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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

It Gives Me Hope

"It gives me hope."


Words will not do this justice, but I feel it necessary to share what I saw a group of middle school students do this past Veteran's Day. Sometimes things happen in our world that make us ponder what we are doing as Americans, yet, there are moments, real moments, those genuine unplanned moments, that make you realize we are all in this together and we live in a pretty awesome place.  

I want to share what happened in our school's cafeteria on November 11th, Veteran's Day, during our 7th grade lunch - a cafeteria full of almost 300 twelve and thirteen year olds; a cafeteria not much different than most middle school cafeterias. However, on this November day, in this modest and humble town of Quakertown, hope was felt.

As our 7th graders were settling  into eating their lunches and starting to talk with their friends in the cafeteria, a few yards away an assembly was ending in our auditorium. Veterans had gathered to hear community members, politicians, and other veterans speak and recognize their many sacrifices and service. The ceremony ended and the Veterans began to appear at the entrance to the cafeteria and began walking through the cafeteria towards the library for a luncheon. What happened next was awesome.


There was a buzz of excitement in the cafeteria and the 7th graders started to clap and move towards the Veterans. They formed a line and began to cheer, clap, and shake hands with the Veterans. I could hear "thank-you's", see kids taking their phones out to snap selfies with the vets- and I even saw one of my students helping a vet to snap a selfie on his phone, handing them letters, and giving high fives. I also saw so many genuine smiles from both the students and Veterans - and I even saw tears from both as well. This moment continued until every Veteran, well over 75 of them -  men and women from every branch of the service paraded through our cafeteria.

As the last of the Veterans made their way through, a gentleman who appeared to be in his late 50's approached me. His eyes appeared glassy and I  could see tears on his cheeks. As he began to speak I could feel myself fighting back tears. He smiled at me and took my hand and said, "I woke up this morning and put on the TV. I watched the news and just felt awful. I knew what today was but I wasn't feeling too good about things. Then this all happened, and I'll tell you what, looking at these kids, talking with these gives me hope."

As I got back to my room after lunch, I noticed two girls who were visibly upset. I asked them what was wrong and one of the girls replied, "It's just...just that was so awesome. We take so much for granted and if it weren't for all those Veterans, we wouldn't have what we have," and the other girl replied, " I handed one of the Veteran's a letter I had written and he started crying and so did I...he told me he was so happy".

It's moments like this that make me realize as long as there is kindness, there is always hope.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Good Grief Charlie Brown Teacher

The first day of school is what sets the tone for the rest of the year. Did it start something like this?

Make It Count

As a kid growing up, I remember those days in the classroom. I can almost picture the spot on my desk where the drool would puddle up, as I "listened" to the teacher explain for twenty-five minutes who she was, what her classroom rules consisted of - all thirty of them  what her expectations were for us, what would happen if we didn't follow them, how all of our assignments counted -some more than others, wah, wah, wah, wah...the crazy thing is those Charlie Brown days are still occurring in today's classrooms.

Those Charlie Brown days can't exist in our classrooms today. I'll be the first to admit, and it's only taken 18 years, that the procedures, the rules, the million things about me can wait. - we only get ONE first day, ONE day to make that first impression and ONE day to show the kid what we are.

Life is Just A Bunch of Jellybeans

This year my first day was not about rules...not about was about time. It was about the time we would be spending together, the time we would be doing amazing things, the time we would spend  learning about each other and learning about the world we live in.

Did I know their names? No. Did I know their stories? No. Did they know me or my stories? No. That would all come. Right now, day one, I wanted them to know that I valued them, I valued their time, and I valued what was to come with our time together.

I gave each student a jellybean and told them to eat it. I asked them what they tasted - not the flavor, but the taste. Some mentioned their beans were "sweet", "nasty", "gross", "good", etc. I told them that each of these tastes was really a metaphor (quick review of that for kids who didn't know) - it was a metaphor for the moments they've had before this class. They're gone now - we can't bring them back, but we can still taste them, still remember them.

I talked with them about how we would be making good tasting memories. I shared how excited I was that each of them was here, that they all mattered to this classroom, and that we were going to do some really incredible things this year. We watched The Time You Have and I handed each kid a jellybean and a baggie. They placed the bean in their baggie and I had them put them in their locker. I told them we'd be pulling them out the last week of school. I told them to remember that jellybean was there and to remember who gave it to them.

That jellybean was there as a reminder. If they were having a bad day, all they needed to do was pull out the bean and remember why they were here and that they would always have someone there for them.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What's So Scary?

This quote was on my board at the start of the school year.

I'm scared.

Yeah...there, I said it.
Deep down inside it's probably something all of you teachers think.

What is it that makes me say this? Let me try and explain.

I'm starting my 18th year of teaching, it's only the beginning of August and that feeling is creeping in. I roll over in the middle of the night and my mind races. I start thinking of my classroom and what it's going to look like - what's going to wow the kids this year? I'm streaming a show on Netflix and I start thinking of the lessons that I'm going to be doing this year - are the kids going to be engaged every single day?

But what I really can't stop thinking about, what makes me lose the most sleep, what makes me the most anxious, nervous, the kids.

Last school year I made the move from 6th to 7th grade. I had been a 6th grade teacher for sixteen years and it was really all I knew and when I was told I'd be teaching 7th grade, there was much trepidation. Switching grade levels is something that's hard to explain to a person outside of the classroom, but I'd compare it to relocating to another state to do your job - same job, but there's just a different way of doing it.

Despite the move, the past school year turned out to be one of the best all-around teaching years of my career. I loved every minute of it. Moving up with the kids and being able to see them grow over two years was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. I developed relationships with those kids that will last a lifetime.

I approached each day with enthusiasm and excitement and continuously told the kids, "I only have 170 (whatever number we were at) days left with you! We have to make them count". This challenged me to make each day meaningful - to make each day something the kids would at least have the opportunity to remember. I knew I'd get to do 7th grade all over again, but these kids only had one shot at it. It turned out to be an incredible year. How do I know this - it ended with smiles and tears.

So what's so scary?

Knowing I have to be better than I was last year for these kids. I only have 185 days with them and I have to make each one count.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Out of All the Teachers...

One of the first people I met when I started teaching was Ellen. Ellen was kind, considerate, and always asking how my day was. One of the best compliments I can give Ellen is that she reminded me of my grandmother.  For a rookie teacher, anyone who took an interest in how you were doing was a blessing. Just spending a minute talking with her and you knew she was genuine and really cared about you. Ellen was our building's janitor. I would get to know her very well over the next few years and would eventually have her grandson as one of my students.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from one of my former students. He sounded a bit down and told me what no teacher ever wants to hear, "Mr. Storm, I have some bad news." He went on to tell me that his grandmother had just passed away yesterday and asked if I would be able to attend the funeral. He told me out of all the teachers she worked with and got to know, you were the one she always talked about. She really cared about you.

As I write this I think about the many relationships I've developed over the years - from superintendents, to principals, to teachers, students, and janitors. These are what make teaching the most important job in the world. Every one of the people I've met over the years has left a mark on me. I only hope that I will be able to leave the same mark on people that Ellen left on me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Not Many Mondays Left

There aren't many Mondays left in this school year.

I know some of my colleagues are counting them down with huge grins on their faces and looking forward to not knowing what day it is when they wake up. Personally, I am struggling with these "final" Mondays.

This is my first time looping with students. The majority of the kids I'm teaching this year I've gotten to know over two years. I was really worried about making this transition but now I'm worried about these kids leaving. This looping has reinforced what I have felt all along about teaching - that building relationships is the most important part of what we as educators do.

Monday I shared an audio clip by Eric Thomas which asked, "What is your why?" My students posted to their blogs what they felt motivated them to do what they do. This video got me thinking about my own life, both as a teacher and a parent.

There is nothing more important to me than being the best parent I can be. As any parent can attest to, this is no easy task - especially if you come from a household without parents or parents who were dealing with other problems. My parents were both alcoholics and to this day it still bothers me. It's hard to understand what it means to be a good parent until you are one. I'm not sure this makes sense but looking back I know I didn't grow up in an ideal environment and learning to be a parent has been one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. I know I'm not perfect and I know I've apologized to my oldest son for some of the things I've said or done as a parent. I continue to learn as a parent and hope that I can always give my kids what they need. They are my "why" in my life. Why I go to the gym each day to stay in shape, why I wake up early to get the most out of each day, why I try (but don't always do a good job of this) to stay positive, why I try to be the best person I can be - they are my why.

The other part of me that is important is being the best teacher I can be. Some days I wish I had taught my own kids so they could see why I spend my early mornings planning or connecting with teachers on Twitter or attending EdCamps (my oldest son calls them Teacher Nerd Camps). I know why I started teaching - like so many teachers, I was inspired by another teacher. Her name was Mrs. Bailey, my fifth grade teacher.

The why I often try to answer is why do I still teach the way I do- giving everything I can and really never taking a moment to not think about teaching? And the answer is simple. I teach because of kids that walk in my room everyday. These kids are my "why" in the other part of my life. Why I get up early on the weekends and plan, why I constantly think about how I can make their day, month and year memorable, why I talk about them to people like they're my own kids, and why I love what I do everyday. These kids are my why.

Yeah...there aren't many Mondays left in the 2015-16 school year. These kids are why I don't want the Mondays to end.

Be sure to check out my man Dr. Eric Thomas' Website - he is a true inspiration.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Teacher of the Game #MarchMadness

“Young men (and women) need more models, not critics” 

– John Wooden

Buzzer Beaters

I'm a huge fan of basketball - from the high school to college to  the pro level.  I've never played it, but when I was dating the woman I would eventually marry she was a member of a very good Division III team that competed in the Division III National Championship as a freshman. I have many fond memories of watching her play and compete throughout the majority of her college career  - and she even had her picture in Sports Illustrated as she so often points out. Sitting with her grandmother and parents watching her compete is where I began to truly appreciate the game of basketball and what it can offer to people outside of the sport.

My love for the sport continues to grow - watching all three of my kids play and compete I am always learning something new. I couldn't be more proud of what they accomplish on the courts and believe it helps shape how they are off the court. I'm honored to say my oldest son will be playing on an AAU team with ties to Detroit Piston Darrun Hilliard this summer as my daughter begins her AAU season and my youngest son picks up his bat.

My daughter's team (at the time of this post) has a 70-2 record over the last 4 years

My 8th grade son starting on the Freshman team this year.

My 10th grade son's last Varsity game of  the season...gearing up for a grueling AAU season.


I truly believe sports is a microcosm of the world in which we live in. My students know I love sports and it's not because of the valuable lessons learned- of the competitiveness, the teamwork, not quitting...yes, those are important, but what I love the most are the stories. I love sharing stories about athletes with my students and using them as jumping off points for lessons. This works even for the kids who don't like sports. They realize that these athletes are people just like them.

One of the first stories I shared with my classes was the story of Austin Hatch. We were setting goals and the idea of perseverance and achieving your goals was discussed. There weren't many dry eyes in my classroom after this one and I believe it set the tone for the high goals I want my student to achieve with a "no excuses" approach.  I believe this video may have also helped inspire a few kids to root for the Wolverines this season.

We can't control our circumstances, but we can control our reaction and responses to situations. Austin's story demonstrates this and a whole lot more...


One of the latest videos I've shared with my students is the incredible story of two young boys. I will not spoil the story for you, but I will tell you this. If you don't think a video can keep a 7th graders attention for 15 minutes, you need to try this. It's the story of a dedication.

 My classes discussed what this meant and we read several from the beginnings of books trying to make sense of them and look for the deeper meanings. I then showed them the above video and we talked more about dedication. We then talked about what was important to them and they wanted to achieve those dreams. 

The "lesson" culminated with the kids writing a "dedication" letter. The parameters were a little vague (on purpose). They were to compose a letter, to be mailed, to someone special in their life and had to dedicate something special to them. They have the option of sharing with me or not. The letters are due tomorrow. I've seen a few already and I felt I couldn't wait to share this with others. 

My students are amazing. I'm touched by what they are writing and what they are willing to dedicate to others. When we're finished I will post updates about what they've written (with their permission as these are very personal letters). 

I am also going to be creating a dedication tile. I will be adding the names of students to a tile in the ceiling. Underneath their name will be the name of the person they are dedicating something to. This will serve as a reminder to me about my dedication to them and to my future students in helping their dreams come true.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My baby just-a wrote me a letter...

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. 
Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” 

– Scott Adams

Love letter left in a book for a random stranger.

That's Amore

There are a few things 7th graders do not want to hear a few days before Valentine's Day. This may be near the top of a 13 year old's list... "Tomorrow we will be writing love letters and I'm picking who you're writing to."

More Than Words

My daily warm-ups come from an awesome resource created by Luke Neff. I use his writing prompts, or variation of them, each day as my students enter the room. The prompts are very engaging and often very thought-provoking. As students entered my room I had Love Letters in The Sand by Pat Boone playing and this prompt on the board:

I started with this idea and looked into it a bit further. I discovered this awesome TED talk by Hannah Brencher and this site detailing how to write love letters to strangers.

That's The Way Love Goes

As a college student in the '90s I used to check my mailbox weekly looking for a letter from home. I recently came across letters that my grandmother had written me and it was amazing the flood of emotions that came back to me after reading her letters written in a beautiful cursive writing. It was as if I could hear her talking to me. I shared this with my class as I told them they would be writing their letters by hand. 

I gave the class somewhat vague directions in hopes that I would get some really creative and clever approaches to this task. They were to write about a struggle that they've gone through and to explain how they overcame it and got through it. They were to offer words of encouragement. They were also to remain completely anonymous.When they finished writing, they were to address the envelope and seal it. I told my class they could share their responses with me if they chose. Kids were excited by this and some even asked if they could write for the person reading their letter to write a letter to someone (aka. Pay It Forward). Some of my students chose to share what they wrote with me and I was beyond words when I read their letters. My kids never cease to amaze me - I was humbled and inspired by my kids.

February Love

Early in the morning I posted a message to my classroom Facebook page looking for parent volunteers and the response was overwhelming. 

The parents who volunteered, along with their child, would be secretly leaving the letters at various locations around town over the Valentine's Day Weekend. I asked them to be sure to leave the letters in locations that people would find them - supermarkets, coffee-shops, library, car windshields, etc.

One of my students leaving a "love letter" in the bean section of the supermarket.

Ain't Got Time to Take a Fast Train...

It's a fast paced world with instant connections and contact with our friends and loved ones anytime we want it. This may sound odd coming from a teacher who loves social media and instant feedback, but some days I want things to just slow down. I want my kids to realize it's good to do this. That's why we took a day in February, slowed down, and wrote love letters to strangers.

Our fast paced world needs more small acts of kindness like this. My kids will never know who they helped or how they helped them, but I hope that their letters will make others feel like their "lonely days are gone".