Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

It was so strange waking up this morning realizing it was Halloween and not having that sinking feeling that today is going to be one crazy day. It is days like today that as a classroom teacher I would braise myself for the wild hyper activity that comes with all the magic of being six. I'd be prepared with many back-up activities for the fast pace of the Halloween classroom. More importantly, I'd spend all day talking in a hushed voice telling kids, "This is our Halloween writing workshop! We have to be extra quiet so we can write all those great details about our Halloween costumes!" Being six they'd totally buy it.

For today I think I'm going to miss being a classroom teacher.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grow-a-Frog therapy?

One night back in August I was about to drift off to sleep when I suddenly remembered my grow-a-frog pet I had as a child. It would be the perfect pet for one of my small groups. The children in the group need something to bond us together, as well as something to care for since caring for others and showing compassion is something we are working on every day.
Growing up all of the kids in my small community had Grow-A-Frogs we bought from our favorite (only) toy store. We watched our frogs grow in their different stages of life and compared notes on play dates. My family's frog, Fred, use to sing to us at the dinner table. He'd wait for everyone to start talking and then he'd add his own sounds to the mix. He went on to live for a very, very long time.
In high school I started working at the toy store and became responsible for the care and feeding of the town's original frog, Sarge, who had been living in the toy store since I was about 8. I am not sure whether or not Sarge is still alive, but I know at one point he was going on 15 years.

Not thinking that an extended life-span might not be a great thing to stick myself with, I got up in the middle of the night and googled 'grow a frog'. I ordered immediately and didn't sleep the rest of the night since I was too busy planning all the possibilities.

This was way back in the beginning of August. The first frog arrived over October intersession but was dead (A huge thank-you to the great intersession teacher who cared for my dead tadpole). To make up for the dead frog the company sent us two new frogs along with a very kind email saying, "We're so sorry for your loss". The frogs arrived yesterday and I might actually be more excited than the kids. (Although they are pretty excited). One is still a tadpole but the other is considered a 'froglet' so we actually get to see the growth patterns now.

In my excitement I might have gone overboard with my frog plans... Along with all of my goals for our social group, the first grade teacher in me sees the writing activities. I'd love for the kids to keep a frog blog about the frogs' growth, development, and what they observe from the frogs. Our tech person at school is helping me with this and right now we're all set up, I just have to get the kids focused enough to want to blog instead of staring at the frogs. (I'm embarrassed to admit it but I even spent a good 10 minutes watching them this afternoon when I should have been getting work done).

I'm so excited about starting all this but am starting to wonder when I'm actually going to have time to put this all into place. I tend to have big ideas. Now I just need to put the small pieces into place... Wish me luck on this experiment and keep your fingers crossed that this batch of frogs is healthy!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why Blog?

About this time last year I was about to quit teaching. I came home every day defeated. I couldn't get my head around what was going right in the classroom, only what was going wrong. No matter how much support I got from my administration and coworkers I still felt like I was failing at my job. They all tried to help me see the good going on in my classroom, but it didn't help. I no longer felt I was good at what I did. I felt I was cheating my class out of having a good teacher. I had a tough class, but believed that if I was truly a good teacher I shouldn't have a problem with them. I became paranoid about what was being said behind my back in the teachers' lounge since I couldn't even walk my kids down the hall without someone breaking out of line and doing something disastrous and embarassing. I was about to hang up education all together.

I started blogging after randomly coming across Tree and Jenny's blogs and realized that education blogging was out there. Typing out all of my thoughts, ideas, and reflections was a huge breath of fresh air. All of a sudden I was reflecting on my year and realizing all of the aspects that went right. Blogging put everything into perspective. It made me laugh at my kids and myself when I needed to laugh, and more importantly made me articulate exactly what had gone right in my lessons. It helped me reflect when lessons went poorly while still helping me see the good that was there. It has linked me to other educators all over the world. And for times like these, :) , :) it made me look at life as a story instead of a disaster.

I didn't start blogging until May of last year and I wonder if I had started sooner if I would still be in the classroom this year. Maybe not. It was time for a change. But maybe it would have helped me have a fresh look at my role as teacher sooner.

Today my school held a fantastic staff meeting on blogging. I really hope more of my coworkers develop their own blogs. I look forward to reading their own thoughts and adventures!

Happy Birthday Helen Keller

It appears to have gotten around my school that I have a slight dislike for Helen Keller. (Slight meaning I hate her.) This dislike was particularly unfortunate when I taught first grade, as Helen Keller is one of the Famous Americans required to be taught to Virginia's 6 year olds. I will sadly admit that in my class's year-long study of Problem Solvers, Helen Keller was our only Famous American not included on the ' Famous Problem Solver Wall'. That was wrong of me, I know. But what did she solve?
What's my problem with HK? Apparently in fourth grade, despite being a rather shy child, I decided to tell off my teacher when she tried to introduce the Helen Keller unit. My private school wasn't fabulous about planning a sequenced curriculum year to year and we managed to study Helen Keller every year starting in first grade. (This also explains why I am down on private schools). She was the only woman we ever studied about and all of the girls fought over dressing up as HK during our famous people costume days. So I snapped. I told my fourth grade teacher that Helen was really just a bratty child and that her teacher, Annie Sullivan, was the one who did all of the work. (Care to argue with me?) I told her that we really only studied her because she was the only woman anyone knew anything about, even if she didn't do anything as cool as be President.

A few years ago when I was googling HK images to put into a powerpoint for my first graders I came across some interesting information that solidified my feelings on the matter. HK was a self-reported socialist, and is even quoted saying that although she can not see the color red it is her favorite color and the red flag flies at her house. The FBI even had a file on her.

Ok, ok, I realize this is during the McCarthy scare and that the FBI had a file on everyone. I also realize that she was identifying with socialism at a time when The Jungle was being written and people were just starting to fight for workers' rights. Still. She was a Socialist. And you want me to teach about her values as a famous American to new citizens of our country? That seems un-American to me!

Last year someone RSVPed to my wedding as Helen Keller. (I believe this was my fantastic sister-in-law). Apparently my feelings on the subject have gotten around...

Now, just ask me what I think about George Washington Carver ;)

Friday, October 26, 2007

kindergarten highlights of the week

"So, man, why were you so down on that guy anyway?" one kindergartner asked me, referring to my bff. I couldn't get him to clarify how I was 'down on him' but I'm guessing trying to stop my bff from running out of the classroom did kind of interfere with my bff's agenda. I never thought about how this looked from the kids' perspective.

I was working with the same kid during writing workshop and I took my sweater off, not realizing he would notice.
"Oh good, I think you are prettier without that thing"

"Mrs Lipstick! I like your head Where did you get those?" another child asked, referring to my pigtails. He seemed rather confused when I explained it was my normal hair.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

underdog anxiety

As a special education teacher you tend to root for the underdog. I think it's almost genetically programed in me. Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series since 1918 I'm finding it oddly difficult to root for them over the Rockies. I'm a Nationals fan. Before that it was the O's. It's always about the underdog. (Then again we're good at that in DC when it comes to sports).

Because of this genetic condition if I was left alone to pick out the jump rope team for next year we'd be in big trouble. None of them would be able to jump over the rope, few would be able to sit still for longer than 5 minutes, but they'd all have great heart and great potential.

Jump rope tryouts is one of my hardest tasks as a teacher. I hate it. I've known some of these kids since kindergarten, and some of them I taught in first grade. I've listened to them for years tell me they dream of being a jumper. I've seen them practice during recess every day for 3 years. I had to look into their hopeful face as they finished their routine today. And I want them to be successful. I want them all on the team, but most of all I want the ones that try and try and might not be perfect.

If we took the ones I am initially drawn to we'd have a pretty terrible team. We wouldn't be very good, moral would eventually be low, and the behavior problems wouldn't be fair to the kids who are trying so hard. As coaches we'd be frustrated. It would be a mess. But it would be my happy underdog mess.

This year we only took 10 new kids. We deliberated so long this afternoon that I was late for my evening grad class. We'll have a great squad, but tomorrow I have to see the crestfallen faces of the kids who tried and didn't make it. For some it is their second or third year they've tried. It's not fair. I want life to be fair. I want it to work out.

I love coaching the team, but I really, really hate the try-out process.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

totally unfair rant

A group of principals had a meeting at our school today. I guess our parking lot was full and they didn't want to park on the road because of the rain so they parked in no-parking areas of our parking lot. This really interfered with kiss and ride and made life more difficult on a rainy afternoon when we were trying to safely get kids into their correct cars.
I may be taking out my kiss and ride frustrations on them, but just because you are a principal doesn't mean you don't have to follow the parking signs at another school. We don't put up signs just to make ourselves feel important. We have good reasons, and in fact, these reasons keep kids safe, which the principals would be all kinds of upset about if this happened at their own schools.

It also reminds me how great my own principal is. Many principals pull into the parking lot every day and slide into the spot marked 'principal' close to the door. Ours doesn't do this. We don't even have a spot marked principal. I've always found it refreshing that she doesn't need a special parking spot to remind her she's great.

Jump Rope Team Try Outs

This week we're holding try outs for our jump rope team. I am not a huge fan of this process. The first two days we hold a clinic where we teach the hopeful jumpers the routine. Imagine 50 kids in an elementary school gym. Now imagine they all have jump ropes, are swinging them wildly over their heads, and have no idea what they are doing. Normally I come home with huge welts on my arms from being hit by multiple flying ropes. The last day we have the actual try-outs, which is almost worse than the chaotic days before. This is when we actually have to judge the kids, rate them, and decide who will be the lucky few to actually make the team. (We also have to listen to the same 30 seconds of an awful early 90's dance song over and over again.)

Teachers aren't really good at judging kids this way. We're great at looking at children, seeing the problems and figuring out how to fix them. We're excellent at knowing how to take a kid where they are and bring them up to where we want them to be. We're not programed to say, "Hey, you know what, you don't cut it. Find something else to do".

Last year during this process I had a terrible realization that I am going to be an awful stage mother. I always thought I would be a fully supportive and calm mother, reminding my children to try their best but it is ok if they do not make the team. I'm starting to realize this is not the case.

One little girl tried out for the team whom I had taught in first grade. I love this little girl. She came into my classroom from Indonesia a few weeks before Christmas in 2005, right before the Tsunami. She spoke no English and was so shy that the ESOL teacher gave her a flash card to show me when she needed to go to the bathroom or get water. After the Tsunami none of us could ask her if her family back in Indonesia was ok because of the language barrier. All we could do was hug her and hope she knew what we meant. As the year went on she learned English very quickly. My little boy with autism adopted her as his best friend and she sweetly mothered him along. She is one of the kids who always tries hard, always has a smile on her face, has a great attitude and clearly loves every minute of childhood. I was thrilled to see her trying out for the team.

Poor girl. Last year all I could do was watch her during try outs and coach her. Instead of being supportive I found myself taking her aside and reminding her to practice. She was actually very good but I realized I was critiquing her more than others because I wanted her to be perfect. YIKES!! Who did I become? Maybe it's great that I experienced this with someone who is not my child so I can back up, realize what I am doing and catch myself before I do serious psychological counseling.

Luckily the girl was a fantastic jumper and despite the pressure I put on her she still made the team.

This year is different, but still a chaotic experience. Now that we're finished with our clinics I'm dreading the cutting process tomorrow. I'll be so glad when this week is over. The team will be set, and the kids who didn't make the team will be over their first life-time 'trying out and failing' disappointment.

Monday, October 22, 2007

superman or mr. rogers?

The other day I found myself identifying with mary poppins. Today, I had a moment of being superman. After a busy day of working with kids, co-planning, and meetings, I raced to my office to change for my IEP meeting. I would have been fine going to the meetings in my tennis shoes but there is something about putting on your super-hero cape that prepares for your next task. Just to be sure I felt professional and confident I added a blazer to my ensemble.

Grant it, changing my shoes and putting on a jacket isn't exactly finding a telephone booth. So, maybe I am really more like mr. rogers. Same concept, but superman is so much more fun to identify with.

Welcome Back

Whew! It was a whirlwind of a day.

I walked into one of my kindergarten classes today and all of the kids looked up and said, "Oh, your bff moved! You don't have to come anymore." SO we didn't fool them with this inclusion model... time to rethink my role in the classroom and see how I can not stick out as the special kid's teacher. Oopps.

Later I took my kindergarten lunch club for the first time since my bff left. We had some adjusting and rebuilding to do without him. I realized how much we'd let him run our schedule. Without him we were all lost. Do we still start our lunch meeting with our If you Give a Mouse books, or are we now free to move on to other works of literature? Do we listen to Dr. Jean? It took a bit for us all to figure out what our new roles were. One of the boys asked me, "So why didn't you want your son to come to our school anymore?"

Hmmmm... was this assumption because we have similar skin and hair coloring or because I spent all of my time with him?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

early intervention

I had a glorious morning in the preschool Sunday school class at my church, and at Praise Kids, (when the kindergarten and first graders leave during the sermon and get to do an activity elsewhere). I love these hours on Sunday.

Yet the children at my church always make me feel a little sad. They are so inquisitive and have such high verbal abilities. When I asked one what she was learning in kindergarten she told me, "Well, we're doing buddy reading and learning the ch and sh chunks, but I already knew that, so really, I'm not learning much". Just helping these kids finish their art activities shows me what a huge gap lies between them and the children at my school. It's so unfair.

The kids at my church and the kids at my school have a lot in common. They are in the same school district. Some of the children at my church speak two languages (obviously not as many as the children at my school). But language isn't the reason for the gap. Nor is race. Both sets of children have parents that love them and want the best for them. The only difference is in the resources the parents have to give to their children.

NCLB wants to close the achievement gap, and I would love for that to happen. Yet by the time the children already walk in the door of kindergarten the gap already exists. One kindergarten teacher teachers reading and phonics skills, while others teach the ABCs. Early intervention programs could make a huge difference. There is so much for children to learn about life in the first 4 years of life. I don't expect them to learn to read before kindergarten, but I would like them to have opportunities to build with blocks, learn through play and interact with peers.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Correction on Technology Frustration

My apologies to my county for accusing them of creating the SEASTARS IEP program we're using this year. One commenter pointed out that the county actually bought the program and did not develop it.

I was frustrated and unfairly took out my feelings on the county.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Religion in Education

When I became a religion major my freshman year of college my poor parents shook their heads and wondered why they bothered sending me to a non-state school if I was going to waste my time in a major that I'd never be able to use. I stayed in the major because I absolutely loved the topic, knew I was going to teach elementary school and really just needed a "strong liberal arts background". (As a religion major you become good at saying that when anyone questions why on earth you chose religion...)

My first year teaching I quickly realized that I had somehow landed in a career that allowed me to use both my education background AND my religion major.

My diverse first grade class was made up of 2 Hindus from India, 1 Christian from India, 1 Muslim from North Carolina, 2 Christians from America, 1 Christian from Bulgaria, 7 Catholics from South American Countries, and 1 Jewish boy from Argentina.

We occasionally had some fairly intense religious debates. Once I was eating lunch with my little Muslim girl and one of the boys from South America, when the little Muslim girl was explaining why she didn't celebrate Halloween. "Halloween is dirty" she stated, "Just like boys and Jesus". Try telling a boy from Bolivia that Jesus is dirty. His first grade fist slammed on the table and he let out a low "JESUS IS NOT DIRTY". Quickly I tried to turn this into a discussion about how great it is that we all have different beliefs but can still be friends in first grade. Isn't America grand? MMMM.... this cafeteria food sure is yummy. Drink you're milk.

Another memorable event was one day a little boy raised his hand and asked, "Excuse me, Ms. L? Even how are you ever going to get a husband if your hair looks like that?" The class murmured in agreement. "Yes Ms. L? How even?"
One boy from India raised his and defended me, "Why Ms. L! It's easy! You just ask your parents and they will find one for you."

The most interesting were the debates between the children from India. They were all very deep-thinkers and unable to understand the differences in one another's religion since they were all from India. The Christian in the group tried explaining to the Hindus the difference. You might have many, many gods but really there are three Gods, "The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost". I thought that explanation made perfect sense coming from an Indian-Hindu background. One of the Hindu children however, did not. "But really, you are so sad that your Jesus God died. There are more gods than that, Sunil. There are many gods that died. Look at Krishna. Krishna died too. It's sad whenever a god dies."

I loved that class for their religious debates, their strong beliefs, and their great personalities. Since then I have had other very diverse classes but perhaps in my older, wiser teacher mentality I have sadly kept my students more on topic and limited these debates. It's funny that sometimes as we become 'better' teachers we lose out on some of the energy first and second year teachers bring to the classroom.

Technology Frustration

Yesterday, one of my vacation days, my fabulous research partner and I decided to meet at school to work on our homework. This is not homework for a grad class, nor work for our teacher research project. It's not even work for the actual kids we work with. It was homework related to a technology training so that we can be certified to do our IEPs on-line.

I really, really wanted to ask if we didn't do this homework, or if we failed, could we possibly continue to do our IEPs the way we know how. Because that would have saved us 5 hours of work.

When I first heard we were moving to doing our IEPs on-line I was ecstatic. How perfect! It makes sense, everything else is on-line. I'm all for going paperless. Hooray for my school system to be so innovative! Then I sat through the training.

It seems my large school district decided to develop their own on-line system. I know there are other systems out there. My research partner has used 2 of them in other states and reports how easy they were to use. My school system did not buy one of these systems. It made its own. With technology that slightly reminds you of computer programs in the 80s.

This isn't fair. By 2:45 yesterday I was getting the hang of it. Click on date. save. click on next date. save. Read message 'can't save until you have clicked on new date'. Go back and re-click on date because the computer hasn't registered that you clicked the first time. Wait. Save. Click. Save. Apologize to imaginary parent that their kid's IEP is now taking 2 hours.
God bless the parents who have to sit through these meetings with us. They just want to know about their kid's progress and what we'll do for their kid. They really aren't going to care that we forget to hit the 'release' button so now we have to go back, undo changes, hit release, re-make the changes, hit save, hit confirm, wait, wait, wait, ok, now onto next step.

Our school system is very, very proud of this system. They even gave us little starfish pins to wear on our lanyards to show off that we're using the system. (It's called SEASTARS). I am sure once I've been using it for awhile I'll love it. Yesterday, 5 hours of homework, I didn't love it.
The best part of the original training was when we asked the trainer if the letters to the parents generated by the system would be translated. "No, and there are no plans to do so."
Ok. So for a school system that proudly boasts of the large amounts of languages spoken here, we're just going to assume that if they have an IEP they speak English. Love it.
This means, if we have a parent who does not read in English very well, we have to decide, do we want them to actually come to the IEP meeting? If so, not only do we have to do the letter through SEASTARS (if you don't do the letter it doesn't let you move on to the next step) we have to do another letter in Spanish. The one we currently use now. Making our lives real easy, this program is. Of course, if we don't actually want the parents to come we can send home all the letters in English we want and then just wait to say the parent isn't cooperating.

I really shouldn't vent. Maybe it was the disappointment I felt when I started working with the program because I thought it would be easier. Maybe it's the fact that this is my first year in Special Ed so I've had to go to the trainings to learn how to do IEPs the old way (we can't actually use SEASTARS until Dec.) AND the trainings for the new way. Maybe it's the fact that after staring at a computer screen for 5 straight hours I had a horrendous headache and had to completely change my evening plans because I had to stay in a dark room.

The only fun aspect of the day was writing the fake IEPs. Since we didn't actually have to do IEPs for real children, we were able to come up with our own.
Strengths: RC likes books.
Needs: RC likes to eat books.
Annual goal: R.C. will not eat books on 3 out of 5 measured occasions quarterly.
Progress Report: 2 (made no progress) RC continues to eat books instead of reading them.
Addendum: RC will not eat books or his writing workshop papers on 3 out of 5 measured occasions quarterly.

Monday, October 15, 2007

to be 7 again

Every once and awhile something will catch my eye that makes me really, really jealous that I'm not still a 7 year old girl. Something so inspiring that it's full experience can only be seen through the eyes of a creative child.

Today I was checking out exhibits at the National Gallery of Art planning my visit when I came across this website: http://www.nga.gov/kids/zone/dollhouse.htm
It lets you play with a Dutch dollhouse on-line!! When you move furniture closer to you it gets bigger, away it gets smaller. Move the mirrors on the wall... look how its reflection changes. How cool is that? Don't like the Dutch painting on the wall? Here are 3 others you can choose from. Go outside, meet the pig and ring the church bells.

Saturday my husband and I were visiting friends in Amherst, MA and visited the Eric Carle Museum after reading rave reviews from Blink. As I watched a little girl snuggle up with one of the children's books and read the story the art on the wall was created for I felt a twinge of jealousy. I want to be 7 again! I want to walk the galleries with wonder, read the stories and see the real paintings on the walls. I want to use my child imagination to create in the studio. I want my parents to read to me in the library, walk me through the exhibits and read aloud the inspiring questions on the walls. I want to run through my own back yard woods and search for the animals I saw.

I mean, really, who decided we had to grow up?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I teach in the public schools

We just arrived home and I feel I can say with pride I managed to get through the State Policy Network Conference without totally embarrassing my husband and without selling out the public schools.

The last night of the conference took us on a ferry ride along the breathtaking Maine coast. My husband and I went out on the deck to fully take in the beautiful view and I managed to walk myself into yet another public schools debate...

By this time I must be saying I teach in public schools with some rebellious pride because the man who had politely asked what I did for the movement looked slightly taken aback. He got himself together and announced, "Well, you know everybody here hates teachers." I said I was starting to pick up on that as my husband tried to pull me back. The man carried on the 'hate public school teachers' for a bit before laughing and reassuring me that no, he really loves teachers, and in fact believes that all good teachers should be paid a lot more.

Lovely. I had just walked into the merit-based pay debate on what should be a peaceful ferry ride. Oh, how my husband started to wonder if he should have brought me along at all.I do love a great debate, as did the man I was debating with, and I truly enjoyed our conversation, though neither of us led the other to a change of heart. The bystanders seemed curious at this discourse but at moments looked fearful that one of us may actually push the other off the boat. I really enjoyed the conference, made it through without physically harming anyone and without subjecting my husband to long rants about public schools. Both of these are positives.

I will say though that I wish all of the K-12 reform groups would take time to know teachers, schools, and school communities before trying to make policy changes. No, not everything is perfect, but if you don't fully understand the problem you'll never come to a good solution. With the technology we have today you do not even have to talk to a teacher face to face. Reading our blogs gives you insight into our day to day adventures, our rants, our loves, our acceptances, our struggles, and our successes. Because it's our on-line diary we're not sugar coating anything for you, or making it sound worse than it is. If you are in k-12 policy take the time to scan teacher blogs every week to see what the real issues are outside of 'the movement' and outside of politics.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My little egg-breaker

I have been taking time during intersession to write and reflect on the past year. I keep coming back to one kiddo who makes me smile just to think about her. I previously wrote about her in teachable moments which explains why I will refer to her as my little egg breaker for lack of a more creative name.

One memorable morning My little egg-breaker raised her hand during share time and announced she had a question, which actually turned out to not be a question so much as witnessing the Gospel.
“If your mama dies and doesn’t believe in God, Jesus is God then she is going to rot in the ground forever, but if she believes in God, Jesus is God then she will be an angel. When a body rots in the ground the worms eat it-“
I tried to cut her off before she could go any further.
“Did you learn that in Sunday School, My little egg-breaker?”
“No, I learned it from the man that came to my house. And you’re mama better believe
-“
THANK YOU MLEB. I calmly (I hope!) recognized her belief, said she and I could talk about it later, but that not everyone in our class had the same God so we weren’t going to talk about it with the whole class. And then I kept talking so she couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
During writing workshop I looked up to see her whispering with her table group. “And if your mama doesn’t say she loves God then the worms and the rats will eat her in the ground-“ One of my little boys had started crying by this point.
MY LITTLE EGG-BREAKER! You may talk to me about that if you have questions, or you may talk to your mama, but you may not talk about that in our classroom anymore. You are making C. cry!
“Yes Ma’am” She was always very polite. She batted her eyelashes a bit to let me know she was going to be good…

As we were packing up to go home I heard sobbing coming from the coat closet. My little egg-breaker was holding confession by pulling children individually into the closet to witness to them about what would happen to their mamas if they didn’t believe in God, Jesus is God. C., one of my special education boys, was sobbing uncontrollably. The buses were being called, one child was crying, many were whispering, and My little egg-breaker stood there perfectly still, a small smile peaking out behind her serious expression.

The following week we were enjoying our library lesson when the librarian asked them what rules they have in school, hoping to connect to the book she was about to read. My little egg-breaker raised her hand, always ready to participate, and began telling the librarian that the rule in our classroom is that you aren’t allowed to talk about God, Jesus is God, because C. will cry because his mama don’t believe in God, Jesus is God, and is going to die and her body will rot and fall apart and the worms and rats will eat it. But we NEVER talk about that, she finished, smiling at the very confused librarian.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

red wine stains, public schools, mandatory shortened gestation preiods

When we first sat down to dinner last night I slowly ate my salad and contemplated my options as I listened to the woman on my husband's left discuss public schools.
I could:
a) Excuse myself saying I was sick and go back to my comfortable hotel room. Order pizza, watch tv, and not be insulted.
b) Stab said woman with fork while accidentally spilling red wine on her.
c) Quietly listen, nod and smile, silently plotting the counter argument I'd yell at my husband after dinner.
d) Wait until she had said her piece, let her put everything on the table, and then start politely picking apart her argument.


I choose (d), which, I have to say, I'm rather proud of myself for. (C) is what my husband is use to, so he seemed thrilled that I took my feelings out on this nice woman from Texas instead of him.
I really thought about (b) when she said, "I just don't think the public knows how truly awful public schools are." While I took a rather large sip of wine my husband pointed out that while some may be awful, most are not. That really got her going on how we just didn't know what we were talking about, and really they are inexcusable.
I was really still choosing (c) but she launched into how her next move was to talk with school board members on what the real problems in schools are. Before I could silence myself with a sip of wine I jumped. "Perhaps you should try principals and teachers as well. School board members do not always really know what is going on in the schools". That didn't go over well...

I managed to go through the entire dinner without tipping my hat and telling her I actually teach in those terrible public schools. I kept her talking through most of dinner including hearing how she thought it was ridiculous that teachers needed to go through a year of training to be teachers. She however, did not go through this year of training, tried to be a long-term sub, struggled, and in the end decided that teaching wasn't for her.
I know teaching classes can be awful. I know sometimes they seem like common sense. But I wouldn't try to be a lawyer without going to law school, and I wouldn't practice nursing without going to nursing school.
I found myself bursting with pride for my school, coworkers, and profession. I love my job, love those who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession, love the children we serve.

The highlight of the evening was when the man on my right (who had politely asked what I did for a living) asked me about whether or not kindergarten was too academic. I expected him to support the philosophy of high standards at a young age he said, "With the pressure they put on kids today I'm surprised they are not trying to mandate a shorter gestation period."

In my imagination I waited until the end of the evening, slipped the girl my business card, smiled, and said, "I work at a think tank which works on creative solutions for tomorrow's problem solvers". I didn't, but it would have been great if I did.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

job description

Tree's job description suggestions I can use at this conference:

"I work for a think tank were we brainstorm creative solutions for future problem solvers?"

"I work for a literacy agency were we are developing the creative writing skills of future Dave Eggers."


brilliant.

Charter schools, vouchers, school-choice, and a big can of worms

For those of you who know me, you know that I married someone who does not share my political beliefs. You also know I enjoy engaging debates, love to have my beliefs challenged, and truly believe such discussions lead to finding the truth in the long run.

During intersession I have accompanied my husband to a conference in beautiful Portland, Maine. Dreaming of a hotel room, a beautiful autumn view, an indoor pool, and not having to cook for myself, I decided that if I was going to spend the next few days reading either for grad school or for pleasure, I might as well do it in Maine.

I forgot, of course, that I am actually attending a conference that supports school choice, vouchers, charter schools and privatized education. The one topic we do agree on is NCLB, since these groups would like to rid the country of the Board of Education. I would just like them to stop using my tax dollars to build those ridiculous little red school houses they place at their doorways.

(Even as I write this I keep glancing over my shoulder to make sure nobody sees this and I get thrown out).

I am usually a level headed person who enjoys challenging debates. There are a few issues that I don't do well when debating because of the passion I bring with me. One of these issues is school choice.

So, if you have any debating points you'd like me to share with the other side, hard data on why school choice doesn't work, or anything else I can use as ammunition, send it my way. I need reasonable arguments so that I wont just start calling perfectly nice people evil doers.

I promise not to embarrass my husband while defending public schools. At least, I'll try.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

library fines, bar tabs and interest

The librarian at the local library behind my house just informed me that my pattern of racking up library charges and not paying them until they get over the $8 limit is similar to people who keep bar tabs.

books? beer? They do both begin with b... Still, I like to think that's a stretch.

My favorite librarian is the one who pointed out that the library doesn't charge interest, so really, you are under no obligation to pay your fine until it reaches the $8 mark. Excellent point. Come to think of it, bars probably don't charge interest either.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Homecoming Parade

I am sure my senior year of high school I lamented that I was experiencing my last homecoming parade. Little did I know years later I would once again participate with my jump rope team.

The high school next door to my elementary school is the most diverse high school in the country. While I stood in the hot parking lot watching the floats get put together by energetic cheerleaders, student body council members, and the ESOL drama club, I wished I had a camera to take a picture of the homecoming court members. The court reflected the population of the high school as a fantastically diverse group of teenagers. I love that the kids I teach grow up in a community where diversity is what happens naturally.

This was the second time my team had participated in the parade and I admit it's not my favorite activity. High school homecoming might have been fun the first time around (maybe) but by now I don't really need the walk down memory lane. Plus, the last time I chaperoned this trip I ended up yelling at the skateboarding club for trying to flirt with my 4th grade girls. I literally pushed some of my jumpers away from these boys. I wasn't looking forward to playing this protective role again.

Luckily this year we marched between the ESOL drama club and the Hispanic heritage club so we were protected by some of my children's cousins, as well as caring high school girls. It was interesting to watch my team react to the high schoolers though. One set of 5th girls have been best friends at least since 3rd grade when I met them. Friday showed an example of how different they've grown in the last few years. One squealed with delight at having talked to Sponge Bob, (who had been outfitted with a long mustache and sombrero for the parade...) but the other glanced around frequently, very self-aware of the high school students all around. One seemed to still be a child, excited to be around her friends, and uncaring about the opinions of the rest of the world. My heart went out to her friend who had ended childhood and was onto her teenage angst. Why can't we slip from being a happy 4th grader into being a confident adult?

The parade went well despite the hot October weather. As expected, my jumpers leaped for the candy thrown by other marches though it was intended for the families who put out their lawn chairs to watch the parade. Is it fair to ask elementary school kids to participate in a parade and not expect them to run for the candy?

something to remember them by

My lovely kindergarten kiddos have given me a fantastic cold to remember them by during our 2 week break. *sigh* now I need to go to the store to get new tissues.

At least I don't have to take any sick time, but really, I could have done without this guys.
After intersession, we learn how to blow our noses by ourselves, wash our hands, and cough into our elbows.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

slowly

On Friday I stood with a fourth grader from my jump rope team waiting for her father to pick her up.

"How does your dad walk here?" I asked, wondering if I should drive her home myself, and if so, could I drive by where he walks in case we meet him en route.

"Slowly" she replied. "He's kind of slow"

my bff

My bff's last day was Wednesday. It was our last day before parent conferences and intersession break, so it created a natural transition for him. I'm not sure I'm at peace with it yet. As I spoke with the speech teacher at his new school I tried to portray what a great kid he is, while at the same time giving her enough information to make his transition easy. I hope I did an adequate job. Part of me is tempted to join him on his first day, since my own school will be on break. But part of me knows I should let him go alone, allowing them to transition him the way they see fit. And, part of me knows that when I watch him read if you give a mouse a cookie for the first time, I may tear up, and that wouldn't be good for any of us.

So goodbye bff. Thank you for your great smile early in the morning. Your cheery voice and your laughter at lunch, and our hunts of 'g for gramma' at the end of the day. Good luck!

beauty of year-round schooling

It is Sunday and I am currently sitting at a coffee shop not doing school work. If I want to I can ignore the fact that school exists for 2 more weeks. I could dance with happiness for my two-week intersession break.

Ignoring school is always difficult for me to do, but the two week break does give me time to reflect, relax, catch up on professional reading, mentally problem solve school issues, and of course, dive into my stack of trashy literature.

The kids, however, are not given 2 weeks off to sit around and do nothing as I have elected to do. For a mere $25, ($5 if they qualify for free or reduced lunch), they can attend our intersession classes. Each kid takes 2 classes just for fun. The classes explore topics we don't get to fit into our academic schedules. In the past I've taught a jump-rope class, a writers' workshop class, and a class for 5th graders on how to tutor first graders (mini-psychology actually). As a teacher, intersession gives me a chance to try out adventurous teaching methods I wouldn't necessarily risk during the school year.

Intersession always reminds me of my college's spring term. Every spring we had a 6 week term when we only had to take 2 classes. Sometimes this was an easy way to knock out a terrible pre-rec (I spent one spring term taking baby bio), but it was also a time for our professors to teach what their speciality. Spring term classes tended to be quirkier, taught with more passion, and much more interesting than our fall or winter classes. I love that my elementary school gives the same opportunity to staff and students.

When we return to our regular school schedule the kids come back with all sorts of new knowledge. They have new friends and know more teachers. (Feeling more connected in a school is one of the ways to encourage children from poverty to be engaged in school according to Ruby Payne) Later, in the midst of a standard science lesson, children will suddenly make a connection with what they learned at intersession. Intersession gives our kids life experiences middle class kids might get through summer camps, family vacations, or after-school activities.

Better yet, they have less time to forget what they learn in their regular class. They have more time to practice their English language skills. They are not left alone for 12 summer weeks to watch tv because it is not safe for them to run around outside alone.


I am a firm believer in year-round schooling and fear the day I may have to return to a regular calendar. However, under my new position as a special education teacher I've become aware of the problems the calendar creates for my special ed kiddos.

On Friday, our last day of parent conferences, I walked by our school child-care to find one of my kids being picked up early for his behavior. I was shocked to hear this because we'd made so much progress this year. Sitting down and talking to him (Or, trying to talk to him anyway) he expressed that he hated intersession and didn't want to go. The change in schedule was unnerving to him and he regressed to his coping mechanisms.



I wanted to cry. Although I had made social stories for some of my kindergartners who I knew would have trouble with the transition, I hadn't even thought this little one would struggle. It's easy to forget, I am learning, that kids can make progress in one situation, but we have to teach them to transfer those skills to all situations.

So, Tuesday approaches and the friends on my caseload will be making the transition. It will be a learning experience for all of us. I've warned the intersession coordinator that I wouldn't be answering my phone Tuesday morning to aide in any crisis that occurs. We'll see if I can actually follow through and sleep in instead of driving to school.

In the meantime, I'll relax and enjoy the next two weeks. Praise the Lord for year-round schooling.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

two silly yet different worlds

Last night my husband spent hours on his blackberry trying to solve a problem I told him seemed really silly. I smugly thought that while I may not have his earning potential, or his respectful workplace, at least I wasn't one of 4 grown-men desperately clutching his blackberry at 9pm, worrying about a very small mistake that most people may not notice.

A few minutes later I checked my email and saw that a parent cancelled on an IEP meeting and outright made it impossible for us to meet within the 30 day federal guidelines. I became vocally frustrated until my husband poked his head in and said, "How dare she worry about keeping her job and feeding her kids instead of getting fired for taking time off just to sign a paper for some silly American law that doesn't make much sense in her world."

Sometimes we all need perspective.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

No runners kept behind

This morning I woke up to a message on my phone from one of my best friends who isn't a teacher. In the middle of the night she was contemplating stories about my kids and had a question.

"So, I was thinking about your runners. You have 4. So what if they all ran at once? But some ran really fast and some ran slower and some ran in the middle. But you can't keep up with all of them at once, so you have to make the slow ones run faster and the fast ones run slower so everyone runs in the middle. But that really isn't fair to the fast ones. Maybe they should add to No Child Left Behind and create a No Child Kept Behind. "

She and I ran cross country together in college and both have memories of one season where some of the girls would insist that everyone run together on our long, slow runs. If anyone ran faster than them they would throw a miniature fit. If anyone ran slower they were considered a slacker. Finally our coach stepped in and presented us with some scientific data about heart rates and how 'slow' is different for everyone. Our runs needed to be differentiated for our physical needs.
Our coach got it. Do our congressmen?

This morning I was excited to hear someone who isn't in education begin to think about what NCLB means for the gifted and talented kids. If more people start asking these questions, maybe we can begin to re-write the law.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nature spies

I was lucky enough today to join one of my classes on their fungi hunt in the nature place behind our school. This is energetic and occasionally chaotic class (my favorite kind) and they were particularly excited about discovering fungi hidden among the logs, leaves, and trees.
I had to admire how the teacher let them run free among the leaves. Although they were loud and possibly interrupting the classes learning inside the school, I appreciated that she allowed them to be the six year olds they truly are. The excitement for nature wasn't quashed with "walk quietly and whisper about fungi". Who wants to whisper about fungus? Instead there were screams of excitement for fungi spottings while feet crunched through the leaves to find the place where the fungi was hidden.
As a classroom teacher I made the mistake of always worrying about what my classroom looked like from an outsider's perspective. I wondered about who was judging my noisy learners and tried to keep a lid on it. Even when I knew learning was still happening amongst the noise and mess, I still glanced over my shoulder wondering what might be said about me in the teacher lounge.
If and when I go back to the classroom I want to keep these thoughts in mind.

today's conversations in the hallways

As I stood outside the boys' bathroom door and coached one of my kiddos through pulling up his pants, flushing the toilet, and washing his hands a co-worker walked by and asked,

"How many masters degrees does it take to get your job?"

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I was in the process of literally running from one end of the school to the other when a parent of a child I taught a few years ago walked by.

"Oh my! Does someone have a bun in the oven?"

NO! oh goodness. On top of everything else, now I look pregnant?! Just to quash all rumors, I'M NOT but now I'm on a diet.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I overheard a kindergarten teacher giving an assessment to one of her kiddos.
"What sound do you hear at the beginning of cat?" she asked.

"MEOW"

exactly.

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree