Category Archives: education

There Are No Words

Statue

If I have learned anything over the last few weeks, it is that I crave structure.  I need it to be productive.  I am slowly working on getting back into some type of routine as everything has shifted over the last couple of weeks.  Right now, I’m not even sure what it would look like.

I’d love to put tons of time and energy into my Google Classroom now, but Michigan just closed schools for the rest of the school year.  Up until this point, I was unable to assign anything for a grade.  I could share things I would like my students to look at and do, but that was about it.  I did come across some great stuff that I will be using with my students moving forward.  Unfortunately, that is the point.  Until we can figure out what distance learning will look like at our school, I’m not sure how we will handle students without out devices and internet access.  Hopefully, we will know more next week and will be able to move on from there.

I miss and worry about my students.  My heart breaks for my 8th graders who will be heading off to high school next year.  Will they be ready?  We did not get to send them off in the way they need to be sent off – not yet, anyway.  I worry less about 6th and 7th graders.  I can put things in place to help us fill in gaps next year.  It may not be fun, but it might be necessary.  I still miss them though, and they are certainly missing out on so much.  When we left school on Friday, March 13th – a day I will never forget – I was in the middle of planning a field trip to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts.  My 6th graders were also supposed to go to Lansing on another field trip in early May – a field trip that never happened last year.  8th graders are also missing out on their last dance, usually put on by 7th grade.  Not to mention track and field day, the last events surrounding Lent and Easter, and the wonderful chaos that is the last week of the school year.  Oh, and I could cry when I think of what we had planned for March is reading month, most of which never took place, including Prime Time Live Friday Night (originally slated for that ill-fated Friday the 13th) and a poetry café, among so much else.

Then there are the student council events.  I am the student council advisor, and my students pleaded with me to plan an end of year event.  A trip to an escape room and laser tag were in the works.  We were also supposed to have a carnival for younger students during March is reading month, all sponsored and put on by student council.  I’m now trying to figure out how we are going to do elections for next year, which take place every spring.  I may be able to come up with something there.  The point is that everyone who works in or deals with education day-in, day-out – teachers, administrators, volunteers, staff, parents, and certainly students – lost so much over these last few weeks.

I feel as though that goes double for students in Catholic schools.  I am not Catholic, and I do not teach religion, but I know what my students are missing at a time when they could use their faith the most.  They need guidance when it comes to faith formation, and that is what they are lacking now.  I keep thinking … 20 years from now, how I will I explain these times to my students?  There are times when I feel at a loss when I try discussing September 11th with current students who were born longer after 2001.

This is not what I wanted or dreamed for my first full year teaching.  It just isn’t.  I do hope that next year will bring a “normal” year.  During the 2018-2019 school year, those of us in Michigan experienced a record number of “cold”/snow days.  Something no one experienced before.  Now this.  I think everyone could use a return to “normal” at this point.

Change the World

Then there is the canoe livery.  Fortunately for us, we don’t truly begin to get busy until the end of June, early July.  August keeps getting busier and busier every year.  This time of year, we get things ready for opening on Memorial Weekend.  We will see what happens.  While we can make some progress, in other ways, it is difficult.  For example, I can’t finish ordering our t-shirts and sweatshirts at this point.  Would it be wise to do so right now with so much uncertainty?  Same goes for other merchandise in our stores.

There are so many summer scenarios that are running through my head.  I can’t help but think we’d be especially busy if things start returning to normal by early June.  If it is towards the end of June, that might put more pressure on already extremely busy weekends.  Should we extend our season?  Time will tell.

I do know that I will survive.  My family will survive.  The canoe livery will survive.  We’ve weathered so many storms in the past.  I keep telling myself how bleak things looked in 2018 in the wake of massive 100-year flooding due to ice.  We made it and came back better than ever.  Eventually a path will be made clear, and there will be a new “normal.”  We all just need to hold on until then.

Empty Classroom

Why I Write

Writing 1

Why do I write? I write because I must write. I have a story within me that must be told. There may be other ways to tell that story, but writing fits me – and more importantly, it fits the story I need to tell. I’ve dabbled in many forms of writing over the years, everything from daily throw away articles to blogging to academic papers. I view it all as preparation for writing a larger story.

More than anything, writing allows me to organize all the seemingly random thoughts rambling around my head. I love reading what I wrote years ago as it normally takes me back to a certain time and place. It is a way for me to see just how much I’ve grown over the years, both personally and as a writer.

As a teacher, it saddens me when students tell me they hate to read and write. In my mind, my love of writing grew out of my love of reading. I loved to read as a child – and I still love to read. Reading and writing are so intertwined in my life that it is difficult for me to tell where one begins and the other ends. For example, something I plan to write will inspire me to read a certain book. Other times, a book I pick up because it looks good will inspire me to write. One of my all-time favorite books, Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, sums up the symbiotic relationship perfectly. In fact, it changed how I read as a writer in every sense of those words. As long as I have books, paper, and pen, I will never be bored.

Writing, to me, also means a sense of community. I’ve taken writing classes at the local community college, spent years as a member of Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc., and attended workshops and seminars for writers. I have yet to meet one writer who didn’t have something to offer others, whether it be a new critique technique, a new source of writing prompts, or information on various programs for writers. As with teachers, writers are happy to share. We can all learn from one another.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it can be personal or shared, solitary or social, and organized or spontaneous. There is room for all types, and there is no one set of rules that apply to everyone. I love that young and old have access to reading and writing. Unlike many sports, there is no expiration date. There is no real barrier to entry other than basic literacy. I like to think that my writing will just get better with age, like a fine wine. It inspires me that many writers did not find their way until late in life. Above all, there is no stopping a great story.

Let’s face it: Good storytelling isn’t going anywhere, whether that means books, movies, television, or something else entirely. As long as there is hunger for a good story, there will be writers. I am proud to be a part of that tradition.

Writing 2

Grieving “Normal”

Graduation

The Sadness is Real:  An Open Letter to the Teachers

Ever since schools closed on Friday, March 13th, so many people have posted about spring break trips, proms, graduations, and so much more being cancelled and/or postponed.  I’ve watched others shame those same people truly grieving their loss by stating things such as “at least you’re healthy” and “how can you think of things at a time like this?”  What awful things to say!

While graduations and field trips certainly aren’t the sickness or loss of a loved one – no one is making that comparison – most of us are suffering from loss at this point.  We have lost our “normal” and working like hell to get to a “new normal,” whatever that may be.  As a teacher, I’m in awe at how teachers have come together.  I belong to a Google Classroom group on Facebook, and the activity I’ve witnessed over the last few weeks is unreal.  So many strangers, all teachers or in education, coming to help one another help students across the United States and the world.  In fact, I’ve had my own crash course over the last few weeks.  In fact, that is precisely why I am a teacher, I love to keep learning and then share what I’ve learned with my students.

When all this madness is over, and things return to “normal” – and they will – it is my hope that we are all kinder and gentler with one another.  Hopefully this will bring many people closer to God.  I also hope that it brings everyone, students included, a new appreciation for their everyday lives.  It already has for me.  As stressed out as I was at the end of last trimester, I’d love to be worried about planning all the fun things for March is reading month and the end of the school year again.  So, I am taking some time to grieve my loss of normal – and you should too.  When this is over, we are all going to love on each other and support our neighborhoods, small businesses, and cities, towns, and villages like never before.  Personally, I am hoping for a great party out on the river!

All I can say is that there will be time to reschedule those missed spring break trips, make those memories with your seniors, and generally make up for lost time.  I am looking forward to that day, and I expect to be so busy that I will be tempted to complain.  Until then, I will just keep plugging away.

Never Stop Learning

Changes

Dear Students, We Didn’t Even Get to Say Goodbye – Her View from Home

To Those Saying “Lucky Teachers,” This Isn’t a Break for Us, It’s Heartbreak

Through all of this, seniors – the class of 2020 – has been on my mind.  I hope that when this is all over, we will have the opportunity to properly celebrate all their accomplishments.  I think we are all grieving all the celebrations, events, you name it that have been cancelled at this point.  While I know some people have expressed anger at people getting upset over cancellations, it is only human that we grieve all the experiences we’ve lost.  Does that mean we shouldn’t take precautions or help those in need because we are bummed that our events were cancelled?  No.  It just means that we are grieving a valid loss – at this point, we all are.

I don’t know what these next few weeks or months will bring, but I do know that we will work through this together.  One of the silver linings of all of this is the time to work on projects that have been put on hold indefinitely.  For example, I’ve toyed with the idea of playing around with podcasting for some time, and tonight, I think I will finally start.  We will see where it goes!  I am also planning to play around with sharing podcasts with my students too.  Much more to come!

Miss Russell

PS – Check out the new page I created to share middle school online resources – Miss Russell’s Middle School Resources

One Week …

I will never forget Friday, March 13th, 2020.  I teach middle school at a small, rural Catholic school, and we had just had an unexpected day off due to a boiler issue.  Late in the day on Thursday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer mandated all schools closed as of Monday, March 16th.  Suddenly we were all faced with an undetermined amount of time off.  Not only did teachers and administrators not quite know what to expect, students looked to us for answers and we had none.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  After school on that Friday, we were supposed to have an after school event for March is reading month, Prime Time Live Friday Night.  Games, dinner, and prizes all cancelled.  Our once full March calendar suddenly free.  Now, our last Stations of the Cross is the last school memory I will have for a while.

I can’t help but think of all my 6th through 8th graders through all of this.  Are they OK?  How do I help make sure they are still learning?  What can I do when I can’t assign any graded work as not everyone has internet access?  I’ve worked my way through a crash-course on creating Google Classrooms, learning by doing.

Oh, the events!  I so looked forward to so many events this spring!  We had one field trip planned to Lansing in May, and I was in the process of booking another to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Art.  We were just beginning the novel Esperanza Rising as a middle school.  Oh, and the poetry unit I wanted to do.  Then there were the professional development opportunities now cancelled.  I looked forward to learning to become the best possible middle school teacher I can be.  I am hoping that I have the same opportunities next year.

Then there are the longer-term questions.  When will we return to school?  What to expect when we do?  When will society return to “normal’?  How will things work with our seasonal family business, which is due to start Memorial Weekend?  In fact, I’ve been splitting my time between trying to round up resources for my students and using this opportunity to get some business done.

Watching and observing how we have all come together as a profession (teachers are the best!), a church, a community, a state, and a country is heartwarming.  Ultimately, we will all become stronger through this adversity.

I will post resources soon!

Creativity

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I am a firm believer that everyone should have a creative outlet.  It may take some time to find what works for you, but it is so worth it in the end.  I discovered writing as my creative outlet at an early age, but then life got in the way, as it always does.  I hope this time I can make time for what matters.

As I have spent the last several weeks as a substitute teacher in a 4th grade classroom, I’ve enjoyed seeing just how passionate kids are about their hobbies.  I have budding writers, musicians, artists, and athletes in the classroom, not to mention scientists.  We had the best discussions about the US space shuttle program, astronauts, and basic animal genetics.  They are not afraid to ask great questions.  After a science lesson on the effects of long-term exposure to zero gravity on astronauts, one student asked me why we never returned to the moon after the 1969 moon landing.  A quick Google search later, we had our answers, which included the facts that politics largely got in the way and that NASA recently announced possible commercialization of space travel, including a possible return to the moon.  See article here.

I am left with just one question:  What do we do as educators between 4th grade and senior year of high school to suck the creativity out of students?  I like to believe things are changing for the better, but I still see way too much “busy,” mindless work being assigned, especially in middle school.  STEM programs are on the right track, but I do believe they need to include art, or STEAM, as well.  Still, that doesn’t cut it for everyone.  What about students who have no idea how to stick with something long enough to enjoy it?  How do we recognize and deal with the fact that many students are resistant to the idea that failure can help us learn and grow?  We inadvertently teach students that failure is to be avoided at all cost.  For better or worse, it is ingrained in our culture.  High stakes standardized testing anyone?  We need to teach students how to fail effectively:  how to move on and learn from our mistakes.  They need to know on a gut level that failure is inevitable.  We are meant to learn from it.

I am deeply grateful that I found a creative outlet that works for me.  I adored art classes as a child, but I have no ability to draw animals or people.  I am no painter either.  One of my greatest wishes is to have some musical ability.  Sadly, as much as I love music, I have none.  In searching for my creative outlet, I overlooked the obvious:  I am meant to be a writer.  Unfortunately, as a child, I always wanted to be more instead of embracing what I love and can reasonably do without embarrassing myself.  In fact, that is one of my greatest wishes for any of my students past, present, or future:  Find a creative outlet that makes you happy through good times and bad.

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Hello Again!

Writing, oh how I’ve missed you!

Taking a long-term sub position (4th grade) and working to get the canoe livery ready for the summer compelled me to slow down and consider what I want to do with my writing moving forward. I did walk away from this experience with a couple of observations:

1. I need to fit writing into my life, no matter what is going on.

Before starting my long-term sub position, I did get into the routine of writing every day. I do know that if I did it once, I can do it again. It is now a matter of fitting it into my routine no matter what that looks like.

2. I need to plan better.

I underestimated how much time I needed to grade and plan. Day-to-day subbing positions require neither. If I am honest with myself, this entire experience made me realize just what I need to do when I at long last have my own classroom. I know I can make this work; it will just take some time and adjustment. Knowing that the long-term subbing position will be largely over June 1st, I decided to start again. Today.

I do hope that this summer will bring many wonderful things into my life. It is long, long overdue.

More on my spring adventures coming soon!

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The Busyness of Business

Grandma and ME (2)

Grandma Reid and me – Michigan State University – 2000

Nothing compares to spring in Omer. In the middle of all the mud, daily extreme temperature swings, the rain and snow, not to mention the annual Sucker run, my family and I start gearing up for the busy summer ahead. The canoe livery will always be a part of my life, and as my parents prepare to retire, I can say I am finally starting to make it my own. Our Facebook pages, website, and our new online reservation system all represent years of hard work on my part. Slowly my brother and I are taking on more and more responsibility.

This year, for many personal reasons, I am looking forward to this summer. For the first time in a long time, I have a clearer vision of what I need to do. Writing will take its place alongside all my canoe livery responsibilities. In the meantime, I am working as a long-term substitute teacher until the end of the school year. Last week I transitioned from subbing in a different classroom every day to taking on the responsibility of finishing out the school year in a 4th grade classroom. Just as I eased into a routine with my writing, I need to readjust. In June, I will have to do it again. Please stay with me as I try to figure out a good schedule here.

On a personal level, it has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be happy unless education (teaching), business (the canoe livery), and writing were a part of my life. I need all three. When I received my teacher certification testing results for the business, management, and technology subject area, I felt anger. It clearly showed I should have never doubted myself when it comes to my business education. Of the three tests I took for my teaching certificate, I scored highest on the business exam. All areas of the test.

Yet, I did doubt myself when my business career hit a brick wall in 2005. So many things happened at a result that I took a good long look at what I truly wanted to do with my life. Thanks to that reevaluation of my career, I eventually earned my teaching certificate and my general writing certificate. Now, after all these years, I work every day making it all fit together. I simply ask that you stay with me. I will figure this out.

More than anything, I am proud of the family business my grandparents and parents built over the years. This summer represents 60 years in business. I grew up working not only with my parents, but my grandparents as well – especially Grandma Reid (Dad’s mom, pictured above). She, and my parents, taught me so much about business, customer service, and hard work growing up. Several years ago now, I asked Grandma what Grandpa Russell (Dad’s father, who started the canoe livery and passed away decades ago) would think of the canoe livery today. She didn’t quite know what to say. Now I wonder what she would think of the changes we’ve made.

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Book Club

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Read It Forward – 13 Reasons Why Book Clubs Are Saving the World

What is it about a book club that makes it so irresistible? Personally, I believe it is the structured discussion of a set topic. It is nice, neat, orderly; we all know exactly what to expect. And yet, we don’t. Book club discussions often lead to interesting places. I’ve formally been a member of a book for the last five years. During that time, I’ve read books I never would have picked up otherwise and had discussions I never dreamed I would have all thanks to book club.

The Standish-Sterling Book Club, however, is not my first. I like to think that Grandma Buttrick and I had our own little book club of two for a few years. Every time I visited, usually weekly, she never failed to ask me what I was reading. I loved sitting with her in the den, cold drinks in hand, talking books. I clearly remember both of us reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books and discussing them at length. Even when poor eyesight and memory issues made reading difficult for her, she still loved to talk books. I wouldn’t leave until I told her about the latest book I read.

When Grandma passed away in 2014, I saw it as no coincidence that I soon discovered the Standish-Sterling Book Club. The fact that they were discussing The Fault in Our Stars at the time captured my imagination. I’d read it as well, and due to the loss of an old childhood friend, that book will stay with me for the rest of my life. I wrote about the connection here and even quoted part of the book. On some level, I like to think that Grandma knows all about book club and that our family still shares books.

Regardless, book club will always be a part of my life, even if one day I must start one myself. I get too much out of it – as a reader, a writer, and a human being. This article nails it when it comes to the importance of book clubs and their resurgence. I hope the trend continues. I don’t see myself giving up book club any time soon. I enjoy it far too much.

As a teacher, I wish I could impart my love of books on all students. I truly believe that everyone can learn to love reading. Those who supposedly hate reading just haven’t found the right books yet – or they equate reading with reading in school. In school, students often have little or no choice as to reading material – although that is changing for the better and one of many reasons why I love Donnalyn Miller’s work. You can find more information on her work here. She stresses how important it is for teachers to help students discover good books and learn how to make solid reading choices on their own. I hope one day book clubs – and more importantly, the love of reading – will become so pervasive that students will want to create their own. There is so much to be gained through reading and too many good books to allow a hatred of reading to grow.

The Fault in Our Stars

Columbine: Before and After

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Just over twenty years ago, school changed forever – April 20th, 1999 to be exact. Prior to that date, school shootings simply did not happen – or at least not with the frequency they do now. I am old enough to remember life before Columbine. In fact, the spring of 1999 marked the last semester of my senior year of high school. In that pre-Columbine world, we did not have active shooter or lockdown drills. School doors were not always locked. In fact, even during my early high school years at the rural Michigan high school I attended, boys and girls who loved to hunt and had their own vehicles could lock their rifles in their trucks during deer season. It is not an exaggeration to say that I grew up and attended school in a different world.

This became frighteningly clear to me when I began substitute teaching several years ago. In fact, one experience put it all in perspective. As a substitute teacher, I’ve experienced countless fire, tornado, and lockdown drills. One, however, left me speechless. Subbing for a middle school music teacher in a suburban school district, the lockdown drill itself proved uneventful. However, the conversation I overheard between two young female students as we resumed class left me gutted. The conversation itself appeared casual enough. They were recalling some funny incident that took place during a lockdown drill years ago in 1st grade and laughing about it all over again as only 6th grade girls can. That simple fact – that the students before me, now middle schoolers, never knew school life before lockdown drills – stays with me. They know nothing else.

When I was in 1st grade, my biggest worries were getting picked last in gym class and deciding what to play during recess. Books, learning to read well, drawing and writing, and play all made up my world in 1st grade. Lockdown drills and the thought that someone would want to harm me and my classmates at school never crossed my mind or the mind of anyone else for that matter. When did everything change so drastically? Personally, I believe things began to change April 20th, 1999.

Not all the changes are negative. I do think there is a heightened awareness of the effects bullying can have on anyone. I also believe students today have many more opportunities at all levels than they did twenty or thirty years ago – as it should be.

And then there is kindness. When I first started subbing at my alma mater, Standish-Sterling Central High School, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I continue to be pleasantly surprised. Daily I witness a genuine kindness among students that I found largely lacking during my school years. There appears to be a greater awareness of personal differences of all types. Does that mean bullying doesn’t exist? No. In fact, social media adds a whole new factor into the equation – and it isn’t pretty. Despite that fact, I find students today more accepting and more willing to entertain new ideas. That may not be the case everywhere, but I see it enough in a variety of school settings that I have hope for this generation.

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