Book on the Beach

For three years now, my family has been celebrating Christmas morning not in gifts but in a week long vacation. As my brother and I have reached our early twenties, and our parents have become more of “friends” rather than “parents, we enjoy time spend together overseas more than destroying wrapping paper and cardboard boxes to reveal a cleverly picked gift.

This year our family traveled to Cancun, Mexico. The destination selection was quite the process. My  mother and I battled; I was for Punta Cana and she for Cancun. It’s clear who won. However, I don’t think this battle was exactly one to mourn over losing. So Sunday afternoon after a grueling finals week, our family made the drive to Denver so we could fly out early Monday morning. The morning of our flight, we were met by my best friend, Arielle “Air” Boone . Everything was going according to plan, until Air’s stomach began growling. About 30 minutes before our boarding time we decided to grab something to eat for the plane. We casually made our way to the delectable and diabetes filled food court to satisfy our hunger pains. The next thing I recall is hearing “Arielle Boone and Mariah Busch please report to gate A48, your flight is ready for departure.” Instant panic. I check the time on my phone and see that I have 8 missed calls and 4 text messages, all from my family. Panic increasing. I look at “Air” and immediately take off into a dead sprint through the food court, past the escalators, and down the gate runway. Side by side we sprinted in desperation-WE CAN’T MISS THIS FLIGHT!!! Breathless but with food in hand, we arrived at the gate just in time to gather our belongings and take our seats on the plane. Cancun here we come….barely.

We arrived to Cancun around 3:00 in the afternoon. We made our way through baggage claim, where I discovered the “pull handle” on my luggage was now jammed (if you’ve ever carried a  35 lb bag without a “pull handle” you must know the struggle I endured), and finally to the zoo-like transportation station. With the morning I had, I was flustered to say the least….and thirsty. My father, being the innovator that he is, used his “booze” radar to find the “Welcome Bar” right outside the airport. An order of margaritas later we climbed into a seat belt-less van and headed to our resort.

The resort was gorgeous; modern decor, winding pools, silky beaches, pool bars, unlimited buffet and drinks (I know some of what I listed has nothing to do with appearance, just go with it.) Unfortunately, Mother Nature poured on us that night and the next day. With no sun-bathing option, we took a trip into downtown Cancun to barter with the locals. As angry as I was with Mother Nature, I am very grateful for the opportunity she gave us to experience the culture and environment of downtown Cancun. To top off our day at the market, we decided to book a night at Coco Bongo. I won’t say much about this place, besides: AMAZING.

I also will keep most the details of my vacation to a minimum as I feel I have dragged on enough. Basically there were large amounts of eating, partaking in adult beverages, meeting new faces, and sun-bathing.

The purpose of this blog, which has turned into a documentary of a “vaca,” was to promote a “tradition” that I began last year. I got the idea from a review of a fellow vacationer. Basically, when I travel, I choose one book that I can muster up the ability to depart with (or buy a copy) and leave it on the beach for someone else to read. I also leave a small note inside the book asking the next reader to “return the favor of imagination.” My hope in this is that they will leave a book somewhere on their travel for someone else to read and that someone will leave a book somewhere for yet another person…and so on…and so on.

This year was a little unique. The book that I came to terms of choosing, “The Great Gatsby,” found its way back to me, not once,  but twice. I had “accidentally” left the book on a recliner near the pool and deserted the area. Not twenty minutes later, a small Canadian boy approached me in the lobby. In his hand, “The Great Gatsby.” He told me he saw me “accidentally” leave it and wanted to return it. My heart literally had butterflies from this child’s thoughtfulness. I told him I wanted him to keep the book but he denied me. He said “I’ve seen the movie, I didn’t understand it so I won’t understand the words.” My heart broke. I couldn’t do anything but smile and say “Maybe one day you’ll change your mind, but thank you sweetie” and he ran off.

I was determined that my second attempt would be successful. I chose a desolate spot on the beach. I found an empty end table, laid the book down, and walked off (or rather stumbled through the sand). Immediately I heard a “Miss, Miss! Miss, you left this book!” It was a resort entertainment member. I thankfully took the book and proceeded my awkward trek down the beach. Now what. Discouraged, I hung my head. I thought of “Gatsby” and how I was failing in delivering its story. Then it hit me. The pier.

Our resort had a lovely pier that stretched out into the ocean. It reminded me of that in the novel, only there was no green light to be seen, only endless blue waves that stretched until they met the sky. I walked down the pier, taking in the smell of the ocean, the touch of the breeze. When I reached the edge, I took a moment to say goodbye to “Gatsby,” made sure no one was watching, and left the book.

My “Book on the Beach” ended up being a “Book on the Pier,” but the tradition (at least for me) lives on….beating ceaselessly with the current into the future.

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My Letter, or List.

Pre-note: Good luck to all my lovely Methods ladies on their finals and those going to student-teach. I will miss you all dearly.

Since I’m such a fan of lists I thought a list may be appropriate for my justification blog. Then I asked myself why I was such a big fan of lists and I realized it’s because I have control. I then realized that having control is the one thing I learned to give up this semester. Not only control in the classroom but also in my life. To stop monitoring every action of every day and of every person. My number one thing I have learned: It is OK to not be in complete control.

(but I’m going to make a list anyways…to stay organized)

1. Failure is not to be feared, it’s to be embraced and challenged. Failure is to be expected. We are all human and we all make mistakes. Show your students you are a “mistake maker” but show them how you can overcome mistakes and succeed.

2. Learning is infinite. To be successful as a teacher you have to always be a learner. The learning experience keeps you fresh and creative. It keeps your mind running rather than walking. Learn from colleagues, learn from reading, learn from mistakes, and learn from your students. Learn until you can’t learn anymore…and then learn some more!

3. Writing is fun, yes fun. I hate to admit this, but I was a terrible writer before Methods; I had lost my spunk. I lost any reason to write for fun, to write for me, to write just because I could. I feel like this realization of WRITING BECAUSE IT’S FUN is one that I have to revive in my students. We become to accustom to writing for a purpose that writing becomes a task rather than an enjoyment. I want to engage my students in authentic writing and personal writing. I want them to feel encouraged to write about their lives as well as their learning experiences because they can, not because they “have to.”

4. Social Justice rocks. Laura Christensen’s “Teaching for Joys and Justice” is one of the most influential professional development books I have been blessed to read. I’ve always known that there was more to being an “English” teacher than just the subject. Social Justice helps students connect their learning experiences to “real-life” experiences. It also helps to create a “classroom community” as well as a community of learners outside the classroom.

5. Grades don’t have to be a letter…and thank goodness. This was one of the most difficult topics for me this semester. How do you handle grades? How do you justify a student’s work to the “authorities” or even their parents? How will a student know how he/she is doing? How will I stay sane? I don’t want to be the “letter grade” teacher and I don’t want my students to rely on the grade as a symbol of their learning. I’m so thankful that Portfolios, Project Based Learning, and Inquiry Based Learning were introduced to my life. I can’t wait to actually USE these in a classroom and let my students experiment.

6. Be bold and be resilient. Classroom management requires respect and boundaries. I still can’t get over how much I enjoyed Dr. Ellington’s “hunt down” of her students. I fully plan to adapt this method for my first years of teaching. I’ve got to let the kids know I’m serious about their learning and they need to be serious about it too.

7. Have faith. I’ve learned that you can have all the materials, all the tools, and all the planning but sometimes that just isn’t enough. You never know how a lesson is going to work or how it will work with different students. I’ve learned that I have to have faith in myself and I have to believe in my students. I have to know when something isn’t working, breathe, and adapt.

8. Thuggin’ hard is not a lost cause. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that no matter how much a student may test my patience, misbehave, or refuse to do their work, I have to keep pushing them. I also have to be aware of situations that don’t occur in my classroom. I have to not only teach but also care and be a supporter for my students.

9. Change takes time. I’ve learned that I am going to be one of the “new radicals” heading into teaching. I am going to have all these big bright ideas contrasting with the old “system.” I have to be willing to accept that I may be an outcast but never allow my ideas to become dormant. NCTE restored my faith in the “virus” of change. So many people came together to share a love for teaching, a love for learning, and a desire for change. I may not be able to transform an entire curriculum but I can transform my classroom and my strategies. I have to be at peace with making small change and infecting others one person at a time.

10. I’m ready. The final thing that I’ve learned is that I am SO ready to be in a classroom. Before this course I was scared to death of the multiple metal desks filled with adolescent bodies. I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to perform my duties as a teacher; that I didn’t have the tools I needed. However, I’ve learned that I have always had everything I need BUT I need to continue developing and learning. I’ve learned that people, blogs, and books are here to patch up any lost or missing pieces. And I’ve learned that mini-lessons and workshops go together like peanut butter and jelly. Delicious learning.

I honestly just want to end this blog thanking all my wonderful, adorable, cat-loving, intelligent classmates. I have never had a class that I actually MISSED not having or desired to have it more. You all have challenged me to become not only a better teacher but also a better learner. I love that we all share the same passion for teaching and compassion for helping others. I have unbreakable faith in every single one of you; you are all going to be fantastic teachers.

Dr. Ellington, I feel like you deserve the biggest thank you. You have inspired me like no other professor to challenge the system and to “be you.” You have the perfect answers to every question as well as comfort to every fear. You have enabled me to accept failure and mistakes. But most of all, you have shown me just how much a student will learn and understand when they have control over their own learning. You didn’t ‘require’ much of us this semester yet I’ve learned more in this class than I have my whole 3.5 years of being at CSC. You gave us the control and now I am comfortable giving control to my students. Seriously, thank you so much; for the learning, for the experiences, for the opportunities, for the wonderful snacks, and for providing us with faith.

Infected by the Virus

What do you call a thriving and blooming educational system on the verge of breaking out and impacting others? Well, according to Fairview High School in Boulder, Co; a virus. A panel of their English teachers as well as their Vice Principal spoke at the NCTE 2013 conference about a change that has happened within their school. They used to be a department of enemies-fighting for books, materials, office space-you name it and they fought over it. And one day, they realized it was time for a change.

The Virus: a small, positive, relational change. This virus focuses on giving students control, breaking the “structure” of the classroom, and allowing students to construct their learning. This virus also encourages TEAMWORK, COLLABORATION, and COMMUNICATION among the staff and “big dogs” aka the principals.

The panel discussed the importance of support. Having your Vice Principal “on your side” helps to spread this virus to other departments as well as give you credibility. However, they also stressed that what works in your department might not work in others; so don’t force something that won’t budge. But even if the budge isn’t ready to move, show them your ideas, show them how your ideas work with your students. Showing is contact and contact is where the virus is spread.

Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. The virus spreads through relationships. Don’t be afraid to contact fellow colleagues, talk with them about your ideas, contrast teaching styles, compare what works for students and what doesn’t, create. Fairview shared with us their “Salad” days; days set aside where everyone brings a side dish, dessert, and their ideas. What’s better than food and discussion? Food, discussion, and cats? Could get interesting. But it’s the collaboration and communication that strengthens the virus.

“It’s not ALL unicorns and rainbows”

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The virus takes time just as any change takes time. The students, fellow faculty, and the parents are not used to this “structure-less structure.” We have to be the TEACHERS and teach them how allowing the students to control their learning actually engages them rather than allowing them to “go through the motions.” We are teaching our students HOW to learn not WHAT to learn. They are learning life-long processing, discovery, and development rather than 20 vocab words and a scripted essay. We are giving them the power to control their future.

“Some students don’t know how to handle that type of control” So show them. Scaffold a project. Scaffold contract learning. Work alongside the student-always. Struggle with your students, fail with your students, and SUCCEED with your students. The classroom community that you create will infect other classrooms and other teachers. It may not happen all at once, but a virus infects slowly; slowly, but surely.

My infection grows by the day.