Sunday, February 28, 2010

overheard on the school bus...

The jump rope team I'm an assistant coach for is made up of 24 kids from 3rd-5th grade. They're extremely diverse (much like our school), and an absolutely fabulous group of kids. However, we've spent the last two Fridays on a school bus touring school after school to perform at school assemblies. For whatever reason, this group of jumpers seems to want to sit near the head coach and me on the bus. In previous years they headed to the back of the bus to be as far from adults as possible. This year, however, they seem perfectly happy for us to overhear all their conversations. Sometimes I'm amused, and sometimes I'm disturbed...

-My mom says that you can tell if people are from North Korea or South Korea because people from North Korea smell different. See, smell me, can you tell I'm from South Korea?

-"That is not going to help you with French kissing!" (which of course prompts me to turn around, only to find 3 children trying to unwrap starburst wrappers with their tongues. ew.... )

-"That teacher is super scary" one boy says,

"No, she's awesome, but yeah, last year, before she was my teacher, she got really mad at me for running in the hallway. But I think she forgot about that, and that's why she likes me this year"

- "Whoa! what's that building?" a child gasps at the mcmansion we drive by on the way to a school in a wealthier district. "No, really, Mrs. Lipstick, what is that?" Can I even tell you how much it pained me to tell them it was a house, for one family...

-"Hey, look, that place is named tequila. Ha, ha, tequila. You know, I've had a margarita before? nah, just kidding, only a non-virgin one... haha." Luckily no one else seemed to know what this child was talking about.

- "No, I don't like movies that much- books are SO much better."

and my heart melts.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

mass firings & teacher hate

Just reading the comments from an article on the mass firings in Rhode Island is enough to make me hate humanity.

Really? There are people out there who believe these teachers had it easy? Who believe they are over paid? Lazy? Cushy jobs with extended vacations? Don't work as hard as those in the private sector? Should be paid less? The kids aren't learning just because the teachers are too busy talking to one another?

Who are these people??? And what planet do they live on?

I recently had a conversation with someone in his first year of teaching at a private school in our area. He doesn't have an education background, but the opportunity arose and he took it. When I asked how his first year was going he just shook his head. "Nobody tells you how hard this job is" he said, "Nobody tells you that even though your hours are from 7:30-3 you don't have time to do work during that time- that's when you're TEACHING. It's like presenting at meeting after meeting in the private sector for 8 hours, and then you have to spend the rest of your day preparing for tomorrow's meetings. I am just tired. All the time."

I felt for him, but was also surprised he didn't realize what he was getting into. I guess I forgot the rest of the world doesn't realize what sort of job the teaching profession really is. And I suppose it's the people, who don't know what's happening inside our schools, who believe teachers are overpaid and don't work hard enough.

I'd like to invite them to come in and spend a week with us. To live from 8-3 without going to the bathroom. To eat lunch while planning. To keep our same hours- to get to school early or stay hours late to be prepared, meet with parents, meet with administration, get lessons completed, grade, and still manage to have awesome lessons when the children are here.

** ** **
I have a lot to say about the mass firings & not just the teacher attitudes, but I'll save it for another day. My biggest issues are:

-teachers were expected to do the same thing they had been doing, just more of it. Perhaps there should have been a look at shifting instruction, or looking more deeply at what issues were. If it wasn't working in the classroom, why would it work after school?

-Has anyone actually eaten lunch with their children? Because if you have, you understand the teacher's feelings.

is it finally Saturday?

in case you couldn't tell from my lack of posting- this week just about killed me. I can't exactly put my finger on any one thing that did me in, but instead it seems it was just one thing after another, with very little time to breath in between.

It did of course have its moments & here's my attempt at some of the posts that I just haven't had time to write this week:

One of my friends has an intellectual disability (previously known as MR). She's an amazingly happy, determined little girl and usually working with her is the highlight of my week. We've gone through a lot of practice matching objects, colors, and numbers and so we were on to our next goal of being able to not just match one color, but to label that color with its name. Typically she is very quiet and mute, especially whole-group, but once you get her excited she'll start repeating what you've said. So after she and I had played multiple games with the color red in the classroom we took a color-hunt around the school looking for the color red and shooting pictures of it for a red book. I want to move her past the phase of matching colors and into the phase of identifying colors without a model, and I thought it would be helpful for her to recognize these colors in her environment, so after looking at her RED book for awhile when she walks down the hallway her brain will automatically say "red" when she passes the fire hydrant. Or so I hope- we'll see.
She adored walking up and down the hallway taking pictures and saying "red". We returned to the classroom in good spirits and she sat down for post-reading workshop share-circle where every child's name is on a Popsicle stick in a can, so every child's name has a chance of being selected and asked to share what she or he did during reading.
My friend's name was selected by the substitute, who had no real idea of what to expect, since she was clutching an index card with a red circle on it and smiling wildly.
We prompted her to tell us the color, and after several tries- she did. And then she said it again, with a LOUD voice.
We asked what color one of the other children's book boxes was (it was red) and she said "RED" with a huge smile.
The classroom aid and I exploded with happiness, and the rest of the class cheered with amazement. She hadn't spoken in whole-group before.
As the class went on to get ready for snack they gathered in small groups. One boy even put his hands onto another's shoulders
"Can you believe it?" he asked "she said red! this is the best day ever!"
"Did you hear her?" another child gasped, "It's awesome!"
The substitute stood back a bit confused at why all these 5 year olds were still talking excitedly about their friend identifying a color.
Our friend sat grinning, knowing she was awesome.

I love this class. Splatypus has such a great community that they all celebrate each other spontaneously, considering one another's achievements as their own.

and yes, some of that could be considered condescending, and if our friend had felt uncomfortable being celebrated I would have put a stop to it. But she loved it, and our friends . have celebrated like this if a student read a really hard book, or wrote a really good story- so why not celebrate something equally as exciting for one of their friends?

*** In other moments***

Listening to our kids

We've had meeting after meeting with specialists, administrators, instructional aides, and the parents of our friend who has a physical disability and spends most of her day in a wheel chair. We've been addressing one particular issue since the beginning of the year, but haven't been able to get anywhere- everything we put in place just doesn't work.
So, we sat down on Tuesday afternoon with a team of people and came up with another plan. We presented the plan to our student on Wednesday morning. She smiled and listened to us, and then interrupted, "Actually" she said, "I have an idea."
We were bowled over. Part of our problem is having her advocate for herself. Well, here she was, advocating for herself, very boldly.
"The first graders have buddies. Why can't I have a buddy. I want a friend to go with me" she stated.
Of course. The first graders have buddies because they don't have adults when they leave the room, and she of course, has 2 adults with her. But really, that's not nearly as much fun, or motivating as having a buddy. And really, she wants to be like everyone else as much as possible. It was a great idea, and one we never would have thought of, because it wasn't logical, but it was exactly what she needed.

"Wow, what a great idea!" we said. "Were you thinking of anyone in particular?" and she went on to name the most responsible person in the room.
"But my dad said this wouldn't work" she added. "Why didn't my dad listen to me?"
I tried to explain the idea of how we need to look at what's wrong with a plan to figure out how to make it better. I almost went into how Mr. Lipstick is a republican, but I decided that since she was only 5 I'd leave it alone.
The plan didn't completely work, but we made some strides better. And perhaps we need to include our 5 year old friend in on more of our meetings, or at least get her opinion before we meet with specialists, since she is exactly who is affected by our decisions.

*** *** ***

Then there were the other moments-

At our jump rope event there was vomit. Why is there always vomit at our jump rope events?

A wind advisory made any classroom in a trailer to come inside and find a space in the building to teach for the day. Do you have any idea of how many of our classrooms are in trailers?
I will say, however, as I was desperately printing out special education paperwork I got to observe the two teachers team-teaching in the library- two fourth grade classes together all day. But when I was in there, at 1:30, when this had already been going on for hours, the kids were still happily learning, and the teaching that was going on was phenomenal. I didn't want to leave because I was so entertained by the history lesson. Of course think-tank teachers would make the best of the situation.

Anyone know what happens when you google image search for "in a box" when working on prepositions? One would assume you'd find a nice Green Eggs and Ham imagine. Yet after the Justin Timberlake song you can only imagine what will pop up...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

encouraging research

Typically when children ask questions I direct them to write a letter to our librarian because I want them to realize they can look up information- they don't just have to ask an adult. So, while we poured over a guided reading book today all about Rats (I know, a thrilling 8 page read) and a child asked a question not answered in text, my first response, without thinking was, "that's a good question for our librarian!"

Except the question was "Where do babies come from?"

I think I owe our librarian a huge apology if he follows through with his research...

Monday, February 22, 2010

are. you. serious?

Legislator: Disabled kids are God's punishment

Capital News Service

RICHMOND — State Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas says disabled children are God's punishment to women who have aborted their first pregnancy.

He made that statement Thursday at a press conference to oppose state funding for Planned Parenthood.

"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," said Marshall, a Republican.

"In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest."

Marshall was among more than 20 people, mostly Christian pastors and clergy, who gathered for the press conference in the General Assembly Building.

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

I mean, where does one start?

Actually, I'm starting to think that this doesn't deserve to be acknowledged.

But what makes me sick is the idea that anyone says children with disabilities are a punishment on their parents. That someone would say that to people- that someone would utter that out loud. How can those words even cross someone's lips?

Let me tell you about the beautiful and amazing the children I teach. How hard they work. How much they learn. How smart they are. How creative they are. The gifts they give to the world, each in their own way.

How can anyone say they are a punishment?

Where is it written in the Bible that God uses children as a punishment?

I can't even put together a coherent thought this makes me so angry.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

fury & logical consequences

Yesterday poor Mr. Lipstick spent the evening at a happy hour where he lost track of time, returning home much later than expected. I say poor, because, the logical consequence of his actions meant that I had time to pour over the governor's budget proposal. Time to read, research, take notes, and become more and more furious.

Perhaps if he had arrived home when I expected him I would not have had time to put much thought into the proposal other than, "wow, that's terrible". But instead I had time to not just read the entire 37 page proposal, but was able to then dwell on it until I was fuming. By the time poor Mr. Lipstick walked in the door I was ready to explode with my anger at the proposal, the governor, and well, any political official in general really.

And I'm not even fuming about the money taken away from the schools themselves. I'm not yelling about the lack of money for new buses, the decrease in funding for coaches, the cuts in the teacher retirement programs, or for the music and arts programs. Oh, trust me, it's not that I'm not upset about those- but at the moment I have bigger fish to fry.

The programs on the chopping block include the very programs we rely on to support our children outside of school. Programs that support homeless families. Programs that prevent child abuse. Who cuts programs that prevent child abuse??

No, I'm not even yelling about the proposed cuts to giving poor families access to dental care.

Here's a cut and paste of some (just some!!) of the programs on the list-

  • Eliminate Lottery support for certain education programs ($91.9 million) Decrease support for Direct Aid programs by moving programs that are currently supported by the general fund to Lottery support. To implement this action, selected programs from Lottery will be eliminated. Programs suggested for elimination are discretionary and are not considered basic instructional programs: Enrollment Loss ($17.5 million), Mentor Teacher ($2.0 million), School Breakfast ($5.3 million), and Additional Support for School Construction and Operating Costs ($67.0 million). Savings are estimated at $47.1 million for FY 2011 and $44.8 million for FY 2012.
School breakfast. SCHOOL BREAKFAST. We know for sure that our children have access to 2 meals a day. Now we'll know they're only eating 1.

  • Eliminate general fund support for Healthy Families of Virginia ($6.3 million) Healthy Families of Virginia is a voluntary program that offers home visiting services for up to five years to high risk families who need individualized and comprehensive support. Services include in-home parenting education, child development, preventive health care and support services. The Healthy Families model is designed to promote positive parenting, improve child health and development, and reduce child abuse and neglect. Hampton Healthy Start pilot project was funded in FY 1994 and state funding has since been provided to expand programs across the state. The Healthy Families program in Virginia has grown to 38 local sites serving at-risk families in 88 communities. One state level organization, Prevent Child Abuse Virginia (PCAV), also funded with the state dollars, provides training, technical assistance, quality assurance, and evaluation to the local sites. Health Families currently (Chapter 781) receives $5.5 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) support. The introduced budget supplants the TANF with general fund and reduces the overall state support by 10 percent. This strategy will eliminate funding added in the introduced budget to offset the reduction of TANF for Healthy Families of Virginia ($1.4 million FY 2011 and $4.9 million FY 2012).
I do appreciate that they take the time to list all the benefits of the program before they recommend cutting it. I can't even begin to tell you the impact this program has had on some of our families- parents who have said they now understand how to parent, how to talk to their children, and how to discipline their children.

  • Eliminate funding for child advocacy centers ($2.0 million) Child advocacy centers provide services to children and families who experience abuse and neglect through a multidisciplinary team approach. Per budget language (Chapter 781), the Department of Social Services (DSS) provides $290,000 to various child advocacy centers each year. $200,000 ($100,000 general fund and $100,000 TANF) for the centers in general and $45,000 TANF for each of the centers in Bristol-Washington County and Lenowisco Planning Districts. In addition, the 2005 General Assembly appropriated $1.0 million general fund in the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Resources (OSHHR) for the development and enhancement of children's advocacy centers in Virginia. The introduced budget cuts funding for these organizations by $305,000 ($190,000 TANF and $115,000 general fund). This strategy eliminates the remaining funds set-out in both the Department of Social Services ($85,000 general fund) and the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Resources ($900,000 general fund).

  • Reduce funding for homeless programs ($6.0 million) General fund support included in the introduced budget bill to supplant the loss of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds for homeless programs is reduced by one-half in FY 2011 and eliminated in FY 2012. Funding for Child Services Coordinators is reduced beginning in FY 2012.
And these are only a few. Only a few! Social services will be hit, meaning that not only will we have fewer resources in our schools, but we will have fewer resources outside our schools to help our children and their families. You try to learn to read when you're getting one meal a day, traveling from apartment to apartment living in your car, and occasionally, when your mother gets really frustrated with life, getting hit with a belt. Let me tell you, reading is the last thing on your mind.

Once I'd stopped my rant- and Mr. Lipstick patiently waited for me to finish, which I appreciate, he pointed out that this is a proposal, not an actual budget. It will go before a democratic senate which will then pick it apart and the programs on the list will becoming bargaining chips. Some will survive, others will go. He may have just been telling me this to get me to stop screaming, but I suppose we have some hope.

I'm still nervous.

Today a parent told me he's going to keep playing the lottery in hopes he'll be able to save our schools. I'm glad somebody wants to save us.

with a smile

As much as we all grumbled about the crazy kiss-and-ride duty that occurred Tuesday, and as much as my poor new boots took a beating, apparently we didn't show that we were frazzled.

Today a parent told me that his wife returned from dropping his children off at school and informed him of all the craziness she'd seen at our school. We started to apologize, but he added that she wasn't bothered by it, she just felt sorry for us, he explained. But, she also noted that we were all out there smiling, waving, and cheering as we navigated the ice, even though we were clearly cold.

It was nice to hear that parents appreciated our upbeat attitudes during a chaotic situation. Just a nice reminder of how awesome the think-tank really is.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

sad shoe woes

Dear New Black Boots,

You were beautiful 3 weeks ago when I purchased you from Macy's. That night I needed shoe-therapy, and found you, waiting patiently on the stand, calling to me. The last pair in my size. Your heel was just the right size- not too tall, but just tall enough. Pure, shiny black boots, not yet scuffed on the toes.

And I waited, all those days in the snow, waiting to wear you, while I was shoveling snow and wearing hiking boots. Waiting, but thinking of you.

And now,


You are covered in salt. No longer pure black. You've developed white chicken-pox covered in sand. Your toes are not just scuffed, but scrapped clean to reveal what's underneath.
In one day you went from beautiful, shinny, black boots to scuffed, salt & sand well-worn boots.
All from one day of kiss and ride duty. From dodging the school buses trying to weave their way through the narrow, snow lined parking lot. From walking up and down the heavily salted sidewalk, escorting children safely from the top of the parking lot down to the school, and then making the reverse walk in the afternoon. From bending down to zip up children's coats in the icy snow puddles. From navigating the obstacle course of snow piles, running from car to car, trying to figure out who they are looking for, or trying to convince parents to trust our snow plan.

I've let you down, boots. I bought you promising to keep you clean and beautiful, new, and because I wore you too soon I've ruined you. I know, I wasn't thinking when I put you on, when I knew full well what our parking lot looked like. Perhaps my cabin fever lead me to make poor shoe decisions.
But I am sorry, boots. I am sorry, and I am mourning your loss.
Mrs. Lipstick

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jobs I'm glad I don't have-

1. The person who has to make the decision about snow days. Like, our superintendent. Because there are some angry, angry people out there who,when not shouting at each other on list serves or on facebook, are taking their aggression out on our superintendent over his snow day decisions. At this point he will never be able to make anyone happy, so I just hope he chooses what will keep everyone safe.

2. The person who has to decide how to rearrange our schedules to make sure everyone has time for lunch on 2 hour delays. Like, my assistant principal. But I have to hand it to her, she was even trying to brain storm creative ways to get the children some outdoor "recess" on the sidewalks that are clear. I love her.

3. The person who has to drive 50+ loud, excited, hyper children through the neighborhoods only plowed enough to allow one lane to get through at a time- driving through the same streets lined on either side by unplowed sidewalks that are bound to force the children you are not driving to walk in the street, right in your way. There is a special place in heaven for bus drivers after tomorrow.

4. The person who has to someone figure out how we're going to administer those 550 standardized tests to assess English language acquisition. You know, the one we were stressed about completing at the end of January, before we missed 2 weeks of school?

Happy Presidents' Day!

British George...
American George

When I first started teaching my mother gave me two of these "SOL dolls". She'd discovered that someone was making these dolls of people covered in the Virginia Standards of Learning (although you may assume they are SOL for their unfortunate noses...). She thought that every first grader needed the opportunity to play with George and Abe. I've added Martha & Ben Franklin to the collection, as well as George Washington Carver (not pictured here) because he is my favorite.

My second year teaching these dolls became an absolute favorite in the classroom during free time or indoor recess. I happened to have a little one who was obsessed with presidents.
Obsessed is an understatement.
He kept tabs on the presidential election daily, once a week wore a suit to school, started debates in the classroom over the current president's decisions (this is first grade mind you) and got in fights with friends by calling them a 'lame duck'. He wrote a book explaining the senate, and another about Teddy Kennedy. He'd bring the newspaper into class every day. His parents begged me to try to get him interested in sports- anything but politics as a first grader- what happened to liking dinosaurs?

His obsession was quickly picked up by the rest of the class and I'd have boys who'd ask to play with these dolls whenever they could. (It may have helped that George has a sword.)

The best was that George has a blue cape with a red lining. So my future president would start out the play, every time, with the red cape facing outward, representing when George was British. Then, after a scrimmage, he'd switch the cape and suddenly become a Colonist.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

newspaper, baseball & history

Yesterday, while some couples were celebrating Valentines Day at fancy restaurants filled with romance, Mr. Lipstick and I were wandering around the Newseum, taking advantage of its 2-for-1 holiday deal. How can you go wrong with their cheesy, "will you be my co-anchor?" special? It was the first time I'd visited their new space, and truly enjoyed myself & our geeked-out V-day date.

We entered the hall of newspaper history and began pulling out the drawers holding newspaper-like publications from as far back as the 1500s. We walked along, pulling out a few and reading the headlines, or amusing ourselves with reading the smaller stories that still made the front page, like someone, describing her run-away slave as "tolerably handsome", as though that was really a way to get him identified in the street and brought back to her...

A father and a young boy came up behind us, chatting away about the room. I was surprised because this did not seem to be a room that would attract a boy of that age. It was dark, the newsprint is small, old, and well, kind of boring. Yet the boy, maybe six or seven, was running along, asking to see papers from certain dates. It took me a minute to figure out what dates this little one was so excited about.
And then it hit me-
As they went along through the hall the father was teaching the son history by pulling out papers that corresponded to particular dates with baseball. They looked at the front page of a certain year to see who won a particular game, and gazed at the copies of Babe Ruth in print. The boy happily listened as his father explained what else was going on in history, and showed him the corresponding newspapers.

It was brilliant. What a great way to teach American history, or at least teach an understanding of change over time and past vs present. By taking a particular sport and tracking its headlines and changes while looking at what caused it to change, and what else was happening at the same time.

Makes me wonder what I can do with that idea in the classroom...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Meet My Strong-One

It's funny the little ones who pop into your head when you're not focused on school at all...

One that keeps coming back to me during our snow-cation is a little girl I work with this year. She is the most stubborn child I have ever worked with, which, to be honest, is saying something. But stubborn in a really, really good way. She has cerebral palsy, but you'd never know it unless you watch her closely and notice there is something a bit different about how she walks. And even then, you'd only know if I pointed it out to you.

Her stubbornness is going to be her ticket to a wonderful, strong life, although at times it can drive me, and anyone working with her, crazy.

She doesn't want anyone to do anything for her, ever. I was giving her a federally mandated, official test to assess her English skills as an English Language Learner student. For this test I am suppose to ask the students questions and then I am in charge of filling in a bubble to record their response. No other child has really commented on the fact that I am filling in bubbles while we go along "playing our games". Until my Strong-One. After watching me do it once or twice she grabbed the pencil from my hand.
"I can do it!" she blurted out. "Let me, don't do it for me"
"Honey, this is for teachers to do, not for kids"
"No, you're lying, I can do it" she argued.
So, we took turns, every fifth bubble or so I let her fill in...
"See," she said, "I told you I could do it"

When I first met her last year while she was in her preschool class at another school, I saw a quiet, timid child. Her teacher warned me that she wouldn't participate ever, and that she was worried about how low she was academically. I prepared myself for a very limited kindergarten experience.
I was wrong. She does sometimes refuse to participate, but only in the way of making a statement that she is going to control the situation, and no one is going to change that. But most of the time, despite the fact that she is refusing to look at the teacher, she knows what is going on. She seems to have developed an ability to stand back and watch, assessing the situation and determining how safe it is for her to participate. She does not participate in active singing, dancing, or sports-like games the first or second time she sees them. She hesitates, refuses, says she doesn't like that. But if you leave her alone and let her observe, you see her confidence build as she analyzes how she'll adapt the task for herself. Once she's sure, she participates right along with the rest of the class, despite the fact one side of her body is weaker than the other.

I love that at such a young age she understands her limits, and takes a moment or two to assess how to make a situation safe for her, and then moves forward- not letting herself be limited, but acting when she feels confident. I love it, even when it drives me crazy.

She can cause me to grind my teeth when we work together one on one. If I, in a rush, demand that we have only one agenda for that day, one activity we must follow, she balks. She refuses to follow my directions, refuses to play the game. But if I take the time to give her a choice, even the smallest choice of "do you want to hold this marker, or this pencil while we play" she'll participate. She likes to be in control. She likes to make the decisions.

The part of me that thinks "This is ridiculous, I'm the teacher, she needs to follow directions" gets infuriated by this. There have been days I've said, "If you don't do this you can go sit back down with the group". And of course, what does she choose- she knows a power struggle when she sees one, and she is going to win, no matter what. So we've wasted a day because I was too stubborn to give her a reasonable choice.

The days that I'm calm, remember to give choices up front, right away, the days I roll with her determination, guide her when she says, "let me do it my way" are the days I see her learning the most. The days her brain is active and she takes what we're working on and puts it in her long term memory.

A book on the brain I read recently discussed how our brains are significantly more engaged when we are interested in the subject, and how that is the secret to children who struggle with their working memory. If they are truly engaged by their choice they are far more likely to remember the subject matter the following day, because more of their neurons are active in learning the material the first time.

And so I need to allow My Strong-One to take her stands, and, being the older, wiser adult, make sure that I've manipulated the situation so that her choices always still allow us to achieve my goal, while allowing her to achieve hers. Otherwise it is me, fighting with a 5 year old, and even if I "win" our time together isn't productive because she wont remember it the next day.

My Strong-One's determination, grit, and confidence is what is going to get her through life. It's what's going to keep her pushing on, even when the world may be more likely to allow her to develop learned helplessness. She wont let anyone do anything for her, at least, not more than once or twice, before she is confident she can do it herself. And if anyone tells her she can't do something, well, they might as well be giving her an open invitation to try it.

Some days I think I could learn a lot from My Strong One's outlook on life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

snow day love

I have to admit, I absolutely love snow days. My facebook and twitter feed is currently filled with my co-workers who are admitting they are bored out of their minds and are desperate to get out of their houses or even back to work. I admit I can't relate to being bored along with them.

I adore snow days.

Growing up, preparing for snow days was like preparing for snow-camp. We lived on 10 acres of land that could only be reached by a half mile, uphill gravel road off the main road. When it snowed we were stuck. The rest of the world may have been able to hustle around with 4 wheel drive, but we were absolutely unable to get down the gravel hill safely in order to get to civilization. And if we did make it down, there was not a chance we would survive the climb back up. We were also on well water, so when we lost electricity we lost everything. No showers, no flushing toilets.

And keep in mind this is before the internet. So even when the electricity was on we were limited in our activities, because, of course, we did not have cable. (My parents spent years of our lives telling us that the only channels we got were PBS and the news and that all those channels we saw at our friends' houses were "cable". They got away with this because our tv was one of the original tvs ever made and did not have a remote. You had to change the channel by turning two different knobs and had to make sure the first knob was turned to exactly the right spot in order to turn the second knob. There mere thought of changing the channel made the tv transition to complete fuzz and we had to hit it numerous times to make it reasonably watchable. Therefore I believe my brothers and I watched every episode of any PBS show ever made between the years of 1986-1991, when I decided I was too old to watch PBS and would either hold my hand in the right place over the tv so that I could watch Full House, with my nose against the screen, or I would read a book. Because of this I read books that were later made into movies I wasn't allowed to watch).

Anyway, with limited access to the tv, no access to civilization, and the threat of not being able to flush toilets for days during a snow storm, we had no choice- we had to utterly thrived on snow days or kill each other.
My mother was a snow day queen. She always seemed to have the ingredients in the kitchen to keep us busy baking, and she had no problems letting us open cook books to find new recipes to try. Or allowing us to see what happens if we just throw a pinch of this and a handful of that into a bowl and bake it... She didn't mind that most of those ended in disaster, or that we made a gigantic mess in the process. (We did, of course have to clean it up).

She also allowed us to roller blade in our finished basement on snow days. There wasn't much room, but there was enough to practice the jumps we saw the ice skaters on tv do. And we could put the couch cushions out to catch us when we fell.

We were even granted the use of the video camera so we could make our own short films or recreate the trashy talk shows we'd only heard rumors of from friends. I pray that all of these have been destroyed...

My mother knew that the secret to surviving a good snow was a roll of butcher block paper. She'd roll it across the kitchen floor and then encourage us to just go at it. If it was before Christmas she got out stamps and we made our own wrapping paper. Some days my brothers would create race tracks for their matchbox cars, or elaborate game boards that stretched across our kitchen. Once she read us The Snow Day by Ezra Jack Keats and then encouraged us to make our own Snowy Day scenes across the long roll of paper.

Of course, living on 10 acres of land we were also well equipped with sleds and even had 2 old pairs of cross-country skis. We usually had to be tortured into venturing outside on skis, but once out there we were able to explore the trails in the woods behind our house, or create elaborate sledding runs in our back paddock.

Because of all this snow days meant a vacation uninterrupted by the demands of the real world. It meant days of buckling down as a family and just being. With no chance of escaping being bored didn't get us very far, so we hopped from project to project, happily enjoying the fact that we had no demands but to be trapped inside.

I can't help but have that same excitement now. The first sign of snow makes me giddy with the thought of what's to come. I love to watch it fall, love to see the white-covered ground, and love to see those beautiful words on the television- "Schools Closed".
Not that I don't love my job and don't miss my kids. I do.
But, I have to admit I'm not very bored. I've embraced a large pile of books, I've caught up with old friends, played around with some arts and crafts projects, finally watched those movies every one's recommended, and taken long walks. Every time I think I might be bored another idea pops into my head for something to play with on the sewing machine, a knitting project to start, or a book to re-read.
It helps that I no longer live in a place where snow=shelter in place. I'm walking distance from stores, coffee shops and restaurants, as well as many friends. I could even jump on a bus and be downtown to explore museums.

The snow has started falling again threatening to never let us get back to school EVER again. And I'm sure a time will come when I too am ready to be out of my house. But right now I'm guiltily living up my little snowcation.

Monday, February 8, 2010

using the snow to my advantage

Our entire region is absolutely, ridiculously snowed in. This is absurd. We do not live in Canada. We do not live in New England. We do not live in Antarctica. Although, it feels like it these days. The squirrels are starting to look more and more like penguins.

And we're starting to suspect we will never go to school again.

On my afternoon walk, as I embraced the beauty of the snow covered trees and the quietness of the neighborhood, it occurred to me this is actually a good thing for some of my children.

In order to get my special education students to qualify for summer school I have to be able to prove that they will actually lose the skills they learned over the year if they have the entire summer off. Typically we do not worry too much about this since our summer breaks were so short. But since now we are looking at a regular school summer I'm feeling a little nervous about some of my children regressing over that long summer- we've worked so, so hard for them to go so long without reading or seeing their name in print.

Right before last Tuesday's snow I was going over my paperwork and looking at what sort of data I needed to be able to prove that my children's skills actually regressed over a break. But since our children go to intersession during our breaks, this is actually harder to prove- they may have a "break" from regular school, but they are still in a learning environment.

Yet now, with what could turn out to be a very long unexpected break from school with absolutely no instruction, I might actually be able to get my data.

I kind of feel like a scientist excited about the perfect conditions for an experiment. Not that I'm experimenting with my kids- but I need this data.
It feels wrong that I have to hope they'll lose what I just worked so hard to teach them- but if it allows them to go to summer school I feel like it is worth a shot.

So, here's to my children not doing anything for a week but letting the tv eat their brains...

only so that they may have a summer filled with learning.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

warning- my own irrational, bitter thoughts...

*take this all knowing that I've been snowed in for days and easily become irrationally bitter when I have large amounts of time to think**

It's official.

The think-tank will no longer be year-round next year.

We knew it was coming. In December our principal called us to a staff meeting and presented the budget. She told us about the fights happening behind the scenes, the decisions she was forced to make, the sacrifices all the principals had to face. We all left the meeting with an increase admiration for our principal and how she was fighting for us, along with a heavy heart knowing that we would no longer be year-round because it just wasn't possible. I am still amazed and in awe of how my principal presented the information to help us understand the budget and why it was in our best interest to no longer be year-round. Our district is facing huge cuts, staff positions are threatened, no one knows what is going to happen to class sizes, we don't expect a pay raise any time in the near future- everyone, on every level, is being asked to tighten their belts.

So it shouldn't have been such a blow to see that last week it became official- the school board voted to eliminate of our year-round calendar.

What is a shock, however, is what they voted to keep in spite of the "everyone is going to tighten their belts" lectures we've been giving.
Yes, children benefit from the programs they voted to keep- like freshman sports, foreign language in elementary schools, and winter track- but it's hard to swallow that they're keeping those when we're losing other great programs.
They're closing an alternative high school that allows teenage mothers to get their high school degrees at night so they can hold down their jobs during the day- a program that was making it possible for a parents of my one of my kindergarten students to earn her diploma. With a year left to go, however, and a 5 year old at home, we can only pray that she has the resources to find another way to earn her degree. (They did vote to give funding to help those students with the transition, so hopefully that will help).

Some of it just hurts because, we were told that we were all in this together- we were all tightening our belts. And now we learn that the children who already speak English will be able to continue to learn another language in elementary school- yes, a wonderful experience for them- but our children are losing a program that actually helps them learn English.
High school freshman will continue to be able to participate in sports- yes, a wonderful opportunity- but our children will have an entire summer sitting in their apartment buildings to forget their reading skills and their English vocabulary.

Earlier this month Mr.Lipstick and I caught a segment on the local news about these cuts. They showed videos from the school board meetings where children from the foreign language programs came and read poems to the school board in their new language. High schoolers were there in their sports uniforms advocating for their teams. And these kids should be there- they should advocating for their needs- but they were there because their parents understood the importance of getting them there. They had parents who weren't working a night job so they could get them there- they had parents supporting and encouraging them to speak in front of a room of many important people. Of course, I do not know for sure that none of our families were there, but my guess is that they were not. Our families do not always have the resources, the understanding of the system, or the confidence, to make their needs heard.
And it might not have made a difference. It was a tough fight- an uphill battle, and we are blessed to come out of the fight still keeping our class sizes the same and continuing to have so many instructional coaches at our school. We are not walking away losing everything, and in truth, we are still receive more funding than many schools in this country.

But give me this one moment to be sad and frustrated- that our children have lost such an important program while others, who already had so much, did not lose as much.

Friday, February 5, 2010

the un-justice of snow days

Our county made the announcement that school would be cancelled this past Wednesday at the same time it made the announcement that we would be expected to go to school on Presidents' Day. There was something harsh and unfair in the combined message. They took all happiness and excitement out of Wednesday's snow by so quickly reminding us that we'd lost the 3 day weekend we'd all been looking forward to. Couldn't they have allowed us to enjoy the luxury of the snow day and just waited 24 hours to tell us when we'd have to make it up?

Last night we watched the local news interview some young boy about the upcoming storm, who must have shared my exact feelings.

"They've already taken away Presidents' Day" he mournfully shook his head, "Who knows what holiday they'll take away next."

Mr. Lipstick, who clearly does not understand the sad reality of having to make up snow days responded in his best grim-reaper voice.

"your birthday. hahaha"

Thursday, February 4, 2010


one of the cruelest fates in the world is to be sick over snow days. when you have the opportunity to have a day of unscheduled excitement, but are instead stuck inside, under the covers, angrily wondering which little one gave you your current disease. exactly whose cough was it that is keeping you inside and miserable when you could be playing in the snow?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

like real authors...

We're currently in the midst of publishing our writing for our school's coming writing celebration, I Heart Writing. (This is my all-time favorite day of the year, but more on that later...)
So my awesome co-teacher and I are frantically trying to make sure every child has a typed, story that is worthy of being read aloud to a room full of parents/administrators/other students. We've spent the last few weeks teaching editing skills, and saying things like:

"What would Mo Willems do if he realized he had capital letters in the middle of his words?"
"Do you think Eric Carle would write a story without periods?"
"Would Kevin Hankes waste his writing time by playing with the stapler? I think not!"

The other day my fantastic co-teacher sat down to prepare The Story Teller's writing for publishing. She was just about to wrap up the conference when she noticed what he'd added to the back of his writing:
"Just like a real book!" he explained, as though that was obvious.

Mo Willems uses periods, capital letters, makes sure his stories make sense, AND has his own website. We did tell the story teller to be like Mo...