Saturday, November 12, 2011

A thank you letter

Below is a typed version of a handwritten note I found tucked into a recent book I checked out from the library:

Dear Ms. G
Thanks for getting me this far I bet when I grow up I will be reading good and I will get in a good college too!

This letter is plainly printed and unsigned. I hope Ms. G and teachers everywhere know how much impact they can have on their students. I know too that many teachers have not ever received a note like this one, but that does not devalue your work.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Back to school?

So it is almost time for back to school around here. As I mentioned in my previous post, my employment status is still uncertain. I want to believe that I could be fine being at home another year but then there are things that tip me closer to insanity.

The flyer from the teaching supply store.
The emails with deals from the local office supply store
A commercial on the radio about back to school time
Fellow teacher friends setting up their classrooms

I guess this means that a part of me misses school. With the exception of the 2010 school year, school is what I have always done. Since I was 5 years old. It has a rhythm to it, a certain feeling that being at home does not. Being at home as its own feelings but those feelings are not quite the same as sticky feet on a freshly waxed floor ( oops), the look of a crisp new bulletin board, the anticipation of that first day, those bright and eager faces, new red folders labeled and stuffed.

Is it time to appreciate new rhythms and let go of the old? What are the rhythms and feelings of your life? How do you shed the rituals and routines acquired over a life time?

Monday, August 22, 2011


For the entire 2010-2011 school year, I have had the privilege and the pleasure of being home on maternity leave with my daughter. She just recently turned 1. She amazes, inspires, delights and challenges me each day. Being home with her is by far the most awesome thing that I have done to date. Despite the awesomeness I am still left with a sense of unbalance.

Despite the wonderfulness of it all, something feels amiss. To quell this uneasy feeling, I have convinced myself that I want to go back to work. I have also decided that I want to have a part time position. Its this second part that is proving to be more difficult than not. Apparently, there are very few part time positions in this area that I am qualified for and the competition is incredibly fierce.

I had to interviews last week that I thought went reasonably well. I anticipated hearing from at least one of the school districts at the beginning of this week. I have not heard anything yet. I am waiting, trying not to despair. Still school starts very soon. In fact , if I had my other position, I know that I would have spent the beginning of this week setting up the classroom and putting some plans together.

So in the event that I do not get either of these positions, I guess I need some job- related help. Did I come off too strong or not strong enough in the interview? Am I out of touch? Should I work to make an electronic portfolio? Is there a certain type of professional knowledge that I am lacking? Or I am okay, but other people are better, maybe more connected? Would my job search be so difficult if I wanted to work full time?

Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Really early early literacy

One of the first things I teach my young students each fall is about books. How to handle a book, that we hold it with two hands or on our laps, that we turn the page that is on the right side of the book towards the left side of the book. That pages are not actually for ripping or eating. My students are usually between 3 and almost 5 at the start of the school year. These are life skills that are necessary. Can you imagine a 5th grader trying to eat a book because no one ever told him not to do it?

Anyway, this fall is not that much different. On maternity leave, I spend a great deal of time reading picture books to my young daughter. At 4 months old, she is starting to reach to turn the pages. On the right side of the book. I know that part of it is developmental, I mean she is reaching for everything these days. But, she does consistently reach for the pages on the right side and not those on the left side of the book. Can I say that she has totally mastered this skill? No not yet, but we are on the beginning of developing literacy skills and hopefully a life-long of books

My thoughts drift back to the classroom and the task of teaching 15 four year olds these skills. 4 years old and unsure of how to handle a book? That is really sad. Could they have learned basic book skills earlier? I suspect that the answer is yes but believe that there are few obstacles to overcome: 1) Insufficient access to books 2) Belief that since children cannot read, there is no point in reading to them 3) Lack of adults reading their own books and therefore serving as models. Would having access to books earlier in life set more children up for success later on?

In college, I worked for Jumpstart, whose mission to work towards the day when every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. I still believe in and support their mission. The great work they are doing takes place in daycares and preschools around the country that serve low-income students and their families. I wonder what can be done at these children's homes to promote literacy. Programs like ReadBoston work to increase access to books in a child's life, but does the information on the importance of daily reading make it to parents?

In the past, I have gathered resources from the community on early literacy to distribute during our fall open house and throughout the year as new students arrive. Of course, I am also working hard with the students in school, but could they have started earlier? What if everyone came to school knowing how to handle a book appropriately?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Difficult choices ahead

As many of you out there in the blog-o-sphere know, I am currently on maternity leave. I have not started a mommy blog. I am still getting to know my beautiful daughter. I am working on establishing a schedule. And yet, in the midst of all of this, I received a letter from my school district notifying me that my maternity leave will expire NEXT September. The difficult part is that they want my decision on whether or not I will be returning. They want this in writing by December 15! That is in two weeks. They claim that they need to know for planning and staffing purposes. How many school districts really start hiring in December or January? Not too many around here and certainly not my district.

Anyways, regardless of when school districts hire for the next school year, I am in need of composing this letter. Aside from a greeting, I am unsure of what to write because I am unsure of what I want to do. The options are extending the leave, quitting out right, returning full time, saying that I will return full time in hopes finding a part time position that won't be posted until the spring, transferring to a closer school... There are so many factors. I consider myself though to be a woman of my word. If I say I am coming back, I'd feel like a louse if I did not actually do it.

I have no way of knowing how I will feel in several months from now when the 2011 school year starts. While I am fortunate to be able to be with her at home for this school year, and I love it, I did originally look into job-sharing. Some of the benefits included working part time and maintaining my health insurance. Also being at home full-time all the time is hard and going to work for some of the week might break things up a bit. Anyway, job sharing did not work out and that is okay. When this past September rolled around and I was looking in the face of a beautiful 2 month old, I was glad that I wasn't distracted from that task by setting up a classroom and developing a relationship with the teacher sharing my job. Many of our administrators are against it, including the new principal in my building. So, is it even an option to consider?

Being home is good but it has its own unexpected challenges. I miss feeling like I know what I am doing. I have identified myself for a long time as a teacher and I'm currently not teaching in a classroom setting. I miss the routine of going to work. I worry about not contributing financially to our household, loosing my teaching skills and still being a stay at home mom when my daughter enters college.

Returning to work full time means that I am contributing financially to our household. It means I get back to classroom teaching before I lose my skills. But it also means that I leave my daughter for a whole day. Right now, Mr. K1 teacher works from home on his own business. If I worked all day, he would need to work all evening and maybe on the weekends too. That means it might be more challenging for us to spend time together as a family. But what if I say I am going back and then something changes with his work situation and he is not able to have as flexible of a schedule as he does now?

I knew I would have to make this decision at some point, I just was not expecting to make it quite so soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Long time, no blog

So it has been a long while since I last blogged and I have missed it. My first daughter was born in late July and she has truly changed my whole world. I have the opportunity to have an extended maternity leave and be home with her until September 2011. I am taking advantage of it, but it has its challenges.

Actually, being a new mom reminds me of my first year teaching. I remember when I was in college, training to be a teacher. I read text books, wrote papers and observed others in preparation. Then my first class of students sat in front of me and it seemed that most of the theory I learned or preconceived ideas I had formed got tossed. I found huge gaps between educational theory and my actual classroom experiences, especially when I first started.

Before our sweetie was born, I read books about parenting, observed the parenting styles of various friends, siblings, and strangers. I had numerous discussions with my husband about what life would be like as a mom and all the things I would and wouldn't do. My daughter is now three months old and so many of my assumptions were exactly that, assumptions. I've had to read more, and discuss more and mostly just learn as I go. Sure there are big ideas that I still aspire to, and role models that I have, but very small baby steps first.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Needed: parenting education

School is out for the summer, and I am out on maternity leave, but I am still thinking about some of my students. One of the students, first written about here has been on my mind a lot. Before the end of the school year, he arrived nearly 90 minutes late to school. His mother explained that they had overslept and missed the school bus. I noticed that the child was crying hysterically and asked the parent what happened. She explained to me that the child was hungry. I noticed that she was eating a bagel and carrying a large container of chocolate milk.

After taking a deep breath, I explained that breakfast at school was over and we were still nearly 90 minutes away from lunch. The mother looked at me with a blank face. I stated calmly that children who are hungry cannot learn. Still she continued to look at me and stuff pieces of bagel in her own mouth, seemingly not bothered by her now screaming child. Finally, I explained again that breakfast at school was over and that her child appeared really hungry. When I suggested that she share the bagel and the chocolate milk with her child, she told me that it was hers. It became increasingly difficult at this point to keep calm and not scream in this woman's face, but somehow or another I managed. I said that she could either sit in the hall and share her food with her child or that she and I and the child go to the nurse and she could explain all of this to the school nurse.

Of course all of this is happening in the midst of center time, so I am also trying to support the other students. Once I put the chairs in the hallway the mother and child sat down and she just stared at me for a while. I supervised this situation from doorway. She ultimately did end up sharing some of the bagel and the chocolate milk with her child. I was floored by the fact that I had to explicitly tell her to do so and it made me think a lot about parenting.

I thought that once you became a parent, certain things were supposed to become natural. Like recognizing this other human being, his needs, and a desire to help him meet those needs. I think I sound judgmental here. I am sure that as a woman, an individual and a parent that she has her own needs and objectives. Maybe she did give the child some food before they arrived at school. But as the classroom teacher, my job is to look out for the needs of my students and advocate for them when those needs are not being met. Needless to say, it was a challenging situation.

When I go back to it in my mind, the parenting educator certification program offered at my alma mater looks really enticing. It makes me want to work with administrators both in the district and in my school building to find ways to support and encourage parents so that situations like these can be minimized or even, ideally eliminated. If that exact situation presented itself again, I am not sure what I would do differently. What, if anything, would you have done? Let the child cry? Beg a small snack from another teacher? Take the child to the office and explain the situation to an administrator?

This particular child will be back in September as far as I know. I can only hope that he has adequate access to food throughout the summer and that this incident was a one time incident and not a chronic occurrence for him.