Friday, February 27, 2009

Because Interviews are scary, part IV

It's almost March, the welcoming of the beginning of spring (at least in CA; I know places like Minnesota still have a ways to go), more rain (hopefully), STAR testing, and the distribution of pink slips. The teaching job market is increasingly dire. A nasty rumor is going around that everyone who has been with SCUSD for less than 8 years are going to get cut.

But there will always be students. And wherever there are students, there will be teachers. I'm lucky enough to be "footloose and fancy free," as one of my professors say, and am willing to go wherever the jobs are.

Let's just hope I actually get a job.


How do you measure student success?

In as many different ways as possible. Portfolios kept over a period of time, improvement, effort, and attitude towards school, teachers, and peers. Test scores are useful as well, but are only one type of measurement of success. Participation is also another factor to consider. Success means one has goals they want to achieve. I would find out what goals students have, then assess if they have met them, how they have met them, and how meeting their goals will further advance their education.

What would you do to improve student achievement?

I believe many student achievement issues stem from low self confidence (which is different from self-esteem - a person can have a big ego without being confident in themselves and their competence) and high self consciousness (i.e. being afraid of what other people might think). I want student to believe they can achieve by analyzing their own weaknesses and strengths as well as coming up with strategies to showcase the latter while improving the former. I also want students to be willing to try anything, even with the high chance of failure. This can be accomplished by creating a safe, caring learning environment where students know they will not be openly humiliated. And on the off chance that it does happen, I want my students to know that the incidence shows more about the character of the humiliator than the humiliated.

How do you know whether your curriculum is appropriately matched to your student’s needs?

If the lessons from the curriculum are too easy, too hard, or not culturally responsive to the class. Also, if students are having trouble applying or synthesizing those lessons would also be a clue that the curriculum is inappropriate.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ms. Ng's list of awesome chapter books

Books! Fun to read, fun to decorate with, fun to collect! And for once, I'm not being sarcastic!

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I got into this habit of bringing a book with me where ever I went: to recess, to lunch, when my mom had to run errands, in the car, at the dentist, when my family went to "yum cha" with older people which is really, really boring for someone around 8 or 9 years old.

So I read a lot, partly because I found a lot of things boring and one of the few things that I found worthwhile to spend my time was with books. I began to consider than my best friends when I had never had one before. It's safe to say that I've read my fair share of children's chapter books; still do. When I don't know what to read, I usually head over to the juvenile fiction section. Most of my all-time favorites belong in this category. Here are just a few. Coincidentally, next week is Read Across America. WARNING: spoiler alert!

1. Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken. This British author is most awesome, but this one is my favorite (as well as Midwinter Nightingale in the same series. Black Hearts is about an poor orphan boy, Simon, around fifteen years old who travels to London to enroll in the art academy and ends up foiling a plot to kill the king. Simon also discovers he actually has a family with wealth and title.

2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Grandly imagined. There are no words to describe the leaps and bounds my intellectual growth went through when I read this. Many people, specifically Christians, are fundamentally against this book. But then, many people have something against Harry Potter too. This book is probably way too difficult for EIB-type fifth graders; even many sixth graders may find it too hard. However, it's a great read aloud choice.

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. My very first chapter book that I fixated on. I think I read this in the second grade or so. I still have my old beat up hardcover copy that I dragged around every where (hey, I was 7, it took my a while to slog through it). My favorite character: Jo. Although I started admiring Amy as I got older.

4. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. I'm actually preparing to read this to my fifth graders in a couple of weeks. The school doesn't have a class set of of this book, but I'll have my students work on art projects/letter writing as I read it. They really should have read it in fourth grade, but EIB is 99.9% EL and their language arts skills are not so high. I'm afraid even Island would be too hard for them if they had to read it by themselves.

5. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. We went to the school library today and I saw one of my students take this from the shelf. At that moment, Inner Ms. Ng went berserk with glee. Even though this book, too, is too hard (this student has the highest language arts ability in this class; just goes to show how disadvantaged Title I schools are) for her. I love how Anne is so idiosyncratic, and smart, and relatable.

More to come later. Exercise for an hour a day; read for an hour each day!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"ye or no"

Yes, the Boncam Photobooth version makes everything a mirror image but it's decipherable.

The more I learn about the people in general, the more I realize that I must have completely skipped a fundamental part of prepubescent/pubescent development: namely, the whole thing with girls wanting to impress boys (and vice versa). Seriously, I probably jumped from being a 9 year old to a 19 year old. Maybe an even bigger skip than that, since a lot of 19 year old girls are still boy-crazed too. 40-something year old women can still be boy-crazed. Modern pop culture has proved that, so definitely an even bigger skip.

Now, I like to impress people. It's a pleasant ego boost to be impressive. But I've never tried to impress people - specifically boys - because I wanted a certain kind of attention. Or at least I don't consciously remember doing it. Which, I also realize, are two completely different things. But I do remember wanting to be the top student, or the best at something, even if it was only being the best at failing, for the pure competitiveness of it.

So this part of my student's social/emotional development is new territory. Today, I caught Student P (the same student who did the step-and-slide note passing technique last Friday - actually she used the same technique this time too, it seems to be a favorite) with the note above. I promptly put it in my pocket when I confiscated it since I wasn't near enough to a trash can, and thus forgot about it. Until I emptied my pockets when I got home after swimming.

Was it entirely non-empathetic of me to laugh my head off when I read the note? No? Good, because it single-handedly made my week.

First, because it's written proof that my students are human too. Second because, well, it's just so ROFL-worthy. No capitalization, no proper end punctuation, and even "ye" is spelled wrong. But apparently, this boy thinks he is hot enough for Student P - who is on the upper end of the "cute & smart" spectrum, no matter how low her behavior can go - to want to hold hands with him during the school's after-school program. Knowing Student P, there's a good chance these two young love birds had a field day in Start.

Golden. Freaking. Comedy.

And perhaps I'm the only one who thinks so. But I'm not one of those teachers who is above laughing at his or her students. No matter how awfully the day has gone, or how many mistakes I've made to make me wonder why I got into this profession, I'm thankful to discover that I can still laugh at these kids. Because underneath their tough veneer of toughness, they are what they are: kids.

Disclaimer: I reread this entry just after I pressed the publish button and realized that it can be taken multiple ways. I don't mean to say that people are not attractive simply because they haven't mastered formally correct sentence structure. I'm laughing at how hormones can make a person totally non-selective; the absolute opposite of how nature intended, I believe, since even an Alaskan salmon has to pass through vicious tests in order to spawn.

And now I realize I'm comparing my student to an Alaskan salmon. The boys in this class are also on the upper half of the "cute & smart" spectrum, and with the exception of maybe one or two, I can totally see them all as half the faces in the "cute couples" page in their high school year book. The boy who wrote the note probably had to rush, since note writing is a clandestine affair, and didn't bother to spell check.

Monday, February 23, 2009

One day at a time

Just another little box that i can't manage to fit in.

Today bombed big time.

Totally misconstrued the due date of an important assignment that should have been turned in yesterday.

Good thing I wasn't the only one.

Missed swimming. Again.

As if I needed one more thing to put me in a bad mood.

It's twice now I've cried this semester.

It won't be the last.

11 more weeks.

I know it's bad when I've resorted to counting down the days until the semester is over.

Ack! Stop thinking negatively or else it'll keep me up all night. Positives, positives, positives.....are there any?

No, there are. I'm glad for classes actually. They help remind me that my classroom philosophy is not wrong - something my phase III student teaching experience has not proved so far. I'm glad for teacher friends who are friends first before they are teachers, at least where our relationship is concerned. Because my CT is not someone I would be friends with if he were not a teacher and technically my immediate boss and I've been in desperate need to vent since 10am this morning. I'm also glad for cohortmates - UTEC stick together! Other positives in list form because my brain is fried and my fingers are numb from typing the long-ass Task 2:

- smooth dark chocolate
- yummy pizza from Trader Joe's
- warm, comfy bed
- hot, relaxing shower
- the fact that tomorrow is a new day and I can put this day behind me
- the fact that the end of today means one day closer to when I can leave this classroom/school with which I am fundamentally and stylistically unaligned with (please Lord, don't let me have to end up at this school)

Did I also mention it's only 11 more weeks? One of which is spring break? Thank the Lord.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Movies will have to wait

One of these days I'm going to finally watch all these dvds and listen to all this music. Someday...

Things I did today

* Write three partial lesson plans for PACT Task 2.

** Plan and prepare for this week's lessons.

*** Read the paper. By which I mean, "glance through the ads to see if anything good is on sale." Someday, I'll have enough time to go through a paper properly again. Maybe. Perhaps by the time I do, journalism really will be dead. =\

**** Play games with Sunday school kids.

***** Practice with choir.

****** Talk about the week's lessons with JL.

******* Get cut off phone with JL. Twice. Give up calling him back. We were pretty much done anyway.

******** Fold laundry. Recycle three shirts and two pairs of socks for cleaning rags. I need new clothes soon.

********* Read new manga scans online.

********** Debate whether to put off cleaning for another day to focus on finishing PACT tonight so I don't have to worry about it tomorrow night.

Things I will do before the day is over

Finish PACT Task 2 and leave cleaning for another day.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sneak Sneak Run Run

Less innocent than this dog.

Observed on Friday, 2/20/09 Approx. 12:05pm. Room 14, EIB.

Student V and Student P are located near the back of the classroom with P in a satellite desk. V and P are giving each other looks and "facial nudges" across the four and a half feet gap between them. They are doing it relatively quietly and are not bothering other people except each other. Since these two students have a reputation (i.e. detention, suspension, general behavior issues and defiance), I - sitting in the back as well - decide not to intervene unless they their volume goes up. However, if they make any sound louder than the squeak of a pencil, I'm there faster than they can gape and deny it.

So they do this communication tactic for some minutes and I'm trying to decide if it's worth a disruption to stop them because it's been going on for quite a while and they are, in fact, disturbing each other from learning, when Student V casually makes a spaztastic movement and a tiny piece of folded notebook paper lands on the floor between her and Student P. Student V gives P and the paper each a significant look. Student P gets up, asks to borrow a pencil from V, deliberately steps on the paper with one foot, and drags that foot across the floor back to her desk.

Inside my head, I'm saying to myself, "Nuh-uh girl, you did not just do that."

Student P hasn't picked up the paper yet because she knows that even if my full attention is not on her, any overtly suspicious movement would be the end of it. I walk over, whisper to her to give me whatever is under her foot. She denies doing anything. I break it down for her. "Lift up your foot." I say. She lifts up the foot without the note underneath. "The other one." She slides the other foot around, denying anything the whole time.

Inner Ms. Ng says, "Thy lady doth protests too much."

Persistence wins in the end. I give Student P a choice: to lift up her foot and get back to taking notes from Mr. L's lesson on volume, or work on volume problems in the kindergarten classroom. She lifts up her foot, I pick up the note and toss it emphatically into the trash. Walking back to my seat, Student P and Student V once again give each other looks and smiles, but when I walk in between them on my way from the trash can to the back bench and picked up my notebooks to notate what just occurred, they meekly turned back to their work.

Score 1 for Ms. Ng.

However, score 35 for the class as a whole from the first three weeks. It's going to be an uphill battle. But lesson learned: be Mean Ms. Ng for the first two or three weeks. Then I can loosen up by degrees once students know that I mean business.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Low morale

Favorite out of these: the white Mexican wedding cake cookies. Thanks L!

I didn't realize how extremely stressed out I was until I found myself almost crying over a box of homemade Valentine's Day cookies my lovely friend L sent me. It's only been three weeks of phase III so far (and as my cohort-mate J says, "Thirteen more to go!") and I've only had about an hour each week that can truly be considered "me time" - aka Evidence A that Ms. Ng is really really really not in a happy mood. This bodes nothing well for a person who thrives in hermit-mode.

Evidence B: I slept for a grand total of 23 hours in a 34 hour time span this weekend. I am. Friggin'. Tired.

One of the textbooks my pedagogy class relies on has an entire chapter devoted to balancing professional and personal lives as teachers. I'm not saying there are no other jobs out there that are tougher (most doctors and nurses have it rough), and I'm not saying that teaching isn't sometimes easy. But don't come to my face and say things like, "Teaching is such a cake walk!" because you will get a long lecture from this teacher. If I'm feeling extra crappy then you might also get some cake in your own face.

No, scratch that. It would be a waste of good cake.

I'm just saying that it's a fine line to dance and I haven't danced it very well for the past three weeks. There is a chance I might get dooced in the future because of some of the entries here. Frankly, the school that decides to fire me because of honestly saying that teaching is rough, that the behavior of some students drive me insane, that if one particular kid were an adult I would slap her upside the head, is not a school I want to work for. I also do not want to work for a school that does one thing in front of the class and another thing completely different in the staff lounge. The teachers at my current school are a seriously depressing bunch. And it rubs off on me. And I don't like it.

The single most irritating thing about my phase III placement is that my CT has an open door policy at all times. He gets to school at around 7-7:30 every day and the students know it because there is always at least one waiting at the door for the classroom to open. They come in, make a lot of noise, ask you a lot of stuff when you are trying to set up and get ready. It's really annoying to me, a relatively new teacher, to be bothered every two seconds about something from someone. It's not to my CT because he's been doing this for eight years and his personality probably thrives from the constant interruptions. The afternoon is the same, except only until around 3:40 when my CT leaves. But with all the interruptions, I've had about 40 minutes of planning time with him each week. Last semester, I taught half as many days as I do now and had three times the amount of teaching planning with my CT. Nicely said, 40 minutes is not enough and I believe 20% of what goes wrong in my lessons would not have happened if I got more planning and information from my current CT and fewer interruptions from students and other staff.

Although it does say something about the student's home life. When I was a kid, I didn't have a lot of desire to be at school. I arrived on campus a couple minutes before the first bell, and left immediately after. But these students are coming to school two hours before the official start time. Some of them do it because there is nothing to keep them at home, not even a warm, comfortable bed or a good breakfast to linger over.

So my CT and I made a deal that the door will be locked and closed until at least 8. I would have liked it to be 8:30, so I would have that hour to get my head straight before the school day. It's slim chances that will ever happen in his classroom, so on Tuesday I'm leaving the house by 6:10 to get to school by 7. I get my full hour of quiet classroom time. The students get to hang out with adults who really care about them before these same adults will have to turn their attention to the whole group rather than the individual.

So it'll have to start with me. Although it's nice when it comes from the outside as well, like with the cookies (love ya num-num!) and some rather encouraging things said by various people (hey, facebook isn't just for wasting time). I started making monthly resolutions this year. So far, most of them involve staying organized, keeping stuff clean, exercising, eating well, and passing the RICA. I'll get my RICA scores in about three to five weeks - I did my best and it's out of my hands for now. The other things I've kept up with from sheer momentum. But I should enjoy those things too. Because I do enjoy those things like cleaning and swimming and biking and cooking and reading for fun. I don't get to do a lot of it, but quality over quantity works just as well if not better.

I won't do a very good job of taking care of my students if I'm not doing a very good job of taking care of myself.

Friday, February 13, 2009

UTEC vs. TR: show down!


The CSUS PACT instructor is a nice guy. Helpful and knowledgeable. He also has one serious sense of humor for pairing up my center (UTEC) with TR for peer review of the PACT Task 1.

Here's some background info: UTEC stands for the Urban Teacher Education Center. We are award-winning and apparently better prepare people to be teachers than most credential programs out there. We also exclusively work in the SCUSD (which will officially become a Program Improvement district for the 09-10 school year) and specifically in schools where the majority of students are from low social-economic backgrounds (note: NOT schools like C-R, which we at J.S. have a bone to pick with).

TR serves a relatively wealthier area, thus the students from those schools are considered low-middle/middle-upper SES. Not that TR doesn't have their own set of unique problems, but their problems are on a totally different level from the students UTEC serves.

I suppose I'm not making any sense to any one unfamiliar with the urban school setting. Obviously, the person who reviewed my PACT Task 1 definitely had no idea. Here are some of the comments this person left for me, as well as the stuff I wrote related to the comments. Comments are in bold. My comments to the comments are in italicized bold.

6. Describe any district, school, or cooperating teacher requirements or expectations that might impact your planning or delivery of instruction, such as required curricula, pacing, use of specific instructional strategies, or standardized tests.

My cooperating teacher does not use the district's math curriculum (Saxon). Instead, he insists that lessons be based on the California academic content standards and that instructional methods be as varied and interesting as possible. If math lessons have the possibility of being interdisciplinary (integrated with art or other subjects), then that should be done.

Really? Isn’t it required by the state and district to use given programs adapted (whether it be Scott Foresman or Saxon).
{where the hell have you been? neither the state, nor the feds "mandates" any particular set of curriculum made by companies like Saxon - only content standards are enforced by the government. the district may have requirements about it, but there are sometimes exceptions to those rules in upper primary}.

Task 1. Context for Learning Form

1. How much time is devoted each day to mathematics instruction in your classroom?

There are two forty-five minute sessions of math each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

This seems like a lot of time (twice a day for 1 ½ hrs per day for 5 days) especially with the other activities and subjects that need to be taught during the day.
{This is also why my class is actually mostly above standard in math. And frankly, the only other subject I teach in this class as "stand alone" (as opposed to interdisciplinary) is language arts. We don't get special stand alone visual and performing arts, music, technology, etc lessons. PE, science, and social studies are at best once a week each; at worst none at all. This is what happens when your school's public funds are taken away because it didn't perform to expectations on high-stakes testing. By the way, are you implying that you don't believe we spend this much time with math? You are supposed to critique the completeness and relevancy of my answers to the PACT, not second-guess the things I write, which are factual.

9. How many computers are available to support your instruction? NOTE: If this data is difficult to obtain, then provide an estimate, e.g., “a few” or “about 30.”

Available in classroom:
# of computers 11
# of computers connected to the Internet 10

Available elsewhere in school
# of computers None
# of computers connected to the internet N/A

There are no other computers anywhere in the entire school???
{No, no there are not. At least not ones that students can use. Frankly, I'm surprised there are this many in the classroom at all. Once again, the clear cut difference between schools like mine and schools in TR. So go ahead and rub it in my face that you have a computer for every student in your class at all times, all of which are connected to the internet. That you have been using a smart board for the past six months, while EIB probably won't get one until they become obsolete. That you have webcams, and digital cams, and mics, and graphing calculators when my students probably won't see any of that until the middle of high school. That is, IF they get as far as high school.

No, I'm not bitter. I've accepted the reality of urban schools. However, there is no excuse for a teacher, even a teacher-in-training, to be ignorant of the current, urgent, headlining education issues to the extent of this numb-nut of a commentator. Read an education article for once why don't you? Or even just the news. Although I'm pretty annoyed at the 24 hour news cycle as well. I'm also annoyed that this peer reviewer made no useful comments whatsoever pertaining to helping me edit my PACT so I can pass the stupid thing and get my preliminary credential which means I'm not really a teacher even though I've gone through 4 years of undergrad + 1.5 years of teacher training + dunno how many other hoops and horns + the future hoops and horns I'll need to go through to get an actual full credential. This isn't even counting national board certification and further degrees/training/subject matter proficiency. Also, the average salary of an elementary teacher is $35,000/annum.

Can someone remind me why I'm in this profession again?

Crap, this has put me in an even worse mood than I already was from this week alone. Gotta think positive, positive, least it's a three day weekend?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

With grace


March 2009 Vogue feature on Michelle Obama

This week has been rough. Last week was rough. In certain ways, the week before that was rough too. It may be just me - ok, it's a lot me. There are many things I could have done better these first three weeks of phase III. And even though I dread going to school every day, the kind of pressure I get from my class, my CT, and the program in general added to family and other things is nothing on level with the pressure the First Lady has to take on.

Now this interview/article is most definitely not the entire picture. Knowing Vogue, it's probably a highly stylized/idealized picture of what the First Lady's life is like. Not to mention all interviews only show a very small sliver of the interviewee's life, just like how blogs (usually) only show a small fraction of the blogger's life. Realistically, the First Lady probably gets annoyed and might not always behave as if bathed in a pool of golden light.

But still. I don't know a lot about the Obama family, or Michelle Obama, but her interview replies are quite inspiring. One can only imagine how much more her actions must be, because from the little that I know about her, she seems like a person who values words only because there are actions behind them. Which is my kind of person, if that isn't clear enough already.

Knowing this, and all the high expectations the nation - nay, the world - has for her, all my complaints about phase III are so petty in comparison. Especially since Mrs. Obama's expectations for herself also seem to be on a whole other level from what the public expects of her. Even from the eyes of a writer for Vogue (who tend to be awe-struck very easily), I'm impressed, and wish for just half that much poise.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I am Elizabeth Bennet!

Take the Quiz here!

Today was, well, not a *bad* teaching day overall. My lessons went fairly well; students are understanding the content where they had never understood before; management was under control. But it was still a disappointing day. It is never a good thing when three students get suspended in quick succession. One of which has serious social issues floating underneath a veneer of smiles.

Seriously, what is up with that kid? What is it that she's experienced that makes her think she is above the consequences? And not only above the consequences, but aloof to them as well? If she were an adult, I would smack her upside the head. It's like when Lizzie found out the truth about Wickham. Except I haven't gotten to the point of seeing the humorous side yet.

So. Very. Tired. I don't often feel reluctant to enter the classroom, and on the rare occasion that I do, it passes quickly and I'm happy to be there again. But I've dreaded going to school for a week now. Everyday. And it hasn't gone away. And my nerves are beginning to feel the wear and tear of it.

Thank goodness for the students who do make it worthwhile, who are encouraging through their behavior, cooperation, and willingness to learn. Thank you, and I'm sorry you all got yelled at for something a handful of others did. It's an awful tone to set for the classroom, and I know you guys are feeling the wear and tear of it too. Bear with it, your teachers are working hard to make things right.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

That d*** RICA, part III

The end of the tunnel! Unfortunately, I don't know what's beyond that...

It's over! w00t! I'm about 90% certain I passed. I better have passed, because I'm not spending another $130 and 3 hours of my life taking a test that allows a failing score to "pass." Not to mention that fact that they told us to arrive at 1:15 but didn't actually start the thing until 2. Curse you California Testing Services. And your little dog too.

But I'm thankful it's over. Now I've only got the rest of this semester and the PACT and we're home free! Yay!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

If I can make 1st graders cry, then 5th graders can make me cry

So many different combinations are possible.

Bad teaching day that capped a bad teaching week. Nine students got detention today alone. Talks are not working. Time outs are not working. Detention is not working. Heritage sharing is not working. That random community circle is not working.

My theory is that this class holds itself together because JL is a male teacher and I am still viewed as an outsider. Outside of getting a sex change, about the only thing working for me are non-verbal interventions. "I" messages are heretofore banned from exiting my mouth. I hate power struggles and the logic of fifth graders is rather skewed.

I suppose it's about time I had some drama happen in student teaching. Not that phase II was completely drama-free, but KM and I were very nearly on exactly the same page in all aspects involving the classroom, from management to academic expectations to how the room should be arranged. JL's teaching philosophy aligns with mine on a theoretical level, however the implementation does not. It. So. Does. Not.

As usual, the first thought running through my head about a badly taught lesson/day is "what can I do better?" Right now, I just don't know.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Too many choices?

Wishing I could disappear like my F-key.

Still sick. Been a week. Am ded on floor. But still must move. You can imagine the unicorns and rainbows that must be my mood right now. Uhhhrg.

I'll be ok...I think. Probably should sleep earlier than I did last night. However, I chose to be escapist last night and reveled in some of my favorite time wasters. Although, one can argue that they are not time wasters since I got to enjoy some new stories.

I'm not making sense, probably because I coughed a lung out and lost it on my way home today. But the key word in the previous paragraph is chose. Everyone (or nearly) has to choose something at some point. I strongly believe in the power of choice in the classroom. Students get to chose which problem they want to do first on their math homework, or the type of books they would like to read during independent reading time, or whether they get to focus on a simile poem or a conjunction poem that day.

Ok, those aren't really choices per say; I'm still making students do academic things as opposed to, say, letting them run free and do whatever during class time. But there is a semblance of choice, and research shows that students are more likely to do something AND retain the information learned during that something if they choose it themselves.

But what about the students who have no idea what they want? They can't pick between drawing a symbol of Guatemala or a symbol of something else. Then they can't decide what symbolizes Guatemala for them. Then they can't even decide which reference book to look in, this encyclopedia or that encyclopedia, to find a picture of the freaking flag of Guatemala. It's like I have to hold their hand and walk them through a field of eggshells because they are afraid of stepping on a land mine which may or may not actually be there.

Ok, that comparison may not be understood by everyone. Here's another. There is this kid in Sunday school whom I suspect does not get many (if any) opportunities to choose for himself. What kind of cookie does he like the most? He doesn't know. What sport does he like? Dunno. Subject? Nope. Pet? Uh-uh. Color? Has no idea.

Well, ok, he likes red sometimes and blue other times. But still. Most kids his age is either RED!! or BLUE!! He has about the same decision-making skills as a star fish. And star fish have no brains. Too harsh? Maybe. This is kid is great, don't get me wrong. But there comes a point in a child's life when they need to feel confidence in their own power to choose.

Another example: this adorable toddler in children's Sunday school is curious about everything. Which leads to a lot of exploring and touching, especially of things she really shouldn't. One day, she reached out her hand and touched the heater (this is one of those old style radiator heaters with the metal parts that get hot). She had been fascinated by this thing for a long time, always trying to touch it even though we have a baby-proof gate around it. She's gotten a lot taller now and can reach above the gate as well as strong enough to push it aside.

The heater was on, so of course she immediately withdrew her hand. "Hot!" she cried. I was watching her from across the (chaotic - it usually is in preschool) room. She went to all the adults present, pointed to the heater and said, "Hot!" "Yes," we each tell her in turn, "That's why we told you no-touchy." I checked her hand, pressed a cold compress against it for awhile, then turned her loose again.

From that day on, she never touched the heater again. Even when it wasn't even on.

Lesson? The wise old adults told her not to touch it. She chose to touch it anyway. Logical consequence followed. She learned, obviously much better through experiencing it than through someone telling her about it. You can be she won't choose to touch that heater for the rest of her life. Or at least until she grows old enough to discern when the thing is on or not.

It's not just about making the right choices. It's also about knowing you made the right choice - the consciousness that yes, this thing I'm choosing right now is something I'm confident in and believe will do me, and probably other people, good. I know my choices are a part of me - it's metacognition happening at the most fundamental level. That self-awareness and maturity won't happen unless kids are allows to make choices and endure (or enjoy) the logical and natural consequences of their choice.

And when it's not the right choice for yourself, then it's the maturity to accept the consequences. It was probably not a good idea staying up until midnight last night watching anime on But I chose to anyway. And I bear the burden of back sliding a little on the road to getting over this bronchial/tonsil thing. I'll get over it, both the burden and the cold.

Now, choosing a favorite color isn't life-threatening, however I point back to the all important self-awareness. If a kid chooses blue as their favorite color, he/she knows that they are the type of person who likes blue, who enjoys blue, and who can identify with other people who like blue. The kid who has no idea what their favorite color is, doesn't have that. And that's a sad thing.

Unless he's self-aware about his own indecision and can identify with other people who also do not have a favorite color. Then, he's just being elitist. Harsh? Maybe. Maybe I'm just tired and impatient with holding kid's hands and walking them through their perceived field of eggshells and mines. Take a risk, make a choice! You're allowed to change your mind later. If you can't do that in the safety of the classroom where a teacher is there to pick you up, dust you off and guide you towards enlightenment then Lord help you in the real world.

By the way, blue rocks. Because it's the complement of orange. And orange is the most awesome color ever.