The End of Summer Vacation

  • Posted on August 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Beautiful Duck Lake in Norhtern Michigan

This year has been challenging for me.  In addition to teaching my regular art classes at school, I chose to take some courses so I could move up on the pay scale.  Originally I was going to take my 20 credits over a period of two years.  However, with everything our governor was busy doing in Lansing, I decided to escalate my goal to be completed in one year.  The classes I took were online courses that were actually very involved and demanding of my time and effort.  This summer I took the final two courses, both involved with using technology in the classroom and developing 21st Century literacy skills.  Now that I have finished my original goal, I have some time for reflection before the students start coming into my classroom.  I am really proud of what I accomplished this year.  While I’m glad I was able to get a pay raise, I was actually surprised at what I have taken away from the courses I took.  I know that I am a better teacher today because of them.  I always thought I was a pretty good teacher.  I have always been very dedicated to my profession and to my students.  What I have learned over this past year were some very useful strategies for helping students to become more motivated in the classroom, better classroom management skills, a greater understanding of adolescent student behavior, and ways to develop and integrate 21st Century literacy skills into my art classes.  That sounds like a lot and trust me it was!

I finished my courses on July 18th and since I hadn’t had a moment from the time school was out until then to have any summer at all, I decided to see if I could find a cottage where I could spend a week on a lake just relaxing.  My online search led me to Traverse City Chalet which is a cottage on beautiful Duck Lake near Interlochen and Traverse City.  As the picture reflects, this decision gave me a peaceful summer retreat.  This was just what I needed to get ready for the next school year!  I even managed to spend some time drawing and painting.  I loved it so much I’m going back next summer.  Two of my brothers, Joe and Paul, reside in Leelanau County so I invited them over for a barbeque.  I really didn’t want to leave the lake but I wanted to see them.  My brother, Bob and his wife, Sue, were also visiting Michigan from Alaska.  The dinner party included Joe’s wife Karin and Paul’s ex-wife Bonnie as well.  I am so happy that I got to see everyone as I haven’t been up north in a couple of years.

Given my families love of politics and discussing political issues it didn’t take long before the conversation turned to politics.  What I noticed was the fact that I was surrounded by political conservatives.  I consider myself to be a liberal.  These of course are just words that we attach to ourselves and most people don’t really understand exactly what they mean so I’ll explain what I mean.  My parents were really FDR Democrats.  They were married in 1934 and lived during the Depression and their experiences were shaped in many ways by the Depression.   They were savers and they didn’t waste anything.  My mom and dad were both teachers and my mom was very involved in the union at her school in Kingston, Michigan.  They supported the Reese teachers during their strike.  I can remember going to Reese as a kid!  In my young life both as a Catholic and as a child of my parents, I learned about caring for other people.  So when I say I’m liberal, the policies I’m talking about are policies to help and lift up people so they can become productive citizens.  I believe in helping people that may not be in the best circumstance to be their own advocate.  This doesn’t mean that I think I know what is best for people.  It just means I believe in finding ways to level the playing field.  This can be done mostly through public school education in many ways because the truth is education is the big divider in most countries.  Those that have a good education can usually attain a more successful job and lifestyle than those that don’t.

So I’ll get back to the dinner I shared with my brothers.  What I came away with was how deeply divided politically my family really is.  My brothers grew up with the same teachings I did but we are a world apart in our views.  Bonnie and Sue both like Representative Michelle Bachmann because she is a tax attorney.  I was shocked because in my mind she has said some crazy things.  My brothers are over the top conservative.  Paul even talked about child labor laws and how they are detrimental to the work ethic for young people.  I said the laws are put in place to protect children.  Of course it made me think about the governor in Maine that is working on changing those child labor laws.  This divide that I witnessed at our dinner really seems to be all across our nation.  It isn’t just my family.  It may be your family as well.  The next day my brother Bob came back because he forgot his hat.  We chatted a little longer and I asked him how he could possibly have become so conservative given our parents and our upbringing.  He said he was a Mormon.  Several years ago Bob became a Mormon and that was his response.  I don’t personally know if all Mormons are politically conservative like Bob, but that was his response.  It felt like that was a standard answer.  I didn’t get an in depth response and of course religion choices are always very personal and I don’t think it’s my place to question him about his decisions any more than he should question me on mine.  This dinner party was relaxed and fun and nobody was fighting about politics.  Paul did bring up my hefty donation to John Edwards and made some snide remark about how I helped pay for John’s mistress.  Of course, I told my brothers that I don’t look to politicians of any type for my moral code of ethics and that I still believe in what John Edwards talked about.  He wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, you know the poor!  Of course Paul says John’s a big old phony and that’s the end of that.  Unfortunately, with Edwards being the constant poster child for scummy politicians that voice for the poor is silenced.  On both sides of the political arena politicians have been all too human.  I wouldn’t put any of them on some kind of moral pedestal.  Some of them have even been fairly good presidents though.  Everyone knows about FDR and his mistress or Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Bob said FDR was a terrible president.  Bob said he read some books and I could feel hatred from him for FDR.  My parents loved FDR and they lived during the time.  I have to wonder if Bob’s feelings have more to do with the morality issue than the policies.  It doesn’t matter.  Our country is divided.  We can’t even agree on how to teach our kids.

The conversation moved on to education.  I personally think the push for constant testing is crazy.  Of course we have to meet certain standards but there is far too much emphasis on passing “The” test.  I told my brothers that a test isn’t what any of us remember from our days in K-12 education.  We may remember taking the ACT or SAT as those were memorable days because we were getting ready for college.  However, what most of us remember about our schooling is either some teacher that made us feel great or some teacher that made us feel lousy!  The rest is probably not that important to us today.  What is important for students today is still having great relationships with teachers.  Students need teachers that truly care about them, not how they perform on some test, but about them as children.  Teachers have a powerful position.  They can elevate dreams or crush them!  To me the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are both programs that have forgotten the key element to a quality education.  Money is tied in both of these programs to test scores.  This is ridiculous.  The push towards merit pay is not a true standard for teaching quality.  Ultimately, what will be retained by the students in the end after all the dust settles is whether a teacher cared about them or not.  Those students won’t remember the test as being important to them.  They will remember the teachers that treated them like an individual with a heart and a soul.

Monday and Tuesday of this week we had our first “teacher days” at Sturgis and our open house at Sturgis Middle School.  Of course I was in my room last week unpacking my supplies that were ordered for the coming school year and working on my room getting it ready for the open house.  Last Friday I invited a couple of seventh grade girl students to come in and help me and we had a lot of fun.  We took a break and ran to McDonald’s to get some lunch.  We brought it back to the room and those two girls had me laughing so hard I could hardly stop.  I know they are going to remember that silly day they spent with Ms. Svoboda and I will also remember it.  They felt special and I felt special to have some time alone with these two girls to get to know them even better.

Last night we had our open house.  I came away from that open house knowing how much so many of my students really do love me.  It is a wonderful feeling to know that I am having a positive influence on a child’s life.  I had a girl come back to see me.  I was astounded to realize that she is a senior this year.  I told her I wanted to show her something.  Back when she was at the middle school she gave me a student picture of herself.  I had taped it inside this swivel draw under my desk.  Whenever I open that swivel drawer, I see that picture and think of her.  I know she was blown away that I really do remember her and care about her.  She told me she is going to bring me a senior picture.  The point I’m trying to make is when these students are treated special by their teachers, they will remember those teachers.  I love teaching and I love middle school students, even the ones that on occasion drive me crazy!  I know they can have bad days but I also know that if I can reach them and develop a positive relationship they can accomplish great things.

I ended the night an hour after open house because I had a long conversation with a parent and a child that I really care about.  I gave them what I felt was some good advice so that this child will hopefully have greater success in her other classes this year.  As they were walking out the door the little girl had to come back to give me a hug!  I know she knows I care about her.  The point I’m trying to get at is not how wonderful I am but at how important it is for all of us teachers to remember that what is most important in our students’ lives today is not some test, but is still the relationship you create as a teacher.  As a teacher, I feel I wear many hats.  I have to teach, sometimes be a parent, sometimes a friend, and sometimes a counselor.  I have to know how to get a student back on track when their having a bad day, or had a fight with a friend, or seemingly doesn’t care about anything.  Anyone that thinks being a great math, science, art, music or any other type of teacher can be scored by a single test a student takes is just plain stupid!  The true measure of a teacher has more to do with what they have in their heart and their capacity to be persistent and patient and loving with the children they mentor and teach.  I don’t know exactly how this can be measured but I do know that when you can see it in action, you can recognize it!  Great teachers are those teachers we all remember in a positive way.  We hold them in our hearts and remember how special we felt because of them.  I have two teachers that I remember the most.  One gave me a briefcase for my books when I was moving away.  I was in second grade.  The other was a teacher that I remember paddling a boy almost daily when I was in fourth grade.  I know which one I have always aspired to be like.

1 Comment on The End of Summer Vacation

  1. Wolfie says:

    I really enjoyed this blog. I can relate to much of it. Congrats on finishing your classes and achieving your goals. My sister is a teacher and she is much like you in helping her kids too. She is currently out this semester on a medical leave and her kids are calling her at home wanting her to come back. It is a double edge sword for her now because she wants to be there for them and be at school so it makes her sad, but yet at the same time it raises her up to know that the kids care about her too and that she has made a difference in their lives too.

    I also agree education is the key to moving people out of poverty and also out of blinding fear based religion and politics. It amazes me that so many people will jump aboard a candidates boat just by them mentioning God and Guns. It boggles my mind.

    I’m glad you took some time away at the lake, it sounds like a much deserved and lovely time. I need a break like that as well. Hopefully soon I will be able to manage some time away too and do much the same thing.

    If you are ever in Carolina, look me up. We can have dinner and some great conversation with a kindred sister. =)

Leave a Reply

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline