Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Think Spot!

Okay, Spot, okay. I know I pushed my luck today. I asked you to think, and really? It's only Tuesday...two days after turkey overload. "Stop the action," I said. "Put me inside your brain." What was I thinking, honestly?

I looked up from the piece of writing I was crafting in front of you and all the other pooches...and that's when the smiles and the smirks began. Inside your heads, you were thinking...lunch, definitely, lunch or recess, definitely, recess. You were chasing a squirrel or sniffing around a bush in the park. I knew that, Spot. After all, I'm not that old a dog myself. I get it.

It was writer's workshop time, and we were and still are embarking on a whole new journey. You see, Spot. Teaching is not just about tests. My job is to get you to make your thoughts and feelings known and expressed clearly on the page. So...when everyone loosened up a bit, I could hear the laughter erupt around me. The conversations about what you were all thinking broke out and that's when the fun began. I caught myself...I was being the 'sage on the stage' talking too much and forgetting to engage all of you.

The lesson; crafting a meaningful 'thought shot,' slowing down the action within a story to live inside the character's mind. Lemony Snicket, EB White, and JK Rowling were our guests today, and what a great job they did! You see, Spot, there's no greater teacher than those kind of experts. I can talk and talk until, as my dad would say, I'm blue in the face (oy, that's an awful thought!). But the truth is, kids love to dig into great literature. They can find those thought-shots, watch the true writing unfold and talk to each other to discover what to put on their own page.

So, now, after a very long day in the trenches, Spot...I'm thinking. Some folks call it metacognition, when a person thinks about and evaluates their own thoughts. But...I'm thinking about your thinking, so I'm not at all sure what you call that! I'm after elaboration...in small vignettes, in the exposing of the moment and in the snap shot too. I have a range of doggies this year, who seem to fall in the 'somewhat developed range' with either inadequate or minimally adequate details. My challenge is to get you over the fence, to think as you write, and to express all the smallest details.

So Spot? No more chasing rainbows...I want you to grab that squirrel by the tail! Specifics, that's the difference in your work.

Here's a bit of JK Rowling's specifics for you:

Harry looked around. One thing was certain: Of all the teachers' offices Harry had visited so far this year, Dumbledore's was by far the most interesting. If he hadn't been scared otu of his wits that he was about to be thrown out of school, he would have been very please to chance to look around it.
It was a large and beautiful circular room, full of funny little noises. A number of curious silver instruments stood on spindle-legged tables, whirring and emitting little puffs of smoke. The walls were covered with portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses, all of whom were snoozing in their frames.
There was also an enormous, claw-footed desk, and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby, tattered wizard's hat--the Sorting Hat.
--JK Rowling, THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, ch. 12

JK did for me what I could not do for myself: she showed, firsthand, how to put a few thoughts on the page, create a mood and then show me what Harry was walking into. She had us eating out of the palm of her hand, Spot! We could see, feel and think right inside Harry's brain. And, best of all, she got us to the sorting hat...which, of course, is where she wanted us all along!

So tomorrow, Spot, we'll think it, show it, and make it real for the reader, because that, in a nutshell, is what good writing is all about. Find that in all your reading, and believe me, Spot, you won't chase the squirrel, you'll be chasing those words on the page!

Good dog, Spot. You're dismissed for today!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

At Long Last, A Shift in Teacher Training!

The Rookies are coming! The Rookies are coming! Well, not so fast, Spot. You're still stuck with little old me.

Ever since I got out of school, lo those many years ago, I've often thought about how very different teachers in our country should be trained. We all adapt once we're on the job. We hide under our proverbial rocks and pray no one opens our classroom doors.

But today, Spot? I was listening to Marketplace and Kai Ryssdal was reporting on the miserable state of affairs in Louisianna schools today. But then, there was that little ray of hope I always listen for. University of Louisianna at Monroe has completely revamped its teacher training program. Now honestly, it's an idea whose time has finally come.

'In my day,' we sat in stuffy classrooms, doodling and taking notes, doing anything we could do to stay awake. I didn't really take my first 'methods' class until my junior year! I remember that mostly, because I just couldn't wait. My sophomore year, I was required to observe in a classroom, and man did I lap that up! But then I waited all the way until my senior year to find myself in front of kids again.

And the sad news, Spot? Is the same system is still in place. Recently, I had a college student come in and observe in my room. She took her notes, tracked a single student and sat down and chatted with me. But that was it, Spot. And we won't see her again until her senior year. Imagine if our medical professionals, sales professionals, culinary students or trade school students operated like that. The carpenter would be able to tell you everything she/he learned about the angle one must take in lowering the hammer, but they'd never hit the nail on the head.

My hope is that America finally wakes up, cleans up teacher training programs, and places apprentice teachers out in the field. First of all, our resources are shrinking and we really could use their able hands. But more importantly, our students' needs are greater than ever before. And no child should ever have to be the one training the teacher...it should always be the other way around!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Demystifying the Mystery

What is it about good writing that makes it so hard to define? I'm so sorry, Spot...I've had to pull in Calvin and Hobbs today...I know. Yick, right?! A cat in your SPOT. Today, I'm sending you off with a bone. You, my friend, are dismissed.

I'm talking now to all my teacher friends, to kids and their parents, to anyone, really, who is eager and willing to listen.

My school system, much to the chagrin (and understandably so) of the parents, has decided to take a half day to inservice its teachers in good teaching practices focused on good writing. The bottom line, of course, is the test scores, and everyone knows this is so. But to the outside communty at large, this is a huge sacrifice, and therefore there has been quite a bit of strife.
Our teachers are not remedial, they say. Why do they need all this extra time?

I'd like to set the record straight, to give an inside peek at what is really happening inside the walls while the kids are outside on the street.

Teaching is not innate, and just as with students, teaching practices repeated over time can become habitual. There is no 'eye-in-the-sky' even under the best administrative practices that can equally insure quality control. No teachers are created equal, nor should they be. No one would want that robotic teaching, the 'cookie-cutter' approach to learning. For that, we all know is deadly. But teachers have to come together to find common ground, common issues and understandings that we can all support through instruction.

So here we were, on a sunny day in October, eleven or so of us, all in classrooms, gathered together over our 'Tuning Protocols'. I had the good fortune to be sharing one of my 'cuspy-kid's' writing. I say that not to be demeaning, nor to create a stereotype about a student, it is simply a designation made about the level of writing that this student is able to achieve, which is marginal...but really just below marginal at best. This student has just missed goal on the CMTs, and left to his/her own device, it will always be that way.

Our task: 'How can we elevate this student's ability to improve in the area of writing in this piece?' I gave the group some background...nothing personal, gender neutral, about this students' overall performance. Where he/she started on the writing continuum, and the goals and objectives that I am working on right now in class. Then the team set to work dissecting the piece and looking at that which we hoped to see improve.

The commentary was wide and diverse. Questions arose immediately related to the score I'd give this student for his/her writing if this were an assignment in class. I resisted. The facilitator returned to the question at hand and encouraged teachers to take notes and mark up the piece as we moved along. The same teacher who had raised the question about score, pressed again to inquire about grade, "What grade would you give this piece," he asked. His background is math, so the question did not surprise me. He deferred to his own education and how he, himself, would've been scored on the piece. His issue was missing capitals and periods. Another teacher asked about paragraphing.

When asked what the expectation was for a sixth grader, grammatically speaking, my colleagues and I were able to defer to the standards...yes, paragraphing and periods should be in place. Sentences, at least those in the simple variety, should be well-defined with a capital and period. But this student was stretching his/her simple sentence border, and expanding ideas within. We could then say that commas are the order of the day in sixth grade. Kids are learning how to combine sentences effectively, stretching into compound, complex sentences. This is their whole year's challenge at this grade. The piece was written in September, the very beginning of school.

And then we launched into another discussion about what we hoped to see in a piece of writing.
This was the best part of all. Around the table sat the physical education, art, band, math, science, social studies and language art teachers. We all looked at the ideas this student had tried to put forth in this piece. He'd stretched to identify the person that most inspired him, but his reach was not really developed at all. We talked about what we would've liked to have seen, as he put his dad up there on the page. Many of the students identify their parents as inspirational, but they don't have the meat...the specifics to put a fluent piece together at all.
At the end of our two hour session, we all came to the same conclusion. This student's need was really in the area of idea generation. We could see how a mutual effort to talk to this student, to engage him in discussion as a regular practice prior to getting him to the page, we might be able to help him to practice the steps to good writing: verbal rehearsal leads to pay dirt, we concluded. So...in this short session, we hit pay dirt too. We could see the many students who are not unlike this one, who just need that steady boost to get a few clear ideas on the page.

And as far as the bottom line goes? The truth is, the bottom line is not the test or the score that matter at all. Students need to express their ideas clearly with great fluency, but Rome wasn't built in a day. The math teacher was coaxed into the simple understanding that you can't look under the hood until you've assessed the collateral effect of the piece as a hole. The band teacher left there with a plan to implement writing within his own discipline. The language arts teacher left with an opportunity to collaborate with the band teacher on that piece of writing. And the art teacher had a plan too. Last to leave were the two math teachers who also happen to teach reading as well. They were discussing writing and rubrics in reading and how that could translate to math. Teachers focused on writing is sure to bring baleful results.

What stands true in education today is that it is fluid, not static as it has been for so many years. Many teachers leave their college training programs with a bit of philosophy, a few methods courses and a student teaching experience. The great teachers evolve and evolve some more; they continue evolving and learning until the day they walk out the door. This two hour block that cost the district nothing was a bit of pay dirt for us all. Now, as I roll up my sleeves with my student, I have that deep knowledge that I am not the only one cheering him/her on!
So even though I know this is a sacrifice for the parent community, it is a breath of fresh air that informs instruction and opens the learning to a wider, grander stage. It takes a village to educate a child well in today's world, and educators must be fluid in their methods and their understandings of it all!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Out to Sea

Now Spot, I don't want you getting any ideas or anything, but imagine what it would be like to just take off one day in a little white boat and head out to places unknown. What if the pure purpose was to plan and execute your own education, to travel somewhere else to learn. Imagine how inspired you'd be!

Well, Spot, after seven years, a teacher has that opportunity, or they did at one time, anyway. They could actually take off for half a year or even a full year and still maintain their salary. Good for the kids, great for the teacher. Sabbatical-noun: an opportunity to gain new learning; to open the mind to a new way of thought.

In today's world of education, sabbatical is a phenomena that's been phased out, mostly because of cost. Paying for a substitute teacher while maintaining the regular teacher's salary is cost prohibitive, so therefore it doesn't exist. In its place, professional development became a way of bringing the best minds in education into a district or a single school building to bring to life research-based instruction ideas right to the staff on the frontline. In my current district, I've experienced the best of the best from Columbia's Teacher College Writing Project to H. Lynne Erickson's Concept-Based Instruction.

In the past two years, my colleagues and I have begun to follow the Dufour's approach to teaming with the Professional Learning Communities. PLCs are not a new concept to me. Teachers focus on data, and purposeful goals, sharing their best teaching practices is something that works well for me. PLCs, done well, require time and conversation to really go deep into the work. The Dufour approach requires teachers to come together regularly in order to design a purposeful, united community that has the child's best interest at heart. It requires hours of trusted sharing and listening with a vested commitment to the learning outcomes of each child.

You know you belong in a PLC if:

1. You believe the fundamental purpose of your school or district is to ensure all students learn at high levels, and you are committed to become a lifelong learner to make this a reality.

2. You think collaborative teamwork and interdependence among teachers and administrators is a great way to continuously improve your school or district.

3. You are hungry for evidence that students are learning and are ready to respond immediately when timely feedback tells you otherwise.

The greater community is clamoring for results. They're pointing all their energies at putting our schools under the microscope. But often, Spot, public criticism mounts before an idea is understood. Right now, we have a wonderful opportunity...to dig deep, to use the cost-free talent of our professional educators, the ones that shine inside our ranks.

Right now, more than ever before, teachers need support and understanding in order to accomplish some pretty high level goals. We have an enormous initiative in place called RtI which requires us to identify, assess, frequently monitor and intervene to insure proper outcomes for students at risk. We all want to see that happen Spot, but we need those in the know to spread a positive word, to support our work and to restore public respect to the art of teaching.

So Spot, spread the word...the learning never ends for you or for me. And that my friend, is a very good thing! I can't take off in a boat, but I can knuckle down and refresh my practice just like others out there in the professional world. And that is a very good thing for you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Characters Wanted?

I don't think I said that, Spot...honest. But that is exactly what I've got. A group of absolutely kooky characters. The secretaries in any school are really the smartest dogs of all. The very first thing they said to me way back in August was you've sure got a bunch of characters this year!

And now, I'm six weeks in and everyone's true colors are clear. Today, for example, was one of my most favorite days: Retro Day! So, in strolls 'a certain young man' with hugely enormous hair. He's dressed in tie dye from head to toe and he's got his dark glasses on. I had to stifle a laugh, because I could've easily predicted he'd be the one. You see, Spot, this doggie never, ever has anything he's supposed to turn in. He tells his mama and papa he's way too stressed to do work. But today? He knows his assignment and he's gone right over the top.

At the end of the day, we had a fire drill, just fifteen minutes before the busses were supposed to be called. We herded the troops out to the field and the wind was really picking up. And that's when a little divine justice came into play...because a 'certain wig' took flight and flew right off his head! I love my characters this year, Spot. It's just taking time to get them on the right track.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On the Outside Looking In

Spot! Congrats on your very first day of school this year! One down and 182 to go, but who's counting? Certainly not me. I love my new doggies already this year.

On the way into school today, I saw the sweetest thing...and it really stuck with me all day. Two very young guys were cutting the lawn early this morning as I pulled into school. One, backed up his tractor and tipped his hat and waited for me to pull my car all the way in. The other, a kind of big guy, but also very young too, stopped what he was doing lifted his shades, smiled broadly and waved. And then his expression changed, and I could see a kind of sadness in his eyes. I am a storyteller, so it may have been my imagination or my teacher's intuition, but I think I knew what was going on here.

Both of these guys were recent high school grads, I think. I'm pretty certain it was the very first day that they weren't going to school. They may have even been two kids that hated school, were outside, hands-on learning types who were trapped for twelve years in school. Or maybe they were all of the above and yet somehow because of their very sweet teachers, they managed to have a fondness for school. Whatever the truth is, I'm sure I'll never know. But it made me think about all the kids that struggle in school, and how I can make it better for them here. When I left school today, I stopped and admired the beautifully manicured lawn.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's Time...Parent Portals and What's in Store this Year

Okay, Spot. I see you out there pressing your nose against the screen. I hear your mommies moaning too! I get it. It's time.
We've been in there sweating it out, crunching the numbers and analyzing all the data, so we can make it just right for you.

We've got some great things in store for you, Spot, but I have to admit, we may have some not-so-great things too. Today, we talked about parent portals. Oy vey, Spot. This could get rough.

A parent portal is kind of like a hole in a wall where the mommy and daddy doggies can take a little peek from time to time. I'd almost rather have a real hole in the wall, honestly. The parent portal allows the parents to monitor your progress, peeking in each and every time I put a grade in the book. They'll actually receive an email when the gradebook is updated. It's okay, Spot...we can handle that, and maybe, just maybe, it'll make you more accountable.

But today, Spot? We talked about the same parent portal for the Accelerated Reader program we've discussed before. AR is a great thing in many ways, because it helps kids see and monitor their own reading progress, watching it grow while earning points in the bank. This year, parents will see each and every AR point as they make their way into your account. They'll be able to monitor quiz scores too. Is this a good thing, Spot?

Well...to my thinking it could be, but it takes a pretty balanced parent not to get too hooked on all these numbers. We've got to be ever so careful in this. Don't worry too much, though Spot. I'm going to look your mama and papa in the eye at Open House. A little knowledge can be dangerous and a lot more can be disastrous. My job is to help them understand.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Hey Spot! I wandered over to Daniel Pink's blog and read the most amazing piece...and I got to gnawing on the idea he talked about there.

Netflix, you know that company, right? Movies by mail, anytime you want them. They have a new open leave policy for employee attendance it seems...vacation time: you need it/you take it! That's right! Can you imagine? I don't feel like going in tomorrow, I'm going to call it a 'zero day'!

I started applying that thinking to school. You see, Spot, all the mommies out there have been asking me, "Are you ready?" And then they smile. When I don't answer right away, they smile again. In other words, "It's your turn to take over those doggies again." I get it. You guys are getting a bit out of hand out there. But the true answer is I'm never ready...for summer to end. Who would be? Really. So, reluctantly I tell them..."I'm always ready." And then I smile.

In a way, that really is true. I love when we get back into the swing of things. I'm in my element there. But...leaving summer and the freedom it brings? Being constantly locked into a daily grind? Well, none of us are, not even the kids. But if we...like Netflix, had an open summer policy? I'd write the assignments on the board, promote cooperative doggie behavior, and quietly take my exit and go. In the immortal words of Snagglepuss, it'd be "Exit...stage left!" for me.

"Autonomy is not the opposite of accountability. It's the pathway to it." I like that, Spot. I'm thinking before long, I'll be able to teach in my jammies from my armchair. While you and all the puppies take over at school. So...go ahead, take all the recess you want. It's the trickle down theory you know! I'm thinking this 21st century learning is really a good thing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Don't Go There: How NOT to Buy School Supplies

Okay, Spot. Here we go! Out there in the public arena buying games for our classroom this fall. Eavesdropping, it's what I do. I was incognito, sunglasses and all. I hear this mom say, "I can't afford another thing! I just spent $140 on school supplies." (Then she asks the clerk where she got her cute tee shirt, because she LOVED that syle!)

Well, first of all, you know me, I'm screaming at her inside my head. Me-"Are you crazy?" Seriously, who does that? Now she did have two kids with her, so I'm assuming, hopefully, that she spent this on two kids. Even $70 per kid is ridiculous. She was implying that the fault was the school's, but I beg to differ!

Here's what parents should never do when shopping for school supplies: bring their kids if they are not prepared to say no! Otherwise, follow the list. Kids do not need the $15 binder or the neato-keeno (I know, I'm dating myself) glitzy pens and pencils. When I send my list out, I ask parents for a few spiral notebooks, pens and pencils and an eraser or two. They also need a cheap bundle of paper to keep at home for homework. Staples has those spiral notebooks as cheap as six for a dollar sometimes. And the only thing I really want that's pricey is the #2 pencils...you just can't beat Ticonderoga, honestly. So...when parents are implicating blame for the old school supply game, it can't be placed on me as the teacher. Just say NO is my best advice...and that is really the best thing to practice out there for parents these days anyway. You have the power! Keep it simple.

Okay, Spot, that's it for today. Just one other funny thing. That mom that had no more money? Rushed right over to Chico's to get that shirt. Obsessive shopping. I get it, I've lived it. And thank goodness, I don't choose to live like that way anymore. Saying no starts with old number one. Once mom can say no to herself, she'll learn to say no to her tribe. Back to summer! It really is bliss!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why So Glum, Chum?

Oh c'mon, Spot. I know it's been a long summer. I know you're tired of sitting around all day waiting for your dinner bowl to arrive. I get it. I'm tired of delivering those dinners here at home.

Here's some good news! I went into school today...yes, SCHOOL! Last week, I didn't want to hear that word, but today? Well, I almost skipped up the sidewalk. I, like you, love to see my friends. I knew we weren't going to get too serious. I mean, honestly, I'm still sporting my summer tan! The sounds of the ocean are still playing in my ears.

But...dog-gone-it, Spot! (No, I don't really know what that means!) We started talking about behavioral interventions. We talked about how to praise all the good doggy behavior and consequence the bad doggie behavior. Next thing you know, the conversation took a very different shift.

We started to talk about Responsive Classroom. RC is a model that builds positive interactions among students, immersing kids in conversations and fostering strong social skills. It takes huge amounts of time, but our elementary schools are up to that task. There are meetings and games and all sorts of great activities. BUT. We still need to have an umbrella system in place that covers it all...social/group acceptance with a system that clearly defines expectations too.

So, today, we nipped and snarled and agreed to disagree. We continued to have polite, but heartfelt conversations delineating what it is we really believe. And in the end? We grew closer as a team, because we all listened and kept what's right for kids (and doggies) in the center of it all. We rolled up our sleeves and lined up our beginning of the year launch.

And you know what, Spot. You are one lucky puppy, because teachers care very deeply about what they do. We're going to keep you protected and help you get started in the friend department next year. So, don't look so glum! We're in there fighting over you, boy! And in a few short days, you'll be right there at our side!

A few homework suggestions (if you must!): Climb a tree, chase a squirrel and take a long nap in the sun.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Call of the Wild!

Oh, I do love the wonderful freedom of summer, Spot! No alarm clock, no schedule to think about, I have no plans for the days...just doing my own thing.

The other day I wandered into Target to pick up a few things for my home. I came across a guy wearing a Derek Jeter tee shirt named Jimmy. Jimmy was walking and whining, and walking and whining. And for some reason, he seemed to be everywhere in the store that I was. Jeesh. The whining soon became crying, and then I heard his mama say, "That's enough, Jimmy. Your daddy would be so ashamed of you." Well, that had only one effect...escalated the behavior. You see, Spot? Mom was already feeding into it. Jimmy didn't care about his dad's shame. His dad was nowhere in sight. He just wanted to get his mother's attention. Now he had her. He was bawling, walking along following her, on occasion hitting her too, and moaning at the top of his lungs. Apparently, he wanted some ball that he'd found as they moved around in the store.

Next, I hear her say, "Look, Jimmy...forget the ball, how 'bout some Woody sheets for the bed?"
Way to go, Mom. Bargaining. Bargaining is the worst strategy of all. Because now? He has an opportunity to make a decision...so, of course, he's holding the power. I moved out of the sheets and towels and tried to get on with my shopping. Over in the seasonal aisle, I can hear Jimmy screaming at his mother, "Don't you dare put another thing in that cart! If I can't have my ball, you can't have anything either!" I'm starting to scream now too...but of course, only inside my head. Mom's response, "I have the money, so I can have whatever I want. I'm the mommy you know."

Jeesh. The MOMMY. I wanted to ask Jimmy what he thought Derek Jeter might think about his behavior. But most of all, I wanted to tell the MOMMY to just have the guts to take a stand. She had no stratagies for dealing with Jimmy and really no clue about parenting at all.

Seeing kids who would be otherwise under control in the classroom out living in the wild is a scary thing sometimes, Spot. I remember having a wild child or two of my own. But taming that wild child will make him a whole lot happier. What happened to the simple approach, "The answer is NO." Followed by a systematic ignoring of behavior that is not only inappropriate, but harmful to Jimmy's future well-being. Jimmy's a walking bag of misery and a future work in progress for that poor teacher who will be responsible for him in the fall.

Boy did I love walking away though, Spot, getting back to my shopping and remembering the best thing about my job. Yup...summer! If I could fill my cart with summer, I'd never need anything else at all! (Hope you're having fun too, Spot! You're such a good little dog!)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Where are you, Spot?

Hey, there, buddy! 183 days, countless moments immersed in conversation, lessons, one-on-one and small group conferencing, and sweet little moments of drama and crisis...and then--you're gone! And I may never see you again. Breaks my heart!

How do you get to be so close to a group of students...and then suddenly let them go?! It's a hard thing to reconcile, that's for sure. But it's the major benny of the job, from my point of view. Summers off? Well, that is a huge benefit. But...it's the deep bond that I've had with my kids that keeps the passion alive in me.

I hate saying good-bye. Last week, we all stood quietly waiting while the last announcement blurred over the loudspeaker. Then we noticed him...Jeeves, at the back of the room with the hiccups, green cap pulled down over his eyes to hide his tears. One kid called out his name, and then we all started crying! This was the very first time this happened to me. Kids get emotional every year, laughing and crying is a part of it all. But usually we burst out that door together, ready to leap toward summer and what that means to us all.

This year was so different. I was twirled around and passed from one kid to the next, feeling like a worn-out sock by the time they were done with me. And now? My kids, their faces and the memories still float around in my brain. Like a familiar song, I just can't shake them out of my head. I'm actually glad about that, though. I'm savoring before I let go. Looking over old pictures, journaling a little too.

Many people comment on how good we teachers have it. Summers off, killer benefits...and the huge salaries. Well, I couldn't agree with them more. I need the next seven weeks to restore my emotional gas tank, to savor the benefits of those old bonds and make room for the new ones that will surely follow...and the salaries? Well, I'm livin' large for 183 days! I have lots of promises for return visits from last year's students, and that will someday that might really pay off. So, yup...best job in the world, and overpaid all the way! Rock on, summer of 2010! Oh, how I've missed you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The PrinciPAL

Oh Spot! I know I've been away for far too long. I've been teaching! All right...well, sort of. Mostly, I've been trying to keep my eye on the blossoming boy-girl relationships that I'd like to pretend really don't exist at all. Can curricula and romance actually exist together in one brain?

Today's topic, Spot, is who's the boss? I know, in my classroom...I AM, mister, and don't you even think about challenging that! But I'm also responsible to my own boss, Spot. And believe me, I've had more than a few.

In real world? Teachers are often the kings and queens of their own domain. Sure we team, and talk, compare notes and data, etc. But...the bottom line is, I really am large and in charge, especially once the door is closed.

Last year, my dream principal retired. I was very sad about that. We danced into the wee hours at her party, spinning and twirling and everyone singing along. This year? Another dream principal friend of mine is retiring. Parents love her. She's a tough, full-spirited boss, who keeps her thumb on the pulse all the time. Some, love that. Others, especially those who felt the heat, did not appreciate that. I never really felt the heat. We did have a few 'testy' meetings behind closed doors in her office, though. (Yes, I did get called in for...well, a difference of opinion, now and then.)

I knew what she was up to. In our hearts, it was always about the kids. We battled over the true definition of the word 'instruction' and what really helps kids to learn. If she felt she was right (always!), she'd never let me off the hook at all. She was like that big hefty wrestler holding down the little guy on the mat. Sometimes, we'd actually agree to disagree.

I know I was a bit of a pain, Spot. As you know, I've always had more than a few opinons when it comes to teaching and kids. She always heard me out, though. And that, for sure, meant a lot.
I left my old principal and that sweet little school long ago. I found myself with a new bunch of older, more able student writers, and that is really what drew me away. But now? Time and distance has given me a greater vantage point. I realize how important that thumb on the pulse really was. Kids need to learn. We need to know that the goals we set are reasonable and well-managed. And I have to say, I learned that all with her.

So now that she's not my boss, she'll always be a well-respected friend. Teaching, like life, is a very human business. We spend our tenure working hard, thinking and breathing around kids, we can even agree to disagree, but in the end, it's the memories, the kids, and the valiant fight...to make little puppies like you into true citizens of this wonderful world...it's our legacy. And the legacy unites us all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Go Blue!

High Standards! Try that one on for size, Spot. You look beautiful with that big smile and that gorgeous blue ribbon dangling down the front of you. You're one brilliant doggie, Spot. I'm so proud of you!

Instead of blue ribbons, though, our schools have been bogged down in UNFUNDED MANDATES from the previous administration's No Child Left Behind debacle. (Download it, and tuck it under your pillow, you'll be asleep in ten seconds for sure!)
On top of that, we have the IDEA program, designed to maintain students in an environment that will best serve their special needs while promoting their learning without creating a label to do it. Careful testing and retesting, datakeeping and monitoring are required here in order to make this program work. In Connecticut, we call it SRBI or "serbie"...Scientific Research-based Intervention.

As an example, Spot? Today...I was off revamping a systematic schoolwide approach to handling student behavior. This in itself would be something our teachers could do on their own, given some good orderly direction and an initiative from our own in-district leadership. Instead, we're forced to employ the services of SERC, the State Education Resource Center, paying an enormous sum for 6 days this year, and then 6 more for the next two years, of inservicing in the area of behavior. Behavior! Substitute teachers=about $4,000, the cost of the inservicing...well, that is unknown to me. But. Every town in the state of CT must go through this process. And, every town in the state must pay for it themselves.

In light of all this, the previous Republican administration that touts the trouble of big-government has actually stuck their very big hand in our pot, and is now raking in the dough, squeezing it right out of our small home-grown school districts. When we go to the voting booth these days? Our citizenry is at each other's throats over the little nitty gritty pieces of class-sizes, gym teachers (Forget childhood obesity, Mrs. Obama...we know you're right, but that makes too much sense!), pencils, paper, paper clips, etc. The townspeople are looking at the schools as the big ugly elephant stuck in the middle of their towns.

But in reality? Our schools really would just love to work toward the positive...that little blue ribbon! Get rid of your programs, and let us get back to the business of working toward a standard that all children can and will achieve. Give us mucho bucks and incentives for winning that big blue sucker! And you know what? We'll rise to the occasion without all these ridiculously expensive initiatives that no one in their right mind would fund even IF they could. Just give the dog a bone, right Spot?! You knew it all along!

Spot: Tell everyone you know! Join us at NHS, 7 PM and wear blue! We're going for the blue in our hometown of Newtown. And...with or without the money, we'll just have to show them all!
What say ye, parents, friends and countrymen/women?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Future of our Democracy: Education!

Are you really spying on me, Spot? You have got to have more going on in your life than that. Really! It's vacation week.

I have been thinking about you too, though. And...I've been thinking a lot about the troubles in this world too. You see, I'm here in a place where people grumble a lot. And...they like to blame a lot on top of all that grumbling. I've heard it, sitting around the pool down here in this little vacation resort of mine.

Taxes? Well, the perception of these people down here, is that they have more taxation without representation. The truth? Have they looked at their tax bills? No. If they did, they'd see that the middle class is looking to make some gains for a change. The upper class...in the 250Ks are having a turn though. Guess that makes for grumbles.

A LOT of grumbling about the idea that not everybody needs to be pulled up by their bootstraps in our society. Hmmmm. Not everybody? Well, where do we draw the line? Good education will pull everyone up. Is that not a basic right of our society? And okay, healthcare. Do these people not know that they HAVE been paying for all the people that don't have insurance all along? These are the things that all the hidden costs are made of. The health insurance business is a very crafty machine.

Oh, Spot...I sit here and watch my Mets with great hope and worry too. But just like my Mets, the United States has a magic about it that always seems to find a way to rise above it all. The answer here is a large dose of EDUCATION to combat all this misinformation. I'll be racing home to you soon, Spot. I have a few more weeks to get you reading...and thinking and forging ahead. Your generation will change it all. But I hope I don't have to wait that long!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sharpening their Pencils!

Well, everyone, they're off to the races. It's all about who can outsharpen whom! Lots of people making lots of pointed remarks about kids and dollars, and all the ways they can be served if we just reign in that almighty dollar.

Meanwhile, back at the farm...I mean, school room, we have kids to educate. So, once again, they're getting ready to make cuts, and once again, I've allowed myself to get side-tracked. No one ever asks the teachers for their ideas, so why do I even allow myself to get so far off the beam and into that political arena. My town, it seems, has an endless array of boards with pockets hanging out all over the place. I just don't get why one side of the budget can take it all, and the schools can be left hanging. What, I ask you, brings in the best value for the property value in the long run? Well...it's certainly not the roads department. I give up.

Today, kids in the classroom were working on laptops, composing stories and collaborating to put them into power points to present them...just like the African gogo does. On the other side of the wall, kids were belting out Broadway, literally! They've made up songs to go along with their understanding of weather and how it affects our globe. Some of the funniest singing you'd ever want to hear, by the way. Gotta love that 12 year old boy falsetto. They didn't care! They were proud as punch of their new-found talents. So now? We'll have a little American Idol. Why not? Storytelling, songwriting, conceptual understanding...that is what education is all about. And that, my dear Spot...I can deliver--for a song!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Budget Chopping

Today, I'm leaving you right out of the conversation, Spot. I can't deal with little ears, when the big pitchers are throwing around such ill-aimed fast balls. And that is just what they are. FAST BALLS with no aim toward the future. Just the almighty dollar in mind. Efficiency without foresight is a bust. Can't they see that?

Last night, our town's BOE threw around an idea. Well, certainly they have that right, that's what we hope they'll do. Toss around, brainstorm, come up with solutions. The bottom line is always the number of teaching positions. But really? That is the quick route to final disaster.
Protecting the classroom should always be the bottom line. The spotlight should be shined on all non-academic line items right from the start.

Our young students now have the luxury of going from kindergarten to fourth grade without a disruption. Those of us that have taught those years know how critical they are for not only the learning curve, but the social groundwork that will lead to their future.

We live in a town that is 63 square miles, one of the largest in the state of CT. It takes an eternity to move from one side of town to the other. When my kids were little, it often took up to 35 minutes to get to some of their friends' houses. I always thought they chose their friends according to where they lived and how much they could torture me!

But now? I think about these new ideas and I think about the poor moms that have to deal with a split...perhaps having a first, third and fifth grader in three different schools. Has anyone considered the transitional preparations that will have to occur to help kids and families adjust to the new people and places they'll face? And what about the disruption to the flow of instruction that is sure to follow? When little ones are in one school, feel secure in that place...why not leave it and let them learn? If it ain't broke to begin with, do we really need to shatter it all at one time?

Well, I am one tax-paying voice, and haven't found much success in making my ideas known. After all, I'm just a teacher, what would I know? When you talk about your budget at home, I'm sure you don't invite your kids to the table. Imagine that conversation, "Sorry...we have to cut Johnny's extra snacks, and no birthday parties for Sally this weekend." Or better still..."Even though Sally is invited to Greta's birthday party, we're going to redistrict that and send Sally to the same party as Johnny. That way, we can cut that extra present out, and Sally and Johnny will bring just one gift to one friend instead." You'd never want Sally and Johnny to have their say in that.

So...I guess everything is just as it should be. I'll sit home, expect the worst, and anything better than that will just make my day!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hold on, Spot!

My patience is strained this week, Spot...but I know it's only because I, like you, need a well-deserved rest. We've been going at it since January 2nd or so, and we've all reached our breaking point, that's for sure. The birds and the bees are all full of buzz, and the classroom walls just can't contain the energy that's bubbling up inside. Tomorrow, the weatherman assures us an incredible, blue sky 85 degree day.

Spring fever? Well, you betcha! So, it looks like we're just gonna have to readjust our day. My lesson plan book is stuffed full of objectives and game plans to finish off the curriculum for the year. May and June are busy months in school, with field trips and performances, ppts, 504s, and everything else that could possibly disrupt our flow. But you know what, Spot? I have to remember who you are...and what you are able to do, and if I can teach it to you while I toss a frisbee at your face, I just might be willing to make that work! After all, it really is all about you, Spot...and when the outside world comes calling, we'll have to be certain to answer that call.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Take 'Em by the Hand

Well Spot, I had a strange opportunity to sit in on a conference for a student that I am only partially attached to academically speaking. I found myself thanking my lucky stars for my own upbringing, and for the fortitude I was given in order to stay the course in raising my own kids. (The situation and the student will obviously remain unnamed and somewhat changed in order to protect those involved, but truly this type of conversation comes up often...work vs. active parenting. What's the choice?)

After an hour of talking around the problems, I really wanted to cut to the chase. Instead I kept myself as quiet as I could, offering my opinions in a more limited way. Boy! That sure was hard for me! So, dear reader...here's the skinny on what was going on inside this head:

1. Raising kids IS hard! Those long nights awake, the diaper rash and the chronic teething are only the rehearsals for what gets even harder later on.
2. Yes...kids need someone to tell them they're wrong once in a while, so they can learn to fix it and make things right.
3. Kids need consequences to match actions/inaction.
4. Kids need forgiveness and a chance to grow into their adult shoes.
4. KIDS NEED LOVE AND ATTENTION, and not just when they're little.

Fourteen hour work days preclude the in-the-moment possibility of parenting. And an occasional Sunday afternoon really doesn't get the job done. In truth, the next time you look, that little boy/girl will be towering over you and waving good-bye. But! Kids are always willing to take us back in, even when we've gone down the wrong path for a very long time.

What I really want to tell them is to just go see The Blind Side. What a great movie! I had my doubts, but then I realized with great satisfaction that I had been empowered to parent because I was parented in a powerful way. The Blindside teaches a valuable lesson. Parents need to be present, tough and caring. They need to see their kids all the way through. No child should ever be the extension of a parent's dream. Kids are entitled to dreams of their own. But most important of all, parenting is never something that can be perfected. Parents are human and kids are too. (Parenting is the one job on earth where humility becomes a way of life!) In the end, it is true...love does conquer all!

What lessons have you learned in your adventures with children?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy St. Paddy's Day to the Perfect Pooch

Spot, you are a mighty festive fellow! I know you can't wait for all the treats and goodies, the wonder of the day. It's St. Patrick's Day, a chance to sport your green (it's mandatory...don't mess with me on this one) and have a few good laughs along the way.

You see, Spot. My job is to educate you, and the district expects me to inspire you as well. To me? There's nothing more inspirational than a few good laughs, a little adventure, and a story or two along the way!

We've been studying African folktales...and you might wonder, Spot, how I'm gonna make that leap. But you see, Spot? Story is never really a leap at all! We are much more global than we think. Take for example, Anansi. Who can't love that little guy? He's often described as a rogue, a clever trickster and a thief. Anansi has moved from Africa to the Carribean Islands, and then right here to America as well. When the first African Americans set foot on our soil, we know they were stripped of their culture and their roots as well. Those roots ran deep, though...and story continued to grow. Anansi, the trickster and Brer Rabbit are practically kissing cousins.

So...when it comes to that tricky leprechaun, we needn't look far! The leprechaun was simply a two foot man, dressed like a cobbler. His attire, the hat, the leather apron and the buckled shoes come from his roots as a peasant in the hills of Ireland. And just like Anansi, you'd best not take your eye off him, Spot! He's a tricky little fellow. He'll make off with the gold before you can say...Irish soda bread!

Tomorrow, Spot? Come in with your brogue and your imagination too. We'll be speaking and writing the language of the fairies...and feeling a little magical too! (Now that my friend, is what inspiration is all about...a little laughter, a lot of fun and a few sparks flyin' in the air!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Seeing is Believing

Spot...here's one that'll make you laugh. Ralphie again. I know, he looks a little different when he's sitting up, all poofed and pampered. Well, Ralphie came in all wide awake and raring to go this Monday morning. I almost fainted! In fact, I took him over to Mr. N and introduced him as the new student! Here's why:

A) I think he grew six inches over the weekend (and now the sweatpants are 12 inches too short).
B) He was wide awake...I mean--first time ever (before 10:00) this year!
C) He was proud as punch in his brand new glasses, greeted me immediately...of course, fishing for the compliment, which I gladly lathered on.

All during the mastery tests, he was adjusting them and then looking my way and smiling! He couldn't get over himself!

Then today? Well...no glasses and back to his old sleepy-eyed self. Head down on desk, dejected again. "What's up, Ralphie," I asked. "Where are your glasses?" He shrugs his shoulders (hands in the sweatpants pockets, as usual), and says, "I don't know." Since he's totally chagrinned, I leave him to himself to regroup.

But! Today's READING Comprehension II...if ever there was a day to have the glasses (that I've been begging for since the beginning of the year), today was the day! I can't help but watch him with his head about an inch from the table reading each of the passages. Later on, after the tests are away, and the funk has lifted, he tells me he thinks they're at his grandmas house, but he's really not sure at all.

So Spot...hats off to tomorrow. We'll have to wait and see what it brings! Don't you forget your calculator, Spot...it's a "yes-yes" day! (Yes-calculator, and yes-rulers)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Annual Yearly Progress?

SPOT! We've got an EMERGENCY! Call the office, and tell them there's a BREACH! We've got a D-A-O in Room 229. What? A down and out!

Ralphie came in today in his rather short little sweat pants, his Monday uniform, and his usual Monday mug on too. His eyes weren't even at half mast. They were completely closed! I think his mom must've opened the car door, pulled him out and pointed him in our direction.

We had to force him to his locker to find two number two pencils and an independent reading book too. When he came back, he didn't have that book, but he did have a plan. Ralphie was going to sleep for as long as he could get away with it. And today? Well, sorry there little fella...we are legally responsible to measure your annual yearly progress today! If you've got a pulse, you're here to be tested.

We started with jumping jacks, then we did a few twirls, shoulder rolls and squats. We soon found out that Ralphie can do all of that and more with his eyes closed. I was getting worried, Spot. But then? I put a booklet in front of him, and he picked up his old number two...and by golly, that boy was reading and bubbling and really, really serious about it. You see Robbie has a nose for that test! He knows his annual yearly progress. Later on, he put his head back down and dozed off again. But I didn't mind that at all. Mondays may not be Ralphie days. But when it comes to the CMTs, that boy can sure get it done!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

High Stakes Testing-Off to the Races

And they're off! Our district has a mission...we'll be third in our DRG, a comparable sampling of districts rated according to socioeconomic factors.
Lordy, what a goal. Sorry, Spot. I don't mean to be disrespectful, really.
And as always, I am one faithful teacher. I'll do everything I can to get you over the bar.

But testing is just so...ummm, uncreative! There, it's out! Yesterday, I wrote all about how we're getting charged up and disguising any disdain at all, to really get you guys that last teaspoonful of knowledge that you'll need to do well on these tests. The truth? In a real society, we'd be looking at all the kids across our borders to insure their success. I don't mean to go all moral or anything, but what about those kids in our city schools that'll be happy to have a warm meal and two parents at home? If we're going to lift ourselves up as a society will we EVER start to make a difference there?

You guys have it made, Spot! You've got the gold without even putting your names on the page. Just like I told you after we finished the practice tests this morning..."It's a no-sweatsky!" And me? Well, weren't you just so proud of me for getting all those sticky CMT labels on straight?
Here's the good news, buddy...no homework for you for at least two weeks! I'm not kidding. Homework...1) Never before vacation. 2) Never during CMTs, 3) Never when the Mets/Jets win a big game! So, Spot? You can now sit back and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

March Madness-The Writing Prompt Demystified!

I see that look on your face, Spot! Cranky dog, go away! You think I like these CMTs? My version of the CMTs would happen in one day...in fact, one morning would be just fine. But...the writing prompt? Now that's a whole 'nother story as they say. The CMTs are our Olympic challenge, and when it comes to writing, we're headed straight for the gold!

For the past two weeks, we've been in Spring Training..."Suit up, show up, and get 'er done!" Well, not so fast. Teachers out there? Listen up! Writing? I've got a whole new gig. My friend, Sara, has a boot camp. She wears Army fatigues and the whole nine yards. So...me being me, I have to spin it my own way. We have our own version of spring training...which happens (thanks Universe!) right at the same time the pitchers and catchers are taking the mound.

We begin every session with a little calisthenics, jumping jacks, pencil lifts, and even butt lifts too (not as bad as it sounds, honest!)...which go right into crab walks. You have to have a PLAN to get yourself back to your seat, and that for sure is true of writing too! Kids have to be ready to plan, execute and then work that writing muscle, pushing themselves to show off their stamina. And most importantly of all, they have to stay loose! Laughter is the best medicine in this case. You can't take it all so seriously, for crying out loud.

Getting Organized: It's All About the Plan!

I've shown the kids four different plans and they know them well in this short period. The "dog-nut," which is nothing more than a drawing of a doughnut, with three lines dividing it. The "block-head," is a blocked out version of the same thing, an outline, which sets up three ideas and finally the all purpose web. Kids have to be careful to manage that one well, so it doesn't get too leggy and out of hand. Webbed essays can sometimes turn out to be listy and have little or no fluent idea development at all.

What do you do when you're stuck? Being stuck is not allowed in this sport! Honestly, I tell kids to start with the list in that case. Settle on two or three words in the prompt that set up the main idea and play the suggestion game...ie.: "When I think of 'heroes,' I think of..." Write down every idea that comes to your mind, and as soon as you've got three strong ones, roll right into one of the four G.O.s (graphic organizers) listed above.

One other thing...I showed them my secret recipe today! (Don't tell!) When coming up with ideas? Well...topic 1) Define it and make it personal. "A hero is someone who...My dad fits that definition to a tee...(What do I personally know and can teach about this/connect. 2) Just the facts! Factual information. What can I teach within this topic? 3) Anecdote with a quote. Tell a small story/memoirish and include a quote. Dad says, "A bad day fishing is always better than any day spent at work."

More tomorrow: Writing Down the Details--the Almight Specifics!

My kids this year have a problem writing down the very clear specifics that must be peppered throughout their paragraphs in order to do well. And really, they have to have specifics in everything they write, otherwise none of us will really get too attached to their writing. A twenty-first century student will have writing in everything they do! They MUST be good at communicating their thoughts and ideas. Stay tuned for more tomorrow...the nitty gritty details are really where it's at. Not just any old piece of chocolate, it's the FROZEN MILKYWAYS that matter!

Suggestions, ideas...survival techniques? Teachers...we've got to stick together! Be sure to pass them on! And Spot? Okay...you can get up and move that butt! No crankin'! Move it!! We've got AYP to demonstrate here! If my salary ever gets tied to this, I may have to get out the wet noodle too! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Big Guy in Town

I get it, Spot, I really do. Sometimes you just want to feel like the big guy on the block. You wanna muscle your way, in and let everybody know that you are large and in charge. You are one smart doggie, and you always will be. But...what you need is confidence. And so, believe it or not, does your friend, Ruiz the Rebel.

The other day, Ruiz came to visit me. He wanted to read a book that our librarian would call out of his zone. Listen up now, Spot. A lot of people get this confused and it's important for you to get into your zone! When kids read in their reading groups with teachers teaching, and stopping and discussing...that is called the INSTRUCTIONAL zone. Those books are usually, but not always, a little more of a stretch. Kind of like going out after dark...you always need an adult for that, right? The INDEPENDENT zone is a whole different story. You can read to your heart's content with no adult in sight. You can take the AR quiz, and you'll probably get a 90 or 100.

Well, your buddy, Ruiz is a rebel. He knows the zones, he knows his level...but he's a sneaky one! He comes to me every day to beef up his skills in our smaller reading class that's just the right fit for him. He's smart as can be, don't get me wrong...but he's just a bit under where he needs to be...because he's a rule-breaker. Can you believe it? Who would break the rules in school, anyway? When Ruiz takes a test, whether it's the small, in class types, or the mighty CMTs, he almost refuses to follow the recipe for success. So...he's deemed, 'cuspy.' Just on the cusp of doing great things.

Last week, once again, Ruiz had a book that was way out of his zone. He wanted it anyway. We stood out by the trophy case in the hallway, and he begged and pleaded...and I had to hold the line. Killed me, Spot. Who really wants to deny a kid a book? When I asked him why he was so set on that book, he couldn't tell me. He just wanted it. So...I told him, I'm gonna hold onto it for him. And I am. I also told him...for real, how smart he is. I gave him examples of how I see it in class, and how other teachers see it in the things he says and does. But I told him he needs to grow into this book, just like I sometimes have to do myself. If I don't read every day, my reading speed dips and I have to reorient myself in a book. He looked at me like I had six eyes. "Really?" he said. "Yup," I said. Even teachers have to practice what they preach.

Spot...Ruiz just wants to be the big guy on the block. He wants to feel like he's in control, and not the other way around. So, I made a pinky-swear pact with him right there in the hallway. If he reads every day in learning lab and for homework each night...and if he gets his 90's in three right-sized books, I'll read his coveted book with him...not coach him, but maybe talk about it a little bit. Ruiz walked away a happy puppy, Spot. He wrestled back a little control, but more importantly, he came to know we all know just how smart he really is. And we've known it all along!

*More on the pros and cons of Accelerated Reader in the weeks to come. Teachers, what do you think...AR? Worthwhile, or not? Opinions, as always, welcome here or on FB.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Redefining the Mission/Why I Love to Teach

Well, Spot, here we go again. It's budget season, and the budgeteers have come again this year, scissors in hand. They want to cut the fat out of the school budget. When teachers get cut...they're making their incision right into the bone. Ouch! Sorry, Spot, but it's true. Then there's talk of "moth-balling" a school! I think about all the places in the world where they're just dying to build schools, and my hometown has one person who pops up with the brilliant idea that saving money is more important than the children and the educational programs that inhabit that school. I hope this idea doesn't catch on, shortsightedness, like mothballs, costs money too.

So, instead of going on and on, and getting all fired up on that topic, I've decided to shake off the budget blues and get back to basics, to redefine the mission in five short lessons. Two years ago, I went away to Charleston to become a certified trainer for a wonderful program called Time to Teach, a part of the Center for Teacher Effectiveness. I loved it, Spot. And ever since then...I haven't done one thing to market myself to be a trainer...mostly because I can't seem to get myself out from under to do it. But...I live the ideals of the program, and it works inside my classroom. I never have a day where the kids really get to me. They need time to learn and I need time to teach. We're in the groove.

Time to Teach makes the "Oldie, but Goodie Teacher" as well as the "Wet-Behind-the-Ears Teacher" do the same darn thing. Identify their ideals. The first question on the table is: why did you come into this profession anyway? You see, Spot, teaching is all about pacing and planning. You need to have the time to clear your brain and see the forest instead of those squirrelly trees in front of you.

Why did I come into teaching? I absolutely LOVE working with kids. It suits my personality, because I am still a kid at heart. AND...despite the fact that I did love my teachers all those long years ago, I was never a good fit for that model. I'm a right-brained creative type...linguistic. Hah! Love that part...because you and I both know, I sure can talk. But now? I'd rather just put my words on the page, and let the kids talk. I live for their stories. Time to Teach made me think...if I really love kids, then what the heck am I doing at the pulpit--I was redoing what was done to me, which distanced me from my kids. Next time, Spot, I'll tell you a little story about Ruiz the Rebel and the great conversation we had the other day. I'll also talk about my ideal school.

But for now, I'd like to hear from my teacher friends out there...either on Facebook, or on Teach Spot--why did you come into the field of teaching? And...why do you stay?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Bennies of the Job

Spot! You'll never guess who I saw tonight! Well...I went to Tambascio's, one of my favorite restaurants in town. Mr. L told me there's no cooking on my birthday. (Well inside my head, I was saying something very fresh like, no kidding. BUT! I practice what I preach. I was polite...and grateful!)

When we were in homeroom today, Eager Al was sharing about how he was planning on going to Tambascio's. So...when Mr. L wanted to go there? I thought it would be kind of fun. Eager Al, you remember him...smiles all the time, but gets that blank stare and kinda hyperventilates if you put him on the spot. Best kid in the world, though. As long as you don't ask him a thing!

Went into the restaurant...and didn't see him anywhere. I relaxed and ordered my dinner. No Spot...there are no left-overs for you! Jeesh. Well. That's when I spied Nohomework Harvey walking in the door. I gave him a little wave, but he didn't see me. I concentrated on what Mr. Lynch was saying, but I was also laughing inside my head at the funny conversation across the way. (More on that later.)

A moment later, Harv was standing at our table! And within seconds, Al was at his side! They were both smiling and standing there and the waiter was trying to get around them. And then, the owner was too. But! They...who never stop talking in the classroom, didn't know what to say to me in the outside world!! I felt like a rockstar. It was hysterical. We talked about what they were having for dinner, and what I was ordering, and then Mr. Lynched piped up with questions about the Super Bowl. After a few minutes, I told them I'd be sure to say good bye before I left.

At the table next to me, a very funny story was beginning to unfold. A table of four dinosauric types were seated there. From the moment they sat down, they were trying to outdo eachother. One was all proud of his sweater that had 1956 (1956!) knitted into it, and the other had a $10, green Dartmouth sweater (had a whole story to go with it...such a bargain!). Wife one had platinum hair implants and RED lipstick, but no lips, so it was...well, kind of messy. Wife two had a dyed reddish comb-over. Get the picture?

The waitress came to the table, and before she could even ask a question, the dinosaurs said, "We'll have separate checks!" I am not kidding you...they said it in complete unison! Then they ordered a carafe of wine, which that they wanted to split. The waitress reminded them that they wanted separate checks. They asked her how much it was, and then proceeded to tell her how she could divvy it up on the bill. The dinositas then ordered the clams casino appetizer... and yes, they were splitting those too!! So, Spot? I'm bringing in the menu and that will be Monday's math lesson for Mr. N.

Life sure gets complicated sometimes, Spot. I'm just wondering if Eager Al and NoHomework Harv will be sitting together haggling over the menu in their Dartmouth sweaters someday! And we of the 21st century teaching model will be the ones responsible for straightening them out. Perhaps it's not the math, but the social graces we should be focusing on now. What do you think, Spot?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Going to the Mattresses

Okay, well I see her there, Spot. She's beautiful. And she just eeks of dignity. The turn of the head, the focus. Delilah the Dignified Dalmatian. Love her. I can see why you might be taken by her.
Here's the problem. There is no dignity in teaching anymore. Okay...okay, well, I know. I see you wagging your tail. Dignity is highly over-rated, right? Like not having to go out and beg the taxpayer to actually pay for the meat and potatoes (And I heartily consider music and art an essential part of the main course!) as opposed to the a la carte items at school?

It's budget time again...and I know you know that, because this year, for the first time in all my teaching years (no, I'm not telling you how many!), students know about it. They're talking about it, in fact they've even spoken to the principal about it. What?! Do they not have parent/spokespeople/advocates?

And now, we're asked to jump into the ring. It's drama all over again. I know the times are hard. I do get that. I have friends and family whose jobs are tenuously tipping in the wrong direction. But I've also seen a few get jobs recently, and that gives me a little hope. But the thing that is bugging me at this very moment is the distraction of it all. I would just like to teach...and count on the fact that others have the best academic interests of our kids at heart.

There's talk of two PE teachers being cut, a music teacher, an art teacher and my dear friend, the librarian's assistant losing her job. Well, let me tell you a little pinky swear secret story about her, Spot. She's really a living, breathing librarian herself...but on the cheap! The taxpayers got her for a steal, and they don't even know or care.

Today, I went into the library with Rhonda the Resistant (reader, that is). It was my lunchtime, but I was determined to get this kid into a just-right book. So...I catch the eye of my friend, aka Librarian-on-the-Cheap, and she and I double team that Rhonda. After looking at rounds and rounds of books and giving her all kinds of suggestions, Rhonda finally found a book to take home on this snowy, early dismissal day. So tonight? Rhonda is doing the one thing that will really add up to success in her life...she's home reading her just-right book. And my good friend's probably sitting at home too. But you know what, Spot? If someone that valuable loses her job? Everybody loses.

There is no dignity and it's not pretty when a teacher goes "to the mattresses" for the things that matter most in schools. But times have changed, and I guess that image of dignity has got to go along with it all. I will go to the mattress if I have to here. So watch out, Spot. And say hi to Delilah for me. And don't forget to behave. Beware: I may not have my dignity, but I still do have those eyes in the back of my head! ;)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Call for Heroes--A Note to All Teachers!

Isn't he the best? I'm referring to this cute little beast to the left, of course. So sweet, so proud. Well, there are many, many heroes in this world, Spot. And most of the time? We hear about the horrors instead. The news media loves to feast on the foibles of mankind.

But right now in the small island nation of Haiti, people are scurrying to help people to reclaim even the smallest bit of comfort in light of the awful earthquake there. I heard a story about a little girl, Spot...her name was Daphne. Daphne had broken her arm and all eleven members of her family are now dead. This very kind man whose family was all found safe went to stay with Daphne, to sit with her and to give her a moment of comfort.

The reason I bring this up, Spot, is because my friend John Farell...you know him, right? He came to school today to sing and tell stories about all the wonderful people on our planet. John makes music all over the world. And he's headed up the Bridges of Peace and Hope non-profit organization that our class is a part of. Right now, BOPH is looking for people in our world who are heroes. These are the sometimes 'unsung heroes', like Dr. Ann Hines, who spent 30 years in a small free clinic in Danbury. Dr. Hines is retired now...but she will remain a hero because she gave of herself without looking for money or the spotlight like so many people do.

A little note to the teacher friends out there: If you or your students have witnessed anyone that fits this category. Contact John at his Bridges of Peace and Hope website, or simply leave a comment below! The more heroes we can find, the merrier. We will then award just one this year...the prestigious Bridges of Peace and Hope Heroes Award. But hurrry! We need to know by February 15th!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Scoring for Dummies

I know you came to school looking for me on Friday, Spot. I really, really (well...fingers crossed a little bit here in truth) didn't want to be out of the classroom. I had one of those mandatory professional development days. My professional undevelopment must've been showing.

Seriously, us big doggies were re-learning the way we used to score all your writing about ten years ago...holistically. Then for a very dark, dark time...we went into the analytical rubric phase. If I showed you all those boxes we had to check off? You'd probably have to go to the nurse. I always left school with major headache on scoring days. At one point, we had to COUNT the number of actual details in a prompt. If you didn't scratch out 40-60 significant words or phrases, sorry Spot. (Above standard was 90!) You were not meeting standard. When I moved up to sixth grade and saw that, I almost turned and walked away.

What writer counts his or her details in a forty-five minute writing experience? Isn't the point of writing to communicate a few well-crafted ideas to a reader? Where and how could creativity enter the mind in this kind of brain-numbing activity. I took every opportunity I could to raise that issue. Fluent writing requires an undisturbed quiet mind. If my brain is screaming "details", "anecdotes/quotes", "golden bricks", or any of the other tricks of the teaching trade, I'm not writing and neither are you. I am a dog on a leash, getting tugged at every corner. Sorry for the analogy, Spot...but it might even be a shock collar.

Now I'm much happier. I think that we might just be walking away from the era of the tight-minded rubric. We'll look at idea development and execution. Which is really how all writing is viewed in this 21st century world. Less is more when it comes to critique. And in the end, Spot? If the rubric drives the teaching...it's all about simplifying, so teachers and kids can see it as a doable thing. I'll see you on Tuesday, Spot. Hooray for those three day weekends! Get out there and wag that tail!