The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Seven Things About Me AND the First Two Days of School Debriefing

         A blog that I follow (a great teacher's blog) reminded me that I AM a human, along with being a superhuman (which is what you have to be these days in order to teach).

          She writes with humor and sharp stabs of reality.  Giving me an "Amazingness Award" (which is just a way of one already-overwhelmed teacher acknowledging another), she said I should pass this on to other teacher-bloggers and share seven things about myself. (Thank you, Underground Teacher.  I needed a little nod in my direction.)

         So, here goes:

1.  I like working with third graders, because you can mess with their mind.  Every year I convince my students that I used to be a professional wrestler 30 years ago. I hint that at some point, I have some secret holds and moves that I will have to use on them. I even tell them what my stage name was: "Rowdy Roslawski."  Their eyes widen and they are thrilled to have such former-greatness in their midst.  As nine-year olds, they still are trusting...

2.  All the questions that alcoholics can answer "yes" to about liquor, I can answer about chocolate.  It's a sickness.

3.  I really dislike colleagues who dislike children.  Why teach, then? (Get out!)  Every school has at least one.  Unfortunately, the kids have better radar than the adults; kids know instinctively which adults are genuine and caring, and which ones are fake and bothered by them.

4.  I watch way too much television.  It's my drug of choice in the evening (while I'm eating chocolate and grading papers).  The shows I love are The Closer, Sons of Anarchy, and Glee.  (I know, a wild range. There's some cooking/singing/dancing/modeling "reality" shows that I won't admit to watching.)

5.  Every situation you can think of can be connected to a Seinfeld episode.  Every single one.

6.  I am not above cheating, when it comes to playing board games with my son.  He's 22 now, but even when he was 11 or 12, his  strategic skills were amazing---he always won.  I could not cheat when we played Pente, or cards, but when we played Monopoly, I could. (When he would go to the bathroom, I'd help myself to some extra money. I figured it was my duty as a mom:  take him down a peg or two.  (After all, it is not good for kids to always be victorious.  They have to experience losing so they learn how to deal with it.)

photo by rutty

7.  I love my job.  It does not pay as much as some other professions, and we keep getting more stuff loaded onto our backs, and the big "perks" as a teacher involve some free food in the lounge, but I could not imagine doing any other work...

          We have had students for the past two days, and so much of the first few weeks revolve around building community, practicing lining up, and setting the tone.  I have some students who are going to test how hard my head is...I can already tell.  However, there is a whole group of them who are like "D."

            "D" sits at the back of my room (the desks are in a U shape) and is quiet.  He's new to our school.  His eyes glisten like obsidian (I think I'm remembering my science right--the glossy volcanic rock?).  When I speak to the class, or when we've discussed an activity and now it's time to work, it's as if he's poised, about ready to take flight, torn between wary and eager (or so it seems to me). The young man who sits next to him is a chatterbox, yet "D" does his best to ignore.

             "D" is why I am a teacher...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dreams are the Theme (This Year)

         Every year my classroom has a different theme. The most elaborate year it was a rainforest, and had vine-y flowers hanging from the ceiling, and the ceiling tiles were covered with trees (huge pieces of cardboard I had spray painted) and leaves that I had painted and laminated...Very time intensive, but everything stayed put.  The next year we were Africa (the leaves came down, the trees stayed up) and the year after that, we were the ocean (which looked much like the sky to my sometimes-snarky colleagues). Pieces of the sky kept falling down all school year.

        This year our theme is going to be "Dreams."  There are going to be clouds/sky hanging from my ceiling, along with kid-created mobiles made from CD's. Since school begins tomorrow, and since I am Princess of Procrastination, the clouds will be cut out and decoupaged today after I purchase the fabric and cut out and holepunch the posterboard clouds.

        To begin our journey together, the students are going to reflect on what their dreams are.  We're going to talk about the power of dreams and aspirations and hopefully, the children who have beaten-down spirits can raise their heads up this year and walk tall...

       As the students dig down to reveal their dreams for their future, so will I.  My friend and I have talked about going to Africa during the summer for several weeks and teaching.  Undoubtably, it would be a life-changing experience.  The airfare is too high, but if we can manage to get a sponsor, our dreams will take flight...

          One of my most deepest, darkest dreams is to become a published author.  As a kid, I wanted to be a journalist.  I was the editor of the school newspaper, won some journalism awards, read voraciously, and always dreamed of having a book of mine for sale in book stores.  Have I done everything I can to make that dream a reality? Sadly, no.

           If I expect my students to believe in themselves, so should I.  Therefore, this will be a journey we will all  take this year.

painting by Jason Reynolds

          One of the things that will be prominently displayed is a painting my son-in-law did.  Our president is there because one man dreamed about what this country could be.  Our president is there because many people in many neighborhoods went door to door and stood shoulder to shoulder at political gatherings, nurturing a flame.  Our president is there because an entire race of people kept their dreams alive for hundreds of years.

        As Aerosmith sang decades ago, "Dream on, dream until your dream comes true."


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sharing in the Classroom: A Two-Way Street

         Teachers expect students to share of themselves in the classroom. We expect them to journal about their feelings, we expect them to write memoirs about their lives, we expect them to tell the class what they did over the summer/Thanksgiving/winter break.  However, if only the students show their vulnerability and the teacher keeps themselves removed and remote, it will be impossible (in my opinion) to create a classroom community that actually works.

       Along with writing alongside my students (and sharing my writing with my students), music is a bridge.  Students love music.  No matter what their ethnicity is, young people are tuned in to music, as am I.  I can't dance a lick (it's a comedy routine when I try) but I am passionate about music.

       Last year I collected a little over 20 of my favorite songs from six different decades.  They ranged from the 50's (I think that's the right era)---Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive and Wail" to just a few years ago, with Brett Dennen's "Make You Crazy," with Gnarls Barkley and Dionne Warwick B.B. King and Sly and the Family Stone in the middle.  These were all songs that made me move when I heard them, they made me smile, they showed how diverse I was, because the selection is quite eclectic...

       We use the songs to transition from one subject to another.  After I am the DJ for a week or two and we begin to learn the songs, the students take turns being DJ for the week.  They choose which song we're going to sing, and because each student has a set of lyrics, it's a reading activity as well.

       During the year, my kids have the chance to add to our playlist (we bring out a new one around the middle of the year). If the song's subject matter and language is appropriate, it goes on our playlist.

         The students learn that even though I am middle-aged and gray-haired and a bit frumpy, I still love songs that have a great beat and can give me a taste of abandonment.  They see that we have something in common---the beat, the melody, the pulse of the music.

         This is our first playlist this year:

              Every time we go from Reading to Writing, from Social Studies into Math, and we stand up and sing and move together, we are adding to our cohesiveness. 

              Music is the bridge...


We're Like Puzzle Pieces

          My bulletin board out in the hall, welcoming my third graders as we begin our journey together, looks like this:

(After "Meet the Teacher" night tomorrow, there will be names written on the puzzle pieces, with each student represented.)

         Emphasizng the concept of "complementing" each other is important in elementary classrooms.  This example of tessellation shows where one piece extends out, the other puzzle piece yields.  In a colorful, construction paper way, each class member's strength/gift fits in with the next person's.

          For example, last year we had a classroom court.  Because we had quarterly parties to celebrate good behavior, and because the students are the ones who have to tolerate silliness and disruptions from their peers, we spent several sessions going through the judicial process. The students were allowed to "accuse" peers who they viewed as problematic as well as give their rationale why these students were obstacles to their learning  (this was done on paper, and was only seen by the teacher). I tallied the names that kept coming up, and if there were more than five notations by their name, they were going to need a lawyer... 

        Next the class privately nominated judges.  The three (or five) students who received the most votes---assuming they were responsible, clear-headed students---were now the judges.  The other students were potential defense lawyers, and were chosen by the "accused" to defend them.

          During another session, after consulting with their "client," each "attorney" would make a statement in front of the judges, telling why they should allow the student to participate in the celebration.  The judicial panel asked questions of the lawyer, the "accused"student made a final statement, and the judges deliberated.  They either decided to remove the student from the entire celebration, from part of the celebration, or they determined that the student did not deserve to lose any of the celebration. (I was the Supreme Court, and could have overturned their decision, but never had to...)

       The interesting thing was this:  the students were cognizant of contributing factors, and took those into account.  For example, they considered that a peer had anger issues, and were lenient when they saw this student put forth real effort to control their temper.  Some of the judges knew what their peer's family life was like, and factored that in during their decision-making.  They seemed to view the transgressions more serious when students were accused of preying on weaker, meeker students.

        I suppose this long account, in my mind, illustrates one way that my class works together as one cohesive unit.  Things are not always smooth.  We have disagreements and difficulties.  However, when one student is a problem, it's a problem for the whole group to solve (through short daily class meetings).  On an everyday basis, we see that each of us is different, each of us brings something different to the table as far as our talents and strengths.  Some students come from single-parent families and, being the oldest child, take on a great deal of responsibility as far as chores.  Instead of looking at their situation and seeing a deficiency (limited parental involvement when it comes to homework), appreciate the student's organizational skillsand their level of responsibility.
       On Thursday the students return.  I am excited.  I am eager to unwrap the gifts my students bring to room 12...