Saturday, January 31, 2009

environmental print

i sat down briefly with my bff yesterday to prompt him to stretch out his words in writing workshop. he identified the sound in a word as 'we' so i said, yes! you know how to write we! that's a small word inside a big word. write 'we'.

he wrote wii.


it's hard to get the word wall to compete with nintendo.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


so what do you teach? the girl sitting beside me at the teacher in-service asked.
kindergarten and first grade special ed, i replied, with my 'isn't my job wonderful' voice reserved for those who teach the upper grades and assume teaching kindergarten is all roses and rainbows. the teacher i was talking to taught middle school.

the girl on the other side of me snorted with laughter. 'yeah, isn't that the best?' she replied. 'ah, the temper tantrums, the unreasonableness of a five year old with special needs, the fact that while you know you're doing the right thing everyone in the building assumes you can't control your children? the physical exhaustion, the dread of having to walk children into the hallway? the eyes of your coworkers, nicely suggesting 'just be more structured' and you want to stuff their suggestion up their rear ends?'

the middle school teacher looked horrified.

'i use to teach kindergarten, now i'm in second grade' the teacher smiled. 'but i remember, all too well'.

yeah, i laughed, that about sums it up.

it's always nice to hear someone else describe your job that way. to be reminded that i'm not crazy, there are others out there, getting those same 'what's wrong with you?' looks, the same 'you should...' suggestions from those who don't know...

thank you stranger for reminding me i'm not alone.

the two answers: legal and realistic

when the alarm went off yesterday the radio station was actually in the process of announcing that my school district was still having it's teacher workday, despite the snow beginning to blanket the entire area. (yes, i know those of you who aren't teachers are use to going to work while the snow steadily falls, but for teachers it just seems wrong.)

i was slightly ok with this decision however because i'd signed up for a workshop on psychological disorders in elementary school, which is something i feel i can always use more strategies for. i've taken an emotional disabilities class in grad school but with these kids who are always so different i still am desperate for more strategies.

so, me, and everyone else in the session braved the snowy interstate and the crazy drivers. parts of the session were extremely interesting and useful. and then there were the other parts. i've learned that there are always two answers to any special education question. the legal answer, which basically tells you to do nothing without consulting an administrator, reminding you that, as just a teacher, you are powerless yet are always one breath away from getting the entire school system sued. (sometimes it's amazing they let us actually work with the children at all). and then there is the realistic, helpful answer. this workshop only gave us the legal answer.

the actually prepared slides were great, but when it came time to the question and answer session (which, i hate to admit i walked out of in frustration by the end- hey, it was snowing like crazy and i needed to pick up things from school before they locked the doors) was nothing but "ask your administrator" "never do that without talking to an administrator" "defer to your mental health team".

at one point i'd asked how you know a hallucination is real (we were told that is the one guaranteed mark of a psychological disorder). i had a child a few years ago who'd tell me about the men in his head telling him to do bad things. he was desperate for them to go away and was asking for help. anyone i talked to about this told me he was making it up, so, i figured, right, they probably know better than me. i dropped it.
later he burned down his apartment and a few months after that he tried to poison me. inbetween these incidents were frequent random acts of violence against his peers. was he making the men in his head up? i don't know, but if he was it was still an incredible cry for help if he went on to have such a destructive first grade year. the answer i was given in yesterday's session was, "talk to your school psychologist". someone in the crowd laughed at this, hard. i said nothing to this response, not pointing out that in order to bring a child to the school psych as a classroom teacher you first have to go through child study, which is where i was told he was making it up. at that point i had no right to take it further. at the break the man who laughed came up to me. "i had the same case you did, and the guidance counselor told me my child was making it up. i've been there. that's the worst answer they could give you. useless."
i agreed.
at one point someone asked a question about managing violence in the classroom and was told, "what you are discussing is few and far between". thank goodness a woman spoke up, "look around the table. we're all nodding at that question. that kind of violence is NOT few and far between. we need help". yet we were still given the answer, talk to your school psych.
i love my school psych, and when i do talk to her i usually get great ideas. but the violent kindergartner i had in the beginning of the year stumped us all. he ended up leaving, but i hate that while he was in the classroom i couldn't protect the other children. what should i have done to keep him from hurting those other children? tell me more than 'talk to an administrator'. trust me, they were just as stumped as i was.

the workshop left me feeling more powerless than i have felt in awhile. it was a reminder of my place in the school system. they are scared of me, of my mistakes, because of law suites. they are scared of telling me something and having me follow it, and then having the school system get sued. they are scared of all of us, yet know they need us. it was my first experience realizing that as special ed teachers we really are thought of as the bottom of the totem pole.

someone asked for a recommendation of good books. "is this list of references a good place to start" he asked. "no! these are entirely inappropriate to be used in the school setting." ok... well, then tell us what is appropriate. we're all sitting here, on a snowy day, asking for more. give it to us.

so what do we do? we run to get the school psych every time a child is violent? the school psych who is only in our building twice a week, who is busy every moment of that time? who i've already talked to and we're already putting our heads together and still coming up with nothing?

i'm not looking for answers, i know those take time to discover. i'm looking for ideas. i'm looking for strategies, theories, for 'what ifs'.

it was a reminder that i cannot look to the school system for answers beyond procedure. i need to do my own reading, go to my grad school professors, look for places where i'm not seen as a walking law suite and instead as a capable individual.

Monday, January 26, 2009


this is one of the best accounts of teach for america i have read. i could go on and on in support of his position, but that will only upset me and keep me up long past my bedtime so i'll try my best just to add the link and leave it at that.

i had no idea, however, but am horrified (but not surprised) that: "TFA spent $2 million more in 2007 on recruiting and selection ($18.5 million) than it did on candidate training ($16.5 million)"

of course it did. which explains the fabulous pr, the great reputation, and the reality of what goes on behind closed doors in the classrooms nobody knows about or checks up on.

*i could rant on tfa for a long time, and i apologize if you've heard me do it. but whenever i do rant i always do want to say that i know fabulous people who have been tfa people (people i love dearly), and one of my amazing coworkers is post-tfa. but through the wonderful tfa-ers i know i've become fully aware aware of the reality, and it makes my stomach hurt*

hat tip to jenny for sharing this. and now i'll blame you when i'm up ranting late into the evening. i try to only read things on tfa when i know i can get it out of my system by a long run.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"teaching is a cognitively challenging process"

i'm spending sunday working on grad school work (after becoming motivated by listening to educon this morning). in my (last!!) class we are assigned to do a research project. i'm not allowed to use my teacher research on the impact of a sound system on esol students' language development because i'd already started it (grrr...) that aside, i've settled on a topic i'm excited to be working on. i'm looking at the impact special education teachers have on providing support to classroom teachers in terms of helping them manage the behavior of the included students. as a previous classroom teacher i know what it is like to listen to people give advice on how to make everything run perfectly, and want to throw up my hands in frustration that i can't make their perfect advice work in reality.

i just finished reading a article from educational psychologist on classroom management (emmer, t. & stough, l, 2001). i was struck by quite a few of their arguments.

1- research has found that the teachers' instructional goals for their students and the characteristics of the students have to be congruent with teachers' management styles. too often they are not, which leads teachers telling students they encourage open-ended discussion but then punishing students when their voices are too loud during that discussion. or giving the students manipulatives and then yelling at them when they touch them. this struck a cord because i think this is where i struggled as a classroom teacher. everything i did was in learning groups- i was always putting kids together with a fairl open-ended task and then letting them go and solving a puzzle that would then prove the science/social studies/ or math topic we were learning. but i hated knowing that my room looked like chaos if someone walked in during the height of the creativity. so i'd let the excited voices or the chaotic environment drive me crazy and punish the kids for it, because i felt like i would be judged as a teacher for not having a quiet classroom instead of having a conversational, inquisitive classroom. my blog title actually came from one of these days when i knew i was in total control of the disastrous looking project that was going on in my classroom. every kid was engaged in discussion and was experimenting with art supplies to reflect a book character. one girl was wrapped up in netting because she was trying to measure it (i was making them use their math skills too) and had somehow ended up with it wrapped around her. she was, at that moment, totally in the world of measuring the netting for her book character, the netting being used to show some aspect of the character revealed in the book (can't remember what it is now), but, i realized how out of control she looked at that moment. she was applying skills, but it sure was messy. sadly i feel like i never really managed to feel comfortable with that being ok, and in turn drove myself out of the classroom.

2- research has also found that teacher perception of classroom management and behavior is key to good classroom management (which seems like a duh, but is kind of the idea behind my research- part of my job is helping the classroom teachers perceive my kids in a way that will help both my kid's behavior and the teacher's sanity). one research paper (from 1981, so very old) found that the best classroom management comes from teachers who are able to adapt and change to meet the context of their students, lessons, and can respond to events in the classroom immediately and appropriately (why your first years of teaching are so very hard). the quote that i love the most from this (which i feel should justify why we should stopped being looked at as a lesser-profession but equal to drs and lawyers) is that "teaching is a cognitively challenging process in which teachers are continuously required to make decisions" what it doesn't say is that these decisions are made under stress with 20 crazy children staring at you (or not when they should be) while you're trying to remember what's important to teach, when the field trip money has to be in, and how to best calm down a class.

alright, back to work...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

ah, temper tantrums

my bff's new thing is to tell me to relax. i can't tell you how much this has the opposite influence on me.

i tell him to start reading at the beginning of the book instead of his favorite page-
he says 'just relax, man',
i say, 'turn to the front of the b-'
he says in a much louder voice, 'relax, ok!! just let me do it! ok? calm down',
which leads me to absolutely NOT relax the way he hoped.

yesterday i followed him to the cafeteria to remind him that he is not allowed to bring himself in from recess whenever he wants to, but has to wait for an adult (this has become a problem and we find him wandering the halls because he doesn't like the cold). in the midst of this reminder he went into his "just relax" speech.

i could feel all the eyes of the school on me. here i was, trying to talk to him and he's throwing his arms up, telling me to relax, making me look like a lunatic trying to get him to stand still and listen. a cafeteria worker came up to me and gave me a look like, "man, you're tightly wound". my next worry was that my bff would yell i had bad breath, which is another of his tricks to get whoever's telling him something he doesn't like to back off and stay away. (as a coping mechanism it works surprisingly well- it may get him through high school. i imagine even the worst bullies will pull away when being told their breath stinks).

i had a flash back to when i was interning at a special education center in downtown dc. the school was spread out through different row houses in a residential block just off of dupont circle so a transition to pe or art meant walking children with significant disabilities down a sidewalk. one of our kiddos with autism was a beautiful white boy obsessed with calvin and hobbs. he'd quote calvin and hobbs as his way of making conversation. one day he was particularly upset about going to pe and was throwing a pretty big fit in the middle of the sidewalk. his teacher happened to be african american and was doing all the right things to handle his fit as he screamed random calvin and hobbs quotes at her in public.

the police showed up. someone in the neighborhood had called the police assuming that the teacher, because she was african american, was kidnapping the beautiful white boy (we were all furious, as you can imagine). the police, quickly realizing this was not the case and that all their experience with dc crime had not prepared them to assist with a temper-tantrum bill-waterson-on-crack style, looked terrified, apologized and left.

deep breaths
i can take being yelled at by a 6 year old in the cafeteria of my own school... it's not downtown dc.
**i've heard of parents getting business cards made up that say, "please ignore my child's behavior. he has been diagnosed with ______ and we are following _________ plan' to hand out when people in grocery stores look judgemental or try to offer their own advice. i've always thought that was brilliant.

i love twitter

on tuesday i randomly twittered: hope the kids at the first-kid movie party have the day off tomorrow. they'll drive their teachers crazy w their exhausted excitement from twitterrific

thinking about those poor teachers at sydwell-friends who would have to deal with the post white-house excitement when they are trying to teach math. (actually, wow, as the teacher i would have begged to be invited. can you imagine your students having that kind of educational experience??? you don't get more 'original-source' than that- although i'd then probably try to teach a history lesson when they were trying to listen to the jonas brothers)

my phone rang a few minutes after my tweet with a friend (who was standing in line to get into the youth-ball so was checking twitter to cure boredom) and was calling to let me know that his friend's boss was chaperoning the first-kids' night so if i wanted to find out he'd make some phone calls.

i love that i live in a town so inner-connected that a random twitter-thought can be answered through a friend of a friend. and love that twitter means that random fleeting thoughts of curiosity can end with almost immediate answers.

loving and leaving our presidents

i called a kindergartner over to ask him to read the letter he'd written to me, because i was confused by what it appeared to say. but no, it said what i thought it said.

"dear mrs. lipstick, i love you. i am bringing you obama. love, t."

his version of dedicated love is bringing me the new president.

** ** **
it sounds as though i've been encouraging them about the president so much they feel they have to give him to me- but i swear i haven't. i don't think they fully know what's going on, but they did watch tv on tuesday (it was boring! they keep saying, but we saw obama on tv!) so we're just letting them talk about events through their eyes.

i even had a conversation with a kindergartner who thought it was really sad when george bush had to leave in his helicopter. "why'd they make him go? that was sad. that's his home"
in an immigrant-five-year-old's world it appeared that george bush was just evicted from his home and was being forced by the military to return to his original home, which is of course, what our families live in fear of everyday.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

writer's block

it's not that i don't have anything to say. it's like the ideas and words are fighting each other to come out of my brain and the result is an explosion of nothing worth putting down on paper. so many ideas are ticking through my head... the preschool observations i did today, my thoughts on poverty in education, the little one whose anger we're trying to crack the code on, my bff's latest exploits (the kid told me to "just relax" yesterday when i told him to start at the beginning of his reading book. "just relax". yeah, his words did not have the calming influenced he hoped).

bare with me through this. the words will come, my sentences will make sense again (or at least as much as anyone can hope), and perhaps at some point i'll figure out what i'm trying to say.

tired fingers

two of the classes i coteach began letter writing units, which encourage the children to write to adults in the building, who will write them back. nothing inspires first graders or kindergartners more than the opportunity to correspond with a real human being, whoever that may be.

to motivate their writing in kindergarten i wrote the class a letter, decorated it, sealed it with a sticker (ah, the magic of stickers) and left it with their teacher to ceremoniously open as a way to introduce the excitement of letter-writing. and of course, i promised to write anyone back who wrote me.

i returned to my desk that day to stacks of letters. i wrote back. they wrote back. more wrote. i wrote back. another class began the letter writing unit. i wrote to them. they wrote back.

my fingers are tired and cramping. how many different ways can you say, "Thank you for the letter! Wow, you worked really hard on stretching out those letters!"
yet there is so much charm in each little one's carefully crafted letter, whether it is a string of letters that when read-aloud says, "i love you so, so, much, come to my house today, ok?" or a perfectly spelled out, "thanks for reading to me". how do you not encourage this love of writing? how do you not press on, fingers numb, asking questions to encourage yet another flurry of letters. "what is your favorite book?" "where is your favorite place to read?"

to see the light in their eyes when they get their own special letters.

one of our first grade little ones spent the evening writing her own letters to us, placing each carefully crafted letter in an envelope to deliver the next day. this is not a family with extra envelops lying around, nor is it a family that gives their children homework help. this little one was so inspired by the letter-writing unit that she went home and tried it herself, (even remembering to add the date to the top).

i love a unit that inspires students to go home and try something voluntarily.

so, i have my kindergarten and first grade stationary in front of me to watch tv this evening. perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if both classes weren't doing this at the same time...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

teaching trust, and then letting it go

on friday morning the father of one of my lovely ones found her classroom teacher and informed her that the rent of their apartment is going up, and that there is no way they can pay it. they have until the end of the day, he said, to decide if they will stay or if they will move in with his sister a few towns over.

you might as well have punched me in the stomach. we immediately racked our brains with "what can we do? can we find them housing in our district? do we beg him to keep the too-expensive apartment because we realize how detrimental this will be to his family?" we can't beg them to stay because it will significantly hurt their quality of life, but how can we just watch them go?

this is the little girl who caused me weekends of struggling with reactive attachment disorder, who scared me more than any child i've ever worked with, but has made such a huge improvement. her brother also has been diagnosed with disabilities, and has also made huge strides this year. so many of us at our school have worked so hard with this family.

but unlike last year when my lunch-bunch kiddos announced they were leaving, i'm not as sad for myself as i am for these children. these children have thrived this year because of how hard we've worked to make their lives stable. everything in their life seemed to change upside down and inside out every month or so, just when they started to feel secure and happy something would pull the rug out from them again. yet we've been able to fight to keep it somewhat stable in school, watching them closely, giving them what they need, adding support and taking it away when we know it is ok to do so. and now they'll lose that.

once again adults in their world are proving to them that nothing is stable, nothing is secure. what a mistake to become close to their teachers, because, just like everyone else in their lives, we wont be with them forever either. for any other child, i am sadder for my own loss than i am for theirs. but for them, who are so desperate to know that adults in their life will keep them safe, wont leave them, but instead will love them... we're being proved wrong. we wont be able to always be there. the world, that we've been trying to prove as at least somewhat safe, isn't. sure these are lessons we all learn at some point, but not when we're this young, not when our lives so small that this causes developmental psychological delays.

i could be wrong. perhaps my little one will thrive in her new school. perhaps she'll leave us happily, securely. perhaps us staying in touch with her at her new school will allow her to understand relationships in a way that will allow her to trust others and heal. but i'm terrified it wont. i'm terrified it's sentencing her to years of silence, aloneness, cutting herself off from the world because it's easier than being hurt yet again.

Monday, January 19, 2009

4 years

4 years ago my roommates and i scattered across the city to celebrate the inaugural, although we were bitterly disappointed (but not surprised) by who we were inaugurating. we each managed to wrangle tickets out of friends or strangers (i made friends with people in a starbucks a few weeks earlier who got me ny tickets). it was about as cold in the city as it is now, and we were just thankful to be somewhere other than our 100 year old rowhouse, which had no heat.

i stood in line to get into the inaugural with the ny people, yet we never made it past security. we stood in the snow by the riot-police van and joked about how they knew we weren't republicans by the way we looked. perhaps it was some one's kerry pin that gave it away. later that night we snuck into the bowling alley at george washington university and played a few frames before i attempted to bribe two different taxis to take me home. (the first took me half way- not enough bribe i suppose). the second, feeling sorry for a white girl living in 'that' neighborhood let me sit up front in his cab while he drove some texans to a ball, which happened to be close to my house. my roommates and i had been ridiculously bitter that they closed all the streets around our house because it made going home very unsafe that night. but this was dc, we reasoned, and nobody really cares about "those neighborhoods" anyway. we knew from experience that the dc cops would be nowhere near our neighborhood to provide protection if we had trouble walking home.

the taxi cab driver signed heavily after the ball-goers got out and turned up the radio to listen to the re-run of the inaugural address. "that m***-f***" he said, slamming his hand into the steering wheel (i'm still up front, right next to him.) i shook my head in agreement (what else was i to do) and we rode listening to bush's promises for the next 4 years, occasionally my cab driver declaring obscenities to the radio. "it's people like us" he said, "that are forgotten about in this town". and that was the feel in town that week, at least in my neighborhood- that our city was throwing a huge party for someone nobody in dc had voted for- and for people who were so far removed from the lives of those in dc.

my roommates and i had no idea we were, the next weekend, about to be forced to leave our house because we complained about the fact we had no heat. (we were told we were whiny- what should one expect from a 100 year house? but we had 4 fire places... with no flues... so it was literally snowing inside our house. i swear our refrigerator was the same temperature as our kitchen. literally, no heat.) we had no idea we were about to enter a fight with our landlord over whether or not we had a right to have heat.

yet i also had no idea that i was about to meet my husband after the whole ordeal, at a coffee shop in my new (yuppy) neighborhood.

** ** **
4 years later i have heat, a husband, and no longer live within the district of columbia. i wont be bribing taxis to take me home tomorrow night, and i wont be standing in a long line waiting to get in, since this time i felt there wasn't the same chance i'd randomly meet someone in a coffee house who had extra tickets. they are a little harder to come by this year.

4 years later the streets of dc are packed with inaugural excitement. there are porta-potties lining every sidewalk on the mall, and people selling everything imaginable with our president-to-be's face on it on every sidewalk. ("obama air-fresheners! get your obama air fresheners!") there are locals giving guided tours who seem to be a bit confused about our history "well, you see here, he was so dumb that he couldn't say no to a duel!, got himself into a little gun battle he did, and then, that's the end of the story. his name? oh, well, his name is george clemand." -murmurs of confusion among the high school students. "haha! just foolin' ya'... ya' know who i'm talkin' 'bout") and since this suppose to be an education blog, that will be my comment on dc public schools.

four years ago there was an excitement in the air from the tourists, but a feeling of separation between them and us. i remember riding a bus home and being befriended by two ladies with southern accents in large fur coats. they clearly identified me as the only other white person on the bus and decided i could help them get back to the "good" part of the city.

walking around today i did not feel that divide. everyone was smiling, everyone friendly, everyone excited with hope. for the first time in my years in dc i walked down the street and noticed people made eye contact, smiled, said hello, shared random information. color of your skin, the way you dressed, didn't seem to influence any of these incidents. i found myself in a room singing happy birthday to martin luther king at the smithsonian, and in another room at the national portrait gallery reading the emancipation proclamation beside people of all colors. i don't know how long this feeling will last- how long we can stay punch-drunk happy as a country. i hope this high will stay awhile and influence us a bit.

*i will note that this year i saw significantly less cowboy hats than 4 years ago (i only saw one today) but may have actually seen more fur coats this year than 4 years ago. (i'm sure to peta's dismay).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

on Friday I gave a presentation to our parents at our weekly Friday morning parent coffee on the importance of making sure children get enough sleep. this is something we try to constantly tell our parents- that their children will do better in school if they go to bed early- early as in before 11pm. it's a topic that is a constant struggle. parents all have different reasons- either cultural or practical- to keep their children up late. for some they don't pick their child up from the babysitter until 10, others would never see their child if their spouse put him to bed at 10. some put their children to sleep on the couch in the living room they share with three other families so even if they put their child to sleep on time they can't control the people coming and going from the apartment they are so grateful to have.
during parent conferences I'd made a brochure about the importance of sleep so that we could share it with parents whose children we were the most concerned about. we decided to follow it up with a parent coffee.
friday was one of the coldest days we've had all year a d I was amazed that parents still came out in the cold (considering most of them walk to our school). still they came out to once again remind me how much I love the parents at my school.
they shared their bedtime routines, their struggles, gave each other tips, and told jokes. the room was filled with parents from all over- two Muslim women from an African country sat up front, mothers from Korea, Vietnam, china, south America, a father from Ghana who shared his thoughts in his calming accent (I love the Ghana-accent) while the women shook their heads and laughed at the idea of their own husbands sharing the load.
in many ways I think it was productive. we shared facts about how much sleep children need which was met with gasps. we shared resources the parents could use, strategies to help inforce an earlier bed time. but I was struck the most by the power of the weekly parent coffee. I've presented at them before but it's been awhile and I'd forgotten how amazing it is that my school provides parents with a place to go to share ideas, concerns, and laugh about parenting. I love our parents- their dedication even in the cold, their perspectives, their struggles for their children.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Coteaching woes

one of the troubles I have with coteaching in three different classrooms is the freeze signal. most of the teachers at my school have these fabulous chimes we all bought from responsive classroom training (I have my own from my days in the classroom). the chime makes the most pleasant yet loud calming noise and each teacher has trained their children to freeze when they hear the sound of the bell. this is fabulous. yet each teacher has trained their class to freeze in a specific position- some freeze with their hands on their shoulders, others put a finger on their lip and one hand in the air, and others have their students fold their arms over their chest. this is all fabulous for the classes and it works like a charm. except I feel like a mouse in some sick lab experiment. I hear the bell and without thinking throw my hands into one of the quiet positions, then look around at the confused stares and realize i'm the only one with a hand in the air. there is nothing like having five year olds whisper about you as "crazy mrs lipstick flappin her arms again"

if I have a mental breakdown this year it may be from the bells. then again, there are many other reasons that may lead to a break down. the bells just might push me over the edge.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I've spent a lazy Sunday reading malcom gladwells new book, outliers. Like gladwells other books it presents fascinating arguments making it hard to put down. From the first chapter it had me thinking about our kids, how we teach, and what we praise. It's made me so proud to be at my school, where we've already embraced a lot of gladwells arguments. Our gifted program has trained us to look for the outliers out there and we're supported when we decide to push them. I felt like his chapters on the trouble with genius could have been taken from one of our staff meetings on twice exceptional kids and how we should look for and support our gifted students.

The next emotion its hit me with is a desperation to get back to work to work even harder for our kids. He brings up socio-economic status over and over again and discusses how much a role it plays in success. It's nothing we didn't already know, but gladwell shows stories side by side with studies of just how poverty, and growing up in generational poverty where expectations are different, impacts even those with the highest iq. He describes a man who could have the world in his hands,but since he had grown up in poverty he never learned lessons like how to advocate for his own needs. As a special ed teacher teaching students to advocate for their own needs is vital. But gladwell's story shows how essential it is to teach to all our students, especially in a community like my school's. Morning meetings and responsive classroom do a wonderful job giving us opportunities to teach these skills.
Gladwell points out another essential skill needed for fresh success is perseverance. Anyone could tell you that, of course, but sadly that is a skill many of our students do not have. It may be from socio-economic status- if you are focused on survival you are not always looking at delayed gratification.( I went to college with many very wealthy kids and found they did not always have this skill either, for very different reasons). Regardless of where the lack of preseverance comes from it is a skill we have to teach. (I hate to keep bragging about my school but they do a great job of teaching us how to teach this).
Then, gladwell touches on summer vacation and I wonder if it would be wrong to send copies of the book, or at least certain chapters, to members of the school board in regard to letting us keep our year round calendar.

My lazy afternoon turned into exhausting me with thoughts of poverty, education, truths, political debates, and the children I teach. I don't know if it's good for me to go back to work all worked up, or if I'm just going to make a passionate mess of things.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


i broke up a pushing skirmish in line this afternoon. when i got to the bottom of it i was met with this explanation,

"he cut me"

"i lined you up in abc order. both your names begin with r. he didn't cut you, he was going to where he was suppose to be."

"no! i said my name has the letters R, then A, so i should be first. but then he said that his name has R then A, so he should be first. but i then i have an M and he has a Y so I SHOULD BE FIRST but he said it didn't matter after the second letter."

this wasn't just a cut, it was an insult to webster and anyone who is really anal about alphabetical order. however, i was amazed at the fact they even thought to look at the second letter in their names.

cultural norms

when i went to pick my class up in the cafeteria a few came running up to me to tell me that one of my kiddos had spit on the floor. he is abby's brother and just came into the country. when i asked him he said, "yeah, of course".

ew. but i know this kid and know how much he wants to do the right thing all the time. so this seems odd. unless he didn't know we don't spit on the floor.

so all i said was, "ok, well then you need to clean it up. in america we don't spit on the floor. go get a paper towel and clean it up, ok?"

"ok" he nodded, and went off to clean.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


we had a new student join us today. she's about 2 feet tall, although she's in first grade, and her personality more than makes up for her height. before i'd even gotten to know her i was in my school secretary's office wanting to see her files to see if i could decipher what might cause a six year old to be just that short, and whether or not she'd be joining my official case load once the normal school year resumes.
back in the classroom it was easy to forget her height. one of our shyer students wrote her a note that said, "dear m. you are very friendly. love, e." i don't think i've ever heard first graders describe one another in such a way, but, for this girl, it my have been all they could say. m. even helped spell friendly for her own note. about two minutes into our class she came running up to tell me her pants were on backwards. after that she became a bundle of energy, touching everything in the room, becoming best friends with all of the girls, and dancing about saying, "i love this school!" the quiet little girl i'd asked to be her buddy during the day was chasing her around the room like i chase my cat, coming close to her whenever she was into something she shouldn't be, but never fast enough to catch her. since most of the time she had a wet paint brush in her hand none of us really wanted to be just that fast.
at one point, when she was covered in paint, i redirected her and she immediately threw her arms up toward me like i was going to pick her up. when i didn't (i'm not talking a little paint... i'm talking covered) she tried to hug me. (i think she may be use to this cuteness thing working).
later, when i was on the carpet helping another student measure his pictures for his scrapbook she skipped over to me, pushed my arms out of the way and plopped herself in my lap. "i love you!" she declared.
at the end of the day i set her with another buddy (one she hadn't worn out yet) to show her where to go. she didn't wait for her buddy and declared, "i'll figure it out" as she skipped down the hallway, all 2 feet of her.

i'm sad that at the end of the week she'll go to another class and i wont get to work with this little one anymore. perhaps checking her file was my own way of hoping i'd get to work with her. however, i'm going to need a good night sleep to keep up with her tomorrow.

Monday, January 5, 2009

recovering from vacation-brain

i've never been good at forgetting about school over a break. usually i think about it every other waking moment, hypothesis what i can do better, mentally plan lessons, write social stories in the shower, unit plan when i'm stuck in traffic. this break, for some reason, was different. i couldn't think about school if i tried. i'd sit down to blog and become stuck. even now, after being back a day, i still have vacation-mush for a brain. i poured my coffee through bleary eyes this morning still trying to decipher what i'd be doing with the kids today. this is a new phenomena for me, one i'm not sure i actually like.

today was our first day of intersession so we weren't with our normal kiddos. i am teaching a scrapbooking class to first and second graders, which is fairly low key. i introduce a concept, let them get artsy, stop them, teach them something new, let them go be artsy again until it is time to clean up. today was a nice, slow way to ease back into the life of teaching.

a few things struck me about today:

*i was reminded how much i miss having my own classroom, setting my own tone, leading discussions, and creating a class environment.

*there is something incredible about having a perfectly organized classroom. i've never been able to do it, no matter how hard i try, but i'm teaching in one of my coworkers rooms while she enjoys her extra week off. the feeling of order was so freeing. *sigh* i'm not sure if i go back to the classroom that i'll ever be able to re-create that, but i can enjoy it for now.

*today we sent home the letter telling the families about how we might be losing our modified calendar. i went ahead and read it to the children so they could tell their parents what it said. even if their parents can read in english, which most can't, the wording is too academic for many of our families. i tried to explain it to the children the best i could (without sounding biased).

the most touching part of this discussion was when i finished explaining the first paragraph that only stated the school system is in financial trouble. the children asked if they could bring in their pennies. they asked how much money the school needed, that santa claus brought them $30 they could bring in. they wanted to know if they should bring in their own glue. without even asking why the school system was in trouble, or asking how it would impact their lives they wanted to help. it says something about the community we've created at our school, but also that our children really do appreciate what our school does for them. when they are in trouble, we help them. when we're in trouble, they'll help us.

when i got to the paragraph about our calendar they were heartbroken (although a few were excited to not go to school in august- in some ways i can't blame them- they are missing prime swimming pool hours community building in school). one raised his hand and asked if he could have intersession at his house so it wouldn't cost the school any money. "my mom could teach a class!" he said, "she babysits. she'd love to have kids over during intersession."

i love these kids. i didn't love getting up this morning, or the fact that every copier in the building was broken (!!!) but i love these kids.