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Failing at life chores

October 23, 2010 1 comment

Effective immediately I have to start paying more than twice as much each month for my prescriptions because my insurance plan heavily pushes Express Scripts mail order pharmacy over local pharmacies.  The company says “It’s Easy to Get Started!  Step 1: Simply complete the enclosed Home Delivery order form, include your prescription and copayment and mail it to Express Scripts.”

That’d be great, except I have at least three steps before that:
1.  Find a doctor
2. Get an appointment
3. Schedule and plan for a substitute teacher so I can go to my appointment
And those steps could easily take months, even if I could ever remember to use the few non-kid minutes I have in the middle of the work day to call a doctor’s office, or could figure out how to request a substitute.  There’s a reason I’ve been wearing glasses for the last two months since my contacts lens prescription ran out and it’s not because I like the look.

I’m sure there are many people in the world (my mom, for instance) who would not see this an as insurmountable problem.  I know what the reality will be for me, though.  In all likelihood I’ll still be paying high copays and wearing glasses six months from now, stressed out about both but unable to figure out how to make anything else happen.  I am capable and confident in so many arenas, but life chores like this just do me in.

Update: I called my mom to tell her all of this.  She said I could send her the doctors’ phone numbers and my schedule and she’ll set up the appointments.  “It’s not a problem!  I’ll look forward to doing it.”  I am a very lucky girl.

Categories: Choices, Goals Tags: ,

Classroom quotes

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

A few recent quotes from my classroom:

  • Overheard during writing: “I don’t want to die.  If you die, you miss Halloween.”
  • One child to another during math: “Jose, stop acting like a baby!  You’re a big kid.  Do your work.”
  • To a partner after checking their work with me: “Pablo, we get to do a challenge now!”
  • Child reporting back on work with a tough partner: “Miss R, she did really good.  She’s a good learner!”

And two vignettes:

  1. H, one of my new-to-English speakers, has become our de facto line leader.  (She desperately wants to be in charge and line leader isn’t a battle I feel like fighting with her.)  Each time we line up she’ll check with me, “Miss R, H number 1?”  I’ll assure her, yes, she’s number 1.  Today, though, she was charging ahead of the class when I needed her to stay behind me.  “H,” I said, “stay behind me.”  “H number 1!” she replied.  I told her, yes, she’s number one, but she still has to stay behind me.  “You’re zero?” she asked.  Yowsers, she’s smart.
  2. Some of the kids think it’s unfair that I always believe H instead of them, but I’ve learned over the last four weeks that H is always right.  Really, always.  Today, for instance, I should have paid more attention to her preoccupation with another child’s hair.  She spent all of my science lesson methodically sifting through the girl’s hair, then leapt up to show me something on her finger.  Annoyed that she wasn’t paying attention and was distracting the class, I told her to sit down and keep her hands on her body.  She tried desperately to get me to look at both her finger and the girl’s head, but I gave it only a quick glance.  Once home, however, I replayed the scene and wondered, what was she so focused on?  A quick google image search confirmed my fear: she’d been trying to show me the head lice she found in the girl’s hair.  Moral of the story: always pay attention when H has something to share.

Think sheets

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The first-level consequence for poor behavior choices across our first-grade team is to leave wherever the class is working and complete a Stop and Think Sheet.  The sheets ask the students to circle the classroom rule they chose not to follow, write or draw a picture of the choice they were making, and then write or draw a picture of a better choice they could make.  I absolutely love what they come up with.

Here are two sheets from today.  Both girls were passing beads back and forth to each other during our whole group math lesson.

Girl 1:
I wuz playing on the crait win we wur lrning math I am sore
[I was playing on the carpet when we were learning math.  I am sorry.]

Girl 2:
I we not paytash I we patata to Faiza
[I was not paying attention.  I was paying attention to Faiza.]

Small celebrations

October 20, 2010 1 comment

There were some milestones in my classroom this week:

  1. T, one of girls who came in not speaking English, transitioned from drawing random shapes and writing random words during every day’s Writing Workshop, to drawing pictures about her life and writing sentences – with nouns and verbs!  Last week’s writing, “girl cat sun moon sky egg with day have”  This week’s writing, “I have two box and sun,” (alongside a picture of two boxes and a sun), and “I went with sister jup” (alongside a picture of her with her sister and a jump rope).
  2. T is also starting to talk in sentences.  During indoor recess today, she yelled across the room to a classmate, “Come on!  I need one more block!”  I couldn’t believe it!  No one in my class talks in full sentences, but she just busted out perfect first grade communication!
  3. AND, T has stopped pegging blocks (or markers, or pencils, or crayons) at other kids, instead holding up her hand and saying “Stop! No throwing!” if anybody looks like they might throw something at her.  Result: fewer tears, fewer clinic visits, and happier calls/notes to her mom.
  4. H, my other girl who came in without English, has started going to her reading group – without arguing.  She’s even begun saying “Oh yeeesss!” and doing a little dance when it’s time for reading.  This one change in her behavior has completely changed the rest of the class’s behavior during Reading Workshop.  It’s amazing how much more focused the other kids are when she’s reading instead of doing cartwheels around the room.
  5. Two of my kids who are relatively capable readers have stopped saying “I don’t know what it says” and have started attempting to read the papers I give them.  And they often get it.

In between the highs there are still a lot of frustrations, but it’s really reassuring to see that some of my most vulnerable students are making progress.  I must be getting something across.

It’s also been really rewarding to see how supportive the rest of the class is as T and H start figuring out English.  The class has been put through the wringer by these two girls, but for the most part they still seem to genuinely like both of them.  We talk a lot as a group about how sometimes T or H will do something they shouldn’t be doing – and that the other kids absolutely aren’t allowed to do – and about how it must be hard to be good all day long when none of the words make sense.  After all, it’s hard for most of the kids to be good all day and they DO know what I’m saying.  For the most part, the class nods sagely at this, and they agree that we can be patient while the girls are learning English.  Recently, a few have even caught my eye when I’m deciding whether to fight one of the girls over her choice.  “She’s still learning,” they’ll remind me.

And when T started writing full sentences in her writing, several of the kids nearby came over to see what I was so excited about.  “Hey, you did a really good job!” one told her.  “I like your story!” said another.  When H knew the answer to a math problem, and even explained it using gestures, one child exclaimed, “she’s learning so much!” and the others chorused “yeah!  She’s learning a lot!”  It makes me want to hug every one of them.

An outside perspective

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I feel like my kids are the hardest group of children I’ve ever taught, but it’s hard to tell when I’m the only one who sees them.  My sister was home from college for a long weekend, though, and came in Tuesday to visit my class.  She’s worked in daycare longer than I did and has been in a number of elementary school classrooms through her college’s elementary education program, so she has a good baseline for comparison.  Her summary? “I liked your class a lot, although I felt quite bad for you. They are nuts.”

I told her that I feel like I must be doing something wrong because it seems like I spend most of the day almost yelling or speaking harshly and I don’t like it. She said, “I honestly don’t know what to do instead though. They don’t listen. To me they seem like 3 to 4 year olds learning to speak in complete sentences.”

It makes me feel a little less crazy to have someone I know well and respect say that my class isn’t a regular first grade class.  They’re not going to act like other six-year-olds I know, at least not yet, but that’s not my fault, it’s my challenge.

Thoughts on school reform

October 13, 2010 1 comment

With Waiting for Superman making box office waves, school reform is a hot media topic again.  This Sunday’s Washington Post had several opinion articles on how to reform schools, and while I’ve never thought any 1,000-word article held the secret to fixing our schools, I’m even less convinced of it now that I’m in the classroom.  I’ve only been in school for 26 days, but here’s what I already know:

  1. I work in a well-respected, well-funded district.
  2. I work for a principal described as “brilliant” and “the best possible mentor.”
  3. I work with a remarkably intelligent, dedicated, thoughtful, positive group of teachers.
  4. I am in the top percentile of all entering teachers based on academic qualifications and am a confident, experienced classroom manager.
  5. Teaching is absolutely, positively, the hardest thing I have ever done.

So if a well-prepared new teacher entering a well-led school in a well-run district with a strong group of colleagues can barely make a go of teaching a high-needs populations…how do we even start to address the nation’s education problems?  If between my background and my in-school support system I am barely holding on, how can any new teacher hope to help the kids that most need it?Conversations about school reform inevitably lead back to “hire more qualified teachers” or “increase teacher training,” but I’m well-trained and well-qualified and I’m not sure it’s enough.  I believe I’m doing better than many new teachers would, but I’m also acutely aware of how much more my kids need that I don’t know how to give them.

And despite all of the time, money, sweat and tears I put into becoming a teacher, I shy away from talking about “next year.”  I’ll see how this year goes.  I’ll see if this is a life I think I can keep on living.  That’s one of the things we have to talk about when we talk about school reform: it’s very, very hard to teach well.  It takes working long, long beyond the contract hours, puzzling over lesson plans instead of falling asleep, and thinking constantly about where each kid is and what he or she needs to be successful.  It won’t be enough to hire more qualified teachers or offer more training – we’ll have to figure out how to ease some of the burden good teachers carry, since we can’t build school reform on the premise that we’ll have willing martyrs.

Long weekend

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

We had a three day weekend because of Columbus Day.  I’m not sure I agree with the principle, but I definitely appreciate the time off.  I feel like three days away from school (and not doing ANY work during those days) has let me puzzle over some of my classroom issues in the back of my mind.  For instance, driving home from a shopping trip with my sister today I came up with a new way to do record-keeping during my math lessons.  And while eating dinner and watching TV, I realized I need to reach out to the other first-year teachers I know and try to form a community of peers (instead of the rather intimidating community of highly-experienced teachers I currently have).

Time off is good.  It reminds me that I have a lot going on in my life besides teaching, even if teaching sometimes feels like it’s taking over my life.  I feel more confident about the week, better rested, and better able to solve whatever problems come up.

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