Saturday, March 23, 2019

What They Don't Tell Us

There are things they don't tell us in our education courses.

"I want to tell you something... best friend was raped.
   ...I might be pregnant. dad kicked the **** out of me.
   ...I don't have food in my house. parents are getting a divorce.
   ...I miss my dog.
   ...those aren't scratches, they're cuts.
   ...I just feel so sad all the time. parents drink a lot.
   ...I'm getting new foster parents tomorrow. dad's in jail.
   ...the police were at my house again last night
   ...I'm depressed.
   ...we don't have a house.
    ...I feel so alone."

"Let me tell you something... door is always open.
   ...I care.
   ...we'll find a way to get through it.
   ...I am so sorry this is happening.
   ...there are many people here that care about you.
   ...I will always listen, but won't always have answers. can help get you away from this.
   ...I will always stop when I see you upset. are not alone.
   ...this sucks.
   ...I'm here if you need to talk.
   ...I will do my best to get help. can do this.
   ...I don't know why. may take time, but you will be okay.
   ...I promise.
   ...I believe in you."

"I want to tell you something... make me smile.
   ...I wish I was your kid. really get us.
   ...I miss your class. are always there for us.
   ...I love coming to your class. believe in me.
   ...I made this for you. are going to be at graduation, right?
   ...I wish you were my teacher next year. are my favorite teacher, ever.
   ...I'm going to come to visit! believe in all of us.
   ...thank you."

There are things they don't tell us in our education courses.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

An 11 Year Old Smile

All we need to do is listen.

I could tell this was going to be a kid I'd remember for a long time. Her 11-year-old smile could light up the room. Her enthusiasm for learning and passion for life was contagious.

She had me fooled.

She had us all fooled.

I can hear it like it was yesterday. Her eyes tearing up, struggling to get the words out, shaking...

"Mr. Storm I have depression."

I had so many questions that I knew I didn't have answers too. I wanted to help but didn't know how. I wanted her to feel better but didn't know what to do. All I knew that I could do was listen.

I spent the rest of that year listening and learning.

Time went on as it does in middle school, as it does in life. She moved on to 7th grade and eventually 8th grade. I would occasionally see her in the hallway or she would stop in my room to say hello. That smile still there brightening up the room, but the hurt still remaining in her eyes.

Time moved on and she was off to the high school. The chairs in my room filled with more kids, each with different needs, each with different strengths, each with different smiles. New kids filling my heart, and the old ones moving to the side to make space for the new ones there.

I would often wonder what happened to her. Students would visit from the high school and I would ask about former students. I would hear sad stories, happy stories, and everything in between.

Time continued to move on and the teaching didn't stop. The world was changing. Social media was beginning and it became a part of all of our lives. Former students began to connect and it opened my heart again to all of those kids.

A notification came through from that kid from many years ago and I smiled remembering her. I accepted and looked at her profile picture. That same 11-year-old smile was there,  and so was the hurt.

Years would go by and I wouldn't have any face to face interaction with this kid. Until this year.

My classes were beginning a research project based on student interests and passions.  I decided to reach out to former students on Facebook and arrange for them to come into our class to speak about their passions and their journeys. The response was overwhelming and I was humbled. I was surprised when she reached out to talk with my class.

She arrived at my classroom door and when I opened it, she smiled. There it was. That 11-year-old smile. There was still hurt in her eyes, but they had a new sparkle to them.

She went on to tell my class about her journey- through middle school and high school, her battle with drugs and her fight with depression. There were moments that I fought back tears, and I wasn't alone. My students did the same. Her story continued to how she had managed to survive and was in college now, holding a 3.87 GPA and looking to graduate as a social worker and wanted to help others facing similar problems like hers. When she finished her story a student of mine walked over to her and hugged her. My class was speechless.

She stayed into my prep period to talk and shared more of her story. She shared that she had taken a train from Maryland to Pennsylvania to talk with my students. When I asked her why she had done that, her response was, "I saw your post and knew I could help your students. I wanted to share my story. Plus, if my favorite teacher of all time is asking for help,  I couldn't say no".

We talked for an hour. I walked her to the door and she turned and gave me a hug and thanked me.  Before she walked out, she turned and said, " I look forward to talking with your classes next year."

I can't wait to listen to more of her story.

You can read more about Teen and Adolescent Depression here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Making the Weather

We often hear of bad weather, but in reality, no weather is bad. 
It is all delightful, though in different ways. 
Some weather may be bad for farmers or crops, but for man all kinds are good. 
Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating. 
As Ruskin says, "There is really no such thing as bad weather, 
only different kinds of good weather." 
~John Lubbock, "Recreation," The Use of Life, 1894

As an undergrad, I had a professor make me memorize the following statement. I wouldn't understand what it truly meant until years later.

A copy of this still hangs in my classroom

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. ~George Carlin

I once knew a teacher who was in their first year and he was beyond stressed. The year was coming to an end and we were all beginning to feel the end of year stress. Kids were talking and upset with this teacher because he wasn't listening to them and they didn't like his class. He was consumed with "covering the material". He had to get through everything.

As the warm May morning was creeping towards lunch, he bent over in class to pick up papers and split his pants. Now if that's not a teachable moment, I don't know what is.  That same day, around the same time, I was standing in line at the cafeteria and a student "accidentally" dropped an entire gallon container of ranch dressing down the front of my pants and onto my dress shoes. The girl looked mortified.  I turned to the kid and smiled and said, "Guess I'll have to use Italian now".

I saw that student of mine later in the day. At this point, the smell of ranch was pretty strong in my room and when the kid entered, I could tell she was going to be upset. I smiled at her and made a joke about how I will never eat salad the same way again (or some version of that). She laughed. And then she cried - in the way only a twelve-year-old can. I pulled her aside and apologized for joking about it and that it was not a big deal at all, that I'd be able to get a new pair of pants. She replied that it wasn't me, it was another teacher. This teacher had split his pants in front of the entire class and when the kids laughed he yelled at them and made them sit quietly and told them if he heard another sound they would all get detention. She was terrified of getting a detention and wasn't sure what was going to happen. At that moment, that Ginott quote came back to me...I decided I would always try to be the "Storm" that my kids needed.

Rainbows apologize for angry skies. ~Sylvia Voirol

I spoke to that teacher after school. I told him I heard what had happened. He went on about how embarrassing it was and he didn't have time for this nonsense with everything he still had to teach and I shared with him another little "teaching philosophy" that I held dear ( I was not sure who had said it at the time, but later learned it was a Maya Angelou reference). I told him, "They will not remember everything you taught them, but they will always remember how you made them feel". He thanked me and told me he needed to get ready for tomorrow's lesson and didn't have time for this. He even asked me what that smell was. When I told him my story, he commented that he couldn't believe that kid wasn't in trouble.

At that moment I realized that you can't change the weather...outside of your classroom. But you absolutely can MAKE the weather in your classroom.

I like to think this is what it's like to walk out of my room at the end of the year.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Letter to my Younger Teaching Self


As I look towards the end of my 20th year as a teacher, thinking about this journey happens almost every single day. Each day I'm in the classroom, each conversation I have with a student, each lesson that inspires, each lesson that fails - - I'm reminded of moments I've experienced in my classroom. I'm a big fan of the Player's Tribune and their series of "Letters to My Younger Self". I love reading about these sports stars and their journeys, but I've often wondered what if teachers had the opportunity to share their journey?

This was one of the hardest posts I've ever written. I modeled it after several letters and found that helpful with the writing process, but what made this hard was thinking about those moments that defined me. So many moments happened in my classroom that shaped me as a person and left a mark on my heart that it's impossible for me to include them all. Each of these moments, stories, incidents  I included are real. There is no exaggeration. They are told from my memory and from my heart.

Letter to My Younger (Teacher) Self:


Hey kid...yeah you....the one with all the energy, big smile, raising your hand at meetings, and filled with so much passion you can't wait to get to school. 

 I'm you.

Twenty years in the future. Twenty years of being a teacher later.

You're probably looking at me like "That can't be me...twenty pounds heavier, lot less hair...and man, those bags under your eyes? Are you getting any sleep?! What happened to me?" 

Well... let me tell you. Teaching happened. That’s sure you want to do this? You sure you want to be a teacher?

I know what you're thinking. "There's no way teaching is that hard. " You're ready to go get 'em. Get that classroom set-up. Learn your kids' names. Come up with those fun and exciting lessons. Let me tell you, there's so much more to it than that. You're going to soon realize that it's about the relationships you develop with those kids and families and they will mean so much more to you than any lesson plan you ever write.

Your first year will fly by. Teaching 5th grade was your dream and you got to do it. Some of the days in that class will be great. You'll think you're making an impact every single day.  September of your first year will be a blur and you plan the ultimate welcome for your kids' parents. You'll get your suit on, put that awesome powerpoint presentation together, set-up the desks with notes from the kids to their parents and you will practice in front of the mirror for your first ever Back-to-School night. You'll wait at the door to greet parents.  When the first parent shows up at your door and doesn't speak English you think that's okay, you can make this work. 

Only it doesn't work. No more parents show up from your class. Not one. This will hit you hard, but it will make you work even harder.  You sit down that night and write a note to each of your fifth graders and realize you're an even bigger part of their lives. 

The year flies. You won't remember all the late nights you spent in your class planning and setting up lessons, or the countless weeknights and weekends planning and grading. You won't remember the names of some of the teachers you worked with or even the principal's name, but you will remember the first "real" conversation you have with a kid. The first time a student tells you they aren't safe at their home, that they don't want to go home. Good thing you're friends with the head of the Children and Youth division in your town.  The next day, she's not in your class and you begin to worry. She doesn't show up for a few days and your heart is torn up... I just want to warn you, it's not the last time this will happen. It's not the last time you'll lose sleep over a kid that's not yours.

You will never see that kid again. But to give you the fuel to keep going, let me tell you she's okay. That head from C&Y runs into you several years later and lets you know how thankful that kid was for you. But I also want to keep it real - not all of your stories will have happy endings and I want to just remind you, don't quit. Don't stop giving your heart to these kids. There will be many more who need you.

You will teach 5th grade like you are never going to leave, but on the last day of school, the principal will tell you that the teacher you're filling in for is coming back. Your heart breaks a little again -what will happen to these kids? You'll only get to say goodbye to the few that show up to your wedding that summer, but you will never forget these kids. You'll be looking in the newspaper to see their names at graduation and your heart will swell when you see their names, but you will always wonder about the names you didn't see.

Your life will take a direction you never thought you'd be middle school. You'll spend the next twenty years of your life teaching in a middle school and man, what an experience it will be for you. You will come to love middle school - especially the kids. So much so, you can't see yourself doing anything differently. Sixth grade will be where you make your home first, but it's not where you'll end it.

Middle school will be your first experience working with a "team" of teachers and it will be something you should cherish. Sadly, it won't be around for your entire career. Your team over the few years will change and you will make life-long friends working alongside some of the best teachers and people you'll ever meet. You will do some really fun and engaging lessons with those people. Understand that the support and relationships with teachers who care as much as you are just as important as the ones you develop with the kids. Make time to connect with them - eat lunch with them, get together for breakfast, connect on social media...enjoy the adults around you who are also giving their hearts to kids.

That first year in your classroom will be amazing. You will meet the first group of kids from a community that you will become a part of, and you will never forget any of them. There will be kids from this class that you connect with deeply. You will form bonds with them because they are the first group of kids you teach at a place you’re going to spend a long time at. Take all the coaching jobs they ask you, teach those lessons that others will question, and leave your door open to the kids before and after school. There will be many early mornings and late nights.

The crazy thing is you'll be doing this while you try to raise a family. Teaching will take a toll on you - your blood pressure will be up, your diet won’t exactly be the best, and you will always be thinking about those kids,  but remember your family comes first. Your kids will thank you for helping them chase and achieve their dreams. You will also be lucky to have a wife who will be there to listen to your stories about the day and understand your passion.  It won't be easy being a parent, a husband, and a teacher, but it will be worth it.

The teaching years will fly by. You’ll make a promise to each class that you will remember each and every one of their names, but the years blend together and you won’t remember what year you taught them. But I’ll tell you this, you will not forget the kids that you taught.

You will have names and faces that are burned in your mind forever. There will be moments that make you look at sunny days in the spring a little differently. Like the sunny afternoon in the spring when you were out in your backyard and your wife hands you the phone. Time slowed as you heard the phone chain message beginning with “we have terrible news…”

 Time will stop when you hear the name. The name of a kid who’d said goodbye to you Friday afternoon. A kid who visited your room every day after school. A kid you’d never hear say goodbye again  It’s the first time you ever experienced a kid you knew taking their own life. That moment will stay with you and shape the rest of your career. It will be a driving force in your career. You will always do your best to read a kid’s face and really see what they are feeling.  No matter what, you will make time to listen to kids

That student won’t be the first you’ll lose - there will be car accidents - kids like Chris and Larissa; drug overdoses - kids like Katey and Jose. And there will be more tough conversations with kids about abuse, drugs, eating disorders, and self-harm and you will find a way to listen and be there. You will have kids that go off to serve our country and not come back the same. These kids will stay in your heart and you’ll remember their twelve-year-old smiles forever.

Those days and moments won’t be easy…

Doesn’t sound like what they tell you in college, does it? None of those undergrad classes prepared you for that, huh?

Keep your head up. It will cross your mind many times about what you are doing. Is it worth it? Am I really making a difference? Can I be the change these kids need in their lives? You can and you will. I promise you.

You will go through many changes as a teacher. You will begin to understand that there is a lot that needs to be fixed with our education system.  Keep trying to fix it, change it, and be that teacher that you needed when you were in middle school.  Find the support you need to make it through. You will connect with amazing teachers across the world. These teachers will inspire you, motivate you and challenge you

You will attend graduations, birthday parties, and even be the DJ at one of your student’s wedding (and no, you won’t get much sleep the night before that). You will be there to offer encouraging words reminding a kid to keep chasing their dream of being a vet, even after almost quitting twice - she’ll learn that the third time is the charm. You will attend sporting events, plays, and dance recitals.  Those kids will become your kids.

You will question whether or not the kids even care? Believe me, the kids will find ways to show you they care. Some will eat lunch with you every day for two years straight. Some will make you cards and pictures - make sure you hang on to those, and some will cry on the last day of school.  Other kids will do it in the most “uncaring” of ways, but those are the kids that will need you the most. Always remember that. 

You will get to know a lot of kids and their families. You will come to be part of a community that you don’t even live in. You will always hope that all the work you’re putting in is helping this community.

When you get that notification on Facebook from a face that looks familiar to you but seems all grown up, accept it.  Social media will allow you into their lives, like you allowed them into yours. You will look at the pictures of these “kids” (they’ll always be kids to you) and realize you had a part in their lives. And all over again, you’ll be there to experience the highs and lows with your kids. Don’t be afraid to comment, congratulate, offer condolences...let them know you still care.

1998 will turn into 2018 in the blink of an eye.

When you walk through the door on a cold winter day of your twentieth year, you’ll comment to your wife,  “I’m tired, so’s so hard this year. I can’t believe what my kids are telling me and going through.”  

To help you try and feel better your wife will reply, “You’re not going to save every kid.”

No, no  I’m not, but I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to think back to you. I’m going to think back to why I became a teacher.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's Okay to Burn the Brownies


Learning really is about burning the brownies. It's about being short on ingredients and problem-solving. It's about realizing that maybe your problem solving didn't work, and that's okay. Ultimately, when those brownies don't come out the way you hoped, it's about putting on that apron and trying again...

For the last several months, my thirteen-year-old daughter has been watching cooking shows -- Chopped Junior, Cupcake Wars, Master Chef Junior...bascially anything involving cooking. She's even been practicing her British accent in case she's ever selected to go on an international cooking show. Clearly, she's begun to develop a very strong interest in the culinary arts. However, it wasn't until yesterday that she actually picked up the "apron" and put it on.

As I was sitting at my son's baseball game, my daughter and I shared a series of texts:

This conversation speaks volumes about learning. It's become a bit cliche, "FAIL" - "we need to let kids fail", and the list goes on. But it's true. The part we are missing from education really is that First Attempt In Learning. Kids need to be willing to take risks, not be afraid of failing and to try new things - - things that they are genuinely interested in.

 I've attempted this own kind of learning in my classroom - my students have been working on "Genius Hour" or passion-based projects (check out Joy Kirr's livebinder for more info) over the course of the year and cannot wait to see what my students' final work looks like. Will they all have amazing projects and presentations? Probably not...but they all have had the opportunity the successes and the failures, and have gone through the process of putting on that "apron".

By the way, here's the last few messages of our conversation. Next time I'll be sure to have eggs.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Full and Empty At the Same Time

Can you be EMPTY and FULL at the same time?

There are two kinds of tears as a teacher; those that hurt because you care and those that feel good because you care.  Somedays I feel like my heart is full because I feel like I care so much about these kids…not too much…just so much. The crazy thing is when they walk out my door, I never stop caring. I recently had a colleague tell me that maybe you care too much about kids. Is it possible to care too much? How does one even respond to that?

There were two moments just recently, that capture how the heart can become full and empty all within a few hours and how you can experience the hurt and care kind of tears. As a teacher, even the smallest of messages can make a lasting impact on you.

The FULL Moment

You never forget your first classroom. My first year of teaching was spent in a fifth grade classroom in an inner city almost twenty years ago. I’ve often wondered what’s happened to these kids – kids that attended my wedding, kids that I saw experience holding a crayfish for the first time, kids I saw pick me as their quarterback at recess, a kid who turned a blueberry into a character I’ll never forget, a kid who was taken out of my classroom by child services, kids I saw laugh, cry, and grow, and kids I will never forget.

Because of social media, I’ve been able to reconnect with two students from that class. A few days ago I connected with a third. I hadn’t spoken with this student in almost 20 years when I saw a message come through on Facebook at the end of the school day. Her message brought me to tears:

“I learned so much by all of your projects and different ways you would teach just for us to make school so exciting. I want to thank you so much because, believe it or not, the way you were with us taught me how to teach today. I am a teacher as well, and I love it because of how you were. Thanks so much for changing kids’ lives…because trust me, if you changed mine, you’re changing many others.”

Gotta love those “care” tears.

The EMPTY Moment

It’s funny how life works. One moment you’re feeling amazing and the very next moment your heart is breaking and those “hurt” tears hit you right in the gut.

That evening I was scrolling through Facebook liking pictures –  smiling at how so many of my former students have grown up - I laughed when I read the post about Rosie’s two year old son who refuses to keep his clothes on, smiled at Bree’s (now a teacher in Memphis) post about being a foster mom to puppies, and was wowed by Jay’s son’s collection of over 800 Hot Wheels he collected for a holiday drive.

I scrolled down further and saw the three letters on one ever wants to see… “RIP”.  A former student of mine, who I had just connected with three weeks ago, had died.  Too young, too soon, why, - these thoughts went through my head followed by the memories of him in my sixth grade classroom. I’ll never forget that kid’s smile – it could light up a room.

I commented on the post and got a reply from another former student that shared the same classroom with him and me:

"Mr. Storm, I thought of you right away. My friendship with Ivan started in your classroom. We would spend countless hours on your couch...I credit that entire crew (and you of course) for helping me to come out of my shell and just overall enjoy life more. I'll never forgot all of us made us and I was so embarassed and awkwar but thank God for Ivan's hilarious personality to shield my awkwardness. Such great memories...I just truly cannot fathom that he is gone. Hope you're okay.

Those tears hurt.

I recently had a colleague tell me that maybe you care too much about kids. Is it possible to care too much? How does one even respond to that?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Positivity Challenge

Stay positive...and be kind to each other.

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot
Hansa Proverb

Our school was inspired by Jamie McSparin of Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Missouri  to take the Positivity Challenge and show just how awesome our school is! Teachers selected a few students to thank and we explained to them how much they mean to us. The hardest part for the teachers was picking a student - every teacher that responded to the challenge said they could have picked all of their students! We're blessed to teach such amazing students. Thank you to all of the amazing students we teach daily -- enjoy the video and see some of the amazing kids we teach.

We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.

Stay positive...and be kind to each other.