As I sit and actually have time to think and reflect during the holiday season, I realize just how many precious gifts we give to our students and each other throughout the year. During the daily hustle and bustle, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why we feel like such a family or recognize the extent of what we give. Yes, sometimes we have our disagreements, but at the end of the day, we give rare gifts that are simply precious to those around us:
1. The Gift of Compassion-We may not have much on a teacher's salary, but the compassion for students I see whether we are trying to understand a student's rough day or difficult circumstances is beyond compare. And when we've gone through the worst circumstances ourselves, you guys love on each other to build one another back up and support one another.
2. The Gift of Mercy-It's seen in the moment you forgive a kid for really screwing up or on the day after they return to class and you choose not to remember what they did the day before. It's accepting that difficult apology or understanding that everyone messes up once in a while. There are so many of these moments. You guys are merciful.
3. The Gift of Knowledge-You people really know your stuff. Whether I'm sitting in a collaborative session discussing multiple interpretations of a text, watching you design a interdisciplinary project, noticing the students rewriting songs, or discussing your latest professional development unrequired read, it's clear you've got what it takes.
4. The Gift of a Beautiful Environment-Our halls sparkle. Wafts of orange citrus float through the hall air. The bathrooms are cleaned and stocked. Our classrooms are decorated with flair. We do everything we can to make our school home feel inviting during the eight hours a day our students are with us.
5. The Gift of Excellent Food-Whether they're peeling, baking, spicing, or sauteeing, one thing is for sure. Our cafeteria staff makes sure that our students are given the best each day, even with the friendly smiles they offer in the lunchline. And I see you sneaking the kids your own snack, even when you haven't eaten yourself. And for our staff? Our five star bulldog event planner Ms. Harrison and Ms. Wade take care of that. They threw such a lovely, gorgeous, tastly luncheon for us all. Thank you ladies.
6. The Gift of Time-You give, give, give your time until there isn't anymore to give. Whether it's staying after school to coach, tutor, offer academic recovery classes, or just listen to a student who is having a tough time, you are always there. And time is the one thing that can never be returned or gained back, but it doesn't stop you from giving everything you have to our students.
7. The Gift of Teammanship- Whatever it is that our kids need, you come together to serve them whether through academics or real life need. I watch you help one another and work together for the best of the kids, even giving up your personal preferences to serve them best. At the end of the day, you tell each other they rock and do things to communicate your support. Really, our team is more like a family.
8. The Gift of Perseverance- You experience amazing days. And you go through undelightful ones. But one thing does not change, you are STILL here for our students no matter how kind the days have been to you. And when a lesson doesn't exactly work out, you pour those tears of frustration into reflective ideas for change, and pull it off. We have the hardest-core, most dedicated staff around.
9. The Gift of Love-There's always that saying that someone would give their right arm for another person. In our building, I'd believe it to be true in a second. By watching those around me love, I have been taught an uncondional love for those around me and the students that runs deeper than I've ever felt before.
10. The Gift of Leadership-As I have watched the school and its leaders through the past seven years, one thing is clear: we have excellent leaders who truly love our children, the school and its legacy. They believe in their faculty, staff, and the students who come daily. But more than that, they offer a stability and unconditional love that is beyond compare.
As we celebrate the holiday season, I cannot help but feel so very blessed for the gifts that I have learned through watching you and observing the gifts you give to our students every single day. And perhaps we will never see the effects of these gifts earthside, but they are powerful and change lives, even if we cannot always see the immediate results. I hope that you will find a boundless supply of rest, energy, and time in the time that we have off. Thank you for all you do. You are quite literally, the best. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Beach Bulldogs. You rock!
Yes, indeed, folks, there's someone new in town on our staff, and we want you to meet him: Alfred, our A.E. Beach Elf.
As I was thinking this morning about the "elf culture" that's become so pervasive in the holiday and Christmas season, I wonder if we ourselves experience the same sort of thing in education from time to time. And I wonder if it's helpful or not so helpful in terms of our motivation to become the best teachers we can be. Maybe the best humans we can be, too.
It was back before people ever really heard of having Elf on the Shelf, and I found one in a specialty kids boutique and figured a pet elf would make a fun tradition to the family. My oldest was just coming into the age of toddlerhood so it seemed like an extraneous motivation might save me and be a little fun in the process. I picked one up and read the story: Basically, the elf changes places each day because every day he reports our good or bad behavior to Santa. And from this point manipulation has ensued: If you sleep in your room, If you do this, If you do that, the elf will give a good report to Santa and you shall be blessed with a bounteous Christmas. Ha.
And so I wonder in education if the thought of a "watching elf" and doing things that are either good or bad sometimes limits us in seeing the whole picture.
I remember starting out in the realm of public education. It was unfamiliar territory. I grew up in Savannah, went off to college in Macon, and returned to teach at my own alma mater, a private school in town. But after staying home for a year or two with my oldest and completing my Masters, I was ready to be back. Enter: happy, sprightly, cheerful me into the real world of education. I saw the turnaround was happening, and I wanted in; I wanted a challenge. Before in my three years teaching, I had been used to giving an assignment and it being done. Stat. Pronto. My only concern in that teaching environment? Just that there wasn't too much chatter during the getting it done process. Gum chewing? Yep it was a referral. For real.
But here I was and so I began one of the largest challenges of my life. My first year? I think it was chaos. Our whole motto here was "Whatever It Takes," and boy, somedays it took tears, a whole lot of reflection, but above all else? Commitment and perseverance. In those days, we were just trying to do whatever it took literally to motivate and engage students. After all, most of us were new, and we took their sense of familiar and changed it up completely. They weren't used to us. Literary elements? Yep, taught those through the coolest songs. Irony? I think that was taught through songs as well. Regardless, the whole year felt like a hodge podge of actions and surviving to me. We had a million professional developments, plannings, collaborations, and all the other educational acronyms per week, and it was certainly overwhelming.
And my first test scores I received back? They were probably parallel with the temperature this weekend. In all reality, not.so.hot. And the worst? Feeling like there was this anonymous entity monitoring every success and failure as if it was the end all, be all. But guess what folks? Although there was monitoring and such in place in order to help us succeed as a school, it took me probably five or six years to realize that as a teacher, we are not just a good or bad teacher, forever and ever, amen. We are not bound to live the life of that static, unchanging character. We are dynamic; we are powerful; we are capable of change; we are capable of improvement. Theory in isolation never taught us how to be better teachers. No, it is through experience and practice, and unfortunately that involves both success and failures.
So, in reality, if Alfred the A.E. Beach Elf had been reporting my teaching behavior all these years, if it were about the number of sucessful lessons and highest scores possible every.single.day, y'all I promise you I would be on the naughty list from time to time. Why? Because it takes mistakes to grow. It takes failed lessons to reflect and make them better. Did I have amazing lessons? Yes, as many as I could, but they came about through not-so-great lesson days, too.
But if the A.E. Beach Elf could see my heart? It is through those failures, reflection, peseverance that I have come to love people a whole lot more. And respect my colleagues a whole lot more as well. And that to me, is worth more than any sense of perfection as a teacher. I understand that our kids don't always draw the best hand in life, and I can be here each day to be some stability. I understand that some kids don't come in with the greatest attitudes some day, but guess what?, I can model for them what unconditional love is like. Expectations and rigor? You betcha. Kindness and mercy? A whole lot of that too.
So what is probably the greatest gift we can give to others and ourselves this holiday season? To realize these truths. The true measure of our performance here is not that we've maxed out some TKES scale in every category and had pinterest-worthy lessons every.single.day involving lessons that push kids into a feel-good High School Musical performance by Disney. Do we need those? YES. Absolutely, yes. Engaging lessons are SO important. But, don't ever lose sight that the true measure of our performance is that we have chosen to be here through perseverance, grow through reflection on our lessons, and become better each and every year. And maybe even more that we've learned to love others even when they're acting unlovely. Then maybe, the real gift becomes the transformation that has happened in ourselves that just happens to overflow into the lives of our students.
We are thankful to be on this journey together with you. You bring joy in this holiday season, as you sparkle, shine, and glitter for those that need it the most!
Don't forget to say hello to Alfred. And the truth is? He's not watching your failures. He's watching for dynamic hearts. I'm thinking the nice list will be extra full as Santa flies by the Dawghouse this year.
December's Teacher of the Month
Whenever you think back to your favorite magic experience as a child, perhaps it involves the entrancing magician that seemingly appears out of nowhere and surprises you with the art of her skill. You look in one corner: the magician is there working her, well, magic. Turning your head in the opposite direction, she seems to fill your field of vision no matter where your eyes travel.
If movement of time and space were truly possible, Ms. Khalilah Watson would certainly be the magician who seems to be everywhere at once, working her relationship-magic in order to help students succeed and do their best. If there is an unruly student spending too much time in the hallway or having a difficult day, Watson seems to know the magic words to say that soothe, calm and get the student back on track. If there is a need to take over the math lesson, with her unique ability to break down difficult concepts, Ms. Watson teaches away, using her ability to engage the students, and more impressively help them enjoy the learning that is taking place. In fact, in her moments of teaching, the students are highly engaged and respect her authority, listening to the content that she is presenting.
A member of the exceptional education department, Watson has spent three years of her time at Beach and two years teaching here, more specifically. In fact, she is a true Bulldog through and through, an alumni of Alfred Ely Beach High school. Leaving the dawghouse to complete her college degree, her undergraduate education was completed at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and she touts a Master’s degree from Armstrong State University.
In her spare time, Watson enjoys officiating basketball games, skating, and spending time with her family. This family includes a toddler son whom she adores. She loves enjoying close-knit, quality time with all of her family members. Just by observing her with her family, it is clear that she emphasizes relationships both inside and outside of school.
As a teacher, she excels in organization and relationship building with students. Perhaps that is why they are drawn to her wisdom and knowledge. Ms. Watson’s greatest magic is in helping students focus on their own behaviors and empowering them to see their abilities to solve them, giving them ownership for improvement. In terms of teaching, her strengths are organization and relationship building, but she does “struggle with watching so many students accept failure.” She reveals that to work your own magic in the classroom, “you have to meet students where they are and instill in them the tools that can propel them to go further and achieve more.”
Because getting to know students is at the heart of all she does, Ms. Watson reveals that she not only talks with them when given opportunities, but she also takes times to observe them so she understands what their needs may be even before they understand them on their own. Clearly, this gift of intuition is something that allows her to inspire students toward making themselves more mature and embracing their own decisions. And she believes that such relationships are the foundation students need in order to share their lives with other adults and teachers.
When asked why Ms. Watson is just so wonderful, her peers comment that she is one of the most hardworking and dedicated individuals they know, doing whatever is needed in order to help students excel. She does not allow students to fail and fall to their own demise; instead, she is proactive in making sure that they make the decisions that will benefit them in the future. Others comment that she is smart and reliable, helping them make sure their job is done with excellence as well. We are just thankful we have someone who can truly work some academic magic when we need it. Glance around; you may just learn from her tricks.
Inspired by her example, let’s challenge ourselves to choose one student who may be making choices for failure and show them the path to academic and personal redemption. And perhaps, under your breath, you’ll whisper Abracadabra! in Khalilah’s honor.
Congratulations to Khalilah Watson, our A.E. Beach Teacher of the Month for December! Thank you for going above and beyond to serve our students.