Saturday, August 17, 2013

Prepping for a New Year

I headed back into my classroom yesterday for the first time since June. It looked like this. That's how it usually looks in August. My typical reaction to it is anticipation, thoughts of how to organize and what will make our year the best it can be.

This year I walked in with a broken elbow and my thoughts were more along the lines of, "How on earth am I going to get all this furniture in the right place?"

Luckily my daughters (10 and 6) were with me. They were amazing. In under two hours we had all the furniture and carpets in place. 

I'm back to feeling anticipation...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Arts & Crafts - A Challenge to Me

As a first grade teacher I feel I have many strengths. Unfortunately, arts and crafts types of things are not on that list. As a fourth or fifth grade teacher this didn't really bother me. As a first grade teacher it does. A least a bit. Arts and crafts types of things are fun and great for building motor skills. That matters at first grade.

So when SmileMakers offered me their Art Starter Kit it seemed like something I should try. School hasn't started for me so I took it with us on a visit to our niece. My two girls (10 and 6) and my niece (5) were thrilled by it. In fact, my niece requested (quite adamantly) that we leave some materials for her when she had to leave for a birthday party. We practically had to tear her away from her art.

As you can see, it comes with googly eyes, pom poms, pipe cleaners (although they go with the more modern name of chenille stems), feathers, spangles (different shapes and textures of paper), colored pasta, and buttons.

The three girls immediately set out with scissors and glue. The pipe cleaners were a favorite and they strung pasta and buttons on them and glued pom poms and spangles to them. Sometimes they had a plan for what they were creating (a necklace) and sometimes they were just exploring. Both were fabulous.

Luckily I still have quite a bit of the materials to take with me to school in a couple of weeks. For me, this is perfect. Having a variety of items in one set is great for someone who doesn't really know where to start.

I think I'll offer these materials to my students as an option during our exploring time (when we play with blocks, magnets, puppets, etc.). Watching that I will see which materials most interest them and should be replenished. Hopefully, I'll also be able to get some ideas of ways to incorporate these materials into more academic parts of our day.

I firmly believe in allowing and encouraging students to explore with things and to be creative. I hope this kit will push me to do that in some new ways.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


I learned last night some potentially devastating news about friends (potentially because it's too early to know what it will really mean). It made me think of a piece I wrote during the Northern Virginia Writing Project summer institute last month. I feel like it still needs work but mostly says what I want it to. Here it is:

The radio comes on as I head to the gym and my morning begins with the story of asylum seekers – men, women, and children – taking to the sea as their leaky vessel sinks to the bottom. I watch the road but in my head I see open water full of tired, ragged, hungry families struggling to stay afloat, struggling to keep their children safe. I try to imagine what their lives had been like to make such a risk worthwhile. I’m sure their frustrations were much greater than a microwave with a door that tends to stick, Legos left all over the living room floor, packages from Amazon that sat out in the rain, or children who can’t find their cleats for soccer practice.

On the way back into the house I grab the plastic sleeve that contains the daily paper. As I drop it on the floor in the kitchen a headline catches my eye. Women being gang raped at protests in Cairo, Egypt. With just those few, big, bold-print words I can imagine these women believing so strongly in the possibilities for the future of their country, leaving their homes to join the throngs, raising their voices alongside their neighbors and friends. Then being quickly and quietly grabbed or lured just a bit away from those clamoring for freedom and democracy. Just a bit away from safety and into hell.

As I review the options on our TiVo the evening news rambles on in the corner of the screen. It catches my attention when I hear a bit about child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Images flash, thankfully small in that picture-in-picture spot, of young boys and girls, some my own daughters’ ages. Children holding intimidating weapons, weapons as big or bigger than themselves. I can’t help but think about their families, their mothers and fathers. Are they alive? Do they know what has happened to their child? Will they ever see each other again?

These intrusions on my daily life make me pause. I look around in each moment, at the road through our suburban neighborhood, at my dirty kitchen, at my cozy bedroom. I send up thanks for being born here, in this country, rather than in Indochina, Egypt, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I take just a moment to recognize how blessed I am for something over which I had no control – the place of my birth.

Others born here are not as lucky. One morning I learn that thousands of children age out of the foster care system in my state without being adopted. Half of them end up incarcerated, a quarter end up homeless. That gives a foster child only a 25% chance at any type of success. I try to envision their lives. Moving from foster home to foster home, adapting or not at each change. Being the new kid at school again and again. Wondering what they did wrong to not have a mom or dad who loves them unconditionally, not to have a stable home, not to have guarantees of meals, a place to sleep, the very basics.

A student talks about his baby brother’s hospital visits. It’s unclear how serious the problems are, at least when learned from the perspective of a six-year-old. Then he isn’t at school one day. We learn that his baby brother, only ten months old, died. Their mother had to be hospitalized after she collapsed, refusing to let go of his tiny body. A few teachers attend the funeral service, letting the Spanish words wash over us as we stare ahead at the grieving parents and siblings and the painfully small casket. Could this little one have had a chance if his family had health insurance? Would regular doctor visits have given him a better, longer life? Would an earlier diagnosis have given him more time on this earth?

Numerous friends on Facebook share an article, describing the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) challenge. It encourages people to live for just a week only spending as much money on food and drink as they might receive on food stamps. That comes out to $4.50 per day. Per day. The next time I walk through the grocery store I try to picture what would go into my basket with that budget. I certainly wouldn’t need a cart. No fresh produce, much too expensive. No sodas or alcohol. Nothing organic. Even milk or cereal would be questionable.

I realize how lucky I am to have been born here and born into a family with enough. Lucky to have never questioned what I was going to eat, who would take care of me, whether or not I could see a doctor.

The next time the microwave door is stuck or I step on a Lego, I need to pause. To think, in that moment, of those so much less blessed than I. Of those, who simply by their birth, have so many more struggles and challenges. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Outsider in Charge

I've subscribed to The Washington Post for as long as I can remember. It was delivered to our home from the time we moved from Texas. I continued to subscribe all through college. We still subscribe now, in spite of the fact that the paper mostly moves straight from its plastic sleeve into the recycling. I like newspapers and I like this one in particular.

I was surprised to see yesterday's announcement about the sale of The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos. I've listened to a lot of conversations and reports on NPR about it and read some interesting commentary. On the whole, I'm on the side of believing this to be a good thing. The newspaper industry is struggling and no one seems to know how to fix it. So, here's a new attempt. Sounds good.

I do wonder how newspaper insiders feel about this. There are plenty of school systems being run by non-educators. I'm rarely even willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Does this make me a hypocrite?

Can a fresh new perspective be a good answer? Can an outsider really make a meaningful difference? Or does experience in the industry matter? Does that vary by industry?

This sale has me attempting to look at education through outsiders' eyes. I'm not sure I like where it takes me.