All endings are beginnings

 

It never fails to be true. Life happens. Not always the way you planned.

ENDINGS QUOTE

Most of you know I spent three weeks in South Africa this summer visiting the schools where we send books for our Books to Africa project. The trip was life-changing for me. In both of the impoverished schools I visited, the only books the children had to read were the ones we have sent. The impact our students are making on the education of these children is real.

If you would like to read more, I published a post on the Bulldog Reader Blog The principal at Pula Madibogo Primary School  also published a video on YouTube about our experience there together.  I left South Africa inspired to do more for these children.

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On the way home however, my life took an unexpected turn. I received an invitation to come back to teach in the Issaquah School district. When you are squished like a sardine in the back of a plane for 14 hours, you have a lot of time to think. I love teaching at Bell. I love the students. I love the staff. I love the parents and Bell community. Sadly, one thing stands in the way – my commute. Driving to school from Sammamish has been taking up to 1 hour each way. The day after I returned home, I applied for the position.

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Last week I accepted the offer to be the new librarian at Cougar Ride Elementary School. They are looking forward to adopting the Books to Africa program into their school activities as well. As sad as I am to leave Bell, the decision to teach in my home district feels right. If circumstances were different, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post.

Working with all of you at Bell has made the days and years fly by. You have always supported my ideas to make the library a great place for kids to learn. Bell has a fantastic community of readers. I learned the ropes of librarianship at Bell and will cherish the memories from my years there.

I know another librarian will come to Bell who is the perfect match for the school. This person will be your new beginning. After all, all stories have a beginning, middle and an end. I hope the Books to Africa will continue at Bell as well.

Thank you for being part of my story. Check back to this blog too. It may make some kind of transition, but it’s not ending.

Mrs. Hembree

10 Takeaways from My Literacy trip to South Africa

IMG_5578I spent countless hours reading to my daughter and showing her by example how joyful reading can be. She is now what I call a joyful 21st century reader. She reads eBooks while exercising on the treadmill. I still sit with my hardcopy book on the couch because I need to touch the pages. What we have in common is experiences with reading because it’s a valued part of our family’s culture.One of the greatest trips of my life ended a week ago when I returned from a three week trip visiting our Books to Africa partnership schools in South Africa. Adjectives like amazing, extraordinary and life-changing only begin to describe my reaction to this experience. Instead of searching for more descriptive words, I thought I’d list my top 10 takeaways of my literacy trip.

1. South African people are generous and caring.

When I began planning this trip from home, my partner teachers quickly stepped in with ideas of where to stay and what to do. Once I landed on South African soil, I was overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of everyone I met. From the owners of the guest lodges where I stayed to the teachers who took care of me – everyone stepped way beyond the boundaries of being nice. The side trips to Soweto and the Lion Park, the authentic dinners in teachers’ homes, the trip to see the Natal Midlands and Nelson Mandela’s Capture site, the visit to the Indian Market and beach front in Durban and the extraordinary weekend at the game park each contributed to making my experience epic and came from the generosity of those incredible teachers.

2. Students are the same throughout the world.

When I visited each school, I thought the same thing. The only thing that separates students in South Africa with ones in the US is geography and circumstances. No matter where I went, I found students who wanted to learn. They listened to stories or watched book trailers with the same enthusiasm as my students at home. I think actually I saw more students interested in doing their best school than students at home because of their difficult circumstances. Students who live in extreme poverty know education is their key to a better life.

3. Teachers deserve medals for their efforts.

I visited two very impoverished schools in South Africa – one in the Limpopo Province and the other in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Teachers in both schools handle overcrowded classrooms on a daily basis. Here we complain bitterly when our class sizes reach 30-35. There I taught in classrooms where the average was 60 students per classroom. One class had 78 children squeezed into a room build for 30 students. How do you maintain control, teach effectively and find the time to assess all these children? How do you know your students as unique individuals when they are one in 60? I’m still looking for the answer to that question.

4. Inequality of school conditions is astounding.

I wish I could say it didn’t exist, but from my experience I saw a huge discrepancy between the conditions of schools in town and in rural townships. Apartheid has been over since 1994, but this country is divided into two parts -those with and those without. Schools in rural areas have old buildings with broken windows and floors with holes you have to side-step to get inside the classroom. In the city I saw schools with interactive whiteboards and large inside lunchrooms. In the rural countryside, teachers still use chalkboards and the support staff cook lunch outside in open flame kitchens. I heard teachers from both sides of the line say it’s hard for every child to have a high quality education when the conditions of schools are so different.

5. Teachers inspire learning by example.

My friend and principal, Phuti Ragophala has a saying at her school: Make Every child a Star. When her school opened in 1966, it had 66 students, 4 classrooms and 2 teachers. Now in 2015, it has 1252 students, 21 classrooms and 34 teachers. The classrooms are crowded, but the children hear every day that they are valued – that they are each a star in their own right. Teachers inspire their students with how they dress, walk, talk and teach. They are grooming stars and future leaders and take this job seriously.

6. Reading for enjoyment is a new concept.

I spent countless hours reading to my daughter and showing her by example how joyful reading can be. She is now what I call a joyful 21st century reader. She reads eBooks while exercising on the treadmill. I still sit with my hardcopy book on the couch because I need to touch the pages. What we have in common is experiences with reading because it’s a valued part of our family’s culture. However, the concept of reading for enjoyment seemed to be new to the children I worked with. Their cultures emphasize oral storytelling, and having books at home to read for enjoyment is vastly different from reading a workbook to complete homework assignment. When I read stories aloud to children in the classrooms or outside on the terrace, the children were hungry for more. Children need and want stories.

7. The children need books for their school libraries.

My school has sent hundreds of books to the children at our partner schools. Naively, I thought these would supplement the books they already had in their libraries. Nope, nada, not even close. There are no other books. At one school, I discovered the library in plastic tubs in the school office. The only books they have are the ones we’ve sent over the past 18 months. It’s hard to create a reading climate when you don’t have books to read. The teachers are embracing the idea that “Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.”

8. Teachers want to learn new teaching techniques.

I was nervous about whether teachers would accept me as an equal when I visited their schools. I didn’t want to go in as the American know-it-all and alienate my peers. What happened is the teachers asked me for ideas on how to use story books in lessons. They asked me for tips on integrating technology in schools with limited technology and internet access. They asked me how they could use the materials given to them by the government because they hadn’t had training on how to implement them in the classroom. In most cases, the teachers asked to see different teaching techniques. You can’t change if you aren’t given the tools. The teachers want the tools.

9. This program needs to grow.

As I left one of the schools, a couple teachers and many students said something that’s ingrained in my memory. “Don’t go home and forget us. We need your help!” Our work in these specific schools is having an amazing impact on their education. Somehow, I need to grow the program, so we can send them more reading materials. I’m a teacher, not a fundraising guru, so I definitely need advice and help from others on how to make our Books to Africa more impactful. If you have ideas, please share them!

 10. Animals are amazing.

I saved the animal take-away for last because it was the last thing I did in South Africa. Rod and Desire Dunstone with Louise MacLeod, three of those generous people from lesson #1, took me for a weekend to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. These two reserves have over 120,000 acres of land for animals to live and roam naturally. Rod drove us for hours down the red-dirt roads and patiently stopped every time I squealed, “Stop! I need a picture please.” I was overjoyed with every rhino, giraffe, elephant, buffalo, warthog, zebra and antelope sighting. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go to a zoo again after seeing giraffes nonchalantly eat leaves from a tree only a few feet away from our vehicle. Between the Lion Park in Johannesburg and this game park, I was able to see 4 of the African Big 5 animals: lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Maybe next time I’ll see a leopard!

Yes, this trip is one I will never forget. I just don’t want to call it a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip because I want to go back. Here is a short video of the highlights.

Phuti Ragophala, Principal of Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo Province, also made a video of our collaboration.

Who’s in the cage now?

This morning I finally got to see our teaching partner from Lesotho again! Thejane, his wife Sophia and darling daughter met me for coffee and conversation.
It’s clear that teachers are the same everywhere. We care about our students and think about how to make lessons better.
When I learned that Thejane’s school not only does have heat, there’s no electricity either. He’s trying to convince officials to bring electricity there, but so far nothing happens. So, he brings technology tools to his students via his personal laptop and phone. When teachers are motivated, nothing stops innovation.
In the afternoon I went on a mini-safari drive at the Gauteng Lion Park. I learned it’s considered one of the top 100 tourist sites in the world.
I joined a group of others on a truck with steel caged walls and a solid steel top. We were sternly instructed to keep our hands and cameras inside at all times. It was quite a role reversal being the cage one in a lion park!
I couldn’t believe I was only a few feet away from lions chewing on their afternoon snack. We also saw zebras, wildebeests, springboks and African wild dogs which are quite endangered now.
What a way to spend a Saturday!

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Soweto: A City of Contrasts

 

Hurray! The waiting is over – I’m in South Africa! It was a challenging trip to be sure. The first leg from Seattle to Dubai was 14 hours of flight time, plus the two hours of being at the airport waiting to get on the plane. Leg number two consisted of 4 hours sitting around the Dubai airport and 8 more hours flying to Johannesburg. You can do the math, it’s a long trip. However, something quite magical happened in Seattle. I was upgraded to Business Class on the 14 hour flight with Emirates. A seat that lays out like a bed, white linen meals, a large TV screen – in other words all the comforts of home on a plane. I got it for FREE! If I never experience business class seating again, I am beyond thankful that I had the chance on a 14 hour flight!
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So, now I’m here in Johannesburg and the first day in, I hit the ground running.  Johan who owns African Timeout Tours gave me a private tour around the sprawlingly massive series of townships collectively called Soweto (South West Townships). Most Westerners looking in with only media hype as their frame of reference, view Soweto as a dangerous place of squalid living conditions. Yes, there are shacks and you will see women washing their laundry outside in a large basin, but that really isn’t the norm.

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What is in Soweto is a vibrant community of people, many of whom could live in other neighborhoods, but choose to live in Soweto because of its sense of community. Generations of black people have lived there from the gold rush era of the late 1880’s to now. This area is best well known for being at the forefront of the struggle against Apartheid. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world where two Nobel Peach Prize winners lived (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu).

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We visited Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, home of the Freedom Charter monuments. Parts of the square were brand new and I enjoyed holding hands with Nelson Mandela.

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All day long we drove to the historical places that make Soweto so famous – Orlando Towers, the Mandela House Museum, and the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum, named after the 13 year old boy who was shot dead by the apartheid police with hundreds of other school children during the protests of June 1976.

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The history lesson was great, but my favorite portions of the day were witnessing everyday life in Soweto and having lunch with the locals. In the northern suburbs of Joburg, you don’t see many people walking around. Huge walls loom everywhere and it feels closed to me as a community. In contrast, when driving around Soweto people are everywhere.

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Whether they are selling their wares at an outside shop,  walking to buy groceries, visiting with friends, working or  taking the infamous taxi vans with the complicated hand signal system to work, you see people who give off the vibe of optimism and hope.

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Every house was a wall just like in the suburbs, but the walls don’t close people off from one another. It’s equally possible to see tin shacks with goats grazing nearby and then drive a block and view large affluent brick  homes with children playing with their iPad in the front. Apartment buildings are not common, and some of them are brand new, empty and waiting for tenants. My understanding is that most people want to own their own house on their own piece of land.

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We had a buffet lunch at Wandi’s Place. Wandi is a shrewd business man who has built up a very popular restaurant, but has also worked to improve the infrastructure of the area with new sidewalks, school upgrades and a neighborhood park. Lunch was typical South African food and we sat at tables covered with white linen.

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Reflecting on my day in Soweto, I realized that the experience was nothing like I anticipated. I hopped into the tour van with preconceived notions, and returned hours later with a new sense of life  in Soweto. Like anywhere else, it’s complicated.

Tech Tools in my Backpack

 

 

 

 

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It won’t be long now until I fly off  to South Africa for three weeks and visit the schools where we send books in our Books to Africa program. In my last post I listed the books that absolutely must go in my suitcase. I hope to read most of them with the students I meet and most of the  books will live in a South African school permanently.

For the past few weeks I have been researching, asking fellow educators and using my experience to decide what technology tools I need to make this trip more efficient and less stressful. I was inspired by Kurt Soser, a Microsoft Expert Educator from Austria, who wrote a post in April “Traveling Geek Style” listing what he was bringing on his trip to the E2 conference in Redmond. I’d never used some of the tools he was bringing and I was curious to learn if I needed to take some of his advice.

 

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A few dollars later, I think I have what I need. I love, love, love my Asus laptop computer. It’s fast, has a touch screen and Win 8.1. When I bought it three years ago, I thought it was a lightweight laptop and perfect for traveling. A few years later, cool tablets running 8.1 arrive on the scene and suddenly my laptop feels like it’s heavier than a boat anchor. I already have an iPad, but I don’t use it for heavy-lifting computing. Thank you Microsoft for timing the arrival of the Surface 3 to coincide with this trip! I now have what I need for presentations, blogging, video creating and reading. I can use my Bluetooth mouse and my digital pen.

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One frustration I have had traveling and attending conferences is battery life – or the lack thereof. Inevitably my tablet or iPad or iPhone runs out of battery in a place where I have no access to electricity. With a 26 hour travel time between Seattle and Johannesburg, I knew I needed to address this problem next. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a powerbank until I read Kurt’s post. Ta-da! Battery recharging to the rescue. The TechNet Powerbank has 15000 mAh, so if all the reviewers are right on Amazon, this has enough juice to recharge my Surface with no problem. The small RavPower recharger fits in my purse and is perfect for pumping up my phone when I’m on the run.

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I love to take photos, but prefer to travel light. As much as I would love to use a nice beafy camera with a big lens for super shots, I’m not ready for that stage yet. A camera shoved in a pocket or small purse works just fine for me. Between the Sony, Canon and iPhone, I should be great in the photo department. The Surface and iPad also have cameras, so if I have any photo issues, it’s my own fault. An extra SD card or two and a mini-tripod and I’m all set.

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Where there are electronics, there are cords. Masses of cords, cables, VGA adapters, plug-adapters, earphones, etc. Why can’t one kind of cord work to recharge everything? Is it really that hard? I understand the need for the country plug-adapter, but do there have to be so many? What works in the US or Europe doesn’t work in Africa or Asia. Go figure.

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The assortment of electronics opens up the problem of how to travel with it all and not loose something. I’ve lumped everything together in one bag before, but spent too much time sorting through the mess to find what I needed. I don’t know where I saw it, but somewhere in my research I stumbled across bags to organize all the cords, plugs, tablets, powerbanks, etc. Just what I needed! Of course when you call it an electronics accessories travel organizer, the price is $20.00 or more. If you call it a purse organizer, then the price goes down to under $10, it’s lightweight, fits the tablets, all the accessories, and fits inside  one section of a backpack. I’m pretty excited about this solution by Hoxis!

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Between the books and the tech, I think I’m ready for this travel party to get started! I’d better not forget to charge everything up first. If you have any other suggestions, let me know. I’m still wondering where those clothes are going to fit though!

 

Traveling with 25 Books

Two weeks from today I’ll be departing Seattle for Johannesburg, South Africa! Wow! The time is going by so quickly and I’m trying to find balance between relaxing after a stressful school year, doing the household chores that I’ve put off for months and getting ready for my trip.

attachment_58344953I’m a total planning freak with lists of clothes I’ll need, piles of books, and boxes of “should I take these items”. This week I made a OneNote notebook with all my travel arrangements, so I have all the details in one place online and have the ability to print them for my family. No more sorting through emails to find the details I need.

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If you have never tried Microsoft OneNote, check out here. Instead of having a physical notebook, this is an electronic notebook where you can include photos, written documents, files, etc. The possibilities are endless and it’s a FREE download from Microsoft. You can access your notebooks from any device or from the web. You can also share your notebooks with other people, which makes it really convenient for sharing travel plans.

Today I started the first part of what my friend calls the staging process. I set up a table and started organizing all the books I want to take in my suitcase. When you are a librarian, the anguish of deciding which books to take is real. I’m going to three different schools. Will I pick the right books for each school? I’ve had to forcefully tell myself, “stop it!” and know that whatever I take will work out just fine. The world is not going to fall off its axis if I choose a Piggy and Gerald and not Knufflebunny. The kids at school also gave me clear guidance as to which picture books they thought I should take. Here are the results.

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The Dot always travels with me. This story about how we all need to make our mark on the world inspired our Book to Africa project.

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When it comes to picture books, no other series are checked out more. Pete the Cat, Piggie and Gerald, and Pigeon made the final cut. I also included Underwear because I had a copy and face it. A book about underwear is funny to all kids under the age of …..! Hum…it looks like Pigeon himself is going to make the trip too. Imagine that.

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I’m also bringing a set of books that can be used in a small group reading session and an oldie book with puppets for a reader’s theater. The text is great for early readers and using puppets to act out the characters is a stress-free method to practice oral reading skills.

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Of course, you can’t forget non-fiction. This set from National Geographic highlights animals that aren’t common in this part of Africa AND they are light-weight! A double plus in my department.

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I love to use Gerald McDermott books to teach the importance of setting and how color is reflected in the illustrations. Raven and Zomo clearly showcase trickster tales from our different regions.  I’m not sure how many opportunities I will have to teach, but I have to have these just in case!

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For the emerging chapter book readers, we chose Magic Tree House because you can’t go wrong with Jack and Annie, they teach you about different places in the world, and we have student made book trailers available for viewing.

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The last two chapter books are treasured by both my students and myself. When I read The Honest Truth for the first time, I knew it was going to be a hit. To read my review and watch the book trailer click here. After sharing the trailer with my 5th graders, I quickly learned that only having one copy of the book wasn’t going to work. For the last few months of school, all four copies were checked out continuously. Jasmine, like many others, had to be coaxed to return her library copy. “It’s the BEST BOOK EVER! Can’t I keep it for a few more days….please????”

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Dan Gemeinhart, an author and librarian in Washington state, Skyped with our students this spring. They talked for weeks about how awesome it was to talk to a real author and ask questions. Dan gratiously sent me a signed copy which I am donating to the Highbury Preparatory School library.

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And then there’s Ivan. I had to save the best for last. Like so many other readers, this book holds a special place in my heart. I can’t give One and Only Ivan to a student without gently rubbing the cover and saying, “This book is my absolute favorite in the library. I hope you will love it as much as I do.”

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I hope to show the book trailer I made of this book and photos from when Katherine Applegate came to our school. I still pinch myself to think that we hosted a Newbery author at our school. There’s NO WAY this book wouldn’t be in my suitcase to hand to a new set of readers.

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Oh yes, I’m also going to bring a travel guide and a journal in my backpack for obvious reasons. I like to journal while I travel, if only to keep track of what I did and when it happened. I’ve learned from experience that the details that you thought you would never forget go flying out of your head in record time. 

I wonder if you are asking,  what am I reading on the plane?  I don’t know yet. I’ve been making that list too. I definitely will be downloading a bunch of e-books to read on my iPad or Surface for the 24 hours of airplane time I’m going to have each way.

So that’s it. Twenty-five books…and that’s the short list. In my next blog post, I’m going to cover what tech tools I can’t live without. Yikes! I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll have room for clothes in my suitcase. The good news is most of these books are staying in South Africa leaving me lots of room for souvenirs.

What books would you take? Please leave a comment and let me know. To keep following my posts about this South Africa trip more easily, you can subscribe to receive email notifications (see box on right side bar near top of this page) or look for the hashtag #bookstoafrica15 on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

Beating Down the Fraud Voice

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It happened to me again yesterday.

I was visiting the middle school when some of my former students walked into the library. They glanced at me as they walked in not giving me much notice. A few steps later, they stopped turned around and said, “Mrs. Hembree, what are you doing here?” I explained that their librarian and I were discussing some things. They nodded and went on their way.

Seeing my former students as they finished 8th grade, was not the problem. It’s awesome to see how they have grown and matured. The problem was that I couldn’t immediately access each person’s name from my memory bank. I wanted to be able to say, “Hey it’s great to see you Jane, Bob, Sue”, but instead I couldn’t fill in the name. I had to live with a generic greeting, which prompted the little voice in my head to begin the “You can’t even remember a student’s name from three years ago, what kind of teacher are you?” mantra.

What kind of teacher am I? If I can’t immediately recall every student’s name I’ve ever had over 28 years of teaching, does that mean I am less of a teacher than others? Am I a fraud?

The end of the school year is a vulnerable time for teachers. We’re almost to the finish line, yet the challenge in the last few weeks is like running the 50 yard dash every single day. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know I’m reviewing the year’s library lessons and wondering if I have taught the topics the students need this year. Could I have done better? How can I change things to improve my program?

At the same time, I’m trying to get grades done, collect all the library books, finish the inventory, hold the summer used book sale and generally get the library ready for the summer. Once one item on the to-do list is crossed off, another takes its place. May and June should be named the time of the never ending task list.

I was meeting with a colleague recently and we were talking about the ups and downs of the school year. It doesn’t really matter what subject or grade you teach, we all feel the same way. We are tired and our positive energy barely measures on any scale. For me, this is when I beat myself up the most and begin feeling like I’ve been deceiving my students because I can see my weaknesses more than my strengths.

What if someone finds out that I know a lot about technology, but don’t have near the skillset of someone else? Numerous librarians post book reviews long before the book has even been officially published. Others have makerspaces or create book trailers that earn national acclaim. If it’s not happening the same way for me, what does that mean?

The answer is absolutely nothing.

What I do is good enough and in some circumstances,  may borderline on really good. I cherish those moments when a student walks into the library and announces that she has finished her third complete book series this year. I think I can take some credit on helping her become a passionate reader. We are our own worst critics and comparisons to others isn’t healthy…ever.

When I shared my fears with my colleague, she quickly reminded me that we all have gifts. None of us are perfect. We each need to look inside ourselves to find our gifts and celebrate the positive. She’s right. When we are vulnerable and worn down, it’s time to find the brightness in ourselves and not let the muck take us down.

So, to answer my question, “Am I a fraud?” the answer is no for me and for every other teacher who is feeling the weight of the school year. While it’s easy to sink down in the hole, now is the time to re-acquaint ourselves with what we do well. We need to remind ourselves of our purpose for being teachers. We are making a difference for our students, and really, that’s all that matters.

Succeeding Through Failure

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I sent off our last shipment of books this week to our partner schools in Lesotho and South Africa. It’s been an incredible year of fundraising, gathering donations and shipments. We raised a total of $2088.50. Sent 23 boxes of books and 1545 books altogether.  Wow! Taking that final photo yesterday made me wonder what will get to South Africa first. The boxes or my suitcase???

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Yes, I’m going to South Africa! Woo-hoo!

We have been involved with our Books to Africa program for three years. During this time, I have had the chance to get to know the teachers we work with quite well despite the fact that we live thousands of miles apart.  I am immeasurably grateful to the Microsoft Expert Educator program, which connected me with our partner teachers. If not for that program, I know I never would have met these teachers.

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It’s been my wish for a couple years to visit the schools where we send books. I applied twice for a Fund For Teachers grant to enable me to go to South Africa to study children’s literature and extend our partnership. Twice I was turned down. The second time it really hurt. I had put hours and hours of effort into my application. I revised it with advice from members of last year’s committee. I submitted a draft this year and got valuable feedback on what would strengthen my application. I put everything I had into the application and it didn’t work.

When I told one of my classes I didn’t know what I would do if I wasn’t accepted, one of my students said, “Why don’t you go anyway?”  I had all sorts of excuses for why I couldn’t, and I stuck stubbornly to the belief that I would get the “You are a Fund for Teachers 2015 Fellow” letter that day.  When I  got “we regret to inform you” letter, I was crushed. Immediately I thought I was a failure. I had tried my best and I still failed. How could that be? I had a very big pitty party for myself all afternoon. Yet, the words, “Why don’t you go anyway” kept ringing in my head. 

I also thought about how we teachers  are role models for our students. If we can’t accept failure, learn from it and move forward, how can we ask our students to do the same? So, after finding some amazingly priced airline tickets, and the “I’ll be disappointed if you don’t go” message from my husband, I took that failure and turned it into a success story.

In exactly 9 weeks I will be boarding a plane and flying to South Africa to visit three of the schools and teachers that we work with on our project! I am so excited.
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First, I will fly into Johannesburg (purple circle) and spent a couple days visiting some historical sights and recovering from 26 hours of traveling. From there I will fly to Polokwane (formerly called Pietersburg). I will spend 4 days visiting Pula Madibogo Primary School. Phuti Ragophala, the principal of this public school is trying very hard integrate technology into the classroom and  make changes for her students. I will have the chance to teach some lessons and work with some of the area teachers about how to get students inspired to read.

From there, I will fly to Durban on the Indian Ocean coast. I will spend a week in this area and visit two or three more schools. Our partner school Highbury Preparatory School is here. This is an all boys private school located in Hillcrest, South Africa.

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They partner with Ndlokolo Primary School, a semi-rural school near the Inanda Dam in the Valley of a Thousand Hills outside of Hillcrest, South Africa. They have had a ten year relationship with Ndlokolo Primary School, sharing visits between the two schools for 7th graders, an annual Easter egg collection and food collection project designed to collect food for the numerous children who attend school without having had breakfast. They also deliver the books we send to Highbury Prep.

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I may also have the opportunity to visit the all girls school in the area as well. St. Mary’s School is in Kloof, South Africa and a short distance from Hillcrest. I’ve never actually visited an all girls or all boys school, so that experience will very different than school in Washington.

Words can’t really fully describe how much I am looking forward to this trip. I’ve never been to Africa or traveled this far by myself. It’s going to be an adventure of amazing proportions. I’m crossing my fingers that I will be able see some of the Big 5 animals (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino) while I am there too.

Between now and July 15th, I’m trying to figure out what books to take and lessons to share. If you have any advice for me, please share it! There’s nothing worse about going on an adventure and then saying, “I wish I had thought of ….” or “I wish I had known….”. I will be sharing photos via social media and on this blog as much as I can or as internet cooperates. Look for the hashtag #bookstoafrica15

Poetry Collaboration

How did Poetry Month slip away so quickly? April was National Poetry month and once again we celebrated poetry in the library. Unfortunately I didn’t get our poems published on the blog during April. A little late is better than never!

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The theme this year was “Wild about Poetry” and most of the poems students wrote had an animal theme. We wrote some specifically for our friends at Benfer Elementary in Klein, Texas. This is our second year collaborating with our 1st graders for Poetry month. Last year we wrote acrostic poems and PaperBag style poems for each other. PaperBag poems are a mystery style poem. An object is placed inside a paper bag and students have to use describing words as they touch and feel the hidden object. Acrostic poems are written both vertically and horizontally.
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Written by the students at Benfer Elementary.

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Written by the students at Bell Elementary

This year the students at Benfer continued the tradition and wrote some new PaperBag poems for us. We shared poems through social media and our blogs.

benfer 1 benfer 2 benfer 3We also wrote our Wild Animal poems for them.

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Mrs. Camp and I both think our first graders did a great job in using describing words in their poems.  I wonder what we will write next year.