Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Holiday Thank You

Dear Students,

Each semester, before the holiday break, I write you all letters expressing my gratitude for having you in my class. I also include a brief commentary on the successes and struggles of your time in my class during the past semester. This semi-annual letter writing tradition is important to me because it culminates my own semester reflection while offering each of my students their own sincere, thoughtful evaluation. Unfortunately, this marks the first semester in my full-time teaching career where I failed to deliver letters to my students. I deeply regret not having the time, but time is not an excuse. And excuses only fuel future failure. Nevertheless, during this 2011-2012 holiday, I wish to offer at least one sentence of gratitude to each of my students. And I will guarantee you the full letters you deserve at the end of May.

Dear Alex Adami,
Thank you for giving an excellent academic output even while being out of school for almost four weeks (and for always listening reluctantly when I ask you to stop shooting the basketballs in class!).

Dear Kyle Kimmelman,
Thank you for always submitting every blog and assignment on time every time (and for inconveniently scheduling doctors appointments during my afternoon class!).

Dear Nico Bucspun,
 Thank you for putting you sincere pride and energy into the projects and assignments for my class (and for showing up just barely in time to perform your quarterly project debate!).

Dear Jerome Ryan,
Thank you for writing the most entertaining, quality blogs of the year (and for feeding me peanut butter and jelly when I get hungry!).

Dear Logan Dennin,
Thank you for taking a sincere approach to learning about business for your senior project (and for learning that it's much easier to sleep in for school and succeed than to sleep in for business and succeed!)

Dear Gabriel Babka,
Thank you for organizing an original senior project that focuses on your passion of soccer (and for completing your missing work to earn a stronger grade in humanities!)

Dear Geena Capitini,
Thank you for always giving your best effort when completing your humanities projects (and for always coming in to ask your teachers questions about the projects!).

Dear Julian Penagos,
Thank you for bringing such a strong business approach to your senior project (and for shaving at school when asked to clean up!).

Dear Mauricio Cepeda,
Thank you for stepping up your effort in humanities and government to earn the grade you deserve (and for reminding me to "chill" whenever I seem to get worked up over something!).

Dear Alex Stettner,
Thank you for stepping up into a leadership role at a new school in your senior year (and for proving that the hand jive and twist can be more difficult than honors government!).

Dear Mikayla Posk,
Thank you for always producing such terrific writing pieces (and for allowing me to continue joking about your Italian adventures last spring--it never gets old!).

Dear Jane Sallen,
Thank you for showing me that it's possible to balance 80 billion things at once and still succeed (and for always baking for your favorite people!).

Dear Renan Scarpa,
Thank you for always giving your best effort on all of your humanities projects (and for teaching us all about Brazilian culture.)

Dear Gleb Joutchenia,
Thank you for always giving your best effort in both government and humanities (and for taking time to Skype your favorite teacher from halfway around the world!).

Dear Casey Gates,
Thank you for achieving new heights in your academic accomplishments when many seniors take their foot off the pedal (and for discussing the ridiculous adventures of our mutual adult friend!).

Dear Jose Carballo,
Thank you for always giving your sincere effort when completing your humanities projects (and for keeping Logan in touch with A period humanities when he was sleepy-- see above!).

Dear Matt Ramirez,
Thank you for showing genuine interest in your big projects for both humanities and government (and for showing that you know nearly all the answers to government jeopardy!).

Dear Daniel Garga,
Thank you for taking on a senior project that is both challenging and rewarding to those around you (and for making my classroom more than just a learning environment when you nap there every single afternoon!).

Dear Abel Roman,
Thank you for supporting everything about our school from my class, to fine arts events and sporting events (and for teaching me more about Fencing than I ever thought I could learn!).

Dear Ruth Sanders,
Thank you for always addressing your presentation panels with a "hello, good morning" before presenting (and for getting as excited about a Cookie Monster cake as I do for a Redskins win!).

Dear Giovanni Pecorari,
Thank you for always giving a great effort on all the of the humanities projects this semester (and for continuing to improve your Presentation skills!).

Dear Anny Fabris,
Thank you for writing the most interesting, intriguing research papers of the semester (and for being a good sport with an air mattress on the senior trip!).

Dear Robert O'Gorman,
Thank you for making such an amazing effort to learn about a history that you had no clue about before (and for giving your best effort debating about Presidents you've never heard of!).

Dear Eric Mance,
Thank you for continuing to excel in history class by doing well on all of my tests (and for displaying less obnoxious behavior than you have in the past--but we still have work to go!).

Dear Kathy Ramirez,
Thank you for making a valiant effort to debate with U.S. Presidents you have never heard of (and for admitting that you could do even better in my class than you have so far!).

Dear Sean Walsh,
Thank you for always getting all your work done and making up everything you missed (and for representing Honest Abe so well even when you were out sick!).

Dear Marisa Samaniego,
Thank you for always trying your best to do well in my class (and for standing up to the obnoxiousness of Eric Mance--see above!).

Dear Margaret Dickey,
Thank you for continuing to rise to the academic challenges of my class (and for showing that you can be just as successful in U.S. History as you were in World History!).

Dear Cole Jones,
Thank you for showing how awesome a student you really are with that last test and U.S. History exam (and for bringing a big Texas smile to my class every day!).

Dear Jonathan Adams,
Thank you for sharing your academic passion for U.S. history in my class this semester (and for providing the class with quality entertainment with your passionate debate outbursts!).

Dear Lucy Smith,
Thank you so much for putting up your best academic performance to date in my class, you deserve it (and for being such a wonderful sport when I played that cruel little debate joke on you!).

Dear Katelyn Swanson,
Thank you for proving to me, yourself, and everyone else that it is possible to get a 93 in my class (and for teaching your classmates and teacher how to make a website with Tumblr!).

Dear Nick Capitini,
Thank you for being a patient, helpful observer during the final weeks of my public speaking class (and for being a helpful assistant for your classmates' "how to" projects!).

Dear Katie Rogers,
Thank you for always having a positive attitude in my public speaking class (and for making an effort to raise your grade the week of exams--better late than never, right?!?).

Dear Karolina Strasser,
Thank you for writing a poem that reminded us all about the true importance of a best friend (and for freaking out a little less every time you had to get up to perform--you've come a long way!).

Dear Vionise Pierre-Louis,
Thank you for never quitting in my class by continuing to perform great work and write essays against your will (and for letting me know whenever "I suck" at explaining things!).

Dear Julia Cournoyer,
Thank you for honestly opening up and sharing a poem that is both personal and emotional (and for never hiding your sarcasm even with your teachers!).

Dear Dresden Peters,
Thank you for taking the time to write a sincere poem and memorize it in short notice (and for being a brave soul dressing up for your monologue!).

Dear Brandon Campos,
Thank you for always pouring authentic energy into your performances for public speaking (and for entertaining us all with your alien noises-- zeep zeep!).

Dear Jake Westerfield,
Thank you for being so respectful and understanding as you experience educational acting like Napoleon in the classroom (and for annoying everyone by the fact that you knew so many correct answers to the exam review!).

Dear Kai Darling,
Thank you for providing the class with genuine laughter with your performances and improve (and for figuring out that it's never too late to start completing your blogs!).

Dear Ashley Arinus,
Thank you for proving that students can mess up, edit, and correctly complete entire quarterly projects with success in the final 48 hours before it's due (and for creating non-verbal communication when you need to use the restroom!).

Dear Nick Francese,
Thank you for always making your classmates laugh with your fun, energetic improve in public speaking class (and for always stepping up in class when no one else would!).

Dear Sandy Satullo,
Thank you for your outstanding effort in my classes this semester (and for reminding us all not to take for granted the legs we have to walk with!).

Dear Neydja Petithomme,
Thank you for always making the effort to attend extra help when offered (and for learning to become a leader in the class and on the court!).

Dear Mitch Posk,
Thank you for always giving your best effort to succeed in my classes, both public speaking and history, (and for having one of the best tasting, surprising snacks at our quarterly project feast!).

Dear Dani Caudill,
Thank you for always sharing your honest emotion about a project, test, or assignment in my class (and for realizing that you can kick butt in geography when you study!).

Dear Alyson Langley,
Thank you for always taking diligent notes and posting them on Facebook for your peers (and for reminding me on my test that Rene Descartes is the father of philosophy!).

Dear Jenny Bovold,
Thank you for sharing your worldly talents, like music and art, as part of our Modern World History class (and for understanding that it's actually okay not to be perfect ALL THE TIME!).

Dear Elsa Blix,
Thank you for bringing such a high standard of achievement to my Modern World History class (and for proving to everyone that it is possible to get 100% on the Africa Map test the first time around).

Dear Tristan Alarcon,
Thank you for always showing up to class with a positive attitude (and for always giving a little laugh when I'm joking around with Kaitlin Conrad--see below).

Dear Kaitlin Conrad,
Thank you for having such a good attitude every time I joke around with you and your gift for the gab (and for practicing not to say "like" every 3 seconds on the way to basketball games!).

I am truly lucky and thankful to have you all as students. Happy Holidays and I'll see you all in 2012, if not sooner!

Thank you again,

Mr. Berey

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Saying Thank You on Thanksgiving

Perhaps it's cliche to reiterate the importance of saying 'thank you' on Thanksgiving, but how can I not write on this topic when my blog is titled "Dear Students, Thank You"? (Even if I have mindfully procrastinated my entries for the last two months!) Obviously, I am thankful for being an educator as my students inspire me each and every day. I am nothing short of lucky to wake up each day and look forward to going to work. I have long known that I wanted to be an educator, but to be honest I have not reflected (let alone thanked anyone recently) on the process that gave me my opportunity to teach today. Reflection is equally important to offering thanks because without reflection we haven't truly comprehended our gratitude. I want to take a couple of moments to reflect, as both a student and a teacher, and thank those who gave me the opportunity that I have today.

I first knew I wanted to become a teacher when my first grade teacher, Zorina Mohammed, opened up a can of Coca-Cola during class while teaching me 2nd grade math. "How awesome!" I recall, "I want to have soda during class... I bet it helps students learn!" She was my first of many inspirational educators to set me on my course. Little did my younger sister Liz Berey know how many times she would have to endure playing school growing up.

In 5th grade I had two teachers that opened new doors to my education: Greg Edmundson and Jan Humphrey. Mr. Edmundson, now a veteran Principal at Greek Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland, was just beginning his education career when I passed through his class. I remember him making us really WANT to be in his class. He was engaging, articulate, humorous, and spontaneously fun. We would occasionally take a "class quiz" and when we inevitably passed, he would take the class outside to play football--he was (and still is!) a huge football fan! I believe he is a major reason for why I like to incorporate so many games into my classroom.  Mrs. Humphrey, who I have unfortunately lost touch with, was one of my greatest mentors. Not only was she a fantastic homeroom teacher for my 5th grade school year, but she allowed me to student-teach her 4th grade class in 2002 as part of an education internship while I was still in high school. Mrs. Humphrey is credited with giving me my first real teaching opportunity--I will never forget her for that.

While middle school is often a blur for every pre-adolescent student, two of my teachers in the 8th grade made significant impacts on my life choices. My 8th grade English/Language Arts class, taught by Ellen Lingenfelter, was my first class each and every day.  And, like so many of my very own students, I was a natural procrastinator. Ms. Lingenfelter, who I truly believe knew my potential as a student, knowingly let me work on homework/classwork/projects (you name it!) from other classes during her class as long as I kept up with her class too. The price of this generous flexibility was a constant reminder from Ms. Lingenfelter that "you can't procrastinate like this in high school, or in life!" Nevertheless, while  I still fall victim to the occasional procrastination just like my students, I know what it takes to be successful and I'm proud to offer the model of "flexibility as long as you get everything done" to my students. My other 8th grade teacher, John Keller, who still teaches at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac, Maryland, put me on a Social Studies track that I am still passionate about today. Mr. Keller gave us CRAZY projects like planning trips around the United States and introducing history via song like Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." Sound familiar students? I can associate many of my crazy educational projects to the inspiring efforts of John Keller. He even read weekly inspirational stories from "Chicken Soup for the Soul." My 8th grade history class was more than Social Studies--it was learning about life!

By the time high school came around, I was set in my goal to become a classroom teacher. (Only in college did I decide I will someday open up my own school...) Once again, I had two very meaningful social studies teachers during my high school. In 9th grade I had Mr. Andy White. He has since retired in 2007 and I cannot find him anywhere :(, but he was one of the most charismatic, energetic teachers I have ever seen. His captivating lectures and non-stop energy bursts made U.S. History truly exciting, thus setting the standard for my level of energy in the classroom. Additionally, for 11th grade Modern World History, I had the passionate, effervescent Mr. Arthur Bescher. Mr. White was to my U.S. History experience as Mr. Bescher was to my Modern World History experience. Mr. Bescher also made class interesting with intriguing current events and discussions. His exciting energy was highly contagious, except for when he gave these infamous reading check-up quizzes he called "Billy Bookworms." As if I didn't have enough reasons to remember Mr. Bescher and his class, it was during his class that I first heard about the tragedies upon our country on the morning of September 11, 2001. I have no doubt that Mr. Bescher continues to inspire his students.

More recently, I must offer a thank you to Sara Bleiberg Klien  who gave me the opportunity to be a Resident Assistant (RA) at one of the largest freshmen residences in the country (Third North @ New York University). Consequently, I met my dear friend and fellow RA, Emilia Diamant, who hooked me up with the contact information to get a teaching position at Country Day School Guanacaste on the beautiful pacific beaches of Costa Rica. I wouldn't be the teacher I am today if it weren't for her.

Finally, upon my most recent move back to the United States, I must give thanks to my Grandview community (especially Tiffany Della Vedova and Jackie Westerfield for giving me a chance), who continue to make me a better teacher, a better leader, and a better person.

When reflecting, there are always so many people to thank as we remember who influenced our lives for the better. I know I speak for all educators when I say we love influencing young lives for the better, watching that "Aha light-bulb moment", and guiding our students to their talents and passions. But none of that is best part of the job. What all educators know, but few students recognize, is that the best part of education is when students come find us months, years, or decades later just to say thank you.

Today, on this Thanksgiving 2011, I want to offer my sincere and grateful Thank You to my students, friends, family, and most importantly this year-- all of you who made an impact on my life... Thank You!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Dear Students,

I think we worry way too much about school things going on in our lives. How many times have you been unable to fall asleep at night or focus on your homework because of anxiety-filled thoughts preoccupying the very actions you need to be working on the most? (Like sleep or homework.) Only the next day do we realize that most of what we were worrying about was not nearly as big of a deal as it seemed the night before.

This past Labor Day I began my day worrying about how I've already fallen behind in my grading, how I'm struggling to write a quality essay for Graduate school, how I'm lost in organizing the finances and logistics of the Senior Class trip, and how there are a million other tasks I need to accomplish before my good friend's wedding next weekend in New York. And this was all my worrying before 9 AM! By noon I still felt unproductive and stressed-out. But then it hit me, the "ah-ha!" moment I've been waiting for: It's Labor Day and there is no school, therefore I'm going to the beach! The beach is my personal "no-worry zone." One thing I have learned about worrying is that the vast majority of it is pointless and a terrible waste of time. We need to recognize that to worry is not a productive or helpful response to anything. After all, those of us who waste so much time worrying usually have a pretty good head on our shoulders anyway.

I know far too many excellent students who worry like the world is going to end tomorrow. For example, Jonathan Adams (Class of 2013), a student formerly enrolled in my world history classes, worried for days beforehand about the possibility of mixing up two countries on a geography quiz. And then there is Julia Cournoyer (Class of 2014), who first entered my class two years ago in my 8th grade Civics class only to bomb on her very first quarterly project as a result of procrastination. Consequently, Julia, who is currently a 10th grader in my world history class, worries like a mad hatter every time a quarterly project due date looms.

Back in Costa Rica, my former 8th grade English student Karol Brenes (Class of 2013) constantly worried about the mechanical errors in her writing. Karol, ever the academic worrier, always attempted to improve her writing even though English is her second language. For my former U.S. Government student Drew Leaderman (Class of 2010), U.S. politics is her second language. Although Drew worried about understanding government to the point of bitter frustration, she worked extremely hard to acquire a foundation of the political spectrum. Finally, no student I currently teach worries as much as Jane Sallen (Class of 2012). The irony, for those of you know her, is that there is no student more equipped than Jane to handle the responsibilities of honors classes, college classes, SGA leadership, swimming, softball, and so much more.

The reality is that all of these students worry too much, yet all of these students are all-stars who know how to become aware of their authentic desires by making outstanding choices in the moment. Jonathan never mixes two countries, let alone fail to label them on a map. Since that first quarter in my class, Julia has produced some of the best quarterly projects ever by any student. While Karol continues to improve her writing, her multilingual skills will only enhance her scholarship opportunities as an extraordinary artist. Drew's understanding of politics in U.S. Government gave her perspective and a new voice at her family's dinner table. And Jane serves as a role model for all students and teachers as she perfectly balances a seemingly impossible schedule.

Grading, homework, projects, essays, and tests distract us from the fact that life is too short for worrying, especially when success and achievement are right around the corner. Let's agree to shrink our worries back down to size and concentrate on what's important in the moment. And in the likely event that this task proves too difficult, then pull a Labor Day Mr. Berey and just go to the beach.

Thank you to all my amazing students who remind me that the stuff that does deserve our attention probably isn't getting it--precisely because we are worrying so much about everything else. Don't worry, be happy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nicknames of Respect

Dear Students,

How many of you have nicknames that friends, family, or even coaches and teachers use when addressing you? Chances are you like your nicknames as they become equally significant to your full name. The most recent nickname I've acquired is "new guy", as I am barely two weeks into my team fitness boot camp three days a week at 6 AM. Everyone cheers me on... "You got it New Guy! Come on New Guy!"... as I do my best to catch up and not throw up in the hours before school starts. The team congratulates me with a "Way to go Rookie!" as I make it through each day, perhaps hinting that my next level nickname is "Rookie"--undoubtedly better than "new guy". Nevertheless, my elementary nickname makes me feel welcome, thus encouraging me to show up for at least another morning.

As a teacher, I've had many students come up with various nicknames for me over the years. And I love my nicknames because the essence of a nickname itself is a title of endearing respect, if not friendship and love. Two of my former students in Costa Rica, Marianna Calvo (Class of 2010) and Julie Javelle (Class of 2010), always referred to me without using the trivial prefix "Mr." I was known, as I still am today, simply as Berey. To this day, these girls address me with far more love and respect than any student I've ever had who inserted the prefix "Mr." Then there were a few students on my Costa Rica varsity girls soccer team who called me "Ber Ber" (pronounced Bear Bear, like the animal), most notably Jessi Curtis (Class of 2010) and Anna Pieri  (Class of 2011). These girls, who were both notorious for pushing my buttons and invading my personal space, live every moment smiling so they could never put anyone in a bad mood. One current student, Eric Mance (Class of 2013), shows his respect by affectionately addressing me as "Berey the Bear". I know when he is irritated or upset when he actually addresses me as Mr. Berey.

Perhaps my most unique nickname created by a student is "Berey Kitten on Wheels". Yes, I've actually had students address me in the middle of 8th grade English class as "Berey Kitten on Wheels".  One time I even responded by wheeling across the linoleum floor on my chair "meowing". The one and only Margo Wilson (Class of 2013) deserves all the credit for applying her vivacious, jubilant personality to my ever-growing list of nicknames. Finally, there are some students like Elise Lang (Class of 2011), who celebrated her own graduation by addressing me as "Sam!"--like the best friend she always wanted. The reality is that there is so much mutual respect on the student-teacher level, that upon graduation Elise was genuinely excited to appropriately address me as a friend.

All of these student-created nicknames represent the one ingredient that is absolutely essential for effective teaching and learning: respect. Successful learning is a two-way street, for both the student and the teacher, where mutual respect has the right-of-way in the direction of education. If we're lucky, as I have been so far, we pick up some friendships (and nicknames) along the way.

Thank you to all my students for creating fun, original nicknames that represent the important ideals I frequently speak about. I will never forget all my amazing students who continuously teach me the value of respect.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Discovering Coolpix

Dear Students,

Did you know that I've owned as many cameras in my lifetime as the number of times the Washington Redskins have made the playoffs in my brief 5-year teaching career? For all of you not counting, that would be one. My 2008 maroon Nikon "Coolpix" was utilized as many times as my Washington Redskins won a playoff game over the last 5 years. Not surprisingly, that is also one. I'll be honest, cameras and the whole taking pictures bit--never really been my thing. I like to live in the moment and see things through my own eyes, not through the lens of some rapid-fire LCD HD camera. No matter how "cool" the "pix" are.

But lately I've been reflecting about how awesome photography can be. After all, it's our only true effort to stop and capture a moment in time. I've had the pleasure of encountering many different students who are phenomenal with a camera, and the art that is photography. I've always envied the artistic skills of students like Nina Monroy (Class of 2011) and Lanie Patterson (Class of 2011), who both write as well as they dream up beautiful images. I'm baffled by the natural talents of students like Giuli Cardoso (Class of 2012) and Sydney Sullivan (Class of 2009). They make photography look so easy, yet so awesome. Of course, there are numerous students like Jerome Ryan (Class of 2012) and Mikayla Posk (Class of 2012) who have yet to reach their potential in photography (or art in general), but their potential alone inspires me to write this post. Finally, I cannot forget my own sister, Liz Berey, who has an uncanny knack for taking amazing pictures and then uses them to create the kind of coffee table photo books that we can only find in Barnes and Noble.

Just as I look forward to seeing the Washington Redskins make the playoffs this year, I look forward to exploring photography this school year. And perhaps I'll share my work in progress on this blog. In the meantime, since my Nikon "Coolpix" is long gone, you will have to suffer through the photographic limitations of my iPhone 3GS.

Thank you to all my students (and friends and family) who have showed me that photography is so much more than living through the lens of a camera.

Here are some pictures from my always-changing, non-traditional classroom:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why "Dear Students, Thank You"

While the primary purpose of this blog is to thank my students (current and former) by highlighting all the amazing things happening inside and outside of my class, I feel compelled to write my first post about my administration. Teaching in a small, private school in Boca Raton, Florida, makes me realize that far too many people go though their day without ever thanking the very people that influence them the most. Fortunately, my administration--especially one particular administrator (see blog: Teach on the Edge by Tiffany Della Vedova), helps me to recognize the importance of those two simple words. I've been a teacher just long enough to know that without a strong, supportive administration, teachers will struggle to grow professionally (among other struggles). Consequently, students will be the ones who suffer in the long run. At least my students won't suffer so long as my administration allows my colorful, comfortable living room of a classroom. As I have learned to thank my students on a daily basis for the inspiring moments they provide me, I will be sure not to forget my inspiration for creating this blog. So... Dear Administration, Thank You.