Sunday, March 30, 2008

once a teacher, always a teacher

today on the ski slopes in crested butte i skied past a child about the age of 5 who was face down in the snow, crying. his instructor and group mates had skied off down the green slope, unaware one of their members had taken a plunge. i was already below the child when i realized what had happened, but before i could even stop myself, i was duck-walking up the slope with my skis to try to help the poor kiddo in some way or another. now, i'm not a very good skier. i like to stay on the greens, enjoy the beautiful view of the colorado mountains, and go at my own pokie pace. i'm good with that. i'm not good enough to balance my way back up a ski slope, no matter what level it is, in order to help a child who has no idea who i am.
luckily, my encouraging 'you can do it! almost! one more step!' shouts as i pushed myself up helped and he got himself back up (or he was just terrified of the crazy lady on skis coming at him and decided it was better to get up and stop crying than stay there).

now i was stuck trying to turn around on my skis so i could go down hill forwards and not run backwards into the tree directly behind me.

i made it, but realized how ridiculous i was.

a few years ago i was running a road race in dc. i was winning for the women and doing pretty darn well up a killer hill when a small kid came up on my elbow. well, immediately my teacher ways overpowered my competitiveness. we chatted for awhile, up the wicked, wicked hill. i found out he was a first grader, this was his first race but he loved running. as i was going into 'wow, i teach first grade' i suddenly had to pull myself to the side to be sick. yes, the poor kid had a teacher throw up behind him on a nasty hill at the end of the race.

i recovered quickly, pulled myself together and told the kid he better beat me, so run faster! once he was sprinting up ahead of me i was able to get back into my competitive groove and finish the race (still beaten by this 6 year old, but i did win my age group).

i don't know if its a good sign that i go into teacher mode without thinking, or if it is worrisome. i should probably try to slip some logic in there somewhere before i end up skiing backwards into a tree.

teaching independent thinking

In a small bookstore in aspen, CO I found a book titled, The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees. I was a religion major in under grad and so am always interested in reading about relations between religious communities.

The book turns out to interest me more than just as a story of relations between religious communities. The main character, Omar Yussef, is a teacher at a UN school for refugee girls in Bethlehem. He has been a teacher throughout his life and has taught students of all religious during his various teaching assignments. His passion is teaching students to think with an open mind, and act honorably. While these are important lessons for students growing up in a terrorized community, Omar is being forced into retirement by the UN, who fears differences of opinions within the safe camp. As the community violence worsens, Omar is realizing that his students who took his message to heart are the ones being killed for their open minded actions. By not following the code the various terrorist groups in the city have laid out, Omar's students are killed despite their innocent actions. Omar is haunted by wondering if his teachings caused their deaths.

In looking over so many of the Passion Quilt meme pictures of my coworkers and other teachers in the blogging community, it is evident so many of us share the passion for teaching students to be open minded, independent problem solvers. We all phrased it in different ways and gave it different pictures, but for the most part we all show a strong desire for our students to be open minded, free thinkers. I think such beliefs are a sign of passionate, caring teachers. We're not creating cookie-cutter children, but ones who truly know how to think.

How easy is it for us in our country to teach such lofty ideals? Sure we complain about NCLB and are frustrated with how it limits our ability to teach open minded problem solving, but it is merely a standardized test and not a terrorist organization with guns.

Reading Omar's thoughts about his students and his teachings is diving into the head of a truly reflective teacher. Does he teach the basics, leaving out the independent thinking? It will be easier for his career if he teaches safely, but is that fair to the students? Yet giving them the power of free thinking is leading them toward their own deaths. Does he go on teaching what he believes is right, hoping that one day enough students will listen to him to change the ways of Bethlehem, or does he protect his students, himself, and his family, by teaching the way he has been asked to teach?

The book is a fictional account of real events, and while Omar is a fictional character, Rees captures his soul-searching and deep questions in a way that make you wonder if there is a right answer.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

extreme reading


snow covered statue of a family reading together in Breckenridge, CO.
I love the image of reading anytime, anywhere, in any weather.

Friday, March 28, 2008

kindergarten field trip ideas?

my husband and i are currently bopping our way through colorado on a free trip my husband won with his republican luck (how come they always manage to win? not that i'm complaining, as i am very much enjoying our ski-in ski-out condo)

yesterday he needed to have working lunch and so we met with the sales people at one of the nicest hotels in aspen, CO. As we talked about our plan to go cross country skiing the following day one of the sales women mentioned that her son goes cross country skiing with his school every month. 'that's nice' was my first thought, until she went on to say that her son is in kindergarten.

i cannot imagine taking an entire class of five year olds cross country skiing! they are barely able to run on the playground without running into each other and still haven't learned to make the right side of their body communicate with the left on a consistent basis. cross country skiing?? with those long skis? can you imagine?

ever since i heard this i've been trying to picture taking my lunch club skiing. needless to say i start laughing in public whenever this thought crosses my mind. it would be an adventure, that's for sure.

so maybe kids in colorado are just born ready to ski, or maybe their teachers are just braver. i can't say i'd volunteer to take 18 five year olds out into the cold with long slats strapped to their little feet. that's 36 pairs of skiis, 36 poles, 36 boots, 36 gloves or mittens. 18 hats, 18 zippers, 18 runny noses. 18 x 18 chances of children running into one another with poles.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

How to choose just one?

Passion for teaching, encouraging, and developing problem solving skills. I love giving children an open ended problem or task and watching them work together using the knowledge we've learned in class. (these first graders are creating the pilgrims' village. The requirement is to 'cut their trees into 6" by 1" 'logs')
Our wall of Famous Problem Solvers:
I was memed by Jenny for this passion quilt, and have to admit, how do you limit your passions to just one? After going through pictures and reflecting on happy times with my students (and starting to miss the classroom a bit) I settled on empowering problem solving.
And now I meme:
all the other teacher bloggers i know have already been memed!

Passion Quilt Meme Rules
Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own
that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce

early intervention (my soapbox, again)

last friday my husband and i had dinner with friends who have a one year old daughter. just a few weeks past her one year old birthday, she toddled around after dinner, pulling her board books off her shelves in a playful request for us to read Sandra Boyton and other fun stories. her reading corner is complete with a miniature arm chair and she scooted herself into it and opened the pages of book after book, taking obvious delight in the pictures.

watching her i couldn't help mentally doing the 'concepts of print' test we give to first graders.

*knows front of book from back~ check +1
*knows top of book from bottom of book ~ check +1
*knows to turn pages in book from front to back ~ check +1
*knows to start looking at the pages from left to right ~ check +1
*shows a knowledge that print contains meaning ~ check +1

She's 1 year old and she already has 5 points on an 11 point test for first graders. And I don't think this is abnormal for children in the middle and upper classes. Can you imagine not reading to your one year old? Or not having a toddler know how to turn the pages of a book?

It's hard to believe that we get students in kindergarten and first grade who have no idea how to hold a book, no idea where to start from, or how the book works. With limited exposure to print they don't understand how books work, or that we read books to gain meaning, whether for information or for pleasure. How can we begin to teach them the ABCs if they don't have any understanding of where in their lives this will become important? Learning to read is hard enough when you have the desire to figure out what those pesky letters are saying.

Programs that give books to at-risk children are wonderful, but they only accomplish half the battle. I had a parent of a child who failed the concepts about print test tell me she didn't need anymore books in her house. They had tons of books! she said as she described the children's rooms, which yes, sounded like they were FULL of books.

But if no one reads the books to the children, or models what one does with a book, how do children know that books are not just pretty types of skinny blocks?
somehow we have to teach parents how to read with their children, even with their babies. giving them the books isn't enough. we have to help them buy into the importance of creating a reading life for their child.

my dream is to one day do this, i just haven't figured out how yet.

Monday, March 24, 2008

books, books, books

for my birthday tree gave me a stack of books to enjoy over my 3 week intersession break. it is a beautiful stack, including a trashy book from the ny times best seller list, a brit chic-lit 'classic', a beverly cleary book (yes, the one i was worried wasn't appropriate for her fourth grader), and Flipped by wendelin van draanen.

i read Flipped today and loved it. loved it so much that i decided not to be embarrassed about reading it on the metro even if it is a young adult book. i want to go to school tomorrow, find some 4th graders i know have read it, and have some book talks. and not necessarily teacher-led-academic-style book talks. i mean, giggly with excitement as voices get louder retelling favorite parts. i want to be back in 4th grade so i can call my best friend and we can talk about how great the chicken scene is, or how we'd totally never take the boy back, or maybe we would. and how we'd talk about our own 'sycamore trees'.

so, if you want a great, quick read, i highly recommend it. when you're finished call me and we'll talk over bowls of ice cream until our moms yell at us to get off the phone because we have to finish our homework.

cat v frog, week 2

today i had to clean the frog's tank. i can do this activity without complaining when i do it with children, turning it all into a learning experience for my helpers. i almost look forward to watching a few kids triumphantly fish out the squirmy frog with a net and pour him into his new clean container. later they bring their writing workshop papers to me and we laugh about the great vocabulary they used to describe the stinky, swimmy frog.

when i do it by myself its just gross. no fun vocabulary needed.

of course, my kitten certainly didn't think so. she's still a little angry with me for locking her in a room during this process since after i started cleaning i realized her paw was ready to scoop down and fish out Happy the minute i turned my back. when i left for grad class today she was still sitting on the kitchen counter watching every move Happy made. i wasn't convinced he'd be alive when i returned.

he is alive, although she is still guarding the kitchen with her life, waiting for me to take him down to play again. i will be so relieved when Happy returns to school.

if it looks like adhd, and quacks like adhd

is it adhd?

anyone in the school setting is unable to actually, legally diagnose a child with adhd. not being drs, it would be 'practicing medicine without a license' for us to inform a parent that we suspect their child may have a medical disorder, but we are certainly familiar with the signs and symptoms, and frequently sit back and think, 'this kid's parents just need to take him to their pediatrician! don't they see he can't pay attention to save his life! they are ruining his elementary school years by not seeing what is in front of their eyes!'

except that, i think, sometimes the parents don't see it, because its not adhd.

a student with an auditory processing disorder is going to have a hard time paying attention in school because he wont be able to follow oral directions or oral mini-lessons. even as a kindergartner, this student is going to realize that listening, really listening, is hard work. and in kindergarten, when you haven't yet bought in to why school is important, you don't really understand why you should work so hard at listening. so really, why bother? why not talk to friends, play with strings on the rug, your shoe laces, your friend's hair, or talk to your imaginary friend?
but what we see is a five year old who doesn't 'listen' to directions. a five year old who seems to have no impulse control because he takes something before he realizes you said, 'don't touch that!'. a five year old who feels the only way they have control of a situation is to do their own thing, since they have no idea what you're asking them to do in the first place.

i think adhd has become an easier label for us. medication or no medication, it is a clear medical diagnosis, when learning disability labels are still hard to pin down. when you have to show a discrepancy between potential and actual performance it is hard to prove a child has a learning disability. especially with culturally biased testing. adhd, diagnosed from a dr, takes us out of the equation. the dr says the child has it, so we'll deliver services, and not worry about the label.

a lot of the time i find myself in the camp that a label is only a doorway to get a child the services he needs to succeed in school. in a school like mine with full inclusion, the label doesn't matter much at all. so do we categorize a kid with a learning disability or with a health impairment (adhd)? But does the adhd label change how we approach the child? does it keep us from teaching the child strategies and techniques that we would otherwise teach a child with a processing disorder? Or, since we are good educators, do we teach the child in front of us and disregard the label all together?

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I have been unsettled lately by some diagnosis discussions and I'm pondering it all out in my head.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

nightmare

i had a nightmare last night that i didn't get any sleep one night, and went off to school unprepared. when i stopped in one of my classrooms i got a call from the office telling me i'd be in there all day since the teacher was out sick and they couldn't get a sub. oh yeah, and they had no sub plans, the teacher had 5 new students, and they pulled the instructional assistant to sub in another class.

in the nightmare it all went fairly well although the new children had arrived because they shut down the center for students with emotional disabilities, so there was lots of throwing objects and curse words yelled around the room. i had to restrain one of these new children from hurting another child. on the upside, the current students, the ones i actually know and love, were angels as all this unfolded, despite their occasionally non-angelness in reality. in the dream i thought, wow, these kids have come a long way! we've done really well with them this year!

even in the nightmare there was a silver lining. :)

to our children tablemates at Color Me Mine,

We're sorry.

One of my closest friends and I finally found time to get together last Wed. after months of short emails and phone messages. It was spring break for both of us, and we were able to set aside a few hours to paint pottery at one of those paint-your-own pottery places. (She was an art major... I like the act of playing w/ paints as long as I don't check out her beautiful work too much).

The place was packed and they sat two very cute children at our table, kindergartner and a fourth grader (my age estimates). As they sat them down we had a moment where we could decide to be good people. We're both teachers, and both teach their ages. We could have engaged them in conversation. We could have commented on the book the older one had with her. We could have chatted about spring break, school, their pottery, etc.

But it was our break, our one chance to catch up, and so, we choose to go the other path. And for this I am sorry, our tablemates, but please know that we are around children all the time, and we usually are very, very good with children. We usually have all the patience in the world. You int erupted our 2 sacred hours. I'm very sorry.

It would have been ok, us not talking to them, if we hadn't talked about school. (For our credit we altered our conversation about other, more grown-up issues, so really, we could have scared them for life.) But instead, somehow, we got on the conversation of teachers who appear to hate children. We were on a roll discussing the 'teacher-lounge' talk, comparing the worst things we've ever heard a teacher say about a student, the worst unfair punishment a student has ever had. How did these people get to be teachers? we wondered together, sharing our own thoughts about the imporance of respectful discipline in the classroom, respecting your students and your coworkers.

The little boy, the kindergartner, hung on every word, almost unable to paint his firetruck. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his blond head staring at us, his eyes getting wider and wider. Poor kid. He's probably in his first or second year of elementary school, and had no idea until today that teachers could be mean. He now knows what can be said about kids when they are not around. I feel terrible for giving him this knowledge.

I am sorry little one. Not all teachers are like that. Most are good, loving people who got into teaching for the children. Most adore their jobs. We were talking about the few and far between teachers, the ones who stand out.

Next time we'll have to take our adult conversations to a more adult location, but painting pottery is so fun.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Excellence in Education?

The other day I received a flier in the mail for an 'Excellence in Education' summit in Florida this summer. Assuming I received it because I was a teacher I didn't think much of it, but when my husband came home and said he got the same one at the office, I realized I most likely got it the same way I got my 2008 Ronald Reagan Calendar, from one of the mailing lists I am on because of my husband's political alliances.

I should have known that it was not a summit for teachers when the cover of the flier features John Strossel, Jeb Bush and Barbara Bush. No, this is not for teachers. It is for "education policymakers to develop a plan to put Excellence into Action" with the main focus being school choice. It promises to:
  • "Arm you with the latest research on data-driven education and teacher quality provided by nationally recognized education leaders" You are going to show me that the best teachers are in the private schools that do not require teaching degrees or any sort of teacher training. Data I'm sure taken from your own school choice think-tanks, surveys you've developed yourself.
  • "Provide you with a primer on policies to increase accountability for student learning and empower parents with more choices" Oh good, because if those parents and policy makers don't hold me accountable I might leave a kid behind or something. Maybe just not teach math one year. After all, I just do this for the high salary and summer vacation. I don't actually have a passion for whether or not kids learn.
  • "Spark your intellectual curiosity with provocative proposals to return rigor to our curriculum." because, you know, us teachers don't believe in rigor in the classroom. No sir, we like to teach the easy stuff so we can enjoy our summer breaks.
  • "Give you strategies to turn high schools from drop-out factories into graduation machines" Well, I don't want my high school to be a drop-out factory! What is the world coming to? Better for the high school to be a machine.
Ok, I'm so bitter I'm not even making sense. I am tempted to go and blog, just to be aware of what is out there. I believe in hearing every side of a debate and that every side has some validity. I love listening to people who don't agree with me, because I learn so much and strengthen my own arguments. I do, however, have a very hard time with people who develop their own data and form arguments without looking at the other side, or without trying to develop an informed opinion. There are times I have talked to a school-choicer and completely agreed with his argument. I left with a new found respect for the school-choice movement. But you need to give me more than reactionary statistics and phrases like 'return rigor' and 'drop-out factories'. At least, give me, my profession, and those of us who work so hard, some respect.

Anyone interested in sponsoring my trip to Florida? It's $149 if I register by April 30th. :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

98%

For the most part I am 98% proud of my profession, the work I do everyday, and how hard I work while doing it. And beyond being proud of my profession and my work, I am 98% happy, which is really everything, isn't it?

The 2% of disappointment creeps in when I read the alumni magazine from my school. My college is one of the top 20 liberal arts colleges, a school w/out a teaching program because it doesn't want to be 'a teaching school'. A school that prides itself on taking students away from the Ivies by offering significant scholarships. (I was not one of those students.) I always joked that my time at college was my 'four year vacation into the WASP lifestyle'. I didn't necessarily fit in, but I enjoyed looking in from the outside. Of course, I spent 4 years defending my ambition to be a teacher and answering questions like, "why are you wasting your money HERE if you just want to be a teacher?" (It's the JUST is always what got me). Most of my peers went on to Wall Street, law school (but only the top tier law schools of course), or, for the non-traditional ones, they took their Fulbrights and their Watsons and set off around the world.

I of course, grabbed my markers, my stickers, and my lesson plan book and settled into a first grade classroom to work harder than I thought was possible.

So, 98% pride in my work. 98% happiness. 98% smugness that I'm doing something that really matters instead of working for hours at a firm that could care less about me.

Last night we got the alumni magazine, aka, gossip column specifically written for my college. First I flipped to the front cover to see what new books have been written by alumni. None of my classmates have published a whole book yet (although some students from '99 just finished a dvd documentary).

Then I flipped to the wedding announcements. Note: not the 'update/place to brag about how fabulous you are' announcements. Those usually make me cringe. No, the wedding announcements that should merely talk about who got married, what they wore, and who else from our college was there.

"the couple will pursue masters degrees in international relations through johns hopkins university's school of advanced international studies in italy"

"the couple will return to their law practice in philadelphia"

"the bride will complete her residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and the groom, a geologist, will continue his career in the oil and gas industry"

"the bride will finish her law degree while the groom finishes his phd in physics"

These are all people I know, people I was in school with. I left out the couples who left before I met them (who of course, are now the youngest partners in their law firm, or are doing a fabulous job with their own start up business)

my husband and i tried to come up with ours last night. 'the bride will return to avoiding the flying snot from her special education kindergarten students', or 'the bride returns to 18 loving children who prevent her from going to the bathroom whenever she wants to'.

when in truth it was, 'the bride was so busy with parent conferences, behavior plans, trying to help first graders understand how to tell time that she was unable to submit a marriage announcement'.

98% happiness. For that other 2%, I'll just use tree's line 'I work at a think-tank focused on creative solutions for tomorrow's problem solvers'.

Monday, March 17, 2008

frog vs kitten, day 1

my kitten has spent the last few hours on the kitchen counter, watching every movement Happy the Frog makes on top of the fridge. Happy is on top of the fridge so that the kitten cannot get to him, although now it appears she is bound and determined to reach him.

i foresee me spending a signifigant amount of my break trying to keep Happy alive so he can return to school in one-piece. how could i tell my social skills group that i let my cat eat their frog?

12 hours

is a long time to spend with one group of 23 kids. we met at the school at 6:45am and returned to the school at 7pm that night. needless to say, i was exhausted by the time the last kiddo's car arrived and i barely remember the drive home.

in 12 hours you learn lots of interesting tidbits about the kids you work with everyday. i also learned that 4th graders, far more than 1st graders, ask a lot of questions. and they have no problem asking the same question over and over again if they didn't like your original answer. and even if you say, "what did I say the last time you asked me that?" they can repeat your answer verbatim. and then follow with, "But what if..." they really like the 'what ifs'.

"what if the bus suddenly stops and my sister flies out the window?"
"what if the cows wander into the road and the bus can't go anymore?"
"what if my rope goes out the window and a cow eats it?"

since the clinic took place at a college we got to eat in the college cafeteria, complete with salad bar, hot food, and of course, a dessert bar. i've never seen happier children. "I love this place! They let you eat WHATEVER you want! It's just like Country Buffet" (but include the 't' on the end of buffet)

One little girl and I had a long conversation over dinner about being a Jehovah's Witness. she admitted that the reason one of the kiddos on our team couldn't make it was because his parents wanted him to spend all day at church, preaching. (he's in 3rd grade). she looked embarrassed and said that she's not able to go door to door yet because sometimes she's shy. she practices though, with her older brother. they use the doors in their house and she showed me how they take turns pretending to be the people inside the house, sometimes peeking behind the door to see who is there, sometimes opening it wide and yelling, "what do you want?" she also told me the entire story of how her mom was converted to this church and why her family attends. I was amazed at how honest and articulate this little 3rd grader was about her religion.

and of course, dinner at mcdonalds was exciting as well. watching them calculate everything they could afford on the dollar menu to see if they could still get a mcflurry.

then watching the sugar from the mcflurry kick in on the bus ride home. 4th grade girls have very high-pitched laughs, and once they get started with the giggles they are unable to control themselves, even if nothing is funny. in the end i was laughing as hard as anyone at their desperate attempts to stop laughing.

it was a long, long day.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

testing, testing, testing

At my weekly book-club with former students the third graders began expressing their worries about their first round of SOL testing. (For those of you not in VA I'm actually not cursing... that is what our tests are called. The Standards of Learning. For your added amusement my county's standards are referred to as the POS ~ Program of Studies)

I was asking the girls if they were excited about spring break and the upcoming intersession. One shook her head vigorously. No way! I'm too nervous about SOLs.

But the tests are not 'til May! I exclaimed. You have lots of time to get ready once you come back. You need to relax and enjoy spring break!

What if I forget everything I've learned? I HAVE to pass the SOLs! she argued.

This is not a child with high anxiety. This is a child who required frequent reminders about 'our jobs in school' and 'who is the teacher?' when she was in first grade with me. A smart but relaxed little girl, she was the last person I expected to express stress over the tests coming up in over a month. The child sitting next to her, one who has high testing anxiety, couldn't even speak. She just nodded her head in agreement, her wide eyes saying it all.

It was the Friday before spring break. The teachers were counting down the hours. We were planning our vacations, chatting about outdoor activities we could soon partake in, and excitedly preparing for intersession. And the third grade students, who have been taught the importance of bubbling with the perfect pressure inside one circle, only bubbling one circle per letter, how to read test questions, how to track their answers on their answer sheet, and how to properly go-back and re-read the test passages when answering the questions, are filled with anxiety they will forget all of these skills while having 3 weeks away from the practice.

I'm glad I'm not a third grader.

driving through the country with city kids

mrs lipstick, have you ever seen a cow?

yes, actually, my elementary school was beside a cow pasture. i saw cows everyday.

wow. i petted one once. at daycare. i got to milk it.

wow, that's pretty cool.

what about horses? i've always wanted to see a horse.

i've actually riden on a horse.

WOW. I just want to pet one. LOOK!! there are more cows!!! over there! way up on the hill!! COWS!!!

another child calls from the back of the bus,

"MRS LIPSTICK, THERE ARE COWS AND HORSES!! ARE WE AT THE ZOO???"

Saturday, March 15, 2008

6am

it's 6am on the first official day of spring break and i'm wide awake, about to leave to go meet my jumpers for all day clinic. it's usually an incredible day and everyone has a lot of fun. i have to admit though, that after leaving our realtor's last night at 10pm, and after a very long week full of ieps and grownups, i am a little scared i might eat little children today. i'm worried my patience is going to be nonexistent and that being in loud, chaotic gyms might put me over the edge.

time for lots of coffee, a good breakfast, and perhaps a quick reminder why i'm doing this. just like i tell my kiddos in social groups, deep breaths, deep breaths...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

spring fever

one more day until our 3 week break.

one more day. 7 1/2 hours.

and even with that knowledge i am still using food as a coping mechanism. girl scout cookies are almost gone and the chex mix bag has disappeared. good thing i've been too busy to go to the store.

All those m's and j's

one of my reading groups is working their way through a book on Martin Luther King Jr. before we started reading we 'activated our schema' and made a list of all the things we knew about MLK Jr. they collectively wrote, "he said, 'It doesn't matter if you're black or white'."

yes, that was his message, but technically i believe the exact quote is from Michael Jackson. i think i'll let it go, but i did spend the rest of the day with the song running through my head.

water fountain

"Oh no!" one of my lunch bunch kiddos called out as she tried to push on the water fountain as hard as she could to get water to come out.
"It's out of gas!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

library messengers

On Monday two of my little kindergarten girls were assigned to be library messengers together. They were suppose to pick up the basket of library books and carry it together to the library, not far down the hall. This is a task that is a bit heavy for kindergartners, but they do usually manage to do it.
I was a bit worried about these 2 however, and decided I'd go along with them to help.

We stepped into the hallway when one put the basket down, "WHEW! This is heavy!" she said, and wiped her arm across her forehead.

Thinking that it probably was heavy I took about half the books out and carried them myself.

A few steps later the other one put it down. "I can't! Too heavy!" she said.

So I took more books out and added them to my stack.

We were a few feet from the library door and both girls dropped the basket. "We can't!" they said.

So I took more books out.

We walked along, me carrying a large, tower of library books, and the two little girls, stumbling along with three library books in the basket. We continued to stop so they could rest their tired arms. Finally, we dropped out the books and turned to walk out.

"Whew! That's much better!" one said, as she picked up empty basket.

early intervention

I went to observe at a daycare center today since one of their students will be mine next year. This is the 3rd time I've gone on one of these observations and every time I am ridiculously amazed by how much the preschoolers know. Many of them are well-above where some of our kids are when they start kindergarten. I've even had first graders start the year below where these preschoolers are.

Its simple things they know, like how to hold a book, how to point to each word, one at a time, the difference between a letter and a word. They can recognize their names, and identify the letters in their names. They can write their names. They can count all the legs on a cow, and count how many children sit at their table. They can identify their colors.

They are a million times more prepared for kindergarten than the children who do not attend any sort of preschool or day care and have no 'education' at home. They are so many steps ahead.
Politicians who argue that early intervention is a waste of tax-payer money leave me baffled by the meaning of 'waste'. How can we expect a child with no introduction to printed language to perform at the same academic level as children who have been exposed to print from the day they were born? If we are closing the achievement gap, why do we let them enter our school world with such a wide gap in place?

I don't want crazy academic preschools, I just want children in a literacy-rich environment. I want them hearing language so they have opportunities to practice processing language, understanding language, and using language. I want them to know language has meaning, that colors have names, that books have stories, and that we have 2 ears, 2 eyes, and 5 fingers on each hand and we can count them by touching each one and saying a number in a sequence.

This is my soapbox.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

hissy fit

i may or may not have thrown a hissy fit last night.

it may or may not have been because my grad school professor kept us 'til 8:45 when we get out at 8.

it may or may not have been because the townhouse i want has 2 contracts down on it and neither of which belongs to us.

it may or may not have been because this week i have 4 iep meetings and 2 local screening meetings.

it may or may not have been because the only day this week i'll really get to see kids is tuesday and the rest of the time i have to pretend to be an adult and wear nice clothes, high heels, and restrain myself from singing goofy songs whenever i want.

it may or may not have been because the flying snot from last week has stuck and i can't walk 2 feet without requiring a tissue.

being an adult is overrated.

Monday, March 10, 2008

x marks the spot

One of the great sessions I attended at SHAV was on using visual symbols when teaching children with autism. It was fabulous and as soon as I get my head on straight I plan on posting a list of websites she recommended.

She also gave us great 'take aways' of little symbols already made and laminated for us. One of them was an X that says 'HERE'. She said she found this card the absolute most useful of all of them and kept it on her to use frequently to take care of any confusion when trying to explain to a child where to stand or where to put something.

I already used it today, with a child in the general education curriculum. A little one who tried to pretend he was a bit confused with where his teacher and I were instructing him where to sit. He kept trying to sneak back. Good thing I had the card. I whipped it out and as he stared at me like I was crazy I slammed it down on the floor. 'HERE'. Can't argue with that.

I plan on hanging onto this little card from now on. no more pretending you don't understand me.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

whew!

My head is still swimming with everything I learned the last 2 days at the SHAV conference. Even though it was for speech pathologists every session I went to applied to my job as a special education teacher. I went to one on selective mutes, another on early literacy intervention strategies, and another on visual strategies to use with autistic children. My brain almost hurts from all of the knowledge I've picked up over the last couple days, which is unfortunate because now I'm off to take a final for grad school. We got in at 10pm last night and after a few hours of cramming and trying to switch gears from SLP speak to grad school I'm exhausted.

But to be honest, after all I've learned at SHAV, and all the cramming I've been up doing the last few hours for grad school, all I want to do is get back to school and see my kiddos. I want to try out new strategies, go to the websites, download the ideas, make the visual cues, apply what I've learned. The idea of sitting from 8:30-5 today and not working with children just hurts. How can I take in anymore before I get to apply what I learned? Can my brain literally explode with excitment of new activities? Or implode within itself so that when I get to my final all I have is the rubble of what was once great knowledge. Let's hope not.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

research leads to escaping the snot

My research partner and I are about to leave for Virginia Beach to present our findings at another Speech and Language conference. We're excited but in the midst of IEPs and paperwork madness we have barely had time to plug the address of the conference into the gps.

I hope we'll have wireless internet so that I'll be able to blog from the hotel.

After the world of snot I was a part of today I'm kind of excited about two days among grownups. Not because of the kids, just became I dodged so much flying snot (I mean this literally) that I clipped antibacterial hand sanitizer to my belt.

twice exceptional

On Monday I was part of a group that gave a presentation to the staff on children who are twice exceptional. We watched Ennis' Gift and tried to provide discussion and thought-provoking questions.

Today one of our head start teachers came up to me. "During the entire presentation I just kept thinking about our smart cookie" she said. "She fits the model perfectly, don't you think" she asked.

EXACTLY! I am so ecstatic she too sees the light inside my smart cookie.

spring

"Hey, are those weeds?" an older kid I didn't know asked me on my way out to kiss and ride duty today.

"No, those are flowers. See the purple buds beginning to bloom." I pointed out.

"Does that mean spring is coming?" he asked, excitedly.

YES!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

kindergarten guided reading discussion

So, start at the beginning and tell me what happened in the story!

There was a dog.

Yes. The dog is a character. But what happened first in the story?

The dog. and a cat.

Yes... What did the dog and the cat do??

They were happy.

Were they happy? Let's go back and read and find out what the author writes!

In the words? In the book?

yes! In the words. Start here.

I read that already.

Start here. Read it again.

Reading book....

Ok! Stop. Now, tell me what just happened.

The girl had a dog and a cat.

Did she have a dog?

No. She wanted one.

Right! So what did she do?

Got a dog.

Read the page again.

She walked her cat.

Yes! So, did the cat like the walk?

Yes.

Mmmm.... why do you say that?

The cat liked the walk.

Read this sentence.

'my cat doesn't want to go on a walk.'

Does the cat like the walk?

Yes.

Does the cat want to go on the walk?

No.

So does he like the walk?

I don't know! I only know he doesn't want to go on the walk.

** ** **
*sigh* apparently inferring skills are far above us right now...

betrayal

I walked past one of my favorite students (not that we ever have favorites) the other day and casually asked her what she's currently reading. She's always engaged in one book or another and she reminds me so much of me when I was her age. I love having hallway book-talks with her about her current reads. She pulled out a brand new copy of the book Fifteen by Beverly Cleary.
I have never read Fifteen and I don't know much about it, other than I wasn't allowed to touch it! I remember taking it off the shelf because it was the only Beverly Clearly book I hadn't read, and my mother took it out of my hands and put it back on the library shelf while stating the word later in a way that made me not ask questions.

The little one's mother works at my school and so I was left with the moral questions...

Do I tell her mother that the book might not be ok?
Do I let her keep reading and pretend that I don't have any clue what she's reading?
Do I figure that even though it wasn't ok for me to read growing up, in the days of the Disney Channel, Hannah Montana, and High School Musical it really can't be about anything she doesn't already know.
Do I run to her mother because this is the little one I read the basic first grade books about pigs and hedgehogs with?

This nagged me all night and finally this morning I decide to tell her mom. Not to tell her mom that the book is bad or wrong, but just to suggest to her mom that maybe she read the book too so that they can talk about any parts that might not be ok. Her mom immedietly turned around to go get the book from her daughter and later in the day reading the book while monitoring the hallway.

I'm not sure what she decided to do about the book, but she did say there were passages she didn't really think were ok for her daughter.

The guilt overwhelms me. How can I go and ask this little one to tell me about her books anymore? I betrayed a reading confidence.

Is there any worse crime as a teacher?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

and then there was the sick raccoon

On Friday my school celebrated Dr. Seuss' bday since it fell on a weekend this year. The school was covered in red and white stripes with guest readers coming in and out of the building all day long. When I went to pick my kiddos up for our lunch bunch they were bouncing off the walls with the excitement of Dr Seuss, the cat in the hat, and their brand new Dr Seuss paper hats, which fell over their eyes as they continued to jump in the hallway. One was sure that the REAL Dr. Seuss would be coming to visit. Needless to say he was devastated when his brother yelled, "He's DEAD!"

to add to all of this craziness, there had been a raccoon spotted on our playground, and since one would assume that a raccoon so close to us is most likely rabid, we were told to keep the children inside until animal control could come and get it.

so, now I had 5 bouncing kindergartners in their cat in the hat hats running from window to window to check out the sick raccoon, one of them swearing to me their teacher told them to go pet it.

as a child raised in the country rabid animals were something I knew to stay away from probably before I knew all of the letters in the alphabet. It was an important survival skill for kids to know if they were allowed to play outside for hours on end without parent supervision (what a fabulous childhood we had!).
Obviously my lunch bunch kiddos had never had such a lesson, so we had our own little mini-lesson on why a sick raccoon was something they need to stay away from. It was so funny to watch 'city kids' try to comprehend why we couldn't 1) take care of something when its sick 2) play with the cute animal we only see in books 3) invite the raccoon in for dr. seuss's bday.

luckily they came and got the raccoon before the end of month fire drill.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

twice-exceptional thoughts

I just finished watching Ennis' Gift, a film from the Ennis William Cosby Foundation focusing on children who struggle to learn in school but have talents and abilities sometimes overlooked in the classroom. I am still processing all of it, so I'm sure I'll post more of my thoughts later, but I immediately went to the organization's website, hellofriend.org to see what else is out there.

Here is a list of students' posts and poems on their own learning experiences in school. It's a powerful and touching read if you have time.

The website also has a list of great tips for teachers and parents as well as a section where students with learning disabilities write recommendations to their teachers. Here's one I found touching:

"I wish I had been taught study skills early on. I wish there were more people that believed in me. I wish teachers were educated not only about learning differences but also how to deal with them. I also wish they were more open to people who aren't just the perfect student. "

I wish were more people who believed in me. WOW.

Another says,
You really can't begin to help anybody in any particular environment until you legitimize that what they have to offer is of value. Teachers can do that by showing that they value who that person is and what that person can do on different levels. This gives to the individual the understanding that although he might not be succeeding right here, he can still do something else over there, and do it very well. And, because of that success over there, he's going to keep trying to succeed at this difficult task right here.

How true is that? Unless our students know we value what they have to offer, what right do we have to expect them to succeed? I hear people say, "She's a mess" and "I can't even look at him, I'm so fed up with how he wont even try" or, "This is ridiculous. I shouldn't have to teach a kid that wont come prepared." Those children pick up on those attitudes and know their teachers/parents/tutors don't value them as human beings. Why even try if a teacher is already proving she is disgusted by you?

In fourth grade I was (am) pretty sure my teacher hated me. I wasn't quick and was painfully shy. There were 6 girls in my class and I was not one of the popular or pretty ones. My teacher let me know she didn't want to waste her time on 1) my shyness or 2) my lazy handwriting skills 3) my lack of effort in spelling. Bad handwriting & poor spelling meant that no matter what I wrote in my creative writing stories (my favorite part of the day) she'd always mark that she couldn't read them and refused to listen to their content. Whenever I raised my hand to speak she'd walk out into the hallway and say I had to say it loud enough to be heard in the hall. Needless to say, I never raised my hand.

I hated school and was utterly convinced that I was dumb. The next year my parents hauled me out of that private school and into a public school where I learned that there were nice girls outside of the mean rich kids I'd been to school with, but also that I was bright though not quick, had great ideas, and was valued for my creativity even if my handwriting was sloppy and I took longer to process oral information than my peers.

Later, my 7th and 8th GT teacher, (a woman I picture with a halo around her head) gave a lecture to my GT English class. She pointed out that we weren't in her room because of how smart we were. We were in her room because we learned differently than the rest of the kids. GT is a part of special ed, she said, and we should remember that. (I think she was speaking directly to the vain boys in the class, but I took her words as truth). I did much better in GT and AP classes than I did in the 'normal' classes in junior high and high school. Classes where I was allowed to be creative and didn't have to respond to answers in a certain way, with perfect handwriting, and skill and drill worksheets were where I shined. I did terribly in the classes that didn't offer a GT counterpart. I hated the worksheets, never answered those dumb fill in the blanks correctly, and was ridiculously bored. Plus, those teachers seemed to care more about handwriting and spelling than the actual content, which drove me crazy. Why should my handwriting be beautiful and my answers be simple? I have so much to say, let me get it all out!

To this day I always wonder why and if I should have been placed in the GT programs, but I am always so grateful that I was. Even if in a larger county I wouldn't have been considered "GT" I was given the opportunity to learn in an environment that allowed creativity, asked us to look at problems in unique ways, and understood that content was more important than the appearance of perfection.

I think this is a topic I have trouble talking about because I feel so passionately about it I have a difficult time thinking rationally.

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