Ants, Rubber Tree Plants, and a Shrew

I have seven literacy coaching books, an APA manual, and a grant writing book watching me-and at any moment, they may just flap their pages to tell me to get to work.  It must be time to write a new blog.

I’m distracted by my environment. The other night was my friend’s going away party.  I had made him a playlist of songs, because we are a bit socially awkward around each other, and  the songs represented my thoughts about saying good-bye. He, in return, made me a playlist-as this seems to be a great way for us to communicate.  The last song, #20, is High Hopes by Frank Sinatra.

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

I know that he added this song because a while back, he sarcastically quoted back to me, from one of my blog posts, about my “pie-in-the-sky idealism”. When I heard this song I laughed because it is such the teachers’ anthem. Then I realized, that it has ultimately been the driving theme of my personal life.

Just what makes that little ole ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows an ant can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

So, if you have ever taken a class where the text is analyzed, battered, manipulated, and squeezed into meaning that may or may not be accurate; you will understand the following. Teachers are the ants, the rubber trees are the kids, the system, and the bureaucracy of educational politics. There is a spark of cynicism to say things can’t be accomplished. But, with Rocky-like drive, we move one rubber tree plant, turn around to high-five anyone who cares, then look back  to find an infinite number of plants challenging us to move them as well. Our little ant hands can only handle so much.

I forgot how much I used to listen to this song. I was so glad that Daniel was inspired to add this to the wonderful mix he created. I know that the theme of the song will be an integral part of my classroom culture-maybe we will make a huge rubber tree, and I’ll have the kids move it around when they need a mental boost. I don’t know, it is June and my ideas are still liquid.

Yesterday morning, when I walked into the kitchen, the remnants of his Star Wars cake made me sad. It was as if its purpose was over, and its presence on my counter made me wish for a few more hours with my friend.  So, I texted my dear neighbor and friend, Kate, and I asked her if she wanted chocolate cake for breakfast. She came over, and brightened my day by giving a new purpose to the cake. See, my high hopes worked because my heavy heart was elated to see her enjoying the cake, while listening to me ramble.

The Dancing Goat Theater has been running, The Taming of the Shrew. I know this is like literary whiplash, since I abruptly changed topics. But, there will be a connection-even if it is only in my mind.

The last scene has been bothering me. This is where you may want to look up the Spark Notes online, or try to remember your junior year lit class.

And place your hands below your husband’s foot, In token of which duty, if he please, My hand is ready, may it do him ease. (Taming of the Shrew-William Shakespeare)

AHHHH!  I have seen this play many times now. I have read the monologue. My insides recoil as she speaks these words. I keep wondering:

Did Kate lose her voice?

Did she give up the fight for independence?

Was she beat down by the patriarchal system? 

Was she just playing along so that she could eat?

Was she saying what Petruchio wanted to hear so that she could get through the day?

Was she truly tamed?

Can a person’s spirit be tamed?

Maybe, this was the only way Kate (from Shrew, not my neighbor) could move her Rubber Tree Plant.

I know, the degree in Italian has made it difficult to take text for face value. I belabor most decisions which is socially debilitating, and most annoying to those around me. I’ll blame it on the years of the agonizing search for hidden meanings in Dante and Petrarch. I remember getting in trouble for saying, “Maybe it just means what it says.”

So, while I was watching Kate’s final speech, I had to create a more palatable meaning connected to education. Have we lost our way and are we putting our core values under the feet of the national and state mandates? Are we succumbing to the system, while valuing differing philosophies? Kate went against her intrinsic understanding of who she was. Was it a conscious choice, or did her fortitude erode with a lack of support? Of course, this comparison puts teachers in the role of the Shrew, which poses a semantic challenge. A strong-willed teacher is a shrew to some, and a super hero wearing a jetpack to others.

One of my class assignments is to write an article about educational change. I’m sure any references to High Hopes or Taming of the Shrew might be lost, but it might be worth a try. Since change is such a bitter-sweet circumstance in life, yet the foundation of all we do in education; I cannot help but make personal connections.  The word change is often disguised as “reform” in the world of education. Who are they kidding? Kate wasn’t “reformed”-she was completely changed, or as they say, tamed. The bottom line is that Kate didn’t need to be changed, reformed, or tamed. Teachers unite! Fight the taming!

I am coming to the understanding that dealing with change gracefully is art. Art defined is: Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. So when life swoops down and hurls us into the eye of the storm, all we can do is learn from it, lament, or make some big changes in our understanding of ourselves. We exert more energy when we change then we do in standing still.

We will always be expected to change, but hopefully without losing the drive of the tiny ant, or relinquishing our grasp on what is true.

It is time to get rid of the last of the cake. In its place, is the memory of  sharing a change with one friend, and another friend patiently watching me move the rubber trees, so I can see what is ahead of me.


Oh, the Places I Found Goetze’s Caramel Candies

At the beginning of the school year, I filled out a form of “my favorite things” for my room mom. I love Twizzlers and those soft caramel candies with the white, sugary goo in the middle. This list was sent  out to my home room students, and throughout the year, the kids brought me loads of Twizzlers. Wednesday was the last day of school. One of my drama club students brought me a decorative cup filled with the caramels, and a bag of Twizzlers. Her mom had contacted a parent from my home room to find out what my favorite candy is. This might seem like a small, almost insignificant event, but the care and thoughtfulness of that gift has stayed with me. That cup of candy beamed from the school year remnants like Bilbo’s golden ring.

This week, we had a huge 5th grade celebration, a FUN DAY outside with jumpy houses, packed our rooms, completed check lists, and dragged our bedraggled selves out of the school building. Ten years of my teaching career is boxed up, and has been sent down the hallway to commence the summer hibernation. My former classroom is stripped clean of the learning whirlwind that encompassed our days.

All week, I kept thinking of the book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss.  We gave each 5th grader this book as a “graduation” gift. I have always admired its profound message. There are few books that can relate to all age groups.

…you have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
(Dr. Seuss)

Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Seuss Geisel, was an interesting character. I think my favorite story about him is when he threw a drinking party (during prohibition) at Dartmouth. He was soon released from his job as the editor-in-chief of the humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern. This is where he began using the pseudonym, Seuss, so that he could continue to contribute to the magazine. During World War 2, he created political cartoons for the liberal magazine, PM. I guess I was relieved to see that his rhyming madness was a result of his contract with a publishing company that asked him to use 225 of the early learning vocabulary words. I had not thought about the man behind, The Cat in the Hat, until now.

Think of the story, Horton Hears a Who. Was Dr. Seuss implying that there are other worlds out there? Or was he simply trying to raise our awareness of the how important all people are, regardless of size, color, faith, or political views? It is interesting that he had Horton, the elephant, protect the tiny spec of a city, on a clover. The kangaroo doesn’t believe in Horton’s story about the city. She causes the town to turn against him, because she decided he is a threat to the children. If we review history, how many global events could easily be plugged into this story?

My point is (yes, there is one) that there is a back story to people and events that we may have erroneously judged. We all do it. We see a situation and make inferences. Who has the time to figure out the reasons for everything? Gregory Maguire has done well with focusing on why the antagonists in world-famous stories are misunderstood. Of course, he is best known for Wicked, where he weaves some guilt pangs through the pages, as we find out that the witch (Elphaba) has a skin condition. In Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, the Cinderella story is seen through the eyes of one of the step sisters.

A couple of years ago, I had my class take famous fairy-tale characters to court. It was a fun way to learn about the court system and how trials work. I remember the one child who was the defense attorney for Cinderella’s stepsisters. He discussed how Cinderella got all of the attention and made the stepsisters feel badly about themselves. He kept saying, “Has anyone thought about how they feel?” He used a few picture books to illustrate that Cinderella was actually smiling in many of the pictures where she was working and singing in the house. He also said that Cinderella could have just said, “no” to all of the work. The stepsisters won that case.

Yesterday, I sat through a retirement celebration for three teachers. They are educational icons who had set the instructional culture of the school. I have worked along side them for three years. But, when I heard their back stories, of what motivated them to keep going; I wished I had taken the time to get to know them more.  They calculated that one of the teachers (in her forty-two year career) had taught over 4,000 children. What more can be said about that? I imagine that each teacher in that room thought: What will I say at my retirement? What will I have contributed to the educational universe by the end of my career?

When I was packing my room, I thought:

“Ten years down, twenty more to go.”

“How can I possibly do all of this again, willingly?”

“Just a few more weeks, and I’ll have to unpack everything.”

Then a parent dropped of my end-of-the-year gift; a memory book from my class. I realized that the letters written by my students revealed their back stories. The silent thoughts, they held throughout the year were now in the form of loving prose. One student thanked me for sitting next to him and for giving him extra help. Other students thanked me for the projects and for the writing activities. They were all appreciative of the play that we wrote and performed. I knew, without a doubt, that the endless hours devoted to this year, were worth it. I am also grateful to the person who took the time to find my backstory-even if it is just about the types of candy I like.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away! (Dr. Seuss)


Graduate School…Again

Last week, I returned to graduate school. I remembered the day I received my Masters degree, when I thought, “I will NEVER go back to school.”

I suddenly became an amalgamation of all of my students as I pulled into the parking lot. First, I had to go to the book store and spend $200 on text books. I feverishly searched for the cheaper used books-I found two. Later, a lady in class told me that I should have either rented them, or bought them on Amazon. Rent text books? Really? Now, I know.

Next, I had to find my classroom. Of course, it is in the Education Building. My surroundings began to look vaguely recognizable. It was similar to a dream that weaves your familiar experiences in with a Twin Peaks episode. But..wait-my class isn’t posted. How will I get there? What if they count me absent? I’m three minutes late. I followed the masses to the wrong classroom, then I asked for help. I dropped my phone, when I went to pick it up, other stuff fell. High school flashback…

I made it to the classroom, and I was happy to see other people straggling in, calm and happy-with smelly snacks.

I found a seat in the back and settled in. Oh, we have to introduce ourselves AND diverge one unique quality or experience. Wow. “Don’t pick me..don’t call on me.” I suddenly thought of three of my current students (who I call on all of the time) who hate to be called on. I apologized to them in my mind. I was chosen FIRST. I quickly thought about feigning uniqueness:

I don’t like introducing myself. What does unique really mean, anyway? No, too anti-system. Not a good start.

I can dance very well, wearing socks, in the kitchen. No, that is stupid.

I can mix a mean Mojito. No, then they will think ill of me.

A colleague and I started drama club at my school. Yes, not boastful, yet something new and different. I went with that.

I listened to the other unique experiences. Some were happy they weren’t moved to other grade levels. Some lost weight. Man, I could have gone with something simple like that? I thought of a girl in my class who over-thinks everything. No wonder she has bulleted note-card lists all over her desk.

I moved around in my seat, trying to get comfortable. Only thirty minutes had passed, and I had to sit still for another three and a half hours. I doubted anyone was going to let me walk down the hallway, touch the last door, and come back. I looked out of the window, and stared at the trees. Oh crap! What did I miss? Ok, just a snack sign-up sheet. I rarely make my kids sit still in class, they can stand, sit on the floor, or take a break when needed. I was very glad that I had made this a regular practice in my classroom. Especially since I seemed to be the only one squirming and searching for a comfortable sitting position.

Now, let’s get on with class, and stop all of this silly getting-to-know you stuff.

The thick, weighty syllabus made its way around the room. What will be inside? How many hours of re-reading the same text will I endure? Apparently, I was one of the few in class, new to the program. The students in class were like old war buddies. They flipped through the syllabus saying things like, “Oh, this is like last semester.”

Meanwhile, I have my notebook out, along with my twelve pack of Paper Mate, bold colors, felt tip pens. I read the syllabus. I was clueless. I remembered my student who suddenly flares into a panic when a new assignment is handed out. I felt his agony and discomfort. I turned to the lady next to me,

“We have to read four chapters, write a paper on educational philosophy, and write two article critiques, for next week?” I hoped the panicked look on my face was mild. I had read syllabus wrong. I did find a better way to create the schedule, on the syllabus, so that it was easier to read. I kept those thoughts to myself.

Then everyone started talking about the Galileo website where we find all of our peer-reviewed articles. Of course, I know about Galileo. But what about the password? How will I get it? What if it doesn’t work and all the papers are due next week? The two kids in my class, who are the “what if” kids, blasted through my mind.

I had to go to the library to get the new password. I couldn’t get the new password because I didn’t have my new school I.D. I didn’t have the new school I.D. because that building closes at 6. So, thirty minutes later, the gentleman behind the desk gave me a temporary library card. It took so long because I didn’t have my school identification number with me. He had to look that up. He made me promise to get my school I.D. in order to get the permanent card. Then I thought of the students who always take an inordinate amount of time in the library. I always ask, “What have you been doing for so long?” Now, it is all clear to me. They lose time, or it wrinkles as they enter the library-like it did with me.

Although we are in the last weeks of school, this experience has made me very conscious of the thoughts and processes that occur with my students. How often we forget what it is like to sit on the other side of instruction. Nervous, confused, frustrated, and scared to ask for clarification. The further away from we are from being students, the less empathetic we are to the mindsets of our own students.

After the stress of the first week dissipated, I found the classes to interesting and valuable. My homework is done, and the discomfort of learning has set in; resulting in a forest fire of synapses.

My obsession with pens is another issue.


End of the Year Check Lists

Last week, (as I was frantically setting up for our Drama Club performances) a faculty meeting was in progress. This was the day that the admin handed out the dreaded end-of-the-year check lists. Each year, the checklist seems less daunting, even though the un-checked boxes stare at me, without blinking, from my tiny cork board.  I like check lists.  There is nothing more satisfying than crossing out  a task, and moving on. Since this is a year of huge change for me, I began formulating a more reflective checklist for the end of another school year:

  • Say what you think about the system, without being aggressive or insulting
  • Laugh at yourself, because stuff is funny
  • Don’t be defensive, not everything is your fault
  • If it is your fault, apologize-no one wants to hear excuses-we are fallible
  • Use classic literature for reading instruction-everything can be adapted to appropriate age ranges
  • Did the kids learn from you today? How do you know?
  • Reach each child, every day (pie-in-the-sky idealism-check)
  • Get pedicures before wearing sandals-the kids stare at our feet
  • Talk about why skills are important
  • Watch all UNITED STREAMING videos before showing them to the class
  • Know when a child is sad, upset, confused, or frustrated-and do something about it
  • Re-teach skills that are stupid, because you probably didn’t do a good job teaching them the first time
  • Don’t do the exact same activities as last year-you don’t have the same students that you did last year
  • Re-use the jeans passes-get good tape
  • Say please and thank you to all staff-especially the custodial and cafeteria staff
  • Don’t lose yourself in the job
  • Don’t lose yourself in the job
  • Don’t lose yourself in the job

Most of these items remain unchecked, or maybe they get half of a check, on certain days. Except for the United Streaming one, I learned my lesson  two years ago. Thomas Edison invented the first motor powered camera. The camera was used to film…well, ladies dancing-with big feathers.

At the end of the year, I can’t help but wonder if I missed something. Is it really over? Did we really spend eight months together? Did I freak out about some who weren’t where they were suppose to be, and fret over enriching those who were beyond the grade level? Did we learn all that the state says we needed to? Did the kids get the idea about random acts of kindness? Did I show them that I truly love them all? Is this really my last year teaching 5th grade?

All of this reflection is prompted by change.  Change is difficult, especially when circumstances and events end, and the unknown is looming.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), Walden (1970)
Nothing endures but change.
Heraclitus (540 BC – 480 BC), from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

This year, I have said good-bye to one dear friend, who is now in Omaha. She is my touchstone to my first years of teaching. I think about her every time something oddly funny occurs, and wish I had just another moment to teach with her.  I’m preparing to say good-bye to another friend, who is moving to New York. He began some powerful theater projects that made people “think” outside of their comfort zones.  Could there be a friend check list?

  • Don’t forget to show your friends how much you appreciate them
  • Do this before they move away
School starts for me next week. Here is my checklist so far:
  • Sit far away from people, and pray that there are no group projects
  • Buy too many pens and highlighters at Staples
  • Do not read the entire syllabus within the first five minutes of class
  • Do not audibly sigh when that ONE person has an anecdote for everything
  • Create a motivational playlist for the commute
We have eight days of school left. August will be here before we know it, and the worries of the new school year will commence. There will be a checklist for the beginning of the year. I’m sure I’ll philosophize it until it is beyond recognition.  Until then, my goal is to attempt to welcome some of this change.
Take one step forward, and breathe. Check.

Reflections on Mother’s Day

For some reason, Mother’s Day, this year, has me distracted. Maybe, it is having seen ten years of children and parents move through my life. Maybe, I’m in awe of the unyielding devotion and support I see from the parents of my students. It could be that I just miss my mom. Over the weekend, I searched for a picture of  her, where she is a “hot mom”. She is standing next to her green Ford LTD, wearing shorts, a red top, her famous bun, and Jackie O. sunglasses. I couldn’t find it.

I chose this picture because it was when I didn’t know her, and that seems fascinating.

She passed away seventeen years ago.

My Aunt Evelyn and my grandmother came to care-take my mother during the last months of her cancer battle.  They lived in New York, and they traveled back and forth for six months. Both ladies have since passed, and Mother’s Day is always full of memories of them. They showed me selflessness and forgiveness.

I found my ballet pictures.  Aside from the fact that I came to the brutal realization that I still wear my hair like this, I remember her taking the pictures. I didn’t understand why it was so important for her to take this photo, but now, the idea of capturing random moments of our children’s days, makes sense.

Although my life took a different direction, the fact that I was encouraged and supported, made a difference.  I found two other pictures in my search.  They were of me and my daughter, striking similar ballet poses-we were both about seven. I was hit with the realization that  we know and understand our children more than we think we do.  We are more similar than dissimilar.  It is possible, that we may have had the same thoughts when those photos were taken-on two separate days, twenty-five years apart.  As I was looking through the pictures, I saw the generations of mothers in my family.  Black and white pictures from one era swiftly changed to the color pictures of another.

I thought of this the other night, after both of my girls finished performing in, Alice in Wonderland.  I have a couple of students in the production, and their moms have been there, sewing, painting, bringing snacks, and supporting their children through late nights and homework.  I saw the parents of the teens in the show, ironing, cleaning, doing hair, sitting in the audience, and radiating with pride.

Next week is our performance of Cinderella.  Today, as we were rehearsing, there were three moms in my classroom; creating props.  They also brought snacks for the entire cast. Each told me to call them if there was anything else I needed before the big day.

Years ago, I had a student in my class who had a brain tumor removed the previous summer.  The family was overwhelmed with treatments and doctor visits.  Somehow, his mom would find time to bake me, “naan”.  If you don’t know, this is probably the best bread in the world.  She would make sure it was warm and tightly wrapped in foil. She was always smiling and joyful. This woman, this mom-made a difference.

I became a step mom when I was twenty-three.  I think of that now, and wonder how my step kids ever took me seriously. Especially, when they were in trouble, and I had to go be the “parent”.  Having been a mom for this long makes me think I should be an expert by now. Not so much…there are days that I wish I were back on that ferry to Capri, listening to U2, on my Sony Walkman. Sometimes, I wish I could stomp upstairs, slam the door, and blare my music. Being a mom requires that we remember when we weren’t moms, when we had bad hair and odd boyfriends.  When we fought against the rules, and pretended not to care.

This past summer, my eldest daughter and I watched Beaches. The last scene, where Bette is on stage, and singing to her best friend’s daughter, tears me up every time. I watched that movie with my mom. She was crying, and I remember thinking, “Why on earth are we watching this?”  I didn’t get a comment from my daughter, just an odd look.  I had to giggle, because I knew exactly what that look meant.

Maybe, this weekend, we will watch, Terms of Endearment.

Happy Mother’s Day


What Now?

The email blasted all the teacher laptops: TESTING IS OVER!!!!  The tubs have been turned in and amazingly enough, I had all the materials that I started with-counted, over and over-and in front of people.  They will all be shipped off to some grading warehouse. I imagine it looks like the one in Reservoir Dogs, but with scantron machines set up in rows, while retired teachers, wearing rubber shoes, scan-in unison. My imagination runs away with me if I don’t have visuals.

I look at my calendar to see that I have five weeks of school left. Seriously?  I see my class, staring back at me as if to say, “What now?”

So if you don’t know, these last weeks of school are “review” weeks. Translated, this could mean movie-watching-a-palooza.  In the ten years I have taught, I have had little to no success in watching a movie in the classroom.  I keep thinking, “I could do this at home, in my pink sweat pants.”  The kids start talking, and soon-no one is watching the movie-except for the ONE kid sprawled out in front of the screen, annoyed with the rest of us.

So, like all other O.C. teachers, I ATTEMPT to plan things that will affect change in the lives of the students.  Because, this is how all this teaching career stuff got started.  But this year seems different.  Did testing suck the life out of me?  Do I still have a pulse? Did the Greg Mortenson news contribute to my creative flatline?  Did I lose my powers like Samantha often did? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

In our last planning period, we were discussing what academic activities we had planned for the end of the year.  It was my turn. Oh, yah-that.  Things are…forth coming.  Forth coming-a polite phrase to say, “I got nothing, and don’t know when I will have something.”  I mumbled about a time-machine project that I have been tossing around in my brain for years.

I think I want to do more than create an engaging project. I want to do something that is far-reaching-that has a global perspective. At the end of the curriculum, there has to be something more-Oz, Wonderland, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory?????  What can I do to make the kids continue to love school?  Because, I’m beginning to believe that this is a critical time to sell them on the idea that learning is fun.

So, we are writing a play.  Not world-changing, but not a coma-inducing activity either.  As always, the imagination pouring from my class makes me want to keep going back to work.

We could have done a readers’ theater, or pull a play from somewhere  But, we have been there and done that.  It is tIme to spark those synapses a bit after hours of testing has dulled our  senses.  The end of the year also means that  the phrase “simple activities” is not part of my end-of-the-year-engage-the-kids vernacular.  I’m still working on the Global Project, because it needs to be done. Performing arts, global awareness, and small children…oh the possibilities.

I also know that the 5th grade field trip is looming.  Just think, hundreds of 5th graders, in a narrow cave-a mile under the earth, followed by a river boat ride.  This is what dreams are made of.  You never know who has claustrophobia, until it is too late.

For the next five weeks, I will be embroiled in Odysseus’s and Robin Hood’s journey to Wonderland.  Maybe, I’ll find my mojo somewhere between the tea party and the battle with the Cyclops.


Crying Ranting Crawling Twitching

If you teach in Georgia, do you see the cryptic message in the title to this blog?

I see bubble scantrons in my sleep.  I hear the sharpening of the no. 2 pencils while I drive to and from school.  I dream that I lose the testing bucket (that we take with us everywhere we go-even the bathroom).  Our morning conversation starters are, “What was your testing dream last night?”  My most frightening testing dream involved “test detectors” at the entrance of the school. Each teacher had to walk through(without the alarm going off)  on the way in and out. Of course, it was my paranoid, neurotic dream, so the alarm blared when I went through.

I never mean for this blog to be a complaint forum.  So, I’ll save those thoughts for the teachers’ lounge.  This is after we have all been carried out on stretchers, revived, and placed back in our classrooms.  Eventually, the incessant American Idol talk will resume, and our angsty testing woes will be history.

It is best practice to utilize test data  for instructional purposes. I get that. However, I wonder how much emphasis should be put on one test?    If you saw, Waiting for Superman, you know that American students  are deficient in both math and literacy skills.  So, how do students (who PASS nationally normed and criterion-referenced tests) move through school without maintaining age-appropriate literacy and math skills?  Conversely, what about those students who have a rough testing day and don’t do well on the tests? Does anyone ask the teacher for anecdotal records, or observations from the year to refute the test results?

All year, I try to offer a multitude of learning opportunities to my students. We do projects, we work on critical thinking skills, and we study  real literature. But, by April I feel like I’ve sold out, because I’ve mutated into a testing troll. I see myself handing out test packets, and I hear myself discuss test taking strategies.  I don’t recognize me.

I began wondering how it all got started.

The earliest record of standardized testing comes from China, where hopefuls for government jobs had to fill out examinations testing their knowledge of Confucian philosophy and poetry. In the Western world, examiners usually favored giving essays, a tradition stemming from the ancient Greeks’ affinity for the Socratic method. But as the Industrial Revolution (and the progressive movement of the early 1800s that followed) took school-age kids out of the farms and factories and put them behind desks, standardized examinations emerged as an easy way to test large numbers of students quickly.
Read more:,8599,1947019,00.html#ixzz1JiTB65W0         

Think for a moment.  How would the world of standardized testing change if there were assessments on the arts?

We could integrate art history, literature, music, performing arts, and drama into the mix.  We have state standards on all of these subjects, and standardized testing is not going away-so why not sprinkle these elements into the testing recipe? Learning to read and answer questions about a passage or story is essential.  Let’s take this one step further.  What if the tests assessed the understanding of a specific piece of grade-appropriate literature?

Let’s encourage students to think about how the social and political events of the world have impacted the arts.  Think of the Harlem Renaissance, The Great Depression, The Industrial Revolution, the 1920’s,the 1960’s, etc…  People use art, music, and literature to reflect how the world changes.  Elementary students can make these connections, if they are given the opportunity.

We spend the year teaching with a global view in a holistic manner.  I’m wondering why we cannot test students similarly?

The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition and to guide the child over to important fields for society. Such a school demands from the teacher that he be a kind of artist in his province. Albert Einstein

I know that I would like my students to think beyond the bubble.  Just sayin…

Our end of the year project is to write a one-act play.  This was my students’ idea-not mine.  How could I possibly say no?  It will be a challenge for all of us.  But I’m hoping my testing troll fades into oblivion.


The Evolution of Small Talk

Lately, I have been tuned in to conversation starters.  I am not good with small talk.  In fact, my awkwardness in making small talk is palpable.  I alerted a close friend of mine that she wasn’t the adept in this skill.  This being said after it took both of us six months to have a real conversation.  A couple of days after my comment, she texted me that she was indeed an epic fail at the small talk.(Notice it was in the form of a text.)  She told me her cringe-worthy story.

Eliza is still charming in this clip as she talks about her “real world’.

I believe my years of working with children (who need no small talk) has made me small-talk challenged.   After teaching all day, every drop of small talk is sucked out of me.

I watch and listen to my students.  They fascinate me.  There is no pretense, they say what they mean to say.  John Mayer is my hero.

“Will you be my partner?”

“Did you steal my pencil?”

“Can I have a bite of your snack?”

“Is there an ‘a’ in civil?”

They are the same way with me, and I appreciate this more and more the older I get:

“You did that problem yesterday.”

“Why are you teaching how to take a test if you keep saying you aren’t worried about us taking the test?”

“Do those shoes hurt?”

“What did you do to your hair? I like it better the other way.”

It seems that somewhere between elementary school and the delightful teenage years, the real talk becomes “Jive Talkin”

Soon, we realize that brutal honesty and blatant lies upset people.  So, we find “small-talk” somewhere on the spectrum between the real talk and jive talk.

This blog was inspired by some dinner party conversation that I was sucked into a few days ago.  I wished that I had responded with intelligent, forty-something repartee.  It was one of those, “Ask Kim, she is a teacher.” comments that dragged me in like the Godfather.  “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”

Another reason I’m horrible at small talk is that once people find out I’m a teacher, I feel the need to be the spokesperson for teachers EVERYWHERE. There is no appropriate way to gloss over a hot education topic with a weather-related comment.

“We wish the weather were better so that we can have recess outside more.”  I’ve tried this-it doesn’t work.  It results in a discussion about the legality of maintaining recess in the elementary school.

I go from zero to debate in less than five seconds. This has been a weakness of mine for years.  But as soon my high horse gets on the soap box, I regret the words flowing out of my mouth.  My speech bubble rams into everyone else’s.  What would my students do?  They would probably say something clever and run for the chips.

Before teaching, I owned a fitness business. Preparing for shows backstage with bodybuilders and fitness contestants is a strange experience.  The conversation starters are unlike any others I’ve heard.  Basically, I had no small talk for them either.

Watching talented small talkers is amazing.  I am very impressed when I watch my father’s brilliance with making instant connections to everyone he meets.  He is the most charming person I have ever known.  He can relate to everyone, talk about anything, and contribute to just about any conversation.  He gets better at this the older he gets.  He is almost 81, and people always tell me how easy he is to talk to.

So, I guess I’ll get better, since it seems I have forty more years to be an inept small talker.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to observe how everyone around me communicates.  If you know me, our first few meetings were probably awkward.  I take full responsibility.  Most likely, I was attempting small talk.


Educational Mountains

So, here is how a mountain is formed.

The first basic thing you have to understand is that the earth’s crust is made up of gigantic plates. These plates will create a fault line wherever they meet another plate. When these fault lines start pressing against each other, then they will push the land upwards in one way or another. When this land reaches up into the sky, you have a mountain.

Twenty-six fifth graders modeling convergent, divergent, and transform faults with icing, cookies, and graham crackers made my heart sing.  Of course, there were the few who dipped their entire hands in the icing and showed me with looks of pride and glory.  I only had to remind those children that the last time I checked, I didn’t teach kindergarten.  I was rejoicing in the fact that the sugar comas would happen after they all went home.

My Earth science lesson vaulted me into literary metaphors and educational symbolism.

It is truly amazing how a mountain is formed. I have seen mountains my entire life, but I never wondered how they were created until I began teaching 5th grade. We can consider the fact that we don’t witness the mountains being created as we never know the exact moment that learning occurs.

We use a variety of idioms and adages with the word “mountain”.

  • A mountain to climb
  • If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed.
  • Make a mountain out of a molehill
  • Move mountains
This week, I believe (with the help of some wonderful friends) I climbed some elementary school mountains.  I’m still climbing, the rocks are rough, and I have lost my footing many times.  I’m good, as long as I don’t look down, or gaze at how much more I have to go.
  • Seventy-two children are cast in three separate productions.
  • The three productions had successful first reads.
  • My friend Daniel did not go screaming from the elementary school, after I discussed that the “slanty‘ words are italics.
  • Daniel still stuck around while I mimed, slanty, with my hands-multiple times.
  • Twenty-six children are prepared for the writing test on Wednesday.
  • Eighteen children know that there are two cups in a pint.
  • Those eighteen children are now pronouncing pint with a long i so that it doesn’t rhyme with “mint”.
  • The same eighteen children learned about capacity with measuring cups and food coloring.  (I have never been so happy to have a sink in my classroom).
  • A student left a note on my desk, “You are the best math teacher, ever.”
  • I created a boy/girl line-up system that simultaneously quiets the line and disgruntles the kids.
  • I made it to specials on time-every day.
  • I made it to work on time-every day.
  • I had lunch count in by 8:30 every day.
  • I successfully explained why it is necessary to wear shoes, at recess, while playing football.
  • I also explained that shoes don’t randomly fall off of ones feet.
  • I finally got the idea across that, gravity works all of the time.  Therefore, catapulting out of the desk will ALWAYS result in a booming racket that diverts everyone’s attention.
  • They all understood the theme to Pandora’s Box.

Although we have many mountains to climb, there Ain’t no Mountain High Enough to prevent Mohammed from coming to the mountain.

On another note, Drama Club updates are coming.  Aladdin, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cinderella (The World’s Favorite Fairy Tale) are off to a great start.

Cheers to the weekend


One-Room School

I have always been fascinated by the one-room school-house ideology.  In this picture from 1921, the kids are present although some are barefoot and others are hiding.  In the far right corner there is a girl, reading a book.  One glaring difference from a modern-day classroom is the teacher.    First of all, she is seated.  I worked in a county where a teacher would be “written up” if found sitting, disengaged from the class, during instructional time.  The teacher seems to be looking in one direction, while doing some random task with her hands.  There are no books or pencils. I don’t see a five-inch notebook jam-packed with lesson plans. What on earth are they all doing?  Do they do that all day? Did she have a planning period?  Did they have state mandated tests?

I bet there were no fire drills that interrupted the mysterious activities occurring in that photo.  Do you think those kids went home buzzing about all the great things they learned that day?  I wonder if she sent a newsletter home each week, stuffed Friday Folders with graded, weekly classwork, or took ice cream orders? Or, did she just sit in that chair, wear sensible shoes, and watch the door for escapees?

Little House on the Prairie inspired me. I loved the books and I was completely obsessed with the series.  Laura was just spunky enough to keep us all tuned in. The school scenes were my favorite.  When Laura fought with Nellie in the mud, my life was complete.

Or, maybe my obsession was with Pa? I couldn’t keep my eyes off of this man, not even for a minute. Who had a dad who looked like that?  I digress…

In simpler times, did the kids learn less?  Did the teachers get to school early, stay late, and work through the weekends?

Every teacher I know, slides up and down the spectrum of instructional insanity.  The mania leaks out into all aspects of our lives.  I unsuccessfully will myself  not to discuss school with my non-teacher friends.  When I see a child misbehaving in public, I do my best NOT to call him to me and ask, “Are you making the right choice?”

The next phase of my school fixation was the show Fame. I was in high school the entire run of the show.  Did my mom know about this school? Did they do any math? They wore leg warmers, sang in the hallways, and performed perfect impromptu dances without any practice!  Had there been Internet, I would have found my very own FAME school.  I took dance for years. I cannot count how many times I practiced the split roll-over and toe touch.  When I was suckered into representing the cross-country team in the school pageant, I wore a magenta, spandex, unitard and danced to MANHUNT.  I have no pride.

I imagine there was no dancing in the one-room school-house.  Debbie Allen was nowhere to be found talking about “big dreams”.

I don’t think I would be a good teacher in 1921.  I would feel that there should be something “more” to be done or learned. I would have no colleagues to dish with at lunch.  My friends might think that I would create some type of academic compulsion.  Maybe, I would re-arrange the benches and color code the girls’ bows.  I would possibly go a bit crazy and actually talk to the students-even the one hiding in the back.

Hopefully, one hundred years from now, there will still be teachers.   They will study pictures of us teaching in classrooms instead of  in space stations, or in Jetson’s inspired flying communities.  I can only imagine where their history curriculum would begin.

It is good to think of simpler times in education.  More is expected of teachers and students than ever before. I know I make my job more arduous than it needs to be.  What I do in three hours, others do just as efficiently in thirty minutes.  I can’t stop. Each time I attempt to work smarter, I find some task that needs immediate attention, or  a project that needs to be created.  Maybe, I can plan a class song and dance routine….with legwarmers.