Almost twenty years later, I still know the drive by heart. The campus has changed so much since I graduated Molloy College in 2001. The building behind me was a staple and I suppose it still is- Kellenberg Hall. Yet now there are many more buildings including dorms.
Everything changes, including me.
In 2001, Eve Dieringer offered me a teaching position in her school, Saltzman East Memorial. She took a chance on a brand new college graduate. Last week, Dr. Eve Dieringer invited me to speak with her class of education majors at Molloy. No longer principal, now Eve is the director of field placement and a professor at Molloy. She invited me to come talk with her students about my experiences as a teacher. I've been at Saltzman East Memorial for 18 years.
Such a full circle moment.
The smell of the hallway was the same. The staircase familiar. So much was new. Updated bathrooms. New food court.
I noticed the signs on the lampposts- each one saying "Live Your Story". I loved the slogan (of course) and felt my teaching story was deeply connected to both Eve and Molloy.
What is my bigger story? What is my life story? How do I live my story? Where do I go next?
Excited to think more about stories as we get ready to launch the March SOLSC! Are you signed up to share your story for 31 days? Let's do this!
At the most inopportune time, without fail, a third grader will fart.
The sound will echo through the classroom and then there will be silence for a beat before the eruption of laughter and nose holding commences.
The fart-er will react differently- some will laugh along, some will deny it was them, others will hide their faces from embarrassment.
Students, at this time of the year, will be in two camps. There will be the laughing, nose holding, guffawing crew that just can't get passed the funniness of farts. There will be the mature, adult-like crew (albeit smaller) who have followed my lead and now echo my words, "It's a normal bodily function. It is not a big deal."
Like a bee buzzing through a room, a fart ruins any engagement I had. It takes away the focus on what I was desperately trying to teach, read, model or share.
I cannot compete with a fart.
What other occupation can you utter those words?
"You're not like Mrs. Ebbell," she says to me, a sweet expression on her face to match the kind thought.
I've had my Mrs. Ebbell moments, I think to myself. But on the whole, overall- I am thankful they don't think I am like Bradley Chalkers' teacher in the book There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom.
Mrs. Ebbell is openly unkind to Bradley. She doesn't defend him when the other children are mean to him. She expects him to be awful and to fail. She gives him a horrible reputation to live up to, which he does for the longest time. It is Carla, the counselor, who shows Bradley he isn't a monster, that he is a good person who can make better choices.
Later that morning, I am handed a piece of paper by another lovely student who is always listening, always putting forth effort, always striving to help. Her note said she wished I could be her teacher forever and on the back, she drew my water bottle.
I recently purchased a huge water bottle that holds 128 ounces. It has markings with words of encouragement, as seen in the picture she drew above. It got me thinking about how students notice everything about us- what we wear, what we eat and drink, the stories we share, our patience levels, our love for them. We really can't hide who we are as teachers- it comes shining through all our actions. The books we chose to read- or not read. The way we start the day together. The way we end the day together. Kids know. They know if you really care or if you don't. They know if you enjoy learning or are just going through the motions of a lesson.
So our challenge, then, is to bring the best of ourselves to our work- work that is often exhausting emotionally and physically. Work that there isn't enough time to do. On days when we are personally lost, or frustrated or sad or tired- we still have to try to bring our best self to our students because they are watching us and what we say and do matters.
I grew up reading Dr. Seuss books. Of course, the early readers like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. I remember reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and my first grade teacher gave me my own copy of the book at Christmas. I did a demo lesson using The Lorax to get hired for my first teaching job and then taught a science unit on sustainable development, inspired by the same book. One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books has always been Horton Hatches the Egg. When I taught kindergarten, we always celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday with a full week of activities. Dr. Seuss is synonymous to the joy of reading, in my eyes.
Recently, I've seen teachers I admire greatly sharing disdain for Dr. Seuss and celebrating him in schools. This article has been shared, which describes Dr. Seuss' work as problematic in regards to how he depicts nonwhite characters.
This lead me to wonder if we can appreciate art while recognizing the artist as flawed. Can I listen to a Michael Jackson song and enjoy it even though I know he was most likely a pedophile? Can I read a Dr. Seuss book and find it a worthwhile book to share even if he had views I don't agree with?
I read my class Horton Hatches the Egg today. My daughter's Daisy troop (I am a co-leader) had a Dr. Seuss theme reading celebration meeting tonight. I don't feel ready to shun Dr. Seuss but I feel like those I admire will think badly of me for still reading and sharing his work.
What are your thoughts on Dr. Seuss? Can we enjoy art and separate the artist's character or is it all wrapped up together?
Driven: relentlessly compelled by the need to accomplish a goal; very hard-working and ambitious.
My father always said I was driven. That I "burned my candle at both ends." It was certainly true the year I was graduating college. I was focused on getting a teaching position in a Long Island public school. I printed resume after resume, on my ivory heavy stock paper and edited my cover letter for each school in which I applied. These were the days before online applying, when you still sent a cover letter and everything was snail mailed.
Back then, jobs were posted in the newspaper. I would circle all the boxes in the employment section that related to teaching positions. I made applying for jobs a job itself. And then the interviews started.
Looking back on it now, it's kind of a miracle I was hired in my school. The first round was an essay test, which I did well enough to be invited to the "group interview" round. Principals and other high level administrators sat at one end of a board room table and all the applicants sat way down from then, in a row. The group interview consisted of questions being asked and "jump in" whenever you have an answer. I was awful at this. Everyone jumped in before me, therefore taking all the possible answers. I was last almost every time. It's been close to 19 years now, so I don't remember the questions, but I remember thinking I blew it since I was unable to get a word in with all the other candidates for most of the interview.
Somehow, I was called to come in for an interview. These were the days before everyone carried smart phones with Google Maps ever at the ready to navigate. These were the days of big paper maps and trying to find which street to turn on. I remember the day of my interview, driving up and down Route 110 in Farmingdale, trying to find the turn to Main Street. One side of the road was Broadhollow Road and the other side was Main Street but I somehow missed that and was driving up and down the road, getting more and more anxious and panicked. I remember calling the school and talking to the school secretary and her giving me directions.
I eventually found the school, pretty close to being late for the interview. When I walked in, the principal and the interview committee met me in the hallway and said they were ready for my demonstration lesson. WHAT?! I said there must have been some misunderstanding- I was there for an interview. I had no idea what grade or subject they would want me to teach a lesson for and had nothing prepared. Talk about the worst possible impression- late and unprepared.
The principal at the time, Eve Dieringer, was always gracious and allowed me to be interviewed since I had come all the way there. I was asked to teach a lesson later that week to a 5th grade class of below level readers. I prepared a lesson on identifying character traits using the book The Lorax. The kids were wonderful but while I taught the lesson, it felt like some of the committee wasn't really watching me. I didn't think I would be offered the job.
Yet, somehow, someway, I was offered a teaching position at Saltzman East Memorial school. I was offered a leave replacement position ,teaching 6th grade. I turned down a job offer at St. Agnes school and a first grade spot at an elementary school in Smithtown, which I later learned was a tenure track position. I chose to teach in Farmingdale and 18 years later, it's been my home. Looking back on my interview story, it's kind of a miracle that I got the job!
My school is filled with many stories.
They are hidden in the new shoes a student proudly wears, a second-hand backpack another student carries, a tooth lost. They are behind the teacher's sigh of frustration as the copy machine jams yet again. The stories are buried in the back of the lockers, between the crumpled papers and forgotten snack bags. They are in the courtyard outside my window, a garden dedicated to a teacher who passed away too soon, a bench in the name of another teacher whose life took mysterious turns before it ended, again way before her time.
The stories are in the excited voices when students share happy news and the stories are there in what they do not say, but what weighs heavy on their hearts. The stories are swept up each day like the pencils scattered on the floor, gathered and discarded. The stories are read aloud in the library and in classrooms, others words from years before, filling the space and inspiring new thoughts, ideas and feelings.
The stories are in the people who have come before and gone. The teachers who retired, or resigned, or had babies and stayed home until those babies were grown. The administrators who captured the heart of a building. The families that became part of the fabric of the school.
The stories are there when the school is freshly painted and waxed, when new bulletin board paper is stapled and fresh clean name tags are affixed to desks. The stories are there on the last day of school when the walls are bare the desks are cleaned out and the last child has gone home. In the silence, there is a story of a year gone by, of learning, of growth, of sadness and joy.
My school is filled with stories.
I, too, am part of the story. I am part of the school story and I am part of my own story. After 18 years of teaching in the same school, I am a story students will tell to their own children someday. There are stories from 6th grade, stories from kindergarten, stories from third grade. Stories from field trips and Q&U Weddings and kindergarten celebrations and state tests administered. Stories from Senior Walks, when my former students walk down the halls of my school in their graduation gowns and I see their faces and remember their story. Remember the boy who took piano lessons and played his heart out at a school talent show at the age of 5, now on the precipice of adulthood, ready to go off to college.
This month, I aim to tell my story. The story of school and teaching and failing and learning and growing and striving. The story of being a mom and a teacher and wanting to make a difference in each area. The story of this season of my life.
Here's to a month of stories. Welcome to the March SOLSC!
On Saturday, a dream came true before my eyes.
I was at Oprah's 2020 Vision Tour at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY. One of my dearest friends and I traveled by train early that morning for a day centered around health and wellness. My friend, Sharyn, has lost over 120 pounds and maintained that loss for over 3 years. I am on my own journey with health and wellness and welcomed a day of friendship and inspiration.
I grew up watching The Oprah Winfrey Show and was a longtime subscriber to the Oprah Magazine. I listen to the Super Soul podcast. I think Oprah has a lot of wisdom to share and was looking forward to being in her presence. I also knew that Michelle Obama was going to be interviewed. It was a day I was really looking forward to.
Then, my excitement became even more intensified when I learned that Rachel Hollis was going to be speaking! I've read Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. I have the Start Today journal and the Priority Planner, created by Rachel and the Hollis Company. I listen to her multiple podcasts and have found a lot of guidance for my life in what she shares. I am a huge fan of Rachel's and couldn't believe my luck that she would be at the 2020 Vision Tour!
What made it even cooler was Rachel has spoken at length about how her dream was to be on the same stage as Oprah. For years, she has written that down in her Start Today journal as one of the dreams of her life. She always writes the dreams as if they've already happened as a way of manifesting them and "calling your shot" to the universe. I've heard her speak about Oprah for quite a while and so to see her take the stage with Oprah, it was like you could almost see the dream becoming a reality.
The entire day was about intentions, dreams, discovering your purpose and living into it. About going for an exceptional life and being "so full of yourself your cup runneth over" as Oprah said. Watching Rachel's longtime dream come true, being surrounded by so much beauty and wisdom made the day one that I will always remember.
It also made me think that I need to call my own shots to the univerise because if Rachel's dreams can come true, why not mine?
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski