Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101 – August 2, 2016

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Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101

Among the vast changes in California schools, one of the changes includes the need for restorative measures before suspension and expulsion can take place.  In the California Department of Education’s Code 48900.5, it states that:

“A pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs, may be suspended for any of the reasons enumerated in Section 48900 upon a first offense, if the principal or superintendent of schools determines that the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presence causes a danger to persons” (California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5).

The letters corresponding to the offenses include the following:

A–altercations, fights

B-sold/furnished a knife or dangerous object

C-use/under influence or possession of drugs or alcohol

D-look alike substance (offered/tried to sell)

E-attempted to commit robbery or extortion

(California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5)

 

What does this information mean? It means that unless the student is deemed dangerous, he or she may not be excused or suspended on their first offense for minor infractions. The subdivisions above represent extreme cases resulting in suspension on the first offense yet other minor behaviors such as defiance, cursing, wayward behavior, etc., may not result in suspension. To a teacher, these minor offenses, if continual in the classroom, are often the major things which deter from teaching.  If students continually feel that they can get away with such behavior, they will continue to do so until something is done to modify the behavior. When efforts to modify a student’s behavior fail, a teacher is left frustrated and powerless in certain cases.

Administrators must show documentation that other efforts have been made to change a student’s behavior. There must be evidence to present once students and administrators meet with their school districts for suspension or expulsion hearings. So where can this modification happen?  Restorative Justice programs are one option. They have been purchased by many school districts in an effort to help teachers and students work through behavior issues with the hope that this modification will allow teachers to teach and students to learn.

One current program is called Urban Essentials 101: Unleashing the Academic Potential in Urban Underperforming Schools.  Created by Mr. Julius Lockett, a former police officer and educator, his program is one of many programs seeking to help students modify their behavior in the classroom.  Julius is adamant that his program will work in the schools if everyone is motivated to believe in the components of his program.  These components include the posture or belief system of the school and the teacher-student mediation process.

Although there are various programs claiming that they are restorative in nature, there is only one that stands out and includes the terms, “restorative justice in school communities.” That program is Urban Essentials 101.  UE101 is being adopted by various California schools in an effort to meet the requirements needed to restore relationships between students and educators. In an interview with Mr. Lockett, I learned that although Mr. Lockett is a very charismatic and persuasive presenter and educator, he, like many young men, struggled in the school system as a young man.

In high school, Mr. Lockett was involved in defiant activity including truancy and defiant behavior which eventually led him to juvenile hall.  Growing up in the urban ghettos of Atlanta, Georgia, Julius quickly learned that life was dangerous and harsh.  He knew he wasn’t a good student and with the negative influences surrounding him, this realization made it hard to see any hope in the future.

He credits three individuals to his change in behavior as a young man.  These three men were his father, Reverend Julius L. Lockett, his science teacher, Mr. Charles Banks, and his basketball coach, Mr. Calvin Jones.  It was Mr. Jones who helped him improve on his academic habits and behavior which eventually helped Julius get into college.  In all three cases, it was the relationship or connection of a special individual which Julius needed in order to turn his behavior around.  So it is no surprise that the program he created stems from the need for relationship building.

As explained by Julius, there are two different models or sources of restorative justice.  The first model, a countermeasure to the criminal justice system, focuses on questions such as “What law was broken? Who was the criminal? What punishment was given?” In response to the CJ model, RJ (restorative justice) asks such questions as “What harm was done? What are the needs of the harmed that was done? What can we do to make this right?”

Lockett’s model is restorative justice in schools. It focuses on developmental stages rather than questions.  These stages include the following:

  • Gaining commitment – capturing the hearts and minds of those involved in the process.
  • Developing a shared vision – understanding where teachers are going and why they are there in the program.
  • Developing responsive and effective practices – how we think about the people involved and how we address the students in difficult situations.
  • Developing a whole school approach – addressing different departments and bringing them together to unify in thoughts and approaches.
  • Developing personal relationships – connecting with students and teachers, staff, community.

Whereas the first models focus on punishment rather than reform, the restorative justice in schools approach, Urban Essentials 101, focuses on the relationship of teacher to student and modifying behavior of the student.

In asking Julius why other restorative justice programs have failed, he explained that many restorative justice models are being brought into the school districts and do not include implementation experience or presenters who know or have worked in schools. Also, some of the programs do not include a designated room for defiant students when trying to modify behavior.  In his program, the defiant student is pulled out of the classroom, thus allowing the teacher to continue teaching to the remainder of the students. Some of the other restorative justice programs have not been successful, because they set a program in place that is centered on punishment of the student and does not serve as a whole-school relationship builder between teacher and student. In essence, the school change and mentoring aspect between teacher and student is the driving force for the program.  This is where Urban Essentials 101 fits into the schools.

With a background in law enforcement and education, Julius designed a program that understands both the justice aspect of society and its issues along with the educational and relational aspect of school environments. The Urban Essentials 101 program includes a schoolwide posture, which is basically an acronym representing traits which the school wishes to follow such as FAITH or PRIDE as possible examples.  All students and teachers learn the posture and are reminded of the traits throughout the school community.  Another aspect of the program includes the teacher-student mediation process in which the defiant student must complete a form stating what happened from the student’s perspective. The student is sent out to an in-school suspension room for the teaching period. At a convenient time, the student must return later to the teacher, and together, the teacher and student write an agreement about improving the behavior or situation which occurred (Lockett).

Is the program full proof? Not completely. Of course, there are setbacks that come along with any new program implemented into the schools.  The buy-in from teachers is one of the main setbacks which Julius has seen in implementing such a program.  Some seasoned teachers, who have seen so many implementations come and go, sometimes do not wish to alter their form of discipline with their students.  To them, a referral or citation equals power over the student.  Another setback is sustainability.  Even if a school can implement the program, it takes time for any new implementation to become normalized. The longevity of a new program is always difficult to measure at any given time depending on the culture of the school and its teachers, students, and staff.  Like Julius has stated, it means nearly everyone must be on board for his program to succeed, and many times, this is not the case.

Another setback is also the student’s attitude in this program.  Some students, despite all efforts, may choose to follow their continued pattern of behavior, thus leading them into the path of suspension and expulsion.  However, even in these cases, the program is designed to show the efforts of teachers and administrators and the various measures that have been taken to help the student curb their unruly behavior.  Therefore, the last measures taken against these students include suspension or expulsion, in extreme cases.

Have there been triumphs? Yes, there have been several triumphs. Since implementing his program in various schools which include Merced Union High School District, Keller Leadership Academy (San Diego), Hiram Johnson High School (Sacramento) and Discovery High School (Natomas) just to name a few, there has  been  dramatic improvement in teacher-student relationships in the learning communities.  Student achievement has also increased since students want to remain in classrooms where they feel valued and connected to the teacher. The biggest triumph which Julius notes is the decrease in suspensions. 40% reduction in suspensions has been seen in schools where the program has been implemented.  Although there may always be unruly children despite the efforts made by educators, Urban Essentials 101 makes a conscious effort at establishing a connective bond between teacher and student so that students are taught, mentored, and counseled.  Students learn how to behave in situations where they might not have otherwise known how to act or change.

As a teacher at one of the Urban Essentials 101 trainings, I was intrigued by Julius in the way he immediately connected to his audience.  Somehow, he found a way to change many of our stubborn mindsets about mentoring, (or as he put it “Disciple-ing”), children by sharing his personal experiences, setbacks, and triumphs.  It is evident that his experience in law enforcement and education along with his spiritual connection to God has allowed him to change the way many teachers see education and discipline.

In closing, it is evident that as we look at the world with its current issues of hatred, terrorism, and violence, our children may be the next generation requiring extended counsel with issues they face in their homes, relationships, and community.  And although it has never been the place, our schools may once again play a part in counseling these students in addressing difficult behaviors and situations that otherwise would have been taught in the home. Although restorative justice in schools may not be the complete answer to discipline, at least Urban Essentials 101 is a starting point for teacher and student to unify, discuss, and peacefully resolve issues in a classroom.

 

Mr. Julius Lockett attended college at Georgia State University, earning a BS and MS in Public and Urban Affairs. He has also served as a police officer in Fulton County, Georgia.  In 1996, he took a position at VORP, (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), an affiliation of Fresno Pacific College, under the founder, Ron Claassen. While working at VORP, he earned teaching credentials in Physical Education and Social Science from Fresno Pacific College.  He later earned an Administrative credential from the University of San Diego, California. He has served in California schools as both a teacher and administrator in the San Diego, Sacramento, and Merced areas for twenty years. Currently, he serves as a Program Administrator and Facilitator for Urban Essentials 101, Inc.

For inquiries about Urban Essentials 101, Mr. Lockett may be contacted at Julius@ue101.com or his website, www.ue101.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki – Book Review – July 23, 2016

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The novel, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money, by Robert T. Kiyosaki is not the typical read.  It is a combination of personal account along with vast information that would make any middle to low income earner cringe.  The middle to low income earner cringes, because he realizes this man has known a secret that makes him millions and is easily attainable to all of us.

The how-to-book is a mixture of personal stories from Kiyosaki’s childhood and his adult life.  Although he is respectful of both of his dads, he does mention at times that he leaned more toward his rich dad’s belief system mainly because he produced results from his actions, such as investments, fortunes, etc. From the reading, one can tell that the poor dad had good intentions in raising his son and was a very hard worker; however, Kiyosaki wanted what his rich dad had attained.  Kiyosaki explains how he modeled his rich dad’s teachings and has been successful to this day.

In a very easy, straightforward style, Kiyosaki explains how one can attain wealth and assets.  He is quick to point out that those who spend carelessly will still find themselves paying for the luxuries that are wanted and not necessarily needed.  He is also adamant about learning financial lingo and terms if one wishes to understand how to make money work for oneself.  He acknowledges that many do not wish to take the time to learn such matters and he is correct in this statement.  Many people miss out on improving their financial status due to ignorance, not the opportunity to acquire a better income.

After finishing this book, I must admit that I am not a math person (even though I took higher level math courses in high school).  I tend to think in words since I am a writer and not necessarily in numbers.  However, after reading this book, I realize that the mentality or mindset which we have about money must change in order for us to be successful in our finances.

The book has motivated me to look for the opportunities which Kiyosaki suggests in acquiring wealth and to change the way I speak about money in front of my children. The rich or upper class do use money to their advantage and they teach this concept to their children by the way they handle their money in their daily finances.  All of his suggestions made logical sense and were reinforced with the personal examples he used in supporting his findings.

I would definitely recommend this book to any individual, especially those who consider themselves part of the middle to low income classes.  It is an insight into the world of the rich and a way for all of us to change our course of handling our money to better ourselves and our children.  Although guaranteed fortunes aren’t promised, by reading the book, one will learn how money can work for you in ways you never realized.

an Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski – Book Review – July 23, 2016

IMG_5603In one of the early passages of this novel, an Invisible Thread, written by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, Laurie explains the idea of the “Invisible Thread”  and her relationship with an eleven year-old boy named Maurice:

“I believe there was a strong unseen connection that pulled me back to Maurice.  It’s something I call an invisible thread.  It is, as the old Chinese proverb tells us, something that connects two people who are destined to meet, regardless of time and place and circumstance” (Schroff, Tresniowski 6).

I came across this book in Barnes and Noble one day. I was intrigued that a professional sales rep and a young boy could strike a relationship that would last over years.  I began reading this novel one day and finished two days later.  The odd revelation that a busy professional felt compelled to return to this young boy, Maurice, on the streets of New York City, and the heartstrings that tugged and pulled at her to return to him each week made me want to keep reading. Any other person might have missed this opportunity in helping this young boy, but Laurie’s encounter proves that one person’s presence  is enough to change this young man’s life forever.

In the process of feeding Maurice and building a relationship with him, Laurie discovers that although their lives are very different as an adult and child, much of their childhood stories are similar. Maurice’s family life is very harsh and violent while Laurie’s early life is filled with tribulation and anxiety as well. What I enjoyed most about the novel are the chapters where the author returns to her childhood and explains some of the insecurities and trials she encountered in her own life.  It is in these chapters that the reader sees the connection of Laurie and young Maurice, who is in a daily struggle to survive something he cannot escape. Laura’s aid to young Maurice and all of the measures she takes to help him show what one person’s love and persistence can do to assist those in need.

To be honest, I did not think the novel would strike such emotion, but I found myself crying in several sections of Laurie’s account. Although I knew the novel would serve to inspire the reader, I found that the vivid descriptions of her life and young Maurice’s life made me aware of the divine intervention displayed in these encounters, and although I did not expect a spiritual read, this is exactly what I received.  What a great surprise to find hidden in the treasure of these pages, especially to an avid reader as myself.

Stylistically, Laurie’s account is not difficult to read by any means.  The authors, Schoff and Tresniowski, are straightforward in their writing efforts, and although dates and years are given to understand the timeline of events, it is by no means boring.  The structure of altering chapters between both characters serve the novel well as the reader sees the parallel issues unfold between the two individuals. Some inclusion of actual pictures and letters help to reinforce the strong bond established by these two individuals, Laurie and Maurice, in later chapters.

It is always a welcome joy to find a great novel among the millions of others on the book shelves.  I was thoroughly impressed by the tale of this woman, Laurie, and the young boy, Maurice.  Their love and friendship has endured throughout the years even to his adulthood.  I am always encouraged when I read stories of such magnitude that drive the human spirit to see beyond a simple encounter, and marvel in the divine connection that bring two people together.

See for yourself as you read an Invisible Thread.

My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry by Fredrik Backman- Book Review – July 23, 2016

backman grandmotherIMG_5602The novel, my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, by Fredrik Backman is a heartwarming story of a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother.  It is through the grandmother’s influence that the young protagonist, Elsa, with her quick wit and smart mouth, learns to address a cast of characters and makes this novel come alive.

When her grandmother passes away, Elsa struggles to find her place with her pregnant mother or mum, stepdad, and new baby to arrive, and her biological dad, with whom she finds it hard to communicate. While Elsa tries to understand the people around her, she soon discovers that her grandmother had plans for Elsa after her death, and that is, to discover and deliver several letters as a sort of treasure hunt for Elsa. In dispersing these unique letters, Elsa discovers hidden truths about the people surrounding her life.  As stories and tragedies arise in her realization of these people, Elsa learns that her grandmother is still teaching her even without her physical presence.

Stylistically, Backman’s writing style is eloquent and versatile as always; however, with the story of Elsa and her grandmother, there are sections that are a bit difficult to comprehend with the fantasy elements of their secret language and secret world, the secret world which the grandmother has taught to Elsa. For myself, there were parts where I became distracted mainly because of the inclusion of these fantasy elements. Others, however, may enjoy the inclusion of these elements.

The main theme of love and acceptance is reminiscent of Backman’s other work, The Book of Ove. Although it may be coincidence, the inclusion of the elders in the cast of characters is seen in both of Backman’s works and may suggest the reverence which we should pay to those who are older and wiser than ourselves. It may also suggest to the reader that elders should be cherished while they are still present in our lives.

In either case, the novel, my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, is again a gem of Backman’s efforts to create a worthwhile and eye-opening novel filled with lines and dialogue that keep you reading and wanting more.

A Man Called Ove- Book Review – June 26, 2016

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One of the most interesting and heartfelt novels I have ever read is a novel called, A Man Called Ove, written by Fredrik Backman. The novel was published in English in 2013 and was a number one bestseller in his homeland of Sweden (Simon and Schuster.com).

Although I read this novel at the end of September (2015), I waited to write a review on the novel simply to soak in all of its goodness.  I had purchased the novel at a bookstore in Oregon and was intrigued how a fairly new writer was already a bestselling novelist. Since I was soon to be an author myself, I was curious at the success of the novel.

Once I started reading the novel, I couldn’t put it down. At the time, I didn’t exactly know what intrigued me or inspired me to keep reading the book.  All I knew  was that it had a story line that kept pulling me back for more.  The descriptions, many subtle in their placement within the novel, were so simple yet powerfully written. The words captured the essence of Backman’s heartfelt intent as he wrote the novel.

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In my English class, I present “book talks.”  This is where I share what I am currently reading at the time with “my kids.” While I was explaining a section of A Man Called Ove with the kids, I watched their faces as I explained the characters and the setting. I read several sections from the book and in that moment something happened. It was one of those moments that you never forget: you’re reading to your students and they sit awestruck, really contemplating the meaning of the words.

It was what I read to them that made them really stop and think about the main character, Ove, and his plight in the story.  Ove is described as an older gentleman who spends his days with the love of his life,Sonja.  One of the quotes I read them began,

“There’s a photo on the wall beside the front door, of Ove and Sonja.  It’s almost forty years old…She’s suntanned, wearing a red dress, and looking so happy. Ove is standing next to her, holding her hand.  He sits there for what must be an hour, just staring at the photo. Of all the imaginable things he most misses about her,the thing he really wishes he could do again is hold her hand in his.  She had a way of folding her index finger into his palm, hiding it inside.  And he always felt that nothing in the world was impossible when she did that.  Of all the things he could miss, that’s what he misses most” (Backman 69).

This quote exemplifies just one of the moments in the novel when we are drawn to Ove for his love to his wife, Sonja.

However, there were other instances when I felt like I wanted to strangle Ove for his drastic, almost illogical reactions to situations surrounding him; however, after the reader learns of his upbringing, it was apparent that there were many ingrained traits which Ove possessed which simply weren’t going to change.  The pattern and order of his life is like his religion and to change it would mean the world was going to end.  In seeing life through his eyes, we know that he is destined to do some of these crazy mundane stunts, yet we feel empathy for him because he is simply being himself.

A quote which demonstrates Ove’s lack of change reads,

“Now Ove is standing in front of his wife with two plants.  Because it was a question of principle.

‘There was no way I was going to pay three Kronor,’ rails Ove, his eyes looking down into the gravel.

Ove’s wife often quarrels with Ove because he’s always arguing about everything.

But Ove isn’t bloody arguing.  He just thinks right is right.  Is that such an unreasonable attitude to life?” (Backman 33).

The quote above definitely shows Ove’s stubbornness in certain cases. However, as in any compelling novel, there is always transformation of some sort and this definitely occurs in the character of Ove.  Without giving away the ending, we see Ove as a man truly transformed by the power of relationship and love.  Those people surrounding us can be powerful motivators, and those people who take the time to simply care about each other make us feel part of something greater than ourselves.  Love is a theme which transpires throughout the seams of the novel. It is the binding force that makes this novel truly something to be cherished.

After reading through each section of this novel, I remember putting the book down and just contemplating Backman’s craft.  I would keep thinking about the words that tugged at my heart in certain places and made me connect to my own life — experiences with love, loss, and hope. I marveled at the complexity yet the genuineness of such craft to make a reader feel this way each time. I even went back to certain pages to find those words which really left their imprint on me, then I’d say, yes, that’s the line.  So simple, yet speaks the truth.

Yes, this is the one thing which I can say made me keep coming back for more.  It was the meaning behind the carefully chosen diction,  and the subtle way in which thought and insight made this book reach out to me.

Now, here I am bringing it to you. Go to the bookstore, purchase the novel, sit in your favorite reading chair, and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

The end of the year for teachers – May 30, 2016

We’ve all seen the posts on Facebook.  The posts about teachers ready for the summer –the pictures of crusty-eyed cats comparing us to just how tired teachers are this time of year or the videos of young children bursting gleefully through the doors of their campus, scattering this way and that way just to escape.  Yes, teachers of America can empathize with this feeling.

Many of my students ask me, “Mrs. Frenes, do you enjoy your job?  Why do you get the summers off?  Is that why you teach?”

My response, of course, is quite direct. “Well, listen Jimmy, I love what I do.  It is all I know and I enjoy the kids, my classroom, my colleagues.  But would I wish this career on anyone else?  No, and not for the reasons you would think.”

Veteran teachers (it will be my 20th year coming up) can say this and many will nod their heads – “We don’t know anything else other than teaching.”  By this statement, I mean, we don’t sit around daily adding up the stress levels that almost make our heads want to explode, or wonder why we have knots the size of boulders in our shoulders from grading, nor do we over analyze the 170 essays that need to be graded before next week’s grading period ends.  We just do what we need to do and that is our life. We have never known anything different than our teaching life.

Does it take a toll on our bodies? The answer is yes.  Before I started teaching, I actually had a full head of hair.  I’m not bald, mind you, but my daughters laugh when they see my hair in a ponytail and wonder where the rest of the strands are hiding. Yes, I used to have thick, shiny hair at the beginning of my career.  Now, well, I’m lucky if I still have hair to trim when I go to the salon.

And our bodies?  I have spent more money on a masseuse just to work out the knots in my neck that never quite go away from grading essays.  Maybe other English teachers are stronger than I am in this area, but many I know feel the same pain that I do.  English teachers will understand what I mean by this pain, because after spending hour after hour, night after night, trying to reach a deadline for a stack of essays, our arms are numb from commenting or grading, and our backs, necks, and shoulders have tensed to the point of no return.  We just see the deadline we set for ourselves and keep plugging along.  We don’t cry, we might whine, but we don’t stop.  We just see the deadline.

As for the summers off, I have stated this before to students, “If teachers didn’t have the summers off, they most likely would go crazy.  Not because of the work and not because of unruly students, but mainly because of the thousand little things given to us to do on top of all of the grading, teaching, etc.”

We are like a hamster on the spinning wheel racing along until someone stops the wheel, and says, “Here, take a break.” We, the hamsters (teachers), look in puzzlement, almost astonishment, at the person stopping the wheel, because we don’t know what to do with ourselves.  Of course, once we do stop to rest, we get home and crash, sleep, nap, or start blankly at the television.  It’s like a shock to our systems that we get a break.

Well, summer is almost here and teachers can rejoice as they see the numerous posts about the last day of school. We fantasize about what to do with all of the free time we will now have as summer approaches.  We are just like our kids needing a break,  running gleefully out of our doors until we return in August to get on the spinning wheel again.

 

 

And the page turns….October 13, 2015

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The package arrived and in eagerness, I asked my boy to help me open the box.  I was anxious to see the contents of my first novel.  I had seen it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Others had already started reading and responding to the story with positive reviews. But, I wanted the moment to come when I would turn the pages to my own novel, Always Connected.

I had worked on this novel for over two years and finally decided to publish this summer. However, I knew that reading it for the billionth time in my own home on my computer wasn’t going to be the same as when it was done, completed, and finished.

So as my ten year old son pulled out the scrunched up paper from on top of my copies, I saw the cover, designed by my niece, Kayla Montemayor, a Senior at Clovis East High School.  Kayla is a gifted artist and when I told her about the story and my ideas, she designed the perfect cover. Her design captured the essence of the story, a young woman meeting her father for the first time in twenty-six years. The picture said it all.

What did it feel like to open my own novel?  Amazing! Pure and simple.  I looked at the names in my dedication and acknowledgment pages and marveled at how special these people were to me through this experience.  Something that had taken me so long was now locked into the pages of this new, fresh memory. It was captivating to look at the pages and see my name throughout the book and realize that I’m now a published author.

But really, I’m still the same exact person I was even before writing the novel.

What do I mean, you say?  Well, I never wanted to publish a novel for the fact of blowing up my ego a million times or to brag about what I had accomplished.  The love of writing is the reason why I wrote the novel and the feeling I get after I write something which no one else on earth can write in the same way. The fact that my ideas and thoughts are solely mine and embedded in these pages is enough for me.  I think most aspiring writers would agree.

And so, life continues as I head toward future novels, some of which I have already started to write.  The feeling of opening the pages of my first novel was awesome.  Nothing will ever replace that single memory. I also know that without a doubt when I open the page to another brand new novel which I’ve written, I will experience this same feeling once again and it will never get old.  Never.

The trials of beginning a new school year – September 13, 2015

The third week in August, I began a new school year. Normally, I’m pumped and ready to go, but this year, something was different.

I had spent the summer completing my novel, Always Connected, and finalizing the edits of what seemed to be endless errors I had missed in the process of proofreading. I was tired yet excited at the same time. I was tired for obvious reasons, but I was excited that finally my dream of being an author was going to happen this year. This year–when my second daughter is a Senior here at my high school and my third daughter is a Freshmen with me as well.

The school year was daunting as I looked at my numbers. Too many students were in my classes and by the time the third week came around, I found myself overwhelmed with names which didn’t sound familiar and had yet to be memorized. Every day I went home and slept to save my sanity.

Now at week six, I’m used to a few students and I’m learning to relax with the multitude of faces which I still don’t know at this point in the semester. I feel bad, but survival is always key during these times.

As a teacher, what I’ve learned the most is that experience is a great teacher. It has taught me when things don’t feel right in a classroom, like the way students are acting or the way students are learning or in some cases, not learning a concept I have been covering. That experience is what gets me through tough times like these and for my students, they most likely won’t know I’m overwhelmed because I’ll never show it to them. I’ll be controlled and ready to teach because that is what I’m used to doing every day. It is what keeps me centered and focused despite the feelings going on inside me. I am there for them, not me. I always have to keep this in mind as those young aspiring faces stare at me and know me as their teacher.

So although the feelings will still be there for awhile, eventually the anxiety and overwhelming feelings will subside in time. I know this to be true. Soon my students will know me and I will learn all of their names. They will just be “my kids,” and know that I am always here for them.

A Teacher’s Thoughts Before School Begins – July 29, 2015

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The summer is almost over and every teacher in the universe is thinking the same thing, “It’s time to go back already!  So soon!”

Every teacher knows that teaching is an exhausting profession.  Many tease teachers and state, “Oh, but you get the summers off.  What a breeze!”

Not true at all.  Any teacher knows that without our summer break our brains would be mush. Teachers are leaders, counselors, parents, spiritual guides (without the religion, of course), and mentors.  They do all of these jobs, then teach, and in addition, deal with parents (and not usually under the best situations).  Sometimes the overload can be daunting, but tenured teachers don’t know any better, because this is all we have ever known. We make it through, but there are moments when we need a break and not just in summer.

However, along with the frustration of going back to school, there is also the excitement of the new year.  Organizing our new supplies, setting up our rooms, reviewing our rosters — all of these tasks are enjoyable in a sense because they remind us that we are starting fresh, with hopefully better and updated curriculum and new ideas to keep the kids engaged and learning. It is a chance for us to improve our classrooms, our students, and also ourselves as educators.

We also encounter great students who just make our day on occasions.  And then, there are other students who struggle in their home life and somehow these issues make their ways into the classroom with defiant behavior and lack of filters for appropriate behaviors.  Teachers have to take the good with the bad on a daily basis.  We know that many times our students see us more than they see their parental figures at home, and this alone makes us sympathize with the plight of the child, regardless of the age.

We are hopeful of a good upcoming year, but along the way, sometimes there are setbacks like deadlines, testing, and more testing.  All of this on top of our normal curriculum and tasks concerned with our job. Many women teachers, especially, stress over balancing their roles as teachers and mothers, and try to do both to the best of their ability.

So as the summer ends, and all teachers head back to the classroom, we are reminded that the year will be a great deal of work and sweat and then more work.  However, soon the year continues on and before we know it, we are back to summer break.

Summer for teachers is a time of relief and gratitude.  It is a time for us to truly breathe.  No other profession is offered this gift, but in our case, we can say that we truly need it to make it through.

My First Day of School – Monroe Elementary

When I think back to my first memory of school, I always remember my first day of school.  I attended Monroe Elementary School near Monmouth (Caruthers), California.  I remember the pink dress and pink shoes which I wore on that day and the excited feeling of being with other kids.  It was my first image of elementary education and to this day, it is one of my fondest memories.

My mother was lucky enough to work as a migrant aide at this school,  and although she knew the staff well, I was to discover later that she was a bit nervous for me since I was so shy.  I was the eldest in my family and so it was a big deal for me to attend elementary school.

My first teachers were Mrs. Garrett and Mrs. Smart.  When I say teachers, I mean that they were both of my teachers along with numerous aides in the open classroom.  In the 1970’s, the open classroom was the concept of multiple grades working together;  in my case, kindergarten through third were all together (yet separate by grade level) within a big classroom.  There were bells that would ring throughout the day to move us along to our new station (or lesson) which was based on our grade level.  At the time, the idea of moving to different locations within a big classroom (this was really three separate classrooms — all open within the same level) took some time, but with practice, became second nature to the students.

Some of these stations included reading, writing (our own books), mathematics, free play, pottery/or art, and other related topics which I can’t recall.  What I do remember most was the freedom which the open classroom allowed the students to experience; it gave the students the ability to work with others while allowing them to work independently (and ahead in some cases) so that the students were always active and learning.  I never remember feelings of boredom, because there was always something to do. Now, looking back, I imagine it must have required a great deal of organization to get this open classroom to function and work efficiently. In recollection, it must have worked well, because the process was never a problem to any student; when I think about these kindergarten through third grade students, there must have been at least a hundred students or more moving in this open classroom with clear direction and purpose.

On my first day of school, I remember story time as the highlight of my day.  I was sitting in a small group of students, intrigued by the concept of being with other children my age.  Since Monroe was a country school, most of the students didn’t live close by to other children, so it was an adventure to sit by others our age.  I remember Mrs. Garrett, with her glasses and big blonde hair, look out into the audience and ask who would like to sit beside her as she read the story to the class.

With numerous students raising their hands in excitement, I just sort of sat there and looked around, smiling at all of the commotion.  Then, Mrs. Garrett pointed to me and asked me to sit beside her in front of everyone. She asked me my name and commented on the uniqueness of such a name, Genevieve.   I remember that my hair went all the way down my back, and Mrs. Garrett complimented my pretty dress and long hair.  Then, holding the book out to the children, she read the story to the class while I sat right next to her.  I wish I could remember the name of the book she read; however, this first memory and the excitement I felt about learning and reading was enough for me.  This pleasant memory has remained with me to this day.

Now, in my life as a high school teacher, I still return to this memory and the feeling I had on that day.  I think of my role as the teacher and my impact on my students and their acceptance into my classroom. I also hope that my students will feel the excitement of learning.   At high school level, I realize much has changed by the time they reach my classroom and their previous experiences in education might not be so positive.  I know that one teacher can make the biggest difference in a student’s introduction to the classroom.  My first memory in education and learning motivates me to be that difference.