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!"