Friday, September 25, 2009

No Follow Through

I'm great at thinking of really fun, engaging, high level projects (although, often at the last minute). I'm not, however, good at finishing them. This is a problem across all aspects of my life and one that my parents are probably nodding their heads about as they read this. It's been true all my life. I'm good at starting things and terrible at bringing them to completion.

This frustrates me in the classroom. It frustrates me at home, but not quite as much. In the classroom I start wonderful projects with students and then I move on to other, new, exciting ideas. There is no way these projects are even beginning to fulfill their potential as learning experiences when done this way.

I hope somehow, I think, that by writing this I will begin to keep my focus long enough to finish at least a few of these projects. We'll see.

(By the way, it is shockingly hard and embarrassing to admit this, even though folks who know me well must already have identified this flaw.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reason #723 Why I Love My School

Everytime I walk past offices of non-classroom teachers (you know, folks who have offices, like literacy coaches, math coaches, ESOL teachers, special education teachers, admins, etc.) they aren't there. They are away from their desks, in classrooms, working with kids. If that isn't one major, positive sign of the climate of a school, I don't know what is.

Good for Roaches

We've been working with the kids on thinking about what would make sense in their reading. Rather than just having kids focused on sounding out words we want them to think about the meaning as well. The awesome ESOL/reading teacher I co-teach with did a lesson with a big book last week. She covered up certain words in the book and had the kids list what the word could be. It was a great lesson.

She used the book, One Cold, Wet Night. One of the words she covered was weta, an insect in New Zealand. The kids did not manage to come up with weta, of course. They listed cricket, grasshopper, and such. One child suggested roach. This child is a bit of a talker and as the teacher called on the next student, he continued talking. He was explaining that he thought of roach because they have a lot of roaches at his house. The teacher, in an attempt to keep the lesson moving, responded distractedly with, "Good for you."

It took a second for it to register with me. I don't think it ever sank in for the kid, thankfully.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Watching, Always Watching

Rafe Esquith framed his keynote speech around three things teachers need to remember and think about everyday. I've been thinking about all three of them a lot lately, but I'm going to focus on one for a moment. He said that teachers are role models. Basically he was saying that, like it or not, our students are modeling themselves after us. "If you don't think your kids are watching you constantly you are sadly underestimating their powers of observation."

I figured that out years ago so this didn't come as a surprise. However, it did push me to think about some of the things I do that maybe I shouldn't. I expect my students to be silent (or nearly so) as we walk down the hall out of respect for other classes. Unlike them, I talk to teachers frequently. In my defense I do so because those opportunities to talk to colleagues are few and far between and we tend to grab them when we can. Even given that fact I'm working on curbing this habit. I don't like the message that it sends to my students that they have to be respectful of other classes but I don't.

I also tend to talk to other teachers in my classroom while the students are reading independently. That doesn't happen as often because I'm usually conferencing with students, but it does happen and I don't think it sends the right message either.

I also am often still pulling things together in the morning as the students are coming in and getting ready for morning meeting. I set a timer (as a result of some serious dilly-dallying) and I'm not always ready when it goes off. I'm not sure how I'm going to have things ready better than I do now, but I've decided I must. I have to be on the carpet when the timer rings.

I guess my take away from Esquith's point is more focused on being respectful of my students in my position as a role model. I'm much more thoughtful about what my actions say to them and I'm grateful for that.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rafe Esquith and KIPP schools

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Rafe Esquith speak. Ever since reading Jay Mathews' book Work Hard Be Nice back in the spring I've been curious about Rafe Esquith. According to Mathews, the founders of KIPP cite Esquith as one of two significant influences and mentors (the other being a teacher in their building in their first years teaching). Esquith is well known for his various awards, books, and his students' Shakespeare performances.

I enjoyed Esquith's talks and found a lot to think about over the next little while. He did, without mentioning KIPP by name, say that those schools are not based on his classroom. He believes that their model is based on fear and bullying. He made these remarks in a smaller, breakout session, not in the main keynote.

I found his remarks on the subject of KIPP to be interesting. I found him to be charismatic, talented, and an engaging speaker. However, I also felt that he completely defines himself through his students. He has had many opportunities to leave the classroom and yet he remains there. That is admirable and I respect him for it. That said, I believe that one reason he is still in the classroom is because he cannot live outside of it.

I've got more thoughts and posts brewing based on his speech. He has many years of experience teaching some of our neediest students and there is much to learn from him.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Because I can't bear to spend anymore time thinking about the absurd hoopla around President Obama's speech next week, I'm going to think instead about the amusing things first graders say.

During free choice several kids are building towers to run marbles through (I hope that makes sense, I couldn't think of a better way to describe this toy). Several marbles escape and go rolling across the room. Another child notices and hollers, "They're losing their marbles!"

All I could think was, "No, I'm pretty sure I'm the one doing that."

This morning we went to the library and our old librarian was there subbing for our new librarian. Our old librarian retired last year so the kids remembered her from kindergarten. One of them said to her, "Why are you here? You're retarded."

Thank goodness these kids make me smile everyday.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Desperate for Ideas

A fabulous fourth grade teacher at my school just dropped by briefly to ask me to mull over a challenge in her classroom. She has a new student (just arrived from Central America) who is illiterate. He can not read in Spanish; he can't actually identify all the letters in the Spanish alphabet. According to records he was in school in his country and repeated one or two grades.

She's looking for ways to engage him and help him learn at a level completely different from the rest of her class. Any thoughts?

Update: For more details and/or to get the story from the student's classroom teacher,go here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

She Who Hesitates...

Yesterday evening, at the end of a long school day and afternoon with my girls, I noticed the way I was responding to them. I found that I was hesitating before any question or comment that might have been harsh or chastising. It wasn't a conscious decision by any means, but it meant that I enjoyed a fun evening with my daughters. At points when I would often respond to them in ways that would increase conflict my hesitation meant that I managed to use a different tone, question, or phrase and keep things positive.

I'm not sure how to ensure that I hesitate in responding to my daughters more often. I'm even less certain of how to do this in my classroom. With 20 students, rather than just my 2 girls, I tend to respond to things immediately, if not sooner. As a result, I often regret my actions and wish I had been able to react in a way that did not escalate the situation.

Thinking about this reminded me of a comment from Rafe Esquith when he spoke at an event here recently. He said, "When I learned to shut up and listen I became a better teacher." One goal for this year is to listen more.