I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

29 December 2011

Disrupting the System

I was reading this Tim Wise essay and thinking about the endless conflict between reform from the inside and pressure to reform from the outside.

There are all kinds of things about public education that aren't good, although they're not really the ones that education reformers are worried about.  It's a system set up by the dominant culture to serve itself; while it may not actively conspire against the oppressed, it is at best apathetic towards them.  Education assumes many white norms; we assess for things that aren't necessarily that important (and are sometimes contrary to civic wellness) in ways that prioritize and prize certain ways of learning and doing over others.

I know people who are involved with charter schools because they believe the system cannot be repaired; if all children are going to be educated, it will have to happen from outside pressures.  It's a radical view, I suppose.

Of course, on the ground it's remarkably less radical.  High STAR test scores don't correlate with healthy societies or even high-needs children going to college and getting white-collar jobs.  Nor is it really outside: few charter schools are upending the system to teach different material in different ways.  Moreover, it's a scorched-earth policy.  For those children who are in the public schools, the charters that may someday make everything better are currently making everything worse.  Charters conspire with the corrupt and oppressive systems in public education to make the situation worse for most.  Even if their goal is to eventually succeed with every child and to create a anti-racist education, a lot of learners will be sacrificed before that happens.  And those learners will not be knowingly, willingly sacrificed: education battles are in the end fought not only about our children, but on and by our children.

Generally I believe that reform from the inside is unsuccessful, and if I push myself I have to admit it's probably unsuccessful here, too.  Some of the things that make my classroom a good place for the children in it support a system that prevents systemic change.  For instance, at this point my classroom is almost entirely stocked by the goodwill and private dollars of strangers.  The materials available are good for my students; the acceptance that public financing is secondary isn't.

In some ways, teaching Kindergarten makes it easier to remove oneself from the system.  I don't give a standardized test.  Kindergarten isn't even a legal requirement for children in California; while there are standards I must teach, I have remarkable leeway in how I choose to do it.  And showing up to work each day and doing my job means that I can't look at my class and think about PreK to prison pipelines very much; hopelessness is real and not productive when you're in the thick of it.

So sometimes I feel like the battles we're having about education - about how to teach reading, about funding, about teachers and their unions, etc. - are sugarcoating helping us avoid the real argument about what school is and what we want it to be.

But I'm pretty sure that the outside pressure of charter schools aren't going to make that conversation happen.

28 December 2011

Working Over the Break Has Its Advantages

Specifically: you're likely to have the Children's Book Project to yourself, and SCRAP will be quiet too.

I got many excellent books for the classroom and for incentives, and a mess of supplies, crafty stuff and two terrariums at SCRAP.

...Then I went to the thrift store and spent money on a gothy jacket I don't need and a pair of shorts that were probably marketed at women in their early twenties.  I don't care, they're still cute even on me.

27 December 2011

Know Your Veterans

One of the more disappointing things about the deficit thinking Teach for America and other education reform projects is the disdain they inspire for veteran teachers.

I don't think it's intentional, but if you believe that schools are failing, and that unions protect the lazy, and all we need is some accountability and no tenure and some performance-based pay, it's hard to hold those failing, lazy, unaccountable teachers in any esteem.

It's unfortunate, because it leads to a lot of wheel-reinventing.  Chances are good that someone at your school's done a unit on ocean life before.  Another veteran knows how to get a bus for a field trip.  Someone down the hall had a student with similar needs to the child who's challenging you.  The veterans know families and circumstances at the school.  They know the secret trick to unjam the copier and what snacks the custodians prefer.  It's hard to share all this important information with people who believe you fail children every day.

Beyond that, veterans are closer to retirement than you are, and cannot maintain storage spaces forever.  Over the break, I have been given the following by retirees:

  • A huge set of science posters, including one that has eggs on it, and when you shine a light on an egg you can see the type of developing chick inside.
  • A photo-heavy book on life cycles.
  • A set of magnetic picture frames for completing a class gift to families.
  • Over two thousand stickers.
  • Several cute die-cut notepads.
  • Labels.
That's in just two weeks.  I've been given a literal car full of high-quality teaching materials, including thirty bins (great for material passout, crayons, etc.), the giant scissors that are part of the standard treatment regimen at the Crazy Doctor Hospital*, a paper cutter, a copy-paper box full to the brim with stickers, a class set of mirrors, over one hundred pure beeswax crayons...need I continue?

New teachers should appreciate veterans because they're doing a hard job well, and because they're all part of the school community.  But when they fail to do so, they miss out on the tangible goodies, too.

*Now providing both amputation and a cutting-edge treatment called "ticklectomy".

24 December 2011

Vacation Thoughts

I think it's important to take part in the little rituals that make our holidays special, so yesterday I went to San Jose and wandered through a giant mall with a dear friend from high school.  (Come to think, maybe it's more high school nostalgia than anything, but hey: Santa was there and stuff.)  At some point we decided to get makeovers.  I must say, if I got up early enough to do a smoky eye/dark lip combination, I would be the most popular teacher ever.  I hardly ever wear makeup, and at least fifteen random students comment appreciatively when I do.  I have no idea why this is.

(Reinforcing my decision to sleep in rather than make up was the following trip to the gym, where scrubbing off the smoky eye left me looking like a raccoon with a strange predilection for kettle bells.)

Since I've been on vacation, I've had time to hunt down little classroom goodies.  For instance, I went to my favorite craft store and bought some ultra-fine glitter and other critical kindergarten supplies.  I've also spent time on the internet, hunting down books I want for my room.  I now have in my possession Richard Egielski's retelling of The Gingerbread Boy, which has awesome, vaguely Art Deco illustrations and an urban setting.  I also ordered a copy of "Stand Back!" Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!".  I do currently have a copy of this one, but I found it in a free bin and it was used for doodle paper and has unidentified spills on it.  I have not been able to unearth a copy of No Kiss for Mother at a price I am willing to pay (and hardcover), but someday I will.

20 December 2011


I know people involved with the Rocketship schools, and I don't doubt their good intentions.

I doubt their understanding of children.

Any schooling that requires a nine-hour day - which Rocketship does - will be successful on standardized testing.  I have no idea why this is a question, really.  Anything that gets drilled enough will get memorized and regurgitated at the appropriate time and location.

I just don't consider that learning.  I don't consider it child-centric, or a good test of whether technology in the classroom works or if teachers should just work twelve hour days by contract.

If your goal is high test scores, it's a working model.  If your goal is high-achieving students who write well, are confident, read with ease and discuss it with depth, it's not.

Neither is our current public education system, really - not because it's not a long enough day or technologically advanced enough, but because it is not intended to be so (and is certainly not funded to be so).

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the fact that too many of the people running charter schools don't think much of their fellow man, especially the poor, and aren't really interested in an active, informed citizenry.


I went into the important December Give to My Kindergarten Please season with my full allotment of eight Donors Choose requests.

So far so good: six projects completed!  One just funded in two days, yay yay yay.

I still have two projects left, both of which have received donations but both of which are also big (one is nearly one thousand dollars).  But even without those, my class is getting new math games, new art supplies, stuff for the listening center, literacy activities, take home stuff, and supplies with a sensory edge.

Yay yay yay!

In other news, I spent four hours at school Sunday, which was enough time to:
  1. Decide where to put the listening center;
  2. Clean and move furniture for its installation;
  3. Set up the listening center;
  4. Child-proof the listening center (color code buttons, make a key, set up work files/turn in files, etc.);
  5. Make homework and photocopies for the first week back;
  6. Discover that the failure of the heat had killed the isopods (boo), meaning I did not need to either set them up in a permanent terrarium or euthanize them*;
  7. Get rid of any leftover food that could spoil.
However, it was not enough time to clean the room (indeed, the furniture is in a bigger mess than it was before) or get out January supplies and materials.  While I am not remodeling the classroom library until I get book boxes from a Donors Choose grant (yay!), I do have other stuff to do over break.  So I'll probably go in New Year's Day or the 2nd.  Which is to say: I have to go in, I just don't know which day.

Anyway, given that I am going to spend at least eight vacation hours at work, I encourage you to take the latest right-wing media story - the one about teachers being the highest-paid workers based on hourly salary - with a grain of salt.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics only counted contractually-required hours.  Similar to the way teachers are not contractually obligated to grade papers at home, spend an entire weekend setting up their classrooms, stay until 6:00PM to tutor students or show up much before the bell, I am (amazingly enough) not contractually obligated to go in on my vacation.

In further other news, the End of the Year party went well.  Among the things the kids identified learning in Kindergarten:

  1. How to write about a book (no, really!)
  2. How to play with playfoam
  3. How to race isopods
  4. How to use binoculars
  5. How to count to 100
  6. How to read
  7. How to sing "Christmas in Hollis"
  8. How to "do a play"
Also, the lunch - grilled ham and cheese - is one of the least popular cafeteria selections.  Generally this would be a bad thing, but I went against my long-standing "ten minute party" rule and gave them forty-five minutes.  (The longer party is more for parents, really.)  Anyway, they actually ate for twenty minutes before dancing for twenty minutes.  So the bad lunch was a party plus.

The kids took home their wreaths and some photos in frames.  It was a sartorially exciting day because I wore pants twice this week, and the pants I wore Friday had beads and sequins and ribbons on them.  Despite needing to teach an impromptu lesson ("I Don't Care How Exciting My Pants Are, Don't Touch My Bottom") on them, these pants were a huge hit.

...Hopefully they will feel similarly disposed toward the old Thierry Mugler jacket I bought myself yesterday.

*No, they can't be released.  They're not locals.  And while I could probably collect adequate pillbugs for a lesson, given three mornings in the garden, I couldn't collect enough sowbugs.  I don't actually think I had ever seen a sowbug before I got them in a FOSS Kit shipment, and they're obviously different than pillbugs.  (It's not like I just didn't notice.)  I do collect snails rather than having them shipped, release creatures that can be released, and find homes for chickens.  Heck - despite my lifelong disinclination towards chickens above ten days old, I'm keeping chickens this summer so they can live at school.  Also, I no longer do the FOSS module on earthworms with a classroom terrarium since I find it very difficult to keep the worms healthy - we do it at a local garden with their worm bins.  In conclusion, among the things I'm not beating myself up about is freezing isopods.  Which is totally why I just wrote a paragraph justifying myself.

16 December 2011

Shocking Events!

For the first time in five years, I had a class get on the stage in front of the rest of the school and perhaps eighty parents and actually perform their song.

Not even one child stood on stage covering his or her ears.  Nor did anyone hide behind his or her third grade buddy.

A bunch of kids actually strategically positioned themselves near the microphones for maximum volume.

They were the eleventh act to perform and had had three stage practices, which I think helped a lot.  But still: the Kindergartners were actually audible while rapping AND danced in front of an audience.

Wonders never cease, seriously.

13 December 2011

In better news...

I got two Donors Choose projects fully funded yesterday, which brings me up to three for the Friends and Family Challenge.  I have another one that needs less than one hundred dollars to complete.

This makes me more hopeful I will get backpacks for my students to take home at the end of the year and possibly even a full set of recess equipment for the Kindergarten yard.

Four Days!

In the next four days, I must:

  1. Mail one set of Donors Choose thank yous.
  2. Wrap all work presents.
  3. Take and print photos of all students for the frames they made.
  4. Find where I stuck the packing peanuts for making wreaths.
  5. Chase down remaining three addresses for sending holiday cards.
  6. Decide if I am making winter work packets and make them if so.
  7. Complete all assessment.
  8. Complete report cards (Data Director is down all break).
  9. Finish teaching the second verse of "Christmas in Hollis".
  10. Practice same with buddy class.
  11. Complete Resident evaluation.

11 December 2011

Adult Management

I have had a number of student teachers, and the last two years I've had a Resident Teacher - an almost full-time, full-year student teacher.  Generally I find student teachers easy to manage.  Beyond the fact that I'm pretty easy-going, having a student teacher is a shared endeavor and I'm honest about that.  The student teacher needs to have the best possible learning experience and it's my responsibility to provide what that person needs.  Also, I encourage my student teachers to tell me what they need, to feel free to question my decisions and to bring their ideas forward.  As far as I can tell, they seem to learn a lot and enjoy the experience (I mean, last year's Resident is teaching at my school).

Presently I am in a situation where I am working with a paraeducator, who I do not supervise but for whom  I am responsible for providing lesson plans, activities and whatnot.  I am finding this extraordinarily difficult.  It's hard, because the paraeducator is not experienced in the current position, so I have to give a lot of very basic directions.  This is weird for me because my student teachers are generally as inexperienced but don't need these directions.  (Presumably they get them in their classes.)

The bigger problem is that even with explicit directions, the paraeducator does not always do as I request.  This is frustrating for me since I am ultimately responsible for our shared endeavor.  Also, the refusal is not because the paraeducator has a different, possibly effective way to do things that we could try instead.  This makes me feel that the paraeducator does not respect my experience.  For instance, I am a big believer in positive reinforcement.  The paraeducator is not.  Friday, I finally laid out explicitly that I expect the behavior plan I had provided to be used.  (Previously, I had tried modeling it, writing out a description of it, explaining why I wanted to use it, pointing out how it had already been successful, etc.)

It's still not really in use.

Also, the paraeducator has been getting involved in issues that are my responsibility and that I prefer to be handled by me or my Resident, since we have collaboratively agreed on the procedures and the rationale for them.  I appreciate the willingness to jump in.  I don't appreciate having my students disciplined for things that I allow them to do.  I also don't like having to argue about why I do something (for instance, why I don't teach penmanship right now in favor of teaching students to write).  I do things the way I do them.  If you want to know why, ask.  Perhaps it's just the tone, but I get the feeling that the paraeducator assumes I do things not with a rationale, but because I don't know any better.

To be fair, most of the time when I state specifically that I do not want the paraeducator to do something, or I remind the paraeducator to leave general classroom management to me, the paraeducator does as I demand.  But the same problem happens again an hour later, over the same issue.  Or the paraeducator says something that suggests I have no idea what I'm doing in the classroom.  Hey, I'm all for critique, but seriously?  Sarcastic asides from someone who is not willing to hear my reasoning isn't useful critique.

It's also frustrating because I hate managing adults.  I generally like people - or at least try to be sympathetic (the paraeducator's job is not easy, and the supports necessary are not there).  It's hard for me to be sympathetic to someone and also need to offer corrective feedback, and my response is to hide out and hope the problem self-corrects.  Also, I know the paraeducator wants to be useful and feels badly for me since it is kind of noticeable I've been having health problems.  Knowing that the intention is good makes it hard for me to critique the bad outcome.

Recognizing this, I've been exceptionally explicit in my directions, and I am even trying to note when they are not being followed and bring it up immediately.  And when they are followed, I try to notice that too.  I also asked some of our student support personnel (the LSP, the behavior coach, etc.) to provide observation, feedback and training to the paraeducator.  I am hopeful this will make the situation more manageable for the paraeducator - after all, I can't provide that and teach my class at the same time.

In other news, there is one week of school before the break.  I need to decide if I want to provide winter packets, and pick the day over the break I am coming in to move furniture (so that I can set up the listening center near outlets) and organize the library into book baskets.

I am also happy for break because staff morale is low right now.  People are feeling unappreciated and overworked, and our administrative staff and IRFs are not helping.  Two weeks will give everyone a nice break, and with any luck that will make it easier to assume best intentions.  That said, I think there will have to be a formal clearing of the air in January and I dread it.

07 December 2011


This is a wonderful week to make a donation at donorschoose.org.

Select a project you like, and add SPARK as your promotional code/match code.  This provides a dollar-for-dollar match courtesy the Donors Choose board.

My school is already at critical alert status for some supplies: glue sticks, markers - and we have one hundred days to go.  I haven't seen a Sharpie I didn't buy myself in four years.  Other schools are in similar straits.  If you can, lend a hand - donate, and demand California fully funds its schools.

04 December 2011

My Problem with Teach for America, in One Ancedote.

A couple of years ago, I had a letter published in the New York Times.  In responding to an article, I decried the false dichotomy between academic and play-based early childhood education.  Play is academic, and academics should be embedded in play.  The trick of teaching is to create the framework that enables children to integrate their learning and use it across disciplines.

The letter following mine was authored by a Teach for American.  She was solidly anti-play; her students did not deserve play because they did not know the alphabet when they entered Kindergarten.  Nor had their parents taught them to count.

(Neither do many of mine, which is why they deserve play.  Some of mine do, though - that's why they also deserve play.)

And that's my issue with Teach for America.  If your worldview holds that the schools are broken, all of your assumptions will be negative.  The children aren't ready for school.  Their parents don't know how to parent.  The teachers aren't very good.  The neighborhood is crummy.  When you start with the bad, you will never get anywhere good.  You can't see the many things your students can do, so you can't find somewhere to start.  You don't acknowledge that norms of parenting may differ from your own: there's good and bad, not different.  Teaching is not a craft that you hone through experience, and your fellow teachers are not humans - they're lazy, bad people destroying children.  You will never walk comfortably or be a valued part of a community you disdain.

TFA is the sum of starting with the negatives.  Nothing good comes from deficit thinking.

03 December 2011

Unsent Letters

Dear Mikey One Percent,

Frankly?  I doubt you attended Kindergarten with forty three of your peers.  And I know - I know, with absolute certainty - that when it comes to academic performance, that Kindergarten class didn't get the results that my students meet by the end of August.  (Things have changed since you went to Kindergarten, dude, and it's not just the terrible union teachers and their tiny little classes.  The standards are years higher, too.)

But as always, I have to tell you that if you intend to double my students and my pay, I want to see you do it first.  Mikey, it might sound like a generous offer, but compare it to your income, and think hard about this offer.  (It's worth remembering that while, say, $125,000 may sound like an awesome amount of money for a teacher, the people proposing it make more than ten times as much.  And their pensions, insurance and so on are better than teachers', too.)

Given my typical class load, the forty four students you'll have will present some serious classroom issues, Mike.  At least six will have IEPs upon Kindergarten entry.  Eighteen to twenty will be on the young side - late October and November birthdays.  Thirty will not speak English, so start planning those ELD lessons now.

Four children will be in foster care; at least six more will be in kinship placements.  Two will be homeless; almost all of the rest will live in decrepit, violent and under-resourced public housing.  Eighteen will have witnessed or been personally involved in serious violence.  Twelve will have chronic asthma or other major health problems.

Forty three of them will qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and half will face food insecurity at home.  Twenty five will live in homes where no adult is able to find work.  Start stocking up on the snacks and school supplies, Mike: you'll need to use that excellent salary to supplement what your school and your families can't afford.

Based on your breezy comments, despite the challenges, you'll have no trouble ensuring all forty four read fluently by the end of the year.  They'll whip through their fifty sight words spelling test in five minutes before finishing twenty addition and subtraction problems.  Then they'll write a five sentence story before making a map of their neighborhood and creating a Venn diagram to compare insects and isopods.

And then you'll have the credibility you need to lecture me about school success, ineffective teachers and the good old days of fifty kids to a room.

Until then: shut up.

Not So Cordially,

E. Rat

28 November 2011

Unit Blocks for All!

Sadly, this article highlights their use at private and charter schools.  It suggests that blocks are the province of the public school, but that may only be true in New York and similarly funded states: here in California, if you don't have unit blocks in your classroom, there sure isn't room in your budget to buy them.

I have about a third of what the article says would outfit a classroom ($1,000 of blocks).  The kids do get an incredible amount of collaborative concept development out of the blocks, including thinking about properties of physics, engineering and social studies (what buildings does a community need?, etc.).  Sadly, what I don't really have are the arches and curves that the photo shows.  I tried to get them off Donors Choose this year, but that project expired.  Maybe I'll try again when I have an open slot.

27 November 2011

My Holiday Cards

Drawn to my image request by a previous Kster, now in 4th.
Inked by to K alums, now in 3rd.

It will be the best holiday card ever.

25 November 2011

Christmas List

Santa My Dear,

You would not believe how good I've been this year.  Seriously.  Please consider providing the following:

  1. Classroom computers the kids can use and on which I can do report cards;
  2. Fulfillment of all my current Donors Choose projects;
  3. Quick diagnosis of current health problem with no more steroids after this month;
  4. Eternal health and excellence for my pets;
  5. Magical complete funding of California state education budget, with full restoration of current furlough days;
  6. No layoffs this year;
  7. In size 38:


E. Rat

P.S. The diabetic cat will eat any cookies put out for visitors.  Perhaps a delicious glass of water and some carrot sticks?

    22 November 2011

    At Last, the Vacation!

    Here's to hoping the room is not too destroyed, the kids not too wound up, and the day smooth.

    21 November 2011

    if they could be crossed...

    I am out today because I need to see the rheumatologist and it cannot wait until after the holidays.  Because of the short notice - it's something of an emergency - the kids are not really sub-ready and the guest teacher, while not the luck of the draw, is not my first choice for absences.

    Still, no matter how badly it goes, I will be back tomorrow (early to clean up, even).  Hopefully I will be back to full shoe-tying, belt-fastening, writing-on-the-white-board, pencil-sharpening skills, too.

    19 November 2011

    Timing is Everything.

    Another teacher at my school and I nominated ourselves as PE Champions, and we won.  The prize is to be interviewed and videotaped, but we should get gift certificates for nominating ourselves and that's pretty neat.

    I had a lot going on this week and kind of forgot to tell the kids until we were in plank position during morning exercises, which caused them to get excited and fall down.  Oops.
    In a decision I should've remembered to follow through upon ages ago, I am removing all links to the K Files blog.  However amusing I originally found it, the unregulated racism, misogyny, hate speech and conspiracy theory are revolting.  I suppose there is some value in recognizing how prevalent these values are in San Francisco, but since I knew that already the educational value is nil.

    Also, to comment on conspiracy theories not involving nefarious San Francisco politicians who are all secretly communists who also love big business, I do now understand why a couple of dedicated trolls can destroy any chance of conversation.  The level of discussion on that blog was never that high, but it did tend to be varied and have many participants.  Now there seem to be many participants arguing facets of one point, all of whom use very similar syntax, vocabulary and rhetorical devices.  These participants make conversation impossible, since they drown out all other voices and restrict the discourse to issues they find interesting.

    18 November 2011

    Dear SFUSD,

    When you use timelines as a cost-savings measure, you harm children.

    This is not good for your employees' morale.


    E. Rat.

    PS: I have impulse-control issues, so the next district bigwig to pontificate about timelines and inclusion and equity in my hearing is getting glitter-bombed.  I buy the stuff by the pound.  You'll be finding flakes of it for years to come.  FEAR ME.

    17 November 2011

    Prop. H Lost.

    However, the fact that it lost is unimportant because it was really, really close.

    ...why do I sense that the reverse would not be true?

    In other news, I really really really really really hate EPC.  They have left me too tired to use exciting words.

    14 November 2011

    Whine, Whine, Whine.

    This has been the longest lull on Donors Choose I've had in years.  I'm not alone, either: I think that donations have slowed quite a bit this year.  Certainly teachers at my school are not having the 100% success and endless runs of exciting boxes we have enjoyed over the last couple of years.

    I'm still hoping for great things with Mustaches 4 Kids active right now and holiday charitable giving coming up, but since school has started I've only had one project funded...and I've watched three expire.

    Presently I have five active projects, of which three have match offers.  I am hoping that at least one of these will get funded.  One of the five is a "Hey, I Have the Points...Why Not Shoot for the Moon?" project that rings in at over $4,000.  But the rest are standard items that my kids could really use and I can't get any other way - a listening center, summer materials, and so on.

    Although I believe in public financing for public schools, I also believe in getting my students what they need.  Public financing isn't getting my classroom much more than pencils; Donors Choose has afforded tens of thousands of dollars in supplies and materials for my classroom over the last seven years.  (Yeah, literally.)

    If you are able to do so financially, do take a look at their website and support our public schools today.

    This is How "Counseling Out" Works.

    This article puts off mentioning a key point until the end: after a meeting, there was "mutual agree[ment]" that the child attend a closer, non-charter school.

    Not mentioned: homeless children are harder to educate.  Their lives are in flux.  They are likely to be underslept and badly nourished.  Their families are under stress.  It's unlikely that they have a clean, quiet place for homework.  It's not just the tardies and the absences: Ascend is saving itself some cash in resources by having this child go elsewhere.

    It's unclear to me how New York City schools, what with their ready millions for consultants and educational technology, were not able to come up with school bus service.  Providing Metrocards to subsidize a one hundred and fifty minute commute seems like a violation of the spirit if not the letter of McKinney-Vento.

    Of course, it could be worse.  I read last year that districts tend not to offer families services for which they are eligible under McKinney-Vento since they are expensive and underfunded.

    08 November 2011

    YES on A, NO on H.

    That's all.

    ETA: YAY, less peeling paint and maybe lead-free pipes in my future.  As far as H goes...it's not over until it's over.  I feel the same way about the mayoral race.  Isn't it likely a lot of Herrera voters had Avalos #2?

    06 November 2011

    Fall Back.

    I'm tired.  We're in the final push toward the Winter break, and this is a hard part of the year for everyone.  The kids - who had Monday Halloween on top of everything else - haven't had a vacation in ages, the teachers are tired from getting through conferences, and the weather is changing to rainy-day recess.

    It's not a great environment, and my personal slice of it was made worse by having a number of out-of-classroom people on vacation/leave/at conferences this week.  This actually made me pretty mad.  Anyone who's been working at a school for a couple of years knows November is hard.  One year is enough to tell you that the day after Halloween is miserable.  And none of the adults are at their best.  All hands are needed on deck.  By taking stress-relief days, you impact everyone around you: they pay for your relaxation with extra stress of their own.

    Anyway, I intend to politely but definitively let the out-of-the-classroom people who left us short-staffed and flailing how that felt and what it meant for those of us who showed up every day.

    It's not that I am against taking personal days.  It's taking them and not arranging for your position to be covered, or taking them without leaving plans, or taking them and calling in with demands you want filled immediately even though everyone is swamped and you're not at work.  I also favor them more for teachers - who have the hardest job, hands-down, of anyone on a school campus - than I do for out of classroom employees.

    05 November 2011

    Not Feeling Nice.

    In some ways, I love the "Yes on H" people because they are a microcosm of all my favorite white liberal unthought political positions:

    1. Demographics are for losers!  The sad fact is that on a block-by-block basis, San Francisco is incredibly segregated.  (Notice that their plan would also restrict all of the public housing stock, which is the least diverse in the city, to specific schools.)
    2. The other guys are totally racist because they don't agree with the people of color who agree with us!  Yes, because all people of color agree, and because "not being racist", for whites, means lockstep agreement with any position put forward by any person of color: apparently, you show your anti-racist ally credentials by not showing the respect that civil disagreement and debate require.  I think this also has a touch of modern Ann Coulterism going on, too.
    3. We hate unions!  See, when a union disagrees with you and you respond respectfully, that's one thing.  When you call the union "jack-booted thugs" and other such names, you make it clear that your real issue is a hate of organized workers.
    4. Wealthy white people fix everything!  Even if you grant the idea that some neighborhood schools plan will send white people running back to SFUSD, it doesn't change the fact that this is more pandering to the population already the best served in the district.  It's also the population most able to advocate for itself without any help.
    5. This will be the impetus that lazy district/government organization needs to fix their terribleness!  Not only does this totally ignore reality (uh, a Consent Decree couldn't get it done/have you seen the state of school funding?), it's just not true: the demographics of the city would easily enable even higher-needs schools.  And all data - every bit of it - show that diverse schools benefit all comers.
    6. There are poor people everywhere!  Yes, and the vast majority of housing projects and concentrated poverty are on the southeast side.  We are not interested in unicorns.  We are interested in horses.
    7. Whatever is needed to make this work is free.  I did not realize that the Prop. H people had access to a magical money tree.   However, they apparently do because their answer to capacity issues is that the district is going to build a whole lot of schools.

    03 November 2011

    Unsent Letters

    Dear SFUSD,

    The Data Director system continues to be so fun, what with the crashing and the overloads during report card season.

    But now that the sixteen year old eMacs in my classroom are no longer compatible with the Internet, I can look forward to hours of mandatory work at home.

    Admittedly, completing report cards is something no teacher can do within contract limits.  But it bothers me very much that I am not given the materials necessary to complete my job requirements.  You assume I'll spend my money on the supplies you don't buy, become the PE teacher so that your state requirements are met, and provide own technology so that I can provide written assessment reports on my students on the system you require me to use.

    I'm not sure if you're more thoughtless or arrogant, actually, but please keep your spokespeople from bragging about out technologically ready schools and awesome student opportunities in my hearing for awhile.

    Sincerely, etc.

    02 November 2011

    Crazy Doctor Hospital

    Sometimes children have oversized reactions to minor injuries (for instance, being inadvertently poked in the arm or a very minor recess collision).  This can be tiredness, being upset with the circumstances of the accident, a need for adult attention, a response to something else entirely, etc.  Some ways to assist children in these cases:

    1. As much as possible, try to calm the child down before taking his or her statement.
    2. Do not take eyewitness statements until the injured child has been heard.
    3. Ask the injured child what he or she needs to feel better.
    4. Suggest a drink of water.
    5. Invite the injured child to seek care at the Crazy Doctor Hospital, the cutting-edge facility of medical care.  CDH has only one technique: total amputation.  Once the offending body part is removed, there will be no pain.
    Actually, CDH is so fun we play it all the time.  A retiring teacher gave me a giant pair of fake scissors a couple of years ago that make the amputation all the more fun.  With a few "This might hurt...a lot"s and evil laughs, you will regularly have to close the hospital to take a break (I refer to this as "cleaning", since CDH is soon awash in a pile of heads, arms and legs).

    Keep the Candy at Home

    "Halloween candy should stay at home.  Candy is not an everyday snack and is not allowed at school.  Also, candy eaten at school is taken away.  We do not throw it away.  We eat it in front of you while laughing like this (insert maniacal cackle).  After all, we are too old to go trick or treating and therefore do not get bags of free candy to eat...unless you bring yours to school."

    Nearly singlehandedly, I am bringing Halloween back to my neighborhood.  Even though I did not pass out my address at school this year, we got quite a few trick or treaters and all but one family was from my school.  Every year, we get more despite the calendar date becoming less and less trick-or-treat friendly.  Key factors:

    1. Prior years of address-giving,
    2. Notorious electricity-wasting light displays,
    3. Candy portioned out by the handful,
    4. Possibility of viewing my pets.Preview

    01 November 2011

    Very Quick and Scattered

    1. Why progressive reformer types don't get education: technophilia, whiteness, predilection for capitalism without progressive critique, still angry at 2nd grade teacher for benching them unjustly.
    2. It is amazing to me that San Francisco can support both a blog on Kindergarten choices...and another blog to critique that one.
    3. The Prop. H people need to get over themselves.

    29 October 2011

    Dates, Schmates.

    We did Halloween on Friday this year by unanimous staff consent.  A Monday Halloween is a week of disregulated, sugary children: when you start the school week with what is basically a play day, it's hard to recoup.  A Monday Halloween is even worse than a November 1st picture day, and I speak as someone who  had to take extreme measures to remove the last of the waterproof makeup from a child's face.  I know someone who teaches in a school district in which November 1st is always a teacher PD day, to which I say: BEST PLAN EVER.

    After over a decade of Kindergarten teaching, I know that there is never any need to provide more than twenty minutes of designated "class party".  The kids do not enjoy eating snacks for longer than that, no matter how gooey the snacks are.  (This year, I had amazing 100% compliance with the class snack policy. As the kids munched fruit, cheese and the little pumpkin tarts they baked at school, there were no complaints about Mean Teacher and her Mean Anti-Candy Policies, either.)  Also, we snack outside.

    Regardless of the fairly easy Halloween day, by the end of it I was so exhausted that I'll be at school on Sunday.  This would have had to happen anyway, I think: Kindergarten was on duty to clean the staff room, and when I left around 4:00 the copier was still broken.

    25 October 2011

    Performance Standards

    I want to know: what are Michelle Rhee's performance standards for her new position?

    Superintendents, chancellors and the like receive their salaries independent of whether or not their district shows improvement on unreliable state test data or more reliable information (say, district infrastructure improvements, employee satisfaction and retention data, etc.).

    But seeing that Ms. Rhee is now outside of public education and working as a lobbyist, I'm sure that the charge she led to evaluate teachers is one she's modeling for all of us, right?  What is her value-added assessment?  When will she publicize her results, much as the LA Times does for LAUSD teachers?

    Or are value-added evaluations only for the little people?

    23 October 2011

    22 October 2011

    Ten Weeks Down.

    I have reached the point of the year where I am so stressed out I don't sleep very well and would consider taking a mental health day except I am too busy to actually take one.

    I am in favor of teachers - well, every worker, but especially teachers - taking a mental health day.  Underslept, overstressed teachers are grumpy, and grumpiness is not good for classroom community and management.  The job is so emotionally demanding that recharging is a necessity, not a convenience.

    Luckily for me, the constant business keeps the grumpiness in check, since I like varied and changing environments.  Also, I used parent-teacher conferences to get the next three permission slips signed, so the big ARGH source of Paper Management and Control has been mitigated.

    Anyway, we have two field trips next week.  One of these is a school-wide service event for which I am a primary planner.  The week after we have another field trip.  I did all of my conferences except one (child out sick) this last week.  I am helping the New Resident finish her first big series of observations/write ups, have a wedding to attend, need to plan for Thanksgiving and deal with some family health issues.  Also, I skipped a doctors' appointment this week and need to stop doing that.  However, I am tired of hearing words like autoimmune and rheumatoid and needed a holiday from that.

    Conferences went very well.  Nothing I said was met with shock, which is good: my understanding of the child being discussed was in tune with the parents.  The kids report liking school and everyone is making good growth.  I had zero no-shows, although I had some problems getting scheduled translators to actually appear.  This is especially irritating for me when they are paid SFUSD employees for whom this is part of their job.  But in the end I did have a translator for every conference that needed one.

    I made it 47 school days before I repeated an outfit.  I did not feel like wearing an evening gown on the day of Jump Rope for Heart - I changed to jump anyway, but dealing with an internally-boned dress in the confines of a bathroom stall was just more than I was willing to take on.

    I've been thinking a lot about teacher impact on a classroom.  It's important that I'm not grumpy, because when I am a fine fog of irritation fills the classroom.  Still, not all lesson failures or bad transitions are teacher-caused: child mood is important, too, and sometimes things just go wrong.  According to this very famous graph, teachers are at their lowest around now, and a couple of my colleagues are feeling very hard on themselves.  Anyway, I plan to pontificate about this later.

    16 October 2011


    1. I went to a conference on Mindfulness in Education, which was neat.  There was a lot of problem-solving around the secular nature of mindfulness being misunderstood, I don't think that's why some schools and communities avoid it.  I think that the grounding mindfulness gives you, coupled with its inherent ability to create community and an ethic of empathy, are contrary to the political pressure for an individualist, no-responsibility-all-men-are-islands society.  You can't really be mindful and blame others for being poor.
    2. One of the caterpillars went into chrysalis and I was doing a leaf change when it did.  I am afraid it will not emerge because it was bothered.  I have not mentioned this to the kids and am counting on the checkered skipper caterpillar to chrysalis itself when I am not around.
    3. I still have not repeated an outfit, mostly because it's been warm and my warm-weather clothes have not all been worn yet.
    4. I had a Donors Choose project expire, so I had an empty slot and I figured, why not shoot for the moon?  So I have submitted a proposal for a classroom loft.

    Differentiation, School Selection, "Those Kids".

    One of the justifications I hear for avoiding certain city schools for Kindergarten has nothing to do with bad teachers, bad buildings, low fundraising or behavior: it's the "giftedness" issue.

    It scans something like this: a lot of the children at School Y don't know the alphabet when they start, so my child, who does, will be bored and unchallenged.

    I am not terribly sympathetic to this argument.  In general, my students don't know the alphabet when they start.  Learning it takes around five to ten minutes of our school day for whole group instruction, doing activities that are fun for everyone and teach more skills than letter names (for instance, activities that hone eye-tracking or hand-eye coordination, or patterns, or teach cooperative skills, or teach classroom structures that we all need to know - since alphabet teaching doesn't last all year, and I need to teach these structures, it's an important and valid educational goal).  Everything else is in small group, targeted to the needs of the learners.  After all, it's not really "knows the alphabet" and "doesn't" - there are the kids who have sorted everything but b d p q, the kids who know the capitals but need work on lowercase, the kids who know eighteen letters, the kids who need to sort out the category "number" and "letter".

    And again, I'm not doing this all year.  And not for a long time each day: I take teaching science and art seriously, we have other aspects of reading than alphabet recognition to cover, and so on.

    My other problem with this argument is personal.  I was a very gifted (if also very hyper) student.  I was reading before I started Kindergarten and not just a little, either.  By the beginning of first grade I'd finished off the Ramona Quimby books and starting in on Joan Aiken.

    In Kindergarten, I was absolved from penmanship practice and phonics workbooks (about fifteen minutes of the day) in favor of additional recess with a couple of other early readers.  In first grade, the reading teacher pulled a high group from the class, and I went for awhile, but I was too high for that group too, so I stayed with my class.

    I was also high in math, and honestly?  I wasn't bored very much.  This may be thanks to the magic of ADHD, Saving Children from Boredom By Providing All Kinds of Bad Ideas.  It wasn't due to excellent differentiation in first grade, either: I did the same work as everyone else.  But the work we did didn't just teach reading: it also taught skills that kids need.  Some of these - like paperwork skills - I really wish we didn't need.  But we do.  They also included games, and games are fun even if they're easy.

    Nor do I think I could have gone further faster had I been in a classroom of all high-performing children doing high level work: attention was an issue, for sure, but I am an intensely non-competitive person.  I have yet to see a model of gifted instruction that doesn't only pay lipservice to cooperation and multiple intelligences but actually believes in it.  I was the kind of kid who threw the county spelling bee once there were two kids left because I wanted it over and 2nd place was pretty good.  I am the kind of teenager who never shared her SAT score because all the tension around those numbers was scary.  I am the kind of adult who won't play Trivial Pursuit at the Albatross because people get so nutty about winning.

    So the gifted classroom was likely to make me sit with a box on my head more than I did already (it's fun to make whoooing noises from under the box!  Like your own ghostly echo chamber!).  Besides, the stuff I learned and read and did I learned and read and did because I liked it.  I am one of those irritating nerds who learns stuff because it's neat.  I majored in a field notorious for its geektitude.  I went to a university that prides itself on being the place where fun goes to die.  Etc.

    Also?  I don't know about the everyone-knows-the-alphabet Kindergarten, but in my classroom, which annually spans from fluent readers to no-name-writers (somehow people assume there are no high kids on the southeast side, and honestly?  Some of my kids are probably higher than the average child at Clarendon), everybody looks pretty gifted to me.  If Kindergartners were formally identified for GATE, I'd probably identify everybody, because every kid has some spike of awesome in some area that needs nurturing so they can apply that awesome broadly.

    11 October 2011

    Forty Days

    Forty days in and I haven't repeated an outfit.  I am now allowing repeats - I could do a couple more weeks but it would involve wearing jeans three days a week and at least one evening gown that is a bit restrictive. For day 40, I wore:

    • purple and gold dirndl
    • red sweater
    • purple tights
    • red cowboy boots
    • purple jacket
    The art teacher told me that she's so glad I wear colors.

    In other news, I mistakenly announced that one of our caterpillars had died, but it in fact was molting.  Hopefully I did not interrupt the molt when I was changing out old leaves - it looked alright when I left.  I was able to correct my mistake before the day was out, luckily.  It had gotten itself stuck to the roof of the terrarium, which is why I thought it was a goner.  Here's hoping it's alright tomorrow.

    We have two caterpillars, both collected from a nearby park on a field trip.  They're different kinds, so it's cool to see how the caterpillars are different, etc.

    08 October 2011

    Kindergarten Logic


    • Chicago and Pluto both end with the long o sound.
    • Chicago and Pluto are both cold.
    Therefore, Chicago and Pluto are the same place.

    04 October 2011


    I wrote four one verse songs for four stages of the water cycle, all set to "Alouette".

    Additionally, I wrote my masterpieces out on large paper and got 1st graders to decorate them appropriately.

    Hey, not all of us are going to win Nobel Prizes or MacArthur genius awards.  I'll take my victories where i can get them.

    28 September 2011

    Could YOU teach?

    Since many mavericky media types seem to think my job is crazy easy, I thought I'd post some of the oft-forgotten requirements.

    Can YOU:

    • Go seven hours without a bathroom break?
    • Calmly accept that your shirt has been used as a Kleenex and you have no way to change it or even wash it well?
    • Stoop and squat to tie at least a dozen shoes a day?
    • ...including those whose laces are wet with unknown liquids?
    • Read Bearsie Bear and the Surprise Sleepover Party, making distinct character voices for all seven sleepover participants?
    • Go an entire working day without talking to any adults?
    • Open twenty milks in ninety seconds?
    • ...while cleaning two spilled milks?
    • Hunt through musty backpacks full of papers, small toys and crumbs to triumphantly find a permission slip?
    • ...then run a 50 yard dash at NFL-draftable speeds to get it signed?
    • ...and remembering to bring a pen and a clipboard?

    26 September 2011

    Reading Ms. at the gym today, I was reminded that one of the many reasons women are disproportionately impacted by cuts to public education and social services is because women disproportionately fill the jobs in those fields: teachers, social workers, nurses, etc.

    This got me to thinking about value-added assessment as a year-to-year salary and job security "tool".  Specifically, what does that structure do for teachers who wish to have a child?

    Since the majority of teachers are women, and assuming something other than the temporary corps of Teach for Some Experience about America for My Resume, many teachers are going to take maternity leave during their career.  Twelve weeks out of thirty five is a lot, and no matter how much planning goes into it, a long-term sub is not the teacher.  It's likely that children's test scores will be impacted by a teacher's leave.

    So that teacher who chooses to have a child may be gambling with her job.  Unpleasant.  In most jobs requiring the same educational preparation as teaching, that kind of pressure is sex discrimination.  Something tells me that New York City public schools aren't intending to make any kind of allowances for that.  I doubt the great male minds at the Gates Foundation have thought of this, and Enron was a notoriously sexist climate so I'll bet John Arnold hasn't either.

    Of course, if you do have an endless stream of two-years-and-outers, this isn't really an issue.  It's only when teachers want to stay and work that they develop these adult lives and become such a drag on the system.

    25 September 2011

    Bill Gates and His Laboratory.

    Oakland Unified wants to close some schools.  It's planning to close thirteen schools, most of them small schools.  Small schools are very expensive to run - in particular, they increase administrative costs.

    Bill Gates and his eponymous foundation were huge drivers of small schools - they sent a functionary to a staff meeting at the school were I was teaching to try to find teachers to support such an effort.  (They failed; we had seven hundred and fifty K-6 students and a mess of portables, sure, but things were good.)  I asked the functionary what would happen after the three years of Gates cash; he admitted that the costs would fall to districts - and that the costs existed.

    Gates didn't spend any foundation cash on research, and ended up pulling small schools cash early when the schools ended up making no real difference (except for the added costs).

    Gates now has a new solution for the districts he's burdened: cut pensions, raise class sizes and institute performance pay.  Apparently, the financial issue isn't the additional administrators on the payroll thanks to small schools, or the increased building costs small schools require, or the costs associated with school closings, or falling school budgets.  No, it's the teachers.

    Needless to say, Gates has put as much research into this as he did small schools.  I'm sure the effects will be predictably similar, if not worse.

    It's time to stop allowing big pocketbooks to experiment on our public institutions.  They aren't even willing to clean up after themselves, and they want to punish us all for their messes.

    It's time to stop allowing Bill Gates opportunity after opportunity to destroy public education.  Yes, he made a lot of money by taking A prompt out of the public domain and selling it as his own program.  Yes, he has a great deal of interest in public education although not so much that his children attend public schools or anything.  Yes, we often learn from our mistakes.

    But Gates shows no learning: he's still jumping in with both feet and a blindfold.  When it ends up he's landed on concrete, he demands public money for his hospital bills.  He's unwilling to research first: it's all urgent urgency, and it's better to fail a few years of children than look at any data beforehand.

    OUSD should bill the Gates Foundation.  Once Bill's cleaned up after himself, it might be possible to start taking him seriously.

    24 September 2011

    More Unsent Letters

    Dear Christian Science Monitor,

    How nice of you to send me a teaser magazine suggesting I subscribe to your publication.  The contents of that teaser were exceptionally instructive, particularly when you explained how money doesn't matter to school success.

    As you see it in your center-right, two-sides-to-every-issue faux contrarianism, some schools are making it work without a penny extra.  Apparently they do this through merit pay.  Since my understanding is that merit pay would, in fact, lead to higher salaries, I must assume money is being cut elsewhere - either through destroying retirement funds or cutting student programs, I suppose.

    Despite there being not one datum that supports merit pay in any way, I have to tell you you're missing the obvious:

    Money Does Too Matter.

    Money matters for my students, who annually get more crowded classrooms with fewer resources.  It matters to their families, many of whom live in poverty with all of its deleterious effects on school success (bad health, trauma, poor nutrition, food insecurity, housing insecurity...).  It matters to me, because I am on track to spend more than my "Hard to Staff" bonus on the school supplies California won't buy this year.

    It matters to the many, many upper-middle class parents - some of whom undoubtedly work for the Monitor - as they willingly pay five and six and seven times more than California's per-pupil allocation in search of well-funded, low-poverty private schools.

    And it definitely matters to you, editors of the Christian Science Monitor.  What underlies all this "school success has nothing to do with cash" nonsense is selfishness.  "Public schools take too much of our hard-earned tax dollars," you huff and puff.  "We need that money for other things, like tax breaks for the wealthy.  After all, private school tuition is higher than ever!"

    Your teaser made it abundantly clear that your publication is not to my tastes, and I'm not the kind of reader you want.  In the future, to save on paper and postage, I recommend that you cross-check your purchased mailing lists with public teacher credential databases.

    All the Best,

    E. Rat


    22 September 2011

    Kindergarten is Neat

    Yesterday my class got ooooh and aaaaah excited by getting a piece of McIntosh and a piece of Granny Smith apple to eat and compare.

    Also, Readers' Workshop included one kid strutting around like the peacock in The Best Bottom and another kid who finished retelling by announcing, "And that's THE END of Big Al."  Not to mention the kid who came in announcing that he had a connection to Trouble Gum.

    21 September 2011

    Hmph Halloween.

    Except for the year I wore an old black lace prom dress and a witch hat, the Ksters never figure out what my Halloween costume is.  I suppose that's fair; I mean, I couldn't figure out the "Baterina" craze either.

    So this year, I'm not bothering.  I'm going as Melanie Daniels from "The Birds".  I have my little green suit, a neutral pump and plenty of ravens to affix artistically.  I figure this costume will at least look freaky and be recognizable as a costume - last year I went as a sailor and some of the kids didn't think I wore a costume.

    19 September 2011

    Unsent Letters

    Congressperson Ryan:

    I do understand that talking points require certain inflammatory statements be intoned.  That said, your depiction of "class warfare" - that of the teeming multitudes against the very wealthy - takes partisan rhetoric into mendacity.

    "Class warfare" is Bill Gates explaining - from his vast mountains of riches and nil teaching experience - how having thirty students in a class wouldn't make much of a difference.

    "Class warfare" is Republican-dominated state legislatures condemning the formerly pensioned to penury while protecting and increasing their own lifetime rewards.

    "Class warfare" is the rising poverty rate nationwide.

    "Class warfare" is the end of the free snack Food Bank program at many school sites this year, because fiscal austerity means San Francisco is not a poor enough county to qualify for federal funds.

    "Class warfare" is spending more money on incarceration than education.

    "Class warfare", in short, is what people of the upper classes visit upon my students.

    ETA: Scott Lemieux sums it up: 

    Again, the central premise of the contemporary Republican Party is that people making $400K+ a year are living a hardscrabble existence, while a teacher or police officer making $50 K a year is enjoying a pampered life of unimaginable luxury.

    18 September 2011

    Not All Guests, Also Crafts.

    What We Have Been Doing Lately:

    Sprouting Wings: I bought these.  The quality on these is really good - the cardstock is so thick the kids couldn't paper punch it, actually.  This was a three-day project:

    1. Symmetrical Painting: Paint half of one side with a thick layer of acrylic paint, fold over and press.  This would've gone better with finger paint - it's easier to get a thick coat and finger paint is less sticky - but we didn't have any, and I uncovered a bunch of acrylic at SCRAP last year.
    2. Pick Two Centers: Kids got about twelve minutes at two centers (three available): using dot markers, using glitter glue and stick-on rhinestones (you used to be able to get these very cheaply at OTC, but no more it seems), and using paper punches and ribbons to make streamers.
    3. Finishing Day: Kids get a twenty-minute center to use whatever they want to finish off their wings, plus chip glitter glue (which covers huge areas with both sparkly shapes and translucent color for a nice effect).
    Unity Mosaics: We do a virtue every month at our school and start with unity.  I got a bunch of paper mosaic tiles and gave every kid a pattern sheet to make a mosaic.  Each one had a quarter of a larger design, so when they were all fitted together, they made a big wall display.  The kids really liked these, particularly seeing them hanging, and want to do this again.

    Oh Look, Science: We demonstrate liquid water turning into a steam by making tea using mint from the school garden.  Once the kids start steeping their tea (we were fairly free with the honey this year, too) we demonstrate how the steam can be collected and condensed into water).  We also put flowers in liquid watercolor so that we can use capillary action to show that liquids flow.  And we froze liquid watercolor so that the kids who aren't using the play sink can use paintsicles (luckily, it's supposed to be warm this week).

    Once we finish with water/states of matter/water cycle stuff, I want to do color and light again.  I also committed to doing a month of family/celebrations/remembering crafts and Dia de los Muertos stuff with the 2nd graders next door and my ex-Resident's 1st graders.  And I signed my class up for monthly environmental education trips with Kids in Parks.  So in some ways it feels like my first year all over again - tons of new stuff to plan out and organize, etc.  Still, some things are easier: this is the first year that I've managed to have stress-free crafternoons, just assuming the kids will move themselves between stations and everything will get cleaned up (starting clean up fifteen minutes before the bell helps - if they clean fast, we can pack up and go outside for a quick afternoon debrief/PE game/song, and if they don't it still gets done by the bell).

    16 September 2011

    Weeks of Plus-Many

    Last week, I hosted eight kids on ISS over the week.

    This week, I have hosted two kids on cool-downs, one kid on ISS and four kids from a first grade class that had a no-show substitute.  I have also had eleven adult observers over the week.

    Today I am anticipating no visitors whatsoever, and we are going to observe steam and use the boiling water to make mint tea.  Also, capillary action will enable observation of water flowing upwards to dye flowers.  Barring any spillage, it should be an easy day of just-us.  Which is really nice sometimes.

    14 September 2011

    grit teeth and bear it.

    Very busy, class very cute, twenty two days and no outfit repeats as of today.

    07 September 2011

    Heat Wave Education!

    Given the insulation, we're in for a couple of warm days.  These will be only the second and third of the year.  However:

    • big giant Donors Choose fan: check.
    • small, strategically-placed fans: check.
    • spray bottles set to mist: check.
    • class set of bottled water: check.
    • popsicles (the high-fruit, low-sugar kind): check.
    So at least we're prepared.

    04 September 2011


    From the New York Times:

    “Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform,” said Tom Watkins, the former superintendent for the Michigan schools, and now a consultant to businesses in the education sector.

    The fiscal crisis is harming students.  Case in point: the Arizona district profiled has more students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch with no demographic change: it's the same kids, just living in more poverty.  Closer case in point: the San Francisco Food Bank isn't providing snacks to low-income schools this year.  They don't have the resources.

    That's just food.  Higher poverty means worse housing conditions: we have more homeless or insecurely-housed students than ever at our school.  There are fewer programs for children outside of school.  Adults are under more stress, and higher stress rarely leads to good outcomes for children.

    I could go on, but I don't want to take the focus off the education deformers.  Ultimately, they are so tied to their agenda that they cheer for conditions that are bad for children.  Mr. Watkins hopes that more children suffer so that his profitable, private concerns get more public cash.  Rarely do reformers state their purpose so clearly.  They're about anything but the children.  The harm children experience is second - if that - to the profit motive.

    We need to take these revolting folks seriously, but we must refuse to cede them even an inch.  There is no moral value, no ethics, and no care for children or our future in their position.  We must call out their lies.

    02 September 2011

    Three Weeks Down, Three Day Weekend.

    We had a stunning turnout at Back to School Night.  My personal BtSN stress was lowered by the helpful addition of a project for parents and kids to do.  These came out really cute and I need to get to work to hang them up.

    Also, the kids got to go to town on the play kitchen while there, and since they've had relatively little kitchen time they should be very happy today.

    The kids also earned a special reward and voted for a Learning Video, so they get to see a Tomi Ungerer story DVD and then watch the "Solids Liquids Gases" video from Here Comes Science to preview the water unit starting next week.  Providing the Hunt for a Working DVD Player is successful, it should be a good afternoon (for a fairly warm day).

    Now I just need to decide if the harem-pant jumpsuit or the Ferretti sundress provide the best warm day wear.

    31 August 2011

    Sartorial Kindergarten.

    I am not really a fan of those "one month of outfits, ten pieces of clothing" challenges.  Why restrict one's abundance of garments?  The utilitarian creativity of such frugal attempts may be exciting, but I'd rather mix it up a bit more.

    Hence I am challenging myself to no repeats in any four week period: easy from the perspective of total clothing owned, difficult because I tend to get attached to a piece for no good reason and want to wear it repeatedly until it bores me (at which point I shove it in the back of the closet and - hey presto! - within a couple of months it's exciting again).

    So far: this is day thirteen, and I'm still on track.

    28 August 2011

    November is Coming.

    The initiative text:

    Shall San Francisco Unified School District repair and rehabilitate facilities to current accessibility, health, safety and instructional standards, replace worn-out plumbing, electrical and other major building systems, replace aging heating, ventilation and air handling systems, renovate outdated classrooms and training facilities, construct facilities to replace aging modular classrooms, by issuing bonds in an amount not to exceed $531 million, at legal interest rates, with guaranteed annual audits, citizens' oversight and no money for school administrators' salaries?

    This is a clear YES vote for me.  I teach at one of the fifty schools that will be renovated if this passes - probably in the bunch that will be fixed first.  Some of the exciting things that I believe might happen:

    • new pipes featuring lead-free water
    • construction of an actual working ventilation and pipe system to the boys' restroom in my wing (as opposed to the current "hole in the wall" approach being used)
    • electrical upgrades that will enable all four teachers on my wing to use one electric fan each without shorting out the power (honestly, even if we had SMART boards and whatnot we wouldn't be able to use them on the electricity available)
    • heating that breaks down fewer than the current five or six times a year
    • construction of a non-plywood, non-rotting ramp to the portable classroom
    and if we get really, really, really lucky
    • asbestos removal or better encapsulation so that I can hang things on the walls
    Also on the ballot is Proposition H, a non-binding screed about neighborhood schools.  I suppose this sounds really great.  Of course, even in a strict neighborhood school system, you can't create capacity out of nothing.  And then there's the issue of, you know, equity.  Then there's the kind of problematic association with Paid GOP Spokesperson Michelle Rhee and her exciting organization Students First.  UESF ran a good article on this - as soon as they update the links to the latest issue of the Educator, I will link to it.

    26 August 2011

    Chicken Impossible, Year Two.

    I field questions related to the chicks - where are they, will there be more, when exactly are those more coming, etc. - everyday.  Unfortunately, many of these questions are asked by small children, for whom time concepts are not entirely concrete as yet.  March is far away.

    By the time I do get eggs and set up the incubator, I have to wonder if chicken fatigue will have set in...but I doubt it.

    I got funding for the Chicken Impossible: Anti-Slug Action Force project, which means I will need to come up with some graphical representation of when, exactly, we will need to set up the hutch and the pen and the brooder.  It also means I have committed to chicken stewardship at my home over the summer, which should be an adventure.

    In other news, after reading this, I have decided that in the future I will be referring to Michelle Rhee as a "paid Republican Party spokesperson".

    Two kids from my class got waitpool requests; we were reputed to have a waitlist (since EPC was erroneously listing us as full) which means we may receive a bunch of new students over the next couple of days.  We'll see.  Enrollment is up but the Ks are still smallish this year.  I am hoping we can maintain that since this is a year with a heavy majority of students who didn't attend preschool and a lot of four year olds.  That doesn't preclude Kindergarten success, but it does require different strategies and a lot of differentiation.  All of that is easier with smaller classes - even twenty two children makes for a big class when the target is fluent reading and Common Core standards math mastery.

    24 August 2011

    Crossing fingers, legs and toes

    Eeeeewwww, insomnia attack.  This will be my first badly underslept day this year.  The timing is not ideal.  It requires controlling the effects of little sleep - grumpiness, sensitivity to noise, crankiness, mild forgetfulness - with students still new to Kindergarten.  (It's the same with being sick at the beginning of the year).

    Plus side, I'm introducing the BOOK BOX today, which should remind me to be positive, and the kids have drama for the first time with our most excellent drama teacher.

    23 August 2011

    In These Times of Counts and School Shifts

    ...a friendly reminder that, in the event EPC calls, do be so good as to inform your child's current school that you won't be returning.  This is just simple politeness.  EPC does not call the school to inform them, and - speaking from years of SFUSD experience - it may take quite awhile for your child to actually be dropped from our enrollment.

    Additionally, if you choose to decline your new spot, please do your best to make this clear to EPC.  Otherwise, they call my school, bluster their way into being transferred to my room, and holler at me over the phone during class time.  I'm still not sure how the person hollering figured it, but the opening line was "You can't tell us where the child is going to school.  OR the family."  Eventually I was able to cut in and inquire what, precisely, they would like me to do given that the child was presently in my classroom, eagerly awaiting my return from phone screaming.  Once that point got across, the person hung up abruptly.  I'm still not sure what the point of all that was, but I fear it being repeated.

    One of last year's Kindergartners asked me today why the current Kindergartners are so little, because when her class was in Kindergarten, they were WAY BIGGER.  It is for the best that the current Ksters did not hear this, because they may have needed to defend their honor.  This class is like that.

    Today it was very warm, and by the end of some quite rigorous groups we had eighteen kids who were hot, tired and doing eighteen different things.  This was a little overwhelming for the new Resident, even though they settled down in two minutes.  One of the nice things about experience is that this kind of thing happens, and you know it.  You have ways to get them back on program and you don't internalize the chaos.  Besides, we gave them rather meaty work today and despite the breakdown after doing it, it got done and done quite well.  Hopefully she believed me that these things happen and it gets better.

    21 August 2011

    One Week Down.

    Saturday I was exhausted and somewhat sick and spent the entire day on the couch rereading Elizabeth George novels.  That's the result of a first week, I think.  The work is particularly physically demanding, and emotionally you have to be on the top of your game the entire time.  Anyway, overall I think I did pretty well establishing the class community and getting started:

    1. I have a hard time with files because there's just so many of them.  Every single master goes into its own file, creating giant piles of files (I have a file cabinet, but one drawer is permanently jammed and the other is full of puzzles.).  This year, I have decided to make a file for each week and put every master I use that week in it.  Since I use the same things around the same time each year, this should - if I maintain it - make it easy to find things in the future.
    2. Our formal Caring School Communities meeting was lacking, but the general ideas of it (looking at the speaker, one speaker at a time) were introduced.  I'll do this meeting again next week.
    3. Reading Workshop is going pretty well; the kids are really into it and they have a lot more interest in the class library than in years past (the loft helps there, too).
    4. I spent half an hour after school every day just cleaning up and organizing.  If I can keep this up, things will go well.  I also spent one lunch break copying - a task immeasurably helped by having spent the afternoon before organizing things to copy.
    5. I didn't introduce a formal classroom management system until Friday, and I won't begin using it until Tuesday probably.  That's the longest I've gone without.  As yet, the class is fairly manageable, and I'm also letting the little things go.  Having a resident helps, since she or I can take on a meltdown while the other deals with the rest of the class.
    This week, I really want to get all the Brigances done and start demanding lowered volume.  I have a couple of kids who are just loud - not grumpily loud or not getting my work done loud, just totally unaware of their volume.  I also need to order animals for the year (other than Silkie eggs) and call the local library to schedule a field trip.

    Teacher Esoterica: More Stuff to Buy in Bulk...or just buy.

    1. Squirt Bottles.  The applications are endless: misting students with cool water on hot days, getting cool painting effects, demonstrating how rainbows appear, quickly creating a humid environment in the snail tank or greenhouse.  It's worth it to have a lot of these, each labeled with its intended use (or at least some of them labeled "water only").
    2. White Address Labels.  A quick source for important information ("I have a permission slip!" stickers, for instance), name tags, file organization and similar.
    3. Shaving Cream.  Practice writing while cleaning all the glue off the table!
    4. Bubble Wrap.  Sensory pleasure for all ages!
    5. Air popper and popcorn.  For about twenty dollars, you can provide cheap, healthy snacks that just about every kid will eat.  Freshly popped popcorn needs neither salt nor butter, and buying kernels is far cheaper than microwave packages.  One cup of kernels makes two big bowls of popcorn - enough to feed a whole class generously.  This can also provide an extremely cost-effective fundraiser.

    18 August 2011

    Day Four

    Okay, we got through Wacky Wednesday.  So far this class has not been untowardly; indeed, their management issues have been straightforward and they're generally disposed to enjoy themselves.  It helps a lot that it hasn't been very warm, so while they get tired they're not exhausted and uncomfortable all at once.  I am hoping to finish off the week on a good note these last two days, but at the same time waiting for the boom to drop.  I've been cutting activities shorter than I generally do so that things finish before the kids do.  It helps.

    The lunch issues are still not worked out, and it's infuriating.

    15 August 2011

    Guess What's Missing!

    I teach at an early start school and the Kindergartners go to lunch at 10:30 am.

    Lunches arrived shortly before one, ready for their fifteen minutes in the oven.

    Even if we had petty cash on hand that could cover, say, an all school deli run, we kept hearing that lunches would be on site by 10:45.  Well, 11:00.  In maybe half an hour.  They aren't there yet?  Certainly before noon.  And so on.  Once it gets past 11:00, it's really too late to do anything but wait.

    The kids who expected to eat school lunch got cold cereal with milk and a sampling of granola bars from my extra snack stash.  I also gave them an all-fruit popsicle towards the end of the day.  It was a rotten situation and the kids were great about it, I have to say.

    I can't get over this!  I mean, mistakes do happen.  Lunch has been late before.  But this kind of thing - on the first day of school! - is inexcusable.  What kind of message does this send to parents?  I should NEVER be in a position where I have to explain that your child may be famished because SFUSD left us unable to feed your child.

    Otherwise, it was an easy first day.  (I'd rather they eat lunch a little later - the two and a half hours after lunch get pretty long for Kindergartners - so in some ways a late lunch wouldn't have been bad.)  This was the first time I never felt that I had no idea what I would do next on the first day of school.  Almost all of the kids on my roster showed up but one of the Ks is very small.  No one got lost and there were only a couple of criers, both of whom settled quickly.  This class is overall very confident, so the usual management issues (frightened of school, too shy to ask for the bathroom) will probably apply less.

    I know that most teachers start pretty strict and get looser; I tend to go the other way.  I just don't think they can manage every routine and protocol I'm planning to hold them to on the first day of school.  Tomorrow I think I'll be enforcing sit-on-one-picture on the rug (they love each other and want to be close) and walking in a line (I don't deal with cutting, but today we had some clumping problems).   They should also get imagination stations tomorrow, which they will enjoy.

    They also seemed to largely enjoy themselves; this was the first year where a lot of kids apropos of nothing informed me that they like Kindergarten and our class and all that stuff - near the end of the day.  Usually by the end of the day the kids who wanted to tell me they like our class did so earlier and are tired and the kids who aren't sure yet are cranky.  Hopefully they will still like me and the class tomorrow afternoon, too.

    14 August 2011

    Coloring and High School Math

    I saw this story about Michele Bachmann's public school fears and rolled my eyes until I got to the "legitimate" worries Rep. Bachmann experienced when her high school-age foster children had coloring homework in mathematics.

    Then I got a little suspicious.  Whether or not the concern is "legitimate", has anyone ever fact-checked this claim?  It's so easy for reporters to believe whatever they're told about the Lazy Union Parasites at our public schools.

    As it ends up, a slightly-filled out version shows up in New Yorker profile.  Now the coloring was "involved" in a math assignment, which is slightly less derogatory: the implication is that it was a portion of the work rather than the sum total of the assignment ("Color this picture of Euclid").

    And honestly?  An interesting math project might just involve a little coloring.  Here is a project on color for 6th to 9th grade mathematics.  It covers frequency and wavelength.  Or you can explore the perception of color.  And according to this project, written by a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, "Color is a profound mathematical topic with multi-million-dollar industrial applications."

    Anyway, I'm not sure I believe Bachmann at all: I mean, she also believes that I am training tomorrow's Communists for a totalitarian government work system.  But even if I accept her claim that there was some coloring involved in high school math, she hasn't said anything profound about the Shocking Low Standards of America's Public Schools.  And it's a shame that the dread spectre of Crayola, coupled with knee-jerk education reformist impulses in reporters, gets a free pass.

    No Stress Free Path

    I'm debating whether or not to go into school for a little bit today.  I spent five hours there Saturday, completing the following tasks:
    • accepted a delivery of popcorn kernels, yogurt, all-fruit popsicles, healthy granola bars and bottled water for my class snacks this week
    • whacked my head on the freezer hard enough to raise a big ugly bruise at my hairline
    • filled out, had signed and faxed four bus requests to the Transportation Office (a trip to the Farmers' Market for each K and 1st and a trip to the California Academy of Sciences for my class and another Kindergarten)
    • Received a final roster.  I'm back up to 22 students, but a child who toured my room and had his picture taken with me last week was switched yet again into another class.  Someone or some program at the District office is constantly fiddling with class lists over the last week before school starts, and it's really irritating.  Anyway, I'll be starting with 23 on my roster.
    • Made copies and filed everything.
    • Set up baskets, etc. for Reading Workshop.
    • Collected and stored some of my classroom workbooks.
    • Ordered this, a couple of these* and some hand sanitizer
    • Wrote out lesson plans for the week
    • Did some final cleaning
    • Got first day intake materials together.  On the first day of school, I have a worksheet so that I have a single, in-room class list that provides the following for each child: 
      • a telephone number guaranteed to be answered that day at all times,
      • any allergies
      • what the child will be doing after school, with a back-up plan if the child is planning to attend the afterschool program but has not been officially registered (there will be a full waitlist), the exact bus stop at which the child disembarks and the name of the adult who is picking up the child there, or the name of the adult picking the child up at school.
    • In addition to getting the list filled out, I pass out my class letter, a general field trip form for all walking field trips (for those occasions when a child forgets an event-based walking trip form) and put a name necklace on each child.  This is hectic.
    • Made sure I had gone over my rising first graders with each first grade teacher
    • Failed to fix the dollhouse and refusing-to-open file cabinet
    • Confirmed that my incubator still works (yay!)
    • Missed not one, but two buses
    If I went over today, I would drop off some Sharpie markers, a chart tablet and these.  Then I would just walk around my room a little, make sure I had plenty of sometimes and anytime snacks pictures for our collage and write a list of sparklers.  No matter how many years I do this, there will be at least one brief moment every day the first week wherein a significant minority of the class is exhausted, hungry and hot and I suddenly forget everything I know about teaching.  I do not think a list will keep this from happening, but it might inure me against feeling a total failure when it does.

    The biggest thing I've learned about Kindergarten is that the first couple of weeks are the hardest part of the year.  I feel especially horrible about the kids being tired and cranky toward the end of the day because it is the beginning of the year: they don't know about all the cool and awesome fun we will have as the year goes on.  Moreover, since this is the first week, my Resident will be leaving an hour before the end of the school day, so the most difficult portion of the day during the most difficult portion of the year will be just me.  

    I have a giant fan now, courtesy Donors Choose, and I think that will help a great deal.  I also filled four spray bottles for misting, and scheduled PE (indoor and outdoor), cooperative and imaginative play for the last hour.  Historically, I have avoided outdoor PE the first week due to the hassle of collecting backpacks, placing them on the lower yard bench without anyone fleeing for the Kindergarten yard, etc. This year, I'm going to have the Resident help me get them to the yard before she leaves.  The first day will be either parachute or ribbon wands, depending on child fatigue (the parachute is a lot of work, physically).  So I'm crossing my fingers against the likelihood of someone deciding to test the teacher's boundaries by bolting for the lower yard play structure.  My goal this year is to go with the flow: five year olds are five, and that's going to mean some tired, cranky kids.  Getting tired and cranky because they won't do what I had planned does no one any good.  Still, I don't intend to flow to lower yard play structure use on the first day.

    Typing this up has made me feel less stressed out: the benefits of navel-gazing on one's internal psychodrama are real!  Maybe I won't go in.  That would be ideal, honestly: I'd like to go to the gym before I go to Outside Lands.

    My only other major worry is around eating.  Having ended my medication holiday, I am readjusting to Adderall, which was originally developed and marketed as a weight-loss drug.  For me, the drug improves my focus enough that I don't so much forget to eat as

    a. I decide to eat whenever I finish, but since there's always something else to do I don't ever finish.
    b. I have adequate focus that I do not get distracted and decide that I need a snack.

    And then when I do eat I am not very hungry.  This side effect doesn't last that long, but what with the endless tasks of the first week of school, I didn't eat very much.  I didn't notice any major low blood sugar side effects, but when managing twenty three brand new Kindergartners, you want all systems at go.**  So I think I'm going to pack small but powerful lunches (packing a lunch being one of the skills Adderall helps me master).  I'm also going to stay at the very small dose level at which I restarted.

    *I have everything I need to make kaleidoscopes except caps.  My theory is that making these easier ones will enable me to make caps and use my materials next year. Making a good kaleidoscope is a little complicated, and since this will be an early in the year project, I really want it to work well.
    **I have efficiently managed Kindergartens without medication; however, currently I feel that my life in general - including all portions that do not take place on school grounds - benefit from a combination of ADHD management strategies including medication.  Besides, other than the eating, the improved focus, decreased fidgeting and lowered stress levels really make for a happier me.