Monday, June 17, 2013

Wayside School is Falling Down

My students were asked to use literacy in some way to decorate our door in a way that represents themselves as a class and our year together. This year they fell in love with the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar and this is what they chose. They came up with the concept and executed all of the artwork. I love it!

“Wayside school is falling down, falling down, falling down,
Wayside school is falling down my fair lady.

Kids go splat as they hit the ground, hit the ground, hit the ground,
Kids go splat as the hit the ground my fair lady
Broken bones and blood and gore, blood and gore, blood and gore,
Broken bones and blood and gore my fair lady.

We don't have to go to school no more, school no more, school no more,
We don't have to go to school no more my fair lady.”
Louis Sachar, Wayside School Is Falling Down

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have an interesting situation in the classroom this year. It's somewhat unlike any other situation that I've faced thus far in my slightly-more-than-four-years of teaching.

The other day, my students and I were talking and one of them referenced the special ed. classroom in the 5th grade hallway. We talked about how we all have difficulties with some aspect of learning and I thought we would move on from there. Instead, one of my students raised his hand and explained that he used to be in a "classroom like that." After some probing I learned that he had actually been placed in a classroom for students with behavior disorders for several years before he came to our school.

Now I have had many students exhibit signs of behavior disorders, but I could almost always attribute them to another problem that a student was having that manifested itself in part through poor behavior. I don't think I've honestly ever had a student whose actual problem was simply behavior. My student is bright and high functioning, social and has several friends. He is just (very apparently) bent towards bad behavior.

The thing that strikes me the most is that he obviously tries to fight it! This is not a kid who wants to be bad, but he can't honestly seem to help himself. In fact, in our first CARE meeting of the year he talked about what a great influence his dad is (he helps him study and takes him to church) and how his goal this year is to get better grades and be better behaved. He is not currently meeting that goal...but he could be a lot worse than he is. I am pretty sure that what I see is actually the reigned in version of the child.

I love and respect this kid for fighting against his natural inclination. As I watch the internal struggle, I can't help but be inspired. If I only worked half as hard to be better on a daily basis as he seems to, I would probably be doing alright.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Boring Back to School Post

I feel like I always get more inspired to write about teaching while I am actually in the midst of, well, teaching! I hope that the inspiration sticks because I've actually been missing writing...even when I don't realize that I'm missing it.

The beginning to this school year has been a ROCKY one. Let me just say that I have NO right to complain this year. I am, for the first time in my life, teaching in the same school, in the same classroom, in the same grade, with virtually the same professional team. On top of that, my class is TINY (10 bilingual students) and we are finally back on the 5th grade schedule so the kids even get to socialize with their peers once more!!!

So yeah, anyone reading this is more than welcome to yell at me for having one negative word to say.

That prefaced, I am unbelievably sluggish (and dare I say more than a bit unmotivated) at the beginning of this school year. I should probably go back and read some of my old first-day-of-school posts in order to feel better about myself, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they are full of hope and optimism for the new year and they will just further discourage me.

I'm not sure what it is exactly. The potentially comforting part of it all is that almost every person that I've talked to recently has spouted out almost the exact same sentiments. Am I always this far behind at the beginning of the year? I know that there is a lot more to get done with schedules and paperwork and all that fun stuff, but I feel like that's all I'm doing lately. That's when I like teaching the least, when I feel like I'm "wasting" my time with the administrative stuff when I should really be able to hit the ground running devoting all of my time to coming up with creative instructional tools and interacting with the students.

I attribute part of my sluggishness to the fact that I had foot surgery at the end of last school year. I spent the summer trying to heal and I think I did a pretty good job of it. I graduated physical therapy AND started work with a personal trainer to build the strength back up (yay me!) It isn't a coincidence though that I feel like less of an educator this year in regards to the foot though. I know it needs rest but when I am sitting, I feel like I'm not engaged with the kids and it makes a huge difference.

This isn't a particularly inspiring way to get back into the blogging world, but for now I'll call it a baby step. In fact, every piece of work that I choose to do on my Sunday afternoon instead of going out and socializing will serve as just one more baby step in getting caught up and feeling like I'm truly ready to start the year! Good luck to those of you who are busy doing the exact same thing!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Getting Myself into Trouble

I'm not sure why I have a compulsive need to continue to use the internet as a way of expressing myself. I think it has something to do with the incredible comfort I found three years ago when I found other educators with great ideas and a community that I really felt like I could be a part of. There is perhaps nothing more amazing to share in than a group of people who can talk about what they do in an educated and informed (and often humorous) way!

That said, I signed up for Twitter using the same name that I blog under. This means that it is going to be increasingly difficult to stay off the grid from people in my real-life professional circle. I wish that didn't concern me but I have learned from experience that people can become very threatened when they perceive that they are being exposed in a public way, even when they are not mentioned by name and that the intent of the blog at hand is simply to commune with and learn from peer educators.

I will never continue to learn and grow as a teacher and I still maintain that this is a wonderful outlet for that process. That said, you can all remind me of my poor choices if I find myself once again looking for a new teaching position at the end of this year. ;)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Early Exit

We got ACCESS scores yesterday. For those of you who don't speak in terms of Bilingual Education, that means I have the numbers that decide the fate of my students for next year. The criteria determines whether or not my students will continue in the bilingual program in middle school or if they are ready to take on mainstream classes full time. My scores this year were pretty standard. Out of 18 students I am exiting three. The other 15 will stay in the bilingual programs for at least another year. Of those 15, only 6 of them were new to the United States (and therefor the English language) within the past three years. The rest have been around for their entire academic careers.

With statistics like that, it is hard not to measure your worth as an educator by the puny like number "3." I can easily rationalize the number by explaining that students whose are already behind in reading will almost always be playing the catch-up game. Also, balancing two languages, while ultimately being an asset, is a struggle during the first several years of any bilingual program (even the successful ones). Somehow, those truths were not holding much comfort yesterday.

The other silly thing is that I don't even believe in early exit. This is evidenced by the fact that I am a FIFTH grade bilingual teacher in a world where, if you look at the available jobs from other districts (just because you're curious, not discontent) you'd be hard pressed to find anything above Grade 2.

I think the point comes from the fact that teaching has become so score-driven that the pressure can seep into even the most logical mind. Apparently even mine is susceptible to defining itself by other peoples' standards. I am usually the first person to shrug off the stress of state standardized testing while everyone else is cramming and scaring the crap out of their students. I have always managed to keep myself cool with the knowledge that my students love and respect me and what we're working toward and that they will do the best that they can. I can expect or ask for nothing more.

What I really need to keep in mind is that a) THREE students were able to close the gap during the year that they spent learning from me and b) there is absolutely nothing wrong or sub par with students who continue on in a program that I fundamentally believe in!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Social Networking

Social networking is obviously a big deal nowadays. I have 5th grade students who constantly ask me if I have a facebook account. Through the blessing of privacy settings I'm granted the luxury of having a personal life without the little ones infringing upon it. But I'm not here to talk about my students' and their relationship with technology. Today I want to focus on the separation of personal and professional life.

Two years ago I left a district where the teachers there (the same ones whose baby and wedding showers I'd hosted and planned) took my need to write professionally as a personal attack and affront. Since those bitter days I have chosen to hold my online hand much closer to my chest especially in regards to my coworkers.

Now, interpersonal relationships in the workplace are tricky. I have nothing but love and respect for the people that I work amongst on a daily basis. I have found people who have opened themselves up to working and collaborating directly with the new kid (me) to the extreme benefit of our respective students. I am nothing but blessed to have wound up in the district and school that I'm in.

That said, I recently received a friend request from a coworker on facebook who is simply legitimately not my friend. I have nothing again her or her character. She has offered me help and support on more than one occasion and shares vast knowledge and perspective from the different positions she has held as a teacher. We simply have no personal relationship.

My experience has made me wary of opening up my non-school life to people who are not a part of it. Because of the open personality I have, it feels mean to intentionally shield myself but, in truth, it is probably just good common sense at this point. On the other hand, there are coworkers who I have shared a great deal of camaraderie with during the past two years. I know about their friends and families, have spent time with them in a social setting, and enjoy sharing personal victories and sometimes defeats with them on a daily basis.

The whole worlds-colliding-debacle started slowly. I agreed to a friend request from a coworker who has never demonstrated anything but good intentions toward me. That coworker had other friends from work who then found me and sent similar requests. With each agreement I enjoyed finding out about their personal lives and opinions, sharing photos, and making the occasion joke. But then...the recent request from a coworker with whom I have had no social interaction left me wondering once again if the internet is the best place to connect with people whom you need to maintain professional composure amongst.

I made the fateful choice to un-friend everyone related with my current place of business today. With each rejection I felt an almost physical loss. Then, when it was all over, I just kind of felt relieved. I'm free to continue my interactions with family and old friends AND I can choose to share my personal information judiciously with select coworkers at will and in the appropriate situation and context.

In the end I think that each person needs to do what's right for them. For me, at this point in my life, there needs to be a little healthy separation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fire and Spirit

I have not been teaching for a long time. To be specific, I'm in my 4th year of teaching bilingual students and only my second year of having my own classroom (before that I was doing resource). As I always try to, I have to give lots of love and mad props to anyone who teaches in a pull-out type scenario because I wouldn't trade the whole classroom experience for anything.

My experience on the day before winter break is an amazing testimonial as to why that's true for me:

Last year I had a beautiful student with a bit of a troubled soul. I certainly didn't recognize it right away, as she was always quiet and respectful, but it was there hiding under the surface ready to boil over. Apparently, the year before I had her, she missed a LOT of school. Then, with me things got better until we had a substitute. If she knew ahead of time that I would not be there, she was always absent and if she was surprised by a sub at the beginning of the day she would make an excuse about being sick and go home. Of course, this trend did not go unnoticed so I referred her to social work. Just as I had determined, however, the social worker found her to be pleasant and relatively happy and nothing really came from her visit there.

We moved on until one day something went terribly wrong. I got a call in to the office as soon as I dropped my students off at their special telling me that I was needed right away and that my little darling was in the office screaming and crying and doing her best to make her mom take her home. When I entered the office I couldn't believe what I was seeing. My lovely little child was "talkin' smack" to the principal telling her that she didn't know anything about her or care about her life and basically egging her on when she threatened to call the cops. It got to the point that I was so upset by the fact that I thought I had known this student and that she had clearly been harboring some strong anti-school feelings for so long, that I started to cry about my own failure as a teacher. Eventually my principal followed through, called the cops, and got her escorted back to class. She acted the same as she always did (scary!) and we moved on in the same way for the rest of the year.

Two weeks ago I got a call from the assistant principal at the middle school. Their sweet, though at this point struggling academically, little sixth grader was once again having an "episode." They described it to me and I explained that it had indeed happened once before. We talked for a long time about what I used to do with her, how she was successful in my classroom, and what we could do to motivate her. I was thanked for my time and left to deal with my own students while my former one was out there flailing about.

I felt like what I had done just wasn't enough. I sat down the next morning and wrote a letter to my former student explaining to her that her behavior scared the hell out of me (not in those exact words) and that she could always find support in me. I also reminded her that just because she was gone (from elementary school) didn't mean that I wasn't with her, thinking about her, checking up on her with her new bilingual teacher. And you know what, I thank God that I took the five minutes to sit down, write that letter, and send it through district mail to the middle school. Apparently she took it to heart.

On the last day before break, right after my students walked out the door, I got called down to the office. I walked in, was told that I had a visitor, turned around, and there she was! I screamed and hugged her about ten times and then I finally asked, "Oh my gosh, why are you here?!" to which she simply and emotionally replied, "Because you wrote and said to come visit you." My darling child read my words, BELIEVED them, made her mother drive her all the way to her old elementary school, and was standing before me ready to talk. It was one of the most amazing conversations of my life.

We talked about what she was struggling with, the long road ahead, and real solutions to make it better (because she won't be out of school any time soon!). She updated me on family life, my old students, and her new strategies on how she is working harder and doing better in school. I couldn't believe the transformation. I vowed then and there to write about 6 more letters (to students who she kindly ratted out about their middle school antics) and remind as many kids as possible that the caring doesn't just stop because the school year did.

This year I honestly don't have the same relationship with my students as I did last year. They don't have to struggle to stay united in the same way as my kids in the split class did. We had a special bond last year and I know (and my students know) that we aren't there yet. But I am going back into this new year (2011!) with a renewed fire and spirit. If I can create the same level of trust and support in just one of my new students, it will be worth everything.

Happy New Year!