Sunday, April 15, 2012

What I Did Over My Vacation

Teachers love to assign this topic to kids after vacations.  And we always expect the kids to tell us amazing things.  Instead we get these "bed to bed" stories of trips to Pennsylvania (I woke up at 5, got dressed, and went in the car).  By the time we finally get to Pennsylvania, we are bored and wondering why we ever gave this assignment.  But here I am, writing my own vacation essay.  I am going to title mine - What I Learned Over My Vacation.  I have so much to tell.

Lesson 1: Don't stress over travel arrangements.

  • I worry.  I worry about making our flight.  I worry about missing connections.  I worry that the snowstorm in Canada will slow me down in Phoenix.  I worry that I won't be sitting with my family, will lose my ID, will be hungry with no time to buy food.  So, because I worry, I plan.  I overplan.  I buy enough food for a week to take on the plane.  I check for my ID about 12 times before boarding.  I make my family get to the airport 2 hours early, even when we are leaving at 6 in the morning.  And, what I learned was, putting my family through all the stress and spending the day fighting (stress will do that to two tired parents and one teenager), is not worth it. This time, I planned and let it go.  I forced myself to be cheerful and accept the delay in Bakersfield that almost had us miss our Phoenix connection.  I allowed myself only some food and knew we would not starve to death.  I actually had fun on the flight with my family.  What a difference.
  • This made me think about planning in school.  I tend to hate changes in our schedule.  Field trips are a chore and a worry.  Assemblies throw off the whole day.  We won't even talk about changes for testing.  But now...I am going to plan and let go.  So we won't do math today because we got to see an amazing speaker talk about changes in the Arctic.  No reading today while we listen to an assembly about good nutrition.  And let's enjoy the trip to Old Bethpage Village Restoration instead of worrying whether or not we will see everything and make it back on time. Take the time to see the baby goats and eat lunch later.
Lesson 2: Stop the car often.
  • We love taking these trips that are basically road trips around a state.  But we have a schedule.  Drive here...see this.  Move to that hotel and see that.  Time is of the essence.  This trip was a little less scheduled.  We had more time in each place so we got to stop the car when we wanted to.  And that led us to some amazing discoveries.  Did you know that in Mohave California there is a little thrift shop full of old furniture, cool clothes, and lots and lots of books?  And the owner of the shop is jealous that we live on Long Island.  She has always wanted to visit.  She lives in this amazing state and wants to come where we are.  Did you know that there is a place called the California Old Faithful?  It's a cheesy little place with an actually geyser (although I wouldn't be surprised to find it was really a pump underground)?  We stopped, paid our $7 a piece to get in, and, not only saw the geyser, but got to pet the animals on the ground.  We fed the llamas and the goats, listened to the sheep, and had fun taking pictures of the baby goats.  We did not expect this at all but it was a fun time.
  • Back to school.  I forget, sometimes, to stop the car.  We are running so much to get everything in that I often forget that sometimes you have to stop.  When a child comes in telling us about a new baby in the family, we need to take time to see the pictures.  When we hear about a tornado in a state where our skype friends are, we need to take time to call them to see if they are okay.  When we find ourselves fascinated with the 1930s because we just finished Bud, not Buddy, we must take some time to head to the library and find pictures to look at and books to read.  So it's not in the curriculum.  But it is worth stopping for.
Lesson 3: Act like a tourist.
  • This was a conversation we had with ourselves a lot.  "Do I look like a tourist?"  "You have a huge camera hanging around your neck.  I think you look like a tourist."  For some reason, we think looking and acting like a tourist is embarrassing.  Try to fit in.  But this vacation, my daughter walked around taking pictures of everything...people, buildings, animals, murals.  She got us to realize that, if we try so hard not to be tourists, we will miss some amazing sites.  
  • In school, we often forget that our students our tourists in our classrooms.  The material we are covering is as new to them as Haight-Ashbury was to Ali.  They need to be given time to explore, examine, ask questions, act silly...act like a tourist.  Let's remember to give them that time.
Lesson 4: Find the beauty in all the places you go.
  • We traveled around northern California and saw some amazing country.  But we also saw some incredible poverty, sad looking homes, people living on streets.  My first reaction to these places was fear and sadness.  My daughter, however, saw beauty.  She pointed out the little garden in front of the tin roofed shack.  She noticed the colorful headband that the homeless girl was wearing.  She stopped to listen to the drummer on the street trying to make some money (yes, we paid him).  She didn't feel fear or sadness.  She just felt people.  What a wonderful way to live.
  • In the classroom, we have students who struggle every day.  We can feel bad for the child with a learning disability, fear for the child who is difficult to control, and sorrow for the child with a hearing impairment.  Or we can look at these children and find their beauty.  The child with the learning disability might be the most motivated child in the class.  The little engine that could can teach us all how to persevere.  The child who is difficult to control might just teach us not to worry so much about control.  Because when he is allowed to walk around while he talks, he tells us some amazing things about history or art or science.  And the child with the hearing impairment might not be able to share our music with us or the pleasure of our read aloud, but he can show us how the light in the room creates shadows beautiful enough to draw.  Find the beauty all around you.
Lesson 5: Keep all conversations about the future to a minimum.
  • Driving for hours tends to get us talking.  And, when there is a teenager in the car, the topic we adults most want to address is preparing for college and a career.  Unfortunately, since it is a teenager we are having these conversations with, this often leads to tears and yelling.  So the rule was, talk about what we are seeing unless she brings up the conversation about the future.  It made the ride so much more pleasant.
  • As teachers, we spend our year preparing our students for the following year.  Even our new Common Core Standards are designed to prepare our students for college and beyond.  We need to remember that our children haven't even experienced the year they are in now.  They don't care about next year or 5 years from now.  Why should they?  Let's enjoy the moment and help them feel good about what they are accomplishing this year instead of what they need to accomplish next year.
Lesson 6: Air travel needs perks again.
  • I always loved to travel when I was a kid.  You would get that little bag of peanuts while you waited for your meal.  The meal was always a surprise.  Was it pot roast with gravy and potatoes?  Was it turkey with cranberry sauce?  For a kid coming from a kosher home, these meals were amazing.  It was one of the few times I was allowed to eat non-kosher food (kosher meals were not an option on American planes then). There was always some kind of dessert with the meal, too.  And then, as we sat on the plane, the flight attendant would come over with a pillow and a blanket, crayons, and a wing pin.  So much fun.  I would read my book, play with my puzzle magazine, write notes to my sister, and just enjoy the flight.  Today, no peanuts, no meals, no pins, no crayons, blankets only on request and only if they are available.  Even movies are available for a price.  I miss the perks.
  • In school, I used to have perks.  Each year, I had this amazing unit I did with my students.  We studied our cultures, read about them, created projects, and then, invited parents to come in with a rice dish from their culture for a big Heritage Luncheon.  I was known for this.  Kids would come into the room asking if we were going to have a Heritage Lunch.  Parents would start to ask about it during Back to School Night.  It had nothing to do with my curriculum but the children learned so much about each other.  Now, no time for perks.  If it's not in the curriculum, it doesn't get done.  I need to fix that.  I need to bring back the perks.  I need to have a Heritage Luncheon, or make candles, or raise class pets, or read exciting books and then watch the movie versions.  I need the perks.  The kids will not remember the essay they learned to write.  But they will remember the time the newt got out and we chased it around the room (yes, that really happened).  
Those are my lessons from vacation.  What did you learn on your last vacation?

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