Friday, December 31, 2010

More Thoughts on Home Schooling

I had a few interesting comments on the last post, about home schooling.  I don't think home schooling is usually a good idea, but since I know people are going to do it anyway, I wanted to give them an idea of what is required. 

One comment speaks for itself quite well:

As a former elementary school teacher, the question I would like to ask parents who home school their children is this:  Would you remove your child's tonsils? No? If you haven't been trained a teacher, what makes you think you can teach?

The obvious point is that for some reason, a medical doctor's education is something that is revered and gladly paid for (for the vast majority).

With teaching, on the other hand, the training that we underwent and experience that we have is seriously undervalued.
Another person adds to the list:  

Excellent list! i did think of a couple more, maybe...: Does your child have access to other adults beyond the family? Have you considered that a child can't take being with their parent all day even if you feel fine with that level of contact? Do you have a peer group that you can be mentored from?
That is an excellent point.  It may not be in the *child's* best interest to only be around a parent and no other adults.  In addition, I think it is important for children to learn to respect other adults.  This does not have to be done in a school setting, but it does need to be done.
Another commenter pointed out that some children may have medical/emotional issues that makes it difficult for them to go to public school.  This is true, although public schools in most jurisdictions are required to meet these students' needs, even if that means paying for private tutoring.  This is not usually advertised though because it costs districts so much money.  However, the fact remains that home schooling is a full-time job and one that someone should be properly trained to do.  

Three years ago: Happy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Home Schooling

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm fairly anti-home schooling.  That may be a bit of an understatement, actually.  I think that home schooling is often used by parents to keep their children away from the world and in a bit of a bubble longer, and I generally don't think that's healthy.  It especially bothers me, as a Christian, when Christian families home school in an attempt to keep their children away from any non-Christian influences.  I just don't think that's Biblical.

However, a dear friend of mine told me she may be home schooling her daughters.  I still don't think it's the best choice for most people but I have compiled a list of things to realistically consider when deciding to home school or not.

1. Do you (the home schooling parent) have enough time and energy to invest in this?  Teaching is a full-time job.  Remember that.  Full-time.  You can't do it justice if you treat it as any less.

2. Do you have any experience teaching?  Being good at something is not enough.  Many people are good at things and totally incapable of teaching them.  Do you know any teaching strategies?  Do you know how to communicate ideas and facts in a way that will help your child or children learn effectively?

3. Do you have a curriculum?  Do you know anything about the curriculum or anyone who has used it?  Do you have all the material for the curriculum?

4. Do you have a plan for your children to meet other children?  Preferably children outside of their own racial/socio-economic/religious groups?  This, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable services of public schools.

5. Do you have a plan for your children to learn to work with other children?  Not just their siblings.  In school, children learn to work with people they may not like, may not understand, may not get along with.  This is an important life skill.

6. Do you have a grasp on all the subjects you will be teaching?  In addition to teaching skills, you must understand the subjects.  This is much easier with younger children and harder with secondary school, where most teachers specialize in one subject.

7. Can you handle being around your children all day every day with no breaks at all?  This is too much for many people.

8. Are you willing to get professional help (teachers or tutors with the appropriate experience and credentials) if needed?

9. Are you willing to put in the time and effort to make sure you're meeting all your state's requirements?  If home schooling high school students, are you willing to make sure you are meeting the requirements for college entrance?

Teachers, any more things to think about?

One year ago: A Beautiful Christmas in the Ghetto

Three years ago: Payment Received!

Four years ago: Butterflies!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Dreams

My dream is to be a pediatrician because I want kids to be safe and have a better Life and have someone who cares about them.

The reason I want to be a peditairican so I can help kids so They can be smart in school what I like about a pediatricain that I get to help small children and be heathly because some kids can die because the don't eat fruit and stuff so they won't be so sick and I want chidlen to Live heathly Lives like we do we want children to Live as Long as us.

[that girl routinely ate Flamin' Hot Cheetos with nacho cheese and a Pepsi for breakfast]

I want to be a sience teacher because I get to help students with sience and school problems and they can trust me with anything.  I want it because I can study animals because nature is interesting.

I have a dreem.  I have a dream to be a spy so I can spy on People and take them to jail and help People and I will have to learn hard at shcool to be a sPy and I what to work for the CiA and so I can get money for a car and a pet and that's my dream.

One year ago: The Difference 20 Years Makes

Two years ago: Bits and Pieces Again

Three years ago: Interesting Followup

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Dream is to Help Children

From one of the most disturbed students I've ever had: (her spelling wasn't good either)

She needed this type of help.  More than almost every child I've ever met.

My dream is to help chridren.  Because I have two help chrildren.  And enven if I had to help arofens I would treat them as my own chridren.  The chrildren I am going to help.  I hope they belive in there self. 

In maybe part of the reason the chrildren ar poor I think maybe because they didn't get a good edecation.

I really care for chridren.  I watch a lot of shows of poor chrildren.  And I hate what I see.

One year ago: The Good and Bad of the Year

Three years ago: The Money That I'm Owed

Four years ago: Computers!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hey! I'm Smart!

My eighth grade student, while working on his history homework:

"Why did the US Capitol switch from New York City to Washington, DC?  Oh, I know.  It was to compromise because the South didn't want to pay off the North's debts so they got to have the capitol... Hey!!  I'm SMART!!!"

Three years ago: So Outta There
                          More School Closures

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm White Too

I had a realization when I went to pick up my Little Sister at her housing development (projects) this weekend.  There is very little difference between the Section 8 housing projects in Oakland and the segregated South or South Africa under apartheid.  I've been there on weekends, on weekdays, in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night.  I have never ever seen another white person.  Not one.  I have not even seen a Latino or Asian person.  I have only seen African-American people there - visitors or residents.

I think I would have noticed earlier if I hadn't been so used to being the only white person when I was teaching.  I still have the feeling sometimes of being in a group and thinking, "Oh my goodness, everyone here is white except for me!  Wait a minute, I'm white too!"  It sounds silly but it's a fairly common occurrence for me. 

It's fairly disconcerting to realize how very segregated our city can still be.  In the Bay Area, in California, in 2010.  You'd think we were past that.  You'd hope so.  But you'd be wrong.  If you don't believe me, come to East Oakland with me someday.  We'll play the game I taught a friend from another country when explaining the segregation that still exists.  It's called "Find the White Person."  When you're in that neighborhood, it's almost impossible.

One year ago: Stuffed Animals

Four years ago: SO Predictable.
                        Owl Pellets

Saturday, December 11, 2010


The new figure for high school dropouts in Oakland Unified is 40%

That's doesn't count the number of kids who drop out before high school.  A lot of kids drop out before then - during middle school or between middle and high school.  I'd like to see figures about the total dropout rates.  I think it would be terrifying.

Three years ago: The Best Form of Birth Control

Four years ago: The Playground

Friday, December 10, 2010


I'm going to give all the parents out there a little tip.  Don't ever name your child Angel. I don't care if you pronounce it the English or Spanish way, don't do it.  There is a 99.9% chance that your child will do everything in his or her power to *not* live up to that name.  I've had 5 or 6 kids named Angel over the years - from various ethnic backgrounds - and it has not been good.  Interestingly, the Angelas and Angelinas I've known who go by Angel are fine.  Just avoid Angel.

Also, I think being a teacher gives you a much smaller pool of potential names than other people.  I've heard people talk about what they want to name their children and many of them make me cringe - not because the  names are bad but because I remember a child with that name.  It goes the other way too; it's just not as memorable.

One year ago: Things You Hope You Never Hear from a Third Grader

Three years ago: To Be Expected
                          Playing Businessman on BART

Four years ago: Turning in Their Guns

Monday, December 06, 2010

Vote for My Niece!

Look at this face!  If you vote for this face, she could be on the Gerber baby food labels!  More importantly, she could win a $25,000 scholarship!  You have to give them your email address but I so far haven't gotten any spam from them, so I think it's OK.  You can vote once a day.  Help Symphony win!!

One year ago: Reflections on Public Education

Three years ago: Tales from BART

Four years ago: I Knew What They Meant, But...

Saturday, December 04, 2010


I have a hard time with rich people.  And I have a fairly low threshold regarding who I consider to be rich people.  However, since I need to tutor kids whose parents can afford to pay me, I've been working with more people who I consider to be rich, or at least well-off.

I was worried about this- I've been working pretty exclusively with kids in poverty before this, and I thought the wealthier kids would be harder for me - more entitled, more spoiled, etc.  This is true in part, but not entirely.  I had a lesson in how rich kids aren't necessarily this way with a little girl I work with.

This girl, who's about 9 years old, goes to a very expensive, very prestigious private school.  She is chatty, and started asking me about the kids I used to teach.  She asked if I tutored any of the kids who I used to teach.  When I said no, she asked why.  I said, "Well, most of them don't have the money to pay for tutoring."  She said, "Can't their parents pay?"  I explained that actually their parents were pretty poor and couldn't afford it.

The little girl looked at me with huge eyes.  She started tearing up.  I think it was honestly the first time she has ever considered poor kids before, as a real possibility.  For the rest of the session, she kept asking me about the kids and how they could be helped.  This girl is extremely privileged and quite insulated.  But I think she might end up being OK, just from natural compassion.

Three years ago: Adventures in Subbing

Four years ago: Song Flutes

Friday, December 03, 2010

Learning Conditions

It's always been interesting to me how conditions in an educational setting can be so much worse than in any other sort of work environment, and it is accepted.  Everything from asbestos to temperature to total incompetence at the upper levels is accepted.  Here's a very simple example of something that wouldn't be tolerated in any other setting.

Classrooms are cold because the heat isn't working in many of the Oakland schools.  I have only rarely had that happen, but I've had the opposite happen.  I subbed for a friend in November a few years ago and t was literally ninety degrees in the classroom because the thermostat was broken.  It was miserable.

Read the comments  I especially like the commenter who says it's California, what are you complaining about?  I'd love to see his business environment lack heat - yes, even in California - and him put up with it because we're not in New England.

Why should the teachers (and the kids) have to expect poor conditions?

One year ago: Two Steps Forward...

Four years ago: Brown Tommy
                        Homicide Count
                        The War at Home

Monday, November 29, 2010

Alternate Gift Ideas

If you haven't already spent your life savings on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, I have some ideas for you.  A lot of us have too much stuff - at least in this country.  Instead, it might be nice to do something good - something that is necessary and might not happen otherwise - in someone's honor. 

Some ideas:

Big Brothers Big Sisters - you can donate your time or money to help kids who really need it.

Donors Choose - you can choose the type of project you want to fund, according to what your loved one would appreciate. (I greatly benefited from this site when I was a classroom teacher)

Kiva- microloans, and you can give gift cards so your loved one can choose what to loan money to.

Faith Network - an organization that helps public schools in Oakland and the surrounding area.  (It's a Christian organization but they don't proselytize.  They do teach reading and writing, which is a huge help.)

I also have very close ties with an orphanage in Mexico that doesn't have a website but does really good work with kids who are essentially thrown away, and survives completely on donations. Email me or leave a comment if you want information on how to donate to them - I'd love to give it to you.

Think about it - wouldn't you love if someone helped one of these groups in your honor?

One year ago: Off Topic: Travel Photos

Three years ago: Seriously?

Four years ago: The Mr. Smith Papers
                         Report Card Madness

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some Reading

I'm in New York visiting my brother and sister-in-law, so here's some reading for all of you.

An article about how black boys are doing in school (some very interesting points).

Teacher credentialing programs should be totally changed around.

Happy Black Friday!  Try not to buy too much stuff.

Three years ago: No News and No Clothes

Four years ago: Vacation is Over
                         Rainy Day Routine

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Illegal Immigration - Is ThereAny Other Kind?

I had a bit of a disturbing conversation with the teenager I tutor yesterday.  He asked me the definition of "immigration."  When I told him it was people moving to another country to live there, he disagreed.  He said, "You forgot the illegal part."  We talked about it and it turns out that he had only ever heard of illegal immigration.  Every time immigration was discussed on TV or in any other context he had heard, it was illegal.  He had NO IDEA that there was legal immigration.  Does that say anything about the tone of the discussion in this country?

Three years ago: Dreaming of Teaching

Four years ago: No Child Left Behind

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Inside a Child's Mind... a very interesting place.

Today my 10-year old tutoring client informed me that "High school is mating season."

The teacher of the second grade class I volunteer with let the kids pick their own group names.  The names are:


I particularly like that one of the group names is an adverb.

Three years ago: Purple Hair
                          Gulliver in Hookerland

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why I Don't Want to See Harry Potter

First of all, I realize the title of the post will set some people off.  How's this: I promise not to judge you for seeing Harry Potter, or for getting excited about the movies.  I'm just not that interested.

I first read Harry Potter  in 2000, right before book four came out.  Someone gave me book one for Christmas and I read it at some point during my first year of teaching and it was amazing.  Magical.  Wonderful.  I read two and three pretty quickly and then started becoming one of those people who counts down the days until the next Harry Potter book.  Even more exciting, so did many of my students.  I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to my third grade class and they absolutely loved it.  After I read it to them, many of them ordered it themselves from the book order, re-read it, bought book two, borrowed mine - they were hooked.  We didn't have a real reading curriculum that year, and one of the fifth grade teachers just photocopied chapters of the book and had his class read them together because it was the only thing he could find that got the kids interested. 

We got a reading curriculum, so teachers weren't teaching reading using Harry Potter after that year, but many of us continued reading it aloud and kids continued reading the books.  I was a little concerned that the books were getting darker, but I would just tell my students to start at book one and by the time they got to the later books, I figured they may be able to handle them.  Most of them weren't fast readers, and it wasn't going to happen all in one school year.  But they loved the books, and I had to keep buying more and more copies because so many kids wanted to borrow them.

At some point during all this, the first Harry Potter movie came out.  I was excited about it, as everyone was, and it was fun.  It obviously wasn't as good as the book, but I liked it.  I saw the next couple of movies but quickly figured out that the kid playing Harry couldn't act (I hear he's gotten better) and just sort of forgot to watch movies number four and five.  I didn't care too much one way or another.

After the first couple of movies were out, though, I began noticing that my students didn't want to read the books any more.  They didn't even want them read aloud, and before they would ONLY listen to Harry.  Nothing else would do.  When I would suggest that they read the books, they would just tell me, "No, I can just watch the movie."  They would get excited about the movies, but no more than any other movie they were interested in.  They were not excited about the books.

As I've been tutoring this year, I've tried to get some kids to read Harry Potter.  The response is still the same.  "But I can see the movie."  The magic that was there was gone.  I'm sure it's not for all kids - I would have been all about the books, even after the movies came out - but for the kids I work with, they're over it.  Movies trump books.  The books are obsolete now.

And the sad thing is that the movies just aren't that good.  Actually, the sad thing is that for two or three years, I saw kids who had never been excited about books in their life be excited.  Then I saw it go away just as fast.  So I'm just not that excited about the movies.

One year ago: Enthusiasm
                      Another Tragedy

Three years ago: How Many Feet Do Chickens Have?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vampire White

I'm going to suggest that the makers of my face powder change the name to "Vampire White."  Those of you who know me know that I am on the white side of white.  If you've been reading my blog, you know that the neighborhood where I was teaching had a distinct lack of white people.  Many of the kids had never interacted with white people except for the teachers at the school.  This led to some interesting conversations.

This is another Halloween story.  There was a girl, named "Mary," who was a tall African-American girl, beautiful, athletic, and smart.  I had never had Mary in my class but she came to visit me most days.

Mary had beautiful dark brown skin and, on this particular Halloween, was dressed as a vampire.  I was helping several kids with their makeup.  Most of them wanted to be kitties so I was doing kitty noses and whiskers with my eyeliner.  It was a cheap eyeliner and they had no Halloween costumes, so it was a worthwhile sacrifice.

I turned around and saw Mary with my powder compact.  I had forgotten that I had it, because I rarely used it.  She had covered her face with the powder.  I asked her what she was doing and she said, "I'm a vampire."  As this seemed to be a non sequitur, I asked her again what she was doing.  She said, "I'm using your vampire make-up."

Mary thought that the make-up, which matched my skin color, was the color of the undead.  She doesn't see many white people.

Three years ago: Halloween

Four years ago: Science with Mr. Smith

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I've recently seen this graphic around the web, and heard a few people say that it's a great example of how Oakland is a "rainbow of diversity."  I wish I could insert the graphic here, but it won't work, so please take a minute to look at it.  The different colors represent different ethnicities.  If you don't recognize Oakland, it's on the right side of the bay and has a blue section (African-American) at the northwest end and a blue section at the southeast end.  Green and orange (Asian and Latino) are in the middle and red (Caucasian) in the hills.

I guess that it is a rainbow of diversity in that there are separate stripes of color.  But it's not integrated.  It's not diverse.  The city as a whole is diverse, but the neighborhoods are not.  It reminds me of a time that someone told me that one of the high schools was "really diverse."  Someone else looked at her strangely, and said "Um, all black isn't diverse.  It's all black."

It is really strange to see people outside the neighborhoods that they "belong" in.  When I was working in the black and Latino neighborhood, people would stop and stare.  They'd turn their heads as they were driving so that I'd worry they were going to crash.  I was such an anomaly.  If I took my Little Sister to the hills, she'd probably get the same kind of stares.  If she were any older (or especially if she was a teenage boy), people would probably hold their purses tighter and cross the street.  This city really doesn't have a black middle class.  You can tell what kind of area a school is in by the racial makeup: white = higher income, black and Latino = low income.  Asians are usually in the low income areas, but not always.

White people are more valued in this city.  Some may argue with me, but the kids know that if a white person gets killed, the police will find the killer and prosecute them.  The criminals must know this too, because they don't shoot white people.  Ever.  Schools with white kids have better facilities.  They also have the police respond much quicker than the school I worked at, where we waited 50 minutes for the police to show up for an attempted kidnapping (there's a police station nearby).

My point, I guess, is that by saying that this city is diverse and integrated, we are not telling the truth, and I really think things should be called what they are. There's no way to make things better when we're denying how bad they are.  I would imagine that it's a mix of wanting to believe everything is all right in the city you live in and some guilt over the fact that those in power are living in the safe areas and sending their kids to the good schools while other kids are actually watching their friends get killed. This kind of inequality - all in one smallish city  -  should not be acceptable and we should not be praising Oakland for being a rainbow of diversity, at least not yet.  The city has an incredible mix of  cultures, but they are so separated from each other and there is so much antagonism between them that I think we're missing out on all of the advantages of this kind of diversity.

Maybe I'm wrong - I'd love to hear thoughts on this.  But I can't help but believe that the Oscar Grant shooting was just a symptom of the racial inequality in this city.  A white man exhibiting the same behavior would probably not have been shot.  A police officer who killed an unarmed white man would probably have gotten a lot more than the minimum sentence for involuntary manslaughter.  If this city didn't have so much of a history of hurt and oppression based on race and class, these things may have been seen as a fluke.  Instead, I think it's just one more blow to a community that is already underprivileged, underrepresented, and suffering in ways that most white people around here just don't want to acknowledge.

By the way, these old links below are good ones, especially the top two:

Three years ago: Literally Unbelievable

Four years ago: The Gecko
                        The More Things Change...

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Everyone is talking about whether or not they agree with Obama and what the midterm elections show as far as if people like him or not... I just want to share again why it is so important that we now have a black president.  So here it is, from two years ago:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Black President

I am so excited.

First, let me say that I did not vote for Barack Obama because he is black. I voted for him because I thought he was the better candidate, and will make the better president. I think he will help how the rest of the world sees the United States. I don't think he is the Messiah and I'm sure I will be disappointed in him at times during the next 4 (or 8) years. However, I think this is the right direction for America to go in and I am thrilled because of the person we have elected, while still being unbelieving.


While a lot of me wants to rant about how I can be a Christian and still be a Democrat, how liberal is not a bad word, how pro-life should be for the duration of life and not just and how I don't understand why McCain was seen as the Christian candidate by so many when he's the one of the two who had an affair, got divorced, and doesn't claim to go to church... I'm not going to right now. I want to talk about how excited I am to have a black president.

Yes, I know he is half white. But it wasn't black people who initiated the one drop rule. It was white people and black people suffered for it in a lot of ways. I for one, am totally happy to say that we have our first black president.

But how happy I am for my own self is nothing compared to how happy I am for all the kids I have worked with. For eight years I worked with primarily black students who were resigned to the fact that presidents would always be old white men. As a white person, I could tell them that they could be anything that they want to be - even the president! - but it's really hard to believe that something is possible when you've never seen it. These kids finally have an example.
When I got to Oakland, I didn't think racism was still as alive and well as it is. It may not be as obvious as it has been in the past but it is still entrenched. If you don't believe me, feel free to leave a comment and say so and I'll dedicate a post just to examples of entrenched racism but I'm not going to do that now.

I'm just going to say that I will never have to hear again that an eight year old thought they "they just didn't let black people be president." And for these kids, that is huge. It's a barrier that needed to be broken.

Two years ago: A Black President

Three years ago: No Wonder I'm Still Tired!

Four years ago: Did You Know?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I'm a Lizard

Quick Halloween story (a little late - I lost my beloved dog on Halloween).

I had a student who wasn't super bright.  Nice kid, good heart, tried hard, just wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box.  He kind of had a reputation for not being the smartest kid, and the other teachers knew it.

On Halloween, one of my colleagues was dressed up as a bee.  He wore a black and yellow striped rugby shirt, big bug sunglasses, antennae, and wings.  This kid, "Timmy," walked up to him and said, "Mr. M, what are you supposed to be?"  Mr. M just looked at him and decided to go for making fun of the gullible kid.  He said, "Timmy, I'm a lizard."

Timmy looked at him carefully and said, "That's funny."

He ran back to me and said, "Did you know Mr. M is dressed up as a lizard?  The weird thing is that he looks just like a bee!"

Three years ago: They Can't Keep Employees? Really?  What a Surprise!

Four years ago: Eating Lunch!  Or not.

Monday, November 01, 2010


My wonderful doggie passed away last night.  I'll have another school Halloween story soon, but for now I'm just missing the doggie.

Two years ago: Random Political Thoughts

Three years ago: A Brief Political Note

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Parties

In honor of today being the school day that most elementary schools had Halloween parties, I'd like to state for the record:

Halloween is the worst day of the year for elementary school teachers. 

I'm sure there are some highly energetic, dedicated, fun-loving teachers who love this day best but I was never one of them.  It's a day full of sugar, anticipation of sugar, secret candy being snuck  into school, costume malfunctions, kids who don't get the memo that costumes are not to be worn until AFTER lunch, over-involved parents showing up way too early, uninvolved parents forgetting to come, religious parents pulling their kids out of school, teachers who dress in wildly inappropriate outfits*, and general chaos.

The next worst days (in order) in the elementary school calendar, from the teacher's perspective, are:

2. Valentine's Day (sugar, sugar, and exclusion)
3. St. Patrick's Day (pinching?  Really?)
4. the day before Christmas vacation.

My favorite thing about the costume parades we had every year though was the kid - usually the meanest kid in the class - who would come in some theme pajamas: Ninja Turtles, Spiderman, whatever.  There's nothing that softens up a mean kid's image like seeing him in his little kid pajamas.

Not my favorite: little girls in sexy cheerleader or harem girl costumes.  Yuck.

*We had one (male) teacher who dressed up as an extremely risque woman two years in a row.  Lots of (fake) cleavage.  Very inappropriate for a second/third grade teacher.  Of course, he was arrested the following year for child molestation.

Two years ago: Proposition 8 (funny how that's not over yet)

Three years ago: Dropout Factories

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why We Need Better Nutritional Education

From a parent to her child: "Drink your orange soda before you eat your dessert.  It's good for you.  It's fruit."

A student talking to me: "Teacher, did you put sugar on these carrots?   They sweet!  Vegetables ain't posta be sweet.  I ain't never had carrots before!"

A student to a teacher eating salad: "Teacher, is that white people food?"

One year ago: De Facto Segregation

Four years ago: One of Those Days

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This is What I'm Talking About

This is something from one of my favorite bloggers. He is a disability rights activist and does some pretty incredible work.  It's pretty incredible how many people he has affected, and mostly people who are not "valued" by many people in society.  Yet someone actually said to him that it's too bad he has no children, nothing to send into the future.


Aren't all these kids ours?  Shouldn't they be?

So I'm not repeating myself too badly, you can read about MY kids here, here, and here.

I really do believe that we would ALL -- parents, children, and childless adults -- be better off if we thought of them more as OUR children.  And loved them all like they were our children.

Three years ago: Book Clubs

Four years ago: Homeless People is City Wildlife

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I am good at entertaining children.  Very good. Possibly gifted.

The key to keeping children entertained is to let them entertain themselves.  All you have to do is get them excited about something.  Today it was a measuring tape.  It fell out of my purse and the kids (I was volunteering in my Little Sister's classroom) and the kids pounced on it.  They started measuring their hair, their feet, the tables, and even their teeth.  Their accuracy left something to be desired, but their enthusiasm was incredible.

When waiting around for field trips, I've developed this skill.  One of my favorite techniques is to ask who has ever broken a bone.  Or who has a cool scar.  All of a sudden, you have every child in the vicinity falling all over themselves to tell stories, and you have 20 minutes of entertainment.  Or ask about a pet.  You'll hear "Oh!  Oh!  Teacher, my uncle's cousin's girlfriend had a cat and one time?  Um, my cousin?  She has a dog and it's little but we had to take it back to the pound because it bit my friend."

And it will all be part of the same train of thought. 

One year ago: Sick Puppy

Three years ago: Field Trip to the Zoo (watch out for dangerous chipmunks!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Learned that People in Africa Wear Clothes

How big do you think Africa is?  As big as the United States?  As big as China?  Check this out - if you are like most Americans, you have grossly underestimated it your whole life. 

Africa has a slightly larger area as the United States, China, India, Japan, the UK, Spain, Mexico, Peru, France, Papua New Guinea, Sweden, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, Italy, Nepal, Greece, and Bangladesh, all put together.  There are over 50 countries in Africa (depends slightly on who you're talking to because of some disputed territory).  Somewhere around 2,000 languages are spoken in Africa.  African is not a language. 

If you were surprised by any of those facts, you're not alone. I worked at a school that was about 50% black (African-American is a tricky term as not all black people are African-American, and, as I'm about to explain, many of the kids I know don't want "African" to be a word having anything to do with them.)  At this school, calling someone a "Black African" was an incredibly hurtful insult, right up there with "buttsniff."  Yes, really.

I was always a little disturbed by this, so I asked a friend of mine who is from Africa to come talk to the kids.  This friend's mother is Ethiopian and went to high school in Kenya.  She is a beautiful professional woman and was exactly what the kids needed to crush their stereotypes.  After talking to the kids, she asked them what they had learned about Africa.  Among the answers were:

  • I learned that not everyone from Africa has dreadlocks
  • I learned that African is not a language
  • I learned that you can be African even if you're light-skinded
  • I learned that people in Africa wear clothes
I was glad that they learned all that.  It's a start.

Two years ago: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

Three years ago: Questions about Subbing

Four years ago: Silly Spelling Lists

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day

In honor of Columbus day, here's a story from 2006:

The same girl asked me once about Columbus. The conversation went something like this, and I have to say, I was very proud of her for the critical thinking skills she displayed.

Student: Why do we call them Indians when India is a different country?

Me: [some crap I can't remember about how Columbus got lost and thought he was going to India, so he called them Indians because he was assuming he was in India]

Student: [stares at me incredulously] They got named the wrong thing because he got LOST? [thinks for a minute] And where does he get off naming them anyway? Who said the white guy could name them??

Three years ago: A Story from "Lamar"

Four years ago: Email Wisdom

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Blue Paper

I used the last of the blue paper today.  The blue paper was donated in my second year of teaching, in a rather spectacular manner.

By my second year of teaching, I was already exhausted.  I was trying to learn how to teach third grade, dealing with an administrator whose favorite line was "I can have your job, you know!" trying to figure out how to deal with standardized tests, and much, much more.  When I got to part of the curriculum that required the kids to cut and paste and my request for scissors and glue was met by the person in charge of supplies rolling her eyes and saying "We don't have those," in a manner that clearly suggested I was clueless to how schools worked, something in me snapped.  This was the beginning of me begging for help.

I'll write another post at some point about how I may have shamelessly begged every one of my friends and acquaintances to volunteer in the classroom.  I started by begging for supplies.  

After quickly exhausting my resources of friends who had extra supplies (yes, this was back in the day when some schools actually HAD supplies and my friends may have let me "borrow" some of them), I turned to craigslist.  I put up a post on the "items wanted" section saying that I was at an underprivileged school and that we desperately needed supplies, listing which supplies would be helpful.  I got a handful of people who had a few pair of scissors or some scratch paper or just good hearts and encouragement.  I also got two emails which stood out.

One was from someone who was remarkably angry.  The writer of the email, who never used his or her name, stated - with a lot of exclamation marks - that privileged do-gooder teachers need to come to the realization that there is no amount of glue or scissors in the world that can help these children in their education and that simply providing the children with glue and scissors instead of a quality education was only hurting them and who did I think I was anyway?

The other was a little more helpful.  It was from a man named "Koke" (pronounced like the soda) who wanted to know if I wanted some paper.  Of course I wanted some paper.  He said he had a lot and he'd bring it in his pickup if that was OK.

The man had PAPER.

He drove an beat-up, not particularly small, pickup truck.  He was a big guy, in late middle-age, wearing overalls.  I think the story was that he owned a storage facility and someone had left all this paper and he wanted it to go to good use.  The truck was overflowing with paper.  There was probably a paper train all the way down the freeway.  Fortunately, at that point, I lived in a house with a garage, because the paper probably took up almost half of the garage.  There was white paper, salmon-colored paper, and light blue paper.  Some was 11x17, some was 11x14, and some was standard printer paper.  There were boxes and boxes of paper.  We loaded it all into the garage and I couldn't stop staring because there was SO MUCH PAPER.    The salmon and blue paper was pretty faded for the most part, but all the white paper was in good shape.  There were a few boxes of really nice thick light blue paper - almost cardstock - that was glossy on one side.

I loaded up as many boxes as would fit in my car and brought them to school.  I think I put a sign out for the other teachers saying that I had a lot of paper and to please get some.  People would come by, thinking I'd give them half a ream, and I'd give them 7 or 8 reams.  They kept asking if it was really OK for them to take it, because we were all used to hoarding supplies.  I kept bringing more paper from home until everyone had enough.

The problem was that I still had a garage full of paper.  Handing it out to the almost 40 teachers at my school hadn't really made a dent in it.  I brought as much to school as would fit in my classroom and had paper stacked in every empty space, on ever bookshelf, and in the filing cabinets.  I never used the copy machine paper anymore because it was always running out.  I just brought my own.  The kids liked having worksheets and homework on light blue and salmon-colored paper.  They loved the blue glossy paper and used it for painting, drawing, and home art projects.

For the next 6 years, whenever we had standardized tests, an administrator would come to me and ask if I still had some of that extra scratch paper and I'd supply the whole school with paper for the math section.  I gave stacks of it to kids who liked to draw, first in my class, and then - as word spread - to kids all over the school, who I didn't even know.  I gave it away on Freecycle to other teachers at other schools.  I moved boxes of that paper from one classroom to another and from one house to another to the house I'm in now.  My dad had a few choice words about having to move almost a whole truckload of paper when he helped me move in my third year of teaching.  (Also, the library books.  He wasn't thrilled about having to move about 10 books from the public library but I hadn't read them yet and I was staying in the same city, so I didn't want to return them!)  That paper was like the loaves and the fishes.  Or the Hanukkah oil.  It just didn't run out.

When I finished teaching, I still had a stack of blue paper that was probably equal to 5 or 6 reams, but was all in one stack of loose paper.  I've been using it as printer paper and then scratch printer paper, when one side was used.  Today I used the last piece, nine years after Koke brought that truckload to my house.  I have an editing project printed on the blue paper, and now that I've edited it and made the changes on the computer, it's time to get rid of it.  It's a little silly, but there's a part of me that wants to keep that one last piece of the blue paper.

Two years ago: Central America Pictures (I sure would like to be back there now!)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Apple Picking

I recently went apple picking with some friends and my Little Sister.  It was an extremely eye-opening experience to go to an apple orchard with a little girl from the inner city.

She didn't know that apples grew on trees.  When I told her, she looked at me like I was trying to pull a fast one on her.  When she finally saw that I was serious, she asked me if any other fruit grew on trees.  Each one was a whole new revelation for her.  She told me that she had been sure that apples grew on the ground.

We played a little game when we were driving.  You go through the alphabet: "My name is Annie and I like to eat apples."  She got F.  "My name is Flamantha."  Flamantha?  Yes, Flamantha.  The girl is creative.

One year ago (one of my favorite posts): The Gecko's Vacation

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sick Days

I would like to hear from other teachers on this one.  I've written on this before, about trying to "discipline" and correct teachers using guilt, my story about being very very sick at the end of my last school year, my co-worker's experience taking time off when her mother-in-law died tragically, and when I tried to teach on crutches.  Here's my question: Is this unique to the district I used to work in or is this an inherent problem for people who work with children?

A related question: WHY?  It's extremely unprofessional.  Everyone gets sick.  Everyone has family emergencies.  Unless someone is abusing the system, I really don't understand the guilt that seems to be induced so quickly by administrators.

Four years ago: More Interesting Past Tenses

Three years ago: Thing Number 75 I Don't Miss About Teaching

One year ago: The Parent Factor

Friday, October 01, 2010

Revisiting Thoughts on Subbing

I miss teaching in the classroom.  I don't miss subbing.  This is what it was like:

Three years ago: Thoughts on Subbing

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Not Safe in Her Own Bed

Some of you who are local may have heard about this.  A six-year old girl - not at the school I used to work at but one nearby - was shot while asleep in her bed. Now, I’ve written about several kids who have been shot and killed (thankfully, this little girl is going to make it although it’s an experience she should never have had to go through) and I see two kinds of responses.  Primarily, people are compassionate and express what I consider to be the appropriate emotions: sadness, incredulity, and anger.  Occasionally, however, there’s someone either commenting on my blog or on the story that I linked to basically saying “Well, they live in the ghetto, what do they expect?”  I hate that reaction.  I understand it, especially if the person writing is afraid - they need to reassure themselves that these kids were different in some way and that this could never happen to their own children.  But I hate it.
It comes back to this for me though: we should never stop being outraged and devastated when children are killed.  Ever.  I don’t care if it’s in East Oakland or Congo, just because something is frequent does not make it normal or acceptable.  This child was shot while she was sleeping.  I don’t know what to do about it (no idea; I wish I did) but I do know that we can’t accept it.
I was talking to “Chantal,” my former student who has now graduated from high school.  She’s doing better - gotten a job, had a little bit of help from a generous friend of mine, and is feeling encouraged.  But this really got her down.  She said she knew the city was bad and she wants to travel cause she’s sick of looking at this “tore-up ghetto.”  But even this girl, who has grown up in this environment and known plenty of kids and adults who have been the victims and perpetrators of violent crimes… even with all that, she just kept repeating, “I never thought a little kid wouldn’t be safe in her own bed.”
One year ago: Elmo and Gang Signs

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ten Things I Like About You

You'd think that a list of good things about someone would make them happy.  Not so for the two students that I helped make these lists.  One was this child, who really truly hated himself.  The other was the student at the end of this post who says he's going to kill his father if he ever gets out of jail.  This child, "Fred," was something special.

Fred was so angry that it almost gave him superhuman strength.  He was a small second grader when he was terrorizing fifth graders.  I had him in first and third grades and apparently I did something right because he would seek me out when he was angry.  He would clench his fists, turn bright red, breath hard, and say "You've got to calm me down.  You're the only one who can calm me down."  He would lose control of his body and flail around.  He usually didn't care who got in his way, but there was one instance that scared him.  He was flailing his body like usual and he knocked me into a wall.  I was fine - he was a small kid - but he froze and looked terrified.  I had never seen him have that reaction before and I sort of think it might have been fear that he lost the one person he could trust.

This child's mother was being abused by her boyfriend - the father of Fred's brother and sister - and often showed up with bruises on her face.  Another teacher told me that they were having a conference for the younger brother and the mom tried to speak up and her boyfriend just raised the back of his hand at her, like he was going to backhand her across the face.  She shut up.  She could be mean herself.  She was fiercely protective and vacillated between "my child can do no wrong" and "Help me; I don't know what to do with him."  Most of the time she knew I was on their side but sometimes she'd yell at me too.

One day, when Fred was in my third grade class, he threw a fit.  I have no idea what it was about but this was turned more on himself than usual, a lot of "I hate myself," "I'm no good," etc.  He flailed on the floor, yelled, crumpled paper, knocked things over.  It was after school, so I let him do that for a while.  Finally, I said, "Fred, we're going to make a list of things that are good about you."  He froze.  I got on the computer and started typing.

I had no help from Fred at all.  He alternately flailed and screamed on the floor (and this wasn't just a temper tantrum; it was obvious that he was in really serious emotional pain) and got curious enough to come look at what I was writing.  I have no memory at all of what I wrote.  Things like "He is a great reader" and "He always respects me," probably.  (He never respected anyone else but he did respect me).  I finished and told Fred that I was printing two copies, one for me and one for him, so that we could each remember some good things about him.  I told him that these weren't all the good things about him, because that would take way too long.  These were only ten and there were way more.

I printed Fred's copy and he said "I don't want your stupid list."  He crumpled it up and threw it.  I told him that was fine, he could do whatever he wanted with it.  I said that I was keeping mine to remind me of some of the great things about him.  He kept repeating that he didn't want "no stupid list."  I think he really wanted me to react angrily for some reason, but I just kept saying that it was his and he could do whatever he wanted with it.

Finally, Fred left. I turned around and kept working on the computer.  I heard the door open again and footsteps.  When I turned around, he was disappearing through the door and the list was in his hand.

I just heard that Fred got kicked out of high school for "being bad."  I don't know where he is or what he's doing but I really hope he remembers that there are way more good things about him than fit on that list.

Three years ago: The Education President

Four years ago: Teacher, I Brung My Homework!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Teacher by Another Other Name

Many of us can remember accidentally calling a teacher "Mom" at some point during our school years.  In high school, a girl in my US history class called our teacher "Mr. Roosevelt" because she was studying so hard for the AP test.  It's embarrassing from that point of view, but hilarious from the teacher's point of view.  Some of the things I've been called instead of "Teacher" or my name include:

  • Mama
  • Daddy
  • Auntie
  • Granny
  • Mama, I mean Teacher!
  • Ms. Simmons ("you both have glasses, I can't tell you apart!"  Ms. Simmons is black.  I am white.)
  • the name of every white teacher in the school because "it's like you's twins"
  • Auntie Bertha
  • Uncle Larry
While Uncle Larry is my favorite (it kind of stopped the whole class in their tracks),  Auntie Bertha was also pretty amusing.  I had met Auntie Bertha.  She is a LARGE very dark-skinned black woman who was probably in her 60s.  I was a tall thin (at that point) very pale white woman in my late 20s at that point.  I joked, "Do I look like your Auntie Bertha?  The girl looked at me carefully and said, "Yeah...  yeah, you kinda do."

One year ago: Starfish

Three years ago: The University Perspective on NCLB

Four year ago: Back to School Night

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"I Hate Me"

Today, I have a sad story to share.  I've been meaning to share this story for four years but at the same time, I haven't wanted to think about it.  This is the story of a child who is considered by many to be unreachable.  I really don't believe it is too late - I don't believe it's ever too late - but many people do.

"TJ" was a child with many, many problems.  I got to know his mom pretty well.  She was a single mom and I never heard a word about his dad.  I'm not sure if he was just out of the picture or if TJ even knew who his dad was.  (I've had plenty of kids where the blank for "father" on their birth certificate just says "unknown."  Others just have a first name because the last name is unknown.)

TJ's mom often alluded to a former drug problem.  She was in her mid-20s and had two kids at home and was also taking care of a sick mother and a bipolar developmentally delayed brother.  She was understandably overwhelmed and didn't know how to deal with a kid with so many special needs as well as overwhelming anger and self-hatred.

TJ was a smart kid but had the shortest fuse I have ever seen.  He had absolutely no tolerance for frustration and would completely melt down.  The minute he couldn't understand something, he would fall on the floor, cry, scream, wail, hit other kids, flail his body wildly and basically shut down the classroom.  He had to be sent out of class most days and was suspended at least once a month, driving the administration crazy because statistics for black boys and suspensions are already so bad without TJ making them worse.

I tried to teach him some coping strategies but he just had nothing to start with.  He did see a therapist (intern) at school but it was on Mondays and there are a lot of Monday holidays so it was really inconsistent.  Also, she went on maternity leave, so I think it may actually have done more harm than good, getting comfortable with someone who left as soon as he began to trust her.  We worked on the word "frustrated" so that he could tell me how he was feeling and not just have temper tantrums; it was a huge accomplishment when he could just say the word "frustrated" before he lost control.  We made a list of 10 things we like about him (that will get another post because it was a very emotional process that I've only done with two children) and called his mom every time he did something right because I wanted him to get positive reinforcement.

The problem, of course, was that I had 19 other students who were all extremely challenging themselves and I just couldn't give him what he needed.  At home, his mom was similarly overwhelmed and couldn't do what she needed to.  He adored his mother and would talk about how he was going to make lots of money so that she never had to worry again.  She said that sometimes she'd wake up and he'd have dragged his pillow and blanket to her doorway so that he could sleep just inside her room to be close to her.

TJ got much better at identifying his feelings and I'd often get notes like the one in the picture.  It broke my heart but I'd say something like "Thank you for telling me.  I'm so sorry that you feel so bad about yourself.  I don't hate you - I think you're very special and I am so glad you're in my class.  You can keep telling me how you feel about yourself.  I know it feels really bad to hate yourself."  Or "I know you're feeling bad about yourself right now and that is really hard.  I think you're doing a good job telling me your feelings and I think you're one of my favorite kids."  Totally inadequate, but what else do you say?  All I knew was to let him say it and not answer with "Oh, you don't really hate yourself."  Because he did.

The year after I had him (or maybe in 5th grade, I'm not sure), he was sent home to be suspended.  I think he had hurt another kid.  He never meant to hurt them, he just had so much anger and self-hatred that he didn't know what else to do, and then he'd hate himself more because he had hurt someone else, usually younger.  The administration called his mother to come get him and when she came, he was out of control, flailing around.  She looked at him and said something like, "That's enough, TJ, I don't want you any more," and walked out.  While it was the worst thing possible that she could do, I honestly don't think she knew what else to do.  But for TJ, who would do anything for his mother, I think it probably seemed like the world was ending.  The administration had to call the police because that's child abandonment.

TJ loved the movie Cars, and Pixar Animation in general.  That year, I had a friend who had worked on Cars come into the class.  The kids assumed he was famous and had them sign their Happy Meals and draw pictures of Mater, the character he had worked on.  TJ talked about him constantly.  When that friend gave me a Cars t-shirt later that summer, I sent it to TJ.  It wasn't sent back to me, so I'm hoping I had the right address and that he got it.  If he did, I imagine he wore it until it wore out.  I hope it did a tiny bit to show him that I think he's worthy of special attention.  I still pray for this kid because wherever he is, I think it's probably still really hard to be TJ.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Almost Famous

Well, not really.  But my blog did get a mention in the Huffington Post today!  My name isn't in it but it links to my blog:

An elementary school teacher who blogs about her work ( reinforces this: "Parents don't necessarily read the paper, but the television is on all the time. I have had kids who have gone to stay at a relatives' house, not because the water or heat was out, but because the cable TV was down."

(note: I put in the apostrophe correctly even though it ended up being incorrect.  That is important to me.)

The article talks about how kids get their news.  The author points out that Weekly Reader (do we all remember that!) used to be used in most classrooms but now budgets and time constraints cause kids to not really learn about current events in school.  Very true and not a great idea in the long run, I think.  I'd rather have kids learning about what's going on in the world so they can make decisions and vote and be informed than have them take useless standardized tests.  But nobody asked me. 

I did have kids change houses when the cable TV wasn't working.  Television was such a staple of their parents' (usually a single mother) lives that when there was no TV, the house was not considered habitable.  It's really easy for me to condemn that but then I think about how long I'd stay in my house with no Internet access. 

One year ago: But Those People Have Such Funny Names

Friday, September 17, 2010

Guest Post: Family Legacy

Today's guest post is from Stephanie K., a wonderful former colleague of mine.  She was actually the first teacher I ever talked to at my old school.  When I came for an interview, I observed the class I would be taking over, and taught them a sample lesson.  I had some free time and Stephanie was either on lunch break or a prep period - I remember she was cutting something out of construction paper for the kids.  I asked her about the class and she told me how hard the school was and how it was extremely difficult but also rewarding.  She has some wonderful stories and I hope she writes again soon!

The grandmother of a particular family was the queen bee of a speed producing ring, as I understand it. 
T. was supposed to be in first grade the year before she was in my class, but she was shot. According to her, she was not shot on purpose, but whoever shot her was trying to shoot a twelve-year-old, which in that neighborhood is considered a grown person. She was out of school all year recovering, and by September she was ready to try first grade take two with the biggest scar I've ever seen on a child. It was about a foot long and an inch wide.

I really felt shafted about that first year's class list (it was probably a lot like B's first year with the abandoned class). I had this boy from out of the district, who was in foster care who was so damaged that he presented as a three year old. Climbing the furniture, moving it around, breaking stuff, all of that. Essentially unteachable, really. I also had M. He was the kid who called me nigg@ when I had him AGAIN in second after he was held back. That second year I learned to let him sleep when he fell asleep in his desk or on the carpet, but that's another year, another story.

T., by all rights, should have been by third most challenging student, but she was my easiest, and one of my smartest (damn smart crazy class). She came to school to get some peace. Her eyes would well up with tears when the kids would misbehave sometimes. She needed a safe place to go so badly. Even though I was completely drained all the time, I would sometimes take her and her friend A., who had sunshine inside, out to the little courtyard and we'd eat lunch together. She was absolutely a wonderful child.

She went on to be one of the shining stars in second grade, even though by then her cousins were having her hold drugs for them, which she was caught with at school - and suspended, despite her teacher's protestation that she was at the TOP of the class and it wasn't her fault.

A couple years later, she started having trouble with behavior in class, and I'd get her back for a hour or so every once in a while. She was still good as gold when she was with me. I worried a bit that she misbehaved at all (it just wasn't in her), but it was little stuff, and she had the right to act out.

Her sister was killed when T. was in fifth grade. In the news, her family said the sister was an A student with great attendance. In fact, she was failing and rarely made it to school. At fifteen, she was deep in the business. Of course, that is no excuse for her MURDER, but it's true nonetheless, and the truth doesn't get told very often in that part of town.

I'd be happy to tell stories about some other kids someday. Particularly, there's a little girl from my first year, a white girl who saw no color, was born of tragedy and everyone loved her. She was only there for one year, but she had a light inside.

One year ago: Letter to a Juvenile Delinquent

Thursday, September 16, 2010

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, México!

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, México!

Today is the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence.  ¡Feliz Bicentenario! Te extraño mucho.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The IM that Made Me Cry

I've been wishing I could help "Chantal" more but I just don't have the money to help her with school (she didn't ask - she would never ask - but I wish I could do it) and I don't have any connections to people willing to hire a 19-year old. 

She texts/IMs me sometimes asking if I know anyone who's hiring, but more often just saying that this is hard.  It's hard for her to be in her family, to have worked hard and graduated against all odds and not be able to find work or pay for classes.  I imagine it's incredibly difficult to know that there are kids who don't care at all about education and are in college to party but are getting it financed by their parents.  So, a lot of our chatting is just kind of a time for her to vent - I am not sure she has anyone else to talk to in this way.

The part that made me cry: (before you judge her writing, remember that ALL teenagers write like this on chat/IM/text)

 yeah but im glad that i still have you its like if ur ma teacher again. after 10years your still willing to help me

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I am volunteering - only one hour a week - at my old school.  My Little Sister goes to school there and I still know a couple of teachers at the school.  Which is actually two schools now.  Part of it feels so familiar that I actually had to stop myself from grabbing the papers out of what used to be my mailbox.   The one of the small schools that I visited, however, was much, much calmer.  I don't know what happened (or if it feels calmer to the teachers) but it has a very different feel.  I don't think the area is any less violent but a few things have changed:

1. The kids all wear uniforms, and it appears to be enforced
2. The administrators seem to be there for longer than a year at a time
3. The schools are smaller

Seems to make a difference... or maybe it's because I'm an outsider now, I'm not sure.

One year ago: Ouch! and Another Example

Two years ago: Guest Blog - Healthy Eating

Four years ago: Gecko Stories

Sunday, September 12, 2010

5th Grade Graduations

A friend and former colleague (who will probably have a guest post coming up soon!) sent me a news article about one of her former students whose sister was shot and killed in 2002.  I'll have more about that in her guest post but it made me think of something else: 5th grade graduations.

Fifth grade graduations were BIG at our school.  Flowers, fancy dresses, the whole family coming - I even saw a family or two who rented limos.  And these were families on food stamps.  I couldn't understand it for my first few years and then it dawned on me and made me really sad.  Fifth grade graduation might be the last graduation for a lot of these kids. 

I don't think that was the only reason for celebration - in an area where a lot of the parents didn't have a high school education or came from other countries so their kids could get an education, there was some honest celebrating of the fact that students were graduating from elementary school.  But I think even more than that, there was a feeling that this might be their last graduation.  You just never knew when kids were going to drop out, get pregnant, or just not make it. 

At one of these graduations, I was talking to a mother of one of my students - I had had him in first and third grade but I didn't know his mom well because she was not really around.  I think she was working as a prostitute; she was for sure not taking care of her four children as it fell upon the 6-year old to go without food so that the baby could have formula.  I had to call CPS several times on that kid.  Once his tooth was so infected that his mouth was bleeding freely and I had to send him home because blood was getting everywhere.  I told his mom how to find a free dentist and he came back the next day with his mouth bleeding.  It went on like that until I told his mom he couldn't come back to school like that - it was a health hazard.  By the time this kid graduated, the mom had cleaned herself up (her youngest two kids turned out very differently).  The mom was sobbing with pride at his graduation - she had much the same reaction as parents usually have at a high school graduation.   Sure enough, the next year the kid had essentially dropped out of school and I saw him hanging around the street reeking like marijuana.  I heard last year that he had been shot but not fatally.  I don't know why.

This story that my friend found shows that the kids aren't always expected to survive for another graduation even if they stay in school.  I don't follow the news in this city very carefully any more but I think I have read about four young teenagers (13-16 years old) killed in a little over a year.  In this 2002 story, the sister says:
"I'm worried I'm not going to make until I'm grown up," said Talika, 11, a fifth-grader at Highland Elementary School. "I used to cry at night and have trouble sleeping. . . . I cried for my sister, too. But I'm done. She's in a better place. We're stuck here." 
 It also made me think of the graduation speech I heard in which the graduating student said: "Another way our teachers show that they care about us is they don't let us go to the bathrooms or in the hall when there's shooting."  This graduation speech has haunted me for the last couple of years - to think that's something that these kids are actively grateful for.  They should be more sheltered than that.  That really should be taken for granted.  But then, these kids should be able to assume they'll at least graduate from middle school and they can't.

Three years ago: Updates

Four years ago: Funny Kids

Thoughts on "Worth It"

A friend and former colleague sent me this email - she wanted to comment on the post on facebook but for obvious reasons didn't want this traced back to her name.  She has great thoughts and is in a tough situation.

I have been having the same thoughts around worth. I have been looking for a full time job in education and in the mean time I am subbing. I am currently subbing at a small charter school in LA. I am in the room because the new teacher they hired is not credentialed and therefore cannot be in the classroom, legally, without a credentialed teacher. The teacher has made several mistakes when explaining topics. He has made grammar and spelling errors but in addition he exhibits a basic lack of knowledge on the various topics he is teaching. In addition the curriculum they are using has students work independently and has them self test out of topics. They are essentially teaching themselves. If ever a population of students needed actually direct instruction, its this group of 6th graders. The students need and deserve an academically strong teacher. I have been stepping in to correct him or just teach but I am not being paid for the job I am doing. I am acting as a mentor and co-teacher yet I am being paid as a substitute. I can't believe he has a job and I don't. It has been a frustrating week.

Three years ago: Back to Our Regularly Scheduled NCLB Idiocy (New president hasn't fixed NCLB yet)

Four years ago: Tiger the Leopard Gecko (who is still happy and healthy and now middle-aged)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Worth It

I just raised my rates for tutoring.  I find myself reluctant to tell potential clients how much I charge because I don't feel like I'm worth that much.  Also, at least a few times, I've gotten the response of "Well, I could hire a college student for $15 an hour."  Yes, yes you could.  But a college student is not a teacher.  Teachers are actually professionals, who have gone through education and training and theoretically at least, know what they're doing.  Of course, part of the problem is that teaching is so underpaid and under-respected that it's hard to get good people, and bad teachers make the whole profession look bad.  I think another problem is that it's a pink collar (traditionally female) job, which tend to lack in adequate compensation and respect.

However, I must be good at what I do, and there are at least a few people who think it worth paying for.  I actually raised my rate - sort of accidentally.  I was talking to the mom of a potential client and trying to figure out how I would work it into my schedule.  I didn't really think it would be feasible, so I inflated my rate by $10/hour, thinking she'd write me off as too expensive. She didn't even pause but agreed right away. 

Two more thoughts:

Has anyone else noticed that self-employed women tend to have a harder time charging what they're worth than men?  I think we really don't think we're worth much, and it's sad.

If one more person says "I'd love to teach elementary school; they're so cute," I am going to take them up on it and we'll see if they survive a week. 

One year ago: Tragedy

Four years ago: Dear Mom, How are You Doing in Jail?