Sunday, January 31, 2010

listening to our children

One of my kindergarten students has been haunting me this weekend. She's an adorable little girl with a bright smile, who cares for the friends in our classroom and is always ready to try her best. She's also going through some pretty traumatic events at home. Events that would cause me, as an adult, to go to bed for a few days and refuse to deal with the rest of the world. Events that if you told me "____ happened so I'm going to take a week off work and stay in bed" I'd think you had every reason to do so.

On some mornings she comes in with tears in her eyes. Her whole body tells us how sad she is and she looks up at us with these big, beautiful brown eyes that seem to be asking us why- why do these things happen and why can't we make her safe and happy again.

The other day when we asked her if she wanted to talk she nodded, very seriously. "I'm so scared" she whispered, "because I don't know where my stuffed animals will sleep tonight"

It sounds silly- like she doesn't have a care in the world. She's worried about her stuffed animals- don't we all wish our only worries were about our stuffed animals.

But if you really listen to her voice and look into her eyes you see that to her, in her 5 year old world, telling us she's worried about her stuffed animals is the same as saying she's worried where she will sleep tonight. She's worried about her safety, her security, and her own needs, and being five, she's projected those worries onto her stuffed animals. Because if she's homeless, her stuffed animals are homeless too.
Their just toys- yet what do they represent in her 5 year old world? Her safety? Her happiness when her family was together, before things went wrong?

In the midst of the busy mornings it is easy to tell her that her stuffed animals will be ok and that she didn't need to worry about them. Easy to give her a hug and distract her with coloring, or a book, or by giggling with her and a friend.

But when we take the time to stop and wonder what she's really worried about- her family, her safety, her security- how do you tell a 5 year old it will all be OK, when you don't know that it will?

merit pay... putting my own thoughts together

I've been mulling the concept of merit pay over in my head ever since Wednesday night trying to put together my thoughts for a post. I've been really curious to hear all of your thoughts- whether you commented on the blog, emailed me personally, or let me know via facebook.

Whenever merit pay comes up with Mr. Lipstick his first reaction is, "but you'd get more money and be rewarded for what you're already doing, so that's a good thing, right?"
And a few teachers told me they felt this way too- that if merit pay was implemented, they would be rewarded without having to change anything they are doing. I have trouble believing that's what would happen though. I'm glad Mr. Lipstick has so much faith in me & in the system, but I am not convinced that I would benefit from the merit pay. I suppose, though, it would all come down to how we define merit pay.

Someone commented on facebook that about six years ago our whole school was rewarded for making progress. Every teacher in the school was given a $2,000 bonus. It was incredible. There were 3 schools in our county given this award, and it certainly made us all proud that we'd accomplished so much. The trick was, with that sort of merit-based bonus, we were all in it together.
Did it work? The school I'd worked at the year before coming to the think-tank also won the same award. The teachers there had been determined to get that bonus, and we focused in our instruction and made significant changes in our teaching. It was motivated by money, and it worked. The aspect that is different there than in merit pay is that as a school we were in it together. We planned together, we developed assessments together, as analyzed records together.

But what if we hadn't been after a whole-school reward? What if we knew only 1 teacher on each grade would be rewarded the money? What would happen to collaboration? We are better teachers when we work together- but if only one of us will be rewarded would we hoard our lesson plans? Refuse to share our trade secrets? Not given advice, or given wrong advice?

And who would volunteer to have the inclusion classroom? What would happen to the children with special needs? No teacher would want them- they'd only hurt their bottom line. The year a teacher took the inclusion class would be the year a teacher knew she wouldn't get a pay raise. What sort of hostile environment would that create for our children with special needs?

Last year Jenny and I had a little one who was performing like an average first grader until her entire world crashed at her feet. Her academics slid backwards as she coped with her post traumatic stress. What about those little ones? Instead of loving her, would Jenny and I have been secretly annoyed that despite our best efforts her sudden loss of progress would have hurt our chances at a pay raise?

Usually we assume merit pay would be based on test scores, however, an old roommate of mine worked in a charter school where you negotiated your salary every year, essentially creating a merit-pay situation. However, because these were salary negotiations, the teachers who were rewarded were the ones with the best negotiating skills and not the best teachers (and sadly, meant that the young, inexperienced white teachers were quickly earning more than the older African-American teachers with more experience. Now think about the effect that has on a school community. It also sounds like this lead to some cheating on the standardized tests...)

I think what I come back to the most though is that I just don't see merit pay inspiriting me to work harder or change my practices. I've been trying to think of what I'd change if my pay was based on the test scores. A lot of you have mentioned that you would change your instruction in the way that you would teach to the test more.
I don't even know if that's what we'd change at the think-tank. As a school who has not made AYP in 2 years we spend a lot of time looking at assessment and the progress of our students. We analyze where they are and decide how to get them where we want them. We do a lot of good teaching that incorporates both how to take a test as well as good instruction. Every classroom has a team of at least two teachers, if not three or more, that is working together to help those children.
How would merit pay change our collaborative efforts? Would every teacher who worked in that classroom be rewarded?

What could I change? I already plan lessons with data-driven instruction. In my morning reading group I start the day with sample test questions before we dive into our reading. In the back of my head, at all times, is how my children would perform right now on any given assessment, and what I can do to improve that score.
Would I go to their houses and tutor them there?
Would I quit coaching the jump-rope team (which I do for free) so that I'd have time to tutor after school?
Would all the extra time with the students pay off on their test scores, or would it make me a grumpier, over-worked teacher?
I already tutor before school (which I do get paid for).

Like splatypus put it in the comments, merit pay is just insulting because it is assuming we're not doing our best job right now and that we'll work harder for more money. Like giving a child a piece of candy for being good. Grant it, we wont say no to more money, but that doesn't mean we don't deserve more money right now, doing what we're doing.

I just don't see it working in any positive way. I don't see it creating better schools or more educated students, although it may work to raise test scores for a year or two. I'm still curious to hear your thoughts though.
Would merit pay change your teaching in a positive direction or a negative direction?
Would merit pay inspire the teachers you work with to become more dedicated to their children, or would it drive a wedge in your school community?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

what's their motivation?

I have a morning reading group for third grade students who were identified as "at risk" for passing the state test this year. They are required to get to school an hour early and spend an extra hour working on reading- a subject that isn't their strongest if they are in the group. This also means their parents have to get them to school an hour early. Just getting the students there requires a pretty significant buy-in from both the students and the parents and "your child wont pass the standardized test if they don't come" wasn't completely the motivation some parents needed, because, well, some of them are more worried about their family's safety, housing, and food than a state test.
So, to encourage the 3rd graders to not only get up early but to also beg their parents to take them to school early I started blogging with them. We're putting on plays, video taping them and then posting them on the site so their parents can see their child's performance. This is also helping the kids work on their reading fluency. Now that they've heard themselves read on the video slowly they understand that they need to read it like they are talking- and I didn't have to be the one to tell them- now they want to get it right on their own.
And of course we're also highlighting what we're doing academically... listing words with vowel patterns that we're focusing on, discussing how readers use strategies and make connections when they read, etc. The hope, as Clairvoy once explained to me, is that they go home and watch themselves over and over again discussing the content- which means it goes from hearing it once in class to hearing it over and over again at home- because they want to not because I told them to.
Of course, not all the kids have computers at home, but still show up excited every day to check out the videos we made the class before.

My next plans are to add testing questions as a reader's poll to give us some practice, and to figure out how to use the blog to support their practice of high frequency words. I'd love ideas on that one...

Friday, January 29, 2010


Tonight my jump ropers were performing at the half-time of the nearby high school's basketball game. Right as I was packing up my rope box to head out one of the jumper's second grade brothers looked at me and gave me a wide grin.

"I have on pants" he said.

And then pulled down said pants in the middle of the hallway.

The hallway of the high school in front of the gym. With all the high schoolers walking around.

Luckily he had another pair underneath, so perhaps he meant to inform me that he had on TWO pairs of pants. Perhaps we need to work on what information is important to share, and what one should keep to oneself...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

merit pay- just curious

Now I'm all worked up about merit pay and am curious... vote in poll above- if they implement merit pay, would you change anything about your current teaching practices? Would you work harder, put in more hours, change your instruction, ignore the text book and teach based on your students' needs, or do you feel you are already doing as much as you can?

state of the union

Maybe because I went to a geeky-college, but I do love the night of the State of the Union address. It's probably because of my glorious college memories of the State of the Union parties we'd held (although, most of those involved paying very close attention to particular words like evil-doers and axis of evil). But still, the State of the Union always leaves me a little nostalgic for those days of gathering together to screech in horror at what certain people were wearing, gasp at the president's broad statements, and of course, enjoy college beverages...

As excited as I am for tonight (no drinking games for me however... according to Huffington Post if you follow their drinking game list you may die...) I'm a little nervous. Splatypus mentioned that Obama was expected to heavily focus on education. I got my hopes up for a moment, wondering if he was going to announce abolishing No Child Left Behind. After all, we're getting closer to 2014 and no one has figured out how to make the 100% pass rate statistically possible.
Then I read this from the Wall Street Journal:
Obama will also call for Congress to reauthorize the federal education law, which President George W. Bush revamped with his 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. The administration is expected to propose a range of changes to the Bush law to promote higher standards and to hold schools and teachers more accountable.

Um... reauthorize? Excuse me! Has anyone but politicians argued in favor of NCLB? What the hell? When did the Democrats decide NCLB was a good move? Or, since this is pretty much the one area where Obama is in-line with the Republican message, is he giving the Republicans what they want in education in order to get what he wants elsewhere? Ummmm.... hello, what happened to those great speeches on education Obama gave during the campaign? The ones that made me teary?

And more accountable? Do they not think we're accountable now? Is he going to change how we measure? Or just increase the standards for passing those standardized tests? All my calmness and zen from afternoon yoga class has worn off. I'm stressed. How can I possibly agree with the republican governor of my state on education more than I agree with the president? Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Suddenly the Huffington Post's drinking game doesn't sound so bad...


Don't get me wrong- I love my job. I adore the kids I work with. But some days you can't help but step back and just be amazed at all we deal with on any given day. And the trouble I face with co-teaching is that I'm exposed to just that many more kids with gross issues.

This morning in my first kindergarten class I'm settling in with one of my kiddos to work on her letters when the instructional assistant brought up another child. "Look!" she instructed and pointed to the girl's hair. Lice eggs are a fairly common occurrence at our school and so I didn't think anything when I glanced at her head, looking for the white egg sacks. They were there, of course, but so were the bugs- many of those long, black bugs crawling around in our little one's head. I'd never seen so many in one head.
poor thing. but, also, ew.

That little one was taken to the clinic and I headed off to my 2nd kindergarten class. We were just about finished with reading workshop and were gathering on the carpet to share when we noticed a wet spot under some one's chair.
yep. Our friend had peed in her seat and decided not to say anything, just skipped off to the rug as the wet puddle slowly spread out along the floor.

The afternoon came and I headed to first grade. One of our friends volunteered to walk up to the board, but as she stood there she had her hands down the back of her pants. Not just a one-off, 'oops' either. I pulled her aside afterward and asked her if she itched.
"yeah, my bottom itches!" she said, looking surprised that I could tell. I asked her if she thought she needed to go to the clinic, or if she thought she could handle staying in the classroom without scratching.
"I can stay!" she said happily.
She stayed, but I sent her to the sink first.

I feel like I need a long, hot, sterilizing shower after today.

Monday, January 25, 2010

lights on, lights off. aka- we are super-stars

Today was lovely. lovely, lovely, lovely. (Can you hear my teeth grinding as I write?)

When we arrived at school the lights were off- along with all the power in the neighborhood. We stood in the hallways, clutching our coffee to stay warm since there was no heat, wondering what we were suppose to do since we couldn't check our email/blogs/reader feed, etc. (it's amazing what you can get done when you don't have the option of Internet- but also amazing what you can't get done. I didn't realize how much of my to-do list depends on having Internet access).

Flashlights were placed outside bathroom doors and we quietly tried to figure out ways to keep our children calm, engaged, and learning until 10, when the power company promised our electricity would be restored. School starts at 8:30. That's one and a half hours of darkness with lots and lots of children. Lots of children who don't want to use the bathroom in the dark.

My fabulous partner-in-crime set up a "fire" in the middle of her carpet ("logs" made out of brown construction paper- props for my 3rd graders' readers' theater) with a flashlight in the middle. They sat and sang campfire songs, pretended they were people of long-ago, and had a grand time having a secret morning meeting in the dark. I loved when my fabulous co-teacher said, "Oh friend, I so want you to sit with us during our super-special morning meeting around the campfire, but if you are making those noises you'll have to sit in a chair" The child immediately stopped making noise- nothing is quite so great as the power of telling a 5 year old something is 'super-special'.

The camp-fire morning meeting was followed by buddy reading with 1st graders in the hallway- I loved seeing my big first graders be such great buddies to the kindergartners- holding up the books, explaining the stories, and taking turns reading.

Are my co-teachers not super-stars? Did they not turn the crazy morning into a great adventure our kids will remember?

Sadly during this time I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to plan for my IEP. My IEP that was originally scheduled back during the blizzard. Back when I was SO on top of it I planned to have the meeting months in advance. But an act of God kept me from the meeting. So we had to reschedule it for today.

And low and behold, our electricity went out on the day of the meeting- electricity that is required to run the school's Internet, which is required for our IEP on-line system. But the meeting was set for 10am, and they promised the electricity was going to be back on by then. So I took my chance, said my prayers to the IEP gods, and tried to prepare everything the best I could so that the minute the electricity came back on we could dive into our meeting.

Except that the room we were able to hold the meeting in did not have any windows- pitch black minus the glow of my computer running of its battery and the great tap-lights the speech pathologist provided. Imagine us, in the dark, banging around, squinting as we hold papers up to our faces to make sure we have the right papers for the right child. Just the right amount of light to make sacrifices to the IEP gods.

We can do hard things. We can we can we can.

And suddenly, at 9:54, the lights came back on. I did my thank you dance to the IEP gods and set to work setting up the computer program. We were on. I was on fire.


Mom wasn't there.

We sat, in the lit room, searching for phone numbers of the family to get someone who speaks Spanish to call Mom and see if she's coming.
They reached mom. She said she was on her way.

Another thank you dance to the IEP gods.

And the lights go out again.

I'm starting to think the IEP gods hate me.

Our fantastic assistant principal managed to get ahold of mom before she came over to the dark school and rescheduled the meeting.

So now, the IEP that I had originally planned to hold over a month in advance of the due date, will now be held exactly 1 working day before the actual due date.

All my hard work planning, scheduling, organizing translators, finding rooms, and getting paperwork ready- only to be rushing up against the deadline.

IEP gods, what do you want from me??

I will make sacrifices to the IEP gods so that we'll have good weather, no power-problems, no sickness, no translator issues, and no computer glitches so that the IEP will go off as scheduled Friday.

The lights eventually came back on and we finished the day in relative peace, until I had to leave to have a root canal.

I earned a gigantic bowl of ice cream today.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

understanding haiti in their own way

A few years ago when I was still a classroom teacher one of my six-year-old student's mother's died suddenly. Feeling completely lost at how to possibly handle the situation I turned to one of my school's fabulous guidance counselors, who gave me a packet of information on how children developmentally process loss. I find myself thinking about that packet frequently, from watching children play hospital where a character dies (and is immediately brought back to life to die again), to watching them process world events.

The information she gave me is from the book Talking with Children About Loss, although sadly I do not have the author. The book sums up children's developmental understanding of death:

~3-5 year olds tend to believe death is temporary- a person has gone on a trip and will come back, just like when they are so sad when their parents leave for a weekend, but always return.
~6-8 year olds understand that death is permanent, but do not fully comprehend that it happens to everyone (ie, they themselves wont die). They are very matter-of-fact about death and tend to ask questions that seem insensitive like "is the body cold?" or "will worms eat grandpa?" "will I still eat cheerios after mom dies?" They are curious about death while looking for truthful answers that will reassure their own safety.

~9-12 year olds begin to have an adult understanding of death. They now understand that everyone dies, including themselves, and that it is forever. They fear the abandonment from family and friends death threatens. In order to avoid their fear they tend to look more deeply into the medical reasons behind death, or joke as a way to intellectualize and distance themselves from their feelings.

I have the most experience dealing with five-seven years, and as far as I can see, the book seems to be fairly accurate, at least with the description of the 6-8 year olds. Six year olds do tend to be more matter-of-fact about death. They seem fascinated by it and ask questions about it, or announce facts about it out of no where. I remember the little girl who lost her mother looking up at me and saying, "I'm six years old and I don't have a mother" and then going back to her work without changing her expression. I was devastated for her and had to hide my tears, but I tried my best to let her state these lines as she tried to process what had happened. She didn't need my adult reaction, she needed to talk out thoughts.

Recently, or course, I've been relying on this information while watching them process Haiti. The other morning a five year old bounded up to splatypus and me with a detailed picture. "Look!" she announced cheerfully, "It's Haiti!" Trying not to be horrified at her matter-of-fact-ness I walked over to her table with her to have her explain the drawing to me. "See, here's the island" she pointed to the large circle she'd drawn toward the edges of the board, "And all the buildings falling down, the palm trees, and all the dead people." she waved her hand. "And here are the people praying for the dead people".

She wasn't looking for attention at drawing such a horrific picture. It seemed to be her way of processing what she was seeing on the news. We draw pictures of pigeons and the playground and the school and our families- the things in our lives, the things we are thinking about at that very moment. So she drew Haiti from her perspective- a way to process what happened.

Our school started a penny drive to help Haiti. We've all been amazed at the large amounts of pennies that are rolling in. Where these kids are getting the pennies we don't know since they tend not to have money for field trips or books, or toys. But pennies, somehow they have. Every child seems to be walking in with bags of pennies. (which, admittedly, are really, really noisy)
The penny-drive is accessible to them. They have pennies. They can find pennies. They can give their pennies so that they are doing something to help, making them become a part of the solution. I overheard one teacher telling a child that he shouldn't give away all of his piggy-bank savings. "But I want to!" the child argued.
I think the penny drive was the perfect way for all ages to allow classes to talk about what happened, letting each child discuss the tragedy on his or her own level, and then it opened up the door for every child to contribute.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We can do hard things

One of my fantastic co-workers adopted the phrase "We can do hard things" into her every day classroom language.
I love it.
I love that when she's giving directions she may end with, "Will it be hard? Yes. But we can do hard things."
I love that when a child tells me a book is too hard all I have to say is, "We can do hard things".
I love when children seem confused we can say, "Keep thinking, I know this isn't easy, but we can do hard things"
I love working with a struggling child and saying, "I know this is hard for you. But we can do hard things"
I love that it's "We can" and not "You can" because it reminds the child that we're in this together- we're all working hard. In fact, it makes hard work an expectation.

There is something so freeing about letting go of the expectation that everything is going to be easy, and that things that are not easy are OK.

And somehow, after a week or so of using the phrase in the classroom it's crept into my own psyche. I find myself thinking, "We can do hard things" when I'm feeling overwhelmed with whatever task I have in front of me. And when trying to decide between two options- "We can do hard things" pops into my head and before I know it I've chosen the harder option.

try it as your mantra for just one day and see what happens...

everyone's favorite educational activity... testing

When Mr. Lipstick cheerfully asked what was happening at work today he was a little taken aback when my response was (after a deep grunt) "marching off to my death".

We spent all day today at a kindergarten training to learn how to give an assessment to English Language Learners, as required by Federal guidelines. I don't think it's a bad test, and I'm all for following the law and assessing our kiddos to see where they are. And I usually try to be a bit more positive.

But not today. Perhaps it was the lack of the 2 hour delay I'd been so hoping for. Perhaps it was the frustration of being away from my kids for an entire day. But whatever it was, I certainly did not start today in a good mood.

I understand the need for the test, and understand it is a federal law, but there is nothing more frustrating than spending hours giving a test that will not inform your instruction. The longer I teach special ed the more I've learned to appreciate assessments as a way to measure academic progress. I've learned to really use assessments to plan my next steps and guide my understanding of how to teach each individual child. But this test wont help us with that- it will only give information to the county, which gives the information to the state, which gives the information to the country, about how many English Language Learners we have in our school during the 2 month testing window (who, after having been administered the test, may leave the country forever.)

It's not a bad test for what it does, except that our heads started spinning 30 minutes into the training when we realized we'll be giving this test, which can take 45 minutes to an hour and ahalf, to each individual child. Each test must be administered in a secure room (not the hallway, not the back of the classroom), which means somehow someone is going to have to figure out how we manage to find enough empty rooms in our school to test the 500+ students who speak other languages, each student needing to use the room for about an hour, in a two month window- WHILE- wait for it... WHILE we are also administering the State test for 5th grade students.
It's tasks like that, which make me so, so thankful that I am not an administrator. God bless them.

I was chatting with one teacher who teaches half day kindergarten in a fairly upper-class neighborhood. I was listening to her complain about having to test both her AM and PM classes when I smugly pointed out that clearly she must not have nearly as many children to test as we do since the test is only given to students who speak another language at home. She shook her head. "actually, their parents fill out paperwork when they register saying that they speak another language at home because the nanny teaches them phrases, and if it is recorded on their official paperwork that there is another language in the home the student MUST be tested."

At least we're able to actually give the test to the students meant to take the test.

BUT, we will get it done. We have today to bang our heads against the wall, cry, stomp our feet and hyperventilate. But we'll take mull it over during the weekend and come in Monday ready to hit the ground running. We can do this. We can do hard things.
We can, we can, we can.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

whose spying?

While I was working one on one with a student today she suddenly looked up- her eyes darting around the room with paranoia.

"Are there any video cameras in here?" she asked

"Why?" (I should know better than to ask...)

"Because everyday my mom says "did you go with your learning teacher? did you go with your learning teacher? I hope there are not any video cameras in here because I don't want her to see me."


"Because she doesn't like white people. Only brown ones."

and with that, she went back to work.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


As I've become more involved in my church I've found myself on more and more committees and have had to attend more and more meetings. I don't want this to sound like I don't enjoy them, because I do, but I'm always struck by how different these meetings are than our teacher meetings.
Although these grown-up meetings with people who have "real" jobs have an agenda we may go back and forth from item to item. There's debate, people share their thoughts, think-out-loud, pontificate, return to an agenda item we covered already, or return to an earlier debate to discuss it again.
I'm not saying these meetings are bad- the discussion is usually valuable. I'm just not use to the drawn-out discussion or debates that circle back onto themselves.

I'm not comparing my church meetings to whole-school staff meetings or any sort of staff development where we are sitting for extended periods of time while people talk to us. I'm comparing them to our team meetings- our short before-school meetings where we have packed agenda and yet somehow manage to fly through all the items in 20 minutes. It's not that there's no discussion about the agenda, or that meaningful decisions don't get made, but somehow we speed through.
I wondered what made us so efficient at holding meetings, and was patting us on the back for just being awesome Think-Tank teachers when it occurred to me that it might not just be that we're awesome.

Our speediness may have something to do with the fact that we know if we don't finish the meeting with 5 minutes to spare we will not have time to get our lessons ready, grab the library book we need, confirm with a co-teacher whose leading the lesson that day, or go to the bathroom.

So perhaps all meetings, in all fields, should be held with the threat that if the meeting goes one minute over the expected time the members of the meeting will not be allowed to go to the bathroom for the next 8 hours.

I have a feeling the whole world would become a more efficient place...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

power of knowledge, value, and control

During my Friday morning book club one of my fifth grade kiddos noticed the packet of papers on my desk for my PhD applications.

"Did you get a scholarship?" she asked as she eyed my stack of daunting paperwork.

"Um, no... I'm applying for one. Why do you want to know about a scholarship?" I replied, confused at why on earth she was thinking about scholarships in 5th grade.

"'Cause we just got our report cards and I got good grades! So I told my mom I am going to go to college."

"Way to go!"

"yeah, but she said I have to get a scholarship 'cause college is expensive. So now I have to make sure I can get a scholarship. If you get one will you give it to me?"

I was floored by the fact that my friend was even thinking about college, and that the mention of the word scholarship sent her into a determined frenzy. This is a child who went on to tell me that on the same report card she also received an N in self-control...
I tried to take time to explain about the whole merit-based scholarship and that I just can't hand over my own scholarship (because, honestly, if I could I don't think I would anyway- I need that money!)

It's that kind of determination that will get our children farther. Not just the drive to succeed but the knowledge that they have that kind of control over their future. They don't have to be passive as though pass through school, but instead they play an important role in their own lives.

In The Elegance of a Hedgehog (and I think I may be the only person I know who loved that book) the main character, the building concierge for a French apartment building, describes school as a second birth, which taught her that she herself was a person- a soul with a name and importance. I love that scene- that coming from a poor family she suddenly understood her worth once she started school. We have the power to give that realization to our children.

I recently read Push, the novel Precious is based on, and I can't get it out of my head. It comes down to the same idea- that once a child is aware of her own importance and value she is able to take control of her own life and play a role in her future.

I think that idea sums up why I teach- to give children that power in their own lives- to help them realize that they are someone valued, someone of importance. Help them to understand that they are important enough to work hard- that they are in control of their future.

baby steps

This morning I found myself in the hallway with one of my friends with special needs. We had a series of colors against the wall and were holding a ball. Whenever I showed her a color she'd throw the ball toward the matching color. And we'd celebrate. Jump, giggle, high-five, Whoo-Whoo it up until the other teachers looked at me strangely and I'm sure we were disrupting classes up and down the hallway. I realize I appeared like I'd lost my marbles- celebrating a child matching colors- and celebrating the match every single time... as though my child just discovered how to correctly perform brain surgery.

but matching- it's baby steps- and if we can train the brain to match like objects the brain will start making connections and observations about those objects in order to get ready for identifying objects, labeling, and selecting those objects.

baby steps.

I find myself using the phrase baby steps a lot... especially when I'm reassuring my teachers (and myself) that our kids are making progress. It may not be the progress we'd like to see, and sometimes it's not even progress we can see, but it's there- and eventually each little step will build on top of the other and (hopefully) our students will begin walking on our own.

There's a delicate balance when working with children with special needs because while you need to be aware of their disabilities you never want to underestimate their abilities. You don't want to forget what is considered to be on grade level. Just because a child reaches his IEP goals doesn't mean you can sit back- the ultimate fight is to get as close as possible to achieving grade level work. Inclusion helps keep this in perspective because we are able to work with children on grade level as well, never forgetting where the final destination lays.

But on the other hand, you don't want to get so caught up in the vast difference between the child's work and grade level work that you get discouraged, or you overlook the child's accomplishments because they are so far from that final goal. Sometimes when we focus on the final outcome we forget to break tasks down into smaller parts. When this happens we're not making the task manageable for the child. (This of course leaves everyone frustrated, but our tooth grinding keeps our dentists in business, and our drinking habits help out the local liquor store...)

Our balance comes from carefully taking the big projects and breaking them into tiny pieces- giving us a plan for how we'll one day, slowly but surely, make it to the end.

However, there are days when I feel like anyone watching me celebrate those baby steps must think I am off my rocker. The large amounts of praise I give for a student identifying first letter in her name- or the praise I gave to a student who was able to work by himself for 7 minutes today. 7 minutes. But tomorrow, we're going for 8. And eventually we're going to hit 20.

I have a fairly new friend that is truly pushing me to fully embrace my celebration of baby steps. She's been diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability (ID is the new MR for those of you not up on your politically correct special ed terms). We've broken down all of those broad goals for her into tiny little steps, and even then we realize we're far from reaching those steps without many smaller steps along the way.

And so, we spent the morning in the hallway bowling away in order to match our colors. But although all I was expecting her to do was throw the ball at the matching color, at one point she saw the color green and in a moment of happiness called out "green!"

She could have been saying again. Or grunting. Or just playing with me. But it sure sounded like green. And spontaneous speech? Not something we normally use during daily academics. The mere fact that she saw a color and identified it with a name- she showed an understanding that objects have names- green can be a color AND a name.

And so we celebrate the tiny steps. And dance, and giggle, and play so that the more excited, relaxed, and engaged we are, the more the brain will keep making those connections so that tomorrow we'll be able to push just a little bit further.

baby steps.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I've always been a fairly lazy tech-savy person- I don't turn off my laptop at night before I go home, or turn it off as I move from place to place- at least I didn't.
I never really worried about it, never really spent time thinking about what made all the computer magic work. Instead I just used it for what I wanted and left it at that.

Until a month ago when I got caught. Clairvoy discovered my little secret. But unlike anyone else whose been horrified at my computer habits and said, "Do you know how bad that is for your computer? No wonder it runs slow!" etc, etc. Clairvoy said, "That's like taking one of your children with autism, blind-folding them, turning them around in circles to make them dizzy, plucking them from their familiar homes and placing them smack down in the middle of a busy mall".

Now, why didn't someone explain it to me like that before?

That sucks- that's horrible. Poor hypothetical child with autism. Poor computer.

My ways have changed, now that someone put it into language I can understand.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

from richmond...

We've returned from our evening at the ball- feet sore from dancing, red wine stains on the dress, but all in all an enjoyable evening.

You'll either be disappointed or relieved to know that I did not get into any policy discussion with anyone- it not being a sit-down dinner experience meant it did not lend itself to chatting with strangers about their political beliefs. Which was probably for the best all things considering.

I was fairly impressed with his speech at the inauguration itself. The section on education is below, (my thoughts are in blue).

"To compete in this global economy every young Virginian must have the opportunity of a world-class education from pre-school to college. (yes! he said preschool. PRESCHOOL! Amen- we need more world-class preschools! Start early!) A child's future prospects should be as unlimited as his intelligence, integrity and work ethic can take him. No child in Virginia should have her future determined by her place of birth (yes! Even if they were born in El Salvador and later entered our country illegally! I agree...) or zip code" Zip Code? Here come the charter schools...

We will work with President Obama (bipartisan? Hooray! Let's work together!) to expand high-quality charter schools (OH) and institute performance pay to our great teachers (Merit pay? How are you going to measure this? Define great. What about special ed teachers? Our students don't fit into the mold of excelling on standardized tests?). More money must go to the classroom (Yes! More Money for the classrooms! More money!) and less into administration (Oh, so give the schools the same amount of money, but demand that they spend it in different ways. I'm all for the 65% ratio, but just don't let that be the excuse for not giving more money to the schools), and new opportunities in science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare must be created through our schools and colleges.

And let us recognize that a high school degree is no longer the finish line in a global economy. We must create affordable new pathways to earning a college degree and make a commitment to confer 100,000 additional degrees over the next 15 years Fabulous! As long as we are preparing students for college along the way, and not just sending students on to college to say we did, without giving them the tools they need to be successful. And don't forget- there are plumbers and electricians out there that never went to college, but are doing far better financially than I am... Why make them go to college? We must make our community colleges national leaders in workforce development and career training.

These are investments that will pay individual and societal dividends for many years to come Yes! Amen!

Barbara Johns I don't actually know who that is... was willing to risk everything for the simple opportunity of a good education. Surely, sixty years later, we can work together to provide that opportunity to all Virginia children.

Our administration will demand excellence, reward performance, provide choices and celebrate achievement. Excellence on test scores? Or good teaching? Reward performance for good teaching, or test scores? Celebrate achievement in test scores? Or good learning and progress? Provide choices by giving public money to businesses to start their own schools, or by opening up boundaries so that children can choose within their school district?

I was still enjoying being there, and for the most part was very impressed with the speech. Later that night, all dressed up happily ready to spin across the dance floor, we stood listening to his short speech at the ball itself. Wine in hand it was still and enjoyable experience until he uttered the words "merit pay" . Suddenly, in my fancy dress I felt a sense of panic about what was to come. I always fear merit pay because what will you reward? Will it be based on test scores? So that no classroom teacher will want to volunteer to take the special ed students in their classes because they'll pull down the class average? And so, standing there, sipping my wine, my thoughts turned from dancing toward school. And my kids. And who will teach the children who need the most help, if they wont be rewarded for teaching them like they would be rewarded for teaching other children? What about the children whose small achievements were harder earned than children who learn easily academically?

I tried to fight off those thoughts and focus on enjoying dancing with mr. lipstick. I try to focus on the fact that no matter what anyone does in Richmond, it wont change how hard I'll fight for my kids, it wont change the awesome teachers I work with, and wont change how hard our children work. That being said, I'm off to work on lesson plans- control what I can... control what I can...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

new friends

At the end of the day today the Story Teller burst into my room. I was busy trying to get paperwork completed before I had to run off to Jumpers practice so I barely looked up. He tends to come in every afternoon to say hi to the pet frog anyway, so I didn't think much of it. (After all, yesterday he came in and said, "Why Good Afternoon!" to which I replied, "Good afternoon Story Teller" He looked surprised- "Oh, not you, Mrs. Lipstick, Good Afternoon to the frog." Oh.)

"I have a present for Mrs. Happy" he announced and pulled out a square of white tissue paper. (It had been wrapped only moments before in his classroom). He hurriedly unwrapped it and thrust it toward Happy The Frog. "Ta-Da" he announced proudly. In his hand was his art project- the one he was suppose to give to his parents for Christmas.

"I wanted Happy to have a friend!" he explained. And as he said that Happy the Frog immediately swam to the side of her tank and went nose to nose with her new fake friend.
Is it not the cutest frog ever? If I was a parent and found out that my son gave that adorable frog to his teacher's pet frog and not to me I'd be upset. But no matter how many times I asked the Story Teller to at least take it home and show his mom he firmly stated that no, the frog was for Happy.

My awesome co-teacher suggested giving it back to him at the end of the year- which is perfect. In fact, so perfect that maybe I'll let him take home the real Happy the Frog as well for the summer.

When I returned from jump rope practice I tried to set the fake frog up so that he would be near Happy (to please the Story Teller) but in an old tank so the kindergarten students wouldn't knock it off and break him. And sure enough, after I'd gotten it properly positioned near Happy's tank, she swam right up and got nose to nose with her new friend.
Leave it to the Story Teller to know when someone is lonely and needs a friend.

*I cannot figure out how to turn the picture- but I also cannot figure out why it is coming out vertical since it was taken horizontally. anybody know why?*

drama, drama

"Ok, time to take the babies to school!" announced one little kindergarten girl at the house keeping center today. She gathered up her family of a pink bear, a giraffe, and a small rabbit, slung a large purse over her shoulders, and pretended to take her babies to school.

Beside her sat a little boy intently focused on the play cash register. I thought perhaps he was pretending to be a sales clerk, or maybe wasn't pretending anything at all- maybe he was just fiddling with the very cool toy.

Nope. He was pretending.

"Oh no! The police are coming!" he exclaimed, as he stuffed the play money into his pockets.

I looked from him to the young "mom". She shrugged "I'm the mommy, these are my babies, and he's the stealer."


Then she went on. "When I'm asleep I have to make sure I close my purse 'cause sometimes he steals money from me!"


"but maybe I should call the police" she states, and grabs the toy phone.

"police? yeah, he's doing it again." she pauses, "right- he's stealing." another pause. "maybe you should throw him in jail" pause. "well, I really think jail would be good for him right now"

Her partner picks up other play phone.

"Police?" he asks, "yeah, you'd better give me money or else" he pretends to shoot the phone. Then he does it again. He hangs up the phone, shakes his head, "I hate the police" he explains calmly.

good grief. Who needs HBO? There was more drama in those 10 minutes of play than in the last movie I saw...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

don't be mad

don't be mad, don't be mad, don't be mad.

Because, seriously, when my mother found out how I was planning on spending my upcoming weekend she had my dad tell me, via facebook, that I was disowned. And in a comment responding to my post about my root canal no less. So, I can't even imagine how others will react. (Jenny, I can't even look you in the eye!)

It all started with the stupid candidate the dem's elected to run for governor in va. I just couldn't get excited. I wasn't impressed. Not that I was any more impressed with the republican candidate. So, after extensive research (that included going to early morning, cold campaign rallies for the republican candidate with my republican husband) I decided I couldn't make up my mind and I wasn't going to vote.

I know.
I hate non-voters.
I am not a non-voter.
but I couldn't do it. I decided casting a vote for one candidate because of his political affiliation was wrong if I didn't support his issues, and voting for the other one felt equally wrong because I didn't support his issues either. I could have gone and written someone in, or voted for some obscure 3rd party candidate. But it would have been a cold walk to the polls and I wanted to be green and save gas. Or something.

Anyway, I thought this was all past us, until the invitations started flooding in. The pretty invitations on beautiful cardstock, asking us to come down to the capital city and join the celebration. Yes. The inauguration balls.

Please remember I said don't hate me.

I love dancing.
I love putting on fancy clothes and dancing.
We have good friends in Richmond.
(Right now I kind of feel like the pigeon begging to be allowed to drive the bus)

And I just tried on my one formal dress left from college- beautiful, blue, raw silk- the one I bought at an incredible sale at Filene's, but when I wore it to the ball there were two girls from Kappa Kappa Gamma in the same exact dress (I'm sure they paid full price)- and it still fits.

I know, I hate that I'm writing this at all. In fact, if I hit publish on this post I will think less of myself.

This on the day that I learned our governor elect has nominated Gerard Robinson to be our secretary of education. A man whose bio includes starting numerous charter schools, serving as president on the board of Black Alliance for Educational Options. "He is a nationally recognized expert on the modern charter school movement and serves on the Policy Advisory Council at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and on the board of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Charter School Resource Center."

We are in trouble.

Our state has no money- our county has no money- our schools have no money. Why am I now nervous that we will have even less money once our no money is divided to include supporting charter schools?

I use to be opposed to all charter schools- the idea of taking money away from the public schools horrified me. My second year out of college I lived with a friend who taught at a charter school. I was constantly horrified to hear what they got away with just because they were a charter school. And the decisions her principal made- her principal who went to Wharton's business school but never stepped foot in a classroom.

But then, on the other hand, as I've come to admire my own principal more and more, and watched her fight with our district to get what's right- I can't help but wonder what it would be like if we were a charter school. If our principal got to make decisions herself without answering to the county...

But I digress. I'm nervous. I was nervous about having no money- now I'm more nervous about what will happen to our schools- what cuts will be made in order to support a charter school system.

And so, in preparation for my weekend of invading the Republican social scene I will be preparing my notes on charter schools. I will be getting up to date on my education facts, recalling exact studies that support positive education improvement and make good financial sense, reviewing my arguments, and getting prepared for my stealth behind the scenes mission. You see, I have a history of slipping on my republican pearls, smiling politely while sipping my wine, and then getting into policy discussions that either end with me revealing I am a teacher (at which point I end up banging on the table to make my point), or never mentioning my profession, but asking a lot of questions that ends up leading my conversation partner to question their own thesis (that's my favorite because I get to play innocent while Mr. Lipstick watches with amusement/horror)

Send me information, facts, data, research you think I should have as ammunition as I slip on my pearls and my ball gown and prepare to mingle with mingle with the "Whose who in the republican party of Virginia".

And please don't hate me. Because even though I'm going to a republican party, I will be going in all blue.

Monday, January 11, 2010

when things I hate and things I did today are the same list...

Things I hate:
1) The dentist
2) Trying to schedule translators for IEP meetings
3) Special Ed Paperwork
4) Meetings
5) Having a day at school when I don't work with kids

Things I did today:
1) Had a root canal
2) Tried to schedule translators for an IEP meeting
3) Special Ed Paperwork
4) Went to a meeting that opens up the door to do even more special ed paperwork.
5) Spent a day at school and did not work with kids.

Email I got from Mr. Lipstick today:
Congratulations! When you woke up this morning you thought the worst thing that was going to happen was your 2 o'clock meeting. Instead, you had a root canal. Now your 2pm meeting wont be that bad, right?

Not amused.

And I can't drink wine on pain killers.

But Mr. Lipstick is making dinner. And since I went back to work after the root canal, I am making up for my bravery by spending the evening on the couch, allowing my fabulous husband to wait on me. I do love him.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I spent yesterday morning with my jump rope team at a clinic we hosted at our school. During our initial warm up I positioned myself behind a few kids who need some encouragement to jump throughout the entire warm up. "Wahoo!" I shout, clapping behind them, "You can do it! You've got it!" And when they don't respond to positive cheering- "MOVE those FEET!"
(I always feel slightly guilty about this because if I was in their shoes I wouldn't make it throughout the entire warm up either. But regardless, my job is to get them in shape.)

About 10 seconds into the warm up one of the 5th grade boys turned around and looked at me with a look of pure horror. "I forgot my meds!" he squealed.
"We'll deal with that later! Back to jumping!" I directed- not going to let any excuse stand between the jumpers and the warm up. He went back to jumping, but a few seconds later he was turned around reading the wall. "MOVE YOUR FEET" I called. He got moving again, but out of nowhere he turned and asked me some random question about the weather. And then tried to do a jump rope move totally unrelated to our warm up. And then looked at the floor. And then tried to ask me another question.
I was irate- this is NOT how the warm up goes. You JUMP.
Then I realized what he'd told me- he'd forgotten to take his meds. And yes, clearly, as I watched him struggle to stay on task- a task that involved jumping and moving quickly, not doing something boring like reading or math- he was fighting his own personal battle to stay focused. I know this kid- I remember the days before he was medicated and how he drove any teacher who worked with him crazy- and I remember how the whole school was shocked at the change in his behavior when he finally received the right diagnosis. I've seen him work hard at practice- getting frustrated, but staying on task. Today, this was not the same hard working child we were use to.
The rest of the day was painful. He bounced around like he was in a pinball machine while the rest of us were on him like white on rice, trying to make him take our practice seriously, behavior, and stay on task. And of course, like many children with ADHD on days they do not take their meds- it feels as though they are out to personally get you- as though they are deliberately sabotaging your lessons/activities/directions. No one wins.

It was a long day. But I can say, after witnessing this child now both on and off his meds, I will never again doubt the effectiveness of the right medication for children who need it.

When our 5 hours of jumping ended we released him to his mother and I went home to take a long, long nap.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

excuses, excuses

Right at the end of the day as we were cleaning up one of my new scrapbooking friends yelled out, "_____ said a bad word!"

_____ immediately looked me in the eye and said, "But I used it in a sentence!"

While that is a far better excuse than, "it was an accident!" I was clearly not very impressed. Especially because the sentence turned out to be, "What the ____?"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

life's moral questions

Picture this-

You are six years old. You and your friend have been sent on an errand to deliver a note to another teacher. You don't know this other teacher, but are faithfully delivering the note and then planning on going straight back to class.

But when you arrive at your destination the room is dark- nobody is there.

Nobody except a slice of pizza.

What do you do?

Now picture this-
You are a teacher. You woke up this morning to a water main break in your neighborhood so you are sans shower. Gross. You're hungry, because you're trying to eat healthy but that small Soup in Hand just didn't fill you up. The kids are crazy, but you're relieved because it's time to take them to specials so you'll have a bit of a break (just enough time to go to the bathroom and take a few deep breathes). Just as your lining your class up your wonderful friend walks in holding a slice of pizza. For you. A beautiful piece of pizza, all yours. It calls your name, begging you to indulge as you walk your class down the hall. But no- you'll wait- it would be wrong to eat it in front of them. So you put it down on a table by the door and lead the class to the gym, all the while thinking about how wonderful it will be to have a few moments of peace and quiet to enjoy that beautiful piece of pizza.

And then- you return to your room to find:

There is a bite out of your pizza.



So you email the friend who gave you the pizza, because obviously, it has to be a joke, right?

Now imagine you are the six year old again-
The teacher you'd been sent to visit and the intersession coordinator (acting principal during intersession) come to find you and your friend, knowing that you were the only people in the classroom that could have possibly eaten the pizza. They ask your teacher if they can see you in the hallway.

You could possibly get out of this- think fast.

Nope- Your friend immediately throws you under the bus- "I didn't do it!"

You send her that look that says "shut up!" but it's too late.

"Didn't do what?" they ask

"Eat the pizza! She did" friend points to you.

Moment of truth. Your caught. The teachers are holding the pizza in question. They can get DNA evidence to determine whose mouth took the bite. The witness fingered you in front of the judges- all eyes stare you down accusingly.

Do you confess? Go ahead and take your punishment?

Or- instead, do you immediately blurt out, "It was an ACCIDENT!"

Teacher again:
How do you possibly keep a straight face when you hear that?

I couldn't. I died of laughter. Which was unfortunate because the little girl momentarily thought it was all going to be ok- if we were laughing she couldn't really get in trouble, right?


She spent some time in the office, but wrote a heart-felt apology note.
It says:
Dear Ms. L
I an soey I eat see ai in the cine room. I see piea no dia to you on a cine tals. wto in the cine welh see mrs. l.

Attached to it was the pizza. Just in case I wanted to finish it off.

I do seem to have problems with food in the classroom. At least this time nobody was trying to poison me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


My husband emailed this to me today, knowing I would find it interesting. The article discusses what makes a good, effective teacher, and details how Teach For America (TFA) collects data to answer this very question.

If you know me, you know I have HUGE issues with TFA. However, this is the first article I've read on TFA that actually made me respect the organization. They have been taking data on their teachers for years, rating what makes a successful teacher, and examining what qualities they should look for in their candidates to guarantee that their teachers are successful. I appreciate the fact that TFA does not just assume that because someone went to an ivy league school they will be a successful teacher- instead they are looking at the qualities they know have been proven to be successful in teaching careers.

"Grit" or a candidate's perseverance in the face of hard tasks, is most likely to be a sign of a future successful teachers (the article goes on to say that this is the same quality that predicts successful West Point students...)
It also states,
"superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls."

And it goes on to say...
At the end of the day,” says Timothy Daly at the New Teacher Project, “it’s the mind-set that teachers need—a kind of relentless approach to the problem.”'

I know that all of the teachers I work with at the think-tank would fall into these categories, most likely because my principal is fantastic at hiring (perhaps she could get a job with TFA helping find candidates...) but also because the think-tank promotes the sort of teaching environment where we are always setting goals with our students, engaging the families, fine tuning our lessons, re-structuring, assessing our students, and becoming fully dedicated to the success of each little one who enters our rooms.

Knowing that it is these qualities that make good teachers- and these qualities that make students successful- and knowing that it is possible for school cultures to promote such qualities in all their teachers- what does this mean?
Does data like this change policies? The article mentions how DC schools are changing their policies this year to be more in line with this data and it will be interesting to see if they are successful. I'm curious to see if these new beliefs leak out into wider policy shifts or just in general change attitudes in education (for better or worse)...


There is nothing I love more than a good read aloud. Especially one that is full of high drama, stubborn children, repetitive text so the children can chime in and read along, and good voices. I think most early elementary teachers feel the same one. So one of the aspects I love about intersession is that I get to do read alouds all the time- no set curriculum to tell me there's no time- no really important lessons we have to get too or I'll have to erase my plan book and draw lots of arrows... I can grab a book whenever I want to and dive in.

Yesterday I decided to indulge in one of my all time favorites, Thomas' Snowsuit by Robert Munch. I adore Robert Munch. I adore Robert Munch because his stories typically make absolutely no sense to adults, but kids find them hysterical. They're goofy- usually mention peeing, or underwear, or something just as ridiculously silly- they tend to be repetitive so the class has lines to chant during the story, and they usually involve children who outsmart adults because the adults are so set on their routines they don't think outside the box or notice the obvious.

So yesterday I opened Thomas' Snowsuit and dove in. The book begins with Thomas' mother showing him his nice, new, brown snowsuit and Thomas says "that is the ugliest snowsuit I have ever seen. If you think I am going to wear that snowsuit you are crazy" (or something like that). Occasionally at this point there are a few children who are shocked that a child would call his mother's snowsuit ugly, or tell his mother she is crazy.

Yesterday, however, this was not the case. One little girl let out a shocked yelp "crazy?" so I stopped and said, "I know none of you would ever call your mother crazy, or refuse to put on your snowsuit, right?" I went back to reading- or tried to go back to reading- when a boy chimed in, "But my mother is crazy"
And then from across the carpet another boy related, "yeah, mine too!"
"Oh no, it's my dad that is crazy!" a boy says, shaking his head knowingly.
"My mom says I'm crazy"
"My mom IS crazy"
"Only when my mom drinks soda- then she's crazy"
"My mom is so crazy she...."

So, do I stop the conversation and move on, before some child reveals his family's secrets? Or do I indulge my curiosity? Stop the lesson and let everyone write about a time their family was crazy? Just what do they mean by crazy...?

I laughed before details were shared and went back to reading, letting everyone get lost in Thomas' battle over his ugly brown snowsuit.

I do love when a group of children bonds over literature. I've just never had a group bond over family drama in that way. Perhaps it's the holidays that brings out every one's craziness.

Monday, January 4, 2010

oh, it's you...

On of my special friends is in my intersession class.
Despite the fact that I met her when she was in preschool, helped her transition to my school, worked with her at length in kindergarten, attended one of her t-ball games last spring, and continue to work closely with her in first grade, when she saw she was in my class she loudly announced with surprise,
"Hey! I know you! You're Mrs. Lipstick"

Sunday, January 3, 2010



over the break i was sipping wine at a cocktail party, nicely chatting with a few women about the kindergarten curriculum they use to home-school their children.
no judgment- i was honestly completely fascinated and very curious about what sort of curriculum they used and what sort of activities they did with their little ones. as they got tired of my long list of questions they turned on me.
"So, how old are your children?" they asked, clearly thinking, after my extensive questions, that i'm about to announce that i'm considering home schooling my soon-to-be kindergartner.
i take a sip of wine, hoping they'd lose interest quickly.
"um, actually, i don't have kids"
eyebrows raise
"i'm, um, a kindergarten teacher"
"really?" one asks. "for the church?"
"um, no- (another sip of wine) for a certain public school district"
one of them smiles broadly. "oh! i know all about that public school district! our home school coach is on the school board there. he's home schooled all his children even though he's on the board there- you know, i think that says a lot about that school district"
i nod, not knowing what to say, take a rather large sip of wine and scan the room looking for someone else to talk to. i really had just wanted to know about the nuts and bolts of home schooling but now i was worried that if i responded to that last comment i may get thrown out of the party...

but, people of my district, did you seriously, seriously, elect someone to school board who never put his children in our schools? you're letting someone make decisions who thinks our schools are not good enough for his own children? so the decisions he makes will never personally impact him?
what were you thinking??


i am so not in a good mood.
it's ridiculously cold and windy outside. my cat managed to destroy one of the cookbooks i'd placed on top of the frog's file box (and all mr. lipstick said was, "well, better that than the frog". )
but most of all i have to go back to work tomorrow.
by choice.
i decided, back in october that it would be a good idea to teach intersession.
i was so, so, stupid.
i could spend another week cuddling under warm blankets, sipping hot coco and reading for pleasure. but no, i thought "it's good money" and "i like intersession"
i'd forgotten that last spring, after our last intersession, the thoughts, "you can't pay me enough to do this again" were going through my head.
so instead, i'm banging around the house, making mr. lipstick miserable, acting like going back to work after a 2 week break is the worst thing i've ever had to do in my entire life. like i'm being forced to walk off the plank by unruly pirates.
i know, don't you wish you were here: cheerful, isn't it?

but tomorrow is a half day- and i'm teaching scapbooking, which tends to be a gigantic, fun, mess. we'll sing lots of noisy, active songs and read lots of great books, and i'm sure by the end of the day tomorrow i will have thought about some other good reasons that i shouldn't stay in bed for the remainder of the week...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

goals... Or how special education is taking over my life

I suppose it's the nature of the season that we're suppose to be setting goals to meet over the next year. Thinking about what I want to accomplish in the next year makes me realize this is what I do for all the kids on my caseload- I decide what they'll accomplish in a year, make a contract with their parents, get lots of signatures, write lots of details about how they'll accomplish it, go through a lot of legal descriptions of 'free and appropriate education' and 'least restrictive environment' that make little sense in English unless you are a lawyer (and if you are a lawyer I am so nervous that I'll make a mistake and you'll sue me that I stumble over the explanation anyway and then it really doesn't make any sense at all...)

Regardless- Mr. Lipstick had a fabulous idea (I'm ashamed I didn't think of it myself since my job description is primarily writing goals- but I suppose I normally write goals for other people)
Instead of coming up with one large goal for the year and not accomplishing it we'll come up with our broad goals and then each month decide on our short term goals to accomplish that month so that we will be on track to accomplish the long term goal.
This is exactly what we do for our kids- come up with that big umbrella goal and then come up with the ways we'll meet that goal in short term objectives.
So, as my life continues to come closer and closer to mirroring living in a special education world- we've set the generic goals of being healthier and being more fiscally conservative. And now, while before we'd set those goals, feel good about ourselves and go off and have a nice greasy burger and fries from Five Guys, we've actually laid out the plan for January (only eat fries 5 times during the month, etc) and posted the requirements for all this on our fridge.
This way is decidedly less fun but perhaps more productive.