Monday, September 27, 2010

My Dreams for School

Education Nation is NBC's attempt at fixing the American education system.  We'll talk about it, invite in all the best and brightest (except educators, but let's not go there now) and find all the solutions.  So I watched the Teacher Town Hall on Sunday with bated breath.  We even cancelled Conversations so it wouldn't interfere with the Town Hall meeting.  What did I hear?  Same old, same old.  Get rid of bad teachers, get rid of tenure, throw money at the system, be more equitable in educating our children.  How are we going to do that?  Ummmmmm. Yeah.

Now, I'm not saying I have all the answers.  In fact, I'm not saying I have any answers.  But I do know what I want for my child and my students.  I do know what I want for my future leaders.  

1. I want my students to want to learn.  I want them to love coming to school, not wanting to run out or run home at the end of the day. 

2. I want school to be more available.  Does someone need help finding a quiet place to do homework?  Stay in school until it's done.  Need more time to finish up a project?  Come in early.  Don't have a working computer at home and want to blog about a class?  Come to school early or stay late and use the school computers.

3. I want homework to be only what is necessary to complete a project.  It should not be homework for the sake of homework.  It should not be homework given because the teacher ran out of time to cover all the curriculum.  It should be work the child wants to do to prepare for his group the next day.  It should be work she wants to finish because she was working on a problem she couldn't put down.

4. No tests.  Assessments should be meaningful and directly related to learning.  The children should be assessed on how they work, as well as what they learn.  And all assessments should be used to further instruction, not to penalize a child or put a grade on a report card.

5. I want children to move through school as they are ready.  Not pushed because the year is over.  Not held back while all their friends move up.  Doing advanced math in first grade?  Work with children who are on the same math level...not necessarily first graders.  

6. I want all children to feel successful.  That does not mean I do not want all children challenged.  School should be challenging...but in an exciting, enriching way, not in a boring, nerve-wracking way.  But we need to find ways to allow children to express their understanding in a variety of ways.  And we need to find a multitude of ways to allow children to access information.  Disabilities do not always relate to intelligence.  But in our school system, it sure seems like it does.  Let's get rid of this idea.  

7. Along with #6, I want children to be compared to themselves, not other students their age.  How much progress has the child made in reading, math, writing, social skills?  Compared to last year?  Compared to two months ago?

7. I want all learning to be integrated and periods to be untimed.  Learning should not be done by the clock.  If you are engaged in a massive math project and just have to work a bit more on it before you stop for the day, then, by all means, go right ahead.  That's not to say there shouldn't be things that all children learn at some point (curriculum) but let's keep the curriculum broad and based on how to learn, more than facts.

8. I want, I want, I want.  I just know school can be better.  I want my daughter to bounce home every day excited by what she learned.  Instead, she comes home each day telling me what an awful day she had.  I want my students to know that, when I am kicking them out at the end of the day, it is only because the bell has rung and buses are waiting, not because I don't want them to stay.  I want to love every second of school, not keep saying "Oh, time for a state test now" and "No we can't keep reading our books because we have to go on to math."  I love math but sometimes we really don't want to switch subjects.  We are too into blogging, or reading, or working on projects, or solving math problems, or playing a game, or....

I know what I want.  But I have been stuck inside this box so long that I can no longer "think outside the box" to find solutions.  Can you?  I don't think NBC can.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why I Became a Teacher or My Experience in School

All my life I wanted to be a teacher.  Really, all my life.  For as long as I can remember, I read my books to my "students" who looked amazingly like my stuffed animals and my poor cat.  I got my best gift when I was about 4.  It was a blackboard.  I spent hours giving math problems to my students.  My older sister got into the act, "allowing" me to use her homework as my assignments.  So I did her homework with my class and she copied the answers off the board and got the credit for doing homework.  We were both happy.

My first real experience with school was nursery school. No preschool then.  Just a cooperative nursery school in the local church.  Each day we would play and build and run and laugh and sing songs.  And once a day, Miss Helen took me into a back room to read with her.  Apparently I was the only child in the class who could read.  I thank my sister who let me do her homework.  I loved nursery school and really looked forward to heading off to kindergarten.

Kindergarten lasted for about one month.  During that time, the school psychologist (he was a huge man who just walked in one day and told me to come with him to his office to talk) tested me, found out I had a high IQ and decided I needed more than kindergarten. They wanted to move me, a 5 year old, into second grade.  My parents said no only because my sister was in second grade and they didn't think we should be in the same grade.  So off to first grade I went.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. O, was near retirement age when she got me pushed into her room.  She made it very clear from the start that she did not think I belonged in first grade.  Whenever I did something "kindergartenish" the kids would laugh at me.  Her response, "Remember, she's just a baby."  That title lasted with me throughout my whole 12 years of schooling. She also allowed the kids to roll their eyes when I was the only one who knew the answer.  It was not cool to be smart. I hated first grade.  

Second grade, Miss P.  She was beautiful...a true flower child.  I remember absolutely nothing I learned but that The Partridge Family was THE show to watch and David Cassidy was a dream.  I loved second grade.

Third grade....nothing.  I remember nothing.  Not my teacher, not my classmates, not any curriculum.  Must have been a hell of a year.

Fourth grade I had Miss B.  She was strict.  She did things that when I look back on them were horrific.  She told poor Ross that if he could not sit in his seat, she would tie him into it.  He couldn't.  She did.  We all laughed, including Ross.  But it must have been humiliating.  Just as humiliating as it was for me to have my desk dumped out on a weekly basis because I couldn't keep it clean.  But I do remember her reading aloud to us each day.  She'd sit in her big rocking chair, we'd sit on the floor around her and she'd open up our world to Peter and Fudge.

Fifth grade was the last grade I had a teacher I remember.  Mr. C. was my first male teacher.  He told my mom at the beginning of the year that he knew I knew all the curriculum so it was fine with him if I sat in back and read all day.  I was thrilled.  But, thinking back on it, that was a disgrace.  And it certainly isolated me even more from my classmates.

Junior High was torture.  I was bullied daily, started meeting with the guidance counselor, and got into things no junior high student should get into.  The funny thing is, I still wanted to be a teacher.  But at this point, I had no idea why.

High school was another nightmare.  I did my best to disappear.  I got Cs in most of my classes, making sure people forgot I was the smart one from elementary school.  I barely graduated.  But I did.  And moved on to college where I got my education degree.  

I haven't regretted a single moment of that decision.  I love teaching.  I make sure that my brightest students get the enrichment and challenges they need to be engaged in school.  I make sure that teasing and bullying are completely unacceptable and not allowed in my classroom among my students.  I make sure that my hyperactive students can stand up if they want to without being laughed at or tied into their seats.  And I make sure that I read books that open the world for my students.  I love teaching.  I didn't have any good role models but I sure had some bad ones to help me figure out what not to do.  I love teaching and can't imagine doing anything else.  

Why did you become a teacher?

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The First 7 Days

I really dislike the beginning of the year.  I feel like I spend my time waiting.  Waiting for the class to become a family, waiting for the projects to begin and kids to get out of their seats, waiting for the kids to be comfortable with our routines and to stop asking for assistance with them.  Waiting for the year to begin.  

As readers of my blog know, last year was particularly difficult.  It seemed like it took the whole year to get into a routine.  But this year is so different.  Yes, I have an inclusion class, which brings with it a multitude of learning issues.  Yes, I have a new co-teacher, which means helping an adult learn the routines, as well as the kids.  Yes, I still have a massive amount of stimulus money training, meaning lots of time out of the classroom.  But somehow, we have already gotten into a routine of sorts.

Friday was our seventh day of school.  School this year started with two days of school followed by two days off for Rosh Hashana.  It's very hard to set a routine when you are not in school.  And this is how the first four days seemed to me:

  • Kids sit in their desks and me introduce routines, to me introduce class materials, to me introduce beginning units, to me introduce technology tools.  (Feel free to yawn.  They did.)
  • My talking kept getting interrupted by support staff coming in to schedule reading, speech, OT, and ESL.
Day 5 I finally introduce assignments that are fun and long term.  The children were excited and delved right in.  So by day 7 we had an amazing day.  Here's what we did on Friday.

  • While the students were working on their Hopes and Dreams in their new Google apps Google docs, I sat at my computer and sent chat messages to them about their work.  The word "cool" came up quite often as students discovered the ability to chat with me in Google docs.
  • Three computers were set up in the room throughout the day and students rotated through to create a Voki that will be embedded on their blog.
  • My aide took students out of the room in small groups to add their voice to our Sign of the Beaver prediction VoiceThread.
  • The students worked on making their blogsites attractive while Lauryn (my new co-teacher) and I edited blogs and worked with individual students.
  • The students began moving - to see the BrainPop video better, to get a fidget toy, to grab a calculator to check work, to ask a friend for help.
This was the first day that my room felt like some semblance of what it should.  Students moving around, talking while working, asking each other for help searching for images, reconnecting to our internet server, editing their writing.  We still had some time sitting in seats listening to me but for most of the day, it was a fun day of independent and group learning.  Hurray for early starts!

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Monday, September 6, 2010


"Turn and face the strange changes...Time may change me, but I can't trace time." by David Bowie

When I, younger...I used to spend hours listening to David Bowie.  This song in particular, Changes, I felt was written just for me.  And as I go through life, the lyrics come back to haunt me every once in awhile.  Now is one of those times.

This year I am facing some big changes...personally and professionally.  And I am trying hard to face the strange changes with dignity and calm.  Not so easy all the time.  

Change #1:
South Paris Collaborative is no more.  Christine and I are no longer working as partners.  I have a new partner, Lauryn Tiedemann, and a new name, The Denton Dynamos.  I think bringing new eyes to my program will be a positive change, allowing me to try new things with the students.  But I am approaching this change with some trepidation.  Will Lauryn be up to the task of working with me and all my demanding ways?  I do admit I have very high expectations of both my students and those I work with.  So far, our meetings have been positive. Tomorrow I find out how things go with children in the classroom.

Change #2:
Ali is heading into tenth grade. Time to think about driver's licenses, more freedom, college.  All while dealing with 15 year old emotions.  One thing that isn't changing...our time waiting for high school to end.  Each year I hope this will be the year.  The one where Ali finds that one teacher who will motivate, excite, and understand her.  The one year that will get her reinterested in school and learning.  Will Richardson recently wrote a blog about parents that actually got him called out in ISTE's Learning and Leading magazine.  In the blog he asked, "why aren’t parents more angry about the education their kids are getting?"  A fair question and one I ask myself often.  But, by this time in her education, I have given up fighting with my school district and her teachers.  Instead, I tell her that things will be better when she is in college.  And I supplement her education at home the best I can.  Although at her age, this is getting harder and harder, since I am no longer smart enough to teach her anything (at least that's what she hints to me frequently).  So, once again, I hope this year brings the changes we both are looking for.

Change #3:
My dear husband has embarked on another Master's degree program.  He began the Wilkes/Discovery Masters program online.  First I should tell you a bit about my husband.  Frank was hired in his district as a computer teacher.  He enthusiastically introduced websites and projects to his colleagues and worked with the students in his elementary school.  Two years into his career, his district cut their budget by replacing all the computer teachers with aides.  He was placed into the classroom as a fourth grade teacher.  While disappointed by this change, he was excited to bring his technology knowledge to his classroom.  He set up a Ning for his class, started a blog for his students, and sent out letters inviting all his parents into his projects.  The administration immediately told him to shut it all down.  It wasn't safe. He shut down the computers and has been teaching without technology for all these years.  So it is exciting that he is trying again. At this time, he has just begun his degree in Media Technology, starting with his first two classes, one on PBL and one on the brain.  It is so much fun talking with him about issues I've been dealing with for years.  He is reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind and Krauss/Boss's Reinventing Project Based Learning.  Both of these books have contributed to my classroom.  It's wonderful to see him excited about teaching.  This is a change I look forward to.

Change #4:
Conversations is coming back.  Okay, so this isn't really a change but Sheila Adams, Maria Knee, and I have all been through some changes this summer and I am sure we will bring our new perspectives on education into our Conversations.  For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, we run a show each Sunday morning on  This show is about educational conversations.  We choose a different topic each week and discuss, disagree, laugh about, cry about, and dissect it.  You should come join us.  See the changes in our show this year.

Change #5:
Personal changes: Frank got a new car, we put pavers down on our driveway, patio, and pool area, and I got braces.  While these are all good changes, they all cost quite a bit of money.  So, for the first time in a long time, we are in debt.  I think I will have the pavers paid off by Christmas and the braces paid off by April.  But it will mean tightening our belts a bit. Not something I am happy about.  So I spend a lot of time in my beautiful new yard and remind myself it was all worth it.

Can I face the changes?  I'm certainly going to give it all a try.  What changes are you going through this year?

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