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Showing posts from 2006


It was a crazy field trip full of misdirections to the library, kids who want to run in front of cars, and other third grade hazards. But look at the beautiful butterflies that come to two trees in one golf course in San Leandro each year! (Warren gets credit for the photos)


A wonderful wonderful person came to fix up the computers in my classroom last week. Nathan, someone Kathy knows, who had never met me or the kids before, came to spend a few hours updating the computers. Apparently there were 44 updates that were needed on one of the computers alone. I have no idea what he did to them, but there was some talk about spyware and viruses and updates... Now the computers don't freeze up or randomly close windows. It's awesome.

SO Predictable.

About a month ago, the district gave us a math assessment (I think all the elementary schools in the district got the same one). We were told to administer them in the next week. Then, after some people had already given them, we were told not to administer them because the answer key was incorrect, and the test covered chapters that we were not scheduled to teach yet. There was a big scramble to get a refund from the publisher and get all the tests back. They forgot to retrieve mine. This week, we got the new ones. This delay has created problems with scheduling as well as report cards, so we were all glad to administer the assessments. The smaller problem, the incorrect answer key, was corrected. The bigger problem, that the children are being tested on things not yet taught, remains. The test is exactly the same as it was before all of the efforts to fix it. No one in the district seems to think it's a problem that we're testing kids on things they haven'

Owl Pellets

If you don't know what an owl pellet is, it's worth checking out. One of the best things that our district does is the owl pellet kit. You can request a set of owl pellets and tweezers, along with a video that shows owls' eating habits and how they regurgitate the pellets. (The kids love it because it's gross). Then you dissect the owl pellets. It's pretty cool! The other thing about the owl pellets is that I've found the most efficient part of the whole district. Everything else takes weeks and months to happen. The owl pellet guy - he comes the next day. And he smiles. No one else in the district smiles.

The Playground

See the caution tape in the picture? I was reminded the other day of the new playground we got at school about 4 1/2 years ago. It was nice and the best part was a big play structure with monkey bars, slides, ladders, poles to slide down, all sorts of fun things. Really really fun. Then, maybe a year later, maybe a little longer, the slightly spongy squishy stuff that goes under play structures started coming apart. They play structure was deemed unsafe and was slated to be fixed "right away." Eventually it was "fixed" and the kids got to play on it again, for about two days. Then it was unsafe again. For the last two years or so, the kids have had to look at this wonderful play structure that they're not allowed to touch. It's like torture for them, seeing this tantalizing hope of fun beyond what they are able to currently experience. They're reminded every couple of weeks over the loudspeaker that they need to stay off the play structure, and disci

Turning In Their Guns

Interesting article in the Tribune about a gun trade-in. Here's an essay that Shawn wrote last year, from the perspective of himself as an old man: When I was a little boy, Oakland was dangerous. They had gangs and they would kill you. In 2006, there was 34 that got killed.* My uncle he got killed because he was going to pay this guy but that guy had the money. I felt sad when I heard my uncle died. I hope that you live when you are old like me. When I was in 3rd grade, I like to do math. Math was my best subject. I got a math award. I like to write because people were jealous of my writing. My teacher was fantastic. She let us go on a lot of field trips. She let us have helpers. My teacher broke her ankle because she fell down the stairs. She was fun. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- *This was early in the year. I think the homicides got up to 115 or so last year. This year it's up to 141 or so and it's not even the en

Oh Dear...

In the computer lab yesterday, "Lashay" mentioned that she didn't want to lose her money. I figured that she meant the $2 she pays for lunch (she is the only one in the class who doesn't qualify for free lunch), so I didn't pay much attention. A few minutes later, I heard kids asking her for a hundred dollars. Obviously, I became a bit concerned at this point. I told her to pass me the money and she handed me a thick envelope. I started worrying, thinking she had brought $50 or $100 to school. I started counting, and stopped when I got to two thousand dollars . (The girl is 8 years old). This is where administrators come in, because they get paid more than I do, so they can be liable for things like large wads of cash. I handed her to the assistant principal, who counted all the money ($3300), locked it up, and called Lashay's mom. I was impressed with the assistant principal, she only whispered, "Oh my God," over and over but kept a pretty good

I Knew What They Meant, But...

It still caught me by surprise when I heard the announcement over the loudspeaker this afternoon: "Attention, teachers. New teacher support is canceled today. New teacher support is canceled." Of course, they meant that the new teacher support meeting was being rescheduled . But actually, the other meaning fits our district pretty well...

Song Flutes

This is a song flute. They are ideal for young children learning music because they are cheap (about $3.50) and fairly easy. They also sound like a herd of dying and/or mating cats. At least when my class is playing them, they do. I feel bad for the music teacher, who is an actual musician. If this is hurting my ears so badly, I can't imagine what it must feel like to someone who really knows music. Painful.

Brown Tommy

As I'm looking through all these old emails (I decided it was silly to have six different email accounts so I'm going to get rid of the hotmail one; cleaning it out), I keep finding great stories from previous years at school. This is one of my favorites. There was this kid, "Tommy ." He was in my class in my first year, when I taught first grade, and also in my third grade class two years later. Although having a really really hard life which included an alcoholic mother, no father, an extremely abusive stepfather, and eventually getting taken away from his mother and stepfather because of this, he somehow retained some innocence. He would tell jokes like this: Tommy: "How many space boots did the cow have?" Me: "I don't know, how many space boots?" Tommy : (laughing hysterically) "Five: one for each foot and one for its tail!" Me: "Tommy, did you make that one up yourself?" Tommy : (proudly) "How did you guess?

The War At Home

This is an email I got in 2003 that is (sadly) still quite relevant. Well, relevant in that we're still at war in the Middle East, and it's still a mess there. Also relevant in that violence in Oakland is worse than it has been in the last few years- with the 140th homicide for the year happening this weekend. (Remember, there are only about 400,000 people living in Oakland. That's a lot of homicides! They mostly take place in a couple pockets of the city, one of which happens to be my school neighborhood.) The email is not relevant in that the Raiders were once in the Super Bowl. They're not so close to that now. Al Davis had put together the perfect team for the Oakland Raiders. The only thing that was missing was a good quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges, and even the high schools, but he couldn't find a ringer quarterback who could ensure a Super Bowl win. Then one night, while watching CNN, he saw a war-zone scene in Afghanistan. In one cor

The Mr. Smith Papers

Warren came to help the kids with multiplication and asked for a multiplication table. You know, the basic multiplication table. This guy: Most of the kids had never seen one before, so they didn't know it was called a multiplication table. They just knew that Mr. Smith gave it to them to help them with their word problems. So the next day, when they were trying to do multiplication, they came and asked me for a "Mr. Smith Paper." That's what they're called now, in my class. It's the accepted name for them. I'm a little worried that one day I'll be talking to other teachers and they'll ask me how I help the kids learn their multiplication facts, and I'll say, "Well, I let them use the Mr. Smith papers until they memorize them..."

Report Card Madness

Report cards come around way too often. OK, maybe they really only happen three times during the school year, but they sure feel like they're always looming over my head. It doesn't help that the report cards are huge (17 ¼ x 11 inches - too big to work on at a coffee shop, on airplanes, or at my desk) not even counting the separate comments section. Nor does it help that they are made of four layers of "carbonless" paper, which means that every time I fold them or lean on them, let alone make accidental marks, I have to correct four copies. The main problem is that I am not at all convinced that any of the parents read the report cards, or understand what they mean if they do read them. Some of the fields are measured in numbers (1=Far Below Grade Level, 2=Below, 3=Approaching, 4=Proficient, 5=Advanced), some in symbols (check, plus, and minus), and some in initials (EA=Early Advanced, and so on. And there's a lot of fields to be measured. All of the re

Rainy Day Routine

In this district - at least at my school - the rainy day plan is simple: Cross Your Fingers and Hope It Doesn't Rain . That's the official plan. Every time it does rain, all the administrators (and there have been many of them during my tenure) get these shocked looks on their faces and scramble to make a plan. The general attitude is that of, "It's raining? It's raining?!? What the hell is it doing that for? How dare it RAIN? Oh my goodness, what are we going to do???" You'd think that at some point these people - some of whom are very intelligent - would figure out that it actually rains in Northern California. Quite a bit. And that we will still have students, even when it rains. But no, they tend to stare up at the sky as if betrayed by the heavens. The methods of coping vary. Some administrators try not to call a rainy day recess until the kids come sopping wet into the office to complain. Others do the opposite, and declare a rainy day recess

Vacation Is Over.

I've had a week off and it's only today - NINE DAYS INTO VACATION - that I am not tired. I am finally not tired. It took me this long to decompress and recover from teaching these wonderful kids. And now I have to go back to work tomorrow. Pray for me.

No Child Left Behind

I've tried to stay away from NCLB in this blog for a few reasons: it makes me angry, it makes me have to explain a lot to people who think the name is great (after all, who wants to actually leave a child behind?) or who think I just don't like accountability, and because teacher's unions are so militantly against it (and I don't think teacher's unions are always actually looking out for teachers or students). However, here's my brief overview. The best thing the Bush Administration did with NCLB is to name it. Seriously, "No Child Left Behind" - the name is brilliant. The main idea is that it provides accountability for schools, provides more of a focus on literacy, and provides parents with a choice when their local schools are designated as low performing or failing. Schools have to make adequate yearly progress as determined by the state, both as a general population and in specific categories of students such as African Americans, Latinos, low-i

Science With Mr. Smith!

Warren came to teach the kids science a few weeks ago. It may or may not have started by me begging him to bring dry ice to the classroom, after remembering his "bubbling cauldron" made of water, dry ice, and 5 gallon buckets last Halloween. Or it may be thanks to his firm belief that kids need science experiments. Either way, we reaped the benefits at Mr. Smith's Science Time. States of Matter is one of the science topics that is supposed to be covered in the third grade curriculum. It's often not, thanks to the standardized tests that have caused many schools to stick to teaching only the subjects that will be assessed at the end of the year. It's a shame, because children need motivation to learn, not just endless sound/spelling correspondences. For many children (and possibly adults??), there's something about the hands-on drive to satisfy curiosity that makes science different and special and might ac tually cause them to buy into school. Anyway. We we

The Gecko

Has learned to eat mealworms. He loves them. He eats them like candy. Somehow, that's grosser than crickets to me.

The More Things Change...

...The more they stay the same. I found this email that I wrote to some close friends back in September 2003. I'm happy to say that things have gotten a little better. A very little. A very very little. And actually, now that I think about it, what's gotten better is mostly that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I haven't been killed yet! (Actually, we do have some school counselors. That's an improvement! Anyway, on to the email.) School is so hard. There are so many problems... injustices really, that I can't deal with. Some are so little and would seem silly if they didn't add up... not having enough pencils, no scissors, no time to get ready in my room, etc. Some are bigger - how we don't have a PTA so the other schools in the district have so much more than we do. How we get less money from the district because our parents don't fight for it. How we have no support for all the drug babies and kids who are scarred by violence or who h

Did You Know...

That according to the district employee directory, there is one person whose sole job is to process TB test clearances? Not that it isn't necessary; everyone who sets foot in a classroom is supposed to have a clear TB test, so that's a lot of people and a lot of TB tests. But that's got to be the most boring job in the district. All TB tests, all the time. Some days though, I would like to have that kind of a boring job.

Eating Lunch! Or Not.

We have a 30 minute lunch period. Thirty minutes. In that thirty minute time period, I have to walk the children to and from the cafeteria and make sure they get their lunches and don't hurt each other. That takes 7-10 minutes. So now I have a 20-23 minute lunch period. Let's go with the maximum amount of time left, just to give whoever came up with the schedule the benefit of the doubt. In twenty-three minutes, I have to use the bathroom, as this will be my first and only time to do so from 8:30 am until 2:55 pm. I'm fast. There goes another 3-5 minutes. Now I have 15-20 minutes. Again, I'll go with 20. Twenty minutes left. Still have to make the kids' homework. That can take between 5-30 minutes, depending on if anyone's in line for the copier, if it jams, if there's paper, etc. Now we have to go with the maximum amount of time left, because if it takes 30 minutes on this hypothetical day, I'm way out of time. OK, everything's gone perfectly , a

One of Those Days

Today was one of those days. Not a horrible day, exactly, but one when I kind of wonder what I'm doing here and if the kids will ever get anywhere and if I'll escape this year with any of my sanity still in place. And also, what the HELL is wrong with our country's priorities? -We don't have enough custodians so we have to send a kid to dump the garbage. And I almost cried when someone said "The janitor sweeps and mops your classroom, right?" -One of the fourth grade classes (half of my students from last year) STILL doesn't have a teacher. Hey, they almost did me in. Who's going to want to take that job? -One of my students told me-casually-that his dad had been killed in a gang fight a few years back. -One of my old students came back to visit and was BRAGGING to a 5th grader that he had straight D's in his classes. -The school is out of white paper to make copies, so we have to make all our copies on colored paper or white cardstock. And I

Homeless People Is City Wildlife

Our reading program - Open Court - has different themes for each unit. All the stories in a unit are grouped around the theme, and the kids do their own inquiry and research about the theme. Basically, you live, eat, sleep, and breathe the Open Court theme for 6 or 7 weeks. Third grade is a great grade to teach because the Open Court themes are very versatile and interesting: Friendship, City Wildlife, Imagination (my favorite!!), Money, and Storytelling. We just finished Friendship and got some fabulous ideas on the "Concept/Question Board." The kids put up ideas or questions about the theme and, being kids, they tend to think far, far outside the box. "Can people be friends with animals?" was one of the more highly explored questions, along with "Can kids be friends with kids in other countries who they've never met or kids here who speak a different language?" Now we're on City Wildlife. I like City Wildlife, because it builds on the kid

Silly Spelling Lists

The word "shot" was on a spelling list last week - the spelling list was full of words with the short "o" sound (as in "shot"). Apparently, my friends' students - those who use the same spelling lists - thought of it as getting a shot at the doctor. My kids, when asked to write spelling sentences, all wrote things like, "My auntie got shot in front of her house." Or "I was very sad when my dad got shot ." I hadn't really thought of it before giving out the spelling words. Next year, I'll change the list. Also, when it comes time for the long "o" sound - as in "toe" - I need to remember to take the word "hoe" off the list. In East Oakland, no one has seen a hoe. However, everyone has seen (or knows) a ho . If you don't get that, well... just thank God for your innocence being preserved.

Email Wisdom

All the kids have epals - each of them gets one of my friends to email so that the kids can learn how to use email (many safeguards in effect: I get copies of the emails, the kids' last names aren't used, parents have to give permission, etc.) There are some funny things that go on in kids' emails. One kid emailed his epal to ask if an A was a good grade because he was sad that he didn't get an A+. Several have asked their epals if they eat vegetables. They don't know how to type (or spell, for many of them) so their emails have either no spaces or way too many spaces between words. They don't really get that punctuation is used in typing as well as writing. The following is one of my favorite emails, from "Amy." I have 1brother and 3sisters.My favorite color is purple,silver and pink.When my baby sister was born i thought it was going to be a dastater.But it turned out good very good."

Teacher, I Brung My Homework!

Every single kid says "brung." It makes me crazy. And I sound like a broken record, "'Brung isn't a word. The word is 'brought.'" Nope, they're totally convinced that they brung their homework. This is across districts, because when I did my student teaching in Sacramento, they also brung their homework. I guess it's the English language that should make me crazy: If the past tense of "bring" is "brought," why isn't the past tense of "sing" "sought?" (I know someone who could answer that, actually...) And the interesting thing is that not a one of them says "bringed." They say "He hurted himself," "it costed money," "she runned," but none of them bringed their homework. They brung it. And by the way, I HATE being called "teacher." Jessica (thanks, Jessica!) suggested I talk to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to see if they know how I could g

Back To School Night

A new personal record: 13 out of 20 kids had someone come to Back to School Night! Usually it was a mother, but there were exceptions this year. One boy had his mother and grown sister come, one had his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother! Also a dad and dad's girlfriend, and one babysitter. The classes are not all balanced though and it looks like we will have to have a combination 2nd/3rd grade class, so some kids will still need to be moved around. I was hoping that would actually be done BEFORE Back to School Night so that the parents we meet would be the parents of the kids we'd actually have, but it didn't happen. I feel kind of like I'm deceiving parents when I tell them all about how my class works and the plan for the year while knowing that their child could be moved out of my class. It probably doesn't make the parents feel great about the school either if that happens. We have to do this because one of the third grade classes only has 13 student


A new teacher in the parking lot: "I thought I'd been in the 'hood before, but man, THIS is the 'HOOD ." I have heard that he worked in juvenile hall, but he says our school's harder. Awesome. Also, the buildings & grounds guy came by and asked if I was the one who put in a work order because the "classroom is too hot." I don't know who it was, but the classrooms are too hot at the moment because it's hot outside and the way the sun hits the classroom, on days over 70 degrees, the classroom temperature is usually about 15-20 degrees warmer than outside. It sort of reflects around all the glass (no, I don't actually know the physics of this) and makes the rooms into hot glass boxes. You can open the windows but they all have metal gratings on them and if you open the blinds AT ALL it's like turning the heater on high. It's pretty miserable, but I never thought of putting a work order in to turn the sun down...

Gecko Stories

Notice the gecko's accessories... there is his half a coconut shell that he lives in, but also... presents! Some of them with a tag on them saying "Gecko" in case there was confusion about the recipient of the gifts. I told the kids that we didn't know yet if the gecko was a girl or boy, because you can't tell until they're older and one of the boys said, very confidently, "Oh, it's a boy." I asked how he knew and he said, "I can see it in his eyes."

Funny Kids

I told a kid today that he needed to chill and he said, "Hey, that's a black people word!" I said no it isn't and he said yes it is and got really agitated (he has a tendency to do so). So I said, "Well, can I borrow the word?" He said, "Sure, no problem." Crisis averted.

Tiger the Leopard Gecko

Our little leopard gecko hatchling is doing very well. His name is Tiger as right now he's tiger-striped, but leopard geckos' stripes turn to spots as they get older. He (or she - you can't "sex" leopard geckos until they're older) is the highlight of the classroom. It helps that he's the cutest little thing ever - just look at his cute little face!! I've seen some "teenagers" though, and they definitely go through an awkward phase later. He eats about 5-6 small crickets a day and the kids love to sprinkle the vitamin powder in the bag with the crickets, then shake it up so the crickets are coated with vitamins (the crickets don't seem to like this part much) before we put them in the cage. He hasn't eaten in front of us yet, but he HAS pooped in front of the kids, which was really exciting! (and very very small). The poor thing's lifespan is probably shortened by all the noise in the classroom, although I only rarely let the ki

Dear Mom, How Are You Doing in Jail?

That was how "Lamar" in my class started a letter. He had asked me if he could write a letter because he was done with his work early (he's ALWAYS done with his work early and always understands it - I need to think of some seriously challenging research projects for this child). It's so matter-of-fact for most of these kids - many, many of them have had or currently have a parent in jail. If not a parent, they're almost guaranteed to have had an older brother, cousin, or uncle in jail. Dads are more likely than moms to be incarcerated, but I'm meeting more and more kids who have moms in jail. (or prison - they just call any kind of incarcerated "being in jail"). I am not sure why it is - part of it (I think) is the epidemic of being fatherless. There are some incredible mothers out there raising sons by themselves, but somehow, when the sons have no father figure, they often get lost. Daughters too - I see girls (starting in kindergarten!) trying t

Sad. Again.

A family from school (a family I know pretty well), lost a relative last year when he was shot and killed for owing someone money. It really shook up the kids' world, as you can imagine. Now, not even six months later, they've lost another member of their family. I'm not sure if this woman was actually related to their family, but she was family. She worked at the daycare run by the kids' great aunt and the kids called her their "God-mama." She was hit and killed by a drunk driver on Saturday. The middle child in the family - "Marcel" - came and told me about it this morning. Then he said, "Too many people been died." Damn right.

Mrs. Dwyer

I'm a little behind, but I wanted to share about our wonderful volunteer from last year, Kathy Dwyer. Kathy was working in the children's ministries department at my church and came to volunteer at my school. She was volunteering in a kindergarten class the year before (I think) and decided to help out in third grade last year. Kathy started by reading with the kids and helping them with their practice tests. As she got to know the kids, I think she saw that they had a creative side that wanted to come out. Since we had really limited resources at school, she brought all the supplies for the projects. And these were GREAT projects. Painting wood shapes, making journals using cutouts from animal magazines and foam shapes, clay projects, Easter baskets with silk flowers and other decorations, St. Patrick's day projects, all sorts of fun things. They loved it because they got to be creative and didn't have to stick to only one piece of paper like they do when they