Friday, April 30, 2010

The List

As I sit here watching these little turkey-butts take their state-mandated tests, I am reflecting on the various issues that have brought them to me.  Here I will list phrases used on our placement information sheet and the number of times each is used if more than once, or if privacy allows.  This is out of twenty students--some have more than one of the listed concerns:

--behavior (9)
--anger (3)
--social skills (3)
--diagnosed ADHD--medicated (4), unmedicated (3) 
--Special Education Services (some)
--Behavior Support Plan (2)
--county health services (1)
--outside counseling services--current (2), lapsed (4)
--low academics (6)
--low grades (9)
--English Language Learner (4)
--504 Plan (2)
--GATE (1)
--father in and out of rehab
--administratively placed due to incident throwing rock at teacher
--in new foster home (first time placed with all siblings), visitations with mom
--defiance and disrespect (4)
--anxious about assignments (2)
--refused to complete over 90% of assigned work
--tardies and unexcused absences (3)
--claims gang affiliation (3)
--administratively placed for buying/possessing marijuana 
--both parents deceased within last few years
--administratively placed for two incidences involving possession of a razor at school with intention to use it on a student
--lives in a group home
--administratively placed for possession of drug paraphernalia
--concerns regarding abuse in the home (3)
--impulsive--medicated (1), unmedicated (2)
--on probation due to break and enter and drug possession 
--lack of interest in school, highly sexualized
--father seriously ill
--threatening behavior toward other students 
--selective mute
--difficulty focusing--no diagnosis (2)
--mother supportive, father in and out, 
--retained then socially promoted, physically mature, emotionally immature
--placed in foster care due to neglect, is now back home
--mother seriously ill

What troubles me most as I created this list is the inner battle I have with myself.  I don't want to describe my students by their issues.  I could easily create a list twice as long with their strengths.  I lean on their myriad strengths all day every day. Realistically though, it is not those strengths that brought them to me.  This list of concerns is still a day-to-day reality for each of them.  I can love them, teach them, and build on their strengths  (and call them George?). I can be positive, caring and supportive, but this list will still slap them in the face when they go home.  So do I play "Pollyanna" and ignore the list?  

My choice?  I spend the large percentage of each day focusing on the strengths and skills they have, they need, they might be able to develop.  I keep in mind, however, that there are always mitigating factors. While they are not excuses, they are reality.  I don't pity them, judge them, or pretend to know what they have gone through, but I keep this list in mind when making decisions each day.  That's where I am in the inner battle as of this day. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010


April 25, 2010

This video clip disturbs me. Shall I list the ways or shall I invite my fellow caped crusaders to tell me themselves? And let's be even-handed. What do you like and dislike about this video and related article (if you can read it without skipping most of it as I very much wanted to do:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Caped Crusader Down

This story on NPR caught my attention today and made my heart a little wobbly.  I've included the link to the story I heard, though there are many articles online.  His words and the words of his staff speak to me.  It sounds like he has left quite a legacy in education.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Nervous Twitch

I have my 6th and 7th grade girls convinced that if they whine, I will get a nervous twitch.  This is not technically a lie, since I do think it could kill me if I have to listen to as much whining as they are capable of ... of which they are capable ... that they are capable to do.  That much whining.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Do Bagels Date?

Disclaimer: Lest you think I am this brilliant, I am not.  I did not create the beagle assignment below. It is from DownWrite Funny: Using students' love of the ridiculous to teach serious writing skills by Randy Larson. In fact, I took a perfectly good lesson about a beagle and messed it up entirely. 

Today I intended to briefly review purpose in writing with a short lesson.  The assignment was... 

"Pretend you are a beagle and you are writing an ad for the 'Date Me' page of the Beagle Bugle."  

Say it a few times in your head.  Do you see where this is going?  Yes, I did. I stumbled mightily with the words beagle and bugle.  I ended up telling the students that they were a bagel and they wanted to date a bugle and then that they were a beagle and they were advertising in a bagel.  

This is the moment where it can all go down in flames in the wink of an eye (Am I mixing metaphors again?  I do that.)  So what does a caped teacher do when she has a loud mouth that messes it all up?  She remembers not to take herself too seriously, takes a deep breath, gives a dazzling smile, and goes with it...

"Well, yes.  I suppose it could just as easily be a bagel or a beagle.  Or a bugle--the snack food kind of bugle I think.  That would be good.  How about we write an ad for a bagel?  What would a bagel look for in a date?"

Surprisingly little silence ensued, and the ideas began to flow:
"It would be toasted."
"You could have cream cheese with it."
"Or peanut butter." 
"I don't like bagels."
"It would probably be willing to date a danish."
"Or an apple turnover."
"If it is a blueberry bagel, it might like the cinnamon raisin bagel."
I encouraged, cringed, and added some of my own ideas.

Then they set to work creating their own ads.  In the end, they all chose to write ads for the beagle (not the bagel or the bugle).

The message?  Oddly, I choose to point out that they thought a bagel would date a danish or an apple turnover.  What a great idea!  I love that they were not only open to the shift in the plan and the shift in reality, but they made sure the bagel was an accepting bagel who would date all sorts of breakfast pastries.  Now THAT's a win.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Quote of the Week #3.5

"If you ever teach a yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep the students from trying to yodel right off.  You see, we build to that."

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quote of the Week #3

Ms. M:  Happy Birthday R.  Here's your birthday pencil!
R:  Is that all?
Ms. M: (gives "the look")
R:  I mean thank you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tar Beach Pictures

As promised, here are the much anticipated photos of our Spirit Day project based on Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach (see previous post here).  The students are enjoying looking at the different squares and their small selves flying above the city.

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's a good day when...

T'was the first day back from a two-week vay-cay.  All the punkin' heads were reading their books.  Ms. M. notices A. leafing a little too quickly through his and questions his actions.  A. replies, "I'm looking for a hyphenated modifier." And he was!

It's a good day when one of your little turtle doves learns something you taught them, remembers it, and then uses it later, yes?

Hyphenated Modifiers are one of the "Smiley Face Tricks" presented by MaryEllen Ledbetter in her books, activities, and trainings.  I have used Smiley Face Tricks in my classroom, in my teaching of writing, and in my teaching of writing about reading for many years.  They make language accessible to students and give us a common language we can use to discuss our reading and writing.   

Hyphenated Modifiers, or hyphenated compound words, are often a class favorite.  It's a fancy-pants word (see what I did there?) that reminds them of the kinds of things teachers say all the time.  It is more true than we like to believe that students hear their teachers much like Charlie Brown hears his: "wah-wah wah-wah-wah wah." The students I teach have often decided that all of that "teacher talk" is garbage and is fully designed to make them feel foolish.  By the time I get them, any academic vocabulary I might use sends their brains in to la-la land, and I may as well be reading from a college-level physics text.  Seriously--even words like verb, noun, period, apostrophe, indent.  You'd be shocked.

By teaching them the "trick" of the hyphenated modifier, I can give them some of their power back. Learning a five-star word (see what I did there?) like "HYPHENATED MODIFIER" is kind of like opening the door on the rest of those words they never took the time to understand.  It's a word they've probably never heard, their parents may not have heard, and they have almost never been abused with on a test. Once they catch on, they feel like they know something special.  Then I sneak in some others--figurative language, adjective, compound word, syllable. 

So today was a big win.  A. used the term on his own to describe a word he was looking for.  He's ready for the big stuff now, right?  As long as I can keep him from climbing under the table, I think I'll start on complete sentences tomorrow!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Happy Song

School starts back up on Monday.  How does a caped teacher go back to the grind after two lovely weeks off?  What's that quote about faking it until you make it?  While many of us miss our little pumpkin-heads, and worry about them, and think of great things for them to learn, we still cherish our time off and are sad when it is over.  

This song is one of the best ways I have found to get the day started, or restarted, on a positive note.  I started to play it the week I was planning to see the performer play at the House of Blues.  I played it many, many... many times.  The students now sing along to parts of it and often request it.  Sometimes, after they get their "free lecture" of the day, they'll ask me to play "The Happy Song."  I know this is partially to get me to stop playing, and acting to, The Frog Prince, or all of my instrumental music, but of all songs they could request and sing along to, I'm okay with this one:
"I'm going to celebrate being alive."

It's called Blessed by Brett Dennen.

*Note--this video is just a static picture, but it had the best audio.  Here is a link to a fun solo version played at Seattle's Carkeek Park.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's sad, but true

California isn't the only state making huge cuts to schools, but it is one of the few states with a movie star governor and movie star parents.  So, we get videos like this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pardon Our Mess

Okay, so I am not really performing any construction here.  I just love those "Pardon Our Mess" signs, though and wanted to warn y'all that I put a gadget on the right side of the blog that lists ads.  I'm just trying it out and will see if anything comes of it.  Basically people have to click on it for anything happen, so don't worry about it if you plan to ignore it.

BUT! Do let me know how obnoxious it becomes.  I don't want it to be an issue, I just want to see what happens with it (i.e. I want to see if random people click on the ads and if I make a couple of pennies--literally... pennies.)


Sunday, April 4, 2010


This caped teacher is using her spidey senses (don't knock the mixed metaphor, and please don't point out that Spiderman does not wear a cape, or that capes are the undoing of super heroes as is posited on The Incredibles. I'm doing my best here...) and seeing that her readers would like to know just exactly what kind of school this is.  

So, here's a link my little lovelies...
Just What Kind of School This Is

Coffee Talk

April 4, 2010

I am wondering if this blog appears a little... shall we say... cocky.  After all, I am calling myself a superhero on a regular basis and even put a cape on and fly around my classroom at times.  I use the terms "super teacher," "caped crusader," and "hero" quite easily.  I thought I might spend a minute to try to explain why.  

Yes, there is an amount of cockiness.  Teachers spend all day in charge.  We're bound to get a little uppity and become pretty certain we are right.  That just comes with the territory, methinks.  I also made a pact with a fellow caped teacher one day, that if we successfully earned our national teaching certification (NBPTS) we would admit to ourselves that we were, officially, "Super Teachers."  We did, we do, and we are both about to renew our Super Teacher Status. So, yeah, I'm a little cocky. 

Mostly though, I use my cape to help me stay the course.  Teaching is hard work and can grind you down over time.  Heck, it can grind you down in a moment! A school year has been compared to the running of a marathon. We start out the year with a burst of energy. We teach our tootsies off for weeks and weeks.  We get tired.  We keep teaching.  We get more tired.  We keep teaching.  That's our job.  My cape is a reminder that it is a long race but a worthy one.  When I just can’t even imagine another moment of teaching effectively, I have my capes—both real and imagined—to help get the second wind.  Or the third wind.  Or the fourth… you get the idea.

And lastly, many teachers ARE super heroes! 

Pronunciation: \-ˌhir-(ˌ)ō, -ˌhē-(ˌ)rō\
Function: noun
Date: 1917
: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also : an exceptionally skillful or successful person

We teach!  We perform amazing feats on a regular basis.  We leap tall buildings if necessary. We educate children while fighting the enemies of political turmoil, societal pressures and failings, large class sizes, mediocre salaries, sparse supplies, and, most recently, painful budget cuts.  Why not be clear about it?  We do extraordinary work on a daily basis. Sure, the spin in the news makes it seem as if schools are headed for doom, but isn’t that when the superheroes are most needed?  Doesn’t someone have to swoop in on a web, or in a cool car, or with… dare I say… a cape to save the day?  On another day I will wax political about what we need to do to save our schools.   Today, I will just put on my cape.

 "No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for... for ten minutes!"
--Mr. Incredible, from The Incredibles