Monday, May 31, 2010

Thank You, Sarah!

Recently (although not as recently as I'd like it to have been) Sarah over at Confessions of an Untenured Teacher passed on to me a lovely award. I've kept the post open in a tab for more than two weeks now, both to help me remember to pass it on and because it just makes me happy to see it! Sarah constantly makes me laugh and think. That's hard to beat.

I follow hundreds of blogs so choosing just five to highlight is a tough job. I've decided not to note all my fabulous co-workers because picking only five would be completely impossible. So, here are five of my favorites!

Science Goddess at What It's Like on the Inside has done a variety of different things in the education world and she writes about anything knowledgeably. I especially enjoy it when she writes about grading.

Kathy Cassidy at Primary Preoccupation is one of several primary teachers who have been incredible guides for me as I moved from upper grades to first grade. She is one of the most generous, thoughtful teachers around.

Tom at Bionic Teaching frequently makes me laugh which I appreciate as I am being pushed to think about how to improve what I do in the classroom.

Doyle at Science Teacher is brilliant. I learn science and philosophy in every one of his posts. Plus, when he shares bits about his past as a doctor I see into another world.

Jim at Teacherninja is about to be a school librarian. He writes about books, critical thinking, current events, and just about anything else. And well.

When these folks' blogs show up in my reader with new posts I know I'm in for a treat.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Measuring Teacher Effectiveness

Jay Mathews has a new post up about measuring teacher effectiveness. I read it last night and I can't stop feeling frustrated. Oddly enough, not that much by Jay as by some of the comments.

I think teacher effectiveness is invalid term. Or at least the idea of measuring it is invalid. Teachers don't control too many of the factors that effect their effectiveness.

I teach first grade. I teach children to read. When we assess their reading ability they need to be able to decode words fairly fluently and to have understood what they read. So far, so good.

However, if kids have no background knowledge of topics or ideas then it is unlikely they can read the words and understand them. If you have never heard a word it's hard to read. Imagine trying to read a text on computer languages, literary theory, atomic particles, or some other topic completely foreign to you. You will struggle with the words and certainly the understanding.

That's true for so many of our children because they haven't had the exposure to the things we expect them to read about. I'm not suggesting they have limited knowledge, because that is not even remotely true. They know a lot. It's just that the things they know are not in the books we expect them to read. Their experiences to do not match up with middle class society's experiences.

If no one has talked to kids about using money to pay for things, the plants they see around them, the stars in the sky, voting for president, measuring to cook, and on and on and on then these kids come to school less prepared. My daughters have a ton of these experiences. It doesn't make me a better parent than my students' parents. But it does mean that my daughters have a leg up. And so do most middle class kids.

I don't think I've voiced this very well here. I needed to get it off my chest. However, it is something I will keep thinking about and working on to better understand the complexities and, hopefully, to think about what we could be doing to improve the situation for these students.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another Hidden Cost of Standardized Testing

Our school (like so many others) is in the throes of standardized testing. That's less of an impact on my life now as a first grade teacher than it was as a fourth or fifth grade teacher. However, the testing we do have to do is time consuming and really throws us off.

I've been giving the (fairly) new Mathematics Reasoning Assessment to my students in small groups over the past week. It will take us another week to finish it. It's a pretty good assessment, all things considered. That's not my issue here.

I work really hard for months and months to build a learning community with these students in which they can take risks, talk about their thinking, share their ideas, and learn from one another. Then all of a sudden, I tell them to shut up.

Not in those exact words, but that is exactly what I'm doing.

The only time during our day when we don't talk at all is independent reading. In the beginning of the year this lasts about five minutes. By now it lasts 20-40 minutes (depending on our reading workshop schedule). And even though they can't talk during their independent reading time, they get the chance to talk about their thinking when we share at the end of workshop.

With standardized assessments they never get to talk about it. Well, I guess we will talk about it when everyone is finished and they have all been scored. But that won't be too meaningful for six and seven year olds.

I'm not convinced that the level of achievement on these standardized assessments truly matches my students. They are being assessed in a way that is too foreign for them. I know I could offer them more opportunities for this type of assessment throughout the year, but time is precious and I'd rather offer them as many opportunities for genuine learning together.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hidden Teacher Talents

About a month ago (boy have I been out of it) Organized Chaos tagged me to list skills that are not on my resume. I didn't make time to think about it before now, and I think part of the reason for that is that I was so intimidated by the lists from other bloggers. So, you might be better served to visit these lists: Kindergarten Chaos, Sneaker Teacher, Kiri at Elbows, Knees, Dreams, and Miss Brave.

My special skills:
  • I can act sympathetic over the most imagined and invisible boo-boos.
  • I can read picture books time and time again with equal drama and flourish.
  • I can encourage kids to write about their trip to the carnival at K-mart as though it is the great American novel.
  • I can carry on three or four conversations at one time.
  • I can listen to kids read the same repetitive beginning reader books and celebrate every right word.
  • I can find fun, educational ways to fill any period of time from one minute to an hour at the drop of a hat.
  • I can, and do, remind any child of proper behavior anywhere (even rolling down my car window to holler at some boys on their way to school recently).
  • I can link math to health to social studies to a recent field trip to my kids' lives
  • I can remind students to stop picking their noses and putting their hands down their pants a dozen times without losing patience (mostly)
  • I can head to work everyday eagerly expecting the joyous successes

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moving Forward Finally

Today is the first day in several months that I've felt successful in various parts of my life. We had a fabulous field trip to the Kennedy Center to see Knuffle Bunny (more on that soon) and I feel as though I had planned things pretty well for my kids and, as the one who made the arrangements for these tickets, I felt like a success as a colleague. Then I spent the afternoon with my girls, at the playground, dinner, baths, and books. We had a wonderful time.

It felt good. For a variety of reasons I've had a feeling of failure for months now. I've felt that way in every aspect of my life (parenting, teaching, working with others, as a wife) and I'm glad to be over it (fingers crossed).

Of course, my girls are in bed but not asleep so this could all fall apart before the night is over.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Teaching is my Job, Teaching is my Job, Teaching is my Job...

I can not save children. Sadly, I have to remind myself of that fairly often.

Recently there was an intern teaching in my classroom. As a result, I had more free time than usual. One of the things I've did with that time was meet with my little mentee more often. As a classroom teacher it is hard to find free time in my day that also fits in her day to meet. So for a few weeks I was seeing her a couple of times a week. She was in my class last year and it was an exceptionally rough year for her personally.

Working with her and talking with her teacher has me struggling with questions that have always nagged at the back of my mind. When is it reasonable to hold children accountable? How do we draw the line between all that is weighing on them and the expectations we have for them at school?

This little girl is not meeting benchmarks in school. Given the situation in her life I don't find that even remotely surprising. Her behavior does not meet our expectations. Again, I'm not surprised by this. Any adult would struggle with their daily life under such circumstances.

At some point this little girl has to become responsible for herself and her actions, regardless of the trauma she has endured. When does she cross that line? Age 12? 16? 18? 21? How on earth do we set a date by which she has to pull herself up and do what society expects of everyone?

And how do we, as a society, sleep at night knowing that we are, in many ways, failing our most vulnerable?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Life Goes On (I Hope)

This morning I walked out of my classroom before the kids arrived. A friend who was walking down the hall remarked, "You look mad."

That's not good.

Today is our principal's last day. We've known she was leaving for only two weeks. Plus, the past two weeks have been a bit stressful for personal reasons so I haven't really processed her leaving.

She's only the 2nd principal I've had here in 12 years. The first was a once-in-a-lifetime principal. That principal hired this one as our AP 11 years ago. The transition from one principal to the next was as seamless as one could hope for.

This school has grown, improved, molded to the (changing) needs of our community quite a bit in those 12 years. The majority of the credit for that goes to these two women. A principal can make or break a school. They have made this one.

We are an exceptionally strong staff. I feel lucky everyday to work with these people. I know we will continue to do our best for kids and their families.

I just hope we get another principal who gives us the freedom to do so.