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Showing posts from September, 2010

Not Safe in Her Own Bed

Some of you who are local may hav e 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

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. 

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)

"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 overwhel

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 m

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 w

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, México!

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

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


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

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 th

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,

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 pot

Mrs. Dwyer, Revisited

Instead of just including a link at the bottom of the post to past posts, there is one I think needs to be re-read because it is about an incredibly committed volunteer who changed the whole atmosphere of our school.  Here it is again: Mrs. Dwyer.  (The last paragraph is my favorite.) 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 cut

The Circus Comes to Town

Every time I come to pick up my Little Sister (who I'm calling "Clarabelle" in honor of what she names every toy she has), it looks like the circus is coming to town.  I pull up outside her house and kids come out of every door.  They all run over to me and start asking me questions, all at once.  Can I buy them candy?  Can I take them to wherever we're going?  Can they come to my house?  Can they play with my dog?  Can I get them a Big Brother or Big Sister?  There usually aren't any adults with them, just children.  I feel like the Pied Piper! Three years ago: Girls Dressed as Women


When I was teaching, I learned that the community around the school l- specifically the black community - had a lot of problems and a lot of really amazing qualities.  This is all highly generalized, so please understand that I know that, and I know I'm not talking about everyone.  Family structure can be qualified as both negative and positive, I think.  There are so many missing fathers that it's a bit of a cliche.  I was always glad that Father's Day came after school was out because it was so hard for the kids.  Many of the mothers were quite young when they had children.  Many of them have children with all different fathers. There are also some really wonderful parts to this particular black community.  The women in the family are generally incredible.  The extended family tends to be a strong one - at least in a matriarchal sense.  Many of my students had mothers, aunties, grannies, great-aunts, and even great-grandmothers who were involved in their lives.  Older s