Wednesday, March 31, 2010

If Only I Thought Before I Opened My Mouth

"Okay," I said loudly in the middle of our big fat test training meeting. I was certainly playing the part of the sulking teenager Principle Sadie always had me pinned as last year. I think sarcasm and anger is never attractive when coupled with youth. Too often, it is just a guise for folly. I do better to be well tempered and keep my mouth shut at the age and stage I am in, but sometimes I surprise myself with a gust of passion that exits my mouth before I think it through.

I was worked up over my ELL student. The "SEI Coach" was addressing the staff about testing procedures for ELLs (don't even get me started on that), but she wasn't giving any straight answers. The packet I had said that 1st and 2nd year language learners were entitled to a direct translation of testing procedures. I wanted my Mandarin speaking student to have this because I know it would help her.

The "SEI Coach" responded to my questions by saying, "Well, you haven't been translating things into Mandarin all year, so she can't have that." It was said half jokingly, but it was really brushing off my request, and the wording in my packet strongly suggested my student would be entitled to this. You better believe that is a case I will make. I just wish I had made it more professionally.

After the meeting, I talked to her. I was pretty mad because I don't think she was telling me the truth, and I made that apparent. That is not the worst of it though. Later I was telling the librarian how irritated I was about her attitude and how I didn't think she was telling me the truth. What I didn't know was that SHE WAS IN THE LIBRARY TOO. So much for my helping my gradelevel team get a softer reputation.

Besides all of that, I really am forgetting that we all in a school are on the same team. We're all advocating for kids from different angles. I have got to work with people. I am right to pursue this and advocate for this kid, but I am definitely wrong to go about it the way I did today.

There is not a lot of support out there for our kids and our schools right now. The last thing we need is to turn against the people in the boat with us. I guess I have an uncomfortable apology to make.

Monday, March 29, 2010

We're It

Someone "tagged" our school this weekend with what I think is offensive language. I can't read that style of writing, so I can't be sure, but what I did decipher was not nice and not for children's eyes. There is just something sad about our nice building having graffiti all over it. What's sadder is that it was probably done by former students. You always hope the kids go home to rolemodels, but thiskind of activity shows the reality of what some kids at our school go home to.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If You Don't Love Me Let Me Go

I had an amazing weekend, but for the first time in a long time I am feeling that anxiety going back to work. Not because of the kids and not because of the administration or parents or anything like that. I just hear the battle drums approaching. The year is on it's way out, and that means facing what is going to happen next year. Some people are either in denial or they really don't see the writing on the wall, but there are going to be a lot of cuts and soon. It is all over the news and we just got an e-mail saying a rif is "likely." It sucks.

Apparently my school district is going to honor the April 15 contract date that our legislature threw out this year. That means that we will get a definite answer about who is rifed by then (at least preliminarily). What I mean is that it is likely to be a large number of pink slips, but some of them may be rescinded if and when the sales tax increase passes.

I don't know why I would actually be happier to have a pink slip in my hand than to just have the threat of one. It will still leave a lot of unknowns. Will I be rehired? Will I work somewhere else in the state? Will I do something different entirely. What will I do about my final semester of graduate school in a district program?

I just like to feel that the powers that be are being straightforward. I just want them to quit being so mysterious and publically say, "yes, you're job is being cut." It is not like that is going to be a good thing, but at least it is an honest thing.

It will take a bigger bite out of my motivation, though. Maybe that is why they are being so mysterious. They want me to hang on to hope so they can squeeze the best service out of me they can get before they throw me out on the street. Awesome.

Friday, March 26, 2010

From the Heart

Thanks to my commenters on the last post. I have been struggling a lot lately because I am afraid (with good reason) that I will lose my job due to the budget cuts. My state has been hit really hard by the economic crisis. My school district rifed teachers last year due to budget cuts and we haven't gotten any word about when contracts are coming. I heard a rumor yesterday that there will be pay cuts for everyone who keeps a job and another rif.

Everyday, I drive by seas of foreclosure sales on the way home for work. Almost daily on the local news they are covering lay offs and other economic woes. In all of this, I was most impressed by the police chief. The police force in this city laid off over two hundred officers due to budget cuts. I have so much respect for the chief who addressed the public saying the following, "We will do our best to keep this city safe, but we will not provide the same level of service we have. It is not possible in the face of these cuts. We cannot do it."

I know that in education there will be no speech like this. Just in case, though, I thought I would write a speech for our superintendent to address the public. I am including the text of this speech below.

This district has for twenty years provided a free education to the children in this community that is superior to almost any education in this state, a state that has always ranked in the bottom five percent of funding for education. This is remarkable and the educators in this district should be commended. I believe, that in the face of these budget cuts these educators will continue to do remarkable things. We cannot and should not, however, expect or demand miracles. Reduction in staff and increased workload carry a price. Loss of supplies, professional development, and maintenance will cost. It may be that we don't have a choice, but we need to understand the price and who will pay it. I can make no promise for a miracle that will maintain the quality of education we once offered.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Things No One Tells You

For some teachers "education" is like a mistress. Adulterous to all the other facets of life they run after it. They ruin their marriages literally and figuratively.

It's like an addiction. These teachers get burned and ask for more.

For me, at the stage I am at now, education is more like a bad boyfriend. It's like a boyfriend who threatens to break up with me all the time and sometimes tells me that I am not good enough for him despite my complete devotion and loyal service. Yet I persist in my devotion, maybe even my obsession, because on some level I love him. I love education and I love this job. I want to believe that in some way he loves me back, that he needs me, or that he is good for me.

People warned me not to enter into my volatile relationship with education. "You're young, and there's a lot of other things you could do," they told me. I wouldn't listen; I dived head first into this disastrous relationship with my whole heart.

I think my relationship with "education" is as bad as ever. With the threat of a rif hanging over my head, with being told I may not know if I have a job until August, with the threat of more pay cuts, and more difficult assignments things don't look any better. Yet, in another way, I love "education" more than I did three years ago. Even after all that I've been through in this field, I hope that I get to keep teaching not because I want a paycheck but because I want to teach.

At some point, though, I have to ask the question: Is my love for "education" enough to stay in a field that treats me like this forever?

These are the things about being a teacher that you can't see until you see them for yourself. The life of a teacher in public education is hard. No one tells you that your heart and head will get all mixed up and you'll love it and hate it at the same time. No one tells you that you'll think about quitting. No one tells you that you'll take the fall for politics and poverty and cultural denigration. No one tells you that it's not just hard work, but it actually hurts when you give it your all and politics just slaps you in the face. No one tells you that sometimes one kid will change and you'll think it's all been worth it. No one tells you that the next day the budget will change and you'll be worried about how to pay your bills at all. No one tells you why something can seem so important and be treated like it doesn't matter at all. It is just one bad boyfriend.

I wish that I didn't love it at all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why I Teach Social Studies

It was the first day back. I wrote my class a letter about Spring Break, what we learned in third quarter, and what we will learn in fourth quarter. Each student wrote a letter to answer me (with heading, greeting, body, closing, and signature). I asked them three questions in the course of my letter. Part of their assignment was to be sure to answer each question. I asked: How was your Spring Break? What was your favorite thing we learned about during third quarter and why? What is the thing you look most forward to learning about in fourth quarter and why?

By a huge margin my students were most excited about Social Studies. Here are some quotes.

*When I first came to third grade, I wasn't very excited about Social Studies. Now, I am a huge fan. The thing I love learning about most is History.

*I loved learning about explorers the most.

*I most look forward to learning about the Civil War because it seems interesting.

*I enjoyed being Rosa Parks for the Wax Museum and learning about all the great things she did.

I like to look at test scores and data, but things like this mean more to me. If I can teach someone who didn't like a subject and make them become "a big fan" I feel like I was successful with that student.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Cuts Are Coming

I hoped that it wouldn't happen. I hoped that funding would happen. It didn't. All Day Kindergarten will not be funded next year. I was doing the Math and it will mean reducing the elementary teaching staff in my district by forty certified teachers. That would be the number if there is not increased class size due to additional cuts or a drop in enrollment.

I hope that I will hear if I am cut sooner rather than later because I've got to start planning.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of fourth quarter. I'll go to work and try not to worry about all of that. Whatever the future holds, this job needs to be done now.

Shiver Island

It is 1am and I should be in bed. I saw a somewhat unsettling movie (although much smarter than most horror films). Then, my friend, who went with me, called to tell me she saw a cat chasing a rat down my street when she was leaving. I was awake anyway, so I decided to do my taxes.

Somehow I made less money by being more experienced and doing the same job in 2009 than in 2008. I got a smaller refund (although I paid nearly 8,000 dollars in tuition fees) from the feds. I owe the state 180 dollars. Last year I think I had to pay them 60. I may just dream up my own fantasy world to cope with the experience of decreasing income, increasing taxes, and, well, let's face it, rats. I will live on Shiver Island. It will be the opposite of a hot, stupid desert that makes me pay them when they barely pay me to teach their schools. Yes, it will be an island for crazy people, but I will know how to deal with them. I have some work experience in that area.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

True Life

I was using my time off productively yesterday (read: laying on the couch eating left-over birthday cake and watching MTV), and I saw an episode of True Life called I'm Moving Back in with My Parents. Sounds like a nightmare; I know. I have managed to finish college, hold down a full time job with benefits, acquire no debt, and finish my second degree (in dec); but in this economy, I am worried about that happening to me. I saw on the news today that some city in Kansas is closing 26 schools. I never considered when I was younger that finding work at all might be a challenge.

My roommate said something interesting to me the other day. She said that she thinks our entire age bracket will end up at the bottom of the work force permanently due to the economy being what it is right now. She said that just when our age group should be climbing the Career ladder, we find ourselves lucky to have a steady income at all. I don't know enough about economics to know if that is true, but it is an interesting thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Break: Day 2

I have been in the mood to get things done this Spring Break. Laundry. Lesson Plans. Taxes. Career Ladder. I've been getting a lot of stuff done. I still need to look for a summer job. I think that is what I will start doing tomorrow.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Red Tape and Rules: It's a Cycle

Once there were schools in this country where no one paid any attention to kids who learned differently. No one talked about dyslexia or any other type of learning disabilities. Teachers and parents assumed that students who learned differently were stupid. And it was wrong. It was a tragedy that those kids got the label "stupid" because they didn't deserve it.

People did address this and for better or worse we got IEPs and Special Education and a lot of regulations meant to help these kids. We have endless meetings and accommodations. Some are very well done and helpful and others make everything worse. What we did gain (maybe at the expense of some general ed students) were valuable services and resources for students who needed.

Now there is the educational buzz going around that teachers just want to label students as learning disabled to make them someone else's problem. I don't know if there are teachers who do that or not, but I have never personally witnessed that. So, it is being said over and over that we can't "label" kids.

I keep being told that students with learning disabilities don't make significant progress. I know that it is not true. Here's the cycle that I see. I have a student who is gradelevels behind, I give them special services and interventions, they make steady progress, they do not come close to catching up, I am not allowed to refer them for testing because of the progress, they go to the next grade and the process repeats.

What do I do? I inform the parents of this student that if there is a parent request for testing our school is legally obligated to test within sixty days. How ridicilous is it that I can't just use my own mouth to recommend testing?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Break

It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. It is here. Perhaps you think I should use an exclamation point to convey my excitement, but I am too tired for that. Robotic repetition is the mode of celebration I can do right now.

I survived seven hours of conferencing (21 conferences; 20 minutes each), thirty hours of teaching (the library special is canceled this week), forty-five minutes of playground duty, four and a half hours of graduate school, and I don't know how many hours of grading, planning, and prepping. At one point, during the second night of evening conferences, I was thinking that I needed to walk the kids out to parent pick-up and do duty before going home. Then, I realized it was about seven at night. After that many hours in the building, you really lose track of time.

It really is strange to be free after being under the gun that much for a whole week. It feels good, though.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

I turned 25 today.

I wanted to feel bad for myself.

Because I had to work all day...

Until 7:30...


My class this year is really sweet.

They all sang to me.

They made me cards.

My ELL student brought me a card to a special grandaughter. It was so sweet because she picked it herself and didn't even know what it said.

I also recieved some very cute homemade cards.

I took some pictures of my stuff.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sooo Tired

It is still cold and rainy. That is unheard of for this time of year. I am so tired. Already. The bulk of conferences hasn't even begun, and, oh yeah, it's Tuesday. But, there is a break in the clouds. Do you see it, on the horizon? Spring Break!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 8, 2010

When It Rains It Pours

"Damn," that was the first thought in my head this morning when the rain falling on my skylight above my walled in shower woke me up. Usually I love that sound, but I hardly have motivation to go to work this week anyway. I have to run twenty-two half hour meetings with parents outside of teaching a full school week. Don't do the Math; it is depressing.I just did not want to start this frenzy of a week with the kids coming a half-hour earlier than usual.

I actually like meeting with parents, but no one likes these insane hours. It didn't help that my grad school class lasted until 8:30pm tonight. One week, though... It is only one week. AND THEN...

Spring Break!!!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can I Have a Halfway to Midlife Crisis??

Be forewarned this is going to be a mix of funny and emotional. In life, that is really who I am, so this won't be well written or coherent; but it will be honest.

I'll be twenty-five in four days. I was in church today and the pastor was talking about some ringtone that only kids can hear. So, I went to the website ( Go ahead and go there because you know that you're going to! Anyway, I really can't hear the ringtones for 24 and younger. "Oh my gosh," I thought, "My ears are old!"

I've never been one to worry about getting older. I never understood anyone who did. I don't worry about looking older. I am not afraid of dying. Really.

What is hitting me is that I am not in my life where I thought I would be by now. I guess I just worry that in a short life I'll go after the wrong things and before I know it life will just pass me by.

It makes me take stock of my job too. This week (no joking) I'll probably work well over fifty hours. It is parent conference week and that is why, but still. Is it worth it? There is much more to life than work and that in my adult life has been the hardest thing for me to balance.

Maybe if I do get riffed this year it will really be the best thing for me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Too Much

I woke up this morning and thought, "I do not want to face this day." Maybe I am being a tad dramatic, but my schedule just made me want to cringe.

I had playground duty at 7:15am for the second morning in a row because I was filling in for this teacher who can never seem to make it to duty.

I had a new student starting that I needed to prep for.

I had no breaks (Library, PE etc) because my special was cancelled, so the kids were to be with me all day long.

I had after school parent pick-up duty for the second day in a row to fill in for this teacher.

I had a parent teacher conference right after school because this parent couldn't make it next week during scheduled parent/teacher conferences.

There are some days that no matter how well lessons go and how well planned you are, you just have too much to do in one day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reading Interventions

I've been reading (ironically) enough and using some fluency interventions with our third grade students. We don't have any summative data on the program yet, but I will say that the formative data looks extremely promising. I am going to talk a little about what I have learned in my research. Hopefully it helps.

The most powerful fluency intervention for kids past the primary (K-2) level is repeated reading. Repeated reading is a strategy to build automaticity, the fast (automatic) recognition of words. As reading becomes more automatic, comprehension is increased because it is not impeded by the decoding process. Below are the major components of a repeated reading intervention.

1.) Students work with a set of texts at their reading level. It is very important that students are not just given a grade level set of texts. Generally intervention kids read below grade level. So, if you have a struggling fifth reader, you first might use third grade texts to make them sound like a fluent third grade reader.
2.) The student hears a model reading of the passage (this could be a teacher read or an audio recording). The commercial program we're using, Read Naturally, has audio-recordings.
3.) The student practices with the passage (reading orally) until he can prove he has attained the desired level of fluency with that passage. He proves it by reading with the teacher who is timing words per minute.
4.) The repeated reading needs to happen at least three days a week for thirty minutes a day.
5.) The teacher needs to progress monitor words read per minute during each session.

The other intervention we are using is Reader's Theater. The kids practice a presenting a story at their reading level fluently. This intervention does not pack the punch of repeated reading, but it is much easier to implement.

Well, this is the most technical blog I've ever written, but these interventions have really helped my students in reading!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I try really hard not to be that girl. You know, the dramatic girl that stirs up drama and causes people problems. The girl who thinks she is the center of the world.

I have a weird situation, though, and I am trying to decide if I should just ignore it or not.

One of the janitors at my school seems to have a crush on me. Usually I don't notice these things. I probably wouldn't have noticed this but he was showing up first thing after school in my room every day and taking forever. Now, he is showing up before school gets out. A half hour before... He's cleaning the hallway or something.... My class keeps having to walk around the cart.

I'd like to believe that he is only putting my room first on the list, but he is also looking at me the whole time he is cleaning. He says things to me, but it is in very broken English and I don't know what he is saying.

He's not crossing a line, but he is creeping me out. I don't want to get him in trouble and I don't want to start any rumors. Maybe he is just trying to be friendly and I am misinterpreting...

It's all a bit awkward. I was hoping to think of a passive way to deal with this, but no luck yet.