Thursday, April 30, 2009

She-Ra I am not

I don't usually pay too much attention to my physical activity during my students' recess time. I make a point to be physically active and to participate in some playground games with them. After all, I want to model a healthy and active lifestyle. Many of my students would simply be content to sit outside. Many complain that they are tired after walking across the classroom. S0, I encourage them to be active whenever I can.

The weather was beautiful on Monday and I was eager to get the students outside. It seemed as if many of my students had been cooped up during the vacation week so I made an even greater than normal effort to physically engage them during recess. I was playing the classic game of red light light green light. One of my students was "it" and I was running along with the other kids. All of a sudden I was falling forward and trying to avoid falling into the student who was it. I like to think there was a small rock I tripped over, but try as I might, I was unable to find it. So I tried to break my fall and the result was crushing pain delivered quickly and intensely to my right wrist.

Called Dr. Mom, used a wrist splint, and kept going until yesterday when the pain was more intense. There was no getting around it, I needed to be get it checked even though I feel horribly guilty about missing a day of work so soon after vacation. Anyway, the doctor said I need to use the splint all day for the next several days, and that despite being in serious pain, I am lucky because it isn't broken.

At least I will get to tell my kids all about X rays and how they work...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Plants aren't the only things growing

Spring has spring. Warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine abound. Plants and flowers are sprouting up everywhere. My students are eager to point out flowers in the front of our school that are blooming now but were not blooming before our break. They look for signs of spring in our classroom and outside during recess.

Coming back after April vacation, I find myself and some of my colleagues re -energized. Super para, aka Ms. S, showed up earlier today than she typically does and she wasn't in her usual Monday fog. Teachers smiled at each other and talked animatedly about their vacation adventures. Skirt season is underway and the change of weather is energizing to me personally. I was practically waltzing around the classroom this morning as I set up materials before the students arrived.

And then there they were. Bright faces and smiles. Hugs for friends and teachers that they missed. And they too seemed to have grown. Some appeared taller. Others appeared more mature and less "babyish". I heard new vocabulary words in the tales of their vacation adventures. A new haircut made me realize how much one student's face has changed since the beginning of the year.

Welcome spring, welcome positive energy, welcome growth

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rules are rules, right?

I have written here several times about rules and the importance of establishing them and using positive language.. etc. In my classroom, the "wewillbes" are always the same throughout the year, regardless of if the students are in the classroom, traveling in the hallways, or playing outside at recess. I struggle with the lack of consistency between teachers and administrators in my building. For example, my first rule is "we will be safe", some people value punctuality more and actually encourage their students to run in the hallway. Consequences for breaking rules also vary from teacher to teacher and depend on several other factors, including the day of the week and the mood of the administrators. While I think some consistency would go along way towards improving the students' performance and our overall sense of community within our school, I cannot directly change other people's behavior and actions.

In celebration of spring break week, I took a small trip to Washington DC for a few days of fun, relaxation, and city exploration. Traveling to the Washington area from my city, I had put a plastic tub of play dough in my backpack. Something seemingly harmless, something to keep my hands busy and calm any airplane related nervousness. I went through security at my home airport without a problem. Leaving DC, I encountered a few problems with security. Apparently they have a thing against play dough. But, it is not a liquid, gel or aerosol. Apparently, it is a substance they have neither specifically approved nor disapproved. Thanks to Shelly for this post. So when the Xray technician was examining the contents of my bag, she called the supervisor over and they loudly discussed the possibility of me carrying play dough.

When they pulled the bag out of the machine, I claimed my bag and said that yes I did have play dough. The supervisor told me that it was not allowed. I calmly explained that I had traveled with it through another airport without any problems. He shrugged his shoulders and asked why I had it. None of his business was my first thought, but I tried to explain that it was to help with anxiety. He dug through my bag, found a stress ball and told me that was good for anxiety, gave it a couple of squeezes, stared intently into my eyes and tossed the ball back into the bag while putting the play dough in this secure container.

I did not mean to cause a ruckus or delay the people behind me. And if I had known that play dough was a problem, I wouldn't have bothered to bring it. But some of the kind security workers enforce the rules differently, creating confusion. It just reminds me that even when school resumes next week and the school year begins to wind down that I still need to be consistent with my students. Oh yes and apparently, play dough is not always allowed on the airplane.

Monday, April 20, 2009

101 posts

I wanted to write a big celebratory post when I got to 100 postings between this blog and my older, now undeleted blog, but I wasn't paying too much attention! Oh well! Happy 101 postings and thanks my followers who keep reading.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's like spring cleaning, for my blog

I downloaded a new background from Shabbyblogs. I like it and love that it was free. Thanks to Alex at Brainy and Beautiful. It was her new background and posting about it that led me to redecorate my blog.



"Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know" by Clash

I was talking about my recent job ambivalence with Rhonda yesterday. She was intrigued by the idea that I feel like I "owe" my current school and or principal something. She tried to get me to articulate what that something may be, but I was at a loss for words. I am not sure if I can explain it or not.

Throughout high school and college, I had this notion in my head that I would teach where it mattered most, in a high need urban school district. So I am doing that and have been for a while. It is hard, incredibly challenging, demanding, meaningful, sometimes rewarding. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, like I am simply not doing enough despite working a bazillion hours a week. Other times, I feel disenchanted with the whole bureaucracy aspect, as if it interferes with what I want to do. Other times too, I feel uninspired by the curriculum. I love when there are gaps in the curriculum units we have to teach and I have time to do my own stuff. I love hearing how my students think and seeing their progress over time. Since I have many of my students for two and sometimes three years, I get to know them really well and see amazing growth from when they started to the time they leave.

There is a notion that all of the teachers in my district are under performing, incompetent and lazy. I know that I am working to change that misconception by taking countless classes, staying current with research, and seeking to find what works for my students. So if I leave, am I being hypercritical? Am I giving up on what I set out to do? Am I taking my skills and talents elsewhere to a place that better meets my increased awareness of what I need in a workplace? Is that selfish? Does leaving to work in a different district mean that I am contributing to the problem of retaining highly qualified teachers in my current district? Does it mean that I will perpetuate and be part of the stereotype that the district doesn't have any good teachers?

I need a break and a little sunshine, stay tuned for more thoughts and hopefully, some increased clarity on this issue.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sharing bad news?

Like many towns and cities across the country, our school district is facing tough economic times. There has been a flurry of news stories about how many teachers would be laid off, what the union has said, what they mayors thinks, and what the school department is really going to. Each day a new story, with different numbers of projected teacher layoffs.

In my building there has been plenty of speculation about who was going to be laid off and who was going to keep their current position. At this time, the decisions seem to be made based on seniority and not performance. Anyway one teacher suspected that she would be laid off and anticipated that in the coming weeks, the principal would take her and a few other teachers into his office and give them a heads up. This simple act of decency was ignored.

Two of the teachers received a letter via certified mail explaining that they no longer had positions as of June 30, 2009. Certified mail? It is shocking and appalling to me that the principal or assistant principal or someone from Human resources couldn't have had a face to face conversation with these teachers. During the time that they were waiting to hear about their future, they could have been researching other positions and or possibly interviewing. I am sure to some people that this is just part of their daily business, sometimes you hire new people and sometimes you lay off others. No big deal, right?

Unless you are the person affected by those decisions. I know my principal seeks to avoid confrontation at all possible costs, but to not have enough nerve to be straightforward with people who are being laid off? As Mr. K1 teacher said, it is an easier firing because it has nothing to do with poor performance, just lack of funding for their positions. Part of being a leader in any industry means that you have to communicate with people. Sometimes the content of what you have to communicate is not always pleasant, but as a leader, it is still your to do it.

If it were up to me, I would have called the people into my office individually and explained the situation to them. I would have offered to network on their behalf with other principals I know. I certainly would have offered to write them a letter of recommendation (assuming poor performance was not an issue) and maybe would have asked if they wanted to be on the sub list for next year. I certainly would have done more than send letters to their homes via certified mail and then simply shrug my shoulders when I am confronted about it.

How do you prefer to receive bad news, face to face or in the privacy of your own home? How do you deliver unpleasant news? Do you face the music or hide from possible confrontation?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Where is the career center for real life?

Remember in high school, we all met with guidance counselors to sort of map out the future? They helped us pick classes and electives. They wrote us nice letters of recommendations for college and provided countless words of wisdom that often fell on deaf ears.

Then in college and graduate school, I worked with amazing academic advisers who really took the time to understand where I was coming from, what I wanted to get out of my educational experience and what my plans were. They too helped me select courses and helped with mapping out a plan. They offered advise that I was more receptive to, that I considered carefully and routinely sought out.

Of course, there was the career center. You could go there and search for jobs, get feedback on your resume, and even set up a mock interview. More people, more advice. So I here I am, approaching the end of my third year teaching in my current position and I am really unsure if I should stay or if I should go. On one hand I am in the process of earning permanent teacher status and worry that if I leave once I earned it, that people will think that I was just "using" my current school, principal and position to get that status.

As Sugarland sings:
There's gotta be somethin more
Gotta be more than this
I need a little less hard time
I need a little more bliss
I'm gonna take my chances
Takin a chance I might
Find what i'm lookin for
Theres gotta be something more

But then that's it. I love the kids, but I don't really like the way my program is run. I have occasional issues with the school and the administration, but would I find those same issues or possibly more challenging issues in another building? I just feel like their is a lot of "hard times" that I could do without, and that more bliss would certainly be nice. I can't tell if my ambivalence is related to the current school climate issues I expressed in my previous post or not.

I just wish that I could pop into the career office or check with my adviser to get some much needed advice.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

school climate check

Have you looked around your building lately? Have you really looked carefully at your colleagues? How about listening? Have you listened to the way your colleagues speak to children? What does it feel like to go to go to your school each day? Is it energizing and inspiring? Is it a little depressing and possibly prison like?

This week, I have been a little baffled by some of the observations I have made in my building. Teachers have said horrific things to their students, things so horrible I won't even type them here. Unsure of whether it was my place to say anything or not, I knew that it was my place to advocate for that student. Since their conversation was taking place in the hallway, I merely opened the door and stood there, which for the moment, made the teacher stop her horrible tirade. The student walked off and the teacher said that he deserved every word she said and that she only wished she could tell him all of what she was thinking. In all of this, I couldn't help but wonder what exactly the student had done in the first place and where the administration was when this conversation was happening.

So many of the teachers in my building are struggling with behavior issues ( both their own issues and the behavior of the students). One perfectly awesome and excellent teacher who I admire and look up to, is considering leaving the building or leaving the profession all together. Both would be a great loss, but I understand where she is coming from when she says her kids are so needy, when she says its hard to remain calm when chaos is continually erupting all around.

Too many of our students are disrespectful to the each other and the physical school building. The same group of kids are in trouble day in and day out, and if they are not in specific trouble, they are simply allowed to wander around the hallways, doing whatever they please. Students don't seem to care that trash is all over the cafeteria or that they themselves are the reason for that.

I feel this overwhelming desire to make things better, to help my colleagues. To improve the school. I want to change the climate in the building. I feel like I should be doing more, but I am struggling to keep up with my students and meet all of their needs to the best of my ability. How could I help, what time would I help with , and what exactly would that help look like?

Maybe it is just the time of year. Maybe all of us teachers and all of our students are tired and desperately need the upcoming April vacation. But what if the issues are actually deeper than simply being tired?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What are those rabbits doing to their mommy?

This is how Thursday started. The students were looking at a book about rabbits and the last illustration showed a mother rabbit nursing the babies. I explained that the mother rabbit was feeding her babies milk. This was the beginning of a conversation that included a lot of questions about the mammal experience. I thought their questions were intriguing and provided some insight into their thinking and understanding. I love talking to my students and trying to help them make sense of the world.

A few seconds later a group of students asked me about Jesus and if I had met him.

As I shared this story with friends over the weekend, many were surprised that I even answered their questions and all of them wanted to know if I had specific training in college or elsewhere on how to deal with "sensitive issues. " My friends wanted to know what I would do if my students' parents were offended by my responses.

I thought about this carefully. I didn't explain the whole mammalian reproductive process. I simple stated that female mammals produce milk so they can feed their children. I explained that people have the option of going to the store to buy milk but that animals cannot go to the store. I answered them with factual information, explained to them at their developmental level. Sure, I guess it is possible that some parents may not want their child to know these things. With the topic of Jesus, I just redirected the question back to them and they were having a discussion about their various religious experiences.

In college and graduate school, and even in professional development through the district, the message is always the same: be sensitive to other people and cultures that may different from your own. Is lactation a sensitive subject? What about Jesus? There was no specific training that I went to that taught you how to respond when a child stands in front of you in a public school setting and asks about Jesus or heaven. I know about separation of church and state, but at the same time, I couldn't ignore my students. I encouraged them to talk to each other. I think that's part of what public school is about, learning with and from people who may be very different from yourself.

If my students' parents are offended, I suppose I would invite them in for an individual conference so I could better explain the situation to them. But I don't think I said or did anything inappropriate or wrong, so an apology may not be my first approach.
Looking forward to more challenging and thought provoking questions from my students tomorrow.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

March Madness in April

March was a big month of transition in my classroom. From open house, to new classes starting to two new students with challenging needs starting within two weeks of each other. March was quite a whirlwind time. I was hopeful that all of the March Madness would draw to a close with the turning of the calendar page, but no such luck.

The work on my desk continues to pile up. I am struggling to remember basic information, like the dates my classes meet or where I put a student's file. My new students are trying to settle in and find their place in the classroom. I am trying my best to rise to the occasion and meet their needs while still teaching the other students. I still feel like, despite my best efforts, I am letting them down a bit.

Added to the mix is the time of year. School has been stressful because of some ridiculously aggressive situations between students, the first part of state testing and of course the infamous budgetary problems.

And I am pretty sure that I will get another new student after April vacation. A student is very young both biologically and developmentally. A student who is over two and a half years younger than some of my other students.

I am hopeful that next week will go smoothly and that April vacation will be a time of rest and renewal.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Please, we don't show our private bodies at school and other parent anecdotes

This past week and a half I had conferences, open house and an IEP meeting so I got to talk to many parents. I generally view opportunities to share insights on the students and discuss student progress with parents as valuable.

This past week brought out some interesting comments and conversations that I thought I would share. While I am sitting across the table from a parent, she lifts up her shirt to prove that she is pregnant. I was quite uncomfortable and told her exactly what I tell the kids "we do not show our private bodies at school and your stomach is part of your private body". As the conversation progressed, she asked me if I felt her child's needs were related to the amount of television she watched. What do you say? I asked about how much TV the child watched and the parent said the child watches TV all the time when she is not eating or sleeping. As an early educator, I know how crucial those first few years of life are. I mentally stopped my mouth from gaping open and calmly responded that I think other activities may be more beneficial. The mother then asked what she could do with her child if her child was not watching television. OK.

Another parent wanted to know why their almost four year old son with significant language delays was not yet reading. I explained that he is working on letter recognition and symbol-sound correspondence at this time and would have more time to read a bit later on once some initial skills were more solidified. Then they wanted to know why there has not been any homework. Homework is sent home in the student's backpack every Monday. I explained this and they seemed surprised. I encouraged them to check the backpack every few days for important notices, communication from the school, and of course homework.

Still another parent confessed that her child has massive behavior problems at home. This student appears to get along well with other students, can play cooperatively, and follows directions without any difficulty, so I was a bit surprised. After some conversation, it was revealed that the parents don't assert themselves with this child because she is the youngest of the family. Specifically, when the parents want the child to do something like a chore or homework, the child tells the parents "no" and that is the end of the story. The child is just being a child. Children need limits and will do better when those limits are consistently enforced.

Each year I tell my principal that I want to set up 'preschool for parents' where the parents come to a couple of sessions before school starts. Each year he sort of laughs me off. Each year, I grow more and more convinced of the need. It is not that I want to tell people how to parent, but to share information and research about early childhood development and the specifics of the program. I ultimately just want the best for my students, but sometimes I feel very limited by the amount instructional time we have each day, that it is simply, not enough.