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Showing posts from 2009

A Beautiful Christmas in the Ghetto

My Christmas was pleasant but fairly uneventful, except for one thirty-minute period. That period of time probably would have seemed uneventful to most people but to me, it was a beautiful Christmas miracle.

The kids that my friend and I work with, who have had such a hard, hard year, have been sort of MIA for the last few weeks. We've tried to take them out to eat and set up the times, only to have them flake. One of them changed his cell phone number so he was impossible to get ahold of.  And rude when we did get ahold of him. The other only answered when he wanted. They go through this sometimes, so I didn't think much of it, except to be a little annoyed when I drove across town to get them and they weren't there.  I have no idea if they're going to school or really anything else about what's going on right now.  I'm pretty constantly worried about them but try not to because there's nothing I can do.

We thought for a while about what to get them f…

The Difference 20 Years Makes - Guest Blog

Guest post from Matthew Goebel.  I'm looking for guest bloggers - if you have any opinions or experiences regarding education to share, please let me know!
 I live and work in the Bay Area of California.  I have a ten year-old daughter who lives with her mother in Kentucky where I grew up.  Recently I had the privilege of taking my daughter to and picking her up from her elementary school in Waco, Kentucky.  Waco is a very small town outside of Richmond, Kentucky, which isn’t a large town either.  Most of the area is rural.  Richmond has Eastern Kentucky University which doubles the population of the town when it’s in session. 
As I think back to when I was in elementary school I am shocked at how trusted I was to get to school, come home and do homework.  My mom and dad sent me off in the morning, rain, snow or shine to walk the 7-8 blocks to the school.  No questions asked, we were allowed onto school property and into the school.  Classes started at 8 A.M. and we were out of sch…

Stuffed Animals

There are several much more serious stories I was going to share, but I'm not in the mood to be made sad tonight, so I'll tell you all about the stuffed animals.  This is a post that needs images so someday when I have or borrow a working scanner, I will add the photos.

A few years into teaching, I joined Freecyle.  For those of you who don't know Freecycle, it's a group of people in any given community who are on an email list to get rid of their old stuff and get stuff from other people.  It's a fabulous form of recycling. Somebody posted that they had a huge bag of stuffed animals in good condition to give away and I decided to grab it for my class.

I thought that some of the kids would like the stuffed animals, but I certainly didn't think they'd all be into them.  Kids grow up really fast in that neighborhood, and when you have six-year olds talking about how they walk to school alone because their parents say they're "grown," and how the…

Things You Hope You Never Hear From a Third Grader

1. "My mama says I need to bring energy drinks to school so I can have more energy!"
2. "I don't need no Kleenex."
3. "I don't have a bedtime cause I'm grown."
4. "My mama says I'm only in trouble cause you don't like black people.
5. [looking at a display of an exploded meth lab] "Hey!  That's my uncle's house!"
6. "The pee just came out!  I didn't know it was coming."
7. "He WANTED me to hit him!"
8. "But it was only a little bit of a stick and I really thought it would go over her head, honest!"*


and finally...

9. "Teacher, I don't feel so good..." ... "Hey, look, I can see what I ate for lunch!  Cool!"


*Thanks, Linda!






Reflections on Public Education

I stumbled across this blog just when the author was talking about her frustrations with her son's teacher.  She has written some very thought-provoking posts, and I would strongly, STRONGLY recommend reading this one.  Please.  It is thoughtful and she has the unique perspective of being a parent of a public school student as well as a former public school teacher in the inner city.

Let me preface this quote that I am going to share with saying that I have worked with many fantastic teachers.  I know teachers who are extremely gifted, dedicated, respectful, and just all-around wonderful.  One of my eight principals was incredible (and continues to be incredible, just in another district).  Most of the teachers I know spend lots of their own money, bring the children food when they need it, spend hours and hours and hours of unpaid time on preparation in order to do the best for their kids.  And, to these teachers, the students ARE "their kids."

But.  Then there's th…

Two Steps Forward...

...three steps back.

For the last 5-7 years, this district has had a major focus on "new small schools."  These small schools were going to totally transform the district (and may have done that if they had been given a chance) by offering smaller classes and schools with more parent-teacher-child interactions, less room to fall through the cracks, more ability and special programs to meet students' needs, etc.  Sometimes it felt like small schools were being pushed and rewarded at the expense of us larger, more traditional schools.  It was hard to hear the district administrators say that they didn't have money for whatever particular program/supplies we needed when I knew they were spending a lot more to start these new small schools.  Many larger schools were divided up into small schools since that was considered to be the best model.

Now the district has decided that small schools cost too much money.

According to staff’s calculations, the minimum number of stude…

Off Topic: Travel Photos!

I'll get back to the education theme soon.  For now, here's what I've been doing with myself!  I'm not positive these links will work, so let me know...

Spain (Barcelona and Seville, mostly)

Morocco (mostly Marrakech)

England (London, Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon)

The dog (just thought I'd throw that in there :) )

Another Tragedy

Another kid killed, possibly by mistake.

(link fixed)


Enthusiasm

One of the things I miss very, very much about third grade is the enthusiasm. You can get third graders (and younger kids also) excited about anything.

I figured this out during my first year of teaching, when I was joking with a student and said something about maybe making him wash my car if he didn't bring his homework and his face lit up. "Really? Can I wash your car??"

Not what I was going for. But it can be used for good.

Try it. Tell a group of kids it's time to clean the tops of their desks and they will find a million other things to do. But, if you say something like... "Guess what?? It's time to clean the tops of the desks!! Who wants to do it?!? You can use the SPRAY BOTTLE! And the SPONGES!!! But only THREE KIDS can help me!!!"

Well, now the kids are all raising their hands and bouncing up and down because they are SO EXCITED about cleaning the tops of the desks!!!

It works for many different things. These are the things that ma…

Sick Puppy

Lots of people have asked how Solomon is doing, so I thought I'd post the news.

Solomon has a mast cell tumor - a type of cancer really common in dogs. It releases histamines, which was how I found out, because he was scratching and biting at it. This particular tumor is way up on his thigh (the meaty part of his drumstick if he were a chicken) and hard to remove because it is large and there's not a lot of margin around it.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to do surgery or any other type of treatment. I had to think about the fact that he is about to be 10 years old (although a very young 10), what I am willing to put him through, and the cost. It was a very hard decision and I am sure people will disagree with me on both sides, but my plan is to do the surgery, once. I can't afford to have it done more and I don't want to put him through a lot of surgeries. I also won't do chemo or radiation - partly for money and partly because I don't want t…

Another View of the Boys: Guest Blog

This guest blog is written by my friend "Walter" (he chose the pseudonym, not me!) who has been involved with the two boys I've been writing about for several years now.I have known the boys for four years now. I met them through the author of this blog when we took them to the Exploratorium one day - that was the first time I had ever met them. The kids were very polite and very cautious at first. They didn't go far from us and watched us the whole time until we got to the Exploratorium and they started running around and playing with stuff. Then they started to loosen up and have fun. By the end of the day that first day, they were smiling and having fun; getting to be kids. It was really neat to see them getting to be children. I was hooked. I said, "OK, we need to do this again. You guys had a good time, I had fun." Once they got to put off the hard exterior and be kids, I really loved who they were and that they got to be children. I wanted t…

The Gecko's Vacation

The gecko is visiting a sixth grade class this month. I went to talk to the class about gecko care and they seemed really excited. I hope that Tiger (the gecko) touches these kids in the same way he touched the third graders.

In honor of Tiger, here are some of the essays the third graders wrote about him during my last year in the classroom.

The gecko eats crickets. The gecko comes out to see us. The gecko has its peace. The gecko climbs on its rock. the gecko sleeps in his own home. The gecko plays outside and sleeps in the day. the gecko has stripes. The gecko is 3 months old. The gecko's colors are brown and yellow. The gecko is scared of other animals. The gecko is a baby.

Leopard geckos are found in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Leopard geckos are among the largest geckos. 8 or 9 inches. Leopard geckos can live in a aquarium or plastic sweater boxes. Leopard geckos need sand, newspapers, and exercise. Leopard geckos can hide in Rocks, hide box, and lo…

The Parent Factor

I've had several friends lately tell me that because of what they've heard about public schools, they don't want to put their children into the public school system. I have quite a few reasons for disagreeing, but one of them is that a small group of parents can make a big difference. If parents get involved, they will not be sacrificing their kids' education, but making a school much better. I'll write more about that later, but here's an article on the subject of parent involvement.

Starfish

I'm going through about four years of writing and making sure links still work, editing, etc. Only, it's really slow going because I didn't realize how emotional is would still be for me.

Some of it I really miss. I miss beautiful, funny, intelligent students who are just starting to think critically like this girl. I miss funny stories with deeper meanings about how the kids think I'm black. I miss their amazing descriptive writing - how do you beat "My dog smells like junk"? Oh, and crackers sound like rocks when they break; have you ever noticed? I miss students being able to come into my classroom in fourth and fifth grade to visit. Or coming to visit from middle school or high school. I miss the incredible relationships that can happen with students' families regardless of all socioeconomic and racial differences only after they really really get that I love their kids.

Some of it is a relief. I'm not tired all the time. (Well, I am becau…

Letter to a Juvenile Delinquent

Dear "Jorge,"

I've known you since you were 8 years old. You have always been a very special kid and there are many people who love you and want to help you. Your second grade teacher cares very much about you and put you in my class specially because she knew that you were a smart, good kid and she believed in you. You were the only kid in my third grade class who I gave my phone number to because I trusted you and I wanted to help you if you were in trouble. Both Mr. Smith and I love you like you were our own kid.

I know that you're really really angry right now and you feel out of control and like nothing is fair and like you're going to explode. You have seen some horribly messed up things and you had a lot of time when you were just a little kid and no one was taking care of you. Nobody should have had to live through some of the things you've lived through. We can't change that. But right now, there are people who want to help you and you won&…

Oh, another example

I can't believe I almost forgot the best guilt-inducing story!

Well, first there's my personal one about being very very sick.

Then there was a coworker of mine. Really good teacher and experienced. She cared about her kids. When she'd have to take time off (which was rare) she was very well-prepared and made sure the kids had the best possible experience.

Her mother-in-law, with whom she was extremely close, was horribly burned in a house fire. The teacher flew back East to be with her, which was the right thing to do, especially as the burns turned out to be fatal. A pretty horrible way to die, and she lingered for a few days in massive pain. The teacher called the principal and explained the situation and how important it was that she be there for her funeral, and how upset she was. The principal assured her that nothing was more important than family and that she take all the time she need. He/she (don't want identifying factors! I've only had 8 principal…

Ouch

I tore a muscle (coughing) in my side so this won't be long. But it reminded me of trying to teach on crutches. I sprained my ankle in my 5th year teaching and had to be put on crutches for a few weeks. I didn't get workers' comp even though it happened at school because it was my own dumb fault. I tried my best to teach on crutches (almost impossible to teach 3rd grade on crutches). I took as few days off as possible.

However, one should never underestimate the guilt trip potential of educational administrators. If you're sick and you take a day off, you are sometimes told to get better but more often than not asked if you're really sick and if you really need that time off. (people in other districts have experience with that or no?)

So, I tried to schedule all my doctor's appointments for after school but of course we had meetings. So sometimes I had to choose between missing school and missing a meeting (always miss the meeting if possible). Which th…

Tragedy

Another killing in this city.

Which by the way, lasted one day on the front page. Really? I'm sorry to continue sounding cynical, but if this had been a white 17 year old girl it would still be on the front page and people would be shocked. But then, if Hurricane Katrina had hit a mostly white area, that would have been dealt with differently as well.

If it gives me any more credibility, up until I began to work in the inner city I would have been adamant that race had nothing to do with media coverage and that people didn't value black kids less. I think I was wrong.

I have advice for anyone who's going to tell me that race has nothing to do with media coverage and people don't value black kids less, or any version of of course she was killed, what was her family thinking living there (yes, people say that, like she deserved it).

My advice:

Don't open your mouth if you have no experience with it.

He Ain't Supposed to Be in My Class

Actually, it was "He ain't posta be in my class," but that looks a little confusing until you read it aloud.

The segregation stories of today are about tracking. If you aren't in the education field, you may be unfamiliar with tracking. It can either refer to tracking kids by ability: the college prep track, for example, or by some other means, often language. The laws now on who can have their children educated in which language in California are very complicated and I don't pretend to understand them. Although I don't believe that Ron Unz, who started the instruction in English-only thing resulting in Prop 227 knows anything about elementary education or bilingual education. But I digress.

The school I worked at used to be severely overcrowded, resulting in roving teachers, and students without assigned classrooms. Only 3/4 of the school was in session at any one time, and 1/4 of the kids didn't have an assigned classroom, but used whichever classro…

Segregation in the Schools

I recently heard a woman interviewed on the radio. I forget her name, but she was part of the Little Rock Nine - the group of students who were the first black students at Little Rock Central High School and the subject of many protests and threats. I knew that the US National Guard was sent to protect the students, but I hadn't realized that the Arkansas National Guard was first deployed to keep them out of the school, until Eisenhower sent the US National Guard. I can't imagine what it must have been like to try to go to school and have one set of troops trying to keep you out and another trying to get you in.

But I can imagine segregated schools. Actually, I don't have to. I worked at one for 8 years. In California. In the 21st century. It wasn't segregated by law; it was what is called de facto segregation. Or to quote the students, "Ain't no white kids." They didn't mean just in the school, they meant ain't no white kids anywhere nea…

Giving it to God (Or: The Truth in the Trite)

I'm hoping by writing this post, I'll be able to sleep tonight instead of staying awake worrying, which is what I do.

I'm worried about this family that I'm working with. The mom is doing so well - she's doing so much work (that is overdue, but better late than never) on repairing her relationship with her oldest child now living with her and on taking steps to get her papers to be legal in the US, to try and work out her kids' welfare benefits, to get her children's health and education taken care of, everything. And it's so much work.

She wants to work (she cleans houses) and can't find any work. None. I've tried and continue to try (she's a really good housecleaner!) but no one's paying for that right now. The promised welfare benefits are not coming and the social worker will not return calls. We've enlisted the help of a welfare lawyer, but that's going to take time. And time is what this family does not have right no…

Back to School

This is the third year I'm not going back to school. I thought about trying to find a part-time teaching job for this school year but nothing came up and I got a lot more copy editing work, so I'm putting it off another year.

I'm finding myself in that stage where I remember only the good things so I get really nostalgic about teaching. Until I remember how tired I was. How very, very tired.

Things I miss about the beginning of school:
The excitement of getting my class listThinking about and praying for my new studentsBuying school suppliesLabeling school supplies (I don't know why that's fun, but it is)Laying out school supplies in their desksThings I don't miss at all:
Getting up earlyHaving more kids in my classroom than I am legally allowed to have.Having the class list change 17 times in the first two daysNot having all my suppliesBeing told that I should be using x book even though I never got x bookBeing treated like it is my fault I never got the books …

Nervousness About Camp

Some of the questions the littler boy has asked me. He's never been to camp; before and is a little nervous.

Do they have toilet paper?Can I only go for one day?Can I bring my DVD player?Can I skip camp so I can watch my TV program?Will they feed me?Do they have Gatorade?Are there girls?Can I bring a chair?Can I use your sleeping bag?Does my brother have to go?Are there bears?

And.... Another Bad Decision

I had a lovely birthday dinner/dessert celebration tonight (birthday's on Monday) and was about ready to go to bed when I got a call. The 14 year old kid of the family I've been working with has been arrested. For drinking and driving. At age 14. (Barely).

His mom is, understandably, freaking out. She's been working as hard as she can to keep the family together. They have nowhere to live after August 31 and no money to find somewhere. She doesn't have a bank account or credit history so most places wouldn't rent to her even if she did have the money. She's a recovering addict trying to stay clean through both of her boys watching their friend be murdered, be in danger themselves, have to relocate, and deal with the anger/fear/guilt that comes from seeing a friend be killed. Now her oldest one is in bigger trouble.

I'm so angry at him, because he knows better. He took the car keys when she was sleeping and went with his cousin who was staying with t…

Decisions

Decisions children should be able to make:
Which outfit to wear on a particular day (if parents have bought the clothes)
What to eat for snack (if parents have chosen the options)Which TV show to watch (with parental approval)Which sport to playWhich flavor of toothpaste to use
Decisions children should NOT be able to make:
Which guardian to live withWhere it is safe for them to liveWhich school they are going to go toWhether they should go to school or not
If they get a cell phone or notIf their mom gets a cell phone or notIf they should be punished or have any consequences for being rudeWhat their parents should buy for them
If they should go to counseling or not

Guess which set is the set of decisions that I've seen kids make over and over and over. And over.

Poison Oak

That's the nickname of the younger kid I've been working with, "Luis." He's been going to the science day camp program at Chabot Space and Science center, and it is incredible. He wasn't sure he wanted to go last week, and his brother totally flaked out. Poison Oak, however (it's fun to type that) made it, although a day late. He had a stomachache on Monday, which I suspect was an excuse to not try something new/nervousness. On Tuesday, he was really nervous but he went. When I picked him up, he talked the whole way home about how much he loved it and how he couldn't even imagine being mad because he was so happy.

On Thursday, Luis told me he wanted to go again next week. I told him that we didn't have the money (my friend and I paid for half of the camp and Chabot gave him a scholarship for the other half) but that he could go next year. However, the next day, the director offered to transfer the amount paid for his brother so that Luis co…

What Do They Teach You in School?

I've been watching some old Weeds episodes (don't question my taste in shows, it's entertaining) and I had to share this quote:

Uncle: Now, what do they teach you in school?

Kid: How to pass the weekly standardized tests to get the school more funding?


Oh, I wish that wasn't so funny for being true.

WHEN are We Going to Stop...

...teaching kids who aren't white that they are worth less than white kids?

Minorities not allowed in a Philadelphia club's poolBlack dolls priced less than white dolls (pretty good object lesson in not being worth as much)Black children (and adults) who go missing are underreported while white kids often get 24/7 news coverage
If you think this isn't affecting children, or that I'm a crazy liberal who's making too much of it, I suggest you work with children of color for a year and then report back. In the eight years I taught at the school in the inner city, I heard countless - and I actually mean countless - instances of kids complimenting each other on light skin, lamenting dark skin and kinky hair, talking about "good hair," talking about wishing they were white, commenting on how much prettier white people are, how much more money they have, how it's better to be white, how the police would treat them differently if they were white, how the schoo…

How to Outsmart a Teenage Boy

It's really rather simple.

The older boy I've been talking about, "Jorge," is currently in the habit of saying no to everything - things he has wanted to do, things I know he'd like, things he needs to do - everything that is suggested by someone else. So he is spending all his time sitting on his butt feeling sorry for himself. Which he has plenty of reason to do, but this is not very effective. Nothing has worked so today I decided to try a different approach. He has been wanting to earn money but now he says he doesn't want to do anything. Here's our text "conversation":

me: Hey, I have a dirty car and $10 for anyone who wants to wash it. Do you still want to earn money?

him: [no response. I am ignoring all adults. Whatever you have to say must be totally worthless and you know I am just going to say no.]

...two hours later...

me: It's OK if you don't want to. One of my neighbors has kids* who want to earn money. I'l just ask them.

...2…

Grieving

It's been interesting to see how everyone is grieving Joshua. Well, actually, it's been horribly heartbreaking, but also interesting, in a way.

In the family I've been helping out with, we have very mixed reactions:

"Rosa," the mother, is being extremely strong for her kids. She hasn't had an easy life and hasn't been around for a lot of the raising of the kids, so they are - understandably - rebelling against her. She's doing a pretty good job staying consistent and enforcing rules, which is hard to do when you have a son who's bigger than you screaming in your face. My friend and I have been trying to help however we can - encouraging her to keep her authority, mostly, because she is the adult in the house and the kids will eventually learn that. Rosa likes the new place a lot but is worried about money (there's probably funds through August 31, then she's back to trying to find a place on just a few hundred a month - not easy).

"…

Guns and Lockdowns

The kids I've been talking about in my last few posts are a little more stable, at least in terms of their living situation. Again, thanks to everyone who helped financially - you may very well have helped save these boys' lives - no exaggeration. Again, these are the kids who witnessed the murder and had to be relocated because the police (who I just love SO MUCH - is the sarcasm reaching you through the computer?) showed them off to the suspects so there are plenty of threats of retaliation to go around. Then they treated them like they were the criminals. But I digress.

They are in an apartment now which is bigger than ones they've lived in before and - while not in an affluent area at all - are not in danger. I think they're talked into counseling - and thank goodness, their mom and grandmother are 100% in favor of it. I worry about them - the older one talks about getting an AK-47 and shooting anyone who bothers him. He tends to say things for dramatic eff…

An Apartment!

The family has found an apartment! This may be only for a couple of months - it's a little more than they can afford and the DA's office only pays for the first month and the deposit. But they really like it, so I'm hoping they can work out how to pay for it. It's a two bedroom, and before this, they were in a studio, so that is awesome. The landlord is being very helpful and it seems to be a great situation. Thank you all for your prayers, financial help, good wishes... everything.

Soon the family will have to move on to the grieving process. Right now we're just seeing it in crazy emotional outbursts over seemingly little things. The little one is prone to temper tantrums anyway, but he's way worse, and I don't blame him. At the same time, he can't do things like hang up on his teacher and yell at his mom. Both boys say they're dead set against counseling but I'm hoping they get used to the idea.

Progress

I'm very tired so this won't be too detailed but a lot of people are helping and I want to keep them updated.

The apartment in Alameda fell through. They need (as most landlords do) a credit check and "Rosa" is not in the country legally (although all of her children are citizens). We're having trouble finding a landlord who will rent to someone without a credit score, even if she has the money.

However, Catholic Charities is totally stepping up. They sent a social worker to get Rosa through the Welfare office crazy red tape in record time, and she should start receiving food stamps and other aid for the kids (not for her, because she's not legal) on Thursday. Once she has this help, the social worker thinks it will be easier to find a landlord, because she'll have some sort of documented income.

In addition, people from all over - from my church, my family, my friends, old co-workers, friends of friends, friends' parents, Warren (the kids "Big …