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!