Allegory of the Educator

I have waited to post my final paper on my philosophy of education. If you are a philosophy geek, and an educator, you may enjoy the post. If not, don’t bother reading it, because it is weird. 

 The first day of class, my professor talked about the Allegory of the Cave. I was drawn to the story, partly because it is an extended metaphor, but mostly because it captures the essence of the human condition. I began writing a generic regurgitation of my personal educational philosophy. But, the images of the cave in reference to our current educational predicament inundated me. I often call my home office, my cave, because there are no windows, and I spend much of my time in there, writing and planning for instruction. So, from my cave, I wrote about the educational cave.

Thanks Daniel for the awesome sketches. Somehow, you captured what was in my mind. Wow.

Allegory of the Educator

Long ago, there was a school, nestled between a mountain and a river. On the side of the river, the sun shone directly into the library.  The view from the mountainside of the school was solid rock. The teachers on the mountainside lived in the school. The inside of the school was the only world they knew. Nothing else existed. And if anyone talked about a world outside of the school, they would create a new philosophy representing the idea of that made-up world. For ideas could exist without matter, and matter only existed because of ideas. Sometimes, the stories of the other place became myth and were re-told as fictional accounts.

The walls were always walls, and only ever walls. The floor could only be floor, and made only of floor. There was something they breathed in and out, but the true nature of that was somewhere in a book, found on the riverside of the school. It wasn’t important because the thing they breathed in and out would never run out, according to a story they re-told one another.

Many of the teachers had been chained to the walls of the school, because they thought that was what they were supposed to do as inhabitants of a school. They didn’t need mobility of mind nor body.

Seldom did anyone venture to the riverside of the school. The chains kept teachers in their respective rooms, and there was no need for books since everyone had memorized the curriculum.

The students had lost two and a half dimensions, and they became a generation of shadow students. The shadow students had smoke and mirror thoughts. All student thoughts conglomerated into one mass thought. At the end of the school day (when the lights were turned off) all thoughts evaporated. They turned into thought vapor, and when the new day began (when the lights were turned on) the thoughts would trickle down and return to the dim brains of the shadow students. The same thoughts were recycled daily. If there was a new thought, where would it go, and what would the teachers and students do with it? It wouldn’t fit anywhere, so why have it?

The atomic make-up of a shadow student consisted of percentiles, rankings, and standardized test scores. When shadow students were injured, numbers would leak from their bodies.  The school nurse would scoop up the lost percentiles, and attempt to put them back into the shadow students. Unfortunately, once a student lost a percentile or a ranking, it was almost impossible to put it back.  In order for the percentile to be valid again, there was extensive paperwork that had to be completed. It had to be stapled three times (one millimeter apart) in the upper right hand corner, be signed by fourteen school dignitaries, and be put in a red folder, with a tab in the middle (not on the left or on the right). As each number bled from the shadowy bodies, the students began to further fade. So, it was in their best interest to keep still, sit in seats, and stare vacuously at the stone walls.

On murky school day, after students learned about the philosophy of penumbra, took three hundred forty-five assessments, filled out sixty-two scantron sheets, and watched the nurse sweep up the numbers left by a faded shadow student (who met his demise with an errant pencil) a teacher realized her chains were broken.

She stood up and balanced herself on the cinderblock wall. She felt dizzy and unstable. She had been chained to the wall since the beginning. The beginning of something important. Long ago.

No one noticed as she stood up. They continued to sit; they remained chained to the walls and watched the shadow thoughts move through the thought cycle. The only noise in the classroom was the clanking of the chains when a teacher would re-position him or herself.

She looked beyond the classroom and saw a light curving its way into the thing outside the room. Later, she would learn the words hall, brick, mountain, block, learn, books, brain, chain, teach, learn, walk, ask, breathe, and choice. She limped to the door and peered to the left. She glanced to the right. She gazed straight ahead. She closed her eyes and felt that thing in her chest pound. She stepped outside of the room.

Her gait was unstable for she had been chained since the beginning. As she walked, the thought dust obscured her sight. She had only seen the classroom to which she was chained. Her brain couldn’t assimilate the new images bombarding her consciousness. Eventually, she found the room with the books and light. Beyond that room was a door. She could see outside the door and the stone was gone. She remembered the myth of the outside place. She was instructed to teach the shadow students that the pictures of the things in books were only a product of someone’s mind. They weren’t real. But, now she was looking at trees, sun, river, squirrels, and grass. The invisible thing (later she would know it as wind) was blowing in her face, and it moved through her hair. Had she found the truth? How could she trust what she saw? If she left, would those things still be there? What was REAL?

She ventured outside to see students with all dimensions intact. Each student had a thought bubble attached to his or her head. Instead of smoke and mirror thoughts, each child’s thought bubble was full of images of concepts they were learning. Some students were playing musical instruments, and others where playing soccer. The teacher with the students was wearing a shirt that read, I Heart Socrates.

The mountainside teacher heard the students’ conversations. They were working in groups to solve various problems. The students shared new thoughts. And the thoughts were original, unlike those of the shadow student back in the school. There was a sign on the grass that read: “Please frolic and play on the Dewey grass.”

The riverside teacher introduced himself to the mountainside teacher.

“Hello, I’m UTO P. IA. You can call me UTO. Are you a new hire? What is your name?”

The mountainside teacher stared at UTO. She had never needed her name before, but she knew she had one. She reached into her frontal lobe and pulled out her name.

“Hello. I’m..well. I’m PAV L. OV You can call me PAV.”

She touched UTO’s shoulder and flinched when she realized that he was not smoke and mirrors. She longed for the safety of the cave. As she wandered back inside, she pondered the term, ‘new hire’. The sounds of the multi-dimensional students faded and the light dissipated.

She knew she had to go back and tell everyone that they had been wrong about the ideas. The ideas were real. Or the things were real. Maybe they were both real.

On her way back into the school, she saw a small, plump man sitting in the middle of the hallway. He was bald and effortlessly smiling.  His t-shirt read, I’m Siddhartha. Just call me Buddah. She walked close to him and he said, “You have desired nothing, therefore you haven’t suffered. Now, you are experiencing the desire to learn about life, and share that knowledge. Well, now you will suffer.” He smiled and then he began to laugh. As he laughed, the word truth flew out of his mouth. With each breath, a new version of truth came out.  Some truths were small, some were large, some had fancy fonts, and others were looked as if a child scribbled them. Pav didn’t see any of the truths as they few over her, under her, and around her.

She walked past the little man, because she didn’t know how to respond. She was never taught what to do when a new sentence was uttered. And in this case, a new sentence with a new thought.

She found her way back to the classroom where she had been chained. The teacher in charge introduced herself.

“Hello. I’m UT O. PIA. You can call me UT.”

Pav had known UT since the beginning. UT ignored the faint bouts of recognition and decided that she didn’t know Pav. The thoughts weren’t real without words to support them.  Pav realized that UTO and UT had the same names. But the two teachers were polarized, yet very content. This confused Pav because she only knew one form of contentment, and that was the classroom cave.

Pav knew that she had to tell everyone about the outside place.

“UT, I need to tell you about something. It will change everything we do here on the mountainside.”

“Well, okay-go on. The thoughts have not completed their cycle yet. I don’t need to clean the empty thoughts off the floor yet.”

Pav was nervous for the first time.

“UT, I found the outside place. There were children, who were different from the ones here.” She pointed to the shadow students and they were still and staring.

“They didn’t just sit. They talked about the things they were learning.”

UT was noticeably shaken.

“Pav, stop there. You of all people should know that those alleged children out there are behaving as they were told.  This is what we know: It is our truth.

Pav thought of her words before speaking. She tried using her common sense to talk to UT, but it didn’t seem to be working. Their words were different now. Pav’s words didn’t mean what they used to (before she visited the outside place).

Pav wondered what was real. Was UT really there, or was she experiencing the idea of UT? Then, she began wondering if she was real. She wondered if anyone else saw her. Did she really teach?

“UT, don’t you want to know what is out there? Aren’t you curious? It’s real! We don’t have to continue to teach like this!”

UT looked at Pav, and she hesitated before she began to vacuum the empty thoughts from the stone floor. The empty thoughts looked like giant dust clouds as they retreated to the guts of the vacuum.

Pav had some decisions to make. Familiar things are easy. She could go back to teaching the shadow students, and perpetuating the smoke and mirror thoughts. But, the more she thought about the outside place, the more curious she became. What if she ventured to the riverside and learned that all that she knew was wrong? What would happen?

We run the course of philosophies during a teaching career. There is no one, set philosophy that lays the foundation for my instruction. Every day, I strive to be the teacher that students can count on. I want to be mentally aware, as I teach, not on autopilot. 

I may have lost the idealism I had when I began teaching. The invincibility shield has been tarnished. It isn’t the kids: It never is. It’s the quagmire through which we sift in order bring us close to the place where we felt we could change the world. That place is not lost; it is hidden beneath the years.

So, hopefully Pav will take the road less traveled and take a few risks to make that difference.

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Inquiry Science-Ten Questions or Fewer-L…E…S…S…

Thank you Publix for fixing all of your lessess to fewers. It is a step forward for all grammar kind. I felt pure joy when I saw these new signs. I looked at the people around me, and they were just counting their items to make sure they didn’t go over quota. I count mine too, and even have guilt when the eleventh item makes its way into my cart. Then there is always that poor soul who didn’t see the sign, and has placed sixty-five items on the conveyor belt thingy. We all know because not only do we count our items, but we also count the items in the cart in front of us. Again, this brings me to my thoughts on inquiry science and the manner in which instruction is changing.  It happens, over time-even if it looks and sounds unfamiliar, like the cadence of fewer versus less.

Publix-2-0012

One of the last classes I took to complete my specialist degree was physical science. The class was inquiry based-or what I call  McGyiver science.

My professor insisted that we never give students the exact materials for an experiment that will guarantee the desired outcome. Science is about trial and error, acknowledging variables, and persevering.  She asked us if we were expecting perfect results, or encouraging students to re-work hypotheses, collaborate, and discuss the work? It may turn out that the growth is in the mistake.

That summer was complete with my ill constructed foam roller coaster that had neither a loop nor a hill, a defunct lemon battery, and toy cars breaking down because the load was too heavy. It reminded me of my home economics class where my decorated cake looked like abstract art, and my A-line skirt was used as an example of what can go wrong in sewing.  The other day, I was faced with a vacuum cleaner and a bag. The vacuum mocks my inability to get the bag to ‘snap’ in. However, I did use that vacuum cleaner to fight a snake in my house-so I used what I had available.

This year as a gifted teacher, I have focused on inquiry science with my 3rd graders. Part of teaching inquiry is letting your personal control freak go. The first step is to admit you are a control freak teacher. Then it is time to let go a little, and let the kids do the learning.

Things are messy. Stuff spills. Students have odd ideas of what will and won’t work. They are determined that a pound of bricks weighs more than a pound of feathers.

I asked them what they thought about inquiry labs:

“You never know what is going to happen.”

“We can do things on our own.”

“We have to figure things out.”

“We got to use duct tape.”

I will say that if you add duct tape to any classroom activity, you will have the undivided attention of your class. I don’t know why, but it is true. Of course, we had the discussion about DUCT tape vs DUCK tape.

“How do they use this tape on ducks?”

Asking questions is an art of sorts. I have been asking questions my entire life, and I now find myself teaching my students how to ask questions. If I were to get philosophical, I would say that we could use the Inquiry method to drive all our life choices. We are given some random supplies and a task to complete. We try to figure it out. If it doesn’t work, we change something and try again. Getting upset over a failed outcome doesn’t help anything. We have to figure out what went wrong. Sound familiar? We are challenged daily. The results of our efforts don’t always come out the way we expect, even if we use all of our supplies.

Image

Design a boat that will float with 100 pennies.

The 100 penny lab was a great one to start with. Kids were given duct tape, tin foil, 100 pennies, a pan full of water, and a task to design a boat that would float with all 100 pennies in it.

I asked about the variables and the answers I got were very interesting:

“The design on the duct tape. The ink may weigh differently depending on how many colors are in the tape you choose.”

“How fast or slow you put the pennies in.”

“How smart the people in your group are.” (I admit, this was one of my favorites. )

I loved how these kids persevered until their boats floated. They were so excited, because THEY figured it out.

So, I became a little zealous.  The made duct-taped boats float, so they can build a bridge out of pasta!

“This isn’t working.”

“Are you sure you got the right pasta?”

We will be revisiting that activity with stronger pasta.  The kids did their own research on bridges that day. They told me what structures and shapes are stronger than others. They are re-designing the bridges for next week.  To think-I was ready to scrap the entire thing because it didn’t work out the first time. The kids assumed we would be doing the pasta activity again.

My students taught me my own lesson. Then I began to wonder how often I have scrapped something because it wasn’t turning out the way I wanted it to? We cannot teach without bringing these lessons home, because ultimately that is what we want our students to do. It is unlikely that a potential college or job will ask a candidate to build a pasta bridge.  But, isn’t it about the perspectives in which we perceive our obstacles?  And isn’t it great that eighteen third graders reminded me of this with their perseverance?

Here’s to using all the materials available to me (even if they aren’t the ones I wanted).

K

Their, They’re, There, it will be okay…

A homophone is a word that is pronounced like another word, but it has a different spelling and meaning. 

There is a  literary pandemic of homophonphobia-the fear of actually checking to see what you wrote is actually the correct form of what you intended to write. Now, I know use dashes too much–semi-colons just don’t do it for me.  And not too long ago, a friend schooled me on the proper use of a colon. But, for the love–heard and herd are not interchangeable. They never have been, and they never will be. It is like saying that two plus two is suddenly five. Just in case anyone is wondering, these homophone lessons can be found in the second grade curriculum.

I put this lesson together to clarify the issue.

“Has anyone seen Logray? We are supposed to have lunch.”

“Isn’t he over they’re?”

“Stop right there Troopie! You used the wrong form of there. THEY’RE is a con-trac-tion. It means they are. So you were really saying, “He was over they are.” Now that doesn’t make sense, does it?”

“Why do I get the feeling he is over their?”

“Goodness gracious! The grammar force is definitely NOT with you! You used the wrong form of there.  You used THEIR which shows ownership. Now that doesn’t make sense, does it? Look! THERE he is! It looks like he made a few friends.”

The next lesson will be on threw, through, and thru.

K

Reed This.

I saw the cows who cannot spell as I was driving home from class. You know, the illiterate cows we see daily and just accept into our cultural norm? But somehow, it bothered me more than usual. I think my new label, Literacy Coach, makes me tuned into a multitude of literacy topics and issues.

Now, when I see the cows, I just want to pull over to the side of the road and teach them a few phonics lessons. I would suggest that they write in pencil before marker, and definitely before paint. I would ask: Is standing upright uncomfortable for a cow? Then I wonder if my personification lessons have gone too far.

I also noticed that they spelled EAT correctly. Why? Why not misspell all of the words? Why go half way? Or, two-thirds of the way?

I imagine the advertising team sitting at one of those long shiny tables talking about this great idea:

“Let’s make the cows tell people to eat more chicken.”

“YES! But, cows can’t read or spell. So…I know! We will misspell half of their words, because everyone knows that cows cannot read.”

“Great idea. But, we make them savvy enough to create this entire advertising campaign.”

I looked up the cow controversy. This happened because I was supposed to be doing my homework for grad school.

I didn’t realize the issues reached so many groups. Apparently, the cows do not like gay people. I found that the company supports literacy through giving free books away with the kids’ meals. ?????

Those same kids write in their daily journals about ‘reeding’, eating chikin, and wanting mor fries. No, it is true, I have had students spell like the cows.

Sadly, I didn’t find many articles from disgruntled educators and parents. I’m sure they are out there, but I stopped clicking at the third page. And if the article I’m looking for is to be found on any page other than the first one, it isn’t too important.

I am learning in my reading theory class that literacy has various definitions and criteria, depending on the community and on the culture. But, as I type these words, I have an advantage over many thousands of people, all over the world. I understand words. I speak words. I write words. I recognize words. I love words.

Illiteracy statistics vary. I believe this depends on the researcher’s definition of literacy. According to this map, the U.S. is less than 10% illiterate. For the resources we have in this country, that number is horrendous. I have worked with illiterate parents. They are savvy. They make their way through life, dodging words; but compensating with a myriad of techniques they have learned in order to hide their disability. Yes, I’m saying illiteracy is a disability. It is. I cannot imagine, living my life without understanding the words that saturate each and every experience I have.

This same theme has found me in various scenarios. Yesterday, in class, our professor had piles of children’s picture books for us to look through. We were to find passages that would lead to engaging writing activities.

I am fascinated with Eve Bunting, and I was glad when our group chose that pile of books. She is a topical author who writes picture books that deal with serious issues like: riots, homelessness, the Vietnam war, individualism, divorce, illiteracy, and many other relevant topics. Of course, my obsession with such heavy literature made me overlook a child copying the plot line to Corduroy during a writing conference, in one of my friend’s classrooms. Another humbling experience. Another story. Who has time for bears and kleptomaniac children when there are world issues to tackle?

The Wednesday Surprise, by Eve Bunting is a book about a child meeting with her grandmother each Wednesday. The nature of the meetings are kept secret until there is a birthday celebration for the girl’s father. He is floored when he hears his mother read, and learns that his daughter has been teaching her to read every Wednesday. I imagine in this fictional family, Grandma’s illiteracy was understood. Apparently, it took a small child to help fix this problem, while the parents looked the other way.

Lately, every spare moment of my time is consumed with labeling my “mentor texts”. These are the books I use to introduce writing lessons. It started slowly, then somehow, it has snowballed into stacks of picture and chapter books, piling up and surrounding me. I made bright pink labels for each book.

Some of the categories are:

  • word choice
  • sentence fluency
  • onomatopoeia
  • repetition
  • narrowing the focus
  • rhyme scheme
  • voice
  • conventions
  • figurative language (which can be further categorized, but I had to save myself)
  • developing ideas
  • coined words
By the way, not one of these books uses misspelled words as literary devices.
Another book that deals with illiteracy due to a disability, is written by another wonderful author: Patricia Polacco.

The girl in the story is brought up in a literacy-rich environment. But as she enters school, she finds that she is unable to read as easily as the other kids. She has dyslexia. She begins to hate school because of her reading difficulties, and the kids teasing her. She finally gets a teacher who cares, pays attention, and works with her. We find out that this is Patricia Polacco’s autobiography.

Every time I have read this story to a class, there is always at least one student who relates to the girl’s struggle. It is a powerful book. It reminds me that there is always the probability that there is a child, in my class, memorizing what they need to in order to “seem” literate.

So, what does this have to do with the cows?

I see the cow company using illiteracy as an advertising campaign. We don’t see other disabilities advertised in order to sell a product. What a horrible thought. Illiteracy is covert, the cows are cute, and there is no intended harm. I get that. But, when you have seen people struggle with those same words, it hits home more than it probably should.

Also, as a side note, the cows are everywhere. Ubiquity with the cows is overkill. Maybe, the next campaign could be the cows in school, overcoming their spelling issues. They can even put a smart cow teacher in there for good measure.

I’m not sure if I’m one of those, “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON PEOPLE”, but I’m beginning to think that my hyper-awareness of people’s words can be a good thing. Maybe, the cow comparison is a stretch to some; but they still bother me.

Do you remember learning to read? Probably not, if you don’t have a reading disability.

K

Life On The Other Side

I love the first day of school. I love it as a teacher, anyway. As a kid, I dreaded it because I wasn’t the best student. Especially the year I had to take home economics. I always questioned the name of the class-Home Economics. What does that mean?  We never discussed budgets and money. Sewing and cake decorating for a spatially inept person is torturous. Anyway, the first day of this school year made me feel as if someone forgot to send me my home room students. Are they wandering the halls? Why am I alone in my room? Where is everyone? Am I on isolation island?

I’m a specialist now. I have car duty. I have to be at work early. I smile at people before eight every morning. I touch car handles riddled with unknown microorganisms.

People ask me, “What do you do now?”

“I teach advanced 5th grade math. I teach 1st grade gifted students. I am the half-time literacy coach.”

There are too many sports references in my new job. Literacy Coach-do I wear a helmet shaped like a letter? Do I run by classrooms cheering for people and saying things like:

“You can do it! Keep teaching phonics!”

“NO!!!! What are you thinking? Get back to the kidney table and move the letter tiles to the left!”

“Ok teams, let’s huddle. Each group go READ!!!!! HIYAH!!!”

Before school started, I collaborated with my friend who was also sent to her isolation island from 5th grade. She teaches 4th and 5th grade gifted students. She told me I was panicking. She said she wasn’t used to me being unsure of myself. She left me wondering if I’m having breakdowns noticeable to everyone but me.  I do admit, I questioned if I could even teach anymore. For the first time in ten years, I had absolutely no starting point. I have many weak areas. My dear friends remind me of them all of the time. But, the thing I rely on, the thing I can do in my sleep, or to get to the million dollar level on a game show-is plan lessons and differentiated projects. If stranded on an island, I could create a rubric for survival out of sticks, shells, and fish bones. I had nothing. I was in an emotional frenzy and residing in the desert of instruction. I didn’t know where to start. Literacy schedule? Gifted unit? Math activities?  I decided to organize files and color code things. Even the label maker and laminator didn’t lift my spirits. I was in the middle some odd self-reflective moment, while the moose stared from afar.

I decided to work on my literacy schedule.  I have read numerous books and researched how this job should look. I’m taking teacher leadership classes and extra reading classes. I have done this type of thing in another district, but I discount that experience. I even sent my administration a tentative calendar of what I would be doing. I pulled up Excel to begin the schedule. I began with each teacher’s name, grade level, lunch times, and specials times. The cursor on the spreadsheet blinked and blinked. It was waiting impatiently-oh the pressure. I clicked out of Excel to think “gifted”.

Gifted 1st graders. Gifted 1st graders. I’m teaching gifted 1st graders.

I finally got some perspective. I watched The Illusionist with my nine-year old. I was humbled when she explained the “message” of the movie.

“You see mommy, the magician isn’t doing well. But, the girl thinks he is magic. Isn’t it sad when he said that magicians weren’t real at the end? I feel badly for the girl.”

I felt like the Illusionist.  I lost my footing, and  I thought that  what I was doing wasn’t important anymore. My audience was gone. My students disappeared.

I had to realize that the issue wasn’t the job, but my perception of what my new job is. For me, teaching fifth grade was like being in the midst of the stock exchange. The ringing of the bell, and the madness of the events fueled my work obsession. Of course, falling in love with my students was a huge part of what kept me so determined to make their experiences memorable.

Then I thought again about the movie. Don’t educators feel that when the next best strategy comes our way, we are left alone, on a stage with no one in the audience? I have spoken to teachers who have taught for thirty years, or more. The one thing they all say is, “Everything is comes back around, so I just wait.”  Then my mind flashes to the Illusionist, where there are two people in the audience, politely clapping as the magician does the same old routine. Of course, this scene could be viewed as a teacher only reaching a small population of the classroom. I can see it both ways. I guess, life on the other side has given me some perspective.

I began the gifted unit after my indecision and flurry of color coding projects. I pulled up my backward design template. I was sinking. There need to be fairy tales. I have boys in the class, so I added monsters and mythical creatures. Oh, and we have to have Greek gods and goddesses. We will create a puppet show as a culminating activity. I know! They will pick a fairy tale character, give it a power from one of the gods, then some kid-created villain will turn all the characters into monsters. Somehow, they have to use their powers to escape!  We will have plenty of time for this unit.  After all, I have them for an entire school day. Or do I?  After lunch, recess, specials, and other odd testing, assessments, and school-related activities, they are only with me for less than three full hours.

The day that changed it all for me, was last Friday when I taught my first gifted class. I decided to pick them up in a fairy costume to launch our unit on fairy tales, gods, and monsters. Not one small person questioned the outfit. First grade is a new world. They are small-I mean tiny. Their voices made me think of the little people scene in The Wizard of Oz. They don’t sit still-not even for three seconds. Plus, they fidget, stare, and tell odd and random stories. Eddie Murphy used to do a bit about a kid telling a story. I had fourteen trying to tell me, about the time that….

They were all obsessed with their bags of supplies. I knew I couldn’t get anywhere without organizing their stuff. So, I asked them to unpack the supplies, and put this and that in the caddies.

They were lost on my caddy reference. You know, the plastic things on the tables where we put supplies?

“Ok, let’s put our supplies in the caddies.”

Nothing. Crickets.

“Ok, go ahead and put your supplies in the caddies.”

Brave small person, “I will do that, but first, what are caddies, and where are they?

Note to self-explain all new vocabulary.

The unpacking of their supplies took an inordinate time. Then, they were asking that they label the caddies, since they now had their stuff in them. Ok. Twenty minutes later.

Oh, the pencils weren’t sharp enough. Ten minutes more.

After all of that, I fell into some odd teaching vortex. There were improvisation games, deductive reasoning activities, and collaborative book votes. Huh? The day is over?

All I can say is that I was first-year-teacher annoying. No one wanted me around.

Yesterday, we made magic goo potion, and we created transportation for Cinderella out of random craft materials.  Next week, we will build an anemometer to show the least windy path the coach should take in order to get Cinderella back in time.

Flashes of the goo experience keep popping into my mind. Think glue, Borax, food coloring, water, stirring, and small children. At one point, all thirteen kids were asking me if their goo “was done”. They huddled around me-all of them. Small elf-like hands, waving magic goo, precariously close to my face; obscured my vision for a good twenty minutes. But, the gasps of amazement and delight as the liquid turned to a solid, made the goo storm worth it.

I was even inspired to play “High Hopes” as they worked. Before long, they were all singing about moving the rubber tree plant.

Back to literacy coaching. This has been the part of the job that has made me  flop and flail, like the fish out of water. Someone, please-throw me back in the lake!

But, as I have spent time in many classrooms; I have grown to appreciate this profession in a way that I never had before. I understand the my-classroom microcosm angle. But now, I see teachers planning, teaching, asking questions, improving their craft, being open and inviting to me and my new position. It made me think of Christmas decorations. I have always had this theory that the Christmas lights just magically appear on everyone’s houses. I never see anyone actually putting them up. (Unless they keep them up all year-and I won’t go there). This is not unlike the first day of school, where all the classrooms are magically set up, with everything in place. The teacher, is seemingly rested, waiting for the new year. Her hair is in place, and she is reading inspirational teacher books.

This year, I saw the Christmas lights being put up. All over the school, I saw teachers in the halls, butcher paper being cut, glue guns heating up, copy machines working overtime-and suddenly as if in a blink; everyone was ready.

I realized that part of my problem was that I was fearful that teachers would see me coming, turn out the lights, and tell the kids to be quiet and get into tornado position. But instead, they have welcomed me and my new coach position. GO TEAM! I have seen powerful teaching and dedicated teachers. I have had collegiate discussions about instruction with brilliant people.

But, when the kids believe we are magic, it just boils down to the relationships we foster with them. Like the Illusionist, when we lose faith in our ability to teach, the entire system fails. It isn’t the curriculum, the activities, the bells and whistles of instruction-it is the educator truly believing in him or herself. It also helps when others believe in us as well.

K

The Endangered Curriculum

I was inspired to write this blog because of a moose mural in my classroom, the Italian Renaissance, and a literacy training I attended. It may all come together at the end. Or it may not.

I have this book called, Endangered Words. It is full of antiquated words that, at one point, were valuable in some vernacular, somewhere. I thought of this book the other day while I was sitting in an eight-hour literacy training.  We began discussing how to teach reading to very little people. The idea that we have the knowledge and ability to teach such a powerful tool, can be overwhelming. Words are broken down into sounds, and then sound-letter correlation is developed. Soon words are recognized and sorted into various structures called sentences. Then, like magic, or some amazing miracle, reading happens. If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a child read his/her first sentence or story (after you have taught the skills) you will experience a lucid moment where you know that you have chosen the right profession. If it does happen to you, keep the memory, because you will need to tap into it for the rest of your teaching career. You may even want to take a picture of the child to post it somewhere in your classroom. So when your project dealing with glitter and liquid glue goes awry, look at the picture and get some perspective.

When I came home from literacy training, I looked through my endangered word book. Some of my favorites are ataraxia “freedom from disturbance of mind or passion; stoical indifference”; bleezed: affected in the eyes as by alcoholic excitement; and logodaedalist: “inventor of words”. I thought of my linguistics classes where I learned about the origin of language and the varied sophistication in vocabulary from language to language. English-speaking people know about 20,000 words, but only use about 2,000. But, who wants to talk to someone who uses words like despiance and kumatage at a dinner party? These are the people from whom you scurry, then run to the corner and secretly Google the words on your Android. Or maybe that’s just me.

So, if words can appear and disappear from our dictionaries and daily usage, so can various components of the curriculum. I knew the world was in a bad place when fishes became an accepted plural form of fish. Just like the word moose-some people actually say meese or mooses. Luckily, I haven’t met a person who has used these irksome, fabricated plurals. But I’ll get back to the moose mural, because it is haunting me. If enough people continuously use a word incorrectly, it becomes part of the lexicon.  Ain’t that something?

During our training, we had a “guess the right answer with a partner” activity. We had moved on to teaching comprehension skills.

The question was:

During a readers’ theater, it is advised to encourage students to bring in props and costumes to enhance their engagement and participation.

Emphatically, YES!  That is a dead give away!  The acceptable response was no. It is not encouraged. Huh? What about our Midsummer Night’s Dream readers’ theater? What about the Macbeth unit we did I just got up, went to the snack table, and got an Almond Joy. The upside of this is that my name was picked twice for the $50 resource books that I REALLY wanted. I didn’t give a shout out to the arts in education, because apparently, it has little to do with reading instruction. And the arts have had no place in the curriculum through time. So why start now? I kept my snarky thoughts to myself, as I am learning they rarely received well in those of situations.  Again, where did the classics go? Did they get buried under the mountain of basal readers? If all it takes is plastic crowns and cardboard castles to encourage kids to show up and read classic works, then why would this be discouraged?

I have discussed how baffled I am that foreign language was taken out of the elementary and schools in our district. There is enough research that supports the efficacy of learning foreign languages for academic purposes. Also, this is crazy, and maybe pushing the envelope a bit, but there are people in the world who speak other languages. Global awareness anyone? I recently read an article, What we Can Learn From Foreign Language Teaching in Other Countries.   Basically, there is an emphasis on language education in other countries. There is also support from the school systems and governments to foster a respect and for language education. The governments also mandate a foreign language curriculum that begins in elementary school; not high school. Of course, this can work its way into how we aren’t globally competitive, since we are a mono-linguistic society. That rant can wait.

The important subjects are those that yield a higher income. Let me paint a fictitious world where the arts are prominent in our curriculum. Let’s just pretend that if someone earns a degree in sculpting or painting, that he or she would earn what is equivalent to um, maybe that of an athlete?  Parents would be signing their kids up for sculpting and painting classes. Instead of, “My child cannot do homework because there is a game”, we would hear, “My child cannot do homework because he/she is completing his sculpture and oil painting to be commissioned for the church down the street.” I’m not saying that sports are not important. I was an active athlete in high school, and I value the talents and determination of gifted athletes. But this is fictitious, like the idea that standardized testing will go away.

How is it that there were so may talented artists back in the time of the Renaissance? I know, only the wealthy families sent their kids to school, and girls got the short end of the education stick  But, artists were vying to be the commissioned artist for whomever, on a whim, needed a sculpture knocked out. My point is that the emphasis was put on ethics, poetry, literature, and art. Therefore, the focus was on refining those skills that were deemed essential and proper. To be a true erudite, one had to be well-versed in all aspects of the arts. I can just imagine the discussions of the mothers of Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti (who competed for the creation Baptistery doors).

“Where do you get your bronze?”

“At the market, it was on sale. You need my coupon?”

“No, we only buy the good stuff.. Maybe that is why Lorenzo, won.”

“Hmph!”

Soccer moms, sculpture moms-tomato, tomato…

This actually brings me to the moose mural. I changed classrooms, and I really like my new room. It has a courtyard (where I plan on planting a garden with my Kindergarten and 1st grade students). There is a large bathroom/closet where I can store drama club paraphernalia. And there is a nook where I can have kids read, work in small groups, and  I can develop my library. I spent a week unpacking boxes and setting up my room. Check-something accomplished.

The nook has a mural. The mural is of a large moose. I decided that I would paint over it. I bought the paint. The day after I bought the paint, my principal called me:

P: “Don’t paint anything yet. We may need to move you to another room.”

Me: “What? I just unpacked. What? I just bought paint.? What? Are you sure? ”

Panic consumed me. Then I realized that I was having an audible break down, over the phone, with my principal. He says I hung up on him. I don’t remember. Maybe I did. He won’t let it go. I went down to the school and he came to my room. He walked into the nook:

P: “That is a cool moose. You really want to paint over it? I can’t believe you want to paint over it. Kids love that moose.”

I realized that I was having a BGI (Blinding Glimpse of Insight). You see, we are reading the book, Sticks & Stones exposed: The Power of our Words, for our leadership book talk at school. The BGI is a stark realization through various modalities that you are, well…wrong about stuff. The book politely says it is a small bit of understanding about ourselves that we don’t like to face. Yah, it’s a moose mural. But it is really the fact that I was the only one who didn’t like the blasted thing. The eyes..  I didn’t think about the fact that it is appealing to some, and to small children, it will be downright adorable. I keep having to remind myself that I am now in the world of kindergarteners and 1st graders. The connection here is that just because something isn’t valuable or doesn’t serve a purpose to some, it is often thrown out, done away with, or replaced. The moose won.

I have these small tent cards that my students use to let me know how they are progressing in the learning process:

After my breakdown, I put the tent card on my desk-on RED. This says it all. Doesn’t it?

The end result is that my principal decided to let me stay in my room, as long as I kept the moose mural.

My tent card changed:

What exactly has been deleted from our curriculum? Why are we doing it? Have we digressed from honoring and encouraging refined artists to teaching brilliant students who fumble over glue sticks? Moderation is a sound concept. Since society doesn’t honor the arts in education, there is little focus on them. Whenever I show artwork to my students, they are fascinated. Two years ago, a colleague and I created an art exhibit project. Students did research reports on famous artists. Then they used any medium of their choice to re-create the art work. Students used leggos, water colors, sculptures, and multi-media representations. We created a museum of the artwork, with student interpretations of the works. Yes, we are weak in science and math, and I am in no way discounting this fact. But, why can’t kids have it all? What about a thematic unit on art and science? Poetry in math? Dramatic reenactments in social studies? Just some thoughts.

By the way, I filled in the blanks to my analogy from the last post:

Politics is to Education as Aliens are to Cowboys. 

I’ll see the movie, alone, since no one will go with me. I’m sure I’ll find some more unintended education references imbedded within the movie.

In the mean time, I’m hoping to change my tent card one more time: