The Tattooed… Mom

I’ve had a lot of big news I was able to share with my classes over the years. Buying a house, getting engaged, getting a puppy, getting married. This is the biggest so far- pregnancy!

As soon as I found out, one of my first thoughts was of telling my students. Both how exciting that would be, and how awkward that would be. To little kids, having a baby is somewhere between fact and magic. “Well, you got married, so this is the logical next step. Now something will happen involving birds and bees, maybe specifically storks, some scientific terms I don’t understand but my parents told me so the could feel progressive, and you’ll have a baby in you. Voila. When’s recess?”

My students are ten and eleven, the age when certain aspects of human relationships start to become both extremely interesting and extremely gross. They have, at the very least, a vague sense that what starts this process has a lot less to do with storks and a lot more to do with those feelings they’ve all started having when they look at each other. In short, “I don’t know exactly what you did to get this way, but I’m sure it’s sort of gross.” The preteen years are a magical time.

When it became evident to both myself and my colleagues that I couldn’t go on pretending I was suffering from a low grade stomach bug all the time and smuggling fruits of increasing large sizes under my shirts, I decided to tell the kids. I broke the news, and reassured them I’d still be here for most of next year (since my school has classes with the same teacher for two years, I’ll be their sixth grade teacher, too). Their reactions were about as awkward as I expected, as hilarious as I could have hoped, and much sweeter than I thought they would be.

After a moment of stunned silence, one of the boys clapped his hands to his face and yelled “That’s so exciting! This is awesome!” Then the floodgates opened and a million questions were unleashed.

“How big is your belly?”

“How big will you get?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” “When will you find out?” “How can they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” (The answer to the last one was a shocker- no one apparently thought the same rules applied for babies in utero and the rest of the mammal kingdom.)

“How do ultrasounds work?” “Why are they called that?”

“What will you name it?” “Can we pick the name?” “Can we vote on the name?” “Will you name it after me?” “Or me?” “What about me?”

“Do you have any cravings?” “Have you eaten weird food?” “Does it like (fill in random food here)?”

“Will it come to visit us?” (Not, will you bring it in to visit. Will it come to visit. Of it’s own volition.)

“How does it get food?” “How does it breath if it’s in there?” Following this was a student provided run-down of how the umbilical cord works, much to the discomfort of everyone else, including me.

“If the cords attached to you and the baby, what happens to the part in you when they cut the cord?” (Full disclosure, I used the best of my evasive ‘answer without really answering’ techniques and then found the nearest colleague with kids as soon as I went to lunch to ask her the exact same question. Apparently I still have a lot to learn.)

“Does all pregnancy ruin your stomach? Because my mom says I ruined hers. If it does, don’t tell the baby, it will feel bad.”

“Will it go to our school?”

“Will your dogs like it?”

“Can we at least pick it’s middle name?”

All in all, it took about an hour of processing and questions, both the practical, the personal, and the scientific. I’m excited about the whole thing. I’m so glad they know, and so happy they are excited for me. This lucky little bean has 23 big friends looking out for it already.

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Why I Don’t Teach Kindergarten

The youngest grade I have ever worked with for longer than a few hours is third grade. I have said before, I think primary teachers are superheroes and I bow down before them. Days like today really bring that point home.

At the end of the day, our kids go in to the gym and line up by their bus number. When their bus arrives, a teacher will come bring the line out. Today I walked over to a line and saw the following: five very uncomfortable upper elementary kids, a distraught looking fourth grader hovering over a tiny girl who was smiling beatifically, and a second grade boy named Mikey who was calmly informing the tiny girl that her butt was showing. “Just pull up your pants some more.” He was telling her. She gamely hitched them up. The other kids still looked horrified.

I picked up the sign that had their bus number, inwardly rolled my eyes that the other kids couldn’t handle a tiny bit of butt crack showing, and thanked the gods it was Friday. The line followed behind me, tiny girl at the front. When we reached the door, the little on went on ahead of me, and I saw the real problem.

Her butt was out. Her entire bare bum, her pants pulled down almost to the back of her thighs. “Her butt is out again.”  MIkey announced. The older kids all turned red, looked anywhere else, and tried not to hysterically laugh. “OoooK honey!” I took her backpack, and asked her sweetly to pull her pants up. She did, grabbing them by the front and yanking them up past her belly button. Somehow this made the back go even lower, as evidenced by the gasps and muffled giggles of the older kids.

“Grab the pants by your hips, ok?” I tried. She pulled them by the front even higher. I moved her teeny little hands on to her hips and had her pull them, but that was all I felt comfortable doing- what with all the naked butt and not my student and I don’t know how to handle these situations, ok?!

Meanwhile, the teacher coordinating calling the buses as they came was trying to get my attention to see why we were stopped. “Her butt is out!” Mikey yelled, pointing at the little girl, but actually sort of pointing at me, based on the confused and concerned look every colleague in the vicinity gave me. “Not mine, hers!” I mouthed at the bus caller. Meanwhile, tiny girl was still smiling serenely.

“Grab the pants and pull up like this, ok? Like this!” I made a frantic pants-pulling-up motion. “Do you want me to help shake her?” The hovering fourth grader asked me. “What? No, we don’t need to shake her.” I said frantically.

Finally, we had the majority of her butt covered, and we headed towards the bus. As the line moved forward, Mikey said “Oh, no…” Sure enough, we had a full moon as the tiny one walked proudly and happily onto the bus. The bus driver looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Um, her butt is out.” I told the driver, pointing at the little girl. “And, I, I tried, pants, I don’t, I have to go…” I muttered all this while backing slowly away from the bus. Then I scurried back inside.

Hats off to you, superheroes.

An Angry Teacher Speaks

This isn’t a funny post. I’m sorry. I know many of you follow this silly little endeavor of mine because it’s all about the ridiculous things that make this job so damn fun. And I love those things. I do. They are such a big part of what makes me love my job. I think I sometimes revel in and celebrate the silly things more than the average teacher. But at my core, underneath everything, the part of my identity that is the most important part of who I am right now is- teacher. 

I love my students. I would do almost anything for them. The highest responsibility I’ve ever held is the privilege of helping them become happy, engaged learners, and successful members of a greater global community.

Yet I can’t, in good consciences, continue to do things I know are bad for my students. Why, you may ask, am I doing things I know are wrong? Ask the state and federal government why. Ask Arne Duncan. Ask the writers of the Common Core State Standards. Ask Bill Gates. Ask Pearson publishing company. 

Here is what I’m angry about. 

The Common Core Standards are developmentally inappropriate.

You may have heard about the Common Core standards. They cover grades K-12, are being implemented on a nearly national level, and have the goal of readying all students for college and career. Which is not a bad goal! Ask yourself, though, about the validity of developing reading, writing, and math standards for Kindergartners. Kindergarten used to be about learning to tie your shoes, hold a pencil, empathize with your peers, solve problems. Clearly this was a terrible idea, as I’m sure everyone reading this has suffered hugely from an inability to function in college or career based on the lack of standardized literacy skills you received.
 
Here’s the thing- many kindergarten classes are half day. In a half days time (even a full day in most cases), you can’t possibly cover all the skills K previously taught AND meet the CC standards. So by age 6, little Johnny has learned to “With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.5 ) But he never had time to learn what to do when the kid at the table next to him takes his crayons away, other than smacking him.
 
It sounds dire, but if kindergarten isn’t the time and place to learn these skills, many kids will never learn them. Furthermore, how are kids who don’t know all their letter sounds supposed to be writing at all, let alone strengthening their writing as needed?! Multiple organizations have come out arguing that these standards, particularly for the primary grades, are developmentally inappropriate-  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/ 
 
Standardized tests don’t effectively evaluate students or teachers
 
Think back to times in your life where you have had to sit down and fill in bubbles on an answer sheet. Chances are that after the SATs and GREs, most of us didn’t do that. It isn’t a real world skill. Yet we evaluate students as young as 7 on their ability to take these tests. I’ll share an example from my own experience. I had a student with ADHD. It’s difficult for him to sit still for very long. He moves around, waves his arms, talks his thinking out before answering, draws pictures and diagrams. He’s a smart kid, and is pretty successful academically. He did poorly on our state test, though. Sitting still for two hours is really hard for an 8 year old, especially one with some attentional and impulsivity issues. Does this mean he won’t be successful in high school, college, his adult life? Hell no! He’s an incredibly creative, outside the box thinker. He solves problems, writes great creative stories, plans amazing science experiments. Yet we are sending a message to kids and their families that they are academically underperforming if they can’t be successful on one specific type of data collection! 
 
These tests take time away from my teaching. They require me to have taught all standards before April so my kids can prove they learned them in time for the test. We are cramming ten months worth of teaching into seven months. Despite my best efforts, my kids are stressed and anxious about the tests, and can’t focus on the days leading up to them. In many schools, teachers are expected to take weeks on test preparation. Do we really think that our children are best educated by being reminded to fill in the bubbles fully, rather than being given the chance for authentic, open ended, student driven education? Do we think that our nation is best served by creating a generation of kids designed to answer to the test rather than think outside the box?
 
Teacher evaluations are also tied to these tests. If all your students are on grade level, have no major disabilities, are from stable homes, are well fed, well rested, healthy, and English speaking, this is a decent plan. Our schools don’t work that way, though. Our kids come from all walks of life, with unique and diverse backgrounds. And we love this. We embrace it. I have had the experience of a student coming in as a non-reader, able only to write fragment sentences. In a year, that student moved up multiple levels in reading, accessed chapter books, wrote full, well constructed paragraphs. The standards say she should be writing multiple paragraphs, though! These tests don’t take into account that students and teachers may bust their butts and make huge progress- if you don’t meet the standards, you’re out of luck. When did we decide that all kids meet the same milestones at the same time? What happened to what used to be the accepted belief in diversity of learning styles, of maturation at own pace? Does not reading at a fourth grade level by the end of fourth grade really mean you won’t be a successful adult?
 
These tests are the way they are because it just isn’t cost effective to assess in a variety of authentic, developmentally appropriate ways. Yet we give so much weight and importance to them! It’s my hope that more parents will choose to opt their students out of these tests, as we’ve seen in places like Seattle and New York- http://www.thenation.com/blog/176994/turn-tune-opt-out#
 
Corporate interests play a major part in the new education and testing system
 
One of the major publishers of new curriculum aligned with the Common Core, and of many of the state tests, is Pearson. This company describes themselves as “the leading pre K-12 curriculum, testing, and software company in the US.” They and their subsidiary companies are earning a great deal of money on the programs being written specifically to align to the new standards. Why shouldn’t they? A deeper look into the company reveals some uncomfortable connections- http://unitedoptout.com/boycott-pearson-now/. Having the same individuals and corporate entities creating and shaping educational policy and then benefitting financially from their creation is not ethical. School systems end up needing to buy new programs year after year (from companies like Pearson) as standards are rewritten (by people with a financial stake in companies like Pearson). Why should the shareholders in a publishing company have more say in what our nation’s students learn than the people who teach them?
 
Pearson isn’t alone. Companies like McGraw Hill are also profiting off our nation’s schools in unethical ways. If public education becomes for profit, what reason is there for companies earning money to actually care about students? What voice will students, families, and teachers have moving forward into this system?
 
Poverty is the real reason why students (and schools) don’t do well
 
Try this out- skip dinner, then breakfast the following day. Then try to learn a new skill, or take a test. It isn’t easy, even for adults. Yet that’s what a growing number of kids in America face daily.  Add to that the fact that some stayed up until 2 am with a sick sibling, or listening to fighting. Add to that the kids who have no one at home to help with homework, or read to them. The kids that experience violence at home, drug use, homelessness. This is not a small percentage. In 17 states, students below the poverty line are the majority of public school students. Take a second to let that sink in. More kids are poor than aren’t in many places. That’s insane.
 
Unemployment is rampant, minimum wage barely feeds and houses an individual let alone a family, food and heating oil prices are rising. I don’t blame parents, in most cases. For every individual who is addicted to drugs and hitting their kids, there are many more who are trying as hard as they can, working multiple jobs just to feed and clothe their kids. How do we expect them to find time to read books to their kids when they work 18+ hours a day? Furthermore, how do we expect teachers to stay in districts where poverty is rampant when test scores are tied to pay?
 
In a recent article by Elaine Weiss, she asks “What if we have actually been teaching the right skills in US schools all along – math and reading, science and civics, along with creativity, perseverance and team-building? What if these were as important a hundred years ago for nurturing innovative farmers and developers of new automobiles as they are now for creating the next generation of tech innovators? What if these are the very characteristics of US schools that have made us such a strong public education nation, and the current shift toward a narrower agenda just dilutes that strength? What if, rather than raising standards, and testing students more, the biggest change we need to address is that of our student body?” 
We are pouring money into systems to assess our nations teachers and students. Those of us within education (and arguably those with any common sense) know why there are deficits. Imagine if we spent that money on universal pre-K, reduced cost breakfast, counselors, special educators? We wouldn’t need a test to let us know which schools were performing poorly if we spent our resources fighting against poverty.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/11/06/the-real-21st-century-problem-in-public-education-is-poverty/

I know that many will read this and write me off. As lazy, bitter, union-driven, out of touch. I will point out these facts- I am inherently optimistic because I hold the future in my hands every day. I question every decision my union makes by asking if it is in the best interest of my kids. It would be so much easier to give in and go into lock step with these standards and initiatives. It’s much easier to use a curriculum someone else wrote (and profited off of) than write one yourself. Standardized tests take no time out of my personal life to make. They are easier than performance assessments, rubrics, student designed projects. This is the harder route. The route of being ostracized, condemned, criticized.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t give a damn. I don’t care what anyone other than my students and their parents think. I know these practices are bad for kids. I know they won’t help my students become real learners, or the successful adults I know they will be. So I will fight them, yell about them, push back against them. My kids are the ones who really matter. I’m doing this for them.