Thursday, September 29, 2011

looking beyond behaviors

When I was doing preschool transition IEPs last spring the preschool teachers warned me that one little girl I'd be getting had a bit of a stubborn streak in her behavior. They said that she seemed cute and sweet but that she would use that to not be independent, avoid adult requests, and just generally ignore adults. They warned us that her developmental difficulties were from this behavior, and once her behavior was in check her academics would follow.

The speech language pathologist and I thought this seemed odd after meeting the girl because what we saw in her behavior did not line up with what the preschool teachers told us. Still, we'd only met her a few times and they were with her everyday- so what did we know? We promised ourselves that we'd keep an open mind when the year started.

She didn't come to our summer program so I was not able to get to know her at all before I left on maternity leave. My co-workers have kept me informed of what's been happening in my classroom and it turns out that her developmental difficulties were not from behavior at all, but in fact from a medical reason. The amazing team that is working in my classroom right now quickly figured out that something was very wrong- this was not a stubborn little girl just refusing to do her work. They asked the right questions, got the right people involved, brought her parents in, and soon had it sorted out. This was a little girl who could not hear- it had nothing to do with her ignoring her teachers just to avoid work. She literally could not hear what they were saying- she wasn't pretending to try to get out of work.

Every time someone tells me another piece of this story to update me on what is happening with her case I am so thankful for the team at school.  This little one was so lucky to have a strong team who looked past what seemed to be non-compliant behavior and instead asked what was wrong. Without their questions and concern she could have had yet another year of teachers becoming frustrated because they misinterpreted her behaviors as intentional. 

How often do we see the behaviors in the classroom as though the child has a vendetta against us personally? How often do we as teachers get lost in the frustrating surface behavior and forget to look beyond to the true cause? 

Friday, September 23, 2011

first years

Oh my goodness.  I don't even know where to start- my sleepless brain keeps knitting together blog posts that I never have time to write, which is good because if put down on paper I'd probably learn that they don't make any sense.  The last blog post I manged to hit publish on had a broken link, which I never did get around to fixing. Life has changed a bit.

I'm loving life as a new mommy, but at times I start to have the feeling that I've been here before. Finally I realized that this whole experience reminds me a lot of my first year teaching. I hadn't thought about those first year emotions in a long time- I've just relished in loving my job. Until now I'd forgotten exactly how hard it was starting out.

Before my daughter was born, and before I started my first year I certainly felt like I had all the answers. I'd read the books, knew the theories, and felt ready for the new experience. Then it hit and I realized that nothing could begin to prepare me for the actual experience. Theory is one thing- but actual practice is totally another.

The thing that's hard in both situations is that just weeks before I'd been confident and set in my life. Then suddenly everything is turned upside down and that confidence is turned upside down. I think that's the scariest part- not knowing for sure when you'll get the confidence back. There are no books that can tell you when you'll start to feel like yourself again.

The learning curve is huge. As a first year teacher and a new mommy I'd look at my charges and feel overwhelmed with emotion- I love them so much and think they are such great kids. Why do they have to suffer through my learning curve?  They deserve a better first grade/new beginning to life than suffering through me learning what to do.

And the judgement- so many different theories out there. No matter what you do you'll never make everyone happy and someone will be there with a raised eyebrow and a "really? That's the choice you're going to make?" It can drive a person to drink. (Which was an option first year teaching- not so much now.)

Luckily people have been far more supportive of new mommy-ness than my first year teaching (I didn't work at the think-tank yet). Right now I'm feeling good and starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of this- sleeplessness and all.  It certainly took much, much longer for me to feel that way about my first year teaching.

There was so little support then- and what came being called "support" really was judgmental teammates who had little patience for a new learning curve. There was a lot of "I can't BELIEVE you're not doing guided reading correctly!" when no one had ever told me how to do guided reading. The closest I got to thinking that life would be better was buying an LSAT book and starting to study. But slowly it got better- I found my groove, managed to close my ears to negative attitudes and realized that I could do it.

I'm thankful that my new mommy learning curve has not been nearly as painful as that first year, but it has made me think a lot about those first year teachers. We've got to do more to support them, if not for the teachers themselves for their students and the future students they'll teach in  years to come. Not all new teachers have painful first years, but many do. The learning curve is ridiculously steep and those of us who have been around a long time tend to forget how difficult it is to keep all the balls in the air those first few months. The sink or swim belief that teachers are born and not made leaves a lot of students behind, along with a lot of would-be-great teachers.

Now if you'll excuse me- someone is crying and I have yet to figure out why. One of these days I'll learn how to write, proofread, and be a mommy, but for now the proofreading is what is going out the window- forgive me!

Monday, September 12, 2011


I rant enough about how no one asks for teachers opinions when they are looking at education policy.  Last week (yes, it's taken me this long to blog about it because I've had difficulty speaking and/or writing in complete sentences) Education Sector let me know that they launched a Teacher Sector project on Facebook.

Here's what they say:

"Today, lots of people are talking about teachers. But many fewer are actually talking to them. We at Education Sector (an independent policy think tank –  know that the teacher’s voice is invaluable—that their experiences can enrich and enhance any policy discussions. That's why we created Teacher Sector— a Facebook community page designed to find out what teachers think about education and share their good ideas. 

We want to know what teachers are thinking and facing every time they step in front of a class. How are budget cuts affecting class size? Is discipline big issue in their classrooms? What's the best way to evaluate their performance as a teacher? And what do they think about teachers and students being Facebook friends? You'll see these questions and more on Teacher Sector, and we'll be paying close attention and using the ideas to inform our work and get messages to policymakers.
We’re offering one teacher a year of school supplies ($450, which statistics tell us is the average that teachers spend). All we need to do is get 500 teachers to “like” our page and then answer a question."

~~  ~~  ~~  
LOVE this.

It's ridiculously refreshing to know they are taking time to reach out to teachers and find time to ask about our opinion. I'd say it made my week, but, well, in my sleepless state every time my daughter opens her eyes it makes my week.

Go check it out and answer a question to get that $450 for school supplies!!  

Friday, September 9, 2011

First day

For the first time in nine years the first day of school came and went without me. I usually love the first day of school, despite the tears, difficulties figuring out schedules, and adjusting to new routines. My goal had been for the first day to be my last before maternity leave but of course my plans were nothing compared to the plans of my newborn daughter who decided to make her appearance on Saturday. My Tuesday was still filled with tears, difficulty with scheduling, getting to know a new face, and adjusting to new routines- just a little different than I'd expected.
So my maternity leave has started. I know I'll have lots of ideas to blog about when I'm home, I just might not find the time to get it written down.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

brotherly love

Not that we ever have favorites, but since I taught The Story Teller for 3 years in a row, he has a special place in my heart. Just reading over all my posts on him puts me in a better mood- his sincere honesty mixed with his vivid imagination and his good intentions can't help you do anything but adore him. This year I have one of his little brothers in my non-cat class.  The Story Teller is the oldest of 4 children, and all four of them showed up this afternoon to check out the youngest brother's classrooms during our open house.

The boys seemed excited to see me and my Partner-in-Crime. They quickly told us that they'd moved and in their new home they'd had both an earthquake and a hurricane. "Good thing that earthquake wasn't too big" the Story Teller told me, "All of Japan would have been gone."  When I mentioned we'd had an earthquake as well (he didn't really move that far away) he looked shocked. "You had one too?  Wow, what a big earthquake!" 

He then picked his two year old sister up and introduced us to her as "The princess of the family".

Although his mother told me that he talked about me non-stop for years, he didn't seem convinced that his little brother was going to be in good hands. As he pushed his brother toward me to introduce us he said, "Mrs. Lipstick, you're going to know, he doesn't talk. He needs a lot of help." He seemed skeptical that I already understood this and was prepared.

He took his brother into my room and found his name around the classroom, making sure his brother understood how comfortable he would be in the room. He was especially excited that his brother had two classrooms- one with me and one with my Partner-in-Crime. "No way! So lucky!" he repeated.

Later in the visit he told me, "I'm going to ask my teacher to let me come take care of my brother during recess. I'll make sure he's doing his job and I'll play with him the whole time." 

"You know what, Story Teller," I said, "I am going to take good care of your brother. You work hard in third grade and I'll work hard at taking care of your brother."

He gave me a skeptical look that only said, "Listen, woman, this is my brother we're talking about." Clearly no one is good enough for his little brother.

I already loved My Story Teller, but now I love him even more. I love that he is so kind, thoughtful, and concerned for his little brother who needs extra help. I love that he wanted to give up his recess time to come help him out. I love the honesty that showed in his face with his concerns for his little brother. He showed far more concern for his brother starting kindergarten than many of the kindergarten parents I met today. Perhaps because I was also a child was mistakenly thought I was my younger brothers' parent, I hold a special place in my heart for siblings who truly take on a care-giver role (in a non-bossy manner).  My new student is lucky to have such caring siblings. We'll just have to make sure they begin to understand how to help him become independent...
I'm excited for another year with the story telling family.