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.