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Showing posts from 2011

More Writing Games

I wrote about helping a friend's son with writing by using the two-minute writing game I made up.  You have the kid write any words at all - the only rules are that they have to be words and you have to keep writing for two minutes.  It has helped a number of my students who are perfectionists and just think way too long and hard about writing, never getting to the writing part. I got a Christmas card from this friend and actually laughed out loud.  She wrote: I honestly believe "Johnny" wouldn't be as successful in writing now without getting past the block with "Hey NASCAR toot fart butt pee poo yo he mom dad father" I wanted to introduce another writing game.  I don't have a name for this one, but I'm taking suggestions.  i have the student pick a number between 2-10.  Then we write a story together.  If the student picks "5" for example, she writes five words and then I write five words.  The story usually ends up being pretty si

A Black Family in the White House

This post is not about politics.  For this post, I don't care if you like Obama or think he's the worst president in 100 years.  If you can, just for a few minutes, try to put that aside and hear what I'm saying - something about the First Family that is not political: There is a black family in the White House. This makes me so happy in so many ways.  Some of you right now are thinking that this is another form of racism - that I should only judge the First Family on their character, not on their skin color.  You're right and wrong.  That, of course, would be ideal, and I think that is a well-meaning position, but if that was your first thought, I'm going to venture a guess that you have never personally had to deal with racism.  I am pretty fortunate as well.  I'm a middle-class educated white person and I've never suffered from racial profiling or racial discrimination.  In fact, I've probably benefited from racism in more ways than I'm com

One Thing Right

I was watching some more of Tavis Smiley's Too Important to Fail series and the current 90-second clip that is up shows the same panel of young black male offenders that led me to find my student from first grade .  He is in this clip also although he doesn't say anything.  The young man next to him, however, talks about how he didn't pay attention because he was traumatized (the interviewer's word, not his) by his sister being killed in front of him.  He goes on to say that he thinks most black boys in his neighborhood had similar experiences (I agree). Then one of the other kids said that when he was in fourth grade, his teacher told him he wouldn't amount to anything and he gave up. I am pretty positive that I've made a huge number of mistakes and bad judgment calls in my years of teaching but I am confident that I did this one thing right: I never said that to a child.  I never called a kid bad.  I never told a child I hated him or her, and I never said

It's Too Bad You Don't Have Children

Dear person who told me "It's really too bad you don't have children; you'd be a good mother:" You're wrong. Not that I'd be a good mother - you're right on that.  I'd be a very good mother.  Anyone who has ever seen me with children can agree on that. No, you're wrong that I don't have children. It's not totally your fault - I wasn't thinking when you asked me.  And in fact, I haven't been thinking clearly any of the times that people have asked me that.  I always answer the way that people expect me to and I think it's time to change that. I know that when people ask me "Do you have children," (or my least favorite, "Do you have a family?"  "No, I sprang into being all on my own!"), they mean did I birth children who I am now the guardians of.  Maybe if they're more open-minded they just mean, "Are you the guardian of children?"  And the answer is no.  Before you start fe

Worth It

I stopped by my old school the other day to pick up my Little Sister and take her to buy yarn (her mom is having a baby so I'm making a baby blanket).  When I parked and started walking, this kid - actually tall young man - ran across the lawn, arms outstretched.  I honestly don't know when someone has been so visibly excited to see me.  It was my student from third grade who met President Obama .  And ate lots of hamburgers while in DC.  (in reading his essay, that seems to be what stuck out for him). This kid is now in 8th grade, so probably 13 years old, has lots of friends, and appears to be a leader among his group of friends.  He is tall, confident, and outgoing.  And he's not embarrassed to be running to hug his third grade teacher in front of the whole school. That's worth it all right there. 


In my 8 years of teaching in Oakland, I was lucky to never have my grade level changed in the middle of the school year, but I had plenty of co-workers who did.  The schools try to staff for the kids who will come but they don't actually know who is coming and in which grades.   So every year, teachers would spend hundreds of dollars and countless days on getting their rooms ready, only to have to switch in mid-October. Here's a very brief story about it and another teacher's thoughts , very well explained. My Little Sister's teacher is being consolidated and she LOVES her teacher.  I happen to know that the teacher she's getting is very very good but she's spent 6 weeks bonding with the teacher she has and starting over is scary.


I took my Little Sister to an animal show today and we got a bat book. LS: I hate bats. Me: You know they eat mosquitoes, right? LS: I LOVE BATS!  They are my favorite animal.

A Day in the Life

From a teacher who wishes to remain anonymous, after Ann Coulter went off on "useless public sector workers."  [By the way, I don't like to think of human beings as "useless," but if there was one, it would be Ann Coulter] First, Jon Stewart had the best response I've heard to this.  Ever.  Check it out.   Then read this day in the life of a good teacher. I know, I know. But the word useless really got under my skin. "Dear" Ann Coulter, First you called kindergarten teachers "useless public sector workers" and then went on to say that public school teachers get off at 2 and get the summers off. Finally, you implied we're highly paid. Clearly, everything one needs to know really *is* learned in kindergarten: kindness, fairness, honesty, manners... Too bad you were truant. Why don't you walk a mile in the shoes of a "useless public sector worker"? 6:00 Get up, get the tea going, get the lunch ready and th


I was working on my computer today when I got a facebook post from a friend and former co-worker:     "Hey, I am watching this special on PBS hosted by Tavis Smiley. He is at the Alameda Youth Jail and I think I just saw Fred. I don't remember his last name but I knew him as soon as I saw him. He had the scar on his forehead. Isn't that your old student. They said he was 18. Does that add up" Yes.  yes, it does add up.  Fred (not his real name) was a kid in my first and third grade classes, in 2000 (I came in January and they had had 6 substitutes before then) and then 2001-2002.  He was famous at our school, not least because he was expelled in second grade for hitting a teacher or something like that - I honestly don't remember.  He was brought back for third grade and I requested him again.  He was one of those kids who caused trouble everywhere he went and was so angry that it was just coming out of his pores, even when he was six.  He was also real


The regrets I have from my time teaching in a classroom are not what you might think.  I know I gave everything I had to those kids - no regrets there.  I was tired - very very tired - and would have done better if I wasn't so exhausted, but there wasn't much I could have done about that.  What I regret most is not standing up for myself to authority figures in the school and the district.  When my first principal told us that we should all be afraid for our jobs, I wish that I had said that I didn't feel motivated by a constant reminder to be afraid for my job.  Each and every time an administrator answered my request to sign my after-school tutoring papers or reimburse me for something with "But don't you do this for the children?" or "I'm disappointed that you're asking me this - I thought you did this for the children," I wish I had said "Excuse me!  I am a professional and we had an agreement!  Please do not try to tell me tha


There is a blog post I want to share , from a blogger I really like, because it reminds me of some interactions I've had with some of my students.  This blogger talks about her (black) kids going to a slavery exhibit and getting really scared.  It felt to real to them and the fact is, if they had been born into a different time, they might have been put on a real one of these ships. Kids don't really understand timelines.  I've had many students, in all seriousness, ask me if I had slaves as a little girl.  Or if Martin Luther King, Jr. freed the slaves.  Or if they lived in Africa if they would have been captured and sold.  It's interesting, because in many ways, we try to "child-proof" history, like I've talked about before - making fun little Underground Railroad mazes and word searches.  But history is really scary in many ways.  Is it better to protect kids or to explain the truth to them?

The Feelings Paper

Feelings can be very scary for children, and in the lower grades, they often don't have the vocabulary they need to express their feelings.  Frustration, anger, sadness - sometimes even excitement - can all lead to kids acting out in a number of ways. I wish more adults understood that there is always always a reason for kids to act the way they are acting.  They aren't just being "bad" because they want to be - there's something behind it.  Some kids hit others when they are angry, some kids put their heads down and become unresponsive when they're sad, and some kids interrupt constantly when they are nervous.  There's always a motivation behind the behavior, but children are often not equipped to see this. One of the things I'm most proud of is creating this silly piece of paper that the kids called the "feelings paper."  I did it right before the first day of school one year and I wished I had done it sooner.  I've seen similar th


I was in a crowded public area with a friend last week when I saw a woman in a really short skirt.  I kind of nudged my friend and looked toward the woman and my friend didn't see her.  I whispered to her what I was looking at (she skirt was really short) and my friend still didn't see her.  I tried a few other descriptors: the woman with short hair, the woman with brown shoes, etc.  Then I realized what I didn't say.  I didn't say that it was the black woman.  That would have pointed her out right away. Aside from why it was so important to me to point this woman out (it wasn't that important, but once I had said it, for some reason, I wanted to make my point), I thought later about why I was so hesitant to point out the woman's race.  I was willing to use just about every other descriptor, but for some reason if felt wrong to say "the black woman."  I have noticed this at school too.  The kids were very direct.  "Who hit you?"  "T


I wrote another blog for Teaching Tolerance that you can find here .  It describes an eye-opening experience I had in my second year of teaching about how drastically segregation/separation can affect children.  I'd love it if you read it!  Even more exciting is the fact that they want me to blog for them regularly! One more note: If you read this blog on the actual website and not through RSS or Facebook, you may have noticed a "Donate" button to the right.  This is a tip jar. I write this blog because of my passion for justice and my desire to ignite that passion in others. Unfortunately, passion don't pay the bills. If you appreciate my work here, please donate!  I will also be sharing more valuable teaching tips and strategies in the future (things I wish someone had told me), so if that helps you and you'd like to express your gratitude, every little bit helps me devote more time to writing about these topics.  Thank you! Facebook doesn't always let

New Home for the Gecko

Tiger is going to be in a middle school science class this year!  I have a feeling that the students will love him.  Animals have a way of reaching the students who are tough to reach - somehow this little lizard can break down walls that humans can't.  I have seen the meanest kids in my class talk to animals in an incredibly loving manner. The gecko is also good for teachers.  Nothing quiets a class down faster than "Well, I guess I'll have to take Tiger home because this class is too loud for him."  He's a good pet. Four years ago: Back to School Specials

You're OK

I'm working with a teenage girl right now who's having a hard time.  There's custody issues and anxiety and probably depression and definitely ADD.  I wouldn't be surprised if there were some other mental health diagnoses as well.  Recently her guardian (another family member) decided that she didn't need her ADD medication.  This guardian decided that the girl was just "dramatic" and would be fine without the medication.  She didn't consult the doctor, the therapist, or the child. When I saw this student, she had been off her meds for a couple of days and was really upset.  She probably was being dramatic - teenagers tend to - but I think she was also going through some withdrawal.  After all, if you're going to go off any medication, it's a good idea to do so in a doctor-prescribed way and not just have it yanked away from you.  She had also been doing really well on this medication and was feeling stable and calm, so to have it taken away


I really liked this kid.  The school he went to before ours was George W. Bush Elementary School (in another city).  He told me "I don't know why they named a school after him.  He didn't do nothing for education.  A wise 8-year old. Friday, July 20, 2007 Meet a Child: "Kobe" This is a kid who moved away mid-year because his mom was terrified of all the violence - especially after someone came and threatened his teenage brother. Writing about himself: My name is Kobe. I am 8 years old and my birthday was born in 1998. My eye is dark brown and my hair is black and I like to play footbal. I like to play with my best friend. I am very talkative and honest. I am very cook and I am very nice. I make friends. I like school. Sometimes I get to change my card to Green that mean I am in trouble. Sometimes I stay on Blue. I got friends and we went to the coliseum the A's won the other day the other day the raider lost. I like school. I hav

All These Kids

This pos t is something I want to say every year.  at least. Monday, July 19, 2010 All These Kids Are Ours A few times a month, I find that I can't sleep because I am worried about foster kids.  This might seem strange, because I don't currently know any kids in foster care.  I used to when I was teaching third grade - and I knew a great many more who maybe should have been in foster care - but I don't currently know any.  I don't think it's strange though - in fact, I think we might be better off if we all worried about kids in foster care, and not just a couple of times a month.  Not because worrying really helps anything, but because it would show that we really do value all kids. We don't, you know.  Of course, everyone will say that they believe that all kids are worth the same but it's not true.  It's natural to value your own kids above everyone else's - I'm not saying that it's not.  But I think we also value kids t

Teaching Tolerance Blogger!

Exciting news - I've been accepted as an official blogger for Teaching Tolerance (a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center) I have one blog published that can be found here .  (It was edited, I find it important to point out that I don't write beginning sentences with "so") If you have been reading my blog and you have noticed any stories you want to see featured there that have to do with differences/diversity in the classroom, please let me know!  I've got to come up with some more topics. Two years ago: Extra Work, Extra Money Four years ago: Back from Vacation                          What Do They Teach You in School?


Every good teacher knows that teaching involves a certain amount of strategic dishonesty.  Not necessarily outright lying, but trickery.  I've definitely been known to tell kids that the flashing red light of the motion sensor (to turn the lights on) in the classroom was a camera recording their behavior so their parents and the principal can see how they are acting.  Yesterday, I was working with a particularly difficult teenager on writing.  She has ADD and anxiety, and a bunch of other diagnoses, but I think the main problem, as it often is, is that she doesn't feel like anyone wants her.  She gets shuffled around from guardian to guardian and it's entirely possible that some of them have told her outright that they don't want her.  She is constantly trying to distract me and complaining and telling me she can't do things. We've been working on writing and she's getting pretty good at writing about what she's experiencing.  It was time to introduc

Aren't All Children Worth the Same?

I wish the answer was yes. I had a conversation recently with a friend about why the police always took so long to respond to calls at our school... like attempted kidnapping .  I was so angry and so confused why none of the people around me were angry - they all seemed resigned to it.  The custodian explained to me. She said, "Oh, honey, they don't care about us?  We all just n-----s to them."  I think the acceptance was harder for me than the actual problem of the slow response time.  The fact that these kids and their families were so used to being treated like this that they didn't even think to question it any more.. .that's the problem. I wrote the post below two years ago but nothing's changed.  I wish it would. Wednesday, July 08, 2009 WHEN are We Going to Stop... ...teaching kids who aren't white that they are worth less than white kids? Minorities not allowed in a Philadelphia club's pool Black dolls priced less than white do


The thing I like the most about teaching is not teaching; it's finding ways to connect with the kids, especially the kids who don't think that teachers have anything in common with them.  It's not that hard - I really do enjoy a lot of different books, movies, music, etc., and I'm very curious, so I've learned about many things even if I don't necessarily enjoy them. When I assess a new student, the first thing I ask them is what they like.  Of course, there are different ways to do this depending on how old the child is.  If the student is little, I ask them what they like to play and who they like to play with.  If they're older, I might ask them what they like to read or what movies they like to watch.  Sometimes it takes a few questions and sometimes they look at me like I'm saying the dumbest thing they've ever heard... until I get to the question that is something they love.  With my newest student, it's Harry Potter.  She is 12 years o

Writing Games

In my years of teaching, I've worked with a lot of kids and adults on writing.  Many of these students have been extremely resistant to the writing process.  It's extremely common for people to have anxiety around writing, so it's important for teachers to not only teach the process, but to address this anxiety as well. Sometimes this involves tricking the student.  If, for example, the a perfectionist and overthinks everything, I often have them do speed writing.  They have to write for two minutes.  It doesn't have to make sense but all the words have to be actual words.  An old friend recently asked for help for her 9-year old who needs tutoring over the summer.  I wish I was near the kid because, as I immodestly pointed out to her, I'm very very good at this.  I did the best I could over the Internet and I think we've made a start.  Inter-state tutoring is kind of fun! The first timed writing exercise ended up being: "Man I word bomb numb ice r

A Need or a Want?

My friend wrote this beautiful post about trying to explain why some people are homeless.  Her daughter asked her one day, "Mommy, why are there homeless people?"  I think most of us would have trouble answering that one. My students were very familiar with homelessness.  I've told the story before about our unit on city wildlife - by the definition in the unit, the kids decided that homeless people should be included. There was another time, when the Junior Achievement program came to our classroom.  I love Junior Achievement - people from various careers in the community come to teach for a day.  I was teaching first grade at the time and wasn't really used to the school yet.  I was more used to it, though, than the woman who came.  She was coming from the prison system - she was some kind of administrator - and was excited to come teach first graders.  The first thing that tipped her off to the type of community she was in was when she asked where our tape pla

My Little Mexico

From five years ago - I love this. Monday, June 26, 2006 Mexico I'm going to Mexico for two weeks to visit my good friends (second family) who run an orphanage there. In honor of that, I thought I'd share a little essay one of the kids wrote: My dad told me about when he was a soldier in Mexico. When he was a soldier he went on a helicopters to go where they told them to go and keep mexico safe from other armys. He told me his life as a soldier. He said life as a soldier wasn't easy so he said don't go to the army. soldado means soldier in spanish. for my little mexico. Four years ago: Oakland Reschedules the Fourth of July

The Best Thank-You Note

Ever. This is from the guardian of a teenager I've been tutoring: "Just imagine where he'd be if you weren't in his life.  Probably a CYA somewhere out in the desert." Two years ago: How to Outsmart a Teenage Boy Four years ago: Teacher Turnover                          Is it That Hard to be Nice?                           Seriously, Can't You Just Be Nice?

This is Leadership?

Here's a story about one of the principals from another teacher. I can't decide if my favorite part was that she had to call and tell the district that they had openings because they didn't notice or if it was that the principal didn't feel like showing her where her classroom was. I was hired two days before school started, (After calling all the elementary schools in the city to find out where the openings were and then informing the district that they in fact did have jobs to fill). I went to the office to introduce myself to the principal and see if I could see my classroom so that I could get it ready for kids. When I walked in to the office it was utter chaos. I saw the principal in her office. I knocked and said, "Hi, my name is ---, and I was just hired to teach second grade here." Her response was "OK." I said, "I was wondering if I could go and see the classroom I am going to be in so I can set it up for the students tomorrow. Her r

Playground Equipment

Playground equipment is something that many of us who went to school in more affluent areas (or during more affluent times) take for granted.  We assume that big red four-square balls and jump ropes are found at every elementary school in America, since that was part of our childhood.  Some of us were really lucky and had “earth” balls and parachutes to play with; those are actually some of my best PE memories.    The reality, nowadays, is that playground equipment is much less available.  Some years I got a playground ball at the beginning of the year in my classroom supplies, and some years I didn’t.  It was never blown up though, and I was never given a ball pump so I usually bought or borrowed one.  Sometimes there was one teacher in the school with a ball pump and everyone knew it so kids were constantly bringing in balls to be pumped up.  Of course, they’d try to do it themselves and would end up bending or losing the needles so I was not only constantly buying pumps but also

The Good Ones

I've noticed that much of the time, dysfunctional situations/people make for better stories.  It's way more interesting and makes a better story for me to tell someone about my old upstairs neighbor whose son kept screaming at her that he was going to kill someone with a serrated knife "It's serrated!!" and how he threw his dead pet snake onto my balcony than it is to talk about my other neighbor who says hi to me each morning. Along those lines, it's often far more interesting - and needs to be brought up - to point out what schools and teachers do wrong.  And I think it is necessary, because these things need to be corrected.  But I was reminded recently when chatting online with a former coworker of the people who really did - and do - put all of themselves into it.  This woman I was chatting with was talking about how she's going to meet a former student who is now pregnant to give her some photos and what a wonderful beautiful person this former s

Remembering Guns and Lockdowns

Friday, June 12, 2009 Guns and Lockdowns (I thought about including an image of a gun on this page, for visual interest, and I couldn't do it. Just couldn't.) The kids I've been talking about in my last few posts are a little more stable, at least in terms of their living situation. Again, thanks to everyone who helped financially - you may very well have helped save these boys' lives - no exaggeration. Again, these are the kids who witnessed the murder and had to be relocated because the police (who I just love SO MUCH - is the sarcasm reaching you through the computer?) showed them off to the suspects so there are plenty of threats of retaliation to go around. Then they treated them like they were the criminals. But I digress. They are in an apartment now which is bigger than ones they've lived in before and - while not in an affluent area at all - are not in danger. I think they're talked into counseling - and thank goodness, their

School Break-Ins

An essay about so many of the school break-ins that have happened this year (and last year and the year before...) Two years ago: This is What I've Been Saying Five years ago: The Exploratorium                         Recycled Sculpture

I Think I Had This Kid...

This is not my note, it's from , but I definitely had kids who should have written me one just like it! Two years ago: An Apartment Four years ago: Last Report Cards