I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

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

News.

  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

Given:

  • 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

Accomplishments.

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.