The Struggle is Real: Facing Setbacks, Moving Forward

I don’t deal with setbacks well, which is why a back spasm that left me bed-bound for two days had me in a whirlwind of panic and self-doubt. When I described my day of playing Hungry Shark Evolution, dozing, and getting sucked into “Doctor Who,” my friends told me I was enjoying what sounded like a perfect end-of-summer day. Why then was I so miserable? Not only because I was in great pain, though there was that. It was more the shame.

In my family, getting hurt was a punishable offense. At best, I would get yelled at, which didn’t feel great what with already being hurt. As I got older, it was more likely that I would be chided for my carelessness, or just my me-ness. The message was always clear: if I got hurt, it was my fault and I should have been better. That has stayed with me. When I get hurt now, I get frustrated with myself. I tell myself this happened because I did something wrong or stupid, and I take my injury or pain as a sign that I am not strong or graceful or disciplined or just plain thin enough to do what I’m trying to do.

Between Boyfriend and the fitness enthusiasts I follow on social media, I’ve become more acquainted with the experiences of people who get hurt. These are strong, athletic, disciplined people, and they get hurt sometimes. And they don’t berate themselves for getting hurt. They don’t abandon their goals, or give up on the things they were trying. They take some days off to recover and, when they’re ready, they start working again. Maybe they’ve decided to start from a different entry point – reinforcing some basics or building from a different strength – but they don’t just throw up their hands, declare themselves unfit, and sulk in the corner.

These are revelations to me, every time: people get hurt, people struggle. Most importantly: I can, too.

I’m reminded of so many students right now, past me included, and how setbacks affect them. Being “behind” the majority of a class has been so demoralizing for many of my students that they’re ready to give up on the whole school thing, rather than trundle along at the back of the class. Reassurances that they’ll get there or are doing great sound like lies designed to make them feel better, especially coming from a teacher, because most teachers don’t show their students what struggles and setbacks look like. We’re not really allowed to, in a system of rubricked evaluations and high-stakes rating. There is a lot of pressure to bring into the classroom only what is proven and guaranteed to work. Sharing one’s struggle as a learner is too great a risk for many teachers, I know. But the implication for struggling students is that only they flounder and face setbacks.

fail-again-fail-better-samuel-beckett

Learning, growing, improving, etc., it all demands trying and failing. It’s the only way we’ll ever get to failing better, doing better. This is well-worn territory, even here, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve only just met my newest group of students, and I want to remember how to make space for them to just straight-up flail toward progress.

Praise the work. It’s not that I don’t want to tell my students how brilliant and creative and wonderful they are. But I need to remember that many students see working hard as a sign of inadequacy. I’ve had many colleagues and adults in general bemoan “this generation’s” lack of work ethic, but it’s not a secret that hard work is hard. Everyone deserves snaps for working hard, especially people who don’t realize how important it is to do so.

– Share the struggle. It’s scary to be vulnerable with students, and overshare is a very real, very inappropriate thing. Some of my colleagues, great teachers, swear by the sharply delineated professional personas they maintain with students. Boundaries are important, but so is being human, and I think modeling the process of learning with examples from a real learner’s life is one of the most valuable things students can get from teachers. I talk about learning new things with my students. I share with them what I struggled with when I was doing what they are doing for this first time, and I make it a point to try new things with them and make sure they know it. Mistakes are shared and discussed in our classroom; we’re works in progress, and we can all help one another.

Reflect often. Time is at a premium in a school year, but checking in with students has to be non-negotiable. They need opportunities to think about and process what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and I need to hear and see their journeys. This is how we all learn from each other, and from our own selves.

Get off the stage. I don’t stay in the front of the room for long, and every year I aim to take myself further from the center. But my favorite time of year is when students step up there. Whether it’s a Ms. Thomas impression or an expert presentation, I love to see students taking center stage and leading us through their learning processes. This coming year, I’m hoping to introduce these opportunities earlier than ever.

How do you deal with setbacks? How do you help your students move past what feels like failure? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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The Myth of Whiny Teachers

As we get closer to summer, writing about teachers seems to be everywhere. For every thoughtful or thought-provoking post on the end of the school year, there is a counterpoint, or a host of comments that complain about the whining of teachers. “Teaching: the only job where you work half the year and complain about it full-time,” read one top rated comment on a blog post describing the end of year paperwork and conferences expected of teachers. “You’re not doctors,” another told me. “You’re not cops in dangerous cities. You’re not first responders. These are tough jobs. You play with kids until 3.” In response to the observation that these jobs require teachers, because they require school & training, a clever commentator challenged: “So, should we revere chocolatiers because most doctors have had chocolate before?” (The answer, of course, is no; we should revere chocolatiers because of chocolate.)

Without trying to address the misconceptions and fallacies represented in these opinions (half the year…?), I think the important thing to point out is that teachers aren’t whiny.

There are people who are teachers who whine. And there are people who are teachers who complain, but so are there doctors, police officers in tough neighborhoods, and unlikely as it seems, chocolatiers. But the perception that there is a public platform for teachers to stamp their feet and demand more respect for their jobs is simply false.

This misunderstanding implies that teachers have taken to the internet to list and detail the hardships of their jobs with no impetus. We looked around at 3 pm when we were done playing with our students all day and thought, hmm…I think I’ll complain on the internet for awhile, because my job is done! The idea that teachers are just whining for more attention ignores the fact that these articles, blog posts, and memes are not happening in a vacuum: these are responses to attacks. Teachers are constantly called upon to defend themselves, their jobs, and their students, and that call is most often rhetorical. Articles and blog posts that detail the realities of working in education represent the voices of those who refuse to be silenced, not the petulant dissatisfaction of the over privileged. That so many consider it whiny and unnecessary is evidence that the smear campaign against teachers has, in some ways, succeeded.

The aspects of education jobs that teachers complain about – or, rather, the realities that teachers seek to expose – mostly stem from the increased interference of policy in classrooms. Overcrowding, excessive paperwork, beyond excessive testing – the toll these and other atrocities take on students, teachers, and education is obscured by painting educators as lazy and overly demanding. When teachers write about these things, or address the lies told about them and their jobs, they are not whining. They are standing up for themselves, their colleagues, and their students. They are not crying for more money or trying to justify their worth to you. They are telling you are being lied to; like teachers, they are encouraging you to use your brains, consider multiple perspectives, and interrogate what you have been told. Like teachers, we invite you to think.

And some of us write these stories to remind each other that we are not alone. So to my fellow teachers: keep speaking up. People will misunderstand you, call you a whiner, tell you to quit, call you a liar (#hatersgonhate). But other people will thank you, and some people will think about what you have shown them and see differently. Like teaching, the effects will be varied and we may not see them firsthand. Continue to honor your students and yourself; you teach students to question, to think critically, to express themselves, to speak up when they are bullied, to search for truth. And as we well know, that job is never done.

Untested: Growth That Tests Can’t Measure

Favi called me over to her desk one recent afternoon, leaning forward over her notebook urgently. “I have to thank you,” she said. “You remember how you told Raymond that writing is a way to deal with being upset? Well, I took that advice, too. But I don’t wait to be upset. Every day, I write about a quote. & I really have to thank you. It makes me feel…lighter, if that makes sense. I just feel better every time I do it.”

New York’s school year is ending, & tests are bursting into bloom around us. MOSLs, field tests, the NYSESLAT, all sinister roots winding their way to the towering trunk of Regents exams. It’s a tough time of year, to put it very, very lightly.

Times like this, when my students are emotionally manic balls of stress that ricochet through outbursts & mood swings, when all of their self-esteem & confidence plummets & they find themselves forgetting the most routine of behaviors, when they are bleary & cranky from lack of sleep, or surly & defensive, or on the verge of tears after the slightest frustration, it is easy to feel like I have taught them nothing. They certainly feel as though they’ve forgotten everything. During an after school session, a student working on an essay for another class told me he didn’t want to work with that other teacher, because asking questions was embarrassing there. He knew he would be reprimanded & told, “You should know how to do this! I already taught you this!”

“I know I should know,” my student told me. “I just forget or maybe I’m not sure. Sometimes I ask the question even if I have the right answer, just to check. I don’t want to get it wrong.”

That feeling of I’m not sure & I don’t want to be wrong so I have to ask while I still can seems a direct result of excessive testing. It’s an intense anxiety, one that even self-confident students will suffer through as exam after exam crashes upon them, like so many waves.

But there’s so much more than the test. Tests. The growth & gains my students have made this year can’t always be measured by one test, or even four, or even more. I need to make space to celebrate those moments, so my students can join me in recognizing that increased confidence, stepping outside of their comfort zones, playing teacher, asking questions, & writing independently are huge accomplishments.

Like Favi’s discovery of the healing of journal writing, many of my students have achieved in ways these tests can’t & won’t measure.

There’s Ivy, who began the year so fearful of writing that she did not trust herself to put down more than a  sentence before asking me to read it and tell her if it was “right.” How many hours a week she sat in our classroom after school, tears threatening her eyeliner as I reminded her to write down what she was thinking. “It isn’t going to be perfect, but that’s good. Nothing is perfect.” I can’t pin down Ivy’s exact turning point, but somewhere this year, her anxiety eased up a little. She took risks writing down her thoughts without triple checking her ideas against her classmates’ opinions. She wrote whole paragraphs before asking me to look, & didn’t crumple when I asked a question about her work. & after a reading response activity of drafting coming to America poems, Ivy returned after school to proudly present me with a second poem, one she had simply felt inspired to write. I was so proud I wanted to shout, especially when she handed the poem to me & said, “it’s not perfect, but I like it.”

This school year has held so many of these moments, demonstrations of learning & development that will not be assessed by a formulaic written response to a standardized test prompt. Students reading aloud for the first time, finishing a book independently for the first time, writing in English for the first time after months to years of anxiety & fear. These huge accomplishments do not mean that they will pass their exams, though, & in the end, they will be made to feel like none of these achievements matter.

I’m left with two areas of tension, knots I need to work at as I prepare for next year (next week, next day). One: how do I honor & value students’ growth throughout the year in a way that allows them to honor it, too? Beyond reflective writing & portfolio building, beyond conferences, beyond inspirational speeches; how does the recognition & celebration of improvement become a core piece of our classroom? Two: How do I continue to build a classroom environment that helps my students do the things they have never before done, and extend that safe, productive feeling beyond our walls? It is invaluable, the work I put into creating a classroom that encourages students to take risks & push themselves, but that needs to continue happening when we are apart. How do we create a class environment that allows students space to achieve great things both inside the classroom & out?

This is my favorite place to be as a teacher: holding the tensions in my hand, learning their shapes & textures, feeling for a starting point. What do you think? How do you honor students’ growth, & encourage them to keep growing independently? 

Take a Broccoli Break: Reevaluating Grammar’s Place in the Classroom

Teaching at an international school, where everyone is learning English, has been amazing so far. I have trouble even beginning to explain how great it is to teach this population, how warm and bonded our community has become, the richness of my students’ backgrounds and stories, how ridiculously sweet and adorable they are, with such consistency. But one annoying thing that keeps popping up is grammar.  Not my students’ grammar, not the way I teach grammar, but this obsession with grammar instruction. Even before teaching at an international school, I often encountered this idea that, as an English teacher, grammar is my whole job. Teachers of other subjects have sent students to me with their history essays or lab reports, expecting me to read and correct the grammar in these papers. Non-teachers apologize in advance for their poor grammar in emails or conversation. “I’m not a teacher,” they say sheepishly. Even my students, on the day an essay is due (or, like, a week after an essay is due) come to me in a panic, asking me if I can “fix” all their grammar. And it always seems to come as somewhat of a shock when I explain that I just don’t think grammar is the most important thing.

Certainly, it’s an important thing. I want my students to be able to express themselves clearly and appropriately, to understand their punctuation and not mix up homophones. I want them to be great writers. And that takes more than impeccable, even passable, grammar.

The thing is that grammar is like broccoli. Or Brussels sprouts, or cooked carrots. As a grown-up adult responsible enough to take care of myself (because it’s on me to keep myself alive now), I consume my vegetables with gusto. As a kid, vegetables were not my thing. I didn’t like to eat them – taste, texture, smell, lack of resemblance to ice cream, it all just wasn’t working for me. I had parents and Sesame Street and health class, so I knew that vegetables were good for me. I knew that I should eat them. They were there on the plate every day. I just wasn’t one of those kids that loved their greens, and I was probably a serious pain about this. But what’s great about my journey from veggie-hater to veggie-lover is that it has really informed my approach to grammar in the classroom.

Here are some things I’ve learned about grammar instruction from eating my vegetables:

  1. “Good for you” is not good enough.
  2. If it’s not appealing, change the recipe.
  3. Healthy and delicious as they may be, vegetables do not need to be a main course. They make great sides.
  4. Play with your food!

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Leap of Faith: Keeping Promises Made to Myself and My Students

Remember that scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? You know, the one that still makes my stomach fall through me, the one that has me holding my breath like I’m 11 years old, sitting too close to the TV, unable to look away or even close my eyes? This one:

Leapoffaith

Indy’s big leap of faith, wherein his only chance to retrieve the Holy Grail and save his father demands that he walk across this gaping chasm of certain death, trusting that, despite all visual evidence to the contrary, there is a bridge and he will not fall.

By the time I was 11 and seeing Last Crusade for the first time, I was well-acquainted with Dr. Jones. I’d seen him fight bad guys, dodge bullets, survive Shortround’s driving skills, live through Spielberg’s extremely racist representations of Indian culture (thanks, by the way, for years of being asked if I’d brought monkey brains for lunch), and not have his face melted off by vengeful ghosts. I already thought he was dreamy and daring. But this scene, this terrifying moment, his determination to do what seemed to me impossible at the time – this was the bravest thing I’d ever seen him do.

Faith is, I think, at the center of bravery. Often I have had students examine and define and redefine “brave.” Their beginning definitions focus on physical strength, fighting, and protectiveness. But as we consider the actions and people that count as brave in our eyes, and share those stories and experiences, the definition of “bravery” evolves. Different groups of students regard the word differently, but many students note that the people we consider brave are admired for believing in things that no one else did, carrying on when situations seemed hopeless. That’s having faith, isn’t it? Believing when there is no evidence to support you, holding on when no one is on your side.

Of course, we can go too far. The line between confidence and a closed mind can be finer than we realize. But I can’t deny that it takes courage to have faith, and bravery requires believing when it is least possible, least convenient. It doesn’t mean not being scared, or never having a doubt. It means facing that doubt, that fear, and taking another step forward anyway.

At the beginning of the year, I made some promises to myself, about my classroom, my students, and my teaching. I’ve tried to be true to those resolutions, but I’m finding myself looking down right now, staring straight between my feet into the yawning darkness below. Because there’s no bridge, not really, no tried and true, foolproof way to get x result by y deadline. There is what I believe, what I know has worked in the past, and what I’ve promised to myself. These are the supports I count on carrying me across the chasm of this school year. I tell myself not to look down, like they do in the movies. And then, like they do in the movies, I look down. I look down because maybe I am not reflective enough and what I believe needs to be updated or reexamined. And I look down because, yes, these things worked in the past, but this is a whole new year, a new group of students; this is not the past, it’s now. And I look down because the promises I’ve made don’t focus on state test scores and Common Core Standards and buzzwords that are repeated and rebranded at every PD meeting. Those promises are about what I believe is best for my students, but doubt is starting to creep in.

It’s testing season in New York City – today starts January Regents Week. January is generally a frenzy of test prep – review packets, paragraph templates, acronyms for testing strategies. Meanwhile, my classroom routines proceed as usual: quote of the week, TED Talk or NPR story, slice-of-life writing, peer feedback days. I try to be the calm center of the test prep oasis, redirecting pent-up energy and soothing rising anxiety, but my own panic clamors. As test practice consumes the rest of their day, am I being too lax? Years of experience have led me to believe that, while students should be familiar with the state assessment, practicing by taking old English Regents over and over does not help them pass the upcoming exam. But what if I’m wrong? What if developing reading and writing skills and independence isn’t enough? I can’t help but look down, hoping that the bridge is still there. Not that looking does much good. The tricky thing about faith is that you can’t see what you’re looking for.

If I could make a graph of New Year’s Resolutions and our attitudes towards them, the first two weeks of January would show a steady climb. Enthusiasm is high at the beginning of year, generally. But around the third week, many resolvers start to waver. And some just plummet. The graph would show a mountain’s downward slope around now, and it’s not because we can’t accomplish our resolutions, or that they’re too hard or unrealistic. It’s that we start to doubt ourselves. We lose faith in our ability to stick to the resolutions we set. Around here, the line of my graph would split. One branch would continue sloping down, but the other would start climbing back up. Because many of us give up when we start doubting ourselves. Many of us can’t recover. But some of us face that doubt, and come back. Some can renew their faith, strengthen their resolve.

I have to believe, like Indy, even when the course I’ve set seems impossible, even when I doubt that I will make it to the other side. My faith isn’t blind, my path is not reckless. But it is difficult, and this won’t be the first time I look down and wonder if I’m actually standing on anything. I just have to decide to be brave, and take the next step forward anyway.

How’s your faith holding up? What are you doing to keep your and your students’ faith in the classroom? I’d love to hear your comments!

New Year, New ______ : Reflecting on Resolutions for the Classroom

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve gone through the motions in the past, trying to set goals and get excited about the new year, new ____! But they’ve always seemed somewhat hollow – people declaring they’ll give up a habit as strongly rooted as an addiction, or master a skill that others spend their lifetimes honing, just generally promising a complete transformation in who they are and who they have been. It’s not that resolutions are not admirable, or important, and I’m glad that there is a cultural tradition that encourages people to think positively and move forward with goals in mind. I’m just not good at them. 

For one thing, being a teacher, the year doesn’t start on January 1st, for me. It starts in September, and my reflections and resolutions are continual, year-long practices. Also, the goals I do set rarely resemble the specific, measurable – dare I say, S.M.A.R.T.? – goals encouraged by everyone from lifestyle bloggers to Department of Education administrators. My fuzzy goals should not yield success, but generally I find I make more progress with a vague resolution (“I’m going to write more” = this blog not being totally abandoned) than with a clear, specific goal (“I’ll write for 15 minutes each day” = I’ll write once in my brand new notebook and then accrue daily guilt over not writing in it ever again). This approach isn’t really conducive to sharing New Year’s resolutions; when people say “What are you going to do this year?” all I can really think to say is, “Better.” 

But even though I’m not great at resolutions, I do believe in reflection and improvement. So, I’m making some New Year’s resolutions for my classroom.

I will remember to have fun. Not every day. The notion that every single lesson of every single day can be “dynamite,” as they say in New York City, is a foolish one, I believe. Learning can and should look differently, happen differently, as befits content, mood, class size, etc. But I’m resolving to have fun with my students, even if it’s only for a few moments in a class, because I’ve seen the positive effects of fun. I know that when we’re enjoying ourselves, we all feel better, more connected to the class and one another. I know my students remember more when there is room for fun, and that they’re more motivated, and want to come back again. I have the students that I have. They are struggling with a lot, their lives outside of school are rarely stable, and they are more aware than I was at their age of how easy it is to walk out of the door. I want them to know that coming to school is important, but I also want them to know it is enjoyable. I’m resolving to do my part in communicating that.

I will step out of the center. I generally run a student-centered ship. That phrase has become buzzy in recent months, but it’s true. I try to put a lot onto my students, to make their voices and questions and choices a large part of the direction of our class. Looking back on the past 4 months, I see that I haven’t done as much of that as I feel needs to be done. It’s easy to be pressured to make things look good, or to “help” too much. But I’m resolving to step back this semester. I’m revisiting our lessons on questioning, and I’m going to check in with my students more. Most importantly, I’m going to listen to feedback and adapt accordingly, even if that means moving more slowly or changing direction. I’m resolving to remember that I don’t teach English, or grammar, or To Kill a Mockingbird; I teach 11th grade students. 

I will make sure that we learn what matters. I know that there is an overwhelming and harmful focus on test scores in our education system. It enrages me, and it interferes with my job. And I can attend conferences with like-minded individuals, and share videos like this, and like articles on Facebook, and blog here about how a student is more than a test score. But that doesn’t help my students, the ones I have right now, understand that they are more than their test scores. So I’m resolving to stick to my guns and help my students discover what is valuable. That may be communicating through writing, or reading books that move them, or developing integrity, or telling a great story. I resolve to continue creating an environment where those things matter more than the state test.

I resolve to be kind. To my students, to my colleagues, to myself. I will make sure my students know that they can be themselves, be vulnerable, and be honest with me. I will not take out my frustration at the system, or at the teenage brain, on our classroom. I will not avoid colleagues who seek, or need, help. I will respect my own boundaries, though. I’m not going to surround myself with negativity, or indulge someone who disrespects me or my time. I will read what nurtures us, I will write when I can. I will be grateful, and share my gratitude. I will do what I want to do this year; I will do better.

 

What are your teacher resolutions? Share in the comments. Happy New Year!

‘Tis the Season: Education Projects and Fundraisers Worth Supporting

Boyfriend gave me this great idea: there are so many opportunities to support educators and classrooms that choosing can be overwhelming, but I can help! Being connected to a few large teacher networks, a lot of fundraising efforts cross my inbox. I give as much and as often as I can, and I share on Facebook, but that sharing relies mostly on my friends’ whims (and their current level of flushness). Often, great and worthy causes simply don’t get the attention they need to thrive. So here are three great projects that could use some attention and donations. (In the interest of full disclosure, these three are all projects of people I know and support. Going forward, I plan to expand the scope of these posts to include projects to which I am not personally connected.)

**UPDATE** My wonderful, generous, awesome boyfriend would like to match up to $100 worth of donations to Mr. Pecunia’s Greenhouse Project! If you donate to this project, please comment here email a copy of your receipt to thomscill@gmail.com. I’ll inform him of which donations should be matched. This is a great opportunity to increase funding for this awesome project! See #2 on the list below for details.

1. An Organization: Fundraiser for English Teacher’s Friend

The Skinny: A not-for-profit organization that provides free resources, programs to support students and teachers in authentic and relevant learning experiences, and a weekly newsletter PACKED with awesome ideas, materials, and supports, this teacher-run organization is participating in a Crowdrise/HuffPo contest to win $100,000 dollars of funding. Ultimate goal: $50,000 by January 9th

The Details: Founder and Executive Director Tamara Doehring launched ETF in 2009, with 12 years of classroom teaching experience fueling her to push back against the encroachment of standardized curriculum that promised to push student creativity and teacher support out of the classroom. The ETF newsletter reaches upwards of 5,000 teachers across the country, providing them with inspiration and free materials to invigorate their classrooms, even within the pressures of standards and testing. ETF also facilitates amazing programs to foster and celebrate student creativity: Voices in Verse, NAS: Not A Statistic, & the Florida Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards. You can read more about the mission, goals, and accomplishments of this fantastic organization here.

Why You Should Give: As mentioned above, ETF is completely not-for-profit. I came across their booth at NCTE a few years ago, drawn by the “What Would Atticus Do?” buttons they were selling (is this not reason enough?) The weekly newsletter I have received since then has helped me countless times. The newsletters are well-crafted, usually featuring the stories of a teacher, and they are always topical and relevant. They have helped me infuse fun and creativity during the bleakest times of the school year, when seasonal burnout is looming and most of my energy has gone to getting myself into my classroom. Perhaps most importantly, they are a consistent, reliable reminder that we are not alone in wanting more and better for our students and their educations. And if this amazing organization does not reach its goal by January 9th, it is facing shut down. The teachers who run this not-for-profit do so in addition to teaching, coaching, and living, all so teachers across the country can have hope and support. The contest with HuffPo includes publicity incentives: as more funds are raised, HuffPo will tweet, post, and share their progress, attracting more and more attention and funding. So even if you can give only a little bit, you will be boosting this fundraiser toward more eyes and more possibilities. Also, donators are eligible for free gifts & giveaways from Crowdrise! Earlier this month, they gave away two Droid phones. So, helping teachers and getting cool swag? Win-win.

How to Give: Visit the Crowdrise page here and click on the blue “Donate” button. If prompted to pick a team member, you can select Tamara, or me, or anyone! Then share, share, share, and keep your fingers crossed for a cool prize!

2. A Teacher: Mr. Pecunia’s Greenhouse Project

The Skinny: Mr. Pecunia is helping his students at a Bronx high school for recent immigrants create a garden for their courtyard. His mission to bring hands-on learning and green spaces into his students’ lives  promises not only to generate more interest in science, and other classes that incorporate the garden, but also to help students coming from very different environments feel ownership and comfort in the unfamiliar, concrete world of the Bronx. Ultimate Goal$415 ($366 left to go!)

Why You Should Give: Hands-on learning, like trade classes, shop classes, cooking classes, and even arts (including music and dance) classes, are rare gems in New York City public schools. The budgets for these programs have been slashed, and the spaces needed for these classrooms cannibalized as the small school movement packs up to 9 high schools into a single campus. Despite the innumerable studies and research projects showing the positive effects hands-on learning has on students, there is no funding for efforts like Mr. Pecunia’s. His goal of installing two greenhouses in the courtyard of this high school will make hands-on learning accessible to students, and also provide some comfort and connection for students who have come from warmer, greener climates. There is not much green space to be found in the Bronx, and students coming from cultures in which farming and gardening are a part of life experience a great shock when realizing that growing things is not a part of the culture here. The Cornell University Garden Based Learning project has found that school gardens benefit students in so many aspects of their lives and educations, how can you resist?

How to Give: Head over to the DonorsChoose.org page for this project and give what you can!

3. A Student: Raven’s Chilean Expedition

The Skinny: Raven is a dedicated student at the University of Albany who is trying to fund a winter study abroad opportunity in Chile, where she will participate in a medical internship at Hospital Clínico Universidad De Chile Ultimate Goal: $3,500 ($700 and one week to go!)

Why You Should Give: I came to know Raven through a group for survivors, GIRLTHRIVE, and the staggering odds that this amazing young women has overcome astound me. Raven has truly thrived, despite the hardships she has faced, and represents so much hope and inspiration in my own life, that to support her in her goals is a privilege. She is a dedicated, hard-working student, and a powerful mentor for younger girls. She has championed initiatives for intervention and mentoring teenage girls, and has been involved in national conferences around these issues. I know that she will use the opportunity to study abroad for the greatest good. Helping this incredible young women will generate some serious good karma in your life.

How to Give: Visit Raven’s GoFundMe.org page to donate what you can! Just about one week left to give. Don’t forget to share Raven’s page on Facebook or Twitter after you’ve donated.

I hope you find something worth giving to this season. There are so many hard-working teachers and students who can use our support, and the holidays are a great time to spread the joy of gift-giving. What causes, classrooms, or students are you supporting? Tell me in the comments!