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 grade...so 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, Spot...no 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 enough...it'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!" So...today, 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 foremost...it 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 reading...like 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 life...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 thinking...so 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 days...talk 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 puppy...so 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, doggie...to 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.