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Posts Tagged ‘explanation’

Paradigm shift

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

The Virginia Tech shootings were five years ago today.  For most people nationwide, it was a day of shock and sadness that quickly receded.  For me, it shook my foundations even more than did 9/11.

When the shootings happened I was just a year out of working as a college administrator, just five years out of being in college, and had one sister in college and one about to go.  I felt the events of the day as an administrator, as a student, as a family member – and in the end, as a neighbor and friend.  People ask where you were on September 11, 2001. I can tell you exactly where I was and what I heard when my sister told mom that Reema had died.  If I ever needed to cry on command, all I would need to think of is the cell phones ringing in students’ backpacks, called by families desperately hoping to get through.

The Virginia Tech shootings changed how I think about being in school.  In grad school, friends wondered why I sat on the aisles in lecture classes, always in the very front or very back.  In my classroom now, I sometimes lay awake at night, idly thinking about how helpful it is that I share a folding wall with a colleague’s room, because it doubles our ability to maneuver around a shooter’s movements.  The day’s emotional hold on me can still catch me unawares, moving me to tears in the space of unexpected seconds.

There is less attention paid to the anniversary each year, and I suppose that’s the human and normal thing to do.  But I still remember; if not everyday, then so many of the days – and I expect I always will.

Square peg, round hole

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Our district is moving to standards based grading on report grades, which means that instead of giving one big grade for Math, one for Reading, one for Science, etc., we’ll report how students have done on each of the state’s standards of learning.  I think it’ll take a bit more documentation, but in the end it makes a lot of sense – if we studied time and fractions in one quarter and your child bombed one but rocked the other, does it really help you as a parent to see that performance averaged out to “on grade level”?

So, I’m in support of the change. But. My team decided to get ready for the change by starting to track our students’ achievement using checklists and rubrics measuring their level of mastery.  It’s been a valuable experience, but now I have about 45-50 data points on each child that still need to be boiled down to a single, old-style grade.  And I’m not sure how to do it.  In this last grading period we taught units on time, money, fractions, and measurement.  Some kids did well on all of them, some did well on a few of them, and happily, no one did poorly on all of them.  Because so many kids did well across the board, I’m worried I’ll create a Lake Woebegone effect, with (almost) all of the kids being above average.

But then if a child did really, really, really poorly on two of the units, but really well on the other two, should they get the needs improvement grade?  Or should that average out to show them on grade level?

My likely solution: put off math grading for several more hours by working on science and social studies, then make whatever choice feels right in the moment, knowing I have the data to back up whatever I decide to anyone who’s interested in understanding it.

Oh. Of course.

March 13, 2012 1 comment

On top of my dramatic kids in crisis this year, I also have a sweet, incredibly bright boy who, although he lacks a diagnosis, is essentially a selective mute.  He is cripplingly anxious about anything that would draw attention to himself, especially attention from adults.  Despite this, he is in many ways incredibly well-adjusted.  When he does talk, it’s usually laughing and playing with peers, or excitedly whispering his ideas “to the universe.” (The phrase I’ve come up with to describe his habit of sharing his ideas out loud in a small group setting, yet freezing if it becomes clear I’m actually listening.)

So, at the beginning of the year this boy was one of my two kids who took on our school’s running program with a business-like focus.  He ran everyday, for all of recess.  But then, suddenly, he stopped.  I’ve encouraged him to run, asked him (and his best friend) why he doesn’t want to run anymore, but he’s steadfastly refused to start again.

Then today I was sorting out a tangled heap of the class’s motivation charm necklaces for the running program.  I saw that he had 4 charms and had already run 10 of the 13 laps he needed for the special 5th charm, the one that the P.E. teachers celebrate by taking your picture and posting it on a wall of fame in the hallway.

And…oh.  Of course.

He would HATE having his picture taken and posted in the hallway.  The entire experience of going down and interacting with the teacher for the picture would be miserable, and then kids would see his picture in the hallway every single day.  He’s a bright kid.  He knows what he doesn’t want, and even though he liked running, he NEEDS to go unnoticed.  Playing this hunch, I mentioned to him at dismissal that getting your picture taken is totally optional – you can decide if you want it, or if you want to skip it and just keep running.  While he didn’t say anything (of course), he did smile, which is WAY more feedback than I usually get from him.

As I am constantly realizing this year, the academics are such a small part of what I really do.  Knowing the kids and their emotions is the key to everything good that happens in the classroom.

Is he dead? Or alive? Or did somebody shot him?

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

As I think I’ve said here before, I’m so immersed in my (somewhat crazy) class it’s sometimes hard to remember what’s normal and what’s quite odd.  I had another one of those oh-wait-this-ISN’T-normal moments today when we visited our 3rd grade reading buddies to hear their reports on famous Americans.  My between-presentation conversation with a student:

“Miss R, did Helen Keller DIE?”

– Yes, but she lived a long time ago.  She died when she was very old.

“She did not get shot?”

– No, she was just old.

“Oh, okay.  Benjamin Franklin, is he, is he dead or alive?”

– He’s dead, but he lived a long time ago.  He was very old when he died, too.

“Okay.  But Martin Luther King, Jr., he was shot in a hotel.”

– Yes, he was.

“And Abraham Lincoln, too.  But he was shot in a theatre?  Did his wife get shot and died too?”

– No, just Abraham Lincoln.

“Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have a wife?  Did she get shot?”

…and the conversation went on and on, going through the death (by old age or gun shot) of every famous American the 3rd graders had presented (and their spouses).  I thought nothing of it because I literally have this conversation every day, about every single real-life figure I ever talk about in class.  In fact, I’d sat this particular child next to me for the presentations because I knew he’d be intensely curious about what had happened to each person and wouldn’t be able to hold the questions until we got back to our classroom (he was literally shaking from the effort of holding the questions to the end of each presentation).

While I thought nothing of it, I did glimpse the puzzled look from the 3rd grade teacher by our 4th or 5th “is he dead or alive? Or was he shot?” conversation.  I suppose not all teachers actively research the deaths of all people they mention in their classroom, or give daily thanks for being a good student of history throughout high school and college, but we get the kids we get and we do what we need to do.

This is one of those many aspects of my daily life I give little thought to until I see it from an outsider’s perspective, but then I wonder…what must they think?  To me this is one of the student’s most benign behaviors, but to others, I’m sure it seems bizarre.

Well, that was a day

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

To start: we did a lot of good things at school today.  Reading, math, social studies, music, writing – they all went well for most of the class.  Lots of learning happened, kids were happy.

But.

One of my boys is working to “stay in his bubble” (keep his hands on his own body and off of others) during the day.  For each part of the day he does this successfully (or mostly successfully), he gets a sticker.  7 stickers and he gets a reward from the counselor at the end of the day.  Usually he gets 5-7 stickers a day, but today he got 0.

Zero.

That means he was touching (or rolling on, climbing on, jumping on, or holding on to) other people all day long.  And it wasn’t just that.  He was so upset about not getting his first choice of reading buddy that he kicked over his book box and pegged the books at the floor – but was startled, scared, shaking like a leaf and sobbingly apologetic when I said he had to go the office.  It’s not an act or manipulation (though I understand if you think that’s wishful thinking); I believe he truly does not realize what he’s done until I say he has to leave the room because of it.

At recess something set him off and he stalked away across the field, bringing his best friend with him.  I had to call on all of my dog training skills to get them back.  I stood my ground instead of moving towards them, and used my voice and body to project absolutely confidence and authority.  “Come here NOW.”  It was touch and go for awhile – I almost signaled a coworker with the walkie-talkie to call for an administrator  – but once I got his friend to turn around he eventually came sulking back.

When I picked him up from music he was sitting in the corner (he’d gone there on his own), throwing his shoes at the floor and crossing his arms saying “Music stupid.”  I do not know what happened (he wouldn’t say and the (patient, awesome) music teacher seemed surprised and baffled, and another of my boys was sobbing facedown on the carpet (that’s another story), so it wasn’t a time for deep conversation), but when he finally, reluctantly, left the music trailer he refused to go further than the bottom of the ramp, and stood kicking the side of the trailer repeatedly while the class stood waiting to reenter the building.  It probably lasted almost two minutes – an eternity with a class waiting in line.  I had to send two of my students to the teachers on the playground for help (but they were too busy talking to each other and my kids were too polite to interrupt so no help was forthcoming); but suddenly, he was at my side, holding my hand, avoiding eye contact, sullenly silent and relatively calm.

We came back into our classroom for quiet time, which is how we transition from specials to math.  The kids are supposed to stay at their table spots and read or rest for 2-4 minutes in quiet.  He, of course, was neither staying at his table nor being quiet.  After pinballing around the room and being told to sit down he finally headed back to his spot, but first swiped another child’s plastic hair clip as he went by.  Shouts, of course, ensued, since he’d taken it right out of her hair.  I went over, told him to give it back, he refused.  I repeated the direction.  He refused.  Repeated the direction. He put it in my hand, I closed my hand over it, he shrieked, grabbed at it again, pinched hard, and shattered it.

And that, of all things, was what made me cry.

I didn’t say anything, just walked back to my table and put my head down on my arms.  I cried because I had worked all day to protect him and protect the kids in my classroom, but I couldn’t even keep a hair clip safe.  I don’t want him to leave, I don’t want him to be hurt, but he can’t hurt other kids and still stay, and hearing that cracking plastic made me feel like I just can’t do it.

I didn’t cry for long – you can’t with a classroom full of kids – and the rest of the day was okay.  But we can’t have more days like this, and I’m not sure what else I can do to ensure that.  Yes, the recitation of this day seems to scream out for a counselor’s intervention, but he already spends more time with the counselor than any child in the school, and she actually does have responsibilities other than him.  I can’t call every time he’s upset or she’ll never be able to do her job and he’ll never be in the classroom.  So we’ll all keep trying our best each day, and I’ll keep telling the counselor, the administration, and anyone else who will listen what’s going on, and I’ll hope against hope that the next committee I bring him to gets how much he – and I, and our class – need help.

Validation

January 11, 2012 1 comment

Last year was hard. My boss didn’t like most of what I did in the classroom and let me know it all year.  If one of my six-year-olds was (gasp!) wiggling on the carpet, she’d write in her notes that the class was off-task and not learning.  This time last year, we had an hour-long meeting to explain that I might not be recommended for reappointment that spring.

Flash forward. I have a new evaluator who thinks deeply about teachers’ practices.  We’ve talked informally about my class throughout the year, we are in 2 hours a week of team meetings together, and she’s been in to observe a few times. We had a 15 minute mid-year meeting today in which she said that I am exceeding expectations on 7 of the 23 professional standards and she’s recommending me for reappointment.  She explained that she’d thought a lot about the observations she’d done in my classroom and even talked with my mentor to think through her evaluation of it.  She said that her first impression was that the kids were behaving rather “loosely” with me (yet would sit up ramrod straight when she looked at them), and that threw her off a little.  But then when she looked more closely, she saw that I was constantly checking for understanding, pushing kids to explain their thinking, and providing enough freedom for the “hard to fit in” kids in my class to feel comfortable and find success.  She said, essentially, that my management style is not her own, but that if it works for me, she’s fine with it, because she can see that it’s working for the kids.

Forgive me a flowery moment: this is like a balm to my soul.

I’ve spent the last year and half filled with fear, doubt, and a sense of incompetence because my classroom simply doesn’t look like the other classrooms.  I know my kids are learning, but when other people see or hear our room, I feel judged – that I can’t control them, that I don’t know how to keep them in line.  And the truth is, I don’t – not in the way other teachers do.  I cannot for the life of me get a class full of six-year-olds to line up straight and silent (though I’ve seen it done).  But I kind of don’t care about that, which is probably why I can’t do it.  It’s just not a battle I feel like waging when there are so many other things that matter more to me.  Honestly, the one major non-academic battle I’ve fought this year is to have students stop touching the levers on my chair.  Drove me nuts.  They stopped.  I’m sure if I really, truly cared I would figure out how to have a quieter, less wiggly class.  But I love the roly-poly, puppy nature of six-year-olds.  I love their random conversations and off-topic explorations.  I let them conspire with a buddy sometimes instead of reading because I want to see what they’ll come up with.  I watch them change the rules of the math games and invent totally new activities, then I talk with them about what they’ve figured out.  Not all of the freedom I give them is productive, and I definitely feel sometimes like my kids are less “polished” than many of the other teachers’, but they’re learning to think, to explore, to test boundaries.

For the last year, I’ve been taught to think of myself as a failed classroom manager and therefore a failure as a teacher.  Today’s evaluation reminds me that while I may fail to look like everyone else, I’m succeeding at putting my teaching philosophy into practice.  As I read what I’ve just written about my classroom it sounds exactly like the application essay I wrote about teaching and learning to get hired for this job.  My goal for the rest of this year is to approach each day with a sense of positive purpose for what I’m choosing to do in my classroom and let go of the needless guilt and worry about how things might appear.  If I’m happy, my kids are happy, and they’re learning, that works for me.

Year-end thanks

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about how different my life is now than a year ago.  While some of the positive changes may have happened on their own, there are an incredible number of people who have helped change my life for the better this year.

Paul helped me kick off 2011.  At a point when I desperately needed someone to see me as more than a teacher – yet also needed someone to care about that part of me – he did both.  We didn’t last long, but our time together helped me find my balance again.

When Paul and I broke up, Melanie understood that my Facebook request for new activity ideas meant I was sad and she invited me to trapeze with her.  I didn’t go that night, but the invitation changed the course of my year.

Through the spring, summer, and fall, my coworkers have been there for me, unfailingly supportive and always willing to talk through classroom difficulties.  In the end, I returned for a second year because I couldn’t imagine telling them I was leaving.  And I’ve been happy with that choice.

At the trapeze school, Mandy has almost single-handedly provided the sense of belonging, significance and fun that I kept looking for in Unitarian churches and other activities but never really found.  She knows my flying better than I do and always knows exactly when to push and when to pull back.  I know that when I fly with her I don’t have to self-advocate – she’s got my back.

And there’s the rest of the staff and students at trapeze.  From my very first class they’ve welcomed me, almost literally, with open arms.  They listen to stories, give support and advice, and are completely fun to be around.  Becoming part of that community has been one of the most enjoyable developments of my post-college life.

And finally, there are my students.  It’s been wonderful to see H. blossom; it makes all of last year worth it.  This year’s class is full of such wonderful, vulnerable kids, and I am regularly humbled by the trust and love they give me, even on the days I don’t think I deserve it.  I know I’m not doing it all right, but they think I’m getting a whole lot of it right, and that’s definitely helping me sleep better.

While many of these people may come and go in my life, my family and close friends have been there every day of this year – and of the last.  They’ve dealt with my lows (and I know there were a lot), but I hope they’ve been able to share in my highs, too.

In the end, I feel like a very lucky girl, and am thankful for the happy, interesting year that’s gone by.

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