Thursday, December 3, 2009

Accelerated Radar

Well, we'll just call him 'Radar', Spot! He arrives late, tries to sneak out to go to the BR or the nurse, and he never, ever has his homework...that's when he generally tries to bail. And how do you come to reading and not have your book? It's just plain maddening, Spot. But your buddy, Radar is a charmer, first class.

To some, my reading students are known as the 'goal-huggers', I don't know. I never can see a kids as a number. But many of my kids just can't seem to get themselves over the hump numberwise. Radar loves to read, but isn't great at putting a pencil to the page and writing about reading. He picks the hardest books and only half finishes them. And he's a w-i-d-e writer...spreads his words way out--about three or four words to a line. He sure can fill up a lot of lines. Trouble is--those lines are filled with nothing. He's the sixth grade verson of Seinfeld--writing all about

He wanted in the worst way to read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. He caught me reading it. So now? We're working up to it. But Radar? He's not living up to his part of the bargain. So, he knows I've got my eye on him. Today he picked out a Margaret Haddix book, Among the Hidden. (You just gotta love the irony!) We divied up the pages, and set a few goals. And next week--it's on to the journal! No mercy, Mr. are on my radar now!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beware of the Dog!

Conferences. Well, Spot, we made it through another set of 48, minus a few. It's been quite the week for chatting. Early dismissal days, power teaching...twenty-three minutes of what's-the-point-periods, if you know what I mean. I can't say that to the other pups, I just get so frustrated by the constant array of interruptions/seams in the process of learning. When I'm fired-up to teach...I just want to keep going. But...

Accountability and communication is where it's at. I know that, Spot. Your mama and your papa too, just wanna keep themselves in the loop! We have interim reports, AR reports, conferences too...and report cards. THEN we can teach--well, no! Then, we'll be staring at the holidays, and we all know what happens to those puppy brains then.

We had a great conference yesterday, with your friend, Peaceful Petie's parents. What a great doggie! He's not perfect, but he works hard and looks out for other doggies in our cluster. He's got that little spiky thing going on with his hair, and he pays attention all the time, Spot...not like you, that's for sure. (Just kidding!) But Petie...gosh darn it! He sure knows how to earn it. And you know what? Now I get why.

Petie's parents don't push him. They honor him. They encourage him...and they set the greatest priorities for him. They actually said the word CHARACTER and they weren't being corny. They said grades are secondary, character-building comes first. Kindness and caring are their family's primary value. And when we were done chatting, Spot? They jumped up and thanked us...and then thanked us again. When we got to the door...yup, one more thanks for the road. And today...when I looked at Petie? I was thankful to them! Fired me up all over again! Well, Spot! You may have the weekend off, but watch out on Monday...we'll have those sweet fifty minute periods back for two whole days! You're all mine!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Taste of Reading in Grade Six

Caught ya today, Spot.
Yup, YOU: the guy that came into my room kicking and screaming...saying all kinds of stuff like, "I don't like school." Or, "I don't like reading. And YOU can't make me!"
Well, you didn't say it--out loud, but I heard it.

Here's how it happened, Spot. And this is what I LOVE about teaching, honestly! It all started with that interview, you know when I asked you how much you read each day and you flashed that little silent! Well, no wonder you hated reading! You didn't have a plan, you didn't have a time and no one was keeping an eye on you. And then it started to started reading each day, writing it down and next you started to speak up too! I mean, bark it up really, in class each day. All the other pups' heads whipped around! They'd never heard your voice before! And you know what? What came out of your mouth was so darn even surprised yourself! And now, Spot?
I've seen've even started reading books just for fun...that aren't assigned. All you needed all along was a boost, a little confidence and the taste of a good book! I'm proud of you Spot! Darn proud!

Monday, November 2, 2009

When the Teacher Takes a Seat

Hard to imagine, Spot, but I am one wiggily woman. Sit still?
Not me. You know my M.O., right? Move and manage. Keep everybody thinking, large and in charge. Yup. I am a little teeny bit of a control freak.

Well, tomorrow it's my turn to put my proverbial butt in the chair. (Sorry, that was probably not a very professional word, right?) We've lost all our inservice days, so this is it!

And you know what, makes me want to run out and redesign the whole set-up. Sit? Well...nobody sits anymore. We're all active and interactive. We're on the net, reading a little, moving a lot and discussing everything under the sun. We like to compare and contrast, understand our work in the light of what others are doing. Make real-life connections and then come back and share our findings. That's 21st century learning!

But guess what, Spot? I'll bet my eyeball that's not going to be how it's done. We'll sit in our chairs and listen, fight for focus and try our hardest to take something away that we can use in our classrooms the next day. Learning needs to be immediate and useful. One thing's for sure, I'll miss you tomorrow, Spot. Can you just climb a tree, read a book and sleep a little later than usual for me? (I just might be the one with the head on my desk at school!)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pulling It Out of Thin Air

You must be kidding, they say. Seriously. "Me...write?" I have no idea where to start. No idea.

Well, that was then, Spot. That's where we started. Happens every year. That's why we spend the first six weeks of school focusing on the many ways to pull an idea out of thin air. Most kids think that the ability to write well is some sort of mysterious gift. My hope is to teach them otherwise. It's a game of practice and endurance...and I am the personal trainer. There's no mercy, Spot, we take no prisoners.

And now...we've just finished our Memoir Unit, Spot. I have a huge stack of papers to read and make comments on. And you know what, Spot? I'm actually eager to see what you guys have come up with this year. Kids have not only settled on an idea and crafted it, but they've learned to "step away from the text" and hear the comments of others hearing their story out in the world for the first time. We randomly fishbowl-conferenced and the audience was able to tell the author what three ideas they walked away with after the reading! We even had 'personal connections,' Spot! And that truth, the best way to compliment the author.

Here are a few of the mini-lessons we covered along the way: Word Puddles, Writing off a List,
Right in My Own Backyard, The Places to Love, Cherries...and the Pits, Mind Your Mentor, The Heart's Tug/Playing up the Hot-Spots, the Look Back Factor and many, many more! Many people tell me kids can't write these days. That notion is so unfair. People think texting, Twitter and Facebook are wrecking their writing. But you know what, Spot? This is so untrue! Learning to make your ideas clear in 140 characters is no easy task. It connects kids to an instantaneous audience! But in order to make lifelong writers out of kids, we need to give them more time in school to work at it. A good idea takes a long time and a lot of hard work to spin!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Eager Al

Okay, so here he is, Eager Al. I'm listening as hard as I can, honest. My eyes are going to bulge out...I'm listening so hard! Can't you see me? Can't you hear me? Oh, yeah Spot...I see him, and I hear him. He's bouncing out of his seat. (And by the way, I do love him!)

He's one of my most enthusiastic students! Eyes on 1-2-3 needed! His eyes are always on me. BUT! Those eyes and that brain can't be connected, I think. Not that this little doggie isn't smart. No! He's a smart little cookie. But he's working too hard to hear the whole thing, wrap his head around it...and then get what he needs to do something about it. Two seconds after I've given directions, he asks me this question, "What are we supposed to do?" OR with the homework board in plain sight, he says, "What's the homework?"

For you new teachers out there, here's the important response to this situation: STEP AWAY FROM THE STUDENT! Take a deep breath, and smile. (Not that sarcastic kind of smile either.) Eager Al is a Nervous Nellie. He wants in his worst way to get everything right. He's a worrier with a capital W! But he's the WORST kind of worrier, because he has a shut-off valve right in the front of the brain. If it looks or smells like directions, Spot...I swear, his brain goes right into sleep mode. You don't even know it! So...we're working on this right now. Breaking down the task, small steps, proximal seating, restating the know all the RtI lingo. We used it in special education for years, and now it's moved to a theater near us.

Here's what keeps me coming back, though. Eager Al says to me just this week, "Hey, Mrs. know those Pen Pals in Africa?" I say, "Yup, I sure do." I hold my breath thinking about whether he'd turned in his letter, which he did. I look over at him and he's smiling the broadest smile I've seen all year, and he says,"I'm really going to make this a friendship that will last." Makes me smile just to think about it. (Now follow my friend John's you can see where are letters are traveling to:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Ideal School

Wading through the newspaper one night, I came across a back article on The Ideal School, an integrated school started by two moms of children with Downs Syndrome in NYC. They built their enterprise on the proposition that class size mattered and that 25% of their students would have some sort of disability.

Their class size: 16. Ah, intimacy. A chance to be heard and responded to. Differentiated Instruction? Well, of course. The key to anything done well in education is about getting to know your students WELL! If I have the time to hear what's going on inside my kids' heads and to witness the ins and outs of their writing, listening, reading and speaking, I'm sure to hit a home run every darn year.

But, Spot? The doggies out there, just don't want to share their money with the schools and the kids inside them. It's a tough thing to think about. But every time money and education come up in a discussion, money will win every time! Sorry Spot, until they care...deeply, all of our schools are in jeopardy! We need more teachers and more classrooms filled with less students. Think about the impact we could make on those city classrooms if we could take them from 30+ students to just 16?

I just got a new and wonderful student today. She became doggie #24, and she was my priority. But it's going to be a while before I'm able to get to know her really well...and that is just a simple division problem, Spot. There's one of me, and 24 of you...and only a little under 7 hours in a day. Can you do the math and get back to me? I'll be looking forward to it!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Day the Teacher Ate the Intern

Well, I didn't mean to, honest, Spot! He was just a little bit wet behind the ears, I get that. You know, it's that pardon-the-expression-peach fuzz look that kinda does it to a girl. Here we are, early September, and we're just getting that pack of poochies under control. When...

In comes the intern. Well, it was a very under-confident walk, and that made me nervous. I like the large and in-charge kind of look. Deer-in-the-headlights is what you get sometimes. That's okay. I get it. I was once there. So I went off to my meeting and left Mr. Intern in charge.

When I got back, everything but bottle-launching was going on! I may have lost it, but only a little. After all, you guys knew what you were supposed to do. But what happened next, really put me over the top. "She's a perky one," he said laughing and pointing to a girl in the back of the room. "How do you control her?" Ummmm. Where do I begin? "I look her in the eye, tell her to get back to work, and usually that's that. Period." He looked at me and smiles.

He kinda hung around, so I said, "Bye!" It was a nice voice, really. I turned back to the troops and said, "Okay, pencils down, eyes on me." Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a mean teacher, Spot, right? But, boy am I direct. We have business to do. This is not touchy-feely hour...we need outcomes and inspiration here! After a while, everyone settled back in and brains were back to their normal buzz. I love that buzz. There was talking and chatting, but it was all very appropriate and all very connected to our writing work.

But! Forty-five minutes later, Mr. Intern (aka Mr. Glutton) returned again. "I wanna know what you meant before," he said. This time, I looked him straight in the eye, "You have to say it, mean it, and own it! There's no tip-toeing around here! Today? They became the Alphas...and you, just got a little chewed up, that's all." I patted him on the back, and told him to just keep coming. And later, when everyone was long gone and I turned out the lights, I walked through that doorway and realized something.

It is really in the comings and goings that we get better at teaching, Spot. Looking back and having the courage to return to the scene of the crime, like Mr. Intern did, is the true name of the game. It's the what's up of teaching...what went wrong and how to fix it that really makes the job so very, very satisfying in the end.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Roll of Doggie, Hear My Voice

Governor Patterson says, "I didn't sign up for this." Well, excuse moi? Did anybody? I hate when leadership goes sour like that.
For me, everything relates back to the classroom. There are places where democracy reigns, and then there are places where there's a bottom line...well, most of the time. Seems everyone's got an opinion on everything these days.

In the classroom recently, the poochies have had a bit of a complaint regarding how they're being herded from table to table in the cafeteria. Petitions were being circulated, and the pups were downright 'fired-up!' They even wanted me to sign the petition. Wait. Halt! I told them if they had an opinion on a subject or cared to challenge a rule or initiative, they needed to follow proper procedure. And man, they were on that procedure, voicing their concerns to their student council rep until that poor doggie came to me. He had that Governor Patterson look on his face and was all ready with the I-didn't-sign-up-for-this thingy. I looked him straight in the eye and shook his hand, "Comes with the turf," I said.

Now, I'll be responsible to the astro-turf, the greater powers of these doggies on the outside world, their parents. Because even when we think the buck stops elsewhere, in the classroom, it only comes back to one place. They say it runs downhill too. I didn't sign up for that, I signed up for the academic part--but as with everything in life, if you don't quiet the voices in front of you, they'll wake you up in the middle of the night. So, Gov...just deal with it, there's no whining and no way out here for anyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Listen Up!

Okay, Spot, here we go again. Remember know, from last year? Charmed me all the way. She'd come in all 'What's happenin', Mrs. Lynch,' telling me all about her trips to church and stuff over the weekend. And now? I've got her male replacement! Her voice was going in my head for 183 days 24/7 last year.

Now...there's Jeeves...well, something like that. Comes in all ready to run to put that nose of his in his book, fixated to the point of tears on his snack every day (the snack he can never, ever seem to find). In the middle of class today, he has no homework for the second time this week.
Do I push it and face the melt down, Spot...or do I back-off and expect the same all year? Well, you know what I did...I pushed it, of course. And the meltdown? Well, I focused on what the Wellness Committee told me to do...I took a long, deep cleansing breath. And walked away. I went on with the lesson...and that stinker, Jeeves? He took out his pencil and proceeded to try to sneak a completion of that assignment in whilst I taught. He thought the homework alert would NOT go home. WRONG! There's no beating the homework police. EVER.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Red Alert! Teacher on Overload!

Oh, Spot! You have no idea what awaits you when you return to the classroom on Wednesday! I have one hundred eighty days to teach you all sorts of things, but you know what ranks highest on the priority list?

You guessed it: Swine Flu! (Didn't we just end the school year talking about this?)

The teachers had their "big talk"/convocation today, and you know...the big story was how to wash those paws of yours! For example, when you lick those paws, do you slide your tongue in between your toes? Do you rub them side to side for a full five minutes? Do you dry them properly on the pre-approved towels? Well, I hope you do...because those swine/H1N1 2009 Fall Flu germs can last from anywhere between two to eight hours! So...that was my inspiration for today. It's gonna get me lickin' and scratchin' and watchin' you for the first signs of any malady whatsoever.

Here are some of the other topics discussed on your behalf today: global awareness, twenty-first century skills, strategic learning, differentiated instruction, positive behavioral systems, teaching core values, how to handle birthdays, how not to handle birthdays, approved snacks, how we're already behind China, but India is right there too, changes in technology that we have to plan for but don't know anything about yet, and changes in how children are raised that we're planning for but don't know anything about yet too. If that wasn't enough, we were able to come back and learn about power schools, global curriculum changes that we probably won't have time to teach and scheduling so that all learners can and will learn well...pretty darn well, we hope! I'm a little confused, Spot, if you can't already tell. But I will have it all together come Wednesday. And you know what, Spot? I will not do to you what was done to me today...because even though everyone was very well-intended and polite, they fried my brain on the very first day! We're gonna move a little more slowly there pup, so don't you worry. SCHOOL IS FUN...and we're gonna have a great time this year!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Your Face!

Okay,'s coming, there's no denying that. I am starting to get the nervous-nelly-nightmares, my mind is starting to imagine myself crammed into the classroom with all twenty-four of you.
And today? Well...while you were out jumping in the pool, chasing a toad, and skipping around the neighborhood (doubt that, it was 100 degrees in the shade!), I was in school setting up the classroom.

And guess what! Promise not to tell?

I was excited!! I felt like that little kid that used to play school in the barn across the street. I pulled out the pencils, plastered a few posters up and spruced up the display case outside our room! Am I crazy? Well, of course.

I'm good to go until the masses make their way down the hall and the rumbling feet start to sound on the stairways. It's THEN that I really get the nervous-nellies...cuz then? Then I have to do something with all of you to prevent mass anarchy!!

So, get out there and buy all those shiny new school supplies! And hurry-up and finish your summer book (You ARE reading, right?). And I'll see you front and center in just 13 more days. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!) I'll have had a nightmare or two at LEAST before then, I'm sure!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Close Encounters of a Sixth Grade Kind

Okay Spot, I's R & R time. I'm supposed to be completely immersed in my book while sipping on lemon water and thinking about a dip in the ocean. But...then I spy a couple of elevenish/twelvish kids on the beach having a great time with a couple of skim boards along the edge of the surf.
I spot a couple of others digging a pit in the sand. Later, another pair is racing up the dunes toward the icecream man. Clearly, they are lost in the sun and the surf. They've shed the spoils of a school year long gone.

But...I catch myself thinking about the new pups headed my way this fall. And you know, Spot? I even got a little bit goose-bumpy thinking about it! But then...I shake my head side to side real quick--you know the way you do when you're trying to cast a nasty song out of your head? I do this because 1) it's way TOO EARLY. 2) It'll start up my pre-school year night terrors, and 3) I'll be spinning ideas/plans in my head all summer long! (And that's worse than the night terrors!)

So Spot, I bounced up, dropped my book and threw myself in the ocean. The tide was coming back in off the sand bar, so I had quite a workout getting out to the biggest waves. I stood on my tippy toes, jumped the waves and waited. When my dream wave formed, I was ready to ride it all the way to the shore. I paddled hard and rode that bugger all the way the last minute colliding with a boogie board...and a little guy--just about the size of my soon-to-be new sixth graders. He bonked me on the head, but I didn't care. We both rolled up on shore and laughed. "Sorry," he said. "Don't worry about it," I said. I just shook it off and chalked it up. It was a close one...but I'm off the hook and I know that. Summer rules! And for now, I'm staying right where my feet are...planted firmly on a sandy shore! (But Spot? That new pup sure was a cutie in that, there's hope!)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

One Happy Puppy

Okay, well...Spot, I'm right there witcha! Lovin' this summer mode. In fact, I'm just really getting there at this point--in my groove, caught up on sleep and livin' without a schedule! I try not to walk around smilin', but you know what, buddy? I just can't seem to stop myself!

Here are the ten top things to love about summer:

1. No papers to correct.

2. No papers to correct!!!!

3. I can sleep till whatever time I want!

4. I can sit in a chair and read a whole book...start to finish!

5. I don't have to plan for anyone else...well maybe dinner, but that's all!

6. I can wear the same pair of shorts for days and not even think about tomorrow's outfit!
(Less laundry!)

7. I can go hours without telling anybody what to do...Mr. Lynch acts up once in a while, just to make sure I stay in practice!

8. I live in the adult world...but I don't have to act my age.

9. I can spend an entire day listening to the birds and staring at the clouds, hanging out in the outside world.

10. I look around all the time, and realize just how lucky I am! unofficial addition--just because I'm not supposed to be thinking about all you guys at school, doesn't mean that I don't--I can laugh out loud sometimes at all the funny things that happened this past year, and nobody thinks I'm crazy. In fact, I have the job that keeps on giving...I see you guys sometimes at stores and church, and I just feel darn proud of the time we spent together.

I miss you Spot. Don't you think for one moment that I've forgotten you! But I'm loving this summer furlough!! And to all the people out there who are jealous of us teachers--I promise
I won't say "nana-nana-boo-boo!"...except of course to the Sarge, my old school secretary who is merciless about how EASY us teachers have it! We put our time in...listenin' to all your barking, watching you wiggle all over the place and correcting...correcting, oh my gosh, for HOURS and full weekends at a time! So, do we deserve this? Well, you betcha! ;) (And now let's just hope that girl takes a permanent vacation!)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More...Dream Principal

Okay, here I go, off to shop for the dream principal. I love my marching orders from all my friends at school:

1. He/she must...#1 GET IT: And by that we all know what they mean. They must understand the demands of the classroom in real-time, no BS theoretical stuff either. Usually the longer someone is out of the classroom, the easier it is to forget. NOT my last principal, and that's why we loved her.

2. He/she must...GET AROUND: Be visible. We DO wanna see you, and we want the kids to know you. It's hard to get them, unless you live in their midst. We want hands-on. Don't pass it off to us. We're in it together.

3. He/she must...Be kind, be an all-around leader--but know how to GET TOUGH, to hold a hard line as a professional in today's world. The lines have become so blurred. We need an advocate...a teacher/leader and someone who GETS IT in the parent world, the kid world and the teacher world too.

Anything you wanna add, Spot? I know, I'm eager too! We all want a good princiPAL. It won't be long now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When the Teacher Gets the Flu/I'm No Swine!

Okay, well...who'da thunk it, Spot? The teacher gets the flu and they have to close the whole school. Well, no Spot, that's not why they're cutting off your year book signing, awards ceremony and all that end-of-the-year hoopla, silly. I don't want you blaming me for one more darn thing, there fella!

But boy, some of you guys (and girls) could've thought a little more about all this with all your advil-sneaking-coughing-all-over-the-rest-of-us behavior. You can't have a temperature and come to school on the same day, no matter what you do. Even if Tylenol lowers it. We're just one, big germ pool out there! Did you know I've been washing desks after school for three weeks now?

And no, we're not sure I have the Swine Flu. The doctor said no more testing to figure out which is which. The old-fashioned rock 'em, sock 'em flu is out there too, and he says it's worse this year than the swine. Oh, I know, the kids are having a good old time out there, Spot...I mean, Oink. But lasso 'em back in there, buddy...we gotta celebrate all the very cool things we did this year, but most of all Spot--we gotta savor our time together! It's almost day 183, let's have a good old time together! (If you have a fever...stay HOME!)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Did Somebody Say Kickball?

Well, Spot, you've been a great little puppy this year! You really have! We've just about covered everything in the sixth grade play book. After a year of trying to pin you down and get you to stay on task with your buddies, you snapped into place and got your work done in 30 minutes flat this afternoon! Could it be I've finally found the magic words?

"I just might be thinking about adding a 20 minute kick ball game to our day."

ADD? ADHD? I think not! Why didn't I think of this sooner!! It's the oldest trick in the book--bribery! It doesn't take the promise of a new gadget, a video game, or even a trip to the ice cream shop! A twenty minute kickball game. It's just good for the soul!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ready, Set, Go!

Okay, Spot, you little smoochy, cutie-pie! I know, I know. That red leash is way too tight. Tell your mama to loosen up a bit. You are a big boy!! In fact, you, my friend, are a "tween-ager!" 

Tonight all the Mamas and the Papas came for Intermediate School Orientation Night. Sometimes...they are so nervous, they can barely sit in their chair. All the big shots at school talk at them, but they're not listening. You know what the Mamas and the Papas do? They stare at us...the teachers! They are one big checkin'-out-the-teachers-2-C-if-we-gonna-take-care-o'-their-babies group!! I don't blame them. I'd wanna get a feel for the people that are really gonna be on the frontline with my kids too!

We have to tell them, though...they've gotta lighten-up a bit. No hovering, no over-controlling. We really do know what we're doing in that school up on the hill. The intermediate model is a great thing for you, Spot! We ease you off the leash, but we keep our eyes on you too. You get to become a social being. I like parents to stay in touch, though. You are not off the hook, Spotty boy. Parents should never, ever stop watching, talking and snuggling you...because we want you to do well in this world. So Spot, you are growing up--but tweens always need the big people in their life to be a part of their life. Congrats, there little are movin' on up!

Oh...and if anyone remembers Junie------she was the tour guide from heaven, leading those Mamas and Papas too, on the tour of their life! She kept them on a quite the tight leash. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A New Principal?

Okay, Spot...I know, I'm upset too. Good old, Mrs. Principal-from-Heaven is retiring. But, relax Spot! I'm going online tonight to find the DREAM Principal! 

Here's my criteria...are you ready? I know, you want more time out on the playground to run around, cause chaos, mark your turf and all that rot. Well, forget that. We're in the business of learning here. And you? You're already far behind. In fact we're tracking your progress (or lack there0f), keeping data, discussing your data in our data-teams and oh yes, making changes in your program every time you move up one tenth of  a percentage point. That's fidelity! (No, it's not a stereo unit!) 

My criteria: The DREAM PRINCIPAL will let me TEACH. That's it. Give me feedback. Ask me to reflect on my teaching. I don't care about that. But start getting me pulled out to identify this and manage that and create a new gameplan to solve every individual problem in the world? Go away...those are the nightmare principals that need not apply. The dream principal understands the complexities of the job, and he/she is just around the corner on Craig's List, I'm sure! So, adios Spot! And a Happy Cinco de Mayo to you!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Classroom Rigor-Just Another Day in the Trenches

As always in education, there are buzz words...and then there are BUZZ words! Academic rigor has been around for a while now, so I thought I'd gnaw on that for a while. I'm to be observed this week for ten minutes with the bulk of the administration walking through the building, entering and exiting my sixth grade classroom in groups of four for ten minutes at a clip. Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, right? I don't mind. (Although that may change after the fact!) When they're done, they reconstruct the lessons they've seen around the building. Boy, would I love that job! Imagine the mosaic: math, science, social studies (me), band and technology. 

Their number one coveted item: Rigor...with differentiation and engagement not far behind. I figure I'll give it a shot before the effects of the budget cuts when class sizes could soar to 28 or so.

So here's the plan: Kids will read and attempt to interpret (using all they've learned about China up to this point) the quality of life in China today, based on their own lives here of course. Using a variety of leveled readings and a previously viewed video (no...I'm not that nervy!), they'll compile a gallery related to topics such as everyday life, modern improvements, the environment, education...and China's place in the world today. What my kids want to know most about China today is the One Child Policy, a topic that is a bit R rated for my very naive students, and  a bit risky to handle under these circumstances. We'll gnaw on that one another day. 

Rigor to me is a deep desire to dig into the deepest and darkest recesses of a topic. No matter how challenging, kids will push forward. I know from our classroom work last week...laptops in tow, that this group of kids will rigorously follow a trail of websites to find meaningful information on their individually selected China topics. Often the problem in teaching with texts, though, is that the material has no portal, no way to drop down into that rabbit hole and tumble until you find the pay-dirt you're looking for! Isn't it about time we provide a laptop per kid in every school and skip these archaic texts for learning? Or perhaps Kindle could help us out...iPhones? Well, now that's a risk!

Arne Duncan talks about schools failing...scary that he uses that kind of sweeping rhetoric. Many more kids are going to college than ever before. Some schools are failing--most schools are struggling to survive in a world that is predominantly digital with only a few paltry laptop carts passed around once/twice a year. Schools need modern-day resources, but that's a discussion for another day.

I'll find the varied type of reading I'm looking for. I'll use my Mimio to demonstrate mark-ups on the screen. I'll move my kids around and then shuffle them back together just like I always do. And the hope-is that it'll all work out in the end. The 'seasoned crew' is covering this visit. Certainly none of our newer, pink-slipped partners would ever dare take the hit!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Autism Speaks...Shouts, and Attracts Attention

Another tribute to the world of autism today. I can't resist. I was in Borders eavesdropping...and just getting such a kick out of it. A twenty-somethin young man and his caretaker...55 or so, were perusing the sale rack of cds right next to the stationery aisle. Young guy says to old guy, "What's this?" 
Old guys says, "Music from West Side Story, a great broadway show--a play."
     Young guy responds, "I like plays, right?"
                                      "Yes, you like plays..." He goes on to recount the virtues of the music of West Side Story, the dance, the characters, etc. 
The young guy is clearly on his own wavelength, picking up the very next cd, and saying, "What's this?" Old guy goes on to explain the whole saga of the Lion King, chapter and verse.
 Then, the young guy picks up a Beatles album, at this point, I'm on the other side of the rack. I have to see what's going on! The young guy is rocking back and forth with a huge grin on his face. 
        "It's a play, right?" he asks. The caretaker goes on to explain the whole phenomenon of the Beatles!  The young man's autism is showing...and loud and clear in public. I love it. He's got a sense of humor and has his caretaker retrieving the ball for him over and over again.
         But, as I walk away, I see a 50ish woman in a jaunty, color-matched get-up shaking her head. The manager walks by and she blurts out, "I didn't come here to listen to this!" I wanna say...this ain't no lending library, lady, but I don't. My friend is so smart...playing his game and enjoying his life. He sure knows how to keep a conversation going. And that, to me, is very cool.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April is Autism Awareness Month

 Anyone who has the privilege of establishing a friendship with a person with autism would probably tell you, it's one of the most rewarding feelings on the face of the planet. Breaking down barriers and figuring out the language encoding system or even just following the lead of an autistic student, sheds a little light on the neat little quirks...and issues that lie just underneath the surface.
This past year, we had a young man come to our school from a western state...which will remain unnamed--he was having a major breakdown in the middle of the hallway on the first day, trying to negotiate a locker and deal with the roar of the hallway first thing in the morning. Within moments, my friend Nancy...a special educator, and I were at his side. We knew.
But...the system had not been informed! This student was in a one-on-one situation in a resource room in his previous school! (They didn't know what to do with him!) But never mind that...we had to get him through those very first moments and set him on the road to coping. What a gem of a boy! Those first few weeks were exceedingly tough...with many meltdowns. But! This guy is brilliant! And now...he's in walking club, which means he walks the halls with other like-minded, bright students, conversing all the way, honestly! (And now? He'd talk the ear off a mule, I swear!) He skipped out of his classroom (He's my next door neighbor this year...fingers crossed that I get him next year.), springing up on his toes and yelling, "This is the best day of my life!" Of course, I was in the middle of a lesson...but I had to bite---so I said, "What happened?" And you know what...he got a 100 on a math test. Made my day too!
On my own sixth grade, I have a number of kids that are either identified as autistic, or fit neatly somewhere on the spectrum. I LOVE them! They are not islands, but meaningful participants in my classroom. If I don't know something (which...sorry to say is frequent!), they pipe up right away---like Dan, my black tar man...who could tell me immediately about the components of colprovia and the differences between a variety of types. Or my helicopter/war plane officianado...and now my endangered species expert that sits in the third row. All info, all the time. But the best of it all--behind that obsession lies a warm body, a brilliant mind...and a kid who just loves to have someone to talk to. Yup, different IS where it's at. In the middle of a group of sixth graders worried about where they fit in, it's just kind of nice to have a student or two, (well actually four)...who fits in alright--but the puzzle has to be built around him/her first!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beware All You April Fools!

Well, Spot, I know...tomorrow is Scotty's favorite day of the year. He's been plotting for days now. What scheme has he cooked up for me? He was actually absent today, so that's a huge worry. Or is it? 

We did have a very quiet day without old Scotty jumping around. Was it the calm before the storm?

The best April fool's day joke came years ago from my old buddy Gary, who walked  into my second grade classroom and whispered a secret in my ear. He'd changed his mind and he didn't want anyone to know...Gary, a die-hard Yankees fan (mostly because of his crazed Yankee-loving Dad) proclaimed, "I love the Mets. I've always loved the Mets...I was just pretending!" I was jumping up and down with both arms around Gary before he could finish! And then...oh, you bet---"April Fools!" Gary's dad had practiced with him for hours, spooning cookie dough icecream into him every time he got it right the night before! Brother.

Every year, I grit my teeth and wait. Now I'm in sixth it's really a challenge. They come at me from all different angles. But for me? It was Gary that did it best! So my hat goes off to Gary every April Fool's Day Eve. That Yankee Empire lives on...and I'm sure Gary still remembers the April Fools Day that he fooled his silly teacher, and I know his dad sure does.

This year, the joke is on them! Scotty's NOT gonna get me! You see, I'm sending Viola Swamp in to take my place. Meanness, instead of kindness will be the name of the game. So Scotty? Watch out! You might wanna take another sick day!! The truth...they've scheduled  a professional development day. So I have to be out of the classroom. (Oh darn!) There was a sub in the building today that bore quite a resemblance to Viola. Honest, I swear. (Sorry, more swearing!)But don't worry, I'll be wandering the halls of the building, keeping an eye on you guys every chance I can!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Black Hole

It being conference season again, we are currently visiting with the most eligible moms and dads of the pups who are often eager and sometimes willing, but never seem to be able to get it together no matter what!

Yesterday, Spot's friend, Spike's mother came in with Spike in tow.
Now Spike is aptly named, for that is the true shape of his hairdo...completely gelled to stand straight up on end. I love this kid...I mean doggie. He cracks me up...well, most of the time. But. If he spent just a smidge of the time managing his things as he does on his hair, life would be great. He travels with a stack of stuff that can NOT be straightened, no matter how hard you try! I think he's probably got his grandmother's wedding license and a sampling of his mother's cookies in there too! You just don't know. And you wince when you look at it, so you don't want to know. But Spike sits right next to me, so I can help him out when he's in a panic. 

Last week, he couldn't find his Social Studies assignment for the life of him. Social Studies is his absolute favorite subject in school...and he is brilliant when it comes to discussing politics! When he got to the bottom of his stack he said, "Mrs. Lynch! I've got it!" He slipped it out from under one of his notebooks and handed it to me. I was ready to be relieved until I looked at its content...all in Italian! It was his high school aged brother's Italian homework! Whenever we can't find something in the classroom, we inevitably look in Spike's pile, and sure's always there. Spike carries the weight of the world in that pile, literally!

Yesterday, his mother just shook her head and said, "I love my boy, he's a blessing to me, but he drives me nuts too!", the job was to clean that black hole of a locker in order to be able to put just the essentials in there. What came out of that locker was startling really! Spike could've had a tag sale,  honestly. He must've had 4 sets of drumsticks, there was a velour leopard print jacket (I kid you not!), a couple of coats, socks, gym shorts, and oh yes...more than a pencil or two--probably enough to hand out to the other 949 students in our school!

The best of all though, is that his mother left us yesterday, thanking us over and over again for our efforts with Spike. And then she said, "I have just a few cookies for you. I'm sorry, they're not my best." Well, Spike? Those were the best darn cookies in the world. And you know what else...every day when you leave my room and you turn around and say, "Thank you. Thank you, Mrs. Lynch!"  That is what does it for me! Your mom doesn't owe me another one of her sinful cookies. Gratitude. It's the magic ingredient of a great kid! 

Spot, you got a great friend there. Stick with him. (But watch out for your stuff...he's got sticky fingers from all that hair gel!)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Testing Beyond the Bubble: I'm All Ears!

This President Obama is bringing change after all. He's got his staff of new idea people thinking about this whole mess of testing we've got out there.They're starting to chat-it-up. And you know what, Spot? I'm all ears too! It's about darned time.

Finally a column in the New York Times about testing that you and I can sink our teeth into. Well, I know Spot, the tests are done...but they will be back next year, and you know that! I just want to dispel
two thoughts on this test thing. First and is not the teachers making up these tests, Spot. You and your parents have no idea about the invisible test-makers, so you blame us for all this testing. I happen to know that most are either retired administrators, or reading consultant types, and although they have spent time in the classroom, they do not have that constant stream of kids and their thinking worming through their brains that the rest of us have. Second, those of us that are any good or even pretty good at what we do, do NOT teach to the test. We simply go on teaching the good principles of building background knowledge on a subject in order to go forward and read it. I do teach you guys tricks of the trade for approaching a passage you have no knowledge about, but that's just a practice of good teaching. If you never got that, you'd only read about dog bones, how to chase a cat, and stuff like that. It is my job to broaden your horizons, silly.

So, hooray! Finally, we may be able to survey kids on how they approach the printed page, what they bring to it, and what they hold onto after their done. Hallelujah! Why didn't they just ask us teachers to begin with? When will they think about that? We do know a thing or two about how puppies like you learn, Spot. We spend 183+ days each year worming around inside that brain of yours trying to make sense of it all. 

Oh...and Spot? About yesterday...I'm glad you had the day off. Stay away from that entry. That's more than you need to know.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'll Take the Distraction

It being Sunday, Spot's off for the day. Couldn't handle the stress of all the budget talks at home and in the hallways at school, so we furloughed him.

And here we are, all 'fired up!' Today's New York Times and yesterday's too are talking about the other love of my job in the teaching profession. Whenever the outside world starts talking about money though, I start to wriggle in my seat. What are they talking about? They don't know either.

My loyalty to President Obama is unflinching. I do believe that he, at least, is setting some great priorities for a country that does not seem to get it one iota. My own town has cut seven teachers and must now cut an arbitrary one million dollars more (41 teachers got pink slips last Wednesday), just because our finance board...all members non-educator axe-grinders, says so. Well, one of those members has said so since he stepped into that position some seven years ago. He captivates audiences with his brash comments and loves every minute of it. That is what I call irresponsible leadership. Our town has a surplus of 15 million dollars. It does have expenses too, and may be populated with numbers of people who are losing jobs out there. I get that. But we don't know who, or how many...there is no formula for that. Likewise there is no formula for cutting education. They see our schools as the fatted calf within their cash reserves...and have for years. We rank in the top 20 towns in our state for wealth and in the bottom 20 for per pupil expenditures. We have great kids, coming from upper middle class families, but there's a range. We have portable homes and then we have our fully landscaped, pool included mansions on the hill. 

Let's offer up the teachers...everyone can think of one that they hated in their educational career...oh please, let it be her/him. 

Michele Rhee says, let's pay'm more...if they're good. In our town, that'd translate to a public outcry! $130K for a mere teacher! God. No way! Our superintendent's salary of $140K was made public just a week ago, and people had a caniption! BUT, does she not run a corporation?

America needs to get real and get a magic formula. We need to put up or shut up. Sorry Spot, cover your eyes if you see this. We will never be the leader of the free world again, if our kids can not read, write and compute. Our kids in the cities are SUFFERING. But now...we are taking apart the suburban schools too, and despite the transfusion of green...the bleeding will never stop. Once you lose it, you lose it forever. There's no going back here.

Everyone is talking about financial mindsets lately. We're being asked to go out there and buy, buy, buy again. Infuse that green river of cash with our individual dollars. How 'bout we skip the shopping and put it into education? Oh...and by the way, we've been told that all of the federal dollars can only be spent on special education. (We've seen two admin. positions created out of those IDEA funds. I may be wrong, but I've not seen any 'troop increases' on the front line, where it's really needed.) In my building that translates into about sixty special ed. students out of 900 students in all. I don't get it. Bring on the formulas Arne. Teachers need to know the when we're packing up our classrooms and going off to that plush waitressing job, at least we know there was a plan.

And Mr. Bailey? I'll take the distraction. Students lives, and their future welfare,  are all at stake.

See ya tomorrow, Spot! Hope you're ready to rock and roll! Lots to learn about China these days, ya know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Share Spot!

Are you serious, Spot? I worry about you. You have a bad case of using that tail of yours to wag the system! "I need to know just how much homework I can expect in the next few weeks." What?
(Doggies should not talk to their teachers like that. You're cute, but not that cute.)

Look at the doggy that is pulling on that stick with you. Do you see the wisdom there? That doggy knows that school simply comes first. I know, I know. Baseball, softball, lacrosse, ballet, ping pong, gymnastics, butterfly club and pottery club too.

But. Do you remember that picture that we stared at yesterday...the one on page 523 in your social studies text? It showed a pictorial graph of the number of China's citizens and the comparison to the number of American citizens. We studied those same pictorial graphs when we studied India. What part of that picture do you not understand? Maybe I'm not doing my job here. China has almost four citizens for our every one! India can match that! Those kids are working very hard to get ahead of you, Spot. You need to get smarter, work harder and put your nose to the grindstone.

So...Spot? Are you still there? You may have to use your time more wisely. SHARE your time! But be sure that the first share is your schoolwork. I love sports and recreational activities. I believe kids need networks of friends, and they need to be fit. You may have to give up a little of your videogame time this spring, but never, ever cut short time that should be spent in schoolwork. And Spot? Telling your teacher that You need to know anything is downright disrespectful. Behave, Spot. You're a great little puppy. Everyone wants to keep loving you! (And let me know when you have a game. I might just show up on the ballfield and  SHARE down time with you!) 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Worlds Apart

I know, Spot. It's t-e-s-t-i-n-g time again. It's okay. We'll get through it. All our nerves are a little frazzled these of budgets and new missions and all kinds of things. We're just going to go with the flow, because you know what, Spot? We've got yoga...knitting...walking club, you name it. Every way you can imagine to de-stress. Today's test...reading comprehension: 45 minutes of pure concentration. You could hear a pin drop! Kids were working their little hearts out to do their best to prove themselves again this year. Right in the middle of it, though, we had a few of those small occurrences that befall kids in their human states...funny things that are really nothing, but enough to make us have to control a case of the giggles. There was the usual cascade of pencils that drop the minute everyone gets set, the stuffy noses and bouts of coughing, and this year we had hiccups. The start and stop kind. We had the outside proctor proctoring me, the inside proctor. Jeesh! But then, as always, it was done. And we went on from there, jump-starting our creativity and moving into learning mode. We imagined ourselves in the faraway savannas and jungles of Africa with kids entertaining other kids with the lessons of African folktales...our own versions of them anyway, we read about the recent elections in Kenya and how very different the transfer of power was there as opposed to here when our 43rd President shook hands with the 44th and history moved forward once again. Kids couldn't imagine the violence that the Kenyan kids must've faced, but they talked an awful lot about it. Imagine how they must feel having a sitting US President who traces his origins back to their Luo tribe? Spot, you and your friends with all their new-found knowledge of this wonderful continent connected so meaningfully to these kids so far away. And yes we'll be back atcha with our tests and all that, but you know, Spot, I think that yoga is working! You little doggies do what you have to and then crave the real world of learning that much more! This, my friend, is why I love my job! 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It All Matters!

Okay, Spot. You have not been a naughty boy. You are a good little get that chin up again. They're not mad at you. Budgets all over the country are under scrutiny. Household budgets are under scrutiny. We're all working hard and our houses have less value, our savings are slimmer, but we don't mean to take it out on you. So why do we?
Why is it that all the towns around the country look at the education budgets first? Why do they go after the teachers' salaries and then go after class sizes and the small upkeep projects of the schools? Why? Can we not see that if we stay the course, we're protecting our legacy? We're placing the nation's future in a huge savings account. President Obama gets it, despite what the conservatives have to say on the issue. They're out there crying 'socialism', and believe me, that will be their battle cry from now until the next election. Rush is 'fired-up' and loving all the attention. (He needs to lose a little weight, though, be carrying on like that!) That's why he's calling for the failure of this President's tenure before he's even hit his two month mark. They're mad. They've had to take all their toys out of the White House and find someone else to lead them. Trouble is, he's not acting like a patriot, he's trying to sensationalize and sabotage. But, I digress.
The educated know that schools matter, that teacher satisfaction matters and that class size matters too. We've been in the midst of a sad trend...talking up school failure. Yes, we have a lot to do to standardize a fair approach to our students in this country. We definitely need to bring in line the curriculum of the varied regions and states in this country. But we will never forge ahead in preparing our students for the 21st century if we insist on dismantling our educational system every time the economy begins to tank out.
A 21st century educational plan includes deep critical thinking skills, fast-paced inquiry-based investigative learning, increased technological skills to back up investigation and strengthened communication abilities both verbally and written too. How will that happen with larger class sizes? With fewer teachers the equation is dismal, at best. Most people that argue this do so on the basis of how they were taught. Sure, I had 60 kids in my second grade classroom (I kid you not!). I am a successful adult teacher, and I continue to seek what I need to know, because I've always loved to learn. That was innate for me and it is for some. But not for all, that's for sure.
The kids we see today often have both parents working long hours and therefore no adult at home waiting with peanut butter cookies to have a long conversation. These kids want and need conversations, stories and the constant stream of attention they can't get in a group of 25 and above. The kids from yesteryear were hardworking often with babysitting jobs and paper routes, but school came first no matter what. The expectation today is that all teachers document each student with an individual education plan, much like we did with special needs students in the past. We are to maintain data and work toward a solution if a student encounters a problem. In large numbers this is an impossible task. Small classes and teacher satisfaction go a long way in getting the job done.
So Spot, today's lesson: Lift your head, and we will too. We did nothing to bring on this awful Economic Crisis. It was the high rollers that squandered the pensions and the pocketbooks, even the promise of employment for all of today's citizens. So...why is it that the lesser of our citizens, the children and the teachers have to be the first ones to pay? You didn't do it, Spot. And neither did I. Hopefully, the grander system will watch our backs (You know the ones the conservatives are calling socialists. Name-calling is so second gradish). For they know that an investment in a child is of great SOCIAL value to us all! That is our legacy, Spot.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who Rules the Roost?

Okay, Spot...Today's Lesson:

The Board of Education. A number of us were gathered together...a kind of faculty think-tank, puzzling over this topic at lunch. We've become increasingly interested in the concept of governance that rules our system of education, making critical decisions related to final approvals of curriculum and programs, books read and staffing. Recently, our school system began the turbulent process of budget proposals and revisions. Times are tough, we all know that. Members of the board of education have had their plates full this season. Concessions are in the air. We know that. But what we can't seem to get our heads around is how do these decisions actually get made?

The Board of Education. Many a child of the sixties knew the 'board of ed.' to be a plank in the principal's office used to whoop the butt of any kid that couldn't behave in school. Today's board of education is comprised of many community members of varied backgrounds and credentials, most often professionals. These are wonderfully committed individuals. I am not questioning that. Who else on earth would sit in these long evening meetings if it were not for the sake of our student population? Although none of them are educators, they are mostly supportive of the system. Our wondering is this: How is it that so many decisions are made without teacher input? "We have to come to grips with the hard choices ahead," said President Obama. How can we come to grips with our hard choices without ambassadors from the frontline? 

When a surgeon approaches her patient, she gathers a team of consultants from the health 
field, nurses and doctors, who she can count on for good solid advice. Why wouldn't she? The patient's life is at stake. After a total of nine teacher cuts (seven made the end cut) were proposed, we of the teaching world, sat helpless. These decisions that affect the lives of children in the classroom are being made by people who have not set foot in a learning environment with the exception of their own schooling a lifetime ago. We know what staff cutting means in today's classroom. 

But then, just when the bleeding was about to stop,  a member of the board of education proposes randomly cutting six additional teachers! Four teachers at the middle school: thus 100 students to mix into the fray, and 2 more at the intermediate school; an added 50 students to be eased into the mix there. Why? How? Is this even justified? Others on the board were equally horrified. It's pretty embarrassing. The board of education is no longer used solely for whooping the butts of the children, it's now used to whoop the butts of the educators too. Where is the advocacy here? Sometimes politics comes into one could become suspicious in this one case. We won't. Instead we raise only one question.

My question Spot then is this: When will we, the educators, be invited to the table to bring some sense back to the dialogue? After all, we are not children, we are the educated ones, field-tested and in the know on the day-to-day basis.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

...So Soon?

Well, yeah. C'mon Spot! You know it's that time again. Vacation's almost over and I know two secrets. One...don't tell yet, I'm only pretty sure on this one. There was a big vote and I think this may have been our last February vacation. I know, very sad. The teachers could only vote one time each...rats. So there was no way we could make it win! I hope you had a good vacation.
And the other thing...well, we're going to have to get ready for that which remains unnamed that comes up in the month of March. What? No!!! Sit, Spot. STAY!! Do NOT go the other way. You have to come back and we're going to just do a teensy-weensy bit of test prep. (i-know-you-don't-like-the-smell-of-that. i don't either...don't tell.) But here's all the good stuff we're going to get back to first, okay? 
First up: African Folktales. We're going to chat-it-up some more, conferencing and then finishing up. We'll have our American Style African Storyteller/Idol! So you don't want to miss that! Then we're going to do some investigative reporting...studying the current status of independence/interdependence/dependence of an African country of YOUR choice on our lappppppp tops! I know you like the sound of that word! We'll lap it all up together, then compile a class magazine. How's that? Yes you have to cite your sources. People have gone to jail for not doing that! Last, we'll trace Cassie Logan's ancestry all the way back to Africa. What an amazing story of an African-American family! I know you like it when everything's tied together like that. It's all that out-of-the-box, but connected stuff that works, right? are you feeling better? Only after we finish all that will we then return to the yicky-icky inside the box stuff, and only for a little bit, I promise. Let's see if we can come up with a new name for the CMT's (I know, I said it!). Maybe 'Call Me Tomorrow.' Test season sure does have a different smell to it, though, you are right. Can't wait to see ya, Spot. You life is too quiet withoutcha!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who Wants to be a B-B-Billionaire?

Me!! That's who! Yesterday, the New York Times announced that
Arne Duncan (just call me 'Arne') will take the reins with mega dollars to dispense 'on the fly!' Well, no need to search very long, Mr. Duncan...darn..., I mean Arne! I'll help you. 
Here's the recipe: Jump-start Head Start. Early education is where it's at, I don't care what the prevailing thought might be. City kids are leagues behind their suburban peers, who are listening to baby Einstein and have Good Night Moon memorized before they utter their first word. Let's see if we can't do something about adding equality to our educational system. 'bout an initiative that will let Spot and I move around a bit. You know,  for the many of us who'd like to move between city and suburban schools. How 'bout more of a coaching model? Imagine this: Veteran teachers shift to co-teach with rookies in city classrooms. Even if the Republicans can not reach across the aisle...teachers will always help other teachers. Just give us a chance. And then...we have to watch out for our middle school and high school populations. It does not matter whether we're talkin' city or suburb. They're all at risk. Adolescents need validation...but they need programs that will help them to prove themselves responsible in our society. I'm not kidding...they need a rite of passage. Give them unpaid internships, place them in supervised after school programs that will allow them to give back. And give them credit for this real-life learning too. Now, sir, Spot and I have hardly mentioned technology and inquiry-based learning. WE need a think tank. A nation-wide clearing house for best practice...and then grant programs to bring EVERYONE up to speed. Let's do it, Arne. For Spot's sake...and for the future of us all. Bring back American ingenuity!
My dad, an Irish imigrant...and an eighth grade grad (He was far more brilliant than that, though, believe me.) always said, "It's all about education...period." We'll all be billionaires, if we do it right!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Oh my gosh, here we go. Well, Spot, I told you. If I let you off that leash, you'd go and meet someone who'd get us both in trouble. Here he is..."Scotty." Everyone knows Scotty. He's got every gadget under the sun, and of course he likes to bring all his toys to school. Tech decks, game boys, cell phones...oh, Scotty'd bring the kitchen sink if his mom let him. Wait. Scotty would bring the kitchen sink just to see if he could get away with it. Scotty is high maintenance. Don't you go following that Scotty around, Spot. You are a good dog. So just stay. 
       But stop the presses...this just in from The New York Times: Cell phones are coming! We knew this. In fact if cell phones are cheaper and can start to do some things in a way that make kids more productive, I say who cares. The trouble is, Spot, I think it's gonna be a while. The poor teacher in that article said she was managing calls on her own time! WAIT! Whoa, doggie!
I can only speak for myself, but that proposition makes me very nervous. It requires huge amounts of energy to tame all of you wild beasts, to dazzle you and to fill your brains with all kinds of great things all day long. Correcting and giving feedback is the night part of the job that nobody knows, because they don't see the three hours on end of reading. But security guard? I can't handle that too!! Help! I'll be asleep on my desk during the day.
       Let's keep an eye and an open mind on this until they really come up with just the right toys that teachers AND parents can manage, and that make the MOST sense to us all. And that friend of yours, Scotty, you know the one that's always biting  at the bit? He's a great kid/oops, I mean doggie. He just needs to have a bit of leash (I don't mind if he gets a little ahead of us!) balanced by a lot of hands-on learning. You are a good judge of doggies, there Spot. I like your style. Let's make sure that the industry isn't trying to take advantage too. Prudence is a great virtue and technology is way cool. Just let us study the angles a little bit to be sure, before we hand out the toys.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Spot

Happy Valentine's Day, Spot! What? You're in love? No...Spot!

Okay, well here's some good advice...are you ready? School and love do not mix. Oh my gosh. Last week we had a crisis. Spot got his very first invitation to a boy-girl party. I am not kidding. Here's a little story...from wayyyyy back in the 60's, Spot. Are you listening? Well, the 60's, the Beatles, Beatle hats and boyfriends. BOY crazy! That is what I was. Flirting, chatting, heart was love. The boy...well, he gave me a yellow, plastic bubble ring. It's really amazing that I made it to college after that. My mind turned to jello. Not jigglers, either. The gloppy kind of jello. My teacher was talking, but I was just plain dumb-founded. All I could do is that boy. I think I was more in shock than anything else. And my dad? Well...when he found out, that ring was hurled across the living room...and then, he made me give it back. I learned two valuable lessons: 1) To suspend my disbelief...but don't take it too seriously. 2) Don't EVER let my dad know anything about other boys in my life. And love, is definitely in bloom in the real-world of sixth grade right now! After all, spring's just around the corner. So Spot...that glazed-over look? I know that look. First's all good. (Just do your homework!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Come along or be dragged: the future is now!

Here we go, Spot! You're yanking at me...pulling that leash of yours. You mean you don't want to read those dusty old books off the shelf like I did? (Yours aren't dusty and you sure have lots of them!) You're sick of sitting in that desk? What? I thought you loved that hard chair and the stack of books you lug around all day. They're all your earthly possessions! I remember when you went off to kindergarten with that brand new backpack of yours. But now you're complaining, you don't want to carry those books, you don't want to sit in that chair. You can't seem to find any of those papers!

Oh, Spot...we've gotta rethink your plan. What if I had a small round table with a lap top set up for you? You'd have all your friends sitting around you in tables of 3 or so. You could access all of my lesson on line and then spend your day researching a question like...what is the quality of the water in the little stream that runs along the edge of the school property? Or maybe we could even bring back samples and evaluate them under the microscope, take small snapshots of them...I don't know, Spot--just shoutin' that out there to you. Maybe you might have a few ideas about how to structure the lesson. What if all the Spots out there designed their own lessons? After we finish our research, we could go online and share our results with our cyber-friends, skyping them in Ukraine or Australia, or even Malaysia.  We'd organize questions first and then more snail-mailed pen pals--we could talk and learn with each other right there in that very minute!

After that, we'd write it all down...pencil/pen and paper or laptop. Your choice! But then, we could even publish it on our blogspace for everyone including your mom, your dad, your grandma in North Dakota...or even President Obama! We'd squeeze in a good, long chunk of math in there and we'd kindle up a good book too! There you go, Spot! You've met all your standards. What? You don't even want recess? Okay, well...Spot. Let's call it a day anyway. We're both dismissed! Now that's what I call a 21st Century kinda day! I'll bet I could even let you off that leash! One more thing, Spot...those tests? Remember all the tests you used to take? Some day, some smart person or puppy will come up with a program that will evaluate your work as you produce it...yup, right there on your laptop! When that day comes, Spot, we'll both LAP it up!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blending in!

Well, Spot, you are not an easy one to camouflage, but I do think you've reinvented yourself in a way that works! Honestly, if you've seen one 'Spot,' you've seen 'em all, right? Wrong! After you teach for a few minutes...oh, all right, a few years, you start to see patterns. You know, kids start to remind you of other kids you've had before. That little bit of attitude? Yeah...that was Christopher James from three years ago. That really sweet little girl, well usually, thankfully, they are always a part of every group. In fact there are many...boys and girls, really sweet kids.
There are the tiggers too, you know that type too. Those are the kids that live on a pair of springs and they need lots of room to move and operate too. I know a lot about those guys...I had my own home grown version to practice on! But the ones that often leave a lasting impression are not the ones that blend...but the ones that stand out. The kids with unusual quirks and memorable habits always stick to the memory, and not just mine, that's for sure.

Today the teacher on the street was watching while Junie made her way around with the other kids during learning lab. Junie is a really neat kid! She gets a LOT of help to organize herself and to keep her focused, but in the social arena, kids love her differences. She's safe...non-judgmental and the kids know it. Friday is game day, Sorry, Jenga, know. Junie loves to play board games. On Fridays, nobody cares about her differences, she's the same as everyone else. But. All the other kids, often the boys, want to play. The moment the bell rings, Junie snaps back into character and like Cinderella, she's off! Because, bells and schedules are what she's all about. If I go one second overtime at the end of the day, the alarm in Junie sounds and there's h%$ll to pay! Of course, she's any school kid's dream. She pushes the panic button, and the class knows they'll be dismissed on the spot (oops, sorry Spot!). 
Today Junie raced out at lunchtime and I found one of the many notes she always leaves behind:

Dear Presdient Obama,
Can we have recycling bins in every state? and congratulations on being our 44th president.
I was also thinking of using recyable notebooks.
P.S. Recycle my letter when done reading it!

You see my girl is the queen of the hasty recyclable letter. (Yesterday I got a recyclable birthday card and a hug, both of which 
came a minute or two after the bell! Junie is upbeat and positive, full of a zest for life I wish I could bottle and sell. But what's 
most important to know about Junie is all that she brings to my classroom. This diminutive outlier is always on, always paying 
attention and for every question I ask, she's always the first to raise her hand and answer a question...Junie style, sometimes from 
left-field, but many times right on target. The unpredictability leaves everyone wondering. But it also has us all plugging for her...
for in that little stutter, you just never know, there just may come a pearl of wisdom. At the end of the day today, when kids were 
packing up, Junie came up to me and said, "So you're coming to 10-'firty' mass right? Because, um...I'm getting my new rosary beads!" 
Well, I've been to basketball games, baseball games, boy and girl lacrosse games, birthday parties and even a Baptism...and Sunday, 
well Sunday, I'll go see Junie be awarded her brand-new rosary beads. Because these are the very special perks of the job! Happy Friday, Spot!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yes You CAN!

Okay, Spot, well you are very cute...but do you see that naughty look on that face? Well, if you are not a teacher, you might not. But look closer. If you get your nose almost up to the screen, and look into the black eye, and not the white one...oooooo, there's a little devil in there! 

No homework today, "I read it, but I just didn't take the notes," he said. "If you ask me any question, I know it, really." And then there's the case of Spot's friend...the I-did-it-honest, but-I -don't-know-where-it-is guy. Well grades went home, and those excuses didn't fit on the page, so I had to leave them out!  And guess what---who got the blame? You guessed it! The teacher.
Okay, this is NOT a rant, it's simply a statement of public concern. Why is the tail wagging the dog? If I went home with missing homeworks and failing grades because of it, I'd do either of two things: 1) I would've hidden in the Steck's barn until it was pitch black outside and then I would sneak in the back door and try to pretend I'd been there all along, sneaking the report card under my dad's nose with a pen in my hand. "Can you just sign this piece of paper real quick?" or 2) I'd have gone home and slid under my bed until my dad was so distraught, he'd do anything to have his 'little sunshine' back. Either way, I'd have gotten my butt whooped. 
I say bring it back...well no, I know, I'm not encouraging butt-whoopings across America. I am just suggesting that Spot is untrained and unruly...and far too large and in charge. Time to get a hold of it all again, because the answer is to everything and anything! But more specifically, no to the idea that the teacher should be looking for that missing piece of homework that Spot says he can't matter how cute Spot is. It's not good for him---he's old enough to think for himself, and by others thinking for him, he begins to believe that he can't. So, Spot...are you listening? REPEAT after me, "YES I CAN!" And if you don't believe me, just ask President Obama! You are really cute, really. But now, we're going to teach you to be RESPONSIBLE too. When I'm an old lady, I want to know that all the Spots in this world CAN take care of themselves. That, after all, is the nature of the job. (Oh, and by the way...Spot has two girl named I-did-part-of-it, and the other Oops-left-it-home again. This is definitely an equal gender environment.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Beware of the Dog

Today is day one...of my other blog! In this spot, you will find spotted dogs, spotted kids, teaching spots, assorted dots and all manner of spottings from the world of my classroom and that which surrounds it...which is just about everything. For those of you who teach, you know exactly what I mean. All roads lead back to that living room that we settle into in late August and then don't leave again until mid-June! Everywhere you go, everything you do is wrapped around that schedule and the plans that live inside your brain! (Even potty breaks, for crying out loud! Okay, no more crying out loud, I promise!) 
First of all, I am not a jaded teacher, I still LOVE what I do. Honestly, if they let us come and go, and we could teach classes of 12 to 14, I'd stay forever! Can you imagine that? God. Well that's not what they're serving up in my home district, that's for sure. Lay-offs. That's what they're talking about, plain and simple. If I were a new teacher, which I'm not, I would not get myself crazed with that, though. I'd lay low, make a mark for yourself, which means making yourself indispensable in many ways. Just love what you do...savor every minute, even if your administrators don't see it, your kids and parents will. And that brings me to rule number one:
You gotta love it! Despite all the public commentary about summers off, great salaries (oh, that's a good one) and the rest of it. You know you gotta love the kids, and then you'll be able to do it for a lifetime...and you'll have to!
I had a blast today...teaching African Folktales to my sixth graders. After Christmas, I told them I was giving them back their toys---all their favorite picture books from their baby  years. We read a few, and then they brought in their own as well. We studied how they were built and what we know about story construction. We then studied "Where Stories Come From," a Zulu story straight off the internet. We compared the structure...(named it a 'stepping stone story' like Wiz. of Oz) and long story short, we studied many more too. We're now up to Circle, Stepping Stone, Trickster and Pour quoi. We listed as many questions for the universe as we could and I wrote a pour quoi story using a recipe we'd created. I gave kids a half hour to pick their favorite question and create an impromptu story to perform on Monday. They had a blast!
The room was full of movement, enthusiasm and life! What teacher could ask for more? Now, on Monday, we'll videotape the results. And the Oscar goes to...who cares! Kids will work on their own next week to write and publish on their own following a little more specific instruction. TGIF to all my weary friends...only the freedom of Saturday could be better!