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.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

End of the school year

Its hard to believe that school ended already nearly two weeks ago.

On the last Tuesday, my students put on a stellar performance for their families and the therapists who work with them. Our "show" included three songs and a dance. The students had been practicing for weeks, and even the most reluctant seemed highly enthusiastic and energetic. Then the classroom began to fill with their families. The youngest students just lost it. They couldn't understand why I was asking them to stand with their friends while their beloved family members were within sight. I let these students be with their families during the performance because that is where they needed to be.

One student just had a complete meltdown in the middle of the show for no known reason. Another student who had previously been belting out the words and gestures froze and refused to make eye contact when his parent entered. One parent walked in after everything was over and asked if we could re do it because the bus was late. All in all though, I do believe that they tried their best. I was also excited because this was the first time that every student had SOMEONE there. It is a rotten feeling to look around and see everyone else's family and not see yours. Kudos to the families of my students for making it, for being there for their child. At the end of show, each student took his or her end of year pail ( complete with certificates, bubbles and other summer fun) to his or her family. The families left, most of the students stayed and cookies and juice were enjoyed by all.

After the show and during the last few days of school, many of the parents chatted with me about the pending arrival of my daughter. Some offered labor advice, others expressed disappoint or disapproval of my plans for next year, and still others sent in thoughtful gifts to help welcome The New One.

I worked hard to manage my emotions during this final week. I mean, I am going into unchartered territory. The school year/summer vacation schedule has a familiar rhythm to it. I know what to expect. I make notes about what worked this school year and what I want to improve on. I spend August shopping for deals on school supplies and reviewing my notes about improving my teacher. I am having a baby and will not be in the classroom for the 2010-2011 school year. It's a big difference and the fear of the unknown often found me on the verge of tears as I packed up the classroom, sent student work home, and signed off on my students' cumulative records.

The students inquired several times about when the New One would arrive, assuming it would be that first day of summer vacation. They inquired about their transition to Kindergarten and some expressed sadness about the length of summer vacation. And then suddenly, by some magical force, we were all ready, together. The room was packed, the students gave hugs and powerful goodbyes and there was nothing else to do except enjoy the last few moments we had together as a community of learners.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Having a baby...

....from the point of view of some very funny 5 year old students.

As many of you know, I am expecting my first child in July ( wow, that is next month!) of this year. Time is going by both amazingly slow and unpredictably fast. I am still teaching and my last day will be this coming Friday. Anyway when I was maybe 6 months along, my students finally noticed and started asking questions about my changing body. Here are some highlights. Enjoy!

" Mrs. k1 teacher, are you the old lady who swallowed a fly? Your tummy keeps getting bigger and bigger..."

After seeing a strange looking bulge on one side, one of the students asked "Mrs. K1 teacher, is your baby wearing a hat?"

"Mrs K1 teacher, are you Mexican?" I said that I wasn't and then the follow up question was " Is your baby Mexican?" (While I have a very diverse classroom, none of my students this year are from Mexico and I we haven't read any stories recently that take place in Mexico so this was very much out of the blue)

"Does your baby kick you?" I replied,"Yes sometimes, but sometimes I think she is dancing". The student replied "Oh, well when she kicks you, she should have time out because she is not being safe. Hands and feet on your own body"

After returning from a forty minute lunch break, "Did your baby come at lunchtime?"

And every time they see me drinking water or having a small snack, "Is that for the baby?"

Some of them draw pictures and or write some words and hold them to my stomach, explaining to me carefully that they are showing their picture to the baby.

They have brightened the days with their inquisitiveness and comments and I have been reminded of why I love this age group so much.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Awesome post about reading

Many thanks to Sarah at Confessions of an Untenured Teacher for her awesome post today on reading, found here. There you will find a great video done by the students of Ocoee Middle School. I'm pretty sure that video would motivate many of my students and maybe some of their families to read.

If you are teacher, do you read more in the summer? Do you already have your reading list or are you more of a "go with the flow" person? I myself oscillate between having a fairly lengthy list and going with the moment. Sometimes, I want to read all the of the books on my list right away and at other times, something completely random catches my eye and I am engrossed in something that had nothing to do with my list.

I am currently reading two birth related books, one nonfiction and one novel. Next on my list is "Committed" Elizabeth Gilbert. How about you? What are you currently reading?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Debunking a few myths about early childhood education

Myth #1 The younger the children, the easier it is to teach them in a classroom setting

This is a widely held belief among teachers in my building who have never attempted to teach in an early childhood classroom. I think that every level has its own unique challenges. A good teacher will make it look easy to the casual observer, but that does not mean that he or she thinks it actually is.

I work hard every single day of every week for the entire school year. I was annoyed this past week when a current second grade teacher in my building announced that she would be teaching kindergarten for the last three years before her retirement because she wanted "it to be a little easier." I wish her all the luck in the world come September when she is trying to console 22 five and six year olds who are crying because they miss their mommies. I wish her even more luck when the differences in ability at the age become apparent. Some kids will be coming from a high quality pre-K classroom (like mine) and have all of these amazing academic readiness skills while others are coming from daycare settings and still others are coming away from their parents for the first time. I wonder if in December if she will still think its easy.

Myth #2 All you do is play all day anyways
I think this contributes to myth one above. Yes a good early childhood classroom offers students opportunities to learn through play as that is how young children learn best. That does not mean that the students play from the time they enter the classroom until the dismissal bell rings 6 hours later. Our day includes breakfast and lunch, rest, small group activities, recess, story time, music and large group discussion in addition to center time.
Myth #3 Early Childhood Education doesn't really matter, we need to focus on the grades that take the state standardized test
Early Childhood education does matter. Students in our district don't come to school knowing how to be in school. They need to be taught everything from how to sit on the rug to how to line up to how to wait their turn and get adult attention appropriately. They sometimes need to be taught how to separate from their parents and their parents need to know what is and is not appropriate for a school setting versus a home setting. All of this is in addition to instilling a life long love learning and teaching all of the academic skills that later serve as the foundation for higher level skills and deeper understanding. Can you imagine a fourth grader sitting down to take the state test without being able to separate from his parents, or understand that print moves from left to right, top to bottom?
My administrator is allowing a person to take an early childhood position because he feels that her current position is too close to the age when students take the state tests. I disagree with this notion. I think that if early childhood education was truly understood and supported in my building, we could work together as a school community to give the students an excellent start. Maybe we need the very best teachers in our building to be teaching preK and kindergarten so that students start off as best they can, so that they are given the foundation they need to soar and our set on the path toward reaching their personal bests. By ignoring or devaluing or early childhood, and putting teachers who simply want to pass the time in those positions, you are hurting students chances of success later on. Success is cumulative and not necessarily based on the testing year.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Some things are just not right

My new student started this past Tuesday. He celebrated his third birthday on Saturday and was in school as soon as the bus picked him up Tuesday morning. He seems so young since more than half my class is already 5 years old. He arrived at school with nothing except for a cough that sounded like bronchitis, although I am not a doctor so I can't diagnose. He didn't even come with any diapers or wipes despite needing them. He had a rash on his stomach and a brace on his arm that I knew nothing about.

It amazes me that parents would send their barely three year old child to school without meeting or calling the teacher. It floors me that people would send a child with signficant disabilities to a school setting without even writing down the child's name on a piece of paper and providing an emergency contact number. If something was wrong, this particular child does not have the ability to communicate it. What was even more frustrating was the fact that phone number provided to the office was out of service. So when I did try to call to say that the child needed diapers and was suffering from a nasty cough, it was not productive. How can you as a parent of a very young child with disabilities just assume that your child will be fine?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

There was an old lady...

Who swallowed a fly. I don't know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she will die...

Many early childhood educators know this book. Maybe there is a different version that you like better than the one above (she swallowed a fly, maybe she will cry, she swallowed a chick, it made her sick). Regardless of which version you like, this book addresses several early childhood literacy skills. First, it utilizes rhyming words and second, it can be predictable and repetitive, which allows pre-readers to chime in. I was not specifically doing any lessons or projects around this book, but it has been in the book area on and off throughout the year.

The literacy teacher that my students work with did a retelling activity around this book that resulted in a mini-flip book for the students to take home. One of the parents approached me about the book and explained that she thought it was in appropriate for her son's age. I offered to relay a message to the literacy teacher or suggested that the parent visit with that teacher during our upcoming open house. The ironic part though is that this same child owns and is allowed to watch X men and other movies of that type.

What do you think? With a proper introduction about the story being fictional and silly, is the Old lady who swallowed a fly inappropriate for four and five year old students?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Not quite the recognition I was hoping for

So there are about 200 schools in our district. Our school was on the list of the 22 nastiest buildings from a public health point of view. The schools were inspected by state health inspectors and of all them 22, stuck out as the most offensive. This information was in one of our local papers and broadcast on local network news. I did not know about this distinction and was thrown off guard the other day when a parent had asked if I had read that morning's local paper. She wouldn't elaborate as to why I should but my curiosity was ignited. I found the paper after school and was horrified 1) by the title of the article and 2) to find a large picture of my school building in color on page 5. There were of course other schools on the list, but they show a picture of ours! Lovely!

Monday, February 8, 2010

"What are the police doing here?"

This is what my students asked at the end of the day as we filed outside for dismissal. It was an interesting question. Typically a squad car is parked on the main road in front of our building. Today, in addition to that car, there was one parked literally on the black top of our school yard, right under the steps from the main entrance. Since there were no announcements or memos sent around during the school day about any potentially dangerous situations, I had no idea. I explained that the police were there to help everyone stay safe.

After I spoke with a few parents, I had two left who were either waiting to go home or go to after school. What follows are some of their thoughts and experiences about police.

Student 1: The police put people in juvie.
( Yes I asked him if he knew what juvie was, and yes, he did provide an accurate explanation, and yes, he is five years old)

Student 2: When I am in the car with my mom and we see a police car, she always asks me if I have my seat belt on. She never wears hers, only when we see the police. (I interjected here with comments about seat belts and how they keep people safe in the car) Oh yeah, my mom says she does not need no ticket.

Student 1: When the police are not looking, my mom puts the car on two wheels and makes it spins around really fast. It is awesome, like in the movies.

Student 2: So if I started kicking you really hard and doing bad stuff, what would happen, would I go to juvie?

Our lovely discussion was interrupted by Student 1 leaving with his family and Student 2 going to after school. I know so many of my students and the students in our building have negative perceptions of police officers and some of that is largely due to the negative experiences of their family members or neighbors. It troubles me though. I want them to know that police can help people, that if they were ever in trouble and needed help, they could ask a police officer. My messages about the police stand in sharp contrast to their perceptions though.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Still kind of difficult

So it was my second week back after a long absence and I find that it is still hard to get through the day. One of my coworkers apparently did not notice that I actually returned last week. One of my student's parents approached me in a confrontational manner about my absence. She started with "oh, I wasn't sure you were coming back". I responded with " Hi, it's nice to see you too." She then wanted to know what I had and why I had to be out for so long. She wanted to know if it was contagious and I assured her that my medical team would not allow me back to work if I was putting myself or others in harm's way. The conversation ended with her explaining that during my absence she called my principal to ask what I had ( hello, hippa, how are are you? Oh, hi confidentiality!) and that she was thinking of transferring her child. At this point, I really did not have to much more to say to this woman and I worked hard to tell her NOT to tell her that it was still not too late to transfer her child.

I talked with our building rep who spoke to another union person about some of my employment options for next year and how I go about implementing those options.

Some of the days were easier than others and overall, I worked hard to make it through the week. It was a long week with my students. Some of the behavior from last week seemed to have lessened a little in intensity and some had not.

5 more get ups until school break!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The rest of the week

Wednesday morning was okay. In the afternoon, I had an IEP meeting that was less than stellar. There were at least 15 people present. One of the people representing the student's parents pounced on every word that came out of my mouth. She even went so far to imply that I looked tanned when the subject of my absence came up. It took every ounce of self control in my body not to strangle her. Sips of water, deep breaths, count backwards from 100... She interrupted everyone, dragging the meeting on and on. I wanted to tell her to shut up and actually listen to what people were saying instead of blurting something out every five minutes, to open a child development book, or better yet, find an article that lists the characteristics of a person with autism. After 90 minutes, I left. It was the end of the school day and my para needed help with my students at dismissal. I did not go back either as I had to scoot to a doctor's appointment.

Thursday was better and nothing too remarkable happened, thankfully. The kids were very excited to go outside for recess the few times that we were actually able to get out this week.

Friday morning when Mr. K1teacher woke me up, I was thoroughly confused and exhausted, thinking it was Saturday. After getting dressed and having breakfast, I snoozed on the couch. I certainly should have stayed there as the day only went down hill from there. It included a frustrating conversation with my principal, getting head-butted in the abdomen by an older student, and helping a colleague to restrain a physically dangerous student while other teachers stood by and watched. It was a full moon though, so hopefully things will be slightly less crazy tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm back!

This is my first week back. It is hard.

Monday was especially challenging. First, we got a new student while I was out. It is a new student who already faced so many difficult issues in his life and he does not have a way of dealing with them. He is on some pretty heavy duty medication and has some non desirable and aggressive behaviors. So it is always lovely to come back to that. Second, it seems like some of the other students were either thrown off by my absence, thrown off by the arrival of the new student, or missed the structure. I felt thoroughly exhausted by 10 am on Monday and the day was not even half over. Students who are normally great students, students who typically serve as examples for other students seemed to be testing me, to see if I still meant what I said, to see if the rules still stood. The students who typically benefit from the modeling of the other students were down right nutty, defiant, and at times unsafe. At home Monday night, I was exhausted and overly emotional but riled up and unable to sleep.

When I got up yesterday, I felt worse than I did on Monday, probably due to lack of sleep. Yesterday was better though. For starters, no one threw a chair when they were upset. I felt more organized and prepared. The students who typically model good behavior went back to that version of themselves. I will start a new behavior plan this morning for one of my students who seems to be having a very difficult time.

Hopefully, each day continues to get a little better. One day at a time...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Personal Info

So I am still hopeful that I will be able to go back to work eventually. I want to keep this space for my work ideas and experiences. I have created a new blog devoted to the pregnancy. You can find it here

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Long Overdue

I haven't blogged in a quite a while. I haven't been in school in quite a while either. I missed a week of work in December and have not been back since the holiday break. My husband and I found out in November that I am pregnant with our first child. I have been basically quite sick since right after Thanksgiving. I am hoping things get better for me soon so I can get back to teaching! Until then, I would appreciate warm thoughts and prayers.