Crossroads of Humanity

Aug 30, 2013

The Top Ten Reasons I’m Looking Forward to School this Year

The past few school years have been extremely stressful for me. During that time, I never considered leaving teaching, but I actively tried to leave my last school. Sadly, it had nothing to do with the school itself or the school district. It had everything to do with a tyrannical governor who I now fear is setting himself up to run for President in 2016 (Scott Walker's Stealth 2016 Strategy). I've posted about him before, and I'm sure I will again, but for now, I'll focus on the topic of school.

Teaching in Wisconsin became stressful even before I left. Although I was one of the first to leave, I wasn't one of the last. In a district that has always prided itself on teacher retention, a district where it was nearly impossible to get hired as a teacher because hundreds of applicants would apply to every open position, in a district that used to have between 4-20 teacher positions to fill each year, a record 61 new teachers were hired for the 2013-2014 school year. I guarantee, the district is not growing, and new positions are not being created. In fact, when I left, they didn't hire anyone to replace me. Instead, the principal of the school now wears two hats. I highly respect him, and I know he has the kids' best interests at heart, but it shows that educators in Wisconsin are being asked to do far too much.

June 5, 2012 - A recall election took place in the state of Wisconsin, and Governor Scott Walker retained his seat by a small margin. That night, I mailed out resumes to schools in other states as well as Canada. 20 days later, I was lucky enough to interview at the school where I now work.

Last school year was stressful for a completely different reason. I had a lot to learn! We'd moved to a new city with no friends or family nearby. I'm an experienced Montessori teacher, so at least what I was teaching and how I was to teach it was familiar. I had to find that line though. You know the one, the line between the old and the new, the traditions of past years and fresh ideas. On top of all that, the school where I now work was completing the authorization process of becoming an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program school. We were successful, yay! But that certainly meant a steep learning curve for me and an entire month of online training last October while I was still getting used to everything else. It was a crazy time.

Meanwhile, I continued to write and in July, I published my fourth book, a novella about a young woman who is finding spiritual awakening as her life spins out of control. Writing, my family, and the Montessori method were the three things that helped keep me grounded and focused. So without further ado, here are my top ten reasons for looking forward to school this year.

10. I am no longer in Wisconsin, and I have become familiar with and comfortable in my new surroundings.

9. I am comfortable wrapping the IB-MYP philosophy and lesson plan formats around the Montessori curriculum. The philosophies of the two programs are so similar.

In Montessori, we teach the "whole child" meaning we recognize each child for who he or she is as a unique individual. We meet students where they are (academically speaking) and help them proceed at their own pace. We teach multi-grade groups of students in small group lessons using hands on materials and impressionistic lessons. We teach the children to be stewards of this beautiful planet we call home.

Here is the IB mission statement directly from their website:

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.
These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

8. I get to work with a wonderfully supportive staff every day. I am fortunate to be working with a team of people who are some of the most genuine, kind and supportive people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They all have demonstrated a passion for teaching and honestly care for the children throughout the school and for each other. I kid you not.

7. I have the support of the administration. Again, I kid you not! My principal encourages us to come to him with questions or concerns. No, I do not always agree with his final decisions, but I respect him and know that he is making those decisions after listening to his staff. On top of that, he is a well respected Montessorian who has written numerous articles and even a book about the Montessori philosophy. He also travels extensively educating others about Montessori education.

6. I have planning time every day. This is a practice that is falling by the wayside in many schools. This year, just like last, I'll have anywhere from 1/2 hour to over an hour every day for prep and planning. Any teacher will tell you that prep time is just as important as having the time to teach.

5. Field trips! I love field trips! We go camping twice a year, once in the fall (focus on team building) and once in the spring (focus on celebration). The sixth graders go to New York City as part of the Montessori Model United Nations program every spring. There are other field trips that pop up as we learn about them, if they tie into our curriculum. And the students often plan their own small group field trips based on independent studies - Maria Montessori referred to these as "Going Outs." Our students also visit a local wetlands and volunteer at a local food bank throughout the year.

4. I have the option to teach after school clubs and summer school based upon my interests, and I get paid by the hour for those extra duties. Compare that to being paid a flat $18.00 per event, no matter the length of the event at my last school.

3. I work with a super diverse population and am looking forward to learning more about different cultures.

2. The parents are caring and supportive. They treat us as professionals and understand that we are all in this together. Our goal? To provide a nourishing educational environment for all of our students, recognizing them as the unique individuals they are.

1. The students! I love learning along with them as I guide students through their studies, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the new dynamics that will develop in my classroom this year.

This is exactly what teaching should be like.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Aug 15, 2013

Cabin in the Woods

The automobile rattled to a halt and two men climbed out. The third backed the trailor toward the water, until the boat bobbed on the waves. With their gear already packed tightly in the boat, the men climbed in as well and rowed across the lake to their destination, a forested piece of land, isolated and perfect for camping and hunting.

Eventually, the men decided to bring their wives and children along on vacation. And so a cabin was built on their isolated hunting grounds. Years later, a crude road was put in along the peninsula. As more people sought to build vacation homes in the once isolated wilderness, the family sold half of their property to my great grandparents. My great grandfather built a cabin on the hill overlooking the lake, and I have been visiting this place my entire life.

My grandfather is the man on the right.

We are lucky to be on a lake that is valued by so many. Although there are cabins dotting the shoreline, there are also long strips of undeveloped forest land, purchased by wealthy families during the logging era and meant to remain in their natural state.

I don’t really remember much about my young childhood, but I cherish a framed photo I have of me, as a three year-old, walking with my great grandmother, along a colorful autumn leaf covered driveway that led to the neighbor’s cabin. My great grandmother loved this place, and she enjoyed sharing it with family and friends.

So many memories...

In the summer, we swam in the lake, went tubing behind my uncle’s speedboat, and canoed to undeveloped islands with the neighbor girl in order to explore and build crude forts out of sticks. In the winter, I cross country skied on the barren and hilly road, ice skated on the lake, and went snowmobiling with my cousins.

We rarely ate doughnuts in my family, but I recall a tradition of stopping by a doughnut shop on our way up north. Even yesterday, when my parents drove up to visit us here, they brought doughnuts. And I remember driving into the nearest town just to visit the fudge shop where you could watch the fudge being made up front and eat ice cream in the back. That fudge shop is still there, but they no longer serve ice cream.

Traditions... As a teenager, I learned to drive on the road that some call the tiger tale because of its winding and hilly nature. I hope someday my daughter will learn to drive along the same road. Campfires were another summer tradition. Roasting marshmallows, making S’mores, and cooking pudgy pies over the fire was always so much fun. And there is the fireplace. If you don’t remember to open the damper, the whole cabin will fill with smoke in a matter of minutes.

Now this place belongs to my mother, but she makes sure it belongs to all of us. We visit as often as we can. One week during spring break, one week in June prior to starting summer school, and one week now. One week to rest, one week to play, in the deep north woods before I go back to work as a teacher.

I fully understand the gift this place is and will continue to be. And I cherish it.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Aug 2, 2013

AirVenture 2013

This past Tuesday, I attended AirVenture 2013 at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and it was truly amazing! If you've never been, you would not believe the number of people who show up for this week long event. Parking lots are filled, extra parking lots are created in grassy fields, and small aircraft are parked in more fields even as others fly in and out every day. Vendors, speakers and pilots show off their unique wares. Center stage is the daily airshow.

Jetman made his first U.S. appearance.

I love small planes. Yes, I've always dreamed of earning my pilot's license. The only thing holding me back was finances. I thought learning to fly planes must be expensive. But that isn't true. And for young people, it can cost nothing at all.

Tuesday was Teachers' Day! Teachers had a free pass to the grounds and the airshow if they attended a panel of speakers throughout the morning. That was no problem at all. In fact, it was exactly what I wanted to do! We each received a bag full of aviation teaching supplies, and one lady gave anyone who stopped by her table an online code to receive even more free books and lesson plans in the mail. I was thrilled to learn that most of what they had to offer and share ties into the national standards as well as being aligned with STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One speaker joked that it's really STEAM, and the "a" stands for aviation.

Just take a look at what's available. There really is something for every age level:
  • The General Avaition Manufacturers Association (GAMA) teamed up with Build a Plane (BAP) this year. Two high school teams won the chance to build two airplanes that were flown at AirVenture 2013. I was thrilled to see what they'd done yet saddened that so few schools participated. In my opinion, high schools throughout every state should have entered at least one team. Please remain aware to see if they make this an annual event.

  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) kits are another way to get kids interested in aviation. It's easy to sign up for the AMA Flight School. If you'd rather just purchase integrated STEM kits, you can go to Whitebox Learning.
  • You can register your class for a fast-paced 1/2 day aviation program for kids ages 12-18 at Youth Aviation Adventure
  • Your class can go on a virtual field trip via interactive video conferencing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.: Dressing for Space (gr. preK-3), Kites, Wings and Flying Things (gr. 3-5), Inventing the Airplane (gr. 5-7), Helicopters, Straight Up! (gr. 5-7), To the Moon or Mars (gr. 8+). Just do a Google search for the exact program you're interested in. 
  • At Fly to Learn, high school students design, build and fly virtual planes.
  • And don't forget about Space Camp. Did you know that they still have summer sessions for teachers? How cool is that!
  • Finally, here is a one stop clearinghouse for all your aviation and space related resources: Think Global Flight, fostering STEM education and Green technology.
One additional resource that I have used in the past is Dream Flight USA. If you're teaching in a school anywhere near central Wisconsin, you should check it out for sure!

This was not my first Teachers' Day at AirVenture, but this year had something extra special. My daughter was finally old enough to want to see the airshow with me. She had three firsts at AirVenture this year, each a really big deal for her:

1. Her first yellow school bus ride because the airfield is pretty far away from the museum so they continually shuttle visitors to the airshow throughout the week.

2. Her first airshow. Our favorite act was The 4ce. Even though only three of their planes performed for us, they were still AMAZING! Watch this video to see what I mean.

3. Her first A&W root beer float. Yummy!
I LOVE AirVenture, and I would like to publicly thank the Uhl-Chmiel family because they were the ones who first told me about Teachers' Day, a day for teachers to come together and learn about the many ways that we can introduce all of the careers associated with airplanes to our students.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.