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Showing posts from March, 2006

No News Is Good News

The teacher's union voted to authorize a strike last Wednesday and we haven't gotten the phone call (they have to give us 48 hours notice) saying that we were actually going on strike. We haven't gotten any news actually. The union website doesn't show anything after the vote and we haven't gotten any phone calls. So I've been reading the paper every day, and feeling rather silly about having to read the newspaper to find out if I'm about to be on strike. There was a story today, but all it says is that the strike talk gets serious, which is what they've been saying all along. So we still don't know anything! Except that San Francisco Unified is about to go on strike too. Strikes all around! What better way to celebrate César Chávez Day? Speaking of César Chávez Day, I am trying to keep this just about the kids and not about politics, but the Bush admininistration, Congress, and our school district are all conspiring against me. This HR 4437 crap,

Subject/Verb Agreement

OK, here's an example of a worksheet from our reading program. Let me know if any of you think you'd understand this if you didn't speak "standard English." Or if you think an 8-year old can follow this without getting bored and hitting the person next to them. A singular subject requires a singular verb, and a plural subject requires a plural verb. Sometimes the verb changes its form depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. Rule: If the subject is singular, the present tense form of the verb usually ends in -s or -es Example: He saves his money in a cookie jar. Rule: If the subject is plural, do not add anything to the verb to form the present tense. Example: They invest money for a living. Rule: If the verb ends with a consonant and y , change the y to i and add -es to create the present tense. E xample: hurry + es = hurries Rule: In the present tense the irregular verbs be and have change forms to agree with their subjects. Example: D

Car Thieves and Bad Neighborhoods

This is not entirely school related, but I had my car stolen two weeks ago. Not from my school, but from in front of my house in Alameda. Apparently, according to our neighbors the rat-sitters (ok, it's really a doggie day care, but they're all bite-size yippy dogs, so we call them the rats, and hence, the rat-sitters), it's the 4th Honda to be stolen off our block in the last two weeks. Would have been more helpful information to me BEFORE it was stolen, but...Anyway, after a huge headache and a lot of worry, I got a new (to me) car, which the kids have named Shelby. I don't know why they named it Shelby, but they all seem to agree. Having my car stolen gives me something in common with a lot of the students' families too. Not my favorite way to find common ground. The kids are acting crazy this week and wearing me down. A lot of it is because of the shooting this weekend - even for kids who are used to this kind of violence, there have been more murders lately,


As if we needed reminding that we're in the ghetto: My student's uncle was killed this Saturday. In broad daylight, as they say. Right by his house, less than a mile from our school. Apparently he owed someone money. This is the 33rd homicide this year in Oakland, when last year at this time, there were 14. Great. We're on a record-breaking pace. Oakland's not a very big city - 33 homicides by now is a LOT. Or maybe it just feels like more when I know the kids affected. The story we're reading right now in our reading curriculum is called Four Dollars and Fifty Cents . It is the story of a cowboy who, in an attempt to evade the debt collectors, plays dead, gets taken to the graveyard, gets caught, scares a bunch of robbers away and gets an reward. The reading program is big on "making connections" - finding bits of the stories that are like events in their own lives, characters that are like people they know, etc. So this kid busts out with, "Thi

I Love to Read

I don't mean I like to read, I mean I LOVE to read. I need to read. You know how some people say they feel naked or incomplete without their cell phone or watch? I feel that way if I don't have a book in my bag. Even if I'm going to meet a friend or something, you never know what's going to happen and you just might need a book! Thomas Jefferson once said, "I cannot live without books," and although I've never really felt that he and I would have been best buddies, I understand that part of him well. I have books stacked by my bed, probably in my bed, on my desk, floor, tables, bathroom - I read on BART, while brushing my teeth, in the bath, sometimes while walking, and if there was a way I could read in the shower, I would. I just bought 36 books at our church book sale for $9, and 15 books from a homeless guy in the Mission District for $10. Oh, and checked out 7 more from the library next door to our school. I am very different than my students in t


I'm on a lunch break from a workshop right now. The kids have no school today so that we can have a professional development day - optional, but we're being paid twice as much as our normal hourly rate - I have no idea why. Speaking of getting paid, the consultants doing the workshop get paid $150 an hour and I have to say that I do not know why. Resiliency is a tricky concept. While there is truth to it - kids do survive the most atrocious situations, and often seem to recover from illness, abuse, loss, etc quickly, I think it's dangerous. People throw around statements like, "Oh, kids are resilient - he'll be fine." I think in many cases, children are not recovering from these situations as much as they are simply surviving. And that's totally different. They are not thriving, they are not growing or succeeding like they should. It's often used as an excuse for not taking action. "Sure, he's seen his father stabbed, his mother's on cra


OK, maybe today I am replaceable. It was one of those days. Probably I'm reacting to the possibility of a strike, not getting enough sleep, having a lot of friends and other people in my life that I miss, and being cold. And partly the kids were just... challenging today. But i had trouble standing up and teaching. And sitting down and teaching just doesn't work (as I learned after I feel down the stairs and had to teach on crutches-the kids called them 'crunches'- for over a month). So, it wasn't really a day that I feel was enormously successful. But no one hurt each other. No one even said they wished they were dead, which is something in my class. A couple of kids said they used to not be able to read and I'm taking that to mean that they realize that now they can. Another boy made me promise to come see his volleyball game Monday night (anyone want to come?) But overall, not the greatest day. That's the problem with this job. If the day didn'

The Winter of Our Discontent

Yes, I know it's spring. But the heat hasn't worked in my classroom for at least two weeks. The heat works in all the other classrooms in the building. Just not mine. And being that it is a 100 year old building in California, there is no insulation. So it would be basically the same temperature inside as out if there weren't 18 little energetic bodies warming it up. Even with that, I'm teaching with my coat and scarf on. The thermostat guy has been out to see it but left again and there's still no heat. I'm afraid he's taking lessons from the clock guy . And the union just voted for a strike . Or, not necessarily a strike, but likely. Without getting into district/union politics, which I have plenty of opinions on, I just need to say that I can't go on strike. I mean, morally. I also can't really afford to, but that's another story. I have three kids in my class who have had both parents abandon them and are living with grandparents. I have an

The Knives

Yes, that's right, the knives. I forgot about the knives. I had a parent conference with a mother last year whose daughter had come in late during the year - apparently she was either expelled from her previous school or the mother had pulled her out because she thought the school was fit to expel her soon. The girl had ripped down bulletin boards, started a lot of fights, and cut off a girl's ponytails with her mother's knives. I kind of didn't know where to start with this because this particular girl, although being very... well, what we call "ghetto," hadn't really started fights or anything in my class and in fact was really smart and we hit it off really well. I asked the mother what she had thought of the previous school and she got really upset and started complaining about how they wouldn't even let her bring her knives to a parent-teacher conference. And when she said "knives," she measured in the air with her hands about two feet

What Time Is It, Anyway?

I'm remembering all sorts of things that have happened now that I've started the writing process. Like the time the clocks didn't work. Actually, there are a lot of times the clocks didn't work. Many of you remember school clocks - there's no second hands and the minute hands kind of clicked backwards for a second, then clunked forward (like they needed the momentum to go forward or something). And they're all on one system. So after daylight savings time, all the clocks in the school would be off for an hour until someone in the office reset them, whereupon they would noisily move forward an hour - noisily because they would do that click-clunk thing 60 times in a row to go forward an hour. Well, I used to be in a portable classroom, which just had a clock run by a battery hanging on the wall. I mean the clock was on the wall. With the battery in it. And I could change that at will. It even had a second hand which was useful. Now that I'm in a 'real&

Bits & Pieces

*The kids love to sweep and vacuum in class. They love to clean off the desks with 409. They beg to be allowed to wash my car. (I do not, in fact, let them. I'm sure that's a violation of many laws.) How much do you want to bet that doesn't happen at home? *For anyone who missed why it is 'light skinded' instead of 'light skinned' - the kids were reading aloud today and every single child said 'lookded' instead of 'looked.' We had to go through the word sound by sound to see that there is only one 'd' sound. That's just not how you say things here. *One of the kids came to me in tears today to tell that another kid was calling him a 'buck-toothed beaver.' I realize that that would be hurtful when you are 8 years old, but it was really really hard to not laugh at him, especially when he kept repeating 'buck-toothed beaver.' *Because of the No Child Left Behind law (don't believe it, we're leaving children be

For the Love of Children

So, after writing the last post, I was thinking about if I actually help the kids. Sometimes I think I do more harm than good because I get so frustrated and overwhelmed. (and short-tempered and judgmental, and... these kids try my patience so much that most of my not-favorite qualities come out with them). So I've decided that what I can do is tell them, every day or even several times a day, that I love them. And even if I yell at them, I still love them. Sometimes I'll say, "You are driving me absolutely crazy and I am very very upset with your behavior but even if I'm sending you home, I still love you." I think it's sinking in because one kid told another, "You know she still love you even when she mad." I hope it's sinking in. I don't know what else I can do - half the time I'm convinced that absolutely nothing I teach them will be retained for more than 30 seconds. But if they come away from this year knowing that one adu

Needing To Be Wanted

I was watching Law and Order SVU (or more accurately, I was in the room while Law and Order was being watched and trying to ignore it), and one of the characters was a brutal murderous member of some horrible prison gang who showed no remorse for anything he had done and continued to make threats to kill people. Anyway, I was trying to not watch that and the realization came to me suddenly: This man was a little kid once - innocent and lovable - and this is how he's turned out. (Yes, I realize Law and Order is fiction, but unfortunately there are an infinite number of real-life examples). I've had these kinds of realizations before, but this time it hit me so hard that I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. There was a quote I read once in my credential program by some educational behaviorist someone who said that as he was looking at the "Wanted" signs at the post office, it ocurred to him that if these criminals had been wanted when they were children

One More Thing to Buy

Playground equipment. I forgot about that. That adds up fast. And it breaks and pops and gets tossed on the roof and gets lost so at the moment we don't have any.

Money! (or Lack Thereof)

This entry is dedicated to Warren, who--upon hearing that the fancy pull-down maps in the classrooms dated from the late 1940s or early 1950s ("Teacher, why they put Germany on here twice? What country is Ussr?")--said - quite earnestly, "But the school will buy you new maps, right?" Anyone who doesn't understand why I find that so funny has not spent time in the California public school system. I can still make myself laugh thinking about that statement. (I bought the map shown in the picture, by the way) People always talk about how little teachers get paid, but that's not the real problem. We don't get paid what I think we're worth, but I'd take it. However, I don't know anyone (unless they're self-employed) who spends more money on their profession than teachers. At the beginning of the year each year I spend hundreds of dollars on supplies. The school provide s the basics (or at least limited numbers of them) but if I think the

Loyalty and Authority, Part II. And Attachment.

First of all, of course right after I write about how the kids respect me and I have authority, they all decide to act a fool and make me a liar (as we say around here). Of course, it was raining all day and they were too hyperactive... just goes to show that kids are never predictable! But still, I have it much easier than I would without 6 years in the community behind me... OK, back to my loyalty, authority, and attachment theme. Crazy days where kids are out of control notwithstanding, they do usually know that (in their words) I don't play . And even when they're off the hook (that means acting crazy), I can always remember that if I didn't have relationships with them and they didn't respect me, it would be all over. I had a friend comment on that after he graciously chaperoned a field trip last week. (I have had many friends-to who I am extremely indebted-chaperone field trips. I'm never sure if they know what they're getting into or regret volunt

Kids are Strange

One of my students starts every sentence (and makes every sentence a question) with "Dontcha know?" Try it one day. It's hard. "Dontcha know, I'm done with my test?" "Dontcha know, can you hold my money?" "Dontcha know, I like your hair, teacher?" Kids push to be at the front of the line no matter where they're going. They could be going to the dentist to get all their teeth pulled and they'd still push to the front of the line. They push to be at the front of the line to go to recess, which makes sense. But then they push to be at the front coming in. And to the principal's office. And probably if they were lemmings, they'd push to be the first off the cliff.

My Sister is Brown Like Me

"My sister is Brown like me. She is nice sometimes. She was in my teacher's class last year. She has short and kind of short hair. She smells like soap. She helps grandma clean up the house, because she likes cleaning up the house. I love my sister. My grandma loves my sister. I do too. My sister is the best. THE END" No, I didn't write this, and my sister is not, in fact, brown. This is one girl's descriptive writing assignment. I was going to write more about the loyalty and authority but I'm kind of overwhelmed right now (I can't keep up with my own paperwork and mess, let alone the paperwork and mess of 20 children) so I thought I'd share the kids' descriptive writing. The assignment was to pick something and describe it, using as many senses as possible. The things the kids picked to describe ranged from people (by far the most popular: me, their mom, a sister, a baby, themselves), to flowers, dogs and cats, a Game Boy, and crackers. (Did yo