Monday, June 29, 2009

Lazy days of summer

Even though school officially ended a week ago, today actually felt like summer.
My day got off to a late start. Shaina and Yuki decided to sleep in and permitted me the same luxury. I woke up to a truly glorious, sunny day.
After making some coffee, the neighbors came to call. Reese bounded in with her usual energy and made herself quite at home with a large leather chew chip. My pups grabbed their chews and stretched out to enjoy some canine bonding.
The blankets were hung off the patio to enjoy the breeze. It seems so strange that even living a block off of a very busy street, the blankets still came in smelling fresh. They smelled so inviting that I took an unplanned nap on one.
I woke up in time to take my father for a belated birthday dinner. Between the glass of wine and his limiting the theater talk, it was a remarkably pleasant evening.
And now, I am again curled up with the beasties on the fresh blankets, getting excited about the Fourth of July in North Carolina.
So for now, goodnight and sweet dreams!

Friday, June 26, 2009

"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more"

The beauty of the internet is the ability to learn more about any given topic.
The dark side of the internet is the ability to learn more about any given topic, and by doing so become obsessed by it.
My obsession du jour (okay...du tous les jours) has become education.
As a teacher, I've been very interested in education (as it pertains to my students) for 21 years. Lately, however, I'm becoming obsessed with the politics of education.
This is an exceptionally strange concept. To me, one of the most precious things about teaching was having the ability to isolate myself in my classroom with students and curriculum and thus shut out the noise of the world, largely? educational politics.
With the inception of No Child Left Behind and the shift from teaching children to teaching programs, politics encroached upon my warm, safe, and creative sanctuary. The past three years have been especially odious with an administrator who spent an inadequately brief time as a teacher before her promotions.
My prior administrator did grievous damage to our school because she saw discipline as a necessarily unloving act toward the students. As a consequence, children ran amok and safety became a major issue. But in matters of academics, she looked at the evidence.
While I do not teach 'conventionally' (that is to say, I don't adhere to the structural protocols of the scripted programs, instead teaching the concepts and skills in a more rigorous, child friendly manner), my students were successful. Upon learning how well my kindergarten students were reading and writing, she encouraged me to continue with my methods.
The current administrator does not have that same sensibility.
She feels the need to restrict my teaching to the protocols of whole group instruction, despite research and rationale that supports small groups. She doesn't seem to understand why my students write letters instead of tracing them in the air (and then holds the expectation that they'll have 'nice writing'). And worst of all, she cannot fathom why my students write in journals when Open Court does not include it. She particularly can't understand why I would use their journals to assess their grasps of concepts when there are tests available that allow them to circle pictures instead.
This past year, I lost an enormous amount of sleep trying to reconcile wanting to do everything possible for my students with wanting to not be insubordinate. I suspect that my insomnia will be working overtime reconciling my desire for positive feedback from my boss with my much greater sense of duty to the community that looks to me to be their teacher.
(these kids are adults now. it sure doesn't seem that long ago...)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Still crazy after all these years...

I'd like to say I'm astonished, surprised, or even just miffed, but it wouldn't be true.
My father is here visiting and this morning he did something that in the grander scheme of things is barely out of the ordinary for him. He has spent a lifetime being self-centered, disdaining any rules that violate HIS sense of right and wrong, and having even greater disdain for any person who feels that there should be boundaries.
The thing that really needs to be stated is that he is staying at my home, however dinky this apartment might be. My home = my rules, that was how it worked when I was in his home. I can deal with some of his eccentricities, including his disregard for sanitation when it comes to leaving food uncovered in the kitchen (guess he never heard of bugs in all the years he lived in NYC). Today was a whole new level of gross. 80 years old and still does not understand that common courtesy and respect for others are neither fascistic nor tyrannical.
So, I spent another day in school as though my school year has not already ended. Avoidance behaviors begin almost the moment that I arrive at Angeles Mesa. Instead of packing the last two boxes of miscellaneous classroom stuff, I emptied my art closet to rearrange it and brought in several reams of paper to make my journals for fall's new students.
The entire time, I thought about being home and knitting in my hammock, or some card making, or maybe just an extended nap. But home is not my home until next Tuesday when we put him on an airplane to go back to his home.
The Little Princess was once my very favorite book. Sara Crewe was her daddy's little princess, a plot point that could only be fantasy for me. I've always wanted that Hollywood-style, romanticized image of the father daughter relationship. And even after all these years, it's hard to reconcile myself to the fact that at best we can have a pleasant breakfast together.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I did it my way...

I began my teaching career in a classroom that had almost no textbooks. It wasn't in some remote village in a 'third world nation' but rather a marginally inner-city school in California, one of the top ten economies globally. I was teaching on an 'emergency credential' based on a wonderful letter of recommendation from the head of my previous union, M. Contreras, a valid BA degree, and passing scores on the CBEST and NTA exams.
Fortuitously, I had spent time in my mother's classroom, have a natural rapport with children, and learn quickly. I trusted my intuition and worked very hard with that first class of third graders. One of my principal assigned mentors had retired from teaching in a juvenile detention facility, another was a fellow teacher who could intimidate adults, but somehow I managed to bring compassion to the situation and gain the trust of my students.
With the help of our computer teacher, E. Armour, and our coordinator, J.Polite, I was able to pull together a 'curriculum' with the books that I was able to find around the school and materials that I purchased or borrowed. I was frequently at Kinko's making copies that would be clear enough to read.
I found 'core lit' books that were supposed to be for fourth and fifth grade and intuitively modeled comprehension strategies. Somehow I managed to get through the year unscarred and unscared by the LAUSD teaching profession.
The following year, I began an internship program where I got support from a network of mentor teachers. Everything was tailored to the needs of a new urban teacher. I took a great number of professional development classes in curriculum and management. Over the next two years, I got my credential as I honed my skills in the classroom. I even became a solid disciplinarian without having to become someone else (think Miss Nelson is Missing). I continued taking various professional developments and even managed to earn a bilingual credential.
I quickly became one of those teachers who parents request for their children and whose classroom the students wanted to be in. I was selected by my principal and a group of colleagues to be a mentor teacher and assist new teachers. My students' scores on standardized tests showed significant improvements. One year, my entire class scored above the 50th percentile (many scored 80th and above) in listening skills on the state test despite being English Language Learners.
Lest it seem that I'm trying to 'toot my own horn', my point is that I've been able to make a positive difference for my students. I even dealt with No Child Left Behind's scripted program and did whatever I could to make it work for my students.
I had one administrator who tried to mandate my methods of teaching, but upon seeing how well my class was progressing decided that I should keep doing whatever I had been doing, and help my grade level colleagues do the same.
Now, I am dealing with a principal who spent very little time in the classroom before climbing the career ladder. I don't begrudge her choices, but she does not have a good sense of what real teaching is. She mandates classroom schedules, pacing plans, and this year she mandated how I teach to force me to instruct 'whole group'.
Whole group means that five year old children sit through tedious scripted lesson for most of the time instead of being actively engaged in activity. I'm not even referring to the developmentally appropriate activities of painting, singing, socializing, dancing, building, and exploring. I'm referring to selecting books to browse, drawing pictures to develop their oral and written expression, cutting and pasting, and independently 'writing'.
My students suffered this year. Because of the "whole group mandate" I was unable to give them sufficient individual attention. This translates to my being unable to work on clear speech articulation, differentiated instruction, phonemic awareness, and explicit direction in letter formation (not exactly the cookies, milk, finger-painting, and nap-time of my kindergarten days). My insomnia went into overdrive, unable to sleep because I felt horrible weighing the choice of insubordination and failing my students.
Next year, she wants to mandate how my classroom will be set up? Everyone who has entered my classroom has commented positively. Kids want to be in my classroom, parents want their children to be in my classroom, even administrative visitors like the environment.
I have spent 21 years working on being the best teacher for the community I serve and I'm undermined by my principal and yet, I go online and find all kinds of teacher-bashing. I just wish that some of these people could walk a mile in my shoes. If they only walked a quarter mile, they'd recognize that there are dedicated teachers. And if they walked another half mile, they'd see that it's not teachers who are failing students.
As for next year, I think I'll do it my way.

Should it stay or should it go now?

Today was spent in my classroom organizing things. With the help of my friend Maria and her son Danny, I sorted through about 20 boxes of books. They're now in boxes marked clearly with their themes so that I can locate them easily next year.
As I looked at vast mountains of books on my rug, I wondered "just how many books do I need?". I tried to justify keeping them all. Sure, I can justify them because the variety helps encourage my students to love books, but they take up a large amount of space. I finally decided to set aside several books to be donated to a summer program for children. I suspect that I'll probably want to add to that pile over the next few days.
At home later, I was replacing my brightly colored plastic hangers with the new flocked slim hangers. The increased space is actually quite noticeable and again I wondered, "do I need all this clothing?".
My life is feeling very compressed and overwhelming lately. Perhaps a good dose of spring cleaning is needed.
But for now, I shall close my eyes and let sleep, not clutter, fill me.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Father's day is always difficult for me. At the best of times, my father and I are tolerant of each other, perhaps even approaching friendly. All too often, it seems a re-enactment of scenes from my childhood with one small change, as a child I was really hurt by his behavior and now, I am simply angered.
In fairness to my father, his childhood was no day at the beach. I knew his mother, my grandmother, to be a woman who played favorites. When you were her favorite, it was not just that you got the lion's share of gifts or treats, but she enjoyed rubbing your status in the nose of your 'competition'. As her favored grandchild, it was lousy to watch her minimize my brothers. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been her least favored son.
But, to quote my late friend Gerard "being an adult begins when you stop blaming your parents for who you are".
While I try not to allow his verbal assaults affect me now, there were many years when his taunts echoed in my head. I also try to balance his treatment with the treatment I got from my mother, my grandparents, my teachers, and my aunts and uncles.
He did give me some wonderful traits though. My easy sense of humor, my mathematical skills, my sociability, and my dramatic flair for story-telling (orally at least) are owed to him.
I spend father's day focusing on my friends' dads who are or were wonderful dads and on my male friends who are proud and adoring papas. And on my mother, who I am still hoping to be like when I grow up.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday sonata

The day is drawing to a close. Time for a cup of tea, a brief walk with the beasties, and perhaps some knitting.
It was a fairly peaceful day, started early with a visit to my classroom to start the end of the year clean-up and packing. I tend to think of myself as rather disorganized, so I work very hard to put things away in an organized manner so that I can find things when the new school year begins. Currently, the room looks horrendous with several boxes worth of books spread across the rug so that I can re-pack them according to theme.
Then it was off to Michael's to pick up some blue yarn to make a gift for my mother. Naturally, because I was thinking about what color she might like best, I had to call her.
As always, I got into a rant about my employer, the Los Angeles Unified School District. Once again they've acted in self-interest and posted solicitations for several non-classroom employees as they make enormous cuts into the classrooms. The students, obviously, are the lowest spending priority in Los Angeles.
Then it was off to restock my 'supply' of Origins moisturizers. I spent nearly three times as much as I had hoped to spend and came away with only one thing more than I had intended to buy. I guess if I wish to present my best face to the world that it ought to begin with glowing skin.
Finally, it was on to Whole Foods. Again, I had to restock. This time it was several bottles of GT Dave's Kombucha elixirs. While I don't know whether they are doing me any good, I want to believe that they are and so I am experiencing the ever popular, self-fulfilling prophecy.
Well, the kettle awaits and so I say goodnight and wish everyone sweet dreams...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Dance

Today began with the happy dance...
I was so delighted at the final school day with students, that I didn't even realize I was dancing. Nearly all my students came to the end-of-kindergarten pajama party. They made animal stick-puppets, played on the carpet, and watched the Lion King in their p.j.s .
All the end of the year paperwork has been completed and filed. Now it's time to get down to the task of packing up my bookshelves to allow the clean-up 'crews' clear access.
In a bit of avoidance behavior I used up the liquid watercolors that had been mixed to paint father's day cards. When I go in to clean tomorrow morning, I'll be greeted by jewel-toned scrap papers. I'm trying to imagine what they might become and leaning towards ATC's (artist trading cards). I'm envisioning stamping with black ink images and perhaps doodling with a Versamark marker and mica powders.
But for now, I suppose I should go to sleep and dream about them.
Sweet dreams to all!

The things that matter

After school today I went to a get-together to celebrate the end of the school year. Many of my co-workers said that they'd come out for a simple buffet at a nearby restaurant to send off three teachers who got RIF'd, two colleagues who've been displaced, and one who just retired.
The first part of the afternoon the gathering was limited to my co-teacher Lynne and I. As we puzzled about what had happened to the 20+ people who committed verbally to going, we also realized that we could have a splendid time without anyone else. After working together closely for the past 11 years, we still find so many things to discuss.
When everyone had arrived, the group was comprised of 10 people. Despite feeling miffed by the absence of my other colleagues, I recognized that I was there with a group of people who matter to me, people who make my professional life a joy. These are the people who quick to offer a smile, a helping hand, a shoulder, an ear, a cookie, or whatever is needed to make the job easier. Not surprisingly, these are the teachers who are most valued by their colleagues, their students, and the community we serve.
Afterwards, several of us attended a party that another one of our colleagues was having to celebrate her son's graduation from high school. Her modest home was full of friends and family wanting to congratulate him. It was not a lavish, catered event to impress important acquaintances, but a home cooked feast of typical Belizean cuisine shared by people who care about one another.
Those are the things (people) that matter.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Counting down

Today my classroom began as a whirlwind of activity. Parent volunteers made large tissue paper flowers to adorn the auditorium for the fifth grade culmination, children sang several funny alphabet songs, votes on the new contract proposal were tallied, and smiling kindergarten faces were uploaded from my camera to Costco. And I inadvertently saved the photos to my desktop as a screen-saver/slide-show.
In the flurry of all this activity, I kept misplacing things like my phone and the voting sign-in sheets. And I realized just how chaotic my classroom is post-culmination. Next week, I'll organize and pack up my classroom to ready it for summer cleaning 'crews' but today, boxes are everywhere awaiting the 22nd.
As the school day closed, the ballots were delivered, the photos were being processed, and the auditorium was nearly ready for tomorrow's festivities.
As things wound down, I reflected on the smiling faces that were flashing across the iMac. I thought about the children who they had been during the first weeks of the school year. I thought about the funny things they said and did, the teeth that they lost, the laughs they had, and the tears they cried. It had been a very trying year, starting with several extra students and being mandated by my principal in a manner that does little to suit the needs of active five year old children, but somehow we muddled through. In two days they'll leave the Munchkinland that is kindergarten and become first graders.
World, look out!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Who knows where the time goes...

While I will admit to having a great number of wonderful personality traits, I must also confess that there are several traits of which I am not so proud. In the top five, I'd have to place procrastination.
I am not sure where all procrastination comes from, nor do I know any effective way to deal with it.
Right now, I'm suffering with an episode of avoidance procrastination. As much as I love teaching there are some aspects of the job that are detestable, most notably is the steady river of paperwork. I'm not exactly the most organized person around, despite what my friends may think, and maintaining order in a mountain of papers is near Herculean. This problem is exacerbated when I feel that the paperwork is either meaningless and/or redundant.
So two tote bags sit at my feet. One bag contains the cumulative folders for my students that require my putting in entering and exiting dates and actual days present at school (my very least favorite part of this particular task). The other contains yellow and blue tissue paper for making decorations for the 5th grade culmination.
So I suppose that I'll complete the less odious of the two and create some paper flowers. Procrastination wins, but not a major victory.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer Countdown

The countdown to summer vacation has begun.
Kindergarten culmination came and went, and now the paperwork begins. Now there are endless mountains of paper to be filled in, completed, submitted, filed, mailed, or shredded. I've done report cards, language development folders, final assessments, inventories, and attendance registers. Next it's time to conquer the cumulative files, thank you notes, and the behemoth "To Be Filed" box.
And then come the boxes. Even when a teacher stays in the same classroom, everything must be packed and stored so that cleaning crews can come in during the summer to mop and wax the floors.
But then, there is the light at the end of the tunnel... several weeks of summer vacation. Time encumbered only by the day to day tasks of laundry, housekeeping, cooking, and grocery shopping. Time to be spent reading, traveling, socializing, painting, crafting, writing, and dreaming in my hammock.
4 days more until glorious summer!


Okay... this trying to sleep with one eye open has turned into NOT sleeping with both eyes open. Thanks to TCM I have all sorts of classic movies to keep me company. Anna Karenina with Greta Garbo has just started.
Spokojnoj nochi and do svidaniya!
(goodnight and goodbye)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Just another Sunday...

It was just another Sunday...
Two cranky dogs whining to go outside and smell the grass, a hamper full of laundry, the Sunday Times, and a pot of coffee.
It was just another Sunday...
Well, at least until shortly after noon.
That's when one of my neighbors came in to borrow my phone saying that two men broke into his apartment and robbed him.
My usual Sunday laziness was overtaken by a sense of dread. I didn't necessarily feel frightened, just not my usual laid-back Sunday self. Something had become very wrong in my otherwise cozy little world.
I know that many of my friends are concerned about my neighborhood (emphasis on that last syllable), but it felt safe...I know my neighbors and they know me. I know which car belongs to which person, the Sunday paper is always laid out on the walkway awaiting me, the steady stream of traffic is familiar, and I rarely lock my door while I'm not away from home.
Tonight, the dead bolt is secured and so is the security bar that my brother installed some time ago. Looks like I'll be sleeping with one eye open.
And so with that, I bid you all goodnight, sweet dreams, and safe slumber.
Oh, incidentally, if you happen to be a burglar, I'll be sleeping softly and carrying a Louisville Slugger!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I blog therefore I am...

My first attempt at my own blog. There's a bit of blogging on and the micro-blogging at Twitter, but now I can ramble on about whatever comes to mind.
And so, here I sit with blank canvas syndrome (something I'm working on getting past) trying to consider just what I want to say to the world.
Today was one of those days when I shoulda, oughta have taken pictures. I took Sarah for her first mani/pedi in honor of her upcoming culmination from fifth grade. She now has pale lavendar nails with tiny dotted white flowers. It's very subtle and appropriate for a young lady. Her mom and Lynne joined us and now we all have twinkly, sparkly toes. Her brother Danny came along too, having not read the memo about GIRLS day out.
Then it was off to lunch with Lynne's 4 year old twins who get cuter by the day. Otter entertained us by singing the alphabet song in her loudest voice, while PeeZee dined on his mac & cheese.
Then it was off to pick up my new purple specs which required repair after the lense popped out. They'd only been sitting at JCP Optical since February (okay... maybe I should have mentioned that I've been known to be a dork).
Now, I'm watching Sunset Boulevard for perhaps the fifteenth time.
Well, 'I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille'.
Time to bid all sweet dreams!