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Parents in Denial March 12, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Parenting, Teaching.
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Saturday morning I woke up with my stomach churning over a conversation I’d had with a parent after school. No harsh words were exchanged (unlike my first year of teaching when a parent flipped me off in front of a class of second graders), but the parent looked at me incredulously when I said her child was still having the same issues as he had on Day One. Another Parent in Denial

But there’s something I need to come clean about. Before I became a teacher 10 years ago, I, too, was a bonafide Parent in Denial. If only I’d been a teacher before I became a parent, I wouldn’t have been such a pushover when it came to my sons’ lame-o excuses. My boys were angels!  So any teacher who tried to tell me otherwise was obviously not used to dealing with a creative genius or a real boy.

How bad was I? When my younger son was accused of throwing an apple across the lunch area outside and hitting the custodian in the head, I insisted that it couldn’t have been him because I’d seen him throw in Little League and his aim wasn’t that good!  And I believed this with all my heart.

The “apple” incident was just one of many. There were phone calls. Meetings with tribunals of teachers. Suspensions. Sometimes the police were involved.

My sons are now 30 and 26 and they are decent, hardworking young men whom I’m now very proud of.  So, imagine when several years ago my accused “apple thrower” blurted out, “Mom, you know all that stuff they said I did in middle and high school?…well, I did it all.”

By then I was teaching and I had to hang my head with shame. To think I had been THAT parent. Not always, but there were a couple of rough years when I’d questioned a teacher’s motivation, competence, and even demanded that my son be changed to another class. Because of me, there were some teachers who woke up on Saturday morning with their stomachs churning. Karma?

A colleague posted What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents on Facebook. It was just what I needed to read on Saturday morning.  At a time when the average new teacher leaves the profession after only 4.5 years and “parent disrespect” is cited as one of the leading reasons, I think this is timely indeed. Read it and see what you think.

 

On My 9th Year of Teaching – Looking Back at Year 1 August 19, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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This week I’ll go back to school. It will be my 9th year working as a credentialed teacher in a public school.

I took the scenic route to becoming a teacher. I taught art in NYC. I worked as a substitute on and off. I was a District Intern with the Los Angeles Unified School District for 10 months teaching in a modified bilingual classroom. There was no toilet paper. The jello made the kids sick. My own sons were acting up. I quit and sold my blue pocket charts at a yard sale.

Two years later, I tried another alternative program to credentialing and was placed in a classroom of high risk 5th grade students. I didn’t have the experience at that time to deal with them. Every day after school the custodian would push his broom through my classroom and say, “These are bad kids, very bad kids.” The enrollment numbers were down, so I was first to go. After only 15 days in the classroom, I couldn’t leave fast enough as I was done – or more accurately, done in.

Yet, no matter how many times I decided I was DONE with teaching, I always returned. No sooner had I sold those blue pocket charts than I was out buying more. Ultimately, I realized that it’s when I’m in the classroom that I feel most alive.

In 2004, I finally earned my California Teaching Credential. I was 50 years old. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.

Did you know that half of all teachers leave teaching within the first five years? Looking back, it’s a wonder I even made it through my first year. It’s a year still seared in my memory as no class in pedagogy could have prepared me for what was in store.

It was only the second week of school when the principal came to the door of my classroom. This was not a good sign. Had I filled out the attendance incorrectly? He led me to the office where I met the father of one of my students. The man, head in hands, was weeping.”She was just so stressed,” he kept saying. I wasn’t quite sure what this was about.

It was only the next day that we learned his wife had committed suicide by shooting herself in the garage. And the kids? They were still at home watching TV as he had told them their mother was at work. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. Several days passed and the boy returned to school. I bought a heart-shaped pillow where he could sometimes rest back in the library when he felt sad.

A new boy, Ezekiel, joined our class. He was adorable and so smart that he’d skipped first grade. He immediately befriended the boy who’d lost his mother. I remember thinking, “This is a good thing” as they were both such bright and kind-hearted boys.

But after Thanksgiving, Ezekiel did not come back to school. Could he have gone on a trip to see relatives I wondered? Then came the call. He’d collapsed at home and was at the hospital on life support. Could the children pray for him? They did – with all the strength their little second-grade hearts could muster.

The next day the principal and I drove to the hospital to see this precious boy. When a child was pushed by us in the hall on a gurney, the principal asked, “Was that him?” I honestly didn’t know. I was used to seeing Ezekiel in his school uniform with those big sparkly eyes. The family was gathered. The mood was somber. He’d just collapsed one evening at home. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Ezekiel was taken off life support the next day. Crisis counselors from the district descended on my classroom. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. But the words eventually came to me. We wrote a poem. We talked about how someone is never really gone unless you forget them.

At Ezekiel’s funeral, his first grade teacher was the first to speak. I will never forget what she said.

“Teaching is a dangerous job because you can fall in love with other people’s children.”

That’s the truth. And so begins another year.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

As Summer Sets July 22, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Personal.
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Idaho – This is where God lives.

There’s no denying it. The end of summer is in sight, especially since this year the first day of school has been moved up to August 20th. How can this be? I just emerged from my school-induced coma! My husband said I could become a professional sleeper, but I like to think of my inert state as similar to a medically induced coma. I’m allowing the swelling to go down, so my brain cells can regenerate.

It’s no secret that most visitors to my blog are seeking information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I don’t often write as much about school or my personal life. But there are times when I, too, need a respite. So please hear me out.

I feel the need to take stock in what I HAVE accomplished so far this summer. Mind you, it doesn’t help that I set the bar so low that I literally trip over it when I get out of bed. My summer mantra is “Things to do – get dressed by 2.”

1) I’ve watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey so I can hold up my end of the conversation in the Teacher’s Lounge. I did make the mistake of calling my husband “Carson.” I won’t make that mistake again.

2) I flew back to the Midwest to help my mother write a zillion thank you notes to friends and family who helped when my father died in early March. My sidekick was my niece, whose job it was to provide me with comic relief. Well done, Ali! While rummaging through drawers, I stumbled upon my report card from Second Grade. I was happy to see that I “read with comprehension.”

We ate at the wonderful Bluebird Cafe in Kansas City then wandered around the neighborhood. Cathy said that a lot of scenes from “The United States of Tara” were shot in this locale. What a find!

3) While back in the Midwest, I drove down to Kansas City to visit my college roommate, Cathy aka Catherine Sherman on my blogroll. She took me off to explore parts of Kansas City I never could have imagined. Way cool. Old friends are gold friends indeed.

4) At 1/2 Price Books in Omaha, I picked up two books, Olive Kitteridge and Year of WondersI read both. Olive Kitteridge is a collection of overlapping stories that revolve around a retired teacher living in a small town in Maine. Most of the characters would qualify for the senior discount, so when the going gets rough they cheer themselves up with the thought that if things get any worse, they can always commit suicide. Did I mention that this book won the Pulitzer Prize? Year of Wonders is set in the plague years in England. I highly recommend it.

5) We drove (with the younger kiddo) to Idaho to visit my husband’s family and celebrate his father’s 88th birthday. I haven’t done long haul driving in years, and our younger son was barred from driving my husband’s car, so it was just the two of us and all those Starbucks gift cards I received from students at the end of the year. The photo of the sunset was taken as we drove by McCammon, Idaho. All three of us had our iPhones out and then I remember asking, “Hey, who’s driving the car?!!!)

One of the musical chairs from the Extreme Makeover house made from the piano that was salvaged from the fire.

We stayed with my husband’s sister Jane in her Extreme Makeover house. She’s since opened a Montessori school, The Morningside House,  in her basement. My husband said when I saw it, he thought I was going to cry. There were actually TWO sinks and some newfangled things called electrical outlets.

6) While in Idaho we saw my oldest son and his girlfriend. We laughed so hard at the new Japanese restaurant, Sumisu, that the waitress declared that we were her Number One table for the night. It also helps that we Californians are accustomed to tipping 20 percent, whereas the local Mormons tend to only tip 10 percent. Is this what it feels like to be a “whale” in Las Vegas?

7) Having returned home, I’ve already (with a lot of help from my husband) repainted out bedroom in the same color that I loved in the Extreme Makeover house. It’s Sherwin Williams “Seascape.” When the guy told me how much the paint cost  (it was already mixed at that point) my jaw dropped. It must have flecks of gold in it!

Now that the end of Summer Vacation is in sight, I’m trying to make the most of every day. In no time at all, I’ll be sitting in the Teacher’s Lounge eating a partially defrosted Lean Cuisine. Up next is working on a picture book that I’ve had in mind for quite some time. I might have to start sleeping in my clothes so as to get a head start on each day.

Here’s to sitting out on the front porch and watching the world go by.

Photo Credits: Jan Marshall

Ted Bundy’s Third Grade Teacher May 17, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Teaching.
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I don’t know who Ted Bundy‘s teacher was, but I can’t help but wonder if she (sorry, but the majority of elementary teachers do have that XX chromosome thing going), noticed anything off about young Ted? Serial killers may take a while to reach their full potential (ouch!), but from those who’ve been studied, it’s clear that there was something off early on. Perhaps the class hamster met an untimely death?  Or maybe, like so many psychopaths, Ted skated by on superficial charm. Think Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver.

‘Wally’ Cleaver: [at the bottom of the staircase, calling out to his mother upstairs] Hey, Mom!
June Cleaver: Yes, Wally.
‘Wally’ Cleaver: Could Eddie spend the night here?
June Cleaver: Not while your father’s away.
‘Eddie’ Haskell: [dejected] Boy. Everybody around here is wise to me. I might just have to move to a new town and start all over.

Historically, the Big Three predictors of aberrant behavior are bed wetting, cruelty to animals, and fire starting. Personally, I’d add laughing when other children are hurt and inappropriate remarks showing callowness and a lack of empathy. Yet while most people associate psychopaths with serial killers, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Feb 19, 2011 issue of New Scientist, a crackerjack science magazine, featured an interview with Kent Keihl, whose studied the origin in the brain of psychopathic behavior. Kent also grew up down the street from Ted Bundy which only stoked his interest in how two people in the same zip code take such different trajectories in life.

I couldn’t help but fixate on his comment, “There are probably many psychopaths out there who are not necessarily violent, but are leading very disruptive lives in the sense that they are getting involved in shady business deals, moving from job to job, or relationship to relationship, always using resources everywhere they go but never contributing. Such people inevitably leave a path of confusion, and often destruction behind them. ” (Bold face mine.)

Robert Hare, the Godfather of Psychopathy, wrote Sharks in Suits detailing how psychopaths have been able to thrive on Wall Street and as CEOs.  Think Bernie Madoff and the path of destruction he left behind. And he didn’t even need duct tape!

I found Can You Call a 9 Year Old a Psychopath?  featured last Sunday in The New York Times Magazine to be a fascinating read. The Huffington Post did a follow-up piece 9-Year-Old Psychopaths – Dr. Alan Ravitz on How to Diagnose Children as Psychopaths.

Okay, I teach 9-year-olds. Have I had any students who I thought were psychopaths?  I can think of one, maybe two. But only time will tell. As teachers, we’re forever hopeful that we can make a difference. But still, I document everything so when America’s Most Wanted comes knocking, I’m ready.

The thinking has always been that it is irresponsible to diagnose/label a developing child as a psychopath. So children exhibiting symptoms that would be considered psychopathic traits in the adult population are diagnosed instead with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), or with Conduct Disorder (CD). Rhoda, the character from the cult movie The Bad Seed , probably would have had CD. While not all of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are psychopaths, all psychopaths have strong narcissistic traits. But this does not factor in as children are inherently narcissistic, so narcissism is a given. Bottom Line – Psychopathy, Anti-Social Personality (Sociopathy) and Narcissism are like close kin all dancing around that same May Pole of Lack of Empathy.

Some children diagnosed with these disorders eventually “grow out of them” and become functioning adults. The psychiatric community has always erred on the side of caution, as there’s much we don’t know about the developing human brain and/or the genetic predisposition for psychopathy. It’s the old nature vs. nurture, or possibly a N&N cocktail of circumstances. Just like drinking, you can’t become a psychopath until you’re 18.

That said, I’ve got stories. I’ve had students whose parents thought I was the teacher who could turn their child around. And I tried mightly – but the Mississippi flows south. I have a friend who carries a mug that says Miracle Worker, but as teachers, we can only do so much. We’d all like to think that we can be The One who makes a difference, but more often than not the die is cast. I take no joy in saying this.

When I tell people I teach third grade, their response is often, “Oh, they’s so cute at that age. They don’t have all the problems that come with older kids.” What rock have they been hiding under? We have students who have had IEPs (Individual Education Plans) since Kindergarten to deal with a variety of emotional issues (frequently a result of abuse), but sometimes not.

I’ve had students who laughed when another child was hurt (and not the nervous laugh), or go out of their way to inflict physical or emotional pain on their peers. I’ve also had students who were bald faced liars and master manipulators – at 7 years of age. I even had a student who so terrified his babysitter that he made her pay him $5 day to go to school! And I’ve had parents in denial while others were at wit’s end as to how to deal with their child’s behavior.

I’ve seen some scary s*it, so I remain vigilant – and I document everything. I’ve also never had a class hamster – just in case.


History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part 2 May 1, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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When I wrote History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us PartI ended by saying that I would NEVER do this project again. Not with 28 students. Well, as my mother always said, “Never say never,” or as I like to say, “Crow is best eaten while warm.”

Fast forward a year. I now have 31 third graders and History Wax Museum is HAPPENING! Why? Two teachers are new to 3rd grade, so they don’t have any lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from last year. And those of us who are veterans? Well, what can I say? I’d like having a baby. Once you pop the little booger out, you tend to forget all that came before.

It also helps that History Wax Museum is performed at Open House. For teachers this means no Dog and Pony Show (my dog has been dead for years and the pony is out to pasture). No attempts to out-cutesy the teacher next door and NO cleaning the classroom. Can you say bliss?

This year a parent suggested that students should be able to explain just what a history wax museum is to the uninitiated. Okay, here’s what you need to know. NO WAX is harmed in the making of  the History Wax Museum. The students stand frozen in a pose in front of their tri-fold board. There is a button on the floor (okay, it’s a fake button – a red paper circle actually) that visitors step on to activate the character. The student then “comes to life” and tells their story.

Last year, I found myself doing a lot of things that weren’t covered in my teacher credentialing program like throwing together costumes for kids whose parents couldn’t pull it together. Galileo showed up with a piece of a white t-shirt to wear as a beard. It looked a bit like a do-rag. Really? That’s the best you could do?

I sprinted to the local Out of the Closet and found a woman’s frilly shirt. It was supposed to be for Florence Nightingale, but she pulled a costume together at the last minute. Florence (The “Lady with the Lamp”) Nightingale even had a lantern thanks to my neighbors. Galileo ended up wearing the frilly shirt. He did manage to drag in a HUGE telescope for visitors to trip over.

I also helped Abe Lincoln, who was portrayed by a girl, make a stove pipe hat from a paper plate and some black paper. It turned out way better than I ever imaged. Abe’s mom found a “beard” at Michael’s. The girl looked like she had a furry hamster clinging to her face!

This year, I’ve got a new group of kids who are doing a lot of different people. I’m thinking I might sandwich George Carlin between Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. LOVE IT!

Both Picasso and Gandhi are being played by girls. Gandhi has nixed wearing a skull cap. She asked me for advice on her costume. Another teacher suggested, “How about a diaper?” Okay, that is SO not happening. A lovely parent from last year from India stopped by for a costume consultation. All I know is it involves bedsheets. With another kid’s John Lennon glasses, I believe we have lift off for Gandhi!

I couldn’t resist taking the photo of the Secret Lives of Great Artists. Last year’s Frido Kahlo (I  have Frida “dos” this year.) was surprised to learn that she’d had affairs with women as well as men. I have learned to deftly handle these delicate questions. I’ve found that, “Whatever floats your boat” accompanied by a wink explains so much about the human condition. And to be honest, my Frida was more distressed that Diego was so fat.

Queen Elizabeth I took me aside the other day to let me know that her father Henry VIII was behaving very inappropriately with her – something about spanking and tickling. I suggested she just skip to the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Nudity – no. Violence – yes. That said, what about Annie Oakley? How can you be a sharpshooter without a gun? Annie made one out of paper, but it looked like a Saturday night special. Now if we can just get a 2×4 and get carving…

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

Why Teachers Kick Ass January 12, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching, Uncategorized.
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Thanks to Michelle, my former student teacher who is now gainfully employed, for sharing this. Today was a very long day and even though I’ve heard versions of this, with the graphics and the voiceover, it was just what I needed after another day of “making a difference.”

“How was it coming back after break,” some idiot asked. Well, actually, it was like getting slapped in the face with a cold fish. It didn’t help that no sooner had school started than Student #32 was dropped off on my doorstep. He’s from Korea and doesn’t know a word of English. I didn’t have a desk for him and ended up rearranging the entire classroom to handle what is beginning to resemble a small city of rather small people.

Here’s the difference I’ve made in the three days I’ve been back.
1)  Said student from Korea can now say, “Teacher!” I’ve had to discourage him from getting other students’ attention by pinching them. (Though it DOES do the trick.) He’s obviously bright, so I pull out my iPhone and use my translation app for words like “crazy.” I’ve taught my students what the expression “lightning in a bottle” means, as I believe this best describes the new kid. He’s got a ready smile and the gung ho enthusiasm of a puppy.

2) Nature Club, my resident group of tree huggers, was elated today to hear they would not lose their beloved clubhouse. Their “clubhouse” is actually a narrow passage behind the chain link backstop on the baseball diamond. (I hesitate even calling it this, as it implies there’s some sort of diamond – there’s not.) I’m not exactly sure what it is that Nature Club does. I do know it involves carrying a basket of seed pods and twigs out to the playground to decorate the “clubhouse.” They had been told by a yard supervisor that they would have to move and were outraged. They asked me about getting a lawyer. I convinced them that a persuasive letter was more in their price range. They got to writing. I was so glad to hear today that they got their “clubhouse” back, as I was envisioning a peaceful protest involving them dressed as leaves. I’m counting that as one more crisis averted. Did I mention that they keep logs in my classroom?

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. For friends who’ve asked, I’m once again posting my a favorite video Ideal Class Size from my post The Rising Body Count. Notice how things start to go downhill after 23. Oh yeah…

Lockdown! November 27, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching, Uncategorized.
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For the teachers in your life on Etsy.

Forget Black Friday. Crowd control? Violence? People trying to claw their way to the front of the line? Hell, every day is Black Friday when you’re a teacher.

In keeping with my mantra, “I expect chaos, so I’m never disappointed” mantra, my school recently went into lockdown mode.

Never mind that what used to be called “Lockdown” is now referred to as “Shelter in Place.” When things got dicey, the voice over the PA made it clear. “Teachers we are in lockdown. This is not a drill!”

I dutifully locked the door to the classroom (Thank god I could find my keys on the mess that is my desk!) One student asked if someone might be coming into the school with a gun. “That’s unlikely,” I replied. “But if anyone does, I’ll take a bullet for you. That’s why I make the big bucks.” My students seemed relieved. “Now let’s get back to those Thanksgiving turkeys,” I chirped.

It helped immensely that half of my class (31 students, yes 31!) was out of the class on the Woodworking Bus. I was busily dipping the coffee filters that had been colored with magic markers into a glass of water. These would be the turkey’s feathers. “Ooh! Aah!” Kids never cease to be amazed at the results. But the sound of helicopters nearby was hard to ignore. Someone jiggled the doorknob and students froze. ‘They’re just checking to make sure we’re safe,” I said. I casually strolled over to the glass just to make sure Michael Myers was not lurking outside.

An hour passed. The kids complained that recess had come and gone, like it was MY fault that we couldn’t go outside. After another 20 minutes had passed, some started in on their snacks. It was then that one boy said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I ordered him to quit sucking on his juice pack, but it was too late. “I really have to go,” he repeated.

For six years, I’ve had an emergency potty in my room. It’s basically a plastic waste paper basket with a rubber lid. A bin of books is balanced on it, so the kids hadn’t even noticed it. We popped it open to see what was inside: a blue plastic tarp, pairs of latex gloves, plastic bags, a bag of kitty litter, and a roll of toilet paper.

“I really have to go,” moaned the juice-slurper. I figured out how to drape the plastic tarp – one end on the metal cabinets and the other on my easel. Not bad. The boy was now doing the potty dance, a sight that strikes fear into the heart of all teachers.

I had all of the kids move to the far side of the class. “Keep coloring those turkeys!” I ordered. You could have heard a pin drop. And that was the problem. No one wants to have everyone hear them “go.” I found my Muse CD and cranked it up LOUD, guitar riffs and all.

The first boy went. He emerged smiling from the makeshift restroom. I handed him a leftover Halloween cup half-filled with kitty litter and instructed him to go back and toss it in. A second boy came forward. He used the potty. More kitty litter. Finally, another boy said, “Oh, I might as well.” He complained that there was kitty litter around the rim and requested a wipe to clean it off. No sooner had he gone than there was a knock at our door. Security was escorting children to the bathrooms for a quick break.

The three boys stayed behind. “We don’t need to go because we went IN CLASS!” they bragged. I gave them a Sharpie and let them autograph the toilet. They insisted on writing the date beside their names.

I’m afraid the children who were most traumatized by the lockdown were those out in the Woodworking Bus. They were forced to go into a kindergarten classroom and then herded into the auditorium where they were, according to them, forced to sing the “Hokey Pokey” over and over. Their eyes were glassy.

Later we learned the lockdown was due to three pipe bombs found in the apartment of a parolee who’d been arrested the night before. His apartment was a block from the school, but the Fire Department issued the lockdown as a precaution as the Bomb Squad went in and detonated the bombs. The parolee had served time in prison for methamphetamine use. “Boy, meth will make your teeth fall out,” I warned the kids. “Never an attractive look.” This is what’s called a Teachable Moment.

Later, a custodian came in to remove the emergency potty for cleaning. Another teacher asked if I put the plastic bag inside the potty. Plastic bag? I asked. Oh crap! That’s what they were for? Said potty has yet to be returned, but we’ll know it when we see it cause it’s got our names written all over it.

Just another day in Paradise.

Teacher or Score Whore? August 13, 2011

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“All perceived underachievement by students is entirely the fault of teachers.” 

I’ve been mulling over posting Rewriting the Attack on Teachers from The Last Word on The Lawrence O’Donnell Show for over a week now. The show featured a clip of Matt Damon and his mom, who is a teacher, speaking out against this national obsession with standardized testing. The comment above is taken from the show. (And yes, if you click on the link, you have to sit through a commercial first. ^#^&8&.)

But in the meanwhile, MY students’ STAR test results came in. I was elated to learn that four of my 28 third graders scored a perfect 600 in math on the standardized STAR test given in May! Even more exciting, 24 scored Advanced and 2 at the Proficient level. I wasn’t surprised about the two students who didn’t make the grade. They struggled all year and scored Basic, but it could have been worse. There ARE sub-levels of failure including Below Basic and Far Below Basic.

It helped that this year I taught a cluster of GATE (Gifted and Talented Students). They made up half of the class. The four previous years, I taught an ELD (English Language Development) cluster where the test scores can sometimes make you wonder if you’ve been talking to yourself all year.

My students’ English Language Arts scores were less stellar, but that’s always the case. Whereas, math is black and white, the English Language is a moving target for my students. Still, if I taught in one of those districts that handed out money for test scores. Ka-ching! My initial reaction was, “Woo hoo!”

But then I got to thinking, something that teachers are prone to do. Though my class tested well, most of my students have difficulty writing a coherent paragraph. And with all that test prep, we barely touched on those two subjects that begin with S – Science and Social Studies. But these things aren’t “on the test” which is code for they must not be that important.

But what about imagination, passion, and creativity? Matt Damon asked. “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.” Sssh! The elephant in the room has stirred!

In Not Your Imagination: Kids Today Really Are Less Creative, Study Says, Ron Beghetto, an educational psychologist at the University of Oregon, posits, “The current focus on testing in schools, and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question, may be hampering the development of creativity among kids,” adding, “There ‘s not much room for unexpected, novel or divergent thought.”

Amen.

When it comes to talking not just about educational reform, but educational Revolution, I can think of no one as articulate and downright funny as Sir Ken Robinson. In his 18-minute talk at TED Bring on the Learning Revolution!, Robinson urges us to scrap the outdated industrial/manufacturing/fast food model of education where the goal is standardization and success is based on the standardized test in favor of a model where kids’ natural talents can flower. He also debunks the myths that “Everyone should go college” and “College begins in Kindergarten.”

It’s rousing food for thought, especially as a new school year awaits. Score whore no more! I’m a teacher. Period.

Credit: Score: Score Whore merchandise (yes, that’s the front of a notecard for the teachers in YOUR life) available through Urban Dictionary.

History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part May 17, 2011

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Last Friday, I found myself having a chat with Henry VIII about annulment vs. divorce, while JFK, Frida Kahlo, and Emiliano Zapata waited impatiently to talk to me. Yes, the History Wax Museum project is consuming my life.

This year, all four third grade classes at my school are doing this project which requires students to research a famous person’s life, then write a narrative speech in the first person which they must memorize and perform at Open House. The finished History Wax Museum is quite impressive. Students stand frozen in their costumes with a tri-fold board serving as a backdrop. There’s a red paper “button” on the floor that visitors step on to activate the character. To my knowledge, only one performer has thrown up in three years – and it was not on a visitor. That’s what I’d call Good Odds.

I’m afraid I’m a Johnny Come Lately to the GATE scene. (For you civilians that’s Gifted and Talented Education.) Yes, this year for the first time I have a cluster of GATE students. And this year for the first time, I’m expected to shepherd my students through this godawful project. I suppose when there were 20 students to a class, this project was doable, but with 28 warm bodies wall-to-wall in my classroom, it’s become unmanagable.

Students were to pick someone dead. Michael Jackson is a no no as all students want to do is wear a glove and do the Thriller dance.  But some teachers caved, so this year Yoko Ono will be making an appearance. Another teacher asked, “What’s she famous for?  Breaking up the Beatles?” I’m still wondering how a third grader in 2011 knows about Yoko Ono.

Students were to find two to three resources and do their research at home. They’re to do the writing at school to make sure good ole Mom and Dad don’t stick their finger in the pudding.

Last week, I waded through reams of paper that students had downloaded off the Internet, most of which was written for adults. One of the the questions was, “Where was your character born?” One girl answered, “A hospital.” I should have recognized that answer for what it was – the canary in the coal mine that had fallen from its perch. It’s been only downhill from there.

I have to remind myself that it’s not my students’ fault. Most were born in 2001. They have no concept of history. When I met with a student today, she’d written that her character, who was active in the Mexican Revolution was arrested and sent to a convenience store. “That would be a convent,” I reminded her. Even then, she didn’t have a clue.

Galileo is stressing about his costume, though he has yet to put a word on paper for his speech. “You know,” he said with utmost sincerity, “I wanted to be a monk, but my father didn’t want me to go to monk school.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Alien abduction makes more sense to these kids than half of the stuff they’re reading off of Wikipedia.

Which brings me to Henry VIII. One of my big Hispanic boys chose this character to research. As I skimmed over how Henry was “licentious,” I had to paraphrase for my student. “Wow, you were a real ladies man!” I said. He cracked a smile. He now has the “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” ditty down. Today he was bragging to another boy about all of his wives. I felt the need to take the wind out of his sails, so I reminded him that in his later years he had an oozing sore that didn’t heal and that was a real turn off for the ladies. Boy, that did the trick!

My Henry, unlike the real Henry VIII, comes from a family of meager means. When I asked how he planned to pull of this costume, he looked downright stricken. So in a moment of weakness, I ordered a black velveteen Tudor flat cap off the Internet. I know I’ll be able to use it again someday. The boy mentioned he’d need a feather for the hat. I think we need to scout the area outside the lunchroom where the pigeons roost.

Last Friday a teacher new to third grade announced History Wax Museum would be off her radar next year. I asked what she planned to do instead. “I have one word,” she said wiggling her hips, “Zoomba!”  I don’t even know what Zoomba is, but I’m in. But, can I wear my Tudor flat cap?

Nuclear Boy’s Radioactive Poo March 19, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in elementary school, TV/Film.
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How to explain a nuclear meltdown to Japanese children?  This 4-minute animated film was shown on Japanese television and likens a meltdown to Nuclear Boy having Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (Think Everybody Poops with translation.) From the looks of it, Nuclear Boy’s stinky poo would even make Godzilla’s eyes water. But he’s faring better than Chernobyl Boy who had an accurate diarrhea attack – in the classroom.

So far Nuclear Boy has just farted, but he’s being monitored by Sniffer-Man who bears more than a passing resemblance to an Easter Island head. There’s also a trio of doctors giving Nuclear Boy his medicine (Sea Water and Boron), but the middle doctor looks eerily like Dr. Jack Kervorkian, which is not very reassuring. Now, the only thing left to protect the Japanese people is… a diaper. And we all know how effective that is.

Confessions of a Greedy Teacher March 4, 2011

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I’m  sitting on my fat ass eating bonbons as I write this. Er, make that sitting “crisscross applesauce.” You see, as a teacher I’m held to a higher moral standard. That’s why Natalie Munroe, the Philadelphia English teacher, who blogged that her students were “unmotivated” “rude” and “dressed like streetwalkers” was suspended. Okay, she said more than that, but it was all so well written that it’s hard to imagine why so many people got their undies in a bunch. Who’s that elephant sitting in the room?  Oh, that would be The Truth. When I heard she came up with some alternate report card comments, I expected, “Shallow End of the Gene Pool” or “Future fodder for America’s Most Wanted.” But she took the high road. She of little imagination.

Whatever is wrong with society – blame it on those greedy teachers. Yeah, that’s why I drive a five-year-old Honda – the official Teacher Car. Today I actually sprang for a Lean Cuisine (Don’t ever nuke anything that is supposedly “beef”), instead of my usual instant oatmeal with a Coke Zero. You haven’t experienced fine dining till you’ve eaten oatmeal with a spork while waiting to run copies before picking up your class. Throw in a rainy day and that’s proof positive that there is Hell on Earth.

And what’s all this talk this a three-month summer vacation? Last year I got out June 23rd. Though school started again in mid-September (after three unpaid furlough days), teachers were back at school the last week of August setting up their classrooms. Nine blissful weeks off with no pay. That’s as good as it gets.

In an interview with protestors in Madison, Wisconsin, one woman said, “I’m here because although I hated school, I loved my teachers.” I wanted to give her a virtual hug but worried about sexual harassment charges.

Jon Stewart tried to bolster the sagging spirits of beleaguered teachers recently with a pep talk on Camera 3. His hilarious solution to combat those “greedy teachers” who are destroying America can be seen on The Daily Show.com .  (Type Message for Teachers into Search to view Crisis in Dairyland – Message for Teachers from the Feb. 28th show.)

As teachers, we are expected to be all things to all people. I believe our brains should be studied along with those of psychopaths to find out what motivates us to do a job that requires us to move mountains while having our hands tied behind our backs by regulations, paperwork, and No Child Left Behind (or only a few children left behind, and hopefully one of them is not yours).

This morning I read about the 12-year-old who killed his parents in Colorado and wounded his siblings. My first thought was, “Well, who was HIS teacher? String ‘em up!  Who knows how to tie a hangman’s knot?”  But it turned out he was homeschooled. Otherwise there would be yet another teacher with blood or Vis-a-Vis marker stains on their hands.

Another mother was arrested after her dead son was found (still warm) in an oven. Her sister asked that people not rush to judgement because, “She was a great mother.” The key word is “was.” If this poor child hadn’t died, he’d soon be enrolled in a public school near you. And some teacher would be expected to “turn him around” (even though mom’s phone had been disconnected and even though she didn’t show up for a Parent-Teacher Conference that the teacher rescheduled three times for her convenience). What’s wrong with this picture?

I started a list of all the hats that teachers wear during any given day as an homage to Dr. Seuss’ The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, but 500 wasn’t enough.  Besides, wearing all of those hats just increases the likelihood of an outbreak of lice.

Ahhh, just another day in Paradise. Pass me another bonbon, won’t you?

Photo Credit:  To buy a Miracle Worker mug for that teacher in your life, click here.

The Boys Are Not Alright January 17, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Food for Thought, Teaching.
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If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, then girls and boys are light years apart. Nowhere is this more evident than at school. I recently came across a 12-minute video, Gaming to Re-engage Boys in Learning, that features a former third-grade teacher, Ali Carr-Chellman, discussing why so many boys are turned off by school from ages 3-13.  Ms. Carr-Chellman, who now teaches at the Penn State University College of Education and is a game designer, cites three reasons why boys have such a difficult time in school. The statistics cited, “For every 100 girls…” are from The Boys Project.

As a teacher and the mother of two boys, I found this fascinating. This year I applied for and received my first grant that provides funds to add more high-interest books for boys to the classroom library. I wrote about boys’ reading preferences in Boys Book Club.

Just last Friday I told my boys I was going to bring in my son’s old Spawn action figures, so they could play with them during Friday Club.  But first, I needed to confiscate all of their weapons.  There was a collective groan, so when I watched this video, I had to laugh.

WARNING: You might never look at boys the same, and that could be a good thing.

The Rising Body Count November 14, 2010

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Okay, if I had more time, I'd make this pile o' babies look more multicultural like my own students.

I’m afraid blogging has taken a back seat to crowd control. Yes, I started the year with eight additional students. Those eight extra students might as well be 20. Forget Octo-mom. I’m Octo-teacher!

I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of students. When two third grade classes got off the bus to go swimming, the kids just kept a comin’.  It was like the clown car at the circus.

Reluctantly, I’ve switched to two lines. Some teachers do separate lines for boys and girls, but we know which line will always be ready to roll. I’ve tried to equal the odds – literally. Since all students have a class number based on their first name, the odds and evens have their own lines.

The first few weeks, I thought the odds were I was going to go insane just trying to maneuver my class from Point A to Point B. I’ve taken to walking backwards, my hands holding up one finger for the odds and two for the evens. It feels like I’m guiding a jumbo jet to the gate. I have to stand in the middle to keep the lines separate, as the children seem to be magnetically attracted to each other. Once they’ve passed and are standing in two orderly lines, I “take a walk down the aisle.”  “Don’t spoil my wedding!” I say to the kids oozing into my space. My students have taken to humming the wedding march as I move between the lines. You gotta love third graders.

The extra kids mean two more tables of students sitting where I used to store supplies. The supplies now sit in bins in front of my desk. I covered them with pillows and allow those lucky few to “sit in the balcony,” as my entire class can no longer fit on the rug when I do the Word Knowledge lesson.

I began teaching in 1997, the year after class-size reduction went into effect in California. Though a little long in the tooth, I’ve never taught a class of 35 squirrelly first graders doing the potty dance. The teachers in 4th and 5th grade have dealt with larger numbers for years. In theory, the older kids are able to sit still longer. Hey, I said “in theory!” At least they’re no longer wetting their pants (in theory).

But I’ll tell you this. As hard as I try, there’s just no way I can give each one of those students the individual attention they need and deserve. More papers to copy, more papers to correct, more report cards to write, more parents to conference with. This is a case where more is less. Some of the best teachers I know are straining under the weight of additional students. It’s like being a waitress during rush hour when someone has called in sick. There’s no silver lining. And there’s no tips.

Today’s students are not the same students I went to school with in the suburban Midwest. These are kids who too often have received the short end of the stick before they ever set foot in school. We’ve got children in kindergarten who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans) due to severe emotional disturbance and a host of other disorders, some diagnosed, others not. Fractured families and families with both parents working just to make ends meet. I just conferenced with many of my parents and was amazed at how many are under incredible stress, but still confident that I will somehow work miracles with their child. Do they know something I don’t know? Oh yeah, I’m Octo-Teacher.

I came across a hilarious video from The Saturday Night Armistice out of the U.K. Enjoy.

School Supplies – The Cupboard is Bare September 19, 2010

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I wanted to write a post about the first week of school but couldn’t find a picture of a person being hit over the head with a frying pan. But I did find the illustration above of Mother Hubbard and her ever hopeful dog checking the cupboard  – only to find it bare.  I guess that would make me ol’ Mother in the pointy hat, which is about how I felt last Friday afternoon after four straight days with my new third graders.

Last year we had no school supplies (e.g. pencils, paper, Crayons, glue, journals) because the orders were LOST. But supplies eventually did trickle in. This year no one has even offered an excuse for the lack of supplies save the economy. You have to understand. Good teachers don’t get mad. Okay, they do, but then they go to Target and buy whatever supplies they need with their own money. It’s usually on a credit card cause we received our last check in July and won’t see the next one ’til October. What’s wrong with this picture?

There are a few teachers who’ve I swear have been stockpiling supplies since 1999 in anticipation of the chaos the millenium might bring. They’re set. The rest of us are scrambling to “make do,” which I’m beginning to think should be an educational standard children are tested on, as it’s a valuable life skill.

On the first day back, our PTA (which is filled with dedicated and passionate parents) gave each teacher a $20 Target gift card. You’d have thought people won the lottery. We teachers are a humble lot. A $5 gift card to Starbucks makes us tear up. There was a drag race to Target as soon as our staff development let out. Unfortunately our district started so late this year that the Back-to-School section had been replaced with Halloween merchandise. All the  good stuff was gone. Dang!

This had to be the craziest first week of school I can remember. It didn’t help that two of our six third grade teachers were let go due to budget cuts. Or that because of five furlough days, we had four full days with new students instead of the usual two on Week 1. We were told there would be higher class sizes, but it was anticipated that some of those on the roster would be “no shows.” Last year student numbers crept from 20 to 24. This year they’re capped at 28. I had 32 on my roster, but only 29 showed. In the classroom next door to me 35 children filled the room making it impossible to move about the room.

Not only did I not have supplies, I didn’t have an extra eight desks and chairs! The day before school started our hard-working custodians dragged in a motley assortment of desks and chairs, some obviously from the 60s. Some were too big, some were too small, and none were just right.

I’d put in an order for my peeling wall to be repaired last June. I’m sure it’s lead-based paint, but I arrived back at school just in time to meet the painter who said he’d be back “later” to fix it. He was last seen running from the school. None of my computers had internet, so I had to summon my inner New Yorker to “persuade” ITS to send over a technician – now!  A technician did arrive and fixed the computers. I did not show my fangs. In fact, I went out of my way to be nice to him. Now I had computers, but still no journals or pencils.

I allow my students two pencils a month and one Kleenex a day (okay, if your snot is cascading onto the floor, I’ll give you two).  I told my students there were virtually no supplies, but tried to keep the mood positive. Let’s pretend we’re camping!  You know there are schools in sub-Saharan Africa that have dirt floors? Children write their math problems with sticks in the dirt. Does anyone have a stick?  My goal was not to burden the children with adult problems. “Pay no attention to that man standing behind the curtain!”

I sent home a letter to parents and thank goodness rolls of paper towels, glue sticks, and some stickers arrived. I even received a $20 gift card to Office Depot. I actually now have a red dry erase marker! As teachers we’re so used to making do with so little, that the smallest gesture of kindness puts us on top of the world. I’m of the opinion that during the BP oil spill, if they’d offered free food, teachers would have flooded in from all over the nation and capped that d^mn well! We’re doers, but we get tired of having to “make do.”

This is the first time I’ve ever written a post that has the tag “Rant” on it, as I don’t like to  to go THERE. I finally broke down and bought pencils and had some additional ones donated. My parents are not rich, but like all parents, they want the best for their children. I remain an optimist and choose to believe that my supply ship will come in. If necessary, I’m willing to battle Somali pirates with my yardstick to make this a reality.

Finally, on a more positive note. Although it’s only been four days, I think I have the makings of a great class!

Students Are Not Your Facebook “Friends” August 23, 2010

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A picture drawn by my student of the two of us. She said she wished she could have two mothers, me being the second. That's way back when I was teaching second grade. That was seven years ago when Facebook wasn't even on my radar. Her likeness of me is uncanny.

I ran across Teachers Asked to “Unfriend” Students on Facebook on MSN about a school district in Florida. Not that I get a lot of Facebook “Friend” requests from students – okay, I’ve had zero. But I do teach third grade. One of my students said his mom said he could go on Facebook when he turned 16, so it’s those who teach the older kids who might find this problematic. The Florida district laid it all out. No Facebook and be careful when emailing cause it could come back to bite you in the b*tt. Please read the link for all the gory details.

I’ve blogged on the danger of Facebook before in Five Ways Facebook Can Get Your Fired. Obviously, the teacher fired recently in Massachusetts didn’t read THAT post. That’s a $92,000 job you hear circling the drain. Glug.

At the end of each school year, I do give my students a notebook with my name and address in it. I offer a 100 percent guarantee that if they write me a letter, I’ll write one back. Maybe two kids take me up on this each year. For the first time, I gave out my email address this year. I was pleasantly surprised to receive weekly updates from one of my students who was vacationing in New England. She had horrible, I repeat, horrible handwriting, so to read her thoughts laid out so coherently was a godsend.

I also gave my email address to a student who moved out of our district last year. Out of the blue she emailed me. She was always mature for her age, but she is all of 12. She emails me maybe once a week. Thank god she’s quit going on about Justin Beiber! Last week she asked if I had any ideas as to what she could buy her 18-year-old sister for her birthday. I replied that since I only had sons, I couldn’t be of much help. My default gift was always dinosaurs and stuff that blows up. But between the back and forth emails, she got the idea to get her sister a charm bracelet. Whew! I always make a point of rereading my emails before I sent them off and imagine that I’m her mother. I want to be appropriate. I do throw in the occasional LOL, When she lamented that her middle school uniform colors were blue and navy blue, I encouraged her to think of Picasso’s Blue Period. She liked that. I tell her to say hello to her mother a lot.

This whole Facebook thing has eroded so many long-standing boundaries. Many of the teachers at my school “Friended” the AP, but I couldn’t bring myself cross that line. Early on, my father told me that I’d lose my job because of my blog, yet two years later, I’ve never had a complaint. Most likely those who disagree don’t bother to comment, but I’m mindful of who’s reading it. It keeps me on my toes.

Finally, anyone on the internet has to remember that whatever you post is on the internet FOREVER. My son posted a picture of himself shirtless (with his 8-pack) several years ago. He was horrified when he found that some site was automatically sending this picture to anyone he emailed – like his grandparents! When you’re online (with a glass of wine) it’s so easy to let your hair down, but as a teacher, you’ve got to remember that you’re a role model 24/7. Rule of thumb – wait 24 hours before hitting that SEND button.

Glad to Grad June 14, 2010

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What a long strange trip its been since we started our masters in Educational Administration just a year ago. That was before I even knew what a cohort was. I liked to joke that, “We put the whore in cohort.”

Fourteen Powerpoint presentations is as close to Hell as you can get. Last Thursday was the final night of our final class. Tada! After Powerpoint presentation #6, my FSB (Favorite Study Buddy) Teresa whispered, “I think I’m going to throw up. I mean it.” I told her, first of all, to move away from me, and second, to step outside the room for some fresh air. She did and returned a paler shade of green. “So this is how the world ends,” I thought, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” I think someone else said that, but we all agreed that we’ve become much stupider since entering this program. “I don’t want to sound intelligent or anything” has become our mantra.

If Starbucks stock plummets, it’s because Thelma and Louise (AKA Teresa and Jan) are no longer refueling our engines every Wednesday and Thursday night. Even after a year, I still couldn’t remember the difference between a “large” and a “grande.” And Teresa complained her “CRS” was getting worse. “CRS?” I asked. “Can’t Remember Shit,” she replied. Yes, we teach small children. You should be scared.

I woke up on Saturday and for the first time in a year reveled in not having to write a reflection for a class like “The Machine as a Metaphor the Organization.” It was bad enough that we had to write our Action Research paper using APA format. I can hardly wait to delete Son of Citation Master from my bookmarks. Let’s face it, the person I’m most fond of quoting is myself. And when in doubt, go to Wikipedia.

We still have five weeks to assemble our digital portfolio, but the grunt work is done. My poor husband has been looking at the back of my head for a year as I sat at the computer cranking out paper after paper. “You know, if this was a two-year program, I’d be divorcing you,” he said matter-of-factly. Can you blame him? Not to mention how this program got in the way of my blogging. But “at the end of the day” (accompanied by air quotes), I’m back. I look forward to posting more frequently.

Brain in a Jar clipart is from Discovery School.com

The ABCs of ASL May 23, 2010

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ASL incorporates finger spelling and signing that is as unique as the person doing it.

I took my students on a field trip last week.  The professional storyteller asked how many of the teachers in the room  like to play school when they were growing up.  All hands shot up – except mine. She storyteller was genuinely surprised.  “You’re the first teacher I’ve met who didn’t play school,” she said.  I shrugged, “Teaching is my second career.”  But the damage was done. “One, two three, eyes on me”- the teacher who never played school as a child.

Though I didn’t play school, when I was in the third grade (which just happens to be the grade I teach now), I read Helen Keller’s biography and learned the manual alphabet at the back of the book. My friends and I used it as our secret code in middle school.  I still remember standing my friend’s classroom and signing some message of major import (everything in middle school is of major import). Years later when I was in Idaho, I met one of my husband’s distant relatives who was deaf. My signing was rusty, but I was able to communicate with this woman.  I remember thinking, “This is so COOL!”

I once subbed for a fourth grade class learning to sign “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  I only knew how to finger spell words, so this was fun. When you sign “used to,” you throw your hand over your shoulder like you’re getting rid of something.  I loved that.  Later when our friend Leszek became a U.S. citizen, I watched as a woman signed the entire swearing in ceremony at the L.A. Convention Center. It was beautiful to watch. But what does this have to do with teaching?

As a teacher, you get tired of hearing the sound of your own voice. And at some point, your students do too.  Signing is a great way to give directions. And I’ve learned that students LOVE to sign. When you sign, students are “all ears.”

Last year I bought two decks of signing cards and a book Signing at School. There’s always several students who spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over this book.  That would have been me in third grade.  Did you know that knowing ASL qualifies as speaking a foreign language?  Just in case you’ve got to get that requirement out of the way.

This year, I have a class heavy on girls, so that means one thing – girl drama. I had to laugh when the other day when the girls were having a go at each other, one of the boys looked at me and signed “Girl Drama!”

I learned to sign “Girl Drama on ASLPro.  You can search for a word or phrase and see it signed.  My only complaint is that some of the signing is a little fast.  I need it in s-l-o-w  m-o-t-i-o-n.

I’ve slowly been trying to build my signing vocabulary.  I began with “Sit” “See you later”  and ” I love you.” I’ve graduated to “Follow me” “boys” (which is signed using the motion for the brim of a baseball hat) and “girls” (which mimics a girl tying her bonnet). I teach a cluster of English Language learners, but they love using ASL.

I’ve actually found that watching songs helps because of the repetition of signs.  Recently, through my blog’s Tag Surfer feature, I came across  middle schoolers signing Justin Timberlake’s Apologize on Youtube.  While on Youtube, I stumbled across Apologize signed by ICSTARS, who is hearing. It’s probably the most expressive signing I’ve seen. His signing shows how ASL is not just communication, but art.

Finally, ASL Tutor On-Line is a site where if you have SKYPE, you can be personally be tutored in signing for only $15 an hour.  I’m seriously thinking of expanding my signing vocabulary this summer using this feature. With the projected class size increase next year, I need to know how to sign “You’re standing on my last nerve!”

Testing, Testing, Testy May 10, 2010

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We start standardized testing tomorrow. This is a BIG deal. Your ABCs aren’t nearly as important as you API. I suspect Fisher-Price already has Baby’s First Scantron in development. What a great way to teach kids A,B,C, and D!

Don’t get me wrong. I do take testing seriously, but really, “is that all there is?” In Third Grade, we did 20 days of test prep on top of the unit testing for Open Court. One reading comprehension story involved a boy with a paper route.

Now I don’t know about you, but my newspaper (which we now only have delivered Thursday through Sunday) is delivered by a grown man named Jorge who drives an old Toyota and is left curbside at 6 a.m. I used to worry when the paper was missing that it had been stolen, until my husband reminded me that no one reads the paper any more. I hate it when he’s right.

So why are they asking my students, all whom were born post millennium, about a paper route. Most of their families don’t even read the newspaper!

Then there was a question about where you’d look to find more information if you were writing a report about kangaroos. The choices were a) the index b) the glossary  c) an encyclopedia, or d) the bibliography. One by one, my students raised their hands to signal they needed help. “I don’t get it, ” they whispered, “Where’s Google?”  Can you blame them?

I’ve recently trained my third graders on how to refine their search engine terms, so Wikipedia is the closest they’ll every come to the Encyclopedia. The other day, I took them on a trip down Memory Lane to the reference section of our library, so at least they know what an encyclopedia looks like. We only have one because it’s just so special.   If only we had a card catalog to complete their education in 20th century information hunting and gathering.

So we start standardized testing tomorrow. I have my fingers crossed. If only they could choose A,B,C, or G (for Google).

Photo Credit:  Paperboy from Google Images

May Means Mother’s Day Cards May 1, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Teaching.
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April showers bring May flowers, STAR testing, and, what’s that other one? Oh yeah, Mother’s Day. This year Mother’s Day falls on May 9th, the day before STAR testing begins. So this week my third graders will be cranking out Mother’s Day cards. Actually it’s a great way to remind them that both “Mother’s” and “Day” need to be capitalized, as there’s always a question like that on the test.

Last year I finally got around to making five templates, so students can take turns tracing MOM. (Taking turns – a valuable skill NOT on the test.) When folded, the card is around 5×6.  I actually have them use card stock, so they can color it in with markers. (I’m notoriously stingy when it comes to letting students use markers.)  They color in the positive space and then the negative using a variety of lines, and geometric and organic shapes.

When they’re done, I have them flip over the card, so they can see it says, “WOW.”  They think this is way cool. I explain that both MOM and WOW are palindromes and give them several other examples. (One year I conveniently had a Hannah in my class!)  So this week my students will walk out of class with a cool card for “dear ole” and some more esoteric information that will NEVER appear on the STAR test.  LOL.

Playing Musical Chairs April 18, 2010

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Student art in the style of Miro. I believe the girl really did poke her eye out! Or maybe it was just her annoying neighbor.

It’s that time of year.   With all the yakking and smacking (gum, rubber bands, and pencils that is), I need to move some kids around. But my students sit at tables for two, so anytime I move one kid, it has a domino effect.

It’s also that time of year when students learn to write a persuasive letter. So if a student wants to switch seats, they have to persuade me. Over Spring Break, I ran across letters students had written in years past, which cracked me up. I gave them a few tips on how to be tactful, and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Please bear in mind some are English Language Learners. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Dear Ms. M,

May I change seats please? Because Ricardo steal my pen and every day Ricardo say “Can I have your pencil?” and “Can I use your sharpener?” I want seats by Anthony.  Because Anthony he can help me, and I can ask to him. Most important Anthony has own pencil.

Dear Ms. M,

I would like to change seats please.  The person next to me talk to much and they are very bossy. That is why I want to move. The person is N and she tells people to do this and do that.  She’s telling me what to do write now. If you move me then I will work harder and help people in need.

Dear Ms. M,

May I change seats please.  The person sitting next to me talks all the time so it is hard for me to focus when you are talking about all the really important stuff.  He is also a big boy so he takes up a lot of leg room.

All three students got to change seats. But then they got to learn an English idiom – The grass is always greener.

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