Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm back...

I've been a teacher for what? 40 days? And I've already fallen off the face of the earth. I didn't mean to do it but I let my blog slip, I let my whole life slip. 

I was told many times before the year started, you can't be a whole teacher if you aren't a whole person...and it's true. There are certain things that have to be a part of my life; my friends, reading for pleasure (aka not for my class OR grad school), and writing...including this blog. 

It's strange that I return to my blog, after weeks of not even looking at it on the night when somebody commented on my last post. Where would I be if I left the maze? Probably in a room with padded walls I guess. There is no world outside of the maze, my personal maze of education. You can teach for years, write for years, and still learn new tricks and surprises, and I'm just barely starting. 

I'm not going to start writing about my class, or my administration, that is a rookie's mistake. But I will still seek answers and try to find understanding. Yes, this blog is partially a symposium where I plod out my slow but hopefully valuable understanding of education, psychology, and children's literature. And hopefully now I'm back to stay.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The First Week

I never knew teaching would be such a sweaty profession. My room doesn't have air conditioning and as I roamed about the room settling my students in and conversing with parents I hoped my sweat didn't drip onto anything awkward. Gross? I know, but also true.

My first week did move past gross and into good. Perfect? No, but I realized a long time ago that perfection will never exist in teaching and the fact that I'm still smiling at the end of the week is a good sign for the rest of the year. 

So I return to making centers and trackers and anticipating my second week of teaching. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

How I spent my labor day...

Making copies. 

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My very own class...excuse me while I vomit

It's my class, it really is. After years of assisting, interning, subbing, and try to do as much as I could do in the classroom I finally have my own. The bulletin boards were decorated by me, the centers set up how I want them, and the door bears my name. My legs are covered in bruises from setting up, and my back aches, but the classroom is mine, and my students. Then again, this means that everything is mine, the problems, the school demands, the parents, and every little detail I'm sure I will forget in the hustle and bustle of actual students entering the room. Can I vomit now?

Okay, so I'm not going to actually vomit, but I hope parents won't be thrown off by the sweat sitting on my brow as I greet them on Tuesday. Nervous? No, the room is just warm. What we lack in air conditioning we gain in physical space for the children. You lucked out, this is the least crowded classroom. I'll chuckle, shake their hand and tell the child they can go color. Or something like that. I've been told by so many people that it's impossible to over plan for the first day, but do people usually plan how they will interact with parents. 

I read some advice from Ms Malarkey and NYC Educator, I hope I can use it in the first few weeks, months, and the whole year. I'm lucky, although I've only been in my school a week I can tell it is extremely supportive. So, I'm going to jump, leap, and pray for a good first day and weeks to come. It won't be perfect, I recognize that, but I think I can make it solid. So, watch me, or read me, as I start teaching my very own class. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Books We Teach...or a rant on multicultural education

When I was in high school my two favorite books were Tale of Two Cities and The Great Gatsby. I know that Gatsby is a teen favorite, something about the disillusionment within the book, the confused characters that aligns with adolescent angst. I might have been on my own with the Dickens classic, but I know that I worked so hard on the class assignments for both books. Why? Am I French? A revolutionary? The answer is decidedly no, but I liked the story. Unfortunately this is not always the case and a new avenue must be sought. 

In a recent Washington Post article, "We're Teaching Books That Don't Stack Up", Nancy Schnog looks at the effect that some books have on the motivation of students. Student's don't connect, they don't want to participate in lively discussion because they don't care, it isn't relevant. At my teacher training I heard a lot of talk about multicultural education, but this isn't your suburban Martin Luther King Day or Black History Month multicultural education, this is every day. Multicultural education might more aptly be called, giving your students books with characters they relate, this doesn't mean every book will have a character that looks just like your students. What it does mean is that students will encounter characters from their own backgrounds and a variety of different backgrounds. This is presumably harder when choosing literature for younger children. 

I was shocked when a teacher told me that it wasn't standard practice to read Lois Lowry's Number The Stars, and I started to wonder about what young kids do read. Two of my favorite books were part of what I would consider, multicultural education, although they were cultures other than my own. In sixth grade my class read Monkey Island by Paula Fox, a book that discusses the issue of homelessness. Another childhood favorite of mine, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I look back and wonder was this multicultural education?

It's about showing kids different perspectives, and lots of them, but making sure they find those books to connect to for their independent reading. I was recently reading Selma G. Lanes' book Through The Looking Glass, which looks at children's literature through a critical eye. In an essay about Ursula Nordstrom, the star children's literature editor for Harper for more than thirty years, she looks at the correspondence between the editor herself and John Steptoe. Nordstrom urges Steptoe to discuss his background, what he knows, Harlem. The African-American artist brought a new unique voice to children's literature and a real one. His voice was true and unique, as the voices in multicultural education should be.

I think I had a point somewhere in my rant....

Multicultural education is more than just black and white. It is about unique voices that cry out, listen to my story. Does this mean education should abandon the classics, the stories that have been set down in history as excellent What it does mean is that these stories are only part of the picture and that in the classroom children need to hear voices from many different cultures, always including their own. 

When I grow up I want to be like...

Everybody has idols, people they want to be like. One of my idols happens to be a man who often dons a crown and scepter. John Scieszka was a teacher, turned children's book author, turned ambassador for young children's literature. What's next, president? I don't think anything could stand in his amazingly hysterical way. 

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Positive in Education

A lot of blogs focus on the negative aspects of public school education. The failing test scores, politics that lose sight of the children, and funding, funding, and more funding. It's true, a lot of these issues can hurt the education of our students. You can do something to change these issues, but more so than that, you can keep a positive attitude. What is in my locus of control? My attitude when I enter the classroom is. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things that scare me...

Texting develops literacy? Um, I really hope my elementary school children don't have cell phones. I think that would scare me even more. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

That looming future

I wish I had more insightful things to say. I wish that my blog was an amazing dissertation on education theory and policy. It isn't, and truth be told I don't have anything insightful to say. I have a lot of questions, fears, and haphazard possibly unsupported theories about my views on education. I know I haven't had the experience of most people, but so you might question, why blog, why do it at all. Maybe it is my liberal arts education, but a part of me feels that the questions are just as important as the answers. What questions do new teachers ask themselves in the few weeks before they are gifted 20 or so smiling faces. Here are some of my biggest questions...feel free to supply answers if you have any, or simply smile. 

How will I assess my students? It's a word I hear over and over "assess", "track", it all seems like numbers on a page sometimes. Will I DRA my students, use running records, will my students get excited for spelling tests, how will I test my students?

What does that first week look like? I know I know, I set up rules, I rehearse procedures, but somewhere in there I have to find out my students starting point. Somewhere in there I have to teach a real lesson, or two, or seven. 

Will other teachers hate me because I'm new? 

When will my body adjust to waking up at 5 am?

Will I ever stop having questions? I guess I won't. My inquisitive nature never fails, but I wonder if I'll ever get to the point where my blog will steer away from questions and fear and towards those insightful thoughts. How many years? ten? twenty? For now, I'll focus on the important task at hand, becoming a strong teacher and leading my students to success.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

99 cents... or less...or more

Since I was a child I have always loved dollar stores. My mom used to take me along with her as she would find great deals on organizers and baskets for her classroom. I would meanwhile hang out in the toy section until I decided on a few items. I always felt like I made out like a robber, but I know now I made out for less than the cost of a happy meal. 

As I was apartment hunting yesterday I found a store titled "99 cents or less or more". While I question the name, considering the 99 cents is relative, the cheap goods entertain me. The signs boasted a back to school sale, and I got excited, after all...I'm going back to school. Rulers, crayons, markers, paper, theme folders...I was like a kid in a really cheap candy store.

I wonder if they still make teenage mutant ninja turtle folders...

Monday, August 4, 2008


I attended public school in Illinois from 1998 until I graduated from high school. My move to public school introduced me to larger classes, school buses, and a different attitude towards standardized testing. I had been accustomed to a culture where standardized tests were looked upon fondly...probably because they had little to do with funding.

Apparently testing in Illinois has been flooded with problems since 2002 when NCLB required states to "ramp up" the caliber of tests. Since then, every year but 2005 has faced major data errors that threaten the state. Schools might have large swings in the tests that were not expected, and doesn't large swings in scores equate to swings in funding?

I don't know the logistics, but I do know this. In 2004 when I first began my interest in education policy I decided to look at the NCLB report card for my high school. I read and pretty much expected what I saw. I turned to the last page and then I saw our score, failing. It's not like the school I went to was in disarray. My upper middle class suburban school catered to a diverse community where I saw all parents pushing their students towards academic achievement. People in fact would move to our district for the combination academics, fine arts, affordable homes, and oh right, the special education program. We failed something small, but that apparently stamped a big red mark on my high schools forehead. 

We are no longer failing, and I couldn't tell you what was on the Illinois State Achievement Test if I tried. But it is scary to think that one little test could determine so much for a school. My opinion on testing has changed recently and I see more and more the purpose of testing in a classroom, but I fear for good and bad schools when one test plagued with errors is decided the future of a child's education. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Slow down? I didn't see a yellow light...

"Slow down, you move too fast. 
You got to make the morning last.
 Just kicking down the cobble stones. 
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy."

I used to love this song. I remember singing it in elementary school thinking "yea, that's cool" and later in high school thinking, "That's how life should be." But four years of liberal arts has oddly reformed my hippy ways and as Simon and Garfunkel creep into my head on this Saturday night I think, "Slow down? But there's so much left to do." 

My conscription as a teacher has perhaps changed my ways. I can not lolly gag on pursuing a student to do his or her homework and I cannot put off lesson planning until the last minute. It's not moving fast, but moving fast enough to catch up the students, my students, to grade level. The morning has to last, only in the sense that I hope my students continue to read and do math out of school. I wish I felt groovy, but I knew the life of a teacher had set in when at approximately 7 pm on a Saturday night I received a phone call about school supplies. 

I know this song was written in a different time (and I know that it was not written about education), but I can't help to wonder why, of all songs, this song pops into my head. I wish I had an answer...but I don't. Unfortunately, I've only been a teacher for four weeks and I've been told I won't have answers for some time now. But I'm thinking maybe on my way to buy supplies tomorrow I'll take a little break to smell some roses.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to know if you are a teacher...

I've been a real live teacher for three weeks now, and I can't lie and tell you that I'm not tired. I am...but I'm also loving the world of teaching. Though my time so far has been short I feel like I'm falling comfortably into the role of teacher. My arm is covered with marker from the posters I made for my students. Most books I read are on a third grade level. I interchange terminology such as differentiated instruction, guided reading, and IEP like I know what I'm talking about. Most importantly, I have the bags.

I do not refer to bags under my eyes, but literal bags of supplies, posters, and activities that follow me around day to day. As I walked down the hallway to my classroom last week a veteran teacher poked her head out and saw me wobbling down the hall backpack filled tight and bags on each arm. 

She exclaimed, "I can already tell you are a teacher by the amount of things you are carrying." She laughed and returned to her room. I know it was funny, but in a strange way it was a sentimental moment to me. I am a teacher, and while I might be fresh from the farm, I'm as ready as all of them. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Don't Sniff the Smelly Markers

My hands are covered with marker and I can smell a lingering Mr. Sketch fragrance dancing about my room. I'm warm, followed by periods of blasting air conditioning. At the end of the work day I have more work to do, and a desperate need to hydrate. I think day in and day out about how to help my students. I guess I've become a teacher.

My absence from this blog is not an indicator for the future, I will continue to write. If anything, it is an indicator of my need to perfect the art of teaching before I return to the art of blogging. Obviously, I am not a perfect teacher yet, but I return momentarily to reflect. I sit back, sigh, and think, did I really just grade something? It's a little scary to think that the future of these children has been laid into my hands. I think I might be ready. 

Consequently, this is also my hundredth post. Happy hundredth post as I continue to think about how to teach rounding to the hundredth place. 

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What now?...maybe a book review...

Ann Patchett is an excellent writer who has won many awards for her fiction and non-fiction. Did I mention that we attended the same undergraduate institution? While I have never read her fiction, her book Truth & Beauty chronicling her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy, was a book that I drank up the summer before I began Sarah Lawrence college. I stood at the front of the movie theater taking tickets and in the lulls I would pick up the book and read. A patron approached one day and commented on how much she loved the book, and I proudly told her I was about to attend the author's Alma Mater. I was ready to go.

Four years later, at graduation rehearsal, I received a copy of her essay, What Now?, an extension of her graduation speech. I was not the same person I had been four years ago, and as I continue to traverse the maze I surprise myself every day. I don't know where or what the maze ends with but her essay soothes my growing fears. I recommend this book to anyone who has hit a dead end, a fork in the road, or even those who seemingly have it together. 

"Even if you have it all together you can't know where you're going to end up. There are too many forces, as deep and invisible as tides, that keep us bouncing into places where we never thought we'd wind up. Sometimes the best we can hope for is to be graceful and brave in the face of all of the changes that will surely come."

I think I'm ready to be swept away.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hitting the ground running

There is nothing more terrifying than the landing at Laguardia airport. Every time I look out the window, into the vast water the plane is slowly inching towards I think, "Is this plane going to crash?" Fortunately, the plane lands just inches away from the water onto the landing slip of Laguardia airport. My most recent flight to New York was different, where the plane usually avoids the water by a mere inch or so I felt safe this time with the water a good 20 feet back. Then the thought occurred to me, what if we landed to late? We were fine, as we always are, but I knew that this trip was for good. The college days of traveling back and forth no more. This time, I wasn't coming for a few months until I went home, I was home. 

Those few inches that separated me from the water were scary, but an inevitable part of flying. I knew they were coming every time I landed, but I always looked to make sure I survived. I have been told by many that my first year teaching will often feel like I am about to fail, crash, and burn (out), but I think there is a strength in knowing this. I am about to enter teaching ready to cry, worry, and look out at those few inches separating me and my students from failure and think, "We can do this, we can land safely and get to the next destination." 

I obviously don't want to just "survive" my first year of teaching. I want to succeed, excel, and blossom into an excellent teacher, but I'm trying my best to be realistic. And I truly believe that this understanding, of how close I will be to danger, will push me to be a better and stronger teacher.

I don't know the next time I will board an airplane. But when I do I'll be ready to face that danger zone head on, whether on a plane or in a classroom.

(PS, you should all be impressed that I did not talk about 'soaring like an airplane' when I teach next year.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Power of the Power Couple

Power couples have become a trend in Hollywood. Between Angelina and Brad, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and David and Victoria Beckham the power couple gives individuals with high levels of solo power a backer, a partner, and more power. Like the kids in Captain Planet, when strong forces combine strong results can occur. I had known for a while that the creator of KIPP schools was a TFA alum, but I had yet to realize that he was the wife of founder Wendy Kopp. 

An education power couple...I think that is knew. Or at least it's new to me. I've heard people in education talk about how a lot of people in education end up married. They have the same schedules, same ideals, and so on and so forth. The likes of an education power couple can have tremendous results. Unfortunately, education ends up being a lot about politics, power, and connections. These are things that both Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth have. 

Education power couples are perhaps less powerful than the power couples in Hollywood, but where they work and what they do is so much more meaningful for the future of our children. 

Monday, June 16, 2008

What to wear...

As I get ready to become a teacher, and spending the last few weeks on my parents' dime, I question...what to wear? As a teacher leading a convoy of small children towards learning excellence I don't think I can wear my college wardrobe. Time for big girl clothing.

Also, my shopping adventures today many me think of this NYC Educator post. 

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reviews I've been meaning to write...

Autism the musical- an HBO movie

I had been meaning to watch this since it came out, but the lack of cable while I was away at school prevented me. Luckily I arrived home a few weeks ago with the tivo ready and watched this heart warming (and breaking) HBO documentary about a theater company that was created to work with Autistic children and their families. The movie documents the creator and her son and a few of the families in the group, with children ranging in their abilities. While the end product was a musical the improv and acting seemed to me like a form of play therapy in hiding. Children learn to act out social interactions and a child who is bullied takes on the role of the bully. What is more striking than the development and struggles of the children is the emotional roller coaster the parents seem to have been on since their children's diagnosis. Between divorce, separation (over the course of the movie), and fights with each other and other adults galore you really feel the pain of the parents who will do everything to help their children. There are no answers in the documentary, only truth. A truth everybody should know. 

John and Kate Plus 8

I spent one summer nannying for a family of four. Between shuffling the older children off to camp, tending to all of their different needs, and making sure the baby was taken care of I left every day exhausted. How is it possible to take care of 8 children? I'm honestly not sure as I sat watching a marathon on John and Kate Plus 8 one afternoon. Do they have funding from the television show? Are their parents rich? Or is there an immense amount of product placement that I was missing. Besides from money I wonder about the children's safety, and oh yea, their development. These are not answers I can realistically seek from a television show that I'm pretty sure is usually coupled with Little People, Big World. But as a teacher to be and psychology major I have started to think about these children a lot. They all seem typical, I'm not saying the parents are doing anything wrong, but I just want to get in there and see the kids live, not from the editors eye, and analyze the interactions of such a huge family. Piaget argues about the strength of moral development in large families. The younger children look to the older children as a star to follow after. But what about when the children are multiples. I have a lot of questions that John and Kate Plus 8 does not have the answers to. I can't really say I recommend this show as a piece of developmental material, but to look at children and say, "aww, isn't that cute," sure. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shiny and new

Well, I haven't exactly been present on my blog a lot lately. Mostly because it's difficult to stand sideways while I charge my computer and type with one hand. Today, things will change. I got my shiny and new black macbook, also known as my graduation present, from my family. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer fact that I would no longer have to spend thirty minutes, or more, every day getting my computer to no lose charge that I forgot the amazing new features I have. Get excited for fun and crazy posts with my fun new accessory ( I was never much for headbands anyways).

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Bad Seed

Nature versus nurture is a fundamental question that has been explored throughout psychology for the last 10o plus years. Was the child born bad or was it the environment that made them that way? More importantly, how does the general population understand this idea, because hey, not all parents can be psychologists.

The Bad Seed was introduced to me by a friend the other day because she thought I would like the psychological undertones. Undertones? The whole movie is spent debating nature versus nurture. At the cusp of behaviorism in the 1950s the movie debates psychoanalysis versus the new behaviorist science. One woman, Monica, discusses dream analysis and her Freudian perceptions where another character stands staunchly on the side of nurture. Kids are not born bad, but raised in bad environments.

The psychological end point is sort of ambiguous, but that might just be from my perspective. So, instead of giving away the ending I will say that all of you should go out and rent The Bad Seed, and if all else fails it really is a good movie.

Friday, June 6, 2008

$5 billion to improve education....what would you do?

Eduwonk wants to know....

"What would you do with $5 billion to improve American education? It's about one percent of what we spend annually on public schools. Leave your ideas in the comments section below."

This was my answer...

$5 billion dollars is a seemingly large amount of money that in reality can disappear in a second. I have lots of ideas that range from improving school libraries, technology grants, and additional funding for in school therapies (especially OT), but I think when looking at large sum of money like this it would be most effectively spent by focusing the money into a specific area of education.

I have always been a fan of building from the bottom up. Without a strong and sturdy base a house, a statue, and more importantly an education will crack and fall before it can reach its glory. I don't think I can stress this enough, preK, pre-K, PreK. When I say pre-K I refer to programs where the teachers have been trained the same way elementary school teachers are, four year colleges, student teaching, and a whole lot of experience before they leap into the role of lead teaching. I'm talking about classrooms that have the materials to engage students in important fine motor, gross motor, and emergent literacy activities. I'm talking about the right early interventions for all the appropriate cost (and the appropriate opportunity cost). Teachers must be trained in education, psychology, and how to interact with parents and guide parents to extending the lessons from classroom to home.

So what about the 5 billion? That goes into teacher training, paying teachers, resources for the classroom, and adjunct therapies. I know it's not enough to fix every problem, but it should sure help prevent a lot of problems that might be encountered down the road. Instead of working to close that gap later the money can help prevent the gap.

Free pre-K can have so many hidden benefits. In a world without free pre-K for all the lucky can pay their way into a strong base for the children...and many of those still have the luxury of a stay at home parent or an excellent nanny and team of babysitters. What about those who can't afford either? Well chances are the parents have to work, and without a quality day care or babysitter the children end up at the hands of someone who lets the child watch tv all day, doesn't stimulate vocabulary, and worst of all a situation where neglect and abuse can filter in to a child's life way to young. Pre-K can fix that. The parent who must work to feed the child can work guild free knowing that his or her baby is being taken care of emotionally, physically, and educationally.

I know I'm biased by my experiences in the world of pre-K, I don't claim otherwise. But I truly believe with my heart and soul that $5 billion can help impact the lives of children all over America and end a vicious cycle, starting at the beginning with pre-K.

Book of the Week: For Adults Eyes Only

Usually my book recommendations are for children under the age of then, but this is a book I would reserve for adult eyes only.

I recommend to anyone who works with children in any format, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: And Other Stories From A Child Psychiatrist's Notebook by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz. I first picked up this book at a lecture of Bruce D. Perry's where he spoke on the effects of neglect on a child's brain, affect, and future. I was convinced. While reading his book I learned more about neurosequential therapy, effects of stress on the body, and essentially why children are the way they are. I cried when I read about a boy who had been raised in a cage. I cried when I read about a family of children raised in a religious cult. I cried a lot while I read this book, but I also learned a lot. Neglect in the first few years of life, whether accidental or not, has a profound effect on children as does abuse.

Bruce D. Perry and most of the "characters" in this book are therapists, doctors, and families. Where are all the teachers? I was certified a few months ago in child abuse awareness, I will soon be a mandated reporter. In all of these stories I wonder, wasn't it obvious? But it isn't always obvious. A child with a dark past might portray themselves as a "bad seed" when in fact they are not bad at all, just hurt and broken. I take this book as not only an interesting read but a lesson for my future.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Another Eggers related story...

The New York branch of 826, a group of tutoring organizations all over the country, was featured on NPR. The New York center, or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, is a place that seems to foster creativity, writing, and honestly just sounds like fun....

(found on This Week in Education)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Another reason to love David Eggers

I first fell in love with David Eggers when I hear his TED Talk, I further fell in love with him when I realized he was a part of McSweeney's, and the final way into my heart was his pirate themed tutoring company. Now...a documentary about teachers...I truly bow at his feet.

(Watch some supposed footage!)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Where did all the pencil sharpeners go?

Yesterday, at the bright and early hour of 7:45 in the morning, I took the NYSTCE. Now, the test itself was not interesting. Between 7:45 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon I took two tests, which is two more standardized tests than I have taken in the past four years and the only scantron bubbles I have filled in (minus my time abroad). The real story here, starts on a hot Friday afternoon...

It was hot, or at least I perceived it to be hot after leaving the cool air conditioned apartment I have been inhabiting for the past week. I was dressed in far too many layers, but I had a mission: buy pencils, sharpen pencils, get a good nights sleep. I entered a seemingly normal chain drug store and went in search of said pencils and pencil sharpeners. Quite quickly I found those banana yellow pencils and beside them an array of mechanical pencils. I picked up both and continued my search for a pencil sharpener, but there wasn't one anywhere, the store did not sell pencil sharpeners.

Did I miss something? Isn't a pencil sharpener a drug store staple? But they had none, so I made my purchase and left. I walked to the hotel, getting stopped by a man dressed as Elmo who tried to tell me no doubt about a promotional deal, and continued on my way. After putting the materials in my hotel room for the night I set out for the mysterious pencil sharpener that seemed to allude my grasp.

I walked, and walked, and could not find another drug store. Then it hit me, a gift shop, because what seven year old doesn't collect pencil sharpeners. So I entered the drug store like any New York tourist and asked if they had pencil sharpeners...

"Excuse me, do you have any pencil sharpeners?"
"Oh yes, they come with nice New York pencils too."
"No, I Just want a pencil sharpener."
"But they are very nice pencils."
"I'm not a tourist, I don't need New York pencils..."

I'm not sure he believed me, but either way I still had to by the pencil sharpener with pencils and all. Now, I know that I had these mechanical pencils. Something inside of me didn't want to use them. There was something comforting as a child about sharpening a pencil. Whether it was the familiar sound of an electronic sharpener, the force involved in hand sharpening, or the art of getting that perfect point, pencil sharpening is comforting. Like macaroni and cheese or the smell of your parent's hair pencil sharpening brings me back home. So I went back to the hotel and sharpened every pencil I had bought in preparation for the hours of test taking ahead of me. I just wanted to know, what happened to all the pencil sharpeners? Where did they go and how can I get them back?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

How could you NOT love Mo Willems

Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka epitomize the modern era of children's book writers (and illustrators). Their unique sense of humor helps to lure in both child readers, adult readers, oh yea, and blog readers. I've been trying for a while to get a feel for the personality of Maurice Sendak through interviews and biographies...but most leave me searching for more. Luckily for us, youtube can now help us see the personalities of our favorite children's book authors (and illustrators!).

(P.S. I found this on Mo Willems' blog which you should all be reading)

Reattaching myself to the computer

So, I've been apart from my computer for about 40 hours now...obviously this means consecutive blog posts

More importantly, I can always count on NYC Educator to entertain me

Numnut? or my favorite moment from the bee

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night for the first time, and I have to was quite amusing. Perhaps it was because ABC seemed to have taken control and they had clips of the kids at home, interviews, and side commentary, but when you get down to the nitty gritty spelling...I was fascinated. Watching a bunch of middle school kids spell words I will never be able to spell kept me glued to the screen until finally someone took the trophy. Oh, and this was probably my favorite moment of the night...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wendy Kopp

A few weeks ago, in the mad rush of final papers, I picked up a copy of Time featuring the 100 most influential people in the world. The list includes many people I admire and look up to as I begin to take steps in the real world. Bob & Suzanne Wright, Mary Lou Jepson, and yes, I'll admit it, Oprah. Included in this list of people I idealize is the one and only creator of Teach For America, Wendy Kopp. The Core Knowledge Blog published an email from Kopp that only further builds my admiration for this woman.

People I'm glad I don't teach with...

A Florida teacher has been accused of letting her kindergarten students vote on whether or not a boy with Asperger's should be allowed to stay in the classroom. What? She says it was a behavioral tactic to get the child to change his behavior...but I don't know if I really buy that. Needless to say she has been reassigned, but she is not being charged with emotional child abuse. The child has not returned to school. Honestly, I'm so horrified at this story that I don't have that much to say on my electronic soap box. I just hope everyone takes in this story and realizes that the current state of Autism awareness is not enough. If a teacher, even one teacher, does this, then how do other people treat children with Autism or anything on the PDD spectrum. America at large needs a lesson in Autism awareness.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Literacy Retrospective and Peek Into The Future

Do you see that pendulum swinging back and forth? Slowly but surely it swings between a whole language approach and phonics with educators sitting on the edge of their seat begging, how do I teach literacy today?

I know it's not quite as simple as this. Last night while reading about literacy I realized that whole language approaches do incorporate literacy, and I think back to my own whole-language approach with a little bit of phonics in the mix. I took a class on literacy in college. We dissected children's books, looked at emergent literacy (especially in progressive education), and I personally examined educational television and its effect on literacy. I observed students, took notes on Sesame Streets, and reread Brown Bear Brown Bear over and over.

None of these experiences will compare to stepping into the classroom on day one and teaching real children, who really need my help, how to read. As much as a learn about phonemes, morphemes, consonant blends, and digraphs nothing will compare to a child looking at me confused with the words in front of them. A child will not use the literacy terminology I so pride myself on knowing. How do I make that connection between my studies and the real world?

I have yet to find an answer to that question. I think I'll probably have to wait till September. So I keep studying different word families, consonant blends, and rereading my favorite children's books looking forward to applying it in the real world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You are different, so are we...except we were first

With all the buzz about test prep for colleges...some universities are dropping the requirement.

"You are different, so are we" stands the motto of Sarah Lawrence College, one of the first colleges to no longer require SAT scores as part of their admission process. It was a number they rarely looked at in the first place. The backlash was strong by the communities who so admire statistics. The school was dropped from some of the ranking systems for higher education, but applications and admissions soared. Now, Sarah Lawrence College is no normal institution. Their distinctly small round table classrooms, secret grades, and lack of majors set them apart in the first place for being different.

I'm not surprised that a school like Smith followed along in the trend, as I'm not familiar with Wake Forest University I just have to say bravo to them. I understand why large universities need numbers and I don't chastise them for the use of SAT scores and class rank, but I think it is tremendously important for small colleges to look past scores and into the minds of the students who will be participating in round table discussions, creating the community, and making the small legacy a strong one.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Remembering everything you ever learned in elementary school one multiple choice question at a time...

Quick, what are the laws of thermodynamics? The difference between a metaphor and a simile? The difference between mRNA and tRNA? The purpose of the 6th amendment? What does this painting signify? Which vitamin does this? What war made that happen? How do you go shopping? Invest money? Work well with others? Hygiene? Children's literature? Ecosystems? Everything you ever learned?

Feel overwhelmed? Well, I sure do. Liberal arts are just that, liberal, and they prepare you to live in a box as a starving artist or join the ranks of graduate school students with loans growing by the minute. I chose the path less taken by my classmates, teaching, and not that progressive education I was spoon fed but hard and fast public school education. No extra charge for a side of government bred standards and my own multiple choice tests to get in the door. Oh dear. The last time I picked up a science text book was my senior year in high school (unless the sociology of computer science counts) and my social studies skills tend to revolve around South African politics and education policy. I couldn't name the layers of the sun off the top of my head right now, but I will be able to soon. I'm reviewing about 20 years of education in a compact study guide hoping that come test day I will remember the difference between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, the difference between onset and rime, and a variety of other facts that have eluded me in the years of essay writing.

I have an urge to shake my fist at this test. It is doubtful that I will teach all of this material to my young students as I did not learn thermodynamics in lower elementary school. But rules are rules and I continue making flash cards and studying material I will surely forget again later. I might have graduated yesterday, but as I prepare to become a teacher I guess the learning never ends. So here I go down the rabbit hole of memory hopefully ending up with a passing score.

(p.s. As much as I have been blogging about this test my excitement for the actual classroom has not waned)

Friday, May 23, 2008


Today I graduated from my undergraduate education and no one played "Pomp and Circumstance".

I started writing out a few weeks ago what I thought I might want to say about graduation. But two very important things have changed in those few weeks. First, all of the references to dirges and fiery deaths have disappeared. Whether I'm still in adrenaline shock or too tired to be scared the real world couldn't come a moment sooner. Second, in what I wrote I talked about that song, pomp and circumstance, and I certainly couldn't lie to my readers.

My school can't do anything that other schools do, for fear of being called a follower, so I walked towards my seat to a classical song that I "knew" thinking about how to smile and avoid tripping all at the same time.

The speaker at my graduation kept talking about living in the present. That you have to take stock of what you have write now and run with it. It is a lesson I desperately need to take. In a see of worrying about my final papers, finding an apartment, and dreams of publishing I forget to stop and think about the fact that quite soon I will be in the classroom. So instead of focusing on the future or the past I chose now to focus on the present: becoming a great teacher, updating this blog, and writing.

I wish I could have more answers, but for now I'll have to settle for the present, diploma in hand, ready for whatever life throws at me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top ten best gifts for college graduates

Today while buying a graduation gift for a relative the store I was in offered a list of gifts for grads...but something about the cheesy mugs and interesting jewelry told me the list was not for college grads. So without further ado I present to you the top ten best gifts for college graduates.

1. Gift practical places, not itunes
2. Furniture...bedroom set is a plus!
3. Cold hard cash...we will not judge you for lack of creativity
4. Technology...such as the new computer so many of us so desperately need
5. Cook books, home recipes, and cook ware...because in the real world there are no meal plans
6. Grown up clothes...suits, ties, and sweater sets
7. An apartment/condo/home with mortgage payment included (hey a girl can dream)
8. A meaningful career
9. Insight to a liberal arts education
10. A plan for the real world

I'm hoping to acquire at least a few of these in the next couple of days

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A lifetime of learning or arcade games?

Sorry for being slightly absent lately, as graduation approaches I've been busy busy busy packing and getting ready to embark on the world of teaching.

Yesterday I was faced with the choice of attending a lecture on "A lifetime of learning" or to go have lunch and to an arcade with my friends. As I walked towards the lecture, my teacher certification study guide in arm, I decided that this lecture would not help me learn the properties of thermodynamics, which vitamins do what for your body, and aid me in remembering the details of each war I have ever learned about. I was, and still am, trying to remember a lifetime of learning.

I remember reading Howard Gardner and him talking about how it's not what children remember from their elementary school education, but how they were learning it. Children forget half of what they learn. I no longer know all about the ocean from my second grade ocean project, I cannot tell you the details of Saturn from my third grade science project, and I certainly could not tell you the laws of thermodynamics from 8th grade science. But I could tell you what form the projects took place in, the fake news report, the ocean collages, and the songs my friends and I made up to remember thermodynamics linger softly in my head.

Am I nervous about teaching? Sure, but I'm way more nervous about a certification test where I am trying to pull out a lifetime of learning from some dark hiding place in my memory. So I resort to flash cards, something I have not used in my liberal arts education, and push towards the finish line remembering that thousands of people take the same test as me and most of them probably are recalling a lifetime of learning themselves.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Important questions....?

While studying for a certification test I came upon the following question...

A table tennis game is scored to

A. 15 points
B. 15 points, with a margin of two
C. 21 points, with a margin of two
D. 21 points

I really hope next year that my students ask me about table tennis. I now come fully equipped with the answer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Educational Television!

I am a huge fan of educational television and I could not be more excited for the new PBS version of The Electric Company. While I am far too young to ever have watched the show I am quite excited for a show with this educational intent and the creative team. (thanks to This Week In Education for the tip!)

Places I wish I was right now...

As I sit in my dorm, contemplating doing something productive, I continually wish I was arriving at the Ed in '08 Blogger Summit. However, I am finishing my last week of undergraduate classes. So instead, I'm going to blog about my year as a blogger...

When I first started blogging I wanted to write about education policy and theory. I wanted to have a cutting edge perspective on charter schools and merit pay. I wanted to emulate the experienced voice of NYC Educator and the expert position of This Week in Education. But alas, I am neither experienced nor and expert. I was not completely put off, and couldn't really stop as my blog was for a class, but I had to find a new avenue, my own voice. The closest I can guess that any college student is really an expert on and experienced in is wasting time on the Internet. So instead of wasting my time like most college students watching youtube videos and images of cats with funny phrases I spent my time reading blogs, websites for children, sifted through podcasts, and exploring new ideas in education.

I don't think I knew quite what I was getting into, blogging is addictive. I found that there were some things I could write about in my own voice from something close to an expert perspective, children's literature, and I could write about psychology from a strong base of knowledge. Where most bloggers write from a perspective of knowing I decided to write from a perspective of questioning, contemplating, and exploring my own thought process.

I ask a lot of questions, because I know I do not have the answers. I stand on my electronic soap box from a naive inexperienced standpoint hoping that my voice can burst into the blogosphere asking new questions, hopefully with a little bit of an answer hidden in my pondering. Today I put to rest my blog as a class project and bring it into my own life. Nothing is really going to change in how I post, but as I graduate and enter the real world I do anticipate some things to change within me. Hopefully as I continue to blog my voice will grow stronger and next year I will get to attend an education blogger summit.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spring Cleaning

This video gives parents tips on how to get children into the spirit of spring cleaning...many of the tips oddly don't involve cleaning at all

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Evolution of the Sick Day

When you're little, a weak cough, a touch of a fever, or too much congestion lies you in bed with fluids for at least a day or two. As you get older the standards get more rigid. In order to stay home you must have a fever, a cough alone no longer is enough. But it's okay, because as long as you are a kid you have a grown up who takes care of you. If you are really lucky mom or dad takes off work to make you soup, read you stories, and make sure your fever gets checked every few hours. Even as you age out of that, round the corner where you can stay home alone, there is always the lunch break which delivers soup and magazines. When you are a kid being sick means that you are taken care of, and what you miss out on in school and the real world can always be made up.

As an adult, sick days induce frustration. A touch of a fever is okay, unless it's over 100 what's the point in staying home? A cough, that's nothing. Just place a fist full of cough drops in your bag and the you are ready to take on the world. What happens when you do miss work? Vital meetings pass away, you don't get payed, and for teachers the substitute applies the lesson plan...hopefully the kids learned something. It is not as easy when you become an adult to take a sick day. When you are sick enough to actually take off work you can't catch up on chores or work on your writing because you are probably in a feverish haze. No one brings you soup and no one tucks you in. As an adult the sick day is a painful experience.

I remember having substitutes in school, and it was never the same as having your regular teaching in front of the class. I wonder next year, what will be my barometer for taking a sick day, and how exactly will I get myself better fast enough to jump back into the classroom. Most of all I keep thinking about taking a multi vitamin or airborne, hey, didn't a teacher create that?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Classic Canon

When I asked my friends, young adults who do not spend anywhere near as much time in the children's section of the library as me, for children's literature recommendations the interaction went something like this...

Me: Hey guys, give me a good book to recommend on my blog?
Young Adult 1: What about Good Night Moon?
Me: That's far too common, everyone knows that book.
Young Adult 2: But it's such a good book.
Young Adult 1: It's like one of the best books ever.
Young Adult 2: Yea, you should talk about Good Night Moon.

I could blog about Good Night Moon. I could talk about the repetition, the soothing muted colors, the use of the toys in the book that are often transition objects converting the book into a transition object. I could talk about Good Night Moon for a while because it is one of those books with layers, and identification, and a whole mixed bag of psychological uses for children, as are many of the best books from the classic canon of children's literature. So, this is my tribute to my top five favorite books from the classic canon of children's literature. They are probably books you have read, and books that your children still snuggle up with at night.

1. Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
2. In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
3. Whistle For Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
4. A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss (illustrations by Sendak)
5. Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

(ps this list was way harder to make than I thought it would be because in my mind old books are from the 1980s apparently, and then I realized that was probably not old enough at all to truly be in the classic canon of children's literature)

Universal Pre-k

When I was studying in South Africa, and looking at the country's education policy, I noticed a lot of murmuring about creating a pre-k program for the country. All of the writing seemed to indicate that they felt that starting early would close some of the educational gap early and build strong foundations for children. I'm not sure these murmurings in South Africa ever got turned into much of anything, due to money, but I wonder if America will get the hint.

My young and hopeful spirit truly believe in pre-k for all. I'm not sure if it should all be public, because this might hurt the quality of education, but all children should have the opportunity to a pre-k program with high standards. Could the pay be on a sliding scale? I don't know, economics are not my strong point. I do know pre-k education and the benefits I see in the minds of young children who are building pre-literacy skills and sometimes literacy skills at a very young age. It doesn't have to be a little school with little desks. In progressive education the kids play a lot and learn a lot with the careful guiding of professionals who KNOW psychology and education like the back of their hand and understand the individual needs of each child like, well, the needs of their own child.

Ezra Klein lays it out beautifully and simply, universal pre-k works. Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis tend to agree with this view point as well. I'm not arguing that children in private pre-k programs should move to public programs, but shouldn't all children, especially those whose parents can't afford pre-k and probably need to be working that time, get a little help? Not only will the children be at school but they will be setting the foundation for breaking the cycle.

Oh, and didn't

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Another shameless self plug!

I am now featured in the mega blog Jacket Flap as a book review blog! This is a great resource for anyone interested in children's literature. It features blogs by publishers, writers, illustrators, and fellow book lovers like myself.

On that note, a book review to come soon...any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Like A Lion Ready to Pounce...

Ever feel like this? I have less than one week till all my work is due, less than three weeks until I graduate, and very little time until I become a real live full time teacher. Scary? Yes. But today, as I sit and look over study materials for my certification tests, I think to myself...I'm ready. I'm ready to pounce into the real world head on and do what I've been preparing to do for a while now, teach, mold, and shape the mind of young children.

What creates motivation? What makes teachers want to get in front of this classroom? What makes us want to pounce into the tumultuous field of education. For this lion, if my memory serves me correctly, I'm pretty sure he saw a bird, or maybe he got sick of all the people taking photos. It was something innate inside Naka that said, "Must eat bird, must pounce." Is it the same for teachers?

I have been around children for what I would consider, a large majority of my life. My mother is in education and the obviously reaction to that was my original avoidance of the field. When I found education, and subsequently psychology, again in college I quickly gained that feeling of being ready to pounce. After I wrote my first essay on the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear I knew that I wanted to work with children, and it's surrounding fields, for the rest of my life. A week into college and I was ready to pounce.

Now, four years later, I have a new feeling in the pit of my stomach, pouncing with the theory and experience ready to back it up. I'm in position, chalk to the blackboard and handouts in place, ready to pounce.

Ed in '08 Blog Awards (aka vote for me!)

I'm on the final list of nominees for Ed in '08's blog awards. Excited is probably not strong enough of a word to describe how I feel. The other nominees include some of my favorite bloggers and I feel honored to be included in this group of excellent voices in education. I am going to take a moment to plug myself now...

Vote for me!
(just click on Education Maze and then hit vote)

If nothing else, and especially for those of you who found me from the list of nominees, stay and read for a bit. I am always interested in hearing feedback on my musings.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Procrastination in the Maze or Savouring the Moment

Procrastination is a word thrown around loosely on college campuses. Ask any college student if they procrastinate and the answer will probably be a defiant 'yes'. I find procrastination to be a relative term. Some people wait till the tenth hour to start research papers, others prepare for presentations only minutes before they must speak, and I do almost all of the work and put off my final edit until the night before. I might even be tempted to call my blogging an attempt at procrastination, but alas, it is for a class.

So, I'm not your typical procrastinator. I do not spend hours on youtube, but instead loose chunks of time surfing the web for interesting blog posts and newspaper articles. My procrastination so called procrastination with papers is often laughed at by my peers, but they do it to. It can be hard to get out that last reference, a conclusion, or an abstract because as much as each student avoids saying they like the work, they don't want it to be over. I might be tempted to call procrastination "savouring". Nobody questions when an adult slowly ready the last few chapters of a good book or keeps that last slice of chocolate cake for later. They are not procrastinating to read or eat, but savouring the special moment.

It is special when you finish an essay, art piece, and especially the kind of large projects that come with a senior year in college. I spent the last week with my thesis slowly editing and rereading portions that were finished, avoiding the end of my conclusion, because I didn't want it to be over. What is the difference between procrastination and savouring? I'm not sure. Surely those people who write 20 page research papers at the last minute are procrastinating...yet, those who do well were often thinking about them for days and weeks before. Who is to say that they didn't want to savour the writing? I find that with artistic work people tend to work in bursts of creativity. They think about the idea for a while and then work for hours on end painting, building, writing, and so on and so forth. Are they procrastinating or savouring the creative process? Again, I'm not sure.

Okay, so when my friends are on youtube for hours on end I tend to expressly place them in on the side of procrastination. But when an individual writes a page, watches a youtube video, writes another page, checks their email, writes a third page, reads a blog, who is to say that they aren't savouring the moment. That the individual is not procrastinating, but merely loves working on the essay. We just have to get college students to admit just how much they love school and writing.

"The Autism Spectrum" a blog with answers

I was really pleased to come upon a blog today that not only looks at controversial topics in ASD but with the background and knowledge to really give great answers. Check out "The Autism Spectrum", a new blog at Psychology Today. I look forward to keeping up with this informative new blog.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Playing games and winning in life (or school and testing)

A recent study found that improving memory, through using an evolved version of the child's game Concentration, was able to improve intelligence in adults. The experimental groups, who practiced these games daily for different periods of time, had significant gains on fluid intelligence tests. Fluid intelligence refers to a person's ability to solve new problems without background information or experience.

Okay, so that's great for adults and all. Intelligence, something once thought to be inherent, can be molded. Why not start young? Ever wonder why some kids, often those who also excel in class, loved playing memory games? Memory games, pattern recognition games, chess, and even card games that involve logical thinking all build a certain processing of thought in developing children. Much in the same way the adults were able to do well on new tasks or problems, children who play such games will be able to use their logical reasoning, awareness of placement and ideas, and general thirst for completion in order to tackle new concepts. There increased ability in this logical reason aids them when factual information falters, and it certainly aids them in standardized tests.

One of the first things many children learn during test prep, or so it seems to me, is how to eliminate answers. Which answers logically do not answer the question. A lot of test prep is teaching children this logical thought process, and teaching them patience. Children's games, which the child playing usually wants to win, can instill patience in children that others do not have. In order to win they must slow down, think, and reason.

I'm not advocating replacing school or test prep with a memory game or a chess club, but as adjunct methods of training they might do well. Games are fun, why not let children have fun while building their fluid intelligence.

The Return of The Creature from the Measles Lagoon

Measles outbreaks are being reported in America. There are a variety of reasons, some children are too young, still waiting for their first vaccination. I have one thing to say to the children who are of age and not vaccinated because of the "autism correlation".

Vaccinate your children. If the reason you aren't giving children MMR shots and other important childhood vaccines is because you are scared your child will contract autism, well, I have news for you, there is no proof. I know not all of these cases are due to this problem, but it certainly cannot help.

I'm vaccinated, are you?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A tribute to my thesis

Once upon a time, and a variety of other cliches later, I wrote a senior thesis. I almost titled this as a memoriam to my thesis, but I know when I say that I'm finished I only refer to the fact that I'm finished studying the topic at my undergraduate institution. For bibliotherapy, the subject of my thesis, will always be a part of how I think, write, and most importantly for the next few years, teach.

Giving an overview in bibliotherapy is harder than it seems. Take the books in biblio and tack therapy on the end for a rousing fun time. Bibliotherapy is at the same time one of the most accessible and intricate forms of therapy around. How do I condense 135 pages of writing into a blog post? I can't, but I will continue to incorporate it into my book recommendations and I can tell you, the teachers and people within the education community who I'm hoping read this, why bibliotherapy can and should be used in education.

Books are used in classrooms, that's a given. Children are constantly reading, learning, and studying. What's the harm in carefully choosing a book and creating a simple follow up activity that additionally soothes the soul? Well, there isn't any harm. It's as simple as choosing a book about a child with growing independence for children breaking free or a book about divorce for that kid going through a rough time and then, talking about the book. Books serve as abstractions from children's own emotions. The monster lurking through many books is a step away from the real monsters, or the power struggles, in children's lives. The divorce or death on the paperback pages is far enough away for children to talk about the issue, gain some catharsis and insight, and not have to publicly announce their problems. One of the keys to bibliotherapy with children is follow up activities, which range from discussion, art projects, dramatic play, and more. Is that not what already happens in the classroom? One of my arguments in my thesis is that if the books are there, the teacher should consciously be looking for books for individual children that touch on their developmental, social, emotional, and behavioral needs.

Okay, so this is a just a part of bibliotherapy, but a very important one. In order for bibliotherapy to move from an adjunct to taking center stage more adults need to use books therapeutically. When I talk of "need" I talk not just of the need for adults to use books in this manner but the need children have for the soothing pages of a book. Books have served a therapeutic purpose hundreds of years, but the now formalized method allows more children everywhere to be served by bibliotherapy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Space Between Lesson Plans

I'm not completely new to lesson planning, but in my years of experience most lesson plans have consisted of single day activities. These activities, while often educational, were not aligned with standards or testing. As I prepare to teach full time next year I ask myself, how do you create a year long lesson plan?

Here is what I have come up with.

Before you do anything, before you pick up a book or create a math problem, you have to set goals. Not just any goals, but in order to be a truly effective teacher you should be setting big goals. This means the over arching goals for the year with quantitative and qualitative renderings.

Next you have to break down the big goals, say getting a certain level of proficiency in a subject, into smaller bite sized chunks. Create small goals for the year that align with specific parts of the necessary curriculum.

Finally the actual lesson planning occurs, and this is where I sort of get a little lost. So I have my small goals, but they mean nothing if they aren't in the right order. What comes first in blending, 'pl' or 'br', or does it even matter? Then the word 'innovation' starts banging on the door telling me to be creative, be different. I can start to feel the panic swelling inside of me, worse than that graduation panic, and I question my right to be in education and if I'm really going to be able to do this. So I breath, and I keep reading, blogging, and practicing.

Yet, how does a teacher manage. Under paper work, creating daily lesson plans, testing, and the day to day woes of public school education how much can you really do? I might be part optimist, but I am also a realist. My zigzag lesson planning is not enough. I need to think about the arc, and the space between lesson plans.

I've settled on the fact that my first year teaching will probably not be perfect, and surely will not be my best, but I won't give up. I think that is the key. Not every lesson plan can be innovative and perfect. No one will care if I teach one phoneme before the next. I may not always know exactly what my lesson plan will be. As long as I keep going, my young naive liberal arts educated optimism included, it will be okay. The space between lesson plans might be tight, but I'll be okay, and more importantly, so will the kids.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Narrative Therapy

Michael White dies at 59, a practiti0ner of narrative therapy. He was a social worker and therapist who worked with "storytelling" in his therapy in Australia. For all intensive purpose, and from what I gather in the article, "narrative therapy" is akin to "bibliotherapy". Now, why is this distinction important to me? Because I just spent over a year of my life laboring over defining, redefining, and editing my thesis on bibliotherapy. Literally no less than ten minutes of being finished I read this article, and the funny thing is it only further proves one of my points.

One of the questions I ran into by many professors and adults in the field of psychology and education was, isn't the field a little small? The scary thing is, no, books and stories as therapeutic aids is an intensely large and scattered field of studies. There is a whole website dedicated to narrative approaches that I never encountered in my study of bibliotherapy. In fact, each day as I worked I would find a new source I would want to read, but there is only so much you can do in a year long thesis. One 1983 book I read highlighted the disparate nature of bibliotherapy studies, where some are in psychology, some education, and some library journals. These studies are further complimented by literary analysis, reading the books themselves, and what I find to be key, making the therapeutic books. How do you bring the field together in a way that makes it accepted by the greater world? Where every theorist from a different background is holding hands skipping and singing about books and stories as therapeutic aids...I don't know how yet, but I'm not giving up.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A roll in the mud

As I sit here, dirty because the pipes were turned off, I think about how great it was to be a kid when you didn't feel compelled to shower everyday and dirt and grass stains were acceptable on your clothing. A friend once told me that one of her favorite child time hobbies was playing in the mud, I believe her. I would not believe or even expect to hear such a statement from a modern day child.

I have a beef with Dick and Jane, mostly because I feel like they don't look like real children. There was in fact a shift in picture book illustrations where clean and pristine faces became akin to slightly dirty children sitting on a Brooklyn stoop (Sendak anyone?). Nowadays, I'm starting to think that children might identify better with those sparkly clean Dick and Jane types, where clothing is ironed and white is bright. I once had a child tell me they were dirty because he had spilled bubbles on himself. I replied, "Bubbles are soap. You don't need to change."

What happened to the days when kids came home dirty? When children's clothing was cheap because they outgrew it and got it dirty. I see kids walking down the streets in designer clothing and I think to myself, that costs more than my clothing. When I enter into the world of teaching one of my goals is to get children as dirty as possible, and teach them that it's okay to be dirty as a child. We will crawl in the grass, finger paint until we look like pieces of art ourselves, and certainly take a role in the mud.

Sensory School Tools: Beginning with the book

I am a big fan of introducing new concepts with books. Characters in books, those the age of the children, are much better models for behavioral and social emotional modifications. I would get into a big long discussion on one of my favorite topics, bibliotherapy, but I think I will avoid that for now.

Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success by Jennifer Veenendall introduces the readers to a little boy named Arnie who tells his story. It seems that he used to have trouble doing his work, he was bouncing all over the place, and not following the rules or learning. He gets school tools, which are explained very well with comparing them to a builder's tools, and things start to change. His tools are ones an occupational therapist might give, a stretchy band or something to hold along with other OT ideas. The best part about the book is that it conveys sensory solutions to the child with out using overly complicated therapeutic language. Arnie seems to be a success, with lots of new school tools he can learn. He hopes some day to have an exciting job, because he recognizes that he can't have a desk job, like an archaeologist.

The book is quite new, published in January of 2008, and I look forward to more books of this tenure.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Electronic Soap Box: Autism Awareness

Autism awareness month sparks charity walks, puzzle piece wearing, and a sense that people are coming together behind an important cause. My college created a few events to raise awareness about Autism on a campus otherwise preoccupied with global warming, organic foods, the arts, and hipster apathy. I attended in the company of mostly graduate students and adults to listen to a five person panel led by one of my professors on the subject.

As you might have been able to tell at this point, I have have a small background in working with Autism and very vocal opinions on who should represent education and awareness and how. I am by no means an expert, but an avid learner of theory and observer of cultural representations and awareness.

Awareness, that's the word. I think I expected more people to come to the lecture. It was by no means empty, but the small lecture hall definitely had seats open. I took pages and pages of notes on what people said, and I would consider myself fairly informed on the subject compared to some of my campus. How do you make a cause, a disease, an epidemic trendy? How do you invoke the voices of celebrities, the oh so important twenty somethings, and the people with real power? Celebrities have started to take up the cause, and as much as I cringe when a celebrity talks about what the cause of Autism is, I know that at least people are starting to learn, starting to take hold of why we need to know more about it. Autism has started its infiltration of the celebrity voice and the media, but until people start wearing puzzle pieces as much as they wear various colors of ribbons, the job is not done.

I wish I was an expert. I wish I could stand on a soap box with charts and diagrams pointing out reasons A, B, and C that Autism needs to be at the forefront of research, but I am not. As I slowly make the transition soon into the world of education perhaps I can stand on something, my diploma, my job contract, or even a telephone book and tell the world what I think needs to change. Until then I blog, I stand upon my a little electronic soap box and hope to spread the word.

Monday, April 21, 2008

You-Need-Stars! (or what hollywood can really do for Autism)

I downloaded "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education" with a bit of hesitancy. I often dislike or question medias knowledge base and portrayal of Autism. I pay $1.99, which I later learned did go to charity, and watched as a bunch of famous people did comedy and various sketches for about 1.5 hours in order to raise money for Autism. They did very little pondering about what creates Autism or which therapy is better than the next, but did what they can truly do that no other person can do and raised a lot of money. Also, they made fun of themselves.

"When there is an ailment that needs curing...stars!"

They make fun of the fact that stars seem to be included in every cure and conflict known to man despite their relative amounts of knowledge compared to expert. Ben Stiller signs an autograph to cure a heart attack, they can fix problems in the Middle East, and they can certainly raise money for Autism. A lot of the 1.5 hours is spent making fun of themselves and when it was live actually raising money for Autism education. There is a small amount of information on Autism itself, because let's be honest, that plus stars is really what makes the majority of the public want to donate.

Oh, and Ben Stiller sings a song to the tune of 'We Didn't Start The Fire' with all of the names of people who have donated over the night and the lyrics "they didn't start Autism, but they opened their hearts and they opened their checkbooks." Still not sure what to do with that...

Well, I'm not sure what academic value comedy central special has the money certainly goes to a worthy cause when you spend $1.99 to laugh for a while.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Finally learning where the wild things are: in my unconscious!

When I was little my friend had a large armoire , the focal point of her room, that was covered in a mural of Max and the some wild things. It bothered me as a child, although I never said it, to have one book so dominate her room. My relationship with Max and Sendak has grown wildly through out the years and only as an adult can I understand why a child might feel so connected to Max, so compelled by Sendak's story, that he would want his whole room decorated with the metaphors and archetypes that Sendak so purposefully places.

I on the other hand was not so obsessed with Where The Wild Things Are until I cam to college and began to look into the study of children's books and the therapeutic usage of children's literature. I did a research paper on Sendak's use of metaphor last year. I reviewed his use of expanding images as a representation of the growing wild, I looked at some of the placement of characters and props in various books, but the whole paper fell flatly on it's face. Why? Because it did not include the child. The paper did not look at the reader and the interaction between the millions of children who read Sendak's work and why they might read his many books.

I revisited Sendak this year with a bit of trepidation as I begin my thesis on the therapeutic use of children's books. I began reading psychoanalysis: Freud, Jung, Lacan. Somewhere in the middle of reading it all I thought to myself, wait, go back. Go back to the archetypes and the collective unconscious. Look at Max, the child, the beast, the child god, the child hero, the abandoned child, and all of his manifestations of Jung's child archetype. Max is many ways the perfect representation of Jung's child archetype. This means nothing on its own. What it does mean is that Max is someone connected to the inner depths, the collective unconscious, of all people. It means that in Max, and much of Sendak's writing, is a character that all people can relate to, and they do. Sendak is not just successful because of his prose and illustrations, but he is successful because he connects to an inner part of each reader.

I may not have consciously liked Where The Wild Things Are as a child, but I certainly love it now. In fact, as a child I might have been pushing Sendak away because I did identify with his characters so much, but the point is kind of moot now. I now have a deeper understanding of Sendak, his writing, his personal history, and the way his books connect to the reader. I finally learned where the wild things are, they are hidden in my unconscious, with Max, Mickey, Ida, and a plethora of Sendak favorites.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gooney Bird Greene and the book of the week

It caught my eye in the bookstore. The cover was alluring, a pigtailed red head with a polka dot shirt and a tutu. The title splayed across her shoulders and the author and her accolades on top. It wasn't until I picked it up that I realized that it was by Lois Lowry an author of my childhood. It wasn't until yesterday that I probably picked up the book because the girl on the cover resembled the some unconscious archetype ala Pippi Longstocking. Either way, it was a good read. An 88 page chapter book about telling stories. The book portrays Gooney Bird Greene as she has just moved to a new city, she tells fantastical stories that turn out, with misleading titles, to be absolutely true. She teachers her classmates how to tell a good story and soon they all begin to dress like her and tell great stories. The book serves as a perfect offshoot for lesson planning on writing stories and is enjoyable for even the adult leading the class, or bedtime story.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The youngest blogger in the world

I never would have thought that I would get so addicted to a computer, or blogging for that matter. When my computer, which I might as well call my child, took a turn for a worse this weekend I was shocked, depressed, enraged, and overemotional. How would I do my work with out a computer? How would I blog with out a computer? I was at a loss. Most college students spend far too much time in front of their computers. Essays are written while music is playing, a youtube video is on, and various chats are in the background. This trend is starting younger and younger with new kid friendly computers, with some kinks to still work out, being marketed at cheaper costs. I start to wonder, when will pre-school kids start blogs.

In a literacy class I took my freshman year the teacher posed the question to the class, "Will there ever come a day when books are obsolete? When learning to read involves sitting in front of a computer?" I was shocked, but unfortunately computers are slowly creeping their way into the common verse of childhood banter. They are slowly teaching children to multitask and to assume everything happens at the speed of bandwidth. When do children have time to slow down? Go away from the computer to get rid of that glassy eyed stare...

I did not have a computer until I was in fifth grade and I am quite thankful for that. While I was not outdoorsy I was certainly spending my time creating and inventing in distilled and peaceful environments. Until computers can do that for children I don't know how much time I think young children should be spending on the screen playing mindless games. But then again, if instead they were typing a story, reading educational material, or doing something constructive , it would be different. I am certainly no expert on children's computer programs, but I see the change lurking in the future of the computer era. While it might be present with adults I'm waiting for the four year old who turns to me and says, have you heard the new Steve Jobs speech?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Psychology of the Big Give

When I first heard about Oprah's show The Big Give I was a bit skeptical. I thought it might exploit the act of giving, but I have changed my mind. There are the obvious upsides to this show, commercials and product placement probably create more money to give to people, money that would not have been there before. Here was the kicker, the people on the show aren't expecting anything except to give big. Oprah is secretly planning to give 1 million dollars to the winner of the show, but the contestants don't know that, they all do it out of the goodness of their hearts. That, and their defense mechanism that is 'altruism'.

What? Defense mechanism? Okay, so Oprah isn't exactly thinking about this, but I am. Back in December I read a book by a psychologist Vaillant called The Wisdom of the Ego. He talks about some defense mechanisms as healthy. One of these is 'altruism', people give back in order to make themselves feel better. By giving back these contestants are strengthening their ego and making themselves stronger more capable people. Now, lots of people do this, Anna Freud is Vaillant's example. Giving back makes these contestants feel better, and in the end it's infectious. I watch this show now believing that people will want to give back to feel just as good as the contestants do.

I remember an episode of Friends from probably a good 10 years ago. In the episode the character of Joey argues that it isn't possible to do a good deed that doesn't make you feel good. Phoebe tries continually through out the episode to do something good with out making herself feel good, and inevitably fails. The way I see it, who cares if the person giving something good feels good in return. Defense mechanism or no, two people feel good.

So, if watching Oprah's primetime show makes me feel like giving back and then boosters my ego, so be it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tricking kids into loving books

In my recent reading I have been looking at, well, learning to read. Those tricky ways that teachers make you think you are having fun. I remember in second grade during our poetry unit our teacher told us for every person or object we read our poems aloud to every week we got a sticker. I once got over 100 stickers. Little did I know that by reading aloud I was improving my literacy, because lets be honest, I just wanted the cool animal stickers. I know not all teachers can bribe students the way mine did, but I'm finding more and more that there are two sides in literacy education. The first is teaching children how to read, the second is teaching children to love to read.

The more students realize how fun, rewarding, and entertaining reading can be, the more motivated they will be to learn. In my research on bibliotherapy, or books as therapy aids, many people highlight the need for humor to engage children, this goes triple or quadruple for building literacy. Why do children love Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, and Jon Scieszka? Because they're funny. I'm a big fan of Jon Scieszka. First, he has possibly the most entertaining website ever. Second, his books are fabulous. Third, he started out as a teacher. Before his big break into writing Scieszka was an elementary school teacher and taught kids to read and to laugh. In a Horn Book podcast (free on itunes!) Scieszka talked about knowing his audience when he wrote, making the books funny for children, and while he never explicitly said this, I do believe part of his intention is building literacy through a love of reading.

Okay, so I'm not an expert. I honestly believe though that humor in books helps children WANT to read. I've been a big fan of the kids show Between The Lions for a long time, because aside from teaching literacy skills it teaches a love of reading. But every child I have asked about the show tells me that they don't really like it. How do we combine humor into what is sound in literacy methods? More teachers need to start writing, or at least people who know the fundamental literacy needs of children.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Memoirs are seductive. They draw you in with painful honest truths like you are listening ear pressed against a confessional box as someone purges their sins. It's like a voyeur peering into a secret life, you feel like you shouldn't be there but when you are it is soothing and you continue to go back for more. I tend to read memoirs in a few short days, once I pick it up I can't put it down. Eli Wiesel's Night was the first memoir this happened with when I was only thirteen, I read it in one afternoon. Memoirs are more than just stories, they are real people that when you learn about them you can say, hey that's like me. Even when you haven't been through that same experience there is something about the raw emotions that is therapeutic. I would argue that narrative writing is therapeutic, but I also don't have any memoirs published so for now I'll stick to the reading experience.

Reading psychological studies and books can be slow sleepy creeps towards understanding. In a memoir you get the rush of emotions and psychology within one fell swoop. I happened to take a psychology class this year where memoirs helped to introduce many psychological concepts. It almost felt like cheating. I've learned a lot from memoirs and narratives such as Nobody Nowhere and The Boy Who Loved Windows. Each book displays not just facts but details of emotions, and secondary symptoms, that many theories do not begin to fully explain. Most of all they show the story of the individual, something that is so important in psychology. A person is not their diagnosis but an individual dealing with a problem.

I'm taking this somewhere, or at least, to a certain book. In just over 24 hours I read, I drank up every drop of, Carolin Kettlewell's Skin Game. Read it. Really, I cannot recommend this book more. If you don't read this, go out an read a memoir, because it can enthrall you, entertain you, and soothe you all at the same time.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Good bye left side!

In yesterday's technology section of The New York Times an article was published titled, " Let Computers Compute. It’s the Age of the Right Brain". I don't know how to take it. First it crosses my mind how wonderful it is that large companies and the computer age so set in logical processing are investing in the creative end of the right side of the brain. One of the 'morals to the story' as they call it is that when people focus on the right side of their brain,

"There’s power in making career choices for fundamental reasons, such as doing something you love, instead of instrumental reasons, like hoping a job will be a steppingstone to something else."

That is important. I always value people who do things because they love them and not because it gets them a grade or a bigger paycheck. Yet, there is something about ignoring the left side of the brain that scares me. Where the advent of computers certainly lets some of that logical thinking off the shoulders of humans it arguably needed a lot of creativity in order to create the computers in the first place. I recall a book I read a few years ago, Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers, that to me integrates a lot of that left brain thinking with right brain thinking. In the book virtual reality designers, and a special artist look to create a space called 'the Cavern' where are can take form. Many of these virtual reality art pieces look just like the original. The virtual reality researchers are sharply countered by the story of one many held prison in a war torn country with little stimulation at all.

I think I just figured out the meaning of the book.

It's not about the left side, the right side, and the left side versus the right side but how the two interact and compliment each other. Yes, people tend to prefer one side to the other but both the logical and creative need to be stimulated in order to create masterpieces like 'the Cavern' in Plowing the Dark. Whether you are getting your BFA or MBA in order to truly excel to the top of your field, and probably to gain satisfaction, you need both. Okay, so not everybody is going to be a revolutionary in their career of choice but why not train kids early on to use both sides, or lots of sides as Gardner might argue.

Between the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain lies the corpus callosum. Where the left side used to be favored there is no reason now to focus solely on the right. People were born with thousands of nerves connecting the two, and that is the way it should ideally be.

Sunday, April 6, 2008 you think I am...?

Ever feel like those people laughing are laughing at you? That when your co-worker smiles at you they are secretly thinking about stealing your job? That the stranger on the subway is really thinking, what are you wearing? Don't worry, as hard as that might be, apparently lots of people are paranoid.

'Paranoia' was generally thought to be a part of a major mental illness. In a study with 200 British people 40% exhibited paranoid thoughts in a simulated subway situation. So don't get too concerned if you exhibit a few thoughts that the person in the next room is laughing at you, it's kind of normal.

Is it a sign of the times? With terrorism and war on peoples minds are they constantly thinking what will happen next? Once while waiting to pick friends up from the airport I was joking about a bomb and it occurred to me, what if they are taping me? What if I can't get on an airplane in a week? I laughed it off, but with the invasion of privacy that the government has taken on it can create that paranoid feeling that someone is always watching you.

So yes, people are more paranoid now, but if political leaders at large peeled away some of their paranoid anxieties I wonder if the every day person riding the subway might see someone smiling and just think, that's nice.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Clifford Stoll and his ideas worth spreading

Clifford Stoll's TED Talk has many different ideas. The physicist talks about a little bit of everything, most of all how children are the future and how he went from teaching a little bit of graduate school to teaching 8th grade science.