Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Last day of school...

It's the last day of summer school for my students. (I still have another week to go.) I'm so incredibly proud of each and every one of them. They've worked hard all summer and today the other teachers and I have planned a bit of a reward for them - a lesson plan that involves playing educational games and reading interesting books (instead of their readers), to be capped off with a party - cupcakes and punch diluted with seltzer.

And I've found out about a possible placement that would be about 15-20 minutes away from my apartment. Which would be nice, but I'm doing my best not to count my chickens before they've hatched.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Scent - One single Impression

I stand next to the whiteboard,
marker in my hand,
a faint whiff of solvent,
like old, purple-blue dittoes
still damp.

Memories rise up from the chalkboard,
as I sponge away today's lesson
carried in the dry scent
of wet chalk
and slate.

Standing here, beginning my day
preparing the classroom
I am both student and teacher,
child and adult,

For more scent poetry, check out One single Impression

Practice teaching is teaching me a lot

And one of the most important things practice teaching is teaching me is that I'm in the right part of education for me. Because I will be a Special Educator, I am required to do a rotation in both Special Ed. and in gen. ed. (general education). While I am enjoying my students in my gen ed rotation, and while it's in some ways easier, I've realized how much I miss the ways that special ed. is able to really individualize instruction. In special ed. we are required to keep documents for each student, detailing their goals, disabilities, and lots of other stuff. There are notes about what helps and about what doesn't work. We work hard to learn exactly how each student learns best and how to keep that child learning to the best of his or her ability.

And I really wish we had the ability to do that for every single student in the schools. I wish that general educators had the same tools at their disposal that we have to track the ways our students learn. And I wish this even more than I wish we had enough copier paper in the teacher's lounge. Or that we had enough pencils to go around.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Inner Voice (One Single Impression)

I hear a call, a whisper,
a rhythm tapping in my soul,
a song begging me to sing,
a life begging to be lived.

I sound the notes softly,
hesitant, unsure, feeling
I cannot do them justice,
cannot sing them true.

But soft and sweet, they call,
aching to burst free,
longing to form a chorus,
begging to fill the sky.

More poetry on an inner voice can be found at One Single Impression


Last night, I had a pretty heavy homework load - reading an article that was heavy on jargon, writing up a differentiation plan, and a lesson plan, all after an over 12 hour day. And it didn't help that I switched placements (along with everyone else studying Special Education) yesterday morning. I'd gotten to know and like all my students at my Special Education site, and suddenly, I'm switching gears to learn an entirely new classroom and their procedures and methods. And tomorrow, I take over their first lesson of the day. And try to figure out how to differentiate for a class where I don't know their individual goals, learning styles, and struggles. And who haven't had time to get comfortable with me as a teacher.


I've begun to get a plan together for Thursday's math and science class, but I think I'm going to have to get one of my colleagues to share her "alphabet soup" song and routine and use that for tomorrow's lesson. And beg for help from my advisor this afternoon.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter and the new teacher

I went to see Harry Potter earlier today, and only partly because I could end up with an upper elementary class for my school year assignment. And it's amazing the difference it makes seeing even a fantasy movie set in a school. I found myself laughing at things I wouldn't have before, noticing the management styles of the different teachers in the movie, and considering how I would have addressed the various rules infractions in the movie. My fellow student teacher who came to watch with me commented that she wants to grow up to be Professor McGonnagol (which I'm sure I've misspelled, but have no intention of looking up.)

And afterwards, I wandered around an office supply store, looking at colored markers, pop-up stickies, dry erase boards, and all the other wonderful toys that are frequently in short supply at our schools. It was shocking to go from an office where we literally had paper stacked from floor to ceiling to the school where we had to scrounge copier paper as best we could, and even snap cubes (a math manipulative that looks a little bit like legos) were a precious resource with not nearly enough to go around. My cooperating teacher told me I'd discover that copier paper is the currency of the teachers' lounge. And I made my flash card reading game at home on my own computer.

And even our dedicated family interpreters are going away. In schools where more than half of the students speak English as their second language, and many teachers (unfortunately including myself) do not speak Spanish or French (two of the more common languages in my neighborhood), never mind Arabic, Farsi, Portuguese, Amharic, or Hindi. I am hoping next summer to take some basic Spanish courses at one of the local embassies, but this is getting ridiculous. I can only hope and pray that the on-call interpretation service will be able to handle all the work for the district. If not, I suspect my old Latin studies will be useful as I try to compose short letters using my Cassell's dictionaries.

My review went well

I really appreciated the way my advisor conducted my review yesterday. Before we began, she had the notes from my observation, my lesson plan, and even the worksheets I had designed at the ready. She then gave me a couple moments to reflect on the lesson and how it had gone from my perspective. I'd already gotten some preliminary feedback from her on the pacing of my very first "official" lesson. (Yep, due to schedule constraints, I was observed on my first day of official teaching.) I say "official" because we were supposed to spend the first week as observers only. However, the classroom I was assigned to had not been fully staffed, and every hand was needed, so I had had a chance to leap in early and begin getting some experience teaching the students.

She showed me her notes and told me how the lesson had gone from her viewpoint as an experienced teacher. We discussed how to take cues from the students themselves on what pace they need in order to learn the lesson well, and how to best demonstrate movement in a primary grade environment. (My first movement activity involved stretching for long vowels and shrinking down for short vowels. My advisor suggested that it often helps with activities like that to really exaggerate the movement.) And I noted that the children themselves had exaggerated the movement more than I had, and in later segments of the same lesson, I copied them and similarly exaggerated my own movements. She also suggested that, especially for the first class in a series of similar classes, I should have gone through the worksheet with them to make sure that the students were able to do the work required of them.

I was then able to ask her for advice on taking my own ideas and making sure they were firmly grounded in the educational goals for the children. While I believe that children want to learn and will do their best to do so until we adults teach them that school is awful, I also know that as a teacher, I am responsible to the school, the community, and ultimately, the students themselves to ensure that what they learn is on track with the standards for what they are supposed to be learning.

What had been worrying me is less that I might get a bad grade (although, of course, I want a good grade) than that I might be failing my students by expecting too much or worse, too little from them, or that I might be failing to learn critical skills for managing the classroom. I was reassured to learn that my advisor thinks I'm on track and learning the skills my students will need me to have.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thoughts on blogging and teaching

I'm hoping that I will be able to clear out a few moments every now and again while I prepare to continue with my blog. I've begun to realize how much I used blogging as a time for mindful reflection, and that part of feeling off balance was simply that I felt I had no time to reflect as I worked to become a teacher.

But to be the best teacher I can be for my students, I've realized I have to be centered and focused, and part of that for me is time to reflect and write. Somewhere in between lesson planning, making the materials I need for my classroom (I've already adapted Frere Jacques to teach vowel sounds and made a dance to go with it, adapted a template I found for flash cards to a "game" where my students are eagerly calling out the words they can read (or for students who are just learning to blend sounds, they blend them), and played a highly popular game of "Math Simon Says" (Simon says pat your head 7+8 times).

And yet, yesterday I felt frazzled. I know I'm not getting all the sleep I need during the week, though I'm now careful to eat breakfast and show up early to school where I have a couple minutes to play my banjo and mentally prepare for the day. As I was trying to help two students, both of whom needed extensive direction and attention, my observers came in just as one of my students began to threaten tears. Somehow, we all made it through, but though the rest of the day went well (and the student later decided that the rhyming word worksheet was not the end of the world after all), the whole thing left me desperately wanting a few minutes to just sit and listen to rain (which was predicted for last night, but never showed). Or to go to my favorite spot in a nearby park (but I also needed to eat some dinner when I got home).

So I took a few minutes to blog, and it was good. I have a new camera that I'm trying to use to create things for my students, and I bought the biggest memory card I could find for it so that I'll have enough room to also take pictures of things like the blackberries in the woodlot next to my apartment. And I need to remind myself of the same thing I keep telling my students. Okay, take a deep breath. Now, let it go. Get up for a few seconds and shake the wigglies out if you have to, and then we get back to work.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I'm coming up for a few seconds for air.

It's tough work, getting certified to be a teacher in a compressed program. I'm halfway through my summer program, and halfway through my practice teaching for the summer. And I have to switch classrooms, and already, I miss the class I'm leaving behind. They've made real strides in the last couple weeks, solidifying their understanding of vowel sounds and how numbers work. They've learned a little bit of how to get along with each other, and that even if the teacher isn't able to come this instant, she will be over.

But I know when I join my new class, they will also settle into my heart and be my students. I don't know yet where I will be teaching this fall. All I know is that I will be sent to a school in the local area that needs me. It's a little bit scary, but I do what I'm constantly reminding the kids to do - take a deep breath, shake out the wigglies, and move on. Whoever my students are, wherever they are, I'm working hard to learn how to help them learn. Tomorrow is my midterm evaluation and while I'm a little bit nervous about it, I'm also hoping to learn how I can improve my teaching to best benefit our students.

This weekend, they're predicting rain and while I'd like the sky to be clear when I meet some of my fellow student teachers to catch a movie and some cheap food, I'd also like the chance to sit and watch the rain go for a little while. There's something truly lovely about rain. I want to listen to the shush, shush, pitter patter, watch the water running down my apartment windows, feel the coolness that comes with the storm finally breaks.

And then I want to head out Monday morning and meet a new class and new school.