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.