Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day That Shall In Infamy

Today we have witnessed an amazing feat for America. President Barack Obama became our 44th president and the first president of African American descent. As I watched this historic event streaming live on the web, I was brought to tears a number of times. Watching him walk out to the venue, I couldn't imagine what was going through his mind or how nervous his stomach must have felt; yet he never displayed a moment of weakness or nervousness at all.

As he addressed the throngs of Americans present and on line, as well as the millions of others from around the world, Barack Obama spoke eloquently and confidently as a leader should. The cameras captured millions of people in attendance witnessing an event that many thought would never come. I saw people young and old, black and white, male and female, all united together in the common bond of the hope that is now America. Among the particular images that touched me were parents gathered with their children, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Jr. as the President mentioned those who came to the aid of others "when the levees broke," members of the armed forces standing confidently in their dress uniforms, and members of the original Tuskegee Airmen proudly wearing their caps identifying them as such. Seeing those airmen brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Imagine how proud they are to be Americans today! In addition, when President Obama spoke of his father who, "less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant" as his son now stood before us all and took his most sacred oath, the tears flowed not just for me but for all of us Americans who remember those difficult times in our history.

President Obama's speech was compelling. He spoke of our trials and triumphs as a nation and he spoke of how, today, we gathered "because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." He referenced scripture, our forefathers, and our founding beliefs as a nation united together for a single purpose. Most compelling, he said, "The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that we are all equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." America, the time has finally come.

Yes, these are words and ideals we have heard before; but today we witnessed them come true for the first time in our history and I am overwhelmed at the hope that it brings us all. I'm hopeful that this new leader, our 44th President of these United States of America, will bring about the change we so desperately desire for this country. President Obama strikes me as one of the most intelligent men we have ever had in this important post and I am confident that he has the ability to lead us to great things. I believe him when he said, "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America--they will be met."

Congratulations, America. We have finally turned a corner that has haunted our history for far too long. Today, we can finally come together and put an end to the elitist behaviors and ideals that have kept us separated for so long. Today, we can join as one and work toward the common goals and beliefs we have established for our nation.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stuck in the Middle: Finding Ways to Inspire and Motivate Adolescents

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited. - Plutarch

As I returned home from teaching the first class of a new semester of pre-service English teachers at Niagara University recently I was feeling inspired. I love the energy that a new group of students brings to the classroom and their willingness to learn, try new things, and absorb as much as they can motivates me to do my best in leading them into the reality of teaching today. When I returned home, I sent them all an email welcoming them to class and telling them how happy I am to have them under my wing. Simple communications such as these go a long way in building relationships and classroom community. It also fosters sharing and building a personal learning network (PLN) among my students.

In the past my pre-service teachers have been quiet and shy, lacking confidence and afraid of what awaits them in the classrooms of their future. Granted, there have been some who have been more eager to learn and outgoing, and there always seems to be that one who knows everything and assumes the attitude that there's nothing you can't teach them that they don't know already, but this new group, however, seems different. They're excited to be there, eager to share their ideas and beliefs about education, and they're asking more questions than any class I've had before. And I am loving it! Just when I was contemplating how much longer I can manage to teach along with my administrative responsibilities, I am inspired to find ways to make it possible.

Nothing can compare to a classroom full of students eager to learn and try new things, ready to be challenged and chomping at the bit to share their thoughts. My new group of pre-service teachers fit this bill and so do my four-year-old Universal Pre-K students. Both are excited to walk in the door everyday to learn new things, try something different, and share their thoughts with one another and their teacher. Why is that those students in between these two age groups have lost that spark and excitement about learning?

Having been a secondary English teacher in both middle and high school for fourteen years, I can attest to the fact that the spark for learning begins to fade somewhere at the onset of adolescence and tends to last until the excitement and uncertainty of applying to colleges begins to set in. Even though there are some great teachers who do some great things to motivate and challenge students "stuck in the middle," that spark essentially alludes both teachers and students for quite a few years. It's sad. It's criminal. And it's our reality. But what causes it to happen?

Is it the emphasis on standardized testing and benchmark assessments? I think there's something to that, but I don't think it's the sole cause. What I do think is that, somewhere along the line, the emphasis changes from the exercise of skills to the demonstration of knowledge and this is what stifles the natural inquiry inherent in students. Although the world, students, and the expectations of schools has changed dramatically since we were young students, many teachers continue to teach the way they were taught when they were kids, with desks in neat rows, very little interaction among their peers, and very few assignments that foster constructivism and the creation of a new original product.

So how do we challenge teachers to move away from the way they've always done it and, in turn, challenge their students to engage in content in new ways? We must help teachers to become confident in relinquishing some control and allowing students to take the reins once in a while. Some wonderful things tend to happen as a result. Just read this blogpost by friend, Crista Anderson, to see what can happen. It's our job as administrators to provide opportunities for teachers to learn new strategies to tap into that spark and motivation that seems to be missing in students who are stuck in the middle.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

7 Things You May Not Know About Me~Gone Viral!

Angela Stockman, a treasured friend and colleague, who I follow on Twitter and have blogged about before, has tagged me for this fun little meme that has been winding its way around the web. Some of the bloggers I keep up with and Twitter with daily have shared seven things about themselves already, and I’m enjoying learning more about the people I’ve come to rely upon so much over the few months I've been in the Twitterverse and the blogosphere.

So, here we go with the rules:
  1. Link your original tagger and list these rules on your blog
  2. Share 7 facts about yourself in the post–some random, some weird
  3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged

Seven things you may not know about me:

  1. My favorite guilty pleasure is watching Charmed. I just love this show and I was sorry to see it end last year. I watch all the re-runs and try not to miss it...EVER. I have taped it on vhs, dvr'd it, and watched each season and episode a gazillion times. It never gets old for me. I don't know what draws me to it most...the characters, the magic, the complete impossibility of it happening in real life...who knows? I just love it. That's all.
  2. I have NEVER seen Pulp Fiction. Honest! I've never seen it and it's one of my sister's favorite movies. Because of her I know some of the lines and can quote them..."You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France? A Royale with cheese. " It's a cult classic and I have never seen it. To this day she cannot believe I've never watched it.
  3. I wanted to own my own flower shop when I was in high school. That was my first career choice. I love horticulture, gardening, and designing flower arrangements and always have. In high school I amassed a sequence in Horticulture and was a star student. I worked in two different flower shops out of high school and was an awesome designer, if I do say so myself. Never in a million years did I ever picture myself as a teacher or administrator back then. It's funny how life works out, isn't it?
  4. My favorite place to travel to is the big town of Vestal, NY. This is mainly because my favorite cousins live there and I have such fond memories of visiting them every summer since I was a tyke, but it is also one of the most beautiful places in New York State that I've ever been to. Nestled in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and seated along the Susquehanna River, I will admit that every time I leave there and get to a certain spot on the thruway on the way home, I cry...literally. I just can't help it. I used to take the bus there with my grandmother when I was a kid and I look forward to going there and seeing my cousins, The Mooneys, every chance I get.
  5. The people I admire most are my parents. I know, it sounds corny, but it's true. My parents were a HUGE scandal back in their day. Mom went to an all-girls Catholic School, Madonna High School, and my dad went to an all-boys Catholic School, Bishop Duffy High School, and when they were 17 they were pregnant and had to get married. I say "had to" because back in their day that was the accepted practice. Before they knew it, they had three kids before they were 22. My mom tells a story, my favorite story, about how she was pulling three toddlers in a wagon one summer day and an old codger sitting on his porch laughed a big belly laugh and said, "Well I guess so, honey!" as she walked past. She didn't quite get it until she got home and started unloading kids from the wagon; suddenly she saw that on the side of the wagon it said: "Rapid Delivery." I came along four years after my sister and they tell me that I was the only one they planned. My point is, my parents had to get married and are still happily married today. I am THE ONLY ONE of my high school friends whose parents are still together. My mom had to drop out of high school and be a mom, but she went back to school when we were kids and became a teacher. My dad just plain worked his tail off to support his family and I had a very happy childhood that I would not trade for the world.
  6. I used to weigh 311 pounds. Even when I admit that number to friends who have seen me at the height of my weight, they can't believe it. Honestly, I can't believe I let myself get to that number...it's scary and I was so unhealthy too. I had complications of high blood pressure and my asthma was really bad. I had a hard time walking from my classroom to the main office to get my mail. And doing the stairs? I don't even want to think about it! Thank God I have made better choices in my life and I am on the road to leading a much healthier and happier lifestyle. I've lost nearly 100 pounds and I'm working on the rest.
  7. I had an odd crush on my Ken doll when I was a kid. Gosh, that even sounds weird, doesn't it? I remember being very young and playing dolls with my friends at their houses and I always brought my Ken doll. I also remember being upset when the Barbie and Ken family set came out and they had a baby...that should've been me, not Barbie! Just another reason to hate that skinny blonde!

I’m tagging the seven people below, but if you’re reading, feel free to jump into the mix as well. Let me know if you do, and I’ll link to you.

Theresa Gray, Rob Currin, Adam, Vicki Davis, Jennifer Dorman, Glen Westrbroek, Mike Sansone