5 Things You Probably Don’t Know Teachers Are Thinking

I went on a ‘release’ day today – that’s teacher talk for when we are allowed to leave our classroom to do something besides teach students. It’s kind of a silly word to use, isn’t it? Just think of what being ‘released’ from something implies – that you’re somehow in a situation unwillingly (like jury duty) and someone else decides that you can be let go.

Not such a positive way to think about teacher training…but being ‘released’ is the only way to collaborate with colleagues, learn new skills and strategies, and plan for how to improve my teaching and make the overall school experience better for all students.

So I spent the day with two wonderful, hard working, experienced colleagues at a workshop for AVID teachers – AVID is a program for supporting kids to achieve their dreams of going to the college of their choice, and I’ve been running and teaching it since 2008.

I believe in the power of AVID, and the possibility that all kids have to achieve anything they set their mind to.

AVID girls

Spending the day with these two women is empowering; they are kindred spirits, women who themselves graduated from top universities, have decades of teaching experience, are mothers and partners and creative spirits…

and they spend most of their day, their nights, and their free time thinking about, creating for and innovating to provide the best education possible for their students. For OUR children.

It made me think about teachers and teaching in another way – in a very human, raw, open manner. It made me think there are at least 5 things you probably don’t know teachers are thinking:

1. Teachers believe in possibility – for all children.

When I first started teaching, a wise mentor told me that she believes every child wants to be successful – they just don’t always know how to get there. When we walk into our classrooms each day, each period, each hour, we believe in the possibility that every child in that room can not only learn, but can grow into an individual with the potential to change the world. We know that not every day will be amazing, and we know that sometimes it takes years for our lessons to sink in and bring a child to another way of thinking; we also know that some days we get it so right on that children have a moment that they believe in the possibility of their future, too.

classroom

2. Teachers think about their teaching all the time.

I haven’t met a teacher yet (in 25 years) that isn’t automatically programmed to see an opportunity to share something magical that they discover outside the classroom, to seize a book or materials that spark their creativity and will certainly enhance their classroom. We do it on vacation, when we’re walking the dog, or when we’re listening to the radio. Sometimes teachers have even been known to go away on vacation together and TALK ABOUT TEACHING! As much as we would often like to, teachers generally are on the lookout for any way to make learning more meaningful, more exciting, more relevant – all the time.

3. Teachers think about their students outside of the classroom.

Some of my worst – and best – days of teaching come home with me. Those are the days that I question myself, days that linger in my mind, nagging me to solve a problem, find a new way to connect, or search for something that will make my students laugh or question or want to do their very best. Oftentimes I’ll call a teacher friend for advice, or search the internet for hours for new lesson ideas, or intriguing video clips, or for photos that will make them smile. It’s impossible for me to not think about my students, even long after they’ve left my 8th grade classroom.

wall

4. Teachers think about how to do more with less.

In my 25 years of teaching, I’ve watched education budgets shrink, salaries stagnate, classrooms remain ill equipped for today’s learner, and teacher work days disappear. I’ve also watched class sizes increase, healthcare costs rise, new technology arrive and waves of popular curriculum pedagogy come and go. Today, I have more students, more preps, more demands, and more work hours. I also have less money, fewer classroom assistants, fewer supplies, less ‘free’ training and less free time. I honestly spend more hours than I should trying to figure out how to streamline curriculum, how to get volunteers into the classroom to help connect with kids, and how to balance my work life with my home life.

5. Teachers believe in the power of relationships.

We know that if a child, a teacher, and a parent share common goals and the belief that success is possible, great things can happen. Teachers believe in building relationships with children first, then building curriculum. In middle school, where I reside, it’s nearly impossible to teach content if students do not first develop trust, respect and feel safe in the classroom. We know education starts at home. We see the power of early childhood education, of families that read to their kids, and parents who stress the value of education. Teachers want to be allies with parents, not enemies. We believe in the power of relationships to create magic for our children.

collaboration

And maybe you’re sitting back, reading this and thinking I’m exaggerating. Maybe you think that not every teacher thinks this way. And you may be right. Like any profession, teachers share a wide variety of perspectives and philosophies.

But what if you’re wrong? What if you give teachers the benefit of the doubt, and assume they made teaching a career not because of the high salary (ha!) and summers off (ha! again – we just do our year-long job in 10 months!), but because we really do believe in your child – in all children – and we are here to serve?

Imagine what a transformation we could make. Just imagine…

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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A Year of Change and Possibilities: September, October, November & December 2014

September came and went with two freshmen living in two states – an official emptiness in our home.

I made friends with a great new author and read some terrific books.

Meeting Erin Lindsay McCabe
Meeting Erin Lindsay McCabe

Cameron turned 15, and continued to heal his broken leg and dashed dreams.

Healing a broken leg
Healing a broken leg

I was finally able to write about the change in our lives with Lily going away to college.

Lily loving her new college life.
Lily loving her new college life.

The year ends with an interlude between pain and healing, our family back together, and hope for 2015.

Hope for health and happiness in 2015
Hope for health and happiness in 2015

Through all this change and tumult in my life, I turned to writing; my favorite posts of the last third of the year were:

Broken

Extraordinary in the Ordinary

These Moms, They Don’t Know Me

Home

Interlude

 A huge, grateful thank you to all of my readers, my friends, and to my family who tolerates my subjecting them to sharing their lives here on mamawolfe. Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2015.

All my best,

Jennifer

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Choice: It’s What Makes Life Full of Possibility

Choice.

If I had to choose one word I’ve used over and over in parenting and teaching, it would be choice. I learned early on as a parent that simply saying ‘no’ over and over had no lasting effect; if I really wanted something to happen – especially with any sort of chance that it would happen the way I wanted – I needed to give choices.

Embed from Getty Images

It went something like this: “What do you want to wear today? You can choose either the red leggings and boots, or the red dress with tights.” Or with my son, “I haven’t decided what to make for dinner tonight –  would you rather have pasta or chicken?” Now, when they don’t respond to my texts or block me from some sort of social media, I feel 100% comfortable saying, “Ok, you can keep me blocked/don’t respond to my texts  and pay the monthly charge for your bill, or you can respond and I will continue to fund your phone.” That one always works.

Choices like these gave my kids a voice, and practicing that on something simple when they were little meant when they were teens, and we had to grapple with the big stuff, they were used to the process. They knew what it felt like to make good – and bad – choices. They understood logical consequences, and sometimes even unintended ones.

As parents, we are obligated to teach our children about choice from an early age. Kids need to know that their life is full of possibility, and certain choices will make doors open and opportunities appear – or disappear. Teenagers are bombarded with choices to make, some small, but at 15, 16 and 17 many are huge and can have lasting impact on their future. Should I post that online? Do my homework or go to bed? Drink and drive? Text and drive? Have sex? The list is endless, really. How do kids know how to trust themselves, how to weigh options and make good choices if they’ve never had any practice?

Giving my middle school students choices has really evolved for me over the years. As a beginning teacher, I felt insecure offering too many choices-I was afraid that if I didn’t set down the rules, chaos would break loose. In reality, when I started giving kids more choice about what they did and how they did it, management mostly became a breeze. Oftentimes I’ll give choices about what they need to do for a particular grade, or what order they need to tackle different parts of a task. As long as they get to the end result that I’m expecting, giving them choices about how they get there allows students to learn how to manage their time, how to push themselves (usually – but not always) and to take a route for learning that makes most sense to them.

Last year, when my daughter was navigating the stressors of senior year and college applications, I found myself repeating and reminding her that all her hard work paid off in all the choices she had between colleges. I tried to keep mum on my strong feelings about one school or another, and let her not only weigh the merits of each college, but also let her listen to her heart and choose the school that felt right.

Ultimately, I think choice is what makes humans stronger. Choice builds character, empowers people, and provides a barometer of how we navigate the world. Having choices teaches us how to be decisive, how to weigh options, but also to listen to ourselves and trust that we can follow our instincts instead of following the crowd. Sometimes, just knowing that we have choice – that every day we choose how we approach the world, how we treat other people, how we spend our time and what we work for – is enough to make the day just a bit brighter, just a bit kinder, just a bit more full of possibility.

This post was inspired by Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, a novel where former Olympic hopeful Dan destroys his swimming career and his attempt at redemption after prison. Join From Left to Write on September 30th as we discuss Barracuda. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Deep Gratitude

Lily's graduation

There was deep gratitude in our garden Sunday night. All the people who love her were there to celebrate. Never quite sure who was coming, each time the front door opened, a new face of someone who played an enormous role in one aspect of her life entered into our space of celebration. There were spirits who helped her through her education, her athletics, or just those who helped her grow into a fabulous young woman. The common thread? Smiles. There were smiles everywhere, and with each I felt a shudder of deep gratitude run down my spine. I realized how the creation of a life of meaning takes so many of us, so many spirits contributing to molding, nurturing, and forming the young woman we are celebrating.

cupcakes

There was deep gratitude as I remembered the hours of planning and preparation by my family to celebrate her graduation. The  menu was thought out well in advance, created to please her with all her favorite flavors. The house was cleaned, the decorations purchased, and the garden tidied. The young boys strung twinkle lights, raked leaves, and scrubbed garden chairs. My sister arranged patio furniture and hung hand made balloon masterpieces. My niece and her boyfriend clipped endless snapshots to jute string to decorate a blank wall. Her best friend gracefully decorated vanilla cupcakes with the precision of a trained baker. My mom, in command of it all, moved from garden to kitchen without forgetting the smallest of details.

adventure maps

I was there, too, scanning my memories, fighting back tears of joy and sadness. Maps of important places were juxtaposed amidst adventure quotes to decorate the tables. I thought about all the journeys we’ve taken together since her birth, and the adventures she will have without us. Deep gratitude rose up as her girlfriends asked for Sharpies to calculate the miles that would separate them in college, their scribbles of loyalty became manifestation of the changes soon to come.

friendships

As darkness fell and the kids gathered around the fire pit, there was deep gratitude, again, for friendships. Children I’ve watched for a dozen years are now ready to take their life lessons to task. Friendships of women who have helped me navigate the challenges of motherhood. Families who have enveloped her with love and shown her that it isn’t only blood that ties us together. Friendships of those last to leave, relaxed into their chairs, faces lit by candlelight, and recalling the deep gratitude for girls who survived the crises of adolescence together as we sipped champagne and cherished the last moments, knowing it could be years before we all gather again.

gratitude for Lily

My dear friend Dawn Wink writes of her life’s journey as searching for a ‘rainbow between storms‘, and as I think about my own travels through motherhood, I find solace in her metaphor. Graduation, growing up, and going away to college are the rainbows all parents hope for, but they don’t come without a bit of struggle. But it is the deep, deep gratitude that I feel now more than anything – gratitude for her life, for friends and family, for achievements, and for possibilities yet to come.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Best Life, March 2014: A Month of Anticipation

March was a month of anticipation; the wrap up of one ski season, the college acceptance letters, and the countdown until Cameron returns home from the ski academy. I struggled to stay in the present moment, to breathe deeply and know that everything will work out as it should. As we move into April, I feel the breath of possibilities whispering at the back of my neck. It should be an interesting month, to be sure!

My Best March:

Best Blog Reads:

I was fascinated with the idea of ‘grittiness’ this month; how do we cultivate grit in our children seems to be a hot topic for teachers and parents right now. Fittingly, Cameron’s ski academy school motto is “Grit, Grace and Courage” – what more could we ask for our kids? I loved this post from NPR titled “Does Teaching Kids To Get Gritty Help Them Get Ahead”, as well as this one from one of my favorite websites, Daily Good. Definitely worth a read.

Best Books:

I managed to get a bit of reading done this month between the anticipation of ski races and college tours in Salt Lake City. I really enjoyed What Would You Do If You Could Not Fail by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. These writers collected stories of courage from everyday people and put them together with quotes and ideas for the reader to really use in their lives. The theme of grit really got my interest, and made me think about why some people have the drive to persevere and others don’t.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger was written in the form of letters, emails, and documents, telling the story of a marriage in collapse. I wasn’t sure how I’d like this format, but it turned out that the characters were well developed and the plot surprisingly easy to follow. It made me think that teaching middle school was really a dream job compared to being a divorce lawyer!

Finally, I just finished Holly Peterson’s new novel, The Idea of Him. It really made me think about how so often in life we think we know what we want or how it will all turn out, and usually, life has a way of surprising us. Holly is a Goodreads author – if you haven’t used Goodreads yet to track your books and reading, you should start! If you already do, please friend request me! I’d love to see what you’re reading, too.

Best Quiet Place:

A long time ago, when my children were small and very demanding, I decided I needed to find a quiet place close to home where I could escape when I needed to center myself. Over the years, the path running along Putah Creek in the UC Davis Arboretum has offered me great solace and joy. One of my favorite times to visit the Arboretum is when a storm is looming – I love the quietness, the animals taking cover, and the whisper of the wind blowing through the trees.

UC Davis Arboretum trees

Redwood Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum
Redwood Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum

Best Photos:

A month of endings and beginnings…nothing fancy, just the fabulous moments of anticipation and reward in March:

Lily and Bob
Lily and her beloved high school ski coach
Lily Pole Vaulting 11 feet
Lily pole vaulting 11 feet, a new personal record
Lily and Mikaela Shiffrin
Lily and friends and Mikaela Shiffrin at Squaw Valley race.
Lily at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah
Sunset at Tahoe Park Beach with my boy
Sunset at Tahoe Park Beach with my boy

Spring is coming! In the UC Davis ArboretumSpring is coming! In the UC Davis Arboretum

 

A rare race day together at Northstar
A rare race day together at Northstar

Best Quotes:

When I look back at my Twitter #quoteoftheday postings, there seems to be a strong theme of openness to possibility and anticipation of what is yet to come. -I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but looking back, that’s really what March taught me.

“Stay committed to your decisions; but stay flexible in your approach.” –Tony Robbins

“You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you gotta suit up for them all.”-J. Askenberg

“Instead of bracing yourself for the perils of the unknown, embrace the joy that is here, in your present moment.”
― Michelle Cruz-Rosado

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”- Brene Brown

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.” -Bob Proctor

Best Moments:

High School State Ski Championships

It was a month of my girl pushing herself to the limit; finishing second place in the high school state ski championships gave her such a sense of accomplishment. And then a few weeks later, she went and did this – caution-it gets a bit loud at the end of the video! Facebook Post by Jennifer Mason Wolfe.

Wishing you great possibilities in April – and as always, thank you for supporting mamawolfe. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and Facebook, too!

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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