Thursday, April 29, 2010

we're saving lives here, people

Yesterday as we switched guided reading groups I asked one of my readers to move a little faster since he was keeping the group from starting their new book. One of the group members nodded gravely, "That's right" she agreed, "Our reading time is very important. Reading saves lives."

And with that the slow poke sped up and we were able to get back to our life-saving measures of learning to read.

Who says we don't have the most important jobs in the whole world?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

wedding planning, six year old style

My partner-in-crime, aka, my fabulous co-teacher, is getting married! Her wonderful fiance proposed over our break, and our kindergartners are dying with excitement.

Because I'm a slightly evil teacher and turn everything into an opportunity for learning, I spent the last 2 weeks pulling them into the hall during their free choice time in order to create this:

Our class guide to weddings.

(Our class name is the Magical Bloomers. Magical because that's all kindergarten really is, and Bloomers because we're growing like flowers and we're a little like Leo The Late Bloomer).

So, each child was able to make their own wedding recommendations on their very own page in our bridal magazine. The only catch, of course, was that they had to write about it. In the end this turned into a great opportunity for interactive writing and I was able to assess many of my children's letter/sound correspondence since I don't get to write with them every day. Above all, I gained a new appreciation for 5 year old dream weddings.

Here are some of their suggestions:
Yes, I know the pictures are sideways. I'm sure if I remembered my code from comp sci in college I'd be able to go into the htlm tab in blogger and fix it, but I don't. The thing is, they are not sideways on my camera... or anywhere else, except when they appear on the blog. But that's a battle I'm not fighting tonight.
Please note the white sparkly shoes, the white flowers and the princess cake.
"You need a rainbow" Is that not the best?
I love the little ones who want her in red shoes. They all want her to wear red shoes. This one specifically wants a purple dress as well. And her husband-to-be is eating a banana. They all want them to serve bananas and apples at the wedding. We thought they had listened to those health lessons, but then they also decided pizza should be served as well.
Do you not just love kindergartners? Do I not have the best job in the world?
This afternoon as we read the final magazine as a class we ended up having to clear up a few misconceptions.
#1- the class will not be attending the wedding. They were a tad disappointed, but I think they'll get over it, especially when they learn that pizza will not be on the menu.
#2- Partner-in-Crime and I are not marring each other. One little girl assumed that was what was happening. They do say a good co-teaching relationship is like a marriage, so I can see where she might get this idea. Mr. Future-Partner-In-Crime better come visit soon to clear that one up.

Monday, April 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Lice Everywhere

Dear Lice,
I have had it. My patience is shot. If you were a student in my classroom I would be giving you the Viola Swamp lecture of death right about now.

Listen, you have no idea the havoc you are creating in our classrooms. Or maybe you do & you don't care. You're worse than bad education policies. You are keeping kids from learning and keeping teachers from teaching.

How many hours now have I wasted checking children's hair for signs of you? How many notes/emails/phone calls have I exchanged with the school nurse- about you and your insipid little eggs. How many parents have had to leave their jobs to come pick up their child because you decide to play?

I mean, this is out of control. These are not parents who can afford to miss a day of work. These are not kids who can afford to miss a day of school. These are not teachers who can afford to lose instruction time. We have more important things to do than wrap up children's book bags in plastic every morning, and check every little one's head for a sign of black crawly bugs, or little white eggs. And I'd like to stop spending my planning in the nurse's office, getting my own head checked. I can't take the paranoia anymore.

So please, please, could you go visit another school that isn't desperately trying to make AYP? Or better yet, maybe you could, you know, die, and never return.
Please? Because, beyond how gross you are, we just don't have time for you. We need to get back to learning to read.
Thank you,
Mrs. Lipstick

ps. I appologize for any itchiness you are now experience due to reading this post. Welcome to our world. You try to teach when you're imagining your head is crawling...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

real teaching resumes

Since I'm still terrified about having such a significant amount of time off for the first time this summer I've been sending my resume out to difference places in hopes of lining up some sort of stimulating summer work. As I worked on updating my resume yesterday I couldn't help but think that my actual resume doesn't say anything about what's really important in the classroom. There is no place for those hidden-teacher-talents.

So, here's mine:
  • Can identify lice on a child's head with impeccable accuracy, both the eggs and the bugs themselves.
  • Can go for 8 hours without using the bathroom
  • Have Knuffle Bunny, Noisy Nora, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and The Recess Queen memorized.
  • Can perform The Tooty-Tah and Alphady without needing Dr. Jean's CDs.
  • Able to make a parent feel like their child is the most important child in the world.
  • Can fill five-ten minutes of unplanned wait-time at a moment's notice when there are 20 children staring at me, wanting to be entertained.
  • Can identify between a child who really needs to use the bathroom and one who wants me to think they really need to go to the bathroom.
  • Willing to rescue children who managed to climb too high on the playground and cannot get themselves down.
  • Sing "Going on a Bear Hunt" whenever walking through the woods with a class.
  • Able to make any child feel like what they are telling me is the most important thing I have ever heard in my whole life, even when they are just telling me that they went to Chuck-E-Cheese (again) over the weekend.
  • Possess Gumby-like flexibility skills that allow me to organize meetings and plan class activities at a moment's notice.
  • Able to read most kindergarten and first grade developmentally appropriate spelling, even if the child has a learning disability that impacts their ability to hear sounds in words.
  • Able to write paragraphs of strengths on any child in any subject matter, no matter what the child's abilities are. (Try me)
  • Strong knowledge of children's literature, which allows me to pull books out of the air when the class needs to have a class meeting on bullying, making friends, the loss of a class pet, understanding that we are all different, etc, etc.
  • Actively seek advice from anyone and everyone.
  • Able to sports-cast an all-classroom clean up as though it is an Olympic event.
  • Able to channel Viola Swamp at a moment's notice, and then can immediately switch back to being Miss Nelson.
What are your secret teacher talents? I'm memeing you:

Let us know your hidden talents, and meme 5 other talented teachers.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

bad teacher

As splattypus pointed out, there was a bit of gossip flying around our school yesterday. I'm kind of still waiting to hear that it's not true- it was made up just to pull us all out of the depression we'd sunk into since hearing our principal is leaving us. We certainly needed something happy and exciting this week.

Right after I'd given a book introduction to one of my first grade reading groups, and sent them my daily "happy reading" wish, Jenny came into our room and knelt down to chat about everything going on. We laughed with happiness and chatted while the readers worked there way through the instructional level text.

Now, in guided reading, it's considered GUIDED because after the teacher gives the book introduction she gives each child a book and listens to them read it quietly to themselves. The book is suppose to be INSTRUCTIONAL. Both the words guided and instructional imply that the teacher is taking a very active roll in this reading adventure- listening to each reader, helping them with tough words, reminding them how to use strategies to decode words they are stuck on. I was doing none of these things, as I was deep into conversation with Jenny.

As we chatted my diligent readers (which included the story teller) read their little books twice- as they've been instructed to do- and then started in on a 3rd reading. The group after them noticed they were on their 3rd reading and left their centers to stand behind the current group- ready to sit down at the table to get their own guided reading book. I kept talking with Jenny.

Finally I looked up and realized I had 6 children staring at me with disgruntled expressions on their faces. A few had their arms crossed. I laughed, wishing I had a picture of these 6 readers who desperately wanted their new books. You've got to love it when kids want to read.

Jenny left and the story teller gave me a firm look.

"Mrs. Lipstick," he began. "You owe us an apology. You wasted our time."

I was taken aback, but he was right. When he wastes my time he has to give me an apology. SO, it only makes sense that I give one back to him.

"You're right, story teller" I said, "I do owe you an apology. I wasted your reading time. I am very sorry about that. I will try to not let it happen again."

"No, Mrs. Lipstick" the story teller countered, "You don't just owe me an apology, you owe L. and A., and D., and J. and K. and apology too. You wasted all of our time. Because you were just joking with Ms. Jenny."

I was stunned. He was right- I owed everyone an apology. They knew I wasn't having a serious teacher talk- they knew Jenny and I were just "joking" for fun.

And so I apologized to my readers for wasting their reading time. It's not often you have a first grader sincerely reminding you that you didn't make the best teacher choices that day...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

what makes the think tank think

Yesterday a dark cloud hung in the air over our school, as though someone we loved had just died. If you'd come into our building for the first time yesterday you would have found normally cheerful teachers crying, or walking around as though they had just lost their best friend. We might have gotten through the day, but we were just going through the motions- none of our hearts were in it.

Early that morning our principal had called a staff meeting. None of us had any idea what it was for, so when we arrived you can only imagine the shock we felt when our amazing principal announced she was retiring.

I don't know if I can begin to sum up everything this means, or if I can somehow capture a clear picture of the amazing leader she is. It's too soon, the wound is too fresh, and I'm still in shock. We are of course extremely happy for her, but right now we're all still grieving, as splatypus points out.

Whenever I hear debates about how education should be "fixed" I think of my principal. So much of what she does is the embodiment of how to do education the right. She gets the bigger picture- she knows what's important and knows how to filter out what's unimportant.

One of her greatest leadership qualities, I think, is that she knows how to help her teachers grow into leaders themselves. She knows when to give leadership, and who to give it to in order to help all teachers grow. I'm always in awe of how she is able to read a situation and know who to encourage to take up a leadership role, who she empowers, and the responsibilities she hands off to us. She seems to know that evenly distributing leadership throughout the school, not just among a few teachers, creates empowered and motivated teachers.

I once heard her say that she very intentionally never refers to us as "her staff". That stuck with me because I found it admirable- she hasn't worked to create a administration division solely to remind us of who is in charge. We are a team, and she delivers that message in every email she sends us, and in every staff meeting we have. (She does this with never having to say it- like some who pay lip service to a "team" but really don't- she doesn't have to call us a team for us to know that's how it works- because it's real and doesn't need a label).

Some administrators request to see lesson plans ahead of time, ask for standards to be written on the board, demand that everyone follow a set behavior management plan, or expect every teacher to use a similar style. She is not one of those administrators. She seems to appreciate different styles, and sends the message that she trusts us to do what is best for our kids, knowing that we will use our teacher knowledge and best judgement. In handing over that sort of power she is inviting us to think deeper about our lessons and how we work with our children.

She can trust us to make those decisions because she's created an environment where we are always thinking. We are a literacy collaborative school, which means we are always in small groups reflecting on our teaching, reading literacy books, trying new strategies, and collaborating with our peers to become better teachers. She's worked to help us copy that structure in math as well, so that we always have the resources we need to not just do our job, but to do it better each time.

Some principals demand participation in professional development that in the end weakens staff moral and frustrates teachers. She is not one of those principals. Instead she listens to what we need, allows trainings to be optional, and limits what is mandatory. So little is actually mandatory that when we know it is mandatory we know it will be good.

We have a co-teaching model where each teacher has a partner for literacy. I could write a book on all of the many, many ways this model is so beneficial. She fights for us to keep that model even with looming budget cuts. Because she sees the bigger picture, she's able to use creative solutions to keep what she knows works.

She doesn't seem to worry about whether or not someone from the county will be upset with her, nor does she seemed concerned about following rules by the book to make someone in a higher office happy. She knows what's important and she's not going to compromise that by playing games.

I think we don't even realize how many ways she protects us from the county. She's able to sift through what is important and what's not important and stands up for us with the county. She knows what it takes to run a good school and she's not going to let some misinformed county mandates get in the way of that. I also suspect she is a miracle worker with the budget. I've worked in other schools in our county and no other school had the supplies and resources that we do. She knows what's important to spend money on and knows how to spend the money so that it benefits the most amount of children while supporting us as teachers. (You should see our classroom libraries- not many schools supply their teachers with classroom libraries! You should also see our book room and our professional library. It is rare that there isn't a book there that we need).

She's always fighting for us as teachers, whether it is having our back with a parent, the school board, the county, or some other event that gets in the way. I hear stories of principals always taking the parents' side first before speaking to the teacher, or, discrediting the teacher in front of the parent. There have been times I've worked with an irate parent, and she has always had my back. Even when I'm in the wrong she's shown that she supports me in front of the parent. She may take me aside afterwards and help me fix my mistake, but in front of the parent she presents a united front. It takes a strong leader to be able to stand up for your staff, even when you know they were in the wrong.

I feel as I go on and on that I'm not being coherent, and not getting out what I intend to say. Perhaps a few months from now, in the summer, I'll be able to truly reflect on her strengths and all she's done for our school. Right now it's all still swimming in my brain- every time one of her strengths pops up it turns into a fear- will that exist next year?
Will that change?
Will someone new not trust us as much, not have our backs, not work magic with the budget? Will they stop letting us wear jeans?
Or flip flops?
Will they take away our flip flops?
Will they take away our blogging?
Will they understand our life emergencies?
Will they know how to facilitate a school-wide discussion that brings about positive instructional change?
Will they know when to give the final word, and when to let the teachers have power?
Will they see the bigger picture?
Will they laugh with us on Friday afternoons?

The thing is, what makes her such a strong leader is that she's facilitated leadership in each of us. In giving us the power, knowledge, and wisdom it takes to run a successful school, she's created a firm foundation that will last even after she's gone. A true sign of a good leader- giving people the tools and the trust to do it themselves. She might leave, but she'll be leaving behind everything she's given us.

If only every school could have such strong leadership...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Yesterday was pretty awful, and then today... I'm not even ready to blog about today. But despite all that, there were those moments- moments that help remind me just why this really is the best job in the world.

Yesterday morning I was walking in the hallway when I over heard two third graders.
"So, did you like living in Africa?" one asked the other as they made their way to class, as though comparing different continents is natural for all 9 year olds.

** ** **
As I was leaving school yesterday I heard screeching coming from one of the houses right off school grounds. I ignored it, but it only got louder and more frantic. Then I started to wonder if the house was on fire and the child was screaming for help. It sounded like she was yelling about a stick- wait, no, not a stick- lipstick. Yes, someone was leaning out the window of their house, screeching, jumping up and down, waving her arms, screaming about lipstick.
Oh, wait- Mrs. Lipstick. Yes, she was definitely calling to me.
As I walked closer to her house she waved her arms even harder.
"I'LL SEE YOU TOMORROW!" she screeched as she gave me thumbs up with both hands. I waved back and started to get into my car.
"MRS LIPSTICK!" she screamed again, "YOU DRIVE A WHITE CAR."

** ** **
Today as I was in the midst of a guided reading group, I noticed the story teller silently stomping his feet around the room. On second glance I noticed that he was not just stomping, but giving occasional silent 'roars' with his mouth in the direction of others, with his arms bent in front of him, mimicking the front legs of a T-Rex. Yes, the storyteller was spending reading workshop pretending to be a dinosaur. Grant it, he was doing his center, he was just doing it dino-style, as though he was straight out of Calvin and Hobbs.

Monday, April 19, 2010

two steps forward, three steps back

My fabulous first grade co-teacher and I have a little boy who is not officially "one of mine" but most likely should be. We've started the special education process, and suspect that if he is not on the autism spectrum he must have significant learning disabilities that severely impact his ability to communicate appropriately with those around him.

When he first entered our classroom he assumed the entire world was against him. If one child laughed in the back of the class he knew it was about him. Once my co-teacher and I were laughing as we walked the class down the hallway and he exploded. "Teachers aren't suppose to laugh!" he exclaimed angrily. During lessons if we laughed because we made a mistake he'd get upset with us for laughing at ourselves. "It's not nice to laugh when someone makes a mistake" he'd recite, not understanding that the rule didn't apply to laughing at yourself.

Back in September and October he would come visit me every morning to tell me about the mean kids on the bus, in the hallway, or in his classroom. He couldn't get past what he perceived as the mean actions of others. He couldn't focus on anything else. The school day wasn't a safe haven for him- it was a place where he had to stay on guard, never knowing if he was being picked on or not.

My co-teacher and I put our heads together and decided to give him some direct instruction with social skills. We spent time analyzing the book Oliver Button is a Sissy (one of my favorites). We debated the actions of the bullies, and talked about how Oliver never gave up, even when the bullies made fun of him. We sorted the actions from the book into two categories- when you should tell a grown up and when you need to be strong and not let it bother you.

He LOVED this and truly took pride in it. He continued coming to visit me every morning, but to tell me all the different ways he'd stood up for himself throughout the day, all the different times he ignored people who were mean to him, and how he didn't give up, just like Oliver Button.

It worked! I celebrated. Success!

He'd continue to find me in the morning to tell me about the incidents on the bus, but now instead of anger and frustration he was filled with pride and self-confidence. He'd brightly tell me about how he didn't care what they said, or if someone was laughing. I really thought he was doing great.

And then... the assistant principal pulled him out of class for a chat. Turns out he'd been bullied pretty badly on the bus, but he hadn't said anything because he'd decided he would be like Oliver Button.

*sigh* Ok, so we gave him self-confidence, but in the end he was worse off than he was before!

I gave the direct social skills training a rest and tried to give him more guided instruction during the day, modeling with his peers what was ok and not ok. I was worried to encourage him to stand up for himself and ignore others since it had ended up getting him bullied. How do you teach him to draw the line, I wondered, when he sees life as black and white.

He slowly reverted back to his old frustrations. "The story teller made a mean face at me!" he growled one afternoon. "So I punched him." The story teller sat there scratching his head. "I wasn't even looking at him, I wonder why he punched me." he'd ask inquisitively (being the story teller he's not even upset about getting punched).

He's back to meeting me in the morning to tell me who was mean to him on the bus, or what kindergarten girl "hit" him when she went to pick up her bookbag.

Today, as I sat at my desk I could hear him and two of my other friends with learning disabilities talking with their teacher. I left my classroom and found them having a post-recess conference about the fight the 3 of them had during recess. We marched down to the principal's office as I tried to weed out what on earth happened.

Ultimately it seems it all came down to none of them correctly reading the social cues of the other. One thought they were playing a game, the other thought they were angry with him, one didn't know what was going on, and when he went to investigate he was "punched in the stomach". (I don't actually think this was a true "fight". The boys used the words "punched" but... it is first grade. I've seen a first grade fight, and it's not pretty- these boys did not look like they'd just had one of those. But regardless, they believed they had fought, and we needed to treat it as though they had).

Basically, their ability to assess a social situation dissolved into a physical tumble on the playground. The physical tumble on the playground resulted in a trip to the principal's office that meant they lost instruction time. Instruction time none of them can afford to miss.

So. Time for some more social skills training. They are all making progress academically- all moving along quite well in other areas of the school day. Somehow I let teaching social skills lag behind this year, and now here we are, taking a trip to the principal's office. I could kick myself because I know teaching social skills works. I particularly know it works with one of these children because I saw the success we had before. But I dropped the ball.

Now I just need to reassess their needs, find a way to help us differentiate between dangerous bullies and just pesky peers, and find time in the day to work together on these skills. Any suggestions?

Friday, April 16, 2010

top 100 children's novels

jenny posted her list of the top 100 children's books and I decided to copy, because just reading the list filled me with such happy memories. So many fabulous books. I can picture my childhood copies, well-loved with worn bindings from multiple re-readings. I put ones I've read in bold, added an ** if I read it more than once as a child (we lived far away from a library so if I owned a book I re-read it over and over again) and I italicized books that I've used in the classroom.

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983) **
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950) **
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)**
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978) **
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985) **
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977) **
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996) *
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)**
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)**
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)**
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)**
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)**
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)**
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)**
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)**
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)**
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson's Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)**
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)**
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)**
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)*
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)*
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)**
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)*
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)***
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)**
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)***
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)***
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)**

Books I recommend using in the classroom-
1) Charlotte's Web- such a great community building read-aloud as you fall in love with Fern and Wilbur as a class. It also has fabulous passages for teaching imagery.
18) Matilda- I love, love, love Matilda. I love reading it out loud to first graders because they absolutely fall in love with Matilda and her geniusness. It's such a fun, shocking, read aloud.
43) Ramona the Pest- when I was a classroom teacher this was always my first read-loud. The kids love hearing about Ramona's antics and they relate so well to her frustrations. I'm always impressed at how well Beverly Cleary knew 5 year olds. I loved this book as a kid, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I appreciated how much Cleary understood how children learn.
71) The Bad Beginning- great to read with English Language Learners because he explains vocabulary and confusing phrases so well. It's a fun story that lets you have an open vocab discussion.
75) Love that Dog. I love reading this book with first graders in reading group at the end of the year. It's wonderful for those high readers who are beginning to learn that decoding and retelling aren't the only things readers do- they also infer the author's meaning. It's such an easy read that requires kids to do so much deep thinking.

What have you read, and what ones do you use for teaching?

merit pay- thoughts from Daniel Pink

Our school's occupational therapist forwarded me an email this morning from Daniel Pink, a writer I have to admit I've never read, but have always intended to read (the best of intentions...) I love his thoughts on merit pay and thought I had to share it here. I love his thoughtfulness on the subject. Enjoy!

Q: Dan, there's been a lot of talk lately about "merit pay" for
schoolteachers - that is, tying teacher salaries to student
performance, especially on standardized tests. What do you think of
this approach?

A: A few years ago, I thought this was a great idea. Incentivize
teachers and the pay the outstanding one more? What coud be wrong
with that? It's logical, straightforward, and fair.

However, after looking at 50 years of research on human motivation
for DRIVE, I've changed my mind. I think that this approach,
despite is surface appeal, has more flaws than strengths - and that
there's a simpler, more effective alternative.

Here's my reasoning:

For starters, most proposals for "merit pay" (sorry, I can't use
the term without quotation marks) tie teacher compensation to
student scores on standardized tests. That's a disaster. It focuses
teachers almost single-mindedly on training their students to
pencil in correct answers on multiple choice tests - and turns
classrooms into test prep academies. So let's knock out this
approach to merit pay.

A second option is for school principals to decide who gets
performance bonuses. Again, there's a certain theoretical appeal
to this method. But I've yet to meet a teacher who considers it
fair, let alone motivating. Teachers worry that principals don't
have sufficient information to make such decisions and that "merit
pay" would be based too heavily on who's best at playing politics
and currying favor. So let's kibosh this method, too.

A third approach is to use a variety metrics to determine who gets
a bonus. You could measure teacher performance using: standardized
scores for that teacher's students; evaluations of the teacher's
peers, students, parents, and principal; a teacher's contribution
to overall school performance; time devoted to professional
development; how much the teachers' students improved over the
previous year; and so on. This isn't necessarily a bad idea. But it
has a huge downside: It would force resource-strapped schools to
spend enormous amounts of time, talent, and brainpower measuring
teachers rather than educating students. Schools have enough to do
already. And the costs of establishing and maintaining elaborate
measurement systems would likely outweigh the benefits.

In short, I can't see a way to construct a merit pay scheme that is
both simple and fair. What's more, it strikes me as slightly
delusional to think that people who've intentionally chosen to
pursue a career for public-spirited, rather than economic, reasons
will suddenly work harder because they're offered a few hundred
extra dollars. Truth be told, most teachers work pretty damn hard

Fortunately, I think there's an easier and more elegant solution -
one that's also supported by the science of human motivation.

First, we should raise the base pay of teachers. Too many talented
people opt out of this career because they're concerned about
supporting their families. For prospective teachers, raising base
salaries would remove an obstacle to entering the profession. For
existing teachers, it's a way to recognize the importance of their
jobs without resorting to behavior-distorting carrots and sticks.
The science reveals a paradox about money and motivation: In most
cases, the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough
to take the issue of money off the table. Raising base salaries
would help take the issue of money off the table. Instead fretting
about paying their bills on an insufficient salary or scheming to
get a small bonus, teachers could focus on the work they love.

At the same time, we have to make it easier to get rid of bad
teachers. Teaching, like any profession, has its share of duds.
Showing these folks the door, which now is quite difficult, is the
right thing to do. It's better for students, of course. But it's
also better for the teachers who remain. Just as it's very
motivating to have great colleagues, it's incredibly de-motivating
to have lazy or incompetent ones.

So . . . if I could wave a magic wand, I'd dispense with elaborate
and complicated "merit pay" schemes for teachers. Instead, I'd
raise teachers' base pay and make it easier to get rid of bad
teachers. That solution is simpler, fairer, and much more
consistent with what truly motivates high performance.

Thanks again for reading.


Dan Pink

P.S. Hope you'll also check out the Pink Blog (

Thursday, April 15, 2010

old wives tales

I usually don't believe in telling kids stories to encourage them to make good choices. I try to tell them the truth- mainly because I remember how shocked and betrayed I felt when I found out my first grade teacher lied to us. It was the first time I knew a grown-up lied and I was horrified. (She'd told us that her son only spoke French, so when he came to visit if we wanted to speak to him we could only use the small amounts of French we'd learned in school. As he was leaving she sent me to remind him to wear a jacket. I ran after him, wanting to be compliant, and then froze when he looked down at me. I had no idea how to say any of those words in French. I stuttered through, making big hand motions and trying to act out wearing a jacket. He laughed at me and said, "thanks, tell her I will." In English.)

After that I had a hard time believing the other things she told us, like that she was a witch.

Anyway, most of the time I try to be completely honest with the kids, at least as much as is appropriate.

Of course, I actually have to know something is an old wives tale in order to know not to repeat it to them.

This afternoon in the middle of reading workshop the fire alarm sounded. There are never, ever fire drills in the middle of the day (it would interfere with the lunch schedules, which is a complete hassle) so we immediately knew it wasn't a planned drill. We escorted the children out of the building and prepared ourselves for an extended outdoor break while the fire department checked our school. It turns out that one of our preschool children pulled the alarm. At least they chose a nice day to do it, I have to admit I didn't have any problems spending time outside in the sun.

Back inside the classroom I wanted to make sure the class understood the seriousness of the child's actions. Our assistant principal had briefly addressed this outside, but most of our friends were playing in the grass and didn't really hear her. So we gathered the class together and briefly went over the seriousness of pulling the fire alarm if there is not a fire.

Along with my list of reasons not to pull the alarm- you made the whole school angry with you because everyone had to sit outside and waste their time, - our entire afternoon schedule was messed up, -the poor kids eating lunch were going to have less time to eat and will be hungry the rest of the day, etc, etc (It's first grade- 6 and 7 year olds truly feel that all these consequences are absolutely horrible). And, for good measure, I threw in "if you pull the alarm you will get ink all over your hand so we know who did it."

I mean, that's what they told us in high school.

Sometimes I can be so gullible.

The children were horrified by this. They wanted to know all about the ink and whether or not it would wash off. They fixated on it until my co-teacher and I demanded a change in subject.

At home I mentioned this to Mr. Lipstick. "WHAT? I've never heard that! That's not true" he demanded and made me look it up. He clearly did not attend a high school that had a problem with a once a week fire alarm or bomb threat starting the first week of spring.

So, yeah... they don't actually put dye in every fire alarm. That's a lie. But they SOMETIMES will inject ink into the alarms if there is a problem with frequent pulling (ie, my high school). My internet search led me to learn that this ink is about $95 and becomes darker when you put water on it.

So, now I know. I only kind of lied.

I don't want to bring it up again with the kids because it's time to move on, but I don't want them scared to pull the fire alarm in their apartment building because they don't want to get the ink on their hands. I also don't want them to become so curious about the ink that they pull the alarm to check it out.


I don't know what's worse- lying to them, or lying to them because I believed the stupid lie the first time I heard it...

ps. I never did believe the whole thing about what happens when you pee in the swimming pool so I don't know why I believed the fire alarm story. Although, that may be because one summer when we were young my cousins said, "hey, have you ever heard that if you pee in the pool it turns red? Well, it doesn't, see? I just peed and you can't tell"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I occasionally check in with this blog because I love getting parents' perspectives on children with special needs. The authors' wonderful stories and reflections about her child with Cerebral Palsy help to remind me that the children we work with are part of a family and a community. It keeps things in perspective- our children's struggles and delays do not just impact them academically, but also make going to the grocery store, or through the airport security line, a new adventure. As educators, sometimes what we believe to be the whole picture from our view inside the school is just a small piece of the puzzle.

Yesterday her post was about parents who blaming themselves for their child's special needs. This touched a nerve in the community, because parent after parent added to the comment section, sharing their own guilt and concern for what may have caused their child's disability. Reading each confession about the pain these women feel, the guilt, the analysis they live with every day, the what if questions, the blame they place on themselves, was heart breaking.

Some mentioned doctors who questioned their prenatal drug use, assumed they had not taken the right amounts of folic acid, or berated them for actions the parents never did.

Today I sat at a large conference table with about 10 members of the school staff and 2 parents. We wanted to discuss our concerns for their child, and consider the possibility of special education testing to determine whether or not the child has a disability. I sit in these meetings at least once a month, if not more often, watching the parents faces as they listen to 10 people, most of whom they have not met before, analyze their child's social, emotional, and academic skills.

Most of the time at these meetings we're looking for pieces to a puzzle. We're filling out paperwork and must be able to show a clear picture of the child. We analyze and re-analyze the child's actions. Question the child's performance in church, unstructured activities at home, the park- how are bedtime routines, eating routines? Does the child follow directions the first time you give them? Has the child been in counseling? Have you, as a family been in counseling? What about birth trauma? When did you notice delays? What did the doctors say? What is your child's diet? His bedtime? Why don't you put him to bed earlier?
I've heard people suggest parenting classes more than once at these meetings- just wanting to rule out whether or not the child's difficulties at school come from lack of routine at home, or from some other underlying cause.

We're only trying to do our jobs- fit together pieces of the puzzle so that we don't miss anything. Everyone at the table ultimately wants to help the child, and knows that the only way to do that is to make sure every Evaluation Report is as thorough as possible.
I can't begin to imagine what this feels like as a parent, particularly a parent who is already wondering if they have caused their child's disability.

itchy book love

Today my story teller rushed up to me and exploded with excitement, "MRS LIPSTICK! I wasn't here yesterday, did you read the monkey book without me??"

I had to pause, wondering what on earth he was talking about. The monkey book. Monkeys... book... OH

Just before break I'd taken my story teller into our school book room to help me pick out books for his reading group. This room was clearly his own little piece of heaven, and he relished in looking through book set after book set to select the perfect books for his group. He loves non-fiction, so he selected a series on different types of monkeys. We read one about gorillas before break, and saved one on chimpanzees for our return. I couldn't believe he remembered, especially since I'd forgotten, and I'm the one preparing the lesson plans.

Not only did he remember, but he was clearly preparing himself to be devastated if we'd read the book without him.

I smiled. "No, of course we didn't read it without you!"

"Phew!!" he breathed a sigh of relief. "I couldn't be here because I was itching all over. I had fleas."

And with that he hopped back to the carpet where his teacher was running morning meeting.

The conversations we have in elementary school that require us to keep a straight face- neither laughing or looking shocked and disgusted...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the silence of what is no longer there

Today we slowly plodded our way through our first day back after our break. We had one week for spring break and a week and one day of intersession, where our students could choose to come to school and enjoy different classes on fun topics. I chose not to work, so today was my first day back dealing with reality, and I spent the day truly thinking Starbucks must have given me a decaf because I clearly needed a lot more caffeine to get through the day...

Although I was dragging the kids were on fire. They came in with excited stories about everything they'd learned over intersession. Some shared new ideas, told stories, discussed the different attributes of the 3-dimensional objects they'd studied, or explained the rules to new games. Their energy was inspiring.

and then it was time for writing.

My co-teacher and I sat down to begin a poetry unit and broke out a trusty ole' KWL chart (a three-columned chart for those of you not in education, where one column you fill in what you KNOW about a subject (K), the next column is for what you WANT to know about a subject (W), and you save the last column for later, when the class adds what they LEARNED about the subject (L). We tossed the chart up on the board and prepared ourselves for the "poems rhyme", "I like poems" and "My mom is a poem" facts ala Ralph Wiggims.

Instead we were hit with:
"Jack Peletski is a poet" (I have no idea how to spell his name...)
"Poems have line breaks"
"Poems don't have to use punctuation"
"Poems are written in different countries in different languages"
"Poems can be like singing and talking mixed together"
"Some poems rhyme, but they don't have to"

It went on and on.

Why the difference?


A group of them had been in a class studying poems, and they immediately brought their knowledge over to us to share. And as those few shared their deeper knowledge of poems, others began to think beyond their typical expectations of poems. The lesson, which had initially promised to be a fairly dull introduction to poetry, exploded into a theoretical discussion of poems as we moved into the "What do you want to know" column. They wanted to know who wrote the first poem, what motivated people to write poems, where in the world poems originated, and on and on. By the time the lesson was over the classroom was buzzing with thoughts about poems.

I love, LOVE that intersession gives our children the knowledge and experience in new contexts that makes learning memorable. I love that intersession allows some children to become experts on a subject, which allows them to then turn around and teach their peers back in their regular classrooms- giving everyone a chance to be a leader. I love that intersession allows our students to practice their skills in new ways, get exposure to new ideas, and understand new reasons for using their academic skills.

I HATE that this was the last intersession.

I hate that today was the last day our children will come back brimming with new knowledge to share with us from their intersession classes. I hate that this was the last time they got the opportunity to practice fractions while cooking, create collages to write about, investigate nature in a new way, and meet new friends. I hate that the community intersession creates- the sense of belonging our children get from knowing new friends and new teachers throughout the building, will be gone next year.

I've been grumpy about how I'll have a whole summer vacation to squander away. I've been worried about what will happen to our curriculum when we return next Fall and suddenly realize our children are behind where they were when they left us in June. I've loudly complained about what the long summer will do to our little ones stuck in their small apartment buildings, relying on a Nintendo console and a teenage brother to keep them busy while their parents are away. I may have stomped my feet a few times about what this will do to our test scores.

But today was the first day the loss of knowledge really sunk in. Today was the first day I understood the intangible object we are losing- the skills, experiences, and knowledge our students gained this year from their intersession classes that just wont exist next year. The excited first day back discussions of "in intersession I learned..." we will no longer hear. The books that will not be read, the stories that will not be written, the confidence that will not develop, the connections that will not be made.

The silence is deafening.

Monday, April 12, 2010

throw the money

I just returned from a fabulous morning playing with some children at a head start in DC. During my first week of spring break it occurred to me that I had a long, long summer ahead of me and that if I wanted to do something about that I should start applying for jobs. I want to use my skills, but at the same time try something new- teach a different age group, different population, or work in education in a different way. One of the places I applied was a head start that allowed me to come in this morning to spend a few glorious hours in their classrooms.

I had a great time, and it was the perfect way to enjoy my last day of break. (Part of that may have been because I left at 12 and was then able to meet my cousin for lunch downtown like a real live adult).

I keep playing the differences between that school and the think tank in my head. The children were the same- same smiles, giggles, same ways of interacting and experiencing life. The teachers all truly meant the best of the kids, and were on the floor leading them and teaching them as much as possible. The rooms were colorful, covered in children's photographs, clearly labeled objects, and designated activity areas.

As I looked around at the happy learning areas I realized what the difference was- I'm use to a strongly financially supported environment in one of the largest school districts in the country. I'm use to having endless materials at my fingertips, technology at every turn, and an expert in every subject matter an email away who can immediately answer my questions, pressing or otherwise.

I work in educational nirvana, and it's easy to forget that other schools don't have everything we have. Today was such a reminder of how important education funding is in our communities- and a reminder about what a difference increased funding can make on schools. All this shouting over teacher contracts, teacher pay, accountability, and standardized testing has been over shadowing the cry that some schools are in need of basic necessities in order to achieve their goals.

I couldn't help but think of when I heard Jonathan Kozol speak a few years ago, when he threw his arms into the air and shouted, "I always hear about people saying they just don't want to throw money at the schools. but I can't think of a better way to get it to them. Throw it down from airplanes- throw as much money as you can at the schools!"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

life, death, and spring

I've spent the last 2 weeks living the luxurious lifestyle of my current year-round schedule, enjoying the last intersession break our school will ever have. It was originally scheduled to be a full 3 weeks, but the snow allowed us to take one of the weeks in February, so we've only been granted two weeks and a day off (we have to go back next Tuesday). The kids and teachers who chose to teach have been back for a week now taking/teaching fun classes that have SOL standards secretly embedded into them between the cooking, crafts, and video-making.

I am so going to miss this next year.

Not just because I've had 2 weeks to play in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes cold, sometimes too hot spring weather.

I've busied myself planting flowers on my balcony, a task that always makes me miss the classroom. In first grade we had an intense plant unit, where each child had a chance to plant one or two plants of their own, along with a class garden and other planting experiments where we watched the magic of roots, shoots, and leaves. In first grade science = magic and there is nothing that compares to the excitement of first graders witnessing nature.

One year, instead of telling them what plants need to live we developed hypothesis of what those important elements may be. Each child was able to choose where in our classroom to place their plants- in the window, over by their desk for indirect light, the sink for easy watering, by the air conditioner, or in the closet. Each child needed to write why he was placing his plant in that place, and had to be able to articulate his hypothesis of what plants needed and why his experiment would show that.

We waited to perform this activity until the plants were already healthy green stalks, and the children had already tenderly cared for them for a week or so and grown attached to their plant. Do not forget that in first grade everything has a soul- every object has a life of its own and pencils, plants, crayons, and books all automatically have feelings.

The class excitedly filled out their hypothesis papers and placed their plants in their desired location. Days went by as we charted, observed, measured, and checked our hypothesis.

The results were as expected- those who placed their seedling in the sun had plants that continued to grow strong. Those who placed it in indirect light had plants that grew, but not as well. Those who placed theirs in the closet had plants that died.


I will never recover from the look I received from the first graders whose plants had withered without the sunlight. They had killed their plant- they cried. And I had forced them. I had turned them into murderers.

There were tears, pouting, foot stomping, destruction of someone else's plant, and more tears. They were killers, their plant had died. It was my fault.

In retrospect perhaps we should have had some generic class plants we could have put in the closet so that it wasn't any one's personal plant who made its way to plant heaven. This would have left every first grader with a healthy plant, and relieved all guilt of from the 6 year old gardeners of becoming plant killers.

I wanted to tell them not to worry- anything I plant, no matter what I do, dies under my black thumb. That they should get use to killing plants because they have a whole life ahead of them of forgetting to water the beautiful potted plant from a friend, or going on vacation and returning to find that in one week the sun has withered the garden beyond repair. Or from being on spring break and watching the squirrels dig up your newly planted pots and throw your geraniums to the ground below.

But that would only solidify their belief that I was a plant murderer so I held my tongue, and allowed them to redo the experiment in the sun.


The other night I dreamed that when we came back from spring break Amazing stood up from her wheel chair and walked. The minute I woke up from this dream I wanted to go back to sleep- back to the wonderful world where this amazing girl could walk and play with her friends without help from an adult.

When I fully came into consciousness and realized that no amount of sleep would make her walk in reality, I began to get a better sense of how her parents feel. Do they have these dreams as well? Of watching their strong daughter stand up and walk? Of everything developing as it does for other children? My dream haunted me throughout the day, with the feeling of hope and elation I felt in those few seconds of waking before I was able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. She's not my own child- she's one of many I work with on a daily basis- what would those dreams do to me if she was, in fact, my own? If my life centered around her?

Not being a parent myself I work hard to try to understand where parents are coming from when they are dealing with their young child's developmental delays. I don't think any amount of rational thinking would bring me to know the desperate desire of hope that was found from that dream- a desire I can only imagine is 100 times stronger and greater in your own child.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

autism in fiction

Somehow over my extended 2 week spring break I've managed to read 2 books that both center around a main character with Asperger's syndrome. House Rules, by Jodi Picoult, and Marcelo in the Real World by Frances Stork York. It's interesting to see how popular fiction is beginning to attempt to focus on characters with Asperger's syndrome, and how the authors choose to portray their main characters.
The holy grail of autism in literature is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, where the author, does an unbelievable job of portraying his character's world, in both the internal workings of his mind, and how his disorder impacts his family.

I'm not sure I can place either of these in the same category as The Curious Incident. However, despite the fact that I think Picoult copied many themes and even direct phrases from Rules, by Cynthia Lord, she does an incredible job of giving a 360 view of her character's communication disorder, and how it impacts those around him. It forced me to ask tough questions for myself- how do we prepare our children for the real world? Do we make it possible for them to independently handle the strain of life? Is it our job in schools to prepare them for more realistic situations, or do we need to focus on teaching them important academic tools like reading and writing that they also need to be successful?
Picoult uses a court room with expert witnesses to educate her readers about autism, which occasionally comes across as what it is, paragraphs out of an autism text book, but because it is a court setting she weaves the lectures nicely into the story.

Maybe it is because Picoult did such an incredible job of writing in the first person for her character with autism, but I couldn't appreciate Frances Stork Young's portrayal of his autistic character in Marcelo in the Real World. Marcelo, who is the same age as Picoult's main character, is not nearly as convincing. Young seems to flirt with autistic tendencies in writing about Marcelo's world, but does fully decide which of these tendencies his character has. His character occasionally speaks in the 3rd person, but does not do it consistently or in any discernible pattern, and bounces back and forth from first to third person in the same sentence. I've worked with children with autism who do speak in the 3rd person, but they reserved this for particular situations, and once they were in their 3rd person world they did not easily switch out of it. Marcelo's characteristics seem to bounce back and forth between a character with autism and one with a severe auditory processing disorder which would cause him to respond slower to stimulation, questions, extended wait time, and would in fact limit his communication. Marcelo says throughout the book that Asperger's is the closest definition to what he has, and I can't help but wonder if they should revisit his eligibility.

I was disappointed with Marcelo, but enchanted with House Rules, neither of which were the reactions I was expecting when I began reading both books. Marcelo, which promised to be an enlightening young adult book turned out to be written as though it was jumping on the autism bandwagon, and House Rules, which I was sure would be an autism bandwagon book, read with a more realistic portrayal of the world children and families with autism live in.

Our school's amazing librarian felt the same way about Marcelo, and expressed disappointment that the library could not offer a book to young readers with communication disorders that they could relate too. I'd love to hear other thoughts on Marcelo in the Real World, House Rules, and other books that portray characters with autism. What is out there for our children with high functioning autism to relate to? Or, because of the nature of their disability, are we more concerned with finding someone for them to relate to than they are?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We can all, in our own way, Stand and Deliver

We all have one- one romanticized Hollywood education movie that somehow brings us to tears- creates for us what we think good teaching is, or at least inspires us to look beyond daily life and see our students, our schools, and our role as an educator as part of the larger battle.

I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw Stand and Deliver, but I know when they showed it to my 7th grade class I was already familiar with the plot, the characters, and the message. While I tried to pretend, along with my classmates, that it was the most boring movie ever shown, I secretly was once again taking all of Jaime Escalante's work to heart.

As a young, naive child growing up in the country I was most struck by the social injustice of it all when his students were accused of cheating on the AP calculus exam. I'd always been taught if you worked hard you could achieve your goals, and that the world would be proud of you when you did. Perhaps Stand and Deliver was my first introduction into a world of hypocritical expectations and pre-determined roles set upon us by society.

I can't say that the movie made me want to be a teacher, but Escalante's story did give me a thread that I would continue to weave into meaning throughout my life- seeking a balance of social justice, looking beyond what is commonly accepted as social truths, and working hard with pure determination at all you do.

What Escalante did was teach the children in front of him. He saw what they needed to achieve their goal and made it possible. He didn't accept a given format for teaching, and didn't follow the expected path his administrators and peers expected of him. He knew his students and responded to their needs, never lowering his expectations, but instead allowed what he knew about his students to help him help them rise.

I read Jay Mathew's tribute to him in this past week's Outlook section in the post, and I suddenly saw where Mathews is coming from in his education theory. Through his education position at the Post he has encouraged schools to create more AP classes, and to encourage more students to take AP classes. Mathews has worked on changing the culture of only allowing certain students to take AP classes by creating an incentive for schools to encourage all their students to take these classes. Mathews praises schools like KIPP, with their Saturday classes, extended hours, and high expectations. All of Mathews' work, it seems, has been inspired by what he saw from Escalante.

I can't help but wonder if Mathews did what so many of our law makers and bureaucrats do to a good idea. Instead of seeing what is truly behind Escalante's work, he tried to recreate it, and in doing so took some of the good out of it. Although encouraging more students to take AP classes seems like a wonderful goal on the surface, a school will only achieve what Escalante did by truly knowing and embracing their students' needs. Escalante knew what was needed in his community and responded to it. That does not mean his method can be recreated. Instead, what needs to be replicated is his desire for achievement, his belief in his students, and his dedication to changing the set path to make it meet the needs of his students.
What Mathews has done, instead, is attempted to create a set path. It is a good path, and in many ways may be a better path than what was there. But we've lost the true meaning of Escalante's work. Instead of being encouraged to use our own teacher intuition and our creativity, and to know and respond to our students' needs, Mathews is merely encouraging us to follow a set way- asking us not to question whether or not it works for particular students. Once again assuming that teachers must be told by those above them how to do their jobs, because they cannot think for themselves.

One cannot set a curriculum that shows students we believe in them- the only way to do that is for the teachers themselves to believe in their students, and to be passionate enough to pass that belief on to their students through their teaching, dedication, and drive, just like Escalante did.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

One of the aspects I love about my church is that it has many children with special needs. Parents have told us they feel more comfortable letting their children "make a joyful noise" here, because we let children be children, and accept them for who they are, developmental delays, communication disorders, and all. We have a few little ones we've been watching grow and mature over the years. We love them, but I don't know if they feel the same love for us- the very nature of church can be difficult for some of our little ones.

As you can imagine, if you are sensitive to noise the church choir & its organ may not always be your cup of tea- and if you self-stem by clapping, or stomping your feet, it may be a long, difficult hour of trying to stay quiet.

Then there is the time for passing-the-peace, which requires everyone to stand up, shake hands with those around them and make small talk for about 2 minutes before sitting down again. Once again, I imagine this time is difficult for someone with autism- the noise level rises suddenly, you have to touch strangers, make eye contact, AND small talk. People you only kind of know get in your face and force you to talk to them. Typically our church children with autism stay in their seats with their eyes on a coloring book, frantically trying to pretend it's not happening. (There are times when I'm feeling particularly anti-social that I'd like to copy their coping strategies)

This morning however, one friend with autism stood up, turned around, and shook hands with us, "Happy Easter!" he exclaimed, jumping up and down. He then ran down the aisle, shaking hands with everyone he could reach. As he made his way back to his seat he exploded with pride- "Mom, I think I passed the peace!"

He certainly did.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

rain, rain go away

The day before spring break began we were scheduled to go to the zoo with our kindergarten classes. 8 classes of about 20 kindergartners each, tromping around the zoo.

But we all got up, dressed, and ready to go spend a few hours leading our wet but happy classes around the zoo, pretending to see animals who were too smart to come out and play in the wet weather. So when the trip was postponed we all at first felt a sense of relief- we wouldn't spend the whole day cold and wet- but then came the sense of panic. What on earth were we going to do with an entire day with some very disappointed kindergartners? The classroom teachers were fabulous in pulling things together, watching zoo clips on websites (have you seen the baby panda videos on the San Diego zoo?) and even checking out a Wiki created by 2nd graders at our school.

Most of the kindergartners were sad, but got over it. We'll go in the spring, we explained, in April when it's warm.

Some, however, did not.

Children with special needs have a harder time of rolling with the punches, and being flexible. It doesn't really matter that it's raining outside. We'd said we were going to the zoo- so we needed to go to the zoo.

One of my friends never recovered from this disappointed. He stomped around the classroom angrily, occasionally hiding in the classroom bathroom when an adult attempted to approach him. He sat upside down in his chair for awhile- something we've noticed he does when he's upset. (we're considering teaching him yoga since he tends to go into the positions naturally as a coping strategy). He threw his feelings journal on the floor- refusing to draw about how he felt. He didn't want to calm down- he yelled. He wanted to go to the zoo. He didn't want to go to the zoo in April- he demanded, he wanted to go to the zoo today. We'd said we were going to the zoo today! Why not today?

I felt his pain. Because really, when I got up in the morning I was prepared to go to the zoo too- I was not prepared to sit in the hallway with a disgruntled six year old yelling at me about how he didn't get to go to the zoo. And really, at that moment, the zoo in the rain might have been more fun.

But we survived the day and we all took our disappointed selves home to relax over a much needed spring break.