I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

30 April 2011

And Again with the Life Cycles.

This was a banner life cycle week.  The plants in bags are doing great.  The kids were cute doing their little presentation for the school.  They made little crowns and went around calling each other Queen of Seeds and King of Fruits and Super Sprout and whatnot, but on stage they also had a mic and could be heard recounting the life cycle of fruiting plants.  I jerry-rigged a wet bulb thermometer for the incubator (this is not actually hard, but I will brag about it as if it is).  The eggs get candled on Monday and I am relatively hopeful that some of them will have promising dark spots inside.

On Friday I gave the kids a cut and paste apple tree life cycle to do as an independent table group.  If they finished early, I directed them to diagram and write about some other life cycle.  This time-filler was the kind of thing you teach Kindergarten for, in the end:

  • one child recounted an oviparous cycle including the important step "the egg cracks".
  • another child stated that the life cycle occurs over and over and then noted, "I agree.  Yes."
  • one child drew a nine-part diagram of the human life cycle, including labels for "teenager" and "toddler".  The last human had a baby.
  • another child went with human life cycles and helpfully gave the final human Xs for eyes and a frown, plus a label of "dead".
In closing, science rocks.

Great Moments in Not Sharing the Pain.

SFUSD's only sent out non-renewal notices to 17 of those 100+ administrators that they are absolutely totally and completely willing to sacrifice along with teachers.

SEVEN classroom teachers at my school are still facing layoffs.  Unlike the district office, our school qualifies as "Hard to Staff".  Moreover, I'm sure SFUSD will take a good look at the late layoff window come the May revise...maybe they can bump that up to thirteen classroom teachers or so!

23 April 2011

I haven't seen Waiting for Superplutocrats - I have this thing about controlling my blood pressure - but I understand that the lazy, rotten, nogoodnik public school teacher types sleep while their students fail to learn in this movie.

I don't actually know how that works.  If I fell asleep in my classroom, two students would immediately dispatch themselves to run to the office to alert officialdom.  Three more would make a child tower to get at the Magical Mysteries of the Top Shelves.  The rest would tickle and/or suffocate me.  I don't even have a teacher's desk to sit behind, brooding, while my students have snail races/give each other haircuts/become depressed in a miasma of union-loving child hate.  My class can more or less leave me alone to do Guided Reading and/or assessment, but that's due to months of training (and is made much easier this year thanks to having a Resident).  Moreover, part of the 'leave E. Rat alone' compact is that you will eventually get your turn with the teacher, and you don't want anyone to interrupt it.

This week was a bit difficult.  In addition to some time at the vet, it ends up that part of aging is developing really miserable allergies to life itself.  It was also a week featuring things I find difficult (paper management: field trip permission slips, forms for certain school programs, thank yous to mail) and anxiety-inducing (putting together technological items like incubators, making sure no one jumps in the pond on the field trip, eighty seven thousand little tasks that are in themselves exceptionally easy but become this Doomy Doom in my head).

Also, I had this at my home, waiting for perusal.  And someone gave me a set of these.

So what I really wanted to do was spend hours lettering folders, permission slips, awards and similar for my students, taking breaks only to read my exhibition guide and to blow my nose, cough, sneeze and rub my eyes.

What I did instead was run the annual Read an Eggathon (we have an egg hunt, but with words in the eggs and stickers for prizes), get a snootful of pollen on our buddy picnic field trip (DUCKLINGS!), set up the incubator and leave my new fancy book in its overwrap.

The stars therefore granted me a Donors Choose of fine, fine construction paper - the kind that is smooth, crisp, bright and probably miserable for the planet - and twenty boxes of glitter crayons.  Perhaps one day one of my Kindergartners will rate their own fine museum exhibition of couture, and I will attend as a guest of honor in a bespoke dress.  THANKS TO THE GLITTER CRAYONS.

In other news, SFUSD indicates that - Oops!  Sorry again! - the coming year is NOT the worst.  The one after that could be even more dire!  At this point, I am presuming that if the state passes a budget before August 15 I'll be laid off thanks to the late window.  I'm also frightened by the increasing class sizes forecast for SFUSD (and thankful to the district for keeping them low as yet in K-3).  I started teaching after class-size reduction; I have a hard time imagining 31 students.  And the supports that made 31 more manageable (paraeducators, AM/PM Kinder with co-teaching) are gone, while the standards for students are much higher (and the school year even shorter).

Moreover, what with the financial crisis, every year more of my students are under stress.  In the four years I've been at my school, every year student mobility goes up.  I got a new student this week, for instance.  Of my students who have moved away, most if not all of their moves were directly due to losing housing/relatives losing housing (often complicated by violence and family members' passing).  This year I've held SSTs for seven students; about half my class is receiving some kind of school-provided social-emotional service.  Those are services that we may not be able to afford.

So beyond the academic requirements, the empathy and care needed for a class of 31 at a high-needs school in an ill-funded environment is at the 'psychic vampire' level.  It's hard to listen to education reform rhetoric about failing schools, failing teachers and "we already tried money" and believe they are anything other than self-assured, knowing liars who have enough time to read their Savage Beauty catalogues and enough money to send their own progeny to highly-supportive, exceptionally expensive private academies.

Life Cycles Positive?

My new incubator arrived Friday and keeps a perfect temperature of 100.5 degrees.  I can't find the little "ready" light, but I do have a thermometer: success at last.

I have given up on the silkworm eggs, and while the snails ate four ounces of cabbage in less than twenty four hours, they continue their refusal to provide a living example of oviparous animals in the classroom.  We did run into some mating snails on our field trip, and I considered bringing them back to class as an example for the rest of the terrarium but didn't.  The silkworm eggs appear to have failed; I'm not sure why.

21 April 2011

Today is Kindergarten Day! Yay!

Hooray!  For once, the rain has stopped in time for a field trip.  Of course, since it's a picnic with our buddy class, even yesterday's rain is unfortunate.  We'll have to squash a bit on the benches.

This article on basic aid districts' finances (vs. revenue limit districts') gets at the vast inequity in school funding that feeds the ability of the haves to ignore the have nots.  It also features the basic aid districts' lament - their funding has taken a bigger dollar-per-student hit than revenue limits'.  In the last days of Gray Davis, when he threatened the inequity, you heard this a lot.

Of course, when you have three times as much to start with, a bigger dollar cut has less impact.  That can't be forgotten.  If the Governor presents an all-cuts budget that does not push state cash to basic aid districts down to the actual basic aid level, I predict a future one woman march in Sacramento.

In other news, it appears that this coming year may not yet be the worst for SFUSD finances.  I hope that we stop saying "This next one has to be the worst!  It has to get better!" because it's so depressing when the next budget cycle comes.

Happily, it looks like I will probably get a Donors Choose grant wrapped up pretty soon, so I should have construction paper next year.

19 April 2011

ARGH LIFE CYCLES.

  1. Snails: intensely amorous, anti-egg.
  2. New, Unbroken Incubator: not yet received.  I don't even know if it has been shipped.
  3. Silkworm eggs: 2 weeks on a heating blanket, no hatch.
ARGH.  So it's viviparous animals by picture now.  On the plus side, the seeds in a bag all appear to be viable except for the winter squash.  (Place paper towel in plastic bag.  Add seeds.  Spritz liberally with water.  Seal bag.  Tape to window.  Observe development.  Plant when done (paper towel and all).

16 April 2011

The Other Thing about Testing.

So despite all the time the standardized tests take - two weeks of administration, usually - they aren't very long or detailed.  I believe the elementary reading CST has something like 40 questions.

Based on the standards-weighting and released test item checking that statistical testing mavens do, this means that of those forty questions, 5% (two questions) probably test one minor morphological spelling pattern in English.  For instance, a 2nd grader's mastery of 2nd grade reading over an entire school year can be measured in part by whether he or she can correctly pluralize berry and fox.

He or she may have shown remarkable depth in inferencing characters' motivations, learned how to write a persuasive paragraph for a variety of audiences and be able to read third grade books.  Standardized tests can't test any of those skills very well, though.  So if this young reader is a lousy speller, that's 5% towards failing already.

There's an argument that skills like these are easy - easy to learn, easy to teach.  In some ways I am sympathetic: I represented my county at the state spelling bee years ago.  I'm an awesome speller (although not a competitive one: I intentionally knocked myself out because the whole thing was getting just too nutty and dramatic and bright-lighted).  Spelling is easy for me.

However - an no particular offense meant - I read a variety of blogs, receive many a letter or email and used to teach undergraduates.  If spelling is such an easy thing to teach, then based on the spelling I see, it's a wonder we manage to learn and teach anything.

It's not just "We have spell-check now"; even Laura Ingalls Wilder's prairie lawyers misspelled "hero".*  We have spelling bees because spelling is interesting and hard, and kids who are good at it deserve recognition.  Yet a child's learning - and a teacher's performance - can apparently be judged by it.

That strikes me as not just ridiculous but rigged, to be honest.

In other news, my students really like drapey draped dresses, and if I wear a McQueen vintage number with little gartery/harnessy things hanging on the sides, the kids will use these as additional handholds.  Also, I got the telephone wire + sticker glue paint project to work much more easily this year.  The trick is using not just non-glare report covers but the insides of those laminating pouches for cheap laminators.  Conveniently I know someone with a broken laminator and many leftover pouches.

Sadly, the incubator I received as a gift was broken.  I ordered a new one - once you promise chickens, you have to make it happen - which will hopefully arrive next week.  This means that on the day of filing for last year's $250 educator's deduction on my federal taxes, I managed to spend the savings.



*Side note: I spell well because I read a lot and always have.  I studied linguistics at the post-graduate level and have suffered through endless SB466 Reading First trainings on spelling patterns: that only gets you something if you will actually sit there and systematically and with conscious intent apply spelling rules.  You won't.

09 April 2011

amazing crazy fact of the day

Looking at blogger search strings is interesting albeit paranoia-inducing.

Life Cycle Land

The snails' ongoing egg strike despite their bountiful, warm terrarium in the greenhouse and ample food, not to mention my stalwart protection against the forces that would eat them is really quite a drag.

Still, the silkworm eggs are resting comfortably on the heating blanket and with any luck will hatch next week.

And then on Tuesday I received a gift of a circulating-air, automatic turner incubator.  It arrived unboxed during class, so I had to explain what it was.  What with the forces of cute present, I found myself committing to attempting a hatchery providing iron-clad, signed-in-blood "I will take these chickens off your hands on May 27th, 2011 without complaining" contracts enforceable by law, moral code, and so on.

It took less than a day for a child to arrange just such a contract.  Apparently the cute works at home, too.

I now have 30 fertile eggs sitting in my pantry and more or less managed to regulate the incubator temperature on Friday, so all systems are go for a Monday afternoon setting.

I have a bad feeling that the social studies standard I haven't covered yet is going to get really short shrift with all the science going on.  That said, we are doing a school performance covering the virtue of patience and will be using our life cycle knowledge and waiting waiting waiting to craft it.

In other news, I decided that appropriate souvenirs would include both a dress and an exhibition catalogue and ordered the latter in advance so I don't have to lug it around.  I also arranged some visits with grad school cronies and similar who are New York-based.  These plans will provide serenity/mindfulness moments during the next two months of being covered in paint, soil and incubator-temperature-regulation stress.

04 April 2011

Today was the first day back.  As often happens after the Spring Break, when I saw my kids arriving I was a little perplexed: how did they all grow six inches and seventeen sight words overnight?  One of the best things about this job is how very obvious a child's development is at this age.  It is an very exciting process in which to take part - really, quite an honor, too.

I then went to the all union rally, which was equally perplexing: how is it that Jamie Dimon is making hundreds of millions of dollars for squandering billions?  Why does GE get a tax break but I can't get a bottle of finger paint for my classroom?  Again, it is a wonderful thing to be part of a rally and enjoy union fellowship: community and collaboration are important.  Regardless, this was more than a little depressing.

(NOT depressing: Wearing awesome find Armani dress to protest.  AND ALSO NOT DEPRESSING: Rally of adequate size that I received text messages from non-union friends asking, "Are you at the BofA building?  Where?"  YAY WORKER SOLIDARITY.)

So I came home and got my solo adventure summer mini break New York flight and hotel done.  I have not gone away for purposes unrelated to work or family/friend commitments in a long time.  AND NOW I AM.

Additionally, I am going right after school gets out: more incentive to get out of my room within 48 hours of the end of the year rather than spending two or three days shifting stuff from one cabinet to another.

02 April 2011

Ponies, Pegasi and Ice Cream for All!

Confidential to the California state GOP:

If you're going to go around telling the media that all you wanted were a few little pension and regulatory reforms to allow a special election, maybe you shouldn't release your seven pages of demands to the LA Times.

Actually, never mind.  Go ahead: the New York Times will acknowledge that perhaps there were other issues, but largely back up your story.  Dan Walters will claim that the voters support your positions...while signaling in favor of an all-cuts budget with (presumed) political reprisals from the voters (that's cute.  I guess Dan doesn't have any school children).

None of these sources will mention that you demanded a special election for not five years but eighteen months of tax continuances.  (I saw ONE mention of this, in the San Jose Mercury News.)  They will also fail to mention that you are demanding redevelopment funds be continued, for tort reform, end QEIA funding (even though it works!), and muck around with teachers' contracts.

Oh!  And all those teachers and state workers who've given up whatever they've put into Social Security should also accept our brutal changes to their pension plan - current AND future workers.

That's a lot of free giveaways in exchange for one and a half years of piddling tax continuances.

This is not a story with two sides that are equally partisan and radical.  This is a story of a deeply radical right wing and a center-right Democratic party.  Nor is there a winner and a loser: everybody loses.