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 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'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!