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?