Sunday, January 31, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 causes of the American Revolution

Who was she? What did she do? Why should we name buildings and parks after her?

The main strand says:
Students explain the causes of the American Revolution.

Which is a pretty big area. They are supposed to go into all the taxation acts, the continental congresses, and something called the "Committees of Correspondence," which doesn't even ring a bell to me.

On top of that, students are supposed to study the lives of key people of the era and the events they participated in. This part seems pretty fun. I like biography lessons. It would be fun to do a little reader's theater, bringing all the characters together even if not all of them knew each other.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Life lesson #5: hippy dippy froyo

Love the stuff. Can't stand the word, "froyo" though.

Everyone starts pretty much the same, although some people have bigger bowls and some have the smaller kind.

Those with the waffle bowls have the most fun.

You can choose whatever is available, but sometimes, timing is everything. It sucks to get the last dredges of yogurt from the dispenser.

Toppings are superficial. If you don't have a strong yogurt base, then it's all just chopped up bits and pieces.

That said, toppings make the whole thing fun.

Sometimes, people have near empty bowls. Others may end up with overflowing ones. Being happy with what you've got makes the experience nicer.

If you want to get more, then you have to pay more.

Unless you have connections. Then you might get a freebie.

Eat it all and eat it quick. The melted frozen yogurt mess at the end isn't pretty - it's also a waste.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hyperactive teacher included!

Blurred and furred.

I have my largest art class on Thursdays this semester. A whopping 24 K-2 kids, half of whom are spoiled by their teachers and parents alike. Most of whom are high energy and teacher-intensive (note: favorite teaching word to describe students so far). I downed two large cups of strong coffee before leaving home for work.

Seven hours later, I'm still a little high on the caffeine.

However, it was a really good choice. I've only taught this class three times, and I haven't experienced any day with them WITHOUT having to remove a kid from the group. What is going on at this school? It's a well-off school too. The kids come from a nice, new development. 99.9% of them are white. Statistically speaking, these kids should be riding high on conformity and well-behaved-ness.

Taking the preemptive strike of consuming energy balls worked. I was up and running, handling actual teaching while quelling behaviors. Granted, I was going a bit too fast.

Still, I didn't appreciate the "helper" teacher interrupting me in the middle of teaching and telling me that though. That's what she's here for - to help with the kinders who are a little slower than the second graders. Do your job first, then you can talk to me about mine.

For example, a couple kids started whining about being tired and "done," showing me a half-colored piece of paper. This conversation occurred as I was circulating:

Student: I'm bored!

Me: You are?

Student: I want to stop [drawing/coloring] now.

Me: You want to stop because you are bored?

Student: Yes.

Me: Do you always stop when you are bored? (I lean over the kid and begin coloring parts that she skipped)

Student: Yes. I get bored when I do something for too long.

Me: Hm. Does that mean you'll stop breathing when you're bored of it? Eating when you're bored of that? Sleeping? Walking? Will you stop talking when you are bored? How about playing? Because it sounds like you need to stop a lot of things.

Student: .....

Me: (continues coloring bits and parts of her art) Are you bored of sitting? Will you stop sitting? But then you'll get bored of standing, so then you'll stop and sit. Or maybe lie down. Will you get bored of lying down? And then what? Squat? Kneel? Hover-squat?

(by this time, some of the surrounding students have caught on to the fun and offered suggestions. Like getting bored of drinking, writing, looking, running, etc. Also by this time, I had cleared a quarter of this student's coloring job. Added to her own quarter's worth of work, her art was now half done.)

Student: Ok, I'm not bored anymore.

Me: But I'm not bored of talking about you being bored yet!

(students laugh)

Student: That's ok. You can stop now.

This student had a finely drawn and colored piece of art at the end of class. Teacher: 1. Boredom: 0.

Later, I left for tutoring right after art class, still wired. I'm pretty sure my tutee thinks I'm crazy now.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The geometry

Of miniature golf. Obviously.

Of packing for a week-long trip with only a teeny-tiny carry-on (which, by the way, is the only type of carry-on most people should have; no one likes the guy who takes forever to stuff a large case into the overhead compartment just slightly bigger than my car's glove compartment).

Of the pool table.

Of the shapes and physics of the world, natural and man-made.

Geometry is my favorite math subject, usually tied with history of math. Right now, since I'm tutoring a high school kid in geometry, I've rediscovered how much I like proving triangles are congruent for no other reason than to prove two things are congruent.

I would like to find some more geometry puzzles and puzzlers though. The ones I've found online are rather, well, elementary. Which is still good - for a fifth grader, but not a 15-year-old. There's got to be more difficult stuff out there.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tour Eiffel in miniature

More like a wishful day in a life.

One of the many projects I'm longing to spend some quality time with, but unfortunately, even with my two-part-time-jobs schedule (which in and of itself is relatively full) doesn't exactly allow for right now. So let's dream of what might be, as I teach a bunch of kids yet untrained in the procedures and routines of my class.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


A quick, easy read - well, I guess adult readers will have an advantage over 2nd graders, which what I guess the approximate level of this book is. But I would read it to any student of any age. Which is one of the marks of a good book.

It's a very different type of perspective on Native Americans and their first meetings with Europeans. This is no Indian in the Cupboard. I also found some unresolved inner turmoil from the main character: atypical of children's books, but I imagine pretty common among traditional Native American stories.

Like the story of the turtle and the old badger woman (or whatever animal she was - I don't have the book anymore to fact check). Very interesting fable. Was it an actual Native American fable? I don't know. But I believe it could be.

Which is all that matters.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Media Mondays: Not exactly something I'll show in the classroom

Screencap from Bourdain's Travel Channel blog.

Maybe I've been watching a little too much of Anthony Bourdain's philosophy - not to mention buying in to his world view - but yesterday's adventure left a rather deep impression on me.

It all began with a sunny Sunday morning, the remnants of a beautiful weekend after six straight days of rain (and, according to the weather people, an additional four more in the near future). I get to church a little later than my usual time, not being able to resist the siren call of a warm bed and the snooze button.

I arrive to find a large tan and white boxer sitting at the front door. Everyone was still inside, attending the early morning English service, but there was an unfamiliar guy at the door, playing with the dog. I thought it was his dog. My church is pretty pet-friendly. One person sometimes brings her little Maltese. The guy I got Momiji from likes to bring his bunnies for my Sunday school kids to play with. And then there was that one time when I was in seventh grade and we found a deteriorating cat in the landscaping. My brother and some of his friends were the ones responsible for shoveling up the remains and disposing of it.

So I go to my classroom to get things set up. I walk back out to get some copies done a few minutes later. The dog was still there, although the guy was not - and every single person who was inside for service were entering out the sanctuary back door.

They were afraid of the dog.

I know all about the San Francisco dog bite deaths and such that happened some time ago. And it's always good to have a certain level of respect around all animals, including household pets. But since I saw this dog playing innocently earlier, I wasn't the least bit afraid.

With people hiding, peeking through the front windows and through a crack in the front door, they watched me go up to the boxer. I greeted him like any other dog I've every greeted, and he greeted me back like any other dog that I've ever met. He was friendly, wiggly, playful. He was probably still just a puppy, even though he was a good size. I fumbled with his collar, trying to look at the tag, but the dog thought it was a game of keep-away.

A couple of the braver souls stepped out to watch. One one of them manned up enough to help me read the tag as I distracted the little guy. It was a phone number for the local pet hospital. Which is closed on Sundays.

With no other clue as to where the dog came from and to whom he belonged, except that he had followed a family as they walked to church from a block away, I and two others led the dog out in search for his home.

We knocked on doors. Many didn't answer. Those who did answered the door like most people in my town answer doors - namely, cautiously and slightly anxious. No one knew where the dog came from. Some admitted that they didn't even know which house had a dog.

We finally found a house that seemed like it. It had a dish of skanky water and an empty pie tin with dry dog food crumbs in it. There was a chew bone tangled up in a Christmas garland. The dog promptly made a bee line for it when we approached the house and settled down for a good chew.

I assumed we had found it's home, but the inhabitants were even less trusting than anyone else we had talked to that day. There were three security system stickers on the windows. It was a pretty shady looking place - wouldn't look out of place from one of those houses where they find dead bodies on CSI.

I was rather nervous leaving the dog there. Who knew what kind of owner this was? But the dog seemed happy. He trotted around the yard, then meandered off to the next one. By this time, I had looked up the number for animal control, which was disconnected. Of course. We decided to leave the dog in the vicinity of it's supposed home, having done our best at helping it. He seemed happy to sniff around in the yards, so we said our good byes and walked back to church.

People are so afraid and nervous about things they don't know. Things that can potentially be dangerous, or a failed attempt, or bring discomfort in some way. Which is ok. The thing that disturbed me the most is how much people LET these things hinder them from walking out the front door where a large dog was hanging out, and choosing the "safer" back door. They were more willing to avoid it than to come face to face with it. And most disturbing of all, they were perfectly willing to leave it there, ignoring it, hoping it would go away and not bothering to find out if it needed help.

What if it was a human being instead of a dog? What if it was a Blind person who got disoriented? Would they have responded the same way? I hope not, but it makes me doubt.

There are so many things people are afraid of happening concerning education. There are so many things educators and policy makers turn their faces from, hoping for it to go away. Abandoning them for cleaner, safer things, like charter schools and the Great White Hope of technology in the classroom.

I, the dog, and my two door-knocking companions today had lots of fun this morning. I bonded with two people I didn't know very well, people from my own church, over a common mission of leading the dog home. The dog seemed happy to play with people who were willing to give him attention and exclamations of "good boy!" It was the type of adventure I'm spoiled with while overseas. Something new, something out of the mundane, something to be remembered fondly and replicated whenever possible.

I hope I remember to open that door in times when I most want to exit another way.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 political, religious, social, economical - historically the easiest to upheave

For some reason, rocks and water nearly always evokes religion for me.

There are seven sub-bullets under standard 5.4 in the social studies-history subject area for the fifth grade. I didn't find much meaning when I just read these bullets straight. It just didn't make sense to me - what am I supposed to teach? What are students supposed to learn? It's one of those instances where there's lots of verbiage but very little being said.

So I have to remind myself that all these standards are placed in the backdrop of the formation of the nation. And that nation formation always involves politics, religion, society, and economics. Then it starts to make sense.

Sort of.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

8th graders

The extremes of youth.

Yesterday was my last day of subbing for a fellow art teacher's 6-8th grade elective. It was really fun. The 6th and 7th graders were right up my ally. I replied to their maturity level when confronted with drawing a canon and canon balls ("Balls! Har har!") jokingly. I described a tricky shape to draw with "curvy bottom" (::snort:: "Curvy bottom!" ::snort::). They responded well to personal praise.

This group's class personality split between 7th and 8th grade. Whereas the younger students were a mix of Abbot and Costello comedy, the 8th graders leaned more towards Kill Bill comedy. The 8th graders were darker, gloomier, and more desperate for approval.

At least they both responded to comedy. I love teaching students with a good sense of humor.

One thing I learned was the different way they viewed approval. Shallow, verbal "good jobs" didn't do much except make them distrustful of me. Not even when I pointed out the well done things specifically, one-on-one. However, when I shared certain tips, suggested that they made this line longer or place those items closer, they listened. They responded positively. They made their art better, even if they didn't take my suggestions.

They had to draw a pirate with a tatoo. I showed them several Chinese characters popular among tatooees (tatooists?). They started asking me all sorts of questions:

Students: Can you speak Chinese?

Me: Yes. "Love" in Chinese is ai. "Peace" is huo or wo, depending on the dialect. (I pointed to each character in turn)

Students: Did you go to school in China?

Me: Yes. (I did. Preschool. But I didn't tell them that.)

Students: Did you get in trouble?

Me: Yes. (I didn't say WHERE I got in trouble. Neither did they ask where.)

Students: What happened when you got in trouble?

Me: Well, schools in China have hall monitors. If you got in trouble for cutting class or talking back, they sometimes make you stand in the middle of the playground for hours. Sometimes you had to hold a big bucket filled with water in each hand. Often times, they would hit you with rulers or Chinese feather dusters, which are basically large sticks with chicken feathers attached to one end. And you got hit with the non-feather end. (I didn't say these things ACTUALLY happened to me. Because they didn't. But I know from good authority that these things are absolutely done somewhere in China.)

Students: (reverently) Rough.

As a general rule, I am totally not a proponent for hitting children. Although some occasions and some children's personalities call for a spanking. The silence that occurred as I was telling my story, and the way the 8th graders behaved afterwards, told me it really struck a chord with them. Pain is universal, even for the wildly hormonal and emo beast that is the 8th grade student - the type of child I sometimes find difficulty in teaching.

Friday, January 22, 2010

New tag: thinking

I do a lot of thinking by writing, so I might as well start a new tag for all the bullet point thoughts I have nearly constantly. Today:

* Eighth graders are an entirely different sort of beast, aren't they?

* Rain six days in a row is not my favorite thing.

* Rain six days in a row does some crazy things to students, especially the young ones.

* Fringe and No Reservations marathons are my happy things at the moment.

* Umbrellas are absolutely useless sometimes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

So You Want to be a Wizard

This book called out to me from my local library's shelves because the author's name seemed familiar somehow. In the end, I think I mistook Diane Duane for someone else. I do that often; I'm not very good with names. Human names, that is. Show me a Pokemon and I'll tell you what it's called in at least two of it's evolutionary forms.

One of the sequels to the series was right next to So You Want to be a Wizard. I didn't want to leave behind a potentially good book in the same story line, so I took that one too.

Which was a waste, because I didn't get to it. The first one was too boring. After thirty-five pages of describing how bullied and beat up the main character is - because she's poor - by the local wealthier, stronger bully-of-bullies girl and her posse, I gave it up. It really turns me off when a book is the author's selfish venting vehicle of what it was like to be a "bookish" kid in a video-game-and-expensive-bikes world. I don't know why. I would call my kid-self "bookish." But the bullying descriptions in those scant thirty-odd paperback pages were not convincing.

Too bad. I did want to find out how to become a wizard.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


A rabbit's "But I don't wanna!" face.

My usual arsenal against whining consists of jokes, sarcasm, and acknowledgement. Usually any one of those, or a combination of them (along with persistence) quells the whine.

Yesterday, one of my really cute - usually well behaved - kids whined her head off. It might have been the rain. It might have been the soda her mother allowed her to bring, and sip, in art class. Whatever it was, it took all my will power not to slap the kid upside in the head to make her stop.

It really brought down the rest of the class too. It only takes one bad orange to ruin the box right? Well, that last half hour of art class was one of the longest I've ever taught. I went home exhausted from keeping up the energy level and keeping down the discord.

Kid, if you have enough energy to whine more than the cellar of a high-end French restaurant, then you have enough energy to pick up that pencil and draw. Redirecting that energy is the tricky part.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Media Mondays (on a Tuesday): FAIL

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails
(It seems like you have to click on the photo in order to read what the bottom of the note says.)

I have some pretty strong spiritual beliefs. Typically of the non-fundamental kind, even if I do agree with some of the details presented in this parent's rather angry letter.

However, if I were the teacher of the student who's parent sent this letter in to me, I would:

- first, be rather pissed off.
- second, sorry for the kid.
- third, laugh it off and throw the note in the trash.

I'm also tempted to return a note to the parent saying, "Thank you for wasting my time by making me read your long note about your beliefs, which really have nothing to do with the logistics of the field trip. Which is what I mainly care about right now."

Seriously. If parents have the time and energy to write long, irrelevant notes to teachers, then they have enough time and energy to come to school and volunteer in the classroom.

So there.

Monday, January 18, 2010


My Sunday school students and the Operation Christmas Child project, 2009.

I'm not sure when exactly Martin Luther King Jr. Day became "Day of Service." The website said it was established in 1994. If it was, I wonder why I had never heard of it before last year. Was I living in a cave? Because that would be plausible.

At any rate, I like the idea. One day of service in an entire year isn't nearly enough - like how people generally celebrate the true meaning of Christmas - it's better than nothing.

Although I shouldn't say that ANYTHING is better than nothing. Good intentions are only good actions when the resulting action doesn't blow up in your face. Just like hope is only wishful thinking if the expectations are not followed through.

I've already discussed the idea of taking students to the local park with large orange bags and trash pokers. What are some other ideas? Kid-friendly ideas I mean. Ideas that doesn't send the principal into a panic, shouting "oh the liability!" at strangers in passing cars.

I already know I want a buddy class for my room. The students can read, play games, mentor other kids.

I like painting murals, removing gang graffiti and installing street art (guerilla gardening, any one?).

I like doing things for the elderly and people in convalescent homes. Students can read to them as well.

Well, in the end, I like many community service activities. I'm planning out some of the logistics in my head now, before I actually have my own class, so that I get most of the work done beforehand. Which increases the chance that I'll actually implement my plans.

And that's the catch, right? At least with me. I can plan and plan until kingdom comes, but it'll all be nought if I don't do anything about it. It doesn't have to be perfectly executed. That's something I trip up over too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 natives vs. foreigners, fight!

For all the fighting, the world is slowly turning fusion anyway.

From the California standards on history and social studies:
5.3 Students describe the cooperation and conflict that existed among the American Indians and between the Indian nations and the new settlers.

Competition and cooperation is a prominent theme in the fifth grade. Developmentally, it makes sense. Fifth graders are good at competition. They are also good at cooperation. These are very tangible things to them, which make this type of history pretty appropriate for them to understand.

Now, I know there's a whole bunch of political, unrecorded history on Native Americans and their interactions with Europeans. That's the nature of history - any history, not just of North America. I know I'm interested in those things, but not every fifth grader will be. In teaching, I have to remind myself that I can't teaching it all in one year. There are so many stories that don't get told in the classroom.

Which makes me think one of the purposes is to have students feel it is worthwhile to do the research themselves. Such a simple, straightforward purpose. Why do I forget it so often? And more importantly, how can I remember it more so I can teach better?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The class "Emotionally Disturbed"

Mental states are elsewhere.

Some teachers say that all kids are emotionally disturbed nowadays - just like how many special education teachers like to say all students are "special ed."

I'm on the fence regarding both these sayings. Just for today, I'll write about the emotionally disturbed students I've worked with.

This kid was my favorite. I have pretty self-involved reasons for thinking she is my favorite, but she really is a sweet kid. I sometimes wonder how she's doing now. She's in the third grade this year.

Another a student was in a horrific car accident with you younger sister. They both survived obviously, but some of their family members in their same car didn't. It affected the younger sister much more than the older one - at least in outward behaviors. The younger sister would cry and run away from her classroom. CT#3 would track her down while I taught, and bring her back to our room. Her older sister would help calm her down. Once she was calm, she would sit in the back and look at the lizard. She could sit there for hours, playing a staring contest with Harvey the Chinese Water Dragon. Eventually, she learned to stay in her own classroom without freaking out. It took the better part of the fall. She taught me the value of having a pet in the classroom.

Another student had an ingrained habit of what CT#2 called, "Alpha male" behaviors. CT#2 would know, he was an alpha male too. The student in question got really tense and anxious for seemingly no apparent reason at least twice a day. His story involved gang activity, both parents in jail, drugs, homelessness, and having been abandoned at the mall with his little brother. His behaviors included stealing, breaking things, defacing school property, intense bullying, swearing, and shouting out inappropriate comments at any given time. He would not pay any female teacher any attention at all. There was a staff member on campus, who's phone number was taped in bold print next to the phone, trained to specifically restrain this student. One day, under my watch, he ran out of the classroom and wouldn't come back. He was found in the boy's bathroom, digging holes out of the plaster walls with a compass.

All three students went to the resource teacher and saw the school psychologist on a regular basis. With the exception of Car Accident Girl, these students had IEPs and would most likely be tracked in special ed classes for the rest of their public education careers.

There isn't much else I want to say regarding emotionally disturbed students. I know I'll probably meet up with more. I definitely need more practice and training dealing with these students - the second example especially. He was highly volatile. CT#2 didn't teach me how to handle him, other than say I needed to be male. I did learn (on my own) that power struggles are not worth it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dress for the job you want, blazer edition

I'm not a big fan of blazers. I like the way they look, especially on guys, but wearing them during teaching isn't the most practical thing on earth. Most blazers are heavy, hot, the sleeves are too long on me, and most of them require dry cleaning, which I haven't gotten into the habit of doing. Probably never will.

However, I do own two blazers that I wear on occasion:

This one is a brown tweed material. Short-sleeved so I don't get too hot in those little tin-can portables that are either freezing or burning up. It keeps my core body warm, but ventilated as well. I like how it fits on me. Also the fun, puffy cap sleeves. Downside = it doesn't have pockets.

This is a more traditional black blazer that was meant to be part of a suit set. I didn't buy the pants because at the time I already had a pair of black pants. Now those black pants have died, and I'm realized that I don't really like plain black pants of the Dockers style, so I usually wear it with my dark grey pants, or a skirt. It has HUGE pockets, fits my keys, phone, post-it notes, random things I take away from students, a pen, pencil, AND eraser, with still enough room to put my hands in them to keep warm during yard duty. Downside = shoulder pads add heft and weight.

I usually wear these on days when I'm meeting parents, being observed by the principal/my supervisor/someone else important like that. Or for job interviews. If I ever get a job interview.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

Going behind other people who are waiting, that's a line.

I think teaching has made me a much more confrontational person. Or at least unafraid of it, when it arises. I try not to seek it out myself, but sometimes, it is necessary. Not to mention rather fun.

Case in point:

Wednesday, 12:46 PM

Despite waking up only two hours previously, I have had a productive day so far. I fed the rabbit, cleaned his cage, and played with him a little. I drove over to my bosses' house to pick up some supplies for my extra classes. I had gone grocery shopping. I bought Hagen Daz, a brand name that I ALWAYS have to google before I can spell it correctly, at 2 pints for $5.

And finally, I was going to gas up my car and drive home.

The setting: grocery store gas station. One of the cheapest places to get gas, thus, one of the places where there's always a line. Today, I was rather lucky. Just as I turned into the gas station, the line ahead of me moved forward and I was able to pull up to the pump.

A blue van with a rather scruffy looking, slightly past middle age was hanging out in the driveway between the pumps and the station parking spaces. I had seen him drive into the station before me, going the wrong way in the one-way driveway. His windows were down.

"Hey! What are you doing? I was in line!" he shouted.

"What are YOU doing? See that black Escalade?" I shouted back, pointing to the teenager behind me, who being a kindred spirit, gave a cocky wave. Some teenagers are cool like that.

"And then see that spot behind him? If you were there, you would be in a line. See how you are in the middle of the driveway? That's NOT a line. My fifth grade students would call that 'cutting' and would have told on you to a teacher. The teacher would then probably give you some sort of consequence for taking someone else's turn inappropriately. But then, you look smarter than a fifth grader, right?. You should have already figured that out, accepted you were not in a proper line, and fixed your mistake by now. Fifth graders know how to do that, you see, so I'm sure a grown man can do it too." I concluded.

Blue Van Man cursed and drove around to the next set of gas pumps. He got out of his car when he found a free pump and commented in an extraordinarily loud voice about how he was in line, and that an Asian bitch cut in front of him. Passive aggression at it's best and most mature.

If he was a school boy on the playground, he would be the one sulking, whining his head off at how unfair everyone and everything is. And no one on the playground would be paying him any attention.

Which was just what happened. Several of the gas station customers gave him weak smiles, but they all just turned away and went on their business. The guy on the other side of my pump whistled, grinned, and gave me a wink. I suppose that encouraged me to walk up to the blue van man after my car was full and say:

"Sir, it is indeed a grave injustice when some people don't agree with your concept of what a line is. I hope you feel better about it. Have a good day."

I could feel all the other customer's eyes on me as I walked back to my car - except Blue Van Man. I knew he was still sulking, as children do, but this time a little less loudly.

Three years ago, I would never have done that. It's so uncomfortable to witness these types of scenes. I always hate watching a harassed parent dealing with their tantrum throwing child in public. Most of them allow the kid to get the upper hand.

I'm glad I can I do this today. People have really got to get called out on crap like this more often.

I know it shouldn't be, but I can't help but feel rather satisfied when I've humbled a student by turning their own words back at them. In a caring way, of course. After all, one of my goals is to help my students to NOT become adults like the Blue Van Man.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Health sciences in education or, "How to break a CPR dummy"

Can you identify the high fructose corn syrup?

This marks the round dozen-th in official posts describing the process of becoming certified by the California Commission on Teacher Credentials (the CCTC, or what I like to call, "The Great Wise Board of Educators Not Actually Teaching Anybody Anything," TGWBENATAA).

Hold on to your hats, folks, there's going to be another dozen to go before I'm done with this tag. At least.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's first recap. You've now:

~ obtained a BA (or BS) in something. If you've long known you wanted to teach, the something is probably child development. If you decided to teach half-way into your undergrad years, it's communications or economics, or more likely both. If you knew from the very beginning in the womb that you wanted to teach, you probably already have your credential along with a major in education. Possibly you are on your way to an M.Ed. Which makes me wonder why you are reading this in the first place.

If you were (and are probably still) waffling around, changing your mind from law to accounting to architecture to the medical field to ::insert occupation here::, you would have a math degree. That's me. Go mathies!

If teaching is only a stepping stone to what your eventual goal will be, you would have studied the fine arts. Or English.

People with engineering backgrounds won't become teachers for another 15-30 years. By then, this guide will be obsolete. However, you are used to things going obsolete, so don't worry. You'll be able to wing it.

In any case, whatever your own education background is, you have one, which is really all that matters in this part of the process anyway.

~ You've taken the CBEST and CSET.

~ You've worked with kids. And liked it enough to consider spending 3/4 of each year with them.

~ The FBI and DOJ has deemed you a non-pedophile.

~ You've applied and been accepted to an accredited university's teacher preparation program for pre-service training.

~ You're now taking this series of courses, and these courses, and then there's this one, as well as this, oh and don't forget this lovely pair of courses either.

~ You've passed that damn RICA.

Congratulations! You are now ready, wait. Actually, if I remember correctly, you should have done the following step somewhere between getting an undergraduate degree and passing the damn RICA. It doesn't really matter when, although some programs will make it a mandatory pre-requisite before entering the field work component.

Because it's useful to know CPR and emergency first aid when, say, one of your students is having an asthma attack and he doesn't have his inhaler on him.

Or if something goes wrong during a lock-down.

Or when a student insists on eating thirteen hamburgers because he was traumatized by a year of homelessness and is taking the Scarlett thing too far, and you have to explain to him why eating so much is actually just as bad as not eating at all (note: see Educating Esme).

Not to mention the fact that 4th/5th/6th grade teachers are in charge of explaining sex ed.

So take that health science for educators class. Mine was mainly about cancer, nutrition, car accidents, and sitting through 40 presentations on healthy living.

It will probably require you to become adult and child CPR certified, which can be done through your local American Heart Association or Red Cross.

I got mine at a fire station in the seedier part of my town. I got yelled at by a fireman because I wasn't compressing hard enough. That it's better to break a rib than to have the rubber torso die of asphyxiation. So I pumped that dummy with ten times the energy of my tennis kill shot.

And made the head pop off its hinge.

I turned to the fireman and said, "Is this any better?"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

C.L. Elementary

Haven't had one of these tags in a long time.

I would LOVE to have a model skeleton in my room.

The classrooms are newly remodeled.

It's nice to see solid classroom furniture. Although this room was still in a portable.

It's pretty typical that music, science, and art gets shoved all higgledy-piggledy together in the same room like this. Sad, but better than nothing. Although that in itself is a pretty sad sentence too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Media Mondays: Educating Esme

Not exactly a book for little kids, but older kids might enjoy it.

I finished this one in five hours flat. Four of which were the night before, staying up until 3 AM to finish it. It's not a big book. It's not a classic, or terribly profound. Still, I really liked it. Me - who usually doesn't like books of this nature: self-help, autobiographical, inspirational-under-horrible-circumstances stories. A lot of those books seem so fake, so self-applauding.

Madame Esme may be a little self-applauding (she's a teacher, she HAS to applaud for herself because no one else is going to do it), but she's certainly not a fake. Just like the cover description says, she hangs the clean laundry out with the dirty - her accomplishments and failures out there for all to see.

Which is refreshing. I totally believe in taking the failures along with the successes together. One can't happen without the other.

Two things stuck out to me:

1. Esme's principal at the time used to call her late at night for "pat on the back" conversations. One day, Esme got so sick of it that she let her phone ring until the machine answered it. She woke up again at 3 AM to call her principal back, saying, "I'm so sorry. It's just that you called me so late. I knew you wouldn't call me so late if it wasn't terribly important. So I thought I had better call you back."

The late-night phone calls stopped there. Or I assume it did, the book doesn't really mention it again, either because they did stop, or because the principal started doing other, much more annoying things than late-night phone calls. Which he did.

2. The principal nags Esme about her insisting that the students call her "Madame Esme" rather than the more conventional "Miss/Mrs/Ms." After a huge confrontation, she refuses to talk about it anymore with the principal and storms out of his office. An older teacher colleague stops her on her way to resigning and they have a little conversation. The older teacher says, "You call that a fight? You wait until you've been teaching in the city awhile. See if you can stay here after you come up against the fight. The fight that will prove Mr. Turner's just the captain of a sinking ship. The fight that's bigger than two people in a room. It's a fight that you can't win even though you're right, because you can't win it all by yourself."

Esme asks the older teacher to clarify about "the fight," but the older teacher just shook her head, smiling. Esme decides to stay, if only to find out what "the mysterious Bigger Fight" is.

If the first situation above happened to me, I'm not sure I would have handled it like Esme - before I read her book. Now, I would handle it EXACTLY like Esme.

The second situation has been brewing in the back of my head since March. There is a bigger fight that the governors and the boards of educations and all that crap of two people in a room. It's so big, that it's all around us, and inside every single person in this nation, in the world. Where the "being an educated person" is less of an adjective and more of a characteristic.

It's a pretty disarming book for the reader. I recommend it to anyone who is brave enough to face the truth of what education is really doing to children.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 early exploration

Explorers - just another name for tourist.

Bullet points for brevity:

> Exploration is a pretty fun unit to teach, if only because I can turn the classroom into a mini-world, using thumbtacks and yarn to trace where Columbus, Coronado, Amerigo, Polo, and others traveled.

> It's funny that in the Making a New Nation text by McGraw Hill, there is a little snippet that describes a Chinese explorer. It really does make exploring into this glamorous thing. Which it can be. But it doesn't really describe why some nations (i.e. China, Japan) didn't do much exploring around this time. Well, another subject for another grade level, I guess.

> It would also be an excellent tie-in to visit some sort of maritime museum. Then students can actually see things like sextants, and old world compasses.

> Reading maps is huge. In the age where cell phones are locatable by GPS, there is still nothing like using your own head to figure out where you are. I would love to paint a map of the world on the playground blacktop and have students race to see who can go the fastest from nation to nation.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lesson from online chats

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

Dear students,

Proper grammar and punctuation are hot. Never let anyone else persuade you otherwise.

Sincerely, Ms. B.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Too old

Some thoughts today:

You know you're too old to jump on the bed when your bed breaks after an awesome jump where I scraped my head on the ceiling.

As usual, the job hunt is on my mind. Constantly. Although I haven't done much about since before winter break. It's too discouraging.

Thinking of choices. Past, present, and future choices. Hm. Turn left, Doctor?

When laziness takes hold, it doesn't let go, does it?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Secretary tension

I've learned to interact with front office staff with a "plate of warm cookies" attitude. Makes life happier for all involved.

Is it just me, or are school front office staffs getting crankier and crankier?

I taught art yesterday at a pretty nice school in my town. Some of my high school classmates went to this school.

After the art class, I waited the customary ten minutes for parents to arrive. Out of the ten students I had, two of them were picked up on time. So I herded them to the office to have them call home. Again, standard procedure.

The front office people saw us coming and panicked, I guess. They rather defensively said:

"What's going on? Why are you all in here?"


"You know you are still responsible for them."

I understand their panic. The front office staff have a lot of daily pressures that build up too. They are not trained to deal with students, and yet they must handle behavior problems sent to the office, bloody noses sent to the office, and me, the after school teacher going to the office.

Still, in general, I find the front office rather unhelpful on my first visit to the school. Once they remember my face, and know that I'm not there to increase their work load, they chill out. Most are even very friendly. But it takes a bit of time to get to that point, and each new school is a new battle of winning over the secretaries.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The odd vacation out

I enjoy baking during breaks from school.

Monday was the traditional first day back at school from winter break. Except at the school where I was supposed to teach art. THEY were off until Tuesday. But no one told me this little piece of information, so I went for nothing.

Although I found a janitor to let me in so I can drop off the new art class fliers, only to be chewed out by the front office secretary. Apparently, staff development days at this particular school also coincide with staff hibernation days where they will come out and growl if disturbed.

On the drive back from not teaching (although I'm getting paid for the half hour wasted anyway, thanks boss!), I thought of numerous schools and their different holidays. It seems like every single school has different timing for their breaks now. When I was in elementary school, it was all the same. It's possible that even within the same district, two schools will have different non-school days.

Which can be a good thing. Not everyone is rushing to go on vacation all at the same time. Plus, more vacation days mean less accumulated stress for all involved.

It can also be a bad thing too - it's hard to keep track of, for one. It's also difficult to get things done when you never know if the school office is open or closed or not. The unpredictability can be annoying. It also doesn't help when the school staff is as unhelpful as that secretary was to me.

My vote: I would like to see a uniform school schedule across the nation - or at least across the state - in a modified/traditional track. I don't like full-tracked schools, and I don't like full-traditional. The modified/traditional allows for a 2-week break in the fall, winter, and spring each, and 6 weeks of summer.

This kind of schedule allows for families to go on longer holidays. A lot of my students go to Mexico, or wherever their families are from, during their breaks. Two weeks make for a more productive trip than one, and since travel is a form of education in itself, I highly recommend it to parents. The fall and spring breaks will be off-season, which helps families find better deals for their travels.

It would also observe all state and national holidays - yes, including Columbus Day, Flag Day, and Cesar Chavez Day. As an addition, and not as a day "included in the breaks," as sometimes Chavez Day can be with spring break. It's a gyp-and-a-half when actual holidays are merged in with school breaks.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You too, can have a teaching credential for only $29.50!

The sad thing is, this isn't the final step. Note that this is a "preliminary" credential, rather than the clear credential. Also, the fee is for the CCTC to send someone out to CSUS to check that all the paperwork is in order. THAT process takes anywhere from 3-6 months.

I lied, there are many sad things about it. Eh. At least I finished what I had to do. I'm in control of everything except for the things outside my control. Waiting for the CCTC to do their thing is outside my control.

Monday, January 4, 2010

TFA, The Onion, and fodder

Teaching is like a white elephant gift exchange. One moment, you are completely satisfied with the box of gourmet hot chocolate mix. The next moment, you are left with a battery powered Santa figurine that lights up to look more like a grotesque, creepy clown and a stunned feeling of hopelessness through no fault of your own other than having a decent gift in the first place.

I'm not particularly a huge fan of The Onion. I perceive it as habitually patting itself on the back. But this article hit quite close to reality in The Onion's signature fashion.

I was a Teach for America hopeful at one point in time, and I am glad to say that I didn't go that route or else I would be an accountant by now. Not that accounting isn't a good job - I just prefer teaching. Yep, despite all the who-ha and do-dads of the system. And the fact that windows can come crashing down over children's heads at any given moment.

Something that did take me back about this article is that it was written in 2005. And things have not changed at all for the better. In fact, it has probably gotten worse.

There are a million and one real news articles about the state of American education. I'm not sure we need a fake-news article about how bad it is, or how hopeless it can get. Why on earth do we need to try so hard to persuade people to become teachers? And more to the point, why on earth are we doing nothing to keep the good teachers in schools now? The good teachers, like Cuellen in the article, who have so much potential and can grow to be someone principals fight over to get on staff with only a little bit of investment on the part of the system. The good teachers who end up burning out like a moth in a space rocket exhaust pipe.

Well, I don't get these moments very often, so I'm going to revel in it for a little while. I'm glad I wasn't 21 years old, straight out of undergrad when I started teaching. Because knowing me, I would have quit long before now.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 major Pre-Colombian North American settlements

Older than Europeans.

Fifth graders in California are supposed to study the geography and climate influences, customs and folklore, and economies and government of the following:

- cliff dwellers and pueblo people of the Southwest
- Pacific Northwest Native Americans
- nomadic nations of the Great Plains
- woodland peoples of the Mississippi River

That's a lot of different tribes. The way the MacMillian textbook describes these nations isn't very easy to comprehend. It's not presented with any sort of connection from one group to the others. Which sort of defeats the purpose, no? Students have already gotten a lot of Native American history through the 4th grade mission unit. So why do more when there is no connection?

They have to be related in some way. I don't actually know how they are related though - that means more research on my part.

The one main point that I did get from the MacMillian text is how it acknowledges that Europeans weren't the first ones to land in the Americas. Although, later on, the text still makes it seem like the Europeans were the most influential in the making of these modern nations, which is debatable really. A whole lot of history happened before they arrived - it's probably mostly lost though. Sad.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Another year of teaching under the belt

How I spent my New Year's Eve:

7:25 PM - Started with a load of dishes.

7:40 PM - Then some baking. Plain yellow cake mix. I tossed in a handful of confetti sprinkles and topped them off with broken pieces of Ghiradelli chocolates. Yum.

8:12 PM - Quality time with Netflix and Doctor Who. The Tenth Doctor is quite attractive, and I'm not only referring to the trench-coat-brown-pinstripes-converse-sneaker combination. Which is rather stylish as well.

8:28 PM - Dessert is ready!

11:57 PM - Animal Crossing celebrations are oddly much more entertaining than anything the major networks dished out this year.

11:58 PM - Getting my toast ready. OJ in a fancy glass.

12:02 AM - w00t! 2010!

12:03 AM - Mo says, "What's all the fuss about?" And yes, I did clink my glass against his water bottle. My level of craziness has already been established even before adopting a rabbit.

Technically, I'm in my third year of teaching experience - but I'm going to call the remainder of this school year, and all of the next, my first year anyway. I'm no longer a student teacher! Can't explain how good that feels. Any teaching related adventures starting now will be tagged "first year."

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's around the world

December 31/January 1 is my favorite holiday, probably because I associate a lot of good memories with this night.

No one goes to school on this day, but it would be fun to start off the first day back at school with some new year's cultural activities such as:

Bonfires made of old Christmas trees happen all over the Netherlands on New Year's Eve. Now that's an education law suit waiting to happen. Scratch this idea?

In Japan, some people observe "kakizome" on the second day of January (which may or may not be the first day back at school, now that I think of it). It's basically a calligraphy exercise: people write a phrase or poem using brushes & ink. It's very similar to the Chinese New Year tradition of writing lucky words on red paper - except that the Japanese tend to use white, or cream, colored paper.

The Russians eat meat and potato dishes. Care for kartoshnik, students?

The Danes like to save old dishes, probably chipped ones, throughout the year, then throw them at their friend's homes on the 31st. So you know you have a lot of friends when you find a huge pile of broken dishes on your front step in the morning. I can make it work with some modifications - perhaps taking broken dishes and cementing the pieces into a mosaic?

Carnivals ring in the South African new year. This can be a school-wide, or even community wide, event. Lots of coordination, lots of work, but probably really, really fun.

For a more scientific approach, like the Germans, I could melt metal and drop it in buckets of water to tell fortunes for the coming year. According to this, if the metal comes out in a shape of a pig, then your year will be full of plenty.

Photo from here.

Most of the ideas I got from this site deal with non-January 1 New Year's events. Actually, I suppose most of the world's traditional new year begins with the coming of spring and the end of winter.

Hm, perhaps an even more academically acceptable activity would be to study the different types of calendars. It'll be interesting for students to figure out where their birthdays fall on say, the Julian calendar, or the lunar calendar.