Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Things that distract a blogger from regular production:

* planning a party for local high school alumns in an effort to get help to plan a 30th reunion

* blogger's lovely *Hokie Girl* is full out involved in pre-prom activities, including dress shopping, alterations, coordinating dinner plans for 24, and limo aquisition. Next up: graduation festivities

*attending local country music fest reminds said blogger of the hassle of sitting on the lawn among thousands of heavy smokers, drunk teenagers, short-tempered rednecks, and kissing couples who "need to get a room"!

*students and teachers enter the dreaded testing window for state testing and various other required assessments..... anxiety surges, moodiness swells, exhaustion creeps in. Blogger and colleagues try to remind each other why we chose this job in the first place!

So for now, I'm taking everything day by day. Breathe in. Breathe out. I'll return to my more regular blogging ways in due time!!!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Joanne Jacobs is coming......

I ordered Joanne Jacobs' book before it came out because I knew (from her blog) that she's definetly had something to say. She's coming to the area to talk.... and the lucky ones will take the time to go and listen. Here is her info, in her own words:

"I’ll speak and sign books on Thursday, May 11 at 5:30 pm at William E. Doar Jr. (WEDJ) Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, 705 Edgewood St. NE, Washington, DC (near the Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA metro stops). In addition, the school’s musical troupe will perform and I’ll ask guests to donate a children’s book to the school library.

Founded in 2004, WEDJ School enrolls students from all over the city. Students take classes in music, dance and theater and perform in at least one public exhibition or performance each year. A longer school day and Saturday classes ensure enough time for academics and arts. Currently an elementary, the school is adding middle and high school classes in the fall.

On Wednesday, May 17 at 5:30 pm, I’ll speak at Russell Byers Charter School, 1911 Arch St., in downtown Philadelphia. I'll also do a "bookraiser" for the school's library.

Founded in 2001, the school educates children in kindergarten (a two-year program starting at age four) through sixth grade using the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound program. The school was created to honor the memory of Russell Byers, a Daily News columnist killed in a mugging.

Both the Washington and Philadelphia charter schools primarily serve black students. “Our School” follows the principal, teachers and students at Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that’s 90 percent Hispanic. Most students come from Spanish-speaking immigrant families; most earned D’s and F’s in middle school and enter ninth grade with fifth-grade reading and math skills. They were left behind academically but promoted anyhow. Operating with a work-your-butt-off philosophy, Downtown College Prep now outscores the average California high school on the state’s Academic Performance Index and sends all graduates to four-year colleges.

After 19 years as a San Jose Mercury News editorial writer and Knight Ridder columnist, I quit in 2001 to freelance, start an education blog at and report and write “Our School.”

I think “Our School” enables readers to step inside a charter school that’s struggling, learning from mistakes, adapting and improving. "

-- Joanne Jacobs

“Joanne Jacobs's "Our School," a vivid account of the creation and first years of a charter high school in San Jose, Calif., . . . reads like a novel whose characters are both stereotypical and improbable. . . But this isn't fiction. The challenges are real, the stakes high, the lessons important -- and the achievements extraordinary.”
-- Henry Miller, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 17, 2005

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Carnival of Education

This week's edition of The Carnival of Education went up Wednesday. Check it out. There's no better place to get a variety of opinions about education!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The long walk down the hall .....

Sometimes I just have to give myself a break.

I was beating myself up today because I just haven't been able to make headway with a small group of my kids who just can't seem to get the basics of money. They mix up the coins, their value, forget to add on or just plain add wrong. Even with supports like wall posters, number charts, etc., it's just taking so daaaarrrrnnnn lllloooonnnnngggg!!

When my more reasonable side took hold, I remembered that 2 of the 5 kids have severe processing deficits, and, OF COURSE, for them, it will take longer for the concepts to gel. A third child has been absent so much she has missed any sense of continuity of instruction, and the last child often sleeps through Math because of his afternoon meds. His little nap doesn't usually cause a big problem, because I am able to catch him up easily at another time. But he's having trouble with the memorizing needed to identify the coins and match their value. So the challenges continue.

Reasonable or not, I felt like a crummy teacher this afternoon.

I've used all kinds of strategies, including using real coins and playing store, lots of singing songs adapted to teach the names and value of the coins, "drill and kill" (not very successful at this point), peer coaching, whole group and one-on-one instruction, playing money games that teach trading and adding money.... and still we flounder.

My next step? Wander on down the hall to veteran first grade teacher Mrs. A, and get her take on the problem. What other strategies does she use? Her kids are ready for the chapter test... what exactly did she do differently that brought such success. Mrs. A, just what am I missing??

In retrospect, that walk down the hall I plan to take is one way I know I am not such a crummy teacher after all. Crummy teachers don't take the time to think through their challenges and ASK FOR HELP!!

Teaching is hard, and because I have been doing it a long time and fairly well, I forget just how hard it can be. Thank goodness I have my colleagues to turn to. Thank goodness my school is a collaborative learning space, and asking for help is encouraged and honored.

Thank goodness for teachers like Mrs. A.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

To expell or not to expell....

A raging child throws over a chair. Another child's tantrum spirals as he kicks his teacher. Another aims a firm push on her teacher's shoulder.

None of these behaviors are acceptable. But in our special program for children with emotional disabilities, they are not uncommmon. We are used to dealing with reactive, aggressive students. But in the interest of building an environment that supports both trust and learning, aggressive behavior must be dealt with swiftly and consistently. We do that, for the most part, everyday, using strong preventative measures AND effective consequences.

I, for one, need to feel everything is being done that can be done in order for me, my colleagues, and our students to be safe. It's just unrealistic, though, to think we will not be subjected to dangerous situations, no matter what kind of preventative programs we put into place.

It comes down to this: it's part of the job.

But when our overtly aggressive students lose their already tenuous grip on rationality, how can we say their reactions are NOT caused by their disability?

That happened this week in a hearing about one of our students who threw a chair directly at a staff member in anger, and then hit her in the face with a closed fist.

While the psychologist who works with the child and his family saw a clear connection between his behavior and his disability, and his teacher agreed, the other two school admin types on the committee voted NOT CAUSAL.... and the child is expelled.

Now, I'm not saying this child should be allowed to return to our program. I'm in agreement that homebound services might be helpful in the short term until a more appropriate placement can be found. And since, even though he is expelled, the county continues to be responsible for providing services for him, I think the whole expulsion issue teeters on nonsense.

But in handing down this decision, the child and his family have lost the one positive connection they had as they struggled through the most horrific kinds of home dysfunction. Ultimately, the child is uprooted, the parent is abandoned.

The powers-that-be say that despite a medical diagnosis and the assertions of the school professionals who work most closely with this child, his emotional disabilities DID NOT cause his aggressive reaction.

He's gone.

Why don't I feel any safer?