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Saturday, October 30, 2010


I love conferences.

Of course, at first, I hate conferences. Or rather, I dread them. Even though I regularly stay at school until 6:00, staying until 7:00 for conferences just seems so much later. The conferences themselves are exhausting. I speak Spanish well enough to conduct my own conferences in Spanish, but my mind goes into overdrive trying to think about how to say everything. I'm chatty with the parents, and so my conferences - even though I give myself longer for each conference than most teachers - tend to run over. For this reason, I try not to plan more than a few in a row. I give myself conference-free blocks of 30 minutes ever 3 conferences or so, so that I can catch up. Because of these buffer times, I have to schedule more long days than most teachers. But that's okay.

Because really, I love conferences. I wish I had more time for them. I wish we did them more often. I wish we had an opportunity for some sort of "pre" conference at the very beginning of the year. It would be great to have a time during the second week of school when all parents were supposed to come, talk to me for 15 minutes, and just tell me about their children and their children's family. I learn so much during these conferences, nearly 3 months into the school year, that would have been useful to know during the beginning months.

First of all, I just love to observe the family dynamic. I get to see this a little bit at "meet the teacher" night, before school begins. But, that's not in a one-on-one setting. There can be 10 kids and their families in the room at that time, and the kids are scared and quiet and the families are nervous and checking out the teacher.

During conferences, I was able to see that quiet P--- is so chatty and talkative with her mother - and when she is able to speak in Spanish. I couldn't even get P--- to talk at all during the first week of school. For the next two weeks, she would pretty much only speak when given the opportunity to talk into a microphone (oddly enough). Now, she talks to me and everyone else in the class, but her productive English is low, and she struggles. With her mother and me at conferences though, she was talking and talking, bouncing around the room showing her mother all our books, telling her mother what she's learned, begging and begging to read some of our favorite books to her mom. I also noticed at this time that in Spanish, she has a stutter. I've started to notice this in class a bit, too, as she speaks more and talks using multiple words (instead of one-word responses/questions). Without the opportunity to hear her fluently speak in Spanish during conferences, I may never have noticed this.

I was able to see R--- and his family. I didn't just get one parent, but I got his mom, his, dad, his big brother, and his little sister. R--- was so adorable throughout the conference. After he did his part (reading three notes to his parents about the things he had learned so far, and reading them a book he had practiced) he jumped up and asked me, "can I teach my sister how to count?" I told him that yes, while I talked with his parents about the boring things like "test" scores, he could teach his little sister to count. R--- called his sister over to a big 100s Chart and started counting. "Okay, listen to me" he commanded her, and he pointed to the numbers and counted. "One, two, three... Now your turn." I can tell R--- has been listening in class.

E---'s whole family came. I know that his mom and dad don't live together, and I told them that we could do two separate conferences, if they wanted, instead of just one, since I don't know their dynamic. They said one conference was fine, and E--- ended up coming with his mom, his mom's baby, his dad, his dad's new wife, their new baby, and another toddler. I've never had so many babies and parents in a conference. It was distracting to me, but wonderful to see so many people caring about E--- and his schooling. Everyone asked questions - his mom, his dad, and his stepmom.

During C---'s conference, I found out that she had started kindergarten in Mexico before moving to the US last year. I didn't know this, and it helps explain why her English is so low. I also learned that she lives with her grandparents, not her parents. Her parents still live in Mexico. They basically gave her up to the grandmother so that C--- could attend school in the US. C---'s grandmother (who C--- calls "mom") said that they are trying to help her, but that they don't know any English. I tried to reassure the grandmother that numbers are numbers and words are words. If they do all they can to help her in Spanish, I'll do all I can to transfer that understanding to English.

(In fact, I ended up reassuring a LOT of parents that same thing. It makes me curious - what are the kindergarten teachers saying? Are they telling the parents not to support the children's learning in Spanish? At this point, I have so many students who still don't know the numbers 1 through 20. I don't care if they know them in English or Spanish or any other language - conceptual understanding is conceptual understanding.)

My biggest shock was L---. L--- tells me about his mother a lot. I've never seen her before, but L--- talks about her being pregnant or something along those lines, so I assumed she was just staying home for that reason. It turns out that actually, she is dead. She died three or four years ago, I think with complications from the birth of a younger sibling. (And this is where I wish my "conversational" Spanish was stronger.) The father told me all this in front of L---, so it's not a secret. But, the father also said (again, in front of the child) that L--- doesn't really understand, that L--- thinks she is just in Mexico or something like that. It would have been nice to know this a bit earlier, especially since the mother is a daily topic of conversation for L---. Now I'm looking around to see if there is any therapist or counselor who can talk to L--- about this. At my school, the school psychologist doesn't work with children - all he does is test. But maybe he knows of an outside organization that does free child therapy...

I also love conferences because they help me make a point. People always complain about the apathy of parents. That "parents these days don't care anymore." Or that, "'THOSE' parents don't care." Despite the fact that I work in an "inner city" school, that my students all come from Spanish-speaking homes (and are English language learners), that most of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, that most of the students are first or second generation immigrants - despite all that, the families come (in full force!) and they care, and they want to help. I had 96% of my students come to conferences. I am missing one student. I still plan on calling the parent and reminding them to come in. My goal is 100% attendance. I've done it before, and I can do it again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Welcome to my 3rd Year Teaching!

This has been a really hard year so far.

It started the first week of school when students kept enrolling, and getting put in my class. More and more students. It got to be nearly a joke. I got 10 new students over the course of the first week of school.

The part that bothered me the most, though, was that classroom numbers were (and are) wildly unequal at my grade level. Some classes have 10 students fewer than me. The irony is, in my insane state, that segregates children based upon English language proficiency, I am working with the group of students that is supposed to have the smallest class size. Even the State Department of Education advises that classes such as mine have fewer students than I currently have. But, because "language levels" cannot be mixed, and my administration is not willing to find ways around the rule, I have 10 more students in my class than teachers in my grade level with less "needy" students.

I know it's not helpful, or healthy, but every day I look across the hall at the teacher who has so, so many fewer students than me, and imagine all things I could do if I had that number of students. I could actually meet the needs of my students! There would be room in the classroom to move around! I would have enough materials for all the students! It would be a dream!

Aside from the sheer number of students, this is the chattiest group of students I have ever had. So chatty. SO CHATTY. I have tried so many different things to try to get them to use the chattiness for good, not evil. Before we read any story, the students talk about their predictions of every single page with a partner. While we read the stories we have ample opportunities to share with a partner. At the end of the story, students talk with a partner. We're starting to figure out how read-alouds work.

Direction-giving time, though, is still a mess. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get the students to pay attention to the directions/rules for games during math or literacy centers. This results in the direction-giving times lasting too long, (since I have to repeat myself so many times, since students aren't listening) and students getting antsy and bugging each other.

And that's another issue that I have not experienced before. Students are stealthily mean to each other. I have had so many parents talk to me, telling me that XXX student and YYY student are bothering their child, and why am I not doing anything about it. I see nothing in the classroom. If I see nothing in the classroom, I'm not sure what to do about it, since I don't know who is telling the truth. We have had "discussions" (which means we sit in a circle and talk). We have role-played. We have drawn pictures, written stories, taken photographs of positive models. I cannot get the children to be regularly kind to one-another, to keep their hands off of other people, to stop calling each other names or threatening to not be friends.

My current goal, in this area, is to figure out how to get students to differentiate between "tattling" and telling the teacher when someone is bothering them in a more serious way. We made a chart today that lists "cheating during centers games," "stealing my crayon" and "bothering me in line to get a drink" as things that do not require teacher interference. "Pinching, hitting, and pushing" and "if someone bothers me after I tell them to stop 3 times" were put under the heading "Tell the Teacher." I don't know if that's right, or not. We'll see if anything come of it.

Aside from teaching, I have spent the last month or so obsessively following all the Waiting for Superman controversy on the internet. For the record, I think the movie Waiting for Superman is a teacher-bashing, charter-supporting, privately funded, harmful piece of propaganda. I've read nearly every article posted by Not Waiting for Superman on their Facebook page. (As a result, I have a renewed love for Alfie Kohn, which is a whole different story...) I just don't understand why people aren't stopping to look at the community and socioeconomic factors that influence schools and the students who attend schools. Some day, when I have more energy, I will write more about that, hopefully...

I also am about 3/4 done with my masters degree. This semester I am working on an action research project, and have been taking reflective notes on some of the things I do in the classroom. I'm hoping I can take some of those ideas and turn them into blog posts, and maybe actually post on this blog! I really enjoy going back and reading my thoughts from student teaching and my first year teaching. I'm sad that I have practically nothing from last year. I need to document my development as a teacher, so I can look back on it in 10 years and laugh (or cry, I don't know which).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hackers Keep Breaking Into My Accounts...

That last post from July was a HACKER. This same hacker (or group of hackers, conspiracy of hackers) broke into my other Google accounts as well. I hadn't realized they got into this one, too!

I'm still teaching. Plodding along. Maybe some day I'll have enough energy to post.

In the meantime, I am certainly not stuck in London, and certainly not posting a need for help on an anonymous blog!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Year Two, Done.

Oh, boy.

My goal is to pick this thing back up.

I'm no longer a second-year teacher. I'm on my way to being a third year teacher, which is absolutely bizarre.

I survived this year, but just barely.

My class was lovely.

My students were incredible. They had their challenges, of course. There was the child who spent the first semester barking under desks and humping the floor, and the second semester making noises so random that I can't reproduce them, and so frequent that when others came in and marveled at the noises, I hadn't even realized they were being made. There was the child who was being a bully, and knew he was being a bully, but couldn't quite figure out how to stop. There was the child who finally, come May, began doing work she should have been able to do in November of her kinder year. There was the child who had compulsive behaviors that greatly interfered with her learning, yet despite many conversations with administrators, I was unable to convince them that these behaviors were serious and detrimental to her own and her peers classroom experiences. Yet, despite the challenges and oddities, the children were just fabulous. The students (even the occasional bullies) were kind to one another. They helped one another. They supported one another. They helped and supported ME. They internalized my love for reading, for writing, for learning. They did fabulous teamwork. They loved to sing songs about math and reading. They believed me when I told them that freshly sharpened pencils were "brain pencils" and would help them access all the knowledge they already had in their brains. They let me read and reread my favorite stories to them. They made excellent text-to-text and text-to-self connections. They LISTENED to each other when they spoke. They responded to each other, to their classmates' comments and stories. They liked listening to one another read. They knew how to gently support classmates who struggled in reading. They internalized my prompts to "think about what you know about the word," to "look for little words you know in the bigger word," to "look at the picture to give ideas about the word," to "think about blends you know to sound out the word." There were moments when I felt like I was an ancillary member of the class. They didn't need me anymore - they could do it all on their own.

They were excellent.

Of course, this is in hindsight. There were moments, days, weeks, that things weren't working. I remember one week, one group of weeks when nothing was working. Nothing was going right. I emailed a teaching coach and told her I needed help. I didn't know why, but I needed help. She came in that day during writing, looked at me, asked what was wrong, and I almost burst out crying in the middle of class. Nothing in particular was wrong. The kids weren't being mean to each other. My lessons weren't bombing. The students were learning. Just...nothing was quite right. We talked that afternoon. We worked it out. I felt a little better. Then my administration pulled a new curve-ball and everything I had planned that long afternoon had to be thrown out.

I struggled with some coworkers. I never felt accepted. I felt like my knowledge and experience wasn't valued. I felt like some people didn't care what I had to say. It hurt. A lot. I had come from a school where, even though I was a first year teacher, I was valued. The other teachers had valued me for my youthful enthusiasm, for my up-to-date pedagogical knowledge. For my passion. At this new school, I felt that people resented every comment I made alluding to something I had done the previous year. They didn't care about my previous experiences. They didn't want me there. Eventually, things got a little better. The zillionth time I mentioned a successful activity/procedure/lesson I had done the previous year, my new coworkers sort of listened. I began to feel a little bit accepted. Then something else happened, and all the team-bonding, the acceptance, it deteriorated. It was gone. I felt hated again.

I struggled with my administrators. This, I can't describe. I don't understand it. I never felt comfortable. That's all. Never felt accepted. Never felt able to understand their motives or thought processes. Never felt the intense connection I had to my previous administrators who, from day one, I could tell would support me no matter what. It was a different leadership style. Different people. A different relationship. No comparison.

I interviewed at a different school, and was offered the position. I debated the merits of moving verse staying. I didn't know which would be better. Everyone not directly involved told me to do whatever was best for me, long term. I didn't know what that was. I wanted to be in two places at once and knew that wasn't possible. I didn't know what to do. I emailed that same teaching coach again. Told her I needed her help. She wasn't at school that day, but I needed the help immediately - time to make my decision was running out. I couldn't tell anyone else at school about this - I couldn't tell them I might be leaving - so I couldn't ask for their advice. This teaching coach, though, I knew I could trust her. And she came. She wasn't at school that day, but after school let out for the day, she came. She could tell something was wrong. That time, I did burst out crying. I didn't know what to do. We talked. We talked and talked. I showed her my lists. Tried to explain my conflict. She told me it looked liked I had made my decision, and she would miss me. I started crying again. I'm not a crier. Never, in my entire life had I cried in front of anyone except my parents. And that hadn't happened since I was young, in middle school, maybe, and in trouble. That's different. I cried. I called my teacher-friend, and cried again. That made two people I had cried in front of that day. The next morning, I made my decision to go. I had was sad to be leaving, but was looking forward to a new adventure. I was about to call and accept the new position. Then something happened. Something big. I got new information about the situation. I wasn't going to move. I mourned that - the loss of something I never had. The loss of a potential new beginning. It had been my decision, and I could have gone, but I didn't. I felt very sad, nauseous, worried.

It was an emotional year. It was probably the most emotional year of my life. I got layed off, again. I updated my resume. Asked for letters of reference. Filled out job applications. I got un-layed off again. Breathed a sigh of relief. But already, I'm worried for next year. I don't think I can survive another potential lay-off. Some people thought it was easier the second time. It was harder for me. It was so much harder the second time. If I get layed off again next year, I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't think I'm going to wait. If this district lays me off again, I'm done. I can't deal with the stress, the emotion.

Aside from my own stress this year, I felt a lot for my students. I live in that state, where all the stuff is happening. Where all my students are having to live in fear of being arrested for who they are, or who their parents are. For what they may not have. Or, perhaps worse, for what they do have, but their parents do not. I had students' parents have to abruptly leave the country. Sometimes the kids knew why. Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they learned to live with it, making due with phone calls or letters. Sometimes they struggled. They were pulled out of school early once a week to go visit a counselor. They were depressed, unable to understand why one of their parents had been ripped away from them, for a piece of paper they did not have. My students were strong, though. They wrote about it in their journals. They shared their experiences with one-another. They commiserated about the confusion, the pain. They talked about the things they had heard on the news, the whispers they heard from the adults around them. They talked about it in such a mature way. I stayed out of these conversations - I don't have to live with that fear. I'm lucky. I listened to my seven-year-old students talk about mature, life-changing issues. I hurt for them, and was proud of them for being so strong. I worried for them.

It was a long year. I learned a lot. I grew a lot professionally. I changed, too. I also stayed the same. My favorite word is "wonderful." That hasn't changed. I love to teach guided reading. That hasn't changed, either. I'm more cautious now, with what I say. I've learned to do first, and ask for forgiveness later, instead of asking for permission up front. It's counter-intuitive, but that's the way things work around here. I still mourn for what could have been. I mourn for what could have been had my first school not shut down. I mourn for what could have been had I accepted the position at the new school. I worry for continued conflict with coworkers and administrators next year. But that's life, right? Everything is unknown. I can't worry about what could have been. I need to look forward to what will be. And what will be? I don't know.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Welcome Back from Winter Break!

Welcome back from winter break! We had some highs and some lows our first day back:

The first thing any of my students said as I picked them up from the playground at the beginning of the day was, “Ms. GrownUp! My Dad had to go to jail!” Usually the reason is something like drug possession or something else fairly minor like that. “Oh, I’m sorry…” I said, since nothing more appropriate came to my mind. “He got sent to jail ‘cause he threw something at my mom.” My response then was just, “Oh.” How am I supposed to respond to that? I can’t say, though I was thinking, ‘Well, in that case, I am very proud of your mother for not living with abuse. I know that, while you are a delight, your siblings, especially the one who attends a special school for children with behavior problems, are a huge handful. I can’t imagine having to take care of all of you all day, alone. Your mom is stronger than I’ll ever be.’

Leaves had fallen on the ground during winter break, and there were piles and piles of leaves everywhere. On the way to lunch the class was looking longingly at the leaves, wanting nothing more than to jump in them like excited puppy dogs. One girl looked thoughtfully at the leaves and commented, “I should have brought a rake! A-something-E!” I’m not sure why she felt compelled to explain the spelling of the long-A sound in that word, but it certainly made me laugh.

One student happily shared that his father had come back from Mexico. The father had left a few weeks ago because he couldn’t find a job here. This father is, from what I can tell, a great father. I haven’t spoken to him much, but I know that during conferences he was absolutely beaming as I talked to him about his son. The whole time he just looked in awe that I was saying so many wonderful things about his kid. It was adorable. I am very glad that he was able to come back to the US to live with his family.

As I picked the class up from recess, one of the girls limped up to me and exclaimed (very excitedly), “I stepped in dog poop! I’ve got dog poop on my shoe!” I wasn’t sure what to do, but eventually made her take her shoe off outside. She then very carefully handed it to me, and I carried it with two fingers to the classroom where I attacked it with a Clorox wipe.

I was working with a guided reading group on a word-building activity. The students had an assortment of alphabet magnets (for word making) and a paper and pencil (for recording). One girl was absentmindedly holding two pencils – one in each hand. The boy next to her looked down and couldn’t find his pencil. “Hey! Where’d my pencil go?!” he complained, looking around. “E---, you stole my pencil!” he accused the girl. “What? No I didn’t,” she said (still holding a pencil in each hand.) The boy pointed at her hands, “Yeah, look!” he demanded. E--- looked at her hands and was shocked to discover that she was in fact holding two pencils. She shrugged as if she had no idea how the pencil had gotten into her hand, passed it over to the boy, and went back to work.

At the end of the day I finally let my students go play outside in the leaves for exactly three minutes. It was three minutes of pure joy, excitement, and happiness. (Except for the four students who had lost the privilege to play in the leaves because they did not do their work during math centers.) Of course, I planned poorly and let them play in the front of the school. That meant that all the parents who arrived early saw me and my class participating in utter mayhem – throwing leaves in each other’s hair, jumping on leaf piles that often contained half-buried children, (sometimes resulting in a pained yelp) and behaving completely unlike any other class that exited the building calmly, quietly, and in a line. When the bell rang and it was really time to go, I got most of the children to calm down a little bit and, like in dodge ball, not throw leaves above knee-level. I fear the leaves will be gone tomorrow, and with it the wonderful excitement they brought with them. A little chaos is well deserved at the end of the first day back after a long break.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Year Two, Update Two.

If you don't have something nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all - especially if it is being posted on the internet.

That's my excuse for not writing this year. My students are fine - they're not causing me any big problems. It's the other parts (administration, coworkers, and policy-rules) that are driving me insane this year.

If I had felt this frustrated last year, I may not have made it to being a second year teacher.

I'm basically frustrated/upset much of the time, have gotten "in trouble" for doing things like going to conferences and assessing my students, (both things that were encouraged last year...) and will probably be layed off again at the end of the school year due to further budget cuts (without hope for being rehired).

But, the kids are great. When I'm not getting in trouble or having my schedule screwed with, I am feeling surprisingly competent in teaching. Many of my students have made awesome jumps in reading since the beginning of the school year, and even though I am not using the new district-mandated math program (because I was never taught how, and it is very traditional/worksheet based, instead of being constructivist which I how I like to teach math) my students are doing pretty well in math, too.

I was so lucky last year to have such a supportive administration and such great coworkers. Maybe someday I'll have the opportunity to experience that again.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Year Two!

Well, I've been gone for a long time.

The start of the school year has been crazy and busy. But, overall, things have been going surprisingly well.

I have six more students than I did most of last year, eight more than I did by the end of last year. But, we're figuring out how to all coexist in one room together.

I have some students who I have yet to figure out and some students who have been wonderful from the first day of school.

I really like some of the people at my new school, and am having adjustment problems with others, but am hoping to work out some of those issues soon.

One new thing I'm trying is giving the students more "freedom". Last week (the...5th-ish week of school) I decided that we would no longer have assigned desks. Students can sit wherever they want on the rare occasion that we are actually sitting at desks, and can have more than 4 people at a group of 4 desks, if they want. When we are sitting on the rug, they can sit with me on the rug, or they can pull chairs up to the rug and sit on the chairs, or they can sit at desks. During centers and math time, they can sit at desks, on the floor, or on top of the desks. When I'm reading a story, they can lie down, if they want. We've been working with this for a week now, and so far I like it.

I need to record more of my second year (because I'm no longer a first year teacher!!) so that I can view my own progression from year one to year two.

Hopefully I will force myself to write down more. Because with the extra students comes extra humor/excitement/tears/excreted bodily fluids/office referrals/guided reading groups/piles of paper...