Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Carnival Time Again

Check it out at The Education Wonks site.... This week's entries are diverse, relevant, and chock full of good info and opinion!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

So many good ideas, so hard to pick.....

The Education Wonks highlighted a Chicago columnist who thinks closed campuses and tighter authoritarian controls will help hormone-happy freshman succeed. It is feared too much freedom is not healthy and productive for a whole set of kids unprepared for the academic and social rigors of the high school scene.

According to Sue Ontiveros “We've given high school students enough freedom to hurt their grades, enough that they often fail and often drop out. For their own good, we should rethink those freedoms.”

But let me play devil’s advocate. According to high school principal Frank altiwanger, we can cultivate (teach) the responsibilities of independence…. And academic success is increased overall.

From the June 20th Washington Post article, the unconventional “Haltiwanger speaks with reverence about the school's unusual qualities -- for example, the faith that adults place in students.”

“We trust kids," he said. "We teach them about choice . . . and making judgments about themselves that are beneficial to them." As they spend time at the school, he said, they begin to hold themselves to the expectation that they will be trustworthy; that is why optional attendance works. "There's a real positive peer culture here to get there on time," he said. "They want to be with their group."
Walking past a senior wall, Haltiwanger pointed at the school motto, which someone had painted. " Verbum Sap Sat ," he said, grinning. "A word to the wise is sufficient, and that's the theme -- that they should be developing their own internal compass and not depending on external rewards and corrections to do the right thing."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Carnival opens on Wednesday a.m.!!

The entries over at the Carnival of Education (at Jenny D's this week), are sure to keep you entertained. Well, at least make you think. Check it out!! (Hey! Where are the teacups! They are my favorite carnival ride!!)

So Long For Now....

Good bye little Kylie. You greeted me each morning with a hug, a scream, and a kick to the shin. See you "next year", sweetie.

Drake, you'll be in a mainstream classroom more of the day next year, so we won’t be so tied at the hip. I’ll miss you, but celebrate your newly found independence. It's bitter sweet.

Jacky, be good to your mom this summer. She does so much for you, and gets so little in return.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” That’s your mantra, Peter, shouted daily at the top of your lungs. I welcome the quiet of summer break. Well, until my own 17 year old starts in on me.

I’ll say a little prayer each morning for your safety, Rigsby. Thank goodnes your daycare teachers will take over the daily watch for bruises and marks.

And Carl and Bobby, you'll get together over the summer to play Pokemon paper dolls and Gameboy games in the comfort of your upper middle class family rooms… until your moms can’t take the manic laughter and sporadic shouting matches. (It’s a love-hate thing!)

See you in the fall, Stephen. Enjoy your free time at daycare. Make a grownup read you a book everyday. Try not to hit your little sister. Stay clear of your dad when he’s mad.

Finally, I close my classroom door with the familiar lump in my throat. I am used to this weird feeling of relief and expectation. Still, closing the book on this group of kids, this set of challenges and worries, this chance to make a difference, feels right. Before long I’ll be planning new and wonderful activities for next year.

For now, I count my blessings.

I am so lucky to be a teacher.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

5 Days and Counting

I'm feeling alittle whiney about going back to school tomorrow. You'd think with less than 5 full days left, I'd be in better spirits, but I'm not. You all know what is there waiting for me back in the classroom:

Lists of mindless clerical tasks that must be completed and then checked off by a monitor before I can leave. Feels like I am 10 again.

Piles of unorganized papers that need to be sorted and put away mindfully for use next year. This one is all my fault. I am a "stacker", and when the year ends, I am stuck with stacks to deal with.

Bulletin boards, art displays, book shelves, storage closets, art supply depots, under cabinet storage....damn, there is a lot to get in order before Friday.

And mostly...highly strung, anxious, excitable kids chomping at the bit to get out of class each day and head for the neighborhood pool. And grumpy kids who stay up too late all week because their folks are already in the summer spirit (but can you blame them?)

Not to mention the highly strung, anxious, excitable, grumpy teachers who likewise can't wait for the day/week/year to end.

On that note, I'm off to finish my weekly plans. Please, Lord, let it go by smoothly and ...............FAST!!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Looking Ahead Before The Door Closes On 2004-05

A few days have passed since my rant about the many things over which teachers have no control …. I have calmed considerably. And after a pretty decent week, I am feeling a bit more empowered, so here is the list of some of my TO DO’s for school year 05-06:

1. Re-arrange my classroom. One of the great pleasures of being a classroom teacher is the chance to play interior designer and organize a space for efficiency and comfort. I’d re-arrange a few times a year if it wasn’t so disruptive to my kids who need consistency and predictability.

2. Reduce my outside committee work to 2. The goal is to reflect both my interests and the specific needs of the school/my students. Right now I am pulled a bit too thin, and I’m not particularly effective in any capacity.

3. Prepare more carefully for our special education PLC meetings. (I started out great this year, but got alittle lazy as the year wore on.)

4. Re-organize my language arts block to include additional reading/writing time. No one can argue against the need to fully address my students’ many deficits: increasing time and opportunity for learning is a good first step.

5. Use chart poems and morning messages more effectively. I usually have the kids’ full attention during circle time, and I want to take advantage of this with better instruction.

6. Leave for work 10 minutes earlier. I love being at work during the first slow sizzle of a new day.

7. Keep my desk ALITTLE less cluttered. (But I’m realistic… it will never be NEAT.)

8. Be more prolific in my written and verbal praise for my intern’s good work. Sometimes I get so involved in the day-to-day, it’s easy to concentrate on skill sets and reflective practice and instructional planning…and I let the opportunities for celebration pass. No more.

9. Call parents more often for both good and bad news. I have to get over this fear.

10. Just accept that some things are meant to be different, and that’s life.

In addition, I will

Buy a new pillow to soothe my sore neck
Vow to eat a healthier lunch 3 days a week
Take the time to call my husband during my lunch break…. Just to feel hugged in the middle of the day.

Okay, now I am ready for summer. Bring on the fun: reading-for-pleasure, gardening-for-stress relief, and cooking-to-nurture-my-family.

Friday, June 17, 2005


This has been a year of sweeping change… 6 Things I have learned because of it:

1. Change can rock you to the sad, lonely core of your heart.

2. It’s better to look forward to what new, fun things might be in store, rather than ruminate in that sad, lonely core.

3. Making yourself a list of new, fun things can be quite helpful, especially when the sad, lonely core of your heart wants to block out any possibility that things will be okay again soon.

4. Dealing with change gives you a wonderful excuse to be “good” to yourself. (I’m eating better, lost alittle weight, and nap when I feel like it! “Cuz I deserve it!”)

5. The kindness and commitment of those who bring/execute/support change directly affects the ease with which change is accepted. (Thanx Melis!)

6. Change has brought me:
Back to daily prayer and meditation (I almost wrote MEDICATION!!)
A new, cool teaching easel
A new pal to laugh with
An opportunity for peer mentoring (which I love)
A new group of grade level team mates who seem to really like me, and dammit, I really like and admire them!

All, in all, it’s been a decent transition. I am already looking forward to next school year, and that’s a good sign.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Books, Books, Books

Number of books I own…anyone with “enough” books does not know how many there are… lots and lots, thank goodness. Fiction (like Shipping News and The Jane Austen Book Club), non-fiction ( To Know As We Are Known and A Mind At A Time), new and used, hardback, softcover…you get the idea.

Last book purchased: Ken Harufs’ Where You Once Belonged
(I’ll get to it this summer.)

Last book read: I’m in the middle of The Alchemist…still. It’s lovely, but the end of year busy-ness gets in the way of reading for pleasure. Ahhh, ten more days! Well, the last book completed with gusto: The Probable Future, by Alice Hoffman. I do like her stuff; kind of mystical.

5 Books of Importance To Me:

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: Harriet’s voyeurism made me realize I was meant to create my own stories, and I was meant to put those stories down on paper. I remember how the character of Golly made me feel less lonely during a lonely time in my childhood.

Up The Down Staircase: rebellious, disrespectful, unconventional…. At 15, this novel started me thinking about teaching difficult kids. In its very unglamourous (for its time) depiction of an urban high school teacher’s life, I saw passion and “hip-ness”. That’s what I wanted to be… passionate and hip. Ha!!

Seventeen by Booth Tarkington: the first “period piece” I read as a young teenager. From this book, I developed a love for finding a good story within a wonderful setting/place/time. It was like an opening of the door into more grown-up fiction.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: I had never read Austen, or Bronte for that matter, until I was into my 30’s. When we planned a trip to England, I took on the 3 big Austen novels, and my trip was all the better for it!!

The book in my head: I’m having a hard time getting it all out, but this summer I plan to add another 100 pages to the 100 I already have. No excuses. I WILL meet that goal! I will get it done!!

So that's my response to the current meme making the rounds. Join in, anyone!!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Carnival is back in town!!

Check out the latest Carnival of Education at Education Wonks' site! Lots of good reading and fodder for discussion!!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

...And He Won't Get Out!!

I am always happy this time of year to pull out my favorite Audrey and Don Wood books! An author and illustrator study of these very talented writers and artists keeps my kiddies enthralled, even when the pools are open and summer beckons. This one is especially great for teaching problem and solution, and besides, who can resist the narcisistic king and the very clever page. Incidently, the face of the page (so angelic, yet so knowing), is the face of the Wood's son! He is a grown up now, and has introduced his parents to art via the computer. Check out Audrey Wood's website....and enjoy!
One of the best!!! Posted by Hello

Friday, June 03, 2005

"Confronting the brutal facts"

Starting nearly ten years ago, I reluctantly cast aside the cutesy, fun construction paper projects once so commonly completed in first grade classrooms. It became clear to me that because of the shortened academic time available to me and my students (due to their emotional and behavioral issues), I had to prioritize both time and attention.

It was painful: if the activity directly supported student achievement as defined by county standards (this was the early 90’s, pre-NCLB), then we did it. That meant that lots of paper bag puppets, dioramas, and other “artistic responses to literature” went undone. I felt guilty about it then, and even a little sad. What adorable projects would their parents be able to save for posterity’s sake? How would my students feel when they noticed their general ed. friends came home on the bus each day with colorful, attractive items in hand?

Who knew I was so ahead of my time?

Educational consultant Mike Schmoker addresses this issue in a recent article about school improvement. Schmoker insists that if we focus on (gulp!) improving instruction, we will make the changes necessary to improving student achievement overall.

Schmoker laments “What are students doing instead of reading and writing? They are coloring, cutting, pasting, watching movies, filling in work sheets and designing book jackets in ratios that overwhelm actual reading and writing.”

Schmoker goes on to blame teaching’s culture of isolation for these “abuses”. “Teachers are largely left alone. And principals, despite the hard, heroic work they do, don’t supervise instruction. They never have, and they have never been adequately helped to do so.”

But back then, the entire grade level team decided together which crafty activity to do. Isolation wasn’t the problem.

It seems to me it was a lack of focus, a blurring of priorities.

So I will hold my head higher next year when my new intern asks me about our language arts curriculum. I will be proud to say that we focus our time and attention (however abbreviated) on literacy activities to directly improve reading and writing skills.

And when together the first grade team chooses learning activities that directly support our instructional goals, I won’t feel bad. Even general ed students are doing less and less of the crafty, fun activities.

I’ll still hate that we don’t have time for wind sock-making and picture frame decoration. After all, I was a first grader once myself.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

How to build a better teacher.....

I read Jenny D. just about everyday. Here’s her initial impression from her research:
"….. good teaching, demanding teaching, is preplanned, deliberate, and thought out. The moves teachers make aren't random, but in fact they are considered. The best teachers consider how to use their voice, their body, and their ideas. They evaluate students by responses to question, even as they think up the next questions."

When I read this quote the first time, I had a response similar to that of girlontheescape: “Well, Yeah!”

But then I remembered how my student intern, a grad student who has been working all year in the classroom with me in preparation for her career as an ED teacher….I remembered that even after 8 months working side by side, gaining confidence and increased responsibilities all along the way, this woman was blown away by the amount and intensity of planning required when she did her “Week of Independence”. (While I worked on some mentoring projects and observed other programs in nearby schools, the intern and a familiar sub managed every aspect of the classroom experience that week.)

Frankly, I was surprised by her surprise. She’s right in the thick of things each day. In her defense, she says I make it look easy. But now she sees, it really isn’t.

Just like Jenny D. says: “As long as teaching appears to be a job that anyone can do, it will not garner the respect and other rewards it deserves.”

For me, the pivitol moment in the intern’s experience is when the intern takes a considered leap from her well planned lesson, a leap that addresses a child’s immediate, newly identified need. It’s the art in the art of teaching, the magic that makes one teacher so much better than another. It’s the thinking on her feet, teachable moment thing, but it comes out of thoughtful lesson preparation, not as a moment of organic whimsy based on interactions with the student. If Jenny can quanitify and qualify this practice, it will be great for teaching. I applaud her efforts and pray for her success!!

Also, kudos to girlontheescape who so thoughtfully challenged and informed the discussion.

I love this blogging stuff.

Carnival of Education....

Check it out! Variety, in depth, engrossing issues.....what more could a reader of all things education want?
Thank you to The Education Wonks who do this so right!!