Still love reading together

Over 50 days were spent in person as a teacher assistant in the first grade and now the week after Thanksgiving, all staff and students are remote, taking an adaptive pause, as they call it, in our district. Students are at home while staff are still in their perspective classrooms, offices, and conference rooms. We meet and greet on our devices, some more complex than others, but everyone agrees on one thing; it’s weird. Even though some students have been remote since the first day of school, it can be unsettling having a building not filled with students even those with masks and social distancing. They did a great job with that and are adjusting well remotely. Once again, they are successful with new challenges. They are children! What is the commonly used adjective to describe most of them? Resilient!

However, we have experienced the occasional child’s tear wanting to know when all of this will be over. Teacher assistants are diligently learning Google Meets and other computer applications. Though we don’t have the same intense responsibilities as the teachers, it is, once again, a new experience, a new schedule and ultimately, a new destination. We, too, have experienced the occasional adult tear. What this pandemic has truly taught all of us is how much we miss the physical presence of children. That eye-to-eye connection or sharing that moment where we surprise them with a whispered wonderful as we oversee their work on their desk or gracefully catch a mistake. Yes, we can see it on Seesaw when they take a sometimes blurred photo, but it is not the same.

I was worried; afraid that my own diminished computer skills would interfere in providing student expectations. Then one of my scheduled students online surprised me by doing an excellent job with sight words. We had more time available in our session which I had not planned so I grabbed a book near me called Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld. Stick and Stone is a beautiful book about friendship and that day we loved reading it together. He was so excited when I mentioned that the copy I had was his best friend’s book. He told me that he was Stone and his friend was Stick. He was actually able to read with me.

Now, I am on a mission to select all sorts of books and practice reading to a screen. I know they especially love the books by Mo Willems like The Pigeon Has to go School. Many have talked about the Elf on the Shelf and their Elves arriving at their home.

I am going to research now……….or what about?????? And I am also learning how to surprise them online and make comments they don’t expect. I can do this…….we can do this! Once again, each day, I am constantly reminded of our teachers dedication, enthusiasm and ability to problem solve and provide solutions. They, too, are just as resilent as their students.

It is a wonderful school

“My whole life has been in education,”  I said in conversation with the principal at Elizabeth Ide School a few days ago. And so I begin to reminisce.

This all began over 50 years ago for me; babysitting, reading books, and playing with the neighborhood toddlers at the age of 12. Over 40 years ago, I began teaching high school for ten years and then began teaching junior high at a special education alternative school. I would have stayed, but the money wasn’t the best for putting two children through college.

For 10,000 dollars more, I was offered an administrative position at a for-profit college which I took. My children could take advantage of tuition reimbursement. But that school had a massive, corporate lay off which I was included. Like a car salesman being picked up at another dealership, I was picked up by another school. Finally, the school or should I say company, closed for good. Eventually, it was agreed upon in my family that applying for a teacher assistant or becoming a substitute would be the best choice.Those positions are always in demand.

So I subbed and assisted in one of the more highly-acclaimed and well-paid districts in Naperville. I saw some excellent teaching. I saw some very poor instruction of teachers  lecturing to a classroom; constantly glancing at their cell phone. I heard a teacher call a student a jerk.

I had applied to a variety of schools at the time and I always loved the kindergarten as well as the early, primary grades. The day after I had been hired at Elizabeth Ide School, grades kindergarten through second in Darien, it was God’s gift that one who knew my employment struggle and was a personal job reference revealed that his children went to the school. I had no idea.

“It is a wonderful school,”  he said. I also found out that another friend was employed for over 30 years within the same district…..Center Cass School District 66, though she was at another school that had closed. “The culture is so competent and caring there,  she said. At the time, I did not realize her school was part of the same district.

After assisting almost two years at the school, it truly is a wonderful school! I don’t think I have ever seen a teacher who is not totally focused on expressing learning opportunities for their students. They are constantly on in a positive light. They are engaged in their children’s needs from the time they arrive in the morning until they leave at night. They are brilliant at executing ideas to help students grow. They know exactly how to help build amazing futures for them.

Throughout the entire district, the teachers love their job, but most of all, they love their students with a passion unequal to most school environments that I have observed.  Administration,assistants and support staff also intensely work, side by side, to demonstrate their love and pride for the students.

Currently, the district teachers are fighting for a fair contract. They have been without a contract since August 2018. According to CCEA Inspires, if the Board accepts the teachers proposal, no new taxes will affect the community as well as no program cuts.

Then why????

Why aren’t we assuring that the best educators remain in the district? In the process, if teachers and staff are able to thrive, we are also guaranteeing that the value of our home and village is recognized as one of the most promising as far as education excellence. Our own children will want to raise their families here.

Even if present home owners taxes were increased, the advantages far outweigh the immediate circumstances. As a homeowner of over 30 years in a neighboring Downers Grove school district, I have voted yes to numerous referendums and supported teacher strikes while watching my property value almost double.

Maybe the Board just doesn’t realize how valuable their teachers really are. Maybe all I can do is try to share my experience and help them re-examine the teachers proposals.

Ultimately, you can help too. If you are a member of the community or just interested in supporting the teachers at Center Cass School District 66, the Board of Education is providing an Informational Session next week for parents and friends to learn more.

Please check out the Center Cass website. The teachers need your attention and time is running out.

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It looks like a lilac to me

During the spring, it stood in the east outdoor corner of my childhood yard. Probably the most healthy of the plants that grew there. I couldn’t wait for my Mom to cut a large bunch, wrap them in tin foil during Springs mornings before school and give them to my favorite teachers; usually for my kindergarten, first grade and my fourth grade.

Then, I had no idea that the elegant smelling lavender lilacs would not last very long. Old Moms did not know the tricks in getting the beautiful fragrance to last more than a day.

Even when I became a Mom, I did not have a lilac bush at home so I would steal my neighbors lilacs at night. He was a great, longtime friend watching his tree dwindle but never said a word. I scattered them in vases throughout the house knowing not to send them to school with my little ones. Not because they were stolen…but knowing they would fade quickly.  My own children didn’t seem to be that interested anyway in brightening their teachers day with flowers from the garden.

My neighbor moved and I was scared to steal anymore so I  planted a lilac tree in our backyard. As it grew, my developing children pressed their noses into the tree while filling my vases inside and out.

However, I still liked my neighbors tree better; the fragrance was more overpowering reminding me of my youth. Occasionally, after many years, I will race down the street with scissors in hand when no one is watching.

Helping lilacs live longer:

If you want to give it a try, take a cutting from a healthy lilac and place the stem in a clear or amber glass or jar with 1 to 2 inches of water. Be sure to strip the leaves from the part of the stem that will be in the water to keep the cutting from rotting. Add fresh water as needed.

Though she did not know my love for lilacs, a first grader gave me one of the best handmade flower that looks like a lilac to me! That especially reminds me of the gratitude towards teachers that is still expressed and appreciated today. Thankfully those virtues remain.

I will be sure to wrap my flower carefully…maybe in tin foil….and take home from school to celebrate my summer vacation. The flower can sit beside me in a protected vase during the early months of summer while I lounge outside………under my lilac tree.