Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wanna Know a Secret?

Pssst. Psssst.

Don't tell anyone. On Wednesday, the mystery reader who comes on our elementary school's daily news program... well, that mystery reader is ME!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Read Across America Week Begins....

In celebration of Dr. Seuss, reading in general, and NEA's outreach/public relations efforts:

It is now READ ACROSS AMERICA week!!!

An employee from our local power company came and read to the class today. Too bad she had little expression in her voice and had no idea about holding the book up for the kids to see AS she reads. Still, the kids ( 4 of them in attendance) were polite. Small favors.....

In accordance with the theme, enjoy these cute pictures of my kids reading, reading, reading!!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

On The Power to Overcome Obstacles....

One way I am able to manage myself and my response to my emotionally disabled students is to meditate daily. I try to pray for a peacefulness, a centeredness that will allow me to do my best everyday, despite the terrible stress and frequent disappointments.

(Not surprisingly, I have found a source on the web, A BLOG no less, that supports me in my daily work. Ever a fan of Thomas Merton, this site includes Merton's wise words as well as daily prayers )

Anyway, this one small prayer, 7 short words, hit me hard last night as I went searching for guidance and peace.

Lord, help me not be an obstacle.

Somedays, that's all I can ask for.

1. When the angry parent calls, help me keep a calm voice, and open heart. The last thing I need is a defensive posture. Give me the wisdom to know when it’s time to refer the call to my principal.

2. When I feel overburdened, overtired, and underappreciated, let me remember why I am here: not for ease, or comfort, or accolades. I am here for the child who is fighting everyday to overcome the ravages of emotional disabilities, abuse issues, and worse. The pain he inflicts is never more than the pain he suffers each and every moment of the day.

3. When fellow teachers fall short of our highest expectations, when they appear to give less than is possible, help me see that we often only do as much as we can. Compassion for their challenges just might be the open door to supporting change.

4. Finally, help me make right-minded, ethical choices as I move through my day, always mindful of the power I have over my students’ school life.

I know it's not for everyone, but I need all the help I can get!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The gift that keeps on giving.... time to think.

At the end of the day, when the final lesson plans are scribbled and the materials are pulled together for tomorrow's day, I have to sit back and contemplate a very important question:

What did I do today that will make a difference tomorrow?

Without this moment of reflection, I am likely to breathe in slowly, close my plan book, and leave for home still spent from the day's challenges. I'll feel more drained, possibly even mistreated, or worse, ineffective. I'll hear again and again the curses, the whining and complaining, the moments of dispair and retreat.

But when I focus on the good in my day, I am reminded why I do what I do, and for whom I am focused.

Today, Tuesday, the day after our President's Day holiday, I....

Strengthened my rep as a person worthy of my students' trust: When first grader Belle came into the classroom this morning in tears, scared about getting in trouble at home and with the principal because she brought a (broken) cell phone to school, I arraigned to be able to get down to the office and get all the details. I was able to get a colleague to cover the class, find an administrator, figure out the facts of the situation, and come back to Belle and help her understand the problem and the consequences. By attending to her worries as soon as possible, I probably held off a major tantrum, lots of anxiety, and loss of learning time. Moreover, I reinforced to Belle how really important she is to us. She is closer to knowing for sure that we will do all we can to help her understand, make a plan for improvement, and accept her consequences.

Used information from an informal assessment to plan and teach a strong lesson on number patterns on a 100 chart: I noticed last week that Belle and Mike had big time trouble really understanding the value of double digit numbers to 100; the numbers in sequence appear random rather than part of a pattern. I pulled some supplementary materials, talked to a colleague, and came up with a set of fun activities to help these two really get a handle on that all important "number sense". That feels good.

And finally,...I

Held 3 reading conferences using phonics based, research proven materials: With the support of the LD teacher, I have been using a series of leveled mini books for guided reading and reading conferences. For 3 of my kids today, these books and the individual time I was able to give them made a difference in their skill levels and their confidence levels. I closed the folder at the end of the conferences feeling wonderful! Moreover,the kids felt like readers!!!

So tomorrow, at days' end, no matter my schedule or my after school obligations, I will again take that quiet minute to identify the best parts of my day.

It keeps me coming back.

Monday, February 20, 2006

General Education and the IEP process: a high school teacher's perspective

Link here to some ideas from Coach Brown re implementing IEP's in the general education classroom. I find real value in his insight, and appreciate the difficulty faced when gen ed teachers are handed IEP's they had no voice in creating.

Also relevant: his perception of the parent factor.....

"The parents have absolute sway once the document is implemented, so teachers that have a gripe about unreasonable modifications are pretty powerless. I had a minor incident this year where a parent thought that I wasn't going "all the way" with their child's modifications. I explained that a child in a college prep class should do more than fine with my implementation of the IEP. When they started to snarl, I backed off. It wasn't worth the potential distraction that it could create. "

I appreciate Coach Brown's advise not to hassle the spec ed teacher who is responsible for the paperwork, etc. However, the spec ed teacher does need and probably wants your input. It's best practice for a reason.

He also stipulates "Stand up for your classroom while in the IEP (management style, class policy, etc), but never say "I will not do that". It alienates everyone in attendance." That's a good reminder for all of us involved in the creation of this important document. Moreover, the focus needs to be on what is needed for the student to succeed.... not a referendum on the management style of a particular teacher.

May I add?.... instead of trying for "vague" accomodations, approach the idea of support with a very focused eye. Of course the accomodations must be "doable", but more importantly, they must be tailored to that child's needs. If you keep to what this kid requires based on his/her disability, going overboard is not likely. Maybe I am an optimist.

Lastly, he's right.....-"Document everything". Again, best practice.

Monday, February 13, 2006

On becoming a SERIOUS educator....

Over at Education Wonks, the main man reports and comments on the latest information coming out of Madame Spellings' office. She is asking of educators and those interested in school reform: "Let's get serious".

(Check here for the info and Edwonks very astute read on what's missing from Ms. Spellings' plans.)

Immediately I was reminded of a comparison I recently made between my current teaching practice and my less effective, less focused teaching of years past. Previously I noted that with the advent of NCLB, my teaching skills improved because of newly acquired data about my students learning. That is, with closer, more frequent assessment required by my school as part of our statewide response to NCLB, I can target areas of weakness, revamp plans and strategies for meeting all my students' competing needs, and therefore do a better job overall.

It feels fine for me to say I am now MORE FOCUSED....MORE TARGETED....MORE SUCCESSFUL.

It does not, however, feel okay when Ms. Spellings identifies these changes as a result of my finally "getting serious". If she thinks I was not serious about teaching/ learning in the past, she just doesn't get teachers. I've met only a handful of teachers in 20 years who were not serious about their teaching. Being SERIOUS is not the problem. It's about being effective, about knowing (not guessing) what works and what doesn't, and getting the support to put all of it into place.

Serious? Who is she kidding? Did she think I wasn't serious my first year of teaching when I stayed until 6:30 every night to plan for my 5 preps for 12 Behaviorally Maladjusted highschoolers who came to class doped up, criminally inclined, damaged and abused, or worse. I left that school after one year, and I am very sure none of the boys I taught graduated. I was certainly not effective; I was definetly serious.

Was seriousness a problem when I taught a small class of general education kindergartners at a private school? I followed the school's curriculum, organized learning and play centers as advised by the school's specialists,and worked very long hours in preparation. In earnest, I faithfully met with parents and my teaching colleagues. Looking back, I see so many holes in my teaching. It's alittle embarrassing. But no one can question my seriousness about my job and my obligations.

So the next time the powers that be make a call to arms, when Ms. Spellings or any of the government's education reform experts want to embolden teachers to forge on, do better, make a difference..... please, don't question my seriousness.

That makes me SERIOUSLY want to scream!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Gratitude for small blessings....

Hi ya'll!

It's been a good day overall. I don't usually come to my blog to report a good day, but here I am. With the Grammy's on, I'm chilling in my bed, me and my beautiful dog Cayenne, and I'm thinking about how to make tomorrow a better day.

But first, a moment to savor the good news:

For 2 days straight I have been successful in getting my very ADHD, very oppositional, manipulative sweetiepie to sit down... yes, sit down.. with me to begin to learn how to add to sets to 6. It's basic early first grade work, and we are just now getting to it. Yes, it was one-on-one, completed in just under ten minutes (an extension of his regular attention span), and I had a bag of gummy bears in my pocket as leverage. I will use whatever is at my disposal to hook this little one.

It felt good.

One little boy was able to finally accept our much practiced cues and redirection to stop crying/whining. Instead, he used his words to describe his problem/feelings. It's a big step in his emotional development, and a real breakthrough for all of us around him who are just tired of hearing his crying at the drop of a hat.

Sigh. Smile.

Derek really really really tried to make good behavior choices throughout the day, and it's not easy for him with all of his negative, even scary thinking messing up his brain. He keeps a tight lid on his psychotic thoughts, so tight he sometimes looks like he'll forget to breathe. Today he made it through with a smile on his face for much of the day. A miracle.

Praise God.

Lastly, I ended the day in a surprisingly positive way. As part of the requirement to become HIGHLY QUALIFIED, I am made to take a science class.... even though I have been teaching the early primary science curriculum for over 15 years. DON'T GET ME STARTED!! But..... the class turned out to be great. I learned alot, deepened my understanding of the various units I'm so familiar with, and have some new things I plan to try with my class in the next week or so. The three hours went by rather quickly; the instructor was talented and very knowledgable. If I HAVE to take this kind of class as a means to an end, at least it's not a total bust.

Tomorrow is another day, another chance to make a difference. I'll sleep well tonight knowing that the few wonderful, bright moments can keep me going!

Thanks for reading my blog. I appreciate your comments!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

So she slept through language arts and math....

There's been a flu bug going around the school. The kind that keeps you in the bathroom, wishing you could just end it all rather than spend one more minute on the cold, hard, ceramic tile floor just inches away from the toilet.....

So when my little first grader came down with stomach cramps on Friday, and spent a long time in the bathroom TWICE, I was sure we'd be sending her home within the hour. But she didn't have diarrhea, no fever, just a debilitating tummy ache. Most kids' parents would want to be called if their child was in this kind of discomfort. I certainly can't teach a little one who can't concentrate because she feels sick. But this mom does not want to be called unless it is a real emergency. You know, the kind of illness that fits the guidelines for MUST GO HOME NOW: fever, throwing up, stitches required, etc.

So little first grader lay sprawled on the bean bag for several hours, in and out of sleep, all the while wondering why I wasn't making her mom come pick her up.

This happens a lot. Kids don't get enough sleep, they sleep during the day. Kids' meds are wrong, they get sleepy, they sleep during the day. They don't get breakfast at home, and they arrive at school too late for school breakfast, so they eat in the classroom (from reserves we collect just for this purpose). They come in clothes not appropriate to the weather/season. We lend them clothes from our stash. I've duck-tapped shoes, bought toothpaste and toothbrushes for kids with chronic bad breath, slipped kids extra food to take home to their siblings when none of them are getting enough. I buy them children's books to take home, as well as crayons, paper, tape, scissors.

If you are a teacher reading this blog, you probably have your stories to tell too. It's something we all end up doing because we care about the kids. It's just counter-productive to withhold supplies, books, clothing, even sleep and food. And so the cycle continues.

The folks who say that our school problems can be solved without addressing issues of poverty don't want us to use poverty as an excuse to stop trying. I get that. But poverty continues to do it's damage whether the experts admit it or not.

And we good, caring teachers will continue to try and mitigate the damage as we seek to teach our charges to the highest of standards.