Sunday, September 13, 2009


I got a new fourth grader on Wednesday, Peter. Like when Gram joined my class last year, I noticed something was off right away. He couldn't sit still, he refused to follow the simplest direction, he shouted and said things like, "I don't know what a book is, how does it work?" (Which wasn't true because we found out later that he's reading at grade level.) Suffice to say, it was a hard day. I had to be constantly near him, keeping him from putting his hand on other kids.

Come to find out he doesn't like women in general and as ADD. I spoke to his mother after school and asked her what works for her at home when he doesn't follow any directions. She said, "Nothing, nothing works, I wish I could help." She went on to say that she took him off of his adderall over summer because he wasn't in school and was bringing him the doctor the next afternoon to have the prescription renewed. Thursday was another hard day with him and I started to get really nervous about how I was going to make the class work with Kismet and Peter, two really high needs kids and still have time to teach.

On Friday, I was anxious to see how he was, that being the first day he was back on his meds. He was like a zombie. It was weird. He was quiet and honestly, looked kind of high. I mean, it was much easier. For the most part, he did what I told him to do and worked well with the other kids. But by the end of the day he looked so whigged out I sort of wished for the first Peter I met.

I'm not sure what I think about putting kids on these kinds of meds this young. I know one person about my age who has been on ritalin since he was in grade school and this kids is so scattered, hard to talk to and nuts now that I wonder if it did and is continuing to do serious damage. Obviously, helps Peter cope in school, but to what cost? We're the adults, shouldn't we be the ones manipulating the environment to suit his needs? I know there is therapy out there that can teach kids the skills they need to harness ADD and ADHD without meds but perhaps for parents that's the harder choice because of the time and money. Or perhaps, the doctors aren't explaining this to the parents. It just doesn't seem right. But I don't know what the answer is.

The Year So Far...

I began this year feeling very confident in my teaching skills. I have grown a lot as a educator since that first class I had in 2007. So I thought I would write a little about how the year as gone so far.

Most of the other teachers are intimidated by this year's third grade class. They are a handful. I think this has mostly to do with the fact that the class is top heavy with boys. There are also a lot of kids with IEPs. Last year, these kids didn't have the best teacher. She gave them a lot of free time and during what teaching time there was, there wasn't much structure or very many expectations of them. In fact, last year's third grade teacher asked not be put back into the third grade because she knew that these were the kids she would receive.

There are also some things that set this class apart in a good way. This class is the first class of the school, they were the first kindergarten class. Not all of them returned of course, but there are a handful of kids that continue to come back each year. Because they are the first class, they are also the most bilingual, or should be. They've had the bilingual education from day one. It wasn't perfect. We the teachers, are still learning the best way to make this work in our classrooms, but we're getting better at it each year as well.

When I was asked to take on the third grade I was really excited. As I have mentioned before, I had a lot of these kids when they were in Kindergarten. I liked the idea of having them again. I knew walking in that it was going to be a challenge.

I spent the first two weeks talking over them to get their attention. At the end of the third week, I realized that that definitely wasn't going to work the whole year because by Thursday, I was having trouble talking normally and my voice was hoarse. So I decided to borrow yet another page from Sophia.

When I need their attention and they are talking or laughing or running around, I put my arm up in the air with five fingers up. Counting in my head, I scan the room for about seven seconds. When the children see me with my hand up that is their signal to stop talking, laughing or running around, they put their hand in the air. If everyone is looking at me, I'm able to give directions or whatever it was I needed their attention for. If I get to seven in my head and I still don't have everyone's attention, I begin counting down the fingers on my hand. They know that if I get all the way down to zero fingers, they get a mark on the board. If by the end of the morning or afternoon (whichever part of the day I happen to have them that week) they have five or less marks on the board, they get extra recess, 6 or more less recess.

So far I've been amazed at how this has worked. There are days when they gain recess and days when they lose it. When they get to the point where they are having extra recess everyday, I'll make it four or less and so on and so forth. This way the bar is always moving, yet they still know exactly what is expected of them. I like that I was able to come with a system that rewards as well as punishes. They know that they have to work together as a team to get the extra recess and so even the timid ones who rarely talk out of turn have begun turning to their classmates and encouraging them to follow the rules.

One day, perhaps four days or so into the new system, Mr. Rama came in to talk to me about a student in my other class with an I.E.P. I had to stop what I was doing in order to speak to him. (Which is fine, frustrating for me when it happens numerous times throughout the day, but fine.) As we talked the noise in the classroom became louder and louder and as I was about to interrupt Mr. Rama to put my hand up, the children did it on their own! It was awesome! I erased one their marks on the board and told them if they continued to monitor themselves successfully I would be willing to erase one of their marks! I was so impressed!

This method is not working as well with the fourth graders. I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm going to keep using with them in the hopes that it'll snap one of these days.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of my day is the bathroom break we have to take mid morning. Last year, it always took what I felt to be a bigger than necessary chunk out of my teaching time in the mornings. This was because of the usual things, getting the kids lined up and ready to go, getting them to walk quietly in the hallway, keeping them from fooling around in the bathroom. These along with the unusual thing, our bathrooms aren't in the school, they are across the driveway in the cafeteria.

This year, I was determined to make this process work with a bit more ease. I made a deal with the kids if they get could line up quickly and quietly, walk quietly in a line, behave in the bathroom as well as get back in line afterwards I would let them run races on the playground for a few minutes. Even with the extra few minutes for the races, which I think are good for them anyway as it gets them moving, I think we're saving time.

This, thankfully, has been working for both grades, though they aren't earning the races everyday, they are trying and they like the reward.

I think the best part about this year so far is that I have been actively thinking about being positive all the time. This is indeed another page from Sophia's book. I was always impressed at how positive she was, even when things were particularly difficult.

After teaching the sixth grade for the last half of last year, anything was going to be better. I didn't like my job at the end of last year at all, which made me sad and more likely to be negative. I was stressed out about everything, all the time. As the year was ending, I took solace in the fact that I had a job, as I was hearing about people around me and back home were losing theirs. I am happy to say that I'm back to enjoying my job this year, I'm taking things in stride and walking in each morning with a smile on my face. It feels good.

Wine Festival

Last weekend The Boy and I went to the Wine Festival in Bernalillo, New Mexico. This was the second time we've gone. Last time we went with a bunch of friends and it was a lot more fun. It's so hot out in the sun and the festival was in a big field. I also feel like there were way more people there, every wine stall had a long line and standing in the sun got old fast. We do love the carne seca and the chile dulce we get there though and honestly, that's what I was looking forward to the most. Not the wine.

In the interest of staying as cool as humanly possible, I wore a white shirt. In the second of our 15 minute waits to taste wine, The Boy was trying to pour water into my glass to swish it out. I fumbled a bit and water almost went all over my white shirt. (Which incidentally would have been fine, it's so hot and dry here that the shirt would have been dry after waiting in the next line.) After witnessing my fumble perhaps 45 year old wine man stared at my breastal area and said, "Wow, it was almost a white tee shirt contest!" He preceded to serve Ben wine and then held his bottle out to my glass and said, "Ma'am?"

I ask you, how can he make a bad joke about a white tee shirt contest and then refer to me as Ma'am?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama; You're the Man.

"We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it."

This is why I became a teacher.

For Shiz.

PS. Still rocking the third graders.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama Speech!

I was so excited when I heard that Obama was giving a speech specifically written for children. What a novel idea! I got goosebumps.

I excitedly told Sr. Callejo about this speech and how I hoped that the whole school could gather in my classroom (as it is the only one with cable) that morning sans interruptions so that we could have a group campfire experience. He thought it was a fine idea and let everyone know in a MEMO.

Then, the next week while at the gym, I saw a CNN bit on how parents were boycotting the speech because it was going to be "too political." Many schools were sending home permission slips for parents to sign. This struck me as odd, but as NPR wasn't saying anything and so I didn't take it too seriously. As I heard more and more about parents refusing to let their kids see this speech at school the more incensed I became. Seriously? (channeling Grey's Anatomy here) Then the White House (in a very smart move) released the text of the speech early, so as to prove that it was not too political. Even this didn't calm people enough. Seriously? I didn't read the text because I felt like a kid on Christmas and I didn't want the surprise to be ruined, (also, I didn't believe that Obama was trying to create an army of socialist minions.)

This morning a few of the non teaching staff asked me if I was "really going to show it after all the hubbub in the media." My answer was as follows; "Look, if George Bush (the second) had ever bothered to give this kind of speech, about staying in school, to the nation's students I would have been just as gung ho about showing it the entire school. These parents who aren't (as well as the parents that are) letting their children see the speech at school are also letting their kids get their world views from Low Rider, Fitty (sp?) Cent, and so on and so forth, why can't the President of these United States speak to them as well?" Everyone agreed with me.

So, everyone came to my classroom this morning to watch it. It want really well, everyone basically fit and the teachers were all there as well, which meant that afterward, adults from all sides of the classroom were talking to the kids about what they had just seen and why it was important. Politics didn't enter any part of the discussion. It was centered on staying in school and working well with your teacher and classmates and the idea that he (Barack Obama) could get them all the school supplies, books, computers and school buildings they could stand and still nothing would change until kids step up to the plate.

There were a few moments when he mentioned that kids who give up on themselves are not only giving up on themselves, but on their country as well. I think I get that feeling of negativity because of September 11 and the huge surge in National Guard and Army Recruit numbers and the proud way that George Bush spoke about it. (Not that wanting to serve your country that way is a bad thing, its more that he made it sound like that was the only way.) FDR encouraged young people in his fireside chats to leave their families and work on one of the numerous New Deal Projects, JFK; "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you for your country." Neither of these statements are military-centric and people loved them for it.

I also have to say that I loved that Obama reminded kids to wash their hands, much like Jimmy Carter used to reminded not to speed and to keep our thermostats at energy efficient levels.

I loved that speech. It brought me to tears.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Co-Teacher Drama


The other morning I was doing my "duty" outside where all the cars come in, Sr. Callejo brought his son (who is in Kinder and totally adorable) to the cafeteria and then came back and exchanged pleasantries with me for a few moments. As he was walking away Ellie and Fiona's mum came up to talk to him. Whenever I see one of my parents talking to my principal I'm always nervous that they are saying mean things about me since that was all that was ever said about me to my principal that first year of teaching. She walked away and he meandered back to me. He explained that she was thinking about pulling Ellie out of the school because Ms. Jenson (co-teacher) says mean things to her. Example; "Ellie, your handwriting is ugly." This is the first time we've heard the same comment from parents, so now we knew that really is what she was saying and not the kids putting words in her mouth.

He asked me to tell her before we started classes that morning that she should really try to be more positive with the kids and less negative because we can't loose kids at this point, especially because of something like that. He couldn't because he had to leave for a day long meeting. I balked at this a bit. If it had been Sophia, it might have been a little awkward, the conversation would have been casual enough that the awkwardness would have blown over pretty quickly. This I feared would not be the case with Ms. Jenson. I said as much and he said that he really appreciated me sending on the message. I reluctantly agreed to pass on the message. Which pretty much went over exactly the way I predicted, with Ms. Jenson saying things like, "Why would he tell you and not me, hum...hum" (fake dramatic confused look.)

This morning the third graders were in my classroom for the first hour (as per our implementation of reading recovery) and I realized that Ellie, wasn't in class. The girls are rarely late and absent less than they are late. I wondered if I had inadvertently left her in the cafeteria. I asked the other kids if they had seen her that morning and they all answered in the negative. Then little Molly (Callie's little sister) piped up and said, "She's not coming to the this school anymore, my sister told me." I was so surprised. Then it hit me. If Ellie was gone, that probably meant that Fiona, my most favorite student ever was gone too.

I opened the door to my classroom when I saw the seventh graders coming through the hallway. I was relieved to see that Fiona was in the line. I asked their teacher if I could borrow Fiona for a moment. She followed me to my classroom and explained that their Mum didn't like the way that Ms. Jenson spoke to the kids. I asked her if she was leaving and she said that her Mum hadn't decided yet. I explained that I really didn't want to lose touch with her. So I gave her my email address and my cell phone number and made her promise to keep in touch if she had to leave the school. She promised and gave me a hug. I really hope she keeps her promise.

I hate that we're losing kids because of this...other things I can understand. But this? Come on. Especially that family. They have been with us from the beginning and it's just too bad.

There was a staff meeting today and Sr. Callejo explained to the whole staff we needed to keep "positive reinforcement" in mind. He also said that the PTA President wanted all complaints like this to come to her so that she can speak to the family and give them a tour of school, so that parents have the chance to see all the good things we are doing. I think this is a great step, something I wish I had thought of. So many parents never come into the classroom. These sorts of things make our school more community oriented.

By the way. I think I have the third graders licked. Licked I tell you. More on that later.

Want a great kid's book? Try Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. I just finished reading it out loud to them today. They loved it.