Friday, June 29, 2012

Finally!

I've been saying this for years and I'm so, so glad to finally read it from a Teach for American alum.

He writes:
TFA has positioned their teaching jobs as employment graduates can brag about.  But is it possible that the way TFA sells itself—by selling the connection to TFA rather than the prestige of teaching– could actually be hurting how graduates and the general public alike view the teaching profession?  Ultimately TFA needs to change their recruitment model and their two-year commitment contract.  TFA should sell theteaching profession to college graduates rather than the two-year commitment.  


It's so, so true. In my opinion TFA has actually hurt how the teaching profession is seen by the general public making it appear that the only reason an intellgent person would go into teaching would be because they plan to leave the profession. 


He begins the article by writing about how he would vary between telling people he was a TFA teacher and just a teacher and how their reactions would change. The vast difference in respect between those who viewed him as a member of TFA and those who saw him as "just a teacher".  From personal experience I know that to be true. In my early 20's when I'd go out to bars with TFAers I was always frustrated and horrified by the reaction people had when they heard what we did. Although we all taught first grade, those who said they were in TFA were given lots of respect, while I was always treated like I didn't have a brain. I once had someone literally drop their hand when they found out that although I taught I wasn't in TFA- literally did not want to shake hands with "just a teacher".


I can't tell you how thankful I am to finally read this and see that someone who has been in the program can also recognize the problem. If we are going to improve public education we have to make it a respectable profession. We have to make it so that new teachers don't have to drop "I could have gone to law school" into conversation so that that they get some respect. We have to make college students look towards teaching with the same light they look at going into public policy or non-profit work. We'll never compete salary-wise with doctors or lawyers, but there are ivy leaguers out there who are determined to dedicate their life to the greater good- shouldn't they be able to consider teaching without having others look at them in horror?

Beginning to reflect on the year- placement decisions?

Now that the year has ended and I'm enjoying my summer vacation it's time to start reflecting on what worked really well this year and what didn't.

Last summer I wrote that my goal for the year was to get the majority of my students into full inclusion settings by the end of the year. Of the nine that started in my room in September here's the final breakdown:

Three students are moving on to more restrictive settings.
Three are returning to the non-categorical classroom for next year.
Two will be in full inclusion next year.
One is moving to another school but will continue to be in a non-categorical placement.

When I look at the numbers I have to admit I feel a sense of failure. I would love to see the children either go into full inclusion or stay in a non-categorical classroom instead of a more restrictive program. But if I'm honest I want that for myself. I have to look at what is best for the individual students. On a case by case basis they are going on to what is best for them at this time and I wouldn't change their future placements at all.

Could I have done more to help more of them work toward full inclusion? This is something I'll be trying to sort out all summer. There is one student in particular that I would have loved to see move toward more hours with her gen ed peers.What could I have done differently?

If I could go back I would re-look at the reading program I used with her. Although it was a strong program it was scripted and I let the program lead us through most of the year. It gave her a lot of foundational skills that I most likely would not have spent as much time on if I hadn't been using it, but it also may have held us back. If I had been teaching guided reading the way I did in a gen ed classroom I may have pushed her further along instead of being satisfied with following a teacher's manual.

I also wish I'd spent more time attempting to integrate her into her gen ed classroom. I'd hear reports from others about her struggles with whole group lessons when she was in her gen ed room and when I was able to get into her gen ed room I'd see them myself, but I wish I'd done more to sit with her and help her adapt to the environment. She may be ready for strategies that will help her learn in a whole group but since she was with me for her main academics we never touched on that.

On the other hand, because she was one of two students for math and writing she most likely made more progress than she would have in the gen ed room. She primarily received one on one instruction and we were able to truly focus on those essential early learning skills she'll be using the rest of her life.

What would have been more important? Having her with her peers feeling frustrated but included? Or having her with me where she could work on the skills she needed and truly master them? When you compare the student's achievement in academics and self-regulation to her kindergarten year when she was in a full inclusion classroom she made tremendous gains. Yet could I have done things differently that would have given her a least restrictive yet successful placement?

It's not an easy question to answer and it's the reason that we spend so long on IEPs going over the legal definition of the Least Restrictive Environment and a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Placement decisions are never to be taken lightly and should never be done because of a school's general policy. It comes from a team of people putting their heads together, looking at the facts and deciding what is best for the student. And even then we're not always sure that we found the right answer. I have a feeling I'll keep thinking about what else I could have done for this one all summer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nervous

Today was it- I finally moved out of my classroom and The Think Tank. My things are sitting in boxes along the wall of the new school- waiting nervously to see what comes next.

I have an active imagination. Perhaps too active at times. And I've had horrible experiences with a previous school so my imagination is on overdrive creating scenarios for me of all the things that can possibly happen next year. The phenomenal administration team that won me over and has me excited to work over there has turned, in my imagination, into fire breathing dragons who are waiting at every step to find ways to crush my teaching spirit, look for any small mistake I make and use it to destroy my career. The imaginary scenarios run wild and I wonder what I was thinking. Then I see the administration again in person and am reminded of why I made the decision. I can breath again, at least, for a little while.

If there is anything I've come to believe strongly in over the years it is that the administration of a school sets the tone of the building. The culture, how hard people are willing to work, how people collaborate, how people treat each other, the humanness of how people interact with one another and the kids all comes from the administration. It means that every school is different no matter how close they represent one another and how closely they follow district mandates.

Moving my boxes over there today I found myself feeling like a college freshman- the confidence and security I'd had before in my comfortable world is about to be completely rocked. We all need now and then- I'd hate to think of who I would be if I'd stayed in high school forever (ummmm, someone with bad taste in clothes, music, and a way-too narrow view of the world). Still, I surprised myself at how young and small I felt walking the new halls, not yet having found my spot or proved that I belong there.

I'll spend the summer nervously telling myself to not listen to the stories my imagination is trying to create and distract myself with keeping up with my crawling little one, taking Magical to the library, summer reading, and enjoying being out of work for awhile. 

Strollin' behind Hoover

Today Partner-in-Crime and I met Magical at his house to walk him over to the library for our school's summer library hours. First, of course, we had to explain to him that we weren't tricking him. School was still closed- we weren't trying to force him to come. Once he learned that yes, school was still closed, he was thrilled to walk to school with us to go to the library.

Getting an hour with Magical was fabulous. He got to listen to the librarian read Pete the Cat over 100 times (she was taking requests) and we got to hear all of his stories about his stroller, robot, and what he's been up to.

On the walk over he very seriously explained how vacuuming works in his house. He vacuums with his stroller and his mom uses Hoover, the vacuum.

"Hoover?" we asked

"Yeah, that's my mom's vacuum's name! Hoover. Hoover's too heavy for me, but not for my mom."


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

not about us?

So I have to admit that I still don't fully understand pinterest. I occasionally get bored and scroll through their education page on the iphone app and see things I'd like to do or try. Mainly it leaves me feeling a little less-than teachery. Like there are hundreds and hundreds of teachers out there with amazingly perfect classrooms- cute little clip art fairies, bears, and children dancing around on across bulletin boards, supply containers, and centers all over the country.
Last night I realized that what makes me really uncomfortable about pinterest's education page is that most of it is teacher-focused. There are a million cute ideas on there but most of them reflect a room that belongs to the teacher. Sure the bulletin boards are cute, the displays are amazing, the center ideas are crafty, but when you step back and look at it all it says is "a teacher with a lot of time on her hands lives here". The bulletin boards, amazing visuals that support just one lesson or concept, the perfectly created centers do not say "A classroom of learners live here", or "a community of students built this space together for their own learning".

Don't get me wrong- whenever some of my awesome co-workers print out ideas from pinterest I usually steal them- it's become a fabulous online sharing community for educators. It's great to use as long as we're just looking for ideas to enhance our instruction that in turn helps kids fully understand concepts- not ways for us to look cuter, better, or more perfect than all those other teachers on the web. Because it's not really about us- it's about the kids- right?

Or am I just saying this because I'm bitter my room is never quite as perfect, cute, and organized as all those pins?

I will not steal books

One thing I didn't prepare myself for when leaving the think-tank was saying goodbye to the amazing professional books I've had at my fingertips. We frequently get books bought for us and we get to keep them as long as we stay at the think-tank. This morning I've been on the floor of my classroom sorting through stacks of books trying to remember which is mine and which was bought by the school.

Books I'm going to have to buy my own copies of:

Already Ready by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover
One Child at a Time by Pat Johnson
Spelling K-8 by Snowball
Crafting Writers by Hale
Guided Reading by F&P (Fountas and Pinnel for those of you not 'in the know')
Word Matters by F&P
One to one by Lucy Calkins
A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough
Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics K-3
In Pictures and in Words by Katie Wood Ray
Read it Again! by Brenda Parks (which I was reading when I met my husband)
Don't Forget to Share by Mermelstein.

Already Ready and A Place for Wonder are perhaps the ones I'm the saddest to part with. However, I am holding strong and am determined to leave them here so that the new teacher can enjoy them as much as I did.

I will not steal books. I will not steal books. I will not steal books.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

More deep breaths

The last day of school started with a a phone call from Magical's family- he refused to come to school. And frankly, that was not acceptable seeing that it was my last day with Magical after two years. Absolutely not going to happen. So my aide and I ran down to his house to bring him to school. (He lives walking distance from our school). The three of us had a great walk back to school listening to him talk about how tomorrow he is absolutely NOT coming to school no matter what anyone says. Sure, we nodded in agreement. No problem. We won't be there either.

Usually our last day of school is two hours long- not even a full half day. This year because we did not get enough snow days and they changed our last day of school we had a full day. I think I was the only teacher in our district that felt that the day was actually too short.

We played our favorite games, painted the packing boxes so that they'd be beautiful (best last day of school activity ever), joined another class for water balloon games, watched some readers' theater, finished our scrap books, sang our favorite songs, read our favorite books, had one last long free play time in the dramatic play center (everyone's favorite), and most importantly had one last dance party. We played I've Got a Feeling on repeat and watched as Magical, Rock Star and the others danced their hearts out in their own special ways. The dancing was good for me. It kept me from crying.

 For awhile.

I bit my lip so many times trying to hold it together. This year, this classroom, these kids have all been pure magic. I don't think I'll ever have another year like this. The class was amazing. They were all such good friends. They had this family-like connection that even us as teachers couldn't quite understand. They had their own jokes and their own understandings for what it was like to be them. The empathy they felt for one another came from an understanding of what it is like to not be able to communicate like you want to, not be able to access equipment and materials like you want to, and to just be a little different than the other kids. When Rock Star made sure everyone waited for our friend in a wheel chair, when they told one another "good job", "smart thinking", "Wow, I like your picture", or helped each other get crayons, count the napkins for snack, or reminded someone that water in the sink was for hand washing and not for playing- their interactions with each other were more powerful than when we interfered as teachers.
Watching them hug each other on the last day was both magical and so, so hard.

On the last day of school the think-tank's tradition is to go out to the road and wave goodbye to the buses and cars as they leave. The kids love this so much that they bring video cameras to tape their teachers waving frantically. Now they all have video footage of me sobbing, tears streaming down my face, trying to stop myself because seriously, why are those kids video taping me???

It was so hard to watch those cars and buses drive away. As their little hands waved at us from the windows I realized that these fast glimpses of smiling faces may be the last time I see many of these children. Children who I taught years ago but still care so much about. Children I've watched grow from being screaming kindergartners with significant needs to being caring, thoughtful and smart members of their upper elementary classes. Students I taught to read who I then stopped every morning in the hallways to ask them what chapter books they were now reading. Students who have overcome so much considering their difficult home lives and the turmoil they live with. These are kids who have occupied my thoughts daily for a year, or two. Kids who I'd think about falling asleep at night and think about again first thing in the morning. Children whose cases have driven me to read more books, learn more, and improve my teaching. Watching those little faces drive away was just too much. I lost it. The tears couldn't stay in.

When Rock Star drove by her car windows were open and she was leaning out the window, with the biggest, most confident grin. She waved like a princess. The shy little girl who avoided eye contact with any adult she didn't know (and sometimes those she did) was leaving on her last day of first grade with royal confidence. I hope I never forget the image of her driving away from me, destined to go on with confidence and excitement.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Not ready

This is quite possibly the first morning I've woken up on the last day of school and been completely filled with dread. Ive kept it together the last few days but yesterday every time I looked at Rock Star I started to tear up. When it was time to take her back to her main classroom and she told me she didn't want to go I really had to sing a silly song in my head to keep from crying. I love that girl so much. I have never seen a child change so drastically as she has. She is probably the essence of why I teach special education. Nothing else makes me question my move to the new school quite like saying goodbye to her does.

But we can do hard things. I can get through today. We will sing, dance, do some art, read some books, and it will be ok.

Deep breath.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thoughts on change

I wrote this over the weekend, emailing it back and forth to myself as I tried to figure out what my thoughts actually were:


 I am contemplating leaving the think tank. It's a horrendous thing to think about. In the 8 years I've worked there I have met my husband, married my husband, and had a baby. My coworkers have become my family and have seen me through so much. While at the think tank I learned everything I know about literacy. I went from being a classroom teacher to being a special ed teacher. I fell in love with hundreds of children. I learned what competitive jump roping is and learned all kinds of crazy jump rope moves. I've traveled to international jump rope competitions and traveled to day long jump rope clinics. I've learned how to get parents involved. I've learned about responsive classroom. I've been to three week long RC trainings. I've been to national conferences where I've gotten to present my research at poster presentations. I've learned the concept of teacher research. I completed my masters. I've written two published articles based on my work at the think tank. My opinions on school policy, education reform and testing have been challenged, informed, and grown. I've been trained to have student teachers and I've worked with student teachers/ one I got to watch grow into an incredible teacher who I strive to be like.


 I've been given the freedom to create special education programs that meet the needs of my kids. I was able to push my desk into my partner-in-crime's room, creating a easy, true least redrivtive environment flow for our inclusion kids. When it was needed I was able up create my own noncategorical classroom where I could truly meet the needs of my students so that they did not need to be sent to centers.


Back when no one had smart boards my principal let me get one for my first grade classroom even when she was skeptical of the use in the primary grades. Along with my awesome coworkers I've been able to push the envelope on technology in the classroom. I've been truly able to follow my mantra of "it's easier to ask for forgiveness instead of permission" and usually have been given ample support.


Maybe most importantly I've seen what it is like to work for amazing administrators. Before I came to the think tank I was burned by an administration and was contemplating leaving education. I gave it one more try and was truly shown that supportive administrators can make all the difference. Administrators that trust, respect, and encourage their staff are what education needs in order to make changes in students.


 So why leave? How can I walk away from a place that has been so amazing for such a long time? I'm not sure I can put it into words. The other day I was in the shower when I realized it was time to go. I cried thinking about leaving and told myself it was crazy to even think about. But I couldn't get the idea out of my head. So I sent my resume off to a brand new school opening this fall. Two weeks later I'm contemplating whether to accept a position at the new school or stay at the think tank.


 Perhaps what is encouraging me to leave the most is that I'm in search of a new think tank. When I decided not to finish my doctorate work because I didn't want to leave the classroom I didn't realize how much I missed the academic side of teaching. I love the research aspect- the puzzle of finding the right way to teach certain students, how to best meet a child's needs, how to really improve instruction. Although this year I was trying a brand new program I still found myself missing the intellectual challenge. A brand new school, opened from scratch, is bound to come with the right amount of challenges. Working with an entire staff of people who are energized and ready for the challenge? It is too tempting to dismiss. Plus what other instructional methods can I learn if I leave the think tank? What other understandings of education can I gain from being part of a new school?


 The unknown is terrifying. I have an unexplainable distrust of administration until I've gotten to know them. It is hard enough for me to learn to trust the think tanks' new assistant principals (who are fabulous and I now trust completely). How will I learn to trust an entire new admin team? Will the administrators be supportive of teachers in the face of difficult parents? Will they understand different teaching styles? Will they appreciate a "ask forgiveness instead of permission" plan of action that I tend to go by?


 I love the laid back culture of the think-tank. Will I need to buy a whole new wardrobe? The think-tank is so family friendly- Will I be expected to work late into the evening? Will it be understood that I have to leave to pick up my daughter from daycare? I love the co-teaching/collaborative model of the think-tank. Will I find something similar at the new school?

One of the aspects I cannot get past is that it is not a Title 1 school. I never, ever thought I would teach at a non-title 1 school. Sitting in their lobby waiting on my interview I thought about just walking out. I never thought I would get to the place where I would interview at a non-Title 1 school. My whole life has been about teaching children who need the most help. I have to remind myself that all children need good teachers, and that even at a non-Title 1 school I can have an impact.

If I stay at the think-tank I am worried I will not continue to be the teacher I can be. I am comfortable here. I know what I am doing. I may be getting a little lazy. I try to always push myself to find new methods but I am pushing myself. Is it time that I was pushed by someone else? 

What I fear most about leaving the think-tank is losing my voice. In high school and in college I had no problem going through an entire semester without ever opening my mouth in class. I didn't believe in mandatory participation and would tell my professors that I would prefer to take a B or write extra papers than participate in class. Yet since I entered the think-tank I haven't really been able to stop talking. I tell myself to keep my mouth shut in meetings and I can't do it. I tell myself to let someone else talk and chime in and I have to really watch and monitor myself so that I don't cut someone off. At the think-tank I am excited to talk about education. I am exciting to write about education. I enjoy meetings where we get to brainstorm and find solutions. I LOVE talking about teaching. The high school me would not recognize the current-meeting me. In fact the high school me would probably roll her eyes and moan at the current think-tank me.

I have to somehow have faith that I will not lose my voice at a new school. I maintained a voice in graduate courses. I have to have faith that I will continue to speak up with confidence and excitement when it comes to education.

I'm also worried about losing the ability to blog. I am a better teacher because of my reflection through blogging. I would be devastated to lose that ability. Will the new school's administration be comfortable with teacher bloggers?

But should I stay somewhere out of fear of the unknown or should I take a risk?

I know I will miss the think-tank if I leave. I will miss the amazing co-workers, the children, my classroom, the current policies, the meetings I am comfortable in. I know what I will miss. I can list it. I do not know what I will miss if I stay at the think-tank and don't make the jump. I don't know if I will miss out on excitement and energy. I don't know if I am missing out on growing as a teacher. I don't know if I will miss out on working with another set of amazing coworkers.

**  **  **
I wrote this over the weekend and after lots of agony I decided to take a leap and leave the think tank. In the last few days I've cried a lot but I've also gotten really, really excited. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Praise, girls, boys, and us

Someone posted this article on facebook yesterday and it really got me thinking. The article discusses how women and think differently, but not because we are hard-wired to do so, but because of the praise and encouragement we receive as children. Because smart girls are likely to be praised by being told that they are smart, clever, or just generally good. Boys, on the other hand, who tend to have a harder time sitting still in school, are more likely to be told, "If you sit still and pay attention you can learn this".  Boys are getting the message that they  have control over their own learning while girls are being given the message that their intelligence is innate. 
Carol Dweck (who wrote the book Mindset- which I highly recommend reading) found that: 
"bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up - and the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel.  In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses.  Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing.  They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than giving up."

Mindset is probably one of the books that changed my teaching the most. It truly made me reflect on what praise is and how I give praise to my students. I had never thought about the difference of praise along gender roles, or how that difference plays out in the long-run. 

Regardless of whether we are teaching boys, girls, children who have a difficult time settling down or children who are always quiet, hard workers, as teachers it is worth putting thought into how and why we praise our students. How much of an impact do our simple praises have for students in the long run?

Shopping therapy

This year I've found that I have a few students who just need a break sometimes. They aren't in trouble (yet) but I've learned that if they don't get a break at the right moment I will regret it later.
I've been trying to keep a collection of things around for kids to do when they need a break- things like running a note to another teacher, washing tables, making confetti (ripping construction paper), sorting books. Some kids need something mindless (sorting/cleaning) and others need something that will pull them away from whatever they are obsessing over.
My new favorite break-time activity for kids who need to think about something else is to give a kid one of those classroom material catalogues we get. Usually I dump those things straight into the recycling. A few weeks ago I discovered how valuable they are. Now I ask my friends who need a break to work on a shopping list for our class. I ask them to cut out what they would like our class to have and glue it on a paper.
It's pretty much just shopping therapy. I mean, who doesn't fill up an online shopping cart at Nordstroms only to hit delete?

The first time I did it was out of desperation. I hadn't gotten rid of a catalogue yet so it happened to be near me when I noticed a friend needed a break. When she was done I was amazed at her choices. Of course it was full of toys- I mean, she is 7 and I did tell her to make a dream list/ but it also had things we actually could use. It told me a lot about her as a learner. She picked out things that would give her a more private spot to work, products that would help her not get so distracted by her friends, and things that would help her organize herself.
When I talked to her about it I was surprised how self aware she was of her learning and working habits.

Since then I've asked her to do it once or twice a week. It is a great distraction for her and within five minutes she's usually ready to come back to the task at hand. I love that it lets me know so much about her at the same time it de-escalates her.

And so far she hasn't asked me where the things are. I suppose once that starts we'll go into budgeting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Team up!

Dear Parents,
I love your kids. I adore them. I love watching them learn to read, learn to count, learn to share. I even love them when they are having a bad day and are fussy and argue with me. It's part of my job. I did not sign up to teach for the good days. Part of my job is to work with your children even when they are frustrated, tired, or don't feel like sharing. In fact, it's an essential part of my job- it's my job to teach them how to deal with frustration and how to share.
I can only do my job if your child comes to school. Every day. Not once a week. Not three times a week. Every. day.
I know your kindergartner/first grader is hard to wake up in the morning. I know they tell you they don't want to go to school. Some mornings I tell Mr. Lipstick that I don't want to go to school either. But that's just because I don't want to get out of bed or I want to stay at home and cuddle with Little Lipstick. Once I'm at school I remember how much fun it is. Your kid does that too.
In the morning getting ready for school may seem overwhelming to them. They have to get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, put on their shoes and get out the door- that's a lot just for them to be away from you for hours. They will fuss. They will hide their shoes. They will eat slowly.
But I promise once they come to school they forget all about that. We have fun in our class. We sing, we dance, we read books and act out the characters. We laugh. A lot. Usually once your child is in school I never once hear a complaint about wanting to go home. In fact, usually when it's time to go home I hear groans.

And every day is important. Even those "fun days" when we are having a field day or pajama day or free choice. At those times we are working on sharing and team work and working through frustrations. I am teaching every moment of the day. Your child isn't just missing reading instruction- he's missing instruction on how to be a student. Which, frankly, is going to really help him be successful for the next 12 years of his life.

Instruction has momentum. I plan lessons for a week- we build on what we did the day before. We practice, and practice, and practice what we've learned. Research shows the importance of repetition, but if your student only comes to school a few times a week they are missing out on that chance for repetition.

It doesn't matter how good my lesson plans are, how hard I work, how much data I take, how many times we have a conference. If your child does not come to school I cannot teach them.

I want to teach your kids. I love teaching and I absolutely adore your kids. We have to be a team. Not a good cop/bad cop team but a true team where the kids see us as an unstoppable force.

I heard this article on the radio today and it discussed research that shows:
"We looked at ninth grade testing data in Florida, and we essentially found a miss-one-day, lose-one-point relationship," he says. "Which is, for every day a kid misses school, they, on average, score one point lower on the high stakes tests."


It is one thing to think about losing one point here and there on standardized tests, but we're not learning for standardized tests. We are learning how to read- something your child will use every single day the rest of his life. What is the equivalent of losing one point per day in reading instruction? 

Please, let's be a team. We will be unstoppable. We will get your children reading and writing and adding and counting and being an awesome friend. But we have to work together. I have to be part of the equation. 
Thanks,
Your child's second biggest fan (after you, of course) 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The characters we met this year

My favorite end of year activity is to pour a bunch of art supplies on the floor and ask the kids to make puppets of their favorite book character.  Here's what was created today:

Blue Horse from Brown Bear, Brown Bear

PJ Funny Bunny

Purple Cat from Brown Bear, Brown Bear

Mrs. Wishy Washy

Friday, June 8, 2012

True sense of failure

I found out today that one of my former students is pregnant.

I've taught five year olds whose mothers were still in high school but this is the first time a student I worked with is going to be a mother. Throughout the meetings I had today I could not stop thinking about her. What happened? More importantly- what will happen next?

As a school we rallied behind this student and tried so, so hard to give her the support and love she needed in order to make good life decisions. We worked with her after school, listened to her, counseled her, and encouraged her.

I cannot even begin to put into words how heartbroken I am to hear about this. Sadly I do not think any of us are surprised, but all of us are devastated.

Not making AYP and being labeled a failing school in the newspaper is nothing compared to the crushing blow I received from this news.

Data, data, data

This morning my team had a meeting where we were asked to fill out a survey on how our collaboration had gone this year. The questions were specifically targeted on how we get and use our data. It was a great discussion and a chance for us to reflect on exactly what we did this year that improved our instruction and in turn supported student achievement.

Every quarter in math we looked at what we knew was the hardest thing to teach based on past experience- what was going to be our most challenging concepts to try to pour into our little ones' minds. Then we developed a common pretest, gave it to our kids and checked out where they were. We analyzed the data as a team and developed a goal based on our pretest scores. From there we shared activities, challenges, ideas, and strategies that worked to help teach children the concepts. At the end we gave a post-test we developed together. Finally we brought the data together and examined how we did. What could we do to improve? What else needs to be done? What went well?

Although we'd been working on this all year it was great to have a discussion and realize that everyone truly felt that their teaching improved because of this process. We realized that although we did well in math we still have a ways to go in language arts with these assessments, but now we have vision for what we want to do next year.

I tend to geek-out over using data in the classroom and I was excited to have a momentary data-love-fest (or as close to it as we were going to get) where we got to reflect on awesomeness (and plan, of course, to be even more awesome next year).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happy Dance

One of my awesome students just sat on the toilet for the first time this year. You have no idea the break through this is- AND he flushed that loud, awful toilet.

Can you see me doing cartwheels? Jumping up and down? Singing?  I am SO proud of him it's crazy.

8 days left and we're still going strong!

I am truly going to miss these kids.

Teacher tenure?

Ever since I read this Washington Post story about a teacher being dismissed I've been haunted by it. You read it and hope it is one sided- that the school district isn't revealing important details that back up their case. You hope  that none of it can be true. And I don't know- there is probably a lot more to the story.

But I do know that I've worked for a principal who would do exactly what was written about here (Not a principal at the think tank, where I work now). I know that this can happen. In the cases I know of it happening the teachers decided to look for another school before it got this bad- and most found a much better fit at another school where they went on to shine.

 But this situation is not out of left field. 

I hate for this to be supported as a case for using test scores as a significant portion of teacher evaluations because I do not think that is the answer. But what is the solution? Better structured observations from principals with a check list of what they observed?  Something like DCPS has in place where outside observers observe teachers? My husband's company does 360 Reviews where a sampling of everyone he works with gives feedback. Would something like that help give a bigger picture of what is occurring inside classrooms?


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

9 more days

I am in denial that we only have 9 more days.
 9 days?
 It can't be possible. I have SO MUCH left to teach. We have so much left to do.

This year is particularly sad because our school is losing 200 students to redistricting. It's hard to see families we've worked with for so many years leave us. I'm losing 3 of the kiddos from my class, including Brown Bear. Every day I feel like I am just scratching the surface with his success and abilities- I need more time!

This has been quite the year- from opening a non-categorical classroom, going on maternity leave, coming back and teaching on limited sleep, and learning about new strategies and techniques as I went. I've loved the challenge and the learning curve, but I also feel like there is so much more I could do, should have done, and want to do. I feel like I need another month. A bit  more time with these kiddos, a bit more time with my room, the new strategies and more teaching after a full night's sleep.

Of course, I can hear the pool calling my name and spending the month of July cuddling with my 9 month old sounds pretty good right now. I'll be sad when the year ends, but I'll make the most of it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wishy Washy Wishy Washy!

Most likely if you are an early childhood teacher you have met Mrs. Wishy Washy. The large, New Zealand farm wife who spends most of her time chasing around a dog, a pig, a cow and a duck trying to bath them. The books were written by Joy Cowley for beginning readers. Some are super-simple with repetitive text and some are more complicated. They are perfectly scaffolded for young readers and are written and illustrated with the specific intention of catching little ones' attention. I mean, who can't sympathize with a pig who is being forced to bath?

 http://terracetimes.com/2012/05/16/the-mud-walk/

 My class loves Mrs. Wishy Washy. I've spent a lot of time with her this year. Apparently so has our librarian. Here is our email conversation from Friday.
 ** **

 Libarian: (to me and another teacher) Ask Mrs. Lipstick for Mrs. Wishy Washy books- her class is hoarding them.

 Me: You can come raid my stash but not all of mine because we are addicted to that crazy woman and her cleaning antics.

 Librarian (this time just to me): I know! The woman is very crazy, is probably OCD, and should not live in a farm with her cleaning OCD habits.

 Me: And poor Mr. Wishy Washy who is just a mess, so scared of his wife that he even scrubs the cat. I mean, you know he feels STUCK in that marriage because it is back woods New Zealand and he has no where else to go.

 Librarian: Have you actually met Mr. Wishy Washy in a book? I just assumed he ran off a long time ago with some sheep herding floozy.

 Me: Yes, he is the designated Dish Washer and he washes a massive stack of dishes and then washes the cat because he is so broken down that he doesn't even pay attention to what he's doing.

 Librarian: For how many years do you think Mrs. Wishy Washy cleaned the dishes after Mr. WW because he did not do a good enough job? Do the Wishy Washy's have children? I hope not but I also did not believe that Mrs. WW actually had a husband. I thought it was like when parents call me Mrs and I do not correct them.

 Me: If she has children they fled the farm as soon as they turned 18 and are living in New York City where they amuse their friends with stories of what it was like to grow up on a farm in New Zealand. The girls have eating disorders and the boys have trouble finding a partner that is not overbearing. However, they all make excellent roomates, which is a plus in those tiny NYC apartments.

 Librarian: Or do you think they are the terrible kind of roomates who yell at you about dirty pots and pans while you are eating dinner. The dinner that made the dirty pots and pans? Those boys will never find wives good enough, and all the husbands will leave the girls. Too nerotic about cleaning base boards.

 *** ** ** I promise we are both busy people that do other things than have a day long email conversation about the lives of imaginary children from our favorite book character. Of course, it doesn't matter how crazy she is and whether or not her children left her for NYC because in my classroom she is queen.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cha-cha-cha is SO three years ago!

Today in the gym a 5 kindergarten classes sang happy birthday to a student. The only ones who sang cha-cha-cha were a few veteran teachers and we stopped when we were giving confused looks by the kids. 

When did cha-cha-cha go out of style? When I first started teaching the kids didn't think of it as the birthday song, they thought of it as the cha-cha-cha song. 

I'm feeling rather old.

Bad Ed Research?

I came upon this post about this year's worst educational research via the Quick and the Ed's Quick Hits blog yesterday. (Sidebar: I LOVE Quick Hits- it's like my two minute moment into the ed policy research)**

Bad educational research is something that quickly gets overlooked because it is so easy for politicians, policy makers, text book companies, administrators, and advocates to tout a program or policy as "research based". So few people have a firm understanding of statistics (and grant it I s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e-d through my statistics class in my doctorate program last year so I can't pretend that I understand it all that well) that it's easy to read research and consider it a golden stamp of approval.

I really appreciate the fact that someone is out there looking into bad educational research if for no other reason than to remind ourselves that research does not always mean scholarly accurate, valuable, and worthy of our kids.

** I cannot currently link to it or give you the address because it is blocked by my school. Don't get me started. However, google "Education Sector, Quick and the Ed and you'll find their blog

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree