Hiatus

I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ve been doing instead of blogging. Revenge-Victoria-sits-in-her-chair

I was obsessed with evil Madeline from Revenge. She can smile through the most horrendous comments, and evil doings. Plus, she has that cool chair where she sips her coffee while plotting against everyone. Her dresses are flawless, and she always has good hair. I told my colleague that I kind of wish I could smile and be evil simultaneously. She reminded me that was not a normal goal.

I have put my energy into refining my 3rd grade guided math. The other day, I looked up from my “meet with teacher” group, and saw an amazing thing: Children were engaged, on task, and collaborating about math. No one fell out of his chair, or asked me to sharpen a pencil the 567th time.  This class has a thing about sharp pencils. I’ve purchased two pencil sharpeners from Amazon; one already broke.

The following type of conversation happens daily:

Me: “We are going to do math journal, Number Talks, and then guided math.”

Student “Are we doing Number Talks today?”

Me: “Yes, we are doing Number Talks today.”

Me: “When you are done with your assessment, put it in the basket under the white board.”

Student 1:”Where do I put my work?”

Me:”In the basket under the white board.”

Student 2:-“Where do I put my test?”

Me: “In the basket under the white board.”

Student 3:”Do we give you our tests when we are done?”

Me: “No, put it in the basket under the white board.”

Then there is the stop everything, look at me, listen carefully classroom intermission.

“Everyone, hands on your heads. Look at me. The assessment goes in the basket under the white board. Thumbs up if you understand where the assessment goes.”

I’m working with my students to think outside the math box, or at least open the box and peek outside.

I have used picture prompts to show children that math is not confined to an hour a day, in my classroom. Slide25 This was a journal prompt one day.

Student: “There is no math in this picture.”

Me: “Yes, there is math in this picture.”

Student: “I don’t see numbers.”

Me: “Is math always numbers?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “What about geometry?”

Student: “Oh!”

Me: “There isn’t one right answer. Look for the math.”

Students are looking for the one right answer. I want them to see math as a part of their worlds that cannot always be defined with one correct response. I ask them if there are other ways to solve a problem, and they give me blank stares. It has taken me a couple of months to show students that the process in which they are doing math is very important. Just because they know that 3×3 is 9, doesn’t mean that they understand the many ways this multiplication fact can be represented, or what multiplication means.

I am on a math committee for my county. We discussed how the traditional algorithms, we have always taught, are causing students to have little to no understanding of number sense. For example, if we are dividing 45 by 3, we ask the kids how many times 3 can ‘go into’ 4; place value isn’t considered in this standard algorithm. What we are really asking is, ‘How many groups of four are there in 40?’. Students have to explain their reasoning more than ever now. So how do we balance the right answer with the process?

I have tried to show students a standard in every possible form. I say it is the same standard, but in a different outfit. They need to apply the skills to various situations, which may or may not be the examples used and practiced in class. I have changed much of what I do as a math teacher, and it hasn’t been comfortable or easy.

I have been personally challenged this year. As the literacy coach, I have had less time in classrooms, and spent more time in meetings and out of the building. I begin teaching the gifted endorsement Monday. I’m in a small panic, because now I’m teaching a class to teachers. I am driving myself a little nuts. Should I bring cookies? Candy? Tell a joke? Do a little dance?

We have a new evaluation system. It’s amazing that I’ve taught fourteen years, but at the end of the day, I am reduced to a number between 1 and 4. I do understand the efficacy of a standardized evaluation system for teachers. But, sometimes I don’t want to worry about it. I realized that my expectations for myself are, at times, unrealistically high. Some days, we just feel like a 3. And that’s ok. Isn’t that what we tell our students, and better yet, their parents?

I remember my early years of teaching, where I felt invincible and that I could affect change. I hope that I inspired or encouraged a few students along the way. In those early years, I was able to advocate for children without meetings, emails, or glaciers of paperwork. I just did it. I’m sure there was protocol; I just didn’t think about it.

Now, I advocate for students in different ways. A test score doesn’t fully give the scope of a child’s potential. And if a child doesn’t qualify for the gifted program, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t brilliant. Children cannot be reduced to numbers and percentiles. There is so much pressure on everyone to perform. What happened to the utter joy of learning something new? What about taking risks in learning?

I believe that Drama Club has given students a chance to take risks without the fear of grades. I promised myself that I would only direct one play this year. We have ten boys in drama, and they requested Shakespeare. So, we are doing Macbeth.  I really wanted to do Romeo and Juliet, but the suicide aspect is too heavy for elementary kids. So, I thought if I made them zombies, they couldn’t die. Yes, I’ve been watching The Walking Dead. Zombie Romeo and Juliet is a future project. It has to be written…

Teaching is very much like impressionistic art. The further away we get, the clearer the picture. When we are too close, everything is a blur, and unrecognizable. None of the parts are logical, and everything seems disconnected. We often get lost in the blur. I am thankful that sometimes, I have the awareness to step back and see the intended beauty of being an educator.

K

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Half of Ninety…

Many things have happened this year. I just had my forty-fifth birthday. I know I am half of ninety, and I round up to fifty, but I feel this year will be one of my best. I am still doing what I love at work. My daughters are amazing people. My suburban village is steady and strong. And I have a chance to open up my heart again.
I still need to reconcile being forty-five. I can say things like ‘thirty years ago’, ‘back in the seventies’, and ‘I ruined my Sean Cassidy bell-bottoms in a biking incident.’
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Forty-five is also-
  • the atomic number for Rhodium. 
  • a record
  • the dialing code for Denmark
  • a gun
  • an Elvis Costello song
  • the speed limit
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This year, we welcomed 90 drama students (that number again). We are producing three plays: Peter Pan, Hamlet (modified for younger audiences) and Alice in Wonderland. I will be living in Wonderland and Neverland, while trying to kill off all the characters in Hamlet on an elementary school level.
I thought about making Hamlet a lost boy, or the King of Hearts. Maybe later…
We read through Hamlet and I was explaining the plot. The conversation with my Hamlet cast went something like this:
Me: “Think of the Lion King. It’s the same story, but with animals.”
SILENCE
Cast: “OOOOHHHHHH”
Ophelia: “Everyone dies in this play.”
Horatio-“Ha, I don’t die!”
Marcellus: “Yah, but you are  all alone.”
Hamlet: “When can we practice the sword fights?”
Me: “How about light sabers for the sword fights?” (No weapons in school.)
Ghost of Hamlet: “Hamlet, I am your father.” (In a creepy ghost voice.)
I have a friend who is helping me with drama club. I’m not sure she realized what she got herself into. She is directing Alice in Wonderland. Thank goodness she is taking out the murderous oyster scene. There is no real justification for me to kill everyone in Hamlet, and save the oysters. Maybe it’s the bonnets? Maybe it’s because they are so trusting and BAM they are eaten?
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I am grateful to have this club. It is cathartic to me, and the kids keep me laughing and hopeful.
 In the very last scene of Peter Pan and Wendy, Wendy’s daughter (Jane) tells her mom she can’t fly anymore. The grown ups are not the heroes in this story. Eventually, the they lose the ‘ability to fly’.  I imagine this is because life knocked them around a bit?
I was reading through my archived posts, and it is so interesting to see how things change in the span of a couple of years, months, or even days.  I realize that each event brings you to the next experience, even if you don’t have control over any of it. But we really don’t ever have control; we just think we do.

My  foundation was cracked and my trust in people faded. Our wounds heal, yet those imprints remain. I am learning to sift through the yucky stuff, and find the things that made me grow, reflect on my own foibles, understand what I deserve (better yet, what I don’t deserve) and move on with more wisdom and fewer regrets.

I can relate to Alice trying to find her way, Hamlet seeking truth, and Peter Pan not wanting to grow up.

Happy New Year.

K.