Sunday, November 30, 2008


Room 10 as well as the other 3 first grade classrooms had a Thanksgiving potluck last Tuesday. It was awesome, to say the least. I was surprised that so many parents brought items to share. Not that the parents at my ST school are more (or less) non-participatory than your typical school, but we ARE Title I, and 99.9% of these kids are on a free/reduced price lunch program. I personally would have changed it to only one class (or pair up with another class) for the potluck. Then the parents would only have had to make enough for 20-40 rather than 80+.

But they did, and the teachers supplied pizza, and the kids were So. Very. Full. After lunch it was chaos. One of my students had to just put his head down for awhile.

All the first graders made this "Albuquerque the Turkey" placemat, tracing their hands on construction paper and glueing beaks and waddles to the thing. They turned out rather cute, and I'll make a note to take a photo of one of the absent student's placemat tomorrow and post later.

Everything they did that day had a turkey theme: from the math facts, to a connect the dot activity sheet, to a story book. Hopefully, they will be turkey-ed out and we won't have to mention them for another year.

Sunday seems to be a good day to post. Except for last Sunday, I've been pretty consistent about it for several weeks now. So let's make Sunday my posting day. I'll try to up it to twice a week, but no promises. Which is sad, because there is so much I want to make a note of and comment on. I've learned so much this past semester.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just say no!

A couple weeks ago (actually, closer to a month ago) was Red Ribbon Week. What I remember of RRW from my own elementary school years consisted of drug sniffing dogs showing off their skills, various competitions among classes for a pizza party, and copious amounts of thin plastic red ribbon tied to the fences, randomly or by design.

Considering that, RRW hasn't really changed all that much. Here's a breakdown of the activities my school participated in:

Monday - start of RRW; pass out those awful, scratchy, "red" but really orange, plastic bracelets that I always was relieved to take off at the end of the week; assembly by a puppeteer/magician with catch phrase "Too smart to start!"; beginning of prize give away at lunch time for students who have their plastic bracelets (each bracelet has a number on it)

Tuesday - nothing related to RRW (except the lunch time give away) because yesterday's assembly was so freaking long that teachers spend all of today catching up on academics.

(I'm not at my student teaching school after Tuesday of each week, but they informed me about it anyway)

Wednesday - students spend some class time working on "Too smart to start!" themed activities; depending on grade level, these activities ranged from drawing pictures of different ways to be "Too smart to start" through the physical, emotional, psychological, and economical effect of drugs.

Thursday - another long-ass assembly, this time a presentation from the local police force, sans drug sniffing dogs (boo, the dogs are cool); murmurs throughout teacher population of doing away with RRW in lieu for teaching actual content; the smarter, more savy, and thus better teachers breathe a sigh of relief (or a smirk of arrogance, depending on the personality of the teacher) for planning ahead and integrating RRW themes into academic content.

Friday - last day of RRW!; competitions in K-3 and 4-6 categories of who drew the best pictures/wrote the best essays about being "Too smart to start!" judged and prizes handed out; the entire school population can finally cut off those plastic bracelets and feel the blood circulate through that hand again.

The funny thing is, most kids at this school probably have more first hand experience with seeing the effects of drugs than any of their upper-middle-class, mainly white teachers. I saw some of the drawings they did; a blind person would have been able to detect the fakeness in some of those illustrations.

Which leads me to ask: are we really teaching students to say no to drugs, or are they the ones playing along, pacifying the adults? Who, for many inner city students, is the sole steady grown-up role model they have and thus want to impress. Because these are the people, maybe the only people, who have higher aspirations for them. Who view through jaded-but-still-rose-colored glasses, hoping that their students will reach that full-ride scholarship to a prestigious 4-year university, unscathed by the environment they live in. Most of these students know, at the bottom of their hearts, parts that they don't even know they have, that statistics are against them, as is practically everything else on the face of the planet.

But they still pop out with pat answers, play acting the dream for the adults who care so much for them and wish them so much better, because these kids know what it feels like to be disappointed.

Wow, I didn't mean to make this entry so angst-filled. On a brighter note, the essays by the older grades were less contrived. A few were quite good. Maybe it's just the natural tendency for younger students to please their teachers that make them do the fake-answer thing. I hope so.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A note on behavior management

This past week made me want to pull out my hair. What is with all the chatter? Is this how people grow up to be obnoxiously loud, especially on their cell phones?

I know I am WAY too lenient. I personally don't really give a damn if people are chattering and not listening to me during daily conversations. Their rudeness is their own problem, not mine, and if they have no desire to listen, well, I have no desire to speak to them.

However, obvious differences in a classroom environment makes me need to care. Students are not going to learn much if they are forever chattering away in personal conversations. Thus, the following will be implemented in strict order, with no exceptions, from now on. And if the Ss start to dislike me, so be it. I am there to teach them something, not be their friend. Or their mother. Which is a whole different issue entirely and, as always, deserves to stand on it's own at another time.

Anyway, my hiearchy of behavior management, moving up the steps if the previous doesn't work:

ONE nonverbal intervention
ONE verbal intervention, consisting of a warning to the next step if they don't shape up
ONE move to an isolation from the group (if at the carpet), or closer to me (if at grouped desks)
ONE phone call home
Ejection from classroom lasting no longer than 15-20 minutes
Principal time; which usually means some form of suspension/detention

Time wasted continues to be taken from recess.

I've done nearly all of these things up to isolating the student from the group. Which usually works and thus no more interventions are necessary. But I have trouble with the ONE of each level. Usually I give them so many second chances to prove themselves, the message being delivered now is that "the consequences to misbehavior are negligible."

But no more Teacher Nice. They will already have a second/third chance with the nonverbal and verbal warnings. It's time to stop babying them and put the responsibility of their behavior (thus the consequences too) on their own shoulders.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

$$$$$ vs. $

My CT recently asked me why I prefer working at Title I, or equivalent, schools. I gave her a very impassioned and strong answer - something I haven't been doing for a while now (being impassioned, I mean). When I got home, I wondered why (haven't I been more impassioned lately, that is).

Hmm, maybe not being able to communicate in any coherent way plays a factor. The fact that a lot of theories is being shoved down my gullet right now doesn't help with developing my own opinions very much. Lack of reflection time.

Anyway, Title I schools are awesome. I know most teachers flee to the 'burbs - if they haven't quit already - because of better pay/benefits/local environment and students who don't live as tough a life as inner city kids. But these schools deserve a lot more than what they get. There is just as much talent, if not more, here. There is ambition, intelligence, hard work, and yes, even fun here.

Most of all, the vibe of Title I schools feels so much more comfortable to me. Many students spend the majority of their time at school. They get fed here, they play here, they see friends here, they come into contact with responsible adults who care about their well-being and provide the structure that they need.

Not that all these things don't happen at home sometimes. It's just other times, it doesn't happen at all. Reality bites, even for 7 year olds.

School is where they come into contact with books, stories, problems that they can solve, the social circles that are important to them, and a wider world they may not be able to see from home. These schools are more home-like, sometimes, than their homes. School is where they get flu shots, eye exams, hearing exams. Schools are the first level of detection for CPS, health issues, psychological needs. Some Title I schools open the campus for food drives, as storm shelters, or clothing drives.

Non-Title I schools, or at least the ones I've taught at, are...well...not home-like. At least not to me. The students in these schools have support elsewhere, so school life is not as important to them. They have computers at home, so it's not such a cool thing to use them at school. They have books at home, so getting them at school isn't a novelty. They have friends, responsible adults (although, again, sometimes not), social circles outside of school. Thus school is less a place of community, more like a bunch of buildings that they have to spend 6 hours a day in.

Frankly, the attitudes I see in non-Title I schools are much more intense. Not just about academics, but also about diversity. Students and staff alike.

Now, not all Title I schools are communities, and not all non-Title I schools are arrogant stuck-ups. It's just the tendencies I see. Most of all, I like Title I schools because these kids need me, in all my noobie-student-teacher-mistake-making-insufficient-management-handling glory.

And it's always nice to be needed.