I have felt like I am treading water wearing lead boots for weeks.  Lori and I rushed out of school today (crazier than usual) at 3:30 to make it to my 4:00 parent/teacher conference (in the pouring rain) so I could talk to my son’s teacher, only to discover the conference started at 3:40 and ended at 4:00, uh-oh, idiot!

 I’ve been waking up several times during the night worrying. My dog seems to be in on harassing me too; she has been roaming the house and shaking her collar incessantly all night, waking me when I do drift back to sleep. Then there is my husband who snores louder than a freight train in a tunnel lined with microphones. Hmmm…I think exhaustion may be playing a role in my cognitive abilities and patience.

I dream of falling props, forgotten lines, and incorrect sound effects, oh, did I mention I am one of the teachers working on the 8th Grade performance of Cinderella?

Now, the good news, the play was today and the students were adorable, funny, and amazing. The play was a hit!  The ballroom transformed from the classical Cinderella music with the box step, to a fast rendition of a Salsa dance to Fireball, by Pitbull. Got to know your audience.

Whew…one thing off the list. Okay, now I am going to bed.

read more

A Little Friday Humor

It has been a very long week. We tested all week and today the kids were bouncing off the wall. So, on a lighter note I thought I would tell a story one of the 5th grade teachers told me yesterday as we walked to lunch. This was her morning teaching. Teacher, “Anthony, why are you talking?” Anthony, no comment. Teacher, “Anthony, stop talking.” Anthony, “Okay.” The teacher continues teaching and immediately Anthony just keeps right on talking. Teacher, “Anthony, why are you talking when I am teaching?” Pause A few minutes later, overheard by said teacher, as Anthony looked at his buddy and stated, “Why does Miss W. keep teaching when I am trying to talk? Jeez!” Enough said!

read more

Something Positive!

Who am I?

I’m the boy sitting in your room. When I came to your school, I was pretty bad. I got in trouble a lot because I needed to show everyone that they should not mess with me. I visited the principal’s office a lot! I used to hit, trip, steal, and talk about people pretty badly. I liked to have everyone look at me and know that I was trouble. I made everyone know me – fast. It was easy to tell the teachers who didn’t like me. They would get this look on their faces like they smelled something stinky. Whatever….I did what I had to do. I came from a pretty mean school and a rough neighborhood. The kids were not nice, if you know what I mean. I got sucker punched, kicked and tripped. I just did not get along with those kids. They teased me because I’m pretty dark for a Latino. I look like my dad. Nothing I can do about it. They were idiots and I’m glad I’m out of there.

We are Latino and we speak Spanish like, always. We watch T.V. in Spanish and listen to Spanish music. I can speak English really good, but I don’t always understand the big words or what’s written in English. School is all English.

I’m not what you would call smart. I know it. I see my grades. I get confused when chapters and paragraphs are long. I don’t like big words and in all honesty, I hate long chapters. My teachers tell me to look up the hard words in a dictionary or on the computer, but that does nothing. The definitions are usually harder than the word I looked up. I just don’t want to do it. The teachers try to help. They try to explain the work, but I don’t get it. I really only hear about half of what they are saying. I just can’t keep up. They talk so fast and let me tell you, I know English; I just don’t get their English. I hate writing. I feel stupid and the words just don’t come out right. There are so many things you have to remember when you are writing. I can’t do it. I get bored way to fast and my mind wanders. I’d rather be drawing. I love it and I’m great at it. My teachers tell me that all the time and all the kid’s want me to draw stuff for them, especially class stuff. I’m good at it.

It’s been a few years now since I’ve been at this school. Along the way I’ve had a couple teachers fight for me. They even talked the principal out of expelling me. These teachers just won’t let me go. Sometimes it’s really annoying. They just won’t let me be. Now they catch me before I do anything and they hug me and tell me I’m special. And the darn work! They just won’t let that go! They always make me do the work and tell me to even do it better. Sometimes it drives me nuts, but I like it sometimes too. They think I can do better, and maybe I can. I’m still in the lower classes, but I understand more and I finish my work. Sometimes I even get good grades.

My parents come to parent/teacher conferences and the teachers now just smile and talk about me in mostly good ways. I don’t get in trouble any more – well, not as much. Now if I get into trouble it’s because I can’t keep my mouth shut or I kicked the soccer ball too hard. I have to say, I have a hard time being quiet. I’m doing better though. I really like my school. No one picks on me and they don’t make fun of me unless it’s just in a joking way. The teachers act like they’re happy to see me. Go figure.

read more

What is Rigor?

What is rigor and what role does it play in our children’s lives? In today’s educational world, rigor is very important. Our children are expected to sit still for five days straight, numerous times during the year, and take standardized tests. The scores of these tests will determine placement in high schools, funding for schools, a teacher’s success rate. the students’ I.Q., and set expectations for instruction and remediation. Wow, that’s quite a list! I’m so glad that the tests are fair, non-biased, and geared towards the demographics of the students. Oh wait, they aren’t. Not only that, but since we are in the Catholic diocese, our children take the yearly test now instead of at the end of the year like their public school peers. That means that they are tested on standards and information that should be taught throughout this year.  These children are already behind and there definitely is an achievement gap. The timing of this test, just makes it worse. This week, my students are taking the Terra Nova for the state and for the diocese. I am in charge of the 7th Grade Latino ELL students. I have about 17 in my classroom and they are interesting to watch. We are to give the Terra Nova tests for approximately three hours each day. This takes rigor. In order for my children to do their best, they have to stay focused, motivated, and awake. This is very hard for my kids. As I watch them, I notice at first that my students are engaged. They are using a dictionary to help define unknown vocabulary words. They are checking their work and rereading questions. They can’t ask questions, so they know they are on their own, and I can honestly say they are doing it. But as time passes, I can see their confidence flagging, mental exhaustion setting in, and a kind of despondency begins to descend upon the room. These children want to believe in themselves. They want to feel smart and capable, but most of them are clearly not up to the huge challenge of the tests. They start to signal their friends across the room with looks, smiles, small noises, coughs, and clearing of throats. They have been warned about communicating during the test, but as the morning wears on, they can’t seem to help it. I also notice something else. As I grade papers, I realize that the same habits occur in their work. At the beginning of an assignment the students are strong. They clearly understand the material and they seem confident. Towards the end of the paper the answers start to become less clear. Extended responses don’t have the details, and math problems are poorly solved. Interesting. Why? I read a ton of studies and educational books. I know the “reasons”. But you see, my students aren’t numbers, they aren’t statistics. They are my kids and my responsibility. I want them to do well. I want them to feel confident and smart. I want them to know they can do it. So why are they behind? Is it their home situations, lack of structure, unhealthy eating habits, staying up too late, neglectful parents, over stimulation, under stimulation, parental drug abuse during pregnancy, lack of English spoken in the home, or a lack of an attention span? I don’t know, and truthfully it doesn’t matter to me because I just want to stop looking for reasons and start patting them on the backs, awarding them for great effort and beautiful work, and I want to get excited for their accomplishments. I do not believe the end to a year of effort, comprehension, research, writing, solving, and inference should be summed up by biased, lengthy, wordy, and honestly ridiculously expensive tests. This in not education. No matter what anyone else tells you, these tests do not measure my students’ intelligence, work ethic, knowledge, or skill level. My children are brilliant. They come to school every day despite incredible odds. They work hard for me, laugh for me, research for me, and try for me. They are working and they are improving and I won’t let any test  tell me any differently. I am the teacher. I know my kids. And I know that despite the almighty scores, they are brilliant!!!! I’ll continue to teach my students rigor. I’ll work with them each and every day to improve the quality of work, their comprehension of texts, their ability to solve math problems, and their ability to write, but I can tell you one thing; if the state is using these standardized tests to grade teacher effectiveness, children’s intelligence, or to determine school funding then they are fools. These tests do not measure my students’ abilities. They defeat their spirits….and mine.

read more

Van Talk 3

We’ve been puzzling out the problems in our classrooms. Here is a recent van talk discussion. Don’t worry, the camera will flip. Try not to get too dizzy.

Just for the record, Amy was taping.

read more