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!