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Showing posts from 2019

A New Generation!

As a teacher, you never know which of your students are going to be the ones you stay in touch with. One of my biggest, and most wonderful, surprises was reconnecting with "Chantal" over many years.

Chantal was a very intelligent, very angry child, and she had reason to be angry. I won't go into her background in detail here, but her mother was not present and her father was elderly when she was born, among other issues. Chantal pretty much raised herself.

She was one of those students who you would like to see succeed, but you're just not sure it will happen. I lost touch with her when I left the classroom, and wondered what had happened. Happily, she found my phone number when she was in high school and called me to let me know she had straight As, and I was thrilled.

We've kept in touch and seen each other off and on since then and I've gotten to hear about her jobs, her marriage, and her three, soon to be four children. We had lunch recently and I fell i…

Early Childhood Heroes

I was honored to speak to a class of early childhood educators at Mills College this week. Most of the students are hoping to work with preschoolers with special needs; a calling that is both extremely important and also drastically underpaid and under-respected.

I usually hate it when anyone refers to teachers as heroes (I think it simplifies things and makes it easy for others to believe they can't help) but I find myself calling preschool teachers and early childhood interventionists heroes, because they can make such a profound difference.

When I taught third grade, I learned to tell my class at the beginning of the year that if anyone had ever called them "bad" or "stupid," that person was wrong. Most of them had already absorbed these labels as truth, and undoing that was incredibly difficult.

I told the early childhood educators, and added that they have a unique opportunity to change this. By the time I got the students, in third grade, it sometimes fe…

A New Role!

I wanted to let you all know of my new part-time role with Children Rising, an organization I strongly believe in and have partnered with in the past.

I gave the keynote speech at their gala last year, which I think sums up why they are so wonderful.


Please check them out at their website, Twitter, or Facebook, and follow the stories of the wonderful kids they serve!

Prison Visit

After 8 1/2 hours in the car, I ended up back where I was. That feels like a good metaphor for a prison visit. The visit was successful... in that we all got in to see Jorge.  We did run into some problems: My wonderful friend who had to change shirts. Twice. Once because her shirt was “transparent.” Her shirt was white with pretty embroidery and in no way transparent. At all. None. Also, the poorly photocopied rules that they referenced say that you can wear a tank top as an undergarment if the outer shirt remains on at all times. But then it says that clothing cannot be layered. Not sure which trumps the other. Her second choice shirt was navy blue. They say not to wear blue denim and not to wear “blue that can be confused with inmates’ shirts” which are light blue. So still don’t know what the navy blue problem was. The shirt was neither blue denim nor light blue. So she had to go borrow an ugly extra large shirt for the visit. I’d show the picture but our picture got confiscated bec…

The Day Before Prison

Tomorrow is a prison visit to Jorge, the student who is in chapter 10 in my book. I always dread these. It goes like this: I get up earlier than I want to and find something to wear that doesn't involve blue, khaki, or forest green. Red is not expressly forbidden but it is discouraged, because of gang connotations. I can't have a scarf and a rain jacket must be clear. I have to measure the length of my shorts or skirt if it's hot weather. Then I drive to east Oakland to pick up Jorge's family, then drive to Orinda and meet a wonderful incredible generous friend, who then drives us 3 1/2 hours to the least beautiful part of California. We then go in and get treated like we’re not people by the guards, and if they’re feeling particularly spiteful, they insult or his sister or grandmother because they know they can get away with it. Last time they leered at his sister and made fun of her for wearing a "see-through" shirt. (It wasn't at all.) This gave them a…

A Cobra Trap

This is a cobra trap. You can tell it's a cobra trap because it says "cobra" on it. (It was later amended to say "no cobra.") It is an emery board (standing in for a cobra because although he knew I didn't have a cobra lying around, he was still a little disappointed). Then there are 7 newspaper bags around it, since, "You need seven layers, because if it escapes from one layer,you have to make sure it still doesn't get out." Later, a parachute was added.

The creator is my nephew, a wonderfully imaginative 6-year-old we'll call T. T is smart, creative, sometimes relentless, and funny. He's also really fortunate. He gets to learn AND gets to be creative. He goes to his neighborhood public school, in a good school district, and loves the teachers he's had so far.

T is an example of why creative play is so important. He teaches himself through play -- whether it's with maps, science experiments, or designing robots. He's fort…

My New Favorite Teacher!

This is Stephanie! If Stephanie looks familiar to you, it's because I've featured her in my blog over the years. I helped fundraise for her a few times years ago, so that she could make it to some leadership conferences. Then two years ago, I saw her at her college graduation celebration. Well, she is now in proud possession of a master's degree: from Johns Hopkins University!!! And, as if that weren't enough, she's going back for another master's, this time in public health. Did I mention that she's been teaching full-time during grad school? This young woman is amazing and I am so proud to know her.
We had lunch this week, and shared stories about teaching in a high-need, low-income area. She's teaching in Baltimore and her stories sound just like mine from Oakland, if not more so. She had three principals her first year and has quickly become a teacher leader just because things needed to get done. It really resonated with my 8 principals and 5 supe…

Teacher Self-Care

I was honored to give a talk on teacher self-care recently at Delta Kappa Gamma's state convention in San Francisco.

This was my first time speaking on this topic but I promise it will not be my last! It was a small group because it was early in the morning (and let's be honest, part of self-care is sleeping!) but it was such a great group.

I was able to use my story as a cautionary tale (if you don't know it, check out my book, Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom). I burned out, hard, and it was avoidable.

We talked about how none of us have EVER had a professional development on self-care. And how most teachers don't make it five years. How we give absolutely everything to our students, at the expense of our families, our friends, and ourselves.

It turns out that the old cliche about putting your own oxygen mask on first is true. We cannot help anyone if we are not healthy. Yet we're expected to put ourselves last. When I sprained my ank…

It's Not the Teaching

My favorite thing about teaching is not teaching. I'm sure there are teachers who love that part of it - who live for the moment that a lightbulb goes on in a student's mind and who are fascinated by pedagogy -- who stay up thinking about different ways of explaining a math problem or a grammatical concept.

I don't mind those things, and I like some of them. And, of course, it is wonderful to see that light bulb go on. But that isn't why I personally teach.

For me, the reason to teach is the whole child.

I love dealing with their brains. Their brains are so different at different ages and stages of development! Sometimes students are absolutely infuriating but it's totally developmentally appropriate. Sometimes you can almost literally see the neural pathways forming, like when third graders start questioning why Native Americans are called Indians, and I want to cheer them on: "Yes! Think things through! Taken nothing for granted!"Sometimes they are so i…

A Different Perspective

(this is a photo of my classroom one year. Yes, that says "rape." No, the district did not come to repaint it until I threatened to do so myself. Yes, that means third-graders had to walk by "rape" on their classroom for weeks.)

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I am fortunate in having stayed in touch with many of my students. They have provided me with positive feedback about the book I wrote about us: Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom. It's been eye-opening to hear their perspective on their elementary school years now that they are grown. One of the most common things I hear is that I protected them from a lot of the issues when they were kids. I hope so. They deserved to be protected - much more than I ever could.

Since the book has been published, I have been able to talk to a few people who grew up in East Oakland, went to schools very near the one where I taught, and had parallel experiences to my students. If they had lived a few blocks east or we…

"There Are No Children Here"

This book was the one that inspired me to write Literally Unbelievable: Stories of an East Oakland Classroom. It is the story of two brothers growing up in a housing project in Chicago. The title comes from their mom saying, "But you know, there are no children here. They've seen too much to be children."

I was reminded of this book recently when I had dinner with a former student. She's 14 and in 8th grade. She was telling me about what she and her close friends have been through: homelessness, near-homelessness, sex trafficking, seeing people shot, friends who have died, parents and siblings in prison, watching drug deals, being locked in closets while family members smoked crack, and (unsurprisingly) depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation.

SHE'S IN MIDDLE SCHOOL.

We have to do better by these kids. They are being robbed of their childhood.

What to do?

Well, raising awareness is key. That's why I wrote Literally Unbelievable, so that people can under…