Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Think Before You Speak, Would’ja?

Remember this story? If you haven’t read it, you should.  The story is as follows:  The Fashionista shows a teacher a project that is due the following day.  She asks for feedback and he says, “This project sucks.”  He goes on the show her project to other classes later in the day.  Her name is not on it, but word gets around.  He says to the other classes, “This is an example of a project that sucks.”  So not cool.

The Fashionista re-worked the project that night and ultimately completed the course with this teacher.   TF had zero interest in dealing with this situation.  She wanted it to go away.  She did not want an apology.  In fact, she wanted us to let the entire situation fade swiftly in the First Quarter’s rear view mirror.

We told her, “Sorry.  Parental veto power taking effect here.”  We agreed to let it go until the class was over.  As soon as she started her new “satellite” class, The Major contacted the school. Continue reading


In Support of Teachers’ Unions

Scapegoat — n. a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.

Bête noire — n. a person or thing strongly detested or avoided.

In the labor world, unions are the scapegoats for everything that is not right with the work place.

In the world of education, teachers’ unions are both the scapegoat and the bête noire.

In 21st century America, it has become fashionable and, indeed, socially acceptable to bash teachers’ unions.  Continue reading

Lekol Mwen ou Kay Mwen? [My School or My Home?]

Driving to and from school I have lots of time to think.  It’s 35 glorious minutes all to myself.  These days, my commute and my running time can be the only alone time I get all day.

Look, Ma! No traffic!

At some point this week, my mind must have wandered during some report on NPR.  You know the kind I mean.  “Sea squirts slime the Puget Sound. A slug-like creature is damaging the ecosystem of Puget Sound. The so-called “sea squirts” are multiplying like little underwater rabbits, starving out or smothering other sea life.”

So…I began thinking about the age-old “Stay-at-home Mom” vs. “Working Mom” debate.  Maybe sea squirts are more interesting to you.  By all means, check out the NPR report.  I’m certain it’s quite informative.

Here are some of my observations about home vs. work.

Even while I was off of work and enjoying my time with Island Boy, I was thinking about my job.  My number one concern was that the students and teachers might like my sub more than they liked me.  I heard he was good.  Everyone liked him.  Luckily for me, I also heard that one particular class asked their classroom teacher every single time if I was going to be there to teach music.  Whew! They missed me!

Once I knew I was missed, my mind was somewhat at ease.  As my return to work began to approach, I worried that once I went back to work I might miss being at home. It was pretty sweet to be a stay-at-home mom for 7 months.  Here are a few of the perks:

  • It was nice to roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm went off at 6 am.
  • I could go running whenever I wanted.  I didn’t have to pray over the weather page that the gods of the sky would cooperate around 4:30 pm.
  • I was afraid I was going to miss the days of eating breakfast at 11 and lunch at 3:30.
  • I scheduled doctors’ appointments willy nilly.
  • I even delivered The Fashionista’s homework to her one day when she forgot it.
  • And work clothes?  Really?  Try pj’s or running clothes all day long.
  • Island Boy was able to sleep until he woke up.  His record was 10:30 am.  I had to check on him a few times that morning.

On the other hand, it sometimes felt isolating being a stay-at-home mom.  During this time, I was literally a “stay-at-home” mom.  What I mean by that is, The Major and I followed the sage advice we were given about making a smooth transition for Island Boy — we kept our world “as small as possible, for as long as possible.”  We didn’t go out much.  We bonded at home.  Played at home.  Ate at home.  Rarely entertained.

This isn't my house, but it sure looks like my clutter.

Weekdays, IB and I would play, play, play.  He liked to help clean and cook.  I enjoyed his company with these chores except for laundry.  He loved to toss freshly folded clothes all over the bedroom.  I became fairly adept at keeping the laundry folding top secret.

Finally, the stars would align and salvation would approach.  The older ones would come home!  For those who have stayed home with your kids, you know exactly what I mean.

Time to watch and listen for the school bus.  At our house we experienced a bit of a build up:

  1. Subway Guy would arrive.  His arrival was greeted by IB in a lukewarm manner.
  2. A mere half hour later, The Fashionista would scurry off of the bus.  IB would go fairly crazy, screaming, “FASHIONISTA!” and leap into her arms.
  3. By the time The Major  got home, IB was in his glory: tormenting his older siblings.  Maybe TM would like to tell you how many times he came home to a certain someone’s high pitched wailing, screaming or taunting of the cat.  Mama was nearly crawling the walls.  “What’s new with you?????”  Pretty much all I could come up with was who the newest guest was on “Sesame Street” that day.  It was pretty pathetic by the end of my “maternity leave”.

Contrast that with being back to  work.  I’ve noticed some folks aren’t as perky about being back to school after a summer off.  At my school, we’ve got teachers who talk about winning the lottery so they won’t have to work anymore.  Others obsess about retirement and how many more years they have until they don’t have to get up in the morning.

My friend, Mary, makes paper chains to count off the days until vacation. I am NOT talking about her. She's cool.

We just started the school year and many of my colleagues are already counting how many days until vacation; how many months until summer.

I feel fortunate.  I know I have the perfect job for me.  I enjoy going to work every single day.  I look forward to seeing my students.  Not only that, but I actually enjoy talking about academics.  I like some of the meetings we have to go to.  I like hearing about how the students are doing in their classrooms.  I’m interested in their reading and math scores even though I’m “just” a special area teacher.

It feels good to be back in the work force.  Back to school.  Out of pajamas.  Back to the commute…until it rains for the first time.  Then you have to drive reeeeeeally slowly.  Driving in the rain can be very dangerous.  That’s why people should stay home when it rains.  Not me though.  I had enough time at home, thank you very much.

A day at home alone?  Now that’s another story.

-Running Girl

A Monster Day

After school I typically pick up The Fashionista from her Cross Country practice.  We drive to pick up Island Boy from his school.  Up to today, Island Boy and I have established our little routine at pick up.  I come into the classroom where he will greet me, not with a hug or a kiss, but rather with, “One minute!  Wait there!” This comes with an impatient wave of his arm.  He frantically ramps up his play, as kids will do when they realize the end of playtime is nearing.

I give him 5-10 minutes or so where I chat with his playmates or teachers.  I will give IB a warning of, “One more time around on the bike” if they are on the playground.  Or, “Three more runs for the car down the ramp” if they are in the room. He finishes up his play, grabs his backpack and we’re out the door.

Yesterday was not a great day for me.  I was feeling run down from allergies or a cold.  Additionally, I knew I was in for a long evening since I was going to have to turn around, after being home for a bit, to go back to my school for Open House.  The nightcap was a trip on the way home to pick up Subway Guy at Marching Band at around 9 pm.  Long day.

Therefore, at pick up, I was not in the mood for our usual routine.  I needed to go.  IB came with me willingly, or so I thought.  We got to the parking lot and he refused to get into the car.  Tears and tantrums ensued.  It ended up with him in the backseat pitching a fit and me sitting in the front seat with tears streaming down my face.

This is an actual photo from my backseat yesterday.

I was just so darn tired and not at the top of my game. His tantrum lasted only about 5 minutes.  That was still long enough for two other parents to walk by the car to witness the terror in the backseat.  Lovely.

Cut to this afternoon.  I went to pick up IB, feeling better than I did yesterday.  The head teacher, Miss Kelly,  was there today at pick up.  Most days she is not.

Miss Kelly said, “Oh look, IB, your Mom is here to pick you up.”  IB reacted to this news in a frosty manner.  He marched over to his cubby, and violently snatched his backpack from the hook.

As today’s storm started to brew, Miss Kelly took control.  She said rather sternly, “Now IB, we will have none of this anymore.  Enough is enough.”  She continued, “You come over here with me.”

She brought him over to a drawer on the other side of the room.  Miss Kelly said, “If you have a good drop off and pick up I will let you pick a Halloween sticker every afternoon.  Do you like Halloween?”  He nodded.  Honestly, I don’t think Island Boy has any idea what Halloween is about.

Miss Kelly resumed her exit strategy, “Look at me, Island Boy.  Wipe those tears away right now and chose a sticker.”  After prolonged deliberation, he made his selection.  “Now you give me a monster hug since I gave you a monster sticker.”

Disaster averted.  IB was so proud of his sticker.  He came out to the car, let me put him in his car seat and off we went.  We talked about the sticker and about drop off and pick up all the way home.

I marveled for a moment at the magic of Miss Kelly.  I wondered if I was being too lenient about his transition at pick up.  Then I realized that I have my “Mom Hat” on at that point in the day.  I do the exact same thing Miss Kelly does when I’m at school and have my “Teacher Hat” on.

How many times this week have I dealt with a crying and frightened Kindergartner?  Numerous times because unfortunately, we’ve have a fair number of criers this year.  I even had a 2nd grader crying for Mommy when she came into my class this week.

I am not Mom in those moments.  I am the teacher.  I can tell a child, “Now that’s enough.  You wipe those tears away.  Here’s your monster sticker and let’s get singing.”  The child is able to pull him or herself together and move on into the rest of the day.

Their Mom will be there at the end of the day and all will be right with the world.

-Running Girl

Teachable Moments

Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.

Little by little the bird builds its nest.  (Haitian Proverb)

“Can we have an Island Boy Break?”  one of my classes liked to ask.  The students at my school loved looking at photos of my little boy whom we were waiting to adopt from Haiti.  They liked hearing stories about the village Island Boy lived in, hearing words in Kreyol and seeing photos of how children in another part of the world lived.  Some days, if we had worked extra hard, we would take an “Island Boy Break”.

I love looking for teachable moments with my students in my music class.  Sometimes, they are not even music-related.  The best teachable moments come from events from my personal life.  How many miles are in a marathon?  Tell us about your foot surgery again?  Where is Haiti located? How do people in Haiti get clean drinking water?  These are all conversations we have had in my classroom.

Chances are, most of my students won’t ever run a marathon.  They may never leave the United States.  However, I have the opportunity to introduce them to topics they may have never considered before.  I have a classroom where we take risks together.  Sometimes it’s making music and sometimes it’s talking about the world around us.

A friend and colleague often talks about putting herself in her student’s shoes.  Every day we ask our students to come into our classrooms and try new things.  We ask them to come out of their comfort zones.  How often do we take risks ourselves?  Trying new things can be scary and hard, for children and adults.

A year ago I was asked by a friend who lives in Haiti to consider running the Disney Marathon on January 10, 2010 with her and a group of adoptive moms.  At that point I was training for my 3rd marathon.

I agreed to run.  We worked collectively to raise $60, 000 to go towards the purchase of an ambulance for women who were in labor and needed emergency medical care in Haiti.  This was well before the earthquake.

My students watched me track my miles on a graph by the door where they lined up every day.  They liked to see the bar graph growing taller each week.  Finally, the graph was complete.  I told them I would bring my medal in for them to see when I returned.

On January 10, 2010, 15 of us successfully ran the Disney Marathon.  The next day, three of us hopped, or rather hobbled, onto a plane to go to Haiti to visit our children.
We arrived in Haiti Monday afternoon, January 11th.  Tuesday was spent playing with our children at a friend’s house.  At about 4:00 p.m., I was playing outside with my 3 year-old son and his friend.  The boys asked me to stay out in front of the house while they continued a game behind the house.

Suddenly, there was a massive rumbling, like a freight train.  The driveway I was standing on began to roll up and down in waves.  Almost immediately I realized it must be an earthquake.  My instincts told me to sit down.  There was no way I could walk, although my son was able to come running down the sidewalk to me.  He jumped into my lap, and we waited for the ground to stop moving.

When the waves ceased, we learned that everyone in our group of friends was unharmed.  We were fortunate — we were located in a neighborhood of structurally-sound houses.  Others around us were not so “lucky”.

Initially, I had to return to the US without Island Boy.  It was among the most difficult things I have ever experienced.

Nine days later, Island Boy landed safely in Miami in a small, unmarked plane.  I will tell that story another time.


I have a hard time thinking about what happened in Haiti.  I was lucky and so many were not.  There is no fair in this situation.  I can only go on and start my new life with my family.  I will continue to raise awareness about the situation in Haiti and hope to one day go back and help in any way that I can.

I have now returned to work.  I continue to look for those teachable moments with my students.  Maybe I will inspire them to try something new.  I was interviewed for my district’s high school newspaper.  In the interview I encouraged my former students to consider volunteering in a developing country one day.  I wish that I had the courage to go to a developing country when I was younger.

Piti, piti. Little by little.

— Running Girl

My job is the best job out there!

I grew up in a family of educators.  Two of my grandparents and both of my parents were in the education field.   It’s in the blood.

I went to a public school; but thanks to my mom, my entire childhood was like one big home schooling experience.  She made learning fun.  She made us costumes.  We cooked together.  We went on “field trips”.   We were surrounded by art projects.  We were avid readers.  We belonged to a food co-op back before that was the cool thing to do.

Despite all of these experiences, I was convinced that I never wanted to be a teacher.  Music was my thing, but a music teacher?  No way!  No one at my college, a music conservatory, ever talked about teaching.  It was looked down upon.  I always loved children, but the idea of organizing concerts for children terrified me.  I was frightened to even think about how to go about preparing kids for performances.

Fast forward 20 years later (yikes) and I am convinced that I have the best job out there!

I teach music to children in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade.  My school would be considered by many to be a tough school.  For one thing, it is a Title I school, which means it has a high percentage of students from low-income families.  There are other issues, but suffice it to say I love my school.  I love every minute I’m there.

I teach music using the Orff method.  What is Orff?  It is a way to teach music through singing, dancing, playing instruments, chanting rhymes and drama.  Orff teaches through “doing” or making music and hearing music first.  Writing and reading comes later.  This is how we learn language too.

I love seeing the joy on my students’ faces as we explore, play and learn together.  There is nothing better than having a student sit down after an activity and turn to me to say, “Boy, that was FUN!” or “Music’s over ALREADY?”

Music also gives me a unique opportunity to find something in each student that might not be obvious when they are learning in their classrooms:

  • A kid tapping his pencil incessantly in the classroom?  Fantastic steady beat in music.
  • Cannot sit still in her seat in the class?  Amazing creative movement ideas in my room.
  • Chatterbox?  Is able to “say” their instrument part while playing it and can be a leader for others.  The list goes on and on.

Do I still have performance anxiety about preparing the kids to perform? Not as much.  Orff is more about the process than the performance.  When my students get up on stage it feels more like we are sharing what we’ve been learning about rather than simply performing.

Here’s an added and unexpected benefit from my efforts: Last year we started a new Character Education program at my school.  We had monthly assemblies based on the Character Trait we chose for that month.  I prepared the kids to perform at these assemblies.

Since then,  myprincipal has told me numerous times that discipline issues in her office have decreased significantly.  She attributes that to the fact that the students are actively engaged in learning about these traits.  Feeling a part of an ensemble with your peers and sharing with the school is a huge incentive for them.  They feel good about themselves.

I love my students.  I missed them in the spring when I was home focusing my attentions on my favorite pupil:  Island Boy.  I am so happy to be back in the classroom this fall.  There was nothing better than hearing a student walk by my classroom and say to a friend, “Did you hear?  Running Girl is BACK and I am so excited!”  Me too, kiddo, me too.

–Running Girl

Back to school

We all deal with back to school in our own special ways.  This is apparent in our family as we had four out of the five of us going back or starting for the first time.  Don’t get the fifth one started on the subject of the educators counting down the days until the next vacation.  He’s likely to snap, “Vacation?  What vacation?  I’ve been working all summer! Some of us don’t get summers off.”  Seems like someone chose the wrong career path:)

I learned back when The Fashionista was in 1st grade that she likes to have her school supplies in order almost as soon as summer vacation starts.  She nearly drove me crazy asking about school supply shopping when she was that age.  Before I snapped I realized that she needed to feel prepared to go back before she could relax and feel comfortable with the idea of moving on to the next grade.  Lesson learned…Momma, that is.

So, this summer, we had many a dinner conversation about “the list” and when we would get out to the stores.  We hit Target and Wegman’s early and got everything she needed.  The middle school is big on teaching “Study Skills” including color coordinating for each subject: Math=green, English=yellow, Social Studies= red, Science=blue, Foreign Language=purple.  This is supposed to set the kids up for success.  You reach into your locker and pull out the red binder, notebook and book and you’re set for Social.  TF thrives with this scenario.

Contrast this with Subway Guy.  He has been present for all of the above conversations and certainly at least one trip to the store.  He casually sidles up to me Sunday night and says, “Sooooo, are we planning on school supply shopping anytime soon?”  Excuse me?  Are you kidding me?   We were at Wegman’s mere hours before.  School starts 48 hours later.  He back-pedals and says the next day, “You know, Mom, no rush.  Within the next 2-3 weeks could you pick up some pens, pencils and a few paper folders?”  You mean to tell me that the teachers won’t mind if you have no writing utensil for the next 2-3 weeks?  So much for the middle school teaching the kids “Study Skills”.  I guarantee TF will still be using the color coding through grad school.

-Running Girl

Back to school 2010-11