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.