Are You Ready?

That’s the question I hear almost daily from someone. Are you ready to go back to school? Well, here’s the parody that I posted yesterday sharing how I want to teach, so in that regard…I’m more than ready.

That question then leads to a discussion of the current situation of reentry and pandemic guidelines. It’s a lot to ponder. In fact, I’ve been pondering it ever since the 19-20 school year ended.

Am I ready?

My room is almost ready. I think I’d like calling it my home if I was a student. Currently, it’s organized, and I’m really going to try to keep it that way. [Now those of you who know me and have been in my classroom, you should quit laughing. It could happen. Maybe it’ll be another positive change for the second-half of my century.]

Am I ready to teach 4th grade?

To be honest, the math and language arts will just be a step deeper, so I’m good there. Social studies has more of a state focus, which should be fun. Between the two of us, I’ve never been a fan of social studies. I remember one year in elementary, my teacher wrote a chalkboard full of notes that we copied. I don’t ever want to do that. I’m hoping that I can add my energy and creativity to help it come to life. Plus, one of the 4th grade teachers from when I was in 4th grade contacted me and is sharing some books and a unit on our town with me. Shoot, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I was going to see if I could convince the rest of my new grade level to plan a Johnny Appleseed Day with me. I mean, that was my FAVORITE memory of 4th grade. Plus, the newness of the focus will be a great challenge for me. You know you’re a teacher when you become excited about finding and printing pics of the state seal, motto, flower, bird, tree, song, and poem. Honestly, I didn’t even know we had a state song, but you can be certain that my 4th graders will hear it…and we just may sing it because….some kids connect best to music. Science has some topics I’ve never taught in 3rd grade, so that will be another challenge. Thankfully, I have some connections to Hanover College that may come in helpful in those areas.

Am I ready to teach during a pandemic?

No…yes…somewhat..I think so. Clear as mud?

No, I’m not ready to do it, but yes I am ready to do it. There’s this study I participated in last summer called the Enneagram. It pointed out to me that I often let fear guide me. I never really thought about it until I read it. Then, as I analyzed my choices, behaviors, etc…I realized it was true. So, fear is there. Social media and the media itself do nothing to help that fear. So many differing views. So many differing truths. You can find someone saying it’s best to return, someone saying to start virtually is best, and another saying schools should remain virtual until a vaccine is successful. All of those “someones” are experts. All of those experts have evidence. See what I mean?

This morning, our pastor preached on the importance of learning and being lifelong learners. Now, as a teacher, I tell my kiddos that every single year. You’re never too old or too experienced or too wise to learn something new.

The sermon proclaimed that we should learn BIBLICALLY, BODILY, and BROADLY. Biblically is obvious…read the Bible, study the Bible, and learn its truths. The second reminds us not to just learn in our brain but to DO the learning. If we learn the importance of being kind, go be kind. If we learn to cook, share the skill with others by inviting them over, taking them a meal, or teaching them your skills. The final point was to learn broadly. It reminds us that we can learn from all people. Yet, when we learn from others, we must take that learning back to scripture. Now, I am certain that as easily as I can pick some scripture to support going back that someone else could share one that says to protect children and to avoid danger. My point is that….as I hear or read the experts, I know they’re simply making an opinion based on their evidence with their mindset. Me? I strive to focus on three things….

I have faith in the One who created me, who gives wisdom, and who will walk with me whether I’m on a mountaintop or valley….whether I’m in a cute classroom with tables, a rocking chair, and desk groups… or if I’m in a cute classroom without tables, rocking chair, or desk groups. He will be with me in that classroom.

Being a part of several education groups through FB, I read a lot of great ideas for education and can ask for advice. However, I’ve also been inundated with opinions. Some of those opinions are written with a heart of love and concern while others are written with more judgment and anger. Those opinions that are overwhelmed with fear are ones I try to bypass. Why? I know how fear can take over, so I need to put it in the corner. I need to stick with the hero of the story…and that’s my faith. My faith tells me to be obedient to the calling placed on me, and to have faith that regardless of where the path leads….that He’s got me.

Peace. You don’t find a lot of quiet peaceful moments in a school. The school day is often filled with laughter, loudness, and learning. I’m good with those three things, but I also know I’ll need to rely on a peace that surpasses understanding. A peace that comes from the Prince of Peace.

Some of you who read this will think my head is in the clouds and I’m not looking realistically at the year ahead. You can think that.

Some of you may think that I have it altogether and you can learn from me. Not really.

Some of you, especially those of you who know me, will probably think this sounds very “Jodi”. Well, obviously.

This morning in our Bible study class, one of the ladies asked about the upcoming year and how I thought I’d get through it. My reply sums up my thoughts.

“There will be plenty of prayer in my classroom to get me through the journey.” So, I ask you, pray for the teachers and students who are venturing back into the school buildings. Pray for those families who choose to learn virtually and the educators who will be differentiating instruction through a computer. Pray for those families who are giving homeschooling a chance in these uncertain times. Pray that the pandemic won’t be able to overthrow the learning. Pray for government that supports education. Pray for loudness, laughter, and learning to fill our days….

Well, maybe go light on the loudness.

What’s in a Name?

My name is Jodi Lea Pflaumer.  My surname shows that my ancestors came from Germany.  My middle name is after my father who is Jerry Lee.  Regardless, I’m rarely called Jodi Lea Pflaumer.

My students call me “Ms. Pflaumer”.  Honestly, they more often call me “Mrs. Pflaumer”.  To them, the Ms. and Mrs. are interchangeable.  They just show I’m female.  I’ve never once been called Mr. Pflaumer.  However, I have been called Mom and Grandma.  Why?  When kids spend a good portion of their waking hours with you 180 days a year, they can accidentally call you by the name of the lady who cares for them the rest of the time.  It’s all good.

At church, I’m called “Miss Jodi”.  It teaches the kids to show respect to elders while allowing a more personal or intimate connection.  Plus, it keeps me from going into “teacher mode”.

A friend in college, actually it was the friend I mentioned in my previous post, always called me “Lea”.  I always thought it was just his nickname for me, but one day I asked if he knew my last name.  He told me he thought my name was “Jodi Lea”, which was why he had always called me “Lea”. Hmmm, two perspectives.  To this day, he’s the only friend to call me “Lea”, so it always makes me ponder my years in East Tennessee.

Another college friends referred to me as JOdI LEA PflAUmer, making all vowels but the last as long vowels.  It would make me chuckle, and I have no doubt if I ever take  a trip to Atlanta and I hear that being said…I will know exactly who was coming.

Names.  Why have I been pondering names?  Well, it seems that the current protests for Black Lives Matter and for fair treatment has stirred the pot of discord regarding the school where I teach.  I teach at Southwestern Elementary.  I have for 24 years.  I am proud of my school, and to me the “mascot” simply was a reminder to “stand up” and not to be afraid to go against the flow.  Why?  We are the Southwestern Rebels.

There’s currently a group of residents in our county and elsewhere who have deemed Rebels an exclusive term referring only to the Confederacy and all the ideals they believed in.  Yuck!  Who would want that as their mascot IF that was what it was referring to?  To be honest, if I believed that we were the Southwestern Confederate Rebels, then I never would have applied to teach here.  But that’s NOT what we are or who we are.

If you go back to the school’s history, instead of the country’s history, you would learn that the name Rebels was selected because the group that started the school was being a rebel by not joining with the other schools in the county.  They decided to stand up for what they believed and make their own school system.  They rebelled.  They went against what others believed.

Please understand me, the Confederate Rebels and I have nothing at all in common.  But…I am a rebel.

You see, society says that high school students tend to try “new habits” that I have never tried.  I rebelled against the expectation.

I was told that education majors in college really are just at school for their MRS degree.  Nope.  I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to learn who I was in order to be who I was created to be.  I rebelled against the stereotype.

Sadly, in the times we live in, it’s normal to be silent about your faith if you are a Christian, but….nope.  My friends, my family, my students, and the social media world know that I am a Christian.  I rebel against being a silent Christian.

Personally, I think being a lawful respectful rebel is a good thing.  I tell my students if they disagree with something I planned or do in class that they can respectfully state their case.  I can’t guarantee the stand will change the plans or practice, but it’s worth a shot.  I teach them to stand up and be heard.  I have read posts by friends who only focus on the negative definition of rebel.  Yet, I teach my students multiple meaning words every year.  Some words have both positive and negative meanings.  We are not the Confederate Rebels; we are the Southwestern Rebels.

As I do often when reading social media, I googled this question. “Is Rebel a negative word?”  The response: “Being a rebel or being branded as a rebel does not always warrant negative inferences. Strong willed people who are indisposed to comply with rules, standards, or laws are often branded rebels-just because they don’t fall in with a situation – often a prejudiced or unfair or unjust or discriminatory situation.”

Maybe I have a Pollyanna view of life, but that’s with what I’ve always associated our mascot. I will admit that in the midst of the heated and sometimes hateful/disrespectful debate I’ve read on Facebook that I cringe whenever a Confederate Soldier or Confederate flag appear.  Please know, I’m all about learning from our history.  I teach my kiddos history, both the positive and the ugly.  We discuss how we’ve learned and can still learn and change.  Yet, the visual of those two things don’t cause me any joy.  But, I admit, the little old guy with the beard, he just reminds me of a crotchety old man…angry old men are still around, but I don’t want that to be our mascot.  That little man doesn’t look one bit joyful.  Hmm, I need to refocus and forget about that little man.

One of my friends posted a survey on whether the school should change “Rebels”.  I picked “no”.  The money involved with the change is a big deterrent for me agreeing when we’re hard-pressed to be able to fund teacher’s salary and various student activities.  It seems like a lot of money for “rebranding”.  I became curious as to whether this was only occurring here or everywhere.  From what I garnered from a quick search, it seems Old Miss and UNLV as well as high schools throughout the nation have faced the same debate.  In most (if not all) cases, the “old man mascot” was given the boot.  Some replaced him with a bear or dog, but the name remained.

What will happen?  I know not.  Names are powerful.  Words…are what you make them.

Yet, this morning as I was once again overwhelmed by the FB posts on this subject, I tried to think of words that get me “worked up”.

The first that came to mind was the N word.  That to me is more foul than any curse word.  When I hear it, it makes my heart sad.  Many moons ago or possibly decades, I had a student who said the word in passing.  Our lesson was quickly interrupted and a history lesson and a lesson on respecting others took over.  To be honest, the only way this 8-year-old would be able to use the word so haphazardly was if he heard it frequently.  I always wondered what he told his parents happened in school that day.  Did he tell them that I corrected him and taught the class how inappropriate it was?  Did his parents see me as a self-righteous teacher?  Or….did they realize that their habit hurts others?

Then, I was reminded of a word that hurts me personally.  It hurts my spirit and makes my heart cry.  It is a name that my entire being is grounded in and my world revolves around.  It’s the name of my Creator.  My Savior.  God.

Just saying the name prompts a feeling of admiration and adoration to my being.  Yet, I remember back during my masters program having to endure a professor who used it as often as others say “um” as he taught us.  Each time he uttered the word, my entire being wanted to scream.  However, you can tell by a person’s speech and attitude whether a dialogue can take place, and it was evident that this professor’s self-identify would not take well to a student offering constructive criticism.  So, each week of his course….I would become irritated, which prompted anger, which prompted prayer.  Sometimes for him.  Often times for my attitude check.  At the conclusion of each course in my graduate program, associated with an evangelical Protestant university, the university had us complete an evaluation.  To be honest, I would rank this professor as second in most effective, but I respectfully shared how his habit, which had no intent on hurting others, affected me.  I’d like to say our evaluations (I wasn’t the only one who shared it.) helped him to alter his habit, and perhaps it did.  Yet, I do know that it colored his view of our co-hort.  Our advising professor told us in one of the courses she taught, “I don’t know what happened in Dr. X’s  class, but he does not hold a positive regard for your group.  He said nothing positive about the course just that you were ‘whiny’.”  Ah, we whined when we reported his offensive habit.  Lesson learned.  Sometimes, people don’t understand your problem with something.  You shake it off and move on.

Why did I share that?  I keep asking myself….is calling ourselves Rebel like speaking God’s name without reverence?  Does it cause stomach-punching emotional pain to those who hear it?  I don’t know.

As I wrapped up my ponderings and prepared to put my thoughts into word format…I again read posts from friends.  I have friends on both sides of the debate.  These are people I respect.  The perspective of both sides deserves attention, and then let the decree be made.  Regardless of how this current debate plays out….whether we remain the Southwestern Rebels, change to the Southwestern Survivors, revert to the Southwestern Bulldogs, I will always be a rebel.  A person who does what I think is right even when the world doesn’t agree.

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Mid-Life Crisis?

My 24th year of teaching draws to a close on Monday after I complete the permanent record folders.  This 24th year has ended in the most peculiar of ways due to that stinkin’ virus!  Over the past 10 days, I’ve been pondering the past year and grieving the loss of my final 9-weeks with my 19 kiddos. While packing up my classroom, I found notes from some of my kiddos declaring me “the best teacher in the world” and “the best teacher I ever had” and I smiled.

My room is packed up for summer, but this week…I even packed up the closet & cabinet contents.     I witnessed dust MONSTERS rolling out from under tables where boxes of LLI materials were stored until needed.  I look at shelves of “stuff” and think….”Maybe I should take the time to go through each item.”

getting ridI decided that next fall….I wanted a “fresh” look in my classroom.  So, I’m ditching my Peanuts decor (giving them to a colleague who’s also a Peanuts fan) for something new.  I’m going through ALL my stuff (I’m not a fan of that word, but it works in this case). Think of it as “spring cleaning” my classroom…

Guess what!  I turn 50 in 5 1/2 weeks!  Some people dread it, but I don’t.  I see it as a celebration.   I’m even having a friend make a t-shirt for me to 50announce that I’ve been blessed by God for 50 years.  During school,  I told my kiddos “I turn a half a century old this summer”, and they had to figure out what that meant.  One said, “500?”  Nope….not going to happen.

Often, when people hit milestone birthdays of 40 and higher or go into retirement, they make a big purchase or a big change.  I’ve heard of people buying that convertible sports car they always wanted but were too sensible to buy while raising their children.  Others have undergone some sort of plastic surgery to fight the look of their age.  Me?  I decided to act on another “one day I’d like to….” thought.

To understand….we need to journey to the past….my past.  The year was 1989, and I was assigned to Jefferson County Elementary for a practicum in 4th grade with Mrs. Word.  She was great.  The experience was wonderful.  In fact, I requested that I do my student teaching with her as I enjoyed it that much.  However, her mother was having health problems, so I was moved to 5th grade with the mother of one of my friends.  It was wonderful as well.  I enjoyed 5th grade, but I told myself I wanted to teach 4th grade.

Then, graduation took place and substituting began.  I was in so many grades, in so many memoriesschools, and in so many classes.  I was reaffirmed to NOT be called to kindergarten (God bless those teachers!).  As my subbing continued (for four LONG years), I realized that 3rd & 4th grades were the two I enjoyed the most.  Finally, in August of 1996, five wonderful 3rd grade teachers and the others on the interview committee chose me to be the sixth third grade classroom.  I’ve been in 3rd grade ever since.

I’ve enjoyed (almost) every single year.  Some of them have been quite challenging due to behavior issues.  Some of them have had quite a few academic hurdles to jump.  Others have had 18-25 third graders who have gelled into a wonderfully cohesive team/family/class.   Each of those years have been a part of my path to this point, and they’ve helped mold me into a stronger teacher (At least I hope so…).

Several times over the past ten years, when there has been an opening in 4th grade, I’ve pondered, prayed, and sometimes fretted over whether I would be moved or if I should offer to move. This spring, it started again.  I was “this close”thinking to asking to move, but I talked myself out of it.  Then, due to a couple teacher-moves by the administration, there was another opening in 4th grade.  Again, the thoughts filled my brain, and then they once again started invading my dreams.

Finally, I came to the point that I thought, “I obviously have wanted to teach 4th grade, so if I offer….the ball is in their court.”  I figured if they agreed to move me, then, God willing, I would conclude the final decade or more of my teaching career in 4th grade.  If they decide to keep me in 3rd grade, then I can let it go and trust that I was simply “made” for 3rd grade.

graduateI shared my interest & willingness to change teaching assignments and waited…..and waited….and waited.

Okay, to be honest, it took less than two weeks, but it seemed like an eternity.  You see….I’m not a big fan of change.  I like planning.  I like structure.  However, earlier this week, my building principal came in to let me know that they had decided to let me go to 4th.  I’ve always joked to my outgoing third graders that I’ve yet to graduate from 3rd grade, but now….I can say I’ve finally been promoted! Ha.bm grateful

For someone who’s not a fan of change, this is a big deal.  For a person who loves teaching, this is a great opportunity.  For a lady turning 50, this is a kick-start to re-energize my teaching.  I’m excited.  I’m overwhelmed.  I’m eager

Yet, for now…I’m tired….and looking forward to reading as much as I want, finishing a picture book, and writing some of the other four books I’ve started.  As I do so,  I will hope (and pray) that Covid-19 will diminish, a vaccine will be created, and the joy of my classroom can begin anew….with my next class, in a new grade, in a different hall, and not in Room 302….

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My Teacher’s Mug Runneth Over

As a student, I had a certain image of a teacher.  I had the notion they were “off” all summer and walked into school the first day to teach…just like us.

I was clueless as to what teachers, especially elementary teachers,fit in quote do each year during the summer before the school year begins.  I had no idea the amount of personal money and “free” time that elementary teachers devoted to preparing for students.

Guess what?  Now I do.  Personally, I was proud of myself this summer.  Why?  I left my school on June 4th after a not-so-helpful training day and didn’t reenter Room 302 until July 4.  For some, this may seem odd to be proud of going in a month before school begins.  However, in the past, I’ve been known to “take two weeks off” then start my room set-up as soon as the “all-clear” came from our custodians.  I’ve learned that “all clear” means the floors are waxed and “stuff” is back inside.

So, on July 4th, my cleaning supplies, boxes of materials, [I pretty much pack up my room at the end of the year to force me to reorganize and get rid of stuff.] and I spent some quality hours together.  I manipulated myself by telling myself if I “was ready enough” by July 15th, then I’d not return until August 6th.

Well, I was “ready enough”, but the lure of preparing pulled me back in on August 1st.  Then, on Wednesday, August 7th, from 5pm-7pm I met almost all of my students and a family member or more.  Then, August 8th, at 7:45…my 24th year in third grade kickstarted.

Granted, it’s only been four days, but what a wonderfully spectacular four days we’ve had.  I’ve been dubbed “the best third grade teacher I’ve ever had” and “the most fun teacher” by one or more students.  My fan club of my oral reading skills has grown.  One student even told me his mom, who once worked in our building, would stop by my class in the hallway to enjoy my read alouds.

Some think once you’ve been teaching the same grad level for this long, you aren’t being challenged.  However, I challenge myself each other to start something new, to change something that can be improved, and to ditch something unneeded.

Our superintendent challenged us to focus on building relationships in the midst of teaching our curriculum.  Let’s face it, no one learns much from someone s/he doesn’t respect or someone that s/he thinks doesn’t care about him/her.   That has spurred me to engage my third graders in more conversations about non-curriculum chats to get to know them.  It’s made me laugh, smile, and at times get a little teary.

I also try to pull in a lot of choices for my kids to have a say in what we do or what they read (when possible).  One of the ways I’m giving them choices this year is by letting them pick their morning greeting.  Last year, it was a fist bump for all.  This year, they choose.

IMG_5194I’ve learned an important bit of information.  What’s that you ask?  Well, my 49-year-old body isn’t prepared to dab first thing of the morning.  The past few days, I’ve only dabbed once or twice.  Today?  I think I dabbed at least a half dozen times.  Another half dozen are big fans of starting the day with a hug.  I did have one taker on “do a little dance” which is great because it gives a teacher who loves to laugh the right to be goofy in the hallway!

Another new thing I’ve pulled in is a “monthly challenge” for my students.  This month’s is easy as it’s a Me-Collage like Judy Moody does in her first book.  Other months they’ll be challenged to read an author they’ve never read or a genre that they don’t think they’re fans of at this point.  I told them that each challenge I give them will likewise be a challenge for me as well.  For instance, I’m not a fan AT ALL of historical fiction and science fiction [Seriously, I started making myself watch Star Wars movies last year when a fellow teacher was a big fan.], but I told them I’ll “make” myself read one that month in case my tastes have changed.

I could go on, but I really just need to get to the whole reason I wanted to write this post to begin with and that is….my new year.  I don’t know if it’s my new crop of kiddos, the new schedule for my grade level, or the fresh attitude for a fresh school year….but I feel so blessed with this new crop of kiddos.  I know everyday won’t be a breeze, but attitude makes such  big difference.  I may have done this 23 years previously, but this 24th year has the making of one of my best years yet!  And for that reason….as well as the other things above….My teacher’s mug is running over!

The End Is Near…

Okay, I’m not being morbid or prophetic.  I’m a teacher.  The end?  The end of my 23rd year as a 3rd grade teacher.  With the end of every school year, I ponder.  I ponder the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the things to continue, and the things to change.  I ponder….

Let’s tackle the bad….

The main “bad” would be negative choices by students and bad habits of mine.  What bad habit?  We could do the unimportant one of keeping an untidy teacher corner.  Honestly, “untidy” is an understatement.  My “teacher corner” has become a running joke….as it’s only clean/organized for the first few weeks of school. Then….life happens.  The bigger would be struggles some of my kiddos have with self-control.  However, with this bad comes its own good.   How could that be good?  Well, my boys who struggle the most will also say, “But Miss Pflaumer loves us anyway, even when we have bad days and make disrespectful choices.”  So….they know my love for them is unconditional even though my expectations are high.

The ugly?  One word.  TESTING!  Due to teacher evaluations, we must start and end the year with a quick 10-question test.  This test, however, will impact my final evaluation…whether I’ll be considered effective or highly effective.  Then, there’s our building’s “new” DOK 9-week indicator assessments.  There’s one for language arts and one for math.  Each one takes either a full math class or most of a language arts’ block.  Then, we have to insert + or – in a table to show mastery of the DOKs for each indicator.  Now, those are just the teacher-made-test-mandates.  We can’t forget NWEA which we take in reading, language, and math at the beginning of the year and in the winter.  Finally, as third graders, we spend a week taking the I-READ test which Indiana says third graders must pass to move on to 4th grade (or at least 4th grade language arts instruction).  If a student has an IEP or is ESL then they may be “waived” to the next grade.  If not…even if the teacher KNOWS they can read and understand and just don’t test well or focus well….sorry about your luck.  Lastly, there’s the ILEARN test which took the place of ISTEP.  Now, ISTEP took a part of two weeks twice a year…before spring break and in April  This test is supposedly smaller, but it didn’t seem to be based on time “served”.  We’ve made it to the final SLO test…then…I think this UGLY beast will be behind us.

Now that the stormy part is over let’s look at the rainbows….

The student who struggles with several academic areas but is close to becoming one of our spelling bee representatives.

The excitement of my students when they made commercials for their chapter book using Adobe Spark.

The extra recesses earned by Dojo points where I play 4-square with at least half of my class… impressing them with my skills and entertaining them with my antics.

The eagerness of starting a new “rock n read” book or the regret of ending it.

The laughs….the hugs….the jokes…the aha moments and the woohoos too.

Changes?

I need to focus on the positive more than the negative.  I need to try (once again) to keep my corner a bit more organized.  I want to keep my class Facebook updated more frequently and incorporate Class Dojo Portfolio more regularly.

Continue?

Teach with joy.  See my students as blessings, even on their bad days and my bad days.  Remember that no matter what happened today…tomorrow is a new day and a second chance.  We all need a second chance, don’t we?