Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Great Day...

I love the old bumper sticker that says: "Won't it be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber?"

Our county is in the middle of a campaign for a new tax referendum. This tax basically would ask home owners to give about $1.00/day (on average) to the school system. The school system in turn plans to use the funds to maintain teacher salaries, continue special programs, and generally "beef up" the school system a bit more in the areas of technology and educational opportunities.

Some teachers are upset about it. You see, also tied to this tax is the requirement that teachers (especially secondary teachers) will make some shifts in their instructional delivery. It means that teachers are going to be held accountable for teaching students using best practices.

Is that a bad thing?

One of the things that has bugged me since the day I became a certified teacher is that there are pockets of mediocrity out there. And worse, there are some people who simply should NOT be in a classroom. And we protect them. These are people who have no passion...they are simply marking time waiting to retire. Working under the radar. We allow it to happen and we allow them to be influences on new children year after year.

I wish there were also a bumper sticker that said: "Won't it be a GREAT day when every child is taught by a passionate teacher who believes his or her students have the potential to make a difference in our world?"

I hope the tax passes. But more than that, I hope that I see the day when passion and excitement for teaching and learning is alive and well in EVERY classroom everywhere. Kids are worth it!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Whose Key Are You?

Last night, I started watching "Country Boys" a documentary on PBS. It is a three part series that documents the lives of two teens from Rural Kentucky for three years. The film shows clearly the effects of poverty on children and their families. It also makes it very clear that you can have some monitary resources, but be missing other resources (i.e., family) and have trouble. The boys attend an alternative high school.

The thing that struck me the most was the importance of that significant adult in your life. It is that mentoring-believing-in-you relationship that is the key to moving kids from a place of no hope to hope. It was the theme in "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby Payne.

In the movie, Chris is heard saying, " I am the lock and my mother is the key. If she wanted me to finish my work, I would do it." This is how it is...there is someone out there who is the key for each child. The hard part is recognizing it. It's hard to know when you are the key for someone.

I often wonder what it is that kids might remember about our school. Will they remember that there were adults that cared about them? I hope so. Will they see us as keys to helping them get "unlocked"? I hope so.

I think the question that I will post near my desk somewhere is: "Whose key are you today?"

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Word Walls

Word walls are an important way to build the prior knowledge of young students. Here is a fairy tale word wall that I created when I was doing a fairy tale unit with my second graders. All of the images were downloaded from Google image search. This is an extremely valuable resource when it comes to finding pictures of many different things.

These pictures could also be copied smaller to make mini-dictionaries.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Deep Thought for a Friday

Here is a great quote that is worth reflection:

Sir William Haley says:

Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.

Interesting, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

To Move or Not To Move

Today I handled an interesting situation. A teacher emailed me to discuss a first grader (we'll call "H") who is going to be nine-years-old in a few weeks. Nine years old in the FIRST grade! He is doing pretty well and is not a behavior problem. She is concerned about his placement---you think???

As we checked his history we found:
1. He has been bounced between three schools over the past four years. In fact, I think I counted about 7 registration slips for when he would start a new school.

2. He has also been bounced around between households. He has been in custody of three different family members.

3. He missed 46 days of school last year---that's a whole quarter!

And we wonder why children get "left behind"? He literally is going to fall through the educational system's cracks if someone doesn't intervene. Thank God for the first grade teacher who is SO kid-oriented that she caught this one.

Once again, I find myself in the position to "play God" with a child's future. At my school I end up in the midst of these conversations and meetings that determine a child's placement. I don't like it. It is such a rock and a hard place. If we promote him now to 2nd grade...he'd be more appropriately placed age-wise, yet he would be missing some of the skills and strategies readers get in first grade. If we don't promote him now, it's almost a sure thing that he will drop out of school before he graduates and become another educational system casualty.

We decided to take a middle ground with this one. We will keep him in first grade on paper, but send him to a second grade classroom to give him the opportunity to make up for lost ground. At the end of the year, we will use the data, his performance and current information to determine whether he will go straight to third grade.

It's his best chance at this point...otherwise, he will turn 13 in the fifth grade.

I am hoping that this time, the decision was a good one and that we have paved the way for a child to have a chance when he thought things were hopeless.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A New Year...but the Same Old

It's the first day back for students after Winter Break at my school. It's sad because for many of them breaks are not happy times. They mean more time in homes that aren't always happy positive places. They mean that they experience more dysfunction than normal. So transitioning back to school is difficult. It takes time and patience to help them get back in the swing of things.

It's hard sometimes to not want to "save the world". I want to help them see that things could be different. I don't necessarily think they need to live in my world...I just want them to break the cycle that grips so many of them. I want them to know that I believe in them and the people they can become. A hard message to deliver.

Today in many school where poverty abounds, we go on delivering the messages that are part of classrooms everywhere: I believe in YOU, I think you CAN, You ARE a learner, You can do GREAT things. It's a new year. I hope that I can deliver these messages in new ways. I hope that at least some of the children whose lives I touch believe them.