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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving from my perspective.

Sometimes I forget that I am a first grade teacher, and first grade is when you are supposed to learn a lot of things, or at least build the foundation to learn a lot of things. Now, I'm not talking about reading, writing, and math. That I know I am supposed to teach and my students are supposed to learn.

I'm talking about things like Thanksgiving.

In first grade, they may not already know that Thanksgiving is traditionally taught as, "The Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, had a tough winter, befriended the Wampanoag Native American Indians (or whatever combination of words is politically correct at the moment) and were saved when the Wampanoag taught them to farm and helped them hunt, and shared a huge feast with them."

I can't make myself teach it like that. We did no crafts. I never brought up the word "turkey." I never talked about the wonderful meal shared between the two groups.

I showed some of the audio/video clips on scholastic.com about the long trip on the Mayflower. The highlights of that discussion included:
- They were on the ship for nearly three months! Can you imagine being in one room for 3 months?
- They had to stay below deck. That's like being in a basement for 3 months. (None of them know what a basement is. I forgot that basements are mostly protection from tornadoes and the Southwest has no tornadoes.)
- They had no toilets. They had to use chamber pots. That means they went to the bathroom in a bowl, and then had to go dump it in the ocean. (This was my favorite part. Because chamber pots are funny to both 6 year olds, and apparently 23 year olds.)
- There was a storm and they kind of got lost a little.

We talked about the clothing worn by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Highlights included:
- Pilgrim boys wore dresses until they were 7. Boys, you'd all still be wearing dresses.
- Pilgrims had no belts. They had to tie their pants to their shirt so they wouldn't fall down.
- The Pilgrim girls and boys had to wear very many layers of clothing.
- The pictures of the Wampanoag show them wearing very little. The kids found that hilarious. I pointed out that they had all their "private parts covered" and that it was just like they were wearing a bathing suit. Still, the children were quite scandalized.

We talked about the different types of dwellings the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag lived in and the different types of schooling the two groups had. Those discussions were mostly uneventful.

We also talked about how the Pilgrims came to what we now call The United States of America from very far away (further away than California, Mexico, and even Puerto Rico) because they were hoping to live a better life. They wanted to live somewhere they would feel safer or maybe have a little more food to eat.

Then we talked about how most of the students knew someone who had come to the United States from another country for the same or similar reasons. Much like the Pilgrims, they came to the United States because they were looking for somewhere that they could feel safer, or maybe have a little bit more money, or maybe have enough food to eat.

I hope that by going at Thanksgiving from the direction I did (compare and contrast of the Pilgrim and the Wampanoag cultures, and a comparison of the Pilgrims coming to the US to the students' families coming to the US) I am not depriving them of learning about the traditional conception of Thanksgiving. However, while they may not have been presented "Thanksgiving" in the form of hand-print turkeys and smiling Pilgrim and Wampanoag friendships, I think they were able to make connections between some of the things experienced by the Pilgrims (coming to a new country where everything is new and different, and maybe not quite as good as they had imagined it would be) and their own lives and experiences.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The students are worried, too.

This morning when I went to pick my students up on the playground before school, the first words spoken to me were, "Teacher! They're going to close the school?!"

"We'll talk about it," I promised. I kept putting off the discussion, but later in the day when they asked again, I decided it was a good time.

Me: So, people have have been talking. What have you all heard?
Students: Our school's going to close!
Me: Okay, yeah. Awesome School is probably going to have to close at the end of the school year. You'll all go to different schools for 2nd grade. I'm not sure where exactly you'll all go.
Student: We going to go back to kinder?!
Me: No, don't worry. You'll all go to 2nd grade, it will just be at a different school.
Student: But I don't want to leave you!!
Me: You'll have a different teacher next year anyway!
Student (runs up to hug me): I'll miss you Ms. GrownUp!
Me: I'm not going anywhere now. We still have a long time together.

Student: I know too it's 'cause people are leaving our school, like Alicia and Cristofer and Valeria (three students who recently moved away).
Me: That's partly true. One reason they're closing the school is because a lot of people are moving away in the whole district, because they don't have enough money to live here or their parents can't find a job here.
Student: They have to live somewhere else so they can be good, huh?
Me: Yeah, they have to find somewhere to live where their parents can get a job and they can have enough money.

Student: Yeah. They're closing our school 'cause it don't have money, too!
Me: You're right. Another reason they are closing our school is because the school district doesn't have enough money. When they don't have enough money, they have to close a school.
Student: Teacher, I'm gonna bring money tomorrow.
Student: Yeah, me too. I'm going to ask my dad for money so that we can keep Awesome School.
Student: I have money and I'm going to bring it too.
Me: That's really nice of you all, but it's a LOT of money that the district needs. A real lot of money.
Student: Well. I'm not leaving Awesome.
Student: Me too. I'm never leaving Awesome School.
Student: I'm not leaving too. I love Awesome.

And later in the day during writing, one of my students wrote this plea as a letter to the principal:

"Dr. Principal is nice. I want to be in my classroom. Don't close the school. I like the school. I want to be in third grade and fourth grade and fifth grade."

I tried to reassure this student that s/he would be in all those grades, just not in this building, but I'm not sure how successful I was in that attempt.

Slightly more articulate anger and frustration. (Only slightly, though.)

The closure isn't immediate. It's just that next year, we won't exist. One of the TWO highest performing schools in the district of 20+ schools will not exist. It's due to budgeting issues. Which is understandable, except again for the fact that if they're going to close a school it seems that it would make more sense for one of the many underperforming (nearly failing) schools to close instead of our school which was one point away from the 2nd highest performance level (out of 6 levels). I know that many of the schools in my district are, if not bad exactly, at least VERY different than my school. My school is very invested in (the ever popular edu-term) the PLC model. And we seem to pull it off quite well. Most of the other schools, the underperforming and failing schools, have poor school-level administration and a staff that does not work together and communicate in the way that I am now used to and wholly rely on. If I hadn't ended up at such a strong school I wouldn't be as concerned and instead may think of this as a fortuitous opportunity for change. But, I am so happy with where I am and I was so miserable student teaching (due to a lack of communication and support all around the school). I don't want to go backward. I don't want to risk being miserable again. I don't think I could stand it for a whole year.

In theory the proposed changes have not technically been decided on yet. The board still hasn't voted. However, I have no hope that it won't be passed. Money talks. Cutting our school will get them some more money. They have some reasons why they chose to cut our school instead of others. Clearly, I still think the school performance level should hold some weight. In a district where something like 15 of the schools are failing or near failing, and only two school are really doing well, why cut one of those two successful schools?

But cutting a succeeding school, the disrict will then be telling our students that they must choose one of three other schools to attened, all of which are performing two or three levels lower than the school they currently attend.  

Also, due to open enrollment, we have a large number of students coming from around the district to attend our school, because it is a strong school. In fact, a note was recently sent home to parents of one of the near failing schools telling them that, due to their poor performance status, they may send their children to one of the other schools in the district. My school was suggested as one of these where they could send their children. We have already had new enrollments from that near failing school.

(And I should mention that I don't love the term "failing" when referring to a school. Because of course there are some good things happening and the school isn't truly a failure in all respects. However, it would get messy putting it in quotes each time I write it. Also, I'm trying to make a point in compairing those "failing" or "near failing" schools to my school.)

I really don't love this city and the only reason I was planning on staying was because I love my school, I adore my principal, and I appreciate and respect the people whith whom I work.  

Without that, I would be unhappy. This city is kind of soul-sucking. It's polluted and very conservative and doesn't have very many independent stores. It was the school and the people at the school keeping me here. Without a reassurance that I would get to keep at least some of that, why bother staying? It may sound extreme and defeatist, but this whole moving to the Southwest thing was an experiment. I alway said that, if after a year I don't like it, I can always move back to the Midwest - to home state or college state or somewhere else where the snow falls.

And, maybe I will move. Maybe I won't.
If I move, maybe I'll look for a new teaching job. Maybe I won't.

I don't know. And I'm not sure how to decide.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

bad changes

my school is being closed. it's not due to performance. we're one of the highest performing schools in the district.

i'm devastated.  sad.  and angry.

i love my school. absolutely love it.  i think the only way i am surviving and happy is that i am at this school, working with this partner teacher and this principal.  without all that, i don't know that i want to keep teaching.

and that makes me feel sadder.  i'm not ready to give up on teaching yet, but i don't know that i want to risk being miserable somewhere else.

i don't know what to do.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Observation, team teaching, and my failure at maintaining a well behaved class

- I had my formal observation at some point since I last posted. It went amazingly well. That is, the children are apparently terrified of the principal so they behaved perfectly for the observed lesson. I presented the content in a dynamic, interactive, multimodal way. The students interacted perfectly with the many materials that were used in the lesson and created products that demonstrated an understanding of the lesson objective. During both the whole group portion of the lesson and the time when they were at their seats, most of them were attentive and on task.

The downside to all this was, the principal didn't get to see how they usually behave, and therefor was unable to give me any helpful advice on how to deal with the usual behaviors. In my most conference meeting, I told the principal that their behavior was quite atypical. S/he kept apologizing for the effect s/he had on them. It was kind of funny.

- I have begun team teaching, teaching two blocks of math and sending my students off to my team teacher for guided reading. It's working out well and is giving me a chance to focus on the math. (Of course, next year the district will implement a new math program that is very different than the one we currently use, so I won't be able to use these newfound math teaching skills to make next year easier.)

- I have one student who I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get to behave. This student just doesn't seem to care. My "warning" system has no effect. Making the student come in for recess has no effect. Allowing the student to help if rules are followed has no effect. Talking to the parents has no effect on the student (though the parents are appropriately concerned about their child's behavior and want to help in any way they can. Without my prompting, they take away video games for bad days, and have offered a reward in the form of a cake for a stream of good days).

I am at a total loss. At the end of one day, after I had spoken with one parent already that day, they both came back and the other parent was really angry. I have to say, I was kind of scared with how angry the parent was.

I haven't sent the student to the office yet, because I guess I am a wimp and I'm not really sure how. Starting next week though, I plan to. This needs to stop. This student acts out the same way during special classes and in my team teacher's classroom. This student is fairly smart, scoring average on most tests (which puts the student above at least 75% of the students in the grade). Being given more challenging work or leadership roles does not change this student's behavior.

This student needs to be on task and following directions so that s/he can learn, and so that the surrounding students can learn.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Election.

I have about 5 half written posts that I should finish and well, post.

But first I have to say that trying to teach first graders about the election is a hillarious, sometimes disturbing, thing.

I'm really working on getting the students to use the two main candidate's names.  They are currently referring to them as "the white one" and "the black one."  Sometimes they are "the black one" and "the old one."

"Ms. Grownup" one of the students said, "That man is really old."
"Yes. Yes, he is," I replied.

They also think Cindy McCain is ugly.
"Teacher," a girl said.  "That lady is UGLY!"
"[R]!  That's not very nice!" I replied.  But the fact that I was laughing probably didn't help the situation any.

The school is doing a kidvoting election with the 1st through 5th grades on Tuesday, so I have been trying to come up with ways to kind of explain some of the issues so that they don't just vote based on whim or what they have heard.

I tried to explain how the two differ on education.  "Obama wants everyone to get to go to pre-school!  Obama wants to help people who don't have a lot of money be able to go to college.  That required an explaination of what college is.

I tried to explain how the two differ on the war.  "Obama doesn't want to be in a war.  He thinks too many people are getting hurt and it's not really helping very much.  McCain thinks the war is very important and will help the United States become better."  That discussion just devolved into a discussion on guns and how it's okay for police officers to have guns, because they are trying to keep people safe, but that 1st graders should not be touching real guns, ever.

So basically, I have failed on discussions of the election so far.  However, on Thursday my students were absolutely convinced that Obama had already won.  I opened the morning by allowing them to vote on which of two books we would read, ("just like you're going to vote on Tuesday," I explained to them).  When I said the word "vote," they all began bombarding me with "Obama is going to go to the White House!" and "Obama is the new president!"  I couldn't say anything to convince them otherwise.  I was being observed at the time, so was trying to be serious about it all, but couldn't help laughing because it was all so hillariously rediculous. Perhaps they had seen the Obama infomercial on TV the night before and thought that meant he was president, or something.  I don't know.

Anyway, on Monday and Tuesday, I am going to try to tie together discussions of race with discussions of the election in an effort to get them to stop referring to the candidates by their skin color, and also to work with the racial and skin color issues I discussed in the previous post.