Below is an important note that I send home at the beginning of the school year. History, like current events, can be pretty ugly.
We covered a lot of ground in our four hours of training at Neosho Christian School on Thursday. The small faculty was very receptive to a few good ideas borne of my three decades of experience. We had a great time sharing commonalities and meaningful stories. They indicated they would implement some of the ideas schoolwide, but I'm sure they will think back on this day and try some of the ideas as individual instructors, as well. I hope to hear some success stories from NCS this year!
Do you think you are ready for an amazing fourth grade year? Really? If things go as planned, this year will be unlike any other in your educational life. While there are things we have to do to fulfill the demands of the federal and state governments (and the district's approach to such), I will always strive to be eclectic in my approach to the classroom.
First Things First
After saying all of that, we will begin with something that sounds much like every other class in the public school world - introductions, rules, and procedures. Hopefully, you will see right away, that even if the things look the same in the lesson plans, the Hoggatteer Experience is like no other.
For example, one of the first priorities for your new teacher is to establish some protocol for approaching and speaking to one another, to other teachers, and to adults in general. We will work on, believe it or not, properly shaking hands and looking people in the eye. We will practice active listening skills - including something called tracking.
I know you will want to get right into the learnin', but we absolutely must get it through our heads that we are a family. We will support each other through our actions and speech. We will cheer for effort and for success. We will accept each other's idiosyncrasies and differences. We will find ways to celebrate our differences.
In fact, we will publicly identify our own mistakes - yes, publicly, but in a safe and civil atmosphere. We will correct ourselves and help others when they have needs. We will work through problems painstakingly, not minding the investment of time when it will be beneficial to spend it. And then - again - we will celebrate the great effort to grow and learn.
There is a difference in the teacher handing out corrections and answers willy-nilly, and the manner in which our classroom operates. Students will be allowed - even encouraged - to struggle through issues and problems, and they will be rewarded intrinsically when they do. When learning and growing require struggle, learning and growing are appreciated so much more.
Not only is there a teacher in Room 404; there are students who look for ways to assist others. In the last few years, Room 404 has earned a reputation of being very close: a family indeed! We install a foundation of passion, compassion, and good manners, we build memories, and we cap it all with academic rigor.
Look out, here we go! Keep your arms and legs inside the classroom at all times.
When it was first announced that I was selected for Missouri's History Teacher of the Year, some people (including myself) wanted to know about a timeline for things to come. At the time, I hadn't heard anything but generalizations - that more information would come in the next few weeks. While I still don't have specific times and dates, I did receive an email, last week, from the Gilder-Lehrman Institute. I'm loving the anticipation of receiving all the different pieces of the award over the next months.
Congratulations again on being selected as your state's History Teacher of the Year! As a follow-up to your winner notification email, I wanted to reach out with a few more details on your award.
We're one week away from our Open House!
Please join Cecil Floyd Elementary
as we kick off the beginning
of the 2021/2 school year
to the Joplin community
and my own 32nd year of teaching
in America's public schools.
For the first time in over a year,
our doors will be open for families -
from 5:30 - 6:30,
next Thursday, August 19.
Then, join us four days later -
Monday, August 23 - for the first day of school.
Be ready to launch at 7:45 a.m.!
From the school's website:
Neosho Christian School is dedicated to excellence in educational opportunities from a Christian point of view. All Corporation Directors, School Board Members, Administrators, Teachers, and Staff Members are faithful non-denominational Christians who are resolved to provide opportunities for academic excellence, appropriate social experiences, suitable physical development opportunities, solid spiritual growth that is based on non-denominational Bible courses, and a well-balanced preparation for the future.
The biggest message I have to deliver to my students throughout the year is the idea that We are a family. I know they've been told similar things by previous teachers, but for Hoggatteers, it becomes more than an idea: this thing gets real.
I have found, with a great deal of experience, that most professional development to which I have been exposed has been a colossal waste of time and the taxpayers' money. At most, I have gleaned only snippets here and there from those seminars, workshops, and lectures that have been required of me.
Textbook workshops are intended to fulfill a sales promise. That's all they are. The intentions of the presenters may be noble - to illustrate the ins and outs of a new book collection, complete with all the unnecessary supplementary materials, pacing guides, and so-called standards alignment - but the payoff never comes during professional development.
District trainings are often conducted by newer teachers who are eager to show off their ambition and, yes, idyllic smiles. They can easily become conduits by which administrative whims are disseminated to the masses of the staff. When directed directly by administrators, the instruction can be condescending and heavy-handed.
So professional development is pretty worthless, right? Not necessarily.
The best of all trainings are the ones sought by the individual teacher. They are based on needs and interests - and never on mandates. In personal experience, the greatest training is based on strengths, rather than weaknesses. I loved experiencing places and learning from people that are not connected with a school district or state education department. When I have been able, I have traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to observe master teachers in the classrooms of the Ron Clark Academy, I have stayed a week on George Washington's property in Virginia, and I have studied for a week in Upstate New York at Fort Ticonderoga. These opportunities I worked to participate in. They were times that have come to be the richest in terms of content and procedures. They were opportunities to network outside of the narrow scope of my own school peers and even outside of my home state.
Professional development, as well as personal development, is an important part of improving a school, but unsolicited workshops with cookie-cutter approaches are simply ineffective at most. The fact that they are mandated - even if they are well-presented and valid - makes them undesirable and less likely to be received well by the staff.
Why not offer choices to the staff instead? Why not allow teachers to seek their own interests or work on their own needs or enhance their strengths? Squeezing everyone into one pattern will never be the best approach.
I don't think I've read a book or seen a documentary about the Revolution or George Washington that didn't call the men in the army ragtag. It's not a word we use in the 21st century, but it is a specifically descriptive word.
When I talked to a new Physical Education teacher one year, one year, he mentioned that he wasn't quite ready for the "Jump Start" kids during summer school. These are the incoming kindergartners, some who have had no experience with the structure of a classroom. He didn't, but maybe he could have described the group as ragtag.
I think educators are often surprised by the ragtaggediness of our classrooms at the beginning of the school year. We tend to see them in comparison with the previous year - you know, the one we worked all year until they could finally respond to commands and march in straight lines. No matter the grade level, there is always a period of time at the beginning of the year where the teacher goes home and thinks that discipline is not what it used to be. We get exhausted quite easily at the beginning because we have to put so much effort into trying to make them into what we worked a year to achieve with the last class.
That's when it's important to step back, take that cleansing breath the counselor talks about, and reflect. How did we do it last year? When did it begin to "click"? When did they start to feel like my class? I guarantee it wasn't on the first day.
In a giant sense of the word, we are also ragtag. No matter how high our hopes and expectations, no matter how bright our dreams or aspirations, no matter how regal our goals, it's never honed in the first week.
And that's OK.
The more I study about our first president, the more I realize that he was not the ideal leader, the perfect president, the best military strategist, the greatest politician, or the most romantic, the most eloquent, the strongest, etc. Not at first, that is. He, too, was ragtag in the beginning. He worked his way through hardships that naturally fell on his young shoulders. He failed to achieve the gentry by forcing things to bend at his will. He bumbled through his military beginnings, even leading the British into an ugly mess that started the French and Indian War.
In that incident in the Ohio Valley, George Washington must have stood with his mouth agape, surprised and appalled that his choices had brought his army to utter disaster. He promptly did what many of our students do: he tried to cover his tracks and sweep the massacre under the rug. He did what so many politicians and fourth graders do: he backtracked and made excuses. At the same time, we must appreciate that the horrible incident is a part of our first president's past. We must appreciate the changes that his leadership underwent in the development of his character and beliefs.
Every time I hear the word in a documentary or read it in a book, I think about George Washington. From the beginning, he was critical of the men in his charge, complaining that they were undisciplined and lacked drive. And every time, I remind myself that he was probably thinking about his own shortcomings. He, too, was untrained, but he was willing to improve. He, too, made mistakes, but he was willing to learn from them.
That will is what drove him to accept help from the right generals and consultants. There is a point where you can see the army turn around, stand tall, and act like a well-oiled machine, a point where the system takes charge because one man developed into more than a ragtag leader of a ragtag collection of dirty soldiers.
It's the greatest lesson I learned since my 2018 residency at Washington's mansion in Virginia - Mount Vernon. It is the lesson of George Washington's Growth Mindset - the drive that delivered this great man from ignorance to wisdom through the course of his life. And it is the lesson that I wish to achieve with my students: ragtag today, but future wise. We are works in progress, not only defined by who we are, but by who we will become.
In the following summer, I took part in a live web seminar with the folks at Mount Vernon - part of my continuing connection to the education department there - in which I shared the idea that every good story has a character who changes throughout the plot - whether the fictional character in a novel or motion picture, or a figure from our favorite period in history...
...Or that student or teacher in a Midwestern elementary classroom.
This article is obviously made up for entertainment.
If it's not as obvious for some, this statement should remove all doubt.
I'm toying with the idea of conducting a full scale Revolutionary War reenactment in class. Actually, I should mention that this will be an optional activity, conducted in the evening, and parents must sign liability waivers to participate. Do not try this activity at home (or anywhere else for that matter!).
This year, I want my students to better appreciate what our boys sacrificed on the battlefields around 250 years ago. First, to simulate gunshot, everybody will gouge themselves in the thigh with an ice pick. It will hurt like the dickens, but there shouldn't be much blood. Don't worry that the exit wound will look worse than the entry. You will tear your own shirt to use as a makeshift tourniquet (Did I mention that you need to wear old clothes for this activity? There may be a little mess.).
Once the sun sets, we will limp out into the playground and lie face down in a low drainage area weeds. Hopefully, we will conduct this activity after it has rained enough to be muddy. We should be able to find a shallow puddle to lie in and allow mud to soak into our hair and clothes.
The wound in you leg will likely throb, but with every heartbeat, you can be assured you are still living. Imagine one of the Red Coats will find you for sure. With some fireworks the teacher has stored since July being shot in strategic locations around the playground (We'll need some parent volunteers.). As the fireworks explode, they quickly became artillery shells of a different kind. Some will be small arms fire while others are British cannon. They will explode all around you in every direction, filling your ears with their popping and booming. You should smell the sulfurous gun powder, and your eyes may sting with the smoke of battle.
For an hour you will lie on the battlefield, soaking in the atmosphere. Force yourself to lie there, unmoving, expecting for it to end, praying for mercy, begging for it to be over before hobbling away, finding a nearby farmhouse, and begging for quarter, but you can't yet: the shooting just will not not stop. The ground holds the heat of the day, and the pulsing from your leg wound will radiate throughout your body all the way into your head.
Your thoughts will swim - back to your early days - back to the days of hunting with an old grandfather, using your rifles for a different purpose: to provide food for your family. Do you dare move? Are the Tories and their British friends far enough away that you can at least roll over? You need to see the sky. You'll want to look at the stars - to make sure they still shine.
After a while, the explosions will dwindle, becoming further apart, farther away. As the skirmish rolls away, you'll risk stumbling from the field. Step carefully over the playground equipment and leftover playground balls - your fellow soldiers, new friends who have fallen to musket fire and cannonballs.
You'll gain a much better appreciation for the reality of the Revolutionary battles, fought by farmers and merchants to win the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. Just a word of caution: get that wound taken care of before infection sets in (You don't want to face Revolutionary surgery.).
For the next lesson, get your earplugs ready: we're going to learn to play Yankee Doodle on our new classroom fife set.
There will be some direct staff changes, this year, that will make our end of the hall look a bit different than in the past. For years, the fourth grade has been solid, reflecting decades of experience, but that is about to change. In addition to a new physical education teacher, this year, three of our four fourth grade teachers are new.
One, Miss Graham, started with us, last year, as a first-year teacher, and she did so well that we're happy she is continuing with us. Two other brand new teachers are also joining our staff. Miss Horn substituted for a few weeks in the third grade, so some of you may already know that she handles her class as if she has been working in education for quite some time. She joins Mrs. McFerron, the last of the puzzle pieces to fill in for vacancies. McFerron is a conscientious new educator who wants to grow and learn right alongside her students.
These changes are due to important career choices for our other three seasoned teachers. Mr. Culbertson, of course, retired at the end of 2020 after a 30-year career, all spent in Joplin Schools. Mrs. Mouton supervised students tho learned virtually, last year, and will continue to do so. Mrs. Stagner, who likes to keeps things shaken up, will still be in the building, operating as a literacy support teacher.
I, on the other hand, will begin my 32nd year in the field of education, with 27 of those years being right here in Room 404 at Cecil Floyd Elementary (Pay no attention to the fact that I was teaching for 10 years when these three ladies were born.). This old dog still has a few new tricks to learn.
"Don't let your ice cream melt while counting
somebody else's sprinkles."
The school district provides a universal school supply list for all fourth graders in Joplin Schools. Since every teacher does not use supplies in the same way, I have changed the supply list for our class. In other words, do not buy everything on the district list; I have made some substitutions and omissions to save families money.
These items are from the district list, along with some changes in quantity:
Please pick up these additional purchases that are not on the district list:
Do NOT buy these items from the district list:
Please note the specifics on the list.
Keep things simple, though:
it is not necessary to purchase anything “special” for your child,
and there is no need to put names on anything.
Well, this is the best of the first four books from the Mark Twain Award list I've read so far. Song for a Whale successfully got me page-turning.
There is a couple of reasons why Song for a Whale does not earn a perfect score from this critic. First, in the middle of the book, author Lynn Kelly changed the mood of the story. It was like reading a completely different mood, where suddenly the focus is not on the main character, but on the cruise ship experience. Second, it just didn't seem like a realistic ending. I never bought the idea that Iris could create an underwater speaker, with all of its requirements and components, that would work in the manner required. That's not to mention that everything just comes together, down to the second, in a manner that I just could not believe.
So many of these nominees just fall short in the endings.
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