Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Parent Involvment & School Achievement

Assorted Stuff blogged today about the Washington Post's article on parent involvement in schools. The article discusses how parents need to stop being blamed for bad schools because: "Great teaching makes great schools, and once you have a good school, parents become engaged and active." The article frustrated me and I think AS does a great job articulating why. It got me thinking a lot about parent involvement and why parents enter the school doors.

(I have a lot to say so I'm going to try to limit myself and put it into topics)

How we reach out:
I have to admit I teach at a GREAT school. We have incredible teachers who deliver research based teaching methods on a daily basis. We have a Parent Center where our parents can go for coffee, check their emails, speak to someone in their home language, get explanations about how to put lunch money on their child's card, or just sit and talk with other parents. We have many parent-focused events during the year to bring parents into our doors. We plan presentations and class parties for days and times we think the parents will be able to make it. (8am is usually good before parents are off to work... 7 or 7:30 is usually best so that parents have time to come home from work and fight traffic). We are hyper-aware of what will promise us the best parent turn-out and are consistently working to make our school a welcoming place for parents. We have teachers who do home visits. We want the parents involved and we fight to keep it that way.

Yet we still struggle with parent involvement. It is common to have no chaperons on a field trip, or never see one of the parents of your children the entire year. It is common to have children who receive no help with their homework. (Despite all this I have found that many of our parents are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I am in awe with their hope, determination, and work-ethic they brought into this country. )

Middle-Class Expectations
A large problem schools face with parent participation is that many schools operate under middle-class expectations and social norms. We expect parents to know how to tell time, how to be on time, how to logically and sequentially store information in their memories, and to prioritize the way we (the school) see fit. Often our middle-class expectations do not line up with lower-class reality. Ruby Payne wrote a great and very easy to read book called A Framework For Understanding Poverty. She covers many of these issues and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in increasing parent participation.

Living in the lower-class brings a new set of life rules to go by. Survival becomes of optimal importance, as does paying the bills, feeding your children, and keeping your job. If something (like a parent/teacher conference) does not fall into one of these categories it is likely to be forgotten about, ignored, or cancelled at the last minute if something with a higher priority comes up. Forgot to pay the mortgage again? Lose the house. Take another hour off work to go to a parent conference? You don't earn money that day. Less money for food/housing/clothing. Babysitter to expensive? The game-cube will keep them quiet while an elderly grandparent watches them. That way you can save money to actually feed them and keep a roof over their head. You come home from your second job at 9pm? Your child isn't going to bed until 10, despite how many times your school has told you about the importance of an 8 o'clock bedtime. Plus, if you put your kid to bed at 8, he wont see you to hand you the letter from the teacher. You don't see it? He misses recess the next day and you get a call that takes you away from your job, which in turn gets you in trouble again.

Survival:
A few years ago I lived with a group of girls in an incredibly beautiful row-house. The reason we could afford to live there was that it was in one of the most unsafe areas in the city. The cops (in our neighborhood to break up a fight on the street) practically introduced us to Harvey, the city's leading crack dealer and then asked us why in H*** we were living there. Then winter came and we didn't have heat. Slowly our lives changed from being 20-something girls in the city to a constant awareness of the immediate situation, and only the immediate situation. We lost our reasoning and logical thinking and could focus only on the here and now. We only planned to accommodate for our safety and our warmth. I remember begging a coffee shop to stay open another hour because it was warm. I cried on a snow-day because school was cancelled so I couldn't go anywhere to get warm. We knew all the tricks with the taxi-drivers too. We memorized the city taxi-cab laws since the cab drivers never wanted to drive us to where our house was. And when they'd try to refuse to take us, or would try to rip us off we'd find ourselves quoting laws and threatening law suites (does this sound like angry parents you know?) We're not mean people. We are sweet girls who knew how dangerous it would be to have the taxi cab let us out on the wrong street corner. We memorized the tenate laws in the city and finally were able to break our lease when we reminded our landlord he was required to give us heat. When did we become such extreme people?
We only had 2 survival concerns and they consumed our entire being. Two weeks after we finally moved we were sitting in our warm apartment in our safe, yuppie neighborhood across town and finally realized how hard life had been for the past 6 months. And we only had to worry about 2 issues. We weren't concerned with money, we weren't trying to raise children or hold down multiple jobs.

Parents come from a tough situations. I've had quite a few conferences lately where I learned a family lost their house and was homeless for a week or two. No wonder they didn't return the forms, or get their child to school on time.

I'm not excusing behavior, because if your child comes to school an hour late every day she will miss an entire subject. If you don't return your forms you are creating legal problems for us, or excluding your child from opportunities. But our "great teaching" isn't going to be what gets parents in the door.

Teach Well And They Will Come?
Jay Mathew's article frustrated me as it suggested that we merely need to "teach harder and better" and the parents will come. I think what he may have been suggesting is that once we get a reputation as a "good school" the rich families will move in, which will inevitably raise our test scores and increase our parent involvement. I think if that happened, me and many of my co-workers, would be looking to find another school. We love the population we teach. Sure we get frustrated that they aren't doing their homework, and I have been known to say terrible things behind closed doors when I've become frustrated with a parent.

What helps is understanding where the parent is coming from, why they aren't able to be involved, build up trust, personal relationships, and slowly but surely make the parent more comfortable in the school building.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

my kindergarten boyfriend

i was in one of my kindergarten classrooms today listening quietly to the children take turns sharing their writing workshop papers. i watched one boy turn, look at me, and then make the oddest expression. he scrunched up half of his face and closed one eye while he smiled.
did he have a tick? was he trying not to be sick?

then he did it again, pointing at me at the end.

and that's when i realized, it was a wink.

Monday, January 28, 2008

teaching with poker

I am watching a Cobert Report rerun where he is interviewing the Harvard Professor who believes playing poker is a great teaching tool. I think he has a very great point, although we do need to consider the ramifications of gambling addition.

However, take away the losing one's life savings, and you do have to admit that there is a lot of math in card games.

We teach kids (think first graders) how to play a game called 'make ten' where we take turns turning over number cards until a player turns over a card that can be added together with the other cards on the table to make 10. And when kids have mastered the concept of making ten? Increase the number to 15, 20, or... 21? Does this sound like I'm teaching kids black jack? Sometimes I wonder if math workshop is really just casino training.

how i know i love my job or, what is WRONG with me?

last week presented three harrowing days of overwhelming stress. just three days. i took friday off to go pretend to be a politico with my family. i spent all day saturday in grad class and then skipped my special ed sunday school ministry to catch up on grad work. today we had a teacher workday so it became the fourth day in a row that i didn't get to work with children.

these are children who spit, hit, and drooled on me last week.

i miss them so much. just four days and i can't wait to see them tomorrow. no matter how many times i consider the lsat or think about how fabulous a job in politics may be, i realize i would be miserable. because even though i would not be covered in snot, would not listen to dr. jean sing the abcs over and over again, would not have to read 'here comes the brown car', and would not have to stand in the cold during kiss and ride duty, i wouldn't get to watch kids sing dr. jean, or learn their abcs, or stand with pride when they read 'here comes the brown car'. And I wouldn't get hugs and smiles when kids head into school.

i am sadly very happily stuck in a job with snot, spit, drool, and no money.

'stuck in happiness' isn't too bad i suppose but it does make me a big dork.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

the juicer

On Thursday one of my kiddos was having a very, very bad day. Bless his heart, he was trying so hard to hold it together, but to no avail. When you're five your body can be kind of hard to control, especially if you have other issues in the mix.
At lunch club we'd gotten the other children out of the room and were waiting for him to "show me he is ready" or that "he is being a boss of his body" before we could go join his class at recess. This took awhile, especially since he also had a very runny nose. We had to keep stopping to practice blowing (which wasn't going very well).
So finally he was ready and we left my small room, while he clutched a used tissue in his hand. Pick your battles, I thought, figuring we could find a trash can later. He tends to hold onto tissues like security blankets and I didn't want to begin another fight by forcing him to throw it away immediately.
We timidly approached the water fountain so he could get water before heading out to play. After he finished gulping it down he put the tissue into the running water.
(And this is where I know I should have taken it away from him... but 1) the tissue was covered in snot and 2) I have a terrible, terrible habit of curiosity. Truthfully, part of me wanted to understand why on earth he put water on his tissue. So I watched and waited, ready to pounce if needed.)
He closed the wet tissue in his little fist and we proceed to head for the stairs to go outside. Suddenly he stopped, held his tissue hand out, and started squeezing.
"I'M THE JUICER" he announced, holding the tissue out so the water streams onto the stairs. "I'M THE JUICER" he continued, moving the tissue above his head so that his face is covered with the water.

And I had been so happy those germs had been on that tissue. ick.

Based on what I know about the kiddo, and the day he was having, I can only imagine what kind of sensory relief being "the juicer" gave him. It's satisfying, really, if you squeeze something hard enough in your hand to feel the juice or water run between your fingers. So, now I know what he likes. Let's see if next time I can re-create it without a dirty tissue, yelling in the hallway, or getting water all over the stairs.

Hmmm...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

days of the week

"hey mrs. lipstick, do you still have the day of the week earrings your little angel gave to you for Christmas?"
"Yes! I'm wearing them now. See?"
"Are those for Thursday?"
"Um... no, I think they were for Monday."
"But it's Thursday." (Thursday's earrings are fairly hideous pink hearts)
"Well, I really like these."
"But today is Thursday."
"Yes, well... maybe these were for Thursday. Show me that great writing you've been working on..."

milk cartons

we have new chocolate milk cartons. they aren't very different, but different enough. who knew this would throw such a curve ball in my day? kindergarten logic astounds me. flexibility is not one of my lunch club's strengths.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

kicking things

there are some days that leave me wanting to kick things. hard. i want to kick things because i realize i have no control over my students' lives. i want to kick harder because i have to let go and let them walk out the door every night knowing i can't control what will go on until they walk in the door again. i want to pound my fists on the table and cry. if you're six, or 10, life should be fair. your family should be a safe place to be, you should have parts of your life you can count on. and the fact that you can't makes me want to kick things so they'll break. which is exactly why i can't kick. because breaking things doesn't make it any better. it doesn't make the world fair or put the pieces back together.

so instead i'll try to focus on the laughter i saw today while my first graders were making chocolate mud-pies. or the way i watched two brothers take turns wiping one another's tears at different times in the day. or the fabulous co-workers who were willing to drop their planning periods to lend a hand, stay after school to offer advice, or just listen to me sort through it all.

even when my days are terrible, i still know i have one of the best jobs there is.
Dear Mrs. Lipstick,
You are a good reading teacher.
Love,
Your reading friend


how do they know just when you're going to need that the most?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

grouchy, grouchy, grouchy

i held my grouchy mood together all day, despite not being able to eat with my lunch bunch due to testing. i was doing really well until jump rope practice. and then i was done.

they weren't staying on beat. they were stopping mid-routine, not even trying. ropes were moving while i was talking, back of heads were facing me before routines were suppose to start. two whole rows missed their cues because some fifth grade girls were gossiping in the back. i had no sympathy.

"do it again" was my response every time, so i "skilled, drilled, and killed" our new routine. they complained about hurting joints. i told them it was important to practice this routine. they can ice when they get home. we only have 3 more practices before our next show. we're behind. why wont they try harder?

why do i have patience when children are struggling to read, but not now when they are trying to do really hard jumps? i certainly can't do what i expect them to do.

i raced away from practice knowing i needed to get to the gym and get my stress out fast. in my aerobics class i fell off the beat. i got behind. i got water instead of starting the routine right away. i didn't pick my legs up as far as i should have. i was lazy. the instructor told us to speed up. i slowed down.

evil jump rope coach from the black lagoon meets sympathetic, apologetic (and sore) teacher.

Monday, January 21, 2008

testing creativity

I spent a glorious Saturday with the husband wondering through museums. As we made our way through an exhibit on the Wright brothers I was struck by this quote:

We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.
~Orville Wright

The exhibit discussed how the Wright Brothers were not considered intellectuals or scholars in physics. They were mere bike repair men who continued to observe, test theories, and alter their plans little by little to make their dream happen.

They might not have tested well under today's standards of NCLB but where would we be without their curiosity?

One of my favorite t-shirts says,
Mississippi. Last in literacy. First in Pulitzer Prizes.

What do we want these tests to measure?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

bibliotherapy

in my readings for grad school i just learned a new word:

bibliotherapy: when a dramatic change occurs in a student's attitude and outlook because of a book the child has read.

how many times have i experienced bibliotherapy? when i read The Giver? Or all of those Richard Peck books I couldn't get enough of in 7th grade? Or before that... maybe when i first read Edith the Lonley Doll, or Timothy Goes To School? absolutely my first year of college when i opened a care package from my mother that contained Thank you, Mr. Falker and found myself crying as i finished it.

Colonial Behavior Plans

I think today I learned why children in the 1700s were taught to make samplers in school. Stitching calms children down, occupies their little hands while engaging them in an active activity. It's not passive like reading, so that even your most energetic Colonial little girl would feel she was getting her wiggles out with a needle.
Without tv to occupy children I imagine having them sew was a great way to keep them busy, quiet, and to keep them from running into the horses on the street.

Sunday Ministry

My church is working on developing our special needs ministry, which is an exciting process to be a part of. We have a significant number of children with special needs, perhaps because although we are typically a denomination referred to as the "frozen chosen" our church allows for jubilant and excitable little ones. If you're looking for a safe place to bring your little one on Sunday, a place where people wont be upset by the occasional outburst, you'll find our church pretty welcoming.
As this population of children grows we are finding we need to find ways to adapt our ministry to our kiddos' needs. This is an interesting process because church works differently than school. In school we have a set routine, administrators, clear rules, and everything is child-centered. School, I am learning, is a much easier place to work with special needs children. Church is once a week and although has routine isn't set up in a structure that typically accommodates behavior plans, lesson modifications, or adapted expectations. For instance, we can't just say, "Well, he's not bothering anyone when he hums so we'll just let him hum during the sermon."
However, not letting him hum may cause a child to yell, kick, or engage in other more bothersome self-stim behaviors. Which of course bothers other members of the congregation.

In school there is also a more set way of addressing such needs. I can do my little "we all have different brains" lesson and we're done with the questions about "why does he get to sit there?" In church I can't very well stand up and address the congregation about this.
In church you have older members of the congregation who can't hear as well when children aren't silent during the sermon. They don't really care about the different brains lesson, they just want to hear the lesson since they worked so hard to come to church on a very cold winter day. Yet of course our parents of children with special needs worked very hard to come to church that morning as well.

We've debated whether or not to allow children to use stress toys for self-stim behavior during worship. This was finally axed, although I did some stitching projects with two children today.

I'm enjoying this ministry and being able to apply skills I learn in my job at church. I will say though that it is teaching me it is much easier to be a special education teacher than a parent of a child with special needs. I have always had a lot of respect for these parents, but it only continues to grow as we consider these questions in our ministry.

If your church has done something similiar I would love to hear how it works.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"We do not throw George Washington"

Thanks to being the transition back to our normal routine, a snowy Thursday, a two hour delay Friday, and just having five year olds be five year olds, this week was exhausting. I find myself almost too tired to compose my thoughts on this week other than:

1. I'm glad its over.

2. Although I love having dolls of Famous Americans, it does distress me to see George Washington sail across the room. (Could someone please give me a Helen Keller doll??)

3. What kind of a world do we live in where five year olds have to spend an entire day watching snow fall outside their classroom window, only to finally get out of school and have it begin to rain.

4. If I hear anyone at the central office make a comment about how fabulous it was that we didn't send our children home early so that we had an uninterrupted day of learning on Thursday I might punch them. And once they fire me, they can spend a day with children watching snow fall and then decide whether or not it was uninterrupted learning.

5. I love watching five year olds watch the snow fall. I love the shock on their faces when we walk down the hallway and they see that it isn't just snowing outside their classroom window~ it is snowing outside on the playground, and in the parking lot, and outside the cafeteria too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

bring it on v. jump in

I have to admit, there is a special place in my heart for truly terrible teen (or tween as my jumpers call themselves) movies like Bring It On and Jump In. Needless to say, my jumpers totally agree. Which is why we are all still on a crazy high from our Friday performance.

We were part of the half time show for the basketball game at our high school. It was our first performance and we'd only had one practice since break, so we were all a little nervous. We were suppose to go on between the dance team and the cheer leading squad. There were my tiny elementary school jumpers, clutching their ropes, staring at the large crowd while they try to remember their routines.

Picture this in a tween movie:

They announce us and the crowd goes wild (I mean, we're a cute jump rope team at a high school... we have a reputation). Our first routine is a competition between our jumpers and everytime someone makes a mistake she sits down as the music gets faster and faster. It's usually a crowd pleasure and to make it even better the announcer started calling it. The crowd goes crazy and our kids run to the back of the gym to grab their other rope to come back out for their next routine.

But the CHEERLEADERS run onto the floor, not knowing we have another routine. They start dancing with 12 jumpers holding ropes and looking confused behind them. The crowd starts chanting "Jumpers, Jumpers" until the cheerleaders have to stop their routine, run off the floor, and let our team back on.

Sadly, the crowd was so loud we couldn't hear the music so the routine was a little off, but regardless... Imagine being in fourth grade and having an entire gym chant for you to perform over the high school cheerleaders. They were walking on air for the rest of night. In fact, some were still walking on air at practice and re-living every moment of it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

budget cuts

our county is going through fiscal difficulties and is starting to make lists of programs that could get cut, will get cut, wont get cut, and ones that maybe, possibly will get cut.

right now our year round schedule isn't on the list, but some other schools with the same schedule are. even though they promise us we're safe for next year, i'm terrified that this is a sign that our special calendar only has a few more years in existence.

Year round schooling has so much to offer our community. Our kids spend more time in school so they have more time to practice their English, practice their reading and math skills, and have more time to get out of their small apartments. They have opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise as they would not be going to summer camps if not for our intersession classes. Almost more importantly, they make new friends and meet new teachers. One of the proven ways to encourage children to come to school and work hard is when children feel there is more than one adult looking out for them in the school (Ruby Payne). With intersession our kids get to meet two other teachers outside of their normal classroom. Intersession builds our community with more teachers familiar with more children. It helps our kids know they belong in our school and that school is a place to feel safe.

Please, please cut our budget for staples, paper, and tape. Take away the programs nobody uses anymore, but do not take away our year-round schedule.

teacher blues

we all know that being a teacher means you have to train your bladder to go 8 hours without using the restroom. and that you can consume your lunch in 5 minutes flat leaving time to take a child to the clinic, help a new student understand the cafeteria, call a parent, get your afternoon materials ready (still no time for the bathroom)

this is all fine and we give up eating slowly and bathroom breaks for the best job in the world. we deal with our doctors telling us to leave the kids alone for a few seconds (what could happen, they ask) and use the bathroom, drink more water, or slow own our eating. they just don't get it.

my newest frustration right now is that my husband and i are trying to buy a house. now, most people can be on the phone with realtors and lenders throughout the day, and when they get the news that someone else has put in an offer they can put in a higher offer right away. people might have to make time around meetings, but their schedule isn't controlled by excitable six year olds. and when the six year olds go home? now figure out time to meet with a lender around grad school classes, professional development, after school activities, parent conferences, etc.

years of saving my teacher salary so that one day i can buy a house, and we keep losing houses because we don't respond fast enough! its one thing to choose a career that means you can't afford a house, quite another to have a career that doesn't' give you time to even find a house!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"we are all teachers and we are all learners"

intersession ended yesterday with a whirlwind day of presentations and cleaning. the kids and i worked hard to scrub up what was left from our adventures in splatter paint, and then wrote a long apology to the teacher who normally uses the classroom. lesson learned: put down newspaper when splatter painting.

my kiddos held a "gallery walk" for classes to come in and view their scrapbooking work. After about 10 minutes of showing off their achievements i rang a bell and turned my scrapbookers into teachers. They used ed emberley's instructions to teach their audience how to draw animals out of shapes. We had one kindergarten class, two 1-2 classes, one 3-4 class, and one 4-5 class come through. Watching my first and second graders teach the fourth and fifth graders how to draw was a thrill. Their teacher had coached them on how to politely work with the little ones and so they patiently sat while my children explained their work. As the big kids filed out of the room I watched my class sit up taller in their chairs. Pride filled the room as kids giggled, "She said I was a GOOD teacher!" "I taught them how to do that!!"

I want to remember this and ask older classes to come in and politely listen to my kids teach bigger concepts like the water cycle or fractions. We all know once you can teach a concept you have a greater retention time. I imagine the thrill of teaching it to older kids is even more powerful.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

art therapy

On Tuesday tree and I wandered around museums in the city enjoying the fact it is intersession and not the normal school year. We deserve, we believe, to pretend we are still on break and go out on school nights.
So we did.
We came across an exhibit of an artist's work that varied between calm tranquil water fowl and murderous watchful eyes with blood-like streaks across the canvas. One painting looked almost sweet from a distance with its colorful watermelon field. Yet on closer examination the watermelons had been brutally slain as their blood (not juice, blood) poured out onto the watermelon patch. "Ugh" I pointed out to tree, "Its a good thing he has art as an outlet or he may have become a serial killer".

As we finished the exhibit we came to the last piece, a three panel floor to ceiling piece in a Jackson Pollock type fashion. When reading the plaque beside the piece, we read something close to "this piece was like an exodus for my pathological emotions. If not for this I may have become an ax-murder"

And that is why we should teach art in schools.

*As far as my diagnostic skills on cats and now random artists, I'd like to add that my in-laws called to have me diagnose their cat with an eating disorder. I now believe he's bulimic since he eats items which cause himself to throw up. I am starting to think I should open some sort of business.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

things i am bad at as a teacher:

*recognizing when a child actually needs to go to the clinic. i usually lean to the side of "wow, look at you being brave even though you have that imaginary paper cut on your finger. go get a drink of water, take a deep breath, and then get back to work." or for the particularly difficult cases who tell me they aren't brave...
"good thing you don't need that foot to listen to a story."

because of this fatal flaw i have had my feet thrown up on. when i was wearing flip flops. to make it worse, the kid was only sick because at lunch he ate an ENTIRE KIWI to impress his friends. fuzzy skin and all.

still, no lesson learned.

so today when a child with a perfectly clean nose yelled, "I'm BLEEDING!" i did a necessary check, told him to get a drink of water, be brave, and get back in line. moments later there was blood everywhere. the floor. the walls. the kid's shirt. me. amazed at how the child predicted he was about to be bleeding moments before the blood began to pour, i hauled him into the clinic, apologizing to our awesome clinic aid for the blood streaming onto her floor all because i wasn't proactive.

but really, what's worse? sending every imaginary illness to the clinic every five minutes, or waiting until they have proven themselves.

based on smell and mess factor, perhaps i should really allow for at least some of those imaginary illnesses to make it to the clinic.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Welcome to Holland

I love this

popular trees

*Pssts... one kiddo whispered to another on the carpet today while i was teaching.

"let's talk about something popular!"

I leaned into their conversation to stop the talking with body language as opposed to stopping my entire lesson to orally reprimand the girls.

"Oh!" the whisperer noticed me. " I mean, what do you know about trees?"

trees?

does talking on the carpet become ok if it is a sciency subject? as a teacher in general am i suppose to embrace all tree conversations?

not to mention, who says, "let's talk about something popular"? When asked to define popular she said, "You know, girly-girls who wear cool clothes everyone likes instead of ugly, ugly clothes."

ugh.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sunday Night

I will admit that last Tuesday night I pouted a lot about going back to work. I may have stomped my feet. I may have made some rude comments about how stupid it was to sign up for intersession and that we really don't need the money that badly. I may have sworn I would never teach intersession again.

And then when the alarm went off Wed. morning I may have been extra loud getting ready, as a protest for having to go into work when I had the CHOICE to have another week and a-half off.

Yet now its Sunday night and I'm ridiculously excited about going in to work tomorrow. Not only do I get to teach my smart cookie, but I have other fabulous kids I get to work with. We're scrapbooking so I get little windows into their lives while we talk about their pictures and lay out their pages. I'm loving it, and loving the fact we get to have fun all day without worrying about important curriculum. Not that we're not learning! But we get to relax a bit, make a mess, laugh, and have fun in the process. Hooray year-round schooling.

(To make it all better, now that I have my own classroom at the moment I get to do exciting read-alouds and can have the kiddos sing whenever and whatever I want. I've missed that!)

Tomorrow I think we're going to splatter paint... and possibly do some ed emberley thumb print art.

lesson in blogging...

I wrote my blog post yesterday in a hurry to get back to my book. I didn't put too much thought into it and didn't really give it a good re-reading. I mean, my readers are my dad, my inlaws, and some of my co-workers, right?


One would have thought I learned my lesson when I insulted SEASTARS and was corrected by someone in our county who worked with the program.


Apparently I didn't...


John Elder Robinson, the author of the book, Look Me in the Eyes commented below, asking why I wouldn't want to teach a child like him. To quote my children, "It hurt my heart". I certainly didn't mean that in the least, but on re-reading I realize that is what it sounded like. That is the last message I ever wanted to send!

My husband also pointed out that my comments about contributing to society insulted anyone not a 'teacher, priest, or lawyer'. I didn't mean that either. I only meant there are certain typical careers we think of when planning for success. Sometimes in our push to create perfect citizens in our classrooms we forget what success really looks like. It's something to think about. Do we expect children to conform and be perfect angels? Will those perfect angels end up not taking risks later in life? This frequently comes up with debating NCLB. Sure we'll have children who can take standardized tests and memorize information, but can they problem solve?

Recently I've been in situations with parents who are just discovering their children have asperger's. Some see it is a death sentence, as though their child will sit in a state hospital the rest of his life. But it's not. Robinson writes in his book, "I have started to see that we Aspergians are better than normal!" (page 240)
I cannot imagine what a parent goes through when first getting a diagnosis, but I found Robinson's book full of hope when considering these kids.

Another great book written by someone with Asperger's is Born on a Blue Day.

As for me, I'll do some more re-reading before I hit the 'publish post' button next time.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I'm currently reading Look Me in the Eyes; My life with asperger's by John Elder Robinson. (It's written by the brother of the author of my least favorite book in the whole world, Running With Scissors. I didn't realize that when I found it in the library).

The book is interesting, not because of it is well written. The author has asperger's, which does not always translate into literary genius. BUT, its still a great story. What I found so refreshing about it is that it describes a little boy most of us wouldn't want to teach. He struggles socially and makes up for it by playing tricks on his teachers and classmates. He shows no empathy for others. His parents take him to many different people in the mental health field and most say he is just obstinate, rude, and social maladjusted. If he doesn't get better, they predicte, he'll be a future serial killer with his love of violence and lack of empathy.

He ends up dropping out of high school and finds himself working for KISS as the electrical engineer who designes the flaming guitars and crazy light shows KISS is known for. He then goes on to work for Milton Bradly where he works on the first talking handheld video games.

Despite the predictions of his doom and gloom future, his horrible home life, and his lack of formal schooling, he still made valuable contributions to society. Maybe not in the happy warm-fuzzy way we like to think of as becoming a teacher, a pastor, or even a lawyer, but in a way that advanced science, added products to the market, and created a building block for future products to improve on.

It gives me hope for my smart cookie. We worry about where she will end up. She seems to enjoy making adults angry. She sees no need for school, authority figures, or how she is viewed by her peers. Yet there is a very brilliant little girl in there. If she drops out of high school, I'm sure we'll shake our heads and say, "we're not surprised" but I'm not sure that will be the end of her. Not fitting into our school mold may not be the worst thing in the world. Maybe despite all she has against her she'll be able to pull through and put her brain to use. Perhaps as long as she stays away from drugs and does not get pregnant in high school, she might be ok.

A good friend of mine said, "I just think I'm not a good twenty five year old. I'll be a much better 40 year old when the time comes."

Some kids just aren't made to be little kids. They'll grow up and be happy, well adjusted people, they just need time to grow. Being 8 isn't everybody's cup of tea.

Or am I just trying to put a positive spin on a situation I don't want to think is hopeless?

Friday, January 4, 2008

I heart my smart cookie

Another benefit of intersession is that you get to teach kids you don't normally work with, as well as kids you have taught in previous years. I love it! I love getting to work with kids I already spent a whole year with, especially when we're working on something fun.

I requested to have my smart cookie in my intersession class. I just miss her. I get to see her in the hallways but its not the same. So now I have her in a class that if I'm honest, I designed with her in mind. This isn't to say she's a perfect angel in here, but I still get to watch her creativity and excitement pop.

Yesterday she came bounding into the room about an hour and a half late, with a stack of pictures from her life. Her baby pictures, her pets, pics of her little sister, clutched in her hand with pride. It was so fun to look through them, get a glimpse of her life as a child, and watch her happily giggle as she told me the stories attached to each one.

Hooray for having 2 weeks to spend with a child when we're not cramming information down their throats. Hooray for letting children explore learning in a fun, natural way for a little while.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

multicultural markers

We're back in school, but not back to our regular schedule yet. I love year-round schooling. Right now we're in winter intersession, where each kiddo takes two classes during the day, a morning and afternoon class.
I'm teaching a scrapbooking class for first and second graders. So far I am having a ridiculous amount of fun watching the kids get into creating books of their lives. Since many don't have pictures of themselves their parents are willing to send in to get covered in glue and markers, I'm having them draw "photographs" of important times in their life we can use in a scrapbook. I have tons of supplies on the back table so they can get whatever they need for their inspiration.

Yesterday I looked around the room and noticed a little boy working diligently with 6 markers clutched in his hand. I moved back to see what he was doing. He was holding every color of the Multicultural Skin Colored markers and was drawing a line on his skin with each one. "I'm finding my match" he explained matter-of-factly and went back to drawing on his hand.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Snapshots of the return from the holidays

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"Santa Clause couldn't find ANY Game Cube games this year. And I tried to be SO good!!"

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"This was my first Christmas because last year we were in our country in a many-people house and no room for a house tree. This year we had a house tree. I loved it."

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"My favorite part of break was the 2008 party. Until the grownups drank something they shouldn't have and it made them throw up."

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"I don't celebrate Christmas. Or New Years. Or Winter break. Or intersession. I'm not allowed to be here."

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"My favorite thing about the holidays was making cartoon noises all the time. Want to hear?"

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