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Showing posts from April, 2006

Move Over, George Washington!

A student (actually, the same student who told me 20 times yesterday that he hated me and I was why he wasn't coming to school any more after today) decided that I'm important enough to be on the dollar bill. He made his own dollar bill, and it has a picture of a lady with crazy hair (thanks a lot!) and says, "I think my teacher should be on the dollar because she never gave up on nobody and never will."

In other news, the kids have decided that when I stand in the sunlight, I'm white like paper.

Frustrations

We have a tentative agreement for a contract that we're voting on - of course there are troublemakers who are disappointed that we didn't get to strike - one of the union executive board members sent out a flyer full of phrases like "the community has proved they hate the superintendent" and "the district can exploit new teachers to the max," "Deal a death blow to the state takeover..." and exclamation marks. No better way to get people riled up than to use a lot of exclamation points and capitals. Please keep praying for the union not to CAUSE drama, but to actually be doing good things and making good decisions.

It makes me crazy.

Also, our computer teacher got placed on administrative leave. I don't ask why, because you don't want to ask things like that. But now is the time that my computers decided to stop working - probably minor problems, but I have no idea how to deal with them, and we can't use the computer lab either. Anyone kn…

Roving Classrooms (Or New Teacher Hazing)

I like to think of it as new teacher hazing. Then it would appear to have some purpose instead of just being another example of an incredibly incompetent educational system. And it would just be a better story to say that all the new teachers have to go through hazing. So I've decided to refer to it as a hazing ritual from now on.

"It" is roving classrooms, a practice that I believe is now obsolete in all of Oakland, due to declining enrollment. (I knew there was something good that had to come out of the mass exodus to private schools!)

When I started teaching in January 2000, I think we had something like 950 kids at our school. This was far too many children for the existing classrooms, but not what the district considered full capacity. I think full capacity at that point was considered to be something like 1100 students. So what many schools did was to go year-round and have "tracks." At our school, there were four tracks, and one track was always on vacatio…

Kids Say the Weirdest Things

"Teacher, if you're still living when I graduate from college, will you come to my graduation?" (keep in mind that I am only 30 years old!)

"Robert, why is your desk not clean?" "Because I'm making little frogs! See? Little frogs."

"If this was X-Men school, I'd sign this letter: "Sincerely, Nightcrawler."

And one of them gave me a sticker that says "Eat Up: Snot Noodle Soup."

Lockdowns and Fractions

We've had a lockdown at least once a year since I've been at this school, for various reasons. A lockdown is when something dangerous is going on outside the school or in the school, so all the teachers lock the doors, pull down the blinds, get the kids away from the door, and wait for instructions. Depending on the principal, some of them have tried different codes so the kids won't be scared: the most popular is "Mr. Keys is in the building." Aside from the kids who thought that must be Alicia Keys' father, they wouldn't have caught on, except that there are always so many new teachers that this has to be followed with, "So please lock your doors, don't let children out, move them away from the doors and windows..."

Most of them don't last that long. I think my first lockdown was because some bank robbers from San Francisco led police on a high speed chase which ended in front of our school. Once it was because of a custody battle, duri…

Off Topic: My Art

I've been wanting to put my paintings up on a website for a while, so here goes. They're not all up, but I'm adding them a few at a time... By the way, if you have one of my paintings that isn't up, will you send me a photo please??

I'm a little nervous to have people see them, so I might take the site down if I don't get over that, but for now... here goes.

Strike Aftermath and Fallout

The strike didn't happen (thank God!) but I have a few observations to make about the aftermath.

If the union can have the automated phone system call me and leave vaguely threatening messages about what will happen to me if I cross the picket line, they can damn well have the automated line call me and tell me the strike is off so I don't have to find out from the news in the middle of the night.I don't care what a jerk the state-appointed superintendent is, nobody has any business following him to his office and spitting on the ground near his feet. That's absolutely unacceptable.The district website is the most ghetto thing ever. Get on it. Try to find something - say the Gifted educated department. Or the salary scale. Or try clicking on one of their announcements on the main page. It's seriously pathetic.We should find out the details of the contract in the next couple of days and vote on it withing two weeks. This is what the Tribune has to say about it - we&#…

Strike is Off!

And who says that God doesn't answer prayer?? I know some of you will think I'm crazy for attributing this to people praying, but this got to be so messy - the collision of two huge egos, neither of whom has been known to back down or compromise, and had so much potential for disaster - I am completely convinced that God listened to prayer and intervened. Call me crazy if you want, but the only thing that's going to happen is that we go one day late in the summer - not bad at all.

Here's the article.

Homicides

Oakland just had its 42nd homicide of 2006. Last year at this time, I think there were 18. The tribune ran a story about last year's homicides that is interesting - also one about the families of some of the victims.

One of the people killed is the uncle of a student in my class. He owed someone money, so that someone killed him. I have not yet known any of the homicide victims in the years that I've been here, but I have no doubt that I will eventually. That is not to say I haven't been affected by the violence - most of the students I've had have had a relative or neighbor killed, and many of them witnessed it. One child saw her dad shot in the face when she was six years old. One boy's dad was stabbed to death - luckily the kid wasn't living with him at the time. Another victim a few years back was an honors high school student - the shooters meant to get someone else. Once someone's uncle was killed because he was Mexican. Someone else's cousin was s…

Writing Improvement!

I thought I'd share a success story - this is about a kid who got held back in first grade and convinced himself he was stupid (his word) and fairly worthless. He's actually very smart (one of those who is too smart for his own good) and understands higher-level concepts than most third graders, but I think he may have some sort of processing problem that makes it harder for him to read and write. Anyway, he finally started believing that he could do the work and working at it and after much hard work and patience, he got the most improved writer award for the last trimester!

Here are samples of his writing from October, January, and March. Look at the picture, even the handwriting is like it's from a different child. Each writing sample was supposed to be a paragraph.

October:
to mack a friend isto be nice and to shar and to play with thim sumtimes give thim toys

January:
It's adout a place where a lot of ducks lives. The boy told his dad and thay wint to the wood ond the …

Imminent Strike

The union has planned a one day strike for Thursday, April 20. I'm crossing the picket line. I'm not at all excited about crossing the picket line - I want to support my co-workers, I want to be paid more and have cheaper health care, and I think it is incredibly offensive to teachers and regular subs that the superintendent is willing to pay subs (many of whom are unqualified) $300 a day to sub during a strike. But I can't leave my kids and I'm going to practice explaining my rationale for crossing the picket line.

For the most part, these children in my class this year do not have stable adults in their lives. I could go down the class list and tell you who was abandoned by their mother as a baby, who has never met their father, whose mother complains every day about being stuck with a child, who's being abused, etc. Most of them can't go visit their old teachers who have moved on. Two of them have had a relative shot and killed in the last month, and many of …

I Heart My Students

My students seem to be inordinately worried about me getting married. An unfounded fear, really, considering that I haven't exactly been inundated with marriage proposals lately. They ask me sometimes, "Teacher, you getting married? You fenna change your name? We have to call you something else? Teacher, you going to move away? Can I come to the wedding?" Keep in mind here that they know I don't have a boyfriend! Apparently that's not enough to keep them from worrying that I'm going to get married and leave them.

I was telling this story to some friends and someone said something like, "Oh, that's so cute that they think they'd be invited to the wedding." But the reality is that the kids are that important to me - I would love to have them and their families come if I ever do get married. Yes, I realize that theoretically, there would be someone else who would have an opinion, and between now and if/when i get married, I might change…

History For Children

I've been thinking lately about children's Bible stories. Does it seem strange to anyone else that we take stories - which often have a lot of grief and scandal - and make them into puppet shows for children? Noah's ark for example - happy smiley pairs of animals with happy smiley bearded Noah. Oh, except it was an attempt to wipe out human evil and start over - almost exterminating the human race. That wouldn't fit very well in a puppet show though, so it's a good thing God promised not to do it again. Lots of death in the parting of the Red Sea, not usually shown in the kids' books. Christmas pageants don't usually talk about Herod slaughtering all the infants of a certain age and ethnicity to try to avoid Jesus being born.

I'm not saying that children should face all these difficult issues at a young age - just that I object to stories being dumbed down, or sort of cartooned down. Bible stories were important for me as a little kid but there's som…

Class Pets!

Yes, those are lizards in my hair. We have anoles again. Four or five of them - I'm not sure, because - well, they camouflage. And I haven't looked that closely. But they are again a very big hit and again seem to have an affinity for being on the top of people's heads. The kids love to hold them, watch them, feed them, and watch them breathe (when they breathe, you can see the outline of their tiny little ribs). They (the kids, not the lizards) also love to talk about how much the anoles love them. The poor little animals are probably scared to death if they feel any emotion at all, but I'm very happy to have the kids think they are loved by lizards or by anyone else.

We haven't named this batch yet. The last batch included one anole named "Jumpy" and one named after me. No kidding, in the last 6 years, I've had fish, lizards, birds, a rabbit and many dolls named after me. Almost a dog too. Almost. That would have been too much.

The End of an Era

The Mother's Cookies factory in our city is closing.

The bakery and distribution center have been in this neighborhood (on 81st Ave, right by a crack house if I have my streets right) for 92 years. All sorts of Oakland officials are sad to see the iconic factory go because it's been a part of Oakland's history for so long. And because it cuts jobs.

We will notice because one of the few constants since I've been at this school is the smell of Mother's Cookies. About twice a week, the morning air smells just like what you'd imagine Circus Animal cookies baking smells like, only stronger. The kids walk around sniffing and saying how good it smells, while any adults who are not aware of the factory's close proximity are really confused as to why the air smells like cookies. Very very strongly.

It's a little sad - over the last seven years principals have come and gone, over 120 teachers have left, we've lost teachers' aides, the projects have been re…

Dark Angel

Meet Dark Angel. Dark Angel is not his real name; it's his boxing name. He is a professional middleweight (I think) boxer and the father of one of my former students. (Hence the poster in the photos - never thought I'd have a boxing poster up in my classroom!) He is also one of the best fathers I have seen in my almost 7 years teaching in Oakland.

His daughter is now in fifth grade, at ten and a half years old. She is almost as tall as me, beautiful, intelligent, talented, and confident. I've known her since she was in first grade and have been privileged to see the time and care her dad invests in her. She still comes to visit me every day - sometimes she helps out, sometimes she comes to talk, and sometimes she comes to do her own research for her fifth-grade reports. One day, when she had a substitute and I had lost my voice, she ran my class (efficiently!) for two hours. She gave and corrected a spelling test, she answered all the third graders' questions, and she k…