Monday, June 22, 2009

Saying Farewell to Mount Pleasant School

This week ended my run of teaching at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. I have been in the same classroom for 21 years and it was time to get rid a huge accumulation of teaching materials and memories and move on to a new chapter in my teaching career. I first arrived at Mount Pleasant School in 1988 after teaching seventh grade for six years at the Brockton Christian Elementary School.

I had just got married to Sarah and we moved to Nashua where I promptly crashed my bike, broke my collarbone (ending a five year string of competing in Ironman distance triathlons-1983 version here-at 30 seconds in, I am the very skinny guy standing next to race promoter Dave McGillivray-17 years later I would run the Boston Marathon with him) and forced me to start my public school teaching career with an arm that I could barely lift to write on the lowest part of the chalkboard (note how I hold my arm awkwardly in the picture above). On my first day of school I was greeted by a tough little girl looking up at me and saying, "You can't be a good teacher, because my mom said that men are not good teachers." On that note I started a 21 year run of trying to prove that little girl and her mother wrong.

Just like when I left my first teaching position, the hardest part of moving on is leaving a group of teachers and staff behind. I started at Mount Pleasant teamed up with a little dynamo of a lady named Ceal Roy. I worked with her for many years and she taught me that first of all you have to enjoy your students and have fun in the classroom. We added a new member to our team in the middle of the year seventeen years ago. Nancy Bozek has the best laugh at Mount Pleasant, which she will take to her new school next year. I know she will get more than a chuckle out of this video then I ever will.

Through the years, I have had many other great teammates at Mount Pleasant, including Tim Caster and Caitlin Maynard who joined the staff this year. We have had a lot of fun together and I wish I could continue working with them some more. While they may have been rookie teachers at Mount Pleasant, I learned an awful lot from them. Tim continually makes his students his primary commitment and Caitlin in her first year of teaching not only taught like a veteran and kept the "boys" organized, but she also knows how to have fun with teaching and her students.

When I first started teaching at Mount Pleasant it was overwhelming. I was quiet and reserved hoping that no one would notice that I wasn't sure about what I was doing half the time. One Spring I got a phone call from Sue Porter wanting to know if I would like to teach the ESL summer school with her. I thought it was pretty funny that I would be asked to do this since I couldn't speak another language. She was convinced I would be good for the job and that I didn't need to know another language, so I decided to try it out since she had a bit of faith in me. That started many summers of some of the best teaching moments. We worked hard at creating experiences for the ESL students that were creative, hands-on, and fun. Each week we went on a field trip, cooked or made food, read books, created posters, videos, and computer presentations. Everything we did was tied together in themes and many current Mount Pleasant staff joined us on our many adventures (and misadventures) as fellow teachers or paras during many of those summers. It was hard work, great teaching, and loads of fun. Through those experiences I really became a "member" of the Mount Pleasant family.

The Mount Pleasant staff are really a family. While we often called our school "The Best School in Nashua", I think I can say quite plainly that it is the best group of teachers and staff in Nashua and they have proved that again and again through the years. They have proved that many times for me. When I chose to pursue an opportunity to teach at another school next year, they were very supportive, but also they were the reason I hesitated about leaving. This is the staff that helped make the 2000 Boston Marathon such a wonderful success. When the school district would not allow me to take a personal day to run the race. I decided to run it after my day of teaching. Two carloads of teachers drove me down to the start as soon as school ended and I ran the race with the race director Dave McGillivray (starting 4 hours after the official start of the race). When we finished, there were the Mount Pleasant teachers at the finish line cheering me on. We even made the news that night on the Boston television stations.

On the last day of school that first year at Mount Pleasant, flowers were sent to me by my wife. Sarah was pregnant. The next year, I had to go through a Mount Pleasant baby shower and then my son Andrew was born. Many teachers have watched Andy grow up. On Sunday he graduated from Nashua South and he will be off this Fall to Gordon College. Mount Pleasant played even a bigger part in Andy's life. Andrew attended Mount Pleasant School for his fourth through sixth grades and the staff of Mount Pleasant were beyond supportive when Andy attended here.

I have made many life-long friends at Mount Pleasant and wish to tell the staff how much I enjoyed working with them. When reading a story about Lou Gehrig, I sometimes had my students deliver farewell speeches like Lou Gehrig's speech. Maybe, I should try something like that, but I'm not dying, I am just moving down the road to New Searles Elementary School and I am so excited to get started there and being a rookie at the grade 5 level.

But I would like to thank, all of the teachers and staff at Mount Pleasant. You are the best and filled many days with laughter and friendship. You are great teachers. Earlier this year, I received an award from the Boys and Girls Club of Nashua for Excellence in teaching. I believe that any teacher at the school could have or should have received the same honor. Every teacher has their own style, interests, and strengths as a teacher. However, every teacher puts the students of Mount Pleasant first. While we all teach in different ways, somehow our individual styles meet the needs of the students and make Mount Pleasant such a unique and caring place.

I have always enjoyed my teammates through the years and up on the third floor, where my classroom was located, I always noted the stellar teaching and dedicated staff in the upper grades. I am simply amazed at what goes on in the lower grades. Those people need to be paid more! Teaching children not only how to read, but how to behave and get along with others, so that they be successful in life is such a daunting task. The teachers at Mount Pleasant do it with so much enthusiasm and dedication. No matter what the difficulties, they never seem to give up, but look for new ways to teach.

I am not sure if the students at Mount Pleasant realize how good they have it! The support staff at the school are simply amazing. What goes on in the Title One rooms, the ESL classes, and during reading intervention times is so helpful to building successful students, but it also adds an extra personal layer of support to students that very much need it. Sometimes I would go back at night to work at the school and I would see Special Ed teachers Donna Kenney and Mary O'Doherty still working away to provide the best services to their students. I swear some teachers live at the school. I am always dumbfounded when I bump into them at grocery stores or the mall. I always thought they eat and sleep at the school!

I am always amazed at the quality that the specialists bring to their teaching at Mount Pleasant. I always appreciate the extra support of the wonderful paras that we have at Mount Pleasant. I need to mention the paras that have spent a whole year full time in my classroom through the years. They see exactly how you teach and interact with students day in and day out. I have enjoyed working with Darlene Ledoux, Karen Frasca, and Dee Krammes when they were assigned to my class and I always enjoyed those years when I had such quality help and a good friend in the class.

Everyone at the school it top notch. Why do all the students like to visit Ann Vose? Because she is such a great nurse and a person the kids like to see (some times daily and some times hourly!). The secretaries, Joanne Ritchie and Terry Scarpati, may take time out of their lunches to meet with children. Paula Daneau provides great guidance to those who need it. Linda Morehouse was always showing me new ways to teach reading strategies to my class, that always seemed to reinvigorate my teaching, The entire staff is friendly. Bruce Geer was my principal for most of my years at Mount Pleasant. He was always fair, honest, and encouraging. Plus he was always good for a laugh or a "pat on the back". What more could you want from a principal?

Thanks to all these people for making my years at Mount Pleasant so rewarding. I will miss the staff. I will miss the students. Mount Pleasant has a unique mix of children. Each new year was always different than the preceding year. I will miss seeing children returning (well actually many of them are now adults and parents themselves). Many have gone on to very successful careers. It is always nice, staying in a school and seeing kids return to update you on their lives.

I extend my best wishes to Mount Peasant School, but I do look forward see what else is out there. New Searles Elementary School and the staff there look like a great opportunity for me to expand my boundaries and continue to enjoy my profession of simply teaching!

Here is a animoto video of Mount Pleasant School, that I made last fall.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

National Symbols Posters and Word Clouds

Here is an animoto video of some of our National symbols, monuments, and landmarks. Take a look at the wonderful lettering on the posters. We tried something new called "word clouds". Maybe you have seen them before on web pages. Students learned how you can make a word cloud on and then chose important words from their project to put in their own "word cloud".

Using the "create" screen at, you can type in words to make a word cloud, or paste in test or a report. You can also put in the URL of a website. Here are some wordle word clouds based on our blog post on our Benjamin Franklin Museum. They were simply created by pasting the text from the blog page onto the wordle "Create" page. If you don't like the design of your word cloud you can hit the randomize button to create a different version. Here are three different versions from the same words.

I can see many applications for wordle in the classroom. It seems to be an interesting way to introduce important words from or about a story.

Wordle: Untitled

Wordle: Untitled

Wordle: Untitled