Saturday, September 22, 2007

Communication and Old Letters

I am not a member of the letter writing generation. I think this gave my grandparents and, in turn, my parents, much grief. Especially when I went off to college and tried to pretend I didn't have a family. You see, I was brought up with a telephone. When I wanted to communicate with people, I picked up the phone. I didn't have to go through an operator first. In fact, I thought Lily Tomlin's telephone operator had a strange occupation. Yes, it's true that I was attached to the wall, stuck in the room in which the phone was kept, but we did have three phones in our house so my choices were vast (as far as I was concerned) about where to have this conversation.

Now, I don't tell you this to age myself (although I know a corded dial phone does put me into a certain age bracket). I tell you because a few interesting things happened recently to show me the difference between letter writers and phone callers.

The first was my mother. She has been spending the summer and subsequent month cleaning out an apartment that was shared by my grandparents and my great aunt for 45 years. And she just found a box full of love letters. Yes, love letters! Who has those anymore? Apparently, my grandparents quite prolifically professed their love to each other. And one of them, or maybe both, saved every letter. So my mother and her brother spent an emotional day learning about the courtship between my grandmother and grandfather. And discovering her parents all over again. Her best story: My grandmother writing a letter to my grandfather reprimanding him for some wrongdoing. My mother is now hunting for the letter explaining just what he did to deserve such harsh words. And while she was telling me this, I realized my daughter would never find letters like this from her father and me. Cards, sure, signed with great affection. But not letters.

The second was an e-mail I received from a student. It began with a "Hey, Girlfriend." I was so taken aback by the opening, I barely registered the reason for the e-mail.

And the third was a few conversations, three to be exact, I've had with friends over misunderstandings brought about through texting.

One of the things letter writers had to learn was how to get nuances of language into writing. They had to make sure to get their point across without being misconstrued. So sarcasm was out. So were quick, explanation-less comments. There was a formality to letters, regardless of the relationship between the writer and receiver.

Those of us from the telephone generation did not have to learn these skills. Sarcasm works well on the phone. Tone of voice is everything in humor. Emotion could be poured out easily and less formally. My husband and I spent hours on the phone during our courtship, talking about...I don't even remember anymore. But I know I didn't worry about being formal and proper. I didn't agonize over every word.

But here we are, telephone people, talkers...thrust into a world of - gasp - writing. It might not be letters but we write blogs and twits and chat in chat rooms and send e-mails. And with all of it, we use telephone talk. Relaxed, full of emotion or emotionless, sarcastic, humorous...and, so many times, misunderstood. Maybe it is time for us to realize that we have skills to learn about writing that our grandparents (or great-grandparents for all you young-uns out there) learned early on. Or maybe we need to be more forgiving. Or both. At least until we learn how to navigate these new waters. My grandparents would be proud.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Obsessions and the Elementary Teacher

This idea has been rolling around in my brain for a while. Forgive me if I can't explain clearly what I am trying to say. But I have begun to realize that I am obsessed with technology. Not just enjoying it, not just utilizing tools, not just embedding it into my classroom. Obsessed. I spend as much waking time as possible online. My family, who also loves technology, often has to tell me to turn off the computer. I dream about technology. I dream about blogs I will write, widgets I will add to my site, tools I want to try out. Even in sleep I am not free. I think about technology when I am not near a computer, planning what to do the next time I am hooked up again. I spent an usual amount of time this summer purchasing a phone that would allow me easy access to the Internet.

So what does this have to do with being an Elementary Teacher?

I started thinking about my last 23 years in education. At first, I obsessed over how to teach: would I be able to manage the class, complete my lessons, keep the children engaged? Then I obsessed about content: do I have enough math manipulatives, did I copy enough maps for our social studies lesson, are all the science materials in the box? Soon I was obsessing about things not in the curriculum: improving staff development, addressing foreign policy in the classroom, teaching environmental awareness, learning more about the political system, coming up with better management systems, teaching other teachers all I have learned.

And now I realize that the rub about being an elementary teacher is that we teach everything. We don't just teach math. If we did, we could focus just on math, meeting with other math teachers, looking at math sites, going to math conferences. We don't just teach social studies. So our focus can't be just on learning GoogleEarth, joining foreign policy boards, watching political documentaries. We are not just tech coordinates, with a focus on all the latest and greatest technologies out there. We do it all.

So each time I find a new obsession, I add it to my classroom and my life. I revisit obsessions from time to time, making sure I stay up to date and in touch with all that's happening in the field. At least as much as I can. After all, I am so consumed by my latest obsession that I really don't have that much time. In fact, I really must go...there's a new site I want to check out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My "Little" Circle of Friends

I know I seem to keep coming back to this theme but I am still in awe of the power of communication on the Internet. Just a mere 3 months ago, I learned about and began a journey into Twittering and Webcasting.

I listened to my first webcast in July. It was an EdTechTalk webcast and the only reason I knew about it was because a woman I have never met opened herself up to me in Classroom 2.0 and told me to listen. Lisa Durff, I was to find out later, is an incredibly passionate educator, whose goal seems to be to promote webcasts and blogsites. She is the town crier for all things important happening online and I love her for that!

Since then, I became an intern at the Webcast Academy, met some more incredible people, began hanging out at Second Life at the recommendation of some of these people, met some more incredible people, started a Twitter account and met more people, and, here I am, three months later, with a nice list of people I now consider my friends.

I find myself looking forward to reading their blogs, awaiting their messages in Twitter, anticipating their comments on my blogsite, socializing with them in Second Life and enthusiastically chatting with them in webcasts and on Skype calls.

But the real test of these friendships came just today. Last night I sent out a message on Twitter that my students' blogsite was up and rolling. I invited my followers in for a look, not really expecting anything. What I got was comments - really thoughtful and caring comments - from people who don't really know me, except online. People who took time out of their busy schedules to help make blogging worthwhile for my students. People who did what I would hardly expect from colleagues I see every day.

And I should have known this would happen. I should have anticipated it way back in June. It was then that Christine and I got our webcam. Then, that we sent out an invitation to anyone in Classroom 2.0 who wants in to come Skype us so we can try it out. And our call was answered. By Skip Zilla and Kelly Christopherson, by David Jakes and David Warlick. We had a wonderful chat and signed out, surprised and elated that people came to talk.

I should have figured it out then. I should have known that, in the online world, friendships are made quickly and become strong. In the online world, people want to help out. In the online world, when you reach out, there are always people reaching back.

So thank you to my "little circle of friends". Those who helped me make it through the Webcast Academy - Jose, Jeff, Durff, Alice, Maria, Lee, Carla, everyone - those who listen to my twits and act on them - Colleen, Jen, Karen - those who befriended me in Second Life and helped me stop banging into walls - Kevin, Lori, Cheryl, Jen, Colleen - and everyone else who has touched my life by being my online friend. You are the very reason I keep coming back.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Bookmark Meme

Okay, so I've been tagged. Kind of chain maily (is that a word?) but it does let me see what other people are looking at. So here are the rules and here are my bookmarked sites, with apologies to Alice for not following her meme when she first tagged me. Now I know what to do with it...I think.

Here are the rules:

1) Once you've been tagged, link your most recent bookmarked pages back to your blog

2) Name the tag that you have used so others can access the links easily in a blog post

3) At the end of your post, tag 6 people and list their names, linking to them.

4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they've been tagged.

So what have I bookmarked on lately? - First heard about this on a podcast I was listening to. It might have been Wes Fryer but I really can't remember. Then today, someone twitted about it. So I tagged it. - Sorry this is so self-indulgent. I tagged it for later perusal and to think about how to link this to my blogsite. Colleen updated her site and I wanted it in my delicious account for my teachers to look at. Dave Cormier's blog on blogging. Wanted it for my web 2.0 class. Can't wait to try out Dvolver in school!

So now the question is, who to tag for this meme?

Chrissy - my Webcast Academy buddy
Jen Wagner - cause she's such a good online friend!
Kristin Hokanson - cause I love her twits and blogs
Cheryl Lykowski - another WA buddy and my SL apartment mate
Susan VG - WA again
Mr. Angeli - cause he's new to blogging with kids and I thought he might have fun with this

Enjoy, All.

Just a note written after the blog was posted: While I enjoyed looking at my recent saves and at the saves of the person who tagged me, I felt very guilty tagging others. Perhaps it's why I have never followed through on chain mail. Maybe these memes are not for me. Tagged people, let me know what you think. You're welcome if you find it fun. And I apologize in advance if you are terribly annoyed by this.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school. My 23rd first day of school as a teacher. So I was up at 4:00...not because my alarm went off but because I couldn't seem to stop running through my head all the worries I always have on the first day of school. What if this is the class I can't handle? What if I leave something home that I really need in school (my newest flashdrive)? What if I hit some major road problem and am late for school? What if I forget everything I had planned on doing? What if...what if?

I also had to worry for my daughter, who was starting her first day of 7th grade. Will she like her teachers? Will she have friends in her classes? Will she have anyone to eat lunch with? Will she make the bus at the end of the day? Sigh. Can you see why sleep eluded me.

So how did it all work out? Ali had a great day, ate lunch with friends, loved her teachers, and had no homework.

And me? I remembered my flashdrive. This was a good thing since all my SmartBoard lessons were done at home and had to be transferred to school. There was a major accident on the highway but, thanks to my Honda Civic Hybrid and clean pass, I get to drive in the HOV lane and was able to move at the speed limit past all the rubberneckers. My lists helped me make sure I didn't forget what I wanted to cover, although, as usual, I planned waaaay too much for the day.

But, how were the students? Funny, enthusiastic, anxious to please. Smart, scared, excited by the possibilities in fifth grade. And, then I understood why, after 23 years, I still love my job. Watching their faces as we described what is in store for them was priceless.

"We're going to put our voices online? How?" "We need an e-mail address? And we can e-mail you?" "We're going to talk to a teacher across the country?"

And, then, at the end of the day, as I was running through all the things we didn't get to today, as I was remembering how it took an hour to label and put away all of our supplies properly, two students looked at each other and said, "This was really a great day." And that's when I realized that, yes, it really was. And we have so many more days to look forward to!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

New Beginnings

There are lots of reasons to love teaching: the thrill of watching little lightbulbs go off as an idea finally sinks in, the fun of being witness to the excitement children have as they embark on a new project, the vacation time (we don't always like to admit that but the vacation time is a perk).

But I think the thing I love the most about teaching is getting the chance to start new each year. I love beginnings. I love being able to look back at last year and say, "I wasn't thrilled with how I taught...put anything in here...writing, so I'm going to revamp my program and try something new this year." I love deciding to move furniture because it just didn't work last year. I love getting new supplies to use, finding new posters and books, putting new nametags on desks.

I think, for me, new beginnings means a chance to make things better. Whatever went wrong, whatever didn't look right, whatever I said that I shouldn't have, I get to change this year. And, I get to upgrade those details that worked. Now that I worked out my reading program, I can spend more time really studying each book and finding great sites to coordinate with them. Now that my math program is tight, I can gather more hands-on materials to improve those lessons even more.

So three more days to a new beginning. And the unknown of new students, new supplies, new technology, new ideas...a whole new year! Hooray for teaching!