Monday, July 30, 2007

images of the first day of school ~ first 45 minutes

* racing after kiddos piling out of cars, planting stickers on them to tell their teacher how they'll go home. Hoping we actually put the correct mode of transportation on each child.

*explaining to parents who speak many different languages that they cannot park their car in the middle of our parking lot, even if it is their child's first day of kindergarten.

* Walking one of my new charges to the gym where all of the children are waiting to be dismissed to their classes. Listening to him say, "Lots and lots! Lots and lots!" over and over again, I assume in reference to the large amounts of kids and parents crammed into our gym.

*Matching kindergartners with their teachers and classes in the gym, keeping them in line, quiet, and dodging the many cameras out to capture the first day.

*Calming down a little girl who thought she was going to summer school today. "I'm suppose to be in Miss Dodds class" stated over and over again. "I'm ready for my old class"

*Teaching kindergartens not to open the bathroom door if someone else is in there.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

4 days in

This is the first back-to-school week when I'm not getting my own classroom ready. This is the first year I haven't taught first grade. I've switched to teaching Special Education, K-1. Ever since I was in high school I've wanted to teach special ed and it's what I assumed I would do all through college. Teaching special ed was the reason I got into teaching. Now that it's here it's intimidating. What if it's not for me?
The last 2 years I've had an inclusion class with high needs and interesting case loads. I've sat in on many IEPs, Re-Evals, paperwork, parent meetings, etc. I've picked special educators' brains about everything they do. I've researched many details on my kiddos' needs and worked hard to learn how to help them. Yet now I feel 100% unprepared.
It brings back memories of my first year teaching. I'd forgotten that unsettling feeling in your stomach that you could be working on something for hours and do it wrong. You can sit in on meetings and have no idea what any of the acronyms mean and wonder if you should ask now or look them up later. It takes you 5 times the time to get something done than it does your peers.
Yet I'm really enjoying it so far. I loved teaching first grade, and will probably still love it if I do it again, but I am thrilled to be doing something new. I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying the unsettling feeling of being wrong and trying something new. I wake up excited to go to work to learn how to do my job better. I'm ready for new, different experiences.

However, it's only 4 days in. With many more to go we'll see how long the excitement lasts.

back-to-school week

Back-to-school week for teachers always amazes me. We start on Monday by unpacking boxes, re-arranging furniture, cleaning, and basically trying to make sense of the gigantic mess that became our room in a few short weeks. Sometimes it's like unpacking a tetris game. The custodians pack the furniture so carefully on one side of the room so they can clean (and trust me, we're glad they do!) that you have to carefully balance yourself on a chair while slowing pulling a bookshelf off of a side-ways cabinet. This is painful at a year-round school where you just packed everything up a month earlier. Getting it packed up by the deadline was hard enough, now you have to unpack it with just as much fervor.
By Wednesday most rooms are beginning to resemble a classroom despite day-long training sessions and long meetings. By Friday names are on desks, cubbies, and bulletin boards. Schedules for the next week have been made and plans are being set for how to teach the new set of kiddos. It's exhausting, overwhelming, and exciting.
Tomorrow is open house and the first day we get to meet the new set of kids. Wish us luck!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

grumble grumble

The one and only time all year that I dislike teaching at a year-round school is tonight. After having a nice little taste of summer I realize the rug is about to be pulled out from under me. It's over. Teachers go back tomorrow and the kiddos return next Monday.

The storage room has not been turned into an office.
I did not become a gourmet cook.
My files are not sorted.
My car didn't get an oil change.
I didn't go to the dentist.
I didn't set up my office early.

And now it's over.

Tonight it doesn't matter that the rest of the world doesn't get 12 week vacations. Tonight it doesn't matter that we get 2 weeks off in October while other teachers are slaving away. Tonight it doesn't matter that the breaks throughout the year let us travel. Tonight is the last night of summer.

Tomorrow I'll be excited to be back. Tonight I have to re-learn how to pre-set the coffee maker.

the HP experience

I have the best husband in the entire world. He has put up with my harry potter obsession all weekend. Friday night he went with me to Politics and Prose, my favorite bookstore, and waited with me while I discussed the possible plots with the costumed children in the store. He drove me home and then even cooked meals for me on Saturday and Sunday while I sat on our couch reading without moving for hours on end.
We did make it out to a friend's party and he put up with me reading on the metro.
He made coffee this morning and patiently waited for me to finish. He is the best. I have been anti-social the whole weekend. I have forgotten how to have ordinary conversations and reply to questions with, "wait, he's about to die!"
thank you Peter for letting me have this last-book obsession with the rest of the world. There is something fabulous about knowing that while your curled up reading others around the world are too.
Images of HP release:

On our way home from the bookstore we saw the streets of dc lined with orange books being taken home to read. The metro was clogged with readers.

On the way out of the bookstore we passed a father putting his 4 kids into his mini-van. The youngest was curled up in his carseat, asleep in his hogwarts cape. The other 3 had already started reading in the glow of the parking lot's light.

Many tired and costumed parents left the store, leading their book-nosed kids down to cars.

The laughter of kids and adults , counting down at midnight, full of excitment.

How amazing is it that we were all gathered together for a book release. Not a movie, a concert, or a film star sighting, but a chance to get a book in our hands. Those kids are growing up knowing the world's stamp of approval on reading.

Now that I'm finally finished I'm going to rejoin my husband and the real-world.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

business cards

Why don't teachers get business cards? We have 20+ parents we can hand our cards out to at back to school night, conferences, etc. We meet other educators constantly at professional development classes. We're always looking for pens and slips of paper to jot down our emails so we can get in touch to share ideas and articles.

Wouldn't it give us more professional street credit with those over-educated professional parents who view us as their child's baby sitter? Just handing them our card would say, 'hi, i'm an educated professional fully certified to teach your child. i have studied for years on the best way to educate your child and am also constantly seeking ways to better my performance. i take my job just as seriously as you take yours.'



My research partner and I breathed a sigh of relief as the last person walked away from our poster presentation. Success! We were finished, and not only finished but we felt so good about how it went. The day before I'd been looking at the background of the other poster-presentations and realized that most of the presenters were associated with universities, were presenting their PHD research, or a project they worked on with their research assistants. It started to look like we were WAY out of our league.

Thanks to the fabulous help we got from the TMPC to put together our posters, we at least looked professional. We were happy with our posters, but at the 1st session of poster presentations we realized most of the presenters had business cards to hand out. A trip to Office Depot fixed that and though we ended up staying up until 11pm fixing our brochures and making last minute changes, we were ready with our posters, brochures, and business cards at 7:30 the next day.
Waiting for the white-out to dry at 11pm
Though I may have been the only person at the conference without my masters, the poster session was certainly a rush. I loved discussing our research with others and getting their feedback. Bring on this year's teacher research!!

Monday, July 16, 2007

"education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" Nelson Mandella

The rest of the ASHA conference went by quickly. I truly enjoyed it and for a brief moment thought about pursuing speech-language pathology. Thoughts of taking college level biology came into my head and the brief moment ended, but it was there, regardless.

One three hour session I sat in on was 'Cultural Competence and Social Competence' presented by Li-Rong Lilly Cheng, from San Diego State University. She is a powerful and entertaining speaker and the three hours flew by quickly. At one point her talk shifted from her power point slides and hit on Virginia Tech shootings from this spring.

After going over other case-studies with us and discussing the importance of culture in each one, she brought up the background of the shooter. An immigrant to the US, he left Korea with suspected autism. In walking us through his first 8 years, just as she had with the other case-studies, she asked us to discuss what his symptoms looked like. From what she said, autism seemed clear. This would have come out in the social-history part of the IEP process. His family immigrated to the US to escape the shame of an autistic child in Korea, but once here he was not diagnosed. In our school systems he was considered simply a shy Korean child, whose culture and language kept him from communicating with teachers and peers. She read a poem he wrote, begging for someone to teach him to communicate and understand the world. In hindsight, the poem reflects what high-functioning autistic children write. They understand enough to know they don't get some code everyone else has, but they lack the ability to learn it themselves.

As she discussed the failure of the school system for not diagnosing him and giving him services he could have used to manage his anger I realized that she was discussing my school system. He was a product of my county, one of the largest and best school systems in the United States. We pride ourselves on our ESOL programs and all we do to include diversity and culture. Other school systems look to us for help as they struggle to educate ESOL students. Talking with educators from elsewhere you realize that we are ahead of the curve and that we do offer programs beyond that of other school systems.

yet this boy still slid through the cracks due to his culture. It chilled me to think about. As responsive classroom teaches, every human being needs to be understood to feel human. We never opened up and understood this boy.

It's horrifying to think about and overwhelming to realize the tall order this gives to educators. As Nelson Mandella said, education will change the world. To do so though, we need to make sure we are educating everyone in the manner they deserve.

I also want to state that I am just repeating what I heard on Saturday and trying to process it myself. I am not blaming my county, teachers, or anyone else but the young man for the shootings. I do not know all the facts, and am repeating what I heard. I am just wondering via my blog where our role in all this lies.

drivers test:

A good friend of mine in college was scheduled to take his drivers test on his 21st birthday. He was from India and was excited to be able to finally legally drive in the US. however, being his 21st birthday, he started drinking at midnight the night before and had not sobered up by the time he needed to take the test. Believing he was sober, he went to the small country town's DMV. He passed. For the first time in this small town the racism he frequently experienced worked to his benefit. The dmv employee assumed his odd behavior was because he was Indian, not because he was still intoxicated.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

feed me

I love the acquisition of knowledge. Learning new theories. Making myself question what I always believed to be true. Looking at the world through a new perspective. Asking questions. Finding answers.

dork, yes, but happy dork.

Friday, July 13, 2007

ASHA, day 1

After only half a day at the ASHA conference I am mentally overly stimulated and exhausted. Part of it I'm sure is just the confusion of the tipping policies and hotel etiquette I'm not familiar with. The rest is from being 100% out of my league and I'm loving every second of it.

ASHA, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, is not something I had even heard of before my research partner, a speech pathologist, submitted our work to this conference. I'm so excited to be here, but I may be the only non-speech pathologist here. As I frantically took notes during my very interesting afternoon session, the presenter made comments about "obviously, this is something we all know." Not me. However, being 100% newbie is freeing because I can ask dumb questions and really learn from the people around me.

This afternoon I sat in on a fascinating presentation on intervention with bilingual children, something that is very relevant to my school community. I was particularly drawn to the data showing that
1) children in our country will learn English no matter what
2) learning in a bilingual environment supports their home language, but also improves their English acquisition. (this matches studies I have done on teaching kids in poverty)
3) bilingual children introduced to English-Only instruction regress in their home language, leaving them unable to communicate with their parents beyond a three-five year old vocabulary.
4) Children no longer able to communicate with their parents are more likely to join gangs (looking for an acceptable American family), drop out of high school, and participate in communicate activity.

The presenter actually presented this by pointing out that in reality, our main goal is to create valuable citizens that will contribute to social security so that we can all retire. Economically, we should be teaching bilingual education so that we prevent crime and encourage our country's economy.

To be honest (please, no tomatoes) after teaching ESOL children for years I had come to believe that English-Only education was best. I watched kids come in from Asia or Africa and learn English so fast because they had no one to translate for them. I watched kids come in from Spanish-speaking countries and learn English very slowly as we all, myself included, translated and even taught lessons in Spanish. It seemed they weren't picking up on English as fast as their peers from Indonesia who I couldn't possibly begin to translate for. I'd never thought about what happened when they left my classroom and went home, unable to even explain their homework to their parents in their home language.

I'm cringing at my belief now, looking at the data, and picturing my little first graders as 15 year olds, unable to communicate with their family. I'm sure at 15 I'd have been thrilled if I could have pretended I 'misunderstood' my parents and could disregard their rules, but 16 years later I can admit that their demanding rules were probably best.

Off for a day of more learning :)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

business casual

I'm about to leave for the ASHA Schools conference in Pittsburgh to present our poster presentation with my fabulous research partner. We are ridiculously excited that, not only do we get to present our research at a national conference, but that we get to go on a 'business trip' like real people.

The dress for 3 full days of presenters is business casual. I do not have 3 full days of business casual clothing acceptable to wear in the summer time. If it was 3 days of combined seasons I'd be able to pull it off, no problem. Or perhaps one day of formal wear, and 2 days of business casual.

Since it's for educators, does business casual include my very nice skirts that have paint on them from where I bent down to talk to Jose and ended up sitting in his spilled paint? My expensive pants that have marker on the knee from where Rosa got overly excited and waved her marker-holding hand in the air? The very fabulous linen skirt that seems permanently wrinkled from sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the rug?

My professional clothes seem to be like a quilt, each piece telling a story of an adventure in my classroom. I just don't think that's what they mean by business casual.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Freedom Day!

Last year on the 4th of July I got an email from a mother of a student I taught a few years ago. The family had moved back to Peru but the mother still took the time to wish me Happy Freedom Day! in an e-card.
The family lived in our country for about 6 months, but left when their visa ran out. They were devastated to leave and I will never forget the look on the mother's face as she left our school for the last time. Yet, back home they were an upper-class family. They came to America for their children's future and education, but when they realized that their children could never go to college in America if they were illegal they went home, hoping to somehow come back legally one day.
No matter what your stand is on immigration, you have to admire the family's commitment to their children's education. My parents, (who I have no doubt love me very, very much), did not leave their respected jobs to go to a country where they did not speak the language, to became a day-laborer, for my education.

The mom volunteered in our school and worked hard to learn English. She was very involved with her kids work in the classroom. She was the type of mother we want all of our children to have.

I am blessed to teach so many families like this. They are dedicated to their children's futures, so much so that they were willing to put their own reputations and life-styles aside for their future goals. To me, that is the American Dream. Those are the kinds of people I want to consider my fellow citizens.

We are blessed to live in a country where, even those who were forced to leave it, still celebrate our 'Happy Freedom Day'.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Congratulations AT Jumpers!

Our incredible jump ropers recently returned from the National Jump rope competition in Florida. Contact me if you want the names that go with the places.

Freestyle competition:
One boy placed 15th and one girl placed 8th!!

One boy placed 6th!!! and one girl placed 20th!

The whole team placed 21st in the speed relay.

I know how hard they worked to get there. It should noted that every other jump rope team is through a jump-rope exclusive gym, not a school, like ours. The parents pay for lessons like you would pay for gymnastics of swimming lessons. The coaches are paid and the kids practice frequently at the gym.

Our coaches are volunteer, our kids do it after school for fun, and they still manage to beat a lot of kids that come from professional gyms. I'm really proud of their dedication!!

Monday, July 2, 2007


One day when my smart cookie was in the office for some offense or another, I stood behind my principal and listened to her talk. At one point in the conversation she said,
"Don't cry! You did this."
A light bulb went off in my smart cookie's head. Keeping her eyes on my principal she licked her index finger, brought it just underneath her eyes, and drew a line of saliva down her check. Then she meticulously repeated the same action on the other side of her face. Following this she rubbed her cheeks with her hands to make them red.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" my principal asked.

"Excuse me." my smart cookie said, "Don't you notice my cheeks are red?"

I had to leave the room so that I wouldn't start laughing. Smart little thing.

my smart cookie

My smart cookie is a child I was blessed to teach this year. As much as she tested the boundaries of our classroom community she was a very bright and creative child. She was a character, certainly, but the more I taught her the more I realized that I would be lucky to be the parent of a child with such an incredible imagination and such high reasoning skills.
She was a true joy to talk to one on one when you got to dive into her world. The connections she made always opened my eyes. You never knew what she would come up with, but you were guaranteed that it would be intelligent.

She hated when I called her a smart cookie. "I'm not smart" she'd giggle. "I'm a silly cookie". Some days she didn't find it that funny. "Don't call me SMART!" she'd demand. "I'm not smart". This broke my heart. She has no idea how bright she is.

The first week of school I got a call from the office telling me that her music teacher had sent her there for spitting on the floor. Going to pick her up I tried to get her version of the story.
"Why did you spit on the music teacher's floor?"
"Because. I was biting my nails."
"Do you always spit on the floor when you bite your nails?" (me, grasping at straws)
"Well, I don't want to keep dirty fingernails in my mouth, do you?"

Later she looked at me and said, "You know what? Now I learned something. I learned that our music teacher doesn't like people to spit on her floor. But we do it at home."

This summer my smart cookie frequently pops back into my head. Her great smile, giggles and occasional stories will stay with me forever.