Sunday, November 25, 2007

harvest festival and good lies

Where did November go?
We had our harvest festival that involved a lot of me complaining that people were ungrateful about celebrating being grateful.
Somehow, in the not my idea category, I ended up collecting $5 dollars a student from all the students in my advisory.
"What's an advisory?"
It's where the homeroom meets the elementary classroom. The 15 students assigned to my advisory are the people I take attendance for and collected trip and celebration funds from- those are the homeroom function. I call their parents when they get into fights in the lunchroom or failed their math test, or haven't handed in a social studies since the first week of September- that's the "I'm your mother in the school," elementary teacher in the secondary school function.

Anyway, we celebrated the "harvest festival" with too much time in another teacher's room, waiting for too little food and the only thing that seemed to be in ample supply was complaints. The very same people who some how fail to see that "23" miles might not be a logical answer to how far is it from Albany to Columbus, Ohio, had no problem judging a scoop of potatoes, a third of corn muffin and one chicken wing to be not $5 worth of food.

And there was a lot of speculation about who didn't actually pay.
So that Harvest Festival will probably not make it into the fondest memories of my teaching career.

But I followed up a few days later in the intimate setting of my own half a classroom. With no other prompt than "say something about our Harvest Festival experience," most of the kids said something like, "There wasn't enough food, but I'm grateful for my family, my friends and my teachers anyway."

So maybe they aren't ungrateful whiners after all.

Or maybe they know more about mouthing the appropriate remarks than I gave them credit for.

None the less, I gave them my speech about lying sometimes being the right course.

"If your boss serves you a terrible meal, you tell her it's delicious.

"If your friend invites you to a dreadful play, he just happened to write- you tell him it was different, but enjoyable.

"And if your girlfriend asks if the dress makes her look fat, you tell her she always looks beautiful."

We followed up the discussion with a discussion about what would make the advisory period more interesting.

K:- More crafts!

R:- More time to play board games!

E: Less time in the College Ed workbook!

Z: You are too boring a teacher to make anything interesting

(I would have let that go, Z. is the king of inappropriate comments, when I first met him, he asked my middle -aged self, if I had sex. Maybe a new teacher would have been flustered but not Oldteacher- I just let it go)

But at that moment I realized my speech might have actually gotten through.

J: I'f you feel that way Z. why don't you just lie about it?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Good writers

I'm a good writer.
But G. is better.
She told me so.

We have a program called College Ed. One period a week we read a bit, answer some self reflective questions and if we get through it quickly without driving me crazy, I take out the card games and they get to play a non electronic game for the twenty minutes before lunch.

This week's reflective tidbit was finding your voice. The point being, that words have power, a tool in the college prep arsenal worth sharpening. Never one to let the opportunity to use a cliche slip by, I added, "The pen is mightier than the sword."

"Especially if you stab someone with our pen and they get ink poisoning," A. added.

But we were not deflected. If we didn't spend too much time debating the relative weapon-effectivity of swords vs pens, the Uno cards came out faster.

So the reflective questions of this week: What do your teachers say about your writing?
It's great. G. wrote
How is your spelling and grammar?
What could you do better?

Me:"Great writers, always think there's room for improvement. I'm a better writer than anyone in the room and I could still improve."

G. How do you know you're better than me?

Me: Because you have 13 years of life experience and I have mmghfh years. Maybe when you have as many years on earth as me you'll be a much better writer, right now I still have the advantage.

G. But if I wrote something and you wrote something and people liked mine better wouldn't that make me the better writer?

Me: Would you like the Uno or regular cards?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

open school night

Long week.
Open school night Tuesday and as usual for me, I left with the last group to exit the building. I did not hold the final conference on the sidewalk in front of the school, something I have done in the past, but still by the time I got in the car only 11 hours remained until the beginning of the next school day.

I mentioned to my daughter, the new young teacher was a really hard worker and a good teacher but she talked a lot.
"That's a good description of you," my daughter responded
At least she thinks I'm a good teacher.
Perhaps that explains why I am the last to leave.

Keep a tissue box on the table.
Don't sit at your desk.
And always start with Carl Anderson's famous line for conferences, "how's it going?"

That's my sum total of advice for parent/teachers conference.

It's likely someone is going to cry.
The first open school night of my life a parent ranted and raved her thirteen year old son could neither add nor subtract because I was, at best a boring teacher. At worst I was just a bad teacher.
I took her comments to heart and cried all the way home.
The next morning, a colleague mentioned, that assuming the mom was right, what explained Jr.'s failure to learn basic operations in the previous six years.
The thought had not occurred to me.

One year I showed a Mom a piece a third grader had written about wanting to be a butterfly, so she could fold her mother under her wings and fly away home to the Caribbean.
The mother burst into tears.
I was caught in the beauty of an eight year's old poetic image.
The mother was caught in a bad marriage in an alien city.

So I always keep tissues on the table. And I sit across a student's desk, rather my own. Makes it feel like less of a power struggle and I don't have to hide the piles of paper.

And I start with the question. "How do you think its going?"
At least the parent will get the opportunity to get a word in edgewise.

As parent teacher conferences go- this was a good one. Maybe excellent.
No one cried.

Monday, October 29, 2007


My Day-today

Four periods of SETSS
Two CTT's
Three IEP's
and a coverage in the sixth grade.

Our teacher trainer told us to stop talking in initials. This after a day of watching class after class spend the lion's share of the period copying EQ's and LO's. "Why," she asked, "would people use abbreviation for students with a dearth of good vocabulary in the first place?'

Good question. My path through the education system has been strewn with letters followed by periods (except when they get abandoned completely and the letters take on a life of their own, like IEP or AIS) But I get ahead of myself.

I started teaching when the DOE was the Bd. of Ed. (as in bored of education) I taught an HC 30 class when LD's could either be placed in classes that were designated as Health Conservation 30 for students with learning disabilities as opposed to students with physical disabilities who were in HC 10 classes (something about a learning disability made you three times more in need of having your health conserved than someone who had and actual physical impairment like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy (CP or MD) or NIEH classes that meant you were both neurologically impaired and emotionally handicapped a double whammy.

Confused? Somewhere mid-career the labels got changed to SIS, MIS and SIE's followed by Roman Numerals. There was no point looking for a pattern that arranged the Roman Numerals and the prefixes in a logical order. (IEP objective- Name will arrange class designations in correct ordinal order correctly at least 80% of the time)

And then when we got really politically correct special ed (or sped for the lengthy word impaired) we dumped the letters all together and moved to numbers like 12:1 or 12:1:1

Except for the teacher. So today I am a SETSS teacher.
No, not a SEX teacher, Special Education Teacher Support Service.
And also CTT- which stands for collaborative team teach- not a redundancy, but a gentle reminder that I'm supposed to not just team up- but "play nice"

Unless of course, I get to take a break in the alphabet land day- and cover the absent sixth grade teacher for a period of ELA. (Oh wait-the initials have taken over in the non-special ed world too)

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I want to write a blog.
I want to write a new teacher blog.

But I need a time machine.
It is no longer 1978.
Okay, so I am not fresh, inexperienced and brand new to the often frustrating, often infuriating and occasionally rewarding world of education. I'm still overwhelmed. I still spend my nights worrying, my days scurrying and my weekends sieving through the ton of paper work and preparation that the new teachers at my school keeping asking me hopefully when they won't have to spend so much time doing. When they stop changing the curriculum- I suppose, or maybe when next year's classes have the same needs and strengths as this year's. That hasn't happened in the last three decades but you never know.

I was once in a museum with my family a few years back. I had left my then young adolescent daughters in the children's section , while their father and I perused a section that was of no interest to them. As closing time approached I asked the guard where the children's section was, as we had wandered away in the maze-like rooms. He pointed us in the direction but not without telling us that it was late for us to being looking for the children's room. "Late in the day, or late in our lives? " I wrote in my journal later that night.

So it's late for me to be writing a teacher blog. Late in the school year and maybe late in my career. But in between looking at the retirement account totals and reading the 55/25 news - I'll add my tired old opinions to the fresh new voices.

Advice from my husband- "Avoid clearly identifiable information- unless you're ready to put your retirement papers in now." (Still fall short of the 55 part)