December 30, 2012

Love for 2012

I became an aunt and godmother to the most beautiful, special little girl ever.  My brother and sister in law had their first baby in January 2012, and even though I didn't get to meet her until March, it was love at first sight.
I got to take three trips to Florida to visit said adorable niece.  I wish so much that she lived closer (and my brother and sis in law too!), but the excuse for a few vacations a year in a warm place is pretty great!
Got to enjoy some fabulous beach running too :)
I lost a job I'd been working my ass off at.  It was unfair and completely devastating...but then, it was the best thing ever.  After working for three years giving my heart and soul to teaching 5th grade students, dealing with difficult coworkers and a principal who I was NEVER good enough for, I realized I'd been set free and given a chance to set roots somewhere else.  Everyone told me that things happen for a reason, and after this year I believe more than ever that that is the honest truth.
Job Interview Time!
I completed two sprint triathlons, in the process conquering my fears of open water swimming, transitions, and basically failure in general.  Crossing the finish lines at my first and second tris--and finishing STRONG--were completely unforgettable experiences.  I love this sport.

I packed up my old classroom and embraced a fresh start at my new job teaching 3rd & 4th multiage at a new building working for the principal who'd first hired me at my old school.  It was absolutely the right decision, and I am so. much. happier.  With the new building, the grade change, my new team...everything.
Bye, 5th Grade!

I learned to embrace the 4am workout--as much as I HATE it--and made an early-morning workout happen once or twice a week since school started.
I read 74 1/2 books (still hoping I finish #75 by before the new year to meet my goodreads goal!!).  
Just a few of my favorites...

I ran, biked, and swam my way through a grand total of 11 races.  Some were fast, some slow.  Some felt easy, others felt way tougher.  All of them represent something I never thought I could EVER do.  All of them will be memories I treasure forever.
From the Chicago Perfect 10, one of my favorite ever races

I decided it was FINALLY time to get my slow legs to the track, do some speedwork, and try and get a little bit faster.  For the past few years I've been content to be a "back of the pack" runner.  I will never be fast by any real standards, but thanks to some hard work, I shocked myself by setting PRs in the 5K (finally breaking 30 minutes!), 10 mile, and half marathon.  I never thought I could run miles under 10 minutes, but this year I did!  A year ago if you asked me if I thought I could run 13 miles in under 11 minutes each, I would have laughed.  But I did!  Like I said, I will never be fast, but this year I learned that if I am willing to set big goals, work my ass off, and refuse to settle for less, I can do anything.
PR in Louisville, KY in April!

PR in Cocoa, FL in November!
2012, you've been a great year and certainly an unforgettable one.  
Here's to making 2013 just as packed to the brim with adventures and filled with beautiful memories.

December 14, 2012

Friday Favorites

Edit: I wrote this post this morning before school, planning on publishing it when I got home.  Now all I can think about is the tragedy in Connecticut.  I'm still publishing it, but with the deep knowledge I can be grateful for any of the small complaints I have about my week because they mean that my students and I are safe.  That's all I can coherently say about this awful, awful tragedy--my heart goes out to teachers, students, and families in Connecticut.

Has this week been about 100 years for anyone else?  Teachers?  I swear, it feels like it started at least a month ago.  Not a single day this week have I not caught myself thinking that it was the next day or even two days later, starting with Monday.  AWFUL.  My kiddos have [thankfully] been holding our routines together and not acting naughty, but this week it seemed like most of them have turned their brains from high power down to medium-low.  #howwillimakeitthroughanotherweek...

Anyways, enough grumbling.  It is Friday after all, so that's something to celebrate!  Some of the things I'm loving right now...

1. My tiny, lame Christmas tree.  Yes, it has one single ornament and is super pathetic, but when Christmas Break feels like it will never come, my tree reminds me that although we have still ANOTHER week of school, it is in fact around the corner.

2. The new pack of Mr. Sketch markers I got yesterday.  Seriously, is there anything better than Mr. Sketch markers?  I'm an anchor chart junkie and pretty much live with marker all over my hands at all times.  I've already used up about half the markers from the pack I bought in August, and I've been getting frustrated that most of my favorite colors have run out.  NOT OKAY.  Was so excited to break into the new box today!

3. The fact that almost ALL of my Christmas shopping is done, and the fact that I did it all while laying in my pajamas in bed last weekend.  A few more orders to place this weekend, then just waiting for it all to arrive! (Oh, and wrapping...not my favorite job...)

4. The fun plans I'm looking forward to this weekend.  After a totally restful yet somewhat boring weekend last week, this weekend is chock full of plans.  Dinner and a movie (Breaking Dawn for the second time...go ahead and judge me, I'm already judging myself...) tonight, spending the day with my cousin tomorrow and catching up with a college friend at night, and finishing up with cookie baking with Mom on Sunday. Perfect.

5. Stations of Christmas music on Pandora...especially while getting ready for school in the morning!
6. December night runs illuminated by housed decorated for Christmas.  I look forward to these every year.  Nothing like looking at pretty Christmas lights to keep up that motivation to run even when the days are short and the nights are cold.

7. The electricity experiments we did in science this week.  I feel like my kids have so little time to EXPLORE in my super structured days.  This week we ditched the science text books, and I checked my control freak self at the door.  Instead of a structured lab or demo, I let the kids explore with wires and batteries and bulbs.  The joy they felt for learning this week was beautiful.
 8. After lunch yoga with my kiddos.  I started this a few weeks ago with a few simple poses and L O V E it.  I have been teaching the kids the Sun Salutation sequence, and today was the first time we were able to actually flow through the poses.  Love that it gets us focused, calmed, and centered for the afternoon.

What are you loving this Friday?

December 12, 2012

More than a Test Score?

 After taking our district's winter standardized tests last week, I had been working on a post about how I get my students all pumped up for our trimester-ly testing in math and reading--you know, the chants, the goal setting, etc.  But today I am in a bit of a funk and testing is the reason why, so that post is on hold for now as I'm experiencing a bit of a teacher-wallow tonight.  Let me back up--we take MAP tests (Measure of Academic Progress--or is it proficiency? who can keep the acronyms straight!) three times a year in math and reading.  The tests are taken on the computer and generate a score, a percentile, and growth targets for winter and spring testing for each student in each subject area.

Our elaborate goal-setting sheets
My district is crazy data-driven, as I know they are all coming to be, and place a lot of weight (read: pressure) on these tests...I'm talking tons of goal setting time, reflecting on the goals, poring over data in fancy schmancy data analysis programs, etc.   We talk about our grade level and classroom's scores at our evaluations (although they are not TECHNICALLY part of them...yet...) and reflect on the students  progress like crazy.  This all means, you guessed it, that the pressure is on like whoa.  When I proctor MAP, I walk around the room sneaking peeks at the kids' questions and responses on their computers, growing more and more nauseous every time I see a kid answer a question wrong.  When they raise their hand to let me know they have finished and that their score is displayed on their computer screen, as I'm walking over to check their score, I am pretty much 100% of the time terrified that they didn't make their growth target or worse--went down a few points.  The kids feel the pressure for sure, but I'm positive that I feel it more.  

We took our Math and Reading MAP tests last week.  My kids did great overall, especially in reading.  We celebrated our growth, recognized our hard work, and were feeling pretty great.  Then today I looked more closely at the data from my math class.  We use a guided math structure in our building and are lucky enough to have a support teacher help out with guided groups a few days a week.  I have 4 groups--an approaching group, a bubble group, and two on/on+ groups.  After trying to cram an entire 90min Everyday Math lesson into 30 minutes, I typically meet with my approaching group every day, then check in with my on groups to answer questions, check work on their independent tasks, etc.  My support teacher meets with my bubble group MWF for a full 25 minutes, then that group is on their own Tuesdays and Thursdays when I don't have the support.  
Goal Setting, Goal Setting, Goal Setting!

I thought this structure was working well for the most part--the kids are doing great on classroom assessments, the high kids who see me very little did AWESOME on MAP and are clearly making growth with the support they are getting, and my approaching group showed some big gains.  However, when I looked closely at specific scores, kids, and growth targets this afternoon, I realized that 6/7 kids in that bubble group made very little growth on their MAP tests.  Crap.

The more closely I looked at the numbers and the more I thought about these kids this afternoon, the more my heart sank.  While my support teacher is great and is a certified teacher, the fact is that she isn't there everyday to work with that group and isn't in the room when I teach the shared lesson for Math so that she can reinforce it verbatim in guided groups.  It's not her fault these kids didn't make growth.  But for me right now I can't escape this awful feeling:

It's all my fault.

Anyone else feel like that?  I sure do.  It's my fault that these kids didn't make more growth--I didn't check in on them enough, I didn't make enough time for them...I just feel rotten tonight.  Last year at my old school, I remember telling friends that I truly felt my administrators believed that if my kids didn't make growth that it would be 100% my fault.  It was awful.  I just want to be clear that I am not getting that message AT ALL this year from my administrators and teammates.  But how can I not feel like that when the data is there in black and white??  

After feeling like an awful teacher and bad person this afternoon--I know, I know, I'm not!--I am thinking about testing.  When did testing become this crazy powerful force?  It's hard to escape the feeling that my worth as a teacher is nothing more than a test score--even though I KNOW my principal doesn't believe that.  Don't get me wrong--testing and accountability and progress monitoring are SO IMPORTANT.  Our testing gives us such valuable data about our kids.  And this particular situation with my kiddos opened my eyes to an issue in my math structure that I can and will correct now, halfway through the year, which is awesome.  It's just so defeating sometimes to think, "Man, I was working SO HARD to make kids A, B, C, and D make did I miss these kids..."
There are just times I look at situations like this or think about how I'm feeling about testing--how much I worry and how many times I go over their scores and growth--and I have to wonder if there's a better way.  My college ed professor had a bumper sticker on her car that said "My Child is More than a Test Score."  I KNOW my kids are more than data points.  They are children.  This test does not measure the joy they experienced as they solved that super tricky math problem or the way they shot up their hand to share a deep thought during our class read aloud.  My kids are more than test scores.  But am I?  Are we as teachers nothing more than our test scores? 

Anyways...I am trying to come up with a coherent closing thought, but needless to say it's been a long day...

Would love to hear your thoughts about testing in general...
Do you get as wrapped up in test scores as me?  

NOTE:  I am 100% NOT writing this post to get affirmations of "You are a good teacher!"  or "Testing sucks!"  Just getting out my thoughts and feelings and looking to hear some of your thoughts too.
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