Sunday, May 31, 2009

An actual good API report

What to look forward to when in college.

My local newspaper published this article a couple weeks ago. It's good to hear that schools are making gains in their API scores. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that most schools make some sort of gain - just not enough to satisfy NCLB.

The people I know who are current/former students of Middle College are super smart, super ambitious, and super decent people. They are the type of students who would succeed anyway, no matter what school they attended. I wonder what would happen if a below-average student, one who is on the path to non-graduation, was placed in Middle College?

Middle College is not the average high school, despite the article calling it a public school. Middle College does not have a campus of its own - the students actually attend junior college courses, with maybe a few special ones geared just for them. They do not have their own sports teams, academic or social clubs, or pretty much anything else associated with a typical high school experience. The students I know who attend Middle College are sometimes over-worked, stressed-out, and high-strung.

But then, maybe that's just them.

I'm very much a proponent of a smaller school though. Middle College has 300-something students. Total. My high school graduating class outnumbers the whole of Middle College by 100+. Smaller schools are awesome. Less red tape, more staff to take care of the students, increased atmosphere of a real community, individualized attention for students and staff alike. There may even be a lot less waste since it seems like a situation where it'll be simpler to keep everyone accountable.

Notable quotes from the article:
"None of our kids get lost in the shuffle."
(which happens all too often)
"Some of our schools are showing improvement. Others have work to do."
(which will probably be true forever and ever, world without end, amen)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Math - a teacher's Waterloo

"73% of teachers taking the math test (of the Massachusetts state teaching licensing exam) fail. That's almost half." - Jay Leno

The CA credential process, part I

During a conversation with a friend recently, I suddenly realized that the whole teaching credential process is quite a mystery to the general public. I don't know why I didn't realize this earlier - I was pretty clueless as well. Still am, in many areas. And no wonder, there are so many flaming hoops to keep track of!

So, here's the first in a new series giving the inside scoop of the nuts and bolts of getting a license to teach in the golden state of California. It's another way for my to organize information, but hopefully it'll be useful for other people too. Yep, all 2 of you who stumble upon this blog.

First and foremost in getting a credential (which, by the way, is completely different from getting your own classroom to teach in - more on this later) is that much lauded Bachelor of Arts/Sciences degree. I hold a BS in Mathematics (general study), but any field of study will do. Simple enough so far, right?

Well, to be frank, I didn't find it very easy at all just to have the honor of being called a college graduate. I made the typical mistakes - freedom to the head, didn't study as hard as I could have, etc. Not that I was party-hardy either (not sure this is even in my genetic make-up), but I failed my fair share of courses. Thankfully, I did better the second time around.

I can't say I would make the same choices if I could re-do my college education, but I'm also glad for the experiences of failing as well. I will say that I'm much more careful about this kind of stuff now; although still with plenty of room to improve.

One thing I wish I had taken more advantage of was the "add/drop" period. Those first two, silvery weeks when you can try out classes and drop them if you don't like them. Or more precisely, if you don't like the person teaching the course. How many times have I stuck to a class where I can't understand the instructor because his accent was just too heavy? Twice, I disastrously stayed with a class where the professors were unhelpful to my needs. Granted, I was a pretty needy kid. But still, I would have learned better in a different class, with a more sympathetic atmosphere.

A friend's wise dad once said, "This is YOUR education, and YOU (i.e. your parents, but he didn't say that) are paying good money for it. So be your own advocate for your own education. No one else is going to do it for you." I'm still working on this.

Note: There are actually several different ways of getting a credential, as will be detailed later when that step is addressed. Some schools offer a combination BA/credential course you can take in four years rather than tacking an additional 1-2 years for the credential part to your BA/S part. This still means you have to have a BA/S though. It's a BA in Elementary/Intermediate/Secondary Education. Plus a credential. The difference is that you study education as an undergraduate, which gives you less time to study whatever else you want to study.

In California, the BA in Secondary Education is rare because of the law that says all teachers must be "highly qualified." Which means you need to have taken certain college courses in the area you teach. For example, if I wanted a Single Subject Credential (also explained later) in Mathematics, I would need to complete the full range of lower division courses as well as a specific selection of upper division course work. I'm lacking two courses of analysis, so I can't go that route. But if I took the CSET (also to be explained later - man, this process is confusing!) in math, I would have fulfilled that requirement.

Confused yet? Believe me, the most confusing parts are yet to come. That's right, in the plural.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stream of (un)consciousness

Oh boy. What did I get myself into now? Although I feel better about re-classification from credential student to masters student than I did about the whole NET thing, I'm still a little anxious. Only a little little. And only about money. Dear FAFSA, please let there be some federal money in the pot still for me to last through 2009. I know I rushed in getting you all filled out and submitted today, but I swear I'm a good investment for Uncle Sam!

I've made more impetuous decisions about big things in the past two-and-a-half months than I have made in the past two-and-a-half-years. Longer, probably. It kind of feels good.

I was not at my teaching best today. My students were not at their learning best today. Let's all learn from our mistakes and then put this behind us. Tomorrow is a fresh start.

Tomorrow I'm going to the first high school graduation since my own high school graduation. I'm strangely looking forward to it.

Reading Three Cups of Tea brings back happy memories of one of my fifth graders who had just arrived in the US from Pakistan. He's my all time favorite student thus far and deserves an entire blog post in honor of his name.

We are all 60-year-old grandmas at heart

There have been rumors that teachers sometimes teach their students how to knit. Which I think is an awesome idea. Because one of my other pet peeves with students is the perpetual, "I'm done, and I'm bored!" student.

There have been rumors that students who know how to produce something from practically nothing have higher self-esteem, are better focused during lessons, and are more willing to take on challenging tasks. Oh, and supposedly the students love knitting as well. No need to dig motivation out of thin air here, for the most part.

Now, I'll always have a "What To Do When You Are Done" list on the wall. I'll take each item, teach it individually, then provide it as an option for students who are quick finishers (which is not always a good thing - I'll have to teach this too, but hopefully marking off careless mistakes will do most of that work for me). Included in these items are, but not limited to:

- silent reading
- extra credit work packets
- getting ahead in that day's homework assignments
- knitting

I know this kid who seems to ALWAYS be bored. She is bored even though she has a DS to play with. She is bored when I offer her books to read. She is bored when I offer to read aloud to her. She is bored when there are board games around to play. She is plain bored all. The. Freaking. Time.

However, I understand her type of boredom - the kind that doesn't stem from a lack of things to do. I think it comes from the motivational corner, although there are probably other factors too.

Students sometimes cry bored when all they really want to do is get under your skin and show that they don't appreciate your hard work in creating something fun to do. I've had fifth graders say this to me for this very purpose.

So I think I'll be one of those teachers who teach their students how some sort of handicraft. So that they don't cry bored. And so I can channel my energy to other things, like say, ignoring attitude-y and hurtful student comments.

If anybody knows how to not care so much about what students think, please fill me in on the secret.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons on communication

I've worked very hard at improving my communication skills. Writing comes pretty naturally. Speaking I've had to practice a lot on. Non-verbal I'm still working through it but I'm making headway, although I think this area will always hold some confusion due to cross-cultural differences and me being oblivious.

Because I've had to work so hard at communication, I know I'm decent at it. I know I'm much better than I used to be. But there are times when I feel like I'm not getting through to anyone at all.

Today was one of those times. The other person was half at fault for not letting me know. I was at half at fault because today was not the first (or second or third or....) the other person has done this, and hence I should have known better, and hence I should have taken the initiative to double check with them. I'm really hung up over this because I HATE getting my lines of communication crossed.

So here is a list of some the things I've come to learn - the hard way - about communicating with people. Hopefully making a post about it will make it a big enough deal for me to remember the steps I've grown lax in. Some exceptions are applicable.

1. Never ever ever ever NEVER assume anything. People cannot read your mind. You cannot read other people's minds. Exception: you know each other so well that you've been able to anticipate each other's actions nearly 100% correctly. Still, sometimes it is useful to confirm.

2. Write it down, whatever "it" is. Write the date you wrote it down. If there is a deadline, write it down. If there is some action that needs to be done, either by you or someone else, write it down. Write all of it down!

3. Scan what you wrote frequently. More than once I've wrote things down then promptly forgotten it and I never go and look back because I don't think I've forgotten anything. But I did. This is why I painstakingly developed a habit of reading what I write in my daily notebook whenever I get a spare moment. Like at a red light (which is slightly dangerous, but I drive so much I can time the lights pretty accurately), or in an elevator, or in the waiting room, or on hold while on the phone, in the check-out line, during the few minutes before class starts, on public transport, etc. I also look through my day's notes before I leave the house, right before I leave every other location, and before I go to sleep at night.

4. Get a notebook. Carry it, and a pencil/pen, around all the time with you. I use a pencil (so I can make changes easily, although usually I just cross it out because I want to know what changes I made) and a really small pocket notebook. I also have other notebooks for more detailed planning + a monthly and weekly calendar.

5. Re-confirm. Send a summary message to the other parties involved. Make sure everyone has received it. They are ultimately responsible for making sure they read it and know what they need to do. I'm just making sure I do everything in my power to make sure other people know what I can (or can't, in today's case) do.

6. Did I mention writing it down? Documentation is also useful for when conflicts arise after the fact. Sometimes the mistake is mine. Because I'm human too, no matter how much I want things to go perfectly. When it is not my fault, I'll have proof, and no one can say otherwise. I know people who photograph/take video/voice recordings too.

7. After whatever the action is, send a follow-up. So the other parties know what happened.

I've been told to get a PDA device to do all this stuff more than once. PDAs are nice, but they are not for me. Personally, I think Blackberries are the ugliest handheld devices on the face of the planet. And to me, there is nothing so satisfying as writing in a pretty, Japanese style notebook with a Muji pencil. I also like to take out my old notebooks and read through them every so often. It makes me feel accomplished.

Because interviews are scary, part VI



During your student teaching experience, what did you find most challenging?

Balancing student teaching with the intensive courses of the credential program and being employed all at the same time. Student teaching is like an extended job interview, and often times I felt like I shouldn’t say no to taking on responsibilities or attending a school event even when I was stretched too thin. I’ve learned that when I am exhausted and over extended, then I do not teach as well as I can, and my students should hold priority over extra responsibilities. Sometimes saying no is the best thing to do, for myself and for my students.

Describe a time that you were in a difficult situation and explain how you resolved it.

During my first student teaching experience, my school took an overflow class of first graders for the district’s elementary schools. This created a period of tense staff transitions and changes. My CT, being the only one on the first grade team with a student teacher, was assigned to help the sub with the overflow class. On more than one occasion, my CT had to leave our class abruptly during my teaching, leaving me completely solo for the entire day way before it was required in the program to take a solo lesson. It helped to know that my CT wouldn’t have left if she felt I couldn’t handle it. She also left sufficient instructions so that I could determine how the flow of the day should go. It also helped that the principal took time to drop in once or twice to check on me and that the other first grade teachers were always just next door if I needed them. These sudden solo days were my crash course on how the school runs: the roll must be submitted by a certain time, how to use the school phone system, how to time transitions to minimize lost instructional time but also to get to the cafeteria (we had staggered lunch times for different grade groups) or buses by the appointed time, how to handle visitors and interruptions like assemblies, and other details I had yet had a chance to ask my CT to explain. I had to think on my feet and pulled out nearly every theory I had learned in the program. I started keeping post-it notes and a pen in my pocket as well as jotting down notes on the whiteboard to help me keep track of everything. By the end of the semester, I had accumulated three times as much, if not more, solo teaching time as the program required. Which, I believe, helped me to become a better teacher.

If you were doing something for students that you knew was right and your principal told you to stop, what would you do?

I would first ask the reasons why I should stop. Perhaps there is something the principal knows that I don’t. I would want my principal to disclose necessary information, especially pertaining to instruction. I would also explain the situation of why I want to help my students, because perhaps the principal might not know all the details that I know too.

Tell me a story from your experience that keeps you up at night.

One of my first grade students can sometimes have an attitude, dragging his feet about being on task. One day, he came to school saying he was feeling sick. I told him he may put his head down for a little while and come back to the group when he felt better. During the morning, he would be lethargic on and off again, sometimes participating with enthusiasm (for the fun parts of lessons), and sometimes not (for the more routine parts of lessons). I thought he was just being his usual self, since he tends to lack motivation unless the lesson involves fun and games. My CT was out of the room all morning, but returned after lunch with the students. She spotted that this particular boy was looking lethargic and felt his forehead, then immediately sent him to the office to have his temperature taken. He had a 101 degree fever. I felt so bad that I had pushed him so hard that morning and didn’t realize he was much too ill to be at school. Other teachers have told me that it doesn’t necessarily make me a bad teacher, just possibly a bad parent. Still, from that experience onward, I always keep an open eye out when students say they are not feeling well.

Describe in detail your best and worst days in a classroom.

Best day: I remember to do everything associated with running a classroom. Students are engaged, actively participating, with minimal time spent on management. We are all flexible with changes that occur throughout the day. It is a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

Worst day: I am unprepared and disorganized. I don’t have a firm grasp of the procedures set for the day. There are difficult tensions throughout the room in myself and the students. I can’t seem to refocus students, and some time is taken up just recreating the proper community again.

Describe the best lesson you ever taught and explain why it was great.

The best lesson I ever taught involved a lot of student teamwork. The objective was to write as many words as they can with certain vowel sounds. Since it was a new game, some students had trouble catching on to the objective, but I modeled it several times, reassuring them that CVC words (this was a first grade class) were perfectly fine to use (they wanted to use a lot of longer, complex words they have yet learned to spell). The students helped each other, and everyone contributed even those who are typically below basic level. The friendly competition seemed to be very enjoyable for this class.

Describe a challenge you encountered during student teaching. What did you learn from it?

Even thought the NCLB act mandates that K-3 grades should have a class cap of 20, often that doesn’t happen. I taught a class of 21 first graders until the overflow class was created. Some 2nd and 3rd grade classes still contained an over-the-cap number. I learned that the law and its intentions are usually not aligned with what happens in reality. If teachers do not hold these laws accountable to politicians and the general public, then people outside of working in education might not realize what is happening with our nation’s students.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009



I heard NPR interviewing the creator of this show while on holiday in San Diego last week. Needless to say, I was intrigued. So I watched the pilot.

This is not your average high school musical.

And then, in some ways it is. The single most incredibly high school thing that I have kept is the desire to do something, be a part of something, greater and grander than little old me can ever be. Glee taps into that, and I like it. Sometimes the show looks into the world of a high school as well, which is a bonus.

I'm looking forward to the fall.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day. Sadly, I never got to celebrate it for what it is as a kid - I only remember it as a day when mattresses were always on sale, and we got a day off from school.

Another thing I didn't know about: The White House Commission on Remembrance. I didn't notice anywhere on their site that says what year they were formed, but they seem to have been around for awhile now. This page on their site lists the number of people killed or wounded in action during international conflicts from the Revolutionary War through 9/11. Apparently there are a whole bunch more missing from the list, but it seems pretty comprehensive to me.

Maybe it's because I didn't really learn about it in school (that I remember, maybe I did...), but I don't really know what to do in class for Memorial Day. Just from that list alone, I could probably make up some sort of math lesson on statistics or graphing. Or a geography lesson (where on earth is Matsu and Quemoy?). Or a timeline project. But outside of that, I'm lacking creative ideas.

Maybe that's enough though. To just remember. To study past conflicts, if only for one day in the entire year, and to reflect on how we can make the future less conflicted.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The problem with money

In a previous lifetime, I worked as a lab rat for the CDFA. I felt more like a dairymaid, because my main duties were to prep, keep track of, and perform analyses on dairy products. It was a relatively easy job - I got to set my own hours (because I was a student), I learned a lot about professionalism, I worked with lots of really nice people. Lots of non-state employees sometimes have criticisms for state employees: they are slow (you would be too if you had to deal with all sorts of red tape and other bureaucratic things), they are weird (true, but usually in a good way), they complain a lot (also true - but they ACTUALLY have a lot to complain about and aren't just complaining for the sake of ranting).

Each year around this time, we would hunt around finding things to buy. What I mean, is that as the end of the fiscal year approaches, we would discover that we have an extra grand or two floating around, unused, and thus are pressured to use it for fear of not having that kind of budget in the next fiscal year. Nearly every single state agency does this mad scramble of spending cash, from food & ag to schools, to corrections.

Why don't we just save it, you say? Why don't we just NOT spend this extra cash on a stock pile of glass test tubes that will last through the end times and into the peaceful thousand years before that final spiritual battle? Why can't state workers rejoice that they came in under-budget, rather than go on a year-end spending spree that will eventually bring them over-budget?

Because the golden state has this ridiculous initiative process wherein 90% of the budget is locked. Immobile. Unmovable. Inflexible. World without end, amen. And if the agency doesn't spend this extra money, the gods of appropriations will think they don't need that much money and will shrink their source of funds. Which is a disaster because this kind of shrinking doesn't take into account inflation and unexpected cost rises. Which will leave the agency in a pinch the following year.

And that, my friends, is how some schools end up with a dozen extra portable classrooms filled with books, software, lab equipment, and india rubber balls that NO ONE EVEN KNOWS IS THERE, let alone uses it.

So here's my idea. Instead of punishing agencies for coming under-budget (which is what the current system does, in essence), let's reward them. Let's let the agency keep 90% of whatever they saved over the year - returning 10% to the state to, I don't know, pay down our astronomical debt maybe - and let's let the said agency do whatever they want with that surplus, like hiring a quality teacher or staff, instead of limiting to another ten classroom sets of Paint for Windows.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 23, 2009


It's about time I did an About page.

My name is Bonnie. I was born in Hong Kong. I live in California. The photo above was taken in Florida.

I teach. I've taught in San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Sacramento counties. I've also taught English abroad.

I learn. I attended Yau Yat Chuen and Wee Care (pre), Commodore Stockton Skills (elementary), Sierra (middle), Lincoln (high), and UC Davis (undergrad). I currently attend CSU Sacramento (post-bac). I will forever attend San Joaquin Delta (jc), or some other form of continuing education. I also studied abroad at HKU.

I drive. A lot. This is mainly because I teach at several different schools.

I like outdoor recreation and am CPR certified.

I volunteer at church with children's ministry and the youth choir. I can play piano, guitar, and flute, but probably need to practice a lot more than I currently do.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The bottom 1%

This man currently holds my future job.
Photo from article linked below.

There are, apparently, 5,000 schools in the bottom 1% of low performing schools in the nation. That is a lot of schools.

This article reports that Obama wants to take over the lowest of the low (according to standardized tests, I'm assuming) schools, revamping them with new principals and new teachers. Which isn't all that different from what will happen to any school that has been on Program Improvement for 7 years running, under NCLB.

So this item really should be old news. Dear media, you can stop making such a fuss over every single item now *ahem*swineflu*ahem*, thanks.

From what I know, this is probably something the president will follow through with, rather than just to use as a threat, holding it over those schools that already have quite a bit of pressure. I hope quality people end up at those places, even if I don't really believe changing the staff around will make that much of a difference.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not your personal Office Depot

One of my Tuesday art class students and I had the following conversation:

Student: I wish we had art every day.

Me: Well, you can.

Student: Yeah! I can draw any time! Instead of just watching TV when I get home.

Me: Drawing is always better than watching TV. But I don't recommend drawing while you take a bath at the same time though.

Student: *laughs* But really? I can draw any where?

Me: All you need is paper and a pencil. It doesn't even have to be the art paper we use; you can use the back of something that already has writing on it too.

(note: I had recycling/reusing/not wasting paper, and being resourceful in mind, but apparently that was not what my student had in mind)

Student: What if I don't have a pencil?

Me: Then you can use a pen.

Student: What if I don't have a pen?

Me: Then you can use a marker, crayon, or color pencil.

Student: But I don't have any of those things at home. I never buy them myself.

Me: *slightly annoyed by this time* Then you can borrow a pencil.

Student: But none of my friends have that stuff because the school gives it to us.

I wanted to tell the kid that if there is paper at home, then the probability of finding a pencil or pen lying around somewhere is quite high. Just go and look for it! Thankfully, I didn't have to continue this exasperating conversation. One of my major pet peeves of students is their lack of initiative/independence. Which is why I always try to cultivate that in my students. This particular student is smart, exhibits outstanding behavior, is motivated, and takes direction well. She is one of the oldest students in my Tuesday class, and she naturally takes the lead in my art class routines.

However, she doesn't seem to have that same get-up-and-go attitude when it comes to home life. That allusion to the commonest of all media addictions can't help matters either.

I fully understand that students from low SES families do not have the same quality and quantity of resources mid-upper-class students have. I'm not telling my students that top-of-the-line computers are necessary for school. They don't need a Kindle (although in terms of college textbooks, this seems to be a good deal). They don't need expensive software. They don't even need the myriad of $5-a-pop notebooks with Hannah Montana's face plastered all over it.

I believe anybody can afford a box of 24-count yellow barrel pencils at $0.92. I believe single subject notebooks - which can be $0.25 each during back-to-school sales - are a reasonable purchase since each student probably will only need one or two for the entire school year.

Most importantly, I believe students should take care of their own school items. The most annoying thing is to have a student come up to you and say, "I lost my notebook/pencil/eraser" AND EXPECT YOU TO GIVE THEM A NEW ONE. IMMEDIATELY. Dear students, I am not your personal office supply store. There is a reason why I'm teaching you ownership and responsibility, so get with the program!

That said, students really can't practice taking care of their school items if they don't own any school items in the first place. So:

Dear parents, BUY YOUR KID SOME SCHOOL SUPPLIES. Seriously. A set of magic erasers is nothing compared to four years of higher education. That is, four years IF YOU ARE LUCKY. Because sometimes kids have been known to spend 10 years on their undergraduate degree. And if your kid does this, then you'll know one of the reasons why.

So enjoy it while it lasts. Get the cheap stuff because no matter how careful your kid is, they are bound to lose something on accident. Get a backpack and a pencil bag. LABEL YOUR KID'S STUFF. Because I label your kid's desk and cubby at school. This labeling process will make it that much easier for your child to pick up their own stuff, and pedagogy 101 tells us that the easier/more fun something is, the faster/better the kid will learn it. You will thank me, parents, when your child is 20 and has a working knowledge of how to keep his/her own space clean.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heads up 7-up

I never really liked this game when I was a kid. The whole put-head-down-put-thumb-up process just wasn't very appealing. Besides, I never got picked. Ever. Not even by my friends, who chose the popular kids in class. It's just very boring when all you do is hide your face in your arms and imitate a hitchhiker who never gets a ride.

But I'm in the minority. Nearly every class I've played this game with loved it. I mean, LOVED. IT. It's incredibly really, that students find this uncomplicated game so much fun.

Well, ok, I lied. I understand why 7-year-olds would like this game. But my fifth graders enjoyed it too - so much so that they played it for twenty minutes straight, and could have gone for more. I suspect that most of their enthusiasm for this game came from the rule that "girls must pick a boy, and boys must pick a girl." Which means ::gasp!:: they get to touch someone of the opposite sex! Yeah! Touching! Opposite sexes! Secrecy! Let the hormone dance begin!

Pros: physical activity. And my CT actually did a pretty ingenious link to math using probability. A good rainy-day game.

Cons: It's still boring.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The class crier

Whiney Kid in my Wednesday art class is sometimes almost unbearable. From the very first class, he seemed mopey and unwilling to do much. I believe most people are pretty optimistic (yes, even the emo among us), but there are born pessimists and Whiney Kid is one of them.

It has been excruciatingly difficult to get him to do ANYTHING. He doesn't want to draw. He doesn't want to color. he doesn't follow the tips and tricks I give the class for experimenting with individual artistic style. Art class is extra-curricular, and I'm much more lenient than I would be in a self-contained classroom. The one main rule for students is they can pretty much do anything that doesn't harm other people, and doesn't get in the way of other people from doing their art.

Whiney Kid is quite persistent with his whininess. To the point that it affects the students around him. He's like that white mochi thing in those Zoloft commercials before the Zoloft - just a big gray cloud of depressing vibes around him. It got so bad one day that he started crying. Not bawling, but the passive aggressive type of crying where you really can't help it because you are just so. Very. Depressed.

I've had crying kids in class before. For the most part, they cry because they aren't feeling well, or because they know they are in deep, deep trouble. One of my first grade students from phase II only cries when she wants her own way. One of my fifth grade students cries because she doesn't want people to think she's stupid (which she is not, she just thinks other people thinks she is, in that pre-teen self-conscious way).

So I know how to deal with them. I made sure the rest of the class was busy and on task, then knelt down and told Whiney Kid to spill it. Out came this long explanation of the woes of his life: how he missed the art class he took in kindergarden, how his mom made him go to this art class because his younger brother wanted to, how this was never his idea anyway how he was super sensitive to the sounds and lights in the room (migraine? in a 7-year-old? huh, I guess it could happen), and a bunch of mumbled stuff that I didn't quite catch but wasn't necessary for me to understand because he just needed to get it off his chest.

When he was done, I acknowledge how fun his kindergarden art class sounded. I sympathized with the tension between him and his mom, and told him that whatever disagreement he has with her needs to be worked out by them two. I firmly told him that the YR art classes are different, and we mainly only use markers and color pencils. I told him I can't make him do this art, he is the one who controls his own hand with the pencil in it. But he did not have a right to share his miserableness in a way that makes his classmates uncomfortable or distracts them from their work. I told him he had a choice: he can give the drawing class a chance, or he can put his head down and wait for the end. For either of those choices, I would allow him to go to the bathroom to wash his face, or get a drink of water and come back.

He did a little bit of both the drawing and the putting his head down. He didn't take the offer of leaving the room to collect himself, but he did stop whining and sucked it in. The following week, he seemed much more cheerful. For him, I mean. He didn't smile, now was he very energetic. But he didn't whine (much) either. I dismissed the class at the end, and watched them leave with their waiting parents/grandparents. Whiney Kid politely waved and said, "Bye, Ms. Ng" in reply to my wave and "See you later."

Monday, May 18, 2009


Lines and lines of students.

The office.

At recess.

See what I mean about the lines?


There were many delightful things about teaching English in China. There were also some not so delightful things. Which is probably what you get teaching anything, anywhere.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Will someone bring back Boston Public already?

Photo from

Remember a few years ago there was this sit-com called Teachers (or some such title) that bombed and died quickly and quietly? I get the feeling Sit Down, Shut Up will go the same way. Not that the two were comparable - because Teachers is way better. Although both can't be called great entertainment.

It might be me, but I just don't get it. I'm not sure the profession of teaching can be created into purely a comedy alone. Satire, maybe. Dramedy, sure (although I don't really like that name for it...). But this? This is ridiculous. It's a waste of Hulu server space. I'm also not a fan of "adult cartoons" like Family Guy, even The Simpsons doesn't really appeal to me a lot, despite me falling into that viewer statistic category. It's so bad that I'm not going to bother creating a new tag for this post.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm not sure what to say

I don't use WTF? exclamations often but, WTF?!

"Robot teacher conducts first class in Tokyo school"

I found it here. It's.....nope, no words.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Voluntary holiday

I admit, I tend to get frustrated at students who are frustrated. No matter how I break it down for them, guide them through one step at a time, scaffolding my brains out, some students just can't seem to stop saying, "I can't!" "I don't want to!" "I quit!"

I've been playing tennis for about two years now (those lessons in third grade don't count). I really like the game, and I haven't liked any sport since I first started playing volleyball in junior high. Basketball disgusts me. American football is worse. Soccer is ok if it wasn't for all the running (I'm not fond of running, although I've been training myself to run a little every day). Base/softball is boring. Golf is extra boring. Etcetera, etcetera.

For the past week or so, I've been really frustrated at the game for some reason. It hasn't been particularly challenging anymore, or fun. It's gotten very boring (I prefer to rally acrobatically, rather than do those hot one-shots, which some of the people I play with tend to do a lot). And so, frustrating to the point that dragging myself out to the courts at 7am is painful.

I guess this is what my students feel like when they come up against something unappetizing. I'm not sure how to make tennis fun again - maybe find new people to play. ::scoff:: But I'll try some different strategies to motivate my students.

One very effective strategy is simply taking a break. Which is why I'm so glad I'll be in San Diego by the time this post goes up. Before this semester, I've always thought I would be one of those teachers that never take a day off unless I was dying, or if there was a family emergency. Now, I've changed my mind. I'm pretty sure I'm going to take at least one mental health day per term. A teacher friend took a day off recently too, and she was glad she did. And I will too.

Teaching is rough. We don't have June, July, and August for nothing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The class INTJ

You can do it, little sprout!

In my Tuesday YR class is an extremely shy kindergardener. She's possibly the smallest student I have ever taught. She doesn't speak, doesn't really make eye contact, and doesn't verbally contribute (i.e. raising hands to ask questions). She's a cute kid, and above average at drawing, being able to keep up with the second graders that make up the rest of my class. But she is so painfully shy!

So how do you bring out a kid like that from their shell and encourage them to take some risks? My class is small enough so that I can give each student sufficient individual attention, which is why I'm asking this question. If it was a larger class, I probably would just let her do her thing since she isn't bothering other students, nor is she off task. But I think if she opens up a little, I can teach her better.

Although shy kids are not quite the mystery to me like non-shy kids are. I was a shy kid too, painfully so. I understand why sometimes shy kids just want to be left alone. Or meld with the decor. Or just not talk, because talking isn't always enjoyable. These kids also get the short end of the stick because the teacher is usually busy with the students who act out in louder, more obnoxious ways. They tend to be highly independent, figuring stuff out on their own before asking for help. Which is good. But they often do get over-looked and under-appreciated among a class of 20-35 other students clamoring for attention.

For the most part, I make sure she's in the conversation by looking her way whenever I ask an open-ended question, or when I'm checking for understanding. I know she's following when she does what I say. I know she's not following when she seems to be day-dreaming and doesn't respond quickly. I would like her to be a little more out-going - because it sucks to be so shy sometimes. It can be paralyzing, and then you miss out on opportunities, or get seem indecisive but really just can't manage to make that first step forward. Been there, done that. It's always better to learn assertiveness and be your own advocate.

So Super Shy Kid, it's ok! Take it one step at a time. Today, she gave me a good long look in the eye and smiled shyly. Yep, one step at a time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Game

Library owned.

I love Diana Wynne Jones' writing style. Her books are so fun and random, and sometimes completely unbelievable but the way she writes just sucks you in.

Like this one. The Game is a story that shouldn't be, but is because...well, I can't put my finger on it, but it seems like it CAN be real. Weird, huh?

One of my 101 in 1001 goals is to read a Newberry/Caldecott winner each month. Unfortunately, my local library does not contain that many of these lauded books. Just the typical ones on nearly every elementary school reading list. Newberrys shouldn't be that expensive, at least not in paperback form. But the Caldecotts! Whoa, do those cost an arm and a leg! Probably because they are nearly always in hardcover. Or maybe visual art has more value than words. How sad.

Anyway, I'm adding the above title to my list of books I want to acquire for my classroom library. It's an easy read, probably for 3-4 graders. Well, maybe 5th graders too. Because there at least two different definitions of illiteracy: 1) lack of skill needed to read in any language up to at least the 7th grade level and 2) the inability to find interest in reading enough so to read independently for at least an hour at a time. Definition #2 is my words only, although there are teachers who would agree.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I guess I like to eat them

In progress.

Cupcakes are one of the simplest things to do as a fun activity in class. It can get expensive, but with some shopping savy and creativity, it's not so bad. It takes anywhere from 2-15 minutes for students to completely decorate a cupcake, and usually I let my students do at least two each. They also get to eat them of course, and if I'm quick about it, some really cool photos come out from the activity too.

I make the cupcakes the night before. However, if there are ovens handy I would allow students to mix it too. This can become a pretty easy lesson on measurements (math & science content areas). Steamers would also work, although the cake mix recipe will have to be tweaked a little.


Materials needed:
- cupcakes (I make them the night before)
- white frosting
- food dye (to make the frosting different colors)
- popsicle sticks (for students to apply frosting - cheaper than plastic spoons and just as re-useable)
- wax paper (to make frosting bags, roll into a cone and cut off the tip; I would only use these for 7th+ grades)
- toothpicks (also only for older students; to adjust frosting/toppings into more intricate designs)
- paper plates
- wipes, damp clothes, napkins, and extra trash bags for clean up; it's best to take out the trash from this activity yourself. I hate ants in the classroom, so I don't take any chances. Also, be nice to the school janitorial staff. They have it rough.
- plastic baggies for students to transport their cupcakes/toppings home

And of course toppings! Jelly beans, nerds, licorice sticks, nuts (beware allergies), dried fruit cut up into small pieces, granola, etc. Regular sprinkles that come in the jars can get expensive so I don't use these too much. I believe the off-beat toppings get better results anyway, especially with the younger ones.

I wouldn't do this kind of thing as a routine thing. Reserve it for only special occasions: first/last day of school, holidays involving food (i.e. Thanksgiving, heritage food festivals). I would also only do this during the last part of the day, mainly because students can get pretty crazy after having experienced something so out of the ordinary. Clean-up can be chaotic unless orchestrated down to the very minute details (this piece of advice is applicable to any and all activities - it is also one that I don't take to heart very well unless I've had tons of planning and prep time). For all students, the eating part would be a good time for a read aloud, or some sort of video. I tend to pick educational ones, not just movies, but it's up to each teacher. Travel or nature videos are good choices.

Other potential lesson plans include but are not limited to:
- nutrition/where food comes from (flour is made of wheat, etc)
- art and design
- community/professions (I've never done it this way, but in theory you can get a local baker to come in and talk about their work; maybe they'll donate materials too if you ask nicely)

Best of all, any left-overs are for teachers only!

Monday, May 11, 2009


No good without a plan.

Finally, after a month, I got called to sub. Well, that's too damn bad because I already had to teach YR that day, and from past history, I know the brief half-hour or so before school starts is not enough time to find a sub for YR. Actually, knowing YR an entire week is not enough to find a sub for YR.

I know I made the right choice for myself. I don't like being torn like that, takes my focus off and usually leads to a very bad teaching day. But really! The coordinator person led us to believe each of the eleven new subs in the pool would be teaching at least once a week, NOT once a month! What is up with that?

Ok, it's not her fault. It's mine for sticking my fingers into too many things all at once. I've done this before, when life tosses lemons at me that are so rotten, I can't make anything out of them let alone lemonade. I cast a really wide net and let it fall, and then I get tangled up in it myself.

In short: I hate unscheduled subbing. And I'm going to send an email to the coordinator right now to tell her exactly the days I can sub for the rest of the school year.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Coincidence? You decide.

I wouldn't be able to handle it.

I was privileged to spend about two hours with a 1.5 year old toddler recently while visiting a couple who had just had a newborn. The parents were very much sleep deprived, as almost all parents of newborns are. I admire them, and all parents very much, because I'm pretty sure I would not do such a thing. By choice. Because I'm selfish and immature like that.

The toddler was feeling a little left out, so it was nice for him to have the undivided attention of another person for a good long time. He toddled (ooooh...THAT's why they are called toddlers...) about for a while, and then settled down to play in earnest. I like to think I was pretty entertaining. I certainly had a good time. When I had to leave, he seemed like he wanted me to stay longer. Which was cute.

But it got me thinking because the parents of this cutie and I talked about it a little. I did some light googling when I got home that evening and the following is what I discovered:

Country::paid parental leave given

Sweden/Norway::16 months
Estonia::18 months
Bulgaria::45 days prior to anticipated date of birth, plus 2 years (also, pregnant women and single mothers cannot be fired)
Lithuania::8 weeks prior, plus 1 year
Canada::35 weeks shared between parents, plus an additional 15 for the mother, which is a potential 50 weeks total for the mother.
UK::52 weeks
China::90 days
Japan::14 weeks
Pakistan::12 weeks
France::16 weeks for first child, rising to 26 weeks for third child
Australia/Swaziland/Liberia/Papua New Guinea/USA::none

According to this law, parents are given 12 weeks unpaid parental leave. Any additional leave, paid or unpaid, is up to the discretion of the employer. Seriously? If I were ever to change my mind and actually have a kid, I would move to Bulgaria. They seem to have a much better deal there.

Frankly, the fact that Pakistan has more paid parental leave than the US doesn't really sit right with me. Not that it's a competition or anything. However, seriously? Pakistan? Does no other American find that rather embarrassing? Can we not provide just as well for our citizens as Pakistan does for theirs?

I've been hearing how students have been "getting dumber" (whatever that means) and developing "worse manners" (I believe this - more than once I've been on a bus with teenagers hogging up the seats while elderly people balance themselves in the stop-and-go traffic). Would paid parental leave alleviate this? Probably not. Would paid parental leave increase student's reading proficiency? I don't think so. Would paid parental leave keep more kids out of juvie and on a path towards a successful adult life that doesn't involve drugs or violence or gangs or dependence on welfare? Not likely.

Would it hurt to have paid parental leave? Definitely not.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


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Story of my life

Which is why I spend my days making stationary rather than doing what I've been trained to do.

Not that making stationary is a bad thing (it's so much fun!), nor that my current part-time job is awful (I've grown to appreciate art so much more by teaching art; plus the wonders it has done to the confidence in my own teaching skills), but I understand what this article's title means. However, quite possibly in a much different way from what the actual article means. (note: dear journalists, please make headlines and article text match a bit more, yeah?)

The topic addressed in the article isn't isolated in India alone. I'm sure lots of college grads have a "Now What?" feeling once the hype and relief of finally getting that degree in their hands is over (been there, done that). Even more may get the same feeling after months of fruitless job searching and networking of industrial strength capacity. Some of it can be chalked up to the intensely media-cized economic situation. Most of it has nothing to do with the job market outlook whatsoever.

What I find to be slightly unreasonable is for people to assume that fresh graduates have refined social/professional skills and general worldliness just because we can claim a BS/BA to our names. It's kind of like me assuming my students can read with the same fluency and comprehension as their speaking skills. There is reading, and there is speaking, and then there is the connection between the two that no content standard addresses with any kind of satisfaction.

But there's potential! That all elusive, sometimes disappointing, intangible thing that disappears the moment you look directly at it and sprouts back up when you least expect it! Not all students can read. But all students have the potential to. This kind of tells me that sometimes society views education as a means to an end, as opposed to just an end. Which is just as legitimate and worthy as the other way, or any other way for that matter. Hey, the more ways you can squeeze out, the higher the value of your education.

Now of course, no employer will hire someone based on potential alone (unless it's a modeling agency or the like). There's many other factors built in as well. But as a potential employee, I'm looking for an employer who will offer ways and means for me to develop my potential, build upon my skills, and place me where I can be most effective. I'm not a drone that some university's mass production line spat out into the world. Even if I weren't college educated, I'm still not a drone that some high school spat out either. I'm willing to start at the very bottom - frankly, even I think that's all I'm fit to start out on - but I'm sure not going to stay there.

Key quote:
"The biggest problem is the poor quality of teachers," he said. "The teaching profession is unable to attract good talent. It is often the last resort for people who could not make it elsewhere."

See what I mean about this not being an India-only issue? Look carefully, there is so much more that is wrong with this quote than meets the eye.

Once again, no answers here. Just thoughts.

Friday, May 8, 2009

New tag

I've been thinking about doing only a photo-type entry for awhile now - just didn't know what the topic would be. Then, the other day I randomly thought about all the different schools I've been to - teaching, learning, or both. Which naturally led me to think what a good topic for a photo blog! So here it is.
Towers over dorms.

View from my room.

Victorian style night club for academics.

Clock tower + palm trees + memories from awesome Chinese music class = my favorite building in the entire school.

Main building. A little to the right from the above.

I don't know how many of these I can do. Even though I've taught at fifteen different schools (at least!), I'm typically busy thinking about teaching during the time before class and in a hurry to leave after. But if there's a goal and a purpose, especially a blogging purpose, then the chances of me remembering to take some campus photos goes up dramatically.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Education stimulus


The US Department of Education announced the distribution of stimulus funds to several different states recently. The link is only for Maine, but Utah, Oregon, Minnesota among others are included as well. Each state is getting different amounts; I don't know why, probably according to what they need to fill in the budget gaps until the next fiscal year which starts July 1st.

That is also the day California school districts will announce which pinkslipped staff will return for full-time jobs in the fall.

Can't say it's not good news. At least some people will be getting their jobs back. And if it isn't all, plus the newly preliminary credentialed teachers, well, that's to be expected. I just hope the schools use them to hire quality teachers rather than spend it on random software and textbooks which will sit in their boxes unused and untouched by teachers or students.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Civics and such

Clean your room!

Would it be entirely too presumptuous to create a classroom chore rotation for my students? I personally would love to do this. Schools in Japan and China do this. I've heard some European schools do this too. Not that their schools are superfantasically perfect, because every school has its own flaws. But from a practical and philosophical perspective, I believe it's a great idea.

These chores will of course be age appropriate. It's not like I'm going to ask a 7-year-old to get up on a 10 ft. ladder and change the lightbulb. It'll be simple stuff: cleaning the whiteboard, sweeping and mopping, dusting, etc. Basically putting the classroom back to rights. Students will be put into teams of 2-4 so they won't be doing this stuff all by themselves. And of course I will train them to do the chores properly.

Would this cut down on littering, or trashing up the school? What about the gum infestation? Because I've found gum stuck in desks and textbooks without the wrappers and it is awful. What about graffiti at school? Would this help students respect school property?

Hm, in theory yes, but there are probably more factors involved than I realize. Like student history of chore-doing. Because some kids in schools now have never, ever once lifted a finger to do chores. Some students breeze right through high school and on to college without ever experiencing how to wash a dish, or do their own laundry, or take out their own trash. Which I think is a very, very sad thing. In certain ways, it's sadder for the student than for the student's immediate environment.

American schools (and parents) maybe will look upon this idea as rather backwards. But I think one of the things I'm going to do in my classroom is send a parent permission form stating that their child will participate in classroom chores, and this participation will be part of their grade. Arrangements can be made for students to only participate in them on certain days, since families are pretty busy and there are tons of after school activities. And like all permission forms, there must be a box for religious or moral or whatever values that say why they choose to not do this (and instead will perform a substitute task, don't know what yet though). But I think parents can be on board with this if they are given the right persuasion.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

(Un)Happy Cinco de Mayo

Not enough yet, not nearly enough.

I'm getting really annoyed with the whole concept of teaching. Well, I've BEEN annoyed for a long time now, but events have accumulated like a blood clot in the brain and I'm getting dangerously close to quitting. Which is a really sucky feeling. It's a bad teaching day already and I haven't even entered the classroom yet! Ugh.

Ok, get over it, Bonnie. You are not hurt and you are not dying. It's not so bad.

Because interviews are scary, part V

It might take an entire strawberry tart to calm down.

I realize that my answers to these questions have probably changed. By probably, I mead definitely. But I'm putting my old interview question answers up anyway because blogs are cool like that. You can really see the changes of the author over long periods of time, just by comparing back entries to current ones. I might redo these later, I might not. For now, I just like to see how far I've developed as a teacher.

Classroom management

What type of classroom management plan would you implement?

A student-directed one. I would focus on the goals self-management, self-control, and self-correction. Students should also be able to make the right choices, be respectful and considerate of others, and know that every action has at least one consequence, if not more. I believe behavior management is not only for the classroom. The better equipped students are to handle their emotions for themselves, the better they can deal with stress for the rest of their lives.

How would you set up a student management system?

I would present the rules and regulations to students (perhaps have students come up with one or two more, if they are in the older grades). All students should review the rules and sign a contract saying they recognize why these rules are in place and what will happen if they are broken. Also in the contract is the promise to try to adhere to these rules to the best of their ability.

How do you handle children who are difficult to manage?

On an individual basis. Each student comes with different emotional and cognitive issues. I should research family background, the student’s previous experiences with other teachers, and behavior records before acting. There may be more to the situation than what the surface may initially indicate. In all cases, I will work with the student, as well as their parents, to help them manage their behavior issues in a positive way.

Describe the toughest discipline situation you encountered and how you handled it.

The small things students do to test me as a teacher are the toughest for me to handle. I have had to learn the hard way not to ignore these little things, but to nip potentially adverse behaviors in the bud and to present a consistently fair sense of judgement. Chattering with neighbors during direct instruction time, misuse of materials, rough housing with peers when they are supposed to be lining up quietly and appropriately - basically offense that can have multiple repetitions throughout any given day - all should be addressed immediately. I have practiced many various nonverbal interventions because of this.

If you were having classroom management difficulties, when and who would you ask for help?

Sending students out of the classroom should be a last resort for the majority of the time. If I was having consistent management difficulties, I would first have to self-reflect on what I am doing as a teacher that might solicit negative responses from students. The next level would be to speak with individuals or groups and ask if they know what they are doing and why they should not behave so at school. Speaking with the parents is also a must. I would ask my student’s previous teachers for any insight or advice on their behaviors. I would also seek new ideas that other colleagues have found success in and try them in my classroom.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Something to celebrate!

It's been a few days now, and I can say with confidence that I've passed the PACT! w00t! Granted, I squeaked by just barely, but a pass is a pass. I'm just thankful I don't have to do the thing over again.

Good luck to those who have to re-do it! Remember that the PACT results do not in any way decide what kind of teacher you are, or your potential for the profession.