Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hour of Code

Dear Teachers,

This past week has been "Hour of Code" week, not only for our district, but around the world. I was proud to have played a microscopically small part in a couple of schools' events. One school in particular really went all out; you can read a couple of great birds'-eye reports of their week here and here. Our district's fabulous library systems administrator appeared in person for third graders. My brother-in-law was a great sport and videoconferenced in to a 4th grade class.

But Friday's Community Coding afternoon had to have been the highlight of the week. One of the teachers confided to me around 1:00 p.m. on Friday that she was concerned that no one would show up for the 1:30 event. She needn't have worried; the place was PACKED! It was such a gas to see so many kids showing off their new-found coding skills to their parents. It was a great example of the very best of what public school can - and should - offer to the community.

Many other schools in our district had fabulously successful coding events, too. As I told one group of 5th graders, if you're not going to be a teacher when you grow up, being a coder would be the second best job you could have.

Happy coding, everyone!



Monday, December 8, 2014

The Antidote to Humbug

Dear Teachers,

I've been feeling down lately, and it seems like a lot of people I know have been feeling the same way. There is so much to feel bad about, if you let the news convince you of it. Even though I stopped watching the news months ago because I determined that the constant barrage of bad news was just too discouraging, I still hear enough to make me pretty discouraged about the State of the World. People seem to be getting shot or strangled with alarming regularity. American politics has become so vitriolic that it almost makes me physically sick to listen to what's going on in Congress. I read another study about how kids aren't reading books the way they used to. The effects of global warming here in Texas are making it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. And it's not just the news of the world: I have several friends who are ill or are suffering in other ways, or their family members are. Oh, and shopping. How I HATE shopping. All of these things converging have made me a bit of a humbug lately.

But sitting in church today, I realized that there is something that restores my faith in humanity and the world. Lots of somethings, actually. Well, lots of someones. It's you.

You may not know it, but every time I go to a school, I notice things. I notice things like how dedicated you are to your students. I see how you greet them with a smile and tell them you're glad to see them each day (and mostly, it seems, you mean it). I see when the Special Ed student is giving you hell in the hallway, in front of the principal, and how frustrated you are, and how hard you try to reach that kid. I see you control your temper when that one kid does it again... whatever the "it" is. And on the rare occasions when you don't control your temper, I see you try again the next day, working all the time to try to find the strategy that might work with That Kid. I see the kindness and civility with which you treat one another in a world where manners so often seem to have gone out the window.

I get your phone calls asking me to tell you more about a program that might help that student. I see the emails you send me at 7:00 p.m., or 10:00 p.m., or midnight, and they tell me that you are still thinking about your kids, and about what you can do to help them all or just one of them.

I see you attend all those trainings that take you away from your students so you can be improving what you're doing in the classroom. Whether it's technology training or behavior management suggestions or instructional coaching or textbook adoption, I see you. And frankly, it ought to be enough to move the average sap like me to tears. Because when you do all these things, it gives me a glimpse into your hearts.

Your heart is where you got that calling: the calling to be a teacher, a role model, a person better than you might have been if you hadn't ended up in this profession. You are called time and time again, countless times a day: called to wipe the nose or tie the shoe or hand out the detention or stay late for tutoring. Called to notice the kid whose dad went to jail again last night or to comfort the one whose little brother just got a cancer diagnosis. To try to explain to this one where her mom is, when you're not really sure yourself. To try one more time to explain that math concept or physics principle. To attend the game or the concert for your student who might not have any family representation there.

And every time you do one of these things, large or small? What you do is restore my faith in the goodness - at least the potential goodness - of humankind. That is no small task these days. As the days grow shorter and darker and the news seems to just get worse and worse, know that at least one person notices what you do every day. Know that what you do makes a difference not only to your primary audience, your students, but also to me, an optimist whose optimism needs a little boost every now and then. You are the ones who keep me going, and I thank you.