leave to raise our little ones — but even in that short time, I have become acquainted with certain people, practices, and ideologies that have thoroughly and beautifully challenged my thinking.

#1: Edna Sackson’s WhatEdSaid: The first clear “defining moment” was coming across Edna Sackson’s blog. With eloquent simplicity, especially in her “10 ways posts” she helped me identify practices that were actually standing in the way of learning, including, but not limited to “playing guess what’s in my head,” talking too much, and focusing on control. She also helped me better understand what student ownership, inquiry, and “flattened” classroom walls look like. Just goes to show that even oceans apart, we can make a profound impact on one another as teachers!

#2: Brene Brown & Daring Greatly: I read this book in 2013 and can honestly say that it changed me, both as a teacher and as a person. I recognized that I was harboring all kinds of shame stories, scarcity mindsets (“not enough”), and vulnerability armor. And once I learned to recognize and dismantle these in myself through vulnerability, self-compassion, and imperfection, I started to recognize them in my own students. I immediately printed (with color ink, mind — you know a teacher means business to have something printed in color) and posted in my classroom her leadership manifesto and engaged feedback checklist, sharing with my students my journey toward greater authenticity and vulnerability.

#3: Learning the principle of modeling: Once I really started getting the hang of that vulnerability stuff, I was able to better understand what real, authentic modeling looks like and can do for student learning/relationships. Not only did I learn cultivate the more vulnerable sides of my own learning (such as creativity), but together with my students, we were able to attain a richness and depth in our writing, reading, math, and in everything else that I had not yet witnessed.

#4: When a parent shared with me years later the impact of poetry on her son. I had heard other teachers share the gratification of having an old student or their parents come back to share thanks at some point down the road. But when I experienced it, it was much more than a sense of gratification — it was unshakable evidence that when we make meaning the priority, it has longterm significance. This parent shared that her son had been so moved by our 5th grade analysis of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou that he had performed a recitation of it in high school. So it was with great joy last spring when I had the opportunity to attend his school’s Poetry Out Loud competition to watch him perform it in person.

#5: Recognizing the value of my voice as a classroom-less teacher. I started blogging shortly after being put on unexpected bedrest. For the first long while, I struggled believing that any educator would really want to read reflections from a teacher that wasn’t actually in the classroom. I even had trouble telling people “I am a teacher” in present tense, because, stripped of my classroom and precious students, I felt like an impostor.

But ever since an epiphany a year ago that helped me better organize my blogging efforts, I have been able to more clearly see my contributions, and to better accept and love my current role (especially as a #TeacherMom with my current, very small students). And this is why, when teachers share ways my words are actually influencing their classrooms/students, I am profoundly grateful because it reminds me that we can reach students in more than one way:

In the course of my blogging/PLN-growing, I have learned about so many other practices that also have the potential to be “defining moments,” but many of them will have to wait for full impact until I’m back in the classroom. So meanwhile, I will keep learning, blogging, and sharing (repeat) in the hopes that my thinking will become more refined and able to bring those practices to light for future students!

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Mistakes & Trust, Expectations & Understanding #TeacherMom

Close the door behind you. Use both hands to carry things that might spill. Keep your voice down when baby is sleeping. Eat breakfast in a timely manner. Shoes off in the house. Toilet lid closed. Coat hung up. Mess cleaned up. 

The list goes on and on and on. And then these small humans go to school with a similar, but separate list.

With lists that long, mistakes are inevitable. The question is, what becomes of trust?

As usual, Brene Brown nails it here. As parents and teachers, we have a precious opportunity to teach children what it looks like to “make amends, stay aligned with our values, and confront shame and blame head-on.”

We can model to them what we do when we make mistakes to try to forge trust in our relationships, as well.

But of course, when backpacks get left on the floor again, or when the milk glass gets spilled again, it’s easy to let frustration take the driver’s seat and throw all trust and understanding out the window. It’s also easy to feel like they should know that expectation by now, and to show understanding would be to void responsibility.

But if we do that, we leave no room for trust, for opportunity to “make amends” and try again.

So instead, choose trust.

Give them a chance to clean it up.

Work together to build greater mutual understanding.

Exemplify vulnerability and the messy, hard work of relationship-building.

And while we’re at it, print off this Engaged Checklist, also from Brene Brown, and keep it posted in a handy spot…

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An Open Teacher Appreciation Letter #TeacherMom

I dreaded kindergarten from the day my oldest was born.

I knew, even before the years of careful nurturing had even begun, that the day would come to let go. That I would go from knowing what she did every moment of every day to being totally in the dark for large swaths of time.

That darkness terrified me. Because no matter how much we chatted about her day, I knew much would remain undisclosed — even significant moments that she might not recognize yet as significant.

Now that she has almost finished first grade — her first year of being at school for a full school day — my fears have been greatly assuaged, first and foremost thanks to her phenomenal teachers that have taken the time to communicate and show they care.

So, especially with National Teacher Appreciation Week coming up next week, I’d like to say, thank you. 

Thank you for leveraging the most useful forms of communication to help us keep in touch, from notes home to Facebook Messenger (I especially loved the occasional photos of all things random, quirky, and awesome).

Thank you for that time you expressed a hope she was feeling better when she’d had a tough day.

Thank you for being understanding of the sometimes-graphic descriptions of all her experiences with vomit that she thoroughly enjoyed sharing. With the whole class.

Thank you for being there for her in all those endless details and difficulties of being 6 years old, from figuring out buying milk to learning to sit at the carpet to dealing with hurt feelings — all while teaching her to become more responsible for herself.

Thank you for seeing and nurturing her passions — even when it meant creating an extra folder just for her to organize her 20 page personal narrative.

Thank you. As teachers, we often refer to our students as “our kids.” Thank you for meaning it, and treating her as your own. And thank you to teachers everywhere who do the same.

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“Are You Sure?” #TeacherMom

It’s spring break, which means my 2 year old gets to have his big sister home from school for more make-believe play together. Yesterday, I overheard them playing “house.”

In the course of their play, I heard my daughter ask her little brother how he wanted his kitchen to look. After he gave his idea, she asked, “Are you sure?” She proceeded to try to convince him of all the reasons for why her way would be better.

It was like looking into the proverbial mirror.

I knew I was witnessing my 6 year-old simply playing out the many times I’ve asked her the same question — after all, in their game, she was the mom.

It made me pause and reflect on the idea of autonomy. I’ve written about its benefits for our students before, but I wonder just how effectively I walk the walk with my own children. When we offer them a choice, but then cast doubt on their decision, we don’t give them the full opportunity that real autonomy affords.

Of course, that’s not to say that my young children get to choose in all things, just as my students did not always have a choice. But if we want to build trust, confidence, and ownership, honoring the decisions they do get to make is pivotal.

And when we don’t, well, I guess we’ll just watch the cycle start all over with our own children…

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The Price of Diminishing (any) Relationships? Our Humanity.

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic

I shared this quote this a few years ago in a post about how the digital age is altering education’s landscape. Today, it returns to mind as I reflect on how this “society-wide experiment” is impacting relationships. I have spent a good deal of time writing about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to make global connections that would never have been a possibility without technological advances.

But there are moments we ought to pause and consider some of the less positive detours this experiment can sometimes lead. Here’s a powerful short video by Matthew Frost that allows such reflection (please note that there is some language).

My question is this: whose humanity was diminished more in this video — Kirsten Dunst’s, or that of the 2 young women?

The moment we start to see anyone as less than a human being and more like an object to be used, or even as a product to be pushed through, we devalue our own humanity.

Of course, this base mentality has been around for much longer than the digital age, but devices, social media, and online anonymity provide a much more varied, efficient, and enticing ways to encourage it.

If there’s ever a time we’re willing to overlook another person’s need for authentic connection, we put our own ability to connect at risk. As the line between our digital and physical worlds become more and more blurred, we can’t hope that such a mindset will stay safely boxed in the moments when we think we have enough digital anonymity.

On the flipside, when we make authenticity and genuine connection a priority in all our interactions, we show that the impact of this digital experiment is to amplify positive connection in both the physical and digital sphere.

It also makes it easier to answer questions that involve the quality of our relationships, whether they are with our family members, our friends, or our students. Regardless of the possible efficiency or increased productivity or raised test scores, if the cost is quality relationships with one another, it is. not. worth it.

It would serve us all to remember that this society-wide digital experiment is, in fact, an experiment, and as such, we should occasionally stop to reflect on how it is shaping our lives.

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The Price of Putting What’s Best for Teachers over What’s Best for Students

Heart thumping. Throat catching. I want to sink into the floor. I want to dissolve. One by one, students call out their math quiz scores as my teacher records them in her gradebook. My last name is toward the beginning of the alphabet; my abysmal score will stand out in burning contrast to all the other acceptable scores that come after me.

Mine is never acceptable.

I feel the shame of my teacher’s disapproval.

I feel the humiliation of my classmates’ incredulity.

I feel the weight of the growing belief that I. don’t. belong. 

Day after day, I spent that entire year of elementary school in a sickened panic. I doubt my teacher possessed malicious intent toward me. Perhaps she even hoped that this strategy would help free up her time to better reach her students in other ways.

But put into practice, it served her convenience as a teacher more than my needs as a student.

And as a result, I spent every day, and many years thereafter, believing that she simply despised me. So all-encompassing was that fear and shame, I honestly doubt I was able to absorb much in the way of learning that year.

Now, at first glance, this may seem an extreme example. But here’s the thing: we never know how our kids are internalizing their surroundings; they might be unable as of yet to articulate their feelings even for themselves. With all their personal experiences and circumstances, students often respond differently to identical strategies (for me personally, it didn’t help that that year was also the single most tumultuous period of my childhood).

It is crucial, therefore, that we scrutinize every one of our practices with this question: Is this best for my students? None of us are perfect, and we certainly will make mistakes where this question is concerned, but as long as we keep reflecting, apologizing, and trying again, we can be assured that we are doing all in our power to provide a safe and positive learning environment for our students.

When the answer to that question is anything but a resounding yes, we never know what the price may be.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto