Category Archives: Passion and Purpose

Martha Stewart, Twitter, and Purpose

why

WHY? The question shouts at me: “WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?”

It’s one of those questions with plenty of expected answers.

It’s an easy question to answer for some.

It’s a question that punched me in the gut this summer.

I always believed that I became a teacher because of the influence of Miss Findlater, my fourth-grade teacher. 

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Last year, though, something changed. I lost focus. I walked into my classroom focused on two priorities: decorating and using tech-stuff.

I walked into my classroom focused on tsub-buzz-26461-1473070873-1he images of what I should be and do gathered during a summer of social media immersion.

I wanted to be the Martha Stewart of classroom decorating!

I scoured HomeGoods (had gift cards!) and Michaels for beach-themed decor for the tables and bookshelves.

On each table, I placed baskets full of pens, pencils, highlighters, and post-its; and of course, centered on each table, a mason jar full of sunflowers. My 7th and 8th-grade kids were going to feel so comfortable in this cozy, warm and sunny environment.

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And oh, the tech discoveries we would share!

I’d spent hours on Twitter! I’d #ditchedthetextbook and #googleinfused my classroom. I’d learned so many new tools from the best PLN anyone can find — I love my Twitter family!

Sounds like I set the table for success, literally and figuratively, doesn’t it? 

I wish. Last year was one of the most difficult of my 36-year teaching career. As they do most years, variables such as administration changes and curriculum concerns played a role in the year’s progression. I spent time trying to integrate my new-found tools and ideas with a curriculum that was pretty well set by the administration. This led to questions and concerns from my supervisors about what I was doing, which put me on the defensive by November. That’s when I lost focus. I forgot that I and my “super-cool” ideas are not the reason I am in a classroom. Ever.

Daily, I cried my way home because I knew I didn’t “fit” at the school anymore, though I desperately wanted to please everyone there. I cried because the more I tried to explain myself, the more worried I became about failing. I cried because the feelings of failure as “a teacher” defined me as a failure. And in all of this, my kids became the background, not the foreground of my daily life.

As I focused more and more on proving that I knew what I was doing, I lost sight of the kids in front of me. 

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By the end of the year, I was a broken crayon, to quote one of my favorite virtual mentors, @TaraMartinEDU

And that brings me back to my first sentence: Why?

Why do I do what I do?

I need to reflect on and return to the REAL reasons for being a teacher.

I teach because I’ve been called to share with kids.

I share academic content. I share guidance and skills.

I share life experiences.

 

 

I share kindness.

I share grace.

I share encouragement.

I share all that I am (not who I think I need to be).

I share all that I’ve been blessed with (not what I’ve tried to create to impress).

I am a broken crayon who has a purpose. I look forward to walking into my next classroom with my focus on my kids. Some of whom will also be broken crayons.

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Thinking Possibilities.

CUE18

Thinking Possibilities.

I have to think possibilities. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done.

This past October, at our regional CUE Techtober ’17, I won the raffle for free registration to the CUE conference in Palm Springs. Needless to say, I jumped up and down and shared my blessing with everyone on all of my social media sites. I was thinking possibilities.

Thursday, 4:30 a.m., I was already awake; I wanted to be on the road by 5 a.m. for the 3 hour drive to the Palm Springs Convention Center. I love driving, so I didn’t find the distance daunting; as long as the French Roast in my tumbler stays hot and my little Kia Soul keeps moving and the iPod is charged, I’m good. As I drove through the darkness, I wondered if I’d find anyone I know, wondered which sessions I should attend, and wondered if I’d make any new connections — thinking possibilities. The rain pounded as I entered San Bernardino, and as the sun rose directly in front of me, I glimpsed an incredibly vivid rainbow in my side mirror — couldn’t help but think possibilities.

I arrived by 8 a.m., just as I’d hoped, picked up my badge, grabbed a venue map, and headed toward the first session (yes, I did miss the keynote, regrettably, but hey, I did well to get up at 4:30 — to make the keynote, well, I couldn’t commit to getting up that early). Thursday’s sessions began with “Project-Based-Learning” and ended with “Future Ready Research.” Full day. Exhausted … but thinking possibilities.

Each session I attended throughout the conference turned out to be energizing. Honestly, I didn’t hit a “bad one” in the bunch. I consume conference offerings like I’m at an all-you-can-eat buffet; I took no breaks! And I checked out all of the resources that presenters so willingly shared on the CUE site! Today, I used Actively Learn and Formative as I planned the week’s 7th and 8th grade English classes, respectively. I’m eager to try out Flipgrid as I look for ways to increase the “volume” of my students’ voices. I hope to integrate some new research ideas and design thinking tools, as I collaborate with my friend and 7th grade English teacher, Janelle (I couldn’t help but text her a couple of discoveries from my sessions as I sat in my hotel room, Thursday night). I’m thinking possibilities.

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Highlights also included checking out the exhibitors and meeting one of the hip-hop artists from Flocabulary. Yes, I love hip-hop — I probably enjoy Flocabulary videos as much as or even more than my middles. I sing and dance as the class watches, so when I met Chris Payne (he’s the driver in the animated car in the video on text structures, by the way), I had to get a photo with him to show my students on Monday! Maybe if the teaching-thing doesn’t work out, my husband will agree to move to New York so that I can hip-hop with Flocabulary’s team.

Which leads to why I’m thinking possibilities.

I’m moving out of my current teaching position at the end of this year for a variety of reasons. I do so with much gratefulness for my colleagues, the administrators who hired me, and the kids with whom I shared my days.

It may seem strange, then, that without a teaching position for the next year yet, I spent 3 days at the CUE Conference. When a month ago, I realized that I would not have a teaching position lined up, I wondered if I should still attend the conference. I’m so glad that I didn’t let my unknown future deter me from participating in this energizing gathering of innovators, collaborators, and genuine lovers of all things kids.

I must say thank you to my Twitter PLN, CUE, and to CUE Director, Jon Corippo, for their personal encouragement this past summer when I dove into Twitter and wanted to try everything I heard about, right away. They think possibilities, and because of them, I’m still

Thinking Possibilities!

 

 

 

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Style or Skill?

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We’ve all seen this saying and know it’s true. I’ve been wondering today how it might be adapted to teachers:

Teachers teach, just not on the same day, or in the same way. 

Teaching is part technique, part artistry, and part personality. Just as students bring their various selves into the classroom and learn differently, so do teachers bring their various selves into a school and teach differently. And that’s okay. 

The problem is how do administrators assess “good teaching” when styles and skills can look so different depending on the individual teacher’s technique, artistry, and personality? 

If, for example, student engagement is measured by raised hands, that’s fine in the classroom full of compliant students taught by a teacher who likes a quiet, controlled environment. What if, however, the class is taught by a teacher who loves the spontaneous responses of kids eager to share? As the kids raise their hands, they also call out their responses, and the teacher caught up in their enthusiasm quips “You all are talking while raising your hands — I love it!” And she truly does love it because even though they’re raising their hands, their eager responses evidence engagement. 

Or what if in that same class, a number of kids don’t raise their hands, nor do they speak. Is this to be considered a lack of engagement? Possibly. Possibly not. What about Ethan who just doesn’t talk in class? He’s an introvert. He’s engaged and his writing will later demonstrate his thoughtful attention during the class. But his hand isn’t raised. 

How can administrators fairly evaluate “good teaching” based on student engagement and teacher response, given the number of variables involved in a dynamic classroom environment? I don’t have an answer.

I do know that I realized today that I love what I do because of my style, because of my artistry when creating learning experiences, and especially because of my unique and personal interaction with these kids I love.

And so I teach, just not in the same way every day.

 

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Relationships First…or “I Still Want to Be Miss Findlater!”

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“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” (Hale, 1870) That is the heart of a teacher! That was the heart of Carol Findlater, my fourth grade teacher and inspiration. Miss Findlater loved and lived passionately and instilled in each student confidence of success. I write about Miss Findlater here, because she connected students to herself in a way that transcended the sharing of content knowledge and physical space for nine months, and she instilled a passion for life, not just learning, that continues to inspire my own learning and teaching years later.

Miss Findlater shared her life with her students; I will never forget the day she burst into the room (she typically burst) and cried out to her beloved 8 year-olds, “You have to hear this!” She proceeded to share Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” and to this day, I love and quote the words: 

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (Lazarus, 1883). 

I believe that Miss Findlater saw her students as “yearning to breathe free” and she committed herself to breathe life into each of us. In fact, I do not recall wanting to become a teacher because I loved children or even had a desire to help students. As I reflected on Miss Findlater’s influence recently, I realized that I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to be fully alive just as Miss Findlater was passionately alive. She presented “an authentic self to students” (Phelps, 2006). In 1966, most of the adult women I knew were homemakers. Miss Findlater was an adult woman who read and wrote poetry, and sang songs to us like “MacArthurPark” even though we could not comprehend the meanings, and roared with laughter when we played, and cried true tears when we hurt.

Thinking about Miss Findlater, I decided to visit the alumni page of my old neighborhood school, and yes, many students had written of their memories of Miss Findlater. For instance, a boy from my same fourth grade class recalled:

A quickie about Miss Findlater. She was my 4th grade teacher at Peter Burnett. She was one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had. She was so nice. When I was the window monitor and put my hand through the window and cut four of my fingers nearly completely off she was so concerned she came to the hospital with me. I remember her very fondly (Jones, 1998).

Another former student wrote:

I was an adult the last time I saw Miss Findlater (can’t remember the year, late 70s maybe).  I visited her at Peter Burnett School. Hadn’t seen her in years. She came out from the teacher’s lounge and recognized me immediately (Wright, 1998).

Those students who were fortunate enough to have Miss Findlater never had to worry that they would “go through school and have no one know what you looked like” (Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, 2005). When Miss Findlater passed away, I attended her funeral, along with the entire neighborhood. Many of us who had traveled a fair distance and arrived only a half hour before the service, had to stand outside as the church was full. We stood, with dignity, and we knew that Miss Findlater had touched each of us with respect, and love, and life.

As I think about Carol Findlater, I admit that I am closely looking at where and whom I teach. I long to be and continue to admire those teachers who are the Carol Findlaters of their schools. All schools, regardless of location, public or private, have students who need life breathed into them – who feel like “huddled masses” in the midst of an environment where everyone else seems to be in control. Those are the students I want to teach. I want to teach those “huddled masses” – those who feel disenfranchised, not quite fitting; instilling a passion for learning because all students deserve the tools to succeed. Of course, desire is the first step.

The next step is taking the risks involved to be that type of teacher. Phelps (2006) notes that Barth wrote “one thought-provoking question for teachers to consider regularly is: “How much are you prepared to risk of what is familiar, comfortable, safe, and perhaps working well…in the name of better education for others?” (Phelps, 2006) That question hits like a slap in the face! Do I risk anything for my students? Do I truly advocate for students? (Phelps, 2006). More recently, Aaron Hogan encourages teachers to risk vulnerability (Hogan, 2017). Vulnerability means I share myself even if I fear “it’s not cool” enough for my kids because when I share myself, they feel safe to share themselves. I open up and say, “Hey, you know, I like this. What do you like?” And then I listen, with vulnerability, knowing that what they share with me might be awkward or disagreeable or actually fun — it’s taking the risk to know each one as he or she is, without expectation of what each one should be.

I have an interesting, evolving role; I hope as I continue in whatever capacity I am in and wherever I am, to strive to breathe life-giving respect and passion into my students daily. “I am only one, but I am someone; I cannot do everything, but I can do something” and I will (Hale, 1994).

References

Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B. (2005). No choice but successEducational Leadership, 62 (6), 8–12.

Hogan, A. (2017).  Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help you THRIVE as an Educator. Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalismKappa Delta Pi Record, 42 (2), 69–71. Used by permission of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education.

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Readers Read…and so do my middles!

goodreads exampleIt’s Christmas break and I update my latest reading on my Goodreads account, and then it hits me! I’d been lamenting the lack of enthusiasm for reading among my 7th and 8th graders, and I couldn’t seem to motivate reading for fun. My middles were used to reading for points, for prizes, for grades — but not for any of the reasons that last after school gets out. This was last year, my first year back in the classroom as a middle school teacher in 30 years, and my first year back as a classroom teacher in 12 years. So much had changed in terms of popular culture, technology, and standards. Nothing, however, posed more of a frustration to me than this apathy and even antipathy toward reading among my students. And then, as I said, it hit me!

My kids don’t see people reading; they don’t encounter peers who read or adults in their lives who read just for the fun of it. I knew this because early in the semester, when we talked about “active reading,” I asked my students to interview three adults about their reading habits. Questions included: “What and when do you read for your job?” and “What and when do you read for pleasure?” Most students interviewed adults they knew; some interviewed people on the street. All found that many people admitted that they don’t read much for pleasure, but they do read during their work-day — texts, emails, memos, and professional reading, for example.

When I updated my progress that day during Christmas break last year, I thought about all of the books I’d read, and all of the people I’d met through Goodreads, and all of the books I’d tried because of Goodreads recommendations. My yearly thrill is completing my Goodreads Reading Challenge and seeing my stats at the end of the year — okay, so that is kind of like reading for points, I’ll admit. Anyway, I suddenly realized that my middles need two things: time to read and people with whom to share their reading! So I revamped my whole approach when we returned to class after Christmas break.

First, I gave my students 15 to 20 minutes each class period to read. We have 90-minute class sessions, so I just reworked my planning and that time for reading became sacred. Secondly, I created a Goodreads group for our school. I invited all of our school’s staff, administrators, and counselors to join “Legacy Reads” so that my kids could see what their teachers and principal are reading — and that they do read. I did have to keep the group private because I need to ensure my students’ privacy with parents. During that semester, I posted a question each week for students to answer on our group page, and each student kept track of their independent reading on their personal Goodreads page.

During the summer, I scoured thrift stores for books to add to our classroom library, bought throw pillows, a chair, and the softest rug ever to surround our library area. This year, kids could opt to read wherever they felt comfortable — and they did! why people read - 3 We set reading goals for the year, noted books we completed with stars and reviews, and shared opinions on our group discussion page. I could see which books kids loved and talk with kids about what they were reading as they were reading, rather than logging in to a program to check a quiz score. I also encouraged parents to take pictures of their kids reading at home and send the photos to me. I then enlarged the photos, printed them, and posted them on the bulletin boards and on our class web pages. I wanted to immerse my kids in an environment of reading for fun. So satisfying to hear a student say, “You have to read this!” Or to see kids smiling as they read silently. Or see that one student has sent a book recommendation to another. Or have a parent stop me in the hall to express wonder that her active 8th-grade son reads after baseball practice because he wants to and asks her to get more books!

The real joy came, however, two weeks after school got out. I was updated my Goodreads page with my latest reading and saw several updates from my students. I wasn’t checking up on them; they didn’t have to update for class. They just continue to read and give stars and share opinions about books. Readers read…and so do my middles now!

 

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Hidden Hurts

I typically use this place to write about pedagogy and how kids learn. Today, it’s about how kids hurt. A mom just dropped in to “say hi.” I invited her to sit and chat — five minutes later, her eyes filled with tears, she’s sharing about her son’s hurts. I haven’t seen her son in a while — he worked with me during his freshman year, developed his independent learning skills, and moved out of my program. He’s a senior now. And he hurts. And she hurts. And no one here knows. She wanted advice — who to tell, how to move forward, how to believe that he’ll be okay. There’s a past. There’s that genetic history. There’s that shadow of what if he also…. How does a mom’s heart hold all of that hurt? How has his heart held all of that hurt…and for how long? … And of course, it all reminds me that he’s not alone. Others like him walk through the halls, past our room doors, into our classrooms, sitting beside us or across from us…with hidden hurts. And if we’re astute, or if they’re reaching out for help, we notice the red cries when the sleeve gets pushed up or we hear the pleas in the leave-me-alone silence. I am once again reminded, also, that I am not a savior. But I believe in hope and in prayer. I am thankful that this mom sought me out today…not because I have answers but because I care and can offer to help carry the hurts as she seeks out the professional support for her son — and there is healing for hidden hurts over time.

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Response while viewing “180 Days: A Year in an American High School” (PBS) because I can’t just watch…

How does a kid deal with this…losing his mom to cancer, evicted the following week because dad has no job, so much loss…yet, he’s in school…and someone cares and talks with him…gosh, is there anything more rewarding than just talking with a kid like this and being there for him?

Test scores…always the shadow behind the teacher, behind the student…

She’s great! This senior who has dreams, goals of college, doing what some might say she couldn’t…because of the school’s test scores.

Yes, what is it about…what is the bigger picture…how does a parent with 9 kids have a dream for her children … and yet, she’s there, she’s listening, and she’s proud of her daughter who set her goals and is going to get a scholarship.

Picking colleges to apply to based on which will be least expensive or give her the most financial aid…so different from the experiences of the students at my school…what must it feel like to have choices defined by more external factors than internal factors, to feel that you have so little control over your life and your future? So many of the students at my school are so blessed, and so unaware.

Teachers concerned…realizing that their kids need a “dream-come-true” prom experience…the kids deserve it.

“Tough, visionary, reformer”…improved test scores, “yet still…” and always the “yet still…”

What’s worth fighting for? Kids, first. Kids who need more choices, more options. Kids who must be so weary fighting for themselves. Kids whose mom or dad or both fight for their kids to have futures by simply staying with them, and doing what they can.

300 kids dropping out an hour…why? Those kids are worth fighting for…how can I fight?

What’s most important in changing the lives of these students? Teachers discussing this question. Teachers agreeing that relationships are the most significant change agent in their kids’ lives. I agree.

Still, having to have a pep rally for a standardized test…”Pass the …” and yet still, the kids are … well, the cheerleaders were…but the majority of the kids look…bored and apathetic or nervous and worried…and aren’t both responses similar at the core…the “what if” fear that shadows their next move?

What a gorgeous smile…she looks up at the admissions counselor taking her on a group tour of the college…she’s hopeful…I’m prayerful…I want her to get there…

Wow, one-on-one meetings with an admissions counselor, that includes hearing on the spot whether or not they are accepted and hearing about scholarships awarded! These kids need that immediate hope for the year after graduation. The kids around them need to witness their joy and hope…to prompt hope in their own hearts about their own possibilities.

Spring break…principal tells staff to get rest and stay hopeful…there’s that word again…hope…foundation, fortification, future…all because of hope

And then the return after break and the countdown to the test…competitions, groups practicing together, teachers cheering and coaching and high-fiving and guiding and rewarding and nurturing a sense of community to create and sustain the kids’ conscious efforts to score well as a school, together, for the sake of all…yet really, teachers doing this for the kids…teachers who know their school’s future depends on these scores…yet still, I believe they care more that the kids learn because they see the skills for the test as skills for life…a life with hope.

Setting target goals…with the kids ‘in-the-achievement-gap” in mind…the kids who fall into the economic, racial divide that they see in their school…like the kid who has 72 absences…when she’s not in school, where is she?…where is her hope when she’s not in school?

But back to the gym…pep rally, cheer competition…that community spirit again that builds resiliency…school team wins…I’m in tears…resiliency through relationships…even cheerleading bring hope

Wait, the admissions counselor made a mistake…added the wrong numbers…full scholarship rescinded…mom, daughter…is there hope…there is no more money…can she score higher on the SAT to get more points for another scholarship…she was “hoping on that, but now…”

The arts…a “great refuge” in addition to opening doors for kids…absolutely…I love this school’s administration…they are hands on and minds in and all for the kids’ learning and experiencing…life, academics, and the arts…look at this admin mentoring the guitar teacher on pedagogy…effective teachers help kids to be effective learners…he wants to give these kids what they need…they are what is worth fighting for…and he’s doing it.

And then there he is again, no mom, sitting with his tunes…cousin shows up at school…legal guardian…withdrawing him from this school…from this community of hope…tears again…why…he’s worth fighting for…he’s fighting for himself…he’s “doing fine” where he is…someone’s fighting for him…but what can he do…legally there’s nothing they can do…they, his hope, now his possibly his past…and another loss in this kid’s life…3rd school in one year…where is his hope…how resilient will he be?

You “take ownership” of these kids…principal cares.that kids grow…doesn’t want any one of them to leave “half done”

Test day…moving…shadows linger…but ‘I achieve” shirts encourage…”You may begin…”…with hope? Testing ends…”You have 10 minutes to transition…” …transition back to school days now only shadowed by waiting for scores

And then the budget…and which of the faculty have hope of another year…who will be included and who will be cut…faces looking like the kids in the gym listening to the explanation of the test…same “what-if fear”…more shadows…

Engagement…it’s there in their eyes…they’re connecting…because he is connecting…he, who doesn’t know if he’ll be there…waiting for scores on a piece of paper written by a principal who mentors and clearly cares…yet still…evaluation time…budget shadows…this is reality everywhere now, even at my school

“Impact” score…does that equal hope?

Faculty lounge…they are mostly young…coincidence…where are the veteran teachers…where are the teachers who may be older…reflective of the budget shadow or reflective of a society that values youth or reflective of the veterans moved to better schools…I am a veteran…I would want to be in this school…shadows frighten…yet still…I hope

Love this counselor…reading email from college admissions counselor over the phone to mom, daughter…reconsidered…scholarship returned to student…community celebration…hope again

A mother’s tears…grateful that she’s alive to see her daughter succeed, to see her daughter get to college…mother’s joy, daughter’s hope…resiliency

Budget shadows…prom…senior celebrations…can all celebrate…will some be left in the shadow…community…staff, teachers, partners…creating prom experience on campus…because no one should be left in the shadow… hope…resiliency…relationship … my tears, again…and their smiles

Love it…kids are kids…”I don’t know how to slow dance” … felt the same way before my prom…ah, Angelou knew it…”we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike” in our humanness when you bring us out of the shadows

Graduation…how many days left…who has hope? “3 classes short”…keep coming to school…take summer school…will he? Does he have enough hope to do it?

“Letter of non-reappointment”…she did so much…she cared…she mentored…she hoped… now we’re all crying…another loss…for her…for the kids…for the kids…for the kids…it was always about the kids…and resilient, she says “we will be fine” and she says let’s finish strong…”we have kids to graduate”…can’t give a score to relationships…can’t quantify how much hope you’ve given in a year…and who is giving her hope now…the kids, and still, the kids.

What’s worth fighting for? They will fight for their principal, their mentor…who are they fighting? Don’t know…he stayed in the shadows…but their voices are visible and they ask, and they demand, and they point, and they show, and they attempt to pull him into their world, their loss…but he stays invisible, unheard because he never spoke…one large shadow.

One person inside the school telling you can do it…can speak louder than a bunch of people outside telling you that you can’t do it…the kids

And again, the veterans…yes, we know we cost schools…we often aren’t even considered because we “cost too much”…some of us would take less than what the scales say we cost…just to give hope…that’s worth fighting for…to “sift through the stuff and get the kids committed to their education”…yet still, when the sources of hope are moved, are lost…stability is needed

Graduation…no shadows for this moment…hugs, celebration, community…results of resiliency and hope…and then, each one moves on…

…I will remember this view, this passion welling up within me, this hope I have for these kids and this community of educators, for those I’ve not seen, for the ones I’ll see tomorrow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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