Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Pray for the Day

Friends, teachers, parents lend me your ears. Four score and a bunch of years ago math problems were either right or wrong. Teachers didn't have to grade the "strategy a student chose" on a rubric. It wasn't possible for a student with a WRONG answer to out score a student with a RIGHT answer. You had to memorize your multiplication tables in third grade. I think it was an era when Math instruction was ruled by common sense.

Once upon a time, Reading instruction was just as convoluted as Math instruction is now. The brightest minds in education thought whole language was the only way to teach reading. Basal readers were believed to be from Satan. Things were all about themes and reading levels weren't that important. Then, a huge body of research, told us what was abundantly clear: it wasn't working. This research brought back a concrete, structured approach to teaching reading. I was lucky enough to be teaching AFTER this miraculous transition.

What I have never been lucky enough to experience is common sense in teaching Math. My whole career, I have been asked to use a very murky Math resource. I really want to try a structured, objective approach. I even have such an adopted curriculum in my cabinet, BUT it is not what I am supposed to be using. For years, I've gone along with it. Now, though, as I try to think about goals, I know I need to improve my Math instruction, but this required use of this adopted curriculum is holding me back.

I have always gone along with this, and this year will be no exception, BUT starting next year over 50% of my evaluation will be based on test scores. Why should I be personally responsible for my Math scores, if I can't teach according to what I believe? I pray that common sense comes back to Math soon, because I am afraid I will be punished for the sins of methods I would never choose.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So, I Went on a Date with an Axe Murderer

Well, as they say, it's time to give the people what they want. Yes, my dear readers, I know your dirty little secret. You read my "education blog," but the stats don't lie, everyone wants to read my posts on love. I really don't mind. Obviously I write them, so I mean them to be read. It's just funny. I know what a mess I am when it comes to such things. Anyway, I don't know why I should be surprised that my dating mishaps and insecurities are more interesting than my thoughts on differentiation.

Anyway, I've been kind of putting off this post because I kind of hate the silly school girl me that I can be when I have a crush on someone. For my whole life, I have been trying to prevent myself from being like that, but it seems that I can't fight it right now.

Here's the worst part of it, I haven't even met this guy yet. Apparently, he possesses the ability to capture my affections via e-mail. Are you really that surprised? Of course, I am a sucker for writing.

Don't worry, I already asked him if he is a crazy psycho killer, married or in prison. E-harmony makes you ask each other questions, so I threw that whopper at him. He did confess to being put in prison by his wife precisely because he is a crazy psycho killer. He also said he would have time off for good behavior and would I please let him take me to dinner soon. So, I think in the next week, I am going to have teppanyaki with a psycho killer.

Well, we'll see if he lives up to all this hype. Of course, I'll let you know. You see how I can still play it cool. Don't tell anyone my dirty little secret: that I am really not playing it cool this time. Thanks, reader friends, I knew I could count on you!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Self Fulfilling Prophecy? and A Tale of Two Classes

Things are still just rosy. I think I want to adopt all the kids in my class. I think I want to loop with them to twelfth grade--and beyond. Honestly, they are just making my job an absolute joy this year. I can't wait to see them in the morning and I am sad to see them go.

It's not that there aren't any tough kids to handle. I have a girl who speaks no English and has no reading or phonics knowledge. I have one who is a real pouter (at least, an attempted pouter, he does seem to give up when he realizes it's not getting him anywhere). Later, when I write about him, he'll be Eyore. It's just that overall, this group wants to please and is compliant. If I could pick one word to describe my class this year it would be amiable. They just gel with me perfectly.

So, here's the thing, how can you ever tell how much of them being awesome is because I think they're awesome? I find myself wanting to do more fun stuff than I ever did last year, and I am no longer staring at the clock. The hours seem to fly by. Looking back, if I could describe my class last year with one word it would be explosive. They made every minute of the day a challenge for me. Obviously, there are some fundamental differences in the make up of the students, however, the teacher's perception is a huge factor too. If I could be one of those people who put myself in the state of mind that there are no difficult classes and thought they were so much fun, would they have been more fun.

A part of me protests. I think, I tried to think positively. They just kept on throwing punches, having angry tantrums, bullying, etc etc and reminding me why it wasn't that fun to be always in charge of them. The other part of me says, "look at yourself, and understand, how to enjoy a group like that."

This year is going to be an experiment in how far a group of students can go when my time and energy is not monopolized by BIG in-your-face Behavior-with-a-capitol-"B" issues. For me, I think it will be a lot easier and a lot of fun. However, I have to realize, that baring me packing my bags and teaching in a totally different setting, I will have more groups like the one last year. My school just has a lot of challenging circumstances and we deal with kids who face crazy issues at home, and when they, for whatever reason, are unable to handle it, the issues come to school.

Last year, when I had a difficult class to teach, I did learn about how to teach better. When what you can apply to 90% of the population in general is true for only 60% of your class, you learn to do better for the 40%. When you go back to a 90-10 split, you know better how to help the 10%. This year, I find I am easily reaching my low kids and my behaviors because I had to use these strategies for so much of my class last year. This year, with a good class, I am soaking it up, but I am trying to learn a different lesson. I am trying to make a benchmark out of how I feel.

Here's what I mean:
--When I have this group that is fun for me, I feel happy to see them every day.
--When I have this group, I want to do fun things.
--When I have this group, I laugh a lot and see the humor throughout the day.
--When I have this group, I keep telling them how pleased I am.

So, if this is my benchmark, what can I do when they send me another chair thrower or another adhdhdhdhdhd or another group of girl bullies, or, more likely, all of these at once? The answer is I have to reflect back the same thing I naturally reflect back to this group I have now. Hopefully, if I do that, and do it well, then it can more positively impact a difficult group.

Monday, August 22, 2011


It's a billion and one degrees around here. We have something called an extreme excessive heat warning today. The high was 114 degrees farenheit (aka BEYOND miserable). It is so hot that my seat belt buckle burned me through my dress on my hip during my afternoon commute. It is so hot recess had to be shortened to 10 minutes in the shade with no running (loads of fun). It is so hot.

Why, in God's name, does a city THIS hot begin school THIS early (we are now in our third week)? By the end of parent pick-up today, I was in a puddle on the ground.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Desert Storm

The best thing about living in the desert is the summer storms that come at night. There might be places that have far more dramatic rains, but we must contend for the most dramatic lightening. I live in a city, in a valley, in a desert. Driving downhill from the edge of town you would see a festival of lights beneath a dark sky. You'll see dancing headlights coming up and red glowing tail lights floating down. Stop lights, the lights from houses and shops, yet it is still inexplicably dark. The desert has a way of being vast and open even in the midst of so much civilization. Like the way the night sky looks dark in spite of the stars.

The one exception to this darkness is the lightning. White flashes light up the whole sky. Suddenly the purple jagged mountains, the cacti, the buildings become so clear. It is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Note to My Friends Out There Who Just Met a Tough Class... For Example the Fourth Grade Teachers Now Teaching My Former Students

Yesterday afternoon, I had a moment that was both good and bad. You know, like a laugh/cry--when you don't know how you feel and it comes out somewhere in the middle?

I looked at my new class perfectly performing the procedures I just taught them yesterday. They were doing work and using quiet voices and being independent. It was awesome. That is, it was awesome until the cognitive dissonance kicked in.

Suddenly I thought, "What the Hell did I do wrong last year that those kids never got in a year what these kids got in a day?"

This morning, before I left for school, I decided to search out precisely what I was thinking at this time last year. The first post I cam accross from August of last year was this one. It was about non-reader, from my class last year, and how I discovered that he couldn't read during the first week of school.

This morning as I looked at that post I had an epiphany. If I had been his fourth grade teacher this year, I wouldn't have discovered a child that couldn't read. He is still behind, but he started the year illiterate and he ended it able to read.

My class last year never became the class I dream of. They constantly forgot and/or purposely ignored procedures and rules. Every lesson required extensive planning just to make it marginally effective. They often made me want to pull out my hair or drink a lot. They still learned a lot.

Anyway, it looks like I might win the class lottery this year, but to those of you teaching the taz, the hulk, the mean girls, Angelica, and the lost boys; please remember that the measure of success is not just keeping the kids orderly and focused. Look for progress deep and wide. Sometimes when your kids are "born to be wild" and the class next door is walking down the hall in a perfect line it is easy to be hard on yourself. At the same time, magnificent changes may be happening right under your nose and you're just too close to see them. So, if you've just realized that you're in for a long year, take a deep breath and remember: those kids need a teacher the way the sick need a doctor.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

12 Month Forecast

Can I just start vy saying the actual weather is miserable? For the first two days of school, I have done my make-up, fixed my hair, and put on professional looking clothing. I have also been outside for about half an hour before school both mornings, outside for 20 minutes during the day, and outside for about half an hour after school. This makes about an hour and a half outside. Today's high was 107 degrees with about 19% humidity. Why do I bother trying to look presentable?

To make matters worse I developed a rash in a line across my right calf on the night of meet the teacher. It finally seems to be clearing up, but the heat was making it itch and it looked ridiculous. Yet, it was way too hot to wear anything that covers up my calves. Everyone kept asking me what was wrong with my leg all day.

Although the actual weather is SWELTERING, I decided to check the forecast for the next year of my life.

In my classroom this year, a low pressure system seems to be coming our way. Unbelievably, the kids seem well behaved. At first, I thought this was just wishful thinking or the honeymoon phase with my new class, but then I ran into the hulk out on the playground. He was fighting and up to his usual angry ways--on the second day of school. That reminded that my students this year are not so famous on the playground as my students from last year. Then, a crazy thing happened, I finished all my phonics screeners without having to stop and deal with other students in one sitting. These kids don't get in trouble when I am not attending directly to them. Last year, I had to get help to finish my phonics screeners because I could hardly get through one students test without having to go deal with behaviors.

In the lovely casa where I reside, the fog has lifted! Amanda finally told us exactly what she was upset about. Oddly it was about the ring. She's decided to stay. Lindsay has decided to stay. All is well, and we are planning Amanda's wedding.

As for my dating life, it seems that blue skies are ahead. I can't be sure, weather is fickle, but I foresee sun and a pleasant breeze and lovely weather. I have to say, that this time around, I seem to be meeting some guys that I really like. Particularly one that I haven't met yet, but I think I will soon. He's an accountant. He actually works less than a mile from where I work. He's exactly my age. He seems funny and polite. He's religious, but grounded. There are a couple of others I will talk about later. Everything seems to move much slower on e-harmony and that is much better for me.

All in all I am cautiously optimistic about this year!

Monday, August 8, 2011

I. Am. So. Tired.

It was a very good first day of school, but seriously, I just want to sleep for a very long time. I sat down to write something interesting about the first day of school and to update on the many forms of drama in my personal life. Unfortunately, I have not the energy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Sorry everyone that I haven't posted in so long. Tomorrow is the first day of school (I can't believe it), and I've been working a lot. At this point in my career, I realize that the first week of school is so important. I am trying hard to plan thoroughly enough that I can focus my energy and attention on the kids while they are there and not the billion tasks I, personally, have to accomplish this week.

My goals for the first week of school this year are as follows:

1.) To make each student feel that I like him or her. (I finally get it that kids really worry about if their teacher likes them. Teachers should not take on the role of friend, because they need to be the authority figure, but kids need to feel that you notice them and like them.)

2.) To teach procedures and routines (this is sort of a given).

3.) To build community. I hate dumb team building activities, but it is not worth it to skip them!