Wednesday, December 27, 2006


It was a crazy field trip full of misdirections to the library, kids who want to run in front of cars, and other third grade hazards. But look at the beautiful butterflies that come to two trees in one golf course in San Leandro each year! (Warren gets credit for the photos)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


A wonderful wonderful person came to fix up the computers in my classroom last week. Nathan, someone Kathy knows, who had never met me or the kids before, came to spend a few hours updating the computers. Apparently there were 44 updates that were needed on one of the computers alone. I have no idea what he did to them, but there was some talk about spyware and viruses and updates... Now the computers don't freeze up or randomly close windows. It's awesome.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

SO Predictable.

About a month ago, the district gave us a math assessment (I think all the elementary schools in the district got the same one). We were told to administer them in the next week. Then, after some people had already given them, we were told not to administer them because the answer key was incorrect, and the test covered chapters that we were not scheduled to teach yet. There was a big scramble to get a refund from the publisher and get all the tests back. They forgot to retrieve mine.

This week, we got the new ones. This delay has created problems with scheduling as well as report cards, so we were all glad to administer the assessments. The smaller problem, the incorrect answer key, was corrected. The bigger problem, that the children are being tested on things not yet taught, remains. The test is exactly the same as it was before all of the efforts to fix it.

No one in the district seems to think it's a problem that we're testing kids on things they haven't learned. Except for the kids themselves. And me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Owl Pellets

If you don't know what an owl pellet is, it's worth checking out. One of the best things that our district does is the owl pellet kit. You can request a set of owl pellets and tweezers, along with a video that shows owls' eating habits and how they regurgitate the pellets. (The kids love it because it's gross). Then you dissect the owl pellets. It's pretty cool!

The other thing about the owl pellets is that I've found the most efficient part of the whole district. Everything else takes weeks and months to happen. The owl pellet guy - he comes the next day. And he smiles. No one else in the district smiles.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Playground

See the caution tape in the picture?

I was reminded the other day of the new playground we got at school about 4 1/2 years ago. It was nice and the best part was a big play structure with monkey bars, slides, ladders, poles to slide down, all sorts of fun things. Really really fun.

Then, maybe a year later, maybe a little longer, the slightly spongy squishy stuff that goes under play structures started coming apart. They play structure was deemed unsafe and was slated to be fixed "right away." Eventually it was "fixed" and the kids got to play on it again, for about two days. Then it was unsafe again.

For the last two years or so, the kids have had to look at this wonderful play structure that they're not allowed to touch. It's like torture for them, seeing this tantalizing hope of fun beyond what they are able to currently experience. They're reminded every couple of weeks over the loudspeaker that they need to stay off the play structure, and disciplined when they don't.

Is there any child who can resist the temptation of getting on the play structure when someone's not looking?

My sister had the best reaction:

"WHAT?!that is"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Turning In Their Guns

Interesting article in the Tribune about a gun trade-in.

Here's an essay that Shawn wrote last year, from the perspective of himself as an old man:

When I was a little boy, Oakland was dangerous. They had gangs and they would kill you. In 2006, there was 34 that got killed.* My uncle he got killed because he was going to pay this guy but that guy had the money. I felt sad when I heard my uncle died.

I hope that you live when you are old like me. When I was in 3rd grade, I like to do math. Math was my best subject. I got a math award. I like to write because people were jealous of my writing.

My teacher was fantastic. She let us go on a lot of field trips. She let us have helpers. My teacher broke her ankle because she fell down the stairs. She was fun.


*This was early in the year. I think the homicides got up to 115 or so last year. This year it's up to 141 or so and it's not even the end of the year.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh Dear...

In the computer lab yesterday, "Lashay" mentioned that she didn't want to lose her money. I figured that she meant the $2 she pays for lunch (she is the only one in the class who doesn't qualify for free lunch), so I didn't pay much attention.

A few minutes later, I heard kids asking her for a hundred dollars. Obviously, I became a bit concerned at this point. I told her to pass me the money and she handed me a thick envelope. I started worrying, thinking she had brought $50 or $100 to school. I started counting, and stopped when I got to two thousand dollars. (The girl is 8 years old).

This is where administrators come in, because they get paid more than I do, so they can be liable for things like large wads of cash. I handed her to the assistant principal, who counted all the money ($3300), locked it up, and called Lashay's mom. I was impressed with the assistant principal, she only whispered, "Oh my God," over and over but kept a pretty good poker face since she was in the middle of the hall.

Lashay's story matched her mother's - the money was from a financial aid check that her mom had cashed. (I'm skeptical of people cashing a $3300 check into CASH and leaving it around their house, but I suppose it's possible). The part Lashay's mom didn't know, because she leaves for work at 5:45 am, is that Lashay couldn't find her key when she left for school. She knew where her mom kept the cash and was worried that if she didn't lock the door, someone would steal the money. So, in her little third grade mind, taking the money to school with her seemed to be the best thing to do.

Until she decided to start buying friends with it. When I caught her, she was asking kids how much money they wanted, explaining later that she didn't have any friends, so this was a way to make friends.

Today, I went home sick. Coughing, headache, sore throat, yuck. The sub to whom I handed the kids over was young and sweet and nice and idealistic. I hope they didn't destroy her.

There's a lot of guilt in calling in sick - not just for me, but for many teachers. You feel somehow like you're deserting your own children if you call in sick. Most teachers I know take pride in coming to school sick, but they always seem to get me sick by doing that! One principal I had sent me home one day when I was trying to teach on crutches, with a sprained ankle. She had an extra substitute and told me that, "We in education buy into guilt too much and end up not taking care of ourselves."

Funny thing, the next time I was sick - with a migraine, couldn't get out of bed - she said to me that if I wasn't really committed, that I should get out of education. Now who's causing the guilt?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I Knew What They Meant, But...

It still caught me by surprise when I heard the announcement over the loudspeaker this afternoon:

"Attention, teachers. New teacher support is canceled today. New teacher support is canceled."
Of course, they meant that the new teacher support meeting was being rescheduled. But actually, the other meaning fits our district pretty well...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Song Flutes

This is a song flute.

They are ideal for young children learning music because they are cheap (about $3.50) and fairly easy.

They also sound like a herd of dying and/or mating cats. At least when my class is playing them, they do. I feel bad for the music teacher, who is an actual musician. If this is hurting my ears so badly, I can't imagine what it must feel like to someone who really knows music. Painful.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brown Tommy

As I'm looking through all these old emails (I decided it was silly to have six different email accounts so I'm going to get rid of the hotmail one; cleaning it out), I keep finding great stories from previous years at school. This is one of my favorites.

There was this kid, "Tommy ." He was in my class in my first year, when I taught first grade, and also in my third grade class two years later. Although having a really really hard life which included an alcoholic mother, no father, an extremely abusive stepfather, and eventually getting taken away from his mother and stepfather because of this, he somehow retained some innocence. He would tell jokes like this:

Tommy: "How many space boots did the cow have?"

Me: "I don't know, how many space boots?"

Tommy : (laughing hysterically) "Five: one for each foot and one for its tail!"

Me: "Tommy, did you make that one up yourself?"

Tommy : (proudly) "How did you guess?"

Anyway, when it came time for standardized testing, I told the kids that they were going to look at their test books and make sure that they had the correct book. I also said that their names would be written in a different format: Last Name, First Name. Tommy - who is a very intelligent boy - was apparently not listening because when he got his test, he yelled, "Teacher, how they knew my color?!?"

Tommy is black. Actually, a sort of medium light brown. His last name also happened to be Brown. (Not too worried about putting that on the blog because his first name is changed and there are plenty of Browns out there). His test said: "Brown, Tommy" and Tommy thought it was the adjective describing him. He was surprised that the other kids didn't have things like "Light Skinded Lily" and "Dark Brown Frankie."

He was one of my favorites. He'd be about 13 by now and I really hope he's OK.

Homicide Count

We're up to 141 homicides in Oakland now. We'll see if we set a record this year...

The War At Home

This is an email I got in 2003 that is (sadly) still quite relevant. Well, relevant in that we're still at war in the Middle East, and it's still a mess there. Also relevant in that violence in Oakland is worse than it has been in the last few years- with the 140th homicide for the year happening this weekend. (Remember, there are only about 400,000 people living in Oakland. That's a lot of homicides! They mostly take place in a couple pockets of the city, one of which happens to be my school neighborhood.)

The email is not relevant in that the Raiders were once in the Super Bowl. They're not so close to that now.

Al Davis had put together the perfect team for the Oakland Raiders. The only thing that was missing was a good quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges, and even the high schools, but he couldn't find a ringer quarterback who could ensure a Super Bowl win.

Then one night, while watching CNN, he saw a war-zone scene in Afghanistan. In one corner of the background, he spotted a young Afghani soldier with a truly incredible arm. He threw a hand grenade straight into a 3rd-story window 200 yards away, ka-boom! He threw another hand grenade into a group of 10 soldiers 100 yards away, ka-blooey! Then a car passed, going 90 mph, bulls-eye, right through the car's open window!

"I've got to get this guy!" Al said to himself. "He has the perfect arm!"

So, he brings him to the States and teaches him the great game of football, and the Raiders go on to win the Super Bowl for another time in history. The young Afghani is hailed as the Great Hero of football, and when Coach asks him what he wants, all the young man wants to do is to call his mother.

"Mom," he says into the phone, "I just won the Super Bowl!" "I don't want to talk to you," the old woman says. "You deserted us. You are not my son."

"I don't think you understand, Mother!" the young man pleads. "I just won the greatest sporting event in the world. I'm here among thousands of adoring fans."

"No, let me tell you," his mother retorts. "At this very moment, there are gunshots all around us. The neighborhood is a pile of rubble. Your two brothers were beaten within an inch of their lives last week, and this week your sister was attacked in broad daylight."

The old lady pauses, and then tearfully says, "I'll never forgive you for making us move to Oakland!"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Mr. Smith Papers

Warren came to help the kids with multiplication and asked for a multiplication table. You know, the basic multiplication table. This guy:

Most of the kids had never seen one before, so they didn't know it was called a multiplication table. They just knew that Mr. Smith gave it to them to help them with their word problems. So the next day, when they were trying to do multiplication, they came and asked me for a "Mr. Smith Paper."

That's what they're called now, in my class. It's the accepted name for them. I'm a little worried that one day I'll be talking to other teachers and they'll ask me how I help the kids learn their multiplication facts, and I'll say, "Well, I let them use the Mr. Smith papers until they memorize them..."

Report Card Madness

Report cards come around way too often. OK, maybe they really only happen three times during the school year, but they sure feel like they're always looming over my head. It doesn't help that the report cards are huge (17¼ x 11 inches - too big to work on at a coffee shop, on airplanes, or at my desk) not even counting the separate comments section. Nor does it help that they are made of four layers of "carbonless" paper, which means that every time I fold them or lean on them, let alone make accidental marks, I have to correct four copies.

The main problem is that I am not at all convinced that any of the parents read the report cards, or understand what they mean if they do read them. Some of the fields are measured in numbers (1=Far Below Grade Level, 2=Below, 3=Approaching, 4=Proficient, 5=Advanced), some in symbols (check, plus, and minus), and some in initials (EA=Early Advanced, and so on. And there's a lot of fields to be measured. All of the report cards have to be in English - the best we can do for the Spanish-speaking parents is to give them a blank report card in Spanish so they can see what the different headings are. There's nothing to help any parents who speak any other languages. Yes, I know this is America, but it would be nice if we had some ability to help parents who were showing an interest in their child's education.

And they take a LOT of time to do. I finally looked at a "sample comments" paper a colleague gave me a while back. Never thought I'd run out of creativity with report card comments, but I've been sneaking some looks. There are all sorts of gems like:

XXXX’s attitude toward school is [excellent/very good]. She/he is a [very] good worker and an attentive listener.

XXXX has worked hard to adjust to our class. His/her performance has been up and down, and is often distracted by others in the class. He/she often draws in class instead of paying attention.

He/she needs to read as much as possible to increase his/her vocabulary and comprehension.

XXXX is a bright, intelligent student who enjoys school. He/she works hard to do a good job, especially in Language arts/reading/writing/spelling/math.

Read every day [as much as possible] [frequently] to develop/increase vocabulary and improve comprehension.
I never thought I'd stoop to copying and pasting these things but I'm more tired this year than I've possibly ever been. It might be time for a break from teaching. In the meantime, I'll have to be careful that I copy and paste correctly. It would be awful if I put in the comments: "Billy is a great/hyperactive/psychotic/smelly student. He/She should keep it up/be tranquilized/be committed/be bathed.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Rainy Day Routine

In this district - at least at my school - the rainy day plan is simple:

Cross Your Fingers and Hope It Doesn't Rain

That's the official plan. Every time it does rain, all the administrators (and there have been many of them during my tenure) get these shocked looks on their faces and scramble to make a plan. The general attitude is that of, "It's raining? It's raining?!? What the hell is it doing that for? How dare it RAIN? Oh my goodness, what are we going to do???" You'd think that at some point these people - some of whom are very intelligent - would figure out that it actually rains in Northern California. Quite a bit. And that we will still have students, even when it rains. But no, they tend to stare up at the sky as if betrayed by the heavens.

The methods of coping vary. Some administrators try not to call a rainy day recess until the kids come sopping wet into the office to complain. Others do the opposite, and declare a rainy day recess when there is only the tiniest bit of a threat of rain. I think the logic behind that is so you don't have to go try to round up all the kids once it starts raining, but the reality is that each teacher is stuck with a roomful of kids who start complaining. "It's not raining, why can't we go outside? I really really wanted to play outside!"

The reason why the rain throws such a wrench into administrators' plans is the teachers' 30-minute duty-free lunch. The duty-free lunch is a point of contention between teachers and administrators. In our contract, (and I think in the contract for every other school district in California that I've heard of) teachers are guaranteed a 30 minute lunch period with ZERO responsibilities. No matter what. Right. If you believe that happens, I have more than a few bridges I'd like to sell you.

But we fight for our duty-free lunch. Although 30 minutes isn't enough to do much of anything, and 95% of us spend it making copies, correcting papers, calling about field trips, calling parents... you get the idea. It's the principle of the thing. Also the knowledge that if we give up even one minute, the district will swoop in and our lunchtime will be GONE.

They are sneaky though, those district administrators, and they do their best to pick away at our lunchtime. The latest ploy has been to give the kids 30 minutes for lunch. Well, anyone can figure out that if the kids have 30 minutes, and we have to walk them to lunch and wait while they go through the line and sit down... ain't no 30 minutes left for us.

There are also sneaky "optional" lunch meetings. Or, to be more specific, "voluntary but highly recommended." Also known as "you'll look bad if you don't go; we can't legally force you to, but we'll never forget if you don't." Luckily, that trick hasn't been pulled lately. But we have had the "right before lunch and might spill over into your lunch time but we'll pretend not to notice" meetings. During the last one of those, the administrator said, "I can't make you stay through your duty-free lunch, but does anyone have any objection to staying?' That was a tough moment for me. I knew that if I said that yes, I had an objection - that I already worked my butt off for too little pay and not enough prep time or respect, and I wasn't going to give up my measly 30 minute lunchtime for a silly meeting that wasn't worth my time - I would never hear the end of it. I'd be classified as the one who wasn't a team player and made things difficult. The one who didn't want to work hard but just took the easy way out. I'm not exaggerating here, and that was more trouble than I wanted to deal with.

So I lied.

I said that I had copies to make and children's parents to call and field trips to check on. All true, but not necessarily needing to get done during lunchtime. I didn't say that I just needed downtime because I was tired. I didn't say I needed time to be away from kids or to eat. I didn't say that I needed to go to the bathroom. I didn't say that I might have wanted a few minutes to call my boyfriend or catch up on paying my bills or email some friends. I didn't stand up and scream that they were making me crazy and NO WONDER teachers burned out in California and specifically in Oakland, because they couldn't even have THIRTY LOUSY MINUTES to themselves! That wouldn't have been seen as a convincing excuse. So, I lied.

And remember, I like a lot of these people. But this is not OK. And it's getting to me.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Vacation Is Over.

I've had a week off and it's only today - NINE DAYS INTO VACATION - that I am not tired. I am finally not tired. It took me this long to decompress and recover from teaching these wonderful kids. And now I have to go back to work tomorrow. Pray for me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

No Child Left Behind

I've tried to stay away from NCLB in this blog for a few reasons: it makes me angry, it makes me have to explain a lot to people who think the name is great (after all, who wants to actually leave a child behind?) or who think I just don't like accountability, and because teacher's unions are so militantly against it (and I don't think teacher's unions are always actually looking out for teachers or students).

However, here's my brief overview. The best thing the Bush Administration did with NCLB is to name it. Seriously, "No Child Left Behind" - the name is brilliant. The main idea is that it provides accountability for schools, provides more of a focus on literacy, and provides parents with a choice when their local schools are designated as low performing or failing. Schools have to make adequate yearly progress as determined by the state, both as a general population and in specific categories of students such as African Americans, Latinos, low-income students, and special education students. Teachers are supposed to be "highly qualified" (meaning a lot more testing of teachers), and parents have more flexibility in choosing schools for their children.

Reality, in my experience, is different. Failing schools are not helped as much as they are punished, with "sanctions" (yes, that's really the word they use) imposed against them. I don't see the point of giving children - who have come from another country in the last few months and don't speak English, let alone read it - tests in English! It's well-known that one way to get a better "score" and get the school out of failing mode is to reduce the number of immigrant children in your school. Yuck. I don't know the details of the finances, but I believe there are all sorts of unfunded mandates. It's hard to tell what problems come from NCLB and what comes from my district.

Anyway, here's a petition that I don't think will do any good, but might make people think just a little bit. And here's a dentist analogy that, while being overly simplistic, does still show the inherent problems in NCLB. Check it out.

For the record, I don't think any politicians have done ANYTHING productive in my lifetime, so I'm not ready to go out and campaign for the Democrats either. But I have a particularly hard time with George W. who appears to have the same level of understanding for inner-city black kids on food stamps as he would for little green men on Mars. Actually, he'd probably just bomb the green men on Mars, so that might be easier for him...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Science With Mr. Smith!

Warren came to teach the kids science a few weeks ago. It may or may not have started by me begging him to bring dry ice to the classroom, after remembering his "bubbling cauldron" made of water, dry ice, and 5 gallon buckets last Halloween. Or it may be thanks to his firm belief that kids need science experiments. Either way, we reaped the benefits at Mr. Smith's Science Time.

States of Matter is one of the science topics that is supposed to be covered in the third grade curriculum. It's often not, thanks to the standardized tests that have caused many schools to stick to teaching only the subjects that will be assessed at the end of the year. It's a shame, because children need motivation to learn, not just endless sound/spelling correspondences. For many children (and possibly adults??), there's something about the hands-on drive to satisfy curiosity that makes science different and special and might actually cause them to buy into school.

Anyway. We were fortunate enough to have our friend Mr. Smith come to teach states of matter.

Warren brought a camping stove, a big pot, a glass bottle, dry ice, some candles, a jar, balloons, baking soda, and vinegar. This is when the kids KNEW that science was going to be fun. He explained the difference in molecular activity of solids, liquids, and gases - using kids as examples of molecules moving at different speeds.

He showed the kids that air is actually a substance by making carbon dioxide gas with baking soda and vinegar in a jar. As the students watched, the - invisible to them - gas put out the candle flames. It was like magic!

There were all sorts of other experiments and demonstrations, including blowing up a balloon with the carbon dioxide gas from the vinegar and baking soda reaction, creating a vacuum inside a plastic soda bottle, and others that I'm not remembering because I'm not looking at the wonderful write-ups the kids did. I will include those at some point because they show the excitement that was imparted to the kids.

But the best part, of course, was the dry ice! He explained a little bit about what dry ice was but mostly just showed the kids how to play with it. We saw the dry ice in a pot with hot water, and as it was a few days before Halloween, the kids called it "the witches' brew." They came up and ran their hands through the fog that was created. Then Warren added dish soap and a "bubble fountain" erupted!

See - science is FUN!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Gecko

Has learned to eat mealworms. He loves them. He eats them like candy. Somehow, that's grosser than crickets to me.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The More Things Change...

...The more they stay the same.

I found this email that I wrote to some close friends back in September 2003. I'm happy to say that things have gotten a little better. A very little. A very very little. And actually, now that I think about it, what's gotten better is mostly that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I haven't been killed yet!

(Actually, we do have some school counselors. That's an improvement! Anyway, on to the email.)

School is so hard. There are so many problems... injustices really, that I can't deal with. Some are so little and would seem silly if they didn't add up... not having enough pencils, no scissors, no time to get ready in my room, etc. Some are bigger - how we don't have a PTA so the other schools in the district have so much more than we do. How we get less money from the district because our parents don't fight for it. How we have no support for all the drug babies and kids who are scarred by violence or who have been physically or emotionally abused, or molested. (The school psychologist has now been cut down to ONE HALF DAY a week. That's 3 hours a week. With almost 800 kids).

And then of course the huge societal problems with the inequity of public education and racism that is still very blatant, etc. And I just can't seem to find a balance between not accepting all of this (as I don't think Christians should accept injustice of any kind) and staying sane and realizing that I can't change everything.

It doesn't help that so few people seem to care or want to help. I have had lots of wonderful people listen to me and pray and those who can have helped however they can, but I'm the only one I know who has that, and it's not even anywhere near enough.

Even just practically, I can't keep things going well - my room is filthy because the janitors have been cut so badly in our district, I don't have enough supplies and need about $100 more to just buy the stuff I NEED for school, let alone the field trips and supplies for projects I'd love to do because these kids don't get it, I don't have the technology to get the kids to learn what they will need to know about computers, and I have 3 or 4 kids who in other schools would have individual aides or parent volunteers with them full-time because of their emotional/mental problems. Why is everyone ignoring us? I just don't understand and I don't know if I can keep doing this.

I think I'm freaking out because I saw "Mike's" football game (remember "Mike"? The terror child that I love and had in my class twice?) and he had a head injury and was taken away in an ambulance and it was really freaky. I think seeing him being taken in the ambulance freaked me out a lot, and knowing the statistics and the murder rate, I just keep thinking about when it's going to be my students, because it's going to happen.

I wish I could just pray about it and give it to God or something equally trite, but I can't do it. And I don't want to always be going on about it like I'm trying to save the world or i have the most important job ever, cause that's not true. And I don't want people to get sick of me talking about it either, but it's probably already too late for that. :) Please pray for me and for the kids.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Did You Know...

That according to the district employee directory, there is one person whose sole job is to process TB test clearances? Not that it isn't necessary; everyone who sets foot in a classroom is supposed to have a clear TB test, so that's a lot of people and a lot of TB tests. But that's got to be the most boring job in the district. All TB tests, all the time.

Some days though, I would like to have that kind of a boring job.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Eating Lunch! Or Not.

We have a 30 minute lunch period. Thirty minutes. In that thirty minute time period, I have to walk the children to and from the cafeteria and make sure they get their lunches and don't hurt each other. That takes 7-10 minutes. So now I have a 20-23 minute lunch period. Let's go with the maximum amount of time left, just to give whoever came up with the schedule the benefit of the doubt.

In twenty-three minutes, I have to use the bathroom, as this will be my first and only time to do so from 8:30 am until 2:55 pm. I'm fast. There goes another 3-5 minutes. Now I have 15-20 minutes. Again, I'll go with 20.

Twenty minutes left. Still have to make the kids' homework. That can take between 5-30 minutes, depending on if anyone's in line for the copier, if it jams, if there's paper, etc. Now we have to go with the maximum amount of time left, because if it takes 30 minutes on this hypothetical day, I'm way out of time.

OK, everything's gone perfectly, and I have 15 minutes left. Remember, I haven't even thought about eating yet. I'll still run into about 2-9 children who absolutely NEED me for something. 2-10 more minutes gone there. I'll probably have to return a phone call from someone relating to school, go to the office to check my mailbox, or send an email about a field trip. Absolutely best case scenario, the heavens are on my side... I have about 5 minutes left. Plenty of time to relax and eat! Let's hope I haven't forgotten my lunch!

Did I mention that we have a 30-minute "duty free" lunch for teachers in my district? They always did have a sense of humor.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

One of Those Days

Today was one of those days. Not a horrible day, exactly, but one when I kind of wonder what I'm doing here and if the kids will ever get anywhere and if I'll escape this year with any of my sanity still in place. And also, what the HELL is wrong with our country's priorities?

-We don't have enough custodians so we have to send a kid to dump the garbage. And I almost cried when someone said "The janitor sweeps and mops your classroom, right?"

-One of the fourth grade classes (half of my students from last year) STILL doesn't have a teacher. Hey, they almost did me in. Who's going to want to take that job?

-One of my students told me-casually-that his dad had been killed in a gang fight a few years back.

-One of my old students came back to visit and was BRAGGING to a 5th grader that he had straight D's in his classes.

-The school is out of white paper to make copies, so we have to make all our copies on colored paper or white cardstock. And I seem to be the only one who notices that both of those are more expensive than white paper, which appears to be why we don't we have more white paper and less expensive, not-as-useful paper. [Note: some people have pointed out that this could have just been an honest mistake - the person doing the ordering may not have known that we would use so much white paper and not so much other paper. True. Except for the fact that this has happened every year for the last 7 years. You'd think someone would catch on to the pattern.]

-One of my kids (who is black) told me he didn't want to talk to "Mexican kids in that Mexican class" (bilingual Spanish class). In front of all the Mexican kids in my class, who mostly happen to be really sensitive girls.

-I have to go buy dry erase markers, glue, scissors, and erasers with my own money because the school seems to think they've given me enough.

-The computer guy from the district won't fix the computers in my classroom because they're not district property but were donated to me for my classroom. Ummm... guess why I don't have district computers? Not because I haven't been asking for them!

-I had to use an hour of sick leave because there was a fire on the other side of the bridge and it took me an hour and a half to get to school the other day.

-After spending hours putting up student work on various bulletin boards, we're all told we don't have enough student work up and why don't we make our classrooms look more like the slide we are being shown (which is totally cluttered and an ADD kid's nightmare - things hanging from the lights, the blinds, every bit of wall space...)

-Every other kid seems to want to tell me today that I "do too much" and "that's why they hate this class/school/life."

-We haven't gone on any field trips yet because I would have to pay for them, as the budget isn't finalized. The district might pay me back. The one I want to take them on is only $80, but I just don't have an extra $80. Not after I buy dry ease markers, glue, scissors, and erasers.

Sorry for the grouching. Like I said, it's been one of those days. Even the gecko's been a little grouchy, but I read that it's normal for geckos to be grouchy when they are shedding their skin. (Bet you didn't know that!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Homeless People Is City Wildlife

Our reading program - Open Court - has different themes for each unit. All the stories in a unit are grouped around the theme, and the kids do their own inquiry and research about the theme. Basically, you live, eat, sleep, and breathe the Open Court theme for 6 or 7 weeks. Third grade is a great grade to teach because the Open Court themes are very versatile and interesting: Friendship, City Wildlife, Imagination (my favorite!!), Money, and Storytelling.

We just finished Friendship and got some fabulous ideas on the "Concept/Question Board." The kids put up ideas or questions about the theme and, being kids, they tend to think far, far outside the box. "Can people be friends with animals?" was one of the more highly explored questions, along with "Can kids be friends with kids in other countries who they've never met or kids here who speak a different language?"

Now we're on City Wildlife. I like City Wildlife, because it builds on the kids' natural curiosity about plants and animals. There's always some defining of the term that needs to happen at the beginning of the year. Zoo animals do not count as city wildlife because they are no longer "wild" - they're being taken care of by somebody. Tigers in the wild do not count because they do not live in the cities that we have experienced. The definition that the kids finally uncover usually goes something like "plants or animals that live in our city and survive without being taken care of." Now, the interesting thing is that the reading program did not take inner-city schools into consideration. The teacher's edition specifically says that cats and dogs are not city wildlife. Really? What about all the feral pit bulls running around East Oakland? As the kids would say, don't nobody be taking care of them and they be surviving! It leads to interesting discussions, which are good, as I like to have the students form their own opinion.

The comment that I think the textbook publishers never took into consideration was about homeless people. Working off the above definition, one of the kids said, "So, homeless people is city wildlife too! Don't nobody be taking care of them or giving them a place to live and they still alive." Leave it to the kids to point out that we have people in our cities who aren't treated much better than the pigeons and sewer rats. Should I see if the publishers will include homeless people in their next list of City Wildlife examples?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Silly Spelling Lists

The word "shot" was on a spelling list last week - the spelling list was full of words with the short "o" sound (as in "shot"). Apparently, my friends' students - those who use the same spelling lists - thought of it as getting a shot at the doctor. My kids, when asked to write spelling sentences, all wrote things like, "My auntie got shot in front of her house." Or "I was very sad when my dad got shot." I hadn't really thought of it before giving out the spelling words. Next year, I'll change the list.

Also, when it comes time for the long "o" sound - as in "toe" - I need to remember to take the word "hoe" off the list. In East Oakland, no one has seen a hoe. However, everyone has seen (or knows) a ho. If you don't get that, well... just thank God for your innocence being preserved.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Email Wisdom

All the kids have epals - each of them gets one of my friends to email so that the kids can learn how to use email (many safeguards in effect: I get copies of the emails, the kids' last names aren't used, parents have to give permission, etc.)

There are some funny things that go on in kids' emails. One kid emailed his epal to ask if an A was a good grade because he was sad that he didn't get an A+. Several have asked their epals if they eat vegetables. They don't know how to type (or spell, for many of them) so their emails have either no spaces or way too many spaces between words. They don't really get that punctuation is used in typing as well as writing. The following is one of my favorite emails, from "Amy."

I have 1brother and 3sisters.My favorite color is purple,silver and pink.When my baby sister was born i thought it was going to be a dastater.But it turned out good very good."

Monday, October 02, 2006

More Interesting Past Tenses

Today it was "I knew the dog was sad because he whineded." I don't know why that extra syllable is added on, but that's where I got the name for this blog. Because I am, after all, Light Skinded.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Teacher, I Brung My Homework!

Every single kid says "brung." It makes me crazy. And I sound like a broken record, "'Brung isn't a word. The word is 'brought.'" Nope, they're totally convinced that they brung their homework. This is across districts, because when I did my student teaching in Sacramento, they also brung their homework. I guess it's the English language that should make me crazy: If the past tense of "bring" is "brought," why isn't the past tense of "sing" "sought?" (I know someone who could answer that, actually...) And the interesting thing is that not a one of them says "bringed." They say "He hurted himself," "it costed money," "she runned," but none of them bringed their homework. They brung it.

And by the way, I HATE being called "teacher."

Jessica (thanks, Jessica!) suggested I talk to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to see if they know how I could get in touch with former students who are incarcerated I did, and the assistant to the exec utive director wrote back to me:

I am so moved by your passion and concern. I have previously worked with kids and know the void that opens up when life takes them on a path they neither wanted nor chose. It takes strong community members, moving forward just as you are to reverse this epidemic. Have faith! I have forwarded your request on to several members of our Books Not Bars campaign in hopes they will have the best idea on how to proceed. Thank you for reaching out to us.

I don't really consider myself a "strong community member" but I am concerned! Anyway, it would be wonderful to find out where they are.

This is a lovely picture that a student drew for me last year. I love it. Going kind of from the top right down, the words you probably can't read: "SuperApple" (on the superhero apple, obviously), "Happy Apple," a scared looking apple saying, "Don't hert me!" "SuperStar," "I (heart) apples," "Angree - some one bit my apple,"and "No apple for you!" All out of his own imagination!

I love this kid.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Back To School Night

A new personal record: 13 out of 20 kids had someone come to Back to School Night! Usually it was a mother, but there were exceptions this year. One boy had his mother and grown sister come, one had his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother! Also a dad and dad's girlfriend, and one babysitter. The classes are not all balanced though and it looks like we will have to have a combination 2nd/3rd grade class, so some kids will still need to be moved around. I was hoping that would actually be done BEFORE Back to School Night so that the parents we meet would be the parents of the kids we'd actually have, but it didn't happen. I feel kind of like I'm deceiving parents when I tell them all about how my class works and the plan for the year while knowing that their child could be moved out of my class. It probably doesn't make the parents feel great about the school either if that happens.

We have to do this because one of the third grade classes only has 13 students and another only has 15, while the second grade classes are over the 20 student limit. I was asked to submit a list of three kids that I chose to leave my class but I couldn't do it so I chose the six I thought were least likely to be traumatized and wrote down my rationale for each one and submitted that. This is the kind of thing that gets me classified as "difficult," but I can't choose three students to get rid of!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


A new teacher in the parking lot: "I thought I'd been in the 'hood before, but man, THIS is the 'HOOD." I have heard that he worked in juvenile hall, but he says our school's harder. Awesome.

Also, the buildings & grounds guy came by and asked if I was the one who put in a work order because the "classroom is too hot." I don't know who it was, but the classrooms are too hot at the moment because it's hot outside and the way the sun hits the classroom, on days over 70 degrees, the classroom temperature is usually about 15-20 degrees warmer than outside. It sort of reflects around all the glass (no, I don't actually know the physics of this) and makes the rooms into hot glass boxes. You can open the windows but they all have metal gratings on them and if you open the blinds AT ALL it's like turning the heater on high. It's pretty miserable, but I never thought of putting a work order in to turn the sun down...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gecko Stories

Notice the gecko's accessories... there is his half a coconut shell that he lives in, but also... presents! Some of them with a tag on them saying "Gecko" in case there was confusion about the recipient of the gifts.

I told the kids that we didn't know yet if the gecko was a girl or boy, because you can't tell until they're older and one of the boys said, very confidently, "Oh, it's a boy." I asked how he knew and he said, "I can see it in his eyes."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Funny Kids

I told a kid today that he needed to chill and he said, "Hey, that's a black people word!"

I said no it isn't and he said yes it is and got really agitated (he has a tendency to do so).

So I said, "Well, can I borrow the word?"

He said, "Sure, no problem."

Crisis averted.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tiger the Leopard Gecko

Our little leopard gecko hatchling is doing very well. His name is Tiger as right now he's tiger-striped, but leopard geckos' stripes turn to spots as they get older. He (or she - you can't "sex" leopard geckos until they're older) is the highlight of the classroom. It helps that he's the cutest little thing ever - just look at his cute little face!! I've seen some "teenagers" though, and they definitely go through an awkward phase later. He eats about 5-6 small crickets a day and the kids love to sprinkle the vitamin powder in the bag with the crickets, then shake it up so the crickets are coated with vitamins (the crickets don't seem to like this part much) before we put them in the cage. He hasn't eaten in front of us yet, but he HAS pooped in front of the kids, which was really exciting! (and very very small).

The poor thing's lifespan is probably shortened by all the noise in the classroom, although I only rarely let the kids touch him. It might be my imagination, but every time I reach in his cage to pick up his coconut shell house so the kids can see him, he sort of gives me this look like, "Here comes that crazy woman again, waking me up, picking up my house... can't she just leave me alone?!" I'm pretty sure he likes weekends best.

But he is definitely serving a greater purpose. I overheard one girl talking to another - she said, "I just love him [Tiger] SO MUCH. I really think he loves me too."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dear Mom, How Are You Doing in Jail?

That was how "Lamar" in my class started a letter. He had asked me if he could write a letter because he was done with his work early (he's ALWAYS done with his work early and always understands it - I need to think of some seriously challenging research projects for this child). It's so matter-of-fact for most of these kids - many, many of them have had or currently have a parent in jail. If not a parent, they're almost guaranteed to have had an older brother, cousin, or uncle in jail. Dads are more likely than moms to be incarcerated, but I'm meeting more and more kids who have moms in jail. (or prison - they just call any kind of incarcerated "being in jail").

I am not sure why it is - part of it (I think) is the epidemic of being fatherless. There are some incredible mothers out there raising sons by themselves, but somehow, when the sons have no father figure, they often get lost. Daughters too - I see girls (starting in kindergarten!) trying to win male attention by being cute, flirtatious, acting helpless... And I see how their value and worth seems to come from that male attention.

The other thing that is obvious in both boys and girls is the anger they feel at being abandoned. I've had kids tell me that "dads [or moms] shouldn't leave their kids to be in jail." Or that "they supposed to be there for kids." One kid, whose dad is in jail for attempted murder of his cousin, told me that he was so mad that his father would be gone until he (the kid) was 18, that "if he ever gets out, I'ma kill him myself." And if you could have seen the look on his face, you would believe him.

How's that for an endless cycle?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sad. Again.

A family from school (a family I know pretty well), lost a relative last year when he was shot and killed for owing someone money. It really shook up the kids' world, as you can imagine. Now, not even six months later, they've lost another member of their family. I'm not sure if this woman was actually related to their family, but she was family. She worked at the daycare run by the kids' great aunt and the kids called her their "God-mama." She was hit and killed by a drunk driver on Saturday.

The middle child in the family - "Marcel" - came and told me about it this morning. Then he said, "Too many people been died." Damn right.

Mrs. Dwyer

I'm a little behind, but I wanted to share about our wonderful volunteer from last year, Kathy Dwyer. Kathy was working in the children's ministries department at my church and came to volunteer at my school. She was volunteering in a kindergarten class the year before (I think) and decided to help out in third grade last year.

Kathy started by reading with the kids and helping them with their practice tests. As she got to know the kids, I think she saw that they had a creative side that wanted to come out. Since we had really limited resources at school, she brought all the supplies for the projects. And these were GREAT projects. Painting wood shapes, making journals using cutouts from animal magazines and foam shapes, clay projects, Easter baskets with silk flowers and other decorations, St. Patrick's day projects, all sorts of fun things. They loved it because they got to be creative and didn't have to stick to only one piece of paper like they do when they're using very limited school supplies.

Then the snacks started! I forget the first snack, but the kids loved it and ate all the extras. Kathy saw that the kids were hungry and brought them all sorts of food that was much more healthy than most snacks they're used to. Granola bars, fruit bars, apples, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, milk, bottles of water (they loved those - I think they felt like adults with their bottled water).

Their responses showed that they appreciated the caring behind the gifts, and not just the crafts and food. They would ask me every week when Mrs. Dwyer was coming (except usually it was Mrs. Dryer or Mrs. Dwiler) and they'd get so excited when she'd come in. They would have loved doing crafts with anyone, but they just adored crafts with someone who loved them.

Their feelings were summed up by a comment from "Ray." Another kid asked why the milk in the cafeteria didn't taste as good as the milk that Mrs. Dwyer brought for snack. She was wondering if the cafeteria milk was expired (it wasn't). Ray said, "The milk Mrs. Dwyer brings us tastes better because Mrs. Dwyer loves us." It does not escape their notice for a minute when people truly care about them!